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Jephthah's Daughter

and Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

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Question #1: 

I have a couple questions for you if you don't mind. My first question is about the story of Jephthah in Judges 11, which has always been disturbing to me. Human sacrifice is explicitly condemned in the Bible, yet it says that right before "the Spirit of the Lord came over Jephthah" right before he made the vow that, "If you give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord's and I will offer it up for a burnt offering" (30-31). It doesn't seem like Jephthah could have made such a foolish promise when the Spirit of the Lord was over him. But I was talking to someone last night about it and she said that she was listening to a radio program (Adrian Rodgers?) which said that the Hebrew could read "shall be the Lord's, OR I will offer it up for a burnt offering" instead of "AND". So maybe he didn't intend to sacrifice a human. This makes sense in some parts. The text never says that he burned her, it just says that he "did with her according to his vow that he had made." So maybe he gave her up as a student, like Samuel was when he was born. And her virginity seems a strange thing to mourn when you are about die, but it seems logical if you are given up to be the equivalent of a nun. But it also doesn't make sense, because why would Jephthah expect anything but an animal to walk out from the doors of his house to greet him? And then why would he include the part about sacrifice? So my question is: would "OR" be a correct translation of the Hebrew, and is there an explanation for how Jephthah could be under the influence of the Spirit and make such a seemingly ridiculous promise?

My other question is a little more difficult, but shorter. I believe that all of the prophecies in the Bible regarding the end times will occur, and I believe that there is a good chance that they will occur within my lifetime. I have neither the knowledge or the confidence that you do to say exactly when, but I think that conditions are generally favorable for an apocalypse. So how should this belief affect my life? I've always wanted to grow up and have children, but I don't want my children growing up in the middle of the tribulation. What do you think?


Response #1:   

On Jephthah, the first thing I would say is that the fact that the Spirit comes upon him in Judges 11:29 at the beginning of the campaign against the Ammonites does not necessarily mean that he was henceforth immune to sin or folly. Saul "became a different person" when the Spirit came upon him (1Sam.10:6), but it wasn't long before he was doing many foolish and sinful things. The Spirit's ministry regarding ungodly behavior is one of restraint (see the link: "The Restraining Ministry of the Spirit"), but He doesn't overrule our free will (which explains why in this present age of universal indwelling of the Spirit there is no lack of sin and folly among Christians). The "rules" for vows were, of course, that they had to be fulfilled (Num.30:2), but there was no requirement that they be made in the first place. It may very well be that, as Jephthah was on the point of vowing, the Spirit prompted him to restrain himself, but, hot-headed person that he was, he made this presumptuous vow anyway. Given what scripture says about vows, even in the Old Testament, it would be better if we all refrained from such activity.

It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows
Proverbs 20:25 NIV

Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, "My vow was a mistake." Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?
Ecclesiastes 5:6 NIV

(33) "Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'you shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.' (34) "But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, (35) or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. (36) "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. (37) "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil.
Matthew 5:33-37 NASB

The solution proposed about "or" instead of "and" is really ingenious. I have never heard it before. The word in question about which you ask is waw, the most common word in Hebrew (it's the basic connector). In this context we have a "future sequence" with waw followed by perfects picking up an imperfect used as a future, so it could indeed work this way. This would explain the part about Jephthah saying "whatever comes out of the door". That has always bothered me too, though I don't think I realized why until just now. It may be that Jephthah envisioned the possibility of a person coming out of his [no doubt extensive] household, but imagined that it would be more likely for an animal to come out first. However, since he probably had many slaves and servants, "dedicating" one of these to the Lord, while it would be a loss, was something he probably felt he could live with. If this was his thinking, I am sure he didn't ever imagine that God would bring things about so that his daughter would be the first – out of hundreds of possibilities. You are also correct that it doesn't actually say his daughter was killed, though of course the Hebrew of verse 31 says "offer up as a burnt offering". Now there is no provision in the Law for a burnt offering of a human being. Only acceptable animals may be offered under the Law. This point leads me to think very favorably on the waw here being an "or". I am inclined to think that Jephthah, a country-boy and a rover, probably had lots of dogs. These would be the most likely to come out and greet him first when he returned, since they would sense his approach before anyone or anything else. Now since dogs cannot be sacrificed as a burnt offering, it seems reasonable to suppose that Jephthah included the second clause "or it will belong to the Lord" as a way to "let the dogs in" (so to speak) to this equation. In his anticipated scenario, one of these pets would be handed over to the priests in Shiloh for their service, and thus would "belong to the Lord". Since in the descriptions of the burnt offering in the Law, the 'ola, these are not described as something" belonging to the Lord" (cf. Lev.1), the "or" interpretation gains strength for that reason as well. Those who want to see human sacrifice here often say that "devoted" things had to be destroyed, but the Hebrew verb charam does not always involve destruction; sometimes it connotes unalterable dedication. For example, speaking of the share that will belong to the priest during the Millennium, Ezekiel 44:29b says "and everything in Israel devoted [charam] to the LORD will belong to them" (cf. Num.18:14 where charam items, including individuals, similarly belong to Aaron and his sons). This certainly seems to support the argument that Jephthah's daughter was permanently dedicated to the Lord in the sense of service as Samuel was (which in her case seems to have meant her remaining in a state of perpetual virginity rather than a receiving a family arranged marriage).

Finally, since I find it very hard to believe that carrying out a vow would take precedence over murder, even in the days of Judges when "everyone did what was right in his own eyes". This would have been an unauthorized sacrifice of monstrous and even pagan proportions (what priest would do it?!). Jephthah's sorrow but unwillingness to turn from that vow strike me as much more understandable if we throw out the very unlikely idea (under any interpretation) that he had his daughter's throat slit. But this vow of his was still a very foolish thing to do. In the reconstruction above, Jephthah thought to make this vow as an insurance policy for success, but wanted to be able to hedge his best with God "on the cheap". What redounds to his credit is that when it cost him far more than he ever imagined, he did not shirk from handing his daughter over (with her permission I hasten to add) to be a servant of the priests at Shiloh (in the manner of Samuel as you note). This would also help to explain what Paul means in Hebrews when he mentions Jephthah in the company of the greats (Heb.11:32; i.e., this incident doesn't stain him but rather increases his reputation when it is understood aright), and, as you point out, would help to explain why "virginity" rather than life about to be lost is the subject of the mourning in context. So all in all, I am inclined to accept this waw = "or" interpretation.

As to your second question, I believe it is actually a bit easier to answer. In my view, whether or not we should marry or stay single and celibate is something we have to get from the Lord regardless of the times. If we are marked out for special service like Paul, then we ought to stay single even if the times are peaceful and prosperous. On the other hand, if we need the companionship of a spouse (as by far most do), then we can be assured that the Lord will work out the details even in the midst of tribulation (or even the Tribulation). In the latter case, the same I would say goes for children. I understand well what you are saying and asking, and it is true that the decision is not completely unrelated to the times. However, scripture doesn't give any leeway to counsel people to refrain from marriage and procreation because of the imminency of the Tribulation. Our mandate in regard to the Tribulation is to be ready for it, not to refrain from marrying or having children. On the other hand, it will definitely be a feature of antichrist's false religion to denigrate and discourage marriage (partly through one wing of his false church which will be ascetic; partly through the other which will be licentious; either way, marriage will be discouraged: 1Tim.4:3; see the links: "Antichrist's Religion"; and "Characteristics of antichrist's religion"). None of us want our children or anyone we love to suffer. But we have to be very careful not to let that sort of thinking stop us from doing what is right at all times. God is faithful, all-knowing and all-powerful. If it is the right thing for us personally to marry and to have children, if that is what pleases our Master Jesus Christ, then He is certainly capable of blessing them and protecting them according to His will for their lives. The really important question is "how does He want us to serve Him?", and if the answer to that question involves us having a particular, secular career (working is pleasing to Him and necessary too), having a particular ministry (to which He leads us as all who are willing will be led), and having particular social relationships (family being the most important), then to turn aside from what He truly wants us to do in any of these respects would be a mistake.

So far be it from me to discourage anyone from getting married in principle! It is a very important decision, requires careful attention to all the Bible says about the subject, much prayer and careful thought and consideration, and honorable follow-through. It should not be avoided out of fear. Rather than discouraging marriage, I encourage spiritual growth and service to the Lord. That is of course what Paul means when he says "I wish all men were as I am", not that he has anything against marriage, but that he desires the maximum spiritual output from every believer. Single status should be sought out from a desire to please the Lord through more intensive ministry than can be accomplished when burdened by family concerns, not out of worries about providing for family or what will happen to them. Life is out of our control entirely, truth be told. Praise God that it is totally in His control.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #2:

Hi Rob.

Once again thank you for your response and may our lord Jesus Christ continue to guide and lead you into the revelation of his scriptures as we strive for the bride. May you please shed more light on the following. Some people argue that there is only one a church that belongs to Christ, while some on the other hand argue that there are many but his beloved is one, Song of Solomon 8:6. They also refer the woman of Rev.12 as this church. What is your position on this according to scripture? For example Isaac is the son of the promise but there is Ishmael. If those churches that claim to be the only true churches are truly the ones that are to bring fourth the male child of the promise (Isaac or the bride who are to be part of the first resurrection (rapture) Rev.12, can they call the other churches who are to bring forth Ishmael who will be in the outer court of Rev.11 harlots or they are the other queens that Solomon talked about or they are concubines, of which every queen has a king (who is the king? if its Christ is it spiritual polygamy?) and a concubine is not a harlot like the one in Rev.17 but she belongs to a man. What's your view on this Rob?

God bless.

Response #2: 

I appreciate your prayers. As to the question, let me say at the start that I have a rather unique view (I prefer to think of it as a "correct and balanced" view) of scriptural allegory. During the early centuries of the Christian era, many "scholars" over-allegorized the Bible, doing so to such a ridiculous degree that later generations of Protestant scholars over-reacted the other way and came to positions which more or less disallowed many of the genuine prophetic figures which the scriptures do in fact contain (my essential understanding of these things can be found at the link in part 1 of the Coming Tribulation series: Introduction, section IV.1, "Hermeneutic Issues"). In my view, the Bible does use allegory even in places like the Song of Songs where it is not overtly called an allegory (see the link: Response #3 under "The Holy Spirit: Blasphemy against, Restraining Ministry, and Gender."), but when it does, it does so to illustrate a point of scriptural truth otherwise plain to readers of scripture (rather than to set up a new category of doctrinal information otherwise unknown). Also, the allegory will generally be helpful in its main points, but pressing the finer details must not run afoul of what else scripture has to say (i.e., at best these would be illustrative of what can plainly be seen elsewhere in the Bible rather than giving license on the basis of some small allegorical detail to move away from what otherwise appears plain). It is also not possible to use a sort of "reverse application". That is to say, the allegory, correctly understood, illuminates a biblical truth or teaching known to us from elsewhere; however we are not authorized to enshrine the illustration as a doctrine in its own right, so as to draw conclusions from the details of the picture which are not otherwise clear in the Bible, then project them backward onto the rest of scripture as a sort of independent source of truth or measuring stick.

My understanding of the composition of the Church is also one with which not everyone agrees, but it is a carefully considered one (and one which I firmly believe to be true). The way the term ekklesia ("Church") is actually used in the New Testament is as a reference to the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, that is, all who belong to Him and are resurrected at His return (1Cor.15:23; see the link, "The Composition of the Church."). Since all believers from Adam to the last person saved in the Tribulation will be resurrected at the Second Advent, all attempts to exclude from "the Church" those who lived and died as believers before the Pentecost of Acts chapter one are in my view entirely misguided. It is true that there is a largely cultural distinction between Israel and gentile believers, but "in Christ" we have all become "one" (e.g., Gal.3:28). It is also true that in prophetic terms, the Bible does make a distinction of preference on Israel's behalf because many of the Old Testament promises to Israel have yet to be literally fulfilled. The Millennium will be the time of the great return to the land, the rule of the Messiah, the repartitioning of the inheritance, and the full reassertion of Jewish leadership in the family of God. At that point, of course, we, the Church proper, will already have been resurrected, and will have many Jewish believers in our ranks. We are the Bride, and will be, in terms of sheer numbers, largely gentile in composition. However the "friends of the Bride", that is, the newly believing Jewish population of the early Millennium, will begin the formation of Christ's double portion(i.e., those saved during the Millennium) and the trend of greater numbers of Jews vis-a-vis gentiles in the fellowship of faith at that time. When history concludes, it seems there will be precise equality in number between the Friends and the Bride, and that the Friends will be predominantly Jewish in reverse proportion to the predominantly gentile composition of the Bride (see the discussion is SR #5 under "The Jewish Ceremonial Calendar")

Since the Book of Revelation is a detailed history-in-advance of the upcoming Tribulation and the glories to follow, the fact that the appearance of the Woman in Revelation 12 is meant to represent Israel should not seem strange, for 1) the Tribulation is an "overlap" time shared jointly by the age of Israel and the age of the Church (see the link: "The Tribulational Overlap"); 2) it is also the time of the beginning of the reassertion of Jewish leadership in God's family (as evidenced very clearly from the 144,000 martyrs, all Jewish, and the ministry of Moses and Elijah, the two witnesses, who are brought back to life to lead the Jewish revival); and 3) possibly the most pertinent point of all, the fact that by chapter 12 we are looking forward to the defeat of the beast and the devil, the return of the Lord, and the reestablishment of the true Jewish state under the rule of the Messiah. The Woman has a crown of twelve stars (the twelve tribes) and gives birth to the Messiah (who is of course Jewish by birth). The details of the woman's persecution also jibe with the future persecution of Israel by antichrist during the Tribulation's second half (see part 4 of the CT series, section IV, "The Dragon's Persecution of Believing Israel"). Ultimately, as is clear from the details given later in Revelation about New Jerusalem, even though gentiles predominate in numbers in the Church, Israel and her (rearranged) tribal system is the Church's ultimate organization (see the link: in CT 6, "The Foundations and Gates of the Wall of New Jerusalem").

As to Ishmael, I don't see any compelling reason to apply his existence allegorically to prophecy. If there is anything to it, I would choose rather to see in it the sad truth that whatever comes from a non-spiritual origin is necessarily non-spiritual in its essence, and also the application that even a great believer may have offspring who are not interested in salvation. In practical and individual terms, of course, every human being, regardless of their race or ethnicity or place of birth, must face the question of Jesus Christ on their own, and pedigree guarantees nothing. There will be descendants of Ishmael reclining at table with Abraham and the rest of us believers on that wonderful day to come, and there will be descendants of Isaac who will not see the glory of that day, having been cast into outer darkness for their unbelief. For it is only those who are of the faith of Abraham who are saved (Rom.4).

There is only one Church: those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ and are resurrected at His return (see the link: "The Church").

In our dear Lord whose advent we so eagerly anticipate.

Bob L.

Question #3: 

 Thank you for your response Rob. But on the same topic, may you please shed more light on the following. What is the original word that was translated as one on the one wife scriptures and one on the scripture of the widow having one husband?

Also, what is the biblical position of polygamy? It seems polygamy falls under the permissive will but the will anyway, out of the three wills of God; How do you relate the issue about polygamy to churches not necessarily our carnal positions as married or not married, polygamist or not

God bless

Response #3:   

On the first question, the Greek for all three of the male passages (1 Tim 3:2; 3:8, 11; Titus 2:2) and for the single "widow" passage are comparable (1Tim.5:9): "a man of one woman" / "a woman of one man"; which means "a husband of one wife" / "a wife of one husband". Greek uses man/woman for wife/husband (and Hebrew does as well), a very good indication of the secular nature of marriage; that is to say, marriage is an institution God has designed for the entire human race at all times in human history, not something that is only for believers or for certain eras. Like nationalism, law and order, respect for parents, and any other such basic human institutions, it is valid for us as human beings in this world because that is how God has ordered the world (in large measure to protect us from our sinful selves). The genitives in the phrases above (English "of") show limitation rather than possession: it means not "a man belonging to one wife" but "a man who is a one-woman man". That is to say, no one who is polygamous or supporting a mistress or otherwise conducting himself in a sexually licentious way has any business shepherding Christ's flock. This phrase, therefore, does not require that a pastor be married (he could be single, widowed, or even divorced). Clearly, when it says in those very same contexts that pastors (1Tim.3:4) and deacons (1Tim.3:12) should be "One who ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity" (KJV) and "ruling their children and their own houses well" (KJV) respectively, we are not to think that men without children cannot be pastors or deacons, or, even more perversely, that if their children have grown up and are now no longer "under their rule" that they are likewise disqualified. Yet that is the logical conclusion we would have to draw if we take the "one wife" passage to mean "must be married" or "must not be divorced". Instead, these passages are actually meant to proffer a standard of behavior (strict morality in sexual matters) rather than mandate a particular marital status, which would, as I say, preclude widowers or single men from entering the ministry, as well as divorced men. Under such a standard, it is well to remember, the apostle Paul would have had to resign (or else get married . . . and have children).

Thus, these restrictions are for elders and deacons on the one hand, and for godly widows who will be enrolled onto the lists for church support on the other are not general injunctions against the practice of polygamy. It is true that there are some things which are not specifically prohibited by the Bible which are definitely sins (like abortion and recreational drug use). It would be hard to make the argument that polygamy belongs to this category given that a number of great believers in the Old Testament engaged in the practice without the practice itself being called into question as sinful. I think that polygamy rather falls into the category of "all things are permissible, but not all things are profitable". It may not be a sin to gamble (I cannot prove that it is apart from examining the motivations of the person doing the gambling) but it is a terribly bad idea and a practice which inevitably does seem to result in sin. I cannot prove that polygamy (in a country where it is legal, at any rate) is a sin (without examining the motivation of the person who wishes to engage in it), but in the biblical history of the institution it has always led to terrible problems. Like slavery, it is something which the Bible chronicles, but which as you suggest is better put down to the "permissive will" of God; that is to say that God has at certain times and in certain places tolerated the practice, but that does not come close to suggesting that He recommends or approves of it (or that it is good for us on a practical level). We are, after all, sinful by nature. We are born in sin and commit sin all of our days, no matter how advanced in the process of sanctification we may become.

I do believe that the Song of Solomon is an allegory about Christ and His Church, and it is true that Christ marries us all. But the analogy is of a perfect husband and speaks of His perfect love for us. So I would be unwilling to press the analogy "backwards". That is to say, the allegory is given so that we may extrapolate a perfect husband who loves his wife perfectly in order to garner some small idea of the incredible love our dear Lord Jesus has for us. It is not given to teach us anything about imperfect human relations, especially not by way of giving us leeway to do what we might otherwise not find scriptural license to do.

Finally, on the topic of polygamy, please see what I have written at the following link (Question #1: "Some sensitive topics"). In a nutshell, I say there that while polygamy is certainly precedented in the Old Testament, it has always led to trouble and unhappiness even in the case of otherwise spiritually great men (e.g., Jacob's two wives and two concubines caused him much heart-ache; David's children raped and murdered each other and tried to kill him; Solomon's many wives led the wisest man in history astray from the Lord). Let me also state that in the New Testament we don't see any cases of it (all the great believers of the apostolic period were monogamous if married at all), and hear no mention of it (except as a disqualifying factor in the case of elders and deacons: 1Tim.3:2; 3:12). In the US and in many western countries it is also presently illegal, so that beyond the in-advisability of the institution, for conscience' sake no Christian living in a country with such a prohibition could legitimately involve him/herself in such a practice.

Keep up the good work for Jesus Christ!

In our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #4:

Hi Dr. Luginbill--I hope you had a blessed Christmas and New Year. I have a quick question for you: could you please explain the discrepancy between these two quotes?

NAS Jeremiah 31:31 "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD.

NAS Hebrews 8:8 For finding fault with them, He says, "Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; 9 Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord.

It is the last line in each--why the discrepancy? Is it due to the differences between the Septuagint and Masoretic text, or Dead Sea scrolls?

Thanks so much.

Response #4: 

This is a discrepancy which is only apparent but not actual. It all comes down to one verb, the Hebrew ba'al (translated in the NAS as "I was a husband [to them]"), which is translated by the LXX and followed by Paul using the Greek verb ameleo (translated below as "I did not care [for them]"). This is a rather famous "discrepancy" and some feel that the "husband" analogy doesn't really seem to fit in the flow of the Hebrew narrative (although that depends in my view on how you define "covenant" – it is really the marriage covenant in view here; see below). The editors of BHS suggest reading ga'al instead of ba'al (i.e., something like "I loathed [them]"), but I feel that this is unlikely to have been the original text, and in any case is not a complete answer. The Gesenius as well as the Koehler-Baumgartner lexicons posit a second and otherwise unknown ba'al which would mean precisely what the LXX understands, "to reject" (to be fair they supply some Semitic parallels). This is not an unprecedented event, and I also do think that the LXX has correctly understood the essential point, namely that there is something more going on in the Jeremiah passage than "although I was their husband". That would be enough for Paul to quote the LXX without commentary or explanation (in case anyone was conversant with Hebrew and wondered about ba'al here) as it is certainly not his main point in the quote.

It is my personal belief that what we have here is a sanctified pun. The word ba'al as a noun means of course not only "husband" but also the pagan god "Baal". I believe what the Lord is saying to Israel in this verse is "they did not remain faithful to my [marriage] covenant and so I Baal-ed them". That is to say, "I was their true husband, but they ran after Baal, so I rejected them and handed them over to him instead". This is a perfect example of the perils and difficulties of translation. I think it is fair to say that it would difficult in the extreme if not altogether impossible to bring out all three aspects of the full original meaning in a Greek or in an English translation (i.e., the husband idea, the Baal idea, and the resultant divorcing of the wife Israel for her unfaithfulness). The LXX opted for the generic meaning, despairing of translating the pun or responding to the marriage motif, and without being at liberty to provide a long-winded explanation such as I am doing here, that seems a reasonable approach. Most translators of the Hebrew OT read ba'al in the most common and straightforward way (i.e., as "I was a husband"), but that misses both the subsequent shift of attitude (which only the LXX and a few lexicographers and commentators have seen), as well as the underlying pun which is the whole reason for using this unusual vocabulary item in the first place: "You want Baal for your ba'al (husband), instead of Me? Fine. Then I ba'al (i.e., divorce/reject) you!

Hope this helps!

In our Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #5: 

 I was thinking of this verse about others in the church knowing about our faults and a divorced member who really needs some support.

James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."

If no one knows our faults, how could we be anything like a "body" as the scripture says we should be? If your foot is cut isn't the rest of you going to know? At our church our major or even fairly minor troubles being common knowledge isn't really viewed as a bad thing. It often can be embarrassing but I think the reason is our pride. "1 Peter 5:5 ...God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." If my pride, because I want to look better off than I actually am, is why I don't want anyone to know I am much better off if they do know. It will help my walk with God.

Response #5:   

I would say that this is a matter of degrees. I sometimes share my "problems" with dear friends; sometimes not. And most normal people are the same way. Few would feel constrained to blurt out every single tiny little difficulty they have ever encountered to the whole congregation (though I have known a few people like this), and few would keep absolutely everything to themselves (though this too is not unprecedented). But this should be the person's own choice. The only time I see the Bible authorizing the congregation to get involved irrespective of the person's own right to privacy is when someone is involved in some gross sin or criminal activity which becomes known and thus becomes a threat to the congregation at large – and then it is the duly appointed leadership which should do so. So in the case of the divorced person you are documenting, if this person wanted the attention, I don't have a problem with it. However in the situation described, at least as I understood it, the policy was for the congregation to be automatically apprised of and be involved in everyone else's business whether they wanted it or not, and to do so in a scripturally uneven way (i.e., elevating divorce to a status of congregational concern far beyond what it otherwise should have, and not necessarily giving the same level or concern to other "sins" or to genuine problems and complaints). I have a big problem with that.

It seems to me that in any moderately large group of people there will be enough in the hospital, enough with family members who have problems that need addressing, enough with health problems, financial problems, relationship problems, job problems, fears, worries, concerns, etc., etc., etc., that there will never be a lack of needs for the Body to attend to. And this is where the self-ministering of the Body should come in, and where many if not most of the members should be helping, encouraging, supporting each other. This sort of help, moreover, is always more genuine and more effective when it comes from those who are closest to said person. A congregation where one person has a problem and gets no help and another has a problem which is voiced to the whole group and that person gets lip service from everyone is probably doing neither person any real good. In all things, once procedures are "institutionalized" they are by definition almost always made ineffective to some degree (and usually a very large degree). We know what it is to love Jesus, and what it is to love as Jesus loved – we are taught this by the Spirit. We have ample opportunities in the personal and church circles in which we operate to demonstrate this love without trying to expand this to absolutely everyone in a large congregation. Of course there will probably never be a time when we couldn't "do more". But for 500 people to express "love" for 500 other people is really a bit of a sham except in the most general way. We are not capable of loving a million people and we are certainly not capable of ministering to a million people except in each case in the most abstract way. To be effective, and to be legitimate, this sort of emotional help and support should be something that flows genuinely from a close, small circle, rather than something which is plugged into a large group through impersonal procedure and fiat.

Privacy is a very important, biblical value, and it is in its own way just as important as community. Just as no relationship can survive without a careful mixture of both, so no organization that skews too far toward one extreme or the other can be completely successful, and that is especially true of the local church, in my view. Nowadays, the trend in the church-visible is to eliminate privacy and (artificially) ramp up community. But the result (and possibly also the intent) is not greater love or spiritual healing, but only to make us feel as guilty as possible for anything we would wish to keep private, or for any "failure" in not measuring up in "sharing" to the greatest possible degree with the largest number of people. This trend in my view is so pronounced at present because it is acting as a substitute and a surrogate for substantive Bible teaching. The truth of scripture is the rock solid foundation of what we have in common as a Church: the truth about Jesus and the totality of His thinking, the Holy Scriptures. It is primarily from scripture that we get our main encouragement, since the Spirit uses the truth in our hearts to encourage us (cf. 2Cor.1:3-7). The Body can only minister encouragement to other believers, and can really only minister effectively to those believers who possess truth in their hearts so that our words of encouragement give them something to respond to and the Spirit something to work with. Getting away from the primary reason for our coming together is putting the cart before the horse, and in the extremes to which many contemporary churches are taking this trend of community action even sometimes all cart and no horse at all! Procedures and policies which eliminate the privacy of all members in a congregation make objectivity in learning the Word of God virtually impossible (since we necessarily become more worried about what others think than what the Lord thinks), and usually only occurs in congregations where the leadership has long since in reality turned away from the teaching of scripture as its God-given primary role.

So I know what you are saying. There is a place for confiding in others. There is a place for correcting others. In each case the more personal, individual, and carefully considered these acts are, the more they flow from genuine motivation rather than church policy, and the more they are directed to a very few with whom we have developed close relationships, by far the better. But in my view the problem in most churches today is not that there is a lack of invading the privacy of others or a lack of manipulation of their free will – the problem is that these questionable activities have been institutionalized and have come to substitute for the true purpose of the local church: teaching and learning the Word of God.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #6:

I got another response that divorce is a sin and would like your perspective on this.

"Divorce is a sin - it is going against God's perfect will for the married couples' lives. In a particular marriage, it might only be a sin on one side, but it is still sin. The person who refuses to get their sin right and insists on a divorce is sinning. The other spouse who feels the only option left is to divorce the unfaithful spouse is divorcing as a result of sin - but the cheating spouse would bear the responsibility of destroying that marriage."

Response #6: 

This is a bit convoluted. It is true that divorce always has some sort of sin as its genesis. But the sin that forces the divorce may indeed only be on one side. If this person is saying that someone who is loyal when the other person is unfaithful is sinning by divorcing the other unfaithful person, this is not in line with the exception for infidelity which Jesus Himself gives (Matt.5:32). Or, even more perversely, if this person is saying that if an honorable person is divorced by his/her spouse against his/her will for no good reason, then he/she is still guilty of sin, that would stand truth on its head.

But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.
1st Corinthians 7:15 NIV

Bob L.


Question #7: 

I have 2 questions. Does a Pastor's divorce narrow the opportunities for serving God?

At my church in the past year we had a divorce which happened 2 times in a congregation of about 250 people, once a lady decided to leave her husband, and once the husband left his wife. Both where longtime members who knew better but still decided to leave their spouse because "they weren't happy". We had to church discipline both of them. I guess that only God knows if they are really Christians or tares but regardless they completely ignored Gods word. The man whose wife left him although quite broken up about it still attends and we all feel bad for him, we try to help him, and nobody ostracizes him or looks down on him in any way. I'm just speaking on divorce in general here.

Response #7:   

On the one hand I suppose I would have to say that any sin anyone commits is a negative when it comes to serving God. But of course we all stumble in many ways. So there has never been a person who has not in many ways and in many times "limited themselves" when it comes to serving God; that is true of pastors; that is true of all others who are not pastors. Praise God that our God is a God of mercy, and that He has forgiven all of our sins in Jesus Christ!

I suppose the real question here is why we are focusing on and limiting this question to divorce? I think by doing so, we are saying that divorce is automatically a sin (it is not), and that it is by far the worst possible sin a person could ever commit (and that is not even close to being true). I'm not sure why contemporary U.S. Christianity is so fixated on divorce almost to the exclusion of forgiving anything else but! Probably it has to do with the unbiblical and extremely dangerous notion that romantic love is the solution to all of our problems, and that if we could only just somehow find that one right person, everything would be Edenic, blissful, and heavenly. Most of us need to get married to avoid sexual sin (1Cor.7:2), and primarily for this reason scripture has harsh words for anyone "forbidding marriage" (1Tim.4:3). But that is not the same as recommending marriage universally (cf. 1Cor.7:1; 7:7; 7:29), and it is a very far cry from suggesting that it will bring happiness (it brings trouble: 1Cor.7:28), or that "romantic love" is a biblical proposition – the Bible does relate situations involving what we might possibly describe as romantic love, but more often than not they result in trouble (e.g., Jacob and Rachel; David and Bathsheba; Amnon and Tamar).

I suppose I would have to ask whether the church you describe is openly disciplining people for gossiping, for slandering, for doing poor jobs at work though they are believers, for being dishonest, for lustful thinking, or for any of the countless other various and sundry sorts of sin of greater or lesser obviousness. I know you say in the case of this gentleman who was apparently not in the wrong in any way in being abandoned by his wife that he is not being looked down on or ostracized in any way, but it would seem to me that just becoming the object of such scrutiny is by itself a sort of unwarranted discipline. People are no doubt talking about him and his situation. You are telling me about him in this e-mail. I think if something like this happened to me in my church that the last thing I would want would be for my troubles to become common knowledge and everybody else's business to the point where it was common to discuss them with third parties. I think that would make me feel terrible. I think that would make it very hard for me to stay in that church, especially if the unwanted attention become "official" – some of the attention that would result from a church policy would necessarily be less than gracious and condescending, people being what they are. And I think it would be a terrible extra emotional load for me to have to find a new church home just when I needed the emotional support from my church friends the most, all because of this unnecessary and unwanted and inevitably at least partially judgmental "attention" from the entire group.

I recognize that divorce is different from some situations because it is obvious – like a death. But unlike a death where no blame is placed, it is very difficult for any congregation, especially a judgmental one, to be talking about "the problem" and have that gossip be entirely without any edge whatsoever – in fact it's impossible. A good church is a delicate balance of community and privacy. It is important not to be so separate from one another that there is no mutual encouragement, and not to be so much in everyone else's business that there is no longer any objectivity left to be able to learn about Jesus through the study of the Word of God (the two primary purposes of the local church: Heb.10:25). Going too far in either direction enfeebles spiritual growth and vitiates the function of the Body of Christ.

In Him in whom the whole Body should be building itself up in love, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #8:

I am very concerned about the situation in my marriage. I remarried and I worry that my marriage is cursed and that I am in danger. I worry that I am lost and that there is no forgiveness for me, and that if I should separate, things will get even worse. Please help.

Response #8: 

If you are in physical danger, you need to get out of there IMMEDIATELY!

If it is a question of emotional abuse rather than physical danger, then there is the potential for grounds for separation if the other party is not a Christian or consistently acting in such a way as to make this a distinction without a difference (cf. 1Cor.7:15).

If it is more the case of a terrible and unworkable situation wherein there is no danger or abuse, there are times too when separation is the only practical measure a person can take (cf. 1Cor.7:10-11).

However, only you, the person directly involved, can make such judgment calls, and only God, the One who knows all things and can do all things, can give you the peace of knowing that your deliberation and decision has been both godly and correct. In addition to seeking out biblical teaching on the matter, there is no substitute for personal investigation of the scriptures and long, determined prayer in faith that the Lord will provide an answer and a solution. It is in this way that a person becomes more receptive to the guidance being given by the Spirit. It is also important to remember that the Lord often does bring us deliverance in ways that are clearly of Him and not of our own devices (cf. 1Cor.10:13) – if we but have the patience and the faith to wait on Him for His solutions instead of hastening after our own (cf. Moses and Zipporah).

God can forgive anything. Indeed, in Jesus Christ all of our sins have already been forgiven and washed away. That does not mean, however, that when we deliberately and willfully violate what we know to be the clear will of God for our lives that we will not be bringing down a heap of trouble on our own heads (please see the study: Hamartiology: The biblical study of Sin) – that has certainly been my personal experience, and yet I am still alive and here to tell about it thanks to the grace and mercy of our dear Savior Jesus Christ.

As I say and reiterate, no one can decide these sort of matters absolutely for you because, as in so many other things in life, only you, the person directly involved can ever have a hope of objectively evaluating the facts in the light of scripture under the guidance of the Spirit, and so come to the correct, godly solution.

Please also consider the information in following link: A conversation on divorce and remarriage.

You are in my prayers.

In the One who died for us, who loves us, and who is with us through this storm every step of the way, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #9: 

I have a question that I need you to answer for me. my friend met her current boyfriend some time ago, but later in their relationship she discovered that he was related to her brother's ex-wife.

They divorced years ago. they do not share a child. So my question really is, is it proper for her to continue with this relationship, or is it considered incest. Please help – seek your true guidance so I can assist my friend. Peace. Stay blessed.

Response #9:   

If I am understanding your description correctly (i.e., that the connection is one of law not blood), I don't know of any biblical restrictions which bind a party in regard to a second party because of the actions of a third party. Half-brothers and sisters are not to marry according to the Law (Lev.20:17ff.), but in-laws of in-laws is a subject which is not addressed in the Bible, as far as I am aware.

I hope this answers your question. Please feel free to write back in case I have misconstrued your description in any way.

In our Lord Jesus,

Bob Luginbill

Question #10:

It does help. So it's okay for me to marry a distant cousin of my brother's ex-wife considering they do not share a child? I know you are a busy person, but I have also another question I need your help on. I just found out that my brother's wife wrote a letter addressed, "to whom it may concern" my problem is that the contents of the letter are very damaging to their relationship, as she wrote that she is only staying in the marriage because of a child they share. She said she hates him and that he beat her sometimes. please help. Should I show my brother the letter because it shows that she is fed up. It is rather a heavy burden to carry but should I ruin their love by telling them this? I am torn. My other brother says I should tell him but I am hesitant. Hope to hear from you soon.

Be blessed.

Response #10: 

I generally make it my policy not to give specific advice about situational issues. That is because the rightness or wrongness of a particular action which is not specifically prohibited or enjoined by the Word of God depends upon many things, some of which might not even be clear to the parties involved, and certainly could never be to a distant third party such as myself. For such situations, rather than giving laundry lists of do's and don'ts, it is my policy to point my brothers and sisters to the Bible itself, for scripture gives us the boundaries of our behavior (i.e., our proper "Poles of Application"; see the link). For example, scripture says that love "covers/contains all things" (1Cor.13:7), indicating to me the principle of maintaining confidentiality in regard to matters involving our fellow believers (and of course scripture condemns gossip and unnecessary involvement in the quarrels of others; cf. Prov.11:13 and Prov.26:17 respectively). On the other hand, scripture also commends and occasionally commands intervention in areas where otherwise someone would be harmed (cf. Jas.5:20 and Prov.24:11-12 respectively).

I can only suggest the procedure I follow in such cases, namely, to search the scriptures on the issue and seek the Lord's guidance in prayer and in the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, confident that He will provide an answer and a solution.

Entrust your way to Him and He will lead in the path of righteousness.

In our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #11: 

Hi Dr. Luginbill:

It has been nearly some time now since I fearfully began the quest to discover what makes two people married "in God's eyes", and the more I read in scripture, the more I realize that I may never know. I have enjoyed reading your ideas based on scripture, but I still cannot reach the point at which I can have any peace about it all.

Can I ever really know? Apart from the written word, I know no way of discerning His thoughts on the matter. I have found much scripture to prove *and* disprove the theory that God joins a couple when they have sex, whether or not they intend to be "married".

I fear being one of the group people to whom Jesus says, "Depart from me, you workers of iniquity...". Will such people be surprised at His words, or do they *know*, deep in their hearts, that they are not His sheep? I wonder sometimes whether I know the truth about this issue (one way or the other), but choose to allow myself to be deceived because I fear the truth. ("Depart from me. You were an adulteress. I never knew you.")

I do believe this: If He is willing, He can save me. If He is unwilling, I won't be saved no matter what I believe, say, do, etc. Would it do any good at all to throw myself at His feet (so to speak) and beg for His mercy and, equally importantly, His direction?

Thank you,

Response #11:   

There is a lot to say here, and I fear that in an e-mail short enough to be of use I will not be able to say it all well enough, but I will try to put down here what may be helpful on this issue from what I know about the Lord through His Word.

I have learned through long experience and scriptural searching, especially in the case of issues that have eaten at me like this one eats at you, that, in the end, as Christians we have to "go with what we know" rather than what we feel, whether these feelings are positive (i.e., enthusiasm, joy, ecstasy, etc.) or negative (i.e, doubt, fear, resentment, etc.). That is because, both initially and ultimately it's not about us, it's about the Lord; it's not about what we think or feel, it's about what He thinks and feels. And the only way to have any clear idea about what God thinks and feels is through the Word He has given us for just this purpose – anything else is pure speculation and for that reason extremely dangerous.

I understand very well that in some cases it is difficult to come up with a dogmatic answer to a very particular question you or I or someone else may have. That is often because scripture does not approach things in the way that we human beings would expect or like – and that is all for the good, believe me. For instance, the Bible does not say anything directly about drugs, but, in the end, someone trying to justify from scripture habitual use of illegal drugs will be smitten in conscience as twisting the Word; whereas someone who cautions against it on the basis of the Word will be vindicated. Now this, compared to many other questions (like yours and mine – and every Christian has some such "difficult question") is a pretty straight-forward issue, and yet it can still be possible for someone wracked by guilt on the one hand or trying to find a way to justify what they are doing / have done on the other to have a hard time coming to a definitive end of the matter – not because scripture is unclear, but because the person has allowed his/her feelings to resist the clear direction scripture is pointing: drug use is wrong; but there is forgiveness for past sinfulness, no matter how guilty a person may feel. For those willing to give in to the attraction of the Holy Spirit, the Bible has a certain "gravity" that will inevitably pull the seeker of truth towards the truth, if only the truth is sought diligently and in faith that God will supply the answer:

And if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask from God who gives freely and without reproach to all and it shall be granted to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the one who doubts is like a wave on the sea, being blown and cast about. Let not that man think that he will receive anything from the Lord, [for he is a] double-minded man, unreliable in all his ways (cf. Ps.12:2; 119:113; Jas.4:8).
James 1:5-8

I commend you that you have been diligently seeking the truth on this issue and in doing so are looking in the right place: the Word of God empowered by the Spirit of God through prayer to God. The fact that even so you have not been able to find in scripture specific language that definitively settles the matter in your eyes tells me 1) that this is one of those questions where scripture does not give voice to a definitive answer, and 2) that therefore the solution is to "go with what you know" from scripture at this point rather than speculating about possibilities that do not seem to you to be addressed directly in the Bible. This is the procedure that I try to follow in such cases and it has served me well in the past.

Here is some of what we know:

1) All who believe in Jesus Christ are saved (Jn.3:16).

2) This is a matter of grace and faith, not of what we have done, good or bad (Eph.2:6-9).

3) For Christ has already been judged for all our sins (1Pet.2:24-25; cf. Rom.3:25; 5:8).

4) And any "good" we do has already been prepared for us by God (Eph.2:10).

There is much more to say about the so great salvation we have through faith in Christ, but let the above suffice for now to show what you know very well from scripture after scripture, namely, that God wants you to be saved, that He does not want to cast you into hell, and that you are in fact saved through faith by His grace if you are a believer in the Person and work of Jesus Christ and thereby a follower of our Lord. No sin you or I or anyone else committed in past is capable of "separating us from the love that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom.8:31-39), because He died for all our sin and we have been forgiven all our sin. "I never knew you" means just what it says: those words are addressed to religious Jews of Jesus' day who never accepted Him as their Savior, but at the last judgment will desperately clutch at the straw of having "been there" when He was ministering to Israel during His first advent.

I know you know all this and that your concern is to found blameless before Him on that day; to live as He would have you to live; to separate yourself from all unrighteousness, "perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2Cor.7:1). Since that is no doubt the case, then, once you have accepted that the security of your salvation depends on your continuing faith and faithfulness rather than the issue of sin or good works, the real question becomes "what now?" The real question becomes, "is there something I should now do or now stop doing?". God has forgiven all our sins in Jesus Christ (Acts 10:43; Eph.1:7; Col.1:14). Our job now is to live for Jesus. How best to do that in your case with this issue?

Once again I reiterate, "go with what you know". It is true that believers are to abstain from sin, and also true that no one can ever be perfect while in this mortal, sinful body (please see the link: Basics 3B: Hamartiology). When we stumble, when we falter, when we fall, God has made ample provision for us to confess our sins to Him and to be forgiven those sins on the basis of the work of Jesus on the cross on our behalf (e.g., 1Jn.1:9). It is also true that our Father, loving Father that He is, disciplines us for our sins – not because we are unknown to Him, but because we are His children (Heb.12:7-13). So on the one hand we never have to worry that we are going to be surprised at the judgment seat of Christ for something major we did about which we had no idea (He is dealing with us now about our failures), and, on the other hand, while we could never pay for a single sin, we can see from the Hebrews passage cited above that we are to take heart in the discipline that must follow sin as a sign that we are indeed His true sons and daughters. The passage concludes in verses 12-13 by instructing us to "straighten out" our act as the next step so that things will get better for us and not worse.

One aspect of "straightening out" is confession, which I assume given our conversations over the past year or so, you have long since made to the Lord. Another aspect is the renouncing and turning away from the behavior that occasioned the discipline, and this too seems from your reports to have been taken care of long ago. The only other questions then that could arise on this issue as far as I can see concern any possible future "what now?" and "does God want me to do anything more about this than the confession, repentance, endurance of discipline, and straightening out I have long since done?"

I will keep this part short because of our long prior correspondence (but am happy to repeat my scriptural rationales for the following opinion should you so desire):

1) I do not see scripture calling for anyone to go back and renew a relationship with someone they were intimate with years ago based upon the "one flesh" passages (Matt.19:5; cf. 1Cor.6:16; etc.). Whatever else our Lord was saying in those passages, I can say without equivocation that He was most definitely not telling us to go back and rekindle our first sexual relationship (if we were foolish enough to have one outside of marriage), or to somehow "sanctify it" through another marriage. Just in practical terms, that would require in most cases multiple additional divorces or at the very least additional cases of marriage following prior divorces – the very thing that our Lord was criticizing.

2) I do not see scripture calling for dissolution of a current marriage in order to bring one's situation into line with this or similar passages. There is an old saying that "two wrongs don't make a right", and while it is not in the Bible it certainly is the truth. Let me be perfectly clear about this: Jesus is telling His listeners and us not to divorce someone because now we'd like to move on to somebody else. He is not telling us to divorce. He is telling us not to divorce. Given that on marriage and related issues in general we are told to "remain in our current status" (1Cor.7:17; 7:24), the burden of proof would definitely seem to be upon those who teach that those with your or similar concerns or those in a second marriage should "divorce to solve the problem". No matter what qualms I may have about the issues you raise, my "spiritual radar" goes off on this one in a major way, and there is no scripture that gives any support for such a position in my view. This is where the "gravity of scripture" comes into play, and in every passage I read I feel it pulling me away from telling someone who is now legally married to get divorced because of feelings of guilt. However we got into a marriage, and whatever its spiritual quality or our happiness in it or lack thereof, it is very clear that God's will is for us to stay in that marriage, except in very rare cases (i.e., abuse, abandonment, or infidelity) – and certainly not because we have qualms about whether or not making the marriage was right in the first place (once it's made, it's made).

Life is long and complicated, and we all make mistakes. Few and far between are those true Christians who haven't made at least a few big "life mistakes" (maybe we see clearly after the fact that we shouldn't have married so-and-so, for example). But that is precisely why the doctrine of grace is at once so important and so dear. God forgives us, and we can have confidence in His love and forgiveness, in His grace through Jesus' death for us, so long as we use that grace for His good from here on in rather than abusing it for selfish interests.

We are where we are, and I know of no Christian whom I would count a real believer and warrior for Jesus Christ who does not have some "dents in the fender". We are where we are, and, with perfect behavior, we could or would or should be in a "better place", having wasted less time, less resources, having done fewer self-destructive things, have committed less sin, especially sin that eats at us long after the fact. But we are where we are, and it is here, today, on this ground, that we must fight, looking forward rather than backward (Phil.3:13-14), and not even being concerned about self-evaluation for past actions as long as we are now marching forward to Zion, arm-in-arm with Jesus Christ, having followed the biblical procedures of confession and repentance that God has given us (1Cor.4:3).

At some point, we have to take all these troubles, all these doubts, all the garbage of the past, and lay it on the Lord (1Pet.5:7), in complete faith and confidence that He has forgiven us and is working out all of the details. We can't be perfect, but He is, so that even if we can't figure out how to parse every doubt, we can have faith that He can without a doubt. He has called us to peace (1Cor.7:15b). He has left us His peace (Jn.14:27; 16:33). And we are to pursue His peace with all men (Heb.12:14). Like Jacob, you have struggled mightily with God on this issue, and I sense from your final paragraph a readiness to put this issue entirely into His hands. May God give the means to do so and to find that peace to which we all have been called, remembering and never forgetting that our God is a God of the greatest and most unfathomable mercy.

He saved us not out of works of righteousness that we had done but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
Titus 3:5

Trust in Him. He is able to bring you safely home.

Bob L.

Question #12:

Please help me. I read in the bible about divorce. Some where I read that me, being a woman, divorced ,can not marry again. Then I read "if " a man marries me, he will be sent to hell or burn in hell. Could you please send me an e-mail on this as I have been searching for it and can not find it. I found my soul mate and his wife has passed on, and, me being divorced, and, him marrying me, well, I don't want him to burn in hell. I have so much love for this man that I want him to spend eternity with his wife who died of cancer. Please, can you help me find this. He, his family and mine are pushing us to get married and and I would not want to hurt him in any way. Thank You Sincerely, God Bless

Response #12: 

I certainly commend your attitude to seek out the truth of the scriptures on this point before taking an irreversible decision.

Re-marriage is one of those issues where scripture leaves room for interpretation, and that is, in my view, for a definite reason. The detailed response I have posted to ichthys.com which most fully responds to various aspects of your question is at the following link:

"A Conversation about Divorce and Remarriage"

I strongly encourage you to have a look at the above file, since it talks about most of the relevant points in detail. One of the conclusions I give at the end of that extended conversation is as follows: "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)".

Rather than repeat the information from the above here, I will leave it to you to get that from the site (let me know if you have any problem finding or accessing it). Here are a few more links that also address this subject more or less directly:

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) Marriage of Believers and Unbelievers

5) Feelings of Guilt about Remarriage

6) No Grounds for Divorce?

Let me say a couple of things that relate to your personal situation as you have shared it with me in your e-mail. First, it is important that whatever you decide, you do so out of faith (cf. Rom.14:23). Continue to search the scriptures (here are some of the more prominent passages: Matt.19:1-12; Mk.10:1-12; Lk.16:18; Rom.7:1-3; 1Cor.7:1-40; Eph.5:22-33; 1Tim.4:1-3; 5:11-5). Continue to pray (cf. Jas.1:5). May your decision be made in peace and give you peace, for our God has called us to peace (1Cor.7:15; cf. Rom.5:1). Please do not let the pressure you are feeling about the situation be your guide. Many people react to circumstances and do things they later regret (or fail to do things out of fear and later regret not doing them). Look to the Lord rather than to yourself or anyone else. Secondly (and related), it is important for you realize that this is your decision. What your family, or your fiancee's family think is really of little account. You are the one who is going to have to answer to your conscience and to the Lord for what you do (or for what you fail to do). Thirdly, unbelievers go to hell; believers have eternal life with Jesus Christ forever. The only way that any sin can affect the issue of eternity for a believer is to the extent that it affects that person's faith. Sin does separate us from God, but we have forgiveness in Jesus Christ (Eph.1:7; Col.1:14), and continued cleansing by His blood as long as we remain His (1Jn.1:9). If we continue to follow Him faithfully, repent and confess our sins, then we will grow in Him, produce for Him, and share eternity with Him. The danger of all sin is that if unconfessed, given in to, and finally embraced, it will eventually kill faith (Jas.1:13-15). This is what is meant by the "sin unto death" of 1st John chapter five, the process of apostasy whereby some believers turn away from Jesus entirely, putting their own faith to death (see the links: "The Process of Apostasy" in CT 3A, and in Peter lesson #26). Fourthly, in the resurrection, there is no marriage – we are all in Jesus Christ equally (Matt.22:23-32). The human relationships we contract here in this life are for this life alone (which is why, without any dispute, widows and widowers are allowed to remarry).

Marriage is an institution ordained by God from the beginning, as Jesus points out in His teachings on the subject of divorce (Matt.19:1-12; Mk.10:1-12; Lk.16:18). It is to be kept sacred and sanctified (Heb.13:4; cf. 1Thess.4:1-8), both for its own sake, but also because it is a model of Christ and His Church (Eph.5:22-33; cf. 2Cor.11:2). Just as the relationship of the Lord with us His bride teaches about what marriage should be like, so every good marriage teaches us by example (and every bad marriage by negative example) what our relationship to the Lord should be like (see the link: "The Bride of Christ" in SR #5). Scripture tells us that it is better to stay single, but also allows that few are capable of doing so (Matt.19:10-12; 1Cor.7:1-2; cf. 1Tim.5:14). We look to scripture, therefore, to the Word of Him who is the Word, the One whom we are trying to please in everything we do (for, after all, we are still here on earth for Him and Him alone).

I hope you find in the links above sufficient biblical guidance to put the matter straight in your heart and to be able to commit to a sound, holy course, having put the matter in the hands of the Lord. Please feel free to write back if you would like any clarification or if you have any questions about any of this.

In our Lord who bought us to be His Bride, holy, and without spot or blemish.

Bob Luginbill

Question #13: 

 This was a most enlightening e-mail you have posted, but I have a few questions regarding divorce. Being a woman and divorced, it seems that only men have the option to divorce. In the case of a woman leaving her husband, she must remain unmarried. Does that mean he divorced her because she left him? I divorced my first husband because of infidelity on his part. I remarried and my second husband divorced me to marry someone else. I prefer to remain unmarried--but if I wanted to remarry, would it then be a sin? I came to the Lord after all of this mess and am just now learning God's ways and that includes marriage. Thank-you ahead of time for your answer. God bless you and your family. I learn so much from your site.

Response #13:   

In my opinion, the infidelity exception applies to all parties. There are places in scripture where the exception is not present such as Mark 10:11-12, but in this passage women and men are considered equally culpable for unjustified divorce followed by remarriage, while there is no mention of the exception for men. In my view, it thus goes without saying that men are held to the same standard since I see no biblical grounds for disallowing the exception for women. Also, 1Cor.7:11 does envision situations where women do divorce from their husbands, and does condemn them for doing so nor command them to reconcile. The only restrictions in the context are on the issue of remarriage.

Remarriage is a always a difficult question, because scripture, especially the New Testament, is focused upon serving the Lord in the state in which one finds oneself when first believing, and from then on upon maintaining an honorable marriage should the person in question not be capable of remaining celibate. For that reason, for the Bible to have given detailed and convoluted instructions on the ins and outs of remarriages, when and when it isn't absolutely impermissible, would have sent entirely the wrong message. Naturally, we are not happy with this and we all (including myself) would like hard and fast answers (and if it's not too much to ask, we would like to get the answers we really want in the bargain). So I always try to keep it simple and say the following about remarriage: 1) better to stay single; 2) if contemplating remarriage as a Christian, prayerful consultation of the scriptures, much soul-searching, and many long conversations with the Lord in prayer are highly recommended; 3) best not to proceed if in any doubt. Mind you, most of us don't follow such good advice, and given the pressures and needs of companionship there are few of us who stand up that pressure and those needs when we find ourselves in the position of being divorced, not being sure we have the right to remarry, and yet being drawn to enter wedlock with someone with whom we are in love. Your e-mail is unique in that most of the correspondence I have received on this subject is with those who have already re-married and are now looking for solace or guidance (or an excuse to divorce again) after the fact. What I say in such cases is that all the "don't divorce . . . unless" strictures certainly do apply even in cases where the person shouldn't have remarried.

Your situation shows how difficult all this is. Your marital complications precede your salvation, which is certainly an argument in your favor. Furthermore, your first divorce is a case of the infidelity exception which I assume on strong grounds to be valid for women as well as for men. Your second divorce was against your will, and your then husband "killed the marriage dead" both by leaving you against your will and then also by marrying another. So I could make a number of very good legal arguments on your behalf in case you were seriously contemplating remarriage. But as I say, at the end of things you would still be left weighing it out with your conscience and spending much time in consultation with the Lord, and only you would be able to figure out whether or not it was best to proceed. When one considers that in truth we are not here for the purpose of romantic love but rather to respond to the love of our Savior in the accomplishment of the ministries He has for us to do (and inevitably marriage makes these more difficult to accomplish), then all of the trouble we put ourselves through in these matters – even in the contemplation of them – is to some degree an answer in itself. Men and women being what they are, many divorced Christians do remarry, even if they have far less claim to a right of remarriage than you do (or even none at all), and it seems clear to me that God continues to use many of them anyway, that He continues to forgive them and continues to make opportunities for spiritual growth available to them. We all pierce ourselves through with many pains in this life – that is not a recommendation to do so, merely a recognition of the weakness of the flesh. If our first priority is to run a good race for Jesus Christ, the last thing we need to be doing is to be putting rock after rock into the packs on our back.

I know this is not much of an answer. I do give some more specifics on remarriage in the links quoted in the most recent posting:

1) A Conversation about Divorce and Remarriage

2) Divorce and Remarriage.

3) More Divorce and Remarriage

4) Marriage of Believers and Unbelievers

5) Feelings of Guilt about Remarriage

6) No Grounds for Divorce?

In our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #14:

Hi again Doc!

I think is great how God puts each one of us to have same beliefs and different beliefs. Just using our common sense with bible verses with God's help to give us a better understanding of the word of God. I do believe God has grace and mercy and give us a chance to serve the Lord than ever before. God allows this to happen to help them to learn from their experiences and get a second chance. For example: John Mark went with Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary. Then he returned home. After Paul and Barnabas' first missionary, Barnabas was planning to take John Mark to go on a missionary trip second chance but Paul disagree. Paul saying that "John Mark failed the first time and will fail again". Barnabas went ahead to take John Mark. Paul took Silas to go his second missionary trip. Later, Paul noticed Barnabas and John Mark were successful missionary. Paul realized that Barnabas was right. Today there are many pastors/believers like Paul don't give believers second chance. Why can't divorced believers (if wives left their husbands) get a second chance? Pastors/believers should give them second chance. Even divorced pastors should get a second chance. What do you think – should divorced pastors be banned from the pulpit?

Response #14: 

I certainly believe in second chances and I also believe that God is a God of second chances (and third and fourth . . .). I also would say, however, that we, since we are not God, in personal and professional terms, when you are depending on someone for something important and they failed you the first time, you would be well advised to be careful and weigh such a decision of putting your neck in that noose again very carefully. Personally, I would certainly hope that I would forgive someone who failed me in a serious matter no matter what it cost me. But it could be a case of bad judgment, and, depending upon what is riding on it, a case of gross irresponsibility to put oneself a second time into the hands of someone who has proved to be unreliable in the past. That is especially true if the risk is not just to oneself but to others (like a ministry or an organization or your family etc.). I think at a minimum in cases of great failure and great let-downs I personally would have to have substantial reason to believe that the person in question had "changed" for the better. Since this is something that almost never happens in my experience, I would imagine that while I would be happy to forgive in such a circumstance, I would be highly unlikely to put any weight upon a reed which had already proved to be incapable of bearing the load. It is always a risky business to put trust in human beings in any case (compare our Lord's policy: Jn.2:24-25). Like the old saying goes, "In God we trust – all others pay cash". Another saying very apropos of this is "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me".

But I'm not all that sure that any of this applies to the "divorced pastor" scenario. It might; but it might not. First of all, we are assuming that anyone who has been divorced is necessarily in the wrong somehow. That is decidedly not the case. No one can control what their partner will do. In many instances, it is a case of the other party leaving. You can't stop someone else from leaving. Or a case of the other party being unfaithful. No one should be held to the demonstrably non-biblical standard that we are somehow bound to stay in a marriage where the other party is cheating (cf. Jesus' words in Matt.5:32 "except for unfaithfulness"). Or it could be a case of some sort of outrageously sinful, abusive or criminal behavior. There are some patterns of behavior which make it impossible to stay under the same roof with someone else no matter how committed to the marriage and to the Lord a person may be. In all such instances, the worst charge that may be laid at the feet of the person who has the marriage "divorced out from under them" is that of bad judgment in getting married in the first place. And even here we have to be careful. A person who has always exercised sound judgment in matters of romance would be so rare as to be unbelievable. Secondly, while people almost never change for the good, it is sadly not uncommon for them to change for the worse, and also not uncommon for people to let their true colors show only after a marriage has been contracted. In such instances even the charge of bad judgment would not apply (at least fully).

As I said in my last e-mail on this subject, the question of whether or not a person ought to be (or ought to have been) allowed to remarry after a divorce is a more difficult question to answer. My own feelings on this are pretty clear. While there are occasions where this would be permissible in my view according to biblical standards, it is better to remain single (especially given the history of what one has suffered and experienced). But if someone has already remarried, then in my view, since without a Spanish inquisition into all the sordid details of their past lives we on the outside really have no idea of whether or not there was a biblical right to remarry (let alone a knowledge of all the other pertinent and private details), it is far better to leave that question between them and the Lord. As I have said before, marriage is a civil institution designed by God for the entire human race. As long as a brother or sister is operating within the laws of the state, it is really none of our business, even if we have grounds to question their application of scripture. And not only that – once a marriage has been contracted, it is a marriage, so that from that point forward all of our speculation is fruitless and really only so much gossip. That is because, once married, said persons fall again under the biblical principles of not divorcing (except according to the same strictures already discussed). One of the worst things a person can do is to commit to a marriage, then in a fit of guilt about the marriage being appropriate in God's eyes go on to dissolve that marriage of their own otherwise un-coerced free will. This is a horrible thing to do to the other party, the children, the family, and the worst thing about it is that such cruelty and irresponsibility is done in the name of God.

In terms of pastors, if a church is contemplating hiring a pastor, they certainly have the right to consider his marital status. I suppose they have a right to ask him about any divorce(s) he may have had. He certainly has a right to tell them it's none of their business. And they certainly have a right not to hire him (or to overlook it). I wouldn't want to get any more dogmatic than that.

In terms of believers who are re-married, or are getting remarried, as I say, the general rule is that we are all better off single (and how much more is that not true of those who have been "burned" and/or demonstrated that marriage may not be for them?). I am really uncomfortable about even being in the position of "weighing in" on somebody else's marital history. If it is ungodly, then almost certainly there will be other clear indications that the person is ungodly and someone not to be associated with. If it is perfectly fine (or if they made a mistake but are essentially a good Christian, well, we all have to live with mistakes we have made, and sometimes these are large indeed), then the person's spiritual walk will vindicate him/her. We always have to be very careful about playing referee when it comes so someone else's life and walk with the Lord. This particular issue, especially in our day and age, is bound to be a problematic one. Best not to make it any worse than it is.

In terms of second chances, therefore, scripture tells me that thinking about marriage as a "chance" (i.e., I suppose a chance for "happiness"), is a bit misguided. Marriage brings tribulation, not happiness (1Cor.7:28b-35). Our culture teaches us that romantic love is the secret to being happy in life, but that is, in my considered opinion, a myth which is not born out by the Bible. I am thrilled for people who are not only married but happy being married. That is wonderful indeed. In my view that only proves that "nothing is impossible for God". But to become over-fixated upon marriage as any kind of a goal or any part of one's view of what ought to constitute a "normal" Christian life is to misread scripture entirely.

In our Lord Jesus, whose love of God led Him to sacrifice in this as in many other things,

Bob L.


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