Question:

I emailed you before regarding marriage and divorce and remarriage. I must admit I emailed hastily before reading your entire view on this. After reading more, I agree with most of what you said on this highly debated topic of the Bible. As a new Christian and one that is going through a very severe trial with my marriage, I did some research on this. I came to most of the conclusions that you did. Remarriage after divorce is adultery. You, however, seem sure that adultery is a reason to divorce and that the innocent party can remarry after this.

This belief would be in my best interest as my husband has left me after 17 years of marriage and is now living with another woman. We are not divorced and not legally separated, he just walked away because he met someone else, stating that we grew apart. It was true that we grew apart, and I am not blameless in this as I was not being the wife I could have been in one particular intimate area of our marriage. I, on the other hand, am standing in the gap for my marriage and praying for restoration, believing God can and will restore my marriage and bring my husband out of adultery and back home, saving my husband's soul and our marriage at the same time. You see, I still love my husband. I want my marriage to be saved. I forgive him (although, I must admit it's very hard at times). I have a much harder time forgiving the other woman involved as she knows he's married, but it obviously doesn't bother her. Am I blaming her more? NO! I just have no emotional attachment to her, which makes the forgiving much harder, plus the fact that I view her as a thief also. My husband has never in our 17 year marriage had a history of infidelity. What he's doing seems completely out of character for him. He was about to turn 50 and I think some of it has to do with mid-life crisis because he's doing things that are not normal for him. I know this man well. We have been together a total of 22 years. When we married we were equally yoked in our beliefs. We both were what I now call "Christian by name". We believed in God and that Jesus died for our sins, but we didn't go to church or read the Bible, or practice Christianity in any way. We just thought being good people would get us to heaven. We had no relationship with God though. When my husband left I became a born again Christian and was baptized. It has almost been one year ago that he left. He still helps with some bills and has not forced divorce on me. He knows I still love him and want to reconcile, but he just is not interested at this time.

What I'm not so sure of is the exception clause about "fornication" that Jesus stated. There is much debate about this going on. I feel the word "fornication" may have been expanded to include adultery to justify divorce on these grounds. The debate seems to center around whether fornication as stated by Jesus included adultery and other sexually immoral acts committed by the offending spouse. I have to think, if Jesus meant adultery he would have said adultery.

The argument of divorce happening during the Jewish betrothal period seems to have more validity because of the custom at the time was if a man found his betrothed not to have been a virgin, he could then write her a certificate of divorce because she had fornicated (sex before marriage). This is confirmed in the story of Mary and Joseph. Joseph was going to secretly "put her away" (divorce her) because she was with child (fornication, Joseph thought) even though the actual marriage had not taken place yet.

So I'm not sure that either party, once married, is completely free and clear to divorce and remarry, no matter what the reason of separation is in the eyes of God. God lets us choose our mates and expects it to be for life. Our society's haphazard ways of choosing a mate with the thought of divorce in mind if it doesn't work out, or is merely thought of as a ritual one should do, is not God's intention for marriage. We have simply just done it that way. But God honors that covenant because we said the vows to them with God as a witness and that's who we are to be bound to for life. I'm not sure remarriage is an option at all. I'm not sure there really is an exception clause.


Answer:

We were studying last night about the scribes and Pharisees, how they taught God's law in such a way that it made it harder for people to follow than what God actually stated. "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matthew 23:4). The point we should take from this that it just as wrong to make rules more restrictive than what God has taught as it is to allow actions that God has forbidden.

Yes, Joseph planned to divorce Mary secretly because he thought she had committed fornication. In the Jewish view, a betrothal contract was as binding as the marriage vows. However, this doesn't prove the meaning of porneia (the word for "fornication") in the Greek.

In classical Greek, porneia was used to refer to prostitution. As the word evolved, it denoted unchastity or illicit sexual relations of any kind in later writings. [Source: The Complete Biblical Library: Greek-English Dictionary].

In the Septuagint, porneia was used metaphorically to describe Israel's unfaithfulness to her husband, the Lord. In Jehu's charge, "What peace, as long as the harlotries of your mother Jezebel and her witchcraft are so many?" (II Kings 9:22), the word "harlotries" was translated as porneia in the Greek Septuagint. In Ezekiel, God speaks of "marrying" Israel, ""Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine," says the Lord GOD" (Ezekiel 16:8). But Israel became unfaithful and committed harlotries (porneia in the Greek) (Ezekiel 16:15, 22). In Hosea, the prophet was told to marry a prostitute. "When the LORD began to speak by Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea: "Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD"" (Hosea 1:2). Once again "harlotry" in this verse is porneia in the Septuagint; thus, the sexual acts she commit before marriage were porneia. But later she continued to be unfaithful to her husband and God used this to represent His relationship with Israel. "Bring charges against your mother, bring charges; for she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband! Let her put away her harlotries from her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts" (Hosea 2:2). Once again, "harlotries" is porneia and is made equivalent to "adulteries" in this verse.

In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, it notes that in "Later Judaism shows us how the use of porneia, etc. gradually broadened as compared with the original usage. In the first instance porneia is mostly "harlotry," "extra-marital intercourse," ... often with adultery, ... Materially, however, it often means "adultery," ..."

In the New Testament, we can make this general observation: When porneia is use independently, it refers to all immoral sexual acts. When it is used in a list with moicheia (the Greek word for "adultery"), it takes on a narrower definition of immoral sexual acts before marriage and moicheia refers to immoral sexual acts after marriage.

Walter Baurer's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature defines porneia as "unlawful sexual intercourse, prostitution, unchasity, fornication ... the sexual unfaithfulness of a married woman." He further notes that in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 "The specific word for adultery does not appear in the exceptive phrase simply because a general expression occurs in Deuteronomy [24:1]."

The fact that fornication includes adultery when it is used independently is not the desire of people wishing to broaden the definition so they can have more excuses for remarriage after divorce. It is simply an acknowledgement of how the word is used in that time. As A. T. Robertson stated in Word Pictures in the New Testament, after examining many competing objections to the exception phrase in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, "it is plain that Matthew represents Jesus in both places as allowing divorce for fornication as a general term (porneia) which is technically adultery (moicheia from moicha˘ or moicheu˘)."

The fact that Jesus permitted an exception that allows remarriage after divorce in the case of sexual immorality does not translate into a loose view of marriage. The disciples saw Jesus' statement as being severely strict. "His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry"" (Matthew 19:10). Divorce is hated because sin is being committed by one or both parties.

"And this is the second thing you do: You cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, "For what reason?" Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. "For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one's garment with violence," says the LORD of hosts. "Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously."" (Malachi 2:13-16).

There is a reason that Jesus used a broader term than adultery for the exception. It would include incest, bestiality, homosexuality, and other sexual sins, as well as adultery. All these sins break the terms of the marriage covenant.

I hope this answer your question, but there is one other point that you brought out that I would like to address. You speak of forgiving your husband while he continues to live in adultery. We are to forgive "one another, just as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). Consider that while God desires to forgive us, He demands that we first repent of our sins (Ezekiel 18:30-32). By forgiving your husband of his sins while he remains in his sin, you are telling him that you accept his sin. He has no reason to change. And you give the appearance of approving sin (Romans 1:32). I'm certain that is not your intention, but the whole concept of forgiveness has been warped by people that, like divorce, we forget what its purpose is about.

I am in no way condoning or accepting the sin my husband is in. And for you to suggest such is utter nonsense. What do you recommend I do? Harden my heart towards my husband and run as fast as possible to divorce court? Is this what Jesus would have me do? Since when is adultery the unforgivable sin, and where in Scripture does it require or demand divorce for it? We are separated, I have done as scripture says and "let him leave." But Scripture doesn't say I am required to divorce him. I suppose if your children were in unrepentant sin such as drugs or alcohol abuse or living with another outside of marriage, or are having an adulterous relationship with someone else when they're married, or unsaved in their beliefs, according to your standards we should not forgive them and disown them until they are repentant? I highly doubt many, if any Christians would do this. But when it comes to spouses, it's different? Why? They are as much a family member as our children are, and our first priority should be to petition God to help them out of sin. God is patient and forgiving and wishes all to be saved. And I am doing no less or more than that. God will judge and discipline my husband for his sins, as He does for all of us. In the meantime, I'm waiting patiently for God to work, instead of rushing out to be yet another divorce statistic with a broken family.

Any sin from which a person repents is to be forgiven. "Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3). This is as Jesus taught and it is as Jesus would do. Yet, you seem to want to reverse the steps. You want to offer forgiveness first and then ask for repentance. Yes, God desires to forgive, but that is why Peter says, God is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). In order to forgive, God knows that repentance must come first.

While you find it hard to believe, people do withdraw from family members when they are caught up in sin and refuse to return. I know a few cases personally. Again, it is what God requires of us. "But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner--not even to eat with such a person" (I Corinthians 5:11).

There is no demand for divorce or separation, quite the opposite actually. God wants married couples to remain married. But what I mentioned at the end of my prior letter is not divorce but about the claim that you are forgiving a man who is committing adultery against you while he remains an adulterer. You should be willing to forgive when he leaves his sin, but forgiveness is not offered while he remains in sin. Perhaps you are equating "not forgiven" with "divorce," but I don't make such a connection.