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Marriage and the Bible II

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Question #1:

Dear Dr. Luginbill,

Greetings from Ireland. I find your web article 'Victims of Law ' most interesting.

In a de facto way this is how things unfold in Ireland: If Tom wants out of his Marriage, Tom packs Tom's bags & leaves, no money no children, no house, rendering Mary almost a widow and proper order which is fine by me and you I would imagine. Similarly, if Mary wants out of her Marriage, Tom packs Tom's bags & leaves, no money no children, no house, rendering Mary almost a widow which is grossly unfair. In Ireland the headline that appeared in for an Irish newspaper article: "A married man remains part of the marriage family as his wife's guest" is, in light the realities a vast understatement. Some time ago a retiring Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland said 'Fathers in families these days are a bit like a sunroof in a car; nice things to have but you do not really need them' at the Presbyterian Church General Assembly.

I must however confess an axe to grind. Some time ago my beloved wife of many years walked out. She got her absolutely super-fashionable legal separation almost two years later.

Yours sincerely,

Response #1:

Good to make your acquaintance. Thank you for your email. While I do have a number of postings at Ichthys which deal with the subject of Christian marriage and divorce (see the link for one such posting which will get you started), I do not have an article 'Victims of Law' (I don't believe I've ever even used the phrase), so it is possible you have me confused with someone else.

Marriage has always been difficult and I do think it is fair to say that this is even more true today in the "modern" western world which makes Paul's advice about staying single if possible all the more germane. I say "if possible" because, realistically, most people do not have the constitution to remain single without sin. That is an individual gift, as scripture attests.

I am sorry to hear that your own experiences in this regard have been unpleasant. I pray for your peace in this matter in Jesus Christ who is our peace and the answer to all of our problems, big or small.

In Him,

Bob L.

Question #2:

I need to speak with you about my marriage. I have a newborn and have been married for several years. We were guilty of adultery when my wife was previously married. She got divorced then married me. I'm contemplating leaving because I don't think God let's guilty parties of divorce marry. I don't know what to do. I love my family but want to do what is right. Please help. I don't want to leave them. Your very worried friend. Thank you

Response #2:

I'm not a qualified counselor, and, as such, any conversation we might have about your specific situation might only confuse the issue for you. As I often remark on such occasions, the only one who can figure out what is right for you to do is you when it comes to how to apply the truth of scripture to your individual situation . . . is you.

The best thing I can do for you is to tell you what I know about this issue from the Bible and let you make your own decisions with prayer and careful consideration.

First, I would always be very hesitant to encourage anyone to get divorced under almost any circumstances. For as Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians chapter 7, even if married to an unbeliever it is better to maintain the marriage than dissolve it if that is a reasonable possibility (1Cor.7:13-14). A few exceptions to this general principle would be cases of incest or bigamy, or when the life or sanity of one of the partners is being seriously endangered by the spouse.

Second, marriage is both a legal and a moral commitment. And that is true even if it was contracted under "questionable circumstances". Once a person is married, that person is married. Period. A marriage is a marriage, as long as it is a legal contract between a man and woman. What may have happened before does not change that fact.

Third, I see no authorization in the Bible for a Christian to end a marriage because of such "problems" in the past. Divorce is what the Bible frowns upon with the most emphasis (rather than questionable marriages; see the links below).

Fourth, it is also true that if a person divorces his/her partner, there is going to be serious collateral damage (especially if there are children, as in your case), and that is one of the reasons why in my reading of these things divorce and separation are discouraged in the first place.

We are human beings, flesh and blood. And we do make mistakes, sometimes serious ones, both before and after becoming Christians. We are called to walk in a sanctified way, and when we fail to do so we can expect to receive discipline from the Lord (Heb.12:1ff.). If we are or have been "spanked" by the Lord, we may well rue whatever we did or failed to do in the past. But God does forgive us when we confess our sins and turn back to Him (1Jn.1:9). That means seeking to avoid similar errors in the future, not obsessing about or trying to change the past that is impossible.

Whatever we have done is done. We may be experiencing the consequences of divine discipline and punishment (but if we have confessed, then God is training us as His beloved sons and daughters in this experience), and we may be "enjoying" the negative consequences that come from anything we might do in this life which is not completely above board (i.e., if we speed, we may get a ticket, and we will have to pay, even if we admit we were wrong to do so). But just because we realize we made a mistake, or just because we are "hurting" from God's reproof and/or discipline, and just because the situation we have created is uncomfortable because of the nature of it are not legitimate reasons for us to make things worse by doing something else wrong to "fix it" or "make up for it" which may end up being worse than what we did before.

In our day and age, believers sin, believers get married under questionable circumstances, believers get divorced, believers get remarried. Those are facts. God does not throw these poor souls out of His family (we are saved by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ), nor does He tell them in His Word to go back to "square one". That would not only be impossible in fact, but it would also result in most cases in damaging others, often innocent parties. After all, a child born to parents who are in a second marriage may not have an "ideal" situation (whatever that may be), but it would certainly be preferable in my view to growing up with only one parent especially if that is unnecessary. Sometimes, things being what they are, that turns out to be the way it happens when the parents just cannot work things out. But since that is not the case you report, my advice would be to think twice before terminating your marriage. As I say, I don't find that advocated for in scripture. Once people are married, they are married, and then the only way out is divorce, and that is what scripture resists.

As you can tell from the above, this is a somewhat complicated subject not because of God but because we human beings have complicated it. The real point is that once we have scrambled the omelet in the first place, once we have put ourselves in a "no win" situation, once we have painted ourselves into a corner (to use yet a third metaphor), well, we cannot expect there to be any "quick fix" or simple solution. Just because we are uncomfortable or feeling guilty or feeling the heat of divine discipline are not legitimate reasons to make things worse by doing something else that is equally or even more wrong than what we did in the first place to get into the mess we are in. Common sense and spiritual common sense surely suggest that dumping our serious commitments out of an emotional panic is a bad way to go. If the Lord told us that was what we had to do, then we could have peace about doing it. But I don't see that in the Bible. Despite what a number of overly self-righteous ministries teach on this subject, I see the Bible saying just the opposite:

I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress that [it is] good for a man to remain as he is: Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned;
1st Corinthians 7:26-28 NKJV

Here are a number of other links where these matters

Marriage and the Bible

Marriage "Matters".

No Grounds for Divorce?

A Conversation about Divorce and Remarriage

Jephthah's Daughter, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

Christian Divorce and Remarriage

What about Christians who Remarry?

Divorce and Remarriage: What does the Bible say?

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob Luginbill

Question #3:

Dear Dr. Luginbill

I want to thank you for your kind words and the time you spent writing all this to me. You don't know how much It means for someone to take time to help a stranger out. I definitely don't want to leave my family. I just wanted to do what God would want me to do. I don't think he wants people to split up family's or ever get a divorce. I guess I was confused because people from the "church of Christ" told me if we didn't divorce we were going to hell. It also seemed like a lot of people on the internet and some churches believed that remarriage is ONLY for the innocent party and the guilty party is forbidden to ever remarry. They also say God only recognizes certain marriages (but doesn't recognize certain second or third ones or mine). However I still don't know where it says that in the bible. My pastor told me that there isn't anything that Jesus didn't pay for on the cross and to say that I need to get a divorce is so say he didn't do enough. What he said makes sense but I didn't know what to believe because I had seen what these other few people had said, such as " no one is worth your salvation" or "she isn't worth going to hell over". My pastor also said that when someone asks forgiveness from God there is no longer any guilty party but we are as innocent as Christ is in Gods eyes. He thinks those people are crazy and don't understand the forgiveness of Christ and the finished work of Christ on the cross. Do you agree. The Lord has blessed my family and blessed us abundantly. We have asked the Lord to forgive us along with her ex husband. We have since dedicated our lives to Christ. We just want to glorify him with our family and our lives as we seek him. Have you received any negativity from these groups on your website? Thank your for your time!

Response #3:

You are most welcome. Glad to be able to be of some help to you. As you will see if you read all of the links provided I do occasionally hear from those who vigorously disagree on this point (that is true on just about all points of doctrine, sooner or later). If a person is willing to engage in an honest discussion, I do try to respond in the defense of the truth in such cases. It strikes me that on this issue we have a case of a failure to accept the fact that God is merciful and forgiving. That is bad enough if one is failing in the application of truth to his/her own situation. But it is horribly wrong to deny mercy to others in cases where the person doing the accusing feels that he/she is innocent and in need of no mercy. For it ought to be obvious that we all need mercy at one time or another.

All sin, and fall short of God's glory.
Romans 3:23

It is a very common thing in our day and age for Christians and putatively Christian groups to fail to understand and take into account either the mercy of God or the reverent fear which He is due. Failure on either hand can wreak much confusion. A loving Father doles out discipline, but He also is generous and merciful; He does not tolerate evil conduct, but He does not throw us out of the family for imperfections. So as believers we ought to do our best to live sinlessly, but also remember that we are sinful to our core and therefore we must be quick to confess our sins and reform our ways when we do err. The golden rule tells us to treat others as we would wish to be treated. A good approach to carrying out that mandate is to try to be as hard on ourselves as possible (albeit not unreasonably so) and as gentle with others as possible (although not to the point of irrationality). We should have a healthy respect for the Lord and strive to live our lives as our Lord Jesus wants us to do in every way, but we should also always be grateful for His mercy and forgiveness, never forgetting that there will probably never be a day which goes by when we do not need that mercy and forgiveness.

Yours in the dear Lord we love so much, Jesus Christ the righteous.

Bob L.

Question #4:

Dr Luginbill,

Thank you for your email it was very kind. I have a question for you. In your opinion do you think that a guilty party of divorce (the adulterous party) after repentance and attempts at reconciliation, can remarry if the innocent party has remarried or refuses to reconcile? Or if a couple frivolously divorces and one remarries do you think the other party can repent and then later remarry? I know you stated that its better to marry then to burn like it says in the bible, would you say that applies to even guilty parties that can't reconcile? Do you believe that there are circumstances that would put someone in a position of being forever forced to remain single? Thank you for your wonderful time and thoughts.

Response #4:

You are very welcome. As to your latest question, if you have examined all the links at Ichthys I think you will understand when I say that the issue of divorce and remarriage is a complicated one, one which cannot easily be reduced to a formula (for a variety of reasons). Secondly, even if one does lay out all of the "ins and outs" (some of which you ask about here, but there are more), it will usually not be absolutely clear what the true situation is on this score in specific cases. When it comes to matters of the application of scripture to complex real-life situations that are not absolutely "black and white", only the individual or individuals in question are competent to render the judgment, and this will often be a "best guess" rather than a matter of absolute certainty. In such situations, we do all we can to seek God's counsel through the scriptures and Bible teaching (as you are doing), and also in prayer and through the listening to the Spirit's guidance. In so doing we should take care to be very careful to separate legitimate pangs of conscience from pure guilt-feelings on the one hand, but strive also to avoid false confidence based upon what we want to do rather than what we should do on the other.

If we have already done something, already made some decision, already scrambled those eggs, so to speak, then postmortems of this sort are of little positive use but can have grave negative consequences. We do our best as Christians to do the the right thing; occasionally we mess up. When we do, we should abandon our false thinking and wrong approach (repentance) and seek God's forgiveness (confession). At that point, we are restored to fellowship with the Lord and whatever punishment we receive for the sins we have blundered into (or rushed into) will be for blessing, even if it hurts. But looking backward is counterproductive. We have done what we have done. It cannot be changed. Paul did not spend his years after salvation going around Judea trying to make amends for the deaths and suffering he had caused there is no way to make up for sin in truth; instead he pushed forward with God's plan for his life, and we are all the beneficiaries of that. That is not to say that we should be oblivious to what we have done in the past. We should both learn from our mistakes, and, to the extent that we can and have the opportunity to do so, there is nothing wrong with smoothing things over with those we have wronged as long as we do not adopt the incorrect view to wrongly think that we are gaining God's favor or purchasing our forgiveness by doing so. The time to ask the questions you broach in this email is before, not after, deciding to marry, divorce, remarry, etc.

So I will repeat what I often tell those who ask this sort of compound question. Are you single? Better not to seek a spouse. Are you married? Do seek the dissolution of your marriage. Are you divorced? Better not to seek a spouse. Have you remarried? Do not seek dissolution of your marriage. That is the essence of the advice scripture gives (e.g., throughout 1Cor.7:1ff.).

People being what they are, and believers being people, there will be violations of this advice. Sometimes those violations will be sins, sometimes not. Sometimes they will be egregious sins, sometimes not. Sometimes the party or party in question when facing this guidance will have no good option (because of placing him/herself in a weak position through previous actions which have complicated the situation).

Example: person A is divorced as the result of making a bad, ill-advised but not sinful marriage or handling the marriage poorly or being married to someone who did so or a combination of the above. Person A now finds him/herself in a bad spot as a result. The guidance of scripture is now to remain single if possible (as that is the advice for all single people), and on top of that since the circumstances of the divorce were questionable from a biblical perspective person A is not sure he/she has any scriptural right to remarry. But person A is not the sort of person who can refrain from sexual activity if not married and/or not the sort of person who can live singly without serious problems; so person A marries person B who otherwise would have a right to marry (except of course that it is always better to remain single). After the fact, both person A and B are conflicted about the decision because life is not ideal (it never is) and because in their search for biblical solution they found some self-righteous group more than willing to play to their fears about their situation. In fact, even if person A and or B responds to this questionable and non-biblical guidance and re-divorces, neither one of them is likely to be a person who can stay single without far worse sinful behavior, and so they are likely to remarry again later after doing themselves, their children, and their families even more damage.

The best overall advice for everyone anywhere near the issues of marriage and divorce is to not try and justify or rationalize their actions, whether looking backward to past actions or looking forward in contemplation of new ones. Accepting responsibility for what one has done and trying to live up the commitments one has undertaken is, in my considered view, the sum of what scripture argues for.

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned.
1st Corinthians 7:27-28b NKJV

Being married is not a sin (even if a person committed a sin or sins in getting to that point). But divorce is never a desirable thing (even though it is sometimes unavoidable the other party may divorce you or may injure you or worse if you stay in the relationship), and fornication and sexual misconduct is most definitely not better than being married.

I hope this will prove to be of some help to you. I pray for your peace of mind and spiritual progress in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Bob L.

Question #5:

Thank you again for your wonderful and carrying insight to these situations. What are your thoughts on the idea that some one is living in perpetual adultery because of a wrong divorce and subsequent remarriage or a guilty party of divorce remarrying? Do you believe either of these two groups are forever in sin? I know certain religious sects believe that when Jesus says "and commits adultery" they take that to mean their entire marriage is adultery and the only way out is divorce or hell. What are your thoughts on this idea? I know you don't think people should divorce. That is obvious from your articles and our conversation. I was interested in your opinion on their theology on that matter. Just wanted to clear that up.

Response #5:

I do understand your latest question. I have been ill and that has delayed my response (apologies).

It's not about my likes and dislikes. There are times when divorce is inevitable. If your spouse is determined to divorce you, there isn't much that can be done, for example. If your spouse is destroying you with physical and/or mental cruelty, I for one would not try to make any biblical argument to dissuade you from divorce. What matters is what scripture has to say, and I believe that the previous emails set out the gist of what the Bible says about this issue, namely, the "stick with the status quo if possible" position (please note the emphasis there are reasons why it may be impossible: incontinence, for example, is the one Paul talks about: 1Cor.7:2).

Yes, I have heard the "perpetual adultery" position before but see no basis for it whatsoever:

1) What our Lord actually says in the four places in the gospels where this issue is addressed (Matt.5:32; 19:9; Mk.10:10-12; Lk.16:18) is that unlawful divorce plus re-marriage on these grounds is what constitutes adultery. He doesn't say that having relations when re-married is adultery. To the contrary, Paul tells us that married individuals are not allowed to deprive each other in this regard. In order for that to square with our Lord's comments and the false position about which you ask, it would have to be the case that "the new marriage was not a marriage". But we know that a "marriage is a marriage" because it cannot be anything else. If it were not, there would be instances in scripture of this sort of thing and biblical guidance to end the "non-marriage marriage". In fact, we know only of Herod's marriage to his brother's wife (incest) and the case of the Jews repatriated to the land in Ezra who had married foreign wives (a different situation entirely having to do with preservation of national identity and with no indication of any prior divorce; indeed, here divorce is commanded with the idea of remarriage in mind). Again, if there really was such a thing as an "actual non-marriage by reason of prior divorce", then why would it say in the Law that only priests are forbidden from marrying divorced women (Lev.21:7)? Finally, if marrying a divorced person meant that a marriage wasn't a marriage, how would our Lord have been able to say to the Samaritan woman "The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband" (Jn.4:18 NIV)? This woman was now living with someone she hadn't married, but had been married five times previously (and there is no indication that all these previous men were dead the odds are certainly against it). Marriage is a civil institution created by God for the entire human race, and it is a fundamental cornerstone of all societies: wherever one goes in the world, the society makes it clear who is married to whom and how.

2) Our Lord doesn't tell these offenders that they needed to get divorced. Since He was around Pharisees and Sadducees all the time, and clearly this was a common problem, it seems fairly odd, given the directness of our Lord's teachings, that He wouldn't ever have said this needed to be done if it needed to be done. It is beyond my comprehension that He wouldn't have said so right here in this situation where He talks about marriage (i.e., Matt.5:32; 19:9; Mk.10:11; Lk.16:18), if that was what ought to have happened in the cases of such divorce and remarriage.

3) Clear from the Greek but also from the English, carefully considered, it that it is not the act of remarriage alone but remarrying after an unrighteous divorce that is the commission of adultery: the two actions are coupled and necessarily go together in all four passages (i.e., Matt.5:32; 19:9; Mk.10:11; Lk.16:18). That is the sin: divorcing someone who should not be divorced and then marrying some other person instead. It is this pair of one-time, discrete and identifiable actions which our Lord condemns not the state of affairs after what is done has been done. So our Lord does not tell these individuals to divorce again. Our Lord also doesn't say for the parties in question to go back to their original spouses which we might have also expected these individuals who trouble you to suggest is necessary were it not for certain passages in the Law which spell out that wrongness of that (e.g., Deut.24:4, which does anticipate the remarriage of divorced persons, after all; cf. Jer.3:1).

4) Finally, these arguments usually make a big deal out the Greek tenses, but without any grounds for doing so. For example, when in Luke 16:18 it says "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery" (NKJV), we are usually told by adherents of the false position that we have the progressive present here, i.e., "is committing" therefore "keeps committing". However, it turns out that in Greek we merely have the present tense indicative and there is absolutely no other way to say this in Greek. That is to say, while in English we can distinguish between "commits", "is committing" and "does commit", in Greek there is only one form of the present, and it may have any of these three meanings (and the same is true of all present indicatives). Our Lord is referring to the actions of divorce and re-marriage following an illegitimate divorce. Persons guilty of that combination sin thus committed adultery in so doing. That was a sin, namely, getting wrongly divorced so as to remarry and then doing so. Continuing in the new marriage is not said to be a sin (although ending it may very well be). Getting another divorce does not expiate the previous sins of wrongful divorce and unauthorized remarriage. Only Christ's blood washes away sin, any sin. And we are all sinners, saved by grace. Whenever it comes to sin, any sin, we need to confess and repent and move on. Almost nothing is more stultifying to Christian spiritual forward progress than agonizing about what one has done in the past. We cannot change the past. The best thing to do when we are stricken by guilt for prior sins is to make every effort not to err similarly in the future and not to destroy the present for the sake of a past we cannot change.

I hope to have some of these things posted in the near future where I go into the issues in a little more detail, but I think you will be able to see from the above that there are no serious grounds for this position you report. One would think that any person or group which opposed to divorce ought to be at least a little reluctant about commanding it (not to mention making wild statements about hell and damnation), especially when there is absolutely no such clear mandate from scripture to break up a marriage that was not perfectly contracted.

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #6:

Dear dr. Luginbill,

What you have done for me goes far beyond anything I could imagine a stranger doing for another and that I am truly thankful for. You inspire me to help others. I hope you get to feeling better! You need to write a book about this you have so much good insight in regard to all this. How did you come to studying this topic In such great detail? One question I have is where you were talking about the woman at the well that HAD five husbands (which is a great point) and the one she has now is not your husband, would you say she was just "shacking up" with the "one she has now"? A "boy friend"? Because she says she had no "husband" do would that mean she is just sleeping with this man or is it impossible to really know with the limited information? You are a great friend to me and you don't know how much you have blessed my new family. I hope we can keep in touch, in our walk with Christ. My walk is still young if you couldn't tell from our messages. Your friend in Christ

Response #6:

You are very welcome, my friend.

Regarding the Samaritan woman, yes, I think that is the situation exactly. That must be what our Lord means by "have" vs. "had". The "having (which is not marriage)" is deliberately compared by Him to the "had" (which were marriages): what she "has" now may look like a marriage, but it is not a marriage, even though she had had five of them before; that is because in the past she had married the men, but in this last case she had not done so. Which just goes to show that it has always been the case that a marriage is a marriage and something which is not a marriage is not a marriage. My issue with those who are troubling you is that they want to turn this clear, biblical distinction on its head.

Keep fighting the good fight!

In Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #7:

Dr luginbill

I have a quick question. What is your opinion of 1 Cor 7 where it says " not I but The Lord, to the married don't divorce but if you do remain single or reconcile" paraphrase. Do you think it's possible that there are only two options for divorces or how would you interpret that? I have heard that it could mean that is to honor that previous marriage as into remain single to try to reconcile the past marriage but once that is impossible, move on. What are your thoughts?


Response #7:

I see this verse precisely in the same way as I have written to you about this issue in the past. Is a person married? That person should stay married and not divorce. Separation is a situation between two married people, so that the thing to do, if possible, is to either reconcile or stay in a state of separation. People do divorce, even when they should not. People are divorced by their spouses, even though it would be better if they weren't. And people do get remarried, even though it would be better to remain single. In all such matters the status quo is what should be maintained, if possible. There are situations which are definitely out of our control; there are situations which, because of the weakness of our flesh, are for all practical purposes out of our control; and there are situations wherein we have already made a mistake (or more than one), and that certainly limits our control. The past cannot be changed, in such cases, and the worst possible thing is for believers is to think that they can or should go back and try to undo what cannot be undone. In the case of a remarriage, for example, our Lord's command "What God has joined together, let no one separate" applies anew. That is not to say that persons who have acted sinfully in ending a marriage or wrongly in beginning a new one will not be disciplined for their sins we all sin and we are all disciplined for our sins, all of our sins. It does mean that just as eggs cannot be unscrambled, so unions formally ended through divorce and unions formally joined through marriage are absolute in God's eyes quite apart from the advisability of ending them or creating them in the first place.

I hope this helps you in your quest for peace in the Lord, my friend. If God "kept a record of sin, who could stand?" (Ps.130:3). Blessedly He has forgiven us everything through the blood of Jesus Christ. Whatever mistakes we have made in the past, the objective for every Christian on every day wherein it is still called "today" is to walk forward with Jesus Christ through the truth of the Word of God, not backward through guilt in a vain attempt to change what cannot now be altered.

In hopes of rejoicing with you as you are richly rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ for all your growth, progress and service in this life.

Bob L.

Question #8:

Dr. Luginbill

I have a question, I was reading back through your emails and saw where you said " Jesus said anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery he didn't say the remarried continue to commit adultery after they are married (sex)". So my question is what do you think adultery means in these situations? If what you said above is true then the common definition "sleeping with someone that's not your spouse" isn't the definition. Because then the acts of sex after the marriage would be adultery. Thanks -

Response #8:

I'm not sure I understand your question. Jesus is not re-defining adultery. Adultery is adultery. What our Lord is saying is that marrying someone else after cruelly divorcing and innocent spouse so as to be legally free to remarry is essentially the same as adultery. The Pharisees wanted to commit adultery but they needed a fig-leaf to place over their sins so that they would continue to appear righteous, whitewashed tombs that they were. So the solution they came up with was to allow divorce for any reason in order to free up the Pharisee in question to marry the woman he otherwise would have had adultery with. This is really worse than adultery, after all, because it ruins the life of the innocent woman who was wrongly divorced and thrown out in the street just to satisfy the Pharisee's lust so our Lord calling it adultery is merely "calling" these hypocrites on their horrible and self-righteous behavior.

The people who need to worry about this passage are those who wrongly divorced in order to remarry someone else. In such cases, that act of remarriage (following a wrongful divorce) was a sin which is essentially adultery. That's what the passage says.

Feel free to write me back if I have misinterpreted your question.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #9:

Thank you for your reply. [details left out] Sorry for all the emails it's just that last email scared me. Thanks -your friend

Response #9:

I think our conversation probably covered these issues. Do feel free to write back about any of this. The main thing I would like to reiterate from our conversation is the need for spiritual growth in order to be equipped to deal with all these sorts of pressures. Every believer is tested, and the evil one will use whatever "works" in individual cases. Our armor to confront him and his attempts to trip us up is in large part our shield of faith (Eph.6:16), and that faith has to be "in" something. Jesus is the Word of God and we have believed in Him for our eternal life; to live our lives for Him effectively now that we have come to belong to Him we need to give great attention to the written word of God which is the very thinking of the Living Word of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In other words, we need more and more truth in our hearts, believed and ready for the Holy Spirit to help us apply to every problem, trial and test we face. For example, if we have truly mastered the biblical teachings about the character of God, His goodness and righteousness, His perfection and power, His faithfulness and His love, we will be less inclined to see Him as somehow unloving or uncaring or unhelpful. Of course even entry-level Christians would not select those latter answers on a multiple choice exam, but for the truth about Him to really help us, it has to sink deep into our hearts and begin to define who we are inside. God has to become "bigger" in our hearts for the problems and troubles we face to become smaller, and the only way that can happen is by daily attention to the truths of the Word of God, taken in through our reading of the Bible and also through our accessing of good, solid, substantive Bible teaching and believing it. In short, the more we grow, the less these sorts of things will trouble us, for we will have the "ammunition" ready to hand in order to combat them. It is often not obvious at the moment we learn and believe some principle of scripture just how it will help us in the future, but every particle of truth in the Bible is there for a reason, and the deeper we sink our foundations down into God's truth, the more that truth begins to build a solid framework in our hearts until at last every brick in the edifice is soundly and solidly in place. Spiritual growth is the answer to the problems of worry and doubt and fear; to be like David (or any of the other great believers of scripture), we need to have the same infra-structure of truth in our hearts, taken in by diligent study, and believed so as to make it applicable to our day to day walk with Jesus Christ.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior who loved us so much He died for all of our sins,

Bob L.

Question #10:

Thank you for your insightful and thoughtful email! I think of you as a not only a good friend but also as a mentor. I am relativity young in regard to the bible on top of being indoctrinated by these church of Christ ideas which make God in to a fierce God that will strike you down if you don't get it all right. I am in a good bible believing baptist church now with a wonderful pastor that cares a lot about me. I wanted to ask you though if you knew any good books that come to mind that would help me to understand the true character of God? Or any books in general that you highly recommend. I hope you had a good weekend and I enjoy your emails, I hope we can stay in touch. I'm looking at your website now at other stuff instead of divorce stuff and you have some really great articles.

Response #10:

You are most welcome. I'm glad to hear that you have found someplace better than where you were before. As to books, I am only comfortable recommending portions of the website for the most part. Two large studies which deal with this issue are as follows:

Bible Basics 1: Theology

Bible Basics 4B: Soteriology

Also, please have a look at this wonderful ministry: Bible Academy (YouTube channel).

Do feel free to write back any time.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #11:

Bob, I will read those as soon as I finish your article about baptism. Which is good by the way. I never went to the church of Christ but they were the ones that influenced me with their beliefs because they were the ones that told me that stuff about divorce. I started seeking them out to find out about what they believed and why. I guess I did that because what they told me scared me. They also believe if you don't get baptized you are going to hell. That's why your article on that caught my eye.

You know one thing that I have been struggling with is a certain feeling that I get. I feel like I did something wrong (committed adultery, which led to divorce, and then more adultery in remarriage all with my wife) a lot of wrong actually, then we asked for forgiveness, and now I feel like I still get to reap the benefits of those mistakes (getting to keep my wife). I don't know if that makes sense or not but I feel like we did wrong and now we are getting to stay together and be happy. I feel like I should be punished or feel like I haven't repented enough. I sometimes feel like what they said about us having to divorce and remain celibate for the rest of our lives would make us suffer for what we did. Sort of like a just punishment. Now I know that we would be doing a lot of harm in doing that but at the same time I feel guilty like I got away with murder even though this has burdened me for a long time. I guess it's a feeling like I stole my wife and now I get to keep her. That feeling makes me feel bad. Do you have any suggestions for a feeling such as this? Or any idea how I can get past that? I love my family to death I just want to make the Lord happy. thanks, your friend -

Response #11:

It hasn't been my experience, but I do know of other Christians who have reacted similarly. It seems like "getting it right" is always tough. Either a person has a tendency to think that he/she is being disciplined too harshly or else not harshly enough. In the former case, it is important to remember that God is behaving towards us like the good and perfect Father He is, that everything He is doing is done in absolute love, and that as long as we have turned back to the right path and gotten back into fellowship through confessing our sins, nothing He puts upon us will be unbearable. In the other case, it also important to remember that God knows everything and always gets it exactly right. If a Christian is, in that person's opinion, disciplined less sternly than what he/she may think is deserved, this is evidence of God's mercy, not of a lack of concern. My advice would be to give thanks for that leniency and accept it, for it is certainly true that the Lord deals with us "where we are", and that this does affect the severity of any punishment we may have coming:

"The servant who knows the master's will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."
Luke 12:47-48 NIV

What I try to be consistent in telling people on this is what I see scripture saying very clearly: we all need to let go of everything "behind" and focus instead on what is "ahead" (Phil.3:14-15). It is impossible to be a human being living in this world and not have regrets about past actions or inaction. If we let these sorts of things consume us (not saying that you are there, but believe me when I say that I have had plenty of extended discussions who Christians who are), it will accomplish nothing because the past cannot be changed.

Have we sinned? Then we need to confess that sin and change our attitude and approach and resolve not to go down the same bad road in future. Are we being disciplined for our sin? Then we need to remember that as long as we have adjusted ourselves to God's righteous character through confession and repentance that anything we suffer will be for our training in righteousness, for our ultimate good, and will not be unbearable (even if at times it may seem so). Are there legitimate and godly things we can and feel we should do by way of restitution (apologizing, restoring, making amends), this may also be a good thing to do, as long as we are in no doubt about the fact that our forgiveness is based upon Christ dying for that sin and that said forgiveness is claimed through our confession i.e., any sort of amends we may choose to make have nothing to do with forgiveness (that would be works, not grace). Are we amazed that God has gone so easy on us? Then in deep humility and thankfulness we should make a point of never ever putting ourselves in a similar situation again; for if we spurn God's mercy, the next time we should not be surprised if He deals with us more severely as a necessary way to gain our complete attention.

Guilt is a powerful weapon in the hand of the adversary, and he wields it energetically wherever and whenever he can. But feelings of guilt are inappropriate for Christians who have confessed, repented and been forgiven it's a subtle way of second-guessing God's mercy. Disciplining ourselves through mental torture is not only counter-productive but likewise subtly usurps God's prerogative. All who have been forgiven and that is all of us who belong to Christ ought to make it our business not to receive God's grace in vain, but instead to make full use of the opportunities we now have after our Lord has swept away the clouds of sin and discipline so as to move forward instead of looking backward.

I will hear what God the LORD will speak, For He will speak peace To His people and to His saints; But let them not turn back to folly.
Psalm 85:8 NKJV

Yours in Jesus Christ in whom we are all forgiven through His blood,

Bob L.

Question #12:

I was wondering brother if it was you that wrote an article on divorce? I looked to see if it was a note but saw none. I wanted to share it.

Response #12:

I do have quite a bit on this, but it is salted around the site in various places. The best place to start would probably be "Christian Divorce and Remarriage II" this will give you many links to most of the other places where the issue is covered directly or indirectly (and do feel free to write back about any of this).

Keeping you and yours in my prayers daily,

Bob L.

Question #13:

In your article "Divorce and Remarriage: What Does the Bible Say?" you engaged, as many do, in name-calling those who would simply stand by the straightforward penning/meaning of scripture. For instance, 1Cor 7 makes it clear that for one who was a Christian and divorced for unbiblical reasons, they have only two options (not three) remain single or go back to their partner (assuming their partner has not remarried). This does not make me unkind, self-righteous, or judgmental, it makes you unwilling to accept God's word as the final authority, and the counsel that you give, whereas polite and endearing, is really unloving because it isn't true. If you divorce your spouse and marry another, God sees it as adultery, and like any other sin, it stops being a sin when you stop doing it. No amount of time makes it stop being adultery (though circumstances can, previous spouse dying, marrying another because of your own adultery, etc.). It isn't the wedding that Jesus was speaking of when He said what He said (Mt 19:9 et al), it was the marriage. I am quite sorry for the pain we and others bring into our own lives when we choose to sin (and it is SIN, not just a "mistake" as you call it), but the choices we make often come with ramifications we rather not see beforehand, and certainly don't want to live with afterward. That, however, is not sufficient justification to call them just "mistakes."

Maybe you are of the bent that God forgives unrepentant, willful sin. Maybe you are of the bent that when someone claims to be a Christian you automatically believe them. Maybe you are of the bent that people don't lie. Maybe you're of the bent that some NT scripture trumps all others, erasing them into oblivion. But God's word will not pass away just because some people choose to rationalize it away. Please consider: the Bible says that God disciplines the son He loves (Rev3 You seem to you believe at least this). So if a "Christian" person has sinned by divorcing and remarrying, and then claims to be being blessed by God because of or spite of it, that means, biblically, they probably aren't saved in the first place...they should be being disciplined, not blessed, if he's indeed a child of God, and if God doesn't lie.

I'm disappointed that you missed so much in your analysis of this issue. I beg you to reconsider your viewpoint and the damage it's doing to those you counsel.

Response #13:

Dear Sir,

On "willful sin", which I call sinning arrogantly or presumptuously, after the biblical practice, please see the link:  in BB 3B "Hamartiology": "Sinning Arrogantly".  All sin committed in fully knowledge and circumspection and without particular duress falls into this category, not only adultery, e.g.

Before I take the time to answer your question, kindly inform me of the "name-calling" in which I have engaged.

Slander is also a sin.

In Jesus,

Bob Luginbill

Question #14:

When you say:

"However, from a pastor's point of view, I would also not allow a culture of self-righteousness to sprout up that said, in effect, all those who have remarried are somehow living in sin, living in adultery - this is a horribly disastrous and wrong notion, and, if left unchecked, has the potential to destroy an entire church and many lives in the process."

"It is therefore not the place of the local church or individual Christians to sit in judgment on them about it - it is a matter strictly between them and their God. "

With all do respect to you, I say that calling serious, unrepentant, willful sin "sin" and insisting that it stop is not being self-righteous or judgmental (the name-calling, as I perceived it). It is the obligation of everyone who believes that 1Cor5 is still part of God's word. It is a loving act of obedience to our Savior (Jn 14:15, 21, 23), while not nit-picking each other to death, to remove the corrupting leaven. Obedience to God's commands is not legalism; it is love. Perhaps the confusion comes in when it is not handled in a loving manner (on one side) or not dealt with at all (on the other). Maybe I'm being overly simple-minded here, but sin stops being when when we stop doing it. Yes, there are legitimate biblical reasons for divorce, with remarriage allowed (unbeliever leaving, unfaithfulness of the spouse). But where those reasons are not present, there are only two options: remaining single or going back to one's spouse (1Cor5). Where those reasons are not present, remarriage is adultery, and that is sin, and that only stops when those involved separate. I get quite frustrated when people with "credentials" obscure the plain truth because it's going to cause some pain. Carrying the cross behind the Savior more than implies that it gets tough, and is supposed to, and that hard choices will be required. God forbid that we ever misdirect others out of misapplied compassion. May that compassion cause us instead to show them the real solution, even at cost to ourselves. In the love of the Lamb,

Response #14:

Dear Friend,

Since you have documented for us here that there was in fact no "name calling", I will take this an apology.

This issue is an important one and is more complex than you seem to understand. Just for example, our Lord did not actually say "Anyone who is married to . . . "; He said instead, "Anyone who marries . . . ". I do understand that you take these two things as the same but in point of fact that are not the same at all (as any careful investigation will show, and it is simple enough to make this distinction in the Greek, if that had been His intent).

Since it is a complex issue, the best way to proceed is one step at a time. So let's start with this:

What is your scriptural basis for commanding a Christian to get divorced (as you are clearly doing)?

Yours in Jesus Christ our One true Husband and Head,

Bob L.

Question #15:

Dear Mr. Luginbill:

In response to your question; "What is your scriptural basis for commanding a Christian to get divorced (as you are clearly doing)?" the answer is Mt19:9. I wonder why you'd take what Jesus said was adultery and choose to see it as a valid "marriage," the cessation of which you then seem to see as a sinful divorce. I believe you have it backwards. Willful sin stops being sin when you stop doing it. Also, in the O.T. book of Ezra, Chapt.10, we clearly have a case of the putting off of sinful marriages, apparently with God's approval, yes? But if you believe (as many do) that divorcing one's spouse for unbiblical reasons and marrying another is sin, but stops being sin after some arbitrary morally acceptable time (reasoning I find untenable), then there probably isn't any reason to continue this conversation. But if I'm wrong, my prayer is still and always this: that God would purify His Church of all unrighteousness, even in me.


Response #15:

Dear Friend,

I had asked you, "What is your scriptural basis for commanding a Christian to get divorced (as you are clearly doing)?"

Your reply left me scratching my head (since it doesn't answer that question at all). I re-read Matthew 19:9 in search of a command from our Lord for someone to get divorced. But there is no command there to divorce. The verse is about not getting married after wrongly divorcing an innocent party (obviously).

As to "valid marriage", please note that this is your terminology, and that it is based upon many faulty assumptions you perhaps do not even realize you are making. Throughout scripture, "a marriage is a marriage". Our Lord in Matthew 19:9 says "anyone who . . . marries another" but if it's not a marriage, then there would be nothing to worry about. Even in the Ezra passage you bring up (on which, see below), please note that divorces were necessary to end these marriages, even though you do not consider them "valid". Thus, both of your passages are incomprehensible if the unbiblical notion of a "non-marriage marriage" is wrongly introduced into the mix.

If a couple is married, then they are married even if you do not approve, and even if there was some genuine offense involved in forming the union in the first place (cf. the difference between a divorce and an annulment).

As to willful sin, our Lord actually says "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except [it be] for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery" (KJV). The act of adultery, as Jesus tells us, consists in doing two things in tandem: 1) wrongfully divorcing one's first spouse, then 2) marrying another. Our Lord does not say "whoever is married to" or "whoever is in a state of marriage to" or "whoever while in a marriage which is not valid has sexual relations with", and it is highly presumptuous to attribute to Him words which He does not say especially seeing as how what He actually does say clearly cannot mean is being presumed.

As to Ezra, there is no indication that the individuals married in this case had wrongfully divorced their first wives to marry these other wives. The problem, as everyone who has read this book should realize, was that the returning men were marrying foreign wives and as a result the Jewish line was in danger of being lost. More to the point for our discussion is that the purpose of the divorce was precisely so that these men might then marry Jewish wives in order to perpetuate the remnant second marriage, re-marriage . . . and after divorce as well. That is to say, this passage has things exactly 180 degrees from what it is being presumed to say. This is not a second divorce of the sort you advise remarried Christians to undertake; rather, the situation in Ezra is a first divorce; and instead of divorcing the second time in order to now remain single so as to avoid presumed sexual sin (which you advise), the whole point in Ezra is to make way for new marriages that will perpetuate the Jewish people. Clearly, that passage, whatever one thinks about it, has no direct application to the situation we are describing. Let me make it clear: your whole argument is based upon married Christians "not being in a valid marriage"; however, not only is there no scriptural support for this, not only is marriage a legal state which it is not yours to undermine or question, but you also cannot present a firm definition of what a "valid marriage" is. What if one of the parties had some mental reservations when they said "I do" to name one of about a dozen such possible complications you have obviously not considered in your suggestion of the troubling "valid marriage" concept.

As to marriage itself as sin, once again, getting married again after wrongfully divorcing one's spouse is an act of sin. There are many acts that are sinful which cannot be undone. That is one of them. Only God can forgive sin. Being married, however, is not a sin (scripture does not describe it as such anywhere). That is why scripture never counsels divorce. Even in the unique situation of the Ezra passage we have no doctrinal pronouncements; rather we have the description of a historical event; so that even if we found ourselves in a very similar historical situation (as highly unlikely as that hypothetical is), we would not be automatically in the right to duplicate the pattern (because even similar situations are often different in some significant point). The Ezra parallel clearly has no application for Christians today who are feeling guilty about their marriages because of being wrongly terrorizing by false teaching.

I understand that you find all this (along with all the voluminous and detailed information I have provided at Ichthys on this issue) "untenable" but don't you need a little more than that before you counsel others to take drastic actions which will seriously affect the rest of their lives? If you are unsure about even some of your facts (as the discussion above suggests you must be if you are paying the slightest bit of attention), shouldn't you be a bit more circumspect with your advice? Don't you understand that there are plenty of Christians who are unhappy in their marriages who are looking for just this sort of excuse to get divorced? So I will ask you again: in spite of the devastating potential results to children, families in general, and to their own lives, what biblical basis do you have for commanding Christians to get a divorce?

In hopes that grace and truth will prevail.

In Jesus who died for all of our sins,

Bob L.

Question #16:

Dear Robert.

I'll try one more time. What man calls "marriage," that done after divorcing one's real spouse, Jesus called adultery. And adultery stops when you stop doing it. In your explanation, and I quote, "Our Lord does not say "whoever is married to" or "whoever is in a state of marriage to" or "whoever while in a marriage which is not valid has sexual relations with," I remind you that adultery doesn't ever result in nor is synonymous with "whoever is married to" or whoever is in a state of marriage to" or whoever while in a marriage which is not valid has sexual relations with."

I am not "uncertain" of my facts. Neither nor am I commanding anyone to do anything. If someone wants to divorce their spouse and marry another, contrary to the word of God, I am only being willing to call it what Jesus called it.

The net result of your rationalizations and subsequent counseling is that it encourages the very thing you are willing to call a sin. It follows then that we can all just divorce our spouses as many times as we want, marry others as often as we want, and still be accepted in the Church just like nothing happened. How ludicrous! I'm sure the Lord NEVER had such a thing in mind when He created marriage.

And how can your statement "a marriage is a marriage" stand the scrutiny of our Lord's words when He calls such a joining "adultery?"

Divorce your spouse? Two choices left for you...stay single or go back to your spouse (1Cor7). No rationalization, no matter how clever or convoluted, can rightly create a third option, and how terrible for the one who counsels others that there is one. (Jas3:1).

If the Bible is not written in "plain-speak," then the Catholic hierarchy is correct in that the laity shouldn't read it. Maybe you believe as they do, that it's only for the "scholars." But if it is written plainly, black and white, then we mustn't go to such lengths to make it say what we want it to say, ignoring or amending passages we don't like. And if it doesn't mean what it plainly says, why read it at all? I believe I'm on safe ground here.

Enough said.

Looking forward to His return. May we be able to stand before Him when He comes.

Response #16:

Let me start with the end of your latest epistle. I have heard this particular argument many times. It goes always goes something like this:

1) I consider my own interpretation to be a simple reading of just what the Bible plainly says.

2) I consider your interpretation to be a convoluted one that twists the plain meaning and that may have some trace of (gasp!) scholarship.

3) Therefore, you are a Roman Catholic and lost while I am beloved of God.

And I thought we began this discussion by agreeing to dispense with "name calling".

No, I am not Roman Catholic. And, no, I do not accept that your interpretation is a plain and simple reading of scripture. How can it be when it adds things to scripture which scripture does not say?

I do understand your position. My problem with your approach is your refusal to admit that your "plain and simple reading" is an interpretation that requires drawing conclusions and filling in things which are not there. That is fine if you are right (though even so it would be prudent to have some understanding of your own hermeneutic method); but if you are wrong, well, there are few things more dangerous than theorizing about the Bible without even realizing it is being done. One thing worse is sharing your false opinion with others, convincing them that it is "the plain and simple truth" when it is not, and then having them wreck their lives on account of your actually non-scriptural advice.

I find no command in scripture for believers to divorce once they are married. Everything I read is the opposite. If you know of a verse, please quote it. My question remains: "What is your scriptural basis for commanding a Christian to get divorced (as you are clearly doing)?"

I find no evidence in scripture to suggest that a man and a woman who have legally married are somehow not married "in the eyes of the Church" although I will admit that the Roman Catholic church does make that distinction. If you know of a verse, please quote it. If you know of a single situation in the Bible where someone was "married but not married", please quote it (and not Herod who was committing incest under the Law of course we are not talking about clearly abominable things such as that which are abominable quite apart from the issue of divorce). Since the Pharisees were wrongly divorcing-and-remarrying all the time, it seems that there was plenty of opportunity for this to be pointed out in the New Testament if in fact there were really something such as a "non-married marriage". But again, if these people are not really married anyway, then what is the problem? In that case, they have not actually remarried so there is no violation.

This discussion is not about whether or not it is right for someone to marry under X/Y/Z circumstances. This discussion is about whether or not it is right, or rather, necessary for two believers to divorce because their marriage does not line up with the standards you profess. And, by the way, just what are those standards? You mentioned that there are "some circumstances" where being divorced and remarried would be legitimate. What are these circumstances, exactly. You mentioned, "if the unbeliever leaves"; I don't actually find anything in scripture that mentions remarriage as an acceptable alternative in such cases, but, fair enough. If so, what if the person is not really sure whether or not the departed spouse was a believer? What if they were a believer but became apostate after leaving? What if they were an unbeliever but now have believed and want reconciliation? You mentioned "unfaithfulness of the spouse". What if the spouse asked for forgiveness? What if the unfaithfulness occurs after the divorce? What if the spouse has remarried? What about spousal abuse so violent it is life-threatening? To quote you, "I'm disappointed that you missed so much in your analysis of this issue".

Since scripture discourages divorce, and since remarried couples often have children together in the new marriage, don't you think that it is just a little bit presumptuous of you to suggest that unless these people tear the entire family apart they are living in adultery by which you clearly imply they are under God's judgment and unwelcome in His Church unless and until they do so? This is a heavy burden to place on people you don't know, whose circumstances you don't know, and especially in light of the preceding paragraph and the very many other concerns not addressed there which may complicate the situation (e.g., 1Cor.7:2; 1Cor.7:3-5; 1Cor.7:27-28), not to mention the fact that the passages in the gospels never equate being married after divorce with adultery they equate the act of remarriage after an unlawful dumping of a now unwanted spouse as the equivalent of adultery (Matt.5:32; 19:9; Mk.10:10-12; Lk.16:18). Our Lord does not command a divorce thereafter. Why not? For one thing, this would put the second woman, who could be completely innocent, in the same terrible situation as the first spouse. You see, the purpose of our Lord's words is not to satisfy some twisted, legalistic standard about sexual relations between legally married couples where one party may have wronged a former spouse; the purpose is to stop self-righteous people from destroying the lives of others to whom they have committed themselves in marriage, merely in order to gratify their lusts. Commanding divorce might satisfy your sense of vengeance, but it would ruin yet another party by disrupting yet another union. Had our Lord said, "get divorced", I can well imagine many of these men of the past (and many people today as well) grabbing this as justification to dump spouse number two (after all, "the marriage was not 'valid' ").

In my view, by equating marriage with adultery (when it doesn't meet your standard which is also a fuzzy one, after all: "some circumstances"), you are counseling unknown individuals to break their commitments to the serious detriment of otherwise innocent parties, and that is something you will have a hard time explaining before the Judgment Seat of Christ.

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1st Timothy 5:8 NKJV

I understand that you think you have scripture on your side, but I assure you that you are imposing your English-only understanding and extrapolation on what the Bible actually says:

"I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."
Matthew 19:9 NKJV

Please note:

1) This passage is said to Pharisees who were justifying their own actions in using the Law to throw out their innocent wives and thus ruin their lives in the cause of their own lust (so the circumstances are entirely different from 99% of people you would counsel).

2) Our Lord says a person is guilty of adultery if they do two things which are absolutely connected here: wrongly divorcing their wife in order to marry another woman (so the ulterior motive our Lord is condemning is absent from probably 90% of the people you will counsel).

3) Our Lord says ". . . and marries another". He does not say, "and stays married to another" or similar as if it were a matter of the fact of being married, the state of marriage, which was the issue; rather, He says "and marries". The Greek verb here, gameo, means "to get married". It never means "to be married". You may not like it, but the language here is in fact "simple and clear" in the English just as it is in the Greek. You just do not want to admit that it says what it says and means what it says; you prefer it to mean what you want it to say. Isn't that exactly what you are accusing me of?

4) So it is the act of marrying again after wrongfully divorcing (with ulterior motives in a self-justifying way in the historical context) that is the sin, which our Lord calls "adultery".

5) The fact that our Lord calls wrongful divorce with the intent of remarriage "adultery" does not necessitate that it mean "being married". After all, you are now counseling the two parties to live on without sexual relations as a possible way of "not committing" the adultery you (wrongly) find in the state of marriage. However, you have already taken the position that it is the fact of being married, regardless of sexual relations, that is the sin. Here is the problem: you wish to deny that "getting married" is "adultery", because that is "clearly not what adultery means"; yet you want us to believe that "being married" is the "adultery", regardless of anything to do with sexual relations. So if being married = adultery (in cases of prior divorce), then the only way to break free of that adultery is to get divorce . . . again. Q.E.D. So you can't get away from having to answer my question which is now more relevant than ever: "What is your scriptural basis for commanding a Christian to get divorced (as you are clearly doing)?"

Furthermore, if the term "adultery" can be applied to the state of marriage (rather than the sexual act), there is no reason why it cannot be applied to the act of marriage; either way, we are using it flexibly as opposed to its literal meaning (i.e., of a married person having sexual relations to a person other than his/her spouse). How do we decide between the two? Jesus says it's the latter (i.e., the act of marriage) while you say it's the former (i.e., the state of marriage). I prefer to cast my lot with the Lord.

6) Once a person has made certain commitments in this life, they are made. Marriage is a civil institution, a legal contract, not a spiritual rite. God designed it for the entire human race, unbelievers as well as believers, as a pillar of human society for the upbringing of children:

"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
Matthew 19:4-6 NIV

The whole point of our Lord's words above is to demonstrate that the niceties of the Law do not trump what marriage is all about, since marriage predates the Law and is designed by God for everyone, even for those not under the Law. That being the case, any man and woman who marry legally are legally married. Believers are commanded to obey the laws of the state (e.g., Rom.14:1ff.), and how much more so when they merely reflect the divine order of things from the beginning. The state has the authority to terminate marriages in certain circumstances. Individuals, such as you and me, do not. We are obliged to recognize marriages as marriages, as long as they are legal, for all legal purposes.

7) It is certainly true that, people being people, there are believers who have married (and remarried) when by rights they shouldn't have done so. In some cases, that would be a sin. Now there are many sins in this world, and in fact many more than most people are aware of. None of us is without sin. God forgives sin. The question is, do you and I forgive sin? Or do we seek to force others to live by a higher standard (in regard to a temptation/failing where we may be strong), while ignoring our own failings (as if these were of a lesser order). No doubt you have not gone through life without lying, yet no one is suggesting you cut out your tongue. Although our Lord did say that if our eye offends, we should pluck it out; if our hand offends, we should cut it off. No doubt you have had lust in your heart at some point, yet no one is suggesting you have yourself lobotomized (or . . .). No one here is standing up for sin. The question is, given a case of sin, what is a Christian to do, once that sin is repented of, confessed and forgiven?

8) I do understand what you are saying, but I fear you have not understood me. If I am tempted to drink to drunkenness, should I not put down the bottle before I confess? Of course. If I am tempted to lying, should I not take care not to confess while in the process of telling a lie? Of course. If I am tempted to hatred, should I not clear my mind of the very hatred I feel before confessing it to the Lord? Of course. All sin is action, be it of thought, word or deed. Making a bad marriage is an action; if the marriage is illegitimate for any reason it is a sinful action. But it is the marriage, making the decision to marry someone you should not marry, then actually carrying out the action though you know it to be wrong, that is the sin just like our Lord Jesus says: "whoever marries another".

9) The essential problem with your position, the critical error that leads to all the others, is falsely equating a state with a sin rather than an action. Further, the state itself, marriage, is in the instances we have been considering, legal. Further, being in this state involves having made a number of moral commitments which, while the authorities may agree to overlook in granting a divorce (the welfare of the children will not cause them to deny the divorce; the possible resulting indigence of the spouse or of his/her likely falling into sexual sin as a result will not cause them to deny the divorce; the emotional pain and suffering that will come to all concerned will not cause them to deny the divorce), we may be sure that God will call all to account for trampling their vows underfoot. The fact that this may be the second time doing so does not make it any less evil; in fact it makes it worse. Which is why I keep posing the question: "What is your scriptural basis for commanding a Christian to get divorced (as you are clearly doing)?"

10) I also would like to call attention to the argument you have been making, namely, that by teaching the truth I am leading people into sin. I hear this all the time about all manner of doctrines and subjects. Better, I suppose, to lie to people so they will refrain from sin. Perhaps I would have had more success in convincing you if I had said that by leading believers who would otherwise stay married into divorce, and wrecking their lives and their innocent children's lives in the process, that you were "leading little ones to stumble" and "it would be better if a mill-stone were tied around your neck and you were cast into the sea" because you are clearly going to hell for this. Of course, that last part would not be true only unbelievers go to hell. But it might be effective. The point is, believers should always "speak the truth, one to another" (Eph.4:25), and especially when representing the content of the Word of God.

11) Since we have corresponded a number of times now, I am curious about the motive behind your interest. This Bible ministry, Ichthys, seeks to teach the entire realm of Bible doctrine, of which the question of divorce and remarriage is an infinitesimally small part. How and why did you come to search this out? I only ask because in my experience the answer is likely to be very revealing.

We will indeed all stand before Him when He comes to judge the world . . . and us, and it is in that godly fear that I try to order my own steps and advise others as well.

Yours in the mercy, the love, goodness, the grace, the forgiveness, and righteousness and justice of Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #17:

Dear Robert,

You inquired about my motives. Only because I see it continually and sinfully ignored by the Church at large, that is, the Church has pretty much accepted the world's view of marriage and divorce/remarriage to the degree that it looks exactly like the world. It certainly is NOT the only topic we CAN discuss, but certainly is not unimportant.

Let me ask you this then, respectfully. The one who officiates at such a wedding as we've been discussing, and if your point of view is correct, should he say at the end of the ceremony, "I now pronounce you both adulterers" or "man and wife" or "man and wife/adulterers?" I truly am not trying to be either funny, sarcastic, or insulting. This is just where your line of thinking take me. Furthermore, at what point is it no longer adultery but a marriage, and I'd like you to be precise about the time, and why, and where in scripture you it is stated. I'm thinking of this: "A man shall leave father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh," not "A man shall leave his previous wife and cleave to his new one....." most sincerely,

Response #17:

If that is the case, what is your solution? I take it that you belong to some church. Are you saying that your church (wrongly in your view) accepts remarrieds instead of casting them out? If so, do you recommend self-reporting by all who attend (or merely all who join) as to the true status of their marriages? Given that they know they will be cast out, can you trust them to self-report this violation of your standard? Do you think a board of inquisition may be necessary? I'm not being facetious either. If you merely have a personal ache in your heart, that is one thing. Acting on it is another, and I see only two ways to do this: 1) organizationally as inquired about above; 2) in terms of counseling others. In terms of the latter solution, I really do have your best interests at heart when I suggest that you give doing so a second thought (if you have been contemplating this). That is because as we have begun to discuss (and have only begun; please see the Ichthys links previously given), there are complications here which you seem not yet to fully appreciate.

I would applaud your godliness and prudence if you personally in great spiritual circumspection did not marry someone who was divorced (regardless of love et al.), or, having been divorced yourself, did not remarry (regardless of temptations et al.) as long as refraining did not lead you into sin, of course. Giving this advice to others is also what I do. My concern is how to handle people who are already in the situation you bemoan. I have studied this issue intensively for many years and do not find any biblical mandate for the divorce of two Christians who are married, regardless of "how they got that way", and I honestly do not see any legitimate way to draw that conclusion from Matthew 19:9. Given that in my view there is no clear guidance anywhere in scripture to do what you seem to suggest such individuals do (even if we allow as to how in some cases they were wrong and culpable in getting into the situation in the first place), it does seem to me very dangerous to potentially make oneself the reason someone gets divorced (regardless of whether or not you think it's a good idea). It is also very dangerous to accuse other people of sin if you are right much more so if you are wrong. Jesus says "and marries another", mentioning the act of marriage, not the state of marriage; and we have established that, literally, adultery is neither the act nor the state of marriage but an actual incidence of physical unfaithfulness while actually married to someone else. So being married and having marital relations is not a sin, even in cases where the marriage itself was not justified; and getting divorced even in that case is still wrong for a variety of reasons (not least of which is the harm it does to others), even if the marriage itself was not justified in the first place which explains, I suppose, why our Lord does not take that "logical" (in your logic) next step and command divorce in such instances where the new marriage has been consummated already: He is destroying hypocrisy and at the same time heading off further folly (for those willing to listen), not seeking to introduce chaos into the marriage bond with further divorce leading to further desolation of defenseless women and further sexual sin on the part of their self-righteous husbands who clearly cannot contain themselves (or they wouldn't be involved in this practice in the first place).

As to your other question, I don't put any particular stock in church weddings; that is because marriage is a institution designed by God for the entire human race (so there is no special "luck" or "blessing" to be had in marrying in church). I think any pastor or church is within his/its rights to refuse to marry anyone for any reason. This is still a (semi-) free country, after all.

I do understand where you are coming from, but just because you or I may have the impression that a lack of frowning upon certain practices has the effect of encouraging them is not in and of itself justification for condemning people after the fact and much less for distorting the truth in order to modify behavior ("ends justifying means" is not a Christian tenet). Bottom line: dissuading those who have not made a mistake in very stern terms is fine; being unmerciful, ungracious, unloving and inaccurate in dealing with those who have already done something to land them in a questionable situation which cannot be undone without further sin is un-Christian.

You were never able to answer the question "What is your scriptural basis for commanding a Christian to get divorced (as you are clearly doing)?"  I think that speaks volumes about the advisability (or not) of doing so.

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #18:

Matthew 19:8-9, why did Jesus say "Moses permitted you" while it is true that Moses spoke from God?

(b). Based on verse 9's English construction, am I right to understand that, a Christian who divorces his /her wife/ husband for marital unfaithfulness and marries another, does not commit adultery?--- (exception).

(c). A woman is divorced for committing adultery, while on divorce, she repents or doesn't repent and Marries another, is she still committing adultery or not ,especially if she repented. Or did the divorce set her free from such a sin.

(d). What makes marriage legal to God , especially for non believers.

Response #18:

The Law regulated behavior much of which was already present in the society to which it came. For example, slavery is a terrible thing, but the Law regulates it. That is different from endorsing it. The same is true of divorce, and our Lord's comment here reflects that disparity. As to the other questions, again, this is an area where trying to reduce things to a set of rules largely misses the point. Marriage is meant to be forever; however, human beings are weak and sinful, and things happen in life. Better not to marry; better not to divorce if married; better not to remarry if divorced; but being ensnared in sexual sin outside of marriage is worse than any of the above. Once again, believers who are walking closely with their God will have it made clear to them what the right course is wherever they happen to be. If they have sinned, they will be disciplined, but only as children of a loving Father who forgives all sin when confessed. The adultery mentioned in the NT is the act of wrongful marriage after wrongful divorce; there is no "state of adultery" if a marriage was wrongly conceived. Once married, a marriage is a marriage, so that at such a point, regardless of antecedents, all of the obligations of marriage apply. Becoming guilt stricken after the fact and abnegating responsibility because of such qualms (i.e., divorcing a spouse based on legalistic interpretations of scripture) is a terrible sin and will result in far more trouble than the (possibly) wrongful marriage. I have a lot written up on this at Ichthys. Please see the link (which will lead to many more): "Marriage and the Bible".

Question #19:

Is family planning/birth control a sin? Is there any sin in any way a couple handles sex?

Response #19:

As to the first question, the Bible doesn't address this issue. Therefore, no church or pastor should either prohibit it or encourage it, in my view. On the one hand, there is also the principle of trusting the Lord; on the other hand, there is the principle of making use of what the Lord has provided. Mature believers who are walking close to the Lord will make the correct personal decisions in these matters; legalism wishes to set down a list of rules to regulate such things, but God's solution is spiritual growth whereby we come to see clearly what His will for our lives is in all things great and small (rather than salve our consciences by interfering in the lives of others). As to your second question, the above goes double.

Question #20:

Adam was formed first, and then Eve makes sense in the case of authority. But what does Eve being deceived have to do with submitting to the husband?

Response #20:

If a person does wrong but recognizes what he/she is doing, that is one thing. Doing wrong by being gullible or susceptible to deception disqualifies a person from a leadership role because in that case there is not even the possibility of making good decisions under pressure. Theologically, Eve was less culpable than Adam, being deceived instead of sinning in full knowledge that what was being done was wrong. For that reason, the sin nature is passed down through the male (for knowing disobedience), not through the female (on account of disobeying in relative ignorance). In the devil's world, authority relationships are important to preserve freedom in order for all to have a genuine opportunity to choose to be saved, and the family is the nucleus of all such relationships (that is the essence of the 5th commandment; see the link). In Eden (just as in eternity to come) there was no need for any such authority structure; in the devil's world, however, it is absolutely essential, and wherever one finds the basic family relationship either breaking down or being perverted in an arbitrary authoritarian way (as opposed to being exercised in love: cf. Eph.5:25-33), one finds less freedom which is the sine qua non for human life from a spiritual point of view. By taking responsibility, so to speak, in casting his lot with Eve by eating after he saw that she had fallen (preferring the woman outside of the garden to the Lord inside of the garden) Adam "won" the dubious distinction of becoming "head of the family". Arguably, while women have it harder in marriage than men do in perhaps most respects, men are faced with more subtle pressures and responsibilities as the ultimately responsible party for all that happens in the family. Of course we are talking here about a (near) perfect marriage/family where the wife truly honors her husband and the husband truly loves his wife. I think it speaks volumes that in the original human paradise and in the ultimate one to come there will be no such authority relationships between us:

For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.
Matthew 22:30 NKJV

For more on all this please see the links:

The Creation of Eve

The Fall of Man


In Jesus the Lord of all.

Bob L.


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