One of the most difficult and touchy issues when it comes to plural marriage is knowing who and who is not eligible for polygamous marriage. With so few virgins these days, most young people having experimented with sex before marriage (assuming they ever do marry), it becomes hard to establish who actually belongs to whom. For according to the Torah, the first man a woman has sex with is her lawfully wedded husband for life, and every single woman a man sleeps with is his lawfully wedded wife for life, unless the woman concerned already belongs to another man.
According to the excellent piece of research work done by Mike Sullivan in his ground-breaking article, Divorce and Remarriage, which ought to be read through carefully before proceeding with this article, there are, as far as the Torah is concerned, no grounds for divorce whatsoever once a person has been fully married - meaning, once the marriage has been consummated sexually. The only scriptural grounds for divorce are if a woman fornicates with another person during their betrothal period.
"Not even if she commits adultery with another man??" you might ask in surprise.
Not even if she commits adultery with another man. She still remains the wife of her husband for the rest of her life and he may not divorce her. For once he has consummated the act of marriage with sex the marriage bond is permanently fixed in this life and can not, as a general rule, be broken. That is the first principle.
The second principle is, of course, that the one committing adultery is under a 'death sentence', as it were, and is seriously defiled. The effect of this will be to immediately demonise her. Under no circumstances must the couple sleep together again until there has been full repentance, an utter forsaking of the adulterous relationship, deliverance ministry, and a long period of cleansing, which I adjudge to be a minimum of one year (other ministers recommend two years). The husband also has the right to separate himself from his wife in this case but she does not have the right to remarry.
What of the man who commits adultery by lying with another man's wife? He also is under the same 'death sentence' and is likewise demonised. His bona fide wives should not lie with him until there has been complete repentance and a forsaking of the adulterous relationship, deliverance ministry, and an equally long period of cleansing, otherwise they defile themselves and risk transfer of sexually impure demons. His wives would have the right to separate themselves from him though they would not be entitled to remarry.
This is the sober teaching of the Bible - Old and New Testaments: once you have engaged in the sexual act, you are married FOR LIFE no matter what you may do.
What if the parties do not repent? Is the marriage over? The marriage in the spirit may be said to be over but not the marriage in the flesh, and the parties responsible for the adultery may not remarry. If a monogamous or a polygamous man has committed adultery with another woman and does not repent he may never marry again.
This means that husband and wife have GOT to work things out. They do not have the luxury of moving on to another partner and 'trying again'. The responsibility is absolute. There are exceptions, of course, where the marriage partners are not mutually consenting. But if they have consented, they are tied for life. For this reason, marriage should not be considered except with the GREATEST of care and in pursuit of Yahweh's will.
So when is divorce permissible? As far as the Torah (law) is concerned, divorce is only permissible if one or other of a betrothed couple commit fornication, that is, have sex with someone else. If the betrothed wife fornicates with another man, the betrothed husband (if he so chooses) may divorce her. If he releases her, then she would be obliged to marry the man she has slept with. If the betrothed husband commits adultery with another man's wife, the betrothed wife may divorce him. Then she would be free to marry again.
Where I disagree with Mike's otherwise very insightful article is the ommission of grace in the equation. Whilst grace does not give us the right to trample on the Law, it is Yahweh's provision for abuse of the Law by, say, an unrighteous - and especially an unbelieving - husband. If a woman is deserted by an unbelieving husband, and once a period of time has been allowed for attempted reconcilliation (one to two years, as a rule - more if moved upon to do so by the Ruach (Spirit), for Yahweh alone knows if there is a chance for reconcilliation), then she is free to remarry. I have also been powerfully constrained by the Ruach (Spirit) on many occasions to counsel divorce where a husband has been abusive and cruel and shows no signs of repentance, especially an unbelieving husband. Such should, of course, be done only with very careful prayer and with counselling from one or more mature Christians. Let us always remember that the kernel of marriage is always the spirit.
Click here to read Part 2