Permissible

picture of a divorce decreeOne July morning in 1994, I found myself sitting in my pastor’s living room. He had graciously responded to my desperate phone call with an invitation to come over and talk.  My wife had left me, and I had no idea what to do.  All I wanted was God’s best for our family of four young children.

“Joe, you know divorce is permissible for adultery and abandonment. If you divorce, you would still be eligible to remarry.”

His words supported what I had been taught…and he meant the words to be gracious and helpful. He was sharing the truth of God’s word as he understood it, viewing the permissibility of divorce for specific situations as God’s grace to deal with harsh realities of life in this world.  In fact, by even bringing up divorce as a valid option, he was being much more liberal than many pastors would have been.

But at that moment, those words were no help at all.

In 1 Corinthians 6:12, the Apostle Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”

In the New Covenant, we live under grace, not under the law. So, I was not interested in what was permissible…what I could get by with.  My heart was, and is, to wholeheartedly pursue God’s will and seek God’s best!

See, this whole concept of divorce being permissible only for specific rigidly predefined situations is founded on a false paradigm. First it assumes that divorce is sin, although the Bible never calls it sin.  Second, it interprets Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7 as providing rigidly narrow “exception clauses” for when divorce is permissible.

Now, there are some basic logic errors in this paradigm.

As discussed in this post, sin is never permissible.  Therefore, since both Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul discussed situations where divorce may be a godly course of action, divorce cannot be inherently sinful.  The sin is either in what led to the divorce or in how the divorce is handled, not in the act of divorce, itself.

Also, if Matthew 19:9 is interpreted as Jesus saying all divorce is forbidden with the solitary exception of adultery, and 1 Corinthians 7:11-15 is interpreted as Paul saying all divorce is forbidden with the solitary exception of abandonment, then we have the Apostle Paul contradicting Jesus.  They cannot both be providing a rigid solitary exception in which the solitary exception is not the same.  So the whole paradigm of divorce being unlawful with the exception of certain specific narrow instances listed in scriptural exception clauses falls apart.  It is based on flawed logic.

But that summer morning in 1994, I was not thinking about flawed logic and biblical hermeneutics. At that time, I accepted the prevailing Divorce Mythology as truth.  It was what I had been taught by men I respected and trusted.  I had never had serious reason to question its validity, and to be honest, I had never studied the topic closely enough to recognize the obvious errors.

What I was struggling with that morning was of a much deeper emotional nature.

See, this whole concept of divorce being forbidden, but then having narrowly defined exception clauses for when it is permissible…it fundamentally assumes divorce is never the best course of action.

When presented in sermons, we can almost always count on the preacher to immediately add, “…but not required.” For example, in a sermon on Matthew 19, he might say, “Divorce is permissible for adultery…but not required.”  The implication being it really would always be better to not divorce …that the truly godly course of action would be to find a way to reconcile…no matter the circumstances.  It implies that no matter what led to the divorce, people who have divorced are somehow less spiritual, less faithful, less holy than if they had remained legally married.

It felt to me at the time as though divorce would be a deviation from God’s best plan for my life… condemning myself and my family to a life of something less than God’s best…some sort of second-rate grace begging scraps from the children’s table.

This false assumption of divorce never being the best course of action is reinforced even in the terminology.

Consider the word permissible.  It means permitted or allowed, and that’s exactly how it is treated… as though divorce is always wrong but sometimes grudgingly permitted under specific narrowly defined exceptions.  Many churches treat divorce as something that should always be discouraged, never encouraged…no matter the circumstances.  In effect, divorce is sometimes permissible…but always discouraged.

Then there are these exception clauses used to rigidly define when divorce is permissible.  Do you see how legalistic this whole paradigm is?  Even the terms forbidden, permissible and exception clauses are legal terms, illustrating the inherent legalistic nature of this false paradigm.

Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus consistently spoke against the legalism of the religious leaders, repeatedly demonstrating that righteousness is a heart matter. He often condemned the system of rigid rules, legal loopholes, and exception clauses debated among the religious leaders of His day.

Yet, somehow, many Christians (including many learned theologians) have embraced an unscriptural paradigm making Jesus out to have (on the solitary topic of divorce) replaced the law of Moses with a much more stringent law, including rigidly applied exception clauses for legal loopholes. This is the epitome of legalism and the very thing Jesus denounced the Pharisees for doing!

That summer morning, as I was reeling from shock trying to figure out what to do next, I didn’t need to be told divorce was permissible for my situation.  I needed to be told God is the God of divorce just as He is the God of marriage.  I needed to be told, divorce is sometimes the best and most godly course of action.  I needed to be told God’s blessing in my life and the lives of my children was not dependent on my staying married to their mother.

Who can you encourage with a message of God’s blessing and faithfulness through divorce?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

24 thoughts on “Permissible

  1. I was once part of a ministry that taught all divorce was sinful no matter what. To the point that if you were in a second, third, fourth or whatever marriage your marriage was sinful. You had do repent of your sinful divorce in order for God to bless your marriage.

    My husband and I laughed because we had never been married, we only had kids out of wedlock……..

    There was a couple in our group in which the husband had had a previous marriage. The marriage was bad from the start, the wife cheated on the husband multiple times, refused counseling and finally filed for the divorce. The husband had done everything he possibly could to keep that marriage, he had remained faithful to the covenant he had made with the Lord and his wife.

    Still the ministry insisted that the mans marriage of over 20 years at this point was a sinful marriage and they needed to repent. needless to say they left the ministry pretty quickly.

    I can’t remember where in the old testament, but there is a passage where God actually tells his people to leave the husbands, wives and children because the unions were ungodly and against His will ( that is definitely paraphrasing ). My question to the ministry about if all divorce were sin how could God tell His people to do it? Never got an answer on that one.

    I am still not sure where I stand on the divorce issue, but my heart is always for what is God’s best and His glory. Sometimes I don’t think either of those things can be accomplished in an abusive marriage. I think it is a case by case kind of thing, you have to know you are hearing from the Lord whatever the direction you take

    • Beth, your private joke with your husband about never having married cracked me up. I like your sense of humor! That puts a whole new spin on the sanctimonious opposition to any and all divorces, doesn’t it? 🙂

      I love what you said in your closing paragraph:

      …my heart is always for what is God’s best and His glory. Sometimes I don’t think either of those things can be accomplished in an abusive marriage. I think it is a case by case kind of thing, you have to know you are hearing from the Lord whatever the direction you take.

      I completely agree! You might enjoy reading this post, where I expounded more on the topic of godly divorce and ungodly marriages: http://josephjpote.com/2015/01/god-of-divorce/

      Thank you for sharing your insights!
      joe recently posted…PermissibleMy Profile

      • LOL, yes my sense of humor can be a bit inappropriate at times in Christian circles. Thanks, I will read the link,

    • Yes! Hindsight brings clarity, doesn’t it? Those of us who have experienced God’s faithfulness through divorce can more clearly see the falseness of the prevalent Divorce Mythology.

      If it wasn’t so serious, I would find it amusing how many Christians who have never experienced divorce like to expound on the devastating long-term consequences of divorce. Ignorance is incredibly confident in its assertions.

      Divorce is an extremely difficult experience, but God is faithful through it all. What God taught me of His love and grace through divorce, I would not trade for anything.

      Thank you, Lisa!
      joe recently posted…PermissibleMy Profile

  2. I may not be aware of it, but do you have a book written or underway that deals with your perspective on this, Joe? If not, you should be working on one. You articulate the intricacies of this so well and so soundly. I’ll be sharing your perspective, my friend and so appreciate your willingness to go against the grain in an area that needs more grace and further reexamination by the Christian community.

    • Yes, I do have a book available in either paperback or Kindle versions. Here is the Amazon link with reviews and ‘See-Inside’ features: https://www.amazon.com/You-Believer-been-through-Divorce/dp/1463767161

      The book is written in concise myth-buster style. Each chapter deals with a different myth, first discussing the biblical perspective, then addressing consequences of believing the myth and how to move past the myth. It also includes a Prelude and Appendix in which I discuss the larger topics of Covenant and Redemption from a biblical perspective, and how Marriage and Divorce fit in this larger scope.

      It is a fairly small easy-to-read book, originally written for a series of Sunday School lessons I was leading. It would work well for any small group study, or for individual study. I intentionally hit main points while leaving plenty of room for group discussion of related scriptures.

      The book is not intended to be a comprehensive dissertation on the topic. It is intended to explode conventional divorce myths popular within today’s church and to aid the reader in better understanding God’s heart of love and redemption toward His children who have experienced divorce or who are facing the possibility of divorce.

      If you (or someone you know) would like to purchase multiple copies for a group study, let me know and I can set up a group discount code for you.

      Thank you, so much, Beth! I appreciate you, my friend!
      joe recently posted…PermissibleMy Profile

  3. Your words are ones I needed to read. I am divorced and have never remarried-my choice for right now. I have always struggled with knowing that I am not a terrible person or that divorce should never be a choice. The words in the last paragraph speak deeply to me. God has blessed my life over and over and my two sons have grown into amazing men. I should not carry the guilt of divorce. Every time I think I am at peace, I realize there is something not completely finished yet. Thank you for these words and the reminder of God’s blessings.
    Mary Geisen recently posted…Gracious GraceMy Profile

    • Oh, Mary! I can so relate! That false guilt can be so debilitating…and is so unnecessary.

      I love these words: “God has blessed my life over and over and my two sons have grown into amazing men.”

      Yes! Praise God, our faithful covenant partner who continues to fill your life with His blessings!

      Thank you, for reading and commenting!
      joe recently posted…PermissibleMy Profile

  4. Joe,

    Before I respond, I must say that it may be appropriate to take my response with a grain of salt. I am a younger man. Married for not a great amount of time. And I honestly have not read all of your posts that you linked to in this article, nor am I quite familiar with your back story or basic presuppositions. So if you find my response to be missing what you intended to say, please clarify. My intention is not to misrepresent what you are saying or to attack you personally in any way and cause further pain to your past. My intention is to respond strictly along the lines of basic truth and argumentation—though oftentimes when disagreement occurs it is easier to attack persons rather than the actual argument itself. So I thought I’d clarify up front, that while I will propose some serious misgivings, I have no desire to bring your character/person into disrepute. In fact, I am sure that I likely would enjoy being your friend if we met.

    Now, I have a few major issues with what you have proposed (and by nature of disagreement, what I agreed with or enjoyed will likely be overshadowed by what I have problems with).

    First, you state that the paradigm that believes divorce is merely “permissible” yet “always discouraged” is based on “flawed logic.” I disagree. I think such a paradigm is based on the Old Testament covenantal paradigm. The covenant of marriage is based on Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” If you look, there are two primary facets to this covenant. First, the leaving and holding fast and, second, the becoming one flesh. Each are important facets of the covenant of marriage and teach us much in understanding how Paul can “add” an exception to Jesus. In fact, Paul is not contradicting Jesus, but attacking the same point that Jesus did—which is the breaking of the same covenant of marriage. The breaking of the covenant is only possible by means of sexual union with another or desertion of the marital partner. Each breaks a different part of the covenant. Desertion breaks the leaving/holding fast and sexual union with another breaks the one flesh union. These are the two grounding realities of the covenant itself. All other aspects do not break the covenant of marriage and, therefore, cannot be valid reasons for divorce.

    Second, you claim that the traditional view assumes divorce is never the best course of action. Yet, is this not what Jesus claims? Matthew 19:6b-8 says ““What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”” Does that not show that Jesus grieves the option of divorce? Does that not show that Jesus only allows divorce due to hardness of heart “but from the beginning it was not so?” I have trouble finding how such teaching coheres with your view. It appears that Jesus is teaching that divorce is never the best option.

    Third, you are less spiritual if you divorce? I know of no one who claims such a stance. Could you point me to someone who presses this claim? Jesus does make plain that divorce is not merely acceptable for whatever our desires may be. But he does give an exception, despite its less than desired acceptance. And following such a course does not make you a second grade Christian but one in need of grace and redemption from this fallen world like everyone else.

    Fourth, you make a large distinction between what you call law and grace. You say that the Old Testament is law and that the New Testament is grace. But can this dichotomy really make sense of scripture? Can it make sense of the gracious promise of Genesis 3:15? Can it make sense of the gracious covenant of Genesis 15 where God himself takes the covenantal vows alone? Can it make sense of the gracious covenant to David and his offspring? Is not the Bible far more complex and the Old Testament far more gracious than mere law? To be clear, there is a basic biblical dichotomy between law and grace, but each are found in both the Old and New Testaments. And grace certainly does not preclude the realities of law. With Paul, I say, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)

    Fifth, closely linked to the previous point, you say that Jesus did not replace the Law of Moses with a more stringent Law. In fact, you call such a view unscriptural. May I ask how you handle the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, where Jesus, as the New Lawgiving Moses, does not lower the Law but in reality heightens it? Jesus moves the point of reference of the Law from the outward appearance to the inward reality of the heart. How is that not giving a more stringent Law? Jesus now says that even if you are simply angry with your brother you are in danger of hell rather than only if you act on it. Is this not a more stringent Law? The law of Christ is real, is it not (see Galatians 6:2 for such terminology)?

    Indeed, every case of divorce is different and must be dealt with on its own terms. I do not intend to jam every potential circumstance into some unbendable paradigm. But, I do intend to make plain that the Scriptures are far more rigid than you suggest. And while we often consider rigid to mean bad, rigid, in this case, is for our joy. God’s design elicits joy. And oftentimes, God’s design has rules for our good and said joy.

    How thankful I am that Christ will never divorce his wife nor take another bride.

    Look forward to hearing from you further and hashing out our disagreements to greater clarity! I am sure it is likely that we will end up on differing ends of the spectrum, but I know I am always helped by strong discussion. Blessings.

    • Hi, Jordan! Welcome to the blog!

      Are you Beth and Gary Steffaniak’s son? If so, I am very pleased to make your acquaintance. I’ve come to think very highly of your parents and to have a deep appreciation for your mother’s online ministry.

      You ask a lot of good questions. As you can imagine, it would be difficult to attempt an in-depth response to each question in a comment format. This is especially true given the nature of the questions, in that they are asked from a perspective that differs significantly from my own. So, before the details of each question could be dealt with, first you would need a better understanding of my perspective of the topic. Which is why I have both a book and a blog dealing primarily with this topic and why I provide liberal cross-links to related blog posts.

      I would encourage you to spend a bit more time browsing my blog or reading my book, which is available here: https://www.amazon.com/You-Believer-been-through-Divorce/dp/1463767161

      In fact, this specific post addresses just one facet of my overall paradigm of the biblical perspective of marriage and divorce…a perspective which I am keenly aware differs substantially from that under which I was raised and which is popular in many churches today…a perspective I now term the Divorce Mythology.

      Now…back to your questions. I will attempt a brief response to each, but trust you to read more of what I have already written, for more details:

      On your first point of disagreement, I actually agree with you that both adultery and desertion break the marriage covenant, and are therefore both legitimate grounds for divorce. Where we may disagree is that I do not see these as being the only possible areas of breaking a marriage covenant, nor do I see that as a scriptural limitation. I say it is flawed logic, because those who claim these are the ONLY valid reasons for divorce usually base that on the scriptures I referenced and read these passages as being exclusive of other potentially valid reasons for divorce. The logic flaw is that if two completely different passages give two different valid reasons for divorce, then neither passage could have been intended to be exclusive of any other potentially valid reasons for divorce. That leaves the door open for other potential valid reasons for divorce, besides these two. As one example, I believe abuse is a valid reason for divorce, because intentional unrepentant abuse directly violates the sacred marriage vows to love, honor and cherish. Breaking the vows breaks the covenant, just as adultery or abandonment breaks the covenant. (More on Matthew 19, here: http://josephjpote.com/2012/04/asking-the-right-questions/ )

      On your second point of disagreement, I never said divorce was not cause for grief. Anyone I’ve ever known who has experienced divorce has at some point grieved the loss of that relationship. However, the fact that grief is involved does not mean divorce may not be the best course of action in a given situation. In Jeremiah 3:8, God said that He, Himself, divorced the northern kingdom of Israel. Clearly, since divorce is the course of action God chose for that situation (a situation of repeated unrepentant abuse of covenant vows) we can be confident it was the best choice…the most godly choice…and God’s perfect will for that situation. No doubt, grief was involved…yet divorce was still deemed by God, Himself, as the best course of action for the situation. More on that topic here: http://josephjpote.com/2015/01/god-of-divorce/

      On your third point of being considered “less spiritual” after divorce, most pastors would not phrase it this way, and would deny that perspective if asked the question. However, many pastors would consider anyone who has divorced to be ineligible for remarriage…many would consider anyone who has divorced to be ineligible for the office of church deacon or church elder or pastor. You, yourself, in your first point indicated you see divorce as being ‘merely permissible’ but ‘always discouraged.’ Do not these point to a perspective that divorce somehow makes a person less spiritual? Less holy? Less wise? Less reliable? I can tell you that most Christians who have experienced divorce struggle with this perception, to one degree or another. More on that topic, here: http://josephjpote.com/2012/08/missed-gods-plan/ as well as here: http://josephjpote.com/2014/01/divorce-mythology/

      On your fourth point, yes, I absolutely agree that the Old Testament is filled with examples of God’s wondrous grace and that the New Testament does not do away with the need for righteousness. In fact, you might enjoy this post where I show how God’s covenant with Abraham is fulfilled by Christ in the New Covenant: http://josephjpote.com/2014/09/covenant-seed/ However, Jesus always points us to matters of the heart, not to adding more layers of external statutes. Under the New Covenant, because we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we should rely more on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and less on rigid adherence to external statutes…and we should trust mature fellow believers to do the same.

      On your fifth point, Christ’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ is an excellent example of what I’m talking about. Jesus says being angry is the same as murder and lusting is the same as adultery, to point out that righteousness is a matter of the heart and can never be attained by strict adherence to rigid statutes, nor can guilt be avoided through legal loopholes. Our only hope for righteousness is to have the righteousness of Christ imparted to us through covenant relationship with Him, in which He promises to renew our minds and conform us to His image through the power of the Holy Spirit.

      Now, most teachers, pastors, and theologians would, I think, agree with me on this point, in reference to Matthew 5:21-30…or at least would be unlikely to have sharp disagreement with my perspective on these verses. Nobody expects us, based on these verses, to literally imprison or execute people for anger, nor to literally cut off body parts for lust.

      However, when it comes to verses 31-32, the common ‘standard’ modern evangelical interpretation all of a sudden does an about-face to a literal legalistic interpretation equating divorce (or divorce and remarriage, depending on the specific interpretation) to adultery, and saying it is forbidden. To me, that’s crazy! Why would we agree that in the preceding verses Jesus was intentionally pointing out the fallacies of trying to attain righteousness thru strict adherence to rigid external rules, then turn right around and interpret verses 31-32 as Jesus adding stricter and more rigid external rules to those already in place?

      Thanks for reading. Thanks for commenting. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Jordan!
      joe recently posted…PermissibleMy Profile

    • Jordan, I should also point out, in regard to your fourth point of Grace versus Law, what I stated in this post was:

      In the New Covenant, we live under grace, not under the law. So, I was not interested in what was permissible…what I could get by with. My heart was, and is, to wholeheartedly pursue God’s will and seek God’s best!

      In other words, I see Grace as calling us to a higher standard than Law, not lesser. Actually, I see this in both testaments, though the New Covenant makes it much clearer and with the added aid of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Grace calls us to relationship, whole-hearted fellowship and unrelenting pursuit of godliness.

      It is, however, a different perspective from the law. It is not law plus relationship. It is relationship that seeks to understand not just the law, but the moral principles on which the statutes are based and the character of God from whom the moral principles extend. Then to act based on faith in God and His revealed character combined with the leading of the Holy Spirit.

      As Paul said in Galatians 3:23-26:

      But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

      joe recently posted…PermissibleMy Profile

      • Great to hear from you further, brother. I enjoyed your dialogue with me and have benefited from it. Indeed, those are my parents and I am their son. Hopefully I don’t reflect too poorly on them. To rid them of any disgrace, please know that I disagree with my mom relating to this issue, so I would bet she isn’t crazy about me responding. 🙂 All views expressed are my own and do not necessarily relate to them! And as for what follows, I don’t intend to suck up all your time. I know responding to others can be time consuming, so do not feel any pressure to respond substantively or continually. And please know that my penetrating tone is due to the desire to keep things short and clear rather than simply chummy and unendingly long. I do not intend to sound mean. 🙂

        First, I went back and read all of your linked to articles and a few more.

        A few notes on them.

        Jeremiah 3:8 “God of Divorce” post, I think, fundamentally misunderstands the role of the Mosaic Covenant and its relation to the marriage covenant. The Mosaic Covenant =/= the marriage Covenant. Just as the Abrahamic Covenant =/= the Mosaic Covenant. Etc. The Mosaic Covenant is a covenant of works rather than grace—despite the massive amount of grace in even having such a covenant to begin with. It is similar to the Covenant at Creation. The Mosaic Covenant is not an eternal covenant. We must know the nature of each covenant and must know how they work. And, therefore, each must be understood on their own terms. Jeremiah 3:8 can speak of “divorce” because the Mosaic Covenant is temporal and entered into by both God and the Israelites. It is merely preparatory. So when God presents the reality of “divorce” it is because they failed to uphold their covenant stipulations and will experience the curses of the covenant (exile, et. al.). And yet, despite Jeremiah 3:8, God returns to his bride. The Northern Kingdom has been restored through Christ. Hence Acts 8 with the Spirit going to the Samaritans. But you present divorce as the holy option for pastoral reasons. I understand this. But even in divorce, it is not a preferred option. As Jesus states. From the beginning it was not so, but due to your hardness of heart it is a necessary concession. Not a preferred option. Not necessarily a sinful option, either, if for valid reasons. But I prefer to promote the reality of the eternal covenant of grace that God will never invalidate.

        In following Jeremiah 3:8 as your driving presupposition, apart from the canonical context, you have lifted the unfortunate reality of divorce and taken it as a paradigm of literal perfection. And as you battled the reality that God must accommodate himself in language, you struggle. Taking the undesirable option and lifting it as the desired. The key picture in the Bible is marriage—not divorce. Divorce cannot be your driving presupposition. What is the picture of Christ and the church? Divorce? God forbid. It is marriage. The only faithful covenant partner is God himself. Without God, we would have always failed each successive covenant and never been restored to marriage. Praise God for his faithfulness despite our faithlessness. Even when we sin, for an invalid divorce or else, he loves us and remains. What a gracious God!

        I know you push back against the reality of metaphor in Jeremiah 3:8. But it must speak this way because God in himself must accommodate himself into human language. Just as the Bible says God changed his mind (which we know he cant) and that he even repents (which we know he cant nor needs to do), the Bible says he divorces, not because he intends to leave his wife and find a new one but in order to explain the depth of covenant betrayal from Israel. It is accommodated metaphorical language. To read God literally as divorcing, changing his mind, or repenting is to commit oneself to a purely univocal approach to scripture which will also lead God to having human body parts.
        This leads me to this reality.

        You say that it is dangerous to not divorce in toxic marriages. But I praise God for 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 and 1 Peter 3:1-6 husbands and wives. Without patiently faithful partners, the covenant of grace may never be brought to their unfaithful and unbelieving partners.

        You also say that divorce is not a sin. But this appears to be a blanket statement and acceptance of any divorce. The problem is that divorce is sin if done outside the context of broken Genesis 2 covenantal terms. Divorce is not sin within the broken covenant but is sin outside. You are making a logical jump when you try to ask if divorce is sinful or not and then conclude that since it is sometimes permissible it is not sinful. In the circumstances when it is not permissible, divorce is sin.

        Further, you say divorce is not sin because Jesus doesn’t say it is sin in Matthew 19?. Adultery must not be sin either, then? Must someone say A = sin for it to be sin? Is that not a bit modern? And is that not a bit outside the bounds of careful interpretation?

        Also, by way of honest dialogue, I think Malachi 2:16 does not read that God hates divorce but rather is best rendered as the ESV has captured it, and, therefore, do not use that as grounds for any argumentation. I am sure you appreciate that! 🙂

        But before I move on, you do admit to your position being relatively outside the bounds of confessionalism by pitting the larger church against your position? And because I hold to the historical position of the church catholic and substantiate it with biblical argumentation, yet do not follow your view, you label me as holding to “Divorce Mythology?” You do realize that I hold to particular valid divorces and remarriage and am not extreme as your ghost men are? I assume you are comfortable repudiating the vast majority of the church in holding your position? To be sure, just because the majority of the church holds to it, does not mean it is correct. Yet, should we not be moved by the weight of the Spirits work in others lives throughout history?

        Second, and to be clear as to my personal views. I think the Scripture is clear that there are two reasons for divorce. And that neither amount to sin. All divorces, therefore, are not inherently sinful. Neither formally bar someone from office in the church. I agree that those who have divorced should not be treated as second class citizens. I mourn those who have felt the penetrating eye of judgment from many within and without the church. Divorce is not the unforgiveable sin. The charges you have leveled against the “other side” are not true of my position. However, any divorce that does not violate the marriage covenant of Genesis 2 is sinful.

        Third, a few interactions with your remarks to my questions.

        First point, I think you do get at the heart of our disagreement. You are comfortable bringing in the American “sacred marriage vows” that are extrabiblical material as part of the biblical marriage covenant. For the unchristian, I surely understand divorce for breaking of such vows. However, the Christian marriage covenant is not built upon such traditional vows but upon the scriptures and God’s institution. I think you have confused the biblical covenant stipulations for marriage with the modern “traditional” covenant vow set of “love, cherish, and hold.” What is just divorce? You broaden it to include things like honor, protection, and provision which are outside the Genesis 2 covenantal terms.

        I also reject your portrayal of my position as a logical flaw since I am not introducing new reasons for divorce but am showing how Jesus and Paul actual present the same coin but each side of it as they both refer one side of the marriage covenant. In my position, I do not leave the door open for new grounds for divorce. I clearly state that there are only two reasons for divorce. May I ask, if there are more, what they are and how you justify each one as valid grounds? You must justify your claims that other things permit a divorce, which you have failed to do. You start with your assumption and build from there. The Israelites broke the stipulations of the Mosaic Covenant and not the stipulations of some Assyrian Covenant or whatever else. God would not be justified if they had not broken the actual covenant. If such is the case, and I can go beyond Scripture, is it not appropriate to say that anything is valid grounds and that the covenant truly means nothing?

        Second point, see what I said in the first section. 🙂

        Third point, if people would deny this accusation you make, is it not a bit harsh to judge their motives apart from their confession? And for those who promote the idea that divorce is unacceptable for any reason and that remarriage is not an option, I disagree. So, in defending yourself in such a way, you are not speaking to my point. It is a bit of a red herring. I have continually repeated that I believe there are valid grounds for divorce but that I do not allow myself to go beyond scripture in those reasons. And because I think divorce is not the best option, as Jesus teaches in Matthew 19, I do not think those who follow such a course are less spiritual. The same is true of those who choose marriage despite Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7. Just because they do not have the strength to remain single does not mean I view them as less spiritual. Your claim does not follow from my proposition.

        Fourth point, I am really not sure how exactly you interact with a difference from my position. I am confused by what you say, if you intend to disagree. And your clarification only makes me think you have used the Mosaic Covenant as a 1-to-1 meaning for the Old Testament. What exactly happened before the Mosaic Covenant? Was Law still the purveying influence? And in the Mosaic Covenant, do you think people were saved through works of the Law+Christ or what exactly? And in the New Covenant does Law and external obedience no longer matter? I need further clarification here.

        Fifth point, what exactly do you define as literal and metaphorical? Metaphors have points of reference. Some are closer than others. When Jesus says that lust = adultery, the point is obviously not univocal but analogical. And in verses 31-32 we do not find “all divorces = adultery” but “invalid divorces = adultery.” And adultery is a euphemism for sin. So, an invalid divorce is sin. And I do not think the Sermon is merely used to point that we are all sinners but to call us all to greater righteousness, as well. Simply because I will never attain the proper meekness of Christ or purity of heart in the beatitudes do not render them irrelevant and unnecessary for my life. The same goes for Jesus and his teaching on divorce.

        In sum, I think we disagree most on the nature of the marriage covenant. You believe that Genesis 2 is not descriptive of the whole covenant stipulations and that the New Testament passages are not speaking directly to exegeting Genesis 2 alone but “adding” and “making room” for further covenant stipulations. Would I be right in those assertions? Surely you would phrase them differently, but is that not the idea you intend to protect? I think we also disagree strongly on emphasis, as I think the Scripture chooses to glory in and emphasize marriage rather than divorce. I am thankful for such an emphasis. I am thankful for Christ’s enduring eternal faithfulness to me. And if we follow Christ, should we not endeavor to follow his gracious example of loving his bride to the end without the love of another?

        • LOL! You really like to debate, don’t you? I’m not sure, but I think you’re even debating items on which we are in fairly close agreement. 🙂

          Let’s see…

          First of all, as a general rule, I’m not really into debating in the sense of trying to prove one position is right and the other wrong. My father had a saying, “Convince a man against his will, he’s of the same opinion still.” I have found this to be generally true. People rarely change their perception based on a debate.

          I also expect to see, and generally encourage, a broad spectrum of scriptural viewpoints. I’m not saying there are many truths…there is only one truth and that truth is the character of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. However, as we are finite beings, we each have a different perception of the truth. If things are working as they should…if we are growing and maturing in knowledge, wisdom, and grace…that perception should be continually changing for each of us. As I experience more of life’s circumstances, as I dig more into God’s word, and as I interact with more people, my understanding of God’s character matures and changes. My perception, today, on this topic is much different from what it was a few years ago. So, it would be very unrealistic to expect anyone else’s perception to exactly match my own at any given point in time.

          So, as a general rule, I am much more interested in trying to understand someone else’s perception, or in trying to help someone understand my perception, than in trying to prove anything.

          Now, that may sound like an odd statement from someone who makes bold proclamations on controversial topics. The reason for my bold proclamations is not to incite debate, but to help people who are hurting…to help them see a clearer perception of the loving redemptive nature of God He has graciously shown me.

          All that to say, I won’t attempt a rebuttal of all your points, because I don’t see that as a wise use of resources. I will, however, be glad to try to help you better understand my perception on any given topic. And I will try to reciprocate in trying to understand your perception. Hopefully we will both learn from that. 🙂

          As to this specific post and my earlier responses to your comments, I was not attacking your position. I was attempting to explain my position. I was not accusing you, personally, of having flawed logic. I was attempting to explain why I see a specific paradigm as being based on flawed logic.

          Likewise, I was not accusing you, or anyone else, of saying divorce causes someone to be less spiritual. Rather, I was expressing the experiential reality that most Christians who divorce experience some level of feeling they have become second-class Christians as a result of the divorce. Sometimes this is based on treatment by others, and sometimes it is based on logical conclusions to which a particular paradigm leads when taught or preached.

          Now…in an attempt to help clarify what I do believe…

          I do not believe divorce is inherently sinful. I do believe divorce generally involves sin. However, the sin is either what led to the divorce or in how the divorce is carried out, not the act of divorce, itself. There are a number of ways I could express this. I could say, “Not all divorce is sinful,” or “Divorce is not always sinful,” or “Although unjust divorce is sin, just divorce is not sin.” I have chosen, instead, to say, “Divorce is not sin.” To be perfectly honest, I see these phrasing options to be so close to the same thing as for the differences to not really be worth debating. However, the reason I phrase it the way I do is two-fold. First, because there are zero biblical commandments directly forbidding divorce, and I see this as an important point…it more accurately reflects my perception of the biblical truth. Second, I phrase it this way because it more starkly contrasts the oft-stated perception that “divorce is sin,” and is, therefore, a clearer statement to help those who are hurting…those who either have divorced or are facing divorce and see themselves as becoming second-class citizens of God’s kingdom as a result of the divorce.

          For background and clarification, I have heard many preachers proclaim “divorce is sin” and have read many books by renowned Christian authors who proclaim “divorce is sin.” Although I had not given it much thought previously, when I found myself facing divorce I saw the falseness of these broad statements…and found the falseness to be particularly important and damaging. To say, “divorce is sin” implies that anyone who has experienced divorce has sinned by having experienced it. Even if they did not want to divorce and had done all they possibly could to prevent the divorce…or if they filed for divorce as a last resort to protect themselves or their children from harm, after many months of prayerful and tearfully weighing options, this broad statement still labels them a sinner. Moreover, because of other tenets of the Divorce Mythology, many divorced Christians see this as a permanent stain…a sin they cannot escape…or that they could only escape by going against their own conscience in a reconciliation with their former spouse…if that is even possible.

          It is against this false perception and the false (or careless) statements that lead to this perception that I speak out, for the purpose of helping those in need of help.

          Furthermore, I believe divorce is sometimes the best and most godly course of action. Sometimes it is also the most loving course of action in regard to one’s spouse. I do not see marriage as always reflecting God’s nature, nor divorce as always disparaging God’s nature. I see a godly marriage as reflecting one aspect of God’s nature, and I see just divorce as reflecting another aspect of God’s nature.

          Furthermore, I see just divorce from a marriage of abusive bondage as being a specific instance of redemption. I also see redemption (as used in the biblical text) as always (or at least almost always) including a divorce…a just dissolution of a covenant of bondage by which someone or something belonging to God has been held captive. More on this topic here http://josephjpote.com/what-is-covenant/ and here http://josephjpote.com/what-is-redemption/

          In regard to the question, “In what specific rigid instances is divorce permissible?” I reject the tenet on which the question is based. My reason for rejection is two-fold.

          First, to ask when divorce is permissible assumes Christians are looking for excuses to divorce. I do not see looking-for-an-excuse-to-divorce as being a position that aligns with the heart of God to whole-heartedly live out the covenant vows of marriage.

          Second, I do not see the development of rigid rules on when divorce is, or is not, the best course of action as being in keeping with the complexity of human relations, nor with the biblical text, nor with the heart of God.

          I see God’s heart in the matter as being for the Christian who is married to whole-heartedly live out their marriage vows to the extent that is possible and does not violate other covenants (i.e. serving God, protecting children, violating conscience, aiding and abetting criminal activity, etc.). However, if the marriage vows have been so badly violated or trust has been so damaged, or any other of a myriad of possibilities has occurred so that the marriage has become abusive bondage with no realistic hope of living together in peace, then divorce may be the best and most godly course of action. And I see the decision of the best course of action in such a situation as being between the individual Christian and God…hopefully with much prayer and following the leading of the Holy Spirit.

          Blessings to you, Jordan! Thanks for the discussion. I hope you will continue to visit this blog.
          joe recently posted…PermissibleMy Profile

    • Jordan,

      You’ve been on my heart the last couple of days. I feel I’ve failed to communicate an important message.

      It doesn’t bother me that a guy reads my blog, doesn’t get my paradigm, and takes issue with my understanding of scripture. Not an issue! In fact, it’s expected.

      However, you are, apparently, a young seminary student, taking theology classes, likely with the intent of someday ministering as a Christian teacher or preacher. And you seem to have been so focused on areas in which you disagree with my understanding of scripture as to have completely missed the main point of my post.

      That is a huge concern to me, both for you personally, and for the people who may someday come to you seeking help.

      The main point of the post is that, in the many times across many years I found myself facing possible divorce, I was never concerned with “What is permissible?” I was only concerned with, “What is best?”

      Thus, although my situation met the criteria of both “exception clauses” to which you subscribe, a theological paradigm that never sees divorce as ever possibly being the best course of action was of no benefit to me.

      I am not unique in this. Many Christians facing divorce have this same dillema. Nothing about the Christian faith conditions us to seek what is permissible. Christ always calls us to what is best.

      As bad, as hopeless, as unrepairable as my first marriage was (it was all of that and more), it still was not nearly as unbearable as many other marriages. The many, many women living in fear of their lives…the mothers trying to reconcile the ongoing abuse of her children with a belief system telling her divorce is forbidden…these and many more are in situations so incredibly much harder than anything I experienced!

      And yet, with the belief system you have professed, you would have absolutely nothing of value to offer them…just empty platitudes and overworn cliches.

      For the sake of the people to whom God may someday call you to minister, I strongly encourage you to learn more about the nature of abuse and to spend time in prayer seeking God’s heart toward His children who are enslaved in covenants of abusive bondage.

      Read, “Why does he do that?” by Lundy Bancroft and “Not Under Bondage” by Barbara Roberts, as well as the two books by Jeff Crippen on the topic of abuse. Spend time reading first-hand accounts of abuse survivors on http://cryingoutforjustice.com. Seek to understand both the nature of abuse and the heart if the abused. These are essential for effective ministry.

      I love your passion for God’s word! Please take the time to learn more about the people you may minister to.

      May God richly bless you as you continue to study and learn.
      joe recently posted…PermissibleMy Profile

      • Hi Joe,

        I normally take the weekends off from the internet, so if you wondered why I was slow to respond, thats why. 🙂

        And while I understand your concerns, I think we must agree to disagree. As a current leader in my church, I am mandated by God to uphold his word, and I think his word is clear on divorce and remarriage. I think trusting God even when it doesnt make sense–while not always what we want to hear–is the best course of action.

        But I will certainly read your extra recommendations! I never intend to shy away from more information.

        And I think you might like David Instone-Brewer’s work on divorce if you have yet to read them. They are very much in line with your thinking.

        Blessings!

        Jordan

        • Yes, I have read and enjoyed David Instone-Brewer’s work. Very well researched, I thought.

          Another one you may enjoy on the topic of divorce and remarriage is Rubel Shelly’s, “Divorce and Remarriage: A Redemptive Theology.” Shelly does a good job of presenting his theological perspective interspersed with real-life examples from his years of pastoral counseling.

          Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope you will continue to visit.
          joe recently posted…PermissibleMy Profile

  5. Joe, what a great post! I am divorced too and have been for a long time. I’ve always believed that what God hates about divorce is not the divorce itself but rather, what divorce does to families. Would it have been better for my children for our family to stay together…yes, if their father weren’t an abusive addict. But since that was our reality, our days as a single-parent family were far and away better than the trauma we were experiencing on a daily basis. Today they are grown and are two of my best friends. We are a cord of three strands that cannot be broken. I honestly can say I don’t know that we would be where we are today if we had stayed. Well, maybe I do, but don’t want to think about it! 🙂

    Thank you again for a well-researched answer to these difficult questions. And these words right here: “I needed to be told God is the God of divorce just as He is the God of marriage. I needed to be told, divorce is sometimes the best and most godly course of action. I needed to be told God’s blessing in my life and the lives of my children was not dependent on my staying married to their mother.” These words need to be repeated over and over again to anyone who is facing the heartbreaking decision to divorce.
    Holly Barrett recently posted…LRL 051 – Carrie LorfanoMy Profile

    • Holly,

      I love how you phrased this:

      Would it have been better for my children for our family to stay together…yes, if their father weren’t an abusive addict. But since that was our reality, our days as a single-parent family were far and away better than the trauma we were experiencing on a daily basis.

      Too often, we Christians start thinking of ‘God’s best’ as some sort of religious utopia we strive to attain then strive to keep. In actuality, ‘God’s best’ is found in difficult decisions in tough circumstances encountered during life in this fallen world.

      Thank you for sharing!
      joe recently posted…PermissibleMy Profile

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