Servants' News

May 1997

Marriage & Divorce: part 2

The first part of this article appeared in the November 1996 Issue of Servantsí News. We highly recommend that you read that issue first—it is available free for the asking. The main points in that article were:

1) Man and Woman are equal before the Eternal. Men are given the leadership responsibility in marriages and are told to love their wives, rather than force them into submission. Men should try to make it possible for their wives to use as many of their talents and abilities as possible within their marriage. Wives should submit to their husbandís leadership as long as such submission is not contrary to the Bible.

2) Clergy-performed or state-performed marriages were not common before the 1400ís. When the Bible was written, marriages were handled as a contract between the partners or between their parents. It is the commitment to marry, and the consummation of a marriage that makes a marriage—not a piece of paper signed by the clergy or state. Nevertheless, in our present world, there are many legal aspects of marriage that must be handled, and the simplest is usually to obtain a standard marriage license.

3) There would be much benefit to couples today in writing a marriage agreement beforehand—addressing who will have what responsibilities and the basics of how the couple will work together. It also may cover what is to be done if one of the partners is not living up to their part of the contract.


This article will deal primarily with divorce situations. When should a person think about the issues of divorce? When their marriage has gone sour? No! Couples need to think about divorce when they write their marriage agreement—before they get married! They need to include provisions that will help prevent divorce.

 

A Time to Think About Divorce

A great many marriages start out with couples "madly in love" with each other. They see no need to talk about divorce then, because they are pledging to live the rest of their lives with each other. But infatuation wears off after a while and in too many cases serious problems arise that "no one ever thought of" before the marriage took place. The divorce statistics for the Western democracies are terrible. While a proper application of Biblical teaching would save many failing marriages, the roots of most marriage difficulties are unreasonable, un-thought-out expectations that existed before the marriage began.

MarriageWe will not go into the technicalities in this article, but some marriage agreements contain clauses that make divorce much less desirable than this worldís courts do. Agreements may specifically give control of the accumulated property of the marriage and determination of the custody of the children to the "faithful mate"—an unfaithful mate may be defined as one who abandons the other, files for a state divorce without just cause, "cheats" on the other, or utterly fails to live up to his or her part of the marriage agreement.

The purpose of talking about divorce before marriage is simply "counting the cost" as we see in the parable in Luke 14:28-32. You do not start a big undertaking without knowing what it will cost, what could go wrong, and whether or not you will be able to live with the results. Our Savior was talking about the cost of following Him in this parable—the most important decision anyone will make. But "who you will marry" is probably the second most important decision, and the cost must also be counted. In many ways marriage is a more complex decision than salvation. For salvation, we have only one choice and He is reliable and perfect in every way—He will never leave us nor forsake us (1Kngs 8:57). For marriage partners, we have numerous choices, all imperfect. (Let us not forget that one purpose of both of these big decisions is to improve ourselves—and we are also imperfect.)

Before one can count the cost of getting married, and know the risks of divorce, we must find out what the Bible says about divorce. Even though there are only a few dozen scriptures on the subject in the Bible, finding out exactly what the Bible says on the subject is not easy. Why?

  1. Most of these scriptures seem to presume the reader has a knowledge of the marriage customs of the time—something we do not have today.
  2. Several different Greek and Hebrew words are used in the scriptures for divorce—they have different meanings, but those are often lost in the translation.
  3. Most writing that has been done on the subject of divorce has been done to support the doctrinal position on divorce of a specific church organization or personal situation. (For example, if a church organization does not permit divorces, then writers in that organization will nearly all conclude that the Scriptures do not allow divorce. If a theologian wants to get a divorce personally, he may write a book showing that the scriptures allow it—and possibly start a new church organization for others who want divorces.) Most other articles that we have read on the subject of Biblical divorce have taken a specific point of view and have been rather condemning of other points of view.
  4. Originally, the Eternal never intended any divorces, but He had to make some compromises because of the sin of man. He even had to divorce His own wife, Israel (Jer 3:8). We see this difficulty clearly expressed in our Saviorís statement: "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" (Matt 19:8).
  5. Divorce and remarriage situations can be so complex that it is hard to have a "rule" for every situation. Even the apostle Paul had to differentiate between what our Savior taught him and his own judgment (1Cor 7:12, 25).

Fortunately, we believe that the message of the Bible on the subject of divorce is understandable—especially when we look at the Hebrew and Greek, and consider what is available from history.

DivorceBefore we begin our study of the Biblical Hebrew and Greek words relating to divorce, we need to define some English terminology so we can understand what we are talking about. Even after we give our definitions, there will be gray areas, because the state of a coupleís marriage ultimately depends upon the attitude that is in each personís mind—which can change by the minute. As we define this terminology, we will note an important difference between the marital problems of our day and those discussed in the Bible.

Married: Husband and wife are to represent themselves to all others as being married. They are not openly seeking relationships with others, and are not seeking any kind of separation, desertion, or divorce. They can be happily married, or they can be miserable. Hopefully, they will be living together, the husband will be providing for his wife, and she will be submissive to him. Even if one or both of the partners is not living up to their marriage agreement (or vows), they are still "married" until one takes some action to break up the marriage. Even if a war or natural disaster physically separates a husband and wife, they are still considered married if they have a hope of one day finding each other.

Separated: Husband and wife temporarily separate so that they may come to realize how much they appreciate each other and so that they can pray to overcome destructive habits. The purpose of this separation is eventual reconciliation—though in some few cases the couple may choose to live out the rest of their lives separately (1Cor 1:7). Separated couples are still married—they are not free to marry others and they could come back together at any time. Each spouse remains in communication with the other and they usually represent themselves to the community as married.

Deserted: One spouse has either "cast out" or abandoned the other. Being "cast out" refers to one mate (usually the husband) forcing the other to leave the family dwelling against their will—either by actual violence or threat of violence. Being "abandoned" refers to either spouse simply moving away from the family dwelling—sometimes without letting their spouse know where they are going. There has been no formal or legal end to the marriage, but there is no significant effort to continue it. This problem occurs far too frequently—both in our society and in ancient societies. Today, it is fairly easy for a deserted spouse to obtain a legal divorce—even if they do not know where the other spouse is. Most states in the USA allow a one-party divorce if a spouse has not been heard from for over a year.

Under Old Testament law (Deut 24:1), the man was required to initiate any divorce proceeding. This practice continued into the New Testament and is still common among Orthodox Jewish groups today. Marriage contracts often required that part of a womanís dowry be refunded or that the husband provide for her support if he divorces her. This caused selfish men to want to simply "cast out" their wives rather than write a bill of divorce. Furthermore, Old Testament law did not forbid a man to have more than one wife at a time, so a man could put out one wife without any "certificate of divorce", marry another, and at a later time take the first wife back. A woman could not have more than one husband, so once put out she was "in limbo" until he either took her back or gave her a "certificate of divorce".

The problem was worse if a man abandoned his wife and did not tell her where he was going. She cannot remarry according to the law, yet she will have no way of knowing if her husband illegally remarries or dies. These women (called agunah—"tied ones") may have small children to raise but no significant means of support. This was a major problem in the New Testament and still exists among some Orthodox Jewish groups to this day.

Lest we think that the Eternal designed his laws poorly, we must remember that originally He gave each man his own inheritance—land which was his without any taxes. That system provided a great incentive for a man to remain on his land. Also, most marriages took place among people living in close proximity. If a wife was mistreated, her father or brothers would make sure that the marriage agreement was enforced. Today, when it is common to have rental housing and a non-agricultural job, there is less to tie a man to his home. Married couples often live far from their families and have no agreement stating how husbands and wives are to conduct themselves. Since it is an embarrassment to be a deserted mate, many people in this condition will try to hide it from their community. Deserting a mate is a sin—even more so if the person goes elsewhere and pretends to be unmarried.

Divorced: Divorced people have ended their status as husband and wife. The marriage agreement or their vows are no longer binding. The woman (or her parents) collect any divorce rights specified in their marriage agreement or state laws. The woman is no longer under the authority of the man. The community is aware that the marriage has ended, and it is acceptable for them to be seen with others. It is a public statement of these facts, so that they will not have a bad reputation if they court or eventually marry others.

What Does the Old Testament Say About Divorce?

The Old Testament contains three words that are sometimes translated "divorce." Various Bible translations render them quite differently. The KJV is better than most in this aspect, but we found no translation that always makes clear the underlying Hebrew words. You can use an exhaustive concordance or an interlinear to see the original words. We will give the Strongís numbers, below, as you can use them to reference the words in most interlinears, exhaustive concordances, and lexicons.

The one word that means "divorce" and nothing but "divorce" is kíriythuwth (Strongís 3748). It always appears with the word cepher (5612), which is some type of written document. Hence, we see the expression "bill of divorcement" or "certificate of divorce". This expression appears four times in the Bible:

When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man's wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced [shalach—"sent away"] her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance (Deut 24:1-4).

Thus says the LORD: "Where is the certificate of your mother's divorce, Whom I have put away? [shalach—"sent away"] Or which of My creditors is it to whom I have sold you? For your iniquities you have sold yourselves, And for your transgressions your mother has been put away (Isaiah 50:1).

"They say, 'If a man divorces [shalach—"sends away"] his wife, And she goes from him And becomes another man's, May he return to her again?' Would not that land be greatly polluted? But you have played the harlot with many lovers; Yet return to Me," says the LORD... The LORD said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: "Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. And I said, after she had done all these things, "Return to Me." But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away [shalach] and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also" (Jer 3:1, 7-8).

This is all of the instruction we have from the Old Testament regarding the certificate of divorce. We have almost no details about what is to be written in the certificate, when it can be given, and when it cannot be given. Jewish sources have preserved much information, but it is hard to prove which of their writings were inspired by the Eternal and which are the reasonings of men. The above passage in Deuteronomy is in great debate among Jewish as well as other scholars. The word translated "uncleanness" (Deut 4:1) is usually translated "nakedness" and therefore implies some kind of sexual misconduct. On the other hand, Deuteronomy 4:2 seems to say that a husband may divorce a wife if he "detests" or "hates" her. The Jewish "School of Shammai" understood that these verses meant a man could divorce his wife only for unchastity. The opposing Jewish view, the "School of Hillel" held that she could be divorced for nearly any reason. Our Savior was asked to explain these verses (Matt 19:3), but rather than concentrate on technicalities, He brought out other more important principles. We will discuss the New Testament principles later, but it is clear that the Old Testament provided for a man to give his wife a certificate of divorce in certain cases. Also, we find that the Eternal himself gave the nation of Israel a certificate of divorce.

Several times in the above verses, the Hebrew shalach (7971) was translated "divorced." This word is used over 700 times in the old testament and usually means simply "to send," "to send away" or to "go." It usually has nothing to do with marriage and can imply either a positive or negative reason for leaving. For example, it is used when Adam was sent out of the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:23), and it is used to "let the oppressed go free" (Isa 58:6). It is used for quite common, ordinary situations such as when David sent a boy to get his arrows (1Sam 2:21). However, when referring to a marriage, it is not referring to one spouse sending the other to the store or something like that, but to a divorce or a desertion. How can one word have such a general meaning in one context and such a specific meaning in another? This is the nature of languages. It happens in English frequently. The words "let" and "go" have very broad meanings. But, you know that if someone has a bird in a cage and decides to "let him go," the bird is receiving his freedom. Whereas if a boss tells a worker he has decided to "let him go", it does not mean he is getting a day off, but that he is losing his job.

So what does the Hebrew shalach (7971) mean in the context of a marriage? It clearly refers to the breaking up of a marriage. Its usage in Deuteronomy 24:4 (above) shows it must include women given a certificate of divorce. But the Hebrew shalach (7971) is also used in cases of desertion when no bill of divorce was written. We see one example right after Amnon raped Tamar:

So she [Tamar] said to him [Amnon], "No, indeed! This evil of sending me away [shalach] is worse than the other [rape] that you did to me." But he would not listen to her (2Sam 13:16).

Since Tamar was probably Amnonís half-sister, he should have been cutoff from his people (Lev 18:11,29). But lacking that, the law required that Amnon marry Tamar and never "send her away." The same Hebrew shalach is used in that law:

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away [shalach] all his days (Deut 22:28-29, KJV).

This command says that he must neither give her a certificate of divorce nor put her away in some other manner. (If you read the rest of the story, you find that—like today—the sons of leaders often temporarily escaped the penalty of the law: David did not force Amnon to take care of Tamar, so after two years Tamarís brother Absolom killed Amnon.)

It is clear to this writer that Hebrew Shalach refers to any kind of marriage breakup—either by certificate of divorce or desertion.

Another example is the law for a man who falsely accuses his wife of not being a virgin when they were married. He is not allowed to desert her, abandon her, or divorce her in any way.

...because he has brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away [shalach] all his days (Deut 22:19).

On the contrary, if a man betroths a woman to himself that was captured in battle, he may simply "let her go." (There is some debate as to whether he may "let her go" only before or even after having sex with her, but we will not spend time with this issue since it is not a problem confronting our readers at this time.)

If you are not pleased with her, let her go [shalach] wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her (Deut 21:14, NIV).

But what is the Eternalís opinion when a marriage breaks up, whether it be due to divorce or otherwise?

Another thing you do: You flood the LORD's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, "Why?" It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth (Mal 2:13-15).

For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away [shalach]: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously (Mal 2:16, KJV).

So far, we have seen one Hebrew expression (kíriythuwth) used in "certificate of divorce" and another word (shalach) referring to any kind of marriage break-up, both divorce and desertion.

The third Hebrew word related to marriage breakups is garash (Strongís 1644). It is used about 40 times in the Old Testament, usually translated "cast out", "thrust out", or "driven out." It means "cast out, without particular care to what will happen afterward." The word garash is used when Adam is cast out of the garden of Eden (Gen 3:24), when Israel is cast out of Egypt (Ex 12:29) and when the Caananites are cast out of the promised land (Ex 23:28-31; Deut 33:27; Jud 6:9; Ps 58:75; etc.) It is also used when a husband "casts out" his wife or concubine:

Therefore she [Sarah] said to Abraham, "Cast out [garash] this bondwoman [Hagar] and her son [Ishmael]; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac" (Gen 21:10).

There was no "certificate of divorce" or any kind of property settlement given here. Even though Abraham was wealthy, he gave Hagar and Ishmael only a minimal amount of food—so little that they would have died without a miracle from the Eternal.

While the Eternal specifically told Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael, that was not how a man was commanded to treat his wife in the Old Testament. In a chapter condemning the evils in the society of His people, the Eternal said:

The women of My people you cast out [garash] from their pleasant houses; from their children You have taken away My glory forever (Micah 2:9).

There are no scriptures giving any implication that a "cast out" woman could remarry. However, since the Eternal knew that this evil would happen, he did give some instruction regarding them:

But if her husband overrules her on the day that he hears it, he shall make void her vow which she took and what she uttered with her lips, by which she bound herself, and the LORD will release her. Also any vow of a widow or a divorced [garash] woman, by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her (Num 30:8-9).

The Hebrew garash ("cast out") is used instead of shalach ("put away") because the status of a woman who was put away (but had no "certificate of divorce") is the only one in question. It was already clear that a man has no control over a woman at all once he has given her a "certificate of divorce." This verse shows specifically that if a man also "casts out" or deserts his wife, he no longer has any say about her vows to the Eternal.

Another law gave a married but "cast out" daughter of a priest the right to eat from the offerings given to a priests family (Lev 22:13). This was very important because a "cast out" woman without a "certificate of divorce" could not remarry. This allowed her to always eat with the rest of her family.

There are three other places in scripture where garash is used in relation to marriage. They all show specifically that a priest was not to marry a garash ("cast out") woman. The high priest was required to take only a virgin for his wife (Lev 21:10-14). Other priests were required not to take harlots or "cast out" women, but could marry widows of other priests (Lev 21:7; Ezk 44:21-22). Could a priest marry the wife of another priest that had been given a "certificate of divorce?" The Bible does not specifically say, but most Jewish (and Christian) scholars would say "no." This writer has an opinion, but it is not essential to this article.

What is important is that the Old Testament Hebrew speaks of broken marriages in three different ways: women who have been given a "certificate of divorce" (kíriythuwth, Strongís 3748), women who have been "cast out" (garash, Strongís 1644) and a general any-kind-of-separation (shalach, 7971). If a woman were "cast out," she would need a "certificate of divorce" in order to remarry.

Would a man need a certificate in order to be remarried? No, because a man was allowed to have more than one wife (Deut 21:15), but a woman could not have more than one husband (Deut 22:22; Rom 7:2-3). Understanding these concepts is important to understand what was in the minds of the people hearing the words of the New Testament. (If any man thinks that these scriptures give him the right to have more than one wife or a "concubine", please realize there is no mention of any righteous person in the New Testament with more than one wife—and there are scriptures indicationg it should not be done: 1Cor 7:33, Eph 5:33; 1Tim 3:2; Tit 1:6).

What Does the Messiah Say About Divorce?

There are four words used in the New Testament in connection with marital breakups. Unfortunately, few translations render all of them consistently. Nearly all of our Messiahís recorded words on the subject use only two of those Greek words.

The simplest to understand is the Greek word apostasion (Strongís 647) which means "certificate of divorce" or "writing of divorcement." It is found in three places (Matt 5:31; 19:7; Mark 10:4). It is identical to the "certificate of divorce" found in the Old Testament—we found no source that disputed this fact.

What is greatly disputed was under what conditions a divorce could be granted. As we mentioned previously, the rabbinic teachers of the day were greatly divided on the issue—The "School of Shammai" accepting only a few reasons, the "School of Hillel" accepting many. Many used this uncertain understanding of the law to simply do whatever they wanted—they could probably always find at least one rabbi that could agree with them. They "put away" their spouses—deserting them or "casting them out" and not giving them a "certificate of divorce" at all. Women who wanted to follow the law felt they could not remarry, yet they had little or no support. The same problem exists among Orthodox Jews today. In Matthew 19 and Mark 10, our Savior was directly asked about when a wife could be put away. Since these accounts are similar, we will quote only the one in Mark 10:2-12, KJV:

And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away [apoluo] his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement [apostasion], and to put her away [apoluo]. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder [separate—chorizo]. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away [apoluo] his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away [apoluo] her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

In this passage, we immediately see that the Greek word apoluo (Strongís 630) is the primary one used. It means to "put away" or to "send away" and is used 89 times in the new testament—sometimes in relation to marriage but more often not (Matt 14:23; 15:23; Mark 6:36; 8:9; Acts 13:3). As we will see, it refers to any split-up in a marriage, not specifically one where a "certificate of divorce" was given. The Pharisees were not even asking about when they could write a bill of divorce, but when they could simply "put away" a wife. It was the Messiah who had to ask them about what the law said. The problem was, most of the men did not want to write the "certificate of divorce," because that meant they would be financially responsible for returning part of the dowry as specified in their marriage agreement, and it meant that the husband could never change his mind and take her back (Deut 24:1-4).

When our Savior responded, He gave the answer that has been needed throughout all time: the purpose of marriage is not to find out what is required to divorce, but to learn to live peacefully together. He showed them His Fatherís purpose from Genesis. Yet, He did not come to destroy the law (Matt 5:17)—He did not cancel the law of the "certificate of divorce" given by Moses. Almost none of the people had the Holy Spirit, and there were still many with hard hearts—people who were impossible to live with. The Eternal gave the "certificate of divorce" for a reason, and that reason was still in existence.

But, our Savior labeled the "putting away" as clearly wrong. We can be sure that He was not condemning "certificates of divorce" when He condemns "putting away" because He says "if a woman shall put away her husband"—there was no provision in the Mosaic law or rabbinic law at that time for a woman giving a "certificate of divorce" to her husband. Our Savior was condemning the reckless "illegal" marriage break-ups and remarriages that were going on in His day—and ours. We find more in Matt 5:31-32, KJV (Luke 16:18 contains a similar idea):

It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away [apoluo] his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement [apostasion]: But [de] I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away [apoluo] his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced [apoluo—should be "put away"] committeth adultery.

Why the KJV translators decided to translate apoluo as "divorced" here, instead of "put away" as they normally do, we cannot be sure. Nevertheless, the meaning of the Greek is clear: A remarried person who is simply "put away" is committing adultery. Many people interpret these verses to condemn all divorce and remarriage. That interpretation is understandable—especially if Bible readers are using a translation that renders all of the various Greek words as "divorce." But even with the translation shown above, the verse may sound as if our Savior is replacing the "certificate of divorce" with the crime of adultery except in the case of "fornication." In English, we get the idea of "replacement" from the word "but" which usually contrasts two different thoughts. However, the word translated "but" here is the Greek de—it is translated "but" 1237 times and "and" 935 times. It does not imply contrasting thoughts but continued thoughts—it is also sometimes translated "also", "so" and "moreover". The Greek alla is used where ideas are opposites such as: "I did not come to destroy but [alla] to fulfill" (Matt 5:17).

Our Messiah is pointing out the hypocrisy in the approach of that time: People were arguing about when a certificate should be granted, but were not trying to make their marriages work. They were arguing about the technicalities of "certificates of divorce" while they were committing adultery because they had no certificate, but were only "putting away." Today, we have a different form of hypocrisy. Some conservative churches do not allow members to divorce and remarry, but they take little action against pre-marital affairs or ongoing adulterous relationships.

Furthermore, we can be sure that our Messiah was not making obsolete the "certificate of divorce" because of the exception that He cited (both here and in Matthew 19:9). He said "except for fornication [Greek porneia]"—which generally means sexual involvement before marriage or some kind of perversion. The penalty for adultery (sexual involvement with a non-spouse by married people) was "death" (Lev 20:10)—a divorce was not necessary to end the marriage. However, when a couple was betrothed and one admitted to previous sexual involvement, the partner could simply be "put away" with no bill of divorce. (This case and Deut 21:14 are the only apparent cases where a man may "put away" his wife without a bill of divorce.) This is exactly what Joseph was going to do with Mary before the Eternal showed him what to do through a dream:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away [apoluo] secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit."

When a woman informs her husband-to-be that she is "with child" by someone else, he may simply "put her away," as if the marriage agreement never took place. Why did not Joseph try to have Mary killed according to the provisions in Deuteronomy 22, verses 21 or 24? Because Joseph was a "just man". Verse 21 applies only to women who claimed to be virgins but were later found not to be so. Verse 24 does not apply if a woman is impregnated against her will. Joseph did not believe her "angel story" at first, but having no proof of any wrong-doing on her part, he simply intended to "put her away" secretly. This is the only kind of "putting away" that was consistent with the Old Testament law and the words of our Savior. The only acceptable way to end a marriage was through the death of one of the parties or through a "certificate of divorce".

What does Paul Say About Divorce and Remarriage?

Except for the last word of Mark 10:9 or Matthew 19:6, the words Paul uses for marital break-ups are completely different than those used by our Savior. This may be because Paul was writing to a partly Gentile audience who were not as familiar with the Biblical laws and Jewish customs of divorce. Paul never mentions a "Bill of Divorce" directly, but he does speak of the contractual nature of marriage. His writing is understandable and gives the Body of Believers all they need to know about what to do with their marriages.

The Greek chorizo (Strongís 5563) is used 12 times and means "to depart" or "to separate" (Matt 19:6; Mark 10:9; Acts 18:1; Rom 8:35; 1Cor 7:10,11,15; Phlm 1:15). The sense implies a physical removal. It does not seem to imply any specific marital status as "legal separation" does in English, but it is apparently used by our Savior to refer to any kind of separation, and by Paul to refer to people who are physically separated in the hopes of being reunited.

The Greek aphiemi (Strongís 863) is used 133 times in the New Testament and means "to leave" or "to forgive". It has the sense of "to give up attention and responsibility" (Matt 4:11; 4:22, 5:24; Mark 10:28; Rom 1:27; Rev 2:4). In only three places does aphiemi apply to a marital break-up: 1 Corinthians 7:11–13. It appears to mean any kind of dissolution of a marriage.

At this time, it would be helpful for you to read the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 11. We will only quote parts of it to save space in this article, but it is all very important. Pay particular attention to the several times where Paul states which items are "commandments from the Lord" and which are his own opinion.

But unto the married I give charge, yea not I, but the Lord, That the wife depart [chorizo] not from her husband (but should she depart [chorizo], let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband); and that the husband leave [aphiemi] not his wife. But to the rest say I, not the Lord: If any brother hath an unbelieving wife, and she is content to dwell with him, let him not leave [aphiemi] her. And the woman that hath an unbelieving husband, and he is content to dwell with her, let her not leave [aphiemi] her husband (1Cor 11:10-13, ASV).

These verses illustrate the difficult nature of marriages. Paul tells wives not to depart, then in the next verse says what to do if they disobey the first instruction. Nevertheless, Paul is clearly talking to "believers" here, and he says that if believers must depart (be "separated"), they should not remarry but work to be reconciled. If they cannot, they should remain single. This is a higher standard than the Old Testament teaches. There is no need for a "certificate of divorce" if people have only one mate. Through the power of the holy spirit, converted couples should be able to live together in peace. This higher standard is an essential test of character for those who are a part of the "body of Christ."

Most converted people have little difficulty accepting this higher standard given to them. The difficulty begins when someone has a previous or present marriage with an unconverted person. Under what conditions can a person remarry if they had a marriage with an unconverted person that broke up? Paul answers that directly in verse 15:

Yet if the unbelieving departeth [chorizo], let him depart [chorizo]: the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us in peace.

There are two vital points here:

1) If an unbelieving mate seriously wants to depart from the marriage, do not try to stop him or her. (Later, we will deal with the question of, "What is an unbelieving mate?") We have heard of cases when a believer tried to force or entice an unbelieving mate to stay against their will. We do not know of any who were successful. If a spouse wants to end a marriage, and is not willing to be governed by the marriage laws of the Bible, there is virtually nothing that the believer can do.

2) The term "under bondage" is translated from the Greek douloo which is a contractual term for making a person a slave. Paul is saying that if the unbeliever departs—the contract of service to them is over. This is the exact purpose of a "certificate of divorce," which ended the marriage contract. The Old Testament law could not be followed to the letter in cases where the unconverted mate was a Gentile and/or simply refused to cooperate with it.

If a person is no longer "under bondage," does that mean they are able to remarry? Fortunately, the answer is made clear a few verses later where Paul has a section on dealing with the difficult times they were living in.

I think therefore that this is good by reason of the distress that is upon us, namely, that it is good for a man to be as he is. Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife. But shouldest thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Yet such shall have tribulation in the flesh: and I would spare you (1Cor 7:26-28, ASV).

Again, we find the contractual "binding and loosing" terminology here. It is very clear that a person could be "loosed from a wife," marry, and not sin. The Corinthian converts certainly would have had the same problems that many of us do today: They have learned the Eternalís law and want to live with one spouse from now till the end of their life, but past or current spouses may not cooperate with this idea. There is sometimes a need to end relationships with the unconverted and to start over with a believer.

Are there other reasons that a person can remarry? Yes, Paul did not want to leave this one out:

A wife is bound for so long time as her husband liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is free to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord (1Cor 7:39, ASV).

Does this verse say that death is the only way to end a marriage? No. If a marriage contract has been ended by a "certificate of divorce" or by the departure of an unconverted person, the man and woman are no longer husband and wife. But as long as they remain husband and wife, they are bound until one of them dies.

The Symbolism of Marriage

Many women, and some men have wondered why the Old Testament law gave so much control and authority to the man. If a man made his wife miserable, there was little she could do. But if a wife made her husband miserable, he could write her a "certificate of divorce." The reason this was done is because marriages symbolize the relationship between the Eternal and his people. Husbands have control not because men are inherently better than women, but because they symbolize the Eternal—the one who sets the laws and standards for his people (symbolized by a woman).

Originally, the Eternal had a marriage covenant with nations of Israel and Judah. When Israel misbehaved, the Eternal wrote her a "certificate of divorce" and put her away (Jer 3:8). Today, that marriage relationship continues with the assembly of believers. We should be subject to our Savior and learn to do things His way. This is well explained in Ephesians 5:20-32:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

The above scripture gives us the formula for peace in a marriage, but both must work toward this goal. Notice that it does not tell a husband to try to force his wife to submit, not does it tell the wife to try to nag her husband into being the kind of person she thinks he should be. We can see from history that our Messiah has not forced those claiming to be "His Church" to obey Him—churches have done many unbiblical things, and the Eternalís reputation has suffered greatly because of it. Also, we see churches today trying to portray the Eternal as something He is not—a "trinity" or a God of "love" without law—none of which has changed the way that the Eternal really is.

There is much we can learn from this symbolism, but difficulty arises because the Spiritual Husband is perfect, but human husbands are not. Is it fair that women have to suffer under the misused authority of their husbands? No. Nor is it fair that children have to suffer under the misused authority of their parents. Nor is it fair that anyone has to suffer under the misused authority of evil rulers or powerful criminals. But human experience has been the story of suffering due to the misuse of power and authority. Does everyone suffer the same? No! Some people suffer a little, some a lot—our Savior certainly suffered a lot. It is difficult to compare one personís suffering to anotherís, but it may well be true that wives (as a whole) suffer more than husbands. If so, it may also be true that wives are more perfect than husbands (Heb 2:10, 1Pet 5:10). The important thing to realize is that women have the same access to the Eternal and salvation: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).

Summary of Marriage Laws for Believers

The following points summarize our present understanding of the verses listed above. We ask that you make your marital decisions based on your understanding of the scriptures—not solely on this summary:

1. The Eternal intends for a virgin man to marry a virgin woman and for those to stay married until one of them dies. Anything less than this involves sin on the part of someone. Once you are converted, you must adhere to this law as closely as your situation allows. (We use the term "converted" for brevity, but anyone who understands what the Eternal expects of them is responsible for living by it, even though they may not have been baptized yet.)

2. If you had been married prior to conversion, you need to handle those marriages appropriately. If your most recent marriage is salvageable, you should try to revive it—especially if your spouse or children want you to. See point 3 below for the rules governing an "unconverted mate" to determine if you should get back together or stay apart. Your most recent marriage (if not revivable) and all previous marriages must be formally terminated. Whether these marriages were by state marriage license, contract, or just a live-in relationship, they should all be formally terminated—the equivalent of a "certificate of divorce." If you have a state license, you should have a state divorce. If you had a marriage contract or a verbal agreement (not a good method of marriage), then you should write out a document declaring you are no longer husband and wife, keep a copy, give it to the other person, and make it known in the same manner you made the marriage known. Marriages and divorces are statements to the community. If you have lost contact with the other person—it would still be good to write the document, so that you know in your own mind that you no longer have any relationship with that person. We see no need to write anything to previous sexual partners where no lasting relationship was intended, but you need to talk to the Eternal and repent of all of this. When your last marriage broke up, if you were the primary cause of it, and if you understood what the Bible teaches about marriage at that time, and if reconciliation is no longer possible, then you probably should remain single.

3. Converted people should only consider marrying other converted people. Who is a converted person? For people in large church organizations, the answer is usually simple: someone who is a member of that organization. However, the Bible shows a converted person is one living by the spirit of the Eternal and His word. History shows us that individuals can be "pillars" in church organizations for years, yet have a disgusting private life, and then after many years completely give up on all religion. There is no simple test that can be performed to determine conversion nor any specific list of doctrines that someone must accept. So how do you decide if your prospective mate is converted? You must pray for wisdom and make your own evaluation, but people who are anxious to marry have difficulty making unbiased decisions. You would be wise to seek the counsel of older, stable brethren who have known your prospective mate for several years. Hopefully, this will include your parents and your prospective spouseís parents—but if parents are unconverted or plagued by their own selfish interests, they may not be of genuine help to you. If you do not have any such common friends, be careful—you may want to delay your marriage a number of months so common friends can form an opinion. It may sound cold-hearted, awkward and judgmental to ask your friends "do you think so-and-so is converted enough for me to marry?" But, it is so much better to ask that question to many friends before marriage than it is to be asking it to yourself after you have married.

4. Be the best partner you can be! Among converted people, no-fault divorce does not exist! You need to pray and work at being the best husband or wife you can be—as if your salvation depended on it. When our Savior was on earth, he did not sin, even though he suffered under abusive authority. Now, He is faithful to his bride (the Church) even though she has many sins and difficulties. Nevertheless, one person cannot make a marriage if the other wants to destroy it. Since there are still "hard hearts," there is still a need for divorce—just be sure you are not the cause of it. Nearly all divorce cases fall into one of the categories below:

a) Your obviously unconverted spouse wants a divorce. It is obvious to nearly everyone that your spouse is no longer living by the Bible. (Your spouse may have renounced religion, have an ongoing affair, etc.) If the spouse wants to leave, you cannot stop them. Try to retain child custody and a fair (neither too much nor too little) share of the assets of the marriage. You can remarry—if you have small children, you probably should. But get more and better council before you do; do not marry someone with the same problems that your ex-mate had.

b) Your spouse is miserable to live with, but does not want a divorce. Your spouse may be failing in any number of areas: communication, supporting the family, sexual relations, etc. First, use the principles of Matthew 18:15-17 to communicate these difficulties to your spouse. If your spouse will not hear members of your congregation, but will listen to professional marriage counselors, use them as your "witnesses". If your spouse fails to hear your communication or fails to take any action, a separation is the next step. Write a letter to your partner indicating that this is not a divorce or the first step toward a divorce, but a time for you to realize the importance of your marriage. Also, a separation is a statement that a marriage is having difficulty—one that a spouse cannot simply ignore. You should not be looking around for a new prospective mate during your separation! Your hope and goal should be that your spouse repents and changes. If your spouse makes significant changes, you should get back together. If, after many months of opportunity, your spouse refuses to change and still does not want a divorce, you may have to take some other action. We know of cases where people hated their converted spouses, ignored them completely, but refused to file for divorce in order to prevent the hated spouse from remarrying. Even though your spouse may claim to be "pleased to dwell with you," his or her actions may indicate the opposite. We do not recommend that you decide on your own that your spouse is unconverted and "not pleased to dwell with you"—there are too many emotional forces pulling on you to make a just decision. However, if a large number of older, stable brethren all agree that your spouse is unconverted and "not pleased to dwell with you"—even though your spouse claims otherwise, then we do not see why you should not initiate a divorce. This is especially true when small children are involved and/or when a financial settlement is essential. Please see the cautions at the end of this article.

c) Your spouse claims you are miserable to live with and wants a divorce. Your spouse may claim that he or she is converted and that you are not. The first thing to ask yourself is, "is my spouse right?" Your reaction will typically be something like "I have problems, but they are not so bad that my spouse should want a divorce." All marriage difficulties involve some combination of problems created by both husband and wife. However, in some cases, one person causes the vast majority of them. If you are the major cause, you need to repent, pray, fast, and probably repent some more. Your sins are not automatically ignored or forgiven just because you know some definite sins of your spouse. On the other hand, your spouse may be the cause of most problems and is simply blaming you for them. In any case, you should try to use the steps in point b), above: Matthew 18 communication, temporary separation, and reconciliation. If you changed the parts of your life that bothered your spouse, and if it is clear to you as well as nearly all of the people who you counseled with that your spouse is wrong for asking for a divorce, then let the spouse get the divorce and treat him or her as unconverted—you may remarry. If you believe your spouse is converted or that you are the cause of a significant part of the problem, you would be better to remain separated or divorced than to remarry.

Who Determines Who Can Marry and Divorce Today?

In the previous section we encouraged individuals with marriage difficulties to seek a multitude of counsel, but ultimately, we said that they would have to make the final decision. Is this safe? Will not that allow people to simply marry and divorce whenever they want to? If the people have no real respect for the Eternal and his law, the answer is yes! Even the Eternal realized that He could not stop hard-hearted people from divorcing, so He gave them instructions on how to do it! The biblical principles we outlined are for converted people.

The individual, with the aid of counselors, must make their decision before their Creator. What many people do not realize, is that they can prove their unconversion by their choices in divorce and remarriage:

But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel (1Tim 5:8).

The word "infidel" here means and is often translated "unbeliever". Paul leaves little room for doubt: a person who seeks a divorce rather than supporting his or her household is clearly worse than an unbeliever. Marriage and divorce decisions should be the most carefully thought out thing we do in our lives. If a person decides wrongly, it is sin. Clever and persuasive people may be able to convince themselves, a multitude of counselors, any number of ministers, as well as courts of law that it would be best for them to divorce and remarry. But ultimately we will all "stand before the judgment seat of Christ" (Rom 14:10, 2Cor 5:10). If a converted person unjustly leaves their spouse, it is an on-going sin. The sin needs to be repented of and corrected:

Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge (Heb 13:4).

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. And again, "The Lord will judge His people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:26-31).

Making a decision to divorce or remarry is no light thing. It is easier to do when your spouse refuses to talk about the subject or accept counsel. A person who refuses to talk about problems is not following the principles in Matthew 18 or the Old Testament:"Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt" (Lev 9:17, NIV). You can be more sure that you are right if the other person refuses to talk meaningfully, but do not mistake a quiet personality for sin.

But should these important divorce and remarriage decisions be left to a minister or at least a professional of some kind? At least would that not provide some kind of uniformity in decision making? The entire process of conversion and growth is not about ministers telling people exactly what to do, but about people learning to do what is right and being responsible for the decisions they make. Elders and ministers should be available to give counsel to those who seek it. (For a detailed study of this subject, write for the Servantsí News article, "How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans?") Some bad decisions will be made along the way—no matter who makes them.

So then, some will argue that if each person has the right to interpret the marriage scriptures for themselves and decide whether they can divorce or remarry, then people will do whatever they want and we will have chaos. The truth of the matter is that we have had chaos for a long time. Even in church organizations that attempt to make divorce and marriage decisions for their members, resourceful people usually "get what they want" anyway. If one minister would not grant a divorce, another might—especially if you could do a favor for him. Some people declared "ineligible to remarry" by church organizations simply got married quietly and moved to another part of the country—the new minister did not know their history and accepted them into his congregation. Also, couples would get divorced, quit the organization, remarry, and then ask to be re-admitted. The church organization has the choice of "taking the remarried couple back," or losing their membership and contributions forever. Now that there are many similar Sabbath-keeping groups, individuals can simply look for one that will grant them the divorce or remarriage they are seeking. This author has seen and heard of all of these things happening many times.

The worst danger of ministerial-controlled marriage and divorce is that people feel assured that what they are doing is approved by the Eternal because the minister (and presumably the church) has accepted it. It is so much better when people know that the all-seeing great Creator will be judging their motives and actions. Converted people will be much more diligent to do what is right. Unconverted people will be more quickly exposed. The purpose of the ekklesia ("church") is not to prevent people from sinning, but to teach and encourage those who want to live by the leading of the holy spirit.

I know someone who was personally devastated when their church-sanctioned marriage broke up. The person and their parents knew about the prospective mateís problems before the wedding, but since the minister approved the marriage, they thought it would be all right. The Bible makes no promises about church-approved or minister-approved marriages—and we certainly do not see any church organization that produces all "good" marriages.

There are times when a congregation may need to refuse fellowship to someone who has made a clearly wrong marriage choice. The man who married his Fatherís wife, is a good example (1Cor 5:1-5). He was a terrible example to others and the correction helped him to see his problem and repent. It is interesting to note that no correction was given to the Corinthian church for letting him "marry" in the first place. Why? Because at that time, churches realized that they had no such authority.

Brethren should not seek to judge the biblical soundness of every marriage and divorce in their congregation—especially if they do not know all of the facts. They should only be concerned when it is a stumbling block for others. It is better to judge your own marriage. This even applies to parents: while there are examples of arranged marriages in the scripture, there is no command for parents to pick mates for their children, nor for children to marry whom their parents select. Provide help, if asked, but do not insist they follow your decision. However, there are two scriptures that show that a leader in the congregation should be the "blameless, husband of one wife" (1Tim 3:2, Tit 1:6). When selecting leaders for a congregation, it is advisable to avoid a person who has a questionable divorce and remarriage record.

All of the Eternalís people are learning to be priests (1Pet 2:5-9). We all need to apply the Eternalís law in our lives. We all need to establish a relationship, to learn to pray and seek His will for our smaller decisions, so we can seek and trust Him in the big decisions. Marriages, and sometimes divorces, are the "big decisions" in our lives. Persons about to marry or divorce should consider all of the facts, study the scriptures for themselves, obtain much counsel, pray, fast, and trust the Eternal to give His answer. This writer knows of a number of people who asked for some kind of miraculous revelation to confirm their decision, and received it. Others have not so asked or received, but have been firmly convinced that they understood their decision was the will of the Eternal.

May the Eternal bless you as you seek Him in your decisions, and as you encourage others to do the same.

—Norman S. Edwards


Secret Marriages and Divorces

From time to time we questions about whether it is acceptable to have secret sexual relationships—will God recognize a marriage even though other people do not know about it? Most of the time, the purpose for keeping such relationships secret is because the couple is afraid of what other people (usually children or relatives) will think if they hear about the marriage. We strongly recommend against this type of marriage, as the people that were to be "protected" by the secret will usually be offended even worse when they find out about it. Also, if anyone discovers your secret sexual relationship, you will certainly not be avoiding the "appearance of evil" (1Thes 5:12, KJV).

We have heard of a few technical cases where secret marriages make sense. These usually involve a person that will lose an inheritance, pension, or some other type of benefit if they ever get another state marriage license. An example might be an older man who receives a small pension and an older woman who recieves a larger one—but hers will be discontinued if she remarries and they both could not possibly live on his. Obviously, these are not marriage relationship problems, but problems with our legal and social systems. Any decision made must weigh the appearance of evil against the economic factors. An attempt to defraud someone or defeat the effect of a fair law by a "secret marriage" is a clear sin.

Secret divorces are usually desired by people who do not want their spouse to know they are divorcing them or who want to remarry before a state-divorce can be finalized. Both of these are mistakes. A divorce is intended to be a public statement of the end of a marriage. Without this, a remarriage is adulterous (Math 5:31-32).


Back to front page   May 1997 Index
Latest Issue   Previous Issues    Literature List   About Servants' News
Directly Helping    Contact    Help   Search this site    Receive SN for free
Permission is granted to reproduce any article in its entirety
http://www.servantsnews.com