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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Divorce and Remarriage II: When is Divorce Permitted?

(continued from here)

Considering the value of marriage, we know that death breaks the bond. Besides this, are there any other ways that the marriage bond can be broken? There are essentially three views on this – no, yes, but limited, and yes, but limited in name only.

1) No. This view is based primarily upon exegetical variations of the exception clause presented by Jesus in Matthew 19 (and similarly taught in Matthew 5)

“And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (ESV)

The Greek word for “sexual immorality” here is porneia, a word with a broad range of English words that it includes, all of which are aberrant or immoral sexual behaviors, such as incest, adultery, etc. Because other Greek words are used to refer to adultery specifically, some see this reference as a prohibition to incestuous marriages, not an exception clause.

Added to the Greek exegesis argument is the use of a preposition we would consider woefully inexact: epi. In the dative case, as it is used here, it can mean “only” or “including”. Thus, proponent of the no divorce argument would say that what Jesus says is not what every English translation reads, but instead: “whoever divorces his wife, not only for cases of sexual immorality (but for all reasons), commits adultery.” This reading would obviously support an “all divorce = sin” view. Of course, out of over 200 Bible translations, none read this way, so we can probably consider their exegesis faulty.

2) Yes, but limited. This represents the views of many in the West, who hold that divorce is ok, but only for certain reasons. For this view to be truly limited, the reasons must also be limited. They include adultery, physical abuse to the spouse or children, drug addiction, and abandonment. The reasoning varies, but is either the exception clause here in Matthew 19, common social perceptions, or a combination of both. Honestly, the view is really only a two-exception clause, with sexual immorality and danger to the family as the only reasons.

3) Limited in name only. Once one gets beyond sexual immorality and danger to the family for reasons for divorce, there really are no limitations. Reasons such as emotional abuse, mental abuse, financial insolvency, irreconcilable differences, etc all really can mean, “It’s not as fun as I thought it would be”. Is there real emotional and mental abuse? Certainly – but those who hold that these will be ground for a possible divorce of their own will justify “she’s not meeting my needs” or “he’s always crushing my dreams” as some kind of non-physical abuse.

This last category has no Biblical justification. Honestly, I don’t know how people who claim to be Christians can hold this view.

However, as interesting as the distinctions may be (and feel free to comment on them and my appraisal), the real issue for most is not, “Can a person get divorced”, but, “can a person remarry?” I feel that is the most interesting question, because for some, the two questions are in exact accord. For others, they are definitely not. Most Southern Baptist congregations will not reject a prospective pastor if he is divorced, but they will if he is remarried!

The next part of the series, “Can A Christian Remarry?” will address these differing views and attempt to present them even-handedly. While I have come to a conclusion while studying for this series, I recognize my own inherent subjectivity, and find the arguments that are not in agreement with mine to be somewhat compelling as well.


  • Just as I claimed there is not such thing as pre-marital sex (you had sex? congratulations, you're now married in the eyes of God!), just adultery, I think you could make the same case for divorce. What does divorce without remarriage really mean? Is it a sin to live in a different house than your spouse? And isn't re-marriage just adultery with a nicer title attached?

    By Blogger Mark, at 7/26/2006 08:23:00 PM  

  • This is an interesting series - thanks for posting it.

    "Reasons such as emotional abuse, mental abuse, financial insolvency, irreconcilable differences, etc all really can mean, “It’s not as fun as I thought it would be”. Is there real emotional and mental abuse? Certainly – but those who hold that these will be ground for a possible divorce of their own will justify “she’s not meeting my needs” or “he’s always crushing my dreams” as some kind of non-physical abuse."

    I think that what you are saying here is that whilst there can be real emotional and mental abuse, people can manipulate this clause to exit a marriage by citing weak examples of emotional and mental abuse.

    Possibly so - I have seen many a divorce plea in the County Courts here in England, and some of these would suggest that what you argue there is correct.

    However, let's not belittle this crime within a marriage. I was subject to emotional and mental abuse within my first marriage. Many was the time that I wished he would simply punch me (as he would sometimes threaten to do), so that others could witness a bruise on my face and I would be able to leave with full certainty that I had done the right thing. Mental abuse can be as bad if not worse than physical abuse. There's definitely something less clear-cut about it - and to claim you are suffering from it or have suffered from it can, unreasonably, raise many more questions and judgments than the claim that you've been physically assaulted.

    By Blogger Ruth, at 7/27/2006 02:11:00 AM  

  • Sorry - one more thing to add:

    I also think that the abusing party can rely upon the fact that physical abuse provides a more acceptable and clear-cut reason for ending a marriage than emotional and mental abuse, and take advantage of that fact. Though why a party within a marriage would wish to destroy the relationship over a period of time in this manner still perplexes me immensely.

    By Blogger Ruth, at 7/27/2006 02:15:00 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Robert, at 7/27/2006 09:40:00 PM  

  • this is stacy,roberts fiance....

    if adultry or death was the cause for both parties, then a couple has the right to remarry in the eyes of the lord.

    By Blogger Robert, at 7/27/2006 09:42:00 PM  

  • Mark,
    While there is an obvious connection through sex, I can't agree that sex makes one married, Biblically. Marriage is a committment much greater than sex - but the sexual bond is significant. That's why singles who have "friends with bennies" are upset when someone who is just a "friend" gives some "bennies" to someone else. Sex was designed to make such an emotional connection. However, there are several examples in the Bible of people who have sex outside of marriage and they are not treated nor spoken of as married.

    Ruth -
    My concern in this post with those reasons is more where one begins. If people go into a marriage believing that mental or emotional abuse justify divorce, they have a much higher chance of quitting, and ascribing marital conflict to emotional or mental abuse. Thus, if we see marriage as unbreakable or breakable only in the cases of adultery or danger to the family, we will likely perservere.

    I'm sorry you had to endure such treatment. Why would someone do such a thing? The very reason all marriages fail - selfishness.

    Stacy - It's great to have you stop in. I'll be addressing Remarriage in the next post. I know the issue has specific application for many of us here, so I hope the discussion to be enlightening and fulfilling.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 7/28/2006 08:53:00 AM  

  • Hammer,

    This is totally unrelated, but when I saw these I thought of you: Paladin Paladins

    By Blogger Mark, at 7/28/2006 01:43:00 PM  

  • Mark- LOL, too funny! It's a good thing we can laugh at ourselves, otherwise I'd have to get nasty about it. Oh, and having sex outside of marriage does not mean you're "married in the eyes of God", as you suggested, it means you are a fornicator and you've sinned in the eyes of God. I know Hammer already addressed that comment you made, but I couldn't let it go unaddressed by me, as well.

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 7/30/2006 09:51:00 PM  

  • When marriage bond is broken you feel like your entire world goes down and collapses, all your dreams thrown to the garbage pail. My marriage is going well thanks to Viagra Online.

    By Blogger peter, at 8/26/2010 01:21:00 PM  

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