Q. Just what are the grounds for Christian divorce? And why do Christians disagre so much about them? Some say adultery is the only ground, other include abuse, and others desertion by an unbelieving spouse? Please would you throw some light on this confusion!
Before Christ added His own clarifications to the extant Torah, marriage was forbidden between Israelites and:
Apart from these condemned races (which were eventually exterminated), interracial marriage was permitted provided the parties were Yahweh-worshippers and submitted themselves to His Torah (Law).
- (a) Those not of the Covenant; and
- (b) Certain races whom Yahweh forbade because of their murderous attitude towards Israel.
I start here for several reasons. Firstly, because Paul reaffirms that we are not to be unequally yoked to unbelievers (non-Israelites). Under the Old Covenant, divorce was expected if an Israelite married a pagan - it was mandatory. Marriage to an idolater was an abomination. So grievous a sin was it that after the Babylonian captivity, when the first exiles returned to Jerusalem, Ezra brought a word from Yahweh commanding the Israelites to divorce their pagan women. It must have been a heart-rending instruction to carry out, but equally Yahweh would never have demanded it had there not been a good reason. The law was not abrogated by the New Covenant though Paul adds an exception clause - if the pagan spouse is willing to remain with his or her wife/husband, she or he should be allowed to remain because the believer sanctifies the unbeliever. Though it is not stated as such, the implication is that the unbeliever at least loves the believer still, and hence wishes to remain. In other words, though willful marriage between a believer and an unbeliever is still an abomination but grace is extended to the unbeliever under the New Covenant as well as to the believer who converts from unbelief if he/she loves his/her unbelieving wife/husband.
We must tread carefully here. What Paul is not saying is that if a believer ceases loving an unbelieving spouse that there are grounds for divorce. We are commanded to love without reservation, even our enemies. But we are nowhere commanded to marry an enemy, or remain married to one who is destroying our faith and our physical life!
Christ clearly states that the only grounds for divorce for an Israelite - that is, a believer under Covenant - is adultery during betrothal. If adultery takes place in a believer's marriage, then there are grounds for separation but there is a divine imperative ... because of the love of Christ ... for reconciliation. And the reason that they are to be reconciled is that IN CHRIST, where a proper discipleship is being observed, reconcilliation is not only possible but guaranteed. The problem of a damaged believers' marriage is never irreconcilability but SIN - always - unless one or more have become unbelievers.
And this is really the sticky issue. If you belong to that theological school of thought which maintains 'once saved, always saved', then you can find yourself in the nightmarish situation of being forced to remain with someone who has once named the Name of Christ simply because (for example) of a single event in the past even if now he has become a devil-worshipper and your life, and maybe your children's lives, are now in grave danger. Such a doctrine is itself devilish and must be repudiated! If, using the extreme example, a believer becomes a devil worshipper, then he is not a believer any longer, and his fate is the pit.
If you are united to a spouse who is dragging you down to hell, then as far as I am concerned this is no different from the desertion that Paul speaks about. In fact, it is worse than desertion by an unbeliever, it is an act of defilement.
A sister was telling me of a woman she knew who was married to an abusive husband who regularly beat her up. Because he was a 'Christian', their Pastor told the wife to 'submit' to her husband and just take what she got meekly. In the end, the husband killed her. Now you tell me whether a violent, abusive man (or woman, for that matter) is still a 'believer'? Does someone who believes in Christ hate his own flesh? Does someone who believes in Christ murder? Does someone who believes in Christ batter and bruise an image of Yahweh? Can two people be remotely said to be 'married' in the spiritual sense?
This is not an emotional appeal, nor a call for subjective judgment, even though feelings - sometimes strong ones - may be involved. It is an appeal to look at Yahweh's Torah Law for what it actually is and what it really means. Marriage implies cleaving together. Abuse is rending apart. Abuse is a kind of rape and gradual murder.
The Pastor who told the abused woman to 'submit' to her violent husband was 100% wrong because he ignored the reciprocal divine requirement on the husband to love his wife as she submits to him. The covenant of marriage is not unilateral - it isn't the wife just making covenants with the husband but not vice versa. The husband covenants to love and she covenants to submit because these are areas defective in the respective sexes. A husband who does not love but hates enough to be violent, and a woman who is a Jezebel and will not submit to a loving husband, may be married in the flesh but in the spirit they might as well be at opposite ends of the universe.
A Christian woman came to me for counsel the other day claiming their she and her Christian husband were irreconcilable and that she was intersted in joining a polygamous Moslem household. I told her, of course, that marrying a Moslem was not an option to a believer, which she acknowledged, and so I refused to give her counsel on polygamous marriage because she manifested an adulterous spirit. She assured me that she and her husband had done everything possible to reconcile but that it hadn't worked out because of their terrible 'backgrounds'. I smelled a rat and asked her if she and her husband had ever had any kind of Christian marriage counselling at all. She broke off our conversation and I never heard from her again. Her conscience was seared.
I do not believe that any Christian/Messianic couple professing salvation in Christ, who are willing to obey His commandments and truly trust Him, have any excuse for divorce, because to declare 'irreconcilability' is to in fact declare an unwillingness to repent. In Christ everything is possible. So when it comes to a believer's marriage and divorce, I am pretty strict.
BUT there is a line which, when crossed, makes a believer an unbeliever. That I firmly believe. An abusive and violent husband who claims to be 'Christian/Messianic' is not only no longer a Christian/Messianic (no matter what he may say with his mouth in protest) but a devil. And even if he has not deserted his wife geographically, he has most certainly deserted her spiritually. Worse, he has made her a prisoner and a slave. And Christians/Messianics were not called to slavery but to freedom.
Now, like almost every principle, there are those who will abuse Yahweh's grace ... or try to. Someone, for instance, who deliberately repudiates his faith in order to justify divorce, is such a person. Such a person must surely be one of the biggest fools in the cosmos, because they end up divorcing Yahweh Himself (should such even be possible) and their salvation in order to run away like a coward from a believer's marriage obligations. I am reminded of the atheist who became a Jehovah's Witness so that he could trade on Sunday (when that was once illegal to buy and sell) and not because he believed in that religion.
The subject of divorce has tortured my soul for many years not only because it is such a serious matter but because a wrong doctrine of divorce can bring untold misery, suffering and even death. It is not a doctrine that ministers can afford to get wrong.
Marriage is a sacred principle - so sacred, that Christ uses it to illustrate His spiritual union with the Church (Messianic Community). I am no liberal when it comes to divorce - never have been, and never will be. I loathe divorce with a passion. BUT there are times when divorce is actually a liberation and a blessing, and an absolute requirement. If a 'marriage' (if it can be called that) is turning someone into a slave, endangering their health and life (not to mention their children), and risking their salvation, then it ought not to exist provided the one being abused has not him- or herself driven his or her spouse to such desperate acts. I know of marriages where a wife has been so verbally and emotionally abusive that a husband has been driven to physical abuse just to maintain his sanity. And whilst I am not justifying the husband in such a situation (he ought to have simply packed his bags and left her ... or thrown her out), it is to point out that sometimes the one being abused may be partly responsible. And here we have to be very careful not to make hasty judgments and not to judge solely by the outward appearance.
The union between two human beings is a complex and intricate thing. What looks an impossible marriage problem can often be solved by simplicity itself. A few months ago I nearly threw a deepfreeze out because the motor didn't seem to be working. I assumed that the motor had burned out and that it was useless. In fact, all it needed was a new on/off switch! Before divorce is seriously contemplated, a marriage must be carefully examined under a powerful magnifying glass. There may be a simple solution.
I know of 'irreconcilable' marriages that have been healed literally in seconds by the couple falling on their knees and confessing their sins to Yahweh. It required only the death of pride and permission for the Holy Spirit to flood in.
Many people turn to polygamy as a solution for bad marriages. Polygamy is not therapy. If a monogamous couple have a bad marriage and both name the Name of Christ, they must repair their monogamous marriage first. Used wrongly, polygamy can become a sin, just as monogamy can become a sin because it is entered into simply to satisfy a perverse sexual need, for example. We must never forget what marriage is for.
When looking at Christ's teachings on marriage we must never forget that they were addressed to a believing, covenant people. His strictness was within a specific context.
The Old Testament gives concrete examples where Yahweh takes a wicked man's wives and gives them to a righteous man. He specifically says that He took the wives of wicked Saul and gave them to David. Also, we read how Abigail was taken from evil Nabal and given to David. In both cases, Yahweh killed the husbands. Saul was killed in battle and Nabal died of consumption. This was the Old Covenant penalty.
Under the New Covenant, Yahweh does exactly the same thing, only this time He 'kills' the evil men's salvation. Yahweh spiritually divorces them. And when that happens ... and it only happens when they have done great evil ... then a woman may divorce her physically living (though spiritually dead) husband. By the same token, a man may divorce a woman who has become evil and lost her salvation.
Yah'shua (Jesus) tells us an interesting story in the Parable of the Talents which I believe may be understood in many situations. The steward who buried his talent in the earth may be compared to the husband who retards the spiritual growth of his wife by oppressing and abusing her, and so preventing her spiritual increase. A woman can only grow and prosper if she is loved and not hindered in her relationship with Christ. If she is hated and her faith denied her, then she, her husband's talent or crown, is taken away from him and given to another. Interestingly, the talent is given to the steward who has many, just as I believe oppressed women are being rescued by Yahweh and given to polygamous men who are able to genuinely love and spiritually prosper them today.
I know of two Christian women who, ignoring divine counsel, each married pagan Wiccans. One woman became demonised through intercourse with her husband who was involved in pagan sexual rituals, and to this day is still badly damaged inside. The other was forced into a life of drugs and alcohol, and marriage with a man who spent much of his time in prison for cat burglary. The latter, knowing that she was being destroyed spiritually and physically, asked for counsel, and I unhesitatingly advised her to sue for divorce after I had discovered that she had done all in her power to persuade her husbund to turn from his evil ways and he had rejected her. She decided, rightly, that when her husband had wanted to involve her in perverse sex, that the time to leave had come.
I am persuaded that in some quarters of conservative evangelical Christianity almost as much damage is being done to people because of ignorance of the Bible's true teachings about marriage and divorce as in liberal Christianity where permissiveness is rampant and almost anything goes. There are many zealous for Yahweh who are so blinded by false tradition and bigotry concerning marriage (monogomania for one) and divorce (never permitting it, or only in the case of adultery) that they are actually destroying people physically and spiritually. Zeal without wisdom is occasionally lethal, particularly in the marriage arena. And because of these false teachings, many are suppresing their outraged consciences and are coming to believe in and propagate a teaching of a grotesque image of Yahweh and Yah'shua (Jesus) that is turning hundreds of thousands away from the true God, Yahweh-Elohim, and His love. Satan is doing his destructive work as much in so-called 'conservative' Christianity and Messianic Judaism as in their liberal wings.
As I said, I have struggled over the divorce issue for many years, and have changed my position more than once as I have been confronted by the ugly realities of life in my ministry. I have learned especially to be more compassionate and not to allow the letter of the Law to kill. That is not to say that I have compromised with the Torah (Yah forbid!) but rather come to more clearly understand its intent.
When Yah'shua (Jesus) stopped the stoning of the woman caught in adultery His work was redemptive. He said many times that He had not come to destroy but to save. And we must remember that Torah was made for man, and not vice versa. Yah help any of us if we condemn any one to a miserable death in a cursed parody of a marriage because we were zealous for a Law we did not understand properly. I think often of that Pastor who told the abused woman to submit to her violent and evil husband until he murdered her, and of the blood-guilt that is on his head. Yah help him when he stands before the Judgment Bar of Yahweh!
Blessed are the merciful - not the liberal or the conservative - but those who understand the love that lies behind all of Yahweh's commandments. Blessed are they who understand what marriage is actually for, and more blessed are they yet when they - the men and women - love profusely and submit gladly as Christ has commanded. When these two are united as a whole - the Love that is the Gospel, and Patriarchy which is its vessel, then marriages will thrive and divorce be banished forever.
Continued in Part 2
 The Issues Surrounding
Divorce and Remarriage: A Speculative Essay, Part 1
 The Issues Surrounding
Divorce and Remarriage, Part 2
 Divorce and Remarriage:
When Does a Believer become an Unbeliever?
 When a Christian Becomes a Heathen: When to Divorce and Remarry
 Can a Divorced Woman Be Covered without Remarrying?
 The Hagar Heresy: A Lame Excuse for Divorce in Polygamy Rebutted
 Divorce and Remarriage
 A Question of Divorce & Remarriage (NCCG)
 Revelation on Divorce, Adultery and Marriage (NCCG)