Divorce & Remarriage (3)
Marriage and the Exceptive Clause For Divorce:
If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her, and the man can never divorce her as long as he lives; – Dt 22:28, 29 NIV.
The verses above indicate that humbling a damsel through sexual intimacy is the actual marriage; in other words, marital bonding from copulation is marriage and not just the ceremony carried out in the Church or at home. It also indicates the Word used by Jesus Christ – “Fornication.” Fornication is a sin committed by yet-to-be-married people. People misconceived the ceremony that takes place on the wedding day as a marriage rather than the conjugal bonding that takes place when two people become sexually involved the first time.
Sexual bonding is the actual marriage, which is why marriage is always annulled if not consummated sexually. Virginity involves sexual purity of the body and mind. Christian Couples must reassert their parental authority by instructing their children about God’s view on sex. They must teach their children to flee fornication. They must teach their children to avoid temptation by making no provision for the flesh. They must teach them to exercise self-control in every area of their lives; they must educate their children about the dangers of premarital sex and the wisdom of obeying God’s commands regarding human sexuality.
God never wants us to be involved in wild and free sex. That is the reason Joseph wanted to divorce Mary secretly because of her pregnancy. Until the Angel sent by God convinced him that the pregnancy was by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and not by human sexual intimacy. Mary was still a virgin untouched by any man. It is the essence of the call for sexual abstinence before marriage (sex only after the wedding).
Premarital sex is fornication, and it is a sin. Once you have sexual intimacy with a partner, you are already yoked. If you fail to seal it up with marriage as expected and right in the sight of God, the separation of ways is a divorce. How many wives or husbands have you divorced through careless conjugal bonding? A man can divorce his wife because he fails to meet the wife as a virgin on a marital night. Divorce is only permitted among couples who find out on their marital night the unfaithfulness of the other partner by not being pure as possessing virginity. If a man has carnal knowledge of his wife-to-be before the ceremony, he is duty bound to marry her, and if on the wedding night he discovers she is not a virgin, he has the right in the sight of God to divorce her. Premarital sex exposes emotional immaturity and the inability to wait for the best of God. The test of real love is not sex, but Jesus gave us a new life in 2 Co 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!” NIV
Adultery is another issue; this is a sin committed by married couples, a sin of covetousness, a married man or woman having sexual intimacy with another woman or man. In Dt 22:22, we are told, “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die; you must purge the evil from Israel.” NIV. The act of adultery is evil but forgivable when the sinner repents. The coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, abolished the death penalty associated with adultery, and instead, Repentance and Forgiveness are preached and expected.
Hosea’s wife, Gomer, was unfaithful to him; yet with this open adultery, God did not permit Hosea to put her away. Hosea 1: 2a “When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness….” Hosea 3: 1a The Lord said to Hosea, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress;” Hosea’s relationship with his unfaithful wife was a sign of Israel’s adultery in idolatry. The Israelites sought illicit relationships with foreign nations and mixed Baal worship with the worship of God but God is a faithful God. Just as Hosea went after the unfaithful wife to bring her back, the Lord pursues us with love despite our failings and numerous sins. So husbands or wives could and should forgive their adulterous partners and not put them away. If they show great love like the love of God, the erring partner might change for the better and reciprocate the love that will eventually sustain the relationship.
The Teaching Of Jesus Christ (Matt 5:31, 32):
Christ teaches us that the law goes far beyond external behavior alone. The format Jesus used was “You have heard that it was said . . . But I say to you.” Matt 5:27-28, He addresses the commandment on adultery in this fashion: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” When lustful imaginations are entertained in our thoughts, adultery has already been engaged in, as far as God is concerned.
With this setting in mind, many have committed adultery; but it is not indicative that you should divorce based on adultery. Rather repentance and forgiveness are offered. Our Lord Jesus Christ used the word “Fornication.” Let us use the biblical adulterous woman as an example: John 8: 3-11 is aptly captioned ‘Jesus Forgives an Adulterous Woman.’ The Pharisees brought this woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus and wanted to inflict on her the punishment ordered by Moses, but Jesus told them in v7b, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” In v10, Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?; in reply in v11, the woman said, “No one, sir,” “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared, “Go now and leave your life of sin. It is indicative of Jesus’s teaching of repentance and forgiveness.
So divorce need not be the only way out of an act of adultery; if the guilty partner repents and the innocent partner is willing to forgive. Though Matt 5:31 (NIV) uses the Word marital unfaithfulness, this could be interpreted in many ways since the marital union is accepted from the stage of engagement of a couple to each other, as was the case of Joseph and Mary. Hence, fornication is still a very apt description of marital unfaithfulness as much as an act of adultery within the union. God’s commandments are transgressed by the heart’s unseen attitudes as well as the visible actions of the body. In the law, God requires perfection that measures up to the perfect character of the Father Himself. The law says we are to hold within our hearts and manifest a character that matches God’s through actions. “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” As a professing Christian, can you say that you live up to this idea? Can you honestly say that for you to live is Christ? Are you doing your business for Christ? Is it not done for self-aggrandizement and family advantage? How can you live for another object without committing spiritual adultery?
Many there are who carry out this principle in some measure, but who is there that dare says that he hath lived wholly for Christ as the apostle did? Yet, this alone is the life of a Christian, its source, sustenance, fashion, and end, all gathered up in one Word- Christ Jesus. If Jesus forgives all our sins, marital partners are urged to forgive marital unfaithfulness upon repentance of the guilty partner. Only in unrepentant marital unfaithfulness can the innocent partner be allowed to put away the guilty partner. Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the law (VSS 17-20); “Think not that I come to destroy the Law or the Prophets: I came not to destroy but to fulfill“ (Vs. 17). Jesus’ assertion in v.31 does not in the least interfere with the interpretation of Deut. 24: 1-4. In verse 32, Jesus proceeds to propound the principle that to put away or dismiss a wife for any reason, but that of sexual infidelity is a sin. It is well to remember that two subjects are closely pertinent to this subject on which this text does not reflect.
The first subject deals exclusively with dismissal or divorce on the part of the man. We are not intimated about the rights that may belong to the woman suing for a divorce. The second point is that Jesus says nothing here regarding the remarriage of the man who puts away his wife for the cause of fornication. Fornication is an act committed before marriage. A wife is meant to be a virgin on the marriage day; a wife found to have been defiled that is committed fornication and not met as a virgin; by Jesus’s proclamation, she can be put away (divorced) by her husband. In Israel, a disvirgined girl is abhorred, and no man marries her again. Such a woman lives in disgrace for the rest of her life in her father’s house.
A case to consider here was Absalom’s sister Tamar when Amnon, her half-brother raped her. 2 Samuel 13: 11-20:
But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister,” “Don’t, my brother,” she said to him. “Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king: he will not keep me from being married to you.” But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than her, he raped her. Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. He hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!” “No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.” But he refused to listen to her. He called his servant and said, “Get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her.” So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing a richly ornamented robe, for this was the kind of garment the king’s virgin daughters wore. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore her ornamented robe. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went. Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman. NIV
She becomes a desolate woman for any woman not married by the man who dis-virgins her. Fornication is a great sin in Israel. Marriage is regarded as adulterous because the first conjugal bonding (marriage) is still in God’s sight regarded as inviolate. The divorce has not dissolved the bond. Illegitimate divorce does not dissolve the marriage bond; consequently, such divorce does not relieve the parties concerned about marriage-related obligations. In reality, they are bound to one another in the bonds of matrimony and a marital relation. Or any exercise of the privileges and rights of the marital relation with any other is adultery. It, therefore, follows that a man who divorces his wife (except for the cause of fornication – not being a virgin) is not at liberty to remarry any more than the divorced wife.
However, it does not settle the question of the status of the remarriage of the woman divorced for adultery. Certain inferences call for consideration:
- The OT did not provide for divorce in the case of adultery; the law was most stringent; it required death for such sexual infidelity.
- The law enunciated by God, on the other hand, institutes divorce as the means of relief for the husband in the case of fornication on the part of his wife. So in the economy, Jesus himself inaugurated, the requirement of death for adultery is abrogated. He abrogated the Mosaic penalty for adultery and legitimated divorce for fornication. It is perhaps the most conspicuous concrete instance of the exercise of that authority in the Sermon on the Mount.
- In the Mosaic economy, divorce, for a reason mentioned in Deut 24: 1-4, was suffered or tolerated but was not penalized by civil ostracism or ecclesiastical ex-communication in the Mosaic Jurisprudence. The economy Jesus inaugurates is not to be characterized by the laxity inherent in the sufferance afforded in the Mosaic economy. It means the reasons for divorce in Deut 24: 1-4, tolerated in the Mosaic jurisprudence, are abolished in the NT.
- The import of this is that marriage, from its very nature and the divine Institution it is constituted, is ideally indissoluble. As respecting divorce and its implications, this is on accounts of the most pivotal passage in the NT; we have the combination of two clauses, namely the exceptive clause and the remarriage clause, which Matt 5:32; Mk 10:11; Luke 16: 18 but only in Matt 19:9 are they coordinated.
Sexual sin is either fornication or adultery. Having premarital sex is fornication, while infidelity in marriage is adultery. If a man may rightly divorce his unfaithful wife and if such divorce dissolves the marriage bond, the question of remarriage is inevitably posed. Furthermore, I Co 7:15 would certainly face us with the question of the effect that desertion by an unbelieving partner would have upon the marital status of the deserted believer. The real crux of the question in Matt 19: 9 is, however, the force of the exceptive clause “except for fornication” it does not intimate, any more than Matt 5:32, that the man is obligated to divorce his wife in the event of adultery on her part. It simply accords the right of liberty. Canon law of the Church of England, while allowing separation for adultery, does not permit remarriage for the parties so separated as long as they both live. If the text of Matt 19:9 is adopted as genuine and authentic, then there is considerable difficulty in holding to this position. It is the difficulty of restricting the exceptive clause to the putting away and not extending it also to the remarriage. (Scholars such as Charles Gore, who deny the authenticity of the exceptive clause, fully recognize that it applies to the putting away).
However, the construction must be maintained if Matt 19:9 is not interpreted as legitimating remarriage after divorce for fornication. It means that divorce in such a case dissolves the marriage and that the parties are no longer man and wife. With the result that the man is free to remarry without thereby incurring the quilt of adultery; – Mark 10: 2-12; Luke 16: 18. There is no contradiction between the two accounts as found in Matt 19:7,8 and Mark 10: 3-5. The far more critical question with Mark 10: 2-12 is the omission of the exceptive clause in Mark 10:11. The same is true of Luke 16:18. G. H. Box, in his booklet, ‘Divorce in the NT,’ written jointly with Charles Gore in answer to R. H. Charles, says in the Markan account and Luke that the prohibition of divorce is absolute. In Matthew, a limiting clause is introduced except for fornication or un-chastity. Some scholars say this is a case of editorial addition or modification. It formed no part of our Lord’s teaching in its original form, preserved correctly in Mark and Luke.
The emphasis of the discourse in Matt 19: 3-9 and iMark 10: 2-12 relies on the abrogation of the Mosaic permission of Dt 24:1-4. The passages involve a complete annulment of the permission granted for other reasons and presupposed in the Deuteronomy passage.
It should be noted that there is no mention in Mark or Luke of a man’s right to put away his wife for fornication or adultery. The silence of Mark and Luke respecting this right does not in any way prejudice the right itself. We may reasonably conclude that Mark and Luke are not envisaging the situation created in the event of adultery and are not reflecting on the rights of the innocent spouse in such a case. They concentrate on abrogating specific Mosaic provisions like divorce and prevalent customs in Jewish and Gentile circles.
Another notable difference that appears in Mark 10: 2-12, when compared with the parallel passage in Matthew, is Mk 10:12. In Matt 5:32; 19:9, there is no reference to the woman’s rights in the event of adultery on the part of her husband. Mark 10:12 is instructive and essential as it is the only passage in which there is an allusion to divorce on the part of the woman. “And if she shall put away her husband and marry another, she committeth adultery.” ASV It simply means to me that a woman is not to put away (divorce) her husband for just any reason and marry another. The ostensible import of Mark 10:12 is that the same law applies to the woman as it applies to the man if she takes the initiative in a divorce suit. Mark’s passage points the direction of a specific provision in the Christian economy to the effect that the woman is accorded an equal right with the man in the event of marital unfaithfulness on the part of her husband. In the OT, there is no provision for divorce by the woman. But in Mark 10: 12, there is an indication that our Lord, in the exercise of His authority, not only provided that a man may divorce his wife for the cause of fornication but that the wife also may divorce her husband for the same offense.
The exception mentioned by Jesus in Matt. 5:31-32, and Matt. 19:9 is fornication meaning “Pornia,” adultery is “Moichao.” You may then ask why he used the word “fornication” and not “adultery”?
- (a) Fornication is sexual relations between two unmarried people.
- (b) Adultery is sexual relations between two people, both married to others or one of whom is married to someone else.
I believe Jesus used the word “fornication” because he was talking about a situation where one was unfaithful before the marriage was to be consummated. We must remember that in the Hebraic culture, engagement (Marriage Pledge) could only be dissolved by divorce. It is significant to note that the “exceptive clause” is only mentioned in Matthew, a gospel written by a Jew to the Jewish people that specifically addressed their concerns. Essentially, Jesus said that an engaged couple might “divorce” if one of the two has committed fornication. But once the marriage has been sealed, there is no allowance for divorce. It’s not an exception for after marriage, but before the union takes place. In Eastern cultures today, this is practiced; (Tokens of virginity; No blood, No marriage). When divorce is sought and tokens of virginity are provided, divorce is refused. An illustration was the case of Joseph and Mary when Joseph determined in his mind to divorce Mary in secret on account of her pregnancy until the Angel of God appeared to Joseph to convince him of Mary’s sincerity.
In the Yoruba Culture of my forefathers, they spread white bed sheets for new brides on their wedding night. Blood-stained white bed sheets convinced the in-laws of the purity of the brides. It brought great respect not only to the bride but to the entire family of the bride. On the other hand, if there were no sign of blood to stain the white bed sheet, such a bride would be disgraced and sent back to her family. Also, the groom’s family would demand a refund of the dowry (bride price), and such bride was stigmatized and left desolate in her family compound. Sexual abstinence of bride-to-be was significant lack of virginity on wedding night meant automatic separation or divorce.