Separation, Divorce, & Remarriage
The sect I was raised in, known as the Two–by–Twos or the Cooneyites, have a doctrine that a divorced person is not allowed to remarry unless their spouse dies, and then only to someone who has never been married before, or to a widow/widower. They are not allowed to be married to a divorced person whose former spouse is still alive.
When my sister got saved and then inquired in her church about divorce and remarriage, the ministers (whom they call workers) told her that the only situation where Jesus allowed divorce is when a person is betrothed and the person they are betrothed to commits fornication before their marriage is consummated. In Bible days, a betrothal, or what we would call an engagement, had more strength. It took a divorce to break it. The workers implied that a person is not allowed to divorce after a marriage has been consummated, even if one of the partners commits adultery, but if they divorce, they are not allowed to marry someone else until after the former spouse dies.
In our culture, a person can withdraw from an engagement, if they change their mind about marrying the other person. In Jewish culture, the betrothal was an unconsummated marriage. It allowed the couple to spend time alone in each other's company, to get to know each other better and form healthy emotional attachments before entering into sexual union. Outside of a betrothal, it would not have been proper or wise for unmarried persons of the opposite sex to be alone with each other. Eventually, the man took the girl or woman into his home where they consummated their marriage and lived together from that time forward.
In Matthew 5:32, Jesus said that a man who puts his wife away for any cause other than fornication, causes her to commit adultery, if she remarries, and he is also causing the man who marries her to commit adultery. Jesus did not say this to put people who were unfairly divorced into bondage. He said it to make people with adulterous inclinations realize that they were sinning, if they divorced their spouse for frivolous reasons, and that if they put away a faithful wife, they were also to blame for making the wife vulnerable to the temptation to marry another, as well as for tempting another man to marry the rejected wife.
There is a very common misunderstanding about this passage of Scripture, and I did not understand it myself until recently. Divorce and "putting away," were two different things. If a man divorced his wife, she was free to remarry, but in those days, men were only separating from their wives, driving them out of the home, without a bill of divorce. This frequently consigned them to a life of poverty and degradation, as they were usually not equipped to earn a respectable living for themselves, if they had no family to fall back on for support.
Jesus asked the Pharisees what Moses had commanded, and they admitted that Moses had ordered that a bill of divorce be given. Jesus said that this law was given because of the hardness of men's hearts. If they were going to discard a wife, they had to let her have the option of remarriage, so that they would have a husband to support them, as well as to avoid the temptation to fornicate to meet their sexual needs. He goes on to say that, ideally, men should have only one wife and cleave to her for life.
In the days that Yeshua lived in Israel, putting away wives without a full divorce had become very common. Even religious men felt justified in discarding their wives in this unfair manner, if they displeased them in any way. If they tired of their wife, they allowed themselves to kick her out of the house for trivial reasons, such as they didn't like her cooking, so that they could take another wife without the expense of having to support the wife that they wanted to discard. For this reason, women wore all their dowry jewellery all the time, for when her husband cast her out of the house, she was allowed to take with her only what she was wearing.
When interpreting Scripture, we must always keep God's character in mind in order to discern His intent. He is just. It would not be justice to put power in the hands of an unfaithful spouse to control the life of the innocent spouse. According to how the Two–by–Two workers interpret the Scripture that a person is not allowed to divorce, except in the case of pre–nuptial fornication, it allows a promiscuous spouse to fool around with any number of partners, while consigning their abandoned spouse to decades of celibacy, until the erring spouse has died. It might also prevent their abandoned spouse from ever having children of their own, if there were no children in the marriage before the divorce occurred.
This makes the abandoned spouse vulnerable to the temptation to wish their adulterous husband or wife dead, so that they can remarry, but wishing a person to die is the same as murder. Which is the greater sin? Adultery or murder? For myself, if I am not allowed to remarry because my ex–husband is still alive, I would rather remarry, thus committing adultery on a technicality, than to have murder in my heart.
The way my sister understood what the workers were telling her, divorce was allowed only between an engaged couple where one of the pair had committed fornication. In her poorly informed view, adultery was a different matter, where divorce is not allowed. That just doesn't make any sense. Why would a man be allowed to divorce a girl he was engaged to for committing fornication, but not be allowed to divorce an unfaithful wife after he has married her?
A misunderstanding about the word fornication plays into this. The Greek word for fornication, porneia, does not apply only to sex between two unmarried people. It means harlotry, and also covers adultery and incest. It does not apply only to the betrothal stage of a relationship. Jesus was saying that divorce (with the option of marrying someone else), applies to a betrothal or a marriage where sexual unfaithfulness has occurred.
In either case, because of what the Bible says about how Joseph intended to put Mary away privately, it would seem that, by divorcing a woman for committing adultery, a man could discreetly break his legal ties to her without demanding that she also be stoned to death.
The Two–by–Two's are a cult that mindlessly follows the interpretations of their early leaders, who formed this cult in Ireland in 1897, only rarely making allowances for enlightenment on the Scriptures, if it differs with the doctrines that they started out with. Unfortunately, their early leaders were men who disdained theological training and higher learning of any sort. They focussed on how Jesus chose men who had no learning to propagate His Good News, overlooking the fact that the Apostle Paul was a highly educated man, whom God also chose and used mightily. Paul put his extensive learning to good use; he did not discard it entirely.
One of the Two–by–Two errors is that they do not give much consideration to the background against which the Scriptures were written, as well as the context of the whole chapter or book. We also have to place our interpretations in the context of the whole Bible. The Bible does not contradict itself. If it appears to do so, then we need to dig until we discover what the verse is really saying, rather than take it at face value.
Paul demonstrated this when he quoted the Old Testament verse about how the ox that treads the corn is to be allowed to eat the corn while it is treading it. He asks if God cares only about being fair to oxen; of course not. If He cares about being fair to oxen, then He cares even more about being fair to men and women who labour in ministry for Him. The workman is worthy of his hire. Ministers of the Gospel are entitled to receive reasonable wages from the people they minister to.
So, let's dig some more into these Scriptures about divorce and remarriage until we find a balanced, just interpretation of them. We know that Jesus was addressing the problem of hard–hearted, selfish men who were casting off wives they were tired of, in order to release themselves from the obligation of supporting them, as well absolving themselves of any obligation to be a considerate husband who makes adjustments in his own behaviour in order to live at peace with his wife, or develop more appreciation for her, which would have made it easier to treat her well.
When the disciples brought up the fact that Moses allowed divorce, Jesus pointed out that Moses allowed it because of the hardness of men's hearts. Some might point out that Moses himself was divorced, and offer that as proof that Moses had a hard heart also. They might point out that Moses took another wife, the Ethiopian woman whom Aaron and Miriam contended about. We see that God defended Moses' right to have this wife, though.
What most people don't know is that Moses married the Ethiopian woman before he married Zipporah, his Midianite wife. He abandoned his Ethiopian wife when he fled from Pharaoh. She was an heir to the throne of Ethiopia, which was subject to Egypt, and was probably held as a hostage by the Egyptians, in the hopes that Moses would try to rescue her because of political advantages, affording the Egyptians opportunity capture him. Moses and his Ethiopian wife were reunited forty years later when Moses returned to Egypt.
At the time that he took Zipporah for a wife, Moses had no qualms about polygamy. It was part of the culture he was raised in, and he was only newly come to faith in God. Marrying Zipporah seemed like a good solution for dealing with his present distress. Her father was a powerful chieftain who could offer him concealment from his enemies.
When Moses was reunited with his first wife after returning to Egypt, Zipporah became intensely jealous, for she had expected to be his chief consort and the First Lady of the Hebrews. Who would have thunk it that Princess Tharbis was so in love with Moses that she had stayed faithful to him all those years and could continue to be his wife when he returned?
Moses had to send Zipporah away to her father because she was making a lot trouble in his home. Jethro brought her and her sons back to him when Moses led the Israelites to the area outside of Jethro's city. I think the reason Jethro turned down Moses' invitation to join with him was because he was embarrassed by his daughter's unseemly behaviour, and he didn't want to get dragged into the quarrel that she had with Moses over his first wife.
Zipporah still proved to be contentious. To protect his Ethiopian wife from Zipporah's persecution, and to save his sanity, Moses must have told her that she could leave, if she would not accept the Ethiopian woman, who had the rights of the first wife. She chose to leave, while their sons chose to stay. I think that Zipporah stirred up Moses' brother and sister against him, implying that in Midianite territory, it was better to be in favour with the Midianite wife than with the Ethiopian one, and that her bitterness had a lot to do with why some factions of the Midianites fought against Moses and the Israelites later on.
Under the Old Covenant, when a betrothed girl or married woman was unfaithful to their spouse, they were not divorced. The Law stated that they were to be stoned to death. This law demonstrated that fornication and adultery are terrible sins; not to be taken lightly. When Jesus came along, He acknowledged that fornication and adultery are just as bad as they ever were, but He wants people to show mercy, considering their own sins, rather than hypocritically pointing the finger at others. After He rescued the adulterous woman whom the crowd wanted to stone, He told her to go and sin no more. He did not say it was okay for her to carry on as before.
In this incident, Jesus' actions highlighted the hypocrisy of one standard for men, and a more strenuous one for women. Only the woman had been brought forward for punishment, while her partner in sin had been allowed to escape. He may have willingly consented to deliberately set up this woman, or he might have just been surprised in an embarrassing situation. If he was a Roman soldier, there certainly was nothing that could have been legally enacted to call him to account. In any case, among her accusers were probably men who had allowed themselves to do what they condemned in the woman.
The Old Covenant allowed men to have more than one wife, and also concubines. This is not because God approved of men having more than one wife, but rather it demonstrated His patience with their inclination towards evil. The laws that permitted polygamy made men aware that, if they were going to have sex with a woman, they had to marry her and be responsible for her financial support. They were not allowed to use women casually and discard them without any concern for their health, their reputation, their safety, offspring that resulted from their encounters, or the state of the woman's soul before God.
Polygamy was not the best solution, but allowing for polygamy and giving laws to control it was better than leaving it entirely up to men to decide how women ought to be treated. God's aim was to direct men towards His perfect will, which is monogamy. Jesus brought forth that this is God's will for marriage, just one man and one woman, which is what God instituted in the Garden of Eden when the world was perfect.
In His treatment of the woman taken in adultery and His discussion with His disciples about marriage, Jesus made it clear that He prefers for an adulterous spouse to be divorced, rather than stoned to death. He said this mostly for the benefit of women. Because of the double standard that men permitted in regards to their own sinning, women would not have gotten very far in accusing their husbands of adultery and demanding that their husband be stoned. When the Jews strayed from God, this double standard is what they practiced, regardless of what the Law said.
Jesus wants men and women to show mercy towards those who have injured them through adultery, rather than demand their death. If they could go even farther with mercy, forgiving the erring spouse and taking them back, if they were repentant and serious about not fornicating anymore, then that would be even better. Jesus showed the direction to go. Though He allows divorce, He does not impose limits on how far a person can go in demonstrating His love and forgiveness. It is according to how much of His grace they are able to receive, whether a man or woman is able to work out the problems in their marriage, rather than opt for divorce because the other person has given them the right to divorce them.
Under the Law, there was no problem with a man or woman being free to remarry, if their spouse was unfaithful to them. Yes, a man was morally unfaithful, if he had other wives and concubines, but not legally unfaithful. However, if a woman's husband was unfaithful with another man's wife, the Law said he was to be stoned. The adulterous spouses were supposed to die; the widows and widowers were then free to remarry.
Does it make sense for Jesus to make a change to the earthly penalty, showing mercy to adulterers to give them more time to repent of their sins and receive Him as their Saviour, but put their injured spouses into bondage? If the adulterer repents and the marriage is restored, that is good, but what if the adulterer continues in their sin? Would it be just of God to require the injured party to remain alone without an intimate, loving companion to comfort them, and be celibate for the rest of their life?
There are many Christians who have such a distorted image of God that they think that it would please Him very much to make the sacrifice of staying faithful to an unfaithful spouse who has married another. They consider this a demonstration of strong character. It could simply be a demonstration of rigid legalism, self–righteousness, masochistic tendencies, and a mistaken belief that God is a tyrant. He is holy, but that does not exclude Him from being reasonable. The Bible says that He considers human frailty, how He has made us from dust. He knows that humans are often unfaithful to their spouses. He provides escape for the injured parties from this circumstance and is willing to give them opportunity to find a worthier person to marry and be happy with.
I recollect how I felt when my husband had affairs, then left me, and took another wife. I had a lively libido. It couldn't keep up to his, but I enjoyed sex very much. Now I was unwillingly single, and in the same mindset as my sister, thinking that I was not allowed to remarry until my ex–husband died. Standing on the stairs of my church, I grumbled in my heart to the Lord, "Is that fair? He gets to make whoopee all he wants because he doesn't have a conscience, but I have to go without for the rest of my life?" God spoke to my heart and said, "Don't worry; I won't leave you stranded."
I wasn't totally sure what that meant, but I sure didn't think that it would mean that I would be single for the next twenty–five years! Back then, I think I would have killed myself, if I had known that I wasn't going to be reunited with my husband or married to someone else within a year or two. Years seemed like such a long time to me when I was younger, but now they seem like only weeks.
But God was right. He did not leave me stranded. He hasn't given me another husband, yet, but He has given me joy and contentment and many, many other wonderful gifts that would have been harder to receive, if I had been married and required to pay attention to a husband.
Interpreting the Scripture the way the Two–by–Two workers do it is not a demonstration of 2 Corinthians 3:6, which says, "Who also has made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life." The Two–by–Two ministers are not able ministers of the New Testament. They are immature in their understanding, adhering to the letter, not discerning the Lord's intent, ignoring Scripture that contradicts their doctrines, because they do not move in the Holy Spirit. They are in bondage to legalism.
Let's go to 1 Corinthians 7, which addresses the matter of marriage in depth. Paul recommends staying single, but he acknowledges that this is practical only if God has given a person the grace to be celibate for the rest of their lives. If not, he says that, in order to avoid sexual sin, it is best for a person to marry.
He also admonishes husbands and wives to not cheat each other out of their sexual privileges. If a person is tired when the other spouse wants sex, they should make the effort to work up some interest. If they are still too tired, then they should make an effort to get more sleep, pushing other activities aside, because this is an important part of married life. I think that is the point that Paul is making when he speaks of how the wife's body is not her own, neither is the husband's body his own. They have obligations to each other in this regard.
These Scriptures are not a basis, though, for a husband to demand sex from his wife when she is ill, at other inappropriate times, or to approach her at any time like a bull in a china shop. Emotional engagement should be in place first; a husband and wife should never stop courting each other. Peter said in 1 Peter 3:7 that a husband should live with his wife according to knowledge; in other words, treat her with gentleness and sensitivity. There is an excellent series for men about SEXUAL INTIMACY by Tommy Nelson. Moms, make sure your boys listen to this series, if it seems that they are likely to start experimenting with girls. It is probably a good thing to get your daughters to listen to it, too, so that they set high standards for what they want in a man. Don't worry; there's nothing racy in it; it speaks in generalities, rather than specifics.
In verse 10, Paul talks about the wife not departing from her husband. The exception is for the cause of adultery, in which case a woman is justified in divorcing him and marrying another. Paul is referring to other reasons why a woman might want to leave her husband. Being bored with him, finding another man more attractive, wanting to marry someone with more money, … certainly are not righteous reasons for a woman to leave her husband.
Paul addresses these remarks to women because they were realizing that God is fair; He doesn't have a double standard like the society they grew up in. They now knew that commandments regarding their behaviour also applied to men. It was unjust of men to have more than one wife. It was unjust of men to not be virgins when they came to their marriage bed, but it was easier for them to do so because there was no physical proof of a man having lost his virginity before then. Society tended to look the other way at men's failures in this area, but the saved women knew that God does not. They were getting free from the mindset that favoured men and kept women subordinated to men's selfish desires, no longer mistaken that God designed male/female relationships to be that way and approves of one sex dominating the other.
To rein women in, so that they would not go overboard with their new–found freedom and become egotistical and demanding, Paul tells them to not leave their husband, in case they would do so for frivolous reasons. But perhaps the husband is mentally abusive and the woman would go crazy, if she couldn't get away from his whining or ranting. Maybe he drinks too much alcohol and gets mean when he is drunk. Perhaps he beats her or is harsh with the children. Perhaps he does not adequately provide for his wife and children, when he has the ability to do so. Paul recognizes that there might be good reasons, other than adultery, for a woman to leave her husband, but he cautions her to be open to reconciliation with him, if he changes his ways. He isn't saying that the woman should lower her standards, if her standards are reasonable.
If a wife has to leave her husband, Paul says that the wife should not divorce her husband, and neither should the man divorce his wife. The way back into the marriage should be left open. In marrying another husband or taking another wife, the door is nailed shut. The spouse who marries again ought to stay married to the person they are currently married to. If there are problems in that marriage also, they should try to work them out. Paul says that if one is married, they should not seek to be loosed from their current spouse.
If neither partner remarries (or commits adultery), there is the possibility that it might be many, many years before the couple is reconciled, but that's good. It directs a person to take marriage very seriously, to not enter into it lightly, and to be very particular about whom they marry, to make sure that they marry someone who has a high degree of character, thus reducing the possibility of having to endure years of separation and celibacy.
When a woman leaves a man who is a wife–beater or a deadbeat or a drunkard, chances are that, because of his weak character, he will commit adultery, and this gives her the option of divorcing him and remarrying. It isn't too often that the husband turns out to be any of those other things, but is able to remain celibate for years and years. If it is the case, though, that he can control his sex drive, a woman is stuck with remaining single until he dies. When Paul says that a woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives, he is talking about a man who has not committed adultery against his wife. Regardless of his other faults, he has that much going for him.
It could also be that the husband has legitimate reasons for not wanting to live with his wife. The Bible says in Proverbs that it is better to live in the corner of a rooftop than with a brawling woman in a wide house, and better to live in the wilderness than with a contentious woman. If a woman brings separation upon herself, not being allowed to remarry serves as motivation to change her attitude and correct her behaviour, so that she can be reconciled to her husband, if he will have her back. Even if she cannot get him back, she will be happier for having changed her ways, and better prepared to have a successful marriage with someone else, if the former husband dies and affords her that opportunity.
God is just: He does not have one standard for women, and another for men. He would not permit a man to commit adultery against his wife as much as he wants to, and require the wife to remain celibate for the rest of her life, or for many years until the former husband dies. If a man is allowed to put away a wife who is unfaithful to him and remarry, likewise God allows a woman to divorce an unfaithful husband and remarry.
Paul also addresses the situation where a person gets saved, and their unbelieving spouse leaves them, or becomes hard to live with, because they have become a Christian. It is true that the Bible says that we are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, but Paul says that if a person is already married, and the spouse does not mind that they are now Christian, continuing to be a tolerable husband or wife, they ought to stay with them. There is opportunity that their spouse will come to Christ through observing the saved one's improved attitude and behaviour.
If the unbeliever is not pleased to dwell with them, evidenced by their leaving, or they become abusive, Paul says that the believing spouse is not held in bondage. What would put a person under bondage? Well, guilt could do that, but it is not the believer's fault, if their spouse is not happy with their conversion to Christ. It is the unbeliever's choice to reject Jesus, and it is Jesus in the believer whom the unbeliever is rejecting. People should not spend a moment feeling guilty about a spouse's negative reaction to them putting their trust in Jesus as their Saviour and turning to follow His ways.
It is the belief that they have to remain single, or to take abuse, that puts a believer under bondage. Paul did not put upon the believer an obligation to plead with the unbelieving spouse to keep them from leaving, or to compromise in obeying the Lord to persuade the spouse to stay or to get them to let up on their abusive behaviour. If a person wants to leave, they will leave, and there is nothing the husband or wife can do about it. If they want to stay in the home and torment the spouse, they will continue to torment the spouse, if they are of a mind to do so. If that is the way that they want to behave, then let them leave, or leave them if they want to keep the believer as a captive to vent their ugliness on. The Greek word for bondage is douloo, and it means to enslave. Paul was not addressing only a situation where the unbeliever leaves the home. He was also addressing the problem of the unbelieving person staying and acting like a tyrant.
1 Corinthians 5:11 supports this interpretation. It says, "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one, no not to eat." Now it is true that this addresses the problem of those who profess to be Christians behaving in this way, and that we are to not keep company with them, so that they will be ashamed of their behaviour, and also, I think, to ensure that we do not start to absorb their rotten attitudes and emulate their behaviour, for 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners." It would not be just to expect a man's wife to remain with him, or a woman's husband to remain with her, and have to live in a home where this kind of evil behaviour goes on, while the rest of us get off Scot free from having to tolerate it.
Please note that among the ugly behaviours listed is that of "railer". This is a person who rants; a bully. Even if the bully does not use physical violence, they do violence to a person's mind, threatening their sanity with verbal abuse. It should not be tolerated from Christians, who know better than to behave like that, but neither should a woman have to live with an unsaved husband who acts like that, if she has other options. If there are other Christians in the vicinity, then she has other options, for since Paul has said she has the right to leave him, the Church has the responsibility to offer protection to her and her children, if they have no other safe place to go.
Paul addresses the problem of physical abuse from Christian husbands, cautioning men in Ephesians 5:28 & 29 to be as considerate with their wife's body as they would be with their own, for it is unnatural for a man to abuse his body. This means that he should not beat his wife, or even slap her, for he would not appreciate being slapped, and also that he ensure she gets to eat food as nourishing as what he eats himself, and as regularly as what he gets to eat.
Ephesians 5:28 & 29 eliminates the idea that a man has the right to beat his wife, or to make her wait for her dinner until he has eaten his first, and that all she gets is leftovers or food that is not of as good quality. It also forbids a man to force his wife to work harder than him, or expect her to work as hard as he does, if her physique is smaller. It rules out the option of a man leaving his wife and children, forcing his wife to bear the burden of earning a living to support them, in addition to her housekeeping and child training responsibilities.
One can see why radical Muslims who enslave their women hate Christians and want to eradicate Christianity. I read a missionary's description of how the Muslim men she observed laid about in the shade with other men, smoking their pipes, while their wives worked in the fields. I also read of how Armenians who lived in Turkey in the 1900's observed that the Turks kept their women closely guarded, for otherwise, after observing how liberal the Christians were towards their women in comparison to the Muslims, Turkish women would have married Christians. Genuine Christianity offers so much more to women that Muslims would have difficulty keeping their womenfolk under their control in a social system that embraces Christian ideals. Most women would prefer to marry emotionally mature husbands, rather than a man who brutalizes them, confines them, works them like a dog while they laze about themselves, and messes around with other women, even if they are legally married to the other wives.
Paul said that if a person is single (either because they have never married, or have been widowed, or because they divorced an unfaithful spouse), for them to not seek to marry. But he says if they do marry, they have not sinned. I think that he is presenting an ideal of a person devoting themselves to the Lord, instead of running around looking for a mate, leaving it up to the Lord to bring them a mate at the right time.
This is the attitude that brings the most rest to a person's spirit. If they are always on the lookout for a good match, or running about to increase their opportunity of pairing up with someone else, they are letting themselves be distracted from keeping their focus on Jesus, and this brings restlessness and discontent. It is when we delight ourselves in the Lord that He gives us our heart's desires.
Paul talks about the advantages of being single. He mentions that a married man or wife has to concern themselves with what their spouse wants; they can't devote themselves solely to the Lord. It is good to get married, if one gets married to the right person, but it is also good to be single, and to enjoy the benefits of singlehood while singleness lasts. I would not have been able to devote myself as much to the study of the Bible as what I have been able to, if I'd had to be more concerned with housework and paying attention to a husband.
I'd rather go into a marriage with a lot of the Word laid up in my heart than otherwise. It didn't go too well for me that first time, when I spent less time in the Word and didn't take it as seriously as I do now. It also helps to have a deeper intimacy with the Lord, for then we can draw on Him for what we need, rather than put so much of a burden for our happiness on a spouse. We need to use singleness as a time to get equipped as much as possible for marriage, if marriage is God's plan for our life. This is one of the reasons why Paul was telling people to delay getting married.
God is not as hard on people as what they seem to think He is. Even in the matter of people who have more than one wife when they get saved, He does not tell them that they have to give up their wives. He certainly makes it clear that they should not take any more wives, and that if a man is not married, he should not take more than one wife. Elders and deacons, which we all should aspire to be (or, at least, aspire to develop the character required of them), were required to be the husband of only one wife. A man with more than one wife has too much on his plate to be able to attend to leadership roles in the Church. There is the option, though, of the man's surplus wives agreeing to divorce, with him paying for their support until they can support themselves or remarry, because a woman should not have to share her husband with other women.
The Two–by–Two interpretation of the Scriptures does not allow for changes that have come into the culture. I am not saying that we should let culture change our interpretation of the Word. Jesus' character is always the same, though He does elect to change His methods, depending on various situations and who He is dealing with, in order to get through to them. The changes in culture that I am speaking of refer to the history against which the Bible was written, and current changes in our culture since the Two–by–Two, or Cooneyite, church started; specifically the prevalence of common–law living arrangements nowadays.
If a woman has lived common–law before joining the Two–by–Twos, because she was not legally married, she would be allowed to marry, though, in essence, she was married to the person she lived with before. Common–law is a kind of pagan marriage, though not as binding or as respectable as one where a religious or civil ceremony has ratified it. Common–law living arrangements used to be easy for men to get out of, but nowadays the law supports an equitable division of property in a common–law relationship that has lasted more than a year, when it breaks up.
Many of the believers whom Paul told to stay with their unsaved spouses were joined to them through pagan rites. He was addressing, after all, the Corinthians, a Gentile church. The Two–by–Twos recognize secular marriages presided over by a Justice of the Peace, whether a church ceremony was involved or not. Indeed, all their members have to be married by a Justice of the Peace, for the workers do not have the legal right to perform marriages. Two–by–Two couples go through a ceremonial marriage after they are married by an official. The Two–by–Two ministers do not require new couples coming into the church to go through a church ceremony to ratify their marriage, nor is there any record that Paul required it.
Paul recognized a relationship as a marriage, if the couple had committed themselves to living together as a husband and wife, even if there had been pagan ceremonies involved. It is possible that he also recognized a man and woman's commitment to living together as a husband and wife for the rest of their lives as a marriage when no ceremonies were involved.
This likely did not apply to casual living arrangements where there was no commitment to stay together permanently. In that case, it was just outright fornication or adultery. It was a custom among the Romans for young people to engage in temporary sexual relationships, lasting a year, as part of the Lupercalia, where women wrote their names on ballots and they were randomly drawn by men to determine who would be their sex partner. This is the origin of what it means to "be my valentine."
In Hebrew culture, a woman accepted a man's offer of marriage, which involved gifts to her and her family, thus assuring her of some means of support, if he put her away, and then he could simply take her into his home after that. Celebrations were optional.
Some Gentile couples the Apostles dealt with were in a temporary marriage. If a woman's family became displeased with her husband, the father or a brother could take her away from the husband and give her to someone else. This was an echo of the first marriages on Earth, where a man was commanded to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. God ordered it this way to protect a woman from being at the mercy of a man who, once he had taken her away from her family, might abuse her or her children. She remained with her own family, who looked out for her welfare.
When Jacob took Rachel and Leah with him back to Canaan, he had to do it with their consent. They knew him well enough by then to trust him, rather than their father. Laban had shown great callousness towards them, selling them like slaves to increase his property, insensitive to Rachel's grief at having her husband given to another, and insensitive to Leah's grief at having to share her husband with her sister. They could also see that the increase Laban had gained through Jacob was hogged by their father, that he was stingy towards them and their children, and that their brothers were likely to inherit the portion that should go to them and their children. Their father had betrayed God's intent in the marriage law that fathers protect their daughters like precious jewels, guarding their emotional well–being, as well as their health, substance, safety, and reputation. Rachel and Leah they knew they would be better off going with Jacob. He had grown more character in the time they had known him, and they could see that the blessing of God was upon him.
In the case of the pagan societies among which the Apostles ministered, the custom evolved to where fathers and brothers could abuse the role of protection. It was more like they owned the daughter or sister, and could take her away from the husband, if they had a falling out with him, regardless of him treating his wife properly. A man becoming a Christian was reason enough for some of them to take his wife from him.
If they could do that, they could also take their daughter back if another man lusted for her, and offered them enough money to buy her as his wife. In which case, they could just manufacture a quarrel with her husband to give them an excuse to take the wife away. Also, if the daughter or sister had a sharp disagreement with them, they could cook up some excuse against the husband, so that they could bring her back home and make her life miserable there. This is why Peter told wives to submit to (the word actually means "cooperate with") their own husbands. It was to make it clear to them that their loyalty ought to be to their husband, rather than to their fathers and brothers and other family members who selfishly wanted to break up their marriage.
Taking into consideration that the Apostles recognized as permanent, marriages that the laws of the land considered possibly temporary, a common–law marriage, though only a temporary arrangement, is not one that should be lightly dismissed when a person gets saved. A man or a woman or who gets saved ought to leave the relationship, because it is not a true marriage, and also because the Bible commands us to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. If both parties are saved at the same time, then they should consider that the right thing to do might be to get married, rather than to simply break up and go their separate ways, particularly if they have had children together. Until they get married, though, one of the parties should leave the home until they have made their marriage legal, in order to avoid the appearance of continuing to live in sin.
It does not always follow, though, that live–in lovers should get married, if they get saved around the same time. They really might not be suitable for each other, and God could have more suitable mates in mind for them. Maybe He kept them from becoming formally married for this very reason. Possibly one or both of the people really are not keen on spending the rest of their life together, to the exclusion of others. Without a sincere commitment from the other person to the marriage, what is the point of binding oneself to them? The sin of living together in a sexual relationship without benefit of marriage has been forgiven. Whether or not a common–law couple that gets saved should stay together is something they should pray about for specific direction from God.
Some people feel that if an unmarried girl has sex with an unmarried man, to make it right, they ought to marry. According to the Law of Moses, they were to be stoned to death, for they both consented to the act, but Jesus has made it clear that He doesn't want anyone to be stoned to death for their sins. Those penalties were given in the Law to demonstrate how God regards sin, so that people can recognize that they are sinners and need His forgiveness, and accept His help to keep them from sinning any more.
Under the Law, if a man raped a girl who was not betrothed to another man, he was required to pay money to her father and marry her, without the option of ever divorcing her. Because wives lived with their own family, relatives were on hand to ensure that the goon who raped her treated her properly from then on. Some of them may have even straightened out and become a good men. In any case, with this law in place, men thought twice about raping a girl, if there was a possibility of having to pay her father a lot of money and marrying her.
According to this law, the consequences of rape directs girls to avoid situations where they are not protected, but if they are attacked, to fight off attacks tooth and claw, using anything that is on hand for a weapon, for nobody ever wants to be given in marriage against their will. I sure am glad that we are not under the Law any more, as there are plenty of variables in this kind of scenario that could be heartbreaking to an innocent victim of rape, if she had to marry her rapist, regardless if her father and brothers gave the guy the beating of his life for his folly.
God has groomed Man's moral conscience enough first by His laws, and then through further teaching by the Holy Spirit, that people can see that rape is a grievous crime, men ought to be sent to prison a long time for it, and women should not be forced to marry such creeps. Unfortunately, though those who wrote our laws could see that, there has been weakness when it comes to enforcing rape laws adequately.
Because we are no longer under the Mosaic Law, a girl who gets pregnant by a man does not have to marry him, if he proposes afterwards. If he would not be a good husband, she would do better to not marry him, than to compound one mistake with another by marrying the father of her child. If he is a decent guy, though, she should seriously consider it for the sake of her child, even if she doesn't have strong feelings for the father. It is much better to steer clear of sexual activity outside of marriage, so that we don't have to deal with this kind of decision.
If a woman was in the Two–by–Two church, married, got divorced, and lived common–law with another man, she would be allowed back into the church, but not if she was still living common–law or married to someone else and living with them. The Two–by–Twos would rather she lived common–law, than be respectably married, so that they could take her back into their church by their rules. When a church's rules prefer that a person lives in a common–law marriage rather than a legal marriage, then it is time to realize that something is wrong with the rules; the Bible has been misinterpreted somewhere.
I know a Two–by–Two lady who remarried after divorcing her husband, but because she is separated from her husband, the Two–by–Twos take that as proof that she is sorry that she remarried, and they have let her rejoin their church. From what I can see, she is only sorry that the marriage did not live up to what she had hoped it would be. She is separated from her husband, but she has not severed all her ties with him. She receives money from him, and she visits him to help him out sometimes, as he has medical challenges.
He has told her that she will have less trouble obtaining a portion of his property when he dies, if she does not divorce him. ??? If a man wants to leave some property to his ex–wife, he can specify this in his will, and put conditions on other bequests that they can be obtained only if the will is allowed to stand as it is. I surmise that he does not want her to divorce him because he does not want to have to divide their property while he is still alive, and that the woman allows this because she does not want to be involved in a big fight to obtain her share. She has enough income to live on and he helps her out with extra from time to time, so she makes herself bear with the situation of their community property not being divided evenly.
From what I can see, this woman is not totally sorry she married this man, as it gained her some financial advantages while they were together, and entitles her to some of his property when he dies. Marrying a man with more money is not why she got her divorce from her first husband; she met the other man later. Her first husband was neurotic and drove her around the bend, and he had also been unfaithful to her. She had a right to remarry, but she probably should not have married the man who became her second husband. She should have chosen one with a higher level of character, even if he was not as well off financially. Then she would still be living with her husband, and too happy to care whether or not the Cooneyites let her back into their fellowship. She would have dug deeper in the Word of God to gain assurance of her salvation through Jesus Christ, and Him alone, rather than be content to trust in the flawed doctrines of the church she was raised in.
A man or a woman is not obligated to take back an unfaithful spouse, even if the spouse has repented. It would be the best way to go, but a person can do only what they have been given the grace to do. The injured party might forgive the other person, but restitution would have to be made in order to win back their trust.
Some people have gone so far the wrong way that it would take hundreds of years for them to demonstrate through changed behaviour that they can now be trusted. If that is the way that the injured party feels, then let them go their way and start fresh with someone else whom they feel they can trust. The repentant spouse ought to accept it and let it be a lesson to them to not mess up again, if someone else is willing to take a chance on them. In some cases, it is probably best to not take the spouse back, as they might think that they can do whatever they like, and the other one will take it. They may behave themselves for a while, and then work themselves back into their old behaviours, and possibly worse. This is something that a person needs to go prayer about and get the Lord's direction.
In some cases, marriages can work out very well, even where the spouse who is obedient to the Lord stays with the abusive one, if they have the grace to bear with the problems. I know of a case where the wife was on the verge of leaving, but she felt that the Lord wanted her to stay. Not long after that, her husband finally responded to her patience and kindness, got saved, and died only two years later. She was glad that she gave her children the chance to have their father with them a while longer, especially because he came to know the Lord and changed his behaviour. God knows what is going on in the heart.
Paul informed women that they were permitted to leave abusive mates, but he did not say that they had to leave. We should use good sense, but we should always give God the option to interrupt and direct us to do something that doesn't seem to make sense, because He tells us to trust in Him with all our heart, and not lean to our own understanding. In the case of a violently abusive mate, though, the obedient one should be operating in a level of faith where they can bind those demons of rage and forbid them to hit them or their children. It is never God's will for a woman or children to be abused.
A soft answer can do much towards rectifying an abusive situation. I listened to the testimony of a man who had been an officer in the military. He was hard on his wife and kids to the point where his wife wanted to commit suicide. Instead of doing that, she received Jesus as her Saviour and continued to live with her husband. One day their twelve–year–old son got home ten minutes late, and his father hit him hard enough to knock him off his bicycle. The child looked up at his father with a bleeding lip and said, "I love you, Daddy." His reply broke the hard shell off of his father's heart, and turned around his life. He became a Christian, eventually a pastor, and a much more loving husband and father than what he had been before.
God will never tell us to do something that His Word says it is wrong to do, but sometimes He tells us to stay in situations that do not seem to be to our advantage, such as with the patriarch Joseph, who could have escaped from slavery and from prison. Joseph was certainly intelligent enough that he could have pulled it off, and he had the right to do so. He did not deserve to be sold into slavery, or to be put in prison, but the word of the Lord that tried him was, "Stay." (Psalm 105:19) We can see what wonderful things resulted from him having obeyed that word, though he was entitled to escape. And we can also see what good things resulted when Peter escaped from prison, when he was unjustly incarcerated. The key thing here is getting to know God's voice, so that we can get His direction about what to do, as to whether or not to stay in a marriage or a home that we have every right to leave.
A friend referred me to an excellent article on this subject, which I am providing a link to below:Divorce & Remarriage by J.D. Heiney