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Some Sensitive Topics II

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Question #1:

Hi again Doc!  I was trying to get some feedback from my brothers and sisters in Christ on courting and marriage. I've gotten a few, but wanted to know if you agree with them. Here is one response I got:

"You started courting BEFORE you had known for sure that he was the one you were interested in marrying? That's what courtship is all about to begin with, isn't it? This sounds like you were dating before you decided to court - which is bad news. That is the world's way - go out together, hang around, maybe down the road get married, or move on to the next girlfriend..."

That's what he said. I personally think you HAVE to somehow get to know someone before you know for sure its God's will.... I don't think you can look across the room (in every case) and know who your future spouse is going to be just by looking at them. What do you think?

Response #1:   

In this day and age I think that it is a very bad idea to marry someone you don't know. In biblical times in Israel, they had a much better system in my view. One's parents would very carefully go about the process of selecting an appropriate spouse from an appropriate family. We have been conditioned in this society to think that was a horrible idea and would be terrible for us. But think about it: if we have good and loving Christian parents, who better to find someone from a similarly good and loving Christian family who would be appropriate for us? Romantic love, for all the hype, is not something the Bible is particularly keen on. And when I think through scripture, there are plenty of arranged marriages which went very well, but when there was obvious choice, not so well. Jacob loved Rachel, but ended up with four wives and a very unhappy "home situation". David and Solomon chose – over and over again. But Joseph and Mary had an arranged marriage, and that was the sort of environment that God picked for His own dear Son (by every indication a blessed and happy marriage too). Abraham had his trusty servant pick out a bride for Isaac, and that too went extremely well (God superintended the process, but of course that is what we would be counting on in great measure were we to have such a system). God made Eve specifically for Adam, and while there was one little problem on the honeymoon, they were from all reports really "made for each other". When I observe our present circumstances, I think that many people would have really benefitted from such a custom. I think we would have much less divorce, for example, if only because we would not be investing marriage with such unrealistic expectations.

But of course all this is mere speculation because we do not have that system in this country and trying to initiate it now from scratch would almost certainly cause more problems than the present set of customs. So I would say that some sort of process is necessary for familiarization before choosing a life partner. There is also the fact that, as Paul says, "the time is short" (1Cor.7:29), and that is so true today for us who live on the very threshold of the end times. I can think of better situations than having to worry about the care and feeding and spiritual safety of young children when the Tribulation begins. But each person has to make their own decision, and it is certainly true that despite the spiritual advantages of "single bliss", for sanctification's sake most of us need the institution of marriage. Since that is so, we need to find someone who is a believer, preferably a very committed and dedicated one, and also one who is an honorable person generally (these two should go together but both propositions should be tested since people can be "phonies"). And of course it would also be nice if we could get along as good friends, apart from any romance – friendship often lasts where romance fades. All this requires some time spent together, whatever you would wish to call it.

In our Lord Jesus.

Bob L.

Question #2:  

I read with amusement your latest email posting re the holy kiss and the guy who was determined it be done. Great example of a foolish consistency blindness which reveals an arrogance of ignorance. Calls to memory the old Dave Clark Five song lyrics "I wonder who she's kissing tonight." Wonder who he's giving those holy kisses to.

Response #2:    

I have to admit I half wonder if Paul wasn't trying to head some such thing off at the pass by entitling it a "holy" kiss, thus re-writing and re-directing a custom which he did not create and saw as problematic. With no biblical or prophetic mandate to outlaw it, he might instead merely have redefined it as "holy" so as to avoid abuse as much as possible. In other words, it would "mean" precisely the opposite of what you so clearly discern correspondent wants it to mean.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #3:

Married and Flirting - Is It Acceptable?

Response #3:

Dear Friend,

The word "flirting" covers far too wide a range of behavior and intentions for me to give you a comprehensive answer. Also, what I may not consider to be flirting, someone else may, so there is also the issue of how our behavior is going to be received by others; we ought to take that into consideration as well. Generally speaking, "intentional flirting" is a bad idea on any level for a Christian, because of the great dangers of sexual indiscretion of any sort. I certainly don't want to come across as a sanctimonious prude. Clearly, having light-hearted conversations with members of the opposite sex ought to be something that most Christians of average spiritual maturity should be able to navigate without getting into trouble. But the problem of lust and desire is such a potential danger, that if asked to give advice I would have to say, if you are in any doubt whatsoever about the propriety of your actions, then refrain. After all, we are called to a sanctified life; we are called to be witnesses for our Lord Jesus Christ. In these areas we all fail and fall woefully short of the ideal, but we certainly ought to be striving to live up the high standard to which we have been called (rather than looking to see how far we can "push the envelope" in the wrong direction without getting burned). And as I say, we cannot look into someone else's heart and see precisely what they are thinking and feeling. So even if as unmarried individuals we were able to engage in very minor "flirtation" with other unmarrieds without "tripping the switch" of out-right sin, it is possible that 1) we are sending messages that others will take more seriously than we mean them to, and/or 2) that those who are the object of these attentions which we view as minor may be tempted more severely than we are – and if we are leading others into sin, that is surely not acting in Christian love.

It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
1st Thessalonians 4:3-8 NIV

But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse jesting – things that have no place [among you]. Thanksgiving [is what ought to be heard coming from you] instead. For of this you can be sure: no immoral, impure, or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Don't let anyone deceive you about this with empty words, for it is because of just such things that God's wrath comes upon those who refuse to obey and believe. So don't enter into partnership with them.
Ephesians 5:3-7

Finally, if all this is true of those who are not married, how much more would it not be so with those who are? For in that case, there is a spouse (or spouses) to consider, and in my (admittedly limited) experience, most people who are married are unlikely to appreciate their spouse flirting with someone else, however that word is likely to be defined.

There is no biblical passage which addresses this issue directly (to my knowledge), but I think that the Law of love should reign supreme here. If we truly care about our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will want to be very careful not to trip up their spiritual walk; and if we are married, we have emotional obligations to our spouse which are every bit as binding as the legal ones.

I don't know if I've answered your question satisfactorily. Do feel free to write me back about any of this.

In the One who sacrificed all He had and was in love for our sakes, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #4:   

 Robert, I have been discussing the subject of ____________ with a group of college men/ boys. Any outline or thoughts you lend would be appreciated on this sensitive subject.

Response #4: 

This sensitive topic falls under the category of a number of things which, while clearly wrong by any normal scriptural measure, are yet not directly addressed in scripture. There are many things which are not specifically catalogued in the Bible which are nonetheless unhelpful, unprofitable and even sinful (cf. "things like this" in Gal.5:21).

Abortion furnishes a helpful parallel here. Although during the time of the composition of the New Testament abortion was being widely practiced and the exposure of new-born infants was even more wide-spread, yet neither of these issues is discussed directly by the apostles. Some things are so clearly wrong, they need no discussion. Having said that, I believe that it is an easy matter for Christians (often well-meaning) to get into trouble by trying to piece together specific prohibitions from non-specific scriptures. One of the problems with this is that overstepping or mis-stating what the Bible has to say puts a (false) dogmatic face upon what scripture has intentionally left to conscience (for reasons God understands though we may not).

This kind of thing has certainly happened in the past. In the case of my example, abortion, the desire to fill in for scripture has advanced two disparate opinions which seem to control the field in this debate, both dangerous in their own way. On the one hand, we have the position that "abortion is murder" (potentially crushing the faith and consciences of those guilty of abortion in the past as they suppose themselves to have committed an unpardonable sin and are often treated as such); on the other hand, there is the opposing position that abortion is merely a medical/personal decision (potentially weakening the consciences of those contemplating abortion in the future and thus leading them into what is unquestionable a horrible sin). In my view, had the issue been left entirely to conscience (where scripture leaves it), the fundamental understanding that abortion is wrong (without specifying further) would have been preferable.

The issue you ask about seems to me to be similar in a number of respects. The practice is clearly wrong. Conscience, informed by the Spirit, will never lead to any other conclusion. In the past, there have been efforts to find some particular scriptural basis for castigating this practice (hence the term "onanism" after Gen.38:9-10). But it takes no great feat of exegesis to discover that the passage referenced has nothing to do with this practice in fact, so that to hold God's death sentence over the heads of adolescents in particular is a harmful way to cope with the problem (inducing a level of fear and guilt which is not truly scriptural). On the other hand, to suggest, as modern psychology et al. is prone to do that there is no harm in behavior which a pure conscience vociferously condemns is an equal disservice to those genuinely seeking guidance (threatening to weaken and destroy their conscience).

In all such cases where saying more forces us to "go beyond what is written", this is always the standard which I have tried to make it my habit to adopt. If one cannot do something "in faith", then one is well-advised to leave off such activity (Rom.14:23). Wherever someone has done things which, while not perhaps specifically prohibited by scripture, are nonetheless called to account by the conscience of the person in question (for not all is profitable: 1Cor.6:12; 10:23), then, in addition to ceasing such behavior, I see no difficulty in confessing it as sin to our merciful Father in all confidence of forgiveness (1Jn.1:9). We have started in this Christian life with the Spirit as our guide (Gal.3:3), and are directed to proceed in the same way (Gal.5:25). If we are truly walking in love, walking according to conscience, then we need not have any fear of sinfulness, for there is no law against love (Gal.5:22-23). And when we stumble, we are assured of His merciful forgiveness.

It is dangerous to over-state. It is dangerous to over-justify. But the closer and more intently we commit ourselves to following Jesus with every passing day, the less we are likely to be in a position of having to do either:

"So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature."
Galatians 5:16 NIV

Hope this is of some help,

Yours in Christ,

Bob L.

Question #5:  

Dear Dr. Luginbill,

Have you ever written about homosexuality? A friend of mine that lives in California is very confused and has told me that since there are so many interpretations of the Bible we have no way of knowing if it truly is an abomination. Of course I believe it is. I sent her every scripture in the Bible regarding homosexuality but she seems to be too accepting and I'm worried about her. I would love to send her any information you've written on this subject. Thank you very much for your time and may God continue to bless you and the wonderful work you're going.

Response #5:  

Let me state right from the outset that the answer below is a biblical one and not a political one. Christianity and politics do not mix (please see the link: "Political Action versus Biblical Christianity"). We are all tempted to sin and there is always a tendency to want to justify that sin in society (or outlaw it legally). As followers of Jesus, we are not here to "fix the devil's world" but to learn and to live the truth. That said, I don't think there can be any question whatsoever for anyone who reads the Bible and believes it of what is right and what is wrong on this question. The passages are so numerous and clear, it is not a matter of "interpretation" for anyone taking any sort of a reasonable and balanced look at the texts. For drug abuse, for example, we have to make an argument (since the issue is not directly addressed by scripture, at least not obviously so); still in all cases of sin, it is clear enough to a truly clear conscience and to any and all who are actually following Christ what is gross sin and what is not. But on this subject, scripture leaves us in absolutely no doubt whatsoever. All one really needs to do is to read Romans chapter one, for example, so see how this particular sin is described and evaluated. It is not a "misdemeanor" in biblical terms, but a "class 1 felony", to use an analogy. I haven't written too much about the topic for precisely this reason, for I think any "confusion" about the matter comes from the world and not from the Lord, His Spirit, or His Word – those three are in absolute agreement.

However it is certainly true that the message from the world, from our culture, our government, and even from many so-called Christian groups and individuals is currently precisely the opposite of what everyone knows in their heart (unless that heart has become completely darkened). So people who are confused about this subject are really not, generally speaking, unsure about the truth; rather they are very uncomfortable because they wish the truth were otherwise. All of us have a sin nature, but not all of us are tempted in the same way. For example, some people have a terrible problem with alcohol, so much so they would be wise never even to be around the stuff. Other people can take it or leave it and have no trouble avoiding the sin of drunkenness even though they imbibe. Some people just cannot keep themselves from gossiping; others are very comfortable being discrete and it is no effort for them at all. In other words, we all have areas of potential sin where adapting ourselves to the biblical standard is not difficult for us at all (and yet still we may at some time or another falter); and we all also have areas where we are sorely tempted to sin and without staying far away would do so excessively and repeatedly, areas where we may often wish the Bible allowed us to do what we want to do (and/or have a very difficult time not doing) – and yet we still with the help of the Spirit after the training of spiritual growth are able with God's help to have victory even here.

As with all things in the Christian life, it is a matter of choice: whom do we love, and whom do we fear? If God is really our fear, then if there is any question whatsoever about some behavior, wouldn't it be better to avoid it, even if there is some doubt? And if we really love Jesus Christ, shouldn't what He wants us to do and refrain from doing be more important than any desire to do something or any problem with refraining? If the answer to these question is a resounding "Yes!" – and for all true Christians it certainly should be – then even in cases of "confusion" the course we should take is very clear.

Abstain from all appearance of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:22  KJV

And everything that does not come from faith is sin.
Romans 14:23b  TNIV

One other thing that is important to point out in such discussions is that there is a big difference on the one hand between struggling with sin, any sin, and on the other with self-righteously proclaiming that it is not a sin. As long as we are still able to recognize that sin is sin, even if we are temporarily enmeshed in the devil's snare, there is yet hope that with God's help and the intervening prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ we may yet be able to work our way loose and put it behind us, riding out the divine discipline and learning from the experience, and then go on to a life of spiritual growth and service for Jesus Christ. However, once a person gets to the point of embracing their sin, the death of faith (apostasy) cannot be far behind. That is why 1st John 5:16-17 says "there is a sin unto death" and tells us that there is really no point even in praying in such situations – not that any particular sin is so bad it results in spiritual death, but rather that sinful conduct of any variety past a certain point leads to having less and less fear of God and leads by degrees to the death of faith (that is what apostasy is).

So there is major distinction to be made here between those people tempted in this area (and we are all tempted in some area or areas) but who are still struggling against the commission of such sin, and those on the other hand who have embraced it. The worst state of affairs, as I say, is to buy into the lie that "it isn't a sin at all", since once that becomes the true attitude of a person's heart, there is very little hope left. So there is no shame in being a person who has a proclivity to a certain type of sin, for all who are born of the flesh have proclivities to all manner of sins (our Lord being the sole exception). What is shameful and beyond that very dangerous is to take the approach that "that's just who I am" and go on from there to justify the behavior. For example, if a person is tempted by heterosexual impulses instead of homosexual ones, well, there are still all manner of heterosexual behaviors and behavior patterns which are likewise dangerously sinful. It is just as ridiculous for a person tempted to have sex with multiple partners outside of wedlock to throw aside guilt and conscience and proclaim "that's just who I am". In these and in any manner of similar cases "accepting who you are" is shorthand for disregarding God's will and God's opinion, an attitude which always ends up in the same terrible place.

I do have one thing on this at the site which gives some of the details on the relevant passages: response #3 in "Political Action versus Biblical Christianity", the one that addresses the question asked about someone else's article "Six passages used to condemn homosexuals". Also of interest is part 3B of the Bible Basics series: Hamartiology, the Biblical Study of Sin, and especially section IV.6, "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death".

I hope this helps to address your question and will say a prayer for your friend and your efforts on her behalf. Please feel free to write me back about any of this.

Thanks so much for your good words and encouragement!

In our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #6:    

I am reading "The Satanic Rebellion" and I am in Part 3; II. The Creation of Man; 3. The Human Spirit. I enjoy reading and agree with many of the ideas you have. However, after reading the following lines, I would like for you to explain how you feel about abortion.

Both the grammar of these passages (Greek neuters: "that which") and the prophecies here which are both primarily concerned with the birth of Christ (as is the case in all the Messianic prophecies; cf. Jdg.13:7; Is.7:14; 9:6-7; Lk.1:15), make it clear that it is not His conception, but His birth that is our Lord's point of entrance into the world after the pattern by which we have all entered it: the physical birth of our bodies followed by God's breathing into us of our human spirit. The star of Bethlehem and the angelic chorus that herald His arrival are celebrating not His conception but His birth (Lk.2:8-20), the point when He first drew breath as a human being (albeit the only divine One: Phil.2:6-7; Heb.2:14), for that is the point at which the Father brought His Son "into the world":

Am I understanding that you feel life does not start until God places breath in the body at birth? If that is the case, it should not be wrong or sinful to have an abortion since only fleshy matter is being destroyed and not a human life. Please give me your take on this as I usually tell people that once the egg is fertilized, in seed form, you have the entire person. In God's eternal state, to have the seed is to have the entire plant because the history and future of the entire plant is contained in the seed just as all life is contained in the Word (Jesus Christ). As I said before, I usually agree with what you say and if you can convince me about this matter, I will have to correct what I say to people. Thank you for your time and thank you for being so dedicated to spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. I look forward to hearing from you.

Response #6:

I think that anyone reading the scriptures, let alone Christians, would come to understand very quickly (and be taught by the Spirit in the case of believers) that abortion is something that does not please God. To me, at any rate, though of course it is not specifically mentioned as such in scripture, not only is it a sin, but it is something so violently opposed to what is natural for human beings – killing one's own children contrary to the human drive and biblical mandate to procreate – that the Bible does not even see the need to delineate it as such. Here is the footnote (#26) to that passage which frames the discussion about which you write:

This is not at all to imply that for this reason the fetus has no worth in God's eyes. Quite to the contrary, the unborn are highly valued in scripture (Ex.21:22; Job 10:8-12; Ps.139:13-16; Is.44:24; 49:4-5). Further we may note that in the Bible children are considered a great blessing (cf. 1Sam.2:1-11 and Lk.1:46-55), with infertility seen as a curse (Hos.9:14; cf. Gen.38; Lev.20:20-21; 1Sam.1:11), and pregnancy as a blessing and occasionally even a means of vindication (cf. Num.5:11-31 and Lk.1:25). Whereas, on the other hand, the sacrifice of children is an abomination (Lev.18:21; Deut.12:31; Ps.106:37-38).

In other words, the idea that people would deliberately destroy their own children, born or unborn, is a monstrous one. For all that, however, this does not change or affect the question of whether God gives life to human beings miraculously at birth or whether instead men give life through sexual procreation. If we were merely material creatures, then I suppose there would be a strong argument for the latter. However, we are spiritual as well as material, and the eternal human spirit is more "who we are" than the temporary, corrupted flesh we are presently inhabiting for a few years. As I hope you will be able to see from the entire discussion you are reading (and please see also the somewhat expanded and updated version of this discussion in BB 3A: Anthropology: "The Human Spirit"), the scriptural evidence is, at least in my view, overwhelming as to the provision of the spirit at birth by God producing human life as distinct from animal life. Even traditional alternative points of view have a very difficult time explaining how we get the human spirit if not from God at birth, with the standard view being that it is somehow genetically imparted – how an immaterial, perfect human spirit would or could be transmitted through the corrupt process of physical generation does not seem to concern such scholars greatly. As in many issues of this sort, moreover, it turns out that getting this point wrong leads to error in other things, whereas getting this point right leads to the opening up of other passages that otherwise would not be clearly understood (it is ever so).

I can certainly see why those who are understandably appalled at the idea and at the practice of abortion would want to make the argument that life begins at conception. However, this is a good example of why politics and true biblical Christianity don't mix. The temptation to find "ammunition" in the Bible to combat an admittedly horrid practice has proven too great to the point that to even suggest that scripture puts the spiritual over the material in teaching that God gives life not men is to invite being blasted as a heretic.

I very much appreciate your balanced response on this, even if in the end you decide to disagree. I came to this position through exegesis of the scripture rather from a political point of view. Were I politically motivated, I would be sore tempted to go the other route. However, I have always tried to stand my ground on the truth of the Bible regardless of the opinions and desires of others. This has caused rifts galore, but in the end has always led to personal peace and progress in getting to the whole truth of the Word of God. There are in fact many issues of this sort in scripture, where for a variety of reasons people are very resistant to taking an honest look at what the Bible actually has to say, and often become instead quite hostile at the thought of a different point of view.

Let me assure you again that the purpose of teaching what I am teaching on this point is most definitely not to lend any support whatsoever to abortion. My responsibility before the Lord is to find and to teach the truth. That is what I am attempting to do.

In Him who is the only truth, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #7: 

A friend of mine has a family member who recently died while in a second marriage, remarried after divorce. Some people say to me this was adultery and that she is in Hell right now. Are they correct?

Response #7:   

When a loved one dies, if it is a case of that person not walking so closely with the Lord that there is no doubt about his/her spiritual status, there is bound to be a certain amount of anxious anticipation on the part of those who loved him/her. However, there is only one basis for claiming that a person is not in heaven, namely, clear and irrefutable evidence that the person was not a believer in Jesus Christ. By the logic used here, David is in hell – and I can assure you that David is in heaven. Praise be to God that heaven is inhabited exclusively by former sinners whose sins have been washed away by the blood of the Lamb! The tax collector who beat his breast and asked God for mercy went down from the temple justified, but the Pharisee who thought himself superior did not – because he arrogantly thought he was sinless (which no one is). We all have a sin nature, we all have sinned in the past, and we all sin. If we claim otherwise, "we make Him out to be a liar, and His Word is not in us" (1Jn.1:8-10). No one is advocating sin. I don't know this woman, her status, her situation, her heart, her relationship with Jesus, etc. But assuming that remarriage automatically "damns" someone is about as un-Christian and un-biblical as you can get, since salvation is based upon a living faith in Jesus Christ.

In the One who bore all of our sins on the tree, dying for us that we might have eternal life, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #8:  

Hello Bob,

I'm taking this opportunity to write to you about some very critical matters. You have been very helpful in the past. I discern you are a brother who speaks the truth in all matters as best he can from his heart and who sincerely takes a big picture, compassionate, and objective approach to handling the Word of God. I wrote you sometime ago about the church my wife attends and their teaching that implies that water baptism by immersion is actually necessary for salvation. I disagree and I could see you disagree even more strongly than I. I had read what you said about baptism before and I remember you saying that if a church is legalistic in this area, they are probably legalistic in other areas as well! How true! I had been tolerating this church in order to worship with my wife on the Sundays. Desiring to be unified with my family, I frown on worshiping separately just because a church has quirks in doctrine after all we know there is no perfect church! And the folks there are, in general, nice people! All well, and good, but now something much more serious has come up. Conversing with one of the elders, I found that they believe that Christians who have divorced and remarried without proper Biblical grounds must live as brother and sister with no sexual relations, because otherwise they are continuing in an adulterous marriage. The elder said that the innocent part in a divorce has the right of re-marriage, but that the guilty party has to pay a penalty lifelong celibacy until the death of his first wife.

While not making light of Jesus and Paul's teaching that remarriage without Biblical grounds is adultery, I find that requiring celibacy between two remarried believers puts that couple in an extremely difficult position. There are few areas where grace is needed more than here. For one thing, we don't need to add a penalty here the natural consequences of an ill-advised marriage are already plenty of penalty. Jesus and Paul teach that divorce, aside from desertion by an unbeliever or fornication is adultery, and to remarry without Biblical grounds constitutes adultery. But neither Jesus nor Paul require that there be another divorce from the illegitimate partner, nor that there be celibacy in the remarriage. Why? The partners have already consummated a new one-flesh covenant and entered into a second marriage with its own legal and moral requirements. A parallel equivalent is a person who enters into unwise excessive financial obligations still has to make payments on the new purchases even though they were unwise to begin with. Frequently, he such a person fails ALL his financial obligations. In the old testament, God honored multiple marriages. Jacob and David are prime examples. In fact the nations of Israel and the Arab nations come from the multiple marriage of Jacob to Rachael and Leah. God did not require Jacob to divorce Rachael even though his original marriage was to Leah. Nor did God e require David to divorce Bathsheba. Divorce is such a gut-wrenching and horrible thing that in grace and mercy, God allows second marriages to stand, even though their initiation was illegal from a Biblical standpoint. The unclean can be cleansed and made clean by the Blood of Jesus and forgiveness. If a second marriage is indeed a valid marriage with is own set of requirements, then the husband and wife are not to withhold their bodies from each other as spelled out in 1 Co 7. Paul, writing to the Corinthian Church in 1 Co 7, a culture where immortality, divorce and remarriage were rampant, advises couples that are married to STAY married, in the state in which they are. He makes no distinction here between first, second, or multiple marriages. A wife (the one a man is presently married to) is bound to here husband as long as he lives in Romans 7:2, 3 and 1 Co11:39. Jesus, in speaking to the woman at the well who had been married to 5 husbands (another culture where Jewish men divorced and remarried at whim) did not command her to go back to any of the 5 husbands. He was much more interested in telling her how to get the true Living Water, the water referred to in Baptism!

Why I so concerned here? Because I am concerned that my present wife did not have fully Biblical grounds in divorcing her first husband, and that in marrying her I became an adulterer. It would seem the only thing to do is accept Gods forgiveness (which I have done) and make the most of my second marriage which already has enough challenges of its own. It would seem a very harmful and legalistic thing to her, myself, and the children. From reading bits and pieces of other things that you have written , I think you'll agree, and I eagerly await your reply.

Response #8:    

This is a difficult subject (and one about which I have written many e-mails, only a few of which are yet posted). One of the reasons for the difficulty in giving a definitive answer as to what exactly the Bible has to say about divorce and remarriage is, as I often say in these responses, that there is much left unsaid, and that is no doubt deliberate. A fair deduction from this fact itself would be the conclusion that scripture and the writers of scripture under divine inspiration on the one hand did not want to forbid divorce and remarriage under all circumstances, but on the other hand were at the same time unwilling to give any encouragement to it either. What that means in practical terms is fairly easy to state with solid scriptural support: 1) it is better not to ever get married in the first place (Matt.19:10-12; 1Cor.7:1; 7:7-8; 7:17; 7:26-28); 2) however the vast majority of Christians had better get married because otherwise they will stray into the morass of sexual sin (Matt.19:10-12; 1Cor.7:2; 7:9); 3) once married, it is better never to get divorced (Matt.19:6; 1Cor.7:17; 7:27-28); 4) however there are some circumstances out one's control that do legitimize and could even potentially necessitate divorce (Matt.5:32; 19:9: sexual immorality; 1Cor.7:15-16: an unbelieving spouse; abandonment); 5) and then once divorced (or widowed), it is better to stay unmarried in the future (1Cor.7:8; 7:27-28; 7:40), bringing us back to where we started in terms of these positive affirmations.

What scripture does not say as explicitly as we would like is 1) what about divorce for other reasons?; 2) what about when one is divorced by the other party but not for the reasons specifically listed above?; 3) what about any right of remarriage in the cases listed above? 4) what about any right of remarriage in cases of divorce for non-specifically mentioned grounds for divorce? 5) what about believers who find themselves in a marriage where one or both parties have been divorced, whether through prior ignorance of scripture or willfulness or for any other reason?

To these questions one will find a variety of answers out there in the ether. Indeed, without much searching a person can easily receive the answer he or she desperately wants as well as the answer he or she frantically fears. Opinions range from "Christians should never ever get married" to "there is never any biblical reason for divorce whatsoever" to "sex of any kind constitutes a marriage" to "divorce and remarriage for any reason whatsoever under any circumstances whatsoever is legitimate and biblical". I have received questions about and/or manifestos supporting most of these propositions, but it is probably needless to say that I find no serious scriptural support for any of them (and some of them are plainly wrong). Clearly, marriage is an institution designed by God and, generally speaking, "it is not good for man to be alone" (Gen.2:18). Clearly, the Bible does give grounds for legitimate divorce (Matt.5:32; 19:19; 1Cor.7:15-16), and there are also just as clearly situations where a person has no choice because the divorce comes entirely from the initiative of the spouse completely against the other party's will. Clearly, while in sex "the two become one flesh" (1Cor.6:12-16), yet a marriage per se is to be distinguished from intercourse alone (Deut.22:28-29; 24:1-4). Finally, to say that there are no restrictions or biblical considerations when it comes to the issue of divorce and remarriage is to ignore all the evidence in the entire preceding discussion.

While it may seem odd at first glance that scripture does not give a detailed list of regulations on the subject of divorce and remarriage, on second thought it makes a good deal of sense. Marriage is an institution designed by God in large part to teach mankind generally and believers specifically about their relationship of promise to Him (see esp. Eph.5:25-33). Since there is no more important relationship for a human being, it is easy to see why it is that scripture chooses to display as unassailable the human marriage relationship which reflects our relationship to God. Our relationship with Jesus should be perfect (and it is from the divine side), and human marriage should be as well, to teach us about that greater relationship. One can see a parallel in the way 1st John approaches sin. The child of God is described throughout as someone who does not sin. Yet we know from experience (and also very emphatically from 1st John itself: cf. 1:9; 2:1; 5:16) that sin does happen, even though this is a departure from the ideal to which we are called.

All that said, let me tackle a couple of the specific issues in your e-mail. As to what might be the "proper biblical grounds" for divorce, we have seen above that sexual immorality on the part of one's spouse (adultery being the prime but possibly not the only example) is a valid grounds for divorce, and also that when there is unwillingness of the other party to continue in a marriage the believing spouse "is not bound in such cases" (1Cor.7:15). But what exactly constitutes "sexual immorality" (Greek porneia from which we get pornography), and what exactly constitutes behavior which makes continuation impossible are never spelled out in detail. So that defining the "guilty party" in an absolute sense may often be difficult to do (thus begging the question of whether or not we should try to do so). Further, Paul allows that in some cases people do divorce without, apparently, even these justifications (1Cor.7:11). In this last case, there is a prohibition against remarriage. However, as John Murray has pointed out (Principles of Conduct), our Lord's interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in the verses in Matthew cited above essentially countermands the death penalty for adultery contained in the Mosaic Law wherein the offended party would by definition have a right of remarriage (being now a widow/widower). Since that is so, the argument can be made that adultery or sexual immorality or any sexual activity with anyone else (even in a second marriage after the fact) would, in effect, "put to death" the first marriage. Since scripture does not give us a firm basis for proclaiming this principle dogmatically, I am reluctant to endorse it.

What I would say is that in this life, people make mistakes. People sin. People do things that have consequences, and those consequences complicate their lives. Like David's deception of Abimelech which occasioned greater deception down the road out of necessity, one bad move often begets another. Were it not for the mercy and forgiveness of our Lord, "who could stand?" (Ps.130:3). The fact is as I have often remarked, believers do get divorced and they do get remarried regardless of any of the considerations in the discussion above, and more often than not only concern themselves with these issues after the fact. Why? Clearly because "being alone" and maintaining single status, while it may be what scripture commends and may be God's first best will for the person in any case, is usually a burden heavier than the average believer can bear (or believes he or she can bear in any case, which often amounts to the same thing). Once married, perspectives may change, but irrespective of "how we got here", the fact remains that these questions you bring up come up all the time. I would say the following:

1) A marriage is a marriage. As long as it does not violate biblical rules of incest (still valid today; see 1Cor.5), then once contracted it seems clear to me from scripture that the exhortations "not to divorce" have come back into play. For as long as one accepts the principle that a marriage is a marriage, even if it was contracted unadvisedly, then there is no indication from the Bible that everything which the Bible says about marriage would not be valid (cf. Jn.4:18 where Jesus refers to the Samaritan woman's "five husbands" - these marriages might not have met biblical standards to begin with, but they were still marriages after the fact). This certainly makes sense. To break up a marriage after the fact affects more than the party who all of a sudden has pangs of guilt. It may well be that there was no "right of remarriage" or that the issue was in doubt (suspected adultery only; other exceptions mentioned above which are ambiguous about remarriage as an option; etc.). It may well be that there is divine discipline as a result. But that would still not give someone the right, in my opinion, to end the marriage for that reason. To do so might wreck the spouse's life, adversely affect the children, etc. You can't just ditch your responsibilities and blame it on God. Responsibilities undertaken solemnly must be solemnly fulfilled. If a person finds him/herself in such a situation, prayer and patience would seem to be the answer (God can deliver under any circumstances), not another divorce. It seems to me that if God required divorce in cases where marriage was undertaken "without the right to do so", there would be at least some indication of that in the Bible, and I find none.

2) Since a marriage is a marriage, the idea that one can treat it in some other way (such as remaining celibate as if it were not truly a marriage) is fallacious. Even if the marriage was undertaken "without the right to do so" (or the situation is in doubt), whatever applies to any other marriage would still apply. That includes not depriving the other party of intimacy.

3) Judgment: Our God is a God of mercy and justice. We rejoice in His mercy, and accept the principle that as His sons and daughters we are held to account when we violate His will. It is certainly possible to be blessed by God at the same time one is being disciplined by God (David is the prime example that comes to mind here) and indeed we have all experienced this. Given that every believer has at some time found him/herself in a situation where prior bad decisions have snow-balled into more and greater bad decisions (with the concomitant divine discipline), it is incomprehensible to think that this would never happen in respect to marriages, divorces, and remarriages. Just as in other cases of sin God looks at the heart and at the whole picture, and does not seek to vindictively destroy His children when they slip and fall but to teach them, help them, and heal them (even if the process is sometimes quite painful), so we have no reason to believe that this is not the case in marriage, divorce, and remarriage as well – in fact we know by faith that it most certainly is.

If we follow the five basic principles outlined at the beginning of this letter, we will not go wrong. If we willfully and brazenly abuse our partners, or maliciously abandon them, or in premeditated fashion steal away some else's spouse (or other things of this ilk), we can expect divine retribution. If, in the common human way of things, our marriages succumb to typical problems, and then, again in the common human way of things, we marry whom or when perhaps we should not, it may well be that we are in for rough times here too. But to suggest that we should then divorce again, or abstain from sex, or expect to lose our salvation, is to completely misread scripture and the character of our merciful and loving Father. Our marriages and our chastity ought to reflect the perfection of our Lord Jesus and His relationship to the Church. But in the end we are but flesh. The next best course, once one has not adhered to clear guidance of scripture and has thus put oneself in a bad situation that has no perfect solution, is to make the best of things, behave honorably, carry out one's responsibilities, and trust in the Lord for His timing, His deliverance, His forgiveness, His healing . . . . . His blessing. If we are still here, and if we are still believers in Jesus, then He still does love us, and still wants what is best for us. We may cause ourselves some tears, but we can have joy through those tears, if we but continue to trust in and follow Him as best we can – we can still fulfill His purpose for our lives. And we can still have His peace in the midst of whatever turmoil we are experiencing.

I hope this is of some help to you. Please see also the following links:

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) A conversation about divorce and remarriage.

5) Feelings of guilt about remarriage

6) No grounds for divorce?

Yours in the One who died for all our sins and who bore all our iniquities on that tree, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #9:

I have received a few different interpretations on the Cor. passage "Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let each man have his own wife..."

I had two responses....the first was

Paul's statement was, "Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch (sexually arouse) a woman, nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband." The reason the words, "nevertheless, because of sexual immorality let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband," is because Paul is speaking of sexual arousal, not mere handshaking, etc. The context is sexual touch, not merely shaking hands, hugging another or giving a church member a kiss. The word touch in this context is haptomai - "to attach oneself, touch in many implied relations, it is reflex of hapto, "to fasten to, i.e., especially to set on fire, kindle, light" Paul is speaking within the context of sexual arousal outside marriage, not every possible use of "touch"....

and the 2nd was

If it means "to attach oneself," or, "to fasten to," then it could be speaking of marriage itself. I'd be interested to see where this word is translated "to set on fire." I personally don't think it means physical touching, but taking a wife. (See my previous explanation.) A number of commentators agree that this is probably what it means. (Don't ask me who they are; it's been awhile since I've studied it.)

Which one is correct? Thanks in advance!

Response #9:

In the first century it was a common thing for Christian men and women to engage in a "holy kiss" of greeting, which I do not need to explain involved literal touching. The word "touch" used here by Paul is a euphemism for sexual activity. Since Christians are forbidden sexual activity outside of marriage, Paul's statement is the equivalent of and consistent with his position that the best thing is celibacy (although of course most people are unable to handle celibacy so that the best thing for those who can't handle it – most of us – is marriage). This is why he says by way of explaining the opposite of "touching" in the very next verse "However, because of sexual improprieties, let each man have a wife of his own . . . " (1Cor.7:2). So all a person really needs to do is read the context here to see clearly that Paul is talking about marriage, not literal "touching". This is another case where the language of the KJV is misleading for modern English speakers: the combination of the euphemism, "touch" with the KJV's "let every man have his own wife" has apparently led some to believe that this is a discussion about the nature of sexual relations whereas it is in reality a discussion about marriage (as the rest of the chapter clearly shows). Some may argue that Paul should not have used confusing language, but of course he uses this language in the power of the Holy Spirit, and it is for a good reason. Euphemism in sexual contexts is a good and sanctified thing. We can think of it as "language with clothes on". Just as in our corrupted states we now need to wear clothes as a hedge against the shame and salaciousness of nakedness, so when we discuss this sensitive topic we should do so in a very careful way. That is what Paul is doing, and it is a good example for us all. The down-side with any indirect description is that some people will fail to "get it", but that is a hazard that is less severe than the other possibility, namely, that of contributing to an over-fascination with all things related to marital issues (that is a fire that hardly needs any stoking).

In our Lord Jesus, the Husband we His Bride ever strive to please.

Bob L.


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