by Hadley Robinson
Look at the legalized adultery we call divorce. Men marry one wife after another and are still admitted into good society; and women do likewise. There are thousands of supposedly respectable men in America living with other men’s wives, and thousands of supposedly respectable women living with other women’s husbands. – R. A. Torrey 1856-1928
Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. – Jesus (Luke 16:18)
It is noteworthy that Mr. Torrey's comments are about a century old. What would he have thought if could see the Church today and the mass abandonment of a man's most sacred oath: The one to his wife?
There are other scholarly works that have addressed this difficult topic and, in modern times, they include Divorce and Remarriage: A Position Paper by John Piper; Ethics for a Brave New World by Feinberg & Feinberg; and Jesus and Divorce by Wenham and Heth. These works address the opposing views in great detail and present a rich tapestry to this important discussion. Feinberg & Feinberg wrote this concise introduction to their chapter on marriage and divorce which sums up the various views. It is recommended that the reader review it before continuing in this essay.
In any case, these authors and the writer of this essay are in general agreement that all remarriage after divorce1 is adulterous.
Sadly, most popular Christian authors in recent times maintain the popular view: Jesus allowed or approved divorce and subsequent remarriage. But how many times can a Christian trade spouses? These authors are silent. Most modern pastors and teachers have not spent the time or effort to learn the Biblical languages, address the theological bias in the translations, study Church history, and acquaint themselves with the teaching on this subject. Modernism has overtaken the Church in the U.S. so these are problems we should expect, especially the overwhelming triumph of theological pragmatism: If people like it and it works, it must be Biblical. More importantly, does it make me happy?
But even some of the popular authors are beginning to recognize the tsunami of immorality overtaking the American church. A rebellious, immoral, and idolatrous Church invites the wrath of God, as is so often revealed in the Scriptures.
Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. – Lev. 18:24-25
What are "these ways"? They are listed in the previous verses and include every form of sexual immorality and an ancient form of abortion which is the sacrifice of young children and infants to the god Molech. Our land is defiled. Innocent blood has been poured out into the sinks and drains of our nation and it cries out.
Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. – Num. 35.33
Is there a God in Heaven who sees the evil here and will end it? As with the Assyrians, will the people repent? Will there be mercy? Is God waiting for the sins of the U.S. to reach their full measure before He acts? How much worse can it get? We will all find out, soon enough.
The purpose of this essay is to reestablish these ancient, but now widely disregarded, truths from Scripture:
Since the earliest times, men have sought to justify their adulteries. What is particularly egregious are their schemes to distort the broad teaching of the Word of God in order to justify their evil intent. The evidence of this is widespread and can be found across many centuries, even in the Early Church. Humanism, Arminianism, and Semi-Pelagianism teach that man's happiness and freedom are more important than obedience to God.
This worldview and its proponents have been allowed to greatly influence Christian orthodoxy, even before the period of the Reformation. Few know that Erasmus, a great scholar during the early Reformation period and a Humanist, had broad influence on many doctrines developed during that time through the Greek New Testament that he published which was used by translators of the Bible. It is sad to note that he edited the Greek text to ensure that humanistic doctrines would be with us -- probably until the End of the world.
It is with the greatest regret that I myself, for at least two decades, supported the notion that marriage is not permanent in this life. I read and believed the popular writings, such as those by Tim LaHaye and Gary Thomas. Rather than carefully study the Sacred Text and consider the unanimous statements of the Church Fathers and many others, I chose to believe the multitude of professors in the seminaries I attended and the pastors I knew. My wife, on the other hand, has been steadfast in this matter since the beginning – regardless of what others would teach or say. It is a testament to the indwelling Holy Spirit that she has which would not yield to the wisdom of man.
What changed my mind? Like the Apostle Paul (1 Tim. 3:13), I acted in ignorance. Being forced to look at the Greek texts, the historical teaching of the Church, works by heathen scholars on Greco-Roman culture, and the scholarly book Jesus and Divorce was the beginning of my change of mind regarding divorce and adultery. The spiraling descent of the morals of those in the Church was also a wakeup call to me.
We should not be surprised at the peril that one is in if he publicly expresses any or all of the five points above. Since the Creation, we have invented endless schemes to counter the teaching of the LORD given in the Bible. Translators continue to deliver English text that may be technically accurate in some ways but makes little or no sense in the context of the passage, especially Jesus' teaching on divorce in Matthew 19.
Because of a deliberately altered Greek text (discussed below), the translators of the KJV contributed to the unnecessary confusion surrounding Christ's teaching on marriage. We have, in some important ways, Holy Scripture in English and other languages that is not reliable. It is further complicated by the unpleasant and daunting truth that neither Koine Greek (New Testament) nor Hebrew/Aramaic (Old Testament) have little in common with the Romance languages and English. Greek has grammar, verbs, and nouns which are unknown in other languages. Emphasis in Greek has little equivalent in English grammar, and so on. Simply put, there is no such thing as a literal translation. It is impossible. Hence, translators have a difficult job and plenty of room for theological bias to make its way into the translations.
We need to remind ourselves that translations of the Bible are a product of some committee of sinful men, both Christian and not, including those who may have desperately wanted to abandon a marriage and start over or who have already done so. Or, they may have desired to teach others the same. The writer of this essay had otherwise brilliant seminary professors whose marital lives were sordid.
If the writer of this essay was not married to a godly Christian woman but, instead, to some ambitious shrew with wandering eyes, would his opinions on this matter be different? Who can say? One can only hope for the best and abundant grace from Christ. Unless our God preserves us from moral calamity, we, too, will say with the devil, "Did God really say...?" God chose not to stop either David or Solomon from catastrophe and tragedy.
It is with sadness that most men in the church do not keep their marital oaths and their pastors are all too happy to indulge their perjuries.
Until 100 years ago, divorce was a serious stigma. Decent Christian people had nothing to do with it. Now, divorce is a common event in the lives of those who claim to be
Christian. I was shocked when I once attended a Christian men's meeting where one of the men celebrated his new (re)marriage. I thought I was with a group of heathen men.
Church leadership in the 21st century has abetted this marital holocaust by accommodating the depraved values of the culture in which we live. They have abandoned the doctrine of
marriage given by God in the Scriptures and affirmed by the Church for thousands of years. Just because modern leadership is virtually unanimous in its opinions, it does not follow that
their teaching is also godly. There is no democracy of theology, no majority opinion that decides Biblical truth.
R. C. Sproul once said, "Christian orthodoxy is challenged in every generation." It was challenged when the Church was barely born and it is challenged today -- right where we live.
In particular, the heresy known as antinomianism is gaining as many adherents as the Reich Church did among the Germans of the early 1930's. Humanism's influence on church doctrine has only become stronger since the Reformation period. It shows that we may be plunging into a new Dark Age as the Christian faith becomes more disconnected and isolated from the Bible and the doctrine of personal holiness, "My sins are forgiven in Christ past, present, and future. As a Christian, it no longer matters what I do."
In sum, "let us sin all the more so that grace will abound all the more." There is little concern for what the Bible teaches. What pastor of today struggles to learn for himself what God's Word has to say about marriage and divorce? Most just browse in the bookstores for the latest opinions of others, joining the herd. "How can I grow my church?" they often ask, rather than "How can I be obedient to Christ, come what may?" As this writer does not make his living off the Gospel, it is easy to say such a thing but even so, the most disconnected Christian can still experience men's wrath, as did Jeremiah.
The catastrophe in the German church during the 1930's demonstrated that about 10% of pastors and churches remained faithful to Christ when the chips were down. If you are a church leader, which group are you among? Do you have the courage to oppose a Herod or a Herodias? Would you rather lose your job than give in to evil? It is a tough question with serious consequences.
While we do not yet have the authorities kidnapping faithful Christians and throwing them into concentration camps, we do have an overall bitterly hostile civil leadership that controls nearly all of the important institutions of American culture, education, and government. They are doing everything they can to oppose God and persecute His chosen people. Even R.C. Sproul noted that we live in a nation with "demonized government."
Are only 10% of professing Christians today Spirit-converted people? How does one make such an assessment if the German church during the Nazi era is not typical? Pollster George Barna noted recently that the figures may be grimmer: only about 5% of people who profess to be Christians believe the essentials of the faith, such as the virgin birth. If these figures are considerably in error, the numbers are still but a fraction. This gives rise to the certainty that we are surrounded in the church with people whose names are not written in the Book of Life.
Reading most contemporary American Evangelical Protestant works on marriage is an exercise in monotony. As is typical of an ingrown institution, the authors read each other's works and rarely venture outside the framework in which they find themselves. The Pharisees were also like this. R. A. Torrey perceived the signs of the time but do the pastors of today? What has changed? God's word? Popular opinion?
Celibacy may be the only godly option for those who have had their marriages devastated by adultery. It begs the question: when did Jesus suggest that a Christian might have to endure a lifetime of suffering for His Name's sake? According to the near unanimous opinion of American Evangelicals, the answer is He never did and that following Jesus can be hard. On the other hand, the Lord speaks of taking up serious burdens,
...If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. -- Luke 9:23
(But He also says that His yoke is easy and His burden light so we need not carry such a burden alone.)
Like John the Baptist, we can still lose our heads for opposing sins like adultery. Generally, godly Christians often run afoul of the world for the same reason that Jesus did,
The world ... hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. Jn. 7:7
Is there any prospective marriage these days which would be considered adulterous by the vast majority of church leadership?2
The Baptist was murdered because he called Herod's marriage to Herodias unlawful (Lev. 16:18). It was also adulterous. Neither of these two were repentant of what they had done, as was King David (Ps. 51).
Nonetheless, there are always consequences of sin in both this life and the next. This is why repentance is tantamount to faith. Not only does one do an about-face but he must also do whatever he can to remedy the consequences of his sin. In some instances, it can be costly.
Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, for John had been saying to him: "It is not lawful for you to have her." Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet. Mt. 14:3-5
But how does one repent of adultery? It is the stealing of someone else's wife or husband. How is one to repent of it? It requires godly sorrow, a cessation of the sin, and restitution. But how is restitution made?
Scripture, however, states that restitution for things like adultery and murder are impossible. The thief can return the goods but how does a man "return" another man's wife with whom he has had sexual relations? How does a repentant murderer raise the dead?
But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself. Blows and disgrace are his lot, and his shame will never be wiped away; for jealousy arouses a husband's fury, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge. He will not accept any compensation; he will refuse the bribe, however great it is. -- Prov. 6:32-35
Despite the fury of an offended husband, Scripture teaches that the blood of Christ can cleanse us of the guilt of any sin. However, such grace can only be acquired by the man who repents, the man who has been convicted of his sin by the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, this man, like the murderer, may face civil punishment. The Princeton Seminary theologian, Charles Hodge, noted in the late 1800's that there was not a jury in America that would convict a jealous husband of murdering his wife's lover -- a sad testament to R. A. Torrey's observation of the seismic shift in the culture towards wickedness.
If the thief must cease his stealing, so the adulterer must cease his adulteries. This is what the Church taught for over a thousand years.
In the case of Herod, it meant turning Herodias out. However, John Piper and others have argued that remarried couples took vows, made promises, and the like, and should remain together. This makes sense if the new union produced children where we are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils.
Otherwise, what is the godly deed that should be done? How can God bless us? What is His will in the matter? That is the most important question – and, really, the only question. We know from King David's adulterous and murderous lapse that there is mercy. David should have been put to death for what he did.
To error on the side of mercy is better if there is true repentance. Then there is the command in 1 Cor. 5 which requires excommunication of the unrepentant. These are difficult decisions and we can only pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and help us if we are confronted with such dreadful prospects as confronting an adulterer. Doing nothing is not an option. To please men at the expense of obedience to God is proof we are not acting as we should, we are not servants of Christ.
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. – Gen. 2:24
This writer has yet to come upon any work on Biblical marriage which discusses the nature and permanency of the bond between a man and his woman, the woman he has "taken lordship over", the actual Hebrew phrase that is translated into English as "marry".
"united" – The bond between a man and his wife is stronger than any other except our bond to God. The English word "unite" or "join" lacks the strength and meaning of the Hebrew verb (transliterated here as "DBQ") used in the text. A better rendering which reflects its use throughout the Old Testament would be "to hold fast in undeviating loyalty".
An example that demonstrates the intense meaning of DBQ is in Psalm 63:8 (translated here as "cling").
My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
The psalm is a hymn of David's holding fast to his God. In the same way a man should hold fast – in undeviating loyalty – to his wife (Eph. 5:25).
The most outstanding example in Scripture of DBQ is in Ruth 1:14-17 where it is translated "cling", probably the closest word we have in English.
Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her. "Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her." But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me."
These words are from a Gentile woman whose hope was in God and no other, who believed in her heart that God is and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. She could not see into the future but only trusted Him who rewards His elect with the most gracious gifts. Her use of DBQ is an eternal example of loyal obedience to God and her hope in Him and her certainty of what she could not see.
Would that all men be as Ruth is here to their wives.
"one flesh" – The relationship between the man and the woman is like that of a brother and sister but more so. This is the Biblical meaning of becoming one flesh. It is not a reference to their physical union as the majority of American Evangelicals believe.
If a wife is bonded to her husband more than he is to his own sister, if her bond to him exceeds the man's bond to his father and mother, and – in sum – if his bond to his woman exceeds every other earthly bond, how can it be broken? A man's sister is always his sister, whatever she might do – so is a man's wife always his wife, regardless. Herodias was Phillips wife, not his ex-wife. She was Herod's wife, though unlawfully, but his wife.
There is no such thing as an ex-wife in God's Creation. That this paradigm has crept into the language of the Church is another example of Satan's hold on one of our most sacred institutions.
Examples of the correct meaning of flesh are found in Gen 29:14 and Gen 37:27. Scripture does not support the view that the sexual union of a man and woman makes them married. Sexual union completes the marriage but does not establish it. An example of this is the rape of Dinah in Gen 34:1-4:
Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and violated her. His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, "Get me this girl as my wife."
Why would Shechem want to marry Dinah if she was already his wife? That is, sexual union does not make two people married to each other. With regards to Dinah becoming defiled
(Gen. 34:5), she, a virgin, was not defiled by the rape itself but by the fact that the perpetrator was not a Hebrew (Dt. 7:23; 22:28).
Under the Law, a man who raped an un-betrothed virgin had to marry her, if he paid the bride price and the father approved. The penalty was not death.
Another example of the mistaken meaning of becoming one flesh is seen in Mt. 1:18-19. Joseph is explicitly described as Mary's husband before he had any physical union with her. If there were no marriage between them, Joseph would not have had to put her away (Mt 1:19). 1 Cor. 6:16-17 is often misused to support the notion that physical union establishes the marital union.3
The Hebrew meanings of both becoming one flesh and being united establish a superior strength and permanence of the marriage bond that is only paralleled in Scripture by God's covenant with His people. No other bond in Creation has this quality or durability, including the blood relation between a father and his son.4 It follows that the modern definition of divorce contains inventions.
Notwithstanding popular teaching, any remarriage after divorce is adulterous, just as Jesus taught (Mk. 10:11). But teachers and pastors have done everything they can to make the teaching about divorce in Scripture as confusing as possible to people in the churches so they can flatter sinners and fill the churches.
...the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. – Mal. 2:14 NASB
The man who abandons the bride of his youth has committed treachery against her (KJV, NASB). (Unfortunately, the NIV renders it "break faith".) It is a premeditated, malicious desertion.5 Scripture teaches that the desertion of a wife is treacherous even if she is guilty of sexual misconduct.6 The marriage covenant is broken by nothing except death (Rom. 7:1-3 et al).
Why, then, do the NIV and some other translations weaken the sense of the evil action done here in Malachi (committing treachery) but, on the other hand, keep the correct sense elsewhere, such as in Ps. 73:15? One can only guess. Men who have acted treacherously, including translators, do not want their actions described as such so they go easy on sexual sin. Has there ever been any moral qualifications for the people who work on translation committees?
Who has not acted faithlessly in a weak moment? Has anyone not taken matters into his own hands and, in a word, denied God's sovereignty over His creation? But if one behaves treacherously against his wife, it is different because it is premeditated. It is similar to the difference between manslaughter and murder aforethought.
According to Jesus, the man who puts away his wife commits adultery against her. However, is she has been immoral it is not adultery on his part to put her away but he still cannot remarry. Either way, anyone who marries the put-away-wife commits adultery. If the put-away-wife remarries, how can she return to husband #1 if he repents of his sin of putting her away? She can, and should, forgive him but how can she return to him?
How can a man who has dealt treacherously with the wife of his youth be considered above reproach or fit as a leader or teacher in the Church (1Tim. 3:2)? How can one who has taken the wife of another be a godly example to the flock? The Hebrew for treachery used in Malachi, Psalm 73, and elsewhere is the strongest word for the worst things men do.
I behold the treacherous and loathe them,
Because they do not keep Thy word. – Psalm 119:158
It disqualifies a man from the honor and responsibilities of being a leader in the Church. His reputation, marriage, and family, in particular, are of great importance in evaluating his ability to govern God's people and be an example to them.
Husbands who have experienced the pain of an unfaithful wife may be comforted and strengthened by the Prophet Hosea. God also took a bride who later proved herself a harlot – an adulteress. But this did not result in His breaking His covenant with her, putting her away, and making an entirely new covenant with someone else. God swore that He would never break His covenant with Abraham and his descendants.
Licentiousness dominates our culture and, as we might expect, is found within the body of Christ. We can only grieve at what lies ahead. Even some non-Christians are troubled by the widespread practice of adultery. For example, Lynda Barry created this page (Esquire Magazine August 1983) which asks the right question (the link has a full page copy), "Do you really want to have an affair?"
Israel's adultery had grave consequences.7 But at no time did He say He would forsake her for another, as most do. Would that those men who know better be as the LORD: Faithful to one bride and only one – and each be a "one woman man" (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6). If one has more than one wife, he is not a one-woman man.
The modern definition of divorce is different in some ways than its meaning in ancient times.
Since the Reformation period, the word implies not only the putting away of one's wife but also the dissolution of the marriage itself as if it had never been. In this way, the so-called divorced person gains the alleged right to marry another. This is key to understanding why the heathen put so much importance on the action of the State, unlawful as it is, in making and dissolving the marriage bond.
The Protestant church adopted this definition because it is so handy for the broader purpose of weakening what God has joined together and giving sinners in the congregation justification for evil.
If the modern definition of divorce is true, it makes New Testament teaching on marriage difficult to understand: how could it be adultery against a first wife by marrying a second if the first marriage was such as if it had never taken place? If divorce completely dissolves a marriage, then how is some future adultery possible? How can one sin against someone with whom one has no relationship? How could it have been adulterous for Herod to take the divorced wife of his brother?
The common definition of adultery today is the act of having an extra-marital affair with someone else. However, if that person is divorced or never married, then it is not adultery in the eyes of most. It could be cheating, being immoral, or something but not adultery. Thankfully, Jesus' teachings on marriage ignore the notion of the modern meaning of divorce all together.
Whether some authority or a person's own opinion declares him divorced or not, Jesus teaches that it is always adulterous to take a woman who is/has been married unless her husband is dead (c.f. Rom. 7). This is why a man wishing to be in church leadership must be a one woman man (1 Tim. 3:2).
It does not say he must not be divorced (or separated from his wife in the Biblical definition). This is because a man can be separated from his wife on the grounds, for example, of sexual misconduct but she is still his wife. With the Holy Spirit's help, he can (and must) remain single (1 Cor. 7:11)8. If the wife quits her adultery and returns, the marriage can be restored.
However, if the wife remarries and then changes her mind, what then? Deut. 24:1-4 commands that a divorced woman who remarries may not return to her first husband because she became defiled by marrying the second husband.9 It would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. That is, when she married the second husband, she became an adulteress which is what is detestable. Are Christians to do things that are detestable to God? The antinomian argues that it does not matter – Christ has taken care of it on the Cross. Most antinomians would not argue that we have God's blessing to sin with abandon but, nonetheless, our sin is of no consequence whether we repent of it or not.
How is ceasing from sexual intercourse possible in a culture that worships and glamorizes sex? If most in the churches are not true Christians then forsaking immorality to be obedient to Christ is unlikely to happen. Church leadership over the ages has recognized this problem and it has been a titanic struggle similar to Stephen's predicament in Acts 6. Most have acquiesced to the world's values but not all.10
The modern church has adopted the customs of the world regarding the definition of marriage. In the end, the result is a godless distortion of the truth which renders swaths of Scripture irrelevant or nonsensical.11
Jesus taught that any one who divorces his wife (for whatever reason) and marries another commits adultery against the first wife (Lk. 16:18; Mk. 10:11). Mt. 5:32 teaches that putting one's wife away (but not subsequently remarrying another) causes her to become an adulteress – unless she had committed adultery against her first husband. If she had, he can put her away – but he cannot remarry, in any case.
But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. - Mt. 5:32
Both Jewish and Roman law in the 1st century required the husband to put away an adulterous wife.
In the case of Joseph's dilemma with Mary's alleged sexual misconduct, he had to break his betrothal to her which was tantamount to a divorce of that period.
If they were married and not just betrothed, Paul's command in 1 Cor. 7:10 would allow Joseph to separate from Mary but he would have to remain single. It is a better option to not send the adulterer/adulteress away but this implies that the wayward spouse had repented. Otherwise, how could anyone live with a spouse who was actively engaged in a sexual relationship with another? This is what is implied in this passage. Some choose to remain, despite the sexual misconduct of the spouse.
Mt. 5:32 does not mean that the marriage is now dissolved and that the faithful spouse would now be as if he was never married in the first place.
Mary and Joseph are betrothed to each other and this, as John Piper and others suggest, is the reason Matthew notes the exception given by Jesus in Mt. 19:9.
Would Joseph have then committed adultery against Mary by a divorce and subsequently marrying another? Mark 10:11, among others, affirms this because Mary is still his wife, regardless of what she might do. He can still commit adultery against her. But what does Jesus mean in Mt. 19:9? Would this provide the exception for Joseph to remarry? The modern translation apparently gives the grounds that he could:
I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery. Mt. 19:9 NIV
This is the single nail on which evangelical Protestants hang their doctrines of marriage and divorce. It provides the alleged exception to Jesus' teaching that all divorce
for whatever reason and a subsequent remarriage is always adulterous. It also makes the general teaching on marriage and divorce in Scripture incoherent. Incoherent teaching in Scripture is a windfall for the wicked. But is it so incoherent?
As a result of the Mt. 19:9 mistranslation, who knows what constitutes the grounds for divorce, if any? Is remarriage after divorce allowed?
It is unclear so I will have to make my own decision since who knows what the truth is? God wants me to be happy so I will error on the side of my perceived happiness. – John Adulterer
And the Church goes along.
Is it adulterous for one to put away a wife or a husband even without the prospect of our remarrying?
The answer is given in Mt. 5:32: it is – unless the one put away had been guilty of immorality. But is does not mean that the faithful spouse can remarry, as most assume.
Is there an alternative, even minor, translation of Mt. 19:9 that maintains the unity of God's Word? Instead of "marital unfaithfulness", the correct and clearer translation should be "sexual misconduct". While this passage certainly has adultery in mind, the Greek word for adultery is not used here as it is in Mt. 5:32. Marital unfaithfulness is adultery and there is a Greek word for it. Instead, the more general word for sexual misconduct (porneia) is used instead.
It is unfortunate that the NIV translators of the Sacred Text made an a priori decision here. In their thinking, the passages must refer to Jesus' approving divorce and remarriage under certain circumstances.
"How could Jesus allow the dissolution of a marriage based on mere sexual misconduct?" they may have reasoned.
To translate the Greek word "porneia" as "sexual misconduct" (KJV: fornication; NASB: immorality) would allow Christians, in the minds of the translators, to divorce and remarry for virtually any reason, including a husband giving another woman more attention than he ought (Mt. 5:28).
This may have been an important concern of theirs but it is just a guess. Unfortunately, the adulterers in the Church took this excuse and ran with it. Now, anyone can divorce for any reason whatever.
In this verse we have the obscure Greek phrase "epi me porneia" (translated in English versions as "except for immorality/marital unfaithfulness/misconduct"). However, in order to preserve the theological integrity of the Bible, it could also be translated
...not even for sexual misconduct [can he divorce her].
Translated this way, Jesus' teaching in the passage suddenly makes sense rather than appear disconnected and incoherent. While the former translation may be better standalone, the latter is the only one that makes sense in the local context and with Jesus' other teachings on divorce.
The latter translation corrects the unlikely notion that Jesus would side with the Pharisees – the very ones who were determined to disgrace and kill Him.
But how did the former translation ever become a possibility when every other teaching in the Bible upholds the permanency of marriage, despite what a spouse may do?
The scholarly NIDNTT12 argues that Mt. 5:32 provides the context that requires the former and well known translation of the phrase. But it does not consider the context of Mt. 19 and similar passages in Luke and Mark which, as a whole, contradict the current translation of the phrase.
Were some of the brilliant and competent scholars who participated in the creation of the NIDNTT divorced and remarried? Would they, other things being equal, defer to opinion that did not make them look bad? In other words, how can we ever be free of the fallen human nature every man has? One can only hope that he does not justify his sin but rather be like David when he set to writing his great psalm of repentance.
During more than a decade of research on the history of the church's teaching on marriage, I stumbled upon an important discovery. Some early Reformer, mostly likely Erasmus, added the preposition "ei" before "me epi porneia" in the Greek text that was used at the time to translate the New Testament into their respective native languages.
The addition of "ei" makes the phrase unambiguously "except for sexual misconduct." But what was the motive for making this change?
That the editor and contributing authors of the NIDNTT, the most comprehensive and important theological dictionary of the New Testament ever written, were not aware of or chose to ignore this addition to the Sacred Text during the Reformation period is unsettling.
Had the NIDNTT discussed this addition to the Sacred Text, it might have helped immensely in the discussion of a difficult theological issue in the New Testament.
Pictured here are the title page and the page containing Mt. 19:9 of the 1598 A.D. edition of Theodore Beza's Novum Testamentum. The Greek is on one side of the page and Erasmus' Latin translation of the Greek on the other. Beza's annotations are at the bottom. (I overlaid some notes in English on the image of the page on the right containing the Greek text for those who might desire a relatively simple explanation of the addition.)
(To see more readable copies of each, double click on the images. The reader will need to know how to zoom in on the images in order to see the text. These images and scans of many other ancient documents are available from e-rara.ch.)
The structure is much like today's study Bible but it is in Latin and Greek.
Below are the relevant pages from a modern Greet New Testament used in seminaries and universities around the world. In the second image below there is a red circle around the phrase "me epi porneia". Note that there is no "ei" in front of the phrase nor do the textual notes indicate the presence of this preposition in any other ancient Greek manuscript. This is further evidence that the primary Greek New Testament of the Reformation period had been altered in order to advance a theological doctrine that is otherwise foreign to God's Word: That remarriage after divorce is permissible.
(To see a more readable copy of the Greek text above, double click on the image. The reader will need to know how to zoom in on the image in order to see the text.)
Beza relied on Erasmus' work for his editions which were subsequently used by other translators.
The implications of this discovery for our understanding of Jesus' teaching on marriage are significant. It means that if a man divorces his wife and marries another – even if she had engaged in some sort of sexual misconduct – he still commits adultery. This is what the Church Fathers taught and is in harmony with all orthodox teaching except that of the Protestant era.
Post-Reformation teaching on divorce and adultery hangs on what amounts to an addition to the Greek text.
Recent scholarship confirmed the addition so why have modern translators continued to retain the so-called exception clause that originated with the Reformers? It does not appear to be an accident, either then or now. Humanism has had a major influence on the Reformation.
Erasmus, a brilliant scholar and Humanist, but unlikely a converted man, provided the Greek texts of the New Testament which were used during this period for translations, including the text of the Novum Testamentum used by Beza. Was he the one who changed the Greek text to suit his theological views?
The Latin text in Beza's Novum Testamentum and the Vulgate both read "...except for immorality." Someone changed the Greek text so it would agree with the Latin.
It is not an uncommon practice, especially today, for Bible teachers to fish through endless English translations in order to glean the meanings they desire. It could be described as "reversogesis". Instead of going to the Sacred Text desiring what God has to say to us, it is the opposite: how can I manipulate the text to get it so say what I want? This is a fine and well-practiced art among Evangelicals of this age.
What major, contemporary American evangelist has not misused Holy Scripture?13
On the other hand, the Apostolic Church Fathers were not confused about much of anything, especially what constituted adultery. They properly understood Matthew 5 & 19 and the rest of God's teaching on the nature of the marriage bond – it is inviolable. It is so strong a bond that its strength and permanence can remain, in part, even after the death of a spouse (Dt. 24; Lev. 18:8).
The similar passages in Mark and in Luke have no so-called exception. How could Jesus speak of such an important issue and also leave out critical information? With Mt. 19:9 correctly translated, He did not. In this passage He merely strengthened what He had already taught elsewhere.
Divorce and remarriage has become so common among Christians that any pastor risks losing his job if he confronts it. If marrying the wife of another man was good for C. S. Lewis, it must be acceptable for all Christians. Who could know the truth better than he? These are the sorts of things we are up against in dealing with the effects of the Reformation and the statements of faith of that period, including a legal fiction in the Westminster Confession.
The common post-Reformation interpretation of Mt. 19:9 promotes nonsensical teachings concerning remarriage after divorce. For example, if the typical translation and interpretation of this passage is accurate, it is not adulterous to remarry if wife #1 is adulterous herself. But if wife #1 is not adulterous (she abandoned the marriage and remained single, for example) then remarriage for the abandoned husband would consequently be adulterous for him.
If wife #1 later remarried, that marriage would be adulterous but not if she had initially committed adultery because the first marriage would have been "dissolved."
Evangelical seminaries avoid this topic.
Too many professors, donors, and trustees have abandoned wife #1 for wife #2 and godly faculty are too terrified to discuss it. They know what happened to John the Baptist. Exceptions are rare. The Church of England briefly had a canon (#107 of 1603) stating that separation or annulment is authorized but divorce with permission to remarry is not. This was likely the work of the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, who, along with Queen Elizabeth I, was hostile to the Puritans and other Protestants and more friendly to the Church of Rome, at least in this regard. For all her sins, the Church of Rome is to be commended for staying faithful to the Scriptures in this regard, at least on paper.
Many Christians are confused by the typical evangelical teachings on what constitutes adultery. For this we may attribute it to our dreadful enemy, the Great Satan, and to sinful human nature. Specifically, there is the mixing of Renaissance humanism with the Christian faith done by most Reformers and, especially, leaders of today's churches. It has given us the fertile soil within which the seeds of immorality are maturing in what's left of the Church in the West. The wreckage continues....
The demise of Europe as any sort of Christian beacon in the world might be attributed to this fallout of the Reformation: the widespread perversion of the sacred lifelong covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. In ancient Israel the warnings against immorality and adultery, in particular, are manifest. The consequences for these acts resulted in near total destruction of Israel. For other nations, however, the judgment was utter and complete destruction.
If the typical interpretation of Mt. 19:9 is correct, the eunuch sayings of Jesus in Mt. 19:10-12 make no sense. Why is it such an impossible burden if a man can divorce his wife and marry another if the first wife is adulterous? It is hardly a burden to have to divorce such a wife and then go find another if the Reformers and most Evangelicals are correct. How can it be better never to marry under such a condition? The correct interpretation of this passage brings this dilemma into context.
If all remarriage after divorce is adulterous, then it may indeed be better to never marry in the first place. But for modern Westerners it is, "God forbid! How could I live without sex?"
The Early Church understood this.
Jesus does not abandon the married Christian who now must live celibately to a life of frustration and loneliness. Thankfully, His Elect have been given the ability to live a holy life by the indwelling power of His Holy Spirit (Mt. 19:11). We do not bear our crosses alone; we are not abandoned as orphans; He does not call us to a life of suffering without either compensation or the power to live such a life. Just as the brothers will be equipped with the right words to say in front of their persecutors (Mk. 13:11), so will we be equipped for everything. What task could confront the beloved of the King of kings that he could not complete in the power of the Holy Spirit? How is God's sovereignty overcome by evil flesh?
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. – Jn. 15:5
It is the essence of faith to accept from His Hand whatever comes our way, good or bad.
The Bible and history books are replete with examples of faithful men and women who did not just give up their lands and property, their wives or husbands but their very lives as well – all in view of the eternal Glory which is to come.
Is it not possible that the Christian might be required to forego the married life? For the vast majority of the Evangelical world, the answer is "Never!"
No doubt, if we all were living in ancient Sodom we, too, would find homosexuality a difficult evil to denounce much less refrain from. In today's culture, it is a sexual free-for-all and a repulsive blight in the universe which will be met soon enough with the Creator's wrath.
In addition to the eunuch sayings being nonsense with the typical interpretation of the passage, Jesus also contradicts Himself. He first says one thing (marriage is permanent) and then later reverses Himself (it is not permanent) and, in the end, agrees with a group of the Pharisees known as the Shammaites who held to the notion that divorce and remarriage are permissible only in the case of adultery.
Does the Creator of the heavens and the earth reverse Himself and suddenly agree with those who had one goal in mind: To trap and kill Him? Which side are we on? The Pharisees? Jesus?
Another so-called pillar used to minimize the evil of adultery is the common misunderstanding of the woman supposedly caught in adultery (John 8:3ff). Evangelicals use this vignette as a proof that adultery is a minimal offense: "Go and sin no more...."
First of all, few note that the Pharisees had one goal: to trap Jesus in His words and so be able to bring about the grounds for His trial and execution.
Everywhere, as here, the Pharisees use worldly wisdom to fabricate traps so that whatever Jesus does, He is either wrong, extreme, or, if He says nothing, is disgraced. Simply, this encounter is just another trap.
The woman cannot commit adultery by herself. Where is the man?
Since when would the Sanhedrin defer to Jesus for a judicial decision that is rightfully their own? They hoped He would say either "no" (and then accuse Him of defying the Law) or "yes" (and arouse the masses against Him). In either case, He would be the subject of more serious charges or lose the goodwill of the ordinary Jew.
It is likely that the woman was an actress. Jesus' words to her was "...leave your life of sin." This is an unspecific command that would describe the life of someone who was generally given over to all kinds of sin, not just adultery. Jesus did not command her to return to her husband, for example. The gaping holes in the passage cannot be ignored.
This is to say nothing of the fact that the entire story is missing from early manuscripts of the gospel of John and so, is suspect of not being Scripture in the first place. Who was the inventor of this tale? Why was it done? There are many who believe that remarriage after divorce should be allowed. If Scripture does not teach this, it ought to, they reason.
The marriage bond even survives death in an important way. Such a bond is illustrated in Lev. 18 where sexual unions are prohibited among those who have new horizontal relationships that were created by the marriage union.
No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD. Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her. Do not have sexual relations with your father's wife; that would dishonor your father. Lev. 18:6-8
The sin of the man noted in 1 Cor. 5 was of the nature mentioned above. Having sexual relations with the wife of one's father (not one's mother) would, of course, be adulterous if the father were alive and such a union is not addressed in Lev. 18, as we would expect.
The prohibitions in the verses above are based on the prohibition against incest, not against adultery. How is a son's having relations with his father's widow (but not his mother) a form of incest if there is no blood relationship with her? It would only be so if the father's marriage to the otherwise unrelated woman created a bond that is as strong or stronger than a bond by blood. One's brother is always one's brother, even if he is dead.
One's wife will always be one's wife, even if she is dead.14
Interestingly, the Early Church would not allow the marriage between a man who was a widower and a woman if he had lived with her prior to the death of his first wife. These godly bishops understood that men are incorrigibly evil and there is no end to the schemes they will use to indulge in sin. Can God raise up for us bishops like the men of old? This would be this writer's most earnest desire.
The amusing idea of the virtual death of a spouse is enshrined in the Westminster Confession (24:5). In the case of this otherwise godly confession, the faithful are permitted to engage in a kind of legal fiction.
I can treat my adulterous wife as if she was actually dead (but really is not) and, thanks to Rom. 7, I am now free to marry another.
In this way the authors of the Confession accomplished the goal of legitimizing adulterous remarriage. The English translations of the Bible from that time on have assisted in perpetuating this error, including the Authorized (King James) Version, as noted earlier in this essay.
Evangelicals often misuse Scripture, e.g., Mt. 5:28, to falsely accuse a spouse of adultery. It is common to hear Bible teachers minimize adultery by using this verse to assert that everyone is an adulterer so why all the concern? They fail, once again, to divide the Word properly.
Our God will deal with the sins of the heart. The Church, on the other hand, must reckon with the outward results of the inward sin. Just because one has covetous desires but does not act them out does not mean all men, including him, are therefore thieves and to be judged in the same way by a magistrate or the Church.
The man caught in 1 Cor. 5 was not fantasizing about his father's widow – he was sleeping with her – something lost in the theology of too many Evangelicals. He had to stop sleeping with her and own up to his sin. His sin was not a past event but continues as long as he has sex with his father's widow. This distinction is also lost among Evangelicals.
If the man just owned up but continued to live with his widowed step-mother, we would have what we have today in more and more churches: antinomianism.
What man in a weak moment has not gazed at an attractive woman? By misusing this Scripture, the husband is now an adulterer. According to modern Evangelical interpretations of Mt. 19, including the Westminster Confession, the wife can abandon the marriage and find another (and supposedly better) husband because her husband has committed virtual adultery and is now virtually dead.
Careful and consistent interpretation of Scripture reveals what a falsehood this notion is and is just another scheme some use to flatter and pander to sin in the Church. Many spiritual descendants of the Reformers continue to dig a deeper and deeper pit for all to fall in. The Church continues to shrink in the West and, like the Israelites in Sinai, clamor for a god they can touch and sing songs to.
The current notions concerning both adultery and the grounds and consequences of divorce are based on erroneous interpretations and poor translations of Scripture motivated by a desire to loosen the bonds of marriage.
The roots of this seismic shift in the teachings of the Church go back to the Reformation and, in particular, to Erasmus who mixed his humanistic views with the Christian faith: "Man has a right to happiness." This, in turn, has provided a cover for the widespread immorality overtaking the Church in the west and the ubiquitous "what's-in-it-for-me" gospel and widespread disregard for Biblical truth.
What about the civil authority's role in marriage? As marriage was instituted before the existence of civil society, it cannot, therefore, be a civil institution by nature. Consequently, the magistrate has no authority to dissolve a marriage – even an absolute dictator like Herod. John and Baptist understood this which was why he called Herodias "Philip's wife."
God alone dissolves (partially) a marriage – and that only through the actual death of a spouse. Herod's relationship to Herodias was adulterous. John lost his head as a result of preaching the truth – and so may we.
Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate. Mk. 10:9
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. 1 Cor. 7:10-11
What is ambiguous about these commands?
What is ambiguous is the Church's response to the heathen and their excesses. Where are the so-called exceptions?
For a man to put away his wife is to strike at the core of one of our most important doctrines: Christ's permanent and indissoluble unity and love for His bride, the Church. Such an act is treachery and an insult to the Spirit of Grace which preserves the Church.
Just as the LORD often endured an adulterous bride (and still does), so can we. An example of how the parallel is so close and striking is the LORD's taking of Ezekiel's wife. He illustrated for adulterous Israel the intense pain they were causing Him – her husband (Ez. 14:15).
While there is no sin which cannot be forgiven, there are always consequences that are permanent. Having more than one wife in one's lifetime disqualifies a man from leadership in the Church. A Church leader must be a one-woman man as 1Tim 3 demands.
Furthermore, another fabrication of the Evangelicals is the notion that the Apostle Paul was prescribing against polygyny in 1 Tim. 3.
have established without reservation that the Greco-Roman culture of Paul's time did not permit polygyny or polyandry. Why would the Apostle proscribe something that was unlawful?
As everywhere, what did exist was what we know today as serial polygamy: people living with multiple husbands or wives but one at a time. This is why Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, states that a leader in the Church must be a one-woman-man. He has no wife #1 and #2 or more.
Not only adulterers are excluded from Church leadership but also widowers who have remarried. How are they a good example, especially to their children? What happens when the photos of mom come down and the photos of the current honey go up? "Why don't you love mom/dad anymore?"
If one has trouble with the cravings of the flesh, consult with a surgeon.
If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. -- Mt. 18:8-9
A man who is divorced and then remarries is a polygynist even though he may fancy that his previous marriage is dissolved. If he is repentant, he still can fully enjoy the fellowship and communion of God's people – but cannot teach nor lead because he cannot be trusted, among other reasons, as the Scriptures affirm.
A man who violates his solemn vows is not an example to anyone and certainly not above reproach – except among other men who have done the same.
The Early Church Fathers understood this and, accordingly, required those who were victims of unfaithful wives to remain celibate in the hope that the adulterous wife might, someday, return and be restored. Such a celibate man could still serve in Church leadership. This is only just. How can any man ultimately control the heart of another, especially an adulterous wife?
Our nation is in a spiritual and cultural death-spiral and most of the church just follows along. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants have suffered terribly at the hands of the unrepentant immoral. The former have had to endure an ecclesiastical structure which tolerates sexual attacks on children by priests. The latter have had to endure leadership which, similarly, looks the other way at another kind of serious sexual sin – like adultery.
But what Evangelical leader is stricken by the horror of the widespread adultery in our midst or has denounced the legal fiction in the Westminster Confession?15
Vice is a monster of such frightful mien, as to be hated needs but to be seen. But seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, and then embrace. – Alexander Pope
Many have embraced adultery – including homosexuality, abortion, and fornication.
May all Christians heed the commands of Scripture – and avail themselves of that Divine Power within to do so. We have invited God's judgment by refusing to be obedient with regards to the holiness and permanency of the marriage union. Israel was all but destroyed for holding God's commands in this regard in contempt. Are we Gentiles, who have been grafted in, exempt from obedience? Can we experience a great lenience?
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. – Heb 13:4
...Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness. – 2Tim 2:19