Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"I Hate Divorce," Says The Lord

Malachi 2:16 teaches, rather plainly, ""I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel... "So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.""

I noted in a post I made before anyone knew I blogged that the so-called "Pauline Privilege" taken from 1 Cor 7:15 evidences the liberal tendencies of America's democratic churches. I did not directly address there Matthew 19:9, "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery. (NIV)"

I find convincing the argument that in Christ's supposed exception to His no-divorce rule, he was actually speaking of breaking off the betrothal contract.

The verb for "divorce" in Matthew 19:9 is the same as that used when Joseph intended to put Mary away quietly, apoluo. We know they were not married, but betrothed. By way of distinction, 1 Cor 7:27 ("Are you married? Do not seek a divorce."), which is the extension of our "Pauline Privilege" passage, uses the different verb lusis for "divorce".

Apoluo, according to Strong's, means "to free fully, i.e. (literally) relieve, release, dismiss..., or (figuratively) let die, pardon or (specially) divorce." When can we have such a release or dismissal? Christ says in the case of porneia, which simply means harlotry or fornication. The NIV uses "marital unfaithfulness" as its translation of porneia, but this is only sensible if one presupposes that apoluo is referring to our notion of divorce -- breaking the already-consummated marriage covenant. The verse more literally says something like 'whosoever shall release his woman, except in the case of fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery'.

It seems manifestly reasonable to think that this exception was for the marriage contract (the betrothal), when a man discovers that his bride is not actually a virgin. The betrothal period was to allow a man to work and save for a dowry payment. The worth of a woman, the cost of the dowry, plummeted if she were not a virgin. Would a man be held to his contracted dowry price for what turned out to be a lesser bride? By analogy, if you sign a contract to buy a house on a one-acre lot, and before closing day discover that the plot is actually only a fifth of an acre, you are not a contract-breaker for refusing to purchase the property. If the woman were not what was betrothed (i.e., a virgin), then the man did not break the contract by refusing to consummate the marriage.

In terms of God's relationship with his people, this is more than sensible, but flows from our experience. Paul tells us that a Christian marriage is a type of Christ and the Church. Christ is betrothed to his bride, the Church, and (eschatologically) we eagerly await the great wedding feast and the consummation of this marriage. She is properly called bride even before consummation, but we need not fear that God will simply call off the wedding! For, God hates divorce.


Jim said...

Yeah, I also think that's most likely what Jesus was talking about. A couple of added suggestions:

[1] Consider the attention that Moses provides to this particular case, and the express permission for divorce in this situation (Dt 22.13-21, 24.1.

[2] Consensual intercourse between a man and a betrothed woman (and they are not betrothed to one another) is treated as adultery (Dt 22.22-24).

[3] The reason for permitting divorce in this situation is not the "mere" immorality of having sex before marriage. There are, after all, many types of immorality, yet they do not permit divorce.

Rather, you are united to the one with whom you have intercourse (1 Co 6.16). Intercourse seems to give rise to a de facto marriage (Dt 22.28-29, Ex 22.16-17). So the woman cannot be united with the second man, because she is united to the first man.

Thos said...


Very thoughtful comments, thank you. Your citations are excellent, and the sort of homework perhaps I should have done. This is a classic case where I have the biblical notion kicking around in my head, but don't take the time to pin it down and make sure I'm spot on.

I worry about getting too teachy about the Bible like I did in this post. I hope it's generally accepted that posts about the bible by a layman on a blog are just a layman's opinion.

The thorough and carefully played out law in Deut. 22:13-21 is four-square on point, thanks! I think the "evidence" that the woman's father had (the bloodied sheet, as
I understand it?) strengthens this contractual/covenantal notion of the betrothal. It's like, 'we had a solemn deal, my daughter was pure so met our end, and you're claiming she wasn't there and you're entitled to the betrothal-divorce (broken covenant) exception.'

Deut. 22:23 is also SPOT ON. The virgin betrothed to another than breaks the betrothal was to be STONED. It was as bad a fornication as there could be.

I agree that "porneia" was a unique sin - not any old immorality would allow for the breaking of the betrothal.

I wrestle with how far to take the notion of 1 Cor. 6:16. You probably have the right view, I just need to think more about it. Pressed fully, the de facto marriage view would seem to preclude any couple not virgins at their wedding time for ever getting married. That's a tall claim to make. The Catholics and Orthodox certainly don't hold to this, as they distinguish the civil marriage notion from the sacramental. My church permits divorce fairly freely (PCA - for emotional abandonment, actual infidelity, etc.). If I'm with you, then we have few supporters. Supporting your view is the meaning of entering a covenant - the parties would "cut" a covenant, always requiring the shedding of blood. I understand the end of virginity to be this cutting, which fits with my view that marriage is a covenant. But I don't know how to make that jive with what happens in a wedding - is it the vows taken there or what happens that night in the hotel room that makes the marriage real? Maybe in our culture we're really just 'betrothed' in biblical terms from the wedding vows until the consummation...

Can anyone address how the Catholic or Orthodox would respond to 1 Cor. 6:16? How would I not have been de facto married to a woman with whom I had intercourse before I met my wife (for the record, didn't happen, so feel free to use me as an example).


More Christ Like said...

Leslie McFall has an interesting way to deal with the so-called exception clause in Matthew 19:9 that appears to allow for divorce and remarriage for marriage unfaithfulness.
He has written a 43 page paper that reviews the changes in the Greek made by Erasmus that effect the way Matthew 19:9 has been translated. I reviewed McFall's paper at Except For Fornication Clause of Matthew 19:9. I would love to hear some feedback on this position.

Thos said...


Thanks for sharing. You may have to forgive my skepticism, but how is it that the biblical scholars compiling the NIV and ESV translations performed a textual criticism that failed to catch what you (or the author you reviewed) were able to catch? They certainly didn't limit themselves to post-Erasmus manuscripts.

At the end of the day, you and I are in agreement that the Bible proscribes divorce. What do you make of the so-called Pauline privilege in 1 Cor 7:10-15? This is used in my church for a more expansive permission than even Jesus is claimed to have granted in Mat 19. Under the Pauline privilege, I know of "emotional abandonment" being a grounds for Christian divorce.

Bob on your post said, "There is no reason to seek divorce instead of separation unless one of the parties whats to remarry." He misunderstands (historical) family law with this statement. Divorce allowed a man out of his marital duties of support and cohabitation with his wife. Even in this country until into the 20th cent., divorce, where it was available, only meant a release from marital(legal) obligations, but was not a pure divorce that would allow remarriage. That would still have been considered polygamy, a crime.

Peace in Christ,

Anonymous said...


As a 25 year old, seeking the Lord's will in the way of marriage very soon, thank you for this post. May the Lord continue to unveil the Church's eyes so that she may know His truth.