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A correct doctrine of marriage and divorce is essential for the happy running of any Christian/Messianic community which is why I have encouraged a discussion on this subject here. Feel free to mail in your views.
I believe that Mark Sullivan has correctly identified what Christ meant by "adultery" as being a ground for divorce though doubtless others will challenge this position. It seems pretty clear to me that there are no grounds for divorce between fully married believers - ever, not even adultery. The adultery that Christ speaks of is between betrothed believers. There are other questions in this area that I have not yet resolved such as: what happens if the believing wife deserts the betrothed marriage, marries another, and the husband refuses to grant her a divorce? Is he still technically married to her? My conclusion must be that, yes, he is still married to her, but that she is living in adultery. What if he releases her? Then according to the words of Christ, he is no longer bound to her as her husband. She, however, is living in a state of adultery, and must either remain single or plead to return to her husband. What if she loses faith after she breaks the betrothed marriage? The question is, in this case, moot, since she becomes a lost sinner. Thereafter it doesn't really 'matter' what she does until she repents, returns to her Lord and, if she is sensible, to her husband as well, pleading with him to repudiate the divorce contract.
Now Paul makes it very clear that there is a second ground for divorce. Moreover, the spiritual implications of this ruling have far reaching spiritual consequences which we must not miss. The second ground for divorce applies only in the case of a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). Believers are expected not to marry unbelievers (v.39; 2 Corinthians 6:14) so the only valid (in Yahweh's eyes) situation where such a condition could arise (believer married to unbeliever) is if one of two married unbelievers becomes a believer. The ground for a divorce is clearly stated in v.15:
In other words, if the unbeliever 'moves out', abandons, or separates from the believer, then the believer has a ground for divorce in the New Covenant. But what is the spiritual reason or justification in Yahweh's eyes for such a drastic action? Elohim (God) does not create rules arbitrarily.
"In case the unbeliever wants to separate, let there be separation; the brother or sister under such circumstances is not tied down. But Elohim (God) has called you to enjoy peace" (RBV).
Paul says the justification for divorce in this case is so that the believer is not tied down (RSB) or as the JNT puts it, "is not enslaved" (KJV - "is not under bondage").
This is the issue then: Yahweh considers slavery legitimate grounds for divorce if the enslaving unbeliever deserts the marriage. We must not miss this vital key to underastanding the heart of Elohim (God). To be yoked to an unbeliever is a kind of death. But if the unbeliever is willing to remain, then the believing party should work on the marriage in the hope that he or she may be saved (v.16). It is the believer's act of sacrifice. It is the path of true love.
We find a parallel situation in the story of Esther who married a pagan King (in this case deliberately in Yahweh's will - an exception to be noted, and not a general rule) in order to save Yahweh's people from extinction. It was her act of sacrifice.
A believing spouse cannot leave his or her unbelieving partner, for such would be a violation of the condition for separation and divorce in vv.12-13.
However, in view of the principle lying behind this divorce ruling - namely, freedom from slavery, might there be any exceptions? What if the unbelieving husband is violent and abusive, and the children are suffering? What if she is being psychologically tortured? Though this might not constitute grounds for divorce there is no doubt that it would, in my view, constitute more than legitimate grounds for separation. What, if she separates from him, should next happen? Should she remain separated and single for the rest of her life? The unbelieving husband, of course, would be entitled to take another wife if he wished. If he committed adultery with another man's wife, would she then have grounds for divorcing him? My answer to that would be, Yes. If she attempted to return to him and he refused her, then she would have grounds for permanent separation, i.e. divorce, but only, in my judgment, if she separated from him in the first place because of violence, abuse, etc.
We must always keep in sharp focus two key Gospel principles for married as well as unmarried men and women. Firstly, Yahweh wants us to be free to serve Him (Galatians 5:1,3; 1 Peter 2:16; James 1:25; 2 Corinthians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 8:9; Romans 8:2). Secondly, He expects us to sacrifice in order to be the means of saving others (1 Corinthians 7:16; Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 2:17; 4:18; Obadiah 1:21). These two have to be carefully balanced in the light of what the Law of the Bible actually permits and does not permit. Since sexual immorality (such as getting divorced and remarried for the wrong reasons) is a ground for excluding a soul from the Eternal Kingdom, we dare not treat this subject lightly (1 Cor.6:9). Great care must be taken in being faithful to the Word.
Now obviously in the dificult situation of the second ground for divorce the rules for every situation vary somewhat. A tremendous responsibility devolves upon the believer wishing to divorce. If an unbelieving husband deserts a believing wife, how long should she wait before filing for a divorce? Has she the right to do so instantly, or should she wait a period of time to let him reconsider? What if Yahweh knows that he will be saved and become a wonderful believing husband for her? Clearly such a woman must be living close to the Ruach (Spirit), and if she is in doubt, she must be careful and not act presumptuously. She must at all times find out Yahweh's will, and that might not be easy if she is in emotional turmoil. Such a person needs one or more good Yahweh-fearing, Bible-believing and spiritually obedient Christian/Messianic counsellors. But ultimately she must make the decision and act according to her own conscience.
Inevitably, mistakes are going to be made, and once you make such mistakes in a marriage situation, it can sometimes be impossible to set things right again afterwards. And there is a difference between men and women in this respect. Let us say that a believing woman leaves her unbelieving husband, divorces him, and remarries another unbeliever! (You will be able to write down many different case senarios, and if you are a Pastor, you may find yourself having to deal with them - so be prepared!). She is, of course, in defiance of Yahweh's Word herself. She should have remained single or married another believer. (What is a true "believer"? - another important question - what is the difference between a nominal Christian and one who is truly born again?). If her husband became a true believer and remarried, she would have the option of returning to him as a polygamous wife. Indeed, if she was still single, might she be obliged to return to him? What if they lost contact, she didn't know of the wonderful change that had happened, and she remarried another believer? Her sin would, in this case, be one of not staying close to the Ruach (Spirit). Many people marry impetuously - off the rebound from a failed marriage, because of lust, loneliness, etc.. This would seem to be to be the perfect opportunity for a woman thus separated to give herself in prayer to Yahweh and wait on Him. If she is doing this, then unfortunatele mistakes can be avoided.
But what if she impetuously marries a Yahweh-fearing believer who marries her in good faith, neither knowing that her original husband has become a believer and wants his first wife back either monogamously or polygamously? We are in the realm where there are no perfect solutions, for if she returns to her first husband, she will be defrauding her second one who has acted in good faith. In such cases, great care and spiritual senstitivity must be used. It is in such scenarios that only grace can solve such messes. A lot of careful balancing of options has to be done to find out which gives the greatest glory to Yahweh.
What, if for instance, a believing husband is violent and abusive? The question here then becomes what constitutes a "believer"? If you are of the 'once saved, always saved' school, then you have a nightmare on your hands. There may very well be a case for the man not being seen as a believer anymore, for I certainly do believe that a Christian can lose his salvation and, to all intents and purposes, cease being a 'Christian', even if the person still maintains he is one. But this is an ever thornier issue than the one above.
I conclude from all of this that there is a second ground for divorce but that the conditions allowing it are rather restricted and in any case one must be very, very careful. It is not a licence for a new convert to abandon his or her spouse just because the latter hasn't converted. And even if the unbeliever does abandon the marriage, the believer should not rush into a divorce. I always counsel a minimum of one year, maybe two, before any movement towards formal divorce take place.