Staff & Sling

Joseph E. Hébert, Ph.D.

98119 N 3745 Rd
Okemah, OK  74859
918 623 3078

D∙I∙V∙O∙R∙C∙E; Episode II

If you haven't done so already, read the first article in this series, D•I•V•O•R•C•E; Episode I, before you read this one. And, as I warned in that article, if you’re divorced I am going to step on your toes. The time, as they say, has come. But, please don’t quit now. Read this article, pray about it, and stick it out through the third article. I really believe you will be glad you did. I promise, I’m not writing all of this to offend you. There really is something for you to learn from God’s Word. Don't forget that "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful," (Proverbs 27: 6). And remember that it was Jesus, not I, who called you friends (John 15: 13 - 15). Now, where were we?

Oh yes! I remember now. You’re absolutely certain that Jesus said you could get divorced if your spouse was unfaithful.

Jesus said that because of the hardness of their hearts, Moses (the law) allowed the Jews to get divorces, but from the beginning it was not so (Mark 10: 2 - 12; Deuteronomy 24: 1). He said that anyone who marries a divorcee commits adultery, and whoever divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery (wait for it), "... saving for the cause of fornication, ..." (Matthew 5: 31, 32).

There it is! The excuse! The mother of all excuses! There’s the reason we can get divorced, and it came straight from Jesus’ mouth! Right?!?! Didn’t it!?!? Isn’t it?! Well, is it?

In a word, no. Not even for infidelity is divorce okay. Not even if your husband does every secretary in the office, or if your wife does every neighbor in the subdivision. Even then, "What, therefore, God has joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mark 10: 9).

"But Jesus said, ...!" He did? What did He say? Jesus said, "... saving for the cause of fornication, ..." (Matthew 5: 32; emphasis added). He did not say "... saving for the cause of adultery, ...." There is a difference between fornication and adultery. I know it has become popular to ignore the distinction, to consider them both as interchangeable, but that is only because of the hardness of our contemporary hearts. Oh, you can find a few modern translations of the Bible wherein this distinction is ignored. I have at least one theological dictionary that blurs the distinction. But that the distinction is ignored in no way mitigates the fact that the distinction exists and was made!

Do not, please, do not make the kinds of mistakes I discussed in a previous article entitled "Mind the Little Things." Especially if you are divorced and/or remarried, do not try and rationalize God’s Word just to assuage your conscience, which is to say God’s convictions. Instead, trust God to deal with you in love and mercy and grace. And, secure in that trust, seek God’s guidance in whatever your circumstance.

I’ve said before, and will again, that obfuscation and confusion are the tools with which deception is wrought. So let’s proceed boldly, seeking understanding and not rationalizing. "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not upon thine own understanding," (Proverbs 3: 5).

Consistently throughout scriptures, the two words ("adultery" and "fornication") are separate words with separate meanings. If you will bear with me as I try to transliterate Hebrew and Greek into an English alphabet, adultery is naaph in Hebrew and moicheia in Greek. Conversely, fornication is zanah in Hebrew and porneia in Greek. In both Hebrew and Greek they are two different words with two different meanings. Fornication is sexual impurity, but it is exclusively premarital, not extramarital. Adultery, on the other hand, specifically means to be unfaithful to the marriage covenant, to what God has joined together.

If you aren’t married yet, it’s fornication. If you are married, or (as Christ said) if you were ever married, it’s adultery. So what was Christ talking about when He said, "... saving for the cause of fornication, ..."? Far from allowing for divorce, He is both emphasizing that there is no cause for divorce and chastising the Pharisees at the same time. Let me explain.

At this point it is helpful that you understand how the institution of marriage was enacted by the Jews. See if any of this sounds familiar.

When a Jewish man took a wife it was a legal arrangement. There was first a period of betrothal, during which the man would go and prepare a home for his new bride (I go to prepare a place for you. If it were not so I would have told you.), usually in his father’s household (In my father’s house are many mansions). Moreover, and this is the important part, during this time of betrothal the man and woman were legally bound, though not yet married. Marriage, in the eyes of both the law and God, is consummated when ..., well..., when it’s consummated. But in Jesus’ day if a man were betrothed, and he found that his bride-to-be wasn’t a virgin (for example if she turned up pregnant, as in the case of Joseph and Mary), legally he still needed a bill of divorcement to break the betrothal contract.

This is why Jesus said "fornication." He was simultaneously making two separate yet equally indicting points. First, it is important to understand that in Jesus’ day the word "uncleanness," from Deuteronomy 24:1, had come to mean not merely sexual impurity, but virtually any offense, even something as trivial as bad cooking. That word from Deuteronomy, "uncleanness," had become the Jewish equivalent of "irreconcilable differences." Thus, by invoking the word "fornication," not the word "uncleanness," Jesus was emphasizing to the Pharisees that they had already taken more liberty than the law allowed.

But more importantly, Jesus did not use the word "adultery." By using the word "fornication" Jesus was emphasizing that until the couple was joined, until the marriage was consummated, there was no marriage in God’s eyes and a bill of divorcement would in no way put asunder what God had joined together. By limiting the scope of allowable divorce to "fornication," Jesus was emphasizing that once two people are joined by God, there is no putting them asunder, ever, for any reason. He was not, I say again He was not, giving anyone a loophole through which to escape the marriage covenant.

On a side note, don’t let it pass without notice that I referred to betrothal as a contract, but marriage as a covenant. The difference is one of condition. In a contract, you are required to fulfill your obligation conditionally upon the performance of the other party. In a covenant you are simply obligated, period, regardless of anything the beneficiary of the covenant may or may not do. In law a covenant generally recognizes that whatever act would have been conditional has already been done. For example, a life insurance policy is a covenant to the beneficiary because the insured has already paid the premium and the company is obligated without condition upon the beneficiary.

So what do these passages, these fornication clauses, mean to us today? Simply put, if you’re engaged and you find that your fiancé isn’t a virgin, feel free to call off the wedding if you choose (although you might do well to consider that whole casting the first stone thing). Of course, you will get laughed at if you go to the court house and ask for a bill of divorcement in such a case.

So let’s you and I just cut directly to the chase. Why do you want to find a loophole out of the covenant of marriage? Do you want a different husband or wife? Perhaps you've met someone new and now you just can’t live without them? Maybe you want to marry a (wo)man who has been divorced? Maybe you assume that it was okay for them to divorce their spouse because (s)he had been unfaithful. Maybe you think it’s okay because, "she wasn’t a Christian when she got married the first time, but then she became a Christian and then her husband wasn’t a Christian and she was and then he decided to leave her and, and so she isn’t bound, and besides he cheated on her and wasn’t a Christian or nothing" (this, believe it or not, is all based on passages from the Pauline epistles that are very popular with people looking for loopholes out of the marriage covenant).

Even if we assume all of that is so, none of it will get you around I Corinthians 7: 11, or around Jesus’ own words when He said, "And if a woman put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery" (Mark 10: 12). "...; and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband, committeth adultery" (Luke 16: 18 b). In both passages, in every passage, Jesus is unambiguous. If you divorce and remarry, for any reason, you are committing, and causing to commit, adultery. Period.

Are your toes sore? Go soak your feet, pray about all of this asking God for guidance, study God’s Word for yourself, and then finish the series with D•I•V•O•R•C•E; Episode III.

Proverbs 27: 6    Faithful [are] the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy [are] deceitful.

John 15: 13 - 15    Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

Mark 10: 2 - 12    And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away [his] wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put [her] away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same [matter]. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

Deuteronomy 24: 1    When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give [it] in her hand, and send her out of his house.

Matthew 5: 31, 32    It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

Proverbs 3: 5    Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

I Corinthians 7: 11    But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to [her] husband: and let not the husband put away [his] wife.

Luke 16: 18    Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from [her] husband committeth adultery.