By Wayne Jackson
Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman wherein they agree to become joined to one another for the purpose of establishing a permanent home. Marriage was instituted by God with the creation of Adam and Eve. The first couple, being made male and female, were designed for marriage (Genesis 1:27), and so, it was the purpose of God that man and woman should have the privilege of becoming "one flesh" in the divinely organized arrangement of wedlock (Gen. 2:24).
The preservation of the marriage relationship is vitally important to the well-being of society as a whole. First, within the family unit there is provided a sphere of stability wherein one has the right to a family name, security of property, and an intimate atmosphere of love and trust. Second, marriage contributes to community solidarity. No society could long exist without marriage. In fact, "There are no societies in which marriage does not exist."1
Marriage, in harmony with God's original plan, is certainly an honorable state: "Let marriage be had in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled… " (Hebrews 13:4). And while there may be times of extreme stress or difficulty when it might be in one's best interest not to marry (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:26, 28, 32, 35, 40), the general principle would be, "It is not good that man [or woman] should be alone" (Gen. 2:18). The Bible makes it clear that "forbidding to marry" is contrary to the will of God (1 Timothy 4:1-3).
Holy matrimony, as designed by God, certainly has many benefits. First, as just indicated, it provides for intimate personal companionship (Gen. 2:18). Mankind, created in the image of the triune Godhead (Gen. 1:2;7), is social in disposition. Second, marriage is the legitimate avenue by which children are to be brought into the world (Gen. 1:28; 4:1; 1 Tim. 5:14). Jehovah never intended that children be the product of animalistic breeding experiments! Third, matrimony affords man and woman a moral and responsible means of satisfying the God-given sexual appetites of their bodies. The sexual "bed" is undefiled within valid marriage (Heb. 13:4).
God's divine ideal for the marital union is that it should last as long as both parties are alive. Death of one of the marriage partners, of course, terminates this relationship (Romans 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:39) and there is no "marriage" beyond the resurrection of the dead (Matthew 22:30).
Divorce — Since God is the author of marriage, it is His prerogative and His alone, to determine when a marriage can be dissolved while both partners are still living. What, therefore, is the divine will concerning divorce? Ideally, God "hates" divorce (cf. Malachi 2:16), for even when a valid divorce is allowed by the Lord, there has been a violation of the marriage covenant by at least one of the parties. No divorce can involve two innocent persons; one of them may be, but at least one will be guilty.
Under the Old Testament system, if a man's wife "found no favor in his eyes" because he found some unseemly thing in her, he could write her a "bill of divorcement" and "send her out of his house" (that is, divorce her) (Deuteronomy 24:1). Yet, this was not consistent with Heaven's original ideal. God, through Moses, only tolerated it due to the "hardness of heart" characteristic of the Israelite people (Matt. 19:8). Jesus Christ, however, in discussing this very matter, declared that "from the beginning it hath not been so" (Matt. 19:8). The grammar of this verbally inspired passage implies that God's original marriage plan, as instituted in Eden, had ideally never changed, though a relaxation of it had been allowed under the Mosaic economy.2 Then, in anticipation of his New Covenant law, Jesus preceded to restore marriage to its original intent. Accordingly, the Lord said: "And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery" (Matt. 19:9). Several things may be said of this remarkable verse.
First, the passage is obviously of universal application, that is, the whole human family lies under obligation of it. The term "whosoever" is equal to "every one" (cf. Matt. 5:22, 31, 32). God expects, therefore, every human being who is capable of entering the marriage union, to be responsible to His marital code.
Second, Christ taught that no one can "put away" [the word means "divorce"] his [or her] companion unless the divorce is on the basis of fornication. The term "fornication" is general in meaning; it denotes "every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse."3 The Lord thus allows divorce, and subsequent remarriage, only on the grounds of fornication. From the positive angle, this means the innocent partner,4 in a marriage that has been violated by fornication (extra-marital sexual conduct), has the right of divorce, and, if desirable, remarriage. From the negative side, the passage teaches that one who divorces for some reason other than fornication is not at liberty to remarry.
Matthew 19:9 affirms that one who divorces a companion, unless the divorce be for fornication, "committeth adultery." In the Bible, adultery "denotes any voluntary cohabitation of a married person with any other than his lawful spouse."5 The tense of this verb, as used here in the Greek New Testament, suggests the idea of continued action. In other words, the person who enters this illicit union "keeps on committing adultery" each time he is sexually intimate with the new partner. By the formation of a new "marriage," the individual "enters the realm of adultery,"6 or, as Prof. William F. Beck rendered it in his translation, he is "living in adultery."7 The reason why this new union is called "adultery" is quite obvious; though the divorced person has joined himself to a new mate [according to human legal requirements], according to the law of God, he is still married to his original wife. The new union is thus not approved by God.
In Matthew 5:32 Christ taught that "every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress … " She is not an adulteress simply because she has been put away, of course. But this divorced woman will likely marry again, and in so doing, she will be entering an adulterous union.
Some have attempted to establish that there is another reason for divorce, namely if a Christian, who is married to an unbeliever, is deserted by that infidel mate, the Christian is free to form a new marriage. It is claimed that proof for this view is to be found in 1 Corinthians 7:15, where, in the case of an unbeliever leaving the Christian, the Christian "is not under bondage." Some contend that the Christian is thus released from the "bondage" of marriage and so may remarry. However, this is not the case. The term "bondage" literally means "enslavement" (see Titus 2:3 where the same Greek word is translated "enslaved"), and the marriage relationship has never been viewed as an enslavement ! The apostle is simply saying that if the unbeliever threatens to depart if the Christian does not forsake Christ, then the Christian may "let him depart." One is not obligated to be enslaved to that unbelieving spirit of rebellion. But, as one scholar notes, "Nothing is said about a second marriage for the believer; it is vain to put words in Paul's mouth when he is silent."8
The New Testament teaching regarding divorce and remarriage is very strict, especially in view of modern society's loose and compromising views of morality. And there is no question but that many people have, through ignorance, involved themselves in some heart-breaking, though immoral, relationships. But this important truth must be observed; while we should be compassionate towards the weak and sinful by attempting to help them, we cannot lower the standards of the Holy Scriptures to a degenerate society! Rather, we must encourage and challenge noble people to rise to the elevating authority of God's inspired Truth. Christianity requires great sacrifices; it has even cost many their very lives. But regardless of the costs, let us be brave enough to seek the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth. Churches of Christ urge their fellow-citizens to respect and extol the virtues of the home as ordained by Almighty God.
1 Ashley Montague, The Cultured Man, New York: Permabooks, 1959, p. 240.
2 M. R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, Wilmington, DE: Associated
Publishers & Authors, 1972, p. 65.
3 William Arndt & F .W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament,
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967, p. 699.
4 By "innocent" we mean one who has not only been sexually faithful to his [or her}
spouse, but also who has not, by means of designing schemes, driven that partner
5 J. Theodore Mueller, "Adultery," Baker's Dictionary of Theology, Grand Rapids: Baper
Book House, 1960, p. 27.
6 Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976, II, p. 583.
7 William F. Beck, THE NEW TESTAMENT in the Language of Today, St. Louis: Concordia,
1963, p. 37.
8 Lewis Johnson Jr., "1 Corinthians," Wycliff Bible Commentary, London: Oliphants,
1963, p. 1240.
Who is the original author of marriage?
What is the significance of two becoming one flesh?
Name and discuss some benefits of marriage.
Under what circumstances does God allow divorce and remarriage?
Why did Moses allow the Hebrews to divorce for many causes?
Upon what did Jesus base his teaching on divorce?
To be pleasing to God, those unlawfully divorced should… ?
How can we strengthen our marriages against the ravages of divorce?