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Christian Divorce and Remarriage II

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Question #1:  Have you, or are you planning, on doing a biblical study on "Divorce and Re-marriage"?  I can't believe how many interpretations I have heard from so many different Bible expositors. No one, it seems, can come to any consistency of thought on this extremely important doctrine. In fact.....it should be included into your "essential doctrines" of the Bible. Romans 7:2 is pretty clear. We need to understand just what God allows and doesn't allow. There could be a lot of "un-holy" unions out there today. [Divorced celebrity X] could very well be in jeopardy of being denied entrance into the kingdom of heaven! The Christian community would shudder at this thought, but no one really gives it much thought or study.

Response #1:  Indeed, I do plan to include this and other related questions in the Bible Basics series (the problem is that it will go in part 6B, Peripateology: the Christian Walk, and that is several years off at present). I do have a couple of e-mail responses posted to Ichthys which deal with aspects of this question:

1) What does it mean in 1st Corinthians 7:14, "the unbelieving husband is sanctified"?

2) Divorce and Remarriage.

3) More Divorce and Remarriage

4) Feelings of Guilt about Remarriage.

5) Jephthah's Daughter, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage.

What you say (and the Romans 7:2 passage you quote) is hard to argue against, but the question for [Divorced celebrity X] and/or anyone else who finds themselves (even though they put themselves) in a particular situation is "what now?" What David did to Uriah the Hittite (not only taking his wife but murdering him to cover up the adultery) was certainly far worse than what most Christians who may be culpable in this area have done. David is in heaven. David, of course, acknowledged, confessed, and repented of his sin. David also was punished severely by the Lord (over a period of twice seven years), losing just about everything he had, but ultimately being delivered by the Lord, and not losing his salvation or his eternal reward - much of what God later did for Israel was expressly "for the sake of My servant David".

The thing is, there is a big difference between embracing a life of sin and sinfulness, even justifying it on the one hand, and committing a sin at one moment and then having to live with its consequences long afterwards on the other. Few sins have longer lasting or more painful consequences than those which involve committing oneself to a marriage if it is wrong for any reason. Our God is indeed a God of mercy and He unquestionably forgives us our sins, but there is sufficient indication from scripture that once a person finds him/herself in a bad marriage (or, more to the point, a marriage that was wrongly undertaken), that extrication is not a simple matter. In other words, once you have committed yourself to a person, to legal, financial, emotional ties and responsibilities, to children, etc., well, it would certainly be wrong of me (from what I read in scripture) to tell a person so involved that they are free to dump these responsibilities - two wrongs don't make a right. God's attitude about David's behavior vis-a-vis Uriah and Bathsheba is clear, but David was not told to divorce her (nor was David cut off from God forevermore). Make no mistake. The last thing I would wish to do here is to give the impression that I am in any way justifying wrongful divorce or unauthorized marriage.  Indeed, the only way to be completely safe on this subject is to take Paul's advice and leave marriage entirely alone. Most of us, however, cannot handle celibacy (1Cor.7:7-9; cf. Matt.19:11-12), and so we are left to follow the rules: marry only in the Lord and in the correct way.  However, even if our would-be spouse makes the right noises about being a believer, is she/he really?  And, human beings being what they are, it would be folly in most cases to assume that anyone, even someone (or maybe especially someone) who is in love with us will tell us the absolute truth about everything that has passed before.

Whether there is a right to divorce under some circumstances or a right of re-marriage is thus in some ways entirely beside the point of the question you are really asking here: should I divorce if my marriage violates one of these prinicples? If we are thinking in these terms, we are trying to play a legal game with God instead of putting first and foremost in our thoughts how best to please our Master Jesus Christ. The reality of modern life is that people marry, and, our society being what it is, there are going to be many who divorce (before accepting Christ, or during a period of apostasy from which they later recover, or as the result of horrendous circumstances within a marriage which beg the question of whether "consent to live in peace" is really there, or whether there is de facto a "death" because the possibility of continuing in marriage is effectively ruled out by the other party). Whenever one looks at these issues carefully, two general principles always seem to emerge: 1) as mentioned above, the only totally safe course is to refrain from marriage in the first place; and 2) if one has divorced for any reason, to remain unmarried thereafter.   Everything else is fraught with potential difficulty for the reasons Paul advances in 1st Corinthians chapter 7: the time is short, this world is passing away. If we are going to run this race in the best way, we will put the Lord first, last, and in-between. Romance, however, is part of the American dream, and it often comes to occupy an inordinately important place in the self-fulfillment of even the most dedicated Christians.

The main difference between marital sin and many other varieties of sin is that marital sin has lasting consequences that spring from social and personal sources as well as from divine discipline (which, to hearken back to the example of David, may be quite severe and long-lasting). Realistically, people are going to get married, as Paul concedes. Realistically, given the nature of the society we live in, where divorce and remarriage are effortless and carry no appreciable stigma, people (believers too) are going to get divorced and remarried. It would be wrong to suggest that believers can indulge in such things willy-nilly without any justification and suffer no consequences. But it would also be wrong to suggest that God has somehow chosen to withhold His mercy from this one area of disobedience alone (where there is abuse). As I say, the major, practical problem here is that even in clear cases of disobedience we are almost always dealing with people who have "already done it" when the question comes up.

So then, what should we say after the fact? We can only draw out and apply biblical principles: "Are you bound to a wife? Don't seek release. Have you been released from your wife? Don't seek [another] wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned." (1Cor.7:26). Certainly, one can argue, and persuasively so, that in many cases a person did not have a legitimate right to divorce, and that in other cases a person did not have a legitimate right to remarry. But, given that there are circumstances where divorce is permitted (cf. Matt.19:8-9; 1Cor.7:15-16), this is a determination that in individual cases is best left to those directly involved (in my judgment). I am more than willing to do this because 1) I appreciate to the marrow of my bones that our God is a forgiving God of mercy (from which mercy I have benefitted in untold quantities, and without which I would be utterly lost), and 2) I am confident based upon my reading of scripture, personal observation, and personal experience, that, like David, all who tread carelessly in this area will certainly feel the sting of His discipline in a way that far surpasses any censure I might be able to level. You, me, [Divorced celebrity X], and any other believer you might name, are all brothers and sisters, all children of one God, followers of one Lord. We all need mercy. We all need forgiveness. You are right that we do need to appreciate the consequences of actions that are decidedly not pleasing to our Lord, to warn, to entreat, to pray, to help one another to resist sin, temptation, and bad decisions which will damage our relationship with the One we love the most (and to be very careful not to justify or strengthen the resolve of those so inclined before the fact: Jas.5:19-20). The time for such warnings and prayers, however, is before the fact. Once the egg has been scrambled, warning and entreaty should turn to mercy, encouragement, and a helping hand, in sympathy for the self-induced suffering that definite abuse of God's restrictions brings, and in full and circumspect knowledge of the fact that these dangers are lurking there for us all if we are not careful to keep carefully to the straight and narrow highway to Zion (Jude 1:23).

Yours in Him who both disciplines us and forgives us with love and compassion.

Bob L.

Question #2: 

In reading your reply, I'm wondering if perhaps the "answers" are more simple than we think. One of the reasons why I have left the "established church" is because of the complex explanations of theology that hardly need any outside interpretation. I'm wondering if we should apply a more "simple" approach to interpreting the doctrine of divorce and re-marriage. In Matthew 19, Jesus gave 1 exception - not 3 or more, like many want to proclaim. I believe even you say that "abandonment" is an exception to divorce and remarriage? I believe when one takes ALL of the scriptures dealing with this subject, we can conclude that Paul was NOT giving permission for a person to "re-marry" following abandonment. Paul commanded the woman in verse 11 of 1 Cor 7, to REMAIN UNMARRIED. Although it seems that you believe that "forgiveness" will weigh out in the end, I'm not sure Paul had forgiveness in mind when he wrote Romans 7:2-3. Jesus said that those who keep His commandments will be saved. I want to keep His commandments, and if the Word of God says that a woman previously married, who marries another while her husband remains alive, WILL be an adulteress, I'm left to believe it! And the new husband will be guilty of adultery as well. The reason I disagree with your example of David is because Uriah DIED; the "bond" was broken. I'm not picking on [Divorced celebrity X], but if these types are going to divorce and marry another because they claim their "heart wasn't in it"......the established church today has serious problems, and such problems that I will not associate with it. I don't believe [Divorced celebrity X] needs forgiveness and support; I believe she needs a swift hand of rebuke and 'YES' seperate from this new husband, because he is NOT a husband at all. They are "adulterers" and will NOT be forgiven until they discontinue sleeping together. You believe God would disapprove of this? However, God commanded His people to leave their wives and families, because they were in disobedience to His Law - just read Ezra 9 and 10. I don't want to be divisive, or judgmental. I just want to "obey the Word of God".

Response #2: 

Thanks for your e-mail. I certainly appreciate the premise of your response, namely, to follow the Lord and His Word without equivocation, and to shun compromise, especially when it comes about as a result of a desire to place human considerations over godly ones. In the history of the Church, much damage has been done by relativism, that is, the practice of adapting the Bible to circumstance rather than adapting ourselves to the Bible. It should be noted here, however, that there is an opposite approach which has also been most damaging to the faith and practice of believers throughout the centuries, namely, the misapplication of particular scriptures in an absolute way when they were never intended as absolutes. To take but one famous example, 1st John 5:18a is quoted in the KJV as follows: "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not ...". Pelagius rocked the Church during the fifth century by claiming that he had never sinned, and there are any number of heretical groups and organizations around today who likewise claim that, at least since being saved, they have not sinned. After all, the passage quoted above does seem, at first glance, in an English translation and out of context, to make just this point. Of course in the very same epistle (chapter one, verse ten), John had already said, "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us" (KJV). Consideration of the two passages side by side certainly seems to me to prove the obvious, namely that there is often a difference between the inspired Word and what it genuinely means on the one hand, and what any given individual may take part of it to mean on the other. This is not to endorse dead theologizing which, while imbued with scholarly credentials, has totally divorced itself from the Spirit of God and the truth of the Word, or relativism which can make any scripture mean what it is convenient for it to mean at any given time. Quite the contrary. My point here is that scripture means what it means. All believers are responsible for reading their Bibles and studying the Word - this is crucial for encouragement, spiritual growth, discernment, etc. But all believers also need to understand that there are limits to what a lay person without the gift of teaching, without a deep knowledge of the original languages, without experience in theology and historical context can achieve on their own in terms of building doctrine from scripture on their own.

This is not a criticism of your e-mail - what you are doing, namely, questioning what you see as a clear violation of scripture on the part of Christian celebrities and theologians, is not only entirely legitimate but also very necessary, especially in the day in which we live. I also commend your seeking out of more detailed teaching on the subject. The one preliminary point in your presentation to which I would post a caveat is your promotion of a more "simple approach". I have heard it put this way: "If the plain sense of scripture makes sense, then seek no other sense". This sounds pretty good. In practice though, this principle is often abused. As I have been arguing here, whether the sense is plain or not, any given scripture means what it means. If we are understanding it aright, then we most definitely should seek no other sense. So what we want to do above everything else is to understand aright what scripture means, then live our lives accordingly. Inevitably, we will be surprised in many instances, and, equally inevitably, we (especially teachers who are digging deep into the Word) will get hurt by what we find, for we will sometimes find that our personal approach in some area or another is wanting. If we make ourselves pliant in the hands of God, this will be a very fine experience over time. But if we seek to build up teachings based upon any consideration other than the pure truth, we are only ruining ourselves and our ministries.

Please believe me when I say that the entire basis for this ministry (and, I hope I may say with some degree of confidence, my life) is to find, understand, comply with, and teach the truth, no matter where that leads, no matter who is offended or hurt (although that is clearly not the purpose, it is often the result of telling the truth). It is not for no reason that this ministry is on the internet and NOT associated with any particular denomination, and that I am working a secular job to support my true life's work. For only by putting truth before all other considerations is there true spiritual growth and safety. That is my responsibility. Your responsibility is to pursue spiritual growth, ever testing the source of the truth you receive (as you are indeed doing), and yielding up some measure of trust once you are convinced of the reliability of that source. That doesn't mean that you must believe everything your teachers tell you, but it is true that only what you believe can possibly be of benefit to you. As one whose gift and ministry is focused on digging truth out of the Bible and presenting it, I can tell you that there is simply no true and correct way to interpret the scripture other than to give every verse and every doctrine a full and complete hearing, whether or not that turns out to be a "simple" process (which it very often certainly is not). Assuming we agree on the principles here, let us move to the specifics.

1. Let's talk about David, Bathsheba, and Uriah: I have a hard time accepting the argument that because David murdered Uriah that it was for that reason legitimate for him to have Uriah's wife after that because Uriah was now dead. Following that logic, Christians with guilty consciences about remarriage would be sore tempted to relieve them by doing something much worse than remarrying. But that this is not the case is obvious from the genealogy of Christ, where Solomon is said to be born "of Uriah's wife" (also from Matthew: Matt.1:6) - making it clear that in God's eyes Bathsheba continued to be "Uriah's wife" in a very real sense. Yet David was not commanded to divorce her.

2. Let's talk about Ezra: It is true that the returned exiles agreed to put away their foreign wives, but these scriptures really argue the reverse of what we are considering here: there is no indication that these Jewish believers had Jewish wives too, and it was important to repopulate the land. So here they divorce unbelieving wives where the clear intention, to preserve the Jewish line, is that they will then marry believing Jewish wives and have offspring who are not spiritually compromised (i.e., they are commanded in this unique situation essentially to engage in "wife-switching" which your line of argument rules out). Now Jesus made the point very clearly in the Matthew 19 passage you reference that marriage is from God and has been so from the beginning (quoting Gen.2:24), so the fact that these women were foreign should in no way cancel out the principle that a marriage is a marriage. On top of that, there were before this time a number of notable cases of non-Jewish women being included in Israel by marriage, the two most famous being in the blood line of our Lord Jesus Christ (i.e., Rahab the Canaanite and Ruth the Moabite). Given that God "hates divorce" (Mal.2:16), we have to see this mass divorce in Ezra as a unique and exceptional action taken as an essential, legitimate step to preserve the Jewish people (and the line of the Messiah), and done in this instance with the purpose of allowing remarriage. Lastly here, since, as I say, we have to assume Jewish remarriage is part of the point, this would seem to beg the question of whether this passage is not equally and analogously opening up the acceptability of remarriage when a believer is forced out of a marriage with an unbeliever (more about 1Cor.7:11 below).

3. Let's talk about Matthew 19: One thing to keep in mind in all these passages is that it really is legitimate for us to be very careful about them re: remarriage, because of the fact that they were written NOT to address the issue of remarriage but the issue of divorce. This is an important point because it means that anything we are drawing from these passages about remarriage is in some sense off the point, and instructive only by application and interpretation rather than by direct instruction. Case in point is Matthew 19 especially when compared with Mark 10. Written to different audiences, the same statement of Jesus is phrased in quite different ways in the two books (both are inspired, both are true representations, both must be considered to understand either correctly). Reading the Mark 10 passage, for example, we get the impression that there is NO exception allowing remarriage, but on reading the Matthew passage we find out that remarriage is implicitly allowed if the divorce comes as a result of porneia (sexual impropriety).  Therefore the married woman being "under the authority of a husband" in Romans 7:2-3 cannot be understood in the absolute sense of "once married, forever married with no right to remarry under any circumstances", otherwise it would contradict Matthew 19:9: if a woman's husband cheats on her, she has the right of divorce and the right of remarriage. 

1st Corinthians 7:11 likewise must be understood to apply to cases where there is no such exception (Paul treats the exceptions later in the chapter). Further, the Matthew passage only addresses the husband - we might (wrongly) assume that this means the woman is exempt from this prohibition of divorce, but those with some understanding of Jewish customs of the time and with ancient history and culture in general will understand that women usually did not have any meaningful say in the matter of divorce under most circumstances (and Matthew was written to a Jewish audience). The whole point behind Jesus' statement is to take away the legitimacy of unfounded divorce from the hard-hearted men of His day who were condemning their ex-wives to lives of privation and misery (there was in most cases no chance that these women would have the opportunity of remarriage whatever their feelings about the rightness of such an action, and would instead face the life of an outcast). This all took place at the whim of the husband. In Rome, things were a bit different. Women could divorce their husbands, and, especially in the upper classes, did so without any particular stigma and without being placed beyond the law. The Mark passage (written to a Roman audience) applies the strict standard against remarriage to both parties. In both passages, the purpose is to stifle divorce, because, as our Lord has made clear in the previous context, God means for marriage to endure and not be put asunder. What neither passage addresses directly is the question of the responsibilities and limitations upon the offended party. That is to say, what if your wife/husband divorces you? Or what if they force you into divorcing them by their infidelities? She/he shouldn't, but if she/he does, do you have a right to remarry? Both of these passages address the issue from the point of view of the one who initiates the divorce (I take 1Cor.7:8-16 to have this issue in view). Luke 16:18 states that "whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband comitteth adultery" (KJV). However, it is also possible to take the participle apolelumenen as a middle and translate "she who has divorced herself [from the husband]", a translation which would preserve the issue of responsibility. This is of no little moment, because it stands to reason that if the main point here as the issue is addressed by our Lord is to preserve marriage, taking the right of remarriage away from a guilty party is a very clear way of reducing what is often the main incentive for divorce - at least in the eyes of any who are in any way interested in what God thinks. It is certainly clear that our Lord's purpose here is not to punish innocent women or men who have been victimized by an unauthorized or forced divorce by taking away the possibility of their remarriage even though they had no desire to become unmarried or have their marriages destroyed by infidelity or the like in the first place. Even if one were to argue that a principle of "no remarriage even for the innocent" (though an unfortunate side-effect) does result from these passages, one still has to admit that this certainly is not the main thrust of these verses and is not unequivocally taught in them.

4. Let's talk about [Divorced celebrity X]: I must confess, I haven't heard a whole [Divorced celebrity X's] songs since seminary (about thirty years ago). I'm not much on "Christian" music. One thing I do get from the ether is that she and her ilk are celebrities and share much of the same aura, treatment, and milieu that all celebrities in our pop-culture share (cf. 1Cor.3:21). Therefore I can well appreciate your ire when someone who is celebrated as a Christian is pronounced (or pronounces themselves) an example in all things Christian, especially when I take issue with what they are saying or doing. Wise, Bible-reading, Bible-believing Christians will do well to shun the limelight themselves, and even better to avoid paying any serious attention to those who are in it (no matter what they profess). There is an element of compromise involved in playing footsies with the media that no amount of "good exposure" could ever justify. Jesus told more than one person on more than one occasion NOT to tell what He had done for them, precisely because His ministry was more important to Him than worldly celebrity which He apparently regarded as only a nuisance (we can learn a lot from this). It would probably never come into my mind that [Divorced celebrity X] needs my/our support (I didn't even hear that she was married the first time, let alone remarried - only got this info from your e-mail). You and I don't know [Divorced celebrity X]. Christian ministry is directed from one individual to another. The opposite (and perhaps godly) reaction to infatuation with Christian celebrities is outrage at their non-Christian behavior or doctrinal errors. Both of these it is well to avoid in my view.

5. Let's talk about Christians in general: I have gotten more than one e-mail on divorce and remarriage, and, generally, they come from people who are guilt-ridden about their current circumstances. That is, they have remarried and are questioning now, after the fact, whether what they have done is sin, whether to continue in conjugal relations with their spouse is adultery, and whether they will go to hell if they don't divorce. Often these individuals have children from the second marriage. Always they have complicated and long-standing legal, financial, and social responsibilities and commitments that would be blown asunder by such a move. As you so articulately point out, if God is telling them to do so, then they should do so no matter what the consequences. But consider for a moment that it is no light matter to visit such devastating emotional and physical damage upon two fellow believers (not to mention innocent parties like their children and their broader families) if one is not absolutely convinced from scripture of the unswerving rightness of such advice in each and every case. Even in the scripture that lends the most credence to the view that the only solution in such cases is divorce, Jesus does not actually go on to say that in cases where the second marriage has been contracted that the parties should divorce. Nor does Paul. Nor does any scripture. That is an interpretation. And it is incumbent upon those who would draw this interpretation to prove that in every case (or indeed in any case) doing so would not result in worse sin (that is the real issue here, in my view). The damage caused to a spouse who does not see things the same way and may not share equal culpability, for example, the damage to friends and families, and especially the damage to children, whose lives will be adversely affected (and likely severely so) does have to be put in the balance with the assuaging of the guilty conscience of the person who initiates this irreversible process. And beyond any question there are solutions that are worse than the problem. Going back to David, for a moment, it is beyond all argument that his murder of a trusted and trusting subordinate to cover up his guilt was worse than his adultery. The truth is, that bad decisions, sinful decisions, have consequences that place the perpetrator in a position of weakness where the only choices going forward are bad choices. This is often the case. When we sin, tell a lie, for example, we may well find that not only does persevering in that lie have continuing negative consequences, but that owning up to it may have worse ones. Take David again - once he had lied to Achish, he had little choice but to go along and help destroy his own countrymen (1Sam.29), or own up to the lie and be immediately put to death along with his men (who were innocent). In the event, David was "bailed out" by God - mercy again. I have no problem with advising circumspection on the issue of remarriage for those who ask my opinion on the matter because it is part and parcel of what I see to be the biblical view of avoiding marriage if possible altogether, but I would temper my advice with the same restraint I would use in the case of first marriages, to wit, that celibacy is only a real possibility for the very few, and that is biblical too (cf. the wrongness of indiscriminately forbidding marriage: 1Tim.4:3).

In the case of those who come to me who are already re-married, I hope you can see from this discussion that in the absence of clear guidance and irrefutable statements to the contrary, and given that there are substantial indications that in some number of cases remarriage is legitimate, I would be unwilling to be dogmatic about the need to dissolve second marriages (where I do not find any applicable scripture at all so as to be dogmatic). For the mercy and the forgiveness of God are real; they are true. Without them we would be lost. God did forgive David. "How unfair", we might opine. "I too should just do whatever I want and go crying to God afterwards". But like David, and like the prodigal son, those who stray from the Lord in matters great and small never do so with impunity. Staying close is always better. The elder son who became irate at his Father's merciful treatment of "that sinner" was clearly in the wrong. His Father had blessed him, and his brother had suffered. David, as I mentioned before, received 14 years of divine discipline over this incident. But God did not make him divorce Bathsheba, and this did not, in my view, have anything to do with whether Uriah was dead or alive. "Better to listen to God in the first place" is the lesson I would wish to draw from that story (and from the story of guilt-and-consequence-ridden remarriages in our own day). David didn't "get away" with anything. Neither do those who share their sufferings with me. Nor will anyone (including celebrities) who are in any way compromised in what they do. Our God is a righteous God of justice who does not leave sin unpunished, but He is also a forgiving God of mercy who does not punish us as our sins deserve. Mercy and justice are a bit like predestination and free will. Both principles are correct in both pairs and are not contradictory in the logic of God (even if they seem to be in the weak logic of man). We need to be in fearful awe of the righteousness of God, yet not lose heart when we stand convicted of sin in our own eyes, nor condemn without mercy the sins of others. We need to be confident and jubilant in the mercy of God, yet not become emboldened to sinfulness in any way, nor embolden others to sin in anything we say or do. Sin is sin, and cannot be justified in any way. This is a principle that cuts two ways. On the one hand we can never afford to become flip in our attitude towards sin. On the other hand, there is no action we can take to cover our sins, once they have been committed, and there is generally no action we can take that will rectify messy situations our sins have caused or remove the consequences (especially the divinely imposed ones) of such sinning. When we sin, we have no choice but to submit to the righteousness of God, even as we throw ourselves on His mercy.

I have no problem with your overall point of view, namely that Christians generally are far too casual about the subject of divorce and remarriage. It is clearly not a subject to be casual about. If God wanted us to be extremely wary of entering into marriage, even more cautious about dissolving it, and careful in the extreme about justifying or contracting a second marriage, I can't imagine any better way to induce all three attitudes in Christians who are paying attention than to have the scriptures written just the way they are written. The only clearer way to do it would be to directly and unequivocally prohibit one, two, or all three of the above in the Word. This scripture does not unequivocally do, no doubt for the reason Jesus adduces, because "of the hardness of your hearts". I have to believe that there is a reason why the Bible does not categorically condemn (or even advise dissolution) of suspect second marriages. My best guess is that this would impose a burden that for many Christians in many places would prove impossible to bear. That is neither to justify re-marriage, nor to explain all the "ins and outs" (something I am averse to doing for a variety of reasons that can be gleaned from the above response), nor certainly to claim that the Bible justifies them. It is only to suggest that circumspection should be the rule, both for those who would enter or leave such relationships, and for those who advise them or judge their behavior.

For more on the subject of sin and repentance, justice and mercy, please see:

Bible Basics 3B:  Hamartiology:  The Biblical Study of Sin

Yours in the God who has borne all our burdens through the cross of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #3: 

You wrote: "But all believers also need to understand that there are limits to what a lay person without the gift of teaching, without a deep knowledge of the original languages, without experience in theology and historical context can achieve on their own in terms of building doctrine from scripture on their own." This statement isn't exactly what the Bible teaches me:

"But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him."
1 John 2:27

I don't recall any exhortations by Jesus, or any of the Apostles that we are to attend seminary, in order to understand the Word. In fact, I'm convinced that the Word is revealed to US, not the other way around. God chooses who He reveals truth to, and who he does not. I will take my chances on just the Word of God, in it's original language. I trust God, not men! In regards to the rest of your email, I have to be honest and say that you lost me. For that, I sincerely apologize. However, let me tell you what I do believe to be true: Jesus gave us ONE exception, and that exception is "Porneia".

Response #3: 

I do appreciate you point of view. As in many of the Bible's true teachings, there are extremes on both sides to avoid, both of which teach us something about the right way in any given teaching. Your caveat about trusting God rather than men, and your comments about the teaching ministry of the Spirit are of course well put. I might note, however, that you probably believe the doctrine of the Trinity, and that you probably gained your original understanding and insight into it not directly from scripture on your own under the ministry of the Spirit, but from some (orthodox) source of teaching (as did I). Yes, if God put you on a desert island with nothing but the Bible, you would surely have all you need. But we are not on an island, even if we find ourselves to be pariahs on the earth, excluded from the bulk of the Church-visible because of our intolerance of hypocrisy and false teaching. We are still members of the Body of Christ, and the Body is still meant and designed to help itself, each part aiding the other. If there were no need of teaching, there would be no gift of teaching, there would be no teachers. The same goes for all the other gifts.

Moreover, 1st John 2:27 does not mean nor does it actually say that we can dispense with teachers. The direct object is in ellipsis - i.e., we have to fill in the blank from context to what it is that the Spirit teaches us, and the correct fill-in is not "everything in the Bible exclusive of teachers". It means "You have no need for anyone to teach you [this thing I've just mentioned in vv.20-26, namely, that Jesus is the Christ]."  After all, isn't John doing some teaching in this epistle? Why would he need to do this if his hearers didn't need instruction, except that of the Spirit? No, Jesus doesn't say anything about seminary, but His ministry is definitely a teaching ministry, and His learning was clearly deep and thorough. We are told to follow His example, and His final comments to Peter to "feed My sheep" are clearly a mandate to teach the Word (Jn.21:15-19; cf. 2Tim.4:2-3).  I think you have misunderstood the point of the passage entirely (not surprising working from an English version), and in doing so have made my point about the need for teachers.

I am certainly not suggesting that you give heed to any particular doctrinal system or teacher (myself included). But I am suggesting that God provides good, solid Bible teaching for everyone who is truly interested in growing in the Word. That is His responsibility and He always makes good. The responsibility of every believer is to find that source of pure water and stick with it. True enough, it is hard, especially these days, to find someone worthy. True enough, every believer has to be ready to "vote with their feet" and separate when it becomes clear that they are in the wrong place. But, like it or not, unless a person has the gift of teaching, there are real limits on how much one can "feed oneself". And even with the gift of teaching, it takes significant preparation to get to that point. Whether you have this gift and whether or not you are at the point of being able to feed yourself (and others - the whole point of the gift of teaching) is a matter that is between God and you. Not that many men, in my observation and reading of scripture, are given this gift, and far fewer ever make a sufficient commitment to prepare.

I am sorry that I "lost you" with my last response. Let me put my view of these things in a "nutshell" (from which you can refer to the earlier e-mail for scripture and argumentation):

1) Remarriage is sometimes legitimate, sometimes illegitimate. But the exact point at which to draw this line is left undefined by scripture (and that must be deliberate).

2) Even in cases of remarriage where it seems clear that the union was illegitimately formed, it is far from clear that dissolution is the right thing to do after the fact (scripture never states that it is).  Jesus says "He who marries ... commits adultery", linking the act of marriage with adultery, not sexual union after the marriage - an important distinction, because the adultery is a historical fact once the marriage has been made since it is the contracting of the marriage itself which is the essential act of adultery.  A subsequent divorce will not blot out the sin, and while the marriage continues, the husband and wife fall under the command not to deprive the other party (1Cor.7:5).

3) Given that scripture has left the issue un-prescribed on these points (as in the case of Church organization), we should take care about being dogmatic where the Bible is not dogmatic ("Judge not": Matt.7:1-5).

Hope this helps.  Please see also the following links:

What constitutes a marriage?

Some Sensitive Topics II.

No Grounds for Divorce?

Yours in Him in whom are hidden all the treasures of knowledge, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

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