Can you give me a quick summary of what you have found out?

Someone emailed:
I've just got divorced and I want to know where I stand. Can you give me a quick summary of what you have found out?

Reply: Normally I would say: Come back when you have read the book! I will quickly summarise my main finding, so long as you realise that summaries are sometimes misleading. So I still advise you to read the book.

First of all, I have found that you are in good company, because God is a divorcee, and the Church, the holy bride of Christ, is marrying a divorcee. God's marriage to Israel, whom he had to divorce because of her adultery, was not regarded as just a metaphor by the prophets. They agonised about whether God would be able to remarry after this divorce, and treated it as a difficult legal matter. See my "THree Weddings and a Divorce" and esp. Jer.3.

Secondly, the NT bars polygamists and womanisers from being church leaders, not remarried people. The "man of one wife" can mean either of these things, but it can't really mean someone who has legally remarried. Otherwise it would include those who have remarried after widowhood as well, and Paul recommends this.

Thirdly, the whole idea of divorce as a sin is based on a misunderstanding of scripture. Breaking up the marriage by breaking the marriage vows is a sin, and this leads to divorce. Think of it like a murder of marriage. Murder is the sin, death is the result, and the death certificate (like the divorce certificate) simply records the fact. Malachi records God's anger against those who break their covenant with their bride, by being unfaithful. He doesn't hate the divorcee, but the cause of divorce.

Fourthly (and this is the difficult one) Jesus' teaching is usually misunderstood. He was speaking against the new Hillelite doctrine of divorce for "any matter", based on an interpretation of Dt.24:1 "a matter of indecency". He said that on the basis of this text one cannot get divorced except for a matter of indecency. If one got divorced for "any matter", this was an invalid divorce, so when you remarry you are actually committing adultery, because you are still married to your first partner. This simple message has become confused by abbreviation (esp in Mark), though no first century Jew would have found it confusing. They knew the context well enough.

Lastly 1Cor.7.15 means that anyone who has a valid divorce is free to remarry. Some people think that 'not bound' means 'not bound to the marriage', but he is speaking to people who have been deserted, which was a legal way to divorce someone in the 1st century Graeco-Roman world. Most people think that it only applies to Christians who have been deserted by non-Christians, but Paul has told Christians that they must not use desertion to divorce their partners, so he assumes that the deserter is a non-Christian. It applies just as well to someone divorced by a Christian. Divorce certificates at the time always said: "You are free to marry anyone you wish". Any first century person who read 1Cor.7.15 would understand it to mean that a deserted spouse was free to remarry. It can sometimes sound different to modern ears, but Paul was writing to first century readers.

When we read scripture, we have to listen through their ears in order to hear God's voice. Paul does not state his reasoning, except to say that God has called us to peace, which was a rabbinic phrase meaning 'for the sake of pragmatism'.

Remarriage is permitted for the wronged partner irrespective of the grounds for divorce, because Paul allows it even if they have been divorced by the Roman divorce-by-separation (1 Cor.7.15) which (like modern divorce) does not require any grounds or any consent by the other party.

Well, that's a potted summary. Now read the book, and it will answer all those questions which this summary has brought to your mind. If it doesn't, then get back to me.

For more summaries, includine ones with lots of pictures, see


Mdimi said...
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David IB said...

Mdimi, what is the problem you percieve with it?
David IB

Mdimi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David IB said...

YOu are reading it correctly.
Paul commends men of one-woman (1Tim.3.2 - the word for 'woman' and 'wife' are the same in Greek) and also women of one man (1Tim.5.9 - the word for 'man' and 'husband' are the same in Greek). So what does he mean? Well, he can't mean that no woman should remarry, because Paul advises widows to remarry (1Tim.5.14). So presumably he doesn't mean that men shouldn't remarry.
The possibilities are therefore that he is condemning polygamy or womanising. It is very unlikely to be polygamy because although this was common in Palestine at the time, it was illegal elsewhere in the Roman empire. It is most likely to be womanising.
His phrase 'one-man/husband' is very similar to the common Roman term "univera" ('one-man') which appears on the tombstones of several women who were commended for their faithfulness. It is likely that Paul is translating this Latin commendation into Greek.
The Romans never used the Latin equivalent of 'one-woman' because they didn't expect husbands to be faithful. But Paul teaches his congregations that this is a requirement for Christian leadership. The leaders of churches MUST be faithful to their wives, as an example to the rest of the congregation.

Anonymous said...

I think it might be helpful to add a section about people who divorce not on biblical grounds. This article seems to assume all divorce is OK or at least all divorced people reading this would only have divorced based on biblical grounds (breaking of marriage vows). I think most would believe divorce to be sinful if not based on biblical grounds as it is incredibly destructive. Therefore you might say something to the effect that those unbiblically divorcing ought to repent.

Record your opinion:

In what circumstances do you believe a Christian may divorce their partner? (tick one or more)