Category Archives: 2020 – Mar/Apr

Government and Capital Punishment — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: March/April, 2020)

In continuing our series of editorials on what the Bible says about government, we now turn to the issue of capital punishment.  God inspired Paul to command us to bless our persecutors, repay no one evil for evil, live peaceably as much as possible with all and not avenge ourselves when wrongs are done to us (Rom. 12:14, 17-21).  Since we live in a sin-filled world, it’s likely that Christians will suffer wrongdoing at the hands of others at times, despite doing everything we can to live peaceably with others and treat them benevolently.  When persecution and hardship enters our lives in these ways, we can easily focus on the bad things which happen to use as Job did (Job 3, 7, 9-10, 14, 16-17, 19, 21, 23-24, 29-31).  Satan can then easily tempt us to seek personal vengeance against the ones who harm us, rather than waiting on the Lord’s vengeance upon evildoers when he returns in glory (2 Thess. 1:7-9).

This is why God then inspired Paul to mention the role of governmental authorities as his instrument to execute wrath upon the evildoer (Rom. 13:1-7).  Christians harmed at the hands of evildoers who were given the promise, “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19) can therefore look to the governmental authorities of their countries as “God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4).  It is for this reason that government “does not bear the sword in vain” (Rom. 13:4).

Consider the ramifications of this biblical principle.  We should remember that swords are weapons.  Weapons are used to take people’s lives.  By saying governmental authorities do not bear these weapons “in vain” within the context of being an avenger of God to execute wrath upon those who practice evil (Rom. 13:4), God shows that governmental authorities have the right to take the lives of those who are wicked without it being held against them as sin, since sin is ultimately the most vain and meaningless act in which one can involve themselves (Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8).  Thus, we must not consider capital punishment to be inherently sinful.  The likelihood of one’s life being forfeit at the hands of the government as a direct result of doing wrong can be a powerful motivator to do right (Rom. 13:3-4).

We see this when we notice that God did not allow anyone to take the life of the first murderer, Cain (Gen. 4:8-15).  This may have been a factor in the increasing wickedness of Cain’s descendants (Gen. 4:16-24), culminating in the universal evil of mankind which brought on the global flood (Gen. 6:5-7).  Perhaps the Lord allowed this and recorded it in Scripture to show us the value of capital punishment (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11), especially when one considers that ever since the completion of the flood God has either directly commanded capital punishment or allowed it to take place.

After the flood, the Lord gave to Noah and his descendants a directive which was directly the opposite of what he had said to Cain. Whereas God had said, “…If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold” and had “put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him” (Gen. 4:15),  to Noah God now said, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6).

This directive of capital punishment for the crime of willful murder was carried over into Mosaic law, and it was the punishment for various other sins as well (Ex. 21:12-17, 20-25, 28-32; Lev. 24:10-23; Num. 35:15-34).  It is likely for this reason Jesus restrained Peter from using violence to prevent his arrest by saying, “…Put your sword back into its place.  For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52; cf. Lk. 22:49-51).  Christ wanted his prophecy, “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one” to be fulfilled (John 18:8-9).  Peter’s use of the sword to attempt to kill Malchus and the others arresting Jesus put him in danger of both committing the sin of murder and being killed himself within the parameters of Mosaic law; thus, Jesus restrained him (John 18:10-11).

With the establishment of the new covenant after Jesus’ death and resurrection, we come back to Romans and see that under Christ’s law governmental authorities are allowed by God to use capital punishment as a deterrent and punishment for crimes committed by wicked people (Rom. 13:4).  While under arrest himself and making his defense, Paul acknowledged to the governor Festus the inherent legitimacy of capital punishment by stating, “If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death…” (Acts 25:11a).  This shows us that while God outlaws murder, he does not outlaw the taking of the lives of evildoers by governmental authorities as punishment for their crimes and thus differentiates between murder and capital punishment.

Granted governmental rulers can misuse their right to exercise capital punishment.  Herod unjustly killed John (Mk. 6:14-29).  Another Herod killed James (Acts 12:1-3).  Saul attempted to kill David (1 Sam. 19:11-17).  Jezebel tried to kill Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-2) and did succeed in killing Naboth (1 Kings 21:1-16).  Today reports exist of lives taken by the death penalty who were later proven innocent, as well as executions of those who were enemies of a tyrannical state rather than convicted criminals.  Yet these misuses of power do not change the fact that God authorized government to exercise capital punishment as ways to avenge wrongs done by evildoers (Rom. 13:4).

— Jon

The Moral Argument For God’s Existence — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

Whether or not God exists is the most important question for humanity. If he does exist and the Christian Bible has it right, our moral behavior must reflect God’s intentions for his creation. If he does not, and the Bible is nothing more than one holy book among many, then moral behavior is merely a matter of culture or opinion. This discussion brings up one of the classic arguments for the existence of God.

Human beings universally recognize a moral standard. Without it, labeling anything as moral or immoral would be completely illogical. To say that something is right or wrong is to make an implicit claim that a standard exists and others must also recognize this standard. If this standard exists, then there must be a cause for it. We might sum this up in the statement, “Without God, objective morality does not exist.” If we put it in the form of an argument, it would be as follows:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Does this standard exist? And how does it point to God?

The Witness of Morality

All human beings recognize a moral law. We consistently differentiate between good and evil, agreeing that some behaviors are virtually always acceptable (e.g., love, charity, and self-sacrifice), while others are morally wrong (e.g., rape, torture, and murder). Through both beliefs and actions, we demonstrate our adherence to a universal moral code. In the end, we must ask where this code originates.

The existence of an objective moral standard requires a supernatural source—someone outside the system. The most straightforward explanation for such morality is that it has been woven into the fabric of creation itself. This easily explains why human beings have the same general moral code, regardless of time and place.

Anthropological evidence indicates that human beings around the globe observe the same moral rules regardless of their culture. Members of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology from the University of Oxford conducted a study to help determine the nature of morality and to what extent it varies around the world. They studied sixty different societies and found that human beings almost universally acknowledge the same seven moral rules, which included: family values, group loyalty, reciprocity, bravery, respect, fairness, and property rights. Although different societies rank these seven qualities differently, virtually all recognize their importance.

This nearly universal recognition of a moral code provides support for the Christian worldview. Scripture states that human beings have an inherent knowledge of right and wrong (Rom. 2:14-15). This is most naturally explained by the biblical claim that God made human beings in his image (Gen. 1:26-27). If morality is part of creation as the Bible indicates, then to discover that humanity follows the same general moral principles should come as no surprise.

Can We Be Good Without God?

Due to our being made in God’s image, human beings have an inherent recognition of the difference between good and evil. We naturally recognize the difference between an angel of mercy like Mother Teresa and megalomaniacal monsters like Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin. Our personal views of morality may be influenced by culture, and our conscience can become seared over time, but virtually everyone understands the difference between good and evil.

Atheists often object that they can be good without God. After all, when people become atheists, why don’t they go crazy and begin raping and pillaging their neighbors? Among some atheists it is often a point of pride that they lead moral lives without any regard for a divine being. However, this tendency toward ethical behavior is described by the apostle Paul, who states, “…when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness” (Rom. 2:14-15).

Goodness Points To God

While many people have tried to explain goodness, no one has been able to offer a compelling explanation for human decency. Anthropologists recognize that their field has been unable to adequately account for human morality and especially for its seemingly universal existence. Their search for a unified theory of morality from a naturalistic point of view has been fruitless. Moral principles do not appear to be created but recognized.

Atheists often object that they can be good without God.  This is true and is regularly the case even with hardened unbelievers who despise God yet still perform acts of compassion and kindness, love their families and friends, and who would help a stranger in need.  However, this only sidesteps the real question:  “What is good?”  Here we come back to the question the atheist cannot answer.  While Christianity struggles with the problem of evil, atheism struggles with the twin problems of both evil and good.

Any explanation of human morality will be incomplete without grounding that morality in a universal standard. We may say that human beings are intrinsically valuable, but why? If we are nothing more than cosmic germs living on a speck of rock in an unspectacular galaxy spinning in space, why would we ever conclude that our lives have value and that this value must be respected by other people?

In looking at the evidence, it would appear that the universe is the handiwork of a powerful creator, offers proof of being intricately designed, and is a place with consistent moral standards naturally recognizable to all conscious, thinking creatures. We can be good without God, but goodness cannot exist without God. This is precisely the portrait painted of God in the Bible. Even in a culture where “newer is truer,” it would appear the apostle Paul was onto something.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX.  He serves as a staff writer for Apologetics Press and the Apologia Institute, and as a professional associate for the Associates for Biblical Research.

Women of the Bible: Mary and Martha — Samantha Harvey

We have limited knowledge of those close to Jesus during His time on earth. Most of them include the apostles but we read of a few others that fellowshipped with Jesus on a more personal level. Mary and Martha are prime examples. It is interesting to see how these women are mentioned by name and appear in more than one gospel account. Though their stories only encompass a few paragraphs, we can learn much from what their hearts reveal.

In Luke gospel account, Martha welcomes Jesus into her house. While her sister Mary is sitting at Jesus’s feet listening to His word, Martha is “cumbered with much serving” (Luke 10:40). The Greek word for cumbered means “to be driven about mentally, to be distracted, i. e. to be over-occupied, too busy, about a thing.” Here Martha is busy as a bee trying to serve her company and Mary, in Martha’s eyes, is just sitting and visiting. Do you have a sibling? I do and I can empathize with Martha about feeling like she has been left to do all the work while her sister gets to have the fun. Martha approaches Jesus, the Higher Authority, and says “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me” (v. 40). Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (vs. 41-42).

It’s worth noting that Jesus defends Mary from criticism a second time and this instance is recorded in three out of the four gospel accounts (Matt. 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-8). Mary anoints Jesus with costly fragrant oil and the disciples accuse her of being wasteful, offering that she could have sold it and given that money to the poor. Jesus rebukes them saying “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Mark 14:3-9). Mary’s actions were and still are a living testimony of Peter’s instructions to “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6). God spoke through Jeremiah in a letter to the elders who were carried away as captives to Babylon, saying, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).  Its relevance was the same for Mary as it is for us today.

So we know where Mary’s heart was. What about Martha’s heart?  Martha loved Jesus and believed in His deity. In John 11, Martha sent for Jesus when her brother Lazarus was sick and went out to meet Him when she heard He was on His way. She said to Jesus that if He had been there her brother would not have died and that God would give Him whatever He asked of Him. She trusted in Jesus as God’s mediator. He told her that her brother would rise again, yet she misunderstood it to be in the resurrection at the end of time. Jesus taught her that He was the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Him shall never die” (John 11:25-26).  He asked her if she believed this. She confessed that He was the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world. Martha then called for Mary and they took Jesus to the tomb. Jesus told them to remove the stone and Martha spoke up, warning Jesus about a stench since Lazarus has been dead for four days. Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (v. 40)

Jesus once said, “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).  What do Martha’s words tell us about her heart? It first tells us that her priorities need to be adjusted. Samuel was told, “…the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Jesus loved Martha and He obviously saw that Martha’s heart was on the right track, but she needed more teaching. Martha was distracted about many things and was missing out on the most important objective: preparing her heart. Earthly things can be put off and will be taken away one day, but the content of our hearts cannot be taken away. Hearts don’t come into this world knowing right.  They must be taught right from wrong. We can only know what is right by knowing God. She who knows Jesus knows God. How many of us today have the opportunity to sit at Jesus’s feet and learn directly from the very Word of God? We can read about it historically, but Martha had the privilege of being there with Him face-to-face and didn’t seem inclined to take advantage of that.

Secondly, Martha’s words tell us that she needed to learn how to put her beliefs into practice. Martha understood the power of Jesus and knew to ask Him for help and yet questioned Him when He said to remove the stone from Lazarus’s grave after all He had revealed to her.  The Bible says, “Apply your heart to understanding” (Prov. 2:2).  Consider Luke 6:46-48.  Jesus wanted Martha to dig deep and build a foundation that would withstand the floods.

We are like Martha and Mary. Just as Jesus was patient with Martha, we need to be patient with ourselves and others. As long as we live on this earth, our hearts still need teaching. We are sinners, and yet the abundance of our hearts must reflect the goodness that comes from God. Seek Him with all your heart and you will find Him. Read your Bible as often as you can. It’s ok if the house isn’t 100% clean.  Take the time to teach God’s Word to your children and anyone who will listen. Teach them how to love others. Take the time to do good for others. Fill up your spiritual cup. Put God first.

Samantha and her family live in Florence, SC.

What Jesus Said About Evangelism — Jon Mitchell

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10).  With these words Jesus let the Jews at Jericho know why he had taken the time to visit a hated tax collector who had climbed a sycamore tree to see Him (Lk. 19:1-9).  Our Lord had a mission, a purpose.  Precious souls whom he had created (Col. 1:16; John 1:3) were lost in sin, and he was sent to save them (John 3:16).

It was this that motivated him, a Jewish rabbi, to initiate a conversation with an immoral Samaritan woman (John 4:1-30).  When his disciples marveled that he was talking with her (v. 27) and urged him to eat (v. 31), he replied, “I have food to eat that you do not know about…My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.  Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’?  Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (vs. 31, 34-35).

Christian, you claim to be His follower, His disciple.  Your Master said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Lk. 6:40).  Your Teacher “came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10).  What kept him going just as much as physical food was accomplishing the work of evangelism which his Father in heaven had tasked to him.  Are you making the effort to seek out and save the lost in your life?  If not, are you truly Christ’s disciple?

Your Lord left this earth with these words on his lips:  “…Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk. 16:15).  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).  This Great Commission is more than a memorable title we give to these verses as we gave “the Golden Rule” slogan to Matthew 7:12.  It is OUR mission, OUR purpose.  The church exists not only to charitably “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10) and “build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).  Our primary purpose for existing as those who are called by God’s gospel and assembled together as his family in Christ’s church is to share that gospel with the lost.  Indeed, the mission of evangelism is the purpose, the end goal, behind any benevolent enterprise upon which we embark and every effort made to spiritually edify each other.  As Peter said, the reason we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” is “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

Paul, the apostle whom we are called to imitate and who himself imitated his Lord (1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17), recognized the inevitable fact that all who have ever existed will stand before God in judgment (2 Cor. 5:10).  It was his knowledge and acceptance of this truth which prompted him to “persuade others” to follow the Christ (2 Cor. 5:11).  He knew of the Old Testament prophet’s warning:  “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel.  Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.  If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul” (Ezek. 3:17-19).  Thus, Paul could confidently say, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27).

Christian, God expects you to make efforts to share the good news of salvation with the lost just as much as he expects you to worship him with the saints, do good works, and live according to his Word.  The Ezekiel passage makes clear that whether those with whom you share the gospel heed it and are converted between them and God; all our Lord expects of you is to make the effort to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) while letting your light shine by your good deeds (Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12).  The only way you can fail at evangelism as far as God is concerned is to simply not make any attempts to reach others with the gospel.  Ezekiel warns that the eternal consequences of that failure to even attempt to evangelize is catastrophic for both the lost and you.  Paul knew this, and it joined his love for lost souls as motivation for continually sharing Jesus with them.

We must be the same, Christians.  We must make sharing Jesus by discussing the Bible with others, inviting them to church, sharing the good news online, teaching through correspondence courses, or sharing written gospel material with others a higher priority than in years past.  Our Lord who died for us and the lost expects this of us.

— Jon

What Jesus Said About Our Mouths — Tim Bench

Several years ago, a cousin of mine was tragically killed in an automobile accident. “Laura” was a recent college graduate and was engaged to be married.  Her death was a crushing blow to her many friends, family, and her fiancée. She had always been adored by her parents, certainly more than her younger brother had been.

At the funeral, her distraught and devastated father stated to his own son, Laura’s brother, that the “wrong child died.” At that instant, the already-strained relationship between the father and the son was permanently and irreparably destroyed.  To this day, almost no relationship exists between the two. No apology would suffice or make up for the venom in that remark. A young man was forced to deal not only with the emotional devastation of losing his sister to such a tragic accident, but of knowing that his own parents would have actually preferred him being dead over his sister’s death.

 The words we use do matter, whether it be in a private, one-on-one discussion we may have with another, or in a discussion between multiple people. Likewise, the words we use in public forums, such as Facebook, where literally hundreds of people may see what we say, do matter. Our “tongue” and the words that we use exert massive effect on those around us, for both good and bad results.  We can encourage, uplift, and express Christ-like love to those near us through appropriate usage of words and speech. Likewise, relationships which have existed for years, and in some cases, even decades, can be destroyed in an instant by careless, hateful, acid-tongued speech.

Does your speech reflect biblical principles and Jesus Christ?  Or does your speech align with societal norms which surround us today (i.e. cursing, tasteless jokes, mockery, etc.)?  Is winning an argument or debate through insults worth the cost, even if it serves merely to sour your opponent so horribly and permanently that they want no part of the church or the Bible because of you?

The Bible has much to say about the dangers of the tongue and the speech we use.  Jesus said, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man…But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man” (Matt. 15:11, 18).    His brother James likewise warned of the dangers of the tongue (James 3:5-10).  The apostle Paul commanded that “no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying” (Eph. 4:29), before connecting that corrupt communication with grieving the Holy Spirit and commanding that “all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph. 4:30-31).  Solomon likewise wrote, “Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words?  There is more hope of a fool than of him” (Prov. 29:20).

As noted by William Barclay, “Many a man speaks with perfect courtesy to strangers and even preaches love and gentleness, and yet snaps with impatient irritability at his own family. It has not been unknown for a man to speak with piety on Sunday and to curse a squad of workmen on Monday. It has not been unknown for a man to utter the most pious sentiments one day and to repeat the most questionable stories the next. It has not been unknown for a woman to speak with sweet graciousness at a religious meeting and then to go outside to murder someone’s reputation with a malicious tongue.” (William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 104).

Matthew Henry wrote “Men’s language discovers what country they are of, likewise what manner of spirit they are of. The heart is the fountain, words are the streams. A troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring, must send forth muddy and unpleasant streams. Nothing but the salt of grace, cast into the spring, will heal the waters, season the speech, and purify the corrupt communication. An evil man has an evil treasure in his heart, and out of it brings forth evil things. Lusts and corruptions, dwelling and reigning in the heart, are an evil treasure, out of which the sinner brings forth bad words and actions, to dishonour God, and hurt others. Let us keep constant watch over ourselves, that we may speak words agreeable to the Christian character.” (Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew 12).

As noted in more contemporary times by Phil Ware: “Our Father will remember those ‘little careless’ words we utter and hold us accountable for them.  (Matthew 12:36)  After all, the words that come from our mouths actually reveal the kind of heart we have.  (Matthew 15:18)  Foul words cannot come from a clean heart anymore than foul water can come from a clean spring.  (James 3:1-12  To use our words to harm, grieves the Spirit of God within us.  (Ephesians 4:29-32  Even our little words are to be chosen to bless, encourage, and build up others.  (Ephesians 4:29)” (“The Little Things” by Phil Ware, http://www.heartlight.org).

The tongue can likewise be used for great good, specifically when it comes to our ultimate responsibility as Christians in teaching the gospel to others (Matt. 28:19; 2 Tim. 4:2; Heb. 5:12; Tit. 2:1-4).  Praising God in song is obviously an appropriate and beneficial use of the tongue (Heb. 13:15; Col. 3:16).  Prayer is an appropriate use of our speech (1 Tim. 2:1; Phil. 4:6).  Encouraging those who stumble in their Christian walk is also an appropriate use of the tongue (1 Thess. 5:14).  Perhaps the greatest use one will ever make of their own speech is to confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Rom. 10:8-10; Acts 8:37-38).

Does controlling one’s tongue mean that we cannot take bold and firm doctrinal stances?  Absolutely not.  Does this mean that we must preach the gospel with timidity?  Again, absolutely not.  We are to preach boldly (Acts 28:31) and take the gospel to every corner of the globe (Mk. 16:15).  However, we can do this without mocking others with vicious insults and derision.

I hope that all of us, myself included, will honestly examine the words we use with others, whether it be from the pulpit, on Facebook, in our one-on-one discussions with people, or any other avenue.  Our words — the words we use and how we use them — will quite literally have an eternal effect.  We must remember the unseen dozens who read our words and never again in their lifetimes set foot inside a church building as a direct result of each time we unload a torrent of insults and disparaging attacks on one another and feel satisfied that we have thoroughly demolished and humiliated someone who might differ from us on a topic.

Tim graduated from ACU in 1990.  He preaches and teaches at various churches of Christ in West Texas, and is a member of the Oldham Lane Church of Christ in Abilene.

What Jesus Said About Divorce and Remarriage — Michael Grooms

In the beginning…” Thus begins the biblical account of creation in Genesis 1:1. The creation of man and woman, made in the very image of God, served as the crowning act of God’s masterpiece (Gen. 1:27). Genesis 2:21-24 elaborates further on the creation of woman from the rib of Adam, and culminates in the first marriage, officiated by God Himself as He presented Eve to Adam as his wife. In the act of creating marriage, God also established the law that would define and govern marriage from that time forward. This law is simple and succinct yet powerful. It is stated as follows:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, NKJV).

Marriage, as defined by God’s word, is a wonderful and beautiful union of a man and a woman. It is the foundation of the family unit. God intends that marriage lasts as long as both spouses are alive. Only upon the death of one of the spouses may marriage be dissolved with honor. Unfortunately, not all marriages last a lifetime. Far too often, marriages end in divorce. This fact has generated much confusion about God’s law concerning divorce and remarriage. Lending to that confusion is the fact that many pulpits are silent on the issue. To deal with the complications that arise from divorce and subsequent marriages is very hard on all involved. It can be very emotional for those within the marriage. It is difficult on the preachers and elders who seek to address those situations that are not in harmony with God’s word. However hard it may be, faithful preachers and elders will seek God’s will on this matter, teach it, and practice it so that members of the flock will be able to understand what they must do to be pleasing to God.

The Pharisees looked for any opportunity to entrap Jesus and discredit Him before others. Jesus was approached by Pharisees who questioned Him about divorce and remarriage (Matt. 19:3-12). While their motives may have been less than honorable, the answer Jesus gave to their question teaches us clearly God’s will on the subject. The question asked was, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (Matt. 19:3). The law to which they referred was the Law of Moses. Jesus did not go to the Law of Moses to answer their question. He went beyond the Law of Moses to the marriage law God instituted at creation. He began His answer with these words, “Have you not read?” God has spoken. His law concerning marriage and divorce has been clearly and explicitly given. Jesus ended the discourse on this subject with these words, “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matt. 19:12). The mixed messages, division, and confusion that exist concerning doctrine on marriage, divorce, and remarriage is not because God’s word is not clear.  It is because people have chosen to not accept it.

Jesus referred to God’s law given in Genesis 2:24. One man and one woman are joined by God to become one in marriage. He goes on to say, “Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6). This is a command. This is law. Divorce is forbidden by Jesus. There is an exception to this law given by Jesus in Matthew 19:9, but before one attempts to understand the exception to the law they must first understand the law. God’s marriage law forbids divorce. Divorce (except for fornication) is a sin. It is a sin because it is the breaking of the Lord’s command (Matt. 19:6). It is a sin because it is the breaking of a vow to God (Eccl. 5:4-5). It is a sin because it is the breaking of a vow to one’s spouse (Mal. 2:13-14). Divorce is against the nature of God; therefore, He hates it (Mal. 2:16).

The Pharisees were not satisfied with the answer Jesus gave. They attempted to justify themselves by distorting the Law given by Moses. They asked, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” (Matt. 19:7). They sought to put the words of Christ at odds with the Law of Moses. Yet Jesus reminded them that Moses did not command divorce, but rather permitted it because of “the hardness of your hearts” (Matt. 19:8).

“And I say unto you…”

Stop right there. Think about what is happening here. Jesus, the Lawgiver, is stating what is law. He is not giving a new law, nor is He appealing to Mosaic Law. He is going back to the law of marriage instituted in the Garden of Eden when God created marriage. This law transcends all dispensations. Jesus verifies that when He states, “…but from the beginning, it was not so” (Matt. 19:8). Now He carries this law forward into the Christian dispensation as He states, “And I say to you…” (Matt. 19:9). This is the law Jesus gives concerning divorce and remarriage:

“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matt. 19:9, KJV).

This was not the first time Jesus had established this law concerning divorce and remarriage.  In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had established His authority over what had previously been taught or believed concerning God’s will on certain matters of morality. After the Sermon on the Mount, the people were astonished because “He taught them as one having authority, not as the scribes” (Matt. 7:29). In that masterful sermon, Jesus had dealt with the question at hand concerning the giving of a certificate of divorce. When Jesus says “But I say unto you” in Matthew 5:32 or “And I say unto you” in Matthew 19:9, He is establishing the law going forward into the Christian dispensation. This is the law to which all are bound from that time forward. Read the words of the Master:

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 committeth adultery”  (Matt. 5:31-32 KJV).

This author prefers the KJV or ASV translations of Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 (as well as parallel verses) over the NKJV or ESV because the latter translations render porneia as “sexual immorality,” which is too broad in definition. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon defines porneia as “illicit sexual intercourse,” which is better conveyed by the word “fornication.” Also, both the KJV and ASV use the term “commiteth adultery,” which, though archaic, correctly signifies the ongoing state of adultery.

In both Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9, Jesus makes it clear that one who is divorced for any reason other than fornication does not have scriptural grounds to remarry. If that person does remarry, they commit adultery in that subsequent marriage.  Adultery, by definition, can only occur when at least one party of an illicit union is bound by the marriage law to another. Jesus had stated in Matthew 19:9, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” It is God who joins two people in marriage. Only God can release that marriage bond. Though man may physically separate two spouses, he cannot release the marriage bond that God has created. Thus, if a person divorces their spouse for any reason other than that which Jesus permitted (fornication), and is married to another, that second union is illicit and adulterous because God has not released the marriage bond to their first spouse. To continue to live in such an illicit union is to continue to live in adultery. Jesus stated in Mark 10:11, “…Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.” According to the words of our Lord, the subsequent marriage of a man who divorces his wife causes him to commit adultery against her. How can it be that in this situation a man is committing adultery against the woman he has divorced? The only reasonable answer is that God has not released him from the bond of marriage to his first wife. This is the only way it could be adultery against her (his first wife). Jesus goes on to say that the same is also true of the woman who divorces her husband and marries another man.

The scriptures studied here demonstrate that there is a valid reason for divorce. The innocent party who divorces their spouse because of fornication does so in harmony with God’s word. That innocent party has the right to remarry. That second marriage of the innocent party to a scripturally qualified person is a marriage joined by God. May God’s word always be our guide.

Michael serves on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger and is the pulpit minister of the Boiling Springs Church of Christ in Boiling Springs, SC.

What Jesus Said About False Doctrine — Dustin Forthun

Jesus loves the truth and hates false doctrine.  Jesus’s love for truth is well known and fuels many happy thoughts: the truth sets us free (John 8:32), and Jesus wants the truth to set apart his followers (John 17:17).  Truth was the centerpiece of our Lord’s defense in Pilate’s sham court (Luke 23:3).  Truth attached itself to Jesus in every walk of his life.  His birth aligned and fulfilled great truths of scripture (Matt. 1:22).  His earthly ministry began with a heroic defense of and reliance upon God’s truth (Matt. 4:1-11).  A high point of our Lord’s time on earth came on a mountain where the truth of his deity was revealed  (Matt. 17:1-5).  Jesus announced this truth for all to hear (John 5:18), and some did hear and know that Jesus came from God.  Nicodemus was an unlikely proclaimer of this truth, and his declaration is curious and layered.  Nicodemus doesn’t just say I know; he says we know that Jesus is from God (John 3:2).  We are left to wonder if Nicodemus, being a Pharisee, is admitting that other Pharisees knew the truth of Jesus’s divinity.

It’s no wonder that Jesus would announce: “I am the…truth” (John 14:6). This revelation makes falsehoods, false doctrines, and false teachers the obvious opponents of Jesus.  Anything less than hearing Jesus (Matt. 17:5) and obeying him (1 John 2:4) puts one at odds with God’s Son.  Lies come from the devil, and liars serve him–not God (John 8:44). One sad occasion documents the Pharisees’ rejection of God’s truth.  In Matthew 12:24 the Pharisees actually claim that Jesus is working for Satan.  They insisted that Satan, not God, gave Jesus his miraculous ability. Jesus hated this revolting (albeit feeble) charge and led an aggressive logical attack against it (Matt. 12:27-32).

Jesus’ hatred of false doctrine may not always get equal time in our thoughts and discussions.  Some might even be surprised to hear that Jesus hates anything, but our Lord makes it clear that he hates false doctrine (Rev. 2:6).  Not only that, but hating false doctrine was a credit given to his church  (Rev. 2:2). Exposing lies and errors being taught by false teachers is the exact thing that Christians are supposed to do. John (who speaks words given to him by Jesus and who is often called the apostle of love) equates loving Jesus with opposing false teachers.  John’s headline is that many false teachers exist in the world (1 John 4:1).  The apostle Peter reports the same (2 Peter 2:1) and adds the even worse news that many will follow these false teachers (2 Peter 2:2).  These threats are not made up by preachers or churches for dramatic effect.  False teaching and false teachers are real, and they pose real dangers.  If you love the souls of men and women, this threat must be taken seriously.  Just about everyone reading this will recall the steps taken to stop the spread of the corona virus.  Travel was restricted. Much business was halted.  Makeshift hospitals were built, and quarantine measures were implemented.  All of this was done to stop a danger to one’s body.  What about the false doctrines and errors that are dangerous to one’s soul?  The part of us that will live forever needs to be more carefully protected than our outer shell which is destined to return to the dust (Matt. 10:28). When a possible carrier of a dangerous virus is screened and isolated, most see that as a wise and prudent measure.  When a false doctrine is questioned (or a false teacher challenged), some insist that such intervention is unloving, and some even claim (ignorantly) that challenging false doctrine is unlike Christ.  These clearly have not read enough about our Savior.

Jesus loves sinners and hates sin.  The Lord’s hatred of false doctrine is directly tied to his hatred of sin.  This hatred burns hot while Jesus still loves the souls of all.  He invites all to come to him (Matt. 11:28).  Jesus even wanted those who were crucifying him to be forgiven (Luke 23:34).  He is tender and compassionate toward those laden with sin (John 8:11).  A woman at a well with questions about worship is met with compassion and tender mercy (John 4:9-11).  Meanwhile religious elites who actively led people into error are called blind leaders whose works are vain and will be rooted up (Matt. 15:13, 14, 9).  Jesus hates sin and wants no one to be gripped by it, and he is especially hard on the leaders of error and prominent false teachers.  A special punishment is pronounced on those who lead others astray (Matt. 18:6-7).  And who can forget the scathing rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees who led the people away from God (Matt. 23:2)?  Jesus repeatedly calls these hypocrites and frauds.  Committing sin is a terrible thing, but the duplicity of these false teachers is especially condemned by Jesus.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if false doctrine didn’t exist? Sadly, this is not the case (and never will be).  As long as false doctrine is a real threat, we will need preachers, Christians, and papers to follow Jesus and speak out against such.  Your soul is too valuable to accept anything else.

Dustin preaches for the Augusta Road congregation in Greenville, SC.