January 28, 2021

Divorce, Remarriage and The Gospel 2: A Map For The Road

mapgroup.jpgDivorce, Remarriage and the Gospel 1

Before we take on this topic, I want to spend some time preparing to use the Bible correctly. It won’t be acceptable to simply pick passages and read one of them authoritatively. This is a complicated question that involves many different Biblical texts and important questions of interpretation. In this post, I will…

1) Discuss the basic presuppositions that apply to this question.
2) Identify the kinds of Biblical material we will encounter.
3) Note the principles of interpretation that apply specifically to the topic of divorce and remarriage.
4) Suggest how these various texts will work together in concluding what should be our beliefs and practice.

It would be appropriate to talk about presuppositions that are at work in approaching the text. My primary presupposition is that the purpose of the Bible is to reveal Jesus Christ as God’s final Word for our salvation. I do not believe that we have properly understood the Bible if we have any other purpose. Obviously, various texts have other purposes that must be considered, but as Christians, we do not have the Bible PRIMARILY as a source of information about ancient customs or the geography of Israel. The Bible presents Jesus Christ as its message, and when I interpret any part of it, my primary goal must be to see, understand, exalt and magnify the Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, I am not primarily interested in what does the Bible teach about divorce and remarriage. I want to know how Jesus Christ can be magnified, clearly seen and his Gospel believed through the Biblical texts on divorce and remarriage. In this case, the most important truth about divorce and remarriage may not be a text about divorce and remarriage, but a text about Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

What kinds of Biblical material will we encounter in this discussion?

A. There are some straightforward passages directly addressing divorce and remarriage.

Throughout the Bible there are passages that directly speak to the matter of divorce and remarriage. Of course, each of these exists in a larger context of a book such as Deuteronomy, Malachi or Matthew. Context, background, culture, word meaning and other factors have to be brought to bear on these direct statements.

In some cases, textual issues may be present. What did the author actually write? Translation issues may come into play. It is important that we not assume that a straightforward statement settles all questions that might be raised. A straightforward statement might be an ideal, or a hypothetical, or a temporary concession or a particular situational context.

It is possible, by putting straightforward statements next to each other without a resolution of ultimate purpose, to make this issue quite confusing. It is a difficult issue, but I do not believe we need to be confused. We should hear what scripture says, and allow Jesus and the Gospel to create the ultimate context for understanding and application.

B. There are some passages that present relevant examples.

Examples are important because they often show us what actually happens as God works with real people. Biblical characters are generally less than ideal. God’s love for persons is revealed in his gracious relationships and commitment to bring persons into right relationship with him by way of the Gospel, and to grow them into examples of his grace.

Human examples are never perfect guides to how God works. All of us won’t have a “burning bush” experience, for instance. But we learn that God is a God who reveals himself and calls us into his mission in history.

Relevant examples need not specifically be about divorce or remarriage. They can show how God deals with similar issues. For that reason, I will be very interested in how Jesus deals with examples of unfaithfulness, promise breaking and restoration in general.

C. There are some passages that present pastoral teaching in specific contexts.

Paul’s letters, especially, provide us with a library of material showing how the apostle dealt with issues of marriage, divorce and remarriage in the Christian communities he founded, developed and oversaw. These situations are both similar to and different from our own. Interpreters frequently make huge leaps from the text to assumptions about their applications today that are unmerited. These letters where not written to us, but we can read them with profit if we understand the pastoral application in their original context.

D. There are passages that are unrelated to the topic, but that still apply to the question of divorce and remarriage.

It is not appropriate to limit relevant texts simply to those that might be returned by a computer search on “divorce” or “remarriage.” Because our larger purpose is to follow and glorify Jesus, many other texts may relate to that purpose and therefore to the question of divorce and remarriage.

How do all of these passages work together? They come together as we ask “What does the Bible tell us about marriage, divorce and remarriage that provides a way for us to apply the Lordship of Christ and the power of the Gospel to each of those issues?”

It is important that we not stop short of this question. It is important that we not act as if a passage on divorce or remarriage answers all the questions that may be raised in a particular pastoral context. It is important we not make the Bible into a rule book or a book of trivia. Our goal is not to have power over others by being right, but to honor Jesus Christ in all things.

To return to Charles in the previous post, what I am seeking for Charles is the magnification of Jesus Christ and the Gospel in his life in and through his response to his divorce and the question of remarriage. With this orientation, we are ready to move on.


  1. ddickens says

    While there is spiritual symbolism in marriage, I believe that such symbolism is instructive not demonstrative. Like the instructive nature of the Law it was made to serve us, not us to serve it.

    I find Piper inconsistant in his final conclusions. With the Bible’s lack of prescription in the case of second marriage, I can only assume that on principle I should stop sinning and get divorced. It’s ludicrous to say, “I promised to steal that car, so I have to go through with it to honor my promise.” There is no honor in keeping a promise to sin.

    So how can one keep such a Law? The Bible makes no explicit remedy for spousal abuse, for criminal activity, for the violation of other portions of the marriage vow, or for the devistating and often dangerous effects of addiction to drugs and alcohol.

    Is it in the character of Christ to grant relief for these things and others unmentioned? I repeat, the Law was made to serve us, not us to serve it.

    At least Piper is largely consistant. Driscoll’s position is full of bizarre exceptions (Yes, I’m making that statement without a long post detailing them all. I suppose if you want me to outline them to backup my statement, I will. But if you read his position, I think you’ll find plenty of examples yourself.)

    No. The Laws concerning marriage are like any other Law. It’s silly to sit around debating how many coats you can take from your house if it catches fire on the Sabbath.

  2. A question I’ve struggled with for a while is “what constitutes marriage?”

    In other words, is one married when they stand in a church (or beach, or city hall, etc) and exchange vows? Or, as some teach (Alistair Begg, for example), does sexual intercourse create a defacto marriage? I’ve recently discovered the teaching that the act of intercourse actually unites two people in marriage. I’ve seen Exodus 22:16, 17 and 1 Corinthians 6:15, 16 used to present this position.

    To be very honest, it’s caused me a lot of worry and anxiety, looking back on my past activities, and those whom it’s hurt. As a young single man, what should my outlook be when considering those past acts of mine, and the individuals who are still in my life, and still hurting from those relationships?

  3. Thats a wrong interpretation. I don’t have time to do a study on marriage in a few short posts.

    Sexual intercourse is a sin outside of marriage. That’s repeated dozens of times. Never are those occasions treated AS marriage. Certainly intercourse is so identified with marriage that it is the physical expression of oneness, but it doesn’t create marriage. The “oneness” with the prostitute is sin, not marriage.

    I think a survey of OT laws involving unlawful sexual intercourse of all kinds would never lead us to conclude those who were intimate were considered married.

    That’s going too far trying to build a fence. The fence is God’s commandment. Period.

  4. Thanks for the quick reply, iMonk. As a person who naturally tends to worry and build theoretical connections about pretty much any word, thought, or deed of mine, this has been heavy on my mind for the past year, to the point that being interested in a girl makes me feel guilty.

    I look back on my past, and those who were hurt by my actions, and who desire that relationship be completed, and wonder what I’m supposed to do. Say “sorry, I know I treated you wrong, but it’s just not something I’m interested in?”

    Sorry for the somewhat personal hijacking of this thread…

  5. ddickens says

    If the “oneness” isn’t sex, can I also assume it isn’t the child that results from it? But I can’t escape the language of the scripture on this… “cleave to his wife and the too become one flesh” sounds like it is sex to me. Perhapse it is “sanctified sex”?

    But now we are sounding like the saved/baptism territory (exactly what moment do you become “married”).

    None of this matters for the matter at hand. Scripture clearly indicates that God sanctifies marriages in some special way and so finds offense when they are violated.

    I find it distasteful to setup a false duality, but I feel one coming on. It seem we either do as Piper does and write down all the verses and use them as a rule book, or we abandon the notion that the scriptures are the final word on this subject and call on the Holy Spirit to lead us.

    We must eat meat, as Paul might say. Take what the scriptures teach us about marriage and try our best to apply it to our lives and ask God to cover our mistakes. Learn from the law so that we do not simply “not murder” but also “not hate our brother”.

  6. ddickens, I appreciate your comment. I hope you’re encouraged by Michael’s work to help people see that the authority of Scripture is much richer than “(writing) down all the verses and (using) them as a rule book” for fear of “(abandoning) the notion that the scriptures are the final word on this subject.” And “(calling) on the Holy Spirit to lead us” is not the antithesis of depending on the authority of Scripture. The Holy Spirit is our guide to the authority of Scripture. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t impart secret, special knowledge. We need each other to translate the truth–scholars and historians and mystics and pastors and faithful laypeople in the body of Christ–understanding doesn’t come from isolated verses and it isn’t always in the “plain” reading of the text.

    Whenever we feel a duality coming on, it’s almost always because we haven’t searched the whole of Scripture for the higher unifying principle–the balancing truth. Scripture is wonderfully coherent and consistent.

    So, I agree, the question might be how do we learn from the law? Jesus fullfilled it to take us from “don’t murder,” to “don’t hate,” to “love one another!”

  7. Danny, to answer the claim that sex==marriage, an idea I used to believe, I point to the statements of Jesus, when He addressed the woman at the well. He told her that she had been married five times but that the man with whom she was now living was not her husband.

    I’m sure Michael will address the fact that Jesus seemed to recognize all five of her marriages as marriages, but more to the point, she was apparently having sex with a man who was not considered her husband as a result.

    To recap: she’d had sex with at least six men, but married five. Therefore, sex != marriage.

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