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Monday, July 17, 2006

Divorce and Remarriage: What Makes and Breaks a Marriage?

(Continued from here)

The issue in the possibility of divorce is not whether divorce happens, but whether the marriage bond can truly be broken. To examine this, we must not only look at the Scriptural guidelines regarding divorce, but those regarding marriage. The primary marriage passages must be Genesis 2:18-25, especially verse 24, and Matthew 19:4-6. (While the continuing verses in Matthew are relevant to the overall question of Divorce and Remarriage, they are not to this initial question. We will address them later.)

Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Matthew 19:3-6 “He [Jesus] answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

What is the “therefore” of Genesis 2? The therefore is the creation of the institution of marriage between man and woman by God, for the purpose of making both better for their created purposes. A man will leave (the Hebrew is strong, like ‘totally abandon’) his parents because God has set aside for him a wife who makes him better. The converse is true for the woman – therefore, she must do the same, because there is set aside for her a man who makes her better.

What is, “They shall become one flesh”? Of course the sexual act is implied and part of it, but it is far greater than that. This is evident in our society, which is plagued with live-in sexual relationships. These couples are almost TWICE as likely to divorce than those who do not live together first, and married couples have lower rates of domestic violence, child abuse, relationship dissatisfaction and unhappiness than those couples who are merely living together. Lastly, the rate of those who remain together for the rest of their lives is no comparison. When we compare the married and the unmarried, one group is clearly more of one flesh than the other.

So how is it that this special, ordained bond can become broken? Well, we know it can be broken by death. There are no married couples in heaven (cf. Matt. 22:24-30), and on both the OT and the NT we find expectations that younger widows will remarry. Yet, the question is still present asked by those who were testing Christ in Matthew 19, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?”

If our answer to this is based upon current cultural norms, the answer is obviously yes. In all 50 states a marriage can be dissolved at the insistence of only one member, with no reason beyond their desire to divorce required. In some states, it is easier to divorce than to get out of a contract with a lawn mowing company!

Jesus emphasizes later in the passage that the state of divorce, even in the first century, was not what God intended. In fact, the Lord makes it quite evident what he thinks of the dissolution of families in Malachi,

You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was 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. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth… For the Lord, the God of Israel, says that he hates divorce.”

What is clear is that the view of God, revealed through the Scriptures, is that marriage is a bond of value well above what we put it, and that the dissolution of that bond requires something as drastic as death. Psychological studies have shown that divorce is as equal a stressor on a person and family as the death of a family member!

How do we reconcile the Scriptural view of marriage and divorce with the view of society? (I intend to discuss the “exception clauses” in Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7 in the following post, but as they are specifically exceptions, I’d prefer to focus this discuss upon the value of marriage and the strength of its bond when we compare the Scriptures and society, and why there is a difference.)


  • Hammer,
    Just one thing that struck me as odd in that post, I think.

    "What is the “therefore” of Genesis 2? The therefore is the creation of the institution of marriage between man and woman by God, for the purpose of making both better for their created purposes."

    I don't think that we can say that the "therefore" obviously means marriage. In context, it follows immediately from Adam's declaration that "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." In other words, the "therefore" means that a man leaves his father and mother, and join his wife because they are "bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh".

    That is, although this passage is obviously talking about the underpinnings of marriage, it doesn't mean quite what you said. "Therefore" doesn't mean "because God wanted people to marry" but "because man and woman desire one another". Marriage is the institution by which that desire is tamed and controlled - channelled from naked lust into a productive force in society. This, too, is why there is no marriage in heaven, I think. Because, when we are made perfect, there will be no need for the institution, because all will love perfectly and faithfully. There will be no danger of the desire running away.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 7/17/2006 02:03:00 PM  

  • John,
    I think there is a mixture of truth and misapplication there.

    The truth is that marriage certainly tames and controls lust in that fashion. I also like your correlation of that to a reason why there is no marriage in heaven, but I think it's better than that.

    Why was man given a wife, and a woman a husband? Not because of his lust!

    "Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for [5] him.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed [6] every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam [7] there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made [8] into a woman and brought her to the man.

    What the man said has no relevance to why God made marriage! Man made the marriage unit because 1) It was not good for man to be alone. 2) Man needed a helper. It's even possible, and I think likely, that those two reasons are really one - that man shouldn't be alone because he needs a helper suitable for him. He didn't need a helper just to satisfy or control his lusts, but so much more, to make him (and her) better for what God wanted them to do.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 7/18/2006 10:24:00 AM  

  • You're right - it's about far more than lust, and I didn't check what I'd written carefully enough because I did give that impression! But I still don't think that the context supports a use of "therefore" as meaning"because God made marriage" (which is what I think you were saying). The "therefore" here, I think, clearly relates to the preceding text - which does not mention marriage.

    This portion of the Genesis story is clearly there to explain why people marry (why else the explanatory verse?) but it doesn't mention marriage until that final point. So, the "therefore" must be read as connecting the following clause (marriage) to the preceding clause (bone of my bone). That is, the passage isn't saying that man and woman will marry because God instituted marriage. It says that man and woman marry because they are created for one another. And that this "for one another" depends crucially on their similarity and complementarity - God made woman only after Adam had found that no other created thing could satisfy his need for a companion.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 7/18/2006 10:39:00 AM  

  • Hi

    Sorry about this:
    1) I've been away from blogging as we've had visitors, and
    2) I wanted to e-mail Mrs Hammer(following your invitation over on my blog), but don't know how to get your e-mail address! Would it be dangerous of me to type my e-mail address here in a comment???

    Sorry for butting in. I've not yet read your post on marriage and divorce. I'll be doing that as soon as the children are in bed!

    I'm really sorry that this comment has nothing to do with your post - I know that's poor etiquette, but I did want to communicate with your lovely wife, Hammer, so please don't be cross!!

    By Blogger Ruth, at 7/18/2006 12:04:00 PM  

  • Ruth- our e-mail is
    It used to be posted on our blog, but when we deleted our pics, that seemed to disappear, too. Sorry about that!

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 7/18/2006 12:40:00 PM  

  • OK. So, just to clarify: what you are saying here is that marriage is a very strong bond indeed; a bond that requires something as drastic as death to be desolved, However, given that divorce does happen and marriages are desolved other than by death, "the Lord, the God of Israel, says that he hates divorce.”

    "Psychological studies have shown that divorce is as equal a stressor on a person and family as the death of a family member!"

    That finding does not surprise me.

    If I am honest, Hammer, I am interested in discovering how you can reconcile your stauchly held religious beliefs with marrying a divorcee.

    I, too, am a divorcee who has re-married. However, until recently, even the most liberal of priests in England would not re-marry a divorcee in a church (I wasn't married in a church the second time round), and the Catholic church here would not even bless my marriage after I'd been to the registry office. I do not consider you to be one of life's liberals when it comes to matters of Christian belief, and I'm eager to hear your arguments in support of re-marriage post divorce.

    By Blogger Ruth, at 7/18/2006 02:03:00 PM  

  • John,
    To posit that any "therefore" only refers to the previous sentence seems a bit below your grasp of the language.

    Try diagramming the passage. Where would the subordinating conjunction "therefore" point back to?

    In Matthew 6, does Jesus tell the disciples how to pray and use "therefore" only to refer to the fact that the Father knows what we need before we ask? Or instead, does it refer back to the entire thought, the primary one being the admonition not to use repetion? Does the US Declaration of Independence, which has a "therefore" in the final paragraph, only use that therefore to refer to the last grievance? Not at all.

    I'm not sure why you feel that the therefore" must be attached to the immediately preceding sentence as opposed to the primary thought of the relevant passage. To me, and the three commentaries I just poked through, it seems just the opposite. Granted, Spong's was not among them...

    Context does not mean we attach the verse prior and call it causal - but that we consider the context of the larger passage, scriptural context as a whole, theological context, and cultural context. None seem to lead to the conclusion you gave.

    I am surprised that the CofE hadn't been marrying divorcees. In the ECUSA and many denominations, it has been happening for decades. I'm not sure what you'll think of the conclusions yet, but I'm looking forward to finding out!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 7/19/2006 02:02:00 PM  

  • I don't think John wants to admit the "therefore" is referring to God creating marriage as between a man and a woman because he wants it to be possible to redefine marriage and justify that God may not have really meant it to only be between one man and one woman. That would mean giving in to my whole point in the "false converts" debate! However, there's no way around it: God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve or any other combination, and He never ordains or accepts it any other way in scripture, much less changes His views to fit current times.

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 7/19/2006 08:49:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    The thing is that nowhere in the passage, before that final thought, is marriage mentioned. That is why I don't think that "therefore" means that the reason a man leaves his father and mother is because God created marriage. As you said, "therefore" means the previous story: a man leaves his father and mother because God created a helper for him who is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.

    However, this wasn't meant to be a big deal, just one quirk in an otherwise good blog post.

    (And for goodness' sake don't start thinking I read Spong. I've no respect at all for that approach to theology. Once again I remind you - I'm not liberal, even slightly. It's just that I'm not conservative evangelical. There's a whole world out there...)

    Quite wrong, actually. My point here isn't to do with the nature of the partners but with the idea that people get married because God created marriage. People get married because they find partners who complement and fulfil them. And that this is what this passage in Genesis is saying.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 7/20/2006 03:18:00 AM  

  • Right-they found the partners God created for them. When they have contributing factors that lead their sinful and lustful hearts to seek a partner of the same gender, they say that's where God lead them, as well. Simply not true!

    My sinful heart can lead me astray (and does if I am not careful) every single day. I must stay in the Word daily to maintain clarity on how to face these challenges. The Word speaks to people and convicts them of their sin. Those ignoring His Words feel better about their sin, and justify their desires with moral relativism.

    Any way you slice it, if your view that sexuality is appropriate outsie of marriage, and that we should "hear" the message of homosexuals, despite Biblical teachings to do the opposite, it is awfully hard to stand by Biblical inerrancy, when we aren't talking about 1 or 2 or 3 Scriptures that lead us to the Divine design of marriage, but countless.

    I'm also not at all saying that "my kind of Christian"-meaning one who does believe every scripture is true, INCLUDING THE OT, is going to win the debate here on earth!

    The idea is that we will not win here on earth, and that God will call our motives and actions into question at judgement, when we are on our knees shouting "I thought you were just a God of love! I thought sin was a matter of justification!"

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 7/20/2006 10:52:00 AM  

  • Rightthinker,
    This post has nothing to do with homosexuality. My reply has nothing to do with homosexuality. The only issue here is whether the Genesis passage says that man and woman marry because God created marriage, or whether it says that they marry because they are made suitable partners for one another.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 7/20/2006 11:11:00 AM  

  • You are right-it has everything to do with marriage. Precisely my point.

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 7/20/2006 07:33:00 PM  

  • John,
    Oh - my fault! I misunderstood entirely. I never meant that they married because God created marriage - but I do insist that God did design, institute and ordain it.

    I didn't think you were a Spong fan...but aside from Barth, I'm not sure whose theology you are a fan of. I just chose the guy I knew wasn't on my team!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 7/25/2006 12:22:00 PM  

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