I’d like to respond to some of the arguments against a straightforward interpretation and application of Jesus’ teachings regarding marriage and divorce as presented by David Servant in the chapter of his book which has been posted here.
Servant’s chapter starts on the right note, from Malachi, that God hates divorce, but then endeavors to go on to make the case that while God "hates divorce", He accepts whatever it is we want to do, and we can in reality have as many divorces and remarriages as we want to.
The one who steals should restore, the one who lies should tell the truth, but the one who divorces, well, they can simply continue in the direction they have chosen, or so it seems according to Servant.
He quotes the same passage from Matthew (19:3-6) that we all look at for answers to this question, but would have us to think that somehow Jesus didn’t really mean what He said because He was talking to the Pharisees.
Of course, Jesus wasn’t “just” talking to the Pharisees in Matthew 5, where He gave the same teaching, He was teaching His disciples, and the people in general.
David Servant, to substantiate his view, that we can somehow reinterpret Jesus’ words into pretty much the opposite of what He said, that you can divorce and re-marry, for any cause, and its OK in God’s eyes, Servant points us to the Old Testament, suggesting that we will somehow find Moses and Jesus to contradict each other, requiring us to conclude that “God’s Law changed”, or that we would then have to reinterpret one of them, that One being Jesus.
Servant begins well, with Genesis 2, and the command from Jesus, what God has joined together, man is not to separate.
But then Servant erroneously states, “from Adam until the giving of the Law of Moses to Israel around 1440 BC, the law of the conscience was all the revelation that God gave to anyone, the Israelites included, regarding divorce and remarriage.” I say “erroneously” because, even as Servant has just quoted, mankind had Adam’s words from the first marriage: “and they shall become one flesh.” Now, you may object, this was not “God’s revelation”. I would reply that these were the very words quoted by Jesus to answer this question. Jesus seemed to think they were OK.
Servant seems to think those words were lost to mankind until Moses wrote Genesis, but is that kind of argument from silence, in reality, pure supposition, appropriate to build a case on, especially when that case is designed to negate the plain teaching of Jesus Christ?
But Servant wants to make a case speculating about the consciences of those before the giving of the Law.
Now, even if we were to stipulate that man’s conscience in ages past was OK with divorce and remarriage for any reason, should we actually stipulate that the conscience of fallen man is an infallible guide? Personally, I don’t think so. In fact, the Bible tells us that the heart of man is deceitful, as are man’s lusts. I personally don’t think fallen man is to be trusted.
But even so, we can only speculate what fallen man’s conscience told them. We don’t actually have any idea. God, of course, had to destroy mankind as they had fallen so deeply into sin. Even if we were to grant Servant this particular argument, that people before the giving of the Law were OK with divorce and remarriage for any reason, the argument is, in reality, “whatever man thinks in his heart must be right.” I don’t think that’s a valid argument, especially when we’re talking about Jesus’ clear teaching on the subject being quite the opposite from what Servant promotes.
So then Servant’s argument really boils down to this: Jesus said that to marry after divorce for reasons other than sexual immorality is adultery, but its not really, because people before the giving of the Law probably did it, so it must really be OK.
David Servant’s next argument comes from Leviticus, the prohibition for a priest to marry a prostitute or divorced woman. While this prohibition clearly expresses God’s view, that His priests would be defiled by such a marriage, Servant would rather focus on the argument from silence, “God didn’t tell anyone else that they couldn’t, so it must be OK.”.
Now, we needn’t focus on whether or not its OK to marry a widow – Romans 7 makes very clear that marriage dissolved upon the death of one of the spouses.
Let’s grant Servant his argument from silence, that such marriages were permitted. Servant rightly points out that certain limits were imposed. The divorced woman couldn’t marry a priest. The twice divorced woman could not remarry her first husband.
Servant laid out the ground rules at the beginning of this chapter of his book:
If we find that what God said through Moses and what God said through Jesus are contradictory, we can be sure that either God's law changed or that we've misinterpreted something said by either Moses or Jesus.
Jesus answers this directly:
(6) So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.
(7) They said to Him, Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put her away?
(8) He said to them, In view of your hardheartedness, Moses allowed you to put away your wives. But from the beginning it was not so.
(9) And I say to you, Whoever shall put away his wife, if not for fornication, and shall marry another, that one commits adultery. And the one who marries her who was put away commits adultery.
This argument has been made, and answered, in Scripture, by Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus says, unequivocally, what God has joined together, let not man separate. They argued, basically, “Moses let them do it!” (so why should we listen to You?) Jesus responded that this was so, because of their hard hearts. But that’s not how God made it.
And then He clarified, exactly the same as in the Sermon on the Mount. “But I say to you, anyone who looks . . .” “I say to you, anyone who hates . . .” “I say to you, whoever divorces, other than for sexual immorality, and marries another . . .”
What Servant says “God mercifully offered”, Jesus says Moses “permitted, because of the hardness of their hearts”. Sounds to me like two very different things.
And there seems to be the presupposition in Servant’s argument that “God would never change His Law”. That if we could show that the Law permitted or forbid something, that something would always and forever be permitted or forbid.
But of course we know that’s not true. The dietary Law was changed. Dietary Law was actually changed several times. Adam and Eve ate only plants. Noah ate any animal he chose. Israel ate clean animals only. And Christians eat any animal. Ceremonial law was changed. Jesus expanded adultery to include the heart, murder to include the heart. Giving was changed from mandatory to voluntary. And the priesthood was expanded to every believer, as God’s original intent had been for all Israelites to be priests (Ex. 19:6).
Think about that for a moment. God said that the priest could not marry a divorced woman. God’s intent was that all Israelites would be priests, IF they kept His covenant. So what would you suppose that would have meant? That is, if we are to engage in such suppositions . . .
David Servant, as he summarizes his arguments, that while Jesus forbid divorce and remarriage for any cause, Moses permits it, repeats his paradigm:
So we are either misunderstanding Jesus or Moses, or God changed His law.
He states his own conclusion:
My suspicion is that we might be misinterpreting what Jesus taught, because it would seem strange that God would suddenly declare something to be morally sinful that was morally acceptable for fifteen hundred years under a Law that He gave to Israel.
I have the same difficulty that I had earlier. He takes an argument from silence that marriage and divorce was a “free-for-all”, or nearly so, and says that we should use this argument as sufficient cause to negate the clear, plain teaching of Jesus, without any real regard for Jesus’ acknowledgment that while Moses did in fact permit this, it wasn’t God’s original intent, and Jesus was now clarifying the way that it should be.
One thing Servant does not appear to address is the nature of progressive revelation. We see this in a number of topics in Scripture, that the earliest revelation of something was not always the most complete, but that as the centuries progressed, God gave fuller revelation of Himself, and His will.
God directly addresses the ramifications of this progressive revelation upon man’s culpability in Romans 5:
Romans 5:13 For sin was in the world until Law, but sin is not charged where there is no law;
God does not impute sin against mankind for those things that God has not given law against. So that until Moses, the only law was, “Don’t eat of the tree in the center of the garden." And this was the only law man was accountable for. However, men still died, because men sinned, being born spiritually dead – corrupted.
And so if God had not given specific law yet against divorce and remarriage for any cause, lives were still ruined, and new marriages formed that were not God’s intent for those people.
And once Jesus clarified this matter, why do we question it?
Servant teaches God’s forgiveness for divorce, and I don’t question that. God is a wonderfully forgiving God. But while God may forgive a sin, that doesn’t make that sin right, acceptable, approved, or profitable.
God knows there is no need to add one more negative consequence to the many unavoidable negative consequences of divorce in hopes of motivating people to remain married. Telling people with troubled marriages that they better not divorce because they will not be permitted to ever remarry provides very little motivation for staying married. Even if he believes you, the prospect of a life of singleness compared to a life of continual marital misery sounds like heaven to the miserably-married person.
Is the Bible nothing more than a motivational seminar? Or does God tell us the truth about Himself, us, and His will for our lives? I don’t think Jesus was simply trying to motivate
people when He gave His sermon on the mount, or any of His other teachings.
And the fact is, Servant is making a rather broad generalization. Who is he to say that the knowledge of God’s will, that marriage is “til death do us part”, no redo’s except for sexual immorality (and even then, forgiveness and reconciliation is the far better way), who is he to say that this doesn’t motivate people to try harder to work it out? To learn to love, and sacrifice?
I for one, can tell you with absolute certainty, because I am that man. I held back from the finalizing of my divorce because I understood the strength of God’s will in that regard – and God truly is a miracle worker. So many people never get the chance to see that particular miracle, having been told, its OK, God’s Ok with it, you can just move on, try again, and again, and again . . .
But all of the notwithstanding, Servant’s argument here is, “don’t tell people that if they divorce they can’t remarry, it won’t work anyway.” I suppose we should apply the same logic to the thief? Don’t tell the thief he’ll have to give it back, it won’t stop him from stealing . . .
But for the one who divorces for any cause, and wants to remarry, instead of reconcile to their spouse, or at the least, remain available to reconcile to their spouse, as Scripture teaches, its like telling the thief that they don’t have to give it back. Well, it was wrong for you to do, but no, there are no further consequences, you can just do what you want, keep what you’ve gained . . .
I think we should tell people the way it is, and encourage them to obey God, without trying to reduce Jesus’ clear teaching to our own pragmatic world view.
Servant sets up a false dichotomy between Paul/Moses and Jesus, saying that Paul agrees with Moses. As if Paul disagrees with Jesus. He’s still gunning for Jesus’ teaching, to make us think Jesus didn’t really mean what He said.
Now, in making his case that Paul taught divorce and remarriage for any cause, Servant quotes:
1 Corinthians 7:27-28
(27) Have you been bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Have you been released from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
(28) But if you also marry, you do not sin. And if the virgin marries, she does not sin. But such will have trouble in the flesh. But I am sparing you.
Servant claims that there is “no doubt that Paul was addressing divorced people” here. Does this mean, “divorced for any cause”? Is Servant advocating one rule for men, and the opposite rule for women?
1 Corinthians 7:10-11
(10) But I command the ones being married (not I, but the Lord), that a woman is not to be separated from her husband;
(11) but if indeed she is separated, remain unmarried, or be reconciled to the husband; and a husband not to leave his wife.
This wife is divorced, since she is called “unmarried”. She is to remain unmarried, or to be reconciled – remarried – to her husband. Note, he is still her husband, though she be called “unmarried”.
So what does it mean to be “released” from a wife?
1 Corinthians 7:15
(15) But if the unbelieving one separates, let them be separated; the brother or the sister is not in bondage in such matters; but God has called us in peace.
In verses 10 and 11, and in verse 15, “separated” is used of divorce, not “released” (Greek – Loosed).
(27) Have you been bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Have you been released from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
Paul speaks of the woman bound to her husband in Romans 7. Bound, that is, until the death of her husband, at when time she is set free from the law of marriage. Having just read in the previous verses that the wife who “separates” – divorces – from her husband is told to remain unmarried, is Paul really now telling husbands having divorced from their wives that they are free to remarry if they please?
Or is Paul giving teachings directed at wives, then at husbands, applicable to both, about two different things?
If you do divorce, remain available to reconcile with your spouse.
Only certain things will actually release you from your marriage – your spouse’s death, or infidelity, such as your partner remarrying. Don’t be hoping for these. God wants our hearts towards our spouses. And even if these occur, don’t just get right out there seeking a new spouse. But if you do marry, you have not sinned. That is, you who were actually released
from your marriage bond.
So while Servant claims it to be so, Paul did not in fact authorize “divorce and remarriage for any reason.” And concerning the departure of the unbelieving spouse, the approval to remarry is not in fact clearly stated.
But once again, Servant comes back to Jesus’ teaching, saying we’ve misinterpreted it. Personally, I’d say David Servant has misinterpreted God’s intent for marriage. God wants it to last a lifetime, and severely limits any exceptions to this.
If we include the departure of the unbeliever as acceptable reason, again, in the spirit of progressive revelation, we can cite three possible reasons for an allowable second marriage: the death of a spouse, infidelity, and the departure of an unbeliever, with this third being questionable at best.
I see no reason why God would not likewise want for us to remain ready to reconcile to the unbeliever who becomes reborn, and wishes to return. The “one flesh bond” is just as real between a believer and unbeliever as it is between two believers, or two unbelievers.
Its interesting to me that in Servant’s sections he titles “The Solution”, what he really does is present a number of hypothetical circumstances to demonstrate the impracticality of of actually applying Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce.
As if to say . . . We can’t really do what He said anyway, so He couldn’t have meant it that way, right?
Surely the reason Jesus said they were "committing adultery" rather than simply saying that what they were doing was wrong is because He wanted them to see that divorce for any cause and subsequent remarriage is really no different than adultery, something they claimed to never do.
So then this is the real center of his argument. Jesus said that to divorce and remarry, except for the cause of sexual immorality, was adultery. But He really only meant the Pharisees. He didn’t mean us.
What would happen if we looked at the rest of the Bible that way? “Oh, it only applies to someone else!”
Servant presents a comparison between two men, one whose divorce and remarriage is presented as obviously wrong, and one that seems innocent and good. And he asks, does it seem that the second man sinned? “There is a way that seems right unto man, but the end thereof . . .”
The fact it, you can have a man who covets his neighbor’s car, and one day steals it. You can have a man who has a sick child, in need of medicine, so he steals it. Both have stolen. Both are wrong. Both have to make restitution. Both need God’s forgiveness.
It just might be, when you look at Scriptures, that a divorced person, with the exceptions noted, is not actually free to remarry.
As Servant comes to the Sermon on the Mount, he presents Jesus not as expressing God’s will, rules, and value system, but rather “helping them to see the truth about divorce”. Well, the truth about divorce is that divorce and remarriage outside of the specific exception named is adultery.
What Servant seems to overlook is that while Jesus is giving the true meaning of murder, that even hatred is the same as murder, as He is giving the true meaning of purity, that even looking to lust is adultery, He likewise gives the true meaning of fidelity, that even though you be married, if you divorced for reasons other then sexual immorality, its still adultery.
Servant attempts to ridicule this position by comparing it to “plucking out one’s eye.” Without going into how these two teachings – divorce/remarriage/adultery, and plucking out the eye – are different, I’ll just point to the device.
OK, enough is enough. Servant continues in the same manner, then summarizes, saying, in essence,
Jesus intended to show the Pharisees that when they
divorced and remarried outside of reasons of sexual immorality it was, in reality, adultery. But Jesus didn’t mean that when you
divorce and remarry for reasons outside of sexual immorality it is, in reality, adultery.
Wouldn’t this be a double standard?
Just a closing thought from me. God forgives sin. Sometimes we tangle up our lives so much that the results of our sins remain, and we just have to go on. Think of the doctor who stole to put himself through medical school. Does God want him to stop being a doctor? God certainly wants him to repent, restore if possible, and not steal anymore.
The one who remarries, even though they were not truly released from their spouse, has nonetheless made a new covenant, and God demonstrates through the Gibeonites that even a covenant made against God’s instructions, that is otherwise honorable, is still a covenant, and must be kept.
But unless we are truly submitted to God, we may miss what God really wants to do - the big miracle - and might choose for ourselves something that God does not want for us.
Even if we do, we have a gracious and loving Father, Who will continue to work in our lives. If you are divorced, and God desires that you remarry, you will be released to remarry with a clear conscience, having held true to His Word. At least, that's my belief.