Biblical Views of Divorce, Remarriage, and Adultery

Ok so this is super controversial. First there is the opinion from Finny Kuruvilla at http://www.watchmangospelsigns.com/ (which is rather well thought out) that divorce is permitted but only in extreme circumstances and remarriage is forbidden in all circumstances:

I endorse Finny’s critique of the literal Erasmian interpretation which I think has multiple problems. However, there are a few problems I have with Finny’s view:

1. To hold Finny’s view you need to interpret Deuteronomy 24 as regulating something that is wrong under all circumstances.

While this is possible, it seems unlikely due to the fact there is no punishment listed for the behavior except not marrying your previously married wife. Also, we must assume that if divorce and remarriage are wrong under all circumstances then remarriage to the original husband is worse:

1 Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house 2 and goes off to become another man’s wife. 3 Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); 4 her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)

I will add the caveat that divorce is certainly something that is wrong under many circumstance, or is at least more wrong than some of the offenses that people often have divorced over:

13 And this you do as well: You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. 14 You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. 16 For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless. (Malachi 2:13-16 NRSV)

2. Finny’s view implies that the certificate of divorce has no effect

The certificate of divorce has the effect of separating you from your spouse. This is because it has the effect of making it impossible for your wife to come back after marrying someone else according to Deuteronomy 24. If you can’t remarry after a divorce then the divorce certificate seems to have no effect: you are still tied to your spouse. This does not fit with a whole law written regulating the certificate of divorce. If all it does is allow you to leave then you are still married to them; therefore what is the problem with remarrying the same person?

3. If you take literally what Mark 10:11-12 says that remarriage after divorce for any reason is adultery . . .

If you take literally what Mark 10:11-12 says then you must believe that what Jesus says in Mark 10:5-9 means that divorce for any reason is unlawful. However, Paul explicitly states that in some cases divorce can happen even though it should not happen:

10 To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. (1 Cor 7:10-11)

4. The context in which Finny argues “eunuchs are divorced people who can’t remarry” doesn’t fit.

The only place where this occurs is in Matthew 19 and here we see what they are objecting to is the difficulty of divorce in the context of not being able to divorce your wife for “any cause.” They aren’t afraid of marrying then getting divorced and having to be Eunuchs (which they would be without marrying anyway), they are afraid of marriage itself:

3 Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” . . .

8 He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.”

10 His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

(Matthew 19:3-12 NRSV)

5. Matthew tends to clarify Mark.

The fact that Matthew makes the context of Jesus’s statement about being able to divorce for “any reason” means that Jesus was reacting to a lax standard of divorce. His response therefore would be in the context of frivolous divorces.

Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” (Matthew 19:3)

Another example of possible clarification is the following:

As another example, within Matthew’s community unchastity was evidently recognized as legitimate grounds for divorce. It may have been in the communities of Mark and Luke as well, but they failed to stipulate the exception in this particular saying of Jesus. Matthew clarifies the issue by inserting the phrase “except for unchastity:”

http://synoptic-problem.com/matthew_synoptic_revisionist.html

Some may respond that Jesus’s statement would have to be summarized as “you may not divorce your wife for any cause but only except for unchastity” This makes sense but it seems like he still had a strict view on it. What about if one spouse was trying to kill the other? Well, this author https://www.divorce-remarriage.com/ argues that Jesus was only addressing a certain type of divorce. See the Pharisees had split up the grounds for divorce of “some indecency” in Deuteronomy 24:1 into “adultery” and “a cause.” Jesus was addressing only this type of divorce and saying you couldn’t divorce for any cause. When he says “except for porneia” (“porneia” is the word translated “adultery”) it is literally “not porneia” https://studybible.info/interlinear/Matthew%2019:9 That is, he is implying “any cause” by saying “not porneia” because that is how those divorces were split up: into “adultery” and “a cause.” It is just a restatement of the “any cause” phrase in their earlier question: “is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” These divorces were the most common since you didn’t have to prove anything in court but only present “a cause.” Jesus does not address the other types of divorce where other grounds are presented like in Exodus 21:10-11 Also, the cultural context backs this up:

By the first century there was general agreement concerning most aspects of divorce and remarriage within rabbinic Judaism. According to divorce law, the decision to end the marriage contract was that of the husband, because he had to write the divorce certificate. A wife could force a husband to divorce her if she could prove to a rabbinic court that he had broken the marriage contract, but it seldom happened. The author claims that one development during these times influenced almost all divorces among Jews. The Hillelites introduced a new interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 by which they allowed divorce for “any matter”, while the Shammaites interpreted the same text as saying “for a matter of indecency”. Most Jewish divorces therefore took place on Hillelite grounds, because there was no need to prove anything in court. It is worth noting that the Shammaites accepted the validity of this type of divorce even though it was contrary to what they would have decided. Meanwhile, in the greater Greco-Roman context it became easier for both men and woman to initiate a divorce, and anyone could divorce simply by separating from one’s spouse.

http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0259-94222008000400026

I have reached my conclusions mostly just by comparing the texts of the gospels and the Hebrew Bible and being aware of the tendency of Matthew to clarify things. Here we see that a scholar has reached similar conclusions by looking at the cultural context of the first century:

Instone-Brewer approaches the problem of Jesus’ radical teaching about divorce and remarriage from an interesting angle. An important investigation in this regard concerns the abbreviated texts that we find in the Gospels. He claims that usually the exegesis was largely absent from these debates because these text were regularly used in the synagogue and because it was widely known at the time. By the second century what used to be common knowledge was quickly disappearing, largely because of the disappearance of the Shammaite group. Commonly understood phrases were also removed, but would have been mentally added by first century readers. The added phrase “for any matter” as it appears in Matthew 19:3 which does not appear in Mark or Luke, is one such example.

This phrase referred to the Hillelite interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1, an interpretation Jesus did not agree with at all – hence the view that remarriage after this type of divorce is invalid. As far as this issue is concerned, Jesus differed from opinions within Judaism, including that of the Shammaites. Furthermore, the author concludes that in instances where the Gospels are completely silent about an important matter like the silence about remarriage after the death of a spouse or Jesus’ opinion about the grounds for divorce in Exodus 21:10-11, Jesus’ silence can be ascribed to the fact that on these points he agreed with the unanimously held opinion of Judaism. One such example is Jesus’ silence about the Old Testament grounds for divorce. The author claims that the assumption that Jesus regarded the exception of porneia as the only ground for divorce is wrong, because it would mean that the Shammaites too had allowed divorce only on the grounds of adultery, which is simply not the case. At first these arguments appear to be rather weak but the author’s extensive research is convincing. The author delicately adds to the exegeses and arguments from their abbreviated forms and concludes six separate matters about which Jesus taught.

http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0259-94222008000400026

6. What about Paul’s sayings in 1 Corinthians 7? Do they imply remarriage is impossible after a divorce?

10 To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)

Paul’s sayings may only apply to the Roman custom of divorce through separating since he was writing to people living in the secular city of Corinth:

Chapter seven shows that the world in which Paul lived was completely different from that in which Jesus lived. It is shown that Paul reacts mainly to the practice in the Greco-Roman world in terms of which anyone could divorce simply by separating from one’s spouse. Like Jesus, Paul emphasized ways to stay married, rather than ways to divorce.

http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0259-94222008000400026

7. Jesus as the New Covenant Mediator may have been focusing on the heart

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

(Matthew 5:27-32)

In context, Jesus’s statements could be more about intent than about the physical requirements of a divorce. For instance, above where Jesus says “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus is not literally saying that they are guilty of adultery but that as the New Covenant Mediator he trying to allow the law to be written on people’s hearts and coveting in your heart is against that purpose. (you have to take your thoughts captive as Paul says) Similarly, Jesus is not saying if your eye or your hand causes you to sin once then you have to cut them off because your eye or your hand can’t cause you to sin. He is saying to value your eternal existence more than your present existence in your physical body.

Therefore Jesus’s comments on divorce may be about divorce that was caused by a heart intent/condition that was not concerned with trying to keep the marriage together. Also, maybe the context is a heart intent that wanted to divorce in order to marry someone else.

Why is this important?

I talked to a woman whose husband was beating her (and if I remember correctly–threatened to kill her) and she felt she couldn’t divorce him until he committed adultery because of Matthew 19:8. Luckily he did eventually commit adultery. Let me ask you this, what if she was one of the very early Christians who didn’t have access to all the gospels and only had access to Matthew or Luke? (Mark is also supposed to have been written before Matthew) If she only read Mark and read it literally (like she did Matthew) she might be dead.

Threatening to kill someone violates the marriage covenant because if one person dies the covenant is nullified and shows you are willing to break it yourself. Beating someone I would think is worse than committing adultery. (I know the law says you can stone someone for adultery but this seems to have only been done in rare cases and forgiveness seems to be allowed, such as the case of Hosea)

I definitely think you can divorce for more causes than adultery. I think if your life is in danger or your emotional health is in danger those are reasonable causes. Emotional abuse can be physically dangerous to you–it can be unhealthy and take years off your life. It can make you at risk for suicide. I’m not as sure about remarriages after divorce. However, I’ve presented some evidence that remarriage is justified in certain cases as well.

Philosophical Considerations

One thing that has bothered me about marriage is the question of “what is it and for what purpose?” Does marriage begin when you have sex with someone because you are “certainly” supposed to marry someone afterward according to Exodus 22:16-18? If that is it then why is remarriage allowed upon death according to Romans 7? It would seem that if marriage is started with sex and it lasts forever then having sex with multiple people during your lifetime would be wrong. Yet if someone had multiple spouses die during their lifetime they would be able to do this. Therefore, limiting sexual partners isn’t of the utmost importance for the intent of marriage. In fact, there is no part of the Torah that prevents you from going into a cancer ward and marrying people one right after the other as they are dying. In addition, sex with a betrothed woman is treated just like adultery in the Torah, so marriage has to be about more than just regulating sex or commitment to one person for each individual.

More likely, it seems that marriage is a combination of sex and a covenant (betrothal), although if you have the sex you are supposed to make the covenant. Marriage then is not primarily concerned with limiting the number of people you have sex with during your life (although that tends to be one of its effects) but marriage may be primarily concerned with maintaining societal health, providing a stable environment for children, and ensuring people and households are emotionally/financially stable. If a marriage is so bad that it damages those things more than it upholds them then maybe it should be terminated.

Conclusion

Based on my own observations the following conclusions and summary are likely correct:

The conclusions:

The Bible’s message for those suffering within marriage is both realistic and loving

Marriage should be lifelong, but broken marriage vows can be grounds for divorce

Biblical grounds for divorce include adultery, abuse and abandonment

Jesus urged forgiveness but allowed divorce for repeated unrepentant breaking of marriage vows

Only the victim, not the perpetrator of such sins, should decide when or whether to divorce

Anyone who divorces on biblical grounds or who is divorced against their will can remarry.


Very quick summary:

This book interprets the words of Jesus and Paul through the eyes of first century readers who knew about the ‘Any Cause’ divorce which Jesus was asked about (“Is it lawful to divorce for ‘Any Cause’” – Mt.19.3). Christians in following generations forgot about the ‘Any Cause’ divorce and misunderstood Jesus.

The ‘Any Cause’ divorce was invented by some Pharisees who divided up the phrase “a cause of indecency” (Dt.24.1) into two grounds for divorce: “indecency” (porneia which they interpreted as ‘Adultery’) and “a cause” (ie ‘Any Cause’). Jesus said the phrase could not be split up and that it meant “nothing except porneia”. Although almost everyone was using this new type of divorce, Jesus told them that it was invalid, so remarriage was adulterous because they were still married.

The Old Testament allowed divorce for the breaking of marriage vows, including neglect and abuse, based on Exod.21.10f. Jesus was not asked about these biblical grounds for divorce, though Paul alluded to them in 1Cor.7 as the basis of marriage obligations. This book argues that God never repealed these biblical grounds for divorce based on broken marriage vows. They were exemplified by Christ (according to Eph.5.28f) and they became the basis of Christian marriage vows (love, honour, and keep).

https://www.divorce-remarriage.com/

 

 

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