Divorce in Regards to Christian Ethics
What does the Bible and Christian ethics say in regards to divorce? In a society of quick marriages and divorces, more emphasis needs to be placed on the topic of divorce from the spiritual aspects. Depending on the religion, there are different beliefs regarding divorce and the reasons for getting a divorce. Some believe that divorce can only come through sexual immorality and others believe that the Bible teaches that divorce is not an option. Others believe that the Bible states other reasons that a divorce can be granted and the divorced couples can be free to remarry on these grounds. The basis of this reflection will be to examine the aspects from different points-of-view and determine the grounds for divorce as interpreted from the Bible.
The resources utilized in this paper come from different sections of Christianity: Pentecostal, Presbyterian, and Reformed. Several of the authors have PhD’s in theology. The validity and correlation between all of the resources will be taken into consideration.
To give an accurate examination of the view regarding divorce, it is necessary to establish the basis by which marriage is viewed in the Bible and what is written about marriage.
In the beginning of the Bible in Genesis 2: 24, it is written, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh” (Holman Christian Standard Bible). This is seen as a covenant from God regarding the sanctity of marriage along with a number of other passages in the Bible regarding marriage.
The view on marriage as answered by Jesus in Mark 10: 6-9 states, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Holman Christian Standard Bible).
In these scriptures, Jesus can be seen quoting from the Book of Genesis. He stressed the notion that God intended for a husband and a wife “not [to] separate” from one another (Fenney, 2005). The scriptures were specific in the solidity of marriage and the intent for marriage as permanent. Jesus also states in Luke 16:18, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Having put this in to the context of how Christianity and God views marriage, now the topic of divorce can be addressed as it relates to the dissolution of a marriage.
Regarding divorce, the Bible has very few views on the basis in which a divorce can be granted without the fear of committing adultery or violating God’s viewpoint on marriage. According to Pastor Jim Feeney, in the 2005 article, “Divorce and Remarriage: Does God Permit it?,” states,
“The Bible does give scriptural grounds for divorce and remarriage. Honestly handling the Scriptures requires that we regard not just the general statements on the sanctity of marriage, but also the God-inspired exceptions to the general rule — that is, the small number of biblically permissible reasons for divorce” (Feeney, 2005).
These reasons are broken down into two parts and each will be covered with the regards to what they are implying according to Fenney and support with research from other sources.
The first reason that allows for the Biblical divorce is: the husband or wife discovers infidelity in the marriage and the faithful partner is permitted to leave and remarry (Feeney, 2005). According to Matthew 5: 31-32, it is written in the Bible saying, “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” The interpretation is that faithful spouse is granted permission by God to not only divorce but to remarry.
In his interpretation of what Jesus was meaning, in the 6th chapter of the book, “The Marriage Covenant: A Biblical Study on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage,” Bacchiochhi states:
“The traditional and most popular interpretation of the exception clause takes porneia in its wider meaning of sexual misconduct. Thus, Jesus allows divorce when one party has been guilty of marital unfaithfulness. This view is reflected in most translations where porneia is translated as “fornication” (KJV), “unchastity” (RSV), or “marital unfaithfulness” (NIV). Advocates of this view maintain that the exception clause allows for the divorce and remarriage of the innocent party, since divorce implies the dissolution of the marriage relationship. In this case, Jesus would be siding with the conservative school of Shammai which allowed divorce when the wife was convicted of serious sexual misconduct” (Bacchiochhi, n.d.)
Though written in different ways both show the exception to the rule in regards to being allowed to divorce in the eyes of God.
David Instone-Brewer is saying the same thing in the October 20, 2007 web article, “What God has Joined,” on ChristianityToday.com. While discussing the grounds for divorce, Instone-Brewer states,
“As in any broken contract, the wronged party had the right to say, “I forgive you; let’s carry on,” or, “I can’t go on, because this marriage is broken.”Therefore, while divorce should never happen, God allows it (and subsequent remarriage) when your partner breaks the marriage vows” (Instone-Brewer, 2007).
Another view regarding infidelity in marriage comes for Sandy Fielder in the article, “Marriage, Divorce, and Marriage — a Covenantal Model,” her viewpoint is:
“Both the root words for indecent behavior (Deuteronomy 24:1) and fornication (Matthew 19:9) ‘denote generic, ethically abhorrent misbehavior with the focus on sexual immorality.’ Jesus was taking a stand to uphold the law as it was originally intended, a law which was more protective of women than the current practices of His day” (Fielder, 2010).
Though each one states it in different ways, the agreement is the same; that infidelity or sexual immorality is an acceptable ground’s for divorce according to Christian ethics and God.
The second reason, in keeping with Fenney’s unique cases of God permission to divorce and remarry, is “the Christian believer’s unbelieving spouse leaves the believer, and not vice versa, the Christian is allowed to divorce and remarry (Feeney, 2005).
The Old Testament states that the Israeli men had married Gentile wives and upon returning to their homelands were required to get rid of them. In Ezra 10:2-3, the scriptures are written stating, “Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law.” This was a marriage between believers and nonbelievers and according to the scriptures, it is ‘according to God’s law’ (Fenney, 2005).
Paul in 1st Corinthians 7:12-16 states, “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” They only thing about this is it is Paul that says this and not the Lord. “Paul recognizes, however, that human nature is perverse and that even a Christian husband or wife can make marriage intolerable for the other partner. A spouse who is out of fellowship with God can become intolerant, abusive, unfaithful, domineering, inconsiderate” as stated by Bacchiochhi (Bacchiochhi, n.d.)
The reasoning behind the words of Paul and backed by some scriptures in the Old Testament is that a nonbeliever threatens the beliefs of a believer. Nonbelievers had lead Jewish people into worshipping pagan gods.
In the essay, “The Ethics of Divorce and Remarriage,” Dennis McCallum states, “Don’t feel that their salvation is dependent on the continuation of the marriage. By fighting their desire to leave, you may only promote continual and destructive strife because of their hardness of heart — but “God has called us to peace” (McCallum, n.d.). This coincides with scripture in the Bible, in discussing the Law of Moses and granting divorces, Jesus states in Matthew 19:8, “He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not like that from the beginning.”
The Reformed Theology looks at marriage and divorce from the standpoint of being covenantal. They quote the Bible as saying in Malachi 2:14, “â€¦because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant” (Fielding, 2010). Fielding goes on to say,
“In the Old Testament, “divorce” was carried out by a literal physical execution of the guilty party for capital offenses, which were the same as what most people would consider divorceable offenses today, such as adultery, rape, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, murder, child-sacrifice, witchcraft, and blasphemy. “Divorce by death made remarriage possible, and freed the innocent partner from bondage to a guilty and unclean person,” writes Rousas John Rushdoony in the Institutes of Biblical Law” (Fielding, 2010).
The Reformist views almost all aspects of the Bible as being covenantal in relations to God’s interactions with man and the interactions between people. Their view on God’s plans in Genesis of one husband and one wife was before sin. That they were living in a perfect society and were not necessary to their lives. After Adam and Eve had sinned, the covenant changed because sin was now part of their lives.
In addition to the reason listed above by the Reformist, they break down the divorceable offenses into two categories:
The first group includes sins against God including idolatry, blasphemy, witchcraft, divination, and spiritism. The second group consists of sins against the spouse. This group is then divided into two subgroups: the first subgroup includes all sexual sins, and second is a subgroup he calls “murder.” Murder includes physical abuse and desertion (physical and sexual), infant sacrifice, and failure to provide economically (Fielding, 2010).
The scriptures are not there in the article to substantiate these conclusions and are based on loose observations and interpretation of the one’s listed. Fielding concludes her article with this scripture, “Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1 NIV).”
In regards to the topic of abuse in a marriage as grounds for divorce, this also is a gray area, and depends on the interpretations of the author. Instone-Brewer declares that in studying the Bible and reading Jewish scrolls found along the Dead Sea, that the basis for divorce in Exodus 21:10-11 and that Jesus backed this up with his answers to the Pharisees about divorce, is the grounds of neglect (Instone-Brewer, 2007). He states that in Exodus even slave wives had the following three rights as declared in the marriage vows: food, clothing and love. Neglect of these was a ground’s for divorce in the Old Testament.
Instone-Brewer concludes the following reasons that a divorce can be allowed according to the Bible are as follows:
Adultery (in Deuteronomy 24:1, affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19)
Emotional and physical neglect (in Exodus 21:10-11, affirmed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7)
Abandonment and abuse (included in neglect, as affirmed in 1 Corinthians 7) (Instone-Brewer, 2007) (wcg.org, 2010).
His interpretation of the facts is based on the Bible and scriptures contained in the Bible.
Divorce is a current issue running rampant in the United States due to the ease at which divorces can now be attained. Anybody can get a divorce without any fault being put on either party.
The only true reason for divorce that is clearly written and stated by Jesus is in the case of sexual infidelity. It is true that God divorced his bride Israel due to her constantly straying into sin. (Jeremiah 3:8) and maybe that is an indication of the right to divorce a nonbeliever. The Bible promotes the institution of marriage from the first of the Bible and all through the New Testament as being a desire of God for man to have one wife and women to have one husband.
In regards to the topic of divorce from the Christian, marriage is a union that should be held in the highest regards and divorce should be the last option available. Divorce should be in the case of infidelity and even though it is a gray area, in the case of abuse to the other spouse or children. Getting divorced just because someone decides they do not want to be married is ridiculous. The divorcing a believer by a nonbeliever is understandable from the aspect of the believer being at risk to fall into sinful ways and God did divorce the nation of Israel over the continuous sins.
Divorce, when used as a last resort, is acceptable in the reasons listed in the last paragraph. The view of the Reformist leaves too much loose interpretation and is not supported by factual information pertaining to the Bible. There is more to marriage than just a contract and the easy of divorce should not exist. The view of the majority of the research shows that infidelity is acceptable reason and that, according to Paul and scriptures in the Old Testament, divorce of a believer by nonbeliever is acceptable. The rest of the reasons are understandable but there is a lot of gray area to be interpreted.
Bacchiocchi, S. “The Marriage Covenant: A Biblical Study on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage.” n.d. Chapter 6. Retrieved on May 5, 2010 from http://www.biblicalperspectives.com/books/marriage/4.html
Feeney, J. “Divorce and Remarriage. Does God Permit it?” 2007. Retrieved on May 5, 2010 from http://www.jimfeeney.org/divorceandremarriage.html
Fielder, S. “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage — a Covenantal Model.” 2010. Retrieved on May 5, 2010 from http://reformed-theology.org/html/issue07/divorce.htm
Holman Christian Standard Bible. 2004. Holman Bible Publishers. Nashville, TN.
Instone-Brewer, D. “What God has Joined.” 2007. Retrieved on May 5, 2010 from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/october/20.26.html
McCallum, D. “The Ethics of Divorce and Remarriage.” n.d. Retrieved on May 5, 2010 from http://www.xenos.org/essays/divorce.htm
WCG.org. “What about Divorce and Remarriage.” 2010. Retrieved on May 5, 2010 from http://www.wcg.org/lit/ethics/divorce.htm
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