God's Law on Marriage and Divorce
'Til DEATH Do Us Part
Until this week I didn’t understand God’s Law regarding marriage and divorce. I always thought that a marriage could end in divorce, if one or both of the spouses committed adultery (violation of the marriage covenant by sleeping with another), based on Mat 5:32. Let me type out the passage here so we can carefully examine what Jesus said:
- "But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife [apoluó = divorce and send away], saving for the cause of fornication [porneia], causeth her to commit adultery [moicheuó]: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery [moicheuó]."
Here, we can see different words are used for fornication and adultery. What is the difference?
Fornication involves the unmarried individual. Adultery involves the married individual. So, how is it a wife can be given a divorce, due to fornication, and why is it not called adultery?
In Deut 24:1 is a term known as 'some uncleanness', ERVAT DAVAR, which literally translated means 'nakedness of a word/command'. When studying all passages regarding 'ervat' or 'erwah', the common denominator is incestual unions, which were unlawful. Back then, the Jews abused this Law, in that they thought they could divorce their wives for any reason. Jesus specifically responded to this matter brought up in Mat 5:31 (as Deut 24:1 is the cross-reference) by setting them straight in Mat 5:32.
We're going to read the Aramaic translation for greater understanding:
- "But I am saying to you that everyone who divorces his wife, apart from the report of fornication, he causes her to commit adultery, and whoever takes her who is divorced is committing adultery."
Under Jewish law, if a betrothed woman committed fornication before the betrothal period and confessed it to her betrothed husband, he could make an official 'report of fornication' and could give her a 'certificate of divorce' (apoluó = divorce and send away). They were then both free to marry another (the bride price for a divorced woman was less than that of a virgin). If she committed the act during the betrothal period and it was not disclosed to her husband, rather discovered upon the wedding night, she would not be given a certificate of divorce, but have the same consequence as an adulteress, punishable by death (Deut 22:20-21). It appears the decision to divorce or stone (making her a public example) was up to the husband, when we consider Joseph's decision in such a case. As noted above, this is not to say a woman cannot get married, if she’s committed fornication and it is known by her husband-to-be prior to the betrothal. If that were so, God would not have asked Hosea to marry a harlot (a fornicator, not an adulteress):
- Hosea 1:2 “When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry [zenunim – fornication] and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the LORD."
Disclosed, prenuptual fornication was not as grave a sin as undisclosed fornication discovered upon the wedding night, but that does not mean fornication is not a grave sin. In fact, Deut 22:28 states that if a man has sex with a virgin, outside of marriage, he is to marry her.
We may have noticed the Greek word for fornication is porneia. I don’t know about you, but this word makes me think of ‘pornography’ (pictures/movies of fornicating individuals). Married or not, those who participate in this harlotry are guilty of sexual immorality. Since Jesus clarified the seventh commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery” in Mat 5:28 as: “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart”, does this mean we have grounds for divorce? NO. Jesus forgave the adulterous woman, and so should we forgive adultery, as long as it is repented of. Understand that anyone who continues to practice fornication (unmarried) or adultery (married), without turning from it completely (repentance) will NOT see the kingdom of God! (1 Cor 6:9)
Let’s observe a couple of passages that show both fornication and adultery in the Bible:
1 Corinthians 5:1-3:
- Vs. 1 "It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.”
- Vs. 3 “…concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
Why is this called ‘fornication’ and not ‘adultery’ or 'incest' (ervat/erwah), since this son was sleeping with his father’s wife? It could be that his father was dead and his father's wife was not his own mother (polygamy was lawful). I do not understand, however, why the fornicating widow was also not cast out. Under the Law, if the father was alive, his wife and son would be guilty of incest (if the woman was the son's mother) or adultery (if the woman was not the son's mother). The NLT calls her his step-mother.
In Jewish culture, a betrothal was deemed a marriage, right up until the ceremony and consummation (sexual union). We see this in Deut 22:23-24:
- “If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city [was not raped], and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.”
Now we can understand Mat 1:19-20
- “And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away [apoluó = divorce and send away] secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” Did you notice the word apoluó is the same one used in Mat 5:31-32?
While Deut 22:13-20 uses the word zânâh (fornication) of undisclosed pre-nuptual fornication, discovered upon the wedding night, the consequence was death, not divorce. It was treated the same as nâ'aph (adultery). However, based on Joseph's decision to divorce Mary in Mat 1:19, it appears the husband could decide to make her a public example (stoning/death) or divorce her.
“But God gave Israel a ‘bill [certificate] of divorcement’”, you might be thinking. Again, Israel is betrothed to God. Hosea 2:19 "I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In lovingkindness and in compassion." While Jer 3:6-11 speak of God’s 'certificate of divorcement' (notice Israel is called both a harlot [fornicator] and adulteress [betrothed fornicator]), vs. 14 states, "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I AM MARRIED TO YOU." He IS the faithful Husband! The Marriage Feast is yet a future event! (Rev 19:9)
What is one of the most notable cases of adultery found in the Bible? That of King David and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. David was not only guilty of stealing Uriah’s wife (2 Sam 12:4), but having Uriah killed as well. Why would David have Uriah killed?
Let’s look at Romans 7:2-3
- “For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.”
1 Cor 7:39 takes it one step further
- “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.”
Now, we understand WHY David put Uriah on the front lines of battle, so he would die. It wasn’t because he didn’t want Uriah to find out, due to Bathsheba’s pregnancy. According to Deut 22:22 and Mat 5:32, if Bathsheba’s spouse still lived and yet David took her to be his wife, both of them would be guilty of adultery, with death as the consequence. We don't see God taking David and Bathsheba's lives, do we? Nor, did God order David to divorce her. At this point, her husband was dead. Surely, God disciplined David severely for his sin, and David repented, in that he NEVER did such a thing again.
This brings us to the notorious account of the woman caught in adultery found in John 8. Just as I didn’t understand why the widow was not cast out with the son in 1 Cor 5, I also do not understand why the man in this adulterous discovery was not present for the stoning. Regardless, Jesus, as the Bridegroom, spared the woman’s life and told her to “Go and sin no more.” While some may feel this is grounds for divorce (after all, if an adulterer(ess) was put to death so their spouse could be free to remarry, shouldn't we consider that one dead?), it appears we are to forgive, should s/he repent. The guilty one has certainly defiled the marriage bed (Heb 13:4), and I see no sin in separating yourself from him/her until full repentance is manifest.
Married to CHRIST
What does this mean for you? Someone said that since we are not under the Law of Moses any longer, why then must we adhere to it (i.e. Deuteronomy)? Let's look at what the Apostle Paul said in Rom 7:7:
- "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "YOU SHALL NOT COVET."
The seventh commandment of the Law of God (the 10 Commandments) clearly states, "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery." How do we know what adultery is, if not for the clarification given in Deuteronomy, thus clarified in Mat 5:32 by Jesus, our Lord? If you are in what God calls an adulterous marriage, believe it or not, you are still married to your covenant spouse! God has not joined you to another and repentance means, DIVORCE and return to your covenant spouse. If your covenant spouse is in an adulterous marriage, you remain unmarried. If your covenant spouse wakes up to the Truth and repents of that adulterous marriage, you may then be reunited under the grace of God.
Should I ever be called to a Covenant Marriage, I am willing. I will make sure that man is not an adulterer. See, if Christians are obedient to God’s word, we won’t prevent the repentance of sin and potential reconciliation of another’s Covenant Marriage!
If you (or your spouse) are committing adultery within your Covenant Marriage, understand that unless it’s repented of, the adulterer will NOT enter the kingdom of heaven. This is not grounds for divorce, however. Separate if you must, but reconcile with each other when repentance manifests (1 Cor 7:10-11). Forgive one another and honor your Covenant Marriage before God. This is how our LORD deals with us. If we commit spiritual adultery within our marriage to Him, He continues to plead with us to repent and is willing to forgive, right up until death. At that time, if we have not repented of our adultery, we shall not attend the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
I pray this teaching will set you free and bless your life.
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