Man’s Need for Companionship
Marriage was designed by God to fulfill a basic need of man, companionship. The first five days of creation repeatedly have God observing his work and noting “it was good” (Gen. 1:9, 12, 18, 21, 25). The Almighty made man on the sixth day and noted, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18).
The Creator brought every animal he had made to Adam to be named (Gen. 2:19-20). “The relation of man to the animals of the field would not fill this loneliness of man. Adam knew this from his naming of the animals” (William E.Woodson Writings and Notes).
God’s revealing to man of the special creation who was to serve as his companion for life brought forth a wonderful statement from the man. “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” Moses’ inspired addition seems fully appropriate. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:23-24).
God’s Law for Marriage
Jesus’ most thorough teaching about marriage arose because of the Pharisees’ question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (Matt. 19:3). The Lord thought the answer was implicit in Moses’ account of the creation of man and woman. “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh” (Matt. 19:1-6).
God saw marriage as a permanent relationship, only to be severed by death. Paul explained, “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband” (Rom. 7:2).
God’s basic law for marriage is easy to see when one removes the exception from Jesus’ words to the Pharisees. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife…and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9 with “except for sexual immorality” replaced by an ellipsis). God intended for marriage to last for life because it fulfills an important need of man, companionship. God’s law applies to “whoever,” not being limited to Christians. “There is not any indication of what is termed ‘covenant legislation’ which only applies to Christians; all others being free to divorce and remarry as much as they wish prior to conversion and remain with the last marriage partner before one becomes a child of God” (Woodson 4).
Divorce Is A Sensitive Issue
Divorce is nowhere to be found in God’s original plan. It is a difficult subject to discuss because it involves the pinnacle of human relationships. The failure of that relationship is painful to the most innermost core of a man’s heart. William Woodson observed, “It deals with matters which, with very few exceptions, are and can be known for sure only by a very small number of people” (1).
Divorce is very personal. “Nothing could be more delicate than the intimacies of marriage; nothing could be more difficult to discuss than those aspects of these intimacies which have been perverted and destroyed” (Ibid). It can become quite volatile as the extended families of both partners sense the pain their beloved is experiencing.
Divorce Was Not in the Original Plan
The Pharisees apparently understood Jesus to be saying that God intended for one man to be married to one woman for life. They were driven to ask, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” Jesus responded, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:7-8). There is a significant difference between their question and the Lord’s answer. They asked why Moses commanded, but Jesus said Moses permitted.
There were two primary schools of thought among the Jews. “Shammai interpreted Deut. 24:1 as follow: ‘The man is not to release his wife unless he have found something indecent in her.’’ In contrast, “Hillel allowed as a charge the fact that in cooking the wife had burnt her husband’s food” (Lenski 727). It is easier to follow the more lax view of Hillel, which is precisely what is represented in the Pharisees’ question. Jesus returns to the creation, making it clear that divorce was never part of God’s original plan.
Fornication, The Exception
Jesus set forth the only exception to God’s law for marriage when he included “except for sexual immorality.” The word porneia is used “of illicit sexual intercourse in general” (Thayer 532). Some elaborate on all the possible sexual sins to violate God’s law regarding relations that are to be reserved only for one’s mate. It is sufficient to say that God only intended such intimacy for the two companions within a marriage.
Jesus was speaking to “Jews who knew nothing of a woman divorcing her husband, he naturally specifies only the case of a husband divorcing his wife. The fact that among us where also wives divorce their husbands his words apply to them equally, needs hardly be added; see Mark 10:12, who writes for Gentiles” (Lenski 230).
Part of Paul’s first epistle to the church of God in Corinth was written in response to questions the brethren had asked. One questions seems to be, “Should a Christian, who is joined to Christ, separate from the union of marriage?” (1 Cor. 7:10-11). The Lord had answered this, likely in the very verses we have already examined. The general rule was that they should not even separate. “If she and her husband cannot live harmoniously together let her remain unmarried. She is not permitted to marry again. That would be adulterous” (Lipscomb 98). The Christian woman who has separated from her husband, but found that she cannot live the single life and remain pure has only one path open to her. She is to be reconciled to the husband whom she has injured” (Ibid).
Paul went on to speak regarding “the rest,” which seems to involve the marriage of a “believer and an unbeliever (1 Cor. 7:12-13). Paul, as an inspired apostle, gave his divine instruction in reference to a situation not addressed by the Lord in his personal ministry. If the brother married to an unbelieving wife is pleased to dwell with her, he is free to do so; he is not to put…her away” (Woodson 3).
Verse 15 contains Paul’s instructions for a believing companion when the spouse chooses to depart. “The only terms on which he will continue the marriage is for the Christian to leave the Lord and become a pagan. The Christian has-not-been-and-is-not-bound-to-leave-the-Lord ‘in such cases’ [en toi toioutoi] to preserve a marriage the price of which is for her to” leave the Lord. The Christian “is not bound [dedoulotai]. The Christian is called…in peace, to be in peace with God whatever the difficulty imposed by impossible demands by another, husband or not” (Ibid). We might say the Christian is not enslaved to the unbeliever to whom he/she is married.
God gave man a companion for life when he made Eve and established the first marriage. He intended marriage to be for life. Divorce is a very sensitive matter involving many emotions. It was in no way a part of God’s original plan.
The Lord gave one reason for divorce, sexual relations that violate God’s law. Paul’s instructions regarding Christians married to Christians are intended to have them stay together. Separation would not allow one, or both, to marry another. Christians married to unbelievers can remain with them, yet they are not enslaved to them. The Christian should allow the unbeliever to depart in lieu of surrendering their relationship to the Lord. Doing such in the most peaceful way possible may ultimately lead to the salvation of the spouse (1 Cor. 7:16).
Gary served as the director of the Southeast Institute of Biblical Studies in Knoxville, TN, for nearly six years and is now preaching for the Siwell Road Church of Christ in Jackson, MS.
Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Columbus, OH: Wartburg, 1960. Print.
Lipscomb, David, and J. W. Shepherd. First Corinthians. Vol. II. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate, 1974. Print. A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles.
Thayer, Joseph Henry. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977. Print.
Woodson, William E. “The Problem of Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage,” Writings and Notes of William E. Woodson. Henderson, TN: Tom L. Childers, 2013. PDF.