Of Adultery and Divorce
In Matthew 19:3-12 Jesus discusses the issue of divorce. At this time I will limit my discussion to what Jesus said about Moses. I will not discuss the circumstances in detail as to when divorce is applicable and the effect of divorce on the persons involved, spiritual and otherwise.
In summary as Hebrews 13:4 puts it: Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Fornication/adultery is the major reason for divorce. Yet, abandonment and other unfaithful acts (e.g., traumatic abuse) according to my understanding which may be wrong seem to be acceptable reasons for divorce under certain conditions. But in the case of other than fornication any remarriage will result in committing adultery for which one should seek forgiveness per 1 John 1:9.
Jesus says unto them, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8). What did Jesus mean by the word Moses? It is clear that he was referring to Moses, the prophet of God and leader of the Israelites as noted in the Old Testament. But is Jesus referring to only the person Moses or is he referring to the Mosaic Law? Moreover, is he saying Moses the human being rather than Moses the prophet of God instituted the Mosaic Law? That is, is he saying the Mosaic Law or at least the portion in Deuteronomy 24:1-2 regarding divorce is of man but not of God? If we conclude that Deuteronomy 24:1-2 is not of God then is any of the Mosaic Law of God or is it all of the imperfect man Moses?
Let us note that the phrase from the beginning in Matthew 19:8 refers to that time starting before sin entered the world.
Indeed, it refers to that time starting before the law entered the world, that is, before the Mosaic Law.
But God suffered the Law to enter the world; indeed, God brought the Law into the world. So God suffered divorce to enter the world. In the Law God suffered people to be stoned to death because of adultery. But with the coming of Jesus God no longer suffers such things in his Law and Word. Likewise, God suffered men to divorce for reasons not established from the beginning. This is what Jesus seems to mean by this scripture in reference to Moses.
In this context the word suffers means permits in relation to his Law and Word to include whether or not God provides for a penalty for violating the letter and/or the spirit of his Law and Word. God never wanted people to use the Law to get around divorcing people for arbitrary and whimsical reasons but he did not provide in the Law a penalty for such transgression of the spirit of the Law. In this sense, God through Moses suffered the men to divorce for reasons not established from the beginning. But now God through Jesus clarifies his Will. Jesus points out a penalty in Matthew 19:9, that penalty being at least the guilt and stain of adultery and all that is associated with committing adultery in God’s Word.
Now I will briefly speak about adultery and divorce. I admit this is just my understanding and my understanding may not be a mature and completely accurate one. But this understanding gives me sufficient faith and confidence in biblical justice, fairness and reasonableness. In the final analysis one is best to marry the wife of his youth and avoid adultery and divorce (Proverbs 5:18; Malachi 2:14). Yet, stuff happens and we ought to have some understanding of the expectations and grace and mercy of God.
Matthew 5:31-32 says:
(31) It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
(32) But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
And Matthew 19:9 says:
(9) And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
When we consider that here Jesus says that an innocent woman would become an adulteress because of her husband’s unrighteous action of divorcing her (putting/driving her away) for a biblcial invalid reason. This is a rather difficult principle. In fact Jesus himself speaks of the difficulty of it when he talks about the eunuch in Matthew 19:10-12.
Some say that the presence of “eth” on the word “committeth” means that the adulterous act of the second husband who was not even present at the time of the divorce is continuous/repetitive as long as the new marriage is in tact. But notice that the word form of commit associated with the woman does not have the “eth”. So does this mean that the woman’s adultery is a one time act but the second husband’s is continuous/repetitive? To me that would seem illogical and lack a balance in justice, fairness, and reasonableness on the part of God.
So to me it seems that the adulterous act is a one time act for both the woman and the second husband as the marriage is a one time event not a repetitive marriage event. So according to 1 John 1:9 all the woman and second husband has to do is recognize Jesus teaching and confess their sin and be forgiven of their sin and cleansed from unrighteousness. But then what about the issue of repentance. Should they divorce? What would that do for the innocent woman who the first husband does not want and will not take back? To me sufficient repentance would be godly sorrow for being in the predicament and then go on and live as
new husband and wife.
But then what about willful sin (Hebrews 10:26)? For example, if the woman knows Jesus teaching, does she stay single without sex and companionship for the rest of her life to avoid being an adulteress? That would seem to be extremely cruel to an innocent woman (especially a young one) whose husband took the unbiblical act over which she had no apparent control. Should she become a eunuch? But even Jesus recognize not all people could go to such extremes. So should she settle for having sexual relations outside of marriage? Wouldn’t that be a worse witness than living a married life? Wouldn’t that especially be true if she became pregnant and lived as a single mother? To me getting married would be far better at glorifying God than having sex outside of marriage and especially if one became pregnant. So I think God would rather for her to get married than live a life of “fornication” and forgive her for the adultery rather than been asked to forgive her for the fornication life that makes it hard on any children born outside of marriage.
I think the definition of willful sin necessarily includes the condition of the heart. Willful sin is not simply knowing something is sinful and yet doing it. Willful sin involves the attitude of the heart toward God and his Word, Will, and Way. If one is so overwhelmed that he/she sins but really does not want to I do not believe that is willful sin. God knows what is and what is not willful sin even when no human can tell.
Finally, let’s consider 1 Corinthian 7:10-12, 13-16. Paul in 1 Cor 7:10-11 speaks of a couple where both the husband and wife are believers/Christians. In that case he seems to say abandonment is not a reason for divorce according to the Lord. This seems to say that a divorce because of abandonment or abuse involving a believing/Christian couple would result in adultery upon remarriage and would follow the same provisions as discussed above.
Yet in 1 Cor 7:12-14, 15-16 he speaks of a couple where one is a believer/Christian and one is an unbeliever. In these verses he says that he not the Lord is saying this. What does he mean by the phrase not the Lord? In 1 Cor 7:6 he says that he speaks by permission but not by commandment. By that he means he is setting forth his preference to remain unmarried but that his preference is not binding on anyone else for it is not a commandment of the Lord.
But in 1 Cor 7:12 he says to the rest speak I not the Lord. Here he is saying that while the Lord was here on earth he did not address the case involving unbelievers but rather only believers. But now Paul by authority of the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit as an apostle does speak for the Lord as the Lord now does speak concerning the unbeliever. Paul says that in the case of an unbeliever and a believer couple, they should stay together.
But if the unbeliever departs (abandons the believer), then the believer is free from the unbeliever and abandonment is a reason for divorce. He says the believer should not depart but rather stay and sanctify the unbeliever (1 Cor 7:16).
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