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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage(3) Two Kinds of Marriages, Two Kinds of Divorces

As the scriptures were challenging and expanding my thinking relative to marriage, they also radically challenged my former ideas concerning divorce! Prior to this study, the only scripture that would have come to my mind relative to divorce was Malachi 2:16 which says, “For the Lord God of Israel saith that He hateth putting away.” On this basis I believed and taught that “God hates divorce!” But, I was to learn that this was the last statement of many in the OT relative to divorce and that it was in the context of descriptions of “treacherous dealings” against one’s brother, against the Lord, Himself, (v.11) and against the wife of one’s youth (vs.14,15,16) The entire context of this statement is the background of disobedience to God. Prior to this time, I had absolutely no idea that, in specific cases, divorcing a wife could actually be an act of obedience to God!

So you can imagine my surprise, while reading through the Book of Genesis, when I discovered that the first divorce in the Bible was actually commanded by God, Himself!!! And the man who put away his wife in that first instance was Abraham, the only man in the Bible who was called “the Friend of God”! (James 2:23) The sad story begins in Gen.16:3 when Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to be his wife. That marriage which was contrived apart from any direction from God was ended by Abraham’s obedience to the command of God in Genesis 21:9-14. The word that is used of Abraham’s “sending away” of Hagar is the same word that is used in Malachi 2:16 of the “putting away” which God hates!

But, as I continued reading, I was to find that there were a number of instances in both the Old and New Covenant scriptures where God commanded men to divorce their wives!
(1) Abraham was commanded by God to divorce Hagar.
(2) In Deuteronomy 24 we find instructions of God given through Moses to any man in certain circumstances to put away the woman whom he had married. (more on this key passage later.)
(3) In Ezra’s day, 113 named Israelite men, who in disobedience had married foreign wives, (Contrary to the explicit command of God in Deut.7:1-6) obeyed the command of God through Ezra the scribe and put away those wives and even the children which they had by them! (Ezra 9 and 10)
(4) During the ministry of John the baptizer, John reproved Herod (who had married his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias) in these words, “It is not lawful for thee to have her.” Matthew 14:4 Notice that John did not say, “It was unlawful for thee to take her, but since you can’t unscramble scrambled eggs, just carry on!” Rather, John applied the law of Leviticus 18:16 to a Gentile king and declared that he was violating the law of the God of heaven by retaining as his wife the woman whom John declared was still his brother Philip’s wife! John was the prophet of God who laid down his life for his convictions on divorce and remarriage!
(5) In I Corinthians 5 we learn that a man in the Corinthian ekklesia had actually married his father’s wife
(a violation of Lev.18:8) and the ekklesia was in such a fleshly state that they actually gloried in the fact of this perverted relationship! So Paul firmly called upon them to put that man away from among them in order to bring him to repentance and restoration. Then in II Corinthians 2:1-11, we learn that this man was brought to repentance, did put away his father’s wife and was restored to the enjoyment of fellowship with God and with the other saints at Corinth!

These scriptural examples, instructions and commands regarding divorce completely “upset the entire applecart” of my former thoughts relative to divorce!!! But imagine my consternation when I also discovered that great blessings were promised to men who, for scriptural reasons, for the sake of the name of Christ and for the sake of the Gospel would forsake wives and also children! Such promises are found clearly stated in Matthew 19:29,30 and Mark 10:29,30. These are two chapters where the Lord Jesus dealt specifically with the matters of marriage and divorce! I used to think that the forsaking of wives and children in these passages had to do with temporary absences from home while men went out preaching the Gospel or teaching. But such an idea is clearly refuted by I Cor.7:3-5! Scripture never justifies any husband to be apart from his wife or from normal marital relations for preaching or teaching! The only reason for which such is justified is when it is done by mutual consent for prayer and fasting!

I saw that every instance in scripture where divorce was commanded by God, the marriages which such divorces terminated were marriages of disobedience which were contrary to the plan of God at their very beginning. The remedy for disobedience to God and His Word is always obedience to the same.

So I realized for the first time in my life that there were two kinds of marriages:
(1) there are marriages which God joins and
(2) there are marriages which He judges.

This also helped me to realize that there are two kinds of divorces:
(1) Divorces which put asunder what God has joined are forbidden, condemned and hated by God.
(2) Divorces which put asunder what God has judged are commanded, commended and blessed by God.

So in the process of my study, I had to face the fact that centuries before God said he hated divorce (the disobedient kind) He was actually the one who instituted divorce as the righteous remedy for marriages which were marked by disobedience and defilement from their very inception! (To be continued…) BTW, remember that if you have questions, objections, or suggestions of any kind (even direct challenges to what I have noted in these posts) your comments are welcome (below) or in private emails to me at


Brian said...

Hi Bruce,
There are two subjects or topics which are seen to be synonymous by this culture and by any Christian I know. The two are "marriage" and " exchanging of vows". Where is the scriptural basis for wedding vows? Does Jesus not say ". . . simply let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything beyond this comes from the evil one"
So we have explicit direction from the Lord on what not to do, but what would covenant marriage look like? In God's covenant with his people he made many promises that he would fulfill as his part in the deal, but he did not require promises from his people, he just required faithfulness to him. In other words, don't tell me you are going to do the right thing, just do the right thing.
A second question regarding marriage and divorce is: " Where do we find a sciptural admonition to get a marriage license and "hire" a qualified marrige practitioner to perform the wedding, or officiate at the empty promises we make to each other. Then, where is the scriptural basis for going to the courts to divorce. The only reason to file legal papers to terminate a marriage is to ofset the legal papers that were filed with the courts to initiate the "contract"
Should we as believers be looking for a scriptural way to do marriage, which does not register it with the state and which does not include at its core the exchanging of vows? I invite your thoughts.


Bruce Woodford said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks so much for your excellent observations and questions re marriage, vows, and licenses!

As far as I can tell there is no scriptural basis whatsoever for "marriage vows" under the Old Covenant or the New!

Nor is the use of a "marriage license" or government licensed "marriage officer" required by scripture or even by civil law!!! (At least here in Canada.) As far as scripture is concerned, no priest, pastor, religious ceremony or church gathering is ever associated with a marriage! Scriptural marriages were family affairs, not religious, ecclesiastical or civic ones! Acquiring and using a marriage license purchased from the state brings the parties into a three-way contract (husband, wife and state) so that the fruit of the marriage (children) are actually property of the state! I have an excellent article by a pastor in the U.S. who gives 5 reasons why Christians should not get marriage licenses. (I can send you a copy of this article if you want it. Just email me at A license is always a "permission to do something which would otherwise be illegal"!! But when marriage was instituted by God and not government, what right does government have to "permit" folks to marry????

Some of our own children have married without licenses.

Yes, I believge that Christians who want to follow scripture should be looking for godly ways to marry that do not follow the patterns of the religious and political world around us!

Would welcome your further thoughts, Brian, and those of others who read these articles!