The Divorce and Remarriage Controversy

It would be hard to imagine an issue that has brought more grief to Christians in the past 40 years than divorce and remarriage. First, the actual divorces have split families, engendered extensive family strife, deeply scarred children and in many cases resulted in adulterous unions after the fact.

But beyond this, controversy over what the Bible says on this subject has created confusion, strife and overthrown the faith of some. I know of a congregation that is currently being troubled by a member teaching false ideas that he picked up from a man in Washington state (the west coast is, in my experience, where most such teaching has originated).

Here are some basic assertions of this false doctrine:

1. Paul said in 1 Cor 7 it is better to marry than to burn with unsatisfied sexual passion. This applies to everyone.

2. Paul also said in 1 Cor 7 a man is to remain in the calling in which he is called. This includes the marital state one is in when he/she becomes a Christian.

3. Unbelievers today are not under Christ’s law but are accountable to the “natural law” that God put in place from the beginning. This law was operative among the Gentiles while Israel was under the law of Moses and remains intact to the present.

4. Jesus’ teaching in Mt 5 and 19 was only applicable to the Jews as Jesus was merely clarifying Mosaic law.

5. Adultery though wrong, can be forgiven and the adulterer is free to remarry.

You may think this is a simplistic argument that no one in their right mind would believe, but you would be incorrect. Plenty of people have abandoned their former views and adopted the fuller explanation of this position, and as noted it is currently an issue in a faithful church. Outside of the argumentation upon which the above points rest, the position is appealing because we have all been disappointed by people rejecting the gospel over the strictness of marital law. This doctrine circumvents that law and makes marital status completely irrelevant to faithfulness.

In the remaining space of this article I only want to consider point #4, for it seems that this is the key to everything else. It completely discounts the teaching of Jesus in the gospels and turns Him into just another Jewish prophet who called Israel to repentance and renewed faithfulness to Jehovah. Thus, it presents an abysmally low view of the nature and authority of Jesus.

In recorded sermons advocating this position, the speaker strongly emphasized that “Jesus never spoke to Christians.” This is sophistry and ignores the larger issue: Did Jesus speak prospectively of the kingdom He was in the process of establishing? I would contend that though Jesus was a Jew living under Mosaic law, and as such He was bound to keep it and teach others to do the same, He was also teaching about the immanent institution of a new kingdom wherein men would have a relationship with God unlike that under the law of Moses.

1) Jesus declared that “all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18). In reading that statement, can you imagine that anyone is omitted from His authority? Yet this false position says that unbelievers are only under “natural law” and not the law of Christ, which is only for “covenant people” (i.e., Christians).

2) Paul builds on this concept in Eph 1:20-22. God “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet …”. Again, who is left out of “all principality and power and might and dominion and every name”? The correct answer is “no one.” Jesus has authority over all powers and personalities: angels, demons, kings, nations, people – including unbelievers.

3) Jesus came as the last and ultimate spokesman of God, who “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son …” (Heb 1:2). Who did Jesus speak to as God’s prophet? “Us,” the very Christians the false teacher claims Jesus never said a word to.

4) When Jesus spoke of the coming judgment, He said, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him – the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (Jn 12:48). But how can Jesus’ words judge unbelievers if He was only speaking to Jews? Obviously, Jesus didn’t believe unbelievers were outside His jurisdiction.

5) Paul said Jesus would come “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th 1:8).

Jesus has all authority over all beings, all humans, in all realms. The fact that mankind as a whole turns a deaf ear to Jesus’ words does not exonerate them for their sin (marital or otherwise). Some will go to any length in their attempt to nullify Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage.