Hey, what a hugely relevant matter this is! And how very complicated it can be. And so many voices! So firstly allow me to share thoughts on Jesus’ answers put to him by the Pharisees and his bottom line to his disciples in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 10.
Vs 2-4. Pharisees came to him testing him, and asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a certificate of divorce to be written to divorce her.”
The context for this question was the ongoing discussion among the Pharisees regarding “for what cause can a man divorce his wife?” Rabbi Shammai’s tradition said “for no cause except adultery” and Rabbi Hillel’s “for any cause”. Big debate.
Vs 5-9. But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart, he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will join to his wife, and the two will become one flesh, so that they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Jesus takes the matter back to Genesis 1-2, God’s original plan, long before Moses and his ‘concession’ (repeated by Jesus in Matthew 5:31-32) and concludes bluntly that no one should separate those joined by God. That is sin.
Can we ask what circumstances, if any, exist when God has NOT joined two together? And then can man put then asunder? Are two gay men joined by God? Are two pagans joined together by God? What if two come together in lust for erotic, no holds barred experiences? Are two who write up a contract to legalise what happens in the event of divorce, really joined together by God? What about one who has sex with a prostitute? What about a woman who is raped? Is she obliged to marry her aggressor? And what if one attempts marriage having had a previous sexual encounter? (see Deut. 22:13−21 and Matthew 1:18-25). Just asking! This is a complicated subject and one which we are not always given clear scriptural direction. In such cases we need to hear from God humbly and without trying to justify ourselves.
10-12. In the house, his disciples asked him again about the same matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife, and marries another, commits adultery against her. If a woman herself divorces her husband, and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Jesus flatly and emphatically overthrew Moses’ tradition in his reply to his disciples. In Moses a woman cannot give her husband a bill of divorce. But for Jesus, neither spouse can divorce the other—he treats the wife and husband equally!
The gospel of Jesus brings with it forgiveness, grace, mercy. He welcomed ‘sinners’ but castigated the ‘righteous’. He did not condemn the Samaritan woman (John 4)—he did not say “divorce your current husband” but “drink the water I will give you”. He said to the condemned woman taken in the act of adultery “I don’t condemn you. Go and don’t sin anymore”.
In that dramatic story (John 8), Jesus wrote on the ground. Some think he wrote the 7th commandment re adultery. The context is Jewish and Mosaic. But Paul insists in his letters we are not under the Ten Commandments. Instead we are no longer to live in sin, not because we are under commandments, but because Jesus sets us free from the bondage, the enslavement of sin and we are under grace and now married to another. We are now under a New Covenant.
I cannot see Jesus saying to divorcees who are truly repentant of their sin but now remarried, “Divorce your second spouse”. I can see him saying instead, “I don’t condemn you. Go and don’t sin anymore”. There are things done which cannot be reversed e.g, abortion, murder, rape, divorce, adultery, illicit sex. These cannot be undone. But they can be repented of, renounced and left behind in the gospel. “Go and do not sin again”. David and Bathsheba comes to mind—Jesus’ ancestors!
Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortionists, will inherit God’s Kingdom. Such were some of you, but you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor 6:9-11
A covenant can be broken. Moses smashed the 10 commandments, Israel broke God’s covenant (Jeremiah 31:31, Ezekiel 16:59) and God was said to have given adulterous Israel a bill of divorce (Isaiah 50:1, Jeremiah 3:8, Hosea 2).
Christian leaders have a responsibility to present the Gospel of grace to those broken, hurting and traumatised by a dominating, cruel spouse. They must not simply deal with people like the Pharisees did, by absolute commands supported by isolated texts dragged out of their Judean or Greco-Roman context, resulting in the imputing and retaining of their sin.
To direct one to remain married to a person who destroys the marriage covenant by repeated unfaithfulness, enslavement, serial illicit sex, constant abuse and the like is also contrary to the spirit of Jesus.
to be continued . . . . .