One of the things we learn in the Pauline corpus is that several issues he addressed in them were things that arose in the church at that time. He did not set out to write a handbook of systematic theology, or manuals, instructing his audience on how to deal with issues arising within the church. For example, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul deals with divisions among the church concerning the administration of the Eucharist.
The Lord’s Supper that was meant to be received in an orderly manner was being abused by the wealthy in the Corinthian Church. Paul deals with this situation and then gives a formula that is being used in many churches today. We also see a similar case later in chapter 15, where Paul deals with the issue of resurrection, Some brethren were dubious of the possibility of resurrection, considering that the physical body was considered to be inferior to the spiritual body; and a thing to be discarded. Paul tried to address in this referenced chapter. And I could go on. In the same manner, Paul addresses the problem of divorce and remarriage, which arguably was a problem in the Corinthian church at the time of his writing.
Before we begin, I must emphasize that the Bible prohibits divorce. The Lord speaking through His mouth piece in Malachi 2: 16, declares that He hates divorce. But, even before then, He also declares in Genesis 2: 26-28, how marriage is a one flesh bond that cannot be broken. Both the Hebrew and Greek words used for the bonding of the man with his wife suggest inseparability. The Hebrew word “dabaq” utilized in Genesis 2 (to weld, to cleave), tends to have more force to it than the Greek kollao (to glue, to unite). Jesus in Matthew in 19, is reiterating what He had said in Genesis (if we agree that He was the one doing the creative activity in Genesis as is evidenced by Col. 2:14-16), that divorce can be allowed only on account of fornication porneia (Matthew 19:9).
So what we have on the subject of divorce are words of Jesus, Yahweh, and Paul. To guide us in understanding how this delicate issue can be handled, we must refer to what we have learned in NT survey, NT studies, and biblical hermeneutics (arts and science of biblical interpretation): looking at the historical background, culture, atmosphere, how the literature was understood, and then applying the principles to the present. One thing that stands out is that there are some modifications going on here. Yahweh says He hates divorce, Jesus allows it only on account of fornication, and Paul says it is okay if the unbelieving spouse seeks to divorce his believing spouse.
Is any of them undermining each other? By no means! When Paul was dealing with divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:18-16, he was quite clear that this was a direct command from the Lord (Mark 10:9; Matthew 19), unlike his suggestion and guidance respecting marriage and remarriage of widows earlier (1 Cor. 7: 1-9). Divorce was never intended by God for his people, and also not intended for His people today. From the time that man was created in God’s image there is something about this one flesh bond that reflects God’s image into the cosmos and back in reverence to God. A breaking of this one flesh bond will be dishonoring God, as well as the individual involved. I have witnessed divorce first hand, and I have spoken to numerous people who have. It is a heart wrenching experience.
However, Paul said that if a non Christian partner wanted to separate, the Christian partner should not resist. Paul modifies Jesus’ teachings in (Mark 10: 9), not to divorce; but is not by any means undermining Jesus’ teachings, as Jesus in no way undermines Malachi 2: 16; but has applied them in detail to a new situation that Jesus never faced. It is left for us today to decipher what constitutes fornication. Looking the usage of adultery moichao (adultery) and porneia (fornication) in the gospel by Jesus, it does seem that these words are used interchangeably for unchastity or immorality. The traditional interpretation that adultery is sexual sin between married couple outside of marriage, or a married person with unmarried person; and fornication as sexual sin before marriage is misleading.
This is because Jesus singles out “fornication,” which is a sexual sin against one flesh bond as the only grounds allowable for divorce (Matthew 19:9). I will argue then, that an act does not only have to be sexual to constitute fornication. In line with Dr. Gordon Hugenberger, one of the people that shaped my theological thought, I am arguing that fornication includes willful desertion, as well as adultery. This also includes any act that repudiates the marriage vows. The present day church who live in many different situations that was never contemplated by either Jesus, Malachi, or Paul need wisdom, humility and Holy Spirit’s guidance to apply their teaching afresh in their own time. My answer is yes. It is acceptable for a Christian to divorce.
Obviously, God hates divorce. Jesus told the Pharisees (Matthew 19:3-12) that God’s original plan was for a man and woman to be joined in marriage and made one flesh through the act of sex. No man is to be able to separate that bond. Even if the man and woman do divorce, they are still joined together because their flesh is joined. In the Old Testament, divorce is defined in two ways: 1) to send away and 2) a cutting, as in severing a tie. When Jesus refers to divorce it is defined as to send away, as in being fired or let go. When reading about divorce in the Old Testament, it’s almost as if the man can leave if he’s unhappy with his wife and her performance (Deut. 24:1). Jesus gives no such stipulations, only to say that to remarry the same person after a divorce is to commit adultery.
I hope that you are blessed reading this blog.