Listen to the introductory lesson (26 mins) in this series on Divorce & Remarriage.

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  1. Background information
    1. Harsh treatment of women, children, and the vulnerable in OT times: infanticide, abortion, disrespect of women.
    2. Divorce was easy and favored the man.
      1. Worse, abandoned women could be "reclaimed" by their husbands.
      2. In the Middle Assyrian laws, a woman abandoned could remarry, but only after a 5-year wait.
    3. The 1st century world of the Roman Empire
      1. Divorce (divortium) = separation
      2. Remarriage was a duty / expectation
        1. Roman law, 18 BC
          1. Augustine's laws, the Lex Julia de Maritandis Ordinibus (i8 a.c.F..) and Lex Papia Poppaea Nuptialis (9 s.c.E.), which were later merged into a single text (Lex Julia et Papia).
          2. Made it a duty of all Roman men age 25-60 and Roman women age 20-50 to be married. Widows could remain unmarried for two years, and divorcees for 18 months, but then they were expected to remarry.
          3. Extent of enforcement outside of Rome, Italy, or Roman cities and colonies?
      3. Laws concerning remarriage were strikingly different in Judaism
        1. There was is no time limit, making it far easier for the wife to find security in another husband.
        2. Jewish men write out a divorce certificate (Deut 24). This created greater rights for women with respect to marriage and remarriage, especially because of the clean break provided by the divorce certificate. The wording of this document ended: "You are now free to marry any man you wish."
        3. Note: The OT assumes polygamy and divorce, and neither is criticized.
      4. Four Jewish expectations that went beyond the demands of the Torah
        1. All must marry.
        2. Marriages must result in offspring. If not, the man could divorce his wife and try to reach this end through a new wife.
        3. Those widowed or divorced had to remarry. As in the Roman world, except for the aged, remarriage was an expectation.
        4. Divorcing one's spouse was required if he or she was involved in sexual scandal.
  2. Sources
    1. The Bible
      1. 3 or 4 OT passages
      2. A handful of passages in the gospels, plus one chapter in 1 Cor.
      3. The Bible doesn’t actually provide a comprehensive teaching on divorce and remarriage – nor on many topics we would be interested in better understanding.
    2. Extra-biblical sources
      1. Over 200 Aramaic, Greek, and Latin marriage and divorce papyri.
      2. Samaritan marriage contracts.
      3. Newly discovered divorce certificates—written by a Jewish man in Masada in 72 AD, and by a woman c.125 AD.
      4. Dead Sea Scroll fragments dealing with divorce.
      5. The publication of marriage and divorce documents from geniza of the Cairo Synagogue.
      6. Extensive rabbinic evidence from the 1st C.
  3. Vows
    1. Marriage historically understood as contractual. Failure to feed, clothe, love = unfaithfulness marriage vows.
      1. Expert Davis Instone-Brewer: “Marriage in the ancient Near East was contractual, involving payments, agreed stipulations, and penalties. If either partner broke the stipulations of the contract, the innocent partner could opt for a divorce and keep the dowry. Exact parallels to these practices are found in the Pentateuch."
      2. The vows are reflected in biblical passages, such as Eph 5 (Christ as groom, church as bride) and Ezek 16.
      3. Our English marriage vows have hardly changed for 1000 years. I, N, take you, N, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day on, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; until death do us part.”
    2. Broken vows are grounds for divorce.
      1. Most conservative Protestant churches: 2 grounds for divorce (adultery or desertion by nonbeliever)— otherwise no divorce and remarriage, except in the event of the death of the spouse.
      2. Catholicism: Millions are trapped in abusive or hopeless marriages. Augustine formulated the doctrine of annulment, 350 AD.
      3. Yet the strictest view isn’t always the most holy view.
        1. Pharisees made it very hard on some people
        2. Since the 2nd century, in many parts of the Christian church extremely strict rules have been created.
        3. Jesus’ yoke is easy, and his burden light (Matt 11:30).
      4. Exod 21 and Deut 24—four grounds for divorce, as we will see in our second talk.
        1. These grounds are reflected in wedding vows.
        2. God divorces Israel (Jer 3:8), 8th C. BC and Judah (Ezek 16), 6th C. BC.
          1. God kept all 4 of his marriage vows to Judah: love, food, clothing, faithfulness.
          2. Instone-Brewer: “In contrast, Judah broke all four of her vows: she did not return God’s love; she committed adultery with idols; she presented idols with the food that God had given her; and she decorated idols with the clothing and jewels with which God had honored her” (Ezek 16, esp. vs.8-13, 15, 19, 16-18).
          3. Divorce wasn’t immediate. Much grace was extended, but eventually enough was enough.
          4. When God divorces Israel, the sin isn't the divorce, but the covenant infidelity leading to divorce.
  4. Marriage: permanent and indissoluble?
    1. Matt 19:5-6: 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 they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
      1. Yet Jesus didn’t say no one can break the marriage bond. Must not put asunder isn’t the same as cannot.
      2. This commonly cited passage does not affirm that marriage necessarily obtains until the death of a spouse.
      3. Let's look at four more claims about the indissolubility of marriage.
    2. “Marriage not a contract, but a covenant.” Actually, it is both.
    3. "One flesh" means lifelong marriage?
      1. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh” (1 Cor 6:15-16).
      2. Being “one flesh” doesn’t mean the two spouses are inseparably connected, any more than prostitution creates a permanent one-flesh relationship.
    4. Rom 7:1-3: Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.
      1. The passage concerns our relationship to the Law, not marriage.
      2. Besides, Paul doesn’t say she is no longer married to him only if her husband dies.
      3. He was keeping his illustration simple, not writing a full doctrine of remarriage.
    5. “Sacrament” as in Catholicism
      1. Ordination (priesthood). Even an immoral priest remains a priest (!).
      2. Marriage too—therefore no man or woman can dissolve it.
    6. None of these five claims about the permanence of marriage is biblical!
  5. Conclusion
    1. We are not mystically or sacramentally married until death. Some marriages end before either spouse has died.
    2. Most marriages can be healed, if both partners are willing.
    3. But broken vows will eventually kill a marriage.