Stuff Christians Believe That Aren’t Really True (Like Divorce is a Sin), Part 3 of 4
If love is a many splendored thing, then divorce is certainly a many splintered thing.
To quickly summarize, biblically, God joins a couple when they engage in sexual intercourse (and not when the preacher or judge pronounces marriage). This supernatural “joining” even happens with “one-night stands,” brief flings and sex with a prostitute and that’s the problem. God intended sex to be a sacred experience only to be enjoyed within lifelong heterosexual monogamy. It’s been that way since the beginning of time. Therefore, sexual sin (Greek: porneia) is any violation of God’s Original Design and Desire for how his creation behaves sexually.
With that frame in place, it’s certainly no surprise Jesus taught “sexual immorality” (porneia) produces the only reason for divorce. After all, sexual infidelity (a new “joining”) effectively severs the previous Divine Bond created when a couple first “made love.” Consequently, adultery is more than betrayal of trust. Rather, adultery dissolves the supernatural relational cement (ring or no ring, ceremony or no ceremony). But this spiritual dissolution isn’t a continuing state. It can’t be. Many couples have experienced and survived infidelity. Once forgiveness–both by man and God–covers the offense, a couple can grow beyond any single indiscretion and both reconciliation and restoration is possible. If a couple recommits to their “joining” (beneath forgiveness) then any previous adultery fades as a fresh “joining” emerges. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to remember no sin can’t be “washed, sanctified and justified.” A sin (including adultery) is a momentary mistake but it must be repetitious to invoke “continual sin.” Divorce is certainly a consequence of sin (the most serious being adultery), but it cannot be a sin or even a state of sinfulness in itself.
Furthermore, Jesus taught a divorce, occurring for any other reason than sexual immorality, will also produce adultery when there’s remarriage (though, again, this is a momentary sin and completely forgivable). Because adultery unseals God’s “joining” it releases the other partner. In God’s eyes, if there’s no adultery during a marriage and a couple divorces, the first partner to engage sexually produces adultery (even if its within a new and legal marriage). This is a hard teaching, as Jesus’ own disciples confessed.
Technically this suggests there’s no such thing as premarital sex but rather only marital and non-marital sex. Adultery is also fornication or “porneia.” By definition, non-marital sex or porneia is sexual promiscuity (hence “pornography”). It’s “joining” without commitment, sex for sex sake and selfish in nature. Fornication and adultery are both “non-marital” sexual acts. In contrast, marital sex is purposeful, committed and loving, and possible to engage even without human certification, endorsement or confirmation.
Historically, marriage ceremonies emerged to celebrate this human relationship but in most cultures, including early Jewish, there was no ritual to practice. No priest, rabbi or minister to officiate. No papers to sign. Until Moses, a man simply had to take a woman home to bed to show “marriage” (though usually not without some financial gifting to the woman’s family). The Torah eventually required a man to confirm agreement in front of witnesses but still argued a marriage wasn’t in force until sex occurred.
God’s intent was for a man to honor his word. He expected a man to take his wife and live with her only until death (“making love” was a covenantal act to seal this agreement). But men had different ideas and eventually the legal “divorce” emerged (with the rules favoring the male). By Jesus’ day it was a major issue. A first-century marriage could be “contracted” or “engaged” prior to sexual consummation and was considered a binding legal state of matrimony. Mary and Joseph were “contracted” for marriage and, according to cultural custom, actually lived together (up to a year) without consummating their relationship. This explains why Joseph initially considered divorcing Mary when he learned of her pregnancy. Her pregnancy suggested infidelity. He had every right to divorce her.
We must also remember that for most of history, and in many cultures, that marriages were contracted between families and by parents. Love had little to do with it. Furthermore, few ancients lived beyond 50 years of age. Most died in their 40s and many women passed due to complications from childbirth. Consequently, anyone of age might experience two or more marriages. Divorce was common and employed usefully if the woman couldn’t produce children, particularly a male heir. The idea of divorce for “irreconciliable differences” probably never crossed their minds.
It’s one more reason why divorce cannot be considered a grievous sin. It’s certainly a tragedy. Like death, it’s the end of a relationship, but it’s not a grave or mortal sin. And neither is a divorced person operating from a state of sinfulness.
After all, you’d be surprised to learn who else is divorced in the Bible.
TO BE CONTINUED…