Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

by Josh Buice (original source here)

Yesterday I preached from Mark 10:1-12 on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. What exactly does the Bible say about this often debated subject? My sermon was one of the longest sermons I’ve ever preached and I sought to deliver it with pastoral sensitivity while not compromising one ounce of God’s truth. I felt as if I had delivered a weighty message upon the completion of the sermon. This is a very important subject in our age of compromise regarding marriage.

Jesus’ Ministry of Teaching (Mark 10:1)

Upon arriving in the Perean region beyond the Jordan, a great crowd came to Jesus. Their agenda was to receive healing of physical disease and perhaps to see this man who had literally become famous through His preaching and miracles. Jesus, as was His custom, taught the people. While He did perform miracles, His foundational ministry objective was teaching and preaching. This should be emphasized when reading about how Jesus ministered and it should not be forsaken in the church’s ministry in our present day.

Jesus’ Teaching on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage (Mark 10:2-12)

First, we must note the way Jesus ended up teaching on this subject. The Pharisees were seeking to trap Jesus, and they raised a question about divorce. According to the parallel account in Matthew 19:3, they asked, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” Two competing rabbinical schools existed in Jesus’ day, one ultra liberal and the other somewhat conservative, both had opposing views on the subject. The Hillel school purported the liberal position which created loopholes for divorce for almost anything. The Shammai school taught a more conservative position. Jewish history accounts for instances of men divorcing their wives on the basis of an inappropriately cooked meals, talking too loud, speaking to men in public, or dishonoring the husband’s mother-in-law. Continue reading

Head of a Broken Home

Head of a Broken Home by Steve Camp

My life’s been shattered, and my dreams taken from me
But all that matters is to keep on living for You
Here in the darkness, where my heart is prone to wander
To the desires, that can turn my heart from You

Life is getting harder, as I’m starting all over again
And I’ve sat under the Juniper tree, praying that my life would end

But I thank You for my children who are the life breath of my soul
And I thank You for their mother, though she’s chosen a different road
And You’ll never leave me as the shadowed valleys unfold
Keep me desiring, keep me loving and obeying You
As the head of a broken home

Ohh the sorrow, has brought this strong man to his knees
And the hope of tomorrow, I could not even see
Lord bear my burden, and so joy will come in the morn
That through this hurting, I’ll learn that You alone are strong

Ahh the pain, words can’t describe it
But You sustain me by Your grace
And You’ve used this in my life Lord, to conform me to Your ways

I thank You for my children who are the life breath of my soul
I thank You for their mother, though she’s chosen a different road
And I know You’ll never leave me as this shadowed valley unfolds
Keep me desiring, keep me loving and obeying You
Keep me desiring, keep me loving and obeying You
Keep me desiring, loving and obeying You
As the head of a broken home

The Biblical Grounds for Divorce

rick_phillipsDr. Rick Phillips is the Bible teacher of the God’s Living Word broadcast, S.C., having served previously as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Coral Springs/Margate, Florida, and as minister of preaching at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan, a master of business administration degree at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, and a master of divinity degree at Westminster Theological Seminary. Prior to entering the ministry, he commanded tank units as an officer in the U.S. Army and later served as an assistant professor of leadership at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He writes:

We are having a great PCRT in Grand Rapids this weekend. Our speakers Iain Duguid, David Garner, and David Murray have been terrific on our theme of Holiness and Honor: A Reformed View of Marriage and Sex. We also had an insightful Q&A session. Unfortunately, it was way too short to get to even a majority of the questions. Therefore, I promised to tackle them here on Ref21 in the upcoming days. So here goes with the first question for the PCRT Q&A leftovers:

“David Murray mentioned that marriage is honored when it is only ended on biblical grounds, which are adultery and desertion. Will you explain this?”

Dr. Murray is setting forth the standard Reformed view of biblical divorce in keeping with the Scriptures. Two key texts are involved. The first comes from Jesus in Matthew 19. First, Jesus stated the principle, saying that a married couple “are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mt. 19:6). The question was then raised to him about divorce and Jesus answered: “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Mt. 19:9).

Notice that here we have an exception to the rule that prohibits divorce among Christians. I have heard pastors say that Christians may not divorce, with no exceptions. Here is a good rule, however: when Jesus himself uses the word “except,” then there is an exception! Here, the exception is adultery. The Greek word is porneia, and it is rightly understood to refer to sexual infidelity in violation of the marriage bond. Any other divorce is wrongful and a Christian who divorces without this ground, Jesus says, commits the sin of adultery.

There is a second situation, however, that is cited by God’s Word as a ground for divorce. The apostle addresses this in 1 Corinthians 7:15. He writes that “if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved.” The word “enslaved” means “bound” to the marriage. A person who is “loosed” from marriage on biblical grounds not only may divorce but may also remarry in the church. Here, the ground is abandonment. I.e. a spouse leaves the marriage and refuses to be reconciled. Notice that Paul says that it must be an unbeliever. It may be someone who professed faith in Christ but who revealed by his or her breaking of the marital bond that he or she is not a believer, in which case such a covenant-breaker will generally be excommunicated from a godly church. Thus the abandoned spouse is free to divorce and remarry.

A few notes are significant about abandonment as a ground of divorce. In his address, Dr. Murray stressed that it must be “irremedial abandonment.” By this, I presume that he meant that the one spouse has rejected all attempts at reconciliation or even has physically absented himself or herself from the marriage in such a way that he cannot be found. The point is that we do not declare abandonment simply when one member of the marriage moves out or goes to spend at night at his parents. It is final abandonment, leaving the abandoned spouse with no recourse but to end the marriage.

Second, abandonment is widely used today in cases of severe abuse. It may be the case that a spouse has not physically left the marriage but is so physically or emotionally abusive that the principle of marriage has been abandoned. In this, such a person will have rejected the authority of the church in seeking repentance, resulting in excommunication. Different churches hold different views and practices about abuse. In my view, severe abuse may constitute abandonment, but this principle should be practiced with great care and reluctance. An angry blow-up does not constitute abandonment of the marriage via abuse. It must be a protracted and seriously harmful situation from which one member of the marriage must be protected via church discipline.

These, then, are two biblical grounds of the divorce, which churches acknowledge from Scripture and practice with great care, sadness, and even reluctance. It is, however, the teaching of the Word of God and therefore these two grounds for divorce obligate our belief and practice.

How can I tell if repentance is genuine?

Sproul JrDr. R. C. Sproul, Jr., in an article entitled “How can I tell if someone has truly repented of grievous sin?” writes:

The Fruit of True Repentance

There is one tell-tale fruit, but it may take a long time for it to happen. And even then you likely won’t see it. But here’s the fruit nonetheless — if the sinner ends up in heaven, you will know they had truly repented. If not, they likely had not. I understand the desire to know the sincerity of another’s repentance. I’ve been in countless pastoral situations wherein it seemed like the answer to that one question — is this person truly repentant — determined the answer to every other question about what should be done. Trouble is, God has not been pleased to give us the means to peer into the souls of others.

An Example

So what do we do? Consider the case of adultery, perhaps the most common grievous sin we face. Suppose I am unfaithful to my wife. Suppose I claim to be repentant. What ought she to do? The Bible says that she is free to divorce me, but is not required to do so. Many times her decision is bound up in this question — is he repentant? But that’s not really the question. If I am repentant, her duty is to forgive me. But her duty is not to remain married to me. If I am feigning repentance, and she decides to stay with me, but later determines my repentance isn’t sincere, even if I so confess, she is not free to divorce me. That’s why my counsel in these circumstances is to encourage thinking through this question — would you, knowing what you now know, marry this person? If not, forgive and divorce. If so, forgive and stay together. But you don’t need to know if the repentance is sincere.

Evidence of True Repentance

One parenthetical thought. I consider it good evidence, though not compelling proof, that a person is sincere in their repentance if they repent before their offense is known, and if they repent of what would otherwise never be known. Such doesn’t mean, on the other hand, that only this kind of repentance is sincere. David was busted by Nathan before he came to repentance. But I doubt anyone would doubt his sincerity after reading Psalm 51.

Time Will Tell?

The hope that time will tell is elusive. The unrepentant can appear repentant for a long time. The repentant, on the other hand, sin all the time, making it all too easy to doubt their repentance. In the end, therefore, all we are left to do is to exercise our best judgment, and I would argue, to practice a judgment of charity. Perhaps the best indicator I know of is this — is the sinner owning their sin, and standing ready to do whatever is necessary to make right, as much as is possible what they have done. Which is to say, the repentant are those who repent. Can the unrepentant fake this? Yes, but usually they do not.

Forgiveness

We cannot go through our lives afraid that we might forgive the unrepentant. We ought to go through our lives afraid we have failed to forgive the repentant. With the former we may allow ourselves to be wrong, with the latter we are wronging others.

The Husband of One Wife (Part 2)

Pastor Jim McClarty is a wonderful brother and Bible teacher. He pastors Grace Christian Assembly in Smyrna, TN. He has become something of a friend through our e-mail communication, even though we have yet to meet in person. He was extremely helpful to me in proof reading the manuscript of my new book “Twelve What Abouts,” providing many helpful suggestions which very much improved the clarity and flow of language. His website can be found at http://www.salvationbygrace.org.

Here is an issue which sometimes comes up in the life of the Church. I appreciate Pastor McClarty’s careful handling of the question and would agree entirely. (For those interested, here is Dr. R. C. Sproul’s answer to a similar question).

Question – What is your opinion of someone being a pastor who is divorced? I want to hear your input on this whole “man of one wife” thing because one church we’ve been visiting will allow an elder to be divorced, but not the pastor. Yet when I read Titus, it clearly says bishop and elder … man of one wife. So I want to know how and why they make a distinction.

Jim McClarty – This is another one of those places where many churches lead with their traditions. I have also heard for most of my life that the phrase “husband of one wife” means that a pastor must be married, not single. He must not be divorced. If he is divorced he certainly must not remarry. But it is okay for him to remarry if he is a widower. But, that was not Paul’s point. Tradition does have a way of taking basic Biblical ideas and stretching them beyond their original intention. A bit of simple exegesis will clear this up.

Let’s start with the supposed distinction between bishops, elders and pastors. The phrase “husband of one wife” first occurs in 1 Timothy 3:2 concerning bishops. The Greek word for bishops is “episkopos.” The same word is also translated “overseer.” In the New Testament there was a bishop in every church, tasked with the work of watching over the church, guiding it and seeing to its general health and well-being.

Now, these same men, serving in this same office of bishop/overseer, were also called “elders” – or “presbuteros” – in Acts 20:17. This is made obvious when you compare Acts 20:28 where these elders are called overseers.

“And from Miletus he (Paul) sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.” (Acts 20:17-18)

“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)

In other words, bishop, elder and overseer are one and the same office.

Then we find pastors. They really only show up in Ephesians 4:11. In the Greek they are called “poimen,” or “shepherds.” According to Vine’s Expository Greek dictionary, “pastors guide as well as feed the flock… this involves tender care and vigilant superintendence.” But importantly, Acts 20:28 refers to “overseers” as those who tend to and feed the flock.

So, in Paul’s perspective, bishops/overseers are the same thing as pastors. And, bishops/overseers are the same thing as elders. The words are interchangeable. They each indicate some aspect of the job. They do not designate individual offices held by separate men within a local church. Consequently, the requirements for elders, bishops, overseers and pastors are all exactly the same because pastors are elders. In our modern church structure it is more common to find a plurality of elders who act as officers of the church and one man who acts as pastor. But in reality, any man who is ordained an elder ought to have the ability, willingness and gifts to pastor. Men who operate within a church as officers, caring for the day-to-day business and making decisions concerning the physical structure and organization are acting as deacons, not elders.

That being said, the second place where “the husband of one wife” occurs is in 1 Timothy 3:12, when referring to deacons. The third place where it occurs is in Titus 1:6, concerning bishops.

The phrase “husband of one wife” was a common Greek phrase, used in many documents outside of Scripture, so Greek grammarians have a good handle on what it meant in everyday usage. In fact, I have checked with David Morris, a Greek scholar (and one of the men who ordained me as an elder) about this very topic.

The phrase “husband of one wife” has to do with the character of the man being considered for the office of overseer/bishop/elder/pastor or deacon. It is best translated “a one-woman type of man.” This is as opposed to a polygamist. The New American Standard Version tries to emphasize this idea by rendering the phrase, “husbands of only one wife.” They add the word “only” to the text in order to bring out the idea that Paul was speaking against polygamy. The NIV adds the word “but,” rendering the phrase, “husband of but one wife.” Both of those translations are attempting to bring out Paul’s real meaning.

Remember that multiple wives were a common part of Old Testament life, right up until the time of Christ. It was common for Middle Eastern men to have multiple wives and to divorce them and add new wives at will. That is a character issue. Such men should not lead in the Church. But, what type should? If he is a man committed to one woman at any given time, then he is “a one-woman type of man.” His commitment to one woman bespeaks his character.

Now – and this is important – Paul was familiar with the word “chorizo,” which is translated “depart” in the KJV version of 1 Corinthians 7:10:

“And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.” (1 Cor. 7:10-11)

Other translations render the word “chorizo” as “divorce.” And, that’s exactly what “divorce” means; to depart, or put distance between two people – “chorizo.” Paul knew how to use that word and wrote about the different situations that might arise when believers were married to unbelievers. He understood that people might leave and divorces might happen.

“But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.” (1 Cor. 7:12-17)

So, here’s my point. Paul knew the language of divorce and wrote about it. Yet, when Paul listed the qualifications for elders/bishops/overseers/pastors and deacons, he did not make any reference to divorce. He was concerned primarily with character issues – the type of man he was – and whether he had been evidently gifted by God to fill that office (“not a novice … apt to teach”). If Paul had meant to convey the message that pastors, elders or the like could not be divorced, it seems to me that he would have mentioned it in the list of qualifications. Again, He does use that language in other letters. Paul is familiar with the word “divorce.” It certainly seems that he would have included it in his list if that is what he meant to say.

But, he didn’t. Instead, he referred to a man who was not a bigamist, not marrying multiple women concurrently or all at once. In short, not a womanizer; the same way he was not to be a brawler, a drinker, a striker, greedy or covetous. These were matters of character and giftedness.

My friend, I don’t think people believe me when I say that preaching/pastoring is a really hard job. But, it is made especially hard by the fact that everyone in the world, and especially in the church, considers themself your judge. The Bible does not condemn men who labor in the Word, but whose marriage failed. Only people’s traditions do that.

Now let me be clear. A pastor who is married and divorced repeatedly has a character issue that must be dealt with. After all, if the Word he is preaching cannot affect his own behavior, then how can he expect it to affect others? Marriage is indeed a type of Christ and His church. Marriage between Christians is a sacred union that we should fight hard to uphold. But sometimes marriages fail. That is the reality of the human condition. And thank God there is ample grace and forgiveness in Christ for every sinner – even the ones in the pulpit.

I hope that helps.

Q – Wow! Thanks for your efforts to answer that. I know that took some time. Feel free to use this Q & A on the website.

You’re welcome. Perhaps this discussion will help others heal.
Yours in Him,
Jim McClarty

Biblical Grounds for Divorce

A transcript from a Question and Answer Session at the Ligonier Ministries National Conference, Bought with a Price, tadalafil Orlando, 2006

Question: If we understand marriage correctly, what are the biblical grounds for divorce?

R.C. Sproul – One of the things that I think is very destructive in the Church are those Churches (and those people within the Church) who prohibit divorce on any grounds whatsoever because that just completely denies the clear and unambiguous exceptive clause that Jesus gave in the Gospel of Matthew when he dealt with the traditonal issue among the Rabbis (the Hillel School and the Shimei School) developing the controversy over the divorce laws of Deuteronomy.

Jesus made it very, very clear that Moses, because of the hardness of their heart, gave them the right for divorce on the basis of the “unclean thing,” which is not specifically adultery but its “unclean” and so the whole debate amongst the Jewish Rabbis was, “What constitutes the unclean thing?”

The Liberal (interpretation) says, “If she breaks a dish that he likes, that’s justification for divorce.”

No, Jesus said, unless its for porneia, which is sexual immorality, there is no basis. And now we have all kinds of examples where a husband or wife gets invovled in an immoral sexual relationship and then the Church says to the partner, “That’s not grounds for divorce. You can’t get out of that relationship.” That’s devastating. That’s not what the Bible teaches.

Also, the second grounds are given by the Apostle Paul – “separation from the non-believer” – if the non-believer chooses to leave the marriage, the believer’s free at that point.

Then, of course, where it really gets sticky is “What are the boundaries of sexual immorality?’ There I think the Church has to be very wise in dealing with those questions.

Ken Jones – Yes and in those cases, the person is not commanded to get a divorce.

R.C. – Right!

Ken Jones – That option is available to them but they are not commanded to get a divorce. In fact, Paul says, as it relates to those who are married to an unbeliever who has abandoned them, he admonishes them to, if at all possible, seek reconciliation. And if that person agrees to live with you in their state of unbelief, then by all means, do not pursue the divorce. But I agree with R C that I think sometimes we have seen in the Church, things that I believe are very clear by Christ, we have made those areas more grey than they actually are…

R C – What you hear all the time though is (people say), “Well yes, you may have biblical grounds but the “higher road” is to stay married – and you tell this poor woman who has been violated that now she is supposed to go back in there and be naked and unashamed? ITS NOT SAFE! You know, her soul’s been absolutely devastated, and God in His grace has given her the right to leave that situation.

Someone says, “but what if the guy repents?” You hear that all the time.. this can happen the other way of course, women and men – but most of the time its the man.. so I say, “Well suppose a guy really repents. What is the woman’s obligation now?

Her obligation is to forgive him and to regard him as a brother but she does not have to stay married to him.

(If a guy embezzles $50,000 from Ligonier Ministries in our accounting office and repents of it and even gives the $50,000 back, I don’t have to keep him on staff as our accounting guy. He can still be forgiven, but the context of that has changed, mightily, by that action.)

The covenant of marriage has been so radically violated that Jesus gives people that option.”

Ken Jones – “I want to throw in there something that combine those two reasons that are given in Scripture that has become more of an issue in our day and that is physical violence. I think that is a grounds for a Church, a pastor, an elder, to allow a woman in the Church (if she is under physical abuse from her husband) to be removed from that situation…

R.C. – I think that is an application of the “immorality” principle and the violation of the covenant. I agree with you. But again, that becomes an issue of prudence. It should be done with great care and never in a flippant manner.

The Husband of One Wife

Question: How do you interpret Paul’s qualification of “the husband of one wife” for a local church elder? (1 Timothy 3:2)

Answer: “Well, there’s a lot of controversy about that. A lot of churches won’t allow men who have been divorced to hold the office of elder, saying that they have violated that qualification if they have been divorced and have then re-married. That would also apply to someone who is a widower and remarried, because they have had two wives.

I think it is clear as can be, that what the issue there that Paul is addressing is polygamy. And in the Early Church in its formation, it took a while for the principle of monogamy to be firmly established within the Christian community because there were guys who had two or three or four wives (concubines) and that was opposed to biblical marriage, and if you have two wives, that’s one too many (at the same time, obviously).

– Dr. R. C. Sproul, transcript from a Question and Answer Session at the Ligonier Ministries National Conference, Bought with a Price, Orlando, 2006