Q. A question people are increasingly often asking NCAY is: under what conditions is remarriage permissible under Yahweh's Torah (Law)? I wonder if you could give us some apostolic counsel in this matter.
A. This is a vexing question for both ministers as well as those who have suffered divorce. As Messianic Evangelicals we want to to be utterly true to the Davar Elohim (God's Word) and that is where we must begin. Only where the Bible is ambiguous may we then appeal to the secondary canon of revelations.
Let's start with the easiest questions first. Firstly, the Torah (Law) stipulates clearly that it is the right of a woman to remarry once her husband dies. There are some mitigating circumstances, however - Paul seems to recommend that widows stay single if the circumstances warrant it (e.g. times of persecution) but we will deal with this matter a little later if we have time. Broadly-speaking, though, a woman is free to remarry after her husband has passed on.
Q. A question we sometimes get asked is: how long should a widow wait following her husband's death before remarrying?
A. An interesting question. If she remarried almost immediately afterwards then we are forced to ask a number of searching questions. Since a relationship usually takes time to become established, it would be rather strange, would it not, if the widow remarried a month or two after her husband died. Though there may be other legitimate explanations an early remarriage following the death of the husband would suggest that maybe a spirit of adultery prevailed while the husband was alive. Someone who truly loves their husband does not remarry the next day. If there isn't genuine mourning then obviously something wasn't quite right in the relationship. The reasons could be complex (maybe the husband was a tyrant) and we must not be quick to judge but it seems to me that anyone remarrying earlier than a year following the death of one's spouse is not likely to be in the right spirit.
Q. But from a legal point-of-view she could remarry immediately, couldn't she?
A. Yes, that is true. There would be nothing to stop her from doing so even though we as a fellowship would not necessarily agree to consecrate a new marriage so soon after the husband's death. There is the Torah (Law), and there is the spirit of the Torah (Law), which aren't necessarily always the the same thing.
Q. So you would refuse to marry her again if she requested remarriage very soon after the funeral.
A. Quite likely. But that would depend on the circumstances, as I have said.
Q. What if she went and took out a civil wedding? Would she remain a member of NCAY?
A. A civil wedding would be setting off many alarm bells in my own mind as to her spiritual standing and commitment. She would of course be entitled to remain a member of NCAY but she would probably not be eligible for priestly service. Infact, I would say she definitely was not eligible for Priesthood service and possibly not worthy to partake of the Master's (Lord's) Supper for her witness would be contrary to the Besorah (Gospel) message.
Q. Might not the woman have been told by Elohim (God) to do this civilly? What if the husband was an unbeliever, Yahweh had told her that he would convert, and for now to be content with a civil marriage?
A. Such a scenario is possible, of course, and we must always be sensitive to such. However, we must not allow the possibility of Elohim (God) acting in such a manner as an excuse to water-down the mitzvot (commandments). Yes, there are always going to be exceptions to the rules, but we must not allow exceptions to distort our spiritual sense generally. In the meantime Scripture is clear not be unequally yoked to an unbeliever. It is never Yahweh's will to be yoked to an unbeliever. So I would question Yahweh ever giving such a 'revelation'.
Q. You have spoken only of women remarrying so far. What of men?
A. That is a little different because men are, according to Yahweh's Torah (Law), entitled to have more than one wife. However, the spirit would be the same. A husband with more than one wife getting married immediately after the death of one wife to another one would probably not be in the right spirit if he is genuinely mourning her. But as we are, for the most part, dealing with a monogamous situation, the principles are essentially the same.
Q. Perhaps we could move on to the question of adultery and remarriage.
A. I think this is the area we are going to have to address the most carefully since it is here the greatest misunderstandings of the Davar (Word) have occurred and it is here that Yahweh's Torah (Law) is the most openly flaunted. Let's dive straight into Messiah's teaching in Matthew chapter 5:
Q. This can be misunderstood to mean that if an evil man arbitrarily divorces his wife without a good reason then she, if she remarries, commits adultery!
"It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 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 committed adultery" (Mt.5:31-32, KJV).
A. The way it's written in the King James Version, yes, that is true - it can be misunderstood, and that because the KJV is not the best translation here. In fact, it's wrong. The Greek text does not say, "causeth her to commit adultery" but "causeth HIMSELF to commit adultery".
Q. How could such an error be made? My New International Version says the same thing: "causes her to commit adultery" (v.32, NIV).
A. And so do other modern versions. The fact of the matter is the grammatical construction allows for either rendition, leaving the translator to choose what he feels is the best. But common sense and a knowledge of Elohim's (God's) ahavah (love) and justice tells us - nay, screams at us - that blaming a woman for committing adultery if she remarries after an evil husband divorces her without a legitimate cause, is outrageous. So who is guilty of adultery?
Q. The unrighteous husband...if he remarries!
A. Of course. Anything else outrages all sense of divine justice.
Q. But what about the end of verse 32 which says, in my NIV: "..and anyone who marries a woman so divorced commits adultery"?
A. To begin with the word "woman" is not in the original text. The King James is a little more correct when it says: "whosoever shall marry her that is divorced..." and yet it also is wrong. The fact of the matter is the Greek apoluo (Strongs 630) does not indicate gender, there being no "him" or "her" in the Greek text. Thus the text would be better translated as: "whosoever shall marry that is divorced..."...
Q. So the translator put in "her" at the end of the sentence because of an erroneous assumption made at the beginning of the sentence?
A. Correct. The personal pronoun "her" was arbitrarily and unfairly inserted in the text by the KJV translators and all translators since.
Q. But this little error has caused untold grief over the centuries!
A. Now you understand the heavy burden that translators bear.
Q. So how did this error occur?
A. Undoubtedly because of misguided cultural and theological prejudice. We see it throughout the Bible.
Q. So could you give us a better translation of this passage, then?
And to avoid misunderstanding I will give you a corrected New International Version too:
"But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth himself to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry the same himself that is divorced committeth adultery" (Mt.5:32, NCV-KJV).
Q. Does this mean, then, that if a polygamous man divorces a wife unjustly, that he cannot marry another?
"But I tell you, that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marrital unfaithfulness ("fornication" would be a better word), causes himself to commit adultery, and anyone who marries that divorced man commits adultery" (Mt.5:32, NCV-NIV).
A. There is no law in the Scriptures that says so but I give my judgment, in a New Covenant Messianic Evangelical context, that he may not.
Q. What of a man who is living a monogamous covenant?
A. If he is a believer, he may not remarry. If he was an unbeliever, and she has since remarried, and he converts to Messiah, repenting of his former behaviour, then he may remarry.
Q. This seems very complicated and I'm not sure I understand it all yet. What if he genuinely repents - can't he be forgiven and remarry?
A. It would be nice to think that but Elohim (God) gives no licence for such. Even after we have corrected the faulty KJV and NIV translations the divorced man is not given any latitude. The Saviour states it plainly: if he divorces his wife unrighteously and remarries - in other words, if she has done no wrong - he commits adultery by remarrying.
Q. There seem to me to be some contradictions with this position. King David was under Yahweh's covenant. He committed adultery with another man's wife, Bathsheba, and even murdered the husband. Does that mean that all his subsequent marriages were invalid? What is the principle here? I don't get it!
A. If this were a New Covenant marriage, his subsequent marriages would have been adulterous, because the core of a New Covenant marriage is the spirit of the Torah (Law). The Old Covenant regulated the outer - the New Covenant adds the inner, spiritual dimension. That is not to say that the Old Covenant was not spiritual - Paul says it was qadosh (holy, set-apart), so by implication it must be spiritual - rather, the Old Covenant was on a lower level of light to that of the New. Thus what was justified on a lower level of light is not justified on a higher. Yah'shua (Jesus) had to remind his listeners that the spirit of adultery was essentially inner because the people were focused on the outer, legalistic aspect of the Torah (Law). Thus a man who lusts after a woman in his heart has already committed adultery in his heart and is guilty of sin.
Q. So the New Covenant Law is, in actual fact, a lot tougher than the Old?
A. Much! And that's what the liberals fail to (or don't want to) understand. Listening to them you would think that Messiah came to relax the moral demands of the Torah (Law). But they deliberately misread the New Testament which constantly invokes a much higher standard than the Tanakh (Old Testament).
Q. Perhaps we could move on to what is exactly meant by "fornication" (KJV) or "marrital unfaithfulnes" (NIV)?
A. Yes, that is very important, because the next level of a sinner's escape is to redefine words. We shall let the Bible define what fornication is for us. In fact, the Bible is so detailed that we do not actually need to look beyond its pages in this matter. I am going to answer this question from both the Tanakh (Old) and New Testament positions, remembering that the New is an amplification and completion of the Old. Together they give us a complete picture.
Q. Wait, are you saying, then, that a man may divorce his wife (or a woman her husband) if one or the other turns to false religion??
- (1) Firstly, any biblically unlawful, sexually-intimate relationship between men and women, whether they are single, married or divorced, consititutes what the Bible calls "fornication" (hence my preference of the KJV rendition over the vague NIV one). In short, the only sexual relations that are biblically permissable are those which take place between a man and his wife or wives (Mt.5:32; 19:9; Mk.10:2-12; 1 Cor.7:2; 10:8; 1 Thess. 4:3; Rev.9:21; Dt.27:20-23; Lev.20:10-21; 18:6-23; Ex.22:16);
- (2) Secondly, fornication is also incest, that is, a sexual relationship between a parent and his or her children (1 Cor.5:1; 1 Cor.10:8; Lev.18:6-23);
- (3) Thirdly, fornication (in a spiritual sense) is idolatry and adultery in honour of pagan gods (2 Chr,21:11; 23:17; Ezek.16:15,26,29; Ac.15:20,29; 21:25; Rev.14:8; 17:2-4; 18:3-9; 19:2);
A. If I may, I will return to that, because I thought you might react to that. Let me finish my list first:
Q. I can understand that points 1, 2 and 5 are grounds for divorce but I have problems with 3 and 4 since these have nothing to do with sexuality.
- (4) Fourthly, spiritual harlotry or unfaithfulness (Ezek.16:15,26,29; 18:3-9; 19:2);
- (5) Fifthly, sodomy, homosexuality, bestiality and male prostitution (Heb.12:16; Jude 6-7; Rom.1:24-29; 2 Cor.12:21; Gal.5:3; Col.3:5; Gen.19:5-8; Ex.22:19; Lev.18:22: 20:13-16; Dt.23:17; Judg.19:22; 1 Ki.15:12; 22:46; 2 Ki.23:7).
A. Marriage has a spiritual and physical component. Marriage is not just sex - it is a relationship that embraces spiritual, mental, emotional and physical realms. Elohim (God) always describes His relationship to Israel and Judah as that of a husband to two wives, and Messiah refers to His relationship to the Messianic Community (Church) as that of a husband to many wives. In both cases a marriage relationship is being described. Adultery and divorce are also described in those relationships (more properly relationship because the Messianic Community/Church is Israel).
Q. This suggests strongly to me that marriage under the Old Covenant was not just physical but spiritual also.
A. That's right, it was. But the letter of the Torah (Law) was in the ascendancy. But more importantly than that, our relationship to our spouses is a type of our relationship to Elohim (God).
Q. What you have said seems to give more grounds for divorce in the New Covenant than the Old?
A. Yes, that is true, because the New Covenant emphasises the sacredness of marriage. It is not enough for a spouse to abstain from having sexual intercourse with someone he or she is not married to - the marriage covenant is seriously damaged when any form of adultery takes place, whether it is adultery committed in the heart, idol worship, spiritual harlotry, or whatever. But it must be clearly said that scripture does not insist that we divorce our unfaithful spouse - it merely says that we are justified in doing so if we are unable to forgive.
Q. So in a higher sense, there is no justification for divorce at all?
A. Though I would question your use of the word 'justification', yes, this is correct. My own wife committed literal adultery and committed spiritual harlotry. She divorced me - I refused to divorce her.
Q. Does that mean you would take her back into your household?
A. Of course. I have forgiven her in my heart.
Q. So she could just walk straight back in?
A. If she understood that she had committed adultery and spiritual harlotry, and wished to repent of and forsake these, then yes, I would be obliged by the Torah (Law) of Messiah to readmit her. That is my calling and responsibility as a patriarch.
Q. What if a wife commits neither of these two sins, that is, does not commit adultery by having a relationship with another man, and who remains an active Christian/Messianic, what then?
A. She is justified in the legal sense so long as she remains celibate. If she has a romantic liason with another man and/or marries him, she becomes an adultress and is denying the emunah (faith). She will lose her salvation and be without Elohim (God) until the end of the Cosmic Jubilee. But she may be reconciled with her husband whenever she wants and ought to return home.
Q. You say she is 'justified', meaning from the point of the written Torah (Law) of Messiah. But what of the spiritual law?
A. The spiritual law requires marital faithulness, and that includes maintaining family cohesiveness. The breaking up of families, especially where there are children, is an abomination in the eyes of Elohim (God) for its sows many bad seeds in the children, not to mention the adults.
Q. So such a woman would be judged as being in sin for doing this?
A. Yes, if the husband was not in the wrong.
Q. And presumably would remain single in the eternities?
A. According to our understanding, this is correct. Since she chose to live alone, she broke the spirit of the marriage covenant and severed the relationship. Relationships must be cultivated, just as the spiritual life must be generally. Since she lived alone, and the relationship with her husband deterioriated (as it must inevitably do because of 'spiritual entropy'), what relationship would there be for Messiah to bind in the next world?
Q. None. Though there may be extenuating circumstances, I suppose.
A. Of course, if the couple were separated by war or other misfortune, and cultivated their love for one another in their absence, then of course that bond would remain. This is, however, unlikely to occur, if one of the spouses leaves for a grievance, whether biblically lawful or not.
Q. How about your relationship to your first wife? You have been divorced now for over ten years. (Nearly 30 years in 2017...it is still the same). How have you cultivated or preserved your relationship? Or has time destroyed it?
A. Time has certainly changed it because I have spiritually matured. But in my heart, the covenant is as alive as it was when I first took my marriage vows. This honouring of covenant on my part has been continuously upheld by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) which has preserved deep affections in my heart, like a treasure held in a safe.
Q. In a safe?
A. Yes, because she is no longer physically present, and is not herself being true to covenant, it is not a growing love. It is preserved, frozen in time, as it were, like a seed waiting to be replanted. Since there is no love movement between us (by her decision), then it cannot grow, yet it may be preserved. It is not unlike Elohim (God) waiting for His sons and daughters to turn away from sin and receive Him as Master (Lord) and Deliverer (Saviour). He has a deep, abiding love, for all souls, but that love cannot 'move' until it is received. It is a seed, awaiting the soil (receptivity), water (feelings), and sun (love).
Q. When I have talked to most people who have divorced, the relationship seems to have just died. How come it has not died with you?
A. Because of covenant love. This is the grand key to qadosh (holy, set-apart) marriage. Covenant is the way Elohim (God) has established emet (truth) in living beings. Feelings are fickle - they change. Our thoughts wander. Elohim (God) knew that if we based relationship on just the heart we would wander away - from Him and from our spouses.
Q. You make it sound as though there is something mystical in the concept of covenant - almost as though it has a life of its own.
A. In a way it does. Just as Yahweh spiritually blesses the Sabbath, even though this is a physical period of time, so He blesses certain states of mind and heart. And a covenant is a state of mind/spirit. It's a declaration that receives the divine seal. A marriage covenant receives divine approbation always. Elohim (God) is in a marriage covenant to bless those who are true to it no matter what difficulties they may be in. So sacred is this covenant that it transcends death itself, just as our covenant of faithfulness to Messiah in baptism transcends death too.
Q. It's a kind of divine security, then?
A. Yes, I suppose it is. When we receive Messiah Yah'shua (Jesus) as our Deliverer (Saviour), He knows we will make mistakes, that is, sin. But we are protected by our covenant. So long as we live within the mindframe that we will repent when we discover we do wrong, our covenant and therefore eternal security is sure, even if sometimes we take a long time to repent.
Q. Yet Elohim's (God's) grace in this area is not unlimited, is it?
A. True. We don't know how long He will give us but experience tells us that when we delay repentance, a portion of the Ruach (Spirit) leaves us. I suppose in the end it can leave us altogether. We ought not to exploit grace, though, nor play celestial Russian roulette. Grace there is, but justice there is too.
Q. You would seem to be saying that the marriage covenant is not unlike the one we as believers have with Messiah?
A. I am indeed. For the scriptures repeatedly testify that our relationship to Elohim (God) is a marriage-like contract. This is the great mystery that Paul wished to discourse on but was constrained by the Ruach (Spirit) from doing so in his day.
Covenant is sacred. In the New Covenant, it is full of grace. Elohim (God) is patient with us as we must be with our spouses. We are justified legally in ending marriage contracts under certain situations but the higher ahavah (love) of Messiah demands, if we will yield to it, that we extend mercy and forgiveness as often as we can. If we cannot, then we are justified on a lower Mosaic level in ending a covenant.
Q. What if the two spouses operate on different levels?
A. Paul answered that one when he said that a marriage could be ended if an unbelieving husband or wife left the marriage. But he told the believing spouse to remain with the unbelieving husband or wife if he or she would still have him. The unbeliever operates from one level of light and the believer from another.
Q. Is it possible that the unbeliever might have more light than the believer?
A. It happens, sad to say, and we must never deny credit where it is due. A new convert has a lot to learn and a lot to change in himself. The unbeliever may well be living closer to the law of his conscience than the new believer. Some believers, even 'old' ones, behave appallingly badly, usually because they have not understood the grace of Messiah.
Q. I believe Mormon women often remarry if their husbands leave their religion?
A. Yes, with tragic consequences. But this is the result of false doctrine. The Mormons believe that a woman can only come to the highest heaven by being married to a faithful Mormon man. This means, from their point-of-view, that if a man falls away from their religion, she is automatically denied the highest reward. It is not untypical for the Mormon leaders to recommend women in such relationships to divorce their husbands and marry a faithful Mormon man.
That such is contrary to the biblical teaching is immediately obvious because Paul told believing wives to remain with unbelieving husbands.
Q. But couldn't they argue the 'spiritual adultery' angle that you raised?
A. On a legalistic level, yes. But the higher law demands grace and forgiveness, patience and long-suffering. Someone who divorces his wife for changing religion or abandoning his own is admitting to following a lesser path that has more in common with the Mosaic Covenant than with the New. This, incidentally, confirms what those of us who know Mormonism well have consistently maintained, that Mormonism is in reality a kind of 'Law of Moses' with some New Covenant Law added on top. As such it is a contradiction. But not all Mormons take this view. Many live acording to their consciences and remain faithful to their husbands who leave their faith. Their appeal is to love rather than law.
Q. You have been divorced twice, in both cases the divorce being initiated by your wives. What were the reasons?
A. In the first case, it is because my first wife became infatuated with another man and adopted his New Age system of belief which did not have the same view of marriage covenant that Yahweh has instituted. The gnostic New Age cult she belongs to (she has since left it and married a third time - 2017) rejects most of the Bible, and especially Paul.
In the second case, she had personal problems and felt that she could not cope with the strains of life. She left at a time when NCAY was being persecuted and the pressure was too much for her. Her avowed intent was to return when things had settled down and she had had more time to think things out but as is so often the case when the coal falls out of the fireplace, she grew cold and progressively drifted away. She always measured a marriage relationship in terms of the heart, as does the prevailing secular society, and did not, I think, fully understand what a covenant was and is. She became very disorientated and confused for a period, even joining our persecutors, though she subsequently regretted this.
Q. And you would receive both of them home again if they asked to return.
A. Of course. It is the only honourable, loving Christian/Messianic thing I could do.
Q. What if the rôles had been reversed? What of the husband goes off and remarries, and the wife remarries too?
A. Well, I think I have dealt with this in what I said earlier. If he is the one to commit adultery by deserting his first wife, she is free to remarry, and is guiltless.
Q. What if both later come to regret this, and want to remarry?
A. You ask difficult questions! In such complicated cases, the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) must be the arbiter, because some situations can be very complicated indeed, especially if the persons have remarried several times.
Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that both spouses remarry, regret their course of action, and want to get back together again. We actually have a near impossible situation. The man is in the wrong legally, the woman chose a lesser path though she was legally justified. She married a man whom we shall presume was honourable. She was justified in marrying him and he has the right to expect her to be faithful. In this situation I would say it was impossible for the original couple to remarry for though this would in a way be invoking the higher spiritual law it would mean breaking up a legally constituted marriage in Elohim's (God's) eyes. And since Yahweh is an Elohim (God) or order, to break His own laws would open him up to the charge of sin, an impossible eventuality!
Q. What if the wife's second husband were not honourable? What if he had divorced his wife in order to have this woman?
A. Then remarriage would be the correct option because the wife's second husband would be an adulterer and she would be committing adultery marrying him. So it would be absolutely clear in this case that the original couple remarry.
Q. What if there were children in both marriages?
A. Then grace is an important element here. In the case of the wife's second husband's children (the one who divorced his wife illegally to marry her) the children would belong to her and become the legally adopted children of the first husband (according to the Theocratic Law of Zion).
Q. And if the husband's second wife had children with him?
A. From the legal standpoint, because he committed adultery, the first wife would have the right to insist that she and the children leave. However, from the standpoint of grace and the higher law, if all were agreed, then the husband would have the right to retain both women provided proper repentance was made and an acknowledgement made that a sin had been committed.
Q. In the same way that David retained Bathsheba?
A. Not quite. Bathsheba belonged to another, and still does. In a sense David had the right to retain her as a wife while both were living but in the eternities he would not retain her. She would be returned to Uriah.
A better example would be David and Michal, his first wife who, while David was a fugitive, was 'married' off by Saul to another man adulterously. After Saul died, David sent for her and she was forcibly separated from Phaltiel, her usurper-'husband'.
Q. I can see how the feelings of the heart could so easily cloud the issue. What part does this have to play? What if a couple make a mistake getting married, by, saying, rushing into it, find they don't love each other, and remarry others whom they truly love?
A. You are asking me to judge using the standards of the world. I am sympathetic, of course, to all matters of the heart, and we must not neglect them. But this is just one of the dilemmas that seem to occur when Elohim's (God's) sacred laws are trifled with. People no longer take marriage seriously. It is mostly just a licence for mutually-agreed sex. But this cannot be, because children are involved, whose mental, emotional and spiritual growth depends so much on the cohesiveness and stability of family life.
We must, as ever, make a clear distinction between this life (which is temporary) and heaven (which is eternal). In this world we must make sacrifices, even for a deep romantic love if necessary, especially if we are the ones responsible for making the kind of mess-up you postulate. My two eldest children suffered enormously when my first marriage split up and to this day they are resentful of their mother for destroying our family life, particularly the eldest. They were also deeply hurt by my second wife leaving home for whom she had been a step-mother, as this just added to their sorrows. Though they are settled now the scars are all too evident. Much reconciliation work has to be done, preferably in this life (while we still have time to reform and grow) rather than the next (when to all intents and purposes it will be too late for certain relationships to flourish).
The feelings of the heart are powerful, very powerful. And when they are activated dramatically as when a couple fall in love, they tend to obscure all other forces, especially the rational mind. Their judgment not infrequently becomes impaired. And it seems (to them) as though this force of love is greater than anything else and so it assumes a position of authority in the minds of those experiencing it which Elohim (God) nowhere grants.
Q. What do you mean?
A. I mean that there is a much greater love than the love between a man and a woman. It is the love of Elohim (God) and embraces all people. When a couple in love claim they have found the greatest of loves, they are committing a form of idolatry, for their love is a created one, a gift from Elohim (God). They did not 'invent' or 'create' it. The ahavah (love) of Elohim (God) is much greater but becomes obscured when a couple become idolatrously infatuated with each other.
This must constantly be born in mind. Romantic love, though glorious and wonderful in its proper place in Elohim's (God's) scheme of things, is notoriously ego-centric and selfish. It is not the highest love even though it may sometimes (often, in fact) try to impose itself as such.
When dealing with divorce and remarriage we must constantly bear these things in mind. There are other, more important needs. People who fall in love and have intense passionate love affairs, can also fall out of love and even hate one another afterwards. It is a notoriously unstable form of love at times. Those who are cold to love can also fall in love. And more importantly than all of these things, the ahavah (love) of Elohim (God) is an agent than can transform a failing marriage into a successful and loving one, and cause an adulterous marriage to break apart by the shere force of moral righteousness.
Q. So the judgment of such cases in the Messianic Community (Church) requires greal spiritual maturity?
A. It does. It is the responsibility of the Elders, and especially those Elders who have been long in the ministry and who know the Davar (Word), love people and are living close to the Ruach (Spirit). They will, of course, err from time to time, which is why we have these Apostolic Interviews and other apostolic structures. In sensitive or complicated cases it is often wise to have the judgment of many Zaqqenim (Elders) and to take time in reaching a decision.
The divine imperative, where there is doubt, is always reconciliation where marriages have floundered. It is the first principle, and it is fueled by the ahavah (love) of Elohim (God). This it the miracle of the Christian/Messianic Evangel, and it is how Messiah's incredible power is manifested to the world.
Q. I wonder if we could now address the question of physical abuse. There are some who say that physical abuse on the part of a husband justifies divorce, and there are others who say the wife should just "turn the other cheek". What is the Messianic Evangelical position?
A. One Christian writer said that "no moral principle is completely autonomous in itself". There are times when one moral principle will come into direct and unavoidable conflict with another and we are forced to choose the highest good.
Q. Can you give an example?
A. Well, for instance, if telling a lie was the only way to save an innocent person's life, what would you do? Tell the emet (truth) and let the person die, or lie and save his life?
Q. I suppose I would lie, though it would cause me great anguish of conscience.
A. I understand that, and I agree with you. It's not easy but in this life we will often face such difficult moral choices. I admit, I have lied to save my own children, and feel justified to this day. Others thought I was wrong and would have been willing to sacrifice their children. I strongly disagree with them. With such decisions we must be answerable to Elohim (God), and Elohim (God) alone.
Q. Can you give some scriptural examples to justify this stance from the Davar (Word)?
A. There are many. Consider how Rahab lied to save the Israelite spies in Jericho (Josh.2:3-4). This action was justified by Yahweh, says Paul (Heb.11:31) and by the apostle James (Jas.2:25-26). In this example Elohim (God) judges an individual as righteous even though they were forced to lie.
What about the case of the Israelite midwives in Egypt? They spared the lives of baby boys inspite of the Pharaoh's extermination order (Ex.1:15-21). It says clearly that "Elohim (God) was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared Elohim (God), He gave them families of their own" (v.21, NIV).
The Torah (Law) of Moses, given by Yahweh, also says that a man who accidentally kills a thief whilst protecting his property and his own life is justified, and that the man should have a clear conscience (Ex.22:1-2).
Q. But these days the thief can prosecute you if you try to stop him!
A. Too true, showing how utterly perverse modern laws in the West have become. The governments, in making such laws, have become criminals themselves. And they wonder why crime has risen so sharply! What utter fools they are and what a terrible judgment the men and women behind them will receive.
Q. You have given us some Tanakh (Old Testament) examples. Are there any ones from the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament)?
A. Well, you saw for yourself how Paul and James upheld the Tanakh (Old Testament), so we really don't need to go justifying ourselves with New Testament examples. Still, because of some false schools of theology which virtually make the Tanakh (Old Testament) out to be evil, I suppose we must.
Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself taught this principle of higher laws taking precedence over lower ones, many times, as did His apostles. Speaking to Pilate, Yah'shua (Jesus) said:
Q. I don't follow...
A. Two men may be said to be responsible for Yah'shua's (Jesus's) death - Judas (for betraying Him) and Pilate (for making judgment). Both were, in a sense, murderers, but the greater judgment was upon Judas.
"You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you (Judas) is guilty of a greater sin" (John 19:11, NIV).
Q. I still don't follow...
A. Some moral laws are more important than other moral laws depending on the circumstances. Look, Pilate was responsible for the death of Messiah but he wanted to set Him free (v.12). Judas wanted Him dead because He wanted to force a dramatic resurrection event to convince the people. Judas yielded to Satan, Pilate wanted to yield to goodness, but was a part of a divine scheme. In the end, he let the people decided Yah'shua's (Jesus') fate. It is complicated because there are several moral laws in operation here simultaneously. Theologians have debated the ethics of this event over the centuries, generating many books and treatises on the subject. Who was the more guilty - Judas, Pilate, or the Judeans who judged Him? All were accesseries or directly involved. You'll never arrive at an answer that everyone accepts. This kind of judment can only be made by Elohim (God) who knows all the hearts concerned. Do you see the dilemma we are in?
Q. Yes, I see that. Are there, perhaps, some simpler examples?
A. Alright, lets's take another:
I see you are still not quite with me. Let us illustrate with an example from Matthew 23:23 -
"Anyone who breaks one of the least of these mitzvot (commandments) and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whosoever teaches and practices these mitzvot (commandments) will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt.5:19, NIV).
Q. I'm with you now. There are torot (laws) on different levels of importance. The important torot (laws) come first yet the less important ones are, in a sense, important too. It's just a question of priority.
"Woe to you, teachers of the Torah (Law) and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill, and cummim. But you have neglected the more important matters of the Torah (Law) - justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former" (NIV).
A. Yes, this is my understanding also. This should not be an excuse - liberals please note - to pick and choose the mitzvot (commandments) we want to live. If we deliberately break one of the least important of the mitzvot (commandments), what happens to us? We are the least in the kingdom of heaven! (Mt.5:19). But if we practice all of them, we are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Thus there are hierarchies of mitzvot (commandments) and therefore of faithfulness, and if there is a conflict, we obey the higher ones first. But this does not mean we should neglect the lower ones, because they are all a part of a whole.
Let me give you another example. When the Judean authorities made it illegal for the apostles to preach, that did they say?
A. And what did they have to do in order to obey Elohim (God)?
Q. Disobey the leaders.
A. Who else did they disobey?
Q. Elohim (God)!
A. Yes, they had to disobey the mitzvah (commandment) to be subject to civil authorities. And sometimes we must (rarely, I hope) even disobey ecclesiatical authorties (like our Pastor) in order to obey Elohim (God). But we must be very careful here and not presume too much, for some head-strong and undisciplined people are liable to take this as a licence to open rebellion. The balance is a fine one and we must labour hard with our consciences before we go breaking a lesser mitzvah (commandment).
The apostle James said:
We all know about Abraham's ordeal with his son Isaac - Paul justifies the action (Heb.11:17).
"Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins" (Jas.4:17, NIV).
I could cite more but I think the point is established. There very clearly is a hieracrchy of values which should govern our moral decisions in life. If then, a wife's health is threatened by a violently abusive husband - whether physically, psychologically, or both - what then should she do?
Q. I would say, leave him.
A. And I would agree. We have a moral law of self-preservation and self-defence which are derived from the very right to live itself and which superceeds the torah (law) or covenant of marriage. Many a tyrant has hidden behind the marriage covenant and many a victim's cries have been left unheard because of a non-recognition of the hierarchy of values by wrong theologies.
Q. So should the victim seek a separation or a divorce?
A. The worst men can become angels if the ahavah (love) of Messiah enters their heart. The law of self-preservation is not necessarily a licence to permanently end the marriage contract. If Elohim (God) gives us space for repentance, we must be prepared extend the same to others. But for how long? This is a hard question - very hard. Should one wait all one's life for a tyrant to reform?
Q. So what's the answer to this question?
A. It is obviously not fair to condemn the victim of abuse to a lifetime of fear, threats, danger, loneliness and frustration simply because the abusive spouse won't reform. I think it would be wrong to make an absolute judgment because there are different degrees of tyranny. If an abusive husband has tried to murder his wife then I would unhesitatingly recommend instant divorce. The wife must follow the promptings of the Ruach (Spirit) always. As a guideline I would recommend, where following a separation the husband does not threaten her in any way, to allow for at least a year in which to give him the chance to wrestle with his conscience, if he has one left, but I would not wish to impose this as a hard-and-fast rule. The wife may want to give the man longer, especially if she still loves him.
She should also consider whether protracting such a marriage is destroying her spiritual life. We are called to live a life in Messiah, and to live life abundantly. If a violent man is preventing this so that she becomes impotent in her spiritual life, then a quick divorce is probably desirable.
We can further answer the question by asking how Elohim (God) responded to Israel's and Judah's apostacies. How long did He wait? After what sins did He issue His bill of divorcement?
We must not, by the way, assume that it is only the wife who is the victim of such abuse. Wives have been known to do the same to their husbands, and whilst female physical violence is on the rise, the woman's chief weapon has been psychological for the most part. I have know several men reduced to wrecks by cold, cruel and demeaning wives. They too have a right to protect themselves especially if their health and spiritual life is being destroyed. So let us not assume abuse is necessarily one-gendered.
Q. So what is the answer to your question about Elohim (God), Israel and Judah?
A. Elohim (God) waited so long, allowed time for repentance, but when there was no long-lasting reform, He pronounced judgment. He caused these nations to be taken into captivity, which is a pretty good likeness of the break-up of a family following divorce, what with the loss of house, land, etc..
Let us return to the case of the abusive husband. He is called to be the head of his home, and to cherish his wife and family as Messiah loves and cherishes the qodeshim (saints, set-apart ones) (Eph.5:23). Headship is conditional upon this cherishing - loving protection. A man who abuses his wife and/or children is no longer a head in the Christian/Messianic sense of the word. He is a despot. A proper biblical marriage precludes all violent behaviour, whether physical or psychological. Although Elohim (God) hates divorce, there are certain adverse conditions in which one moral law superceeds another.
The Olive Branch, the NCAY's collection of revelations, gives us much helpful advice in the area of marriage and potential difficulties. On the macroscropic level, we are told that marriage has a threefold function:
I could discourse at length on this theme but suffice to say here and now that a successful marriage will, by its very nature, be bringing forth these fruits: creativity, reconciliation/healing and itself be a witness of Elohim's (God's) ahavah (love) to us. Marriage is, in fact, a microcosmic manifestation of the Elohimhead (Godhead) in action.
"Creation, Redemptionm and Witness" (NC&C 68:22).
Q. Presumably many marriage difficulties could be avoided if these became its three goals?
A. Undoubtedly. For most people marriage means sex, companionship and family, though the family component seems to be less and less important nowadays. It is all of these, but much more: marriage is a witness of Messiah. It is the core of the Messianic Community (Church), for the Messianic Community (Church) is a Family of families in Messiah. It is the very heart of the Messianic Community (Church) and society. When the family is weakened, so is society. Thus marriage covenants are amongst the most important that human beings ever enter. Marriage is, in some respects, a divine enactment on a human level.
Q. Are all marriages by divine appointment, or are some accidental? I mean, are we to assume that all marriages are predestined and therefore sacred?
A. The Olive Branch tells us that many marriages are adulterous because they pervert the whole purpose of marriage (N&C 56:19). By that is meant that for many marriage is but legalised sex and no more. When the sex drive changes, the marriages end. This, we are told, is to "make that which is qadosh (holy, set-apart) into carnality and depravity".
And yet the qodeshim (saints) are to treat all marriages as though they were Yahweh-sanctioned (v.20) because they are the result of free agency. The man or woman who deliberately seeks to destroy another's marriage comes under condemnation.
Chapter 56 of the Olive Branch adds an interesting dimension to the question of separation and divorce. I quote:
Q. There is so much mercy in this, and yet it doesn't compromise justice either!
"If Elohim (God) hath not joined a man and woman together, and they have no children, and they mutually agree, whether they are married according to the law of the land or are abiding a common law marriage, let them part and seek out those companions which I, Yahweh, have ordained for them. And if they divorce, they shall be justified, and shall not commit adultery if they remarry. Nevertheless, before they do this, let them search their hearts carefully, and not in haste, lest per chance they were ordained of Elohim (God) to be together and knew it not. And thus they shall preclude adultery. They shall not consider this lightly but in soberness and honesty, having taken counsel from their Pastorate. And if the Pastorate are not agreed, let them seek the council of a higher prophetic authority, even the Bishopric, and from there the local Apostle, until all are agreed.
"If Elohim (God) hath not joined a couple together, and they have children, let them greatly beware, for whosoever divideth the hearts of their little ones committeth a great sin and it shall not go well with them. Such couples must bear the responsibility of having brought children into the world and shall have regard for their little ones before themselves. And if they are able to live together in harmony and provide a happy home for their children, they shall not separate, but come unto Me, even Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), and I shall give them grace that they may be faithful in their stewardship, and also that they might love each other. But of they will not come unto Me, but rather shall descend into bitterness and hatred, not repenting of their selfish and carnal natures, it is better that they separate for the sake of their little ones; and they must receive the reward of their sins" (NC&C 56:22-30).
A. Yes, there is much mercy, tenderness, and compassion here, but also a reminder that the Torah (Law) of Justice requires that we consider others before ourselves, particularly children. This revelation was chiefly received for those forced into marriages against their wills for in many countries marriages are arranged, sometimes whilst the intended spouses are tiny children. This is a great wickedness but is a reality that must be faced. There are also those forced into polygamous marriages against their wills and they must be given free agency too.
Q. Free choice seems to be paramount...
A. Yes, and once it is exercised, there is responsibility. Once we choose a path, we have certain duties to perform which at times may militate against what our heart-desires are. The Olive Branch is full of this concept - it is a book of tremendous mercy and grace but is also strict and Torah-centred. That is why we claim it to be a book for the combined tribes of Ephraim and Judah - it is an Israelite book, a millennial book of theocratic goverment.
Q. NCAY teaches that there are two kinds of marriage - (a) the Adam-Eve marriages which were foreordained and need no marriage contract in this life because they are 'natural' and therefore 'eternal', and (b) marriages made on earth in the usual way which terminate at death. How are we to know which marriage we are in? Or are we in both? What if we discover we are in a relationship that is not eternal and we want an eternal one?
A. The Olive Branch says, concerning your last question,
Firstly, I understand from this revelation that we do not know in this life who are our eternal companions, and who are not. Can you imagine the hell it would be knowing you were married to someone whom you would be separated from at death? I think that would remove a lot of incentive to work at the marriage relationship. We must have emunah (faith) that Elohim (God) will order all things up in heaven to the satisfaction of all the parties. This is my belief. We should live as though all our marriages are eternal. There really isn't any other way. The Olive Branch says further:
"I am the healer of relationships, saith Yahweh, and am able to seal the hearts of those who were not foreordained to marriage in the flesh if they will but surrender unto Me. For even though a couple are not foreordained unto marriage, nevertheless they may be permitted, so long as they live in mortality, for righteousness' sake" (NC&C 56:32-33).
Q. These are great and wonderful promises...
"Let no one hurry to be separated or to divorce but let them fall upon their knees and turn their marriages unto Me, the great Bridegroom, whether they were foreordained to marriage together or not. If ye will trust Me, I will repair your marriages and cause them to flourish. In Elohim (God) all things are possible, whether a marriage is foreordained or according to My permissive will. Therefore have emunah (faith), nothing waivering, and I shall do it unto you for your happiness and shalom (peace). And when [the Millennial] Zion cometh I shall make all things equal, for I am an Elohim (God) of Justice and Chesed (Mercy). Bear your burdens cheerfully, trusting in Me, and I will surely sustain you and bring you the shalom (peace) of the Kingdom. Are there any separated or divorced? Let them be re-united or remarry for the sakes of their little ones, and I will surely bless and increase them" (NC&C 56:35-41).
A. And they work. But they first require a death to pride and any insistence that what spouses assume are their 'rights'. Notice the council that follows, which says:
Q. This is hard especially when there has been a long history of conflict.
"In all cases the Community (Church) shall seek the voice of revelation and minister much council in AHAVAH (LOVE) AND PATIENCE, not in a spirit of accusation and recrimination" (v.42).
A. Hard, but not impossible. Yahweh says further to those stuck in a bad spirit:
Q. That's even harder...
"Let he whose heart is unstable and like the rushing waters be silent and listen, for he who listeneth not shall not learn, and may be the cause of much sorrow" (v.43).
A. Yes, there is a lot of feeling in marriage conflicts because marriage is supposed to be a place of deep intimacy where the deepest feelings can be shared in trust. When that trust is abused, it surely destablises the heart. No ministry of reconciliation can take place until the heart is stilled, and the best place to do that is in prayer. But if the parties won't pray together, it's going to be a tough battle. I have known marriage conflicts to evapourate in prayer because prayer changes the centre from self to Messiah. To be in Messiah requires mutual submission to Him. When there is conflict there is little desire to submit.
Q. We are to protect all marriages, aren't we?
Q. Why do you think Yahweh found it necessary to say that?
"Thou shalt treat the marriages of the world as though they are marriages of Elohim (God), for righteousness' sake, that none may accuse you of partiality and lawlessness" (v.61).
A. My belief is that it is because there are some cults around who claim the right to anull marriages at will. The early Mormons did this. Joseph Smith, the Mormon leader, declared that all marriages solemnised outside the Mormon Church were invalid in Elohim's (God's) eyes. He used this to manuipulate and control people and indeed chased after other men's wives, especially those who did not join his church. So Yahweh reminds us that ALL marriages are to be respected, whether they are contracted by pagans or believers, for it makes no difference. Marriage is a qadosh (holy, set-apart) institution independent of creeds and religions generally.
But I also think this revelation was given because in our day marriage as an institution is not looked upon with as much respect as before. The sanctity of marriage has been reduced by secular laws so that adulterers are, for example, no longer punished. Yahweh has therefore said:
Q. This would appear to contradict what you have said about the conditions for possible divorce. If we are to protect all marriages, then divorce is surely not an option at all?
"For as I have told you, let none seek to divide any marriage, whether they be marriages of spirit or not, for man is not Elohim (God) and shall respect the free agency of all" (v.62).
A. You have misunderstood the revelation. WE are not to interfere with OTHER PEOPLE'S MARIAGES. Thus I cannot come up to you and say: 'Brother, this marriage is not of Elohim (God), therefore I recommend that you divorce.' This is the point of this revelation. This is not judging inter-spouse problems. The whole of Section 56 is actually addressed to the ministry so that they know how to settle marriage problems. They are not to actively seek to divide any marriage, their sole purpose being to work to protect them. BUT, if the couple are bent on divorce, and there are valid Torahl grounds, they are to council them and then respect their free agency.
Q. Would NCAY intervene to stop a divorce taking place?
A. We have no authority to order anyone to marry or divorce. We are merely to council. We may, though, refuse certain priesthood and other rights if there is clearly a breach of the mitzvot (commandments). And as you know NCAY is mandated to excommunicate anyone who commits adultery or who is abusing his or her spouse once all attempts at reconciliation and reformation have failed.
Q. Presumably NCAY has much to say on how singles should select their companions?
A. Messianic Evangelicals believe in marriage by divine providence with the consent of the individuals concerned. Section 78 of the Olive Branch has much to say about this and is worth careful study. We devote much time and effort to cultivating mariages in NCAY because we see in it a type of our own relationship to Elohim (God). The investment more than pays off, making for a more stable and spiritual fellowship. We recognise that all marriages have difficulties (NC&C 78:37) but that this is purposeful.
Q. What if a husband and wife both commit adultery, and remarry. They later repent, perhaps accepting Yah'shua (Jesus) as their Deliverer (Saviour). Are they forgiven? What happens with regard to their first marriage? Should they seek their original spouses?
A. We know that Elohim (God) is always ready to accept anyone who repents from past transgressions and then makes Yah'shua (Jesus) is Master (Lord) and Deliverer (Saviour) (Heb.2:9; Jn.6:44-69; Rom.3:25; Rev.1:5; Heb.9:22; 1 Pet.1:18-19; Jn.12:44-46; Mt.12:50, etc.). If they were unbelievers when they were divorced and have remarried and started families, then in baptism the past is washed away, unless by some strange miracle (which only Yahweh can perform) they are somehow able to come together. In today's world, with people marrying many times sometimes, it is usually quite impossible to salvage the past. When we become believers, we start new lives. True, we should seek to make restitution, where possible, for wrong-doings and this may include the restoration of destroyed marriages. But I am speaking of unbelievers. It is altogether different when believers divorce for the rules are clear. We jeapordise our salvation if we ingnore them.
Q. What of yourself? Do you hope your two earlier wives will return? Were they both believers? What of the eternities?
A. Of course I hope they will return. I was an independent Restorationist when my first marriage broke up, or at least, a Latter Day Saint for I was not a part of the Utah Church. But I had been born again before I became a Mormon so I have always counted myself as a Christian/Messianic from that time in 1977. My first wife never, to my knowledge, had a born-again experience, but certainly believed in Messiah, but within the false Mormon paradigm. So whether she comes under the category of 'believer' or 'unbeliever' I am not sure, though I believe the former myself. My second wife was definitely a born-again Christian, and though she too was a Mormon for a time, she had been an active Evangelical Christian before that. So I would definitely classify her as a believer. Thus I believe my first wives come under the category of 'believer'. All of us, then, are under the Torah (Law) of the New Testament. And it is this Torah (Law) that we will be judged from.
As for the eternities, I have my own beliefs, which are private, but ultimately only Elohim (God) knows. My great burning desire is for reconciliation and a restoration of family life. Which brings us back to the three principles of marriage: Creation, Redemption and Witness. The redemption of our marriage would be a wonderful witness for Messiah, and therefore these are my three aims. I wish my marriage to bring glory to Elohim (God) first and foremost. If we have this view of marriage we can only triumph, because we have another party to the marriage, its equipper and empowerer, the Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). I desire to see redemption and restoration of marriage everywhere. This will be my goal until my dying breath. With me, the covenant of my marriage is sure. I shall never deny it.
This interview was given in February 1999
A number of essential refinements have been made to this teaching over the years in the light of more scriptural knowledge about marriage. This is just a very brief synopsis:
Matthew 5:32 and 9:19 are now known to refer not to fully married persons but to those who are betrothed, thus changing the perspective of marriage and divorce on two key new Testament passages. A betrothed person is one who is committed for life but has not consummated the marriage (so is a little different from modern 'engagement' because betrothal is a binding, non-consummated marriage). Much confusion exists over marriage and divorce issues because the West has abandoned this biblical principle. Neither is it possible to understand biblical regulations on marriage without having an understanding of multiple marriage which is permitted and regulated in Torah (Law). The complications and confusion only arise when we try to redefine marriage on the basis of cultural rather than biblical standards. For a full exegesis, see the article, Divorce and Remarriage. Thus divorce is only permitted in the pre-consummated marriage stage of betrothal. After full marriage divorce is not allowed at all unless the spouse is an unbeliever, becomes an unbeliever and deserts the marriage, in which can the non-deserting party can initiate a divorce. Separation (temporarily living apart) is not dessertion which is.
Paul affirmed that a man should not divorce his wife or a wife her husband (1 Cor.7:11,13), imitating Yah'shua's (Jesus') restoration of the pre-Mosaic order fobidding divorce altogether (Mt.19:8). Thus the rules governing divorce are even stricter than described and interpreted in this interview. This should be an even greater incentive to choose our spouses by revelation and to make our marriages work.