One Man. One Woman.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 19:1-3 (Holman) When Jesus had finished this instruction, He
departed from Galilee and went to the region of Judea across the
Jordan. Large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there.
Some Pharisees approached Him to test Him. They asked, “Is it
lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?”
“Divorce and Remarriage”—few topics strike more terror in a Pastor’s heart. Christians have argued about this hot button issue from the beginning. The controversial, burning question of the Pharisees is still being asked.
A definitive, hard and fast answer to this inquiry is complex and elusive. Anyone who dogmatically claims to have all the answers on this issue is nuts.
My sermons on the topic will be preached humbly. I ask you, hear them all before judging them and me. I need for you to pray for me, that I will speak cautiously on this issue. This may be the most hurtful issue churches talk about.
Ivor Powell said, “Are ministers justified in consigning (divorced) people to unending tragedy, of excommunicating them from the assembly, of refusing to welcome them into what should be the comforting arms of the church? Alas, God is often kinder than the ministers who claim to represent Him.”
We ministers must show compassion, and not compromise the Word of God. Our calling is to explain the Bible, not to explain it away. Divorce and remarriage is one of our most difficult challenges in trying to say truth in love.
These lessons are well timed. Has anyone in the USA not been affected by someone’s divorce? It seems to be pandemic among us. In order to show whether or not this problem truly is proliferating in our culture, I did research to find hard numbers rather than to depend on opinions and anecdotal information.
At the beginning of the 1900s, Scott County Missouri, a rural area where I have roots, averaged one divorce a year per 1600 residents. I thank Nancy in the Scott County Circuit clerk’s office and my cousin Sharla Lair for their help with this statistic. At about the same time, Maine, a rural and urban state, averaged one divorce a year per 1300 residents. Right after the Civil War, urban Chicago averaged one divorce a year per 900 residents. Our Greene County Circuit Clerk Steve Helms helped me research the fact our home county averages one divorce a year for every 164 people. Even if my numbers are quite a bit off, the results are too stark to deny. We have a crisis among us.
The USA began keeping official divorce records in 1867, right after the Civil War. I guess the number of divorces increased dramatically when large numbers of soldiers and their wives were unable to reconstruct their marriages. Divorces per 100,000 USA residents in 1867 was 27, in 1929 165, in 2009 495. The latter is said to be the highest divorce rate in the world.
Our dilemma is like Israel’s in Jesus’ day. Divorce was proliferating. People were arguing; the debate was explosive; opinions were sharply divided.
The Pharisees were not seeking information. This was a loaded question intended to trap Jesus. They figured whatever He said He would offend many.
In Jesus’ day, there were four basic opinions regarding divorce and remarriage. Each is present in our culture also. One, the Essenes of the Qumran sect, famous for the Dead Sea Scrolls, deemed all divorces criminal. Many today mirror this sentiment. Some churches do not let divorced and remarried people teach Sunday School or hold any other position in the church.
Some preachers won’t do weddings for divorced people, no exceptions. Period. I’ve known preachers who wouldn’t even remarry their own divorced children. I heard this week of a Pastor who told his unmarried divorced son, who is living with a woman, he would go to Hell if he married her. Ridiculous.
Two, followers of the teachings of Rabbi Shammai allowed divorce only for fornication, sex sins. This position is common today. If blame can be placed obviously on one spouse, the other is free to remarry, no guilt incurred. This is risky business. It makes us judge and jury, not a good position to be in.
Three, those who followed Rabbi Hillel permitted divorce for any reason, however frivolous. Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, wrote with utter indifference that he divorced his wife, the mother of his three children, because he didn’t like her manners. Hillel’s easy divorce policy became the dominant position in Israel. Depravity always looks for the least resistant paths to sin.
Four, the Herod Antipas crowd had no regard for marriage vows at all. It is no coincidence the Pharisees raised this question in Perea. Herod Antipas ruled here. He had imprisoned John the Baptist because he had preached against Herod’s stealing of his brother’s wife. Over the divorce and remarriage issue, John lost his head. The Pharisees hoped the same would happen to Jesus.
Relatively few in our society are totally flippant about marriage vows, but there are some, like Frank Sinatra (wed 4 times), Judy Garland (wed 5 times), Clark Gable (wed 6 times), Liz Taylor (wed 8 times to 7 different men), Zsa Zsa Gabor (wed 9 times; divorced seven, one annulled). I heard Mickey Rooney (wed 8 times) tell Johnny Carson (wed 4 times) that paying alimony was like putting gas in another’s man’s car—while it’s running. Fortunately, we are still shocked as a society at these outlandish numbers. Though we falter into many divorces, most of us still in our heart of hearts hold marriage in high regard. Even most single adults who cohabit intend to wed someday, especially women.
Matt. 19:4 “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in
the beginning made them male and female,. . .”
Jesus leapfrogged over all four commonly held positions and went straight to the Bible, back to the original plan, beginning at Genesis 1:27.
Learn a good history lesson here. To understand anything, we must know its beginnings. Do your homework. Investigate how the present came to be.
For believers, this means not starting discussions about theological issues with the theories of others. Start with God; work arguments forward therefrom.
People ask, “Are you a Calvinist or an Arminian?” Beware this trap. No one agrees 100% with either. “Are you premillennial or amillennial?” Look out. No two agree totally even within the categories. “Are you a Biblicist?” is the question we need to answer yes to. Go to the Bible as often as you can.
Avoid labels. Christian labels should carry a warning that says this label can be hazardous to your health. When we label others, we nullify and explain away their opinions. Also, when we espouse a position hook, line, and sinker we often begin coming to Scripture to find justification for our beliefs and ideas.
What is the first Bible lesson Jesus wanted us to know about divorce and remarriage? The Bible’s first pertinent message is, God made a male and a female. We all descend from one literal man and one literal woman, whose DNA makes the genders perfect, complementary, for each other. Grandpa used to say, “Marry a girl who has buttons where you have buttonholes.” I’m not sure all he meant, but I think he was saying we can and should suit each other well.
Marriage entails one man with one woman. “Each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2b).
Same gender unions cannot be Biblical marriages. The courts will decide if they are secular unions, but the Bible position is unalterable. One man; one woman. Same gender marriage is a hot button for the Church now, but by far our biggest problem in the marriage debate has historically been the issue of polygamy.
Some forcefully argue for it, saying “David had many wives.” Yes, he also stole a man’s wife and murdered him, but few of us encourage imitating him in this. Polygamy was often practiced, but was never God’s ultimate intent.
For these sermons, as we develop accurate views on marriage, we will seek to always begin at the beginning, in the Scriptures. We will then try to take rules that were laid down in a place where there was no sin, Eden, and try to apply them to our fallen world. Eden no longer exists. Our story is skewed by the invasion of sin. Application is the tough part.