A "foreword" about the subject matter of this article would likely be helpful just now-for some readers who might already be tempted to worry about where this article is headed…. I strongly support the perfect will of God in regard to one man and one woman in holy matrimony for their entire life. The Bible repeatedly shows such marriages to be what God wants for everyone except those with the gift of celibacy.
For the sake of brevity, the many Scriptures which support loving Judeo-Christian marriage can be compared to the many slices of bread in a good loaf of whole wheat. The heels of that loaf are sometimes thrown away or given to the birds. This article on divorce will show that too often the church has thrown away the heel of the loaf in regard to Scriptures that require divorce. The main loaf is about the preferred (or perfect) will of God. The heel is about his permissive will…but is also part of the will of God. This article focuses on the "heel" of bread. Please taste and test the upcoming morsels. They come from His word, i.e. the living bread. These may be morsels of reconciliation for many who have been formerly unable to accept what can be called God-ordained divorces.
MORSEL #1 is introductory and relates to forsaking. Many of us learned that God will never leave nor forsake us (Deut. 31:6); however, few of us know verse 17 of that same chapter. That's where God said that He would forsake the Israelites. Isaiah 50:1 & Jeremiah 3:8 show God going beyond forsaking…to the act of divorcing His chosen people, an entire nation!
MORSEL #2 (from the "heel" of the loaf) involves individual "slaves" within the Israelite nation. This often overlooked bite comes in the chapter (Exodus 21) immediately after the Ten Commandments. The word "divorce" is not used but a minimum of 10,000 divorces are believed to be required by God in that Scripture.
Verses 2-3 state that the servant/slave who is bought by a master is to go free in the seventh year. Moreover, if he came without a wife, he also leaves without one…despite the fact that he was given a wife while in servitude, and despite the fact that they now have children!
The Lord did give a solution: LOVE! If the servant had learned to love his master and wife and children, and was willing to be a servant for life, then divorce would not occur.
This law was given about 1,500 B.C. Suppose a tiny number like one such "servant" divorce per year per tribe; 12 tribes times 1,500 years equals 18,000 divorces just up until the year 1 A.D. In more rebellious years, hundreds of these divorces may have occurred. Basic math could therefore show up to a million of these "servant" divorces-not God's perfect will but still His will (permissive).
One might well ask, "What does this matter to us today?" First of all, the Jews are still under the Old Testament Jesus even said that He did not do away with one jot or tittle (Matthew 5:18).
Second, we rightfully apply many Old Testament principles to New Testament believers. The slave/servant of today is often a single mother working second shift, or midnight shift, at a convenience store or some similar location. "Free" women and men since Moses' time usually have had a marketable and valuable skill that allows them to decide when, where and for whom to work. The Israelite slave was usually in servitude to learn the value of skillful work (though some had been sold into servitude by debt-ridden parents). How many single mothers today have been "sold into servitude by not being raised with built-in desires to marry a good Christian? How many single fathers are in servitude to domestic relations due to similar lack of good parenting, or to their own rebellion?
MORSEL #3 is related to #2 by LOVE. Proverbs 30:21-23 says that God's creation cannot bear the burden of an unloved woman who is married. Here perhaps is the reason why the good Lord told the Hebrew servant of Exodus 21 that he had to leave his wife and their children, i.e., if he still had not learned to LOVE. A question for us today is, "How long can God's creation not bear up under the burden of this or that unloved woman who is married?" One good qualifier is usually overlooked. Does this particular woman have the highest of all spiritual gifts, that is the gift of martyrdom; or, is she likely to receive it? The church has too often forced literal martyrdom, mental martyrdom, and/or spiritual martyrdom, onto unloved women who are married. May God help us to repent!
MORSEL #4 can be found in the last chapter of Ezra. Again the word "divorce" was not used but was still required by the law of God-despite the tragic consequence of the last verse: some of them had children by their foreign wives. An important warning: the New Testament changed that Old Testament requirement.
MORSEL #5 is given now due to the higher, New Testament ethic in regard to mixed marriages such as those in Ezra (morsel #4). The Scripture in focus is I Corinthians 7, especially verses 12-16. One key phrase here is "willing to live with." This phrase means much more than being under the same roof. It is meant to include sharing the same interests, agreeing on where the money is spent, what kinds of TV programs are allowed, magazine choices, etc. In these cases where a Christian is married to an un-Christian, the Christian should feel encouraged to be personally involved in praying, regular worship, tithing, etc. (In the spiritual sphere of their relation-ship, the Christian is therefore the leader of this home.)
Three more points should be made about these verses. First is the command to "let go" if the unbeliever leaves, i.e., do not oppose a divorce action brought by the unbeliever against the believer. Secondly, the believer must not take advantage of the "let go" command by pushing the non-Christian into leaving. Thirdly, believers may vary in when they think that their
spouse has "left" them, e.g. physically, or socially, or financially, etc. Abandoned Christians need help from others in making these determinations. Much wisdom and charity are needed to determine appropriate levels of "suffering to save a marriage." Leaders should also help prevent the unhealthy "martyr complex."
MORSEL #6 regards one of the "promises" of the Bible. It is almost incredible that the same verses (29 & 30), of Matt. 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18 speak to the issue of a 100-fold wife. We obtain our doctrine of the Trinity by putting together several scriptures. Similarly, with these two verses (29 & 30) in the three synoptic Gospels, we find that if one gives up his wife for the sake of Christ, he is promised a hundred times as much in this present age. What else could this be except a 100-fold wife?
MORSEL #7 is defensive, because it has so often been so very offensive. Good fundamentalist brothers and sisters often use Romans 7:2-3 to "prove the absolute permanency" of marriage. Their problem lies in their nearly sole reliance on the word "bound." They seem unable to focus on the other very important word in that verse: "husband." To the balanced mind, both "bound" and "husband" are equally weighty. Therefore it becomes obvious that a divorced woman no longer has a husband and is not "bound." Bible harmony enters the picture here by comparing the "not bound" phrase of I Corinthians 7:15. To ignore such harmony is to foist an unmerciful interpretation upon the whole Bible despite several other divorce allowances and requirements, (e.g. Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
MORSEL #8 involves entire translations of the Bible in the King James Version…as opposed to most modern translations like the NIV (New International Version). In the May/June 1986 issue of Your Church Magazine, Rev. Walter Callison published an article about the very important difference between "put away" in the King James Version, and "divorce" as found in many modern translations. This (*now retired) Baptist pastor may have been the first to pioneer a solution to the controversy in regard to divorce texts. If Callison is correct, then God does not hate divorce--but He does hate the "putting away" of a wife without conjugal privileges. In Bible times, this wicked practice may have led to many premeditated stonings of so-called wayward wives. *Please NOTE that this morsel has been updated since the original article. Also note that Callison's premise can be found in his book, Divorce, A Gift of God's Love (available at Amazon). It is also worth noting here that Callison had no axe to grind and no divorce in his family. He apparently just wanted to help the Christian community to properly sort through the words and texts in question.
If all these MORSELS are true, one might well ask, "Why have we not been made well aware of them until now?" Some answers to that question include: lack of need among the great majority of Christians whose marriages have held together; the "scandalizing" impact upon those who might use such information for selfish gain; the continuing "Pharisaical spirit" that has plagued the church for centuries; the fear that such "liberating" teachings might adversely affect our children; the wise decision by some leaders that such "freedom" would be misused by many Christians--if not most--and that deep repentance would not occur in those cases where needed.
What then might the great advantage of these MORSELS be now? We seem to be living in perilous times when more folks than ever need the HEEL of the loaf, even as their last resort personally. Yes, many may toast it and even burn it, but strong family churches could show millions how to receive this permissive grace of God and go on to seek His perfect will for the rest of their lives! Why couldn't more churches maintain traditional marriages (for life) AND help divorced persons to seek that same way of life?
As mentioned under the heading Personal, this article is not presented as a hobby-horse. It is included on this website to give readers some insight as to how Deeper Doctrine works. "We" are not against doing all that can be done to preserve marriages. "We" are not into situation ethics. It is just that sometimes an overlooked doctrine, even one as small as that which is proposed in this article, can be of much help to the church. Using specialized doctrine is just like going to a back specialist, a brain surgeon, or an allergy specialist. One hopes never to need these type of doctors--but when they are needed, one hopes to find a good one. It seems to me that we live in a time when this special doctrine is especially needed.