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MARRIAGE   AND   DIVORCE

THE NEW TESTAMENT TEACHING

By B Ward Powers

 

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This book is based on research into these matters for which Ward Powers was awarded the Ph.D. of the University of London. It was published jointly by the Family Life Movement of Australia and Jordan Books Ltd, and is available from Jordan Books. Trade paperback, 384 pages, ISBN 0 9588420 0 0.

 

CONTENTS

1. Marriage in the Purposes of God

2. Christ’s Detailed Teaching About Marriage (Mt 19:1-12)

3. What Marriage I All About

4. How To Be A Sexual Christian

5. The Rights And Wrongs Of Sex

6. The Real Role of Sex In Marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-5)

7. Varieties Of Sexual Behaviour – The Moral Question

8. Sex and Love

9. Being Single And Getting Married

10. Family Life

11. Birth Control Issues

12. When A Marriage Turns Sour

13. Divorce And Marriage Break-up

14. Remarriage After Divorce

15. In Conclusion

Appendix A. Animal Sex

Appendix B. Birth Control and World Population

Appendix C. Christian Attitudes To Sex Throughout History

Appendix D. Differences In The Interpretation Of Biblical Material

Appendix E. Evaluation of Customary Marriage and Polygamy

Indices and Bibliography

 

Dr Powers has identified the eleven different and mutually exclusive views about divorce and remarriage which are (or have been) held in the church. He examines each of these in relation to the Scriptures, and looks at the question of how so many teachers can look at the same passages in the Bible and come to so many different conclusions as to what they mean.

 

SAMPLE TOPICS

Dr Powers provides below some brief notes about a small selection of the issues discussed in this book – click a question or topic to move directly to a discussion of particular interest to you:

 

The purpose of God in how he created mankind

The nature of marriage, as taught in the Bible 

The eleven views about divorce and remarriage

Law and Grace in relation to divorce

The question of grounds for divorce

Divorce: the non-existent exception

Making your wife an adulteress: Jesus’s teaching

Did Jesus teach that it is adultery for a divorcee to remarry?

The lesser of two evils when bound to a spouse

When is it permissible for you to cut off your leg?

How long must a divorcee remain unmarried?

Can a Christian divorcee ever remarry? When?

Should a divorcee ever remarry in church? Why?

 

HOW TO PURCHASE THIS BOOK

Cost

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Other Books by B. Ward Powers

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THE PURPOSE OF GOD IN HOW HE CREATED MANKIND

By B Ward Powers

 

God created us male and female (Genesis 1:27) so that we could participate in the relationship of marriage. Marriage is instituted by God for the blessing and enrichment of human life upon earth. It is to be the sphere within which the next generation is born and raised, of course (Genesis 1:28), but the Bible says far more about the purposes of marriage than this alone. 

 

The first purpose of God for marriage was companionship. After God set Adam in the Garden he said (Genesis 2:18), “It is not good for a man to be alone”, and created Eve to be a companion for him. So also Malachi 2:14 (NRSV) says of a wife, “She is your companion”. And the husband similarly is to be companion for the wife. We will have many friends and companions in our lives, of course, but God’s intention is that your spouse is to be your companion in a very special way: someone who takes a unique interest in you, and shares all the circumstances of life with you (the good times and the bad times alike). We need to belong, to be wanted, and needed, and cherished, and loved, by another person in a very special way. We want to be very important to someone else, another human being, a person whom we in turn can care about, and want, and need, and cherish, and love, and who will be very important to us. When a husband and wife are able to give each other this kind of friendship, and acceptance, and recognition, it gives a new, richer, dimension to life, and loneliness is banished.

 

Moreover, we have economic and material and practical needs. The person who is in the position of living alone is well aware of these: the constant everyday problems of the business of living, coping with the providing and taking care of the requirements of food, clothing, and shelter, and the occasional special need or sudden crisis such as accident or illness, loss of job, and so forth. Plus the many times when it is simply a case of two heads (or pairs of hands) are better than one. How great an advantage it is to have someone sharing life with us who is there to help in all these matters, and in every other kind of difficulty and problem as well. Someone who will give us support and encouragement, and understanding sympathy, and practical help, when we need it – and to whom we can give any or all of these things when they need it.

 

We have other physical needs, too, of a different kind: sexual needs. This includes the need for sexual intercourse, but it is much wider than that, for sex is a great deal more than just the act of intercourse. It is also the lying close in the bed at night and the consciousness of bodies touching in this togetherness even when it does not go on to intercourse. It is the reunion after a period of separation, and the tender loving caress, and the unexpected warm hug in the kitchen for no particular reason, and holding hands staring together into the fire reliving old memories, or planning the creation of new ones, and the exploratory toe creeping out in the bed at night across no-man’s-land to make contact with the other after some silly tiff has created a gulf between. It is the ongoing knowledge of just belonging to another human being body and soul. Read more in “Marriage and Divorce – the New Testament Teaching”. Click here for information on ordering.

 

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THE NATURE OF MARRIAGE AS TAUGHT IN THE BIBLE

By B Ward Powers

 

Marriage is always presented in the Bible as a dynamic experience – something that is happening, rather than just as a legal bond. It is that, of course, and a covenantal relationship (Malachi 2:14). But the focus in the Bible is upon the “togetherness” of marriage.

 

The marriage relationship is forged by God for companionship, for mutual help, and for the right satisfaction of the sexual nature which he has given to men and women. We can see these three purposes clearly in the picture of Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 2:18-25). The bond of marriage is to be the closest of all human bonds, closer even than that of parent and child – we leave our parents to be joined to a spouse (Genesis 2:24).

 

Thus the leaders of the early church (apart from Paul and Barnabas) were not only married but were accompanied by these wives in their ministry (1 Corinthians 9:5). Aquila and Priscilla set us an example of joint ministry, to Apollos in Ephesus (Acts 18:24-28), and hosting a church in each city where they lived (1 Corinthians 16:19, etc.).

 

Part of this “togetherness” in Paul’s teaching was the giving of oneself to one’s spouse in the sexual relationship of marriage, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5. There are two aspects of this passage which are quite remarkable and which we must not overlook. First of all, the evenhanded way Paul speaks of both the husband and the wife: the sexual nature, and sexual needs, of the wife were normally quite overlooked in the ancient world – this treatment of sex by Paul is unique in the ancient world in showing a recognition of the wife in this way.

 

Secondly, Paul’s teaching focusses on the relationship aspect of sex, without any reference to its role in procreation. Some Christians seem to think that sex is solely for procreation, and otherwise is best avoided. Not so. Paul writes here of the mutual giving of sexual love, and never even hints at procreation. And the sexual relationship, Paul says, is not to be discontinued except perhaps by agreement for a short period for some specific reason (such as a special season of prayer); and then husband and wife are to resume their normal sex life. The joyful “one-flesh” joining together in sexual union was God’s intention in making us male and female (Genesis 2:24-25).

 

It  is a matter of the greatest regret when God’s plan for human marriage is not being experienced in a particular relationship. What are we to say then? For a detailed consideration of this (and a whole lot more), read “Marriage and Divorce – the New Testament Teaching” by Rev Dr B Ward Powers (Jordan Books), 384 pages, posted for $AUD33, or $US25, or £Stg15. Click here for information on ordering.

 

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THE ELEVEN VIEWS ABOUT DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE

By B Ward Powers

 

One of the most controversial issues in the church is that of divorce and remarriage. I have identified eleven different views which are (or have been) held in the church. A tantalizing question is: how can so many teachers look at the same passages in the Bible and come to so many different conclusions as to what they mean? The explanation I have arrived at about this is a combination of two factors.

 

Firstly, we do not live in a vacuum, and when we come to look at the teaching of the Scriptures we bring ideas and interpretations which we have heard or opinions we have already half formed: and often we tend to see in the Bible what we expect to see. Secondly, we can focus on selected Scriptures as being the most basic and build our interpretation from them alone, assuming that those which appear to differ from them imply the points we accept or are somehow secondary.

 

If we really want to draw out the New Testament teaching on these issues, we must be prepared to consider them afresh without being committed to one or another point of view that we have heard or been taught, and moreover, to take the entire teaching of the New Testament on these matters into account in forming our interpretation.

 

One view I accept. The other ten viewpoints fall into three groups:

 

(a) Total Indissolubility Interpretation: No divorce is possible, because the marriage continues in God’s eyes notwithstanding whatever we may purport to do, so that remarriage after divorce is always adultery. [But this interpretation involves selective obedience to the commands of Scripture, there are fundamental inconsistencies at its heart, and it goes beyond the warrant of Scripture. In fact, it succeeds in holding God and marriage up to ridicule.]

 

(b) Specified Grounds Interpretation: This permits divorce (and remarriage) upon specified grounds, which are accepted as exceptions to an overall rejection of divorce. This group of views differ between themselves as to the acceptable grounds, whether both parties or only the “innocent” one can divorce, and whether remarriage is permitted. [But we need to face the fact that no “exceptions” can make an evil thing good and acceptable to God.]

 

(c) Ideals And Guidelines Interpretation: These views regard the teachings of Jesus and Paul as helpful guidelines, or an ideal to be striven for, but a goal which is often unattainable, and towards which one can make several attempts, with different partners. [But this is denying that Jesus expected his followers to obey his teaching, or that the Scripture in general has any authority.]

 

For the view that fits what we find in Scripture, read “Marriage and Divorce – the New Testament Teaching” by Rev Dr B Ward Powers (Jordan Books), 384 pages, posted for $AUD33, or $US25, or £Stg15. Click here for information on ordering.

 

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MARRIAGE, DIVORCE, REMARRIAGE: SEEING BOTH LAW AND GRACE

By B Ward Powers

 

In the teaching of the New Testament, the law of God is absolutely clear: one man, one woman, for life. There are no exceptions to this in God’s will and plan for human life. (Concerning so-called exceptions that many people think they find in the Bible, see Divorce: the non-existent exception.) Obviously God’s plan totally excludes divorce or separation: Jesus said (Matthew 19:6//Mark 10:9), “What God has joined together let no one split asunder.” Any splitting apart or sundering of the marriage relationship, any separating of the partners, is contrary to the will of God, and this is sin.

 

This is the law of God. We need to recognize that a broken marriage is always wrong, always contrary to the will of God. There is no such thing as a broken marriage that is God’s will – a broken marriage is always, to varying extents and in different ways,  the outcome of sin on the part of the marriage partners.

 

But this is only part of the New Testament teaching. For the central theme of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ the Son of God came into this world to save sinners – to bring mankind the opportunity to receive forgiveness for all our sin, and cleansing, and a fresh start. This is the grace of Christ at work in our lives. Even as his people, we will fall – but still the grace of Christ is extended to us to forgive and restore us again. All sin is forgivable (except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit [Matthew 12:31], and a failed marriage – though serious – is not this). If we recognize a failed marriage as sin, and repent of our part in it (great or small), and confess it to the Lord, we are forgiven, we are cleansed, we are justified, we are given a fresh start.

 

In our thinking, in our teaching, we must never compromise the standards of God’s law: one man, one woman, for life. There can be no exceptions to this, as if somehow one sin (e.g., an act of unfaithfulness, or desertion, or anything else) can somehow transform what is wrong and evil and against the plan of God (divorce) into something good and acceptable to the will of God. “I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel (Malachi 2:16), and no act of sin by marriage partners is going to change this fact. That is the unchanging law of God.

 

But when we fail and fall, and when we then face the fact that a broken marriage is the outcome of sin, and we come before the Lord in repentance about this, he meets us with grace and mercy. We will find forgiveness and cleansing in Christ, for God’s grace extends to those who have been involved in, and have contributed to, a broken marriage as much as to those involved in any other kind of sin. However, Christians must stop pretending that there are various “exceptions” which allow us to do what God says he hates, as if somehow it isn’t sin anymore.

 

What does this mean for a Christian, in practical terms? For a detailed explanation about this (and a whole lot more), read “Marriage and Divorce – the New Testament Teaching” by Rev Dr B Ward Powers (Jordan Books), 384 pages, posted $33 Australian, or $25 US, or £15 STG. Click here for information on ordering.

 

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THE QUESTION OF GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE

By B Ward Powers

 

What does the Bible teach about grounds for divorce? The Old Testament teaching is found in the Mosaic Law in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. This reads (NIV), “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her, and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord.”

 

The RSV rendering of the latter part of v.1 is, “if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her …” “Something indecent”, “some indecency” is a very general term meaning some kind of sexual misbehaviour, without being specific. It leaves open a measure of discretion as to how it is to be interpreted. It has a much wider meaning than just “adultery”. In consequence, in New Testament times there were differing views amongst the Jews about acceptable grounds for divorce.

 

And this is what lies behind the situation in Matthew 19:3, where the Pharisees confront Jesus with their question. They are asking him for his interpretation about these grounds for divorce in the Law of Moses. It is, as Matthew points out, a trick question: they are putting him to the test. Whichever way he answered (they reasoned), he would alienate himself with that part of the crowd which held a different view, and they would thus involve him in this divorce controversy.

 

The three Jewish views are set out in the Talmud (Mishnah Gittin 9:10, translation of Leo Auerbach), “The House of Shammai says: A man must not divorce his wife unless he has found her unfaithful. As was said (Deuteronomy 24:1), `Because he hath found some uncleanness in her’. The House of Hillel says: He may divorce her if she only spoiled a dish for him because it was said: uncleanness is anything. Rabbi Akiba says: He may divorce her if he found another that is more beautiful than his wife, because it was said (Deuteronomy 24:1), `If it comes to pass that she find no favour in his eyes’.”

 

Jesus answers them by returning to God’s original purpose in marriage (Genesis 1:27; 2:24), in which divorce has no place at all. The Pharisees refer to Deuteronomy 24. Jesus says that Moses’s “permission” for divorce was because of their hardheartedness – but they are approving divorce, not even when the wife is guilty of some sexual misbehaviour (as per Moses), but so they can marry another woman (the Akiba view): and changing from one woman to another in this way is adultery.

 

In Christ’s teaching there are NO acceptable grounds for divorce, because this is contrary to God’s will, and sinful. For details, see “Marriage and Divorce – the New Testament Teaching” by Rev Dr B Ward Powers (Jordan Books), 384 pages, posted $33 Australian, or $25 US, or £15 STG. Click here for information on ordering.

 

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DIVORCE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT: THE NON-EXISTENT EXCEPTION

By B Ward Powers

 

Jesus Christ taught God’s basic pattern for marriage: one man, one woman, for life. There is no place in this for divorce or separation (Matthew 19:6//Mark 10:9). That is the law of God. But people imagine they have found exceptions to this, “grounds” which make divorce “acceptable” to God, no longer contrary to the will of God, and therefore “permissible” and not sin: adultery by one of the partners.

 

The ground of adultery is derived from an interpretation of Matthew 19:9, where the NIV says, “Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” The NRSV reads, “except for unchastity”.

So (it would appear) what Jesus said about divorce plus remarriage being adultery has an exception (which presumably then makes this divorce and remarriage permissible): if the wife has been guilty of “marital unfaithfulness”, “unchastity”.

 

There is one thing terribly wrong with this interpretation: the Scripture does NOT say that Jesus said “except”. In translations like this it would appear that Jesus is talking about the situation when the wife is guilty of “marital unfaithfulness”. But this is a rendering of the original Greek text to make the translation fit the translators’ interpretation. The Greek word being rendered as “except” is “me”, the ordinary word for “not”, occurring in the New Testament more than 1,000 times and not once rendered by the NIV as “except” -  except in this one case!

 

Jesus is NOT excusing or allowing divorce and remarriage when the wife has been guilty of unchastity. He is talking about the EXACT OPPOSITE: when she is NOT guilty. Note that Jesus is in dispute with the Pharisees about grounds for divorce (the issue they raised with him), and the immediate context (Matthew 19:7-8) is a discussion of the Mosaic law (found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4), which provided for divorce on the ground of “something indecent” on the part of the wife. Jesus is saying that this was permitted by Moses in the law because of their hardheartedness, but this was not God’s will and intention when he created mankind. However, the Pharisees were allowing divorce when the wife was NOT guilty of unchastity (as set out in Deuteronomy 24:1), but rather, the man wanted to marry someone else who had attracted him. To change from one woman to another in this way, Jesus states, is adulterous behaviour. That is, changing women has not ceased to be adulterous behaviour because it gets camouflaged behind a veneer of legal niceties – a formal divorce and a formal remarriage.

 

This correct meaning can be seen in the Good News Bible translation of Matthew 19:9, “Any man who divorces his wife, even though she has not been unfaithful, commits adultery if he marries some other woman.” For a detailed explanation about this (and a whole lot more), read “Marriage and Divorce – the New Testament Teaching” by Rev Dr B Ward Powers (Jordan Books), 384 pages, posted $33 Australian, or $25 US, or £15 STG. Click here for information on ordering.

 

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MAKING YOUR WIFE AN ADULTERESS: JESUS’S TEACHING

By B Ward Powers

 

Jesus is not providing an exception which makes a bad thing permissible. That is not what he is saying at all. He is telling the Pharisees that the concession reluctantly allowed by Moses in the law was a falling short of God’s plan in the beginning – and the Pharisees in their teaching are even allowing divorce when a wife has not been guilty (contrary to Moses), but because they want to marry someone else. And turning from one woman to another is adultery.

 

Does this word of Jesus condemn ALL remarriage, in ALL circumstances, as adultery? What about Matthew 5:32? Oh yes, and what about desertion? For a detailed explanation about this (and a whole lot more), read “Marriage and Divorce – the New Testament Teaching” by Rev Dr B Ward Powers (Jordan Books), 384 pages, posted $33 Australian, or $25 US, or £15 STG. Click here for information on ordering.

 

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DOES JESUS TEACH IT IS ADULTERY FOR A DIVORCEE TO REMARRY?

By B Ward Powers

 

Does Jesus teach that it is adultery for a divorcee to remarry? “Clearly yes he does,” some people will say. “At least twice. If a someone who is divorced (Jesus says) is to marry again, they are committing adultery. Very clear teaching.”

 

Let us look at the passages on which this view is based. One of these occasions we find recorded in Matthew 19:9//Mark 10:11//Luke 16:18. The context here (which Matthew and Luke give in detail) is a dispute of Jesus with the Pharisees. They had asked Jesus about grounds for divorce, a contentious issue at the time. The Jewish Talmud (Mishnah Gittin 9:10) tells us there were three views, those of Shammai (who allowed divorce also for a wife’s adultery), Hillel (who allowed it for any misdeed by the wife, however minor), and Akiba (who required no fault at all by the wife, but approved it if a man had found someone else he preferred to his wife). Jesus replies that the marriage relationship must never be sundered by any person for any reason.

 

The Pharisees persist, pointing to Moses’s teaching in the Law (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Jesus answers that they are allowing divorce not because the wife has been guilty of “some unchastity” (as in Deuteronomy 24), but in order to marry another woman. And THAT is what Jesus names as adultery: not all remarriage, but a deliberate getting rid of one woman to take another.

 

The other instance is in Matthew 5:32, which says that if a husband divorces his wife he makes her an adulteress. It is very glibly assumed that a divorced woman would be forced to marry again, and that Jesus is calling this second marriage adulterous. But a divorced woman would have several options open to her, and it is far from certain that she would so readily find someone else she could marry. Other options were to return to her parents’ home (following the lead of Leviticus 22:13), to go to live with a married brother or other relative, or to live independently (somewhat difficult but far from impossible and far from unknown). Indeed, she would have much the same choices as a widow.

 

But those who assume she is an adulteress because she remarries are not paying careful enough attention to what the text actually says. This is that anyone who divorces his wife makes her an adulteress. It is THE DIVORCING, not anything she may do subsequently, that causes this. Thus all the women who were divorced (whether they subsequently remarried or not) are categorized as “adulteress”. And “makes her an adulteress” is the passive of the verb “to commit adultery” – this is something that is being done to her by the action of a heartless husband, NOT something she is doing. Bear in mind that the grounds for divorce in the Law were when the wife was guilty of “some sexual misbehaviour”. What is meant then is that she is stigmatized as an “adulteress” in the eyes of society when she is thus divorced. There is an exception: if she has in fact committed sexual misbehaviour she has brought this reputation upon herself.

 

Concerning this question (and a whole lot more), read “Marriage and Divorce – the New Testament Teaching” by Rev Dr B Ward Powers (Jordan Books), 384 pages, posted $33 Australian, or $25 US, or £15 STG. Click here for information on ordering.

 

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THE LESSER OF TWO EVILS WHEN YOU ARE BOUND TO A SPOUSE.

By B Ward Powers

 

Didn’t the apostle Paul say that a wife was bound to her husband as long as he lives? Yes, indeed he did. He says this quite clearly in Romans 7:1-2. Notice the setting of this discussion: Paul specifically states that he is quoting what the Jewish law says. And the law did not permit a woman to divorce her husband. That is the point for which Paul is using this as an illustration. Similarly in 1 Corinthians 7:39: a wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. It would not have been accurate to put this the other way around, and make this statement about the husband, because that was not the case: he was always able under the law to initiate a divorce.

 

But note that such a splitting up of the marriage relationship is not part of God’s plan for human marriage. It is always the result and the outcome of human sinfulness. It is never God’s will that two people should marry and then should split up. The marriage relationship is forged by God for companionship, for mutual help, and for the right satisfaction of the sexual nature which he has given to men and women. We can see this clearly in the picture of Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 2:18-25). See also Paul’s teaching regarding the role of sex in marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5. The bond of marriage is to be the closest of all human bonds, closer even than that of parent and child (Genesis 2:24).

 

But we are frail, fallible, flawed creatures, and things do not always work out in accordance with God’s design and intentions. Sometimes, because of the way that sin can disrupt a relationship, the marriage – which in God’s intention is to be the closest and most intimate and most exciting and wonderful of bonds – becomes close to a hell on earth. We must work hard to see that this does not happen. Good marriages are the result of purpose and intention and effort on the part of both partners, and a marriage that works well is very rewarding and well worth the effort that it takes. A major problem today is that too many people have exaggerated ideas of what they are to get out of marriage, and an inadequate commitment to what they themselves are to put in. The moment that some difficulty arises, some difference of opinion or some problem that puts the relationship under strain, they are too ready to walk away from it and seek a divorce. Thus they surrender the richness and the benefit that the Lord intended them to receive from committing themselves to that relationship in good times and bad.

 

However, situations arise that put the relationship – and, sometimes, the safety or wellbeing of one (or both) of the partners - under intolerable stress. What then?

 

Firstly, we should identify this whole situation as sin. The cause and nature of the sin that threatens a marriage can be as varied as we are as individual human beings, but the response should be to identify that sin, and put it right. This requires the consent and the effort of both partners. If this does not happen – if sin continues to disrupt the marriage – then it may be that the continuation of the marriage is not possible. We must be very slow to come to such a decision, but sometimes come to it we must. (E.g., gross cruelty by one of the marriage partners to the other.) A broken marriage is always an evil: but sometimes it may be the lesser of two evils.

 

Concerning this question (and a whole lot more), read “Marriage and Divorce – the New Testament Teaching” by Rev Dr B Ward Powers (Jordan Books), 384 pages, posted $33 Australian, or $25 US, or £15 STG. Click here for information on ordering.

 

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WHEN IS IT PERMISSIBLE FOR YOU TO CUT OFF YOUR LEG?

By B Ward Powers

 

Sometimes people ask, “When is it permissible to end a marriage?” They are seeking a list of “acceptable grounds”. This is to misunderstand the situation.

 

If someone says to you, “When is it permissible for me to cut off my leg?” how would you answer? From one point of view it is ALWAYS permissible – you can do it right now, if you choose – but it is a drastic thing to do and you would only contemplate it in the most extreme of circumstances, when the alternative is (for some reason) even worse. This is how we are to view splitting a marriage relationship. Husband and wife have become “one flesh”, one entity in the purpose of God. You do not lightly terminate this “one flesh” relationship. and you should only contemplate it in the most extreme of circumstances, when the alternative is (for some reason) even worse.

 

Then you do it with regret and humility, and a sense of failure, throwing yourself upon the grace and mercy of the Lord. Too many marriages – yes, even between Christians – are being ended lightheartedly, apparently without any real sense of awareness of how serious a thing this is to do. A broken marriage can be the lesser of two evils. It may thus be the best thing to do in the circumstances. But let us never pretend it is a good thing, that it is anything but an evil, a desperate thing to do.

 

God in his grace and mercy can forgive a repentant heart, and grant a fresh start, even after divorce.

 

Concerning this question (and a whole lot more), read “Marriage and Divorce – the New Testament Teaching” by Rev Dr B Ward Powers (Jordan Books), 384 pages, posted $33 Australian, or $25 US, or £15 STG. Click here for information on ordering.

 

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HOW LONG DOES PAUL SAY A DIVORCEE MUST REMAIN UNMARRIED?

By B Ward Powers

 

The teaching of the Bible is very clear. In 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 the apostle Paul discusses the situation where a woman breaks up with her husband, and instructs that such a person who has had a broken marriage must “remain unmarried”.

 

The first thing to note is that after the break-up of her marriage she is described as being “unmarried”. The marriage has ended. The marriage is over. There is no idea here of the teaching of some Christians that “once married, always married”, until death shall part you, i.e. that God does not recognize human divorce but that the two of you continue married in God’s eyes even though you may not have seen each other in years. That is not what the biblical teaching about marriage is.

 

In his teaching here, the apostle Paul is completely in accord with the teaching of Jesus. In John 4:16-18 the Samaritan woman says that she has no husband, and Jesus agrees with her. He says that she has had five husbands in the past and though she is now living with another man he is not her husband. Jesus does not say that this woman is still married to her first husband and that the others are just adulterous relationships – which would be the situation if Jesus held that God ignored human divorce and “once married, always married” till death.

 

So the woman of whom Paul is speaking is unmarried. Thus remarriage is possible. It is FORBIDDEN, but it is POSSIBLE.

 

Paul says she is to REMAIN unmarried. The question is, for how long?

 

For many people, this is not really a serious question at all. The answer is totally obvious: it is for the rest of her earthly life. Or at least until the death of her former husband, if he were to predecease her. Many Christians, interpreting the verse like this, have turned away (in obedience, they believe, to the instructions of Scripture) from any possibility of marrying again and creating afresh a Christian family and maybe having a father figure for their children (if they have any).

 

But if we take a careful look at this verse we will see the reason why she is to remain unmarried. It is in hopes of a reconciliation with her former husband. This is the much-to-be-desired outcome of a bad situation. If she were to marry someone else, then according to the Scripture (Deuteronomy 24:4) this possibility becomes closed off. But realistically, in the vast majority of cases it would be quite clear within a relatively short time whether there was any genuine possibility of finding a basis for reconciliation.

 

If she has sought to be able to achieve reconciliation, and it is clear that this is not going to happen, then she has done precisely what Paul instructed in 1 Corinthians 7:11. So she is now in the situation in 7:8, a verse which is addressed expressly to the unmarried, the agamoi (to use the Greek word) – which is exactly the same word which Paul uses to describe her in 7:11. So now she is to do what Paul instructs in 7:8-9. What will that mean for her?

 

 For a detailed explanation about this (and a whole lot more), read “Marriage and Divorce – the New Testament Teaching” by Rev Dr B Ward Powers (Jordan Books), 384 pages, posted $33 Australian, or $25 US, or £15 STG. Click here for information on ordering.

 

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CAN A CHRISTIAN DIVORCEE EVER REMARRY? WHEN?

By B Ward Powers

 

To this question some teachers give a straightforward “No! Not during the life of their former partner.” To marry again (they say) would be to commit adultery – and they cite the teaching of Jesus in Mark 10:11 for this. “In certain limited circumstances,” others say, “if the person is the innocent party, and the other party has committed adultery or has deserted.” 

 

What does Scripture say? In 1 Corinthians 7:8 the apostle Paul specifically addresses those who are agamos, a Greek word which means “not at present married”, but does not imply “never been married”, and is used by Paul (7:11) in reference to a person who has had a broken marriage, and (7:34) to differentiate a woman who has been (and no longer is) married from a virgin, a person who has never been married.

 

Thus Paul’s comment in 7:8 has primarily in view those who are widowed, and those who are divorced. His first comment to them is that it is well for them to remain as he is – and he is not married (9:5). But he has just, in the preceding verse (7:7) pointed out to them that it is God’s gift for some people to live complete and fulfilled lives as single, without marrying, but to other people for them to be marriage partners. What he goes on now to say to those whose previous marriage has ended (for whatever reason) is that, if after seeking to live like him as a single person they find that this is not their gift and they are not managing self-control, then the right thing for them to do is to marry, which is better than continuing to be aflame with passion (7:9).

 

This is a realistic recognition of the nature with which God has endowed us, from the beginning. He said of Adam in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for a man to be alone. And what is said of the man here is true also of a woman. And it does not cease to be true after a marriage has ended. Undoubtedly some people, now finding themselves single, are content to remain so – they have now the gift of singleness and celibacy to which Paul referred in 7:7. But for many others this is not the case: and Paul’s word to all such people (totally without reference to HOW they became agamos, whether through widowing or divorce) is, “they should marry”. Often in the English translations of Paul’s words this looks like permission, or advice. It is all that, but it is more. In the Greek it is an imperative. It is an instruction to people in such circumstances: they are to marry, they must marry. This is the answer for them in their situation. God said to Adam (Genesis 2:18), “I will provide a partner for him” – and sometimes he does also for those who become agamos.

 

Then in 7:25-28 Paul speaks of the distress facing the Corinthian church at that time (apparently, the beginning of persecutions), and counsels virgins to remain as they are in this period. He adds, If you are married, do not seek a divorce; if you have been divorced, do not seek a new wife. But if you do marry, this is not a sin, and it is not a sin if a virgin marries. Some translations do not make it clear enough that the “you” that Paul is speaking of here is a divorcee; for a clearer translation here, see the NEB and REB. (The verb here in 7:27 is “apoluo” in the perfect tense, meaning “have you become released from your relationship that you were in”.)

 

This is an express statement by Paul that if a divorcee were to remarry, this is not a sin. Like to look at this in more detail? For a detailed explanation about this (and a whole lot more), read “Marriage and Divorce – the New Testament Teaching” by Rev Dr B Ward Powers (Jordan Books), 384 pages, posted $33 Australian, or $25 US, or £15 STG. Click here for information on ordering.

 

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SHOULD A DIVORCEE EVERY REMARRY IN CHURCH? WHY?

By B Ward Powers

 

Some will say emphatically, “Most definitely not! You took vows before God `Till death do us part’ with another partner, and you broke them! You can’t expect to come into the presence of God now and take this vow again – with a different person!” Others will reluctantly permit it, if it is done quietly, “on the sly” as it were. Yet others will allow it for the “innocent party” – if that person can be identified! In practice in many places the church’s policy is based on an assessment of what were the grounds of the divorce, and whether this complies with an “acceptable” list of “approved grounds”. What this means is that if your marriage break-up was for one (or more) of the “right” reasons, you can get married again in church; otherwise not.

 

Usually the opposition to remarriage is based on the interpretation of Scripture that remarriage of a divorcee is adulterous, and so that by performing the wedding ceremony the church  is conniving at – worse, aiding and abetting – the committing of adultery. My book looks in careful detail at the presumed basis for such teaching and shows that (apart from the special circumstances which Jesus describes in Matthew 19:9//Mark 10:11//Luke 16:18), this is not the case.

 

The danger that we face, especially as ministers and pastors of the church of God, is that, in registering our disapproval of separation and divorce, and seeking to uphold the high standards of Christ for marriage, we end up behaving is a very unChristlike fashion towards divorcees who are seeking, under God, to build a new life. As one divorcee said to me, “I have repented, and I know that Jesus has forgiven me: but the church never will!”

 

We must take account of Jesus’s attitude of forgiveness in John 8:1-11. The woman was guilty and merited punishment. But by his challenge to the people, Jesus showed that we humans are not qualified or equipped to be the ones to punish. Then Jesus demonstrated the divine response of forgiveness. When we ourselves encounter a situation of marriage failure, do we accept the invitation to take up the stones to throw, or do we follow the example of Jesus?

 

Note that this is not to condone the sin or lower the standard of God’s righteousness. We must not take a tolerant view of separation, divorce, and remarriage, making it seem a small or light matter. But when there are reasonable grounds for believing that the divorcee takes a serious view of the breakdown of the first marriage, and has genuinely repented of his/her part in it, and wishes to ask God’s blessing on a new relationship, how does it help at all if we say, “Not in church!” Whoever they are and whatever their circumstances, the vows will inevitably be more meaningful if publicly they take them before God, accompanied by the prayers of minister and congregation.

 

For further discussion about this (and a whole lot more), read “Marriage and Divorce – the New Testament Teaching” by Rev Dr B Ward Powers (Jordan Books) 384 pages, posted $33 Australian, or $25 US, or £15

Stg. Click here for information on ordering.

 

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Learn to read Greek from the New Testament itself! Understanding the Bible's teaching on marriage and divorce hangs on understanding the choices translators make in dealing with the ambiguities that are inherent in translating between languages and cultures.

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