Bad Teaching: “What God Has Joined…”

bad teaching

(A month later, I did a follow-up to this post which can be read here.)

Okay, I’m thinking that this has the potential to get ugly, real quick. I’ve written a number of posts on Bad Teachings in the church, concerning marriage, and I want to address another one that I keep coming across.

It’s no secret that, for decades, the topic of divorce and remarriage has been one of the hot-button issues in the church, even longer than the same-sex debate. Hester Prine wore a scarlet letter for having a baby out of wedlock; for much of the 20th century, anyone who was divorced felt that they were wearing a scarlet “D”, for divorce, in Christian circles.

With today’s post, I want to deal with a verse and teaching that is used to argue that marriage, once entered into, is sacred, is inviolable, and that divorce or no, marriage is, by Billy Bedamned Hangtree, permanent!

Intentional vs. Ontological

I believe that marriage is intentional, and not ontological. Right about now, I would expect a good Pentecostal brother to try to exercise the gift of interpretation of tongues, but let me forestall that by explaining what I’m saying. Ontology is the branch of philosophy that seeks to understand the nature of something’s being, its existence and essence. I came across the discussion of intentionality vs. ontology in a series of articles that were a review of William Luck’s Divorce and Remarriage.

If you read the article at the link above, you will see that I am in the camp of those who agree with Luck’s understanding on the nature of marriage. By saying that I believe marriage is intentional and not ontological, I am saying that I believe that God and the couple who marry intend that the marriage be permanent, but that marriage, as an entity, is not in its essence permanent, irrelevant of what may come. It is this permanency, as an attribute of marriage, that I don’t accept.

When I was a child, I was told by the nuns that we needed grace to be saved, and that since saints had extra grace, the part that they didn’t need could be used to help those who didn’t quite earn enough grace to make it into Heaven. If a saint had 150 grace points and you only needed 100 to get into Heaven, there were 50 grace points that could be applied to others, in the form of indulgences, that could give them a boost. (After all, God Himself is a good steward and didn’t make grace just so it could be squandered.) Grace was a spiritual commodity, with its own essence and existence. It seems to me that many proponents of marriage have done the same thing.

Yes, marriage is presented as an institution created by God, but it seems that some want to not only honor its divine origin, but to endow it with its own divinity. The understanding of these marriage proponents is that marriage has the divine attribute of eternality as part of its essence. The argument goes, “When a man and a woman enter into a marriage, the marriage is permanent. Anything that they do to end the marriage is wrong and is a sin, and is futile. After all, they entered into marriage and marriage is forever.” They teach that even if the couple, whether through sin, selfishness or just plain bullheadedness, gets divorced, they are still married in the eyes of God. According to man’s law, they are no longer married, but according to God’s law, they are still married.

What God Has Joined . . .

One of the verses that is often cited to justify this teaching that marriage is permanent in God’s eyes is “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mk. 10:9)

“Well, there it is,” I hear. “God joined these two in marriage, and Jesus says that no one can split them up. ‘Let not man separate’, and all.”

My initial response is something like, “Who says God joined those two particular sods together? God gets blamed for a lot of things that He had no hand in!” Okay, I realize that that’s a bit harsh, but I really have good reason for saying that.

Back in ‘70-’71, I was a disbursing clerk (paymaster) on board the USS Newport News. One morning, one of the laundrymen in the Supply Dept., came into the office and wanted to set up an allotment to be drawn out of his pay and sent to his new wife each month. What had happened was that this guy, not being the brightest bulb in the drawer, had met a prostitute who gave him a blowjob, and from what he remembered from when he was growing up was that having sex meant that you were now “one flesh”, and so he asked her to marry him. Not averse to free money, she accepted.

Okay, folks, you want to tell me that God “joined those two in holy matrimony?” That that’s how the Spirit of God works? I’m not buyin’ it.

I’m pretty sure that every one reading this can scan the recesses of your memory and find an instance or two in which you know that there was no way in Hades that God should be blamed for the marriage. And yet, we intone, “What God has joined…”, knowing full well He DIDN’T join. You know that they got married IN SPITE OF God, and that He didn’t join those two together.

Our version of “God’s joining” that we teach is a variation of another bad teaching, Soulmates, which I wrote about in this post. We use “God joined” as a holy prop, a brace to reinforce our teaching of the holiness of matrimony. But with so many wonderfully horrible illustrations of God OBVIOUSLY not bringing two people together and joining them, we have to face the fact that He can’t necessarily be blamed for  “joining these two together.”

Or Does He?

I’d like to present a different concept of “What God Has Joined” to you, for your consideration. To do this, I have to preface this with a theological sidebar, dealing with predestination and the foreknowledge of God. Many people believe that God knows and predestines every person who is to be saved, and that no one other than those “elected” can be in the redeemed of Christ’s church.

To me, this idea flies in the face of the scripture that says that God is not willing that anyone should perish. If some are lost due to God’s election, then we have to say that God is definitely willing that some perish. Theologian Clark Pinnock, in an essay of his personal spiritual journey, dealt with God’s election as an unnamed group that He will bestow His blessing of salvation upon based upon their choice to enter into the Body of Christ. He determines the group, defining the parameters and requirements, and all who desire and choose this new life enter into it. In the sense that God determined that He would bless this body of believers, He foreknew it. It was amorphous, with no faces when He foreknew or predestined, but He knew what His purpose was and that He would do it.

In the same way, God created marriage in Genesis, when He created man and woman and said that it is not good for man to live alone. He created a bond of spiritual, mental and physical intimacy that is recognized by all cultures and all religions. When a man and woman decide to enter into this “arrangement”, not a shack-up, but a committed, “till death us do part” intention, they are married, and they joined in God’s creation.

Just as salvation is marked by the response to the “whosoever will, may come” invitation to the Body of Christ, so God’s joining is accomplished by free-will commitment to the marriage relationship. Two Buddhists who marry are joined by God in marriage; two Shinto-ists who marry are joined by God in marriage; two Muslims who marry are joined by God in marriage. None of these are Christian marriages, none are blessed by Christian minister or priest, yet all, by virtue of entering into commitment to live as one, are “joined by God” in holy matrimony. “They enter into God’s estate” by commitment to each other, as the wedding formula goes, so God joins them.

God created marriage as His ideal for man and woman. Sleeping around, not so much. Commitment and intention to create home and family together is the entrance into marriage, and this the is joining – when we enter God’s creation. God’s joining is accomplished by man and woman, not by act of God.

Scriptural Precedent?

“Okay, CSL, that’s all well and good to think about as a possible explanation, but is there any hint in scripture that what we do here affects what God does, decides even, decrees in Heaven?” Quite possibly, yes.

As I was discussing this post with Wife, sharing about applying Pinnock’s view of predestination and foreknowledge to marriage, Wife reminded me of the two verses in Matthew in which Jesus says to His disciples, “… whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:19/18:18)

In essence, just as God conceived of a plan for salvation, with defining qualifications for “whosoever will”, He did with marriage. How to be saved and enter into the Kingdom of God? Receive Christ as Savior. How be joined together by God in holy matrimony? Enter freely and completely enter into commitment to love and serve “till death us do part” with your spouse. Our “I do’s” on earth are the joining that God accepts in Heaven.



Filed under Christian Beliefs, Marriage & Sexuality

10 responses to “Bad Teaching: “What God Has Joined…”

  1. Ted

    The teaching that divorce is never an option is indeed bad teaching, however the circumstances that allow it and the consequences of said divorce are somewhat murky.Obviously adultery, is sufficient grounds for divorce, but even that is a little murky. Reading this, I’m not sure exactly what the point is that you’re trying to make. If it’s simply that divorce is allowed as Christians, and in some cases should not be stigmatized, I agree. Even in the church, however, in this current age, it is entered into,entirely to quickly. I have a lot to say on this particular subject, but not the time right now compose my arguments. I’ll try to get back over the day weekend with my views from my own study of scripture. And they will be just that. I have very little training in church doctrine, but I have spent quite a lot of time in trying to understand God’s will, with regards to marriage. More later.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Check out Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities, by David Inkstone-Brewer, on Amazon. His tag line for the first chapter is, “Jesus never said, ‘What God has joined, no man can separate.'”

      His scholarly “Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible” is excellent. Suffice to say that, all too often, the church doesn’t know what it’s talking about because it fails to understand the context of its statements.


  2. Object of Contempt

    I am somewhat concerned that someone from the reformed camp will decide to start a debate and divert the discussion. It can be a difficult temptation for some to conquer.

    The idea that not all marriages have been joined by God is a new one on me. I think it’s worth thinking about. The incorrect assumptions and conclusions that surround that verse need to addressed.

    Unfortunately, (I suspect you agree) there is little likelihood that correcting this perspective will provide direct help to anyone facing this dilemma personally. How can they be certain that God did not join *them* together? And, what is the impact either way? If a couple agrees that God didn’t join them, this doesn’t mean they should necessarily get divorced. (Heck, if they agree on such a controversial subject, maybe they should write some books about marriage! 😉 )

    There are a couple other things that could support your argument. See what you think…

    First, it was God who gave the Law in the first place. Moses wrote it down and it included a provision, not only for divorce, but remarriage. Jesus said he hadn’t come to destroy the Law, and that not a jot or a tittle will pass away. So… if Jesus is contradicting and overriding the Law, that causes a big problem on a couple different levels. This is an unreasonable accusation to put on Jesus. Since we know that divorce was being abused by many, and that God was severely displeased by it, it makes perfect sense for Jesus to describe marriage and divorce as actions that He is personally involved in. It adds the element of spiritual depth and seriousness that had been ignored.

    Second, there is Biblical precedent for marriages that are abhorrent to God being ended by divorce. Ezra oversaw the divorce of quite a few of the Jews who had returned from exile. This was administered by Ezra, a priest and prophet. The narrative describes the event as taking place outside in the miserable rain. This was clearly the right thing to do. God was very upset that the people came back to Jerusalem, only to be mixed with the pagan people and practices that had lead to the exile in the first place. Although Paul instructs not to send away a believing spouse that is willing to stay, there is clearly room for debate as shown by Ezra’s actions.

    Third, there is an example of a marriage that was loved and nurtured by God yet still ended in divorce. This is actually the marriage of Israel (specifically the northern kingdom) with God. Jeremiah 3:8 explains that God gave Israel a bill of divorce and sent her away.

    These may not be very strong supports, but I think they do add something to the argument.


    • Hi, OOC,

      As to your first concern, ain’t gonna happen. This is a moderated blog, not an open forum. If folks want to discuss theology with me, I’m actually working to create another blog. But that’s another matter for another time.

      Would you mind if I used your comment, much of your text, as a jumping off point for a new post? It was a large comment and I don’t want to create a large comment in reply; I just rather respond to your ideas, your thoughts, with a complete post.


  3. Object of Contempt

    No, I dont mind. Have at it!

    I just saw a typoo. Paul actually instructed us not to send away an UNbelieving spouse who is willing to stay. But you knew that.


  4. Ted

    I suppose that one’s experience with this is relative the discussion. Not being affiliated with any denomination, I forget that some churches expressly oppose divorce. My personal experience, being raised Southern Baptist, has been that marriage and divorce is handled not too much differently than non-believers handle it. Therefore my comment regarding divorce being entered into too quickly. Even though I was raised Baptist, I have lived most of my life as a non-denominational Christian. My only interest here is arriving at a more perfect understanding of God’s will.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Re-addressing “What God Hath Joined” | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

  6. I often hesitate to comment on your posts re: marriage as I am, myself, single. However, divorce is another matter. I’ve seen and heard from many abused women given the bad pastoral advice to remain with husbands who have beaten them within an inch of their lives, and threatened the lives of their innocent children. First and foremost, it seems to me, we must educate church leaders on this topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Anna,

      Seriously, get a copy of Inkstone-Brewer’s Divorce & Remarriage In The Church. This will give you grounding in the context of the Bible’s instruction on marriage. In your work, crossing career and faith, I think it could be a benefit to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Marriage/Divorce: Restoring Balance, part 1 | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

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