Stuff Christians Believe That Really Aren’t True (Like Divorce Being a Sin), Part 4

marriageanddivorce1063x597Divorce happens. And it hurts.

But it’s not fatal.  It’s possible to rise out of the dissolution ashes.

Previously, particularly in parts one and three, I established how Christians largely get divorce wrong.  It’s not a sin in itself (that’s a leftover of 13th century Catholic theology). Sin causes a divorce, no doubt. Jesus clearly taught adultery because it does what no other sin can do: break the Divine bonding created when a couple consummated their relationship.

In the first century Greco-Roman culture, as in Israel, divorce was common.  Jesus’ father considered divorcing Mary.  The Samaritan woman was likely a multiple divorcee.  Deuteronomic law speaks of divorce (but never as a sin requiring restitution or reconciliatory offering). And even God himself is divorced.  This is the final confirmation that divorce simply cannot be sinful.  After all, God cannot sin and yet He clearly is divorced from Old Testament Israel and even pursued the dissolution (Jeremiah 3:8).

Although speculative, it’s possible the Apostle Paul was divorced. He was certainly once married, as marriage was a strict Jewish teaching and Pharisees held to the Law to the point of excess.  Paul was a Pharisee and well-credentialed, a disciple of Gamaliel who was a member of the Sanhedrin.  Though disputed, most Bible scholars agree marriage was a requirement for the Sanhedrin and it’s unlikely Paul could advance far in the Pharisee sect unless married.  In fact, Paul’s requirements for elders in the emerging first-century church are remarkably similar to the Pharisees, and marriage was a qualification for an overseer.  After all, if a man cannot lead his family, how could he lead a people?

The Roman Catholic Church suggested Paul was widowed to answer his singleness, but there’s absolutely no evidence (biblical or otherwise) to support that claim. The Catholic system simply couldn’t fathom a significant saint like Paul “living in sin” as a divorced man. After all, abandonment is not sufficient reason for annulment.  Nevertheless, it’s the prominent view and still taught within both Catholic and Protestant theological training schools.

But it’s more likely Paul was divorced than widowed.  First, because a Pharisee would no doubt quickly remarry if widowed (since marriage was a strict value and prized institution).  Second, unlike the other apostles, we have no evidence Paul had a spouse post-conversion (suggesting his wife mysteriously went away when he became a Christian).  And finally, perhaps even ironically, Paul may actually allude to his own divorced state in his letter to the Corinthians.  Jesus taught that adultery freed a spouse.  Paul offers a new reason for divorce to the church in Corinth: abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. Is this possibly Paul’s own story? It’s certainly plausible and it makes sense a Pharisee’s wife would divorce her radically converted Christian husband.  It would also support the evidence that once Paul was married and now is not.

If so, Paul’s divorce did not prohibit his Christian ministry.

In some church circles, the divorced are prohibited from pastoral leadership inciting a  violation of the “husband of one wife” requirement. But this prohibition possibly misses the point. The “spirit” behind this leadership requirement is probably fidelity.  It’s about being a “one woman man.” A divorced person, even if he/she never remarries and commits to celibacy is still a “one woman or man” individual (just like a widow/widower). And if a divorced person does remarry they also remain a “one woman or man” individual. Only the polygamous, homosexual or possibly multi-divorced fails to qualify.  Furthermore, this requirement is limited to a select group (elders or “pastors”) in a local church.  It doesn’t necessarily apply to other leadership roles like apostles (missionaries), prophets (preachers), evangelists and teachers.

The bottom line is divorce isn’t a sin nor is a divorced person in a state of sinfulness. These are manmade dogmas attached to coerce, criticize and condemn. Yes, God hates divorce.  Personally, I hate asparagus but that doesn’t make the green stalk evil.  Divorce is not what God intended. Furthermore, Jesus, Paul and other biblical writers never condemned divorce itself as a sin and they clearly listed all sorts of sins–including fornication (adultery)–in their teachings and writings.

Sin clearly produces divorce and divorce unleashes it’s own multitudes of sin, but divorce (or being in the divorced state) is not sinful.

It’s just one of those human doctrines we got wrong.


About rickchromey

Dr. Rick Chromey is a theologian, philosopher, historian and cultural expert. He has empowered leaders to lead, teachers to teach and parents to parent since 1985.

Posted on October 5, 2015, in Home and Family, Leadership, Marriage and Divorce, Theology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Rick, I am disappointed in this article. You went to far in your effort to make this point. The Bible does not say Paul was divorced and even if he was it doesn’t mean that divorce is not a sin. Paul was not without sin, no one other than Jesus is. The Greek biblical word for sin, “hamartia”, means literally “to miss the mark”, like an archer. Since the Bible tells us that God clearly does not want divorce it therefore in most cases is a sin. Also, marriage is a covenant, or promise and breaking a promise is sin too. Matthew 6 and 19 say that God allowed divorce in certain situations, because of people’s “hardness of heart”.

    • Brenda, I appreciate your kickback and thank you for commenting. Of course the Bible doesn’t say Paul was divorced. All I’m saying is it’s a distinct possibility given the context and circumstances. Paul was definitely previously married (requirement to be a Pharisee and member of Sanhedrin). He’s single when he writes the Corinthians (around AD 50-53). He’s either widowed (for which there’s absolutely NO evidence to substantiate) or divorced. And given his “new” revelation in I Cor 7 that abandonment by an unbelieving spouse frees a person to marry again, it implies the possibility that THIS is “his story.” It seems more likely to me, anyway, but feel free to disagree.

      Regardless, divorce cannot be a sin. EVER. God is divorced (and remarried), divorcing the OT Law for NT Grace. In the OT law there is no punishment (or sacrifice required) for getting or being divorced (like other sins). Yes, a divorce is “missing the mark” of God’s ideal, but that doesn’t make divorce a sin (and even you hinted at that idea in using the words “in most cases”). Is breaking a promise a sin? I don’t think so. Sin might be part of WHY a promise is broken, but breaking a promise isn’t the sin. God hates divorce because divorce is the RESULT of sin (selfishness, sexual immorality, abandonment, addiction, etc.).

      Divorce is a terrible thing and in an ideal world should not happen. But half of American marriages end in divorce (and Christian marriages run the same percentages). The Church is populated by the divorced/remarried. The Catholic Church argues divorce is a continual state of sin (and many Protestants do too). Really? I’m divorced (and now very happily remarried). I wrote these articles to fight through my own theology on the matter. After deeply researching the historical, theological and cultural backgrounds for marriage and divorce, I concluded the Church has largely “missed the mark” on divorce. I stand by what I wrote and if its disappointing, its disappointing. Nevertheless, I’ve received dozens of other letters from individuals (most of whom experienced divorce) thanking me for writing them.

      In the end, God will judge my motives, my heart and my life.

      Thanks again for writing, Brenda, and God bless you in your journey with Christ.

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