Marriage was ordained by God in the beginning. As such, He placed a high value on it. In Genesis 2:21-15 we read the account of the first marriage. God took a part of Adam and created Eve. Adam later said that she was, “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” The Hebrew word for bone is `etsem which can be defined as “substance or self.” Likewise, the Hebrew word for flesh is Basar and carries the meaning “mankind.” What Adam is telling us is that God made them in such a way that they complimented and completed one another. It is almost as if, by becoming married, that they produce with-in themselves a new, shared DNA—that they became “one flesh.”
Obviously, there is no chemical or physiological chain reaction that took place. This should be viewed, rather, as a spiritual transformation. God creates two people that He means for each other, and He intends it to be for a lifetime. This produces a perfect coupling and a stable environment for procreation and for modeling love, compassion and the family dynamic to future generations. Unfortunately; however, we do not live in a perfect world. Many things crept into mankind’s lives because of Adam and Eve’s choices: disease, murder, death, and idolatry. Perhaps; however, the most hurtful and harmful of all is the ability of men and women to rip apart their souls through the plague of divorce.
John Piper correctly sees the marriage between husband and wife as symbolic of the “love-covenant” that Jesus shares with the church. Piper says, “There is a deep and profound significance to the union of husband and wife in ‘one flesh’ as a parable of the relationship between Christ and his church.” Thus divorce, the breaking of that covenant, is as repulsive in God’s eyes as a saved person losing their salvation. Now, while the possibility of someone losing their salvation is zero, (because God is perfect) the chances for a divorce are around thirty-three percent. With nearly one-third of marriages ending in divorce, it is easy to see that this represents a crisis, not only for the nation, but also for the church. The question being asked is about this problem of divorce and the natural consequence, remarriage. What does the Bible say and what should the church do?
The Bible is not silent on divorce. Both Jesus and Paul taught on the subject. Coming from those two teachers, we have a myriad of views on the subject, however. Some Bible scholars believe that divorce is permitted for most any reason. Still others take the hard-line view of no divorce whatsoever. Most fall somewhere in the middle. A typical belief, coming from the New Testament, is that there are a few legitimate reasons why divorce is permissible. These would mostly be infidelity, abandonment, and abuse, with a few other reasons sprinkled in, depending on the person’s doctrine.
In Mathew Nineteen, Jesus taught that divorce was sinful with only one exception, adultery. He reprimanded the Pharisees, a very strict religious group; because they believed the Deuteronomical clause allowing for a bill of divorce was a loophole that God had given to men. Instead Jesus chided them for being sinful, saying, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Mathew 19:8 ESV) God made a provision in Deuteronomy because men were sinful in their treatment of women. The law was for the protection of women, not for the absolution of men.
Paul also entered into the discussion in First Corinthians. Paul speaks plainly, saying that wives should stay with their husbands, and men should not divorce their wives. He does allow an exception in the case of immorality and adds abandonment to the list. Tony Evans also adds abusive relationships at this point, referring to what he calls a spouse that is “covenantally dead.” In essence, Evans looks at the unspiritual spouse as one who is “dead” to the relationship and therefore would fall into the Romans 7 category. By being spiritually dead (lost), that spouse is not living up to their covenant requirements. If they are rebellious and refuse to rectify their spiritual mortality, then they are as good as dead in the eyes of the church. Basically, according to Evans’ view, physical death and spiritual death are both grounds for divorce, as it were. While this is refreshingly Reformed in its theological context, it might be stretching Romans 7 to new elastic lengths.
Virtually all reputable scholars and teachers understand that divorce is bad, but that because we are less than perfect creatures living in a less than perfect world, there are certain exceptions that allow for divorce. The true problems arise with the aftermath of divorce. And the main snare which traps so many in a very heated debate is the issue of remarriage.
The biggest issue facing the church today is this issue of divorce. Divorce rates are staggeringly high, and the church is not immune from the societal impact. George Barna, as previously noted, places the American divorce rate at around thirty-three percent. Unlike many recent cataclysmic reporting of a near fifty percent divorce rate, Barna looks at the number of married Americans that have experienced divorce at least once. Some statisticians erroneously looked at the number of new marriages (2.4 million) contrasted with the number of new divorces (1.2 million) and said half of all marriages fail. They failed to take into account that there were fifty-four million marriages intact leading up to the divorce rate of nearly one million.
Nevertheless, fifty percent or thirty-three percent is obscenely high, either way. The impact to the church has been that many in our church membership have now been negatively impacted. In fact, many in the church’s leadership have been affected. At one time, a divorced deacon would be considered an oxymoron. Yet today, we have many churches with divorced pastors! This has led many members to ask, “What does the Bible say about divorce and especially remarriage?”
Obviously, the answers are as varied as the respondents. John Piper, for instance, gives very little leeway, whilst John MacArthur gives none. Tony Evans has a completely different view than Rick Warren. The answers of Jesus and Paul leave us with theology and doctrine, but good theology and doctrine do not always answer the questions from couples who are hurting or recovering from failed relationships.
According to Dr. Thomas Whiteman there can be a silver lining in the inherit nature of the problem. The more prevalent the problem is, says Whiteman, the more emphasis, research, teaching, etc. is given to finding solutions. Les Parrott III says that the blithe of divorce on our landscape has affected our, “family relationships, economic situation, self-esteem, security, optimism, and worldview.” Therefore, the church has brought more attention and resources to the issue in recent decades. The church has also started to change in their understanding and dealings with divorced individuals.
This then becomes the crux of the issue then, in the author’s understanding. In exactly what role can the divorced person, or divorced and remarried person play in the church? Is leadership strictly reserved for those who have never been divorced? Has the divorced or divorced and remarried person had “Ichabod” stamped across their church membership so that they are ineligible to serve?
As stated earlier, many churches have revisited the issue of First Timothy 3. The interpretation of this passage of Scripture now resembles the make-up of the congregants more than in the past. Previously, churches taught that being the husband of one wife meant no one who had been divorced could serve in leadership; now many now treat the passage as meaning something closer to “a one-woman man.” The newer interpretation indicating that the passage is referring to “one woman at a time.” In addition, some writers, such as KÖstenberger, interpret mias gynaikas andra to mean a “faithful husband.” Therefore, being faithful in the present marriage is the standard to which the Apostle was aiming.
KÖstenberger also makes an excellent point that reading it as “husband of one wife” would also eliminate the man who never married from service. It would also be incongruent to see this one sin as elevated above others. For instance, the prohibition on drinking does not exclude the man who has been drunk one time in his life. The use of the Greco-Roman customs and language in KÖstenberger’s argument also lend credence to his conclusions that divorce and remarriage, in and of itself, is not a limiting factor to service. Rather, it is the consistent character of life that the individual is leading, the faithfulness, and current standing in relation to the Lord.
The most overlooked aspect of this problem for the church is grace. It seems as though Christians are the only creatures that would come across the scene of a car wreck and shoot the survivors. It is when people are at their most vulnerable that grace and compassion should be administered the most lavishly. Believers often lament that members stay away from church when going through a divorce, but the rationale is easily seen. Church is often the only place they will feel judged.
Yet, it is the grace of God that saw those who will do the judging through their own hardships. It is puzzling at best, sinful at its worst. If the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was to pay for the sins of all, and we truly believe that God has placed our sins, “as far as the east is from the west” away from us, then why do we not allow those who have suffered from the painful sin of a failed marriage to place their sins from east to west also?
The church should work with couples before they marry to prepare them for the incredible strains that this world and its enticements place on a marriage. We should be constantly vigilant in keeping them in God’s Word while they work through life’s difficulties. And, when it is too much and they succumb to the temptation and divorce without biblical allowances, we should be the healing balm that God intended for us to be with one another.
_____________. The Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon. Crosswalk, 2011. [online] Accessed August 4, 2011. Available at http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/kjv/etsem.html
Barna, George. New Marriage and Divorce Statistics. [online] Accessed August 6, 2011. Available at http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/15-familykids/42-new-marriage-and-divorce-statistics-released
Evans, Tony. Speaks Out On Divorce and Remarriage. Moody Press, Chicago. 1995.
KÖstenberger, Andreas J. God, Marriage, And Family: Rebuilding The Biblical Foundation. 2nd Ed. Crossway, Wheaton. 2010.
Parrott, Les, III. Once Upon A Family: Building A Healthy Home When Your Family Isn’t A Fairy Tale. Beacon Hill, Kansas City. 1996.
Piper, John. Divorce & Remarriage : A Position Paper. [online] Accessed August 4, 2011. Available at http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/divorce-remarriage-a-position-paper
Whiteman, Thomas. Your Kids and Divorce. Helping Them Grow Beyond The Hurt. Baker Books, Grand Rapids. 2001
 _______. Crosswalk Lexicon. [online]
 Piper. Divorce & Remarriage
 Barna. New Marriage and Divorce Statistics. [online]
 Evans. Speaks Out. 30-38
 Barna. New Marriage and Divorce Statistics. [online]
 Whiteman. Your Kids and Divorce. 18-19
 Parrott. Once Upon A Family. 58
 KÖstenberger, God, Marriage, and Family. 241