The Grounds of Divorce.... FornicationMal 2:13-16 (KJV)
13) And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth [it] with good will at your hand. 14) Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet [is] she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. 15) And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. 16) For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for [one] covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.
As one of the most important institutions that the Lord established, marriage is a very important subject that Christians need to understand and honor. In this series we will be looking at:
- What we need to know about marriage to understand divorce.
- The definition, allowance and purpose of divorce and allowance of remarriage.
- The Biblical grounds for divorce (fornication).
- The Biblical grounds for divorce (loss of favour).
- The Biblical grounds for divorce (departure).
- A Summary Of Our Study and Closing Thoughts
In the following two passages we find that Christ, Himself, is giving us teaching on Scriptural grounds for divorce….
27) Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28) But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
29) And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast [it] from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not [that] thy whole body should be cast into hell.
30) And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast [it] from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not [that] thy whole body should be cast into hell.
31) It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
32) But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
3) The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
4) And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made [them] at the beginning made them male and female,
5) And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
6) Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
7) They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
8) He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
9) And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except [it be] for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
Let’s continue our study by looking at what is meant by Christ’s phrase “fornication” to understand the Biblical teachings on marriage, divorce and remarriage.
Matt 5:27-32; Matt 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18
First of all, lets take a few moments to study how the term “fornication” is used throughout the Bible…
The term that is translated “fornication” in both the Matthew texts is the Greek word “porneia”. This word is used throughout the NT Scriptures.
The definition of “porneia”
fornication – indulging in or controlled by unclean passions, desires, lusts
(Note: Our word pornography comes from the Greek words “porneia” and “grapho”. This term means writings that indulge in or are controlled by unclean desires, passions or lusts)
The use of “porneia” thoughout the NT:
1. Submission to unclean sexual desires through sinful unions
John 8:41 – relations outside of marriage
1 Cor 5:1 – incest
1 Cor 6:15-18, Mat 21:31-32, Luke 15:30, – prostitution
1 Cor 7:2 – adultery (relations involving a married person transferring affections to someone other than spouse.)
2. Submission to other unclean bodily desires resulting partaking of things forbidden and addictions
1 Cor 6:13 – bodily partaking of forbidden things (habit forming things)
1 Thess 4:3-5 – concupiscence – burning with longings (any lusts of flesh)
3. Submission to unclean religious desires by worshipping false Gods
Rev 2:20-22 – Temple prostitution
Rev 2:14, 20, Rev 17: 1 Cor 10:8 & Num 25:1-9 – idolatry
4. Submission to unclean desires for power/wealth by making sinful political unions
Rev 18:3-9, 14:8; 17: – sinful union (submission) between Mystery Babylon and nations & unabated sinful desires/actions (idolatry)
Based on the above, according to Christ, fornication is a legitimate grounds for divorce. Fornication is the fulfilling sinful desires resulting in unclean actions. In every case, as shown above, these are all acts of selfishness and in many cases, the forsaking of Godly responsibilities for selfish gain/pleasure.
In the context of our study this would include:
1. Unclean sexual unions
2. Also, following selfish, unclean desires resulting in the forsaking of the responsibilities …in this case, it would be responsibilities of the marriage covenant.
Please note Christ did not use the term “adultery” (Grk-moichos) - this refers to an unclean sexual affection/desire for a person other than a spouse. If He had this would limit our study to a sexual union only.
However, He said “fornication” which is a much broader term describing submission to many types of unclean desires, as we have seen. Based upon this it is not correct to limit the meaning of fornication to a sexual desire only.
Next, let’s look specifically at the verses where Christ speaks of “fornication” as grounds for divorce. In these teachings, Christ describes a specific form of fornication (adultery) to stand for all types of fornication. When adultery is committed, the adulterer is fulfilling sinful desires by performing by having unclean relations with another. In other words, adultery is ONE WAY that fornication can be committed. (See above for complete list of types of fornication that can be committed).
The first teaching on divorce by Christ took place as a part of the Sermon on the Mount…
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
When a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already transferred his affections from his wife to this other woman. He has not acted out on that transferal, but it has taken place in his heart.
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
To emphasize the seriousness of this subject (the breaking of the marital covenant by transferring affections from a spouse to another person) the Lord uses two principles:
1. It is better to lose an eye or a hand than to commit this sin.
2. This sin is said to be punishable by an eternity in hell. In other words, this is a sin that is so great it characterizes the lifestyle of the lost. When a professing Christian commits this sin it immediately brings their very salvation into question.
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
Here the Lord is referring to the customs of the OT Jews who had liberalized the grounds of divorce to make it allowable on any grounds. Basically the Lord is saying, “It’s being taught that, whoever wants to divorce their wife, as long as they give her proof of her divorce, God allows it to be done.”
In this example, the man lusting after the woman (vs38) would have been allowed a divorce based upon simply wanting to “get rid of her”, even though she had done nothing to deserve the rejection. The Lord is refuting that teaching….
But I say unto you,
The Lord now corrects the common teaching of the day to bring it back to the Scriptural teaching that existed from the days of Moses.
That whosoever shall put away his wife,
If the adulterous husband who is lusting after another woman (vs 38) divorces his wife
saving for the cause of fornication,
Divorce is not acceptable in the Lord’s sight unless the sin of fornication is committed. It is only when a person forsakes the responsibilities of the marital covenant by submitting to his fleshly passions that a divorce is allowed.
The Lord is reminding us that the divorce we are speaking of is not lawful, due to the fact it is based on this man’s lust for another woman (vs 38). The husband, being the guilty party, is in the wrong for divorcing her.
causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
The man who is illicitly divorcing his wife is also causing the woman (vs 38) he is lusting after to be a partner in his adultery. This rule would apply whether a man or a woman is divorcing their spouse. Their gender does not make a difference.
This teaching of Christ on divorce took place in direct response to the questioning of the Pharisees…
The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
The Pharisees are asking Christ about the very same issue that He had previously addressed in the Sermon on the Mount. A common teaching of the day was for divorce to be allowed for basically any reason that could be named. They were asking Christ if this was the proper interpretation of the OT law concerning divorce.
And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Christ then reminds them of the intimate union of the marital covenant and also the intent of God that the union be permanent. Keep in mind in our previous study, although the Lord desires for the covenant to be permanent, man due to sin can sunder the covenant. See lesson #1 on “Marriage”.
They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
The Pharisees argument continues…. If the Lord desires for the marital covenant to be permanent why did Moses allow for divorce in the OT? They were referring to Moses allowance of divorce in Deut 24:. We will be looking at this allowance in detail in the next section of our study “Grounds For Divorce: Loss Of Favour”
Please note in Christ’s response He will not deny that Moses allowed for divorce, nor does He claim to change Moses’ teachings. He simply explains the motive behind the allowance and then CLARIFIES it…
He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
Christ now explains that the reason behind the allowance for divorce was the hardness of man’s heart toward their spouse. This would lead to spousal abuse and mistreatment (and sometimes death). So for the sake of the abused spouse, the Lord allows divorce.
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
When a divorce takes place, motivated by a desire to marry another, that divorce is linked to an act of adultery (the affections of the husband is transferred from the wife to the other woman). The same holds true when the genders are reversed and it is a woman who commits adultery and is unlawfully divorced that marries another man.
(It is important to note that the phrase “which is put away” is the Greek word “apoluo”. This refers to the woman who was in a condition of being loosed or free. She is currently “loosed” from her marital obligations. The phrase does not imply that she was the victim of the unjust divorce. See the parallel passage in Mark 10 that makes the meaning of this section very clear.)
Finally, let’s look at the other teachings of Christ concerning divorce…
This is the same account as we have read about in Matt 19: in response to the Pharisees questioning…
And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.
Here, the Pharisees ask Christ about the existence of a lawful divorce. They did this not wanting to know the truth but to attempt to trip Him up, cause a mistake and find fault with Him.
And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you?
Christ then refers them back to the OT teachings of Moses found in Deut 24:. This will be covered in the next section of our study. By Christ referring them back to Moses, this legitimizes what Moses taught. Surely if Moses was in error, the Lord would not have asked the Pharisees to recall it and rehearse it.
And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.
They acknowledged that Moses taught on the subject, but they implied He allowed divorce for any reason.
And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.
The Lord tells them that the reason for the allowance was because of the hardness of men’s hearts. This would lead to spousal abuse and mistreatment; therefore, to avoid abuse and suffering by those who were the innocent party, the divorce would be allowed.
But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.
The Lord again emphasizes the importance of marriage, the one flesh nature of the relationship, and His desire for marriage to be a permanent relationship.
What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Along with the declaration that God desires for the marital covenant to be permanent, He acknowledges that men can sunder this relationship.
And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery
Here, the Lord is approached by the disciples following His teachings to the Pharisees. He continues to clarify His teaching by explaining that when a man forsakes the marital covenant, following his sinful desires to marry another woman, adultery is committed by Him. The same principle holds true when a wife forsakes the covenant to marry another man, she commits adultery against her original husband.
This is the same account as we have read about in Matt 19:, and Mark 10: in response to the Pharisees questioning…
Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from [her] husband committeth adultery.
This is almost a word for word repeat of what Christ had said in Matt 19:9 (with the exception of the “fornication clause”.) Once again the teaching remains the same. For the husband or the wife, if they chose to unlawfully divorce their spouse, in an attempt to marry another, they are guilty of adultery. Gender makes no difference.
It is important to remember that since the last three texts (Matt 19, Mark 10, Luke 16) are accounts of the same event, we must study all three together to come to a full understanding of what Christ taught during His lesson. If we are consistent with our study we will find that Mark 10:11-12 helps to clarify what the Lord was teaching in Matt 19:9 and Luke 16:18.
What we have seen so far can be summarized as follows:
In lesson #1:
1. Marriage is a covenant relationship
2. The parties of the covenant are the husband and wife
3. God is the witness to the making of the covenant, He is not a party in the covenant
4. God as witness will hold each party accountable to keep the promise they made to each other.
5. Marriage is described as a “cleaving” and a “one-flesh” relationship
6. Both of these descriptions imply a closeness, unity and intimacy between the couple
7. The marriage union SHOULD NOT BE broken by man but CAN BE broken by man.
8. Man’s responsibility in a marriage union can be summarized as “to love” and “to nourish” and “to cherish” the wife
9. Woman’s responsibility in a marriage union can be summarized as “to be a help meet” and “to be a companion” to the husband.
In lesson #2:
1. Divorce is the act of destroying, or removing the marital covenant resulting in the covenant being rendered void and going out of existence. The parties of the covenant are held responsible for the breaking of it.
2. Divorce is allowed in cases of “loss of favour”, “fornication”, or “departure
3. God allows divorce to protect the innocent party from abuse and mistreatment.
4. God allows for remarriage following divorce in the cases of “loss of favour”, “fornication” and “departure”
In lesson #3:
1. The Lord teaches us that divorce is allowed by God in the event that fornication takes place.
2. The Biblical definition of fornication is the fulfilling sinful desires resulting in unclean actions and forsaking of God given responsibilities.
3. In the context of our study this would include: following selfish desires resulting in the commission of unclean sexual unions or the fulfillment of other sinful desires resulting in the forsaking of the responsibilities of the marriage covenant.
4. There is no need to limit acts of fornication to sexually related acts.
5. The breaking of the marital covenant is a very serious offense. This offense is so severe if it is committed there is a reason to question the salvation of the individual committing the offense.
6. The grounds, effects, and judgments surrounding the sundering of the marriage covenant apply equally to both men and women. It is wrong to believe that either gender has a greater responsibility to remain faithful to the covenant of marriage.
As we continue our study, we need to try to remember the above points about marriage and divorce. In our next lesson we will be looking at God’s teachings on divorce.
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