Thursday, December 1, 2011

Short Essay on Anthropology: Marriage and Divorce

Marriage found its origins with the command from God that it was not right that man should be alone (Gen. 2:18). Despite its holy intent marriage has become a trendy arrangement. Moreover, the haphazard manner in which marriage vows are dismissed in present time should cause the student of God to turn and evaluate the biblical stance on the matter.
Biblical teaching on marriage centered on the union between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24). This bond is best portrayed in the relationship of a covenant. In this way a marriage is seen as growing, healing and maturing through time, mirroring the relationship between God and his people. [1] As the two became one flesh, we should understand this was a godly ideal to remain intact forever (Gen 2:24). There were however guidelines for a biblical marriage. After the Levitical laws marriage to family was outlawed (Lev. 20:19), marriage to foreigners was dangerous, with Old and New Testaments attesting to this (1 Kings 11:1-2-10; 2 Cor. 6:14-15), and both parties were to be submitted to one another (Eph. 5:22-33).
In the Old Testament a groom did not posses his wife until the bride price was paid (Gen. 34:12). Prior to this the bride and groom were betrothed, a legally binding contract, for a year in which they were to remain celibate (Matt. 1:18). There was an understanding that the marriage was to be consummated on the first night, in which the stained linen cloth would attest to the bride’s virginity. [2] Despite Scriptures references to intercourse being intended for the married couple society has a different view of things. There is a “try it before you buy it” mentality and promiscuity reigns supreme in the dating scene, particularly in Hollywood touting the “living together” culture that is a mainstay of America. Without the long-term commitment of marriage, partners are free to come and go as they please with no apparent consequences.
Divorce indicates a severing of what was once a living union. [3] The Bible allows for divorce yet it was not a God ordained reason but for the hardness of men’s hearts (Matt. 19:8). In Jesus’ time the reasoning for divorce had become so rampant that Christ had to take a very strict stance on allowing for divorce based on adultery only (Matt. 5:32). This was in response to the Hillelite Pharisees who sought divorce for any reason including a poorly cooked meal.[4] Other reasons were certainly permissible such as desertion to which Paul points to but it should be understood as a last resort.[5] Though not as dramatic as the Hillelite’s, today’s culture seeks divorce almost as indiscriminately. Many have been married multiple times and have sought the arms of another to save them from the bonds of a bad marriage.
Though biblical, there are many reasons permissible for divorce including abuse, life-threatening situations and desertion however, there are objections to deal with. Matthew 5:32 has been used to point out adultery as the sole reason for dissolution. This misses the mark however. Christ was not stating an absolute regarding divorce rather he was pointing to the holy standard set forth in creation.[6]  Yes a marriage should mirror God’s covenant with man, however because of man’s fallen nature divorce is permissible.
A Christian is permitted to remarry once they have repented for breaking the covenant of marriage with their partner. Remarriage was presupposed in the Deuteronomy legislation (Deut. 24:1-4), although it was forbidden for a woman to remarry and then return to her former spouse. [7]  In Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 regarding remarriage, Jesus did not forbid remarriage considering it was understood in Jewish society that remarriage almost always followed divorce or death, see Ruth’s example of Levirate marriage (Ruth 2:20-4:10).
Divorce is damaging; “two became one flesh” and there is a tearing that takes place. It is the role of the church to support those affected with divorce. The church should accept the divorced parties not refuse them membership. [8] Second the church should support and guide the divorced in their future, which may mean emotional, spiritual and material care. [9] The results of single parent homes have been well documented with children of divorce parents more likely to divorce themselves. Permanence in marriage should be the goal of any covenant couple to strengthen the nation as in biblical times.
Though never the ideal set forth by God divorce is a part of fallen creation. Among the reasons for divorce adultery is chief, yet it should be recognized that God never approves of abusive relationships for we should love one another as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). Certainly remarriage can occur but it must not be entered into lightly as it carries the sting of the past divorce. The church should aide in the recovery and healing of divorced persons.

[1]             D.J. Atkinson, “Divorce.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 347.

[2]             H.W. Perkin, “Marriage, Marriage Customs in Bible Times.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 742.
[3]             Atkinson, 346.
[4]             Ibid, 347.
[5]             Ibid, 348.
[6]             Ibid, 347.
[7]             D.J. Atkinson, “Remarriage.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 1007.
[8]             Atkinson, 348.
[9]             Ibid, 348.

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