Divorce: Scarlet Letter or Valid Option?, pt. 1


This is the first of a four-part series; here are the links to part 2, part 3 & part 4.

This is going to be interesting, folks. Because of the comments by a couple of guys in response to a few of my posts, I realized that I am going to have to address THAT monster: the bad teachings about divorce that have been handed down to us as gospel. I have kinda, sorta, almost, ‘in a roundabout way’  taught about divorce in past posts (see my Idolatry and Covenant or Contract series for the ‘almosts’.) But comments by these and other recent posters make me think I’ve got to come out in the open and stop with the veiled hints.

While I am a big supporter of marriage, I am not a guy who believes that marriage is a call to martyrdom. One of the most popular mantras in Christian circles used to placate folks who are in misery is “Marriage isn’t to make you happy, it’s to make you holy.” When you boil what these teachers, preachers and writers say, you come up with this:

Some people get lucky in marriage and are happy.
Others? Well, that’s their God-given cross to bear for the Kingdom.

As you might guess, I’m not buying it. I have yet to have one of these people show me a verse in the Bible that supports the idea that marriage is a character-building exercise. I don’t find where Paul included marriage in that list of sufferings in which we are to rejoice, in Rom. 5:3. Nope, not seein’ it.

Surprise, Divorce Is Not A Sin

If that were the case, then you would have to say something about God’s divorce. After all, in Jer. 3:8, God says, “She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Before you decide to go handing out scarlet letters for divorce, be sure you reserve one for God.

Rather than divorce being a sin, divorce is a valid option to a hard-hearted, intentional violation of the marriage covenant/contract. An unfortunate option, yes, but a valid one. By the way, please note the words I stressed, as that was intentional, and those words will come into play later.

In any discussion about divorce, what happens right about now is that many Christians glibly toss off a quick “God hates divorce,” and move on, thinking that they’ve scotched all heretical thinking. (I know, I used to be one of them.) But the problem is that it’s NOT Biblical.

As I’m learning, so much that we know about the Bible and believe that the Bible teaches about marriage is wrong, including the fact that Mal. 2:16 doesn’t say “God hates divorce.” (This last I addressed in the Idolatry post I linked to, in the first paragraph above.)

The question has to be addressed, “On what basis do you believe that the Church’s understanding of the Bible and marriage is wrong?” That’s simple:

Historical Context

Anyone who has discussed divorce or looked into what Jesus said about divorce, has come across the fact that there were two schools of thought about acceptable reasons for divorce in Palestine at the time of Christ. Two prominent rabbis had differing teachings about valid reasons for divorce. One, Rabbi Hillel, taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason, even burning the soup. Rabbi Shammai, on the other hand, believed that the only valid reason for divorce was sexual immorality.

This summation is all true. Reb Hillel and Reb Shammai lived and taught during the time of Herod the Great (baby-killer Herod), and when you read a summation like the one above, you can be sure that it is accurate. If you want to read more about them from a Jewish perspective, you can read this short article at Jewish Virtual Library.

So, yes, the summation of Reb Hillel and Reb Shammai’s teachings is true. As far as it goes….

Okay, Literary Context, Too

In my last post, Readdressing “What God Has Joined”, I discussed idioms and figures of speech, and included a link to an excellent article on Jewish idioms. This was to show that our penchant for trying to build towering fortresses of theological proofs, about how Jesus’ life and death “fulfilled the Law” so that the Law didn’t apply to Christians, were a vast waste of time. After all, “fulfill the Law” and “destroy the Law” weren’t so much theological constructions as accusation and defense.

As well, our vaunted translation scholarship can sometimes obscure what the Bible is saying. There is a wonderful TED Talk by author and scholar, Dr. Joel Hoffman about problems in Bible translation, and needing to understand context and language. For example, read the following line from Song of Solomon without responding “Ewwww!”:

You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride;

Hoffman explains why that sentence isn’t disgusting or sin, and I’m just librarian enough to say, “Look it up yourself.”  Bwahahahaha!
(Seriously, go watch the video, it’s fascinating.)

Just as “Fulfill/Destroy the Law” is not a call to theological parsing and “My sister, my bride” isn’t a Biblical imprimatur for incest, Jesus’ Exception Clause (“except on the ground of sexual immorality”) is not the equivalent of a Supreme Court ruling on the only valid justification for divorce.

In my next post, I will explain the difference between “any cause” and “Any Cause”, and discuss the importance of “hardheartedness” and “intentional violation” to the Biblical discussion of divorce.



Filed under Marriage & Sexuality, Uncategorized

19 responses to “Divorce: Scarlet Letter or Valid Option?, pt. 1

  1. Phil

    Ah CSL I knew you were building up for something big……

    I commend you for tackling this very thorny subject and I await the next instalment with a great deal of interest.

    I also congratulate you for challenging what we normally assume the bible is telling us……I’m with you all the way on this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ted

    Speaking of the Jewish tradition, it’s interesting to note that in my search on who can issue a “bill of divorce”, it is reserved only for husbands. Yet most divorces today are filed for by wives.That is my understanding anyway. Even in the NT when it speaks of a wife separating from her husband, it indicates she must remain single. Of course, if you’re not serious about your walk with Christ, none of this really matters…..


    • Hi, Ted,

      You are correct about the “men only” aspect of Jewish divorce. But according to my source, this wasn’t always the case. Believe it or not, this “men-only” divorce is directly related to the post that I’m working on, having its root in the very same debate and teaching that Rabbi Hillel used to create his No-Fault divorce teaching. Stay tuned for my next post, and you’ll see how it’s related.

      Also, that fact that women had to stay single if not given the certificate of divorce? That’s at the heart of Mal. 2:16 and Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees. Check out “Agunah” on Wikipedia to get a better insight into what was and is going on in Judaism, and the problem of Anchor wives.


  3. Ted

    Should be interesting. If marriage is supposed to mirror the relationship between Christ and the Church, it would make sense that the husband would have the power of divorce.
    As I am more of a student on how to improve and save marriages, I’m currently reading Laura Doyle’s latest, “First Kill all the Marriage Counselors”. Not specifically Christian, but definitely has some great insights into marriage dynamics.


    • Are you TRYING to push my buttons? 🙂

      I don’t think that you were going as far as some people do, but the idea that marriage is to teach us about our relationship with Christ is something else that I think the Church has managed to pervert. About three years ago, I had this exchange with someone trying to claim that marriage was basically an object lesson.

      Other Person: First, God created marriage as a picture that we could understand that would illustrate the relationship between Christ and the church.

      CSL: I’m going to disagree here. I don’t believe God created marriage in order to have an object lesson. That’s akin to saying that the purpose of felt is so we can have flannelgraphs in Sunday School.
      The purpose of marriage is just what God said: It is not good to man to be alone. He didn’t say, “I need an object lesson; I’l create the institution of marriage.”

      Yeah, I guess my inner coot is kicking into overdrive. It might be time to go to bed. 🙂


      • tjcox53

        NOT AT ALL. My own personal views on marriage, and divorce are probably much more radical.
        With regards to your reference to Anchor wives, that really wasn’t what I was referring to. I was referring to the teaching that a wife is bound to her husband for as long as he lives. In reading about the Anchor wives, I see that in Jewish tradition, after a rabbinical divorce both husband and wife can remarry. I may be wrong, but i know of no scripture, that provides for a wife to remarry after divorce until her husband has died. Also since there is no provision for a man having only one wife, it could not reasonably be argued that a man can be bound by those same restrictions. I know the verse about deacons being the husband of one wife, but that doesn’t exactly rise to the level of a scriptural command does it?
        The point in bringing all this up, which I probably should have made more clear is that if wives did not have the right to remarry except tin the event of her husband’s death, without sin, they probably wouldn’t be so quick to make their husband’s miserable, given that he could divorce her and remarry, and that SHE would then be alone, and unable to remarry.


      • Hi, Ted,

        The “married for life” idea, I realize comes from one verse, I Cor. 7:39, but I think that in some manner, it must be reconciled with the practice of the OT and the Torah. After all, Deut. 24 teaches about a wife going out and remarrying, and doesn’t forbid it. Given Paul’s day and time (after Rabbi Hillel) and the agunah wife problem, I tend to believe that Paul’s statement may be more along the line of his personal taste, akin to his statement earlier in the chapter where he said “I say, not the Lord”.

        Any we know what a disaster it is to try to build a doctrine off of the strength of one verse, right? After all, “baptism for the dead” in I Cor. 15:29, right?


  4. Ted

    You maybe right, however verse 10 of the same chapter is the one I was referring to, in which he stated it as a command of the Lord. I have no real axe to grind with you on it, The passage you referenced in Deut. does talk about the wife remarrying, however if you consider Jesus’ statement, that the law was given because of Israel’s hardness of heart, it doesn’t seem to weigh too heavily in the context of God’s will to me. This is probably a discussion best left for the other blog you mentioned starting up.


    • G’morning Ted,

      I’ve just put up a draft of Part 2, and I’m chuckling to myself because of the “hardness of heart” reference. I lead with that in my intro. While I don’t get into the thought behind Jesus’ statement, I will in either Part 3 or Part 4. Suffice to say, it’s not because God capitulated to the will of Israel. 🙂


  5. Ted

    BTW, the bound for life concept is supported in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as Romans.


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