Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dennis Ingolfsland

The suffering and agony of those who go through a divorce is immeasurable. This is one theme that comes through repeatedly, in Judith Wallerstein's book, Second Chances. The scars and pain are often still evident fifteen years later. Unfortunately, the church, the very community which should show the most love and offer the most help is often the one to increase the suffering and agony. "God hates divorce" is the battle cry. And "there are no innocent parties in a divorce" is whispered about as if those who are still married are never guilty of acting unlovingly toward their spouse. Divorced people are often excluded from leadership positions in the church and ostracized even years after the divorce took place.

This essay is my position paper on divorce and remarriage. It will have three parts: first will be a brief examination of the Scripture passages which are relevant to the divorce/remarriage issue. Second will be a statement of my position on the issue and finally, I will interact with some of the objections to my position.


Leviticus 21:7, 14; Ezekiel 44:22

Leviticus 21 contains regulations for the conduct of the priests. Verses seven and fourteen both say that the priest is not to marry a divorced woman. This is often understood in conservative church circles as teaching that it is morally wrong to marry a divorced woman and the spiritual leadership is held to higher standards than the congregation. It is usually well understood, however, that the congregation should strive to achieve those standards and therefore, no one else should marry a divorcee either.

The problem with this interpretation is that the priest was not to marry a widow either (Lev. 21:14, Ezek. 44:22) and the apostle Paul makes it clear that there was nothing morally wrong with remarriage for a widow (Rom. 7:1-3). Leviticus deals for the most part with ceremonial matters. For example, the priests could not serve if they were blind, lame, hunchback or even if they had a broken hand or foot. These are ceremonial issues. Leviticus 21 is certainly not teaching that it is morally wrong to be blind or handicapped! Neither is it teaching that it is morally wrong to marry a divorcee.

Leviticus 22:13

In the Old Testament economy, the priests were to live off of the sacrifices and offerings of the people. This food was considered "holy" and there were strict limitations on who could eat of it. Visitors or hired servants, for example, were forbidden to eat of the offerings (Lev. 22:10). It is interesting, however, that if a priest's daughter became divorced and returned home, she was not excluded from eating the holy food.

Numbers 30:9

The Torah had specific regulations on the making of vows or verbal contracts. It is interesting that a woman who lived in her father's home could make a valid contract, but only if it was not immediately over-ruled by her father. Numbers 30:9 says that the vow of a divorced woman "shall stand against her". In other words a divorced woman could make a valid and binding contact. Had this provision not been made, ie. if divorcees had been stigmatized or ostracized it would have severely hampered their ability to do business and function independently.

Deuteronomy 22:13-19

If a man married a woman and then tried to get rid of her by falsely accusing her of not being a virgin, there was to be a trial of sorts before the city rulers. If she was found to be innocent, the man was never allowed to divorce her as long as he lived. This sounds like a very strange "punishment" until you realize that in that culture people's marriages were usually not for love; they were often arranged. And for a woman in that culture to be charged with immorality (assuming that she was not put to death) would have made both re-marriage and making a living very difficult if not virtually impossible. The regulation that the man could not divorce his wife not only assumes that divorce was ordinarily possible, it was a protection for the wife. The same is true of a similar regulation in Deuteronomy 22:29.

Deuteronomy 24:1-3

This is one of the central Old Testament passages concerning divorce, primarily because Jesus makes reference to it. The main thrust of the passage is that when a woman is divorced and becomes remarried, if she subsequently becomes widowed or divorced again, her former husband may not take her back as his wife. There are several speculations as to why this rule was given. One of the best, in my opinion is stated by Craigie:

Thus the intent of the legislation seems to be to apply certain restrictions on the already existing practice of divorce. If divorce became too easy, then it could be abused and it would become a 'legal' form of committing adultery" (Craigie, 305).
Or as Dobson puts it on a little more down to earth level:

"God gave this prohibition to ensure that marriage was not reduced to wife-swapping, thus defiling the very meaning and covenant of marriage. No on could say, "I'll go marry someone else, and it that doesn't work, I'll go back to my first mate"
(Dobson, 41).
I disagree with Driver (272) and Keil and Delitzsch who see the remarriage as tantamount to adultery. It is not the remarriage which is condemned; that is assumed, it is rather the taking back of a former wife after she had been married again.

The part of this passage, however, which has been disputed since Jesus' time has to do with the provision for the giving of a certificate of divorce for "uncleanness":
The expression is a peculiar one; and different views have been held as to what is
denoted by it. Of the Jewish legalists, the school of Shammai (1 cent. B.C.), pressing the word 'nakedness," understood it of unchastity, the school of Hillel, pressing (in Rabbinic fashion) the word 'thing,' and the clause 'if she find no favor in his eyes' (though this, as a matter of fact, is qualified by the following words, 'because he finds some indecency in her'), supposed the most trivial causes to be included, declaring, for instance, that a wife might be divorced, even if she burnt her husband's food, or if he saw a woman who pleased him better)" (Driver, 270).

The Hebrew expression for "uncleanness" is literally "nakedness of a thing". It is used for literal nakedness or metaphorically for something indecent (Koehler, 734-735). In Deuteronomy 24:1-3 Driver understands it as something short of actual unchastity (which involved the death penalty) but as immodest or indecent behavior (Driver, 271). Whether this could involve something other than immoral behavior, idolatry, for example, is left open to question at this point.

Deuteronomy 24:1-3 assumes, therefore, that a man may divorce his wife for indecent or shameful behavior and that she will probably remarry. It does not command them to do so, nor does it condemn them for doing so; it just restricts their right to remarry each other.

Hosea 1-3

Hosea was an eighth century B.C. prophet writing to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. His message was that since the Northern Kingdom had committed "harlotry" against the Lord, He would no longer be their God and they would no longer be His people. He says in 2:2, "she is not my wife nor am I her Husband". This is essentially a pronouncement of divorce; not because God is through with Israel, but because Israel has broken the covenant and has forsaken God. It is an amazing fact that the God who hates divorce, has divorced his own people. However, it is also clear that when Israel returns, God will take them back: "And it shall be, in that day, says the Lord, That you will call me "My Husband" (2:2).

Isaiah 50:1

This passage is problematic. Many have understood the question, "Where is the certificate of your mother's divorce" as an indication that there was no divorce between YHWH and Israel (Young, 295-296; McKenzie, 114). This is difficult to understand in light of the context of the same verse which also makes it clear that Israel is in fact "put away" or divorced. The question seems to be in answer to the objection of Zion that, "The Lord has forgotten me" (49:14). The answer is of course God has not forgotten you! "Can a woman forget her nursing child" (49:15)? And, "where is the certificate of your mother's divorce"?, the point being not the there was no divorce, but that "it was for your transgressions your mother has been put away" (50:1). It was not that God had forgotten Israel or given her up (see Watts, 193). This is entirely in line with Hosea which is clear that Israel was divorced, not because of God, but because of Israel's unfaithfulness. Once again we find that the God who hates divorce had divorced his people.

Jeremiah 3:1-8

Jeremiah 3:1 alludes to Deuteronomy 24:1-3 which disallows a divorced woman to return to her previous husband after she had been remarried. God, speaking through the prophet says that Israel has left Him for "another man". They have "played the harlot with many lovers", yet God pleads with them to come back anyway (3:1). In spite of His pleas, they did not return (3:7). And for all of Israel's adultery, God put her away and gave her a certificate of divorce (3:8). Jeremiah 3:8 is very clear and tends to support our interpretation of Hosea 1-3 and Isaiah 50:1. God has divorced Israel.

Ezra 9-10

According to the Torah (Ex. 34:16, Dt. 7:3) the Jews were forbidden to take wives from foreign peoples since they would tend to turn the Jews away from YHWH. As Craigie points out, however, this prohibition was not to be understood in an absolute sense:

Hebrew law does not prohibit mixed marriages outright, and certain regulations
are laid down for a Hebrew desiring to marry a foreign woman taken as a prisoner
in war; see Deut. 21:10-14. Moses himself was married to a non-Hebrew (Exod. 2:21) as were other Hebrew leaders...(Craigie, 178).

In Ezra 9-10 we find that after the exile, the Jews came back into the land and intermarried with those who living there. When this came to Ezra's attention and as he was praying for God's forgiveness for Israel's sin, the people came to him and admitted their sin and vowed to put away or divorce their foreign wives. Ezra not only condoned their discission to divorce, but saw it as God's will (10:11) and held them to their vow (10:5). Ezra 10:12-19 is an obviously abbreviated account of what happened when the congregation agreed. Evidently there was to be a case by case investigation (see Fensham, 140; Williamson, 155).

One question (among many) left unanswered is why was there a need for an investigation? If it was simply a matter of being married to a foreign wife the issue would be pretty clear cut. Although it is pure speculation, I wonder if the investigation was for the purpose of finding which of the foreign wives were still worshiping their own Gods and which had become prostelites, adopting Israel's God (eg. Ruth 1:16). In any case it was seen as God's will to divorce pagan wives.

Malachi 2:10-16

Malachi, ministering at roughly the same time as Ezra, seems to be dealing with the same problem of foreign marriages. Although the passage is very difficult, many commentaries seem to agree that the basic problem was that Jewish men were divorcing their Jewish wives and remarrying foreign women (see Smith, 320-325; Feinberg, 256-258; Mitchel, 52). The exhortation is that none should "deal treacherously with the wife of his youth" for "God hates divorce" (2:15-16).

One of the problems with the statement that God hates divorce which I have not seen addressed is the fact that Ezra, being a contemporary of Malachi, commands divorce and Malachi, speaking for God, condemns it. It would seem that we would have at least two possible options to reconcile this difficulty. First, we could suppose that Malachi would have, or possibly did, disagree with Ezra's demands to divorce:

"That God hates divorce (vs. 16a) suggests that divorce to marry another Jewish wife would be abhorrent to him and raises the question whether the divorce of a Gentile wife, later demanded by Ezra (Ezra 10:11), would have been required by Mal." (Carstensen, 514).

I know of no conservatives who would accept that option. The other possibility is that while it is true that God hates divorce, there are times when it is necessary and unavoidable.
Matthew 1:19

In Jewish marriage custom the betrothal period was in some ways similar to our engagement period except that it was a binding commitment which could be severed only by a divorce. Such was the lot of Joseph when Marry came to him to announce that she was pregnant. Joseph, knowing that this was not his child, could only conclude that Marry had been unfaithful.

Therefore, being "a just man" Joseph decided to divorce her secretly. Although this is all that the passage says about the matter, it is implied that Joseph could in fact divorce his "wife" without jeopardizing his status as "a just man". It is also implied that divorce in this case was an acceptable and even expected option.
Mark 10:2-12, Luke 16:18

The Pharisees were testing Jesus on the issue of divorce, presumably to trap Him into siding with either Hillel or Shammai. The central teaching of the passage is that divorce was never God's perfect intention for mankind. "God made them male and female and for this reason a man joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate" (Mk. 10:6-9). This much both sides will agree with.

One of the problems in the passage has to do with the phrase "Because of the hardness of your heart he [Moses] wrote you this precept (Mk. 10:5). I'm not sure that many of the conservatives who view divorce almost as an unforgivable sin have really grappled with the implications of this statement. Does it mean that Moses was wrong in allowing divorce and that Jesus was correcting him? Certainly no conservative who takes the inspiration of Scripture seriously would hold to such a view.

Some scholars, however, believe that Jesus was giving a newer and higher law and that the Mosaic law was being superseded by the law of Jesus. Atkinson says: "Indissolubilists insist that Jesus affirms the indissolubility of marriage in his teaching, forbidding divorce, thus abrogating the OT law" (Atkinson, 323).

I would strongly disagree with this view. Although it would be beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the hermeneutics of the problem of the relation of the Mosaic law to the present age, suffice it to say the I agree with Cranfield that "we are convinced that there is no statement in any of Paul's epistles which, rightly understood, implies that Christ has abolished the law" (Cranfield, 519). I would add that this is true of the rest of the New Testament as well.

This being the case, I would argue that while it is true that God hates divorce, yet He (through Moses) has made provision for it because of the "fallenness" of the human heart and that divorce is at times a valid option.

It is important to note that this passage does not teach that to divorce is to commit adultery, but to divorce and marry another. This is the basis for the teaching that remarriage is never an option. If someone gets divorced, it is said, they should never, ever get remarried (Ryrie, 1982, 179; Jackson, 104). It is my contention that Mark is writing in very abbreviated form. I believe we can gain further insights into the answer to this question in Matthew.

Matthew 5:31-32, 19:7-9

In both passages in Matthew which address the divorce issue it is safe to say that Jesus is against it. To this, both sides agree. These passages raise several questions, however.

First, both of these passages as well as the other two Gospel passages on divorce, say that someone who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery. Does this mean, by way of example, that if someone divorces his wife for physically abusing the children, and five years later he meets another woman whom he marries, that he has committed adultery?

The problem with this interpretation is that the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 for example, to which Jesus refers when He discusses divorce, implies that remarriage after divorce was a possible option. This was not just a human concession on the part of Moses. This was God's law.

I am convinced that this is not a correct interpretation of these passages. Jesus, especially in the Sermon on the Mount (in which one of the divorce passages occurs) is attacking the false notion of some of the religious leaders that merely keeping the letter of the law, or outward observance was adequate. They would play legal games finding loopholes in the law. They would say, for example, "Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated to perform it" (Mt. 23:16), or "Whoever swears by the alter, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obligated" (Mt. 23:18). It was like a child who would make a promise and cross his fingers behind his back.

It is in this vane that someone would presumably find a woman who pleased him more than his wife and imagine that by following the technicality of the law which allowed for divorce, he could put away his wife and marry someone else. Jesus, in all Gospel passages on divorce, was attacking that mentality. Jesus' answer to these people was NO! Don't imagine that just because you have observed the technicality of the law that you have escaped the judgement of adultery. You have divorced your wife so that you could have another woman. You have committed adultery with her! This, I believe is the intention of all of the Gospel passages on divorce. They were not intending to teach that if a person got divorced he or she could never again remarry.

A second problem in the Matthew passages is the so called "exception" clause. There have been many ingenious ways of explaining this clause. These will be discussed later in the paper in the "objections" section. My view is that, as stated above, Jesus was attacking the notion that if a married man found "another woman" he could legally have her just by following the technicality of the law which provided for a certificate of divorce. To divorce ones wife in order to marry another woman is adultery. An exception to this is if the present wife is being morally unfaithful in which case it is assumed that such unfaithfulness severs the marital bond. This is consistent with the Old Testament passages discussed above.

1 Corinthians 7:10-16

The thrust of this passage is that husbands and wives are not to divorce, not even if they are married to unbelievers. However, if a woman does depart (and Paul seems to assume that this is a possibility) she is to remain unmarried. Also, if an unbeliever departs, the remaining spouse is "not under bondage".

There are at least two questions we need to answer. The first concerns the injunction to remain unmarried. Is this an absolute command? The second concerns the meaning or "not under bondage".

First, many would take the phrase "let her remain unmarried" as an absolute command, ie, that even if she sins by getting the divorce in the first place, she should never, ever, compound that sin by getting remarried. I question this interpretation. In the context Paul says, "I say this as a concession, not as a commandment" (7:6). I take this to refer to what goes before 7:6 as well as what follows. I also understand this to say that Paul is speaking in generalities, and not absolute commands.

For example, throughout the entire chapter the view of the Apostle is that it is better to be unmarried than married. This, he believes, is true whether one has never been married, is divorced, or widowed. Paul recognizes, however, that not all have that ability to live alone and that it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Cor. 7:2,9) therefore he does not issue absolute prohibitions on the matter.

The second question concerns the meaning of "not under bondage" (7:15). I take this to mean that if one spouse breaks the marriage covenant by desertion that the remaining spouse in under no further obligation to that marriage. He/she is free to become officially divorced and to remarry. I will discuss other views later in the "objections" section.

1 Corinthians 7:39, Romans 7:1-6

Both of these passages make it clear that if a spouse dies, the other one is free to remarry. The importance of these statements is seen in that some churches teach that the phrase "husband of one wife" in 1 Timothy 3:2 means that an elder is disqualified from leadership if he is remarried after his wife dies since he is no longer the "husband of one wife". This teaching makes no sense, however, in light of 1 Corinthians 7 and Romans 7.

1 Timothy 3:2

This passage is often said to teach that "husband of one wife" , literally "one woman man" means that a remarried man is disqualified from church leadership. There are generally two variations to this theme. First, and more common is the idea that this just excludes those who are divorced and remarried since 1 Corinthians 7 and Romans 7 allow remarriage after the death of a spouse.

There are others, however, who interpret the Bible very literally, who say "husband of one wife" means "husband of one wife" and that no remarried man is eligible for church leadership. If you understand "husband of one wife" to mean married only once, this is a logical conclusion, even if it is not Biblical.

I believe that "husband of one wife" or "one woman man" is referring to a person who has a reputation of being faithful to his present wife (whether that be his first or second wife). If a person is now known to be faithful to his wife, but was not faithful ten years ago, for example, this should not necessarily exclude him from church leadership any more than being "given to wine" should exclude a person who had a drinking problem ten years ago. Most conservative churches would allow former drunks, murderers, wife beaters and drug abusers on their boards, but would exclude someone who was remarried, even if the remarriage occurred twenty years ago and before the person was saved. This is clearly not the Apostles intention in this passage.


First, the united voice of the Biblical writers is that God hates divorce. Moses wrote that it was the creator Himself who made them male and female in the image of God. Jesus argued that because of this no man should sever what God has joined. Malachi argued that God hates divorce. Paul argued that people should not divorce. Both sides of the theological controversy agree on this. What follows should not be construed as an argument for divorce. This writer is strongly anti-divorce.

Second, because of the "fallenness" of man, however, God Himself has allowed divorce as a possible option in some cases. Deuteronomy 24:1-3, to which Jesus refers, forbids a man from remarrying his former wife after she had been remarried to another. That divorce and remarriage were possible was not questioned. The reason for the law was presumably to keep people from using the divorce allowance as legalized adultery, ie. divorce your wife, marry and have sex with another, then marry your wife back (assuming she was financially bad enough off to have you).

This seems to be exactly what Jesus was condemning in the Gospels. That is, the notion that if a married man found another woman, he could give his present wife a "certificate of divorce" and marry the "other woman". Legalized adultery. Jesus would have none of that. Such conduct is nothing less than adultery, with or without the certificate of divorce. Jesus was not, however, correcting or superseding Moses allowance for divorce and remarriage because of the hardness of mans heart. In fact, He implied that such was the case with His "exception clause".

That divorce was a possible option is also implied in the Prophets, Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah which depict God a divorcing Israel because of Israel's persistent unfaithfulness to the covenant. It is also implied in Ezra where Jews were commanded to divorce their foreign wives. It is also implied in Matthew where Joseph is assumed to be a "just man" even though it is expected that he would divorce an unfaithful wife. And finally, it is implied by Paul who says that if an unbeliever departs the other spouse is "not under bondage".

Third, if we allow for the possiblilty of divorce, we must ask about the conditions for divorce. There are some who allow for divorce who say that there are only two conditions: adultery (based on Matthew 5 and 19) and desertion (based on 1 Corinthians 7:10-16). Although I agree that these are valid conditions for divorce I would not limit it to these. The word porneia is a broad word encompassing "every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse" (Bauer, 693). "It was a wider term than moikeia embracing the idea of 'barter', 'traffic' in sexual vice" (Moulton, 529).

By way of application, therefore, I believe the exception clause not only applies to adultery, but it would also be valid grounds for divorce if one spouse was, for example, into bestiality, homosexuality, incest, child molestation, or heavy pornography.

Furthermore, since porneia is used metaphorically in the Old Testament for "idolatry" (Liddell, 1450) or "unfaithfulness to God" (Kittel, Vol. VI, 584-585), I also believe that it would be valid grounds for divorce if one spouse were, for example, to began teaching the children occult practices, or to absolutely forbid any teaching or worship of God. I believe that this was the issue in Ezra 9-10. It was not just that they had married foreign wives; that was allowed in some cases. The problem was that they had married pagan wives who were still worshiping foreign gods and the danger was great that they would persuade their husbands. The solution was drastic: divorce. It was even seen as the will of God. Certainly the goal in such a situation should be a resolution of the problem with the goal of staying together (1 Cor. 7:10-16), but if resolution is impossible and the only option is to separate or allow the children to be corrupted, It is my position that Christ must come before even husband and wife (Mt. 10:37, Lk. 14:26). In such cases the exception clauses allow for remarriage.

Finally we need to address the question of church leadership. It is my position that "husband of one wife" or "one woman man" means that a man must have a reputation for being faithful to his wife. It does not necessarily exclude a remarried man any more than a history of alcohol abuse would exclude a man who has been sober for many years. It is true that in the Old Testament the priests were not allowed to have been divorced, but neither could they be blind, lame, widowed, hunchback, or handicapped. Those churches who would exclude divorced men from leadership should be consistent in their application of Scripture.


1. The teaching that porneia refers to "any illicit or deviate sexual behavior" "contradicts the teaching of Jesus found in Mark 10:1-12 and Like 16:18". "The early church--without the benefit of Matthew's gospel--would understand Jesus to be teaching that divorce and remarriage results in adultery--without exception" (Laney, 67; see also Heth, 266).

I would argue that each of the gospels contain material that is unique, and for one gospel to expand on another is not necessarily a contradiction, just an expansion or clarification. I seriously doubt that Laney or Heth would use the same principles of interpretation in comparing Matthew and Luke's account of the Beatitudes or of the resurrection narratives. By the same principles of exegesis we could turn to James 2 and prove that James was in direct contradiction with Paul in Romans 3 and 4.

2. "The term Jesus uses in the exception clause is porneia--fornication. Why did He not use the word moicheia--adultery? Had Jesus intended to permit divorce in the case of adultery" (Laney, 68-69; see also Ryrie, 1958, 47).

The answer to this is very simple. If Jesus had intended only adultery, He would have said moicheia. As I stated above, I believe He intended a much broader meaning which includes not only all kinds of sexual perversion but also spiritual fornication as well.

3. The term "porneia" refers to unchastity in the betrothal period. This will be answered along with the objection listed below.

4. "...porneia denotes marital relations within the forbidden degrees of Leviticus 18" (Ryrie, 1958, 47; see also Bruce, 185). Ryrie explains:

"The Apostolic Decree of Acts xv. 29 promulgated a compromise by which Gentiles
and Jews could share a common social life, and with it the Eucharist: the Gentiles were to abstain from meat sold at the butcher's which had played its part at a sacrifice, from meat at the killing of which the blood had not been properly drained, from "black-puddings" and other repellent ways of using the blood, and from "fornication" (porneia)....since the first three articles of the compromise are concerned with practices innocent enough to the Gentiles, the fourth must be of a similar nature. The passage in 1 Corinthians gives us the clue. Porneia here means marriage within the prohibited Levitical degrees....But for a decade of two, especially in places like Antioch, where Jew and Gentile met and where the agitation which led to the decree arose, marriage within the prohibited degrees was a live issue, and porneia was the work by which it was known." (Ryrie, 1958, 47).

McQuilkin answers this objection well:

"The problem with these arguments is that human language cannot be treated that
way. The Greek work translated "fornication" is the broader term referring
to all varieties of sexual sin....Words with a broader meaning cannot be
restricted arbitrarily to a narrower meaning unless the context requires
it. The context in the Matthew passages is silent on any possible
restriction. Such restrictions must be imported from outside and that is
not legitimate exegesis" (McQuilkin, 220).

5. The phrase "not under bondage" in 1 Corinthians 7:15 simply means "that it is not necessary for the believer to contest the divorce action or engage in legal maneuvers to prevent it" (Laney, 86-87). Responding to the assertion of Duty who says "If they could not remarry, they certainly were in bondage were they not" (Duty, 100), Laney says "how can we advocate the possibility of a second marriage when Paul himself is silent!" Laney goes on to say that we should not interpret this obscure passage in a way that contradicts the clear teaching remarriage is adultery.

First, if we are totally honest I think we would admit that we really don't know what Paul meant by "not under bondage". We might speculate but we really don't know for sure. I believe that Duty has certainly given a possible interpretation (see also Bruce, 70; Edwards, 174; MacArthur, 167; Orr, 214, who agree). Laney's argument about Paul being silent is certainly weak since he has not demonstrated that this is not a possible interpretation of the passage. I would also disagree that Scripture clearly teaches that remarriage is always adultery. Laney is begging the question.

6. On the question of methods of interpretation Epp says,

"First true and faithful Bible student will search the Scriptures to find the
fundamental principle of any given doctrine. Then if there are any
difficulties of seeming contradictions, he will seek to understand them in
the light of the basic principle. This method has not been followed by
many Bible students when it come to the question of divorce. This is
dishonest and shows poor scholarship; therefore, it is sinful and should never
be accepted by honest Bible students" (Epp, 46-47).

By this Epp means that the fundamental principle is that God hates divorce and that any teaching which seems to permit it should be explained away. But all agree that God hates divorce. That is not the question. The question is, even though God hates divorce, has He made provision for divorce and remarriage due to the hardness of peoples hearts? The answer must be that He has. Jesus said "Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of your hearts" and Epp would have to admit that Moses spoke for God. How does Epp deal with this? As we will see in the next objection, he handles it by throwing out the Old Testament.

I would also contend that Epp does not follow his own principle of interpretation. The "fundamental principle" of divorce in the Bible is that while God does hate divorce, He does nevertheless permit it. This principle comes through on almost every divorce passage in the Old Testament, especially Deuteronomy 24:1-3 which Jesus quotes. How does Epp deal with this fact? Once again, he throws out the Old Testament as we see in the next objection.

7. "Fundamental, Bible-believing students recognize that in this Dispensation of Grace we are not under the Law. The Law was valid only from the time of Moses until Christ's death and resurrection (see Gal. 3:16-25). It is beyond the scope of this paper to engage in a discussion on the hermeneutics of dispensationalism but I believe that Epp is seriously mistaken in his position on the Law.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, was not superseding the Law or giving a newer or higher law (Mt. 5:17-19). He was correcting a legalistic misunderstanding of what the law was all about. And Paul, far from abolishing the law, built his doctrine and theology on the Law. His doctrine of salvation, for example, is built squarely on the Law (see Rom. 4, 10). Other New Testament writers also built their doctrine on the Old Testament (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-10 and Hebrews for examples). Again, I fully agree with Cranfield that "we are convinced that there is no statement in any of Paul's epistles which, rightly understood, implies that Christ has abolished the law" (Cranfield, 519). Further, I agree with Fuller that the Gospel is in continuum with the law (Fuller).

8. "Because Mark's Gospel (written to Gentiles) does not include reference to fornication as a cause for divorce, though this was included in the account in Matthew's Gospel (written to Jews), it is apparent that divorce relates only to Israel and the Law of Moses" (Epp, 63).

Epp's logic is faulty. Even allowing that Matthew's Gospel was written to Jews, it does not necessarily follow that the teaching on divorce relates only to Israel. Is it not possible that Matthew, writing to Jews, could have been discussing everyone?

Entirely too much is read into the fact that Matthew is writing to Jews. The fact is that both Matthew and Mark are writing to Christians! We assume (and correctly so) that Matthew is writing to Jewish Christians while Mark may be writing to Gentile Christians but they are writing to Christians, not to "Israel" and the "Church". To dismiss Matthew's exception clause as being "under law" and applicable only to Israel is very faulty reasoning.

9. Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of your hearts. "To recognize divorce as an option is tantamount to admitting hardness of heart because of an unwillingness to hear
God's Word or heed God's will" (Ryrie, 17).

I find it difficult to believe, however, that God allowed divorce just because the one seeking divorce was unwilling to listen to God. There was no remedy for willful rebellion or "sins of presumption" in the Old Testament (Num. 15:30-31). It is much more likely that the hardness of heart refers to the sinfulness of mankind in general. God was making allowance for the fact that, though He hates divorce, people can be wicked, violent, cruel and utterly perverse and that sometimes in a fallen world divorce may be necessary. It may be necessary, for example, for a mother to divorce a husband who is beating and sexually molesting the children. This doesn't mean she is hard hearted or is unwilling to listen to God's Word, as Ryrie implies. It means she is living in a fallen world.

10. "Marriage is indissoluble as seen in the fact that there was absolutely no provision for divorce in the Old Testament. We have seen that Deuternonmy 24:1-4 in no way gives God's permission for divorce but in fact only restricts it" (Jackson, 103).

I'm not sure I understand, however, why God would put restrictions on something He has supposedly absolutely forbidden. Isn't that a little like saying, "thou shalt not murder; but if you do, do it quickly"? Also, it would seem that Jackson's view that there was no provision for divorce in the Old Testament directly contradicts Jesus when He said, "Moses permitted divorce" (Mt. 19:8). That is certainly provision for divorce. Finally, if marriage is indissoluble (Ryrie, 1982, 179) and every remarriage "is an adulterous union without exception" (Jackson, 104), one is left wondering how Jackson would counsel Christians who had been remarried. Would he tell them to get a divorce, since they were living in adultery and their current marriage is not valid? In all of the literature I read on divorce, I have yet to read advice that a remarried couple should get divorced since they are living in adultery. But if they are really living in adultery, on what possible basis could Jackson or Ryrie say they should stay together?


We have seen that God hates divorce. But we have also seen that because of the hardness of men's hearts, that is his tendency to be cruel, heartless, violent and perverse, that God has allowed for divorce in some cases. The church need to judge righteously in divorce cases. If a professing Christian is divorcing his spouse so he can marry his lover, it is nothing less than adultery and must be condemned. As we have seen, however, there are cases when divorce, and even remarriage are possible, maybe even necessary options. In such cases the church needs to respond not in self-righteous condescension, but in a loving and caring manner.

Works Cited
Atkinson, D.J. "Divorce." Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Ed. by Walter A Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984.

Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1979.

Bruce, F.F. Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977.

--- 1 and 2 Corinthians. (New Century Bible Commentary). Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1971.

Carstensen, Roger N. "The Book of Malachi." The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Edited by Charles M. Laymon. Nashville: Abingdon, 1971.

Craigie, P.C. The Book of Deuteronomy. (The International Commentary on the Old Testament). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976.

Cranfield, C.E.B. The Epistle to the Romans. (International Critical Commentary Series). Vol. 2. Edingurgh: T&T Clark, 1979.

Dobson, Edward. "Divorce in the Old Testament." Fundamentalist Journal. 4 (1985): 39-41.

Driver, S.R. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Deuteronomy (International Critical Commentary Series). Edingurgh: T&T Clark, 1986.

Duty, Guy. Divorce & Remarriage. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1967.

Edwards, Thomas Charles. A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1885, 1979.

Epp, Theodore H. Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage. Lincoln, NE: Back to the Bible, 1979.

Feinberg, Charles L. The Minor Prophets. Chicago: Moody, 1976.

Fensham, F. Charles. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. (The International Commentary on the Old Testament) Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.

Fuller, Daniel. Gospel and Law. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980.

Heth, William A. "Another Look at the Erasmian View of Divorce and Remarriage." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 25 (1982): 263-272.

Jackson, W. Paul. The Biblical Teaching Concerning Marriage and Divorce. ThM Thesis. Winona Lake, IN: Grace Theological Seminary, 1974.

Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976.

Kittel, Gerhard. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 6. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968.

Koehler, Ludwig and Walter Baumgartner. Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros. Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1958.

Laney, J. Carl. The Divorce Myth. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1981.

Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1843, 1940.

MacArthur, John. 1 Corinthians. Winona Lake, IN: BMH books, 1984.

McKenzie, John L. Second Isaiah. (The Anchor Bible). Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968.

McQuilkin, Robert. An Introduction to Biblical Ethics. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1989.

Moulton, James Hope and George Milligan. The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1930, 1976.

Orr, William F. and James Arthur Walther. I Corinthians. (The Anchor Bible). Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976.

Ryrie, Charles C. "Are Divorce and Remarriage Ever Permissible" Fundamentalist Journal. 3 (1984): 17ff.

--- "Biblical Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage." Grace Theological Journal. 3 (1982): 177-192.

--- The Place of Women in the Church. New York: Macmillian, 1958.

Smith, Ralph L. Micah-Malachi. (Word Biblical Commentary). Vol. 32. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1984.

Watts, John D.W. Isaiah 34-66. (Word Biblical Commentary). Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987.
Williamson, H.G.M. Ezra, Nehemiah. (Word Biblical Commentary). Vol. 16. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1985.

Young, Edward J. The Book of Isaiah. Vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972.