The Right to Divorce

A man wrote in to Pat Robertson for advice on The 700 Club, July 28, 2004.   He said he and his wife had been strong believers, but he found some other woman “more appealing.”  He thought the attraction came from G-d and he divorced his wife and married the “more appealing” woman.  Needless to say, soon after his new marriage, his ex-wife became surprisingly “appealing” once again.  

Dedicated to the Fond Memory of Joanne Little Landry 1951-2002
Based on William G. Carter

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Same-sex Divorce      
An Ancient Divorce Catastrophe

PREVIEW books: Adult Children of Divorce     Children and Divorce      Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible   And Remarries Another

Mark 10: 1-16.  AND HE left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again; and again, as his custom was, he taught them.  2.  And Pharisees came up, and, in order to test him, asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?  He answered them, “What did Moses command you?  They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.  But Yahshua said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.  But from the beginning of creation, ‘Yahweh made them male and female.   For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore Yahweh has joined together, let not man put asunder.  And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.  And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery. 

   And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them.  But when Yahshua saw it, he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of Yahweh.  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of Yahweh like a child shall not enter it.  And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them.                       

            

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Canada’s First Same-Sex Divorce: TORONTO, July 22, 2004 (AP) A lesbian couple is seeking what is believed to be Canada’s first same-sex divorce in Ontario Superior Court.  The women, identified according to their lawyers’ initials as M.M., a 41-year-old born in Toronto, and J.H., a 61-year-old born in Ottawa, were married on June 18, 2003, one week after the Ontario Court of Appeal legalized same-sex marriage in the province.  The couple separated five days after the wedding, ending an almost 10-year relationship, J.H.’s lawyer Julie Hannaford said.

   The ruling Liberal government has vowed to legalize same-sex marriage across the country although polls have shown about half of Canadians are against the move.  The federal Divorce Act hasn’t been amended to apply to same-sex couples.

   M.M. and her lawyer are asking the court to grant the divorce and declare the Divorce Act’s definition of spouse unconstitutional. The divorce law defines a spouse as “a man or woman who are married to each other.”  The government says it wants to go further and strike down the entire definition of spouse in the act.  M.M. said the couple have no possibility of reconciliation. They signed a separation agreement on April 30. Grounds for divorce in Canada are separation, adultery and cruelty.

An Ancient Divorce Brings Vehement Action Against believers:  Justin, a teacher in Rome, wrote a letter to Emperor Antonius Pius (around 155) protesting the persecution of believers.  He relates a recent case in Rome in which a married couple who had lived a debauched lifestyle had been converted to the faith through the ministry of Ptolemy, a teacher of righteousness, and they ceased their immoralities.   However, after the husband’s trip to Alexandria, the wife found out that he was back at it, and sued for divorce on the grounds of adultery.  (This was permitted under Roman law.)

   They went before the judge, Urbicus, and the believer teacher Ptolemy accompanied the woman to court, where she pleaded her case and was granted a delay.  This angered the husband so that he accused both his wife and Ptolemy of being believers.  Urbicus, the judge, asked Ptolemy one question.  “Are you a believer?”  Ptolemy confessed that he was, and Urbicus immediately sentenced him to death.

   At this folly, a man named Lucias, who happened to be in court, stood up and challenged the judge.  “Ptolemy isn’t a thief or a murderer!  Why would you sentence him to death?”  The judge wasn’t pleased with the outburst.  “You also seem to be a believer,” said Urbicus to Lucias, and Lucias confessed that he was.  At this, Urbicus immediately condemned Lucias and another man in the courtroom to death for being believers.  So in his decision regarding this divorce, the meandering husband was freed while three men and a woman went straight from the courtroom to the chopping block.

   Justin, the one who tells the story, points out that the charge of being a believer can be used to do away with any enemy in a courtroom such as that of Urbicus.  He writes, “I, too, expect to be plotted against and crucified,” – maybe, he adds, by a rival.  Indeed, a decade later, Justin was accused of being a believer by his rival Crescens, and the judge condemned Justin and all the students of his school to death.  Since Justin wasn’t a Roman citizen, he didn’t get the chopping block, but the crucifixion stake.  Today he’s known as Justin Martyr.  (This story is recorded in Pagels' classic, The Gnostic Gospels, pp. 94-96.)

A Major Problem in Today’s Society

     Our Good News about divorce (Mark 10:1-12) doesn’t seem to be so good within the society we currently subsist.  Consider:  We gather as the household of Yahweh, the Creator of the universe.  Through baptism we belong to his worldwide community of faith.  Each time we gather, we may recommit our lives to the Peaceful Kingdom, even while the world around us rages in division.  But in this peace, we have to deal with a divisive word.  Divorce was as controversial in religious circles then as now.  Some preachers put the Savior to the test by asking him what he thinks about it.

     Yahshua’s word on divorce always provokes a response.  Some get mad or embarrassed.  Others wish the preacher would swing his words like a club.  The family’s spinning out of control, they claim, and preachers should use “the word” to beat us back to the Victorian era.

     World Communion Sunday is the first Sunday in October.  It’s meant to be the greatest day of the year for believer unity.   We are one in the sacrament.  Once the lectionary appointed Mark 10 to be preached on WCS.  One minister bawled, “Everybody in my congregation’s been divorced.  How can I bring them to the Communion table with such a divisive invitation?”  Another minister, a divorced woman, avoided the issue altogether by ignoring the first ten verses and moving on to the blessing of little children.

      So I may have a problem today.  I don’t especially like this passage.  But I won’t back down from it.  There’s always a way for folks to hear something edifying in Yahshua’s teaching, even when it’s about divorce.  How can I edify today? 

 

The Pharisees Are Divided on Divorce

     ¿I wonder, would it help if we understand Yahshua’ words to be a “controversy narrative”?   (That’s what they call it in Bible School.)  Yahshua’s being tested by friends and enemies on a controversial subject.  His back’s to the wall before the multitudes; all are listening. 

   First, some holy Pharisees bait him: “Tell us how you read: Is it legal for a man to divorce his wife? Yes or no?  They want a straight answer – no shilly-shallying, dilly-dallying or jibber-jabbering.

   (Optional: The Pharisees themselves are divided on this issue.  The liberal school of Rabbi Hillel taught that there were some very good reasons for divorce such as immorality.  The fundamentalist school of Rabbi Shammai taught that all divorce was prohibited.   Funny, but when Yahshua was with Shammai’s crowd, his answer was always according to Hillel.  But when he was with Hillel’s crowd, his answer was according to Shammai.  (See Matthew 5:32b – for Shammai’s crowd.)  So the Pharisees have two ways to catch Yahshua.) 

If the Pharisees can just pin him down, they can criticize whatever answer he gives.  But, as usual, Yahshua answers a question with a question.   What did Moses say?  He answers with a question because those who want to judge must be prepared to be judged.  Those who beat someone with a club must be prepared to be clubbed.  Now, does this help us to understand?  Maybe, maybe not.


“I Divorce You” Three Times

   A man wrote in to Pat Robertson for advice on The 700 Club, July 28, 2004.   He said he and his wife had been strong believers, but he found some other woman “more appealing.”  He thought the attraction came from G-d and he divorced his wife and married the “more appealing” woman.  Needless to say, soon after his new marriage, his ex-wife became surprisingly “appealing” once again.  

   “Pat, shouldn’t I go back to my first wife now, since we’re believers? 

   Pat Robertson was probably right when he said, “Yes, if she’ll have you.”  But I would say that if the first wife is willing to take him back then she probably deserves a gregarious fellow like him – or she’s trapped. 

     Yahshua’s responding to the casual attitude some men hold on the subject of fidelity – faithfulness.  As in many “religious” nations today, the husband had all the power then.  If a wife burned the butter beans or didn’t have enough kids, or if the husband just got tired of her – he could turn his back to her and say three times, “I divorce you” – then fill out a writ.  No legal fees, court costs or child support.  That was it.   The he was free to find a more appealing wife.   By law, his ex-wife’s only recourse was to return to her father’s house in shame.  Yahshua’s approach to divorce puts teeth into the marriage covenant to help protect women in days eons before women’s lib.

   But neither divorce law loopholes nor women’s rights were the main issue for him.  Look.  Yahshua pointed to the creation.  A man and a woman were originally formed to be partners in servanthood – that’s what “one flesh” means.  It’s not a three-legged race, but a partnership.   Then together, believers are to be joint heirs in the glorification of the future.  Yahshua’s saying, They’re two but also one.  “So you husbands, you’d better take your promises very seriously; or else!”  Does this help you?  Maybe, maybe not.

 

Equal Rights Amendment

     It also should be noted, as Gordon J. Wenham writes, that Yahshua’s pronouncement is a “revolutionary statement that puts wives on an equal basis within marriage” (“Divorce,” The Oxford Companion to the Bible: New York, Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 170).  When Yahshua takes his disciples aside to explain, he instructs them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her,” he affirms that wives are equal to husbands and deserve the same legal rights.  The punishment for adultery was death for all parties.  Then Yahshua adds, “Whoever divorces her husband and marries another commits adultery against him.  How shocking a statement for women in ancient Jewish society!  Women had no rights. They couldn’t bring any divorce proceedings.  They could be stoned for even bringing it up, no matter how hard they had it at home. 

   But Yahshua’s New Covenant is for A New Day, spoken within a context in which women are considered full and equal partners in Yahweh’s household.  Not this only, but that women always had equal rights in the Kingdom, and Yahshua descended through perils to proclaim this to an anthropocentric (a man-centered) society.   Is this helpful?  Maybe, maybe not.

 

Mixed Messages

   Try this.  I receive a magazine, The Sabbath Sentinel.   This quarter’s topic is marriage.  Each article views divorce from a different perspective, ranging from fairly liberal to one article in which the author has to misquote the Scripture to prove that divorced and remarried people are headed straight for you-know-where.

   Did you know that the Bible as a whole doesn’t prohibit all divorce, even for believers?  This may come as a surprise.  But, like my magazine, the Bible speaks with several voices depending on the circumstances.   Again, Yahshua refers us to creation.  The story tells us we were made one for another.  But it also recalls just about every possible disaster that can rip apart our relationships.  {Read about poverty, rape, incest, conquest, deception, seduction, immorality, violence, abuse– and all before finishing Genesis.}

   In one place, Yahweh tells Malachi “I hate divorce,” equating it with violence (Malachi 2:16).  Today we know that divorce is very often the fruit of violence – and that violence also keeps marrieds, who should be separated, together out of fear.   We learn that divorce also breeds violence, hatred and deranged acts.

   Yet in another place, Yahweh allows divorce as a husband’s prerogative (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).   Of course, Yahweh expects the man who dares divorce to be keeping the whole law first.   Else his declaration is sin in Yahweh’s eyes.  One who exemplifies seeking a justified divorce is Joseph, the husband of Mary, a keeper of the law, a “just man,” who “was minded to put his wife away privily” (Matthew 1:19). 

   You might also remember that when the Israelites returned from captivity, Ezra the high priest demanded that all Levites who’d married foreign women “Get rid of them” (Ezra 10:10-11).   These wives brought in foreign gods and customs.  Ezra’s task was to reinstate true worship.  These wives had to go and they all did (Ezra 10:2, see also 3 Esdras in the LXX).

   Yahshua gives his word on the matter, “Whatever Yahweh has brought together, let no one separate.”  That causes anyone with a sanctified mind to wonder if Yahweh brought most couples together in the first place.  I imagine most marriages came by more primitive urges than prayer, fasting and seeking.  Maybe one marriage in a million is born in the kneeling position.

   In another place, Yahshua gives an exception to “no divorce.”   Webster’s Bible gives a good translation of this passage:

(Matthew 5:32) But I say to you, whoever shall put away his wife, saving for lewdness, causeth her to commit adultery. 

In this case, the word translated “lewdness” is porneia (porneiaV), from which we get the word pornography.  Porneia refers to any kind of immorality.  If a member of a married couple is immoral, including violent, perverted or abusing, there’re logical and biblical grounds to part company.  Better to live as a divorcée than die as a abused spouse.  Amen?

   Finally, the Bible writer Paul, a single man, observes the married and gives a surprising amount of advice from the sidelines, including these words:

“If you’re unequally yoked in regards to spiritual matters, keep the marriage together for the sake of the children; but if it doesn’t work, then divorce is one choice among a lot of difficult choices” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:12-15, Carter).

William Carter really puts a new twist on that translation that’s worth hearing again.

 

Hardness of Heart

     The Bible addresses many situations in which some important aspect of creation is ripped apart.  The question is: Does Yahweh want everybody married?  No!  Some people are better off single, no matter what fond feelings or sensual visions they might have (1 Corinthians 7:8-9); no matter what society or mother think about it.  Singleness is a gift.  No one needs marriage to be a bride to Yahshua, man or woman.   He gathers his body first to the baptismal font and then to the table of grace – but not to the canopy of marriage.

   Again.  What does Yahweh want for us?  The fundamental thing he wants is for people to live in peace as a community of faith.  The words of Yahshua in Mark 10 point us beneath rusty interpretations.  He wants us to see others as partners, not strangers, and to live as companions, not competitors: be we married, single or somewhat in between.  Yahshua is doing far more than just disrupting divorce court. He’s attacking a devilish trait that destroys community peace.   He calls it “hardness of heart,” a condition that draws all manner of uncleanness.  Compassion is frozen.  Care collapses.  Charity (agape) turns to stone.   Carnality and perversity flood in when the heart is hard.

 

No “Pairs and Spares”

   This “hardness of heart” makes some feel unwelcome and others unwelcoming.  One church started a fellowship group by announcing it in the bulletin as “Pairs and Spares.”  The pastor, a single man, called the founders of the group together.   “For God’s sake,” he spat, “what makes you think a single person would want to be called a ‘spare’?”  Such is a product of hard heartedness.  The cure for hard heartedness is surgery.  The surgery is called Circumcision.

Deuteronomy 10:16,18.  Circumcise the skin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked.  He executes judgment for the fatherless and widow, and loves the stranger.  Therefore love the stranger: for you were strangers.

   True believers welcome all people of good intention, whether married, single, divorced, separated, confused, eunuched, neutered or somewhere in between, without preference or prejudice, considering them special emissaries of Heaven.   That also goes for the home.  Hospitality is a fundamental virtue.  The congregation and believer home calls on all people of good intention, “Ye are welcome here just as ye are.  Be ye washed in the blood of the Lamb of Elohim.

     Let’s admit our hardness of heart – we can easily make those who are different, divorced or ‘not from around here,’ feel excluded from the promises of Yahweh.   I don’t think anyone marries to divorce, do you?  Every couple intends “to have and to hold, from this day forward” to some degree.  That’s the promise.   In most cases of divorce this promise isn’t taken seriously.  Yet sometimes the promise can simply no longer be kept.  Need I give examples?  Of course not!  Read the Bible.  There are a hundred valid reasons.  Relationships break down.  People break down.   People are broken down and ripped apart.

   When breakdowns occur, the congregation should offer softhearted hospitality to all people of good intention.   Unfortunately, the congregation and pastor are often the last to know.  Why do you suppose this is?  

 

Invalid!  Invalid!

   Back to our subject – divorce -- well, it’s not quite as bad we’re told.  Divorce statistics are myths, including the one about nearly fifty percent of marriages ending in divorce.  This hoax began when somebody, probably a preacher, noticed the number of divorces was half the number of weddings for that particular year.  From this, he concluded and publicized that 50% of all marriages crumble.  The ratio and the rational behind it are both illogical.  Consider the context – do the math – be practical – any divorced person will tell you that there’re a lot more people married than single.  That’s one reason so many singles feel so alone, and there’s been such a proliferation of singles groups and expensive dating services.  They are alone.

   Myths help demonstrate how difficult marriage is in these days.  Our society’s demands on money and time undermine our ability or desire to know one another deeply and intimately.   Our culture worships self-fulfillment over patience, mercy and steadfast love.  It’s nearly impossible to honor long-term commitment when popular books and religious groups push instant gratification and worthless self-help programs.  It’s not easy to be a “you-first” person in a “me-first” society.   It was far less difficult in Yahshua’s time than now.

 

A Duping and A Puzzling Twist

   For just these past few years the judicial system has of its own accord further cheapened the Creation with legalizing illegitimate marriages in most of Europe, Canada and many of our states.   Although “marriages” and “civil unions” between “same-gendered people” may be legal, remember, such can never be recognized in the Assembly of True Worshipers or the Kingdom of Yahweh, no matter how many apostate bishops try to make them so.

   The “Federal Marriage Amendment (H. J. Res 56), a hasty pseudo-attempt to stop illegitimate marriages lost out in the Senate along partisan lines.   The purpose of the FMA is to define marriage as the union between a man and a woman only.  I’m convinced it was put forward at this time as a political ploy by a Republican Senate.  It didn’t have a chance to pass; however, it did serve a political purpose: it put certain politicians on the “for FMA” roster in an election year.  I’m ashamed of this political duping of the American public.

   Finally, in an ironic twist, one same-gendered couple was “married” under the Canadian law a few weeks ago – two ladies.  Now they’ve declared irreconcilable differences and want a divorce.  The problem is, there’s no stipulation for “same-gender divorces.”  These couples are married for good at this point.  This conundrum makes for great humor in light of Mark 10:12!

If a woman shall put away her husband, she committeth adultery.

The only puzzling twist left for the Heavenly Judge to decide is who’s the husband and who’s the wife. 

 

Community of One

   No matter what we think, we must remember that though we’re living in this insane culture, we’re also outsiders – aliens from space – in the world, but not of it.  This world provides us no permanent dwelling.  We’re not to be entangled in it.  Creation is cracked and groaning, and modern civilization is going the way of the Roman Empire.  But Yahweh wants us to live in peace with one another.  Therefore we’re called to support and strengthen the married and the single however we can, for marriage is the smallest form of community and the single person is the smallest component of marriage.  We can’t expect peace in our peculiar little world unless we claim peace in our households, in our families, in our churches, in our own stony hearts. 

Before turning to thee,

I’ll begin with me –

A house of one in communion with three.

 

Stand Up and Share!

     Working for peace and true inclusively in an exclusive environment will require us to stand up against some prevailing notions which we now know are just plain false.   

Charity exposes all the flaws
Of culture’s perverse practices and laws.
Surg’ry, not of brain, but of the heart,
Gives Charity a sure and blessed start.

   Wendell Berry is a Kentucky farmer and writer who published an article for Harper’s Magazine.  It explained why he isn’t getting a computer.  He wrote: (1) He already has a good typewriter.  (2) His wife Tanya helps him with proofreading.  Berry expected negative responses because our culture worships technology.   And all the responses were negative – but not about his typewriter, but his wife.  For instance: 

“How dare you think of your wife that way! 
It’s positively Neanderthal. 
She’s an individual, separate and distinct,
with her own life to live.

You’re a jerk.”

    Berry was puzzled about the sin of sharing daily tasks with his spouse.  He observed that many marrieds live like singles – leading separate lives – cut off from one another.  They are legally married, but they divide things as if they weren’t.  He went on to note,

 There are still married couples who understand themselves as belonging to their marriage, to each other and to their children.  What they have, they have in common; and so, to them, helping each other doesn’t seem to damage their ability to compete.  To them, “mine” is not so powerful or necessary a pronoun as “ours.”  (“Feminism, the Body, and the Machine,” What Are People For?  San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990, pp. 180-1.)

 

      “Ours.”  That’s a four-letter word that’s as good as any to ponder as we gather at the Master’s Table.  No matter how alienated we feel elsewhere, remember: Yahshua welcomes every person at his place.   This place is ours because it was first his.  His Kingdom is ours only because he bought us out of slavery to hard-heartedness because we’re on his charity roster.  In fact now, regardless of how broken or alone or ostracized or depressed or abused or DIVORCED we are, Yahshua’ body and blood are the medications that cure us by his mercy, love and healing.  We gather by a grace that covers us all.  And when we leave, we’re to extend the same hospitality, the same soft heartedness, the same inclusively that Yahshua extended to us – to all people, as they are, wherever they come from.   Elohim bless you.  Amein.  073004

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