The Bible on Divorce and Remarriage by Ray Mossholder
THE Bible and Divorce and Remarriage by Ray Mossholder
I urge you to have your Bible open for this study and write down all verses listed, Old Testament and New.
Nothing written here is to be interpreted as a treatise blanketly endorsing divorce. Divorce is like a shoot-out between Siamese twins.
A Christian husband or wife who has at some point in their relationship honestly loved the spouse they have now divorced or are divorcing, will almost certainly carry an aching regret inside and a void that was once filled by that person.
Feelings of failure, feelings of guilt, feelings of wishing afterward that things could have been different, feelings of disobeying God or God failing them, plus the inevitable reaction of others, including family and close friends, many of whom are shocked, hurt, and totally disapproving of the divorce, are constant obstacles those divorcing or are divorced most be ready to face
Christians often condemn anyone who is divorcing because they err. not knowing the Scriptures (Mt.
22:29). Christians who are condemners lack empathy and often believe there should be none given to any Christian who divorces. These condemners look at divorce as total disloyalty to God. No thought is given credence when a divorcing spouse attempts to explain what was going on that brought about their divorce.
Only the couple and God can possibly know all the factors involved in bringing about the final decision to divorce but nothing either of them says can possibly make any difference at all to the condemner.
In the beginning, God meant for every first marriage to last a lifetime (Mt. 19:8). However, sin then entered the world. Yet this same God’s mercy endures forever.
He who freely granted divorce in the Old Testament “Because of the hardness of men’s hearts” (Mt. 19:8) is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
Certainly Jesus Christ who knows each person by their spirit, soul and body, “understands their weaknesses and sympathizes with them” (Heb. 4:15-16).
The Old Testament approach to divorce, once understood, is shocking to the average Christian today. But to realize it continued throughout the time that Christ ministered on Earth and many many years after that, is even more shocking. Jesus had come to fulfill the Law and until He gasped “It is finished” as He expired on the cross (John 19:30), the Law remained in full affect.
Grace replaced the Law when the Holy Spirit came (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:1-4), though the Law still had a great hold on the early Church especially among the Messianic Jews. Tradition is always something extremely difficult for any human to change.
All a man had to do to rid himself of his wife during the days of living under the Law was to write a billof divorcement (Dt. 24:1), a short note that could list any reason at all for the husband no longer wanting to remain married to his present wife. He could write anything: “You are too loud.” “You don’t cook my favorite things.” “You argue with me.” “I don’t like your mother,” then directly face his wife and tell her, “I divorce you! I divorce you! I divorce you!”
Once a husband handed that note to his wife and told her three times, “I divorce you,” his wife had to immediately leave their house and their marriage, and that husband and wife were considered by everyone, including God, to be divorced (Dt. 24:2-4). A wife was left penniless, with no ability to take anything with her at all. Her children, her dog, her clothes, etc., could not go with her. Forget in your mind any court proceedings and any attempt at fairness from the divorce courts of today. There was no such thing. Nothing was hers, all was his. The Old Testament said so and at least on that one point, the Roman government and the Jewish Sanhedrin agreed.
While Jesus was on Earth. the Pharisees asked a question you may well be asking too: “Why then did Moses ever grant divorce through using a bill of divorcement?” Jesus answered, “Because of yourhardness of heart.” (Mt. 19:7-8). God knew, in granting this barbaric practice, that many husbands would kill their wives if there was no other way out of their marriage. A bill of divorcement was sadly the lesser of two evils.
The “life sentence” of not being able to divorce was given only to men who falsely accused their wives of sleeping with another man (Dt. 22:13-19), or men who raped single virgins (Dt. 22:28-29). From that time until one of their deaths, the wife under those circumstances could completely withhold sex and daily spit in his food, and he could do nothing at all about it.
Men being sentenced to never divorcing was God’s way of taking care of both the violated wife and
the violated wife’s father. Once a single girl or woman had had sexual intercourse, whether by rape or not, she was considered “used” by all Jews and thought of as no longer desirable as a friend or life partner unless they got married.
Male Jews woke every morning thanking God they weren’t a woman. A wife in their mind was someone who took total care of the house, a husband’s needs, including physical; and the children’s needs. They were only a tiny step higher than a domestic slave.
A single female found it almost impossible to get any other kind of job except domestic. Jewish women who did live alone unmarried were rare and generally looked down upon. They were usually thought of as one who must be a prostitute. The question would rise about her, “How else could she afford a home by herself?”
Females had absolutely no training in anything but household duties. They were believed by men to be spiritually inept and unqualified by their gender to study the Torah. So, if a man was found to have raped a female, he had to marry her and bring her into his home.
I said God watched out for a raped female’s father. God fashioned His Law so that her father should
receive and never have to give back the dowry he had been given by a liar or a rapist. Usually a large sum of money was involved in all dowrys. (See “Fiddler On The Roof.”)
God did not forbid remarriage as proven by Dt. 24:1-4. The Law stated that a woman who was given a bill of divorcement by her husband could marry, but if she then divorced her second husband or he died, she could not return and re-marry the first husband because she’d obviously had sex with her second husband. (The word “defiled” is continually used in the Old Testament to describe either a woman going through her menstrual period or her sexual involvement with someone other than her husband.)
In Isaiah 50:1 God tells Israel why she is in captivity. It was their sins that were their undoing. It was not, God says, that He divorced Israel and sent her away.
But by the time of Jeremiah, GOD DID DIVORCE FAITHLESS ISRAEL. In Jeremiah 3:8, Jeremiah says that since Israel worshiped other gods as if to make love with them, God “divorced faithless Israel.”
The timeline is important here. Isaiah lived 740-680 B.C. Jeremiah lived 627-585 B.C. So in between the time of Isaiah and the time of Jeremiah, God divorced. Think of that. GOD GOT A DIVORCE!
The thrill of being “the Bride of Christ” is immense for every Christian. Yet, if God had not divorced faithless Israel He would have been a bigamist for marrying any Gentile rather than the Groom to His new Bride. In every sense of the word THE CHURCH IS THE SECOND MARRIAGE PARTNER OF GOD!
The final mention of divorce in the Old Testament is too often misunderstood. It is found in Mal. 2:10-16. The issue is men who abandon the wives of their youth for pagan women who do not worship the One true God. God is speaking to the very same issue as He spoke when addressing the Jews in Jeremiah 3:8 and Nehemiah 13:23-27. Pagan women brought pagan gods into their husband’s homes (Mal. 2:11). Even wise Solomon became debauched in his old age and turned away from God because of his pagan wives (1 Kings 11:1-13).
Three things stand out in Malachi 2:10-16:
First, GOD HATES DIVORCE. There is no honest Christian who doesn’t hate it. The seriousness of divorce and it’s direct consequences can’t be overstated. Divorce divides families in a way that only death can equal.
Many a family member or friend has lost their
faith in Christ in seeing the one they viewed as their Christian role model caught up in a divorce. Anyone contemplating divorce must face the strong possibilities of such fallout. Yet too few contemplating divorce expect it, or know any way to prepare for it.
Once divorce begins, awful surprises often overwhelm both separated partners. As one godly counselor told me, “You are now going to know who your real friends are and who they aren’t! And that discovery will surprise and disappoint you.” That revelation in itself can be devastating. It was for me.
Second, though God hates divorce, GOD DOES NOT HATE DIVORCEES. Nor does divorce make the divorced person “a fifth class Christian.”
Perhaps the hardest thing that a hurt and angry spouse needs to realize if they think of themself as the victim of divorce, is that God isn’t angry with the Christian who caused the divorce! Christians live forever forgiven by God because of what Christ did on the cross (John 3:16; Acts 3:19; Rom. 8:1, 38-39; Gal. 2:20-21; Heb 8:12; 1 John 2:1.) The Alpha and Omega knows from the beginning when any couple will end their marriage in divorce, and He knows it from the beginning.
Bitterness, feelings of guilt and/or self-hatred can plague the divorced person. Yet Christ died to ridevery Christian from just such feelings. Christ never tells any Christian to focus on self but on Him, the Redeemer.
As long as a Christian mentally nails themself to their own cross, Christ who died on the cross for them is unable to set them free from what they’re doing to themself: Mt. 6:14-15; 18:30, 32-35; Mark 11:25-26, etc.)
Third, divorce is NOT the unforgiveable sin. The unforgivable sin only occurs when a person goes alltheir life and dies without receiving Christ as their Savior (Mt. 12:31-32; Mark 3:22-30.)
The point of these passages in Matthew and Mark is that Jesus with His love and miracles was obviously God come to Earth and the Pharisees who rejected Him were rejecting God.
Finally, though procreation is certainly not the only reason God has for marriage, He emphasizes how important it is to “raise godly offspring.” Carried into New Testament times He is saying that marriage is only to be between a Christian husband and a Christian wife.
To those with the capability of having children their charge from God is to raise children who both love God and joyfully serve Him (1 Cor. 7:14.)
THE NEW TESTAMENT AND DIVORCE
In His first mention of divorce in the New Testament, Jesus makes it clear that He is speaking about this practice of husbands writing “a bill of divorcement” and throwing wives out of their homes. He condemns the practice unless the wife has been sexually unfaithful before the marriage (Mt. 1:19), during the marriage, or found to be near of kin (Lev. 18; Acts 15:29).
It should be understood that when Jesus says throwing a wife out “makes her commit adultery,” and “whoever marries her commits adultery,” (Mt. 5:32) He is in the midst of giving the Sermon on the Mount and speaking in hyperbole (hyperbole was common in those days), speaking as one might do with children when one wants to shock them into not doing something. He is not being literal.
Proof enough of this fact is that immediately before this statement He has said one should gouge out their eye or cut off their right hand if it causes them to sin (Mt. 5:30). How many sightless, one handed Christians would be on this planet today if such a verse was to be taken literally?!
A quick reading of Mt. 19:3-12 seems to find Jesus condemning divorce entirely unless adultery hasbeen involved. But we must never do a “quick reading” of any Scripture and believe that we know what it says. There are points to ponder here that give, as usual, a remarkable answer from Jesus to the Pharisees:
First, the Pharisees always came to Jesus for the purpose of trapping Him in a statement that would either prove He was not the Christ (an impossible task!), or divide the Jewish people against Him.
In this passage they come knowing full well that there were two Jewish schools diametrically opposed to each other on the subject of divorce. There was the rabbinical school of Shammai that taught a man could not divorce his wife unless she was caught in adultery. And there was the rabbinical school of Hillel that taught a man could divorce his wife for any reason, including burning the toast. The Pharisees believed whichever way Jesus answered He would divide many Jews away from Himself by answering.
Second, what Jesus answered has NOTHING to do with divorce as we know it today.
Not to be redundant, but divorce during the earthly days of Jesus’ ministry still meant what it meant throughout the Old Testament – a wife receiving a bill of divorcement was forced to leave her marriage forever with no money, no children, no clothing except for what she wore when leaving – nothing at all that she had gained while married. Everything of value, with no exception, remained totally and legally with the husband. Division of property, child’s rights, etc. were given absolutely no consideration whatsoever. The wife became a penniless street person because her husband simply didn’t want her anymore.
Jesus immediately, as always, disappointed the Pharisees with His answer. Rather than begin an argument with them. He answered from Scripture. He quotes Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:23-24, reminding everyone that the purpose of God in creation was that a husband and wife were to be “one flesh” with the greatest possible fellowship with each other that would joyfully lead to regular times of intercourse (1 Cor. 7:3-5.)
In other words, marriage was meant to be the deepest relationship possible among humans – spirit, soul and body(Eph. 5:21-33). No other human ever had any right whatsoever to bring division between the married couple.
I’ve already mentioned what the Pharisees did next. They asked, “Why then did Moses ever grant
divorce through using a bill of divorcement?” Jesus answered, “Because of your hardness of heart.” (Mt. 19:7-8). That bill was better than murder!
Jesus then nails the man who writes a bill of divorcement because he wants to marry another woman. Such a man, Jesus says, is guilty of adultery (Mt. 19:9).
It was Christ’s own disciples who were shocked with this statement. They exclaim, “If the relationship with the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry!” (Mt. 19:10) His answer to them all is “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.” Jesus gave this teaching to His godly followers of that day. To anyone else, it wouldn’t matter what Jesus said because THEY KNEW what God’s Law said. No such hideous divorce procedures remain in any true form of Christianity today.
Importantly Mark 10:2-12 records the same occurrence as written in Mt 19:3-12. However it gives us an answer only given to Christ’s disciples, not to the Pharisees.
After the Pharisees left, Jesus told them, “Whoever (writes a bill of divorcement) against his wife commits adultery, and whoever (walks
out on her husband) and marries another man commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11-12)
This is an even harsher teaching than the one found in Matthew 19. It makes a husband or wife starting a romantic relationship with someone other than a married persons spouse while they are still married, something God says only heathens do.
It is certainly no accident that the very next subject following this statement is children because it is often children who suffer the most in any divorce. They lose the visual and emotional pattern God set for marriage and instead see marriage trashed before their very eyes.
As soon as separation between their parents begins, a child or teenager loses precious time with their own dad or mom in their formative years or even in their adult years, and far too often they lose their mom or dad altogether.
In America, one third of fathers abandon their children and never see them again following divorce.
Meanwhile, children are often forced to try to accept a substitute for a dad or mom that almost never seems to measure up to their own.
And if the child or teenager is able to see both parents, they do it by being treated like human ping-pong balls, bouncing back and forth from one parent’s home to the other’s.
Often their new “parent” is hostile with anger because they didn’t want the child(ren) or teenager(s) at all. They only wanted the mother or father of these kids. Competition is too often automatic between the son or daughter and the substitute boyfriend/ girlfriend/spouse, both wanting quality time with the one they believe should give them first place if they really loved them. Thus no one gets all the access they desire or need.
A husband or wife caught in the middle of this kind of emotional tug-o-war, runs the gamut of feelings that include terrible guilt, anger, frustration, and a host of other negative feelings. Competition between siblings and a rival “parent figure” causes them to be constantly in the way of each other.
None of this is what God at all designed for marriage or for family.
So, what of the terribly unhappy marriage that goes on and on and on in the name of Christianity?
Does constant fighting between parents, whether verbal or physical, please God, or create a healthy
environment for children or teenagers? When 1 Cor. 2:3-5; Ephesians 5:21-33; I Tim. 3:4-5; 5:8; Titus 2:2-8, I Peter 3:1-7 and other God-directions for a husband and wife are constantly violated by either the husband or wife, or both, is it God’s command for such marriages to continue?
When a husband is continually angry against his wife or vice versa and one or both of them allows their bitterness to further lash out verbally/and or physically against their offspring, does God offer noprotection or way of escape for him or her and their abused siblings? (1 Corinthians 10:13)
When a husband or wife lives strictly for themself and refuses to acknowledge the importance and real needs of their spouse, living the exact opposite of Ephesians 5:24–25, is the neglected spouse to simply suffer year after year through the bondage of a miserably unhappy marriage? What then happens to “life more abundantly” (John 10:10) that Jesus came to bring every Christian? Is a trapped spouse meant by God to simply grin and bear it?
When a husband or wife never tries to understand their spouses view of things, physical needs, or honor them as their life partner (I Peter 3:1-7) and instead mocks any weakness they see in them, is the maligned spouse to remain happily ever after?
When either spouse is regularly critical of and verbally demeaning to their husband or wife,
embarrassing them in front of family, friends and/or strangers, and this goes on and on, are they to live in the bondage of (as Henry David Thoreau described it) “a life of quiet desperation?” Is divorce any option at all?
When either a husband or wife commits adultery, is the spouse to simply smile and accept it in the name of “Christian” love? Even though forgiveness from the violated mate is necessary for their ownpeace of mind, only those with hard hearts would say yes.
Today God tells us “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those who exist are established by God” (Rom. 13:1).
The laws, especially most of America and much of the western world, have attempted to remove as far as possible any barbarianism in divorce.
No longer is a divorced wife expected to leave her house and her marriage to wander aimlessly without care or finance. Even the Law did allow remarriage as a possibility for a misused husband or wife.
Obviously, we live in an imperfect world and even the best intentioned human judges can still find
themselves unable to help a husband or wife whose former spouse is in themself barbaric. But even in the worse situations we are worlds apart from the hideous bill of divorcement.
How far apart are we from it? We are as far apart as the distance in time before the cross and after the cross:
Before the cross: “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” (Hebrews 11:11)
After the cross: Jesus says, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first” (the Law)
“in order to establish the second” (grace, which, in the original Greek, means “absolutely undeserved favor or kindness.”) “by this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all (Hebrews 10:10)….For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (Hebrews 10:14).
And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, ‘THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD, I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,’ He then says, ‘AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.'” (Heb. 10:9-10, 14-17.)
The Bible and Divorce by Ray Mossholder