The Biblical View of Divorce and Remarriage -- Part 2
When we consider Luke 16:18 in light of other verses, we are presented with a problem if we emphasize that Jesus was teaching about the doctrine of divorce and remarriage in Luke 16. Take Matthew 19:19 for instance.
Here the pharisees ask a very clear question in Matt 19:3. Jesus answers by teaching God's view of marriage. To the pharisees, this didn't really answer the question so they ask a more specific question in Matt 19:7. Jesus' response in Matt 19:8 responds with a rebuke, and his teaching in Matt 19:9 couldn't be more clear.
Let's look at that verse:
"And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery." - (Mat 19:9 NKJV)
Look again at Luke 16:18 . . .
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from [her] husband commits adultery. - (Luk 16:18 NKJV)
Very similar verses aren't they? However, there is one difference that makes both these statements a seeming contradiction. That little clause in Matt 19:9 that says "except for sexual immorality". Luke 16:18 is a sweeping, all encompassing, statement, and Matt 19:9, because of that clause, is not a sweeping, all encompassing, statement.
As I said in my series on hermeneutics, God is a perfect communicator. If we take both verses as being the final doctrinal statements on divorce and remarriage, we have a muddled and murky mess. Is it ok to divorce and remarry in the case of sexual immorality of not? However, if we allow Scripture to speak for itself and don't emphasize a point that is not emphasized by the context of a Scripture, these two verse are thoroughly harmonious.
This is the exact situation we are facing here. Matt 19 is Jesus answering a direct and clear question about divorce and remarriage. Luke 16 is Jesus teaching about self-righteousness. Clearly we can take a look at how divorce and remarriage could play a role in a self-righteous life and to do that, we ought to give precedence to Luke 16. However, to build a doctrine on divorce and remarriage, and not on self-righteousness, we have to give Matt 19, and scripture like it that deals directly with marriage, precedence.
Now, my dear readers, I want to briefly talk about another matter that has great application here. I want to warn you about being "red-letter" Christians. We've all seen, and most of us probably own, Bibles with the words of Jesus in red. Some Christians want to give priority to those words. While they are certainly not less important, I tell you the truth that they are not MORE important either.
2 Tim 3:16 says:
"All Scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," - (2Ti 3:16 NKJV)
The greek word for "all" is πᾶς ("paws") which Vines defines as "radically means "all." Used without the article it means "every," every kind or variety. " It is the same word used in Matt 4:4 when Jesus emphasizes that man lives on EVERY word of God (and not on bread alone). So when it is used here in 2 Tim, we can see clearly that God is putting all Scripture on the same plain. When you think about it, this makes sense. After all they are His words whether He spoke them in person or "inspired" them through another writer.
How does this apply to our topic? Well it becomes clear then that we must give equal weight on a topic to everything Scripture has to say about it. When we've done that, we have to accurately plot the boundaries and direction of those Scriptures and see what all of Scripture is teaching us in harmony with it's various parts.
So then, when we look at divorce and remarriage we may not ignore 1st Corinthians Chapter 7. Paul begins the chapter by giving general principles for marriage. He reminds us that marriage is a good thing, that we ought to treat our spouses well, give ourselves to our spouses (yes, he means physically), and finally says that while marriage is fine, singleness is better. In fact, to that last comment, he says that marriage is much better than "burning with passion".
Then in verse 10, Paul gets into divorce and remarriage. First he spells out very clearly that divorce is not an option to fix a bad marriage. All of chapter 7 so far has been written to the believers in Cornith who want to marry one another. He just finished talking about two believers burning in passion for one another, and continues that it is not right for two believers to depart their marriage.
1Cor 7:12 gives a clue that he's now talking to a different group of people when Paul writes "But to the rest . . .". Also, look at what he says there in continuing his thought "I, not the Lord. . . " This plays off of 1Cor 7:10 where he writes "Not I, but the Lord . . .". What does this mean?
Well, it's not a denial of inspiration, that much is clear. Otherwise, this letter to the Corinthians would not be a part of Scripture. Paul is not giving his human opinion here. Instead what it means is simple, what he said in verse 10 was something Jesus had already said (e.g. our text above; Matt 19). Now in verse 12, Paul is saying something new. Stop and think about that for a minute. What we are seeing is the progressive revelation of Scripture. God was not done saying all He had to say about this topic much as He was not done speaking about Eschatology (or whatever other topic) until the rest of the New Testament was written.
What then, does God tell us? 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 is very clear:
But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such [cases]. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save [your] husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save [your] wife? - (1Cor 7:12-16 NKJV)
Verses 12 & 13 tell us that it is not impermissible to have an unbelieving spouse, and if they want to live with you, a believer, then divorce isn't an option for you. There isn't a mention of problems in the marriage or any other extenuating circumstances here. The question is simple, does your unbelieving spouse want to live with you; yes or no? If yes, then you should continue to do so.
Verse 14 tells us why. The unbeliever is sanctified by your presence in the marriage and your children are holy. This does not mean that the spouse is saved by your presence there, otherwise they wouldn't be unbelieving. It means that your spouse is blessed by you being there. As God blesses the believer, that grace is spread to the unbeliever too. They get to take part in some of the good things coming your way.
As for the children, well, you needn't worry about them either. The fear may be that they would be corrupted and turned away from God by the presence of an unbeliever. While their salvation is far from guaranteed by these circumstances, Paul is instead emphasizing the blessings your children receive by having you, a believer in their life. It is, after all, a far better situation than children growing up in a home where no one is a believer.
My dear readers, I have stop here and marvel at God's goodness in this matter. Look at the optimism of this Scripture in the face of a terrible situation. God is comforting believers in this situation, reassuring them that it's going to be OK and that He remains in complete control. This optimism is reinforced a few verses later as well (1Cor 7:16). What a tremendous God we serve! Oh how He loves you and me!
However, what happens if the unbeliever wants to depart the marriage? Verse 15 is our answer:
But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such [cases]. But God has called us to peace. - (1Cor 7:15 NKJV)
It couldn't possibly be more clear. If you are a believer married to an unbeliever who wants to end your marriage, let them go if that's what you think is best. You're not bound to them in that situation. This doesn't mean that we should just be dispassionate about it. We are called to love our spouses (e.g. Eph 5:25) and we can't do that without their being some sort of emotional involvement. Yet, if it comes right down to it, you aren't bound to such a marriage as a believer.
Now, we've looked at three verses of Scripture in depth. There is much more in Scripture about this subject and much of it speaks in far broader terms than our focus here.
What we find in Scripture are some principles about divorce:
- God hates divorce. (Mal 2:16)
- God doesn't want anyone to get divorced if they can help it. (1Cor 7:10-12)
- God forbids divorce except in two cases, adultery (Matt 19:9 & Matt 5:31-32 and abandonment (1Cor 7:15).
Tomorrow we'll finish up this Mini-Series and talk more about remarriage. I'll also take to task those, including John Piper, who would burden Biblically divorced believers with a yoke not put on them by Scripture.