Bringing radical thoughts worth pondering (A blog of poriruachurch.com)
“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled…” (Heb. 13:4). Although the world at large lives in mocking defiance of this scriptural admonition, the Christian has always taken seriously the inspired writer’s warning that “fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” With this sombre warning in mind, let us turn our attention to a passage of scripture which has been the subject of much study and debate within the Lord’s church, as men and women have sought to understand the Biblical teaching on marriage and divorce and remarriage.
Jesus once responded to certain questions concerning marriage, “And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her who is put away doth commit adultery.”
QUESTION: Clearly God’s covenant people (Christians) are subject to the teaching of Matthew 19:9, but does God’s law on marriage apply to unbelievers? Is it not the case that the alien sinner is not subject to God’s marriage regulations and therefore cannot be guilty of adultery?
ANSWER: “Thou gavest Him authority over all mankind…” (John 17:2). “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth…” (Matt. 28:18). Since Christ has all authority over all mankind, then both Christian and non-Christian are subject to all His legislations. On one occasion, Paul warns the Corinthians: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11) Some brethren at Corinth had been “adulterers” before entering a covenant relationship with God. As alien sinners they had been capable of transgressing God’s marriage laws. (also Rom. 1:24-32; Col. 3:5-7). The “whosoever” of Matthew 19:9 is as broad as the “whosoever” of John 3:16.
QUESTION: Although the Lord mentions only one legitimate reason for divorce in this verse, is not this passage modified by other passages of scripture which permit divorce on other grounds? (e.g. the so-called “Pauline privilege” of 1 Cor. 7:15). Since no one passage of scripture teaches the gospel plan of salvation in its entirety, should we expect Matthew 19:9 to contain all of the Lord’s teaching on divorce?
ANSWER: The word “except” has a precise meaning attached to it which is unmistakable. Example, “…except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) Clearly a man will enter heaven if and only if he is born again. “…Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish.” Clearly man will avoid damnation if and only if he repents.
Now reason and logic tell us that no matter what else is said about salvation elsewhere in the Bible, man will be saved if and only if he repents (Luke 13:3) and is born again (John 3:5). Thus we point out to our denominational friends that the faith which saves (Eph. 2:8) is the faith which includes both baptism and repentance. Equally, reason and logic instruct us that no matter what else is said about divorce in the rest of the Bible, a marriage partner may be put away if and only if he or she has committed adultery.
A: Is it not the case that the sin of adultery contemplated in this verse refers to the initial unscriptural marriage act itself?
B: If A is true, is it not inaccurate to speak of “living in adultery”? Is it not the case that an adulterous marriage is a single act of getting married rather that a condition in which one lives?
C: If A and B are both true, is it not evident that upon conversion one must repent only of this initial act of marriage? Surely the new union itself need not be broken provided that one repents of this one act of adultery?
A: This definition of adultery (A. above) is surely contrived. “Among the Hebrews, as in other Oriental nations, adultery was the act whereby any married man was exposed to the risk of having a spurious offspring imposed upon him. An adulterer was therefore any man who had illicit intercourse with a married or betrothed woman; and an adulteress was a betrothed or married woman who had intercourse with any other man than her husband.” (McClintock and Strong, “Adultery”, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 1:84). The idea of polluting or _adulterating_ another man’s bloodline with an illegitimate child was involved. Thayer, on “Adultery”, “…to have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife, to commit adultery with.”
B: In View of the above definition it is evident that it is possible to “live in adultery” since the adultery continues as long as the illicit sexual intercourse continues. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul lists a number of sins including adultery which characterized the life style of the Corinthians adding, “And such were some of you”. The use of the imperfect tense in the Greek denotes continuous action in the past. These brethren had been “living in adultery” in that they committed an adulterous act each time they engaged in unlawful sexual intercourse with a marriage partner to whom they had no right.
Notice also, that the phrase “committeth adultery” in Matthew 19:9 is present tense. This is significant. Greek scholars tell us that the present tense is occasionally used in aoristic sense (ie: to denote a one time action) but that this is rare. “The progressive force of the present tense should always be considered as primary, especially with reference to the potential moods, which in the nature of the case do not need any present punctiliar tense.” (Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament). The scholars agree that the use of the present indicative usually denotes action which is progressive, lasting and continuous linear action, unless the context demands one time (Punctiliar) action. However in this passage Jesus had already used two aorists to denote “one time” actions, and if He had wanted to emphasise point (Punctiliar) action again, He would surely have used another aorist tense verb. Instead, He changed to the present tense to denote linear action. In this case, he who marries another “lives in adultery.”
C: Biblical repentance means “a change of mind resulting in a change of action.” Thus the thief resolves to steal no longer; the liar resolves to put aside falsehood. Restitution is made wherever possible. This change of mind and action must precede baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), and is absolutely essential if one is to avoid damnation (Luke 13:3). Following baptism, the Christian must continue to repent of sins which mar his life in order to be continually cleansed by the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7-9).
Now in view of our discussion so far we must conclude that every unscripturally-divorced person, Christian or non-Christian, who marries again, enters into an adulterous relationship. The marriage is in violation of God’s law and the union continues to be adulterous as long as the partners continue to engage in illicit sexual intercourse. The non-Christian must give up stealing. If his repentance is genuine he will change both his mind and his life, and he will stop living in violation of God’s moral law. On the other hand, the refusal to terminate the adulterous marriage would indicate the absence of true repentance and the act of baptism would in this case not remove the sin. Baptism will no more “sanctify” an adulterous union than it will “sanctify” the life of crime.
QUESTION: In Matthew 19:7 the Pharisees allude to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and to the fact that Moses commanded the Israelites “…to give her a certificate and divorce her.” How do we reconcile this provision of the Mosaic Law with God’s original intention for marriage as explained by Christ in Matthew 19:4, 5? Is God inconsistent?
ANSWER: Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is admittedly a source of difficulty for commentators. However, we understand these verses we can be sure that God is not legislating sin into existence or encouraging divorce. One problem area becomes immediately apparent when we compare the rendering of the KJV with the NASV. As the KJV reads, we have two “if-then” clauses, one in verse 1 and a second in verse 2-4. However, the NASV rendering implies that verses 1-3 contain three “if” clauses preceding the “then” clause of verse 4 (ie: if the man divorces her, v.1; if she remarries, v.2; if the second husband divorces her or dies, v.3; …then the conditions of verse 4 apply). (A discussion of this problem is to be found in “Difficult Texts of The Old Testament Explained” – Ed. Wendell Winkler).
In his discussion of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Professor Gary L. Headrick argues that Moses is dealing here with a situation after it has already occurred, just as in Deuteronomy 22:28, he sets forth the procedure to be followed when rape has occurred. Deuteronomy 22 no more sanctions rape than Deuteronomy 24 sanctions divorce. According to this view, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 simply instructs that the divorced woman who has become another man’s wife may not return to her original husband should that second husband divorce her or die. This is because she “has been defiled” (verse 4) by that second marriage which was an unscriptural union. The word “defile” is often used in the O.T. to describe the adulteress (Num. 5:13; 20; Jer. 2:23; Ezk. 23:13). Her return to the original husband would be “an abomination before the Lord” and would bring sin upon the land. Thus God is not instituting the certificate of divorce in this passage, but rather is clarifying the situation of the divorced woman. (See “The South E`astern Evangelist”, 8 April and September 1979; 3)
QUESTION: Surely God would not expect the repentant adulterer who has been put away to remain celibate for the rest of his life in order to live as a faithful Christian. Moreover, surely God would not expect the guilty party who has unscripturally remarried to leave this second marriage upon conversion. What about the hardship involved, especially when children are involved in that second marriage?
ANSWER: Man must not set himself up as a judge of God. Our responsibility is to understand what the Bible teaches on a particular subject, not to dilute the Gospel in order to accommodate sin. Both the disciples and Jesus acknowledged that Matthew 19:9 contained difficult teaching (Matt. 19:1, 11). However, Jesus added that “…there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 19:12) The fact is that some have forfeited their right to marriage because of sin and fall into this category. Indeed “the way of the transgressor is hard.” (Prov. 13:15) However, we must remember also that God enables His children to overcome temptation no matter how great (1 Cor. 10:13). Let us never doubt the promises of God. Space will not permit a study of Ezra chapters 9 and 10, but many valuable lessons can be learnt from this O.T. incident (Rom. 15:4). While it may not be possible to defile a marriage in the same way today as in Ezra’s time (Ezra 9:1-2), it is possible to enter an unscriptural marriage. In this event, true repentance demands the same sort of response from the Christian as that made by the Jews on that occasion (Ezra 10:2, 3). People “wept bitterly” (Ezra 10:1), but they recognized that God’s laws could not be mocked. We need to strive for the same reverent attitude towards all of God’s laws.
Rex Banks, Enduring Words, Vol.2, Issue 7, July 1983