Churches Of Christ/Divorce and Remarriage under The Church of Christ
QUESTION: Mr. Norman
I hope this correspondence finds you well.
I have been reading your comments on divorce and remarriage and had a question for you. My current girlfriend and I have discussed marriage as of late. She has been married twice. The first marriage ended in divorce due to her ex husband cheating on her. She remarried and lived through eight years of physical abuse and eventually divorced again. While talking about the subject of the possibility of us getting married she told me she does not have the biblical right to remarry due to her second divorce not being on the grounds of immorality, but abuse. (she had discussed this with her mother and step father whom is a Church of Christ minister)
Myself, I have never been married. I love this woman dearly, but for myself, her and for our mutual love of God I am seeking insight on this subject so that I may proceed as God would approve.
My question is, if we were to marry, would we both be committing adultery as stated in Mathew 19:9?
ANSWER: Hi Tim,
I must tell you that your story made me very sad. I would like to know, just out of curiousity how many of my answers on MDR have you read because this is by far the topic I am asked about the most. It seems there are very many people out there who are feeling lost and like they have no hope of having any real happiness in this world because of what is most widely believed and taught within the churches of Christ on MDR. I also was saddened to learn that your current girlfriend believes she is not able to have a new marriage because of the reasons for her second divorce. The saddest part is that she didn't really study this topic for herself. She discussed it with her mother and her step dad. It doesn't make any difference to me that her step dad is a preacher. My dad was a preacher most of his life. The problem is that the majority of people in the church of Christ believe and teach incorrectly on MDR because no one really wants to try to study this topic carefully. They just have clung to what they were raised to believe on it.
My dad raised me to never blindly believe anything that anyone teaches - not even what he taught me. He said it was my responsibility to prove what is true. This is the responsibility of every Christian. It is not easy to study with an open mind and not let preconceived ideas or things were were raised hearing to influence us. I first started seeing conflicts in what is taught on MDR and what I read in 1 Corinthians 7 when I was in 8th grade. But I kept it to myself for many years. I admit I didn't start seriously studying MDR until my marriage began to fall apart but I was determined to fully understand this topic and know the truth. I was not looking for loopholes or anything. Most people who hold to what is traditionally taught on MDR and learn my story will tell me that I am free to have a new marriage. But I have studied MDR now for over 8 years and have not just studied it, I have studied with others who are very smart and even debated with people who have all different views on MDR. I have read many books, articles on the internet and in church of Christ magazines, and have studied every single scripture which mentioned MDR.
I try not to ever close my mind to the possibility that I could be wrong but at the same time, I am convinced that I do understand this topic and know the truth. All I can do now is share what I know and then those I share it with must study what I present and determine what is true.
First, Jesus was not speaking to Christians when He spoke on MDR or giving commands for the Christian age. He was being tested by Pharisees on Deuteronomy 24. A majority of Jesus' focus was on correcting Pharisee false teachings on the Old Covenant Law. We, as Christians should not look to the things Jesus said when seeking guidance for Christians on MDR. Having said that let me cover what Jesus said and then point out what He did not say but what many today have inserted or added. I would like to begin with Matthew 5:31,32.
31 "Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except fornication causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.
The first thing I would like to point out tthat Jesus begins by saying, "Furthermore it has been said..." Jesus was not quoting the Old Covenant but rather he was quoting Pharisees. There were two main schools of thought and teaching on MDR at the time Jesus was on earth. There was the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai. Hillel's teaching on MDR was by far the most widely accepted and followed. Hillel taught that a Jewish man could divorce his wife for any reason. Moses never taught or commanded such a thing. Moses said that if a man finds something shameful, indecent, disgraceful, or unseemly or unclean, about her...he was to give a bill of divorce and put her away. The whole purpose for the bill of divorce was to free the woman to marry a new man. (Study Deut.24:1-4) So Moses mentioned one reason for divorce but it was not necessarily adultery. But the bill of divorce would permit her to marry a new man. It is also important to note that the first husband who divorces the woman is not permitted to take her in marriage again if her second husband dies or divorces her.
The second thing I want to point out in Matthew 5:31,32 is that Jesus never says the only acceptable reason for divorce is adultery...physical adultery. Jesus used the word "porneia" which is usually translated as "fornication" and fornication covers more than one type of sin. When Moses gave a reason for divorce the Hebrew word is "ervah". I contend that "porneia" which we understand to mean fornication is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word Moses used. Jesus never once contradicted the Law of Moses. But also notice that it is the divorcing that causes her to "commit adultery". Why is that? How is that possible? Well if he divorces her without a serious cause then she is no longer able to remain faithful to the marriage covenant because he divorce her and put her away. Adultery equals "unfaithfulness" in it's core meaning. The last part, Jesus says the man who marries a woman divorced for reasons other than fornication commits adultery. What I would also like to explain is that the words "divorces" and "marries" are one time actions so this means the "commits" adultery must also be a one time action and not continuous.
Now let's look at Matthew 19 together.
3 And there came unto him Pharisees, trying him, and saying, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? 4 And he answered and said, Have ye not read, that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh?
6 So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 7 They say unto him, Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorcement, and to put her away? 8 He saith unto them, Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it hath not been so. 9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery.
The Pharisees were testing Jesus and wanting to catch Him teaching contrary to the Old Covenant Law. They specifically asked if a man can divorce for any reason. Jesus first response was "have you not read?" then He quoted from Genesis the original intent God had for man and woman. The two shall become one flesh and what God has joined together let no man separate...or put asunder. This prompted them to ask why Moses COMMANDED to give a bill of divorce and put the wife away? Jesus explained that it was because of the hardness of heart that man tends to have but from the beginning it was not so...God wants all who marry to truly be one and remain together until death parts them. Now verse nine we basically explained already in Matthew 5 but I want to cover it again in a slightly different way.
Let's remove what many call the "exception clause" at first. Jesus said - whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery and he that marries her when she is divorced also commits adultery. This is only true though if the cause for divorce was not "fornication". So if the cause was fornication it should be quite clear that no one commits adultery.
But what do most believe and teach? Well they teach that the only acceptable cause of divorce is adultery...but that is not what Jesus said. Then they teach that only the innocent party is able to marry and the one who cheated must live celibate the rest of their lives unless they can get the original spouse to take them back but that is in conflict with what Moses commanded in Deut24. Jesus didn't say that either. Jesus was simply trying to correct Pharisee error on Deut.24. In Matthew 19:10, the disciples responded after listening to what Jesus told the Pharisees.
10 The disciples say unto him, If the case of the man is so with his wife, it is not expedient to marry. 11 But he said unto them, Not all men can receive this saying, but they to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs, that were so born from their mother's womb: and there are eunuchs, that were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs, that made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
They said, if what He spoke was true it would be wiser for man to never marry. Jesus explained that not all men can do that...only those to whom it is given. I understand this to mean the same thing Paul said about living celibate in 1 Cor.7. Very few men can live celibate and not fornicate. Study 1 Cor.7:6-9. Everything Jesus said regarding eunuchs is in harmony with those verses in 1 Cor.7. some men are born eunuchs...naturally born as a eunuch. Some are made eunuchs by men...as in surgery. Then there are those who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of Heaven's sake. These are men who choose to live celibate to focus more completely on serving God. No one should be forced to live celibate and never does Jesus say that those who commit adultery and then their spouse divorces them are to never again have a marriage - even if they have repented of their adultery. In fact, nowhere do we find anyone being told that in the Bible. Also, no one is ever denied baptism as a result of their marital status. Nowhere is anyone told their marriage is "adulterous".
Some who hold to the "traditional" teaching on MDR may point to Herod and Herodias but the problem with that marriage was Herodias was Herod's brother's wife. (Matt.14) John the baptist never said it was an adulterous marriage either. It was just unlawful under the Law of Moses for a man to marry his brother's wife. It would be as wrong as an incestuous marriage.
When I study 1 Cor.7 I find the most complete guidance written to Christians on MDR. Paul is not concerned with how anyone finds themselves without a spouse. It is very clear when I read verses 26-28 that the only reason Paul encourages someone who is "loosed" from a wife not to marry is because the church was being persecuted at that time. But Paul also found it necessary to state that if someone "loosed" from a wife - which means that person was once "bound" or married, they do not sin if they do marry someone. Now a man could become "loosed" either by divorce or by the wife dying. Paul doesn't give any indication it should be limited only to those who are widowed. I have covered all these passages very thoroughly in other responses but felt the need to cover them again for you. Now some will point to 1 Cor.7:10,11 as well to show that once divorced you must remain celibate or alone. But they misunderstand that passage as well. When you carefully study, it is quite clear that Paul is not speaking of divorce. In fact that word is not in verses 10 and 11. Paul was speaking of when a wife chooses to abandon or separate from her husband...not divorced. If she leaves her husband she must remain as one who is not married because she has not divorced. She still is bound to him. Her only options are to live alone or reconcile with her husband. Now if she were divorced from her husband he would no longer be her husband and she would not be able to reconcile with him. She would only be able to marry him again. I am convinced these verses are not speaking of divorce.
Now to answer your question, if you do marry your current spouse neither of you would be guilty of adultery. I am also convinced that when a man abuses his wife, that IS adultery because it is being unfaithful to the marriage covenant. She had every right to divorce him. Had she stayed I am sure at some point he would have killed her because abusive husbands tend to get more and more abusive the longer they stay in the marriage. Your girlfriend is able to marry you. I pray that you two will eventually marry and make that marriage one that pleases God and you become one flesh until death parts you.
I hope I have helped. If you have more questions please ask. You are both in my thoughts and prayers. God bless.
In Christian Love, Joe Norman
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QUESTION: Mr. Norman
I have researched this subject for a few days now of days now and finding your insight into this matter has been a blessing. I believe I have read 3 or 4 of your responses to others and wanted to tell you of my particular situation. I have researched the net and read suggested scriptures in the bible from Matthew, Mark, & Luke, as well as Romans and Corinthians 1. I did note the wording in as much as the "putting away" and it's comparison to "divorce" and the various meanings that could be derived from "adultery" as compared to "immorality" I have found that the bible is very particular in it's wording. I, myself, am not an educated man, but I have found that I will find the truth in a matter when motivated. And this matter is passionate to my heart.
Thank you so much for your insight, my hope is that through a better understanding of Gods will for us and prayer we will have a happy marriage!
Early on when I began to answer questions on MDR here, I had been studying with a man I met over the internet who is a minister for a church of Christ. He was very focused on the word "apoluo" which he believes and teaches does not mean divorce. He was convinced of this being true and after studying with him I began to think maybe he was right so there have been some responses I posted on allexperts where I addressed that word as well and gave people explanations based on what he had convinced me was true. But I was constantly studying and debating people who hold to the "traditional" teaching on MDR. One man who is very educated and smart and who has done a great deal of research confronted me. He showed me the flaws in the belief that "apoluo" never means full divorce. So no longer do I believe apoluo can never refer to full divorce.
The man who convinced me it can refer to full divorce clings to and defends the "traditional" teaching on MDR still, and even though he convinced me apoluo can refer to full divorce and I now believe full divorce was what was being discussed between Jesus and the Pharisees, I see far too many flaws in the "traditional" teaching on MDR to accept it. I hope that in my first response to you that I helped you see the flaws in what most believe and teach on MDR. I am educated...I have enough college credits for a degree but no degree. Most of my college education was focused on music but my skills in English are and always have been very strong. I admit I am not an expert in any foreign or ancient language. I do not know Greek or Hebrew. But I know how to use translation dictionaries and have read many writings by "scholars" on specific Hebrew and Greek words. I have read and studied a great deal of information on this topic and many others. I love to study God's Word and really enjoy studying History too - especially Bible and church History.
I meant to tell you also that I learned when going through my divorce that my parents had never accepted the "traditional" teaching on MDR. My dad told me also that his dad and grandfather also never held to the traditional teaching on MDR either. My great-grandfather was a pioneer preacher of the churches of Christ who helped establish over 100 churches of Chrsit in Texas alone. My grandfather was able to teach and preach and served as an elder in the churches of Christ for many years. My dad said his dad was one of the smarted and wisest men he had ever known and that he had large portions of the Bible memorized. My dad has read the Bible cover to cover more than 3 times a year since the early 1960's and that is on top of all the study and research he did to prepare Bible Class lessons and sermons. I share all this to give you insight into my background and my family background but also just wanted to share that although I am pretty well educated, I am not by any means a Bible scholar and am not an expert in Greek or Hebrew.
I do believe that anyone can learn the truth of most any topic if they are truly motivated. It doesn't matter if a person is not very educated. They can learn and understand what is true. But as I have said more than once, everyone has that responsibility. I am thankful if anything I wrote has been helpful to you in any way. My main purpose as an "expert" here is to help people to understand God's Word better. Anyone who asks a question and I give an answer to them, they must then study to prove if what I teach is true. I will continue to keep you and your girlfriend in my prayers. As you study this topic more, if you ever have more questions and would like my input please don't hesitate to ask me more questions. That is why I am here. God bless you.
In Christian Love, Joe Norman