This is a side topic from the Divorce Part 8 Actual Final where I mention I tend to find the Catholic position on divorce the most Biblically consistent. Although that is the case, there are some pros and cons of this position.
First, we need to distinguish marriage as God created it.
- God created marriage (Gen 1-3).
- Marriage, per Jesus & thus God, was intended as one man and one woman with no divorce ever (Matt 19, Mark 10)
- I think we all agree that covenants in general, at least in the Bible, require full admission of the terms of such a covenant and vows to sustain it. This is true for all covenants in the Bible such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Mosaic Law, Believers in Christ, etc.
- Non-believers are going through the motion of “marriage ceremony” of whatever culture they are in but they clearly don’t believe in the specific covenant of marriage that God created. Non-believers have no objective moral grounding because they don’t believe in God and thus only believe in a subjective good and evil. Therefore, they cannot assent to the terms of God’s conditions on marriage.
- Thus, we have the possibility of distinguishing God’s covenant of marriage to what both the Catholic and Orthodox term as “natural marriage.” This natural marriage is a general following of God’s principles without actual belief and is generally facilitated by how God created us. For instance, God created men and women to be attracted to thing in the opposite sex that fulfills the creation mandate which I covered in my series on attraction. PSALM+masculine and beauty+LAMPS generally help fulfill dominion and procreation, and it’s clear both unbelievers and believers tend to follow this consciously or unconsciously.
It generally follows, I think, that one must make a distinction between a believer’s marriage and non-believers marriage because one is affirming and establishing a covenant between a man and woman with God as a witness whereas the other is just conforming inadvertently to God’s original Creation.
Now to elaborate a bit more.
I think we all agree that covenants in general, at least in the Bible, require full admission of the terms of such a covenant and vows to sustain it. This is true for all covenants in the Bible such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Mosaic Law, Believers in Christ, etc.
Based on Jesus’ statement on “What God has put together, let no man separate” I believe that most Christians would agree that an actual established covenant marriage between Christians is indissoluble if affirming the following things.
1. All parties are Christian and believe in God through faith in Jesus
2. All parties know the what marriage is and entails and their Biblical roles and responsibilities
3. All parties vow to uphold that and know the permanence of marriage.
This type of marriage cannot be annulled or divorced and thus one would fall into perpetual adultery if they divorced and remarried.
Non-believers are going through the motion of “marriage ceremony” of whatever culture they are in but they clearly don’t believe in the specific covenant of marriage that God created. Non-believers have no objective moral grounding because they don’t believe in God and thus only believe in a subjective good and evil. Therefore, they cannot assent to the terms of God’s conditions on marriage
Sacramental/covenental marriage is somewhat ad hoc, but the other position that the Prots use seems to be less internally consistent.
For instance, unbelievers can partake in “marriage,” sure. But since unbelievers have no objective moral grounding they can also redefine “marriage” to be whatever they want. True Christians all affirm that there is no such thing under God as gay marriage. But oddly if two unbelievers who were a man and woman got married they would generally be considered “married” by most Christians. Sure, they are “married” but they definitely did not enter into that marriage as a covenant with God.
So how can it be the same as a believer’s marriage?
Sacramental/covenant marriage seems to make the best of things. It’s not perfect by any means, but there needs to be a way to distinguish between (I) a covenant marriage in the eyes of God as God intended and (II) one of unbelievers who don’t believe in God and/or possibly also disagree with His definition of marriage.
Unbelievers are married due to God’s natural creation that generally drives them to be married. However, they are not the same as one who has affirmed the sacrament/covenant of marriage and assented to all of God’s terms and conditions.
Thus, we have the possibility of distinguishing God’s covenant of marriage to what both the Catholic and Orthodox term as “natural marriage.” This natural marriage is a general following of God’s principles without actual belief and is generally facilitated by how God created us.
Distinguishing between sacramental/covenant marriage and a natural marriage tends to open up a few cans of worms. The issue then is 3 fold:
- What do we do with a supposed 2 believer marriage where 1 person becomes supposedly apostate and possibly treated as an unbeliever?
- What do we do with a believer and unbeliever marriage where only the believer assents to the 3 above things?
- What do we do with unbeliever marriages who obviously do not consent to the 3 things above?
Let’s explore these.
What do we do with 2 believers where one has supposedly become apostate?
There’s 2 different interpretations of this.
- The first is that the marriage is dissoluble. Both Christians agreed to that and it’s binding.
- The second is that the believer turned believer is to be treated in respect to Matthew 18 and should be expelled normally (them leaving also works). This then tends to fall under the camp of #2 where it suddenly becomes a marriage of a believer with a believer to a believer with an unbeliever.
Based on my divorce article, I fall into camp 1 for many different reasons. Not going to elaborate on that here.
The second point obviously opens up another can of worms in that it bleeds into the next section since the believer turned unbeliever now makes the marriage fall under a different category even if they affirmed the permanence of marriage before.
What do we do with a believer and unbeliever marriage where only the believer assents to the covenant?
Again, there is 2 different interpretations of this, but now I can also consider a 3rd.
1 Corinthians 7:12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
Here’s the 3 different options.
- The believer is not enslaved is to the covenant of marriage. This seems slightly implausible to me because of the Greek wording for “douluo” servant/slave is not the same as the other wording that refers to the marriage bond earlier in the passage and elsewhere in the NT which is “deo” – to bind together which is reminiscent of Genesis 2 ‘a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave (dabaq Hebrew and translated as deo in Greek) to his wife and they shall be on flesh’ Even later in the passage Paul affirms this wording distinction later in the passage.
1 Corinthians 7:39 A wife is bound (deo) as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.
- The believer is not enslaved to the roles and responsibilities of the marriage anymore. In other words, if the wife leaves then the husband is not required to perform the duties of the husband such as being a protector, provider, headship, and so on. Based on the evidence in my article and some mentioned above, I’ve always considered this point to be most likely which is why generally think it falls in line with the verses prior “stay single or reconcile”
- In discussion with another brother on RPC, I am potentially considering that it’s possible that the 2nd is the ideal and the 1st point is not ideal but may not be sin either. For instance, in this specific case Paul states “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord)” which means this is Paul speaking from his wisdom here and it’s not specifically a command of the Lord. Obviously, the ideal is being like God and Israel where God may have divorced Israel but made a way back for them like the Samaritans & our Ministry of Reconciliation in 2 Cor 5.
Prior to the passage of believers married to believers the command is from the Lord:
1 Cor 7:10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
I still have not decided between point 2 and 3, and I’m still mulling it over.
However, there is a post hoc slippery slope.
A believer-believer marriage which has affirmed God’s standard of permanent marriage can now be altered for annulment or divorce because the “believer” you were with is now an “unbeliever.” Now that this is not a believer-believer marriage but a believer-unbeliever marriage, the believer has some sort of carte blache to which they can choose to stay single or reconcile or choose to be remarried.
This is clearly not what God intends.
I suppose the former point is more reasonable if a Church council decides whether a marriage can be annulled or not and not the spouse(s) in question because of the biased nature of the situation. A council would provide a more objective ruling in theory. This is more in line with the lawsuits among believers passage rather than having them in the world versus the Church. However, the fact of the matter is if that a supposed believer becomes an unbeliever then they aren’t going to go to the Church anyway and rather have the state rule on it, especially since 70%+ divorces are by women (90% among college educated) and they get an advantage (e.g. cash and prizes) by divorce raping their husbands.
I believe US Catholics make up 5% of the worldwide Catholics but have 50% of worldwide annulments. This does not necessarily make this wrong just like because some men abuse headship authority does not make headship bad. But it does at least call into question the poor state of the Church today.
What do we do with unbeliever marriages who obviously do not consent to covenant marriage?
It’s obvious that the 2 unbelievers do not believe in the covenant/sacrament… so do we treat it the same as indissoluble? Or should we just say it is sin for them to divorce but not perpetual adultery?
The former seems more reasonable to me at least given that the Law of Moses allowed divorce for hardness of heart which is what unbelievers have. Not saying that unbelievers are subject to the Law of Moses or anything like that, but the underlying principle is the same. They are clearly in sin, but since they do not know of the permanence of marriage they are not in perpetual sin as they have not assented to such a covenant. Hence, it probably should not be counted as perpetual adultery.
Orthodox sacramental/covenant marriage is interesting scenario. For those of you not in the know, only the first marriage is considered a happy occasion, but a second and third final marriage are somber affairs done in penitence.
I’m not sure where the the 2nd and 3rd times come from (maybe my Orthodox readers know?), but my guess would be similar to Peter denying Christ 3 times but receiving redemption in the end. Since both Catholic and Orthodox believe Peter is the “rock” upon which the Church is built then that would make sense as it potentially embodies the Christ-Church marriage.
To my estimation this can potentially solve two issues:
- Men and women are more likely to sexually sin more single than married. This is especially true if an innocent party is divorced or abandoned. It would be difficult on them sexually.
- Another obvious solution is that children tend to do better with a father and mother, although this can have its cons with previous spouse(s) being involved heavily in their lives.
This has some decent reasoning behind it even if it does not strictly adhere to “what God has put together let no man separate.”
The Protestant assumption that all marriages are the same (believer-believer, believer-unbeliever, unbeliever-unbeliever) seems to be logically inconsistent because no unbelievers will apply Biblical standards to their marriages much less agree to God’s covenant of marriage in the the first place.
It also makes ruling on divorce much harder because we know it’s a sin, but one cannot necessarily rule on the permanence aspect which is what God intended. One could claim that “What God has put together let no man separate” that although God says don’t do it that man can separate. Usually this is argued in the context of the Law of Moses specifying conditions for separation/divorce (which Jesus also calls hardness of heart… so I find that line of thinking dubious) and that man only separating is a sin. But this gets into more muddled waters given the covenant nature of believers marriages.
For example, those that claim it is just a sin and that adultery breaks the covenant point to God divorcing Israel, but they conveniently omit that although Judah committed adultery with idols and foreign nations too God merely separates and reconciles with her. Additionally, they omit the fact that although Israel is divorced, God makes a way through Jesus to be reconciled. Both cases reconciliation is the answer with God, and clearly adultery does not break that bond if the innocent party does not want a divorce.
In any case, divorce in Protestant Churches has just become a free for all, much like my analogy that Protestants are in the time of the book of Judges where “there was no king in Israel and everyone did what is right in their own eyes” — There is nothing new under the sun Christian denominations. I’ve probably studied more about divorce than 99% of Protestant pastors which is probably not a good thing, especially since many went to theology/divinity schools. But the quality of students these schools are pumping out is severely compromised by the culture anyway, so that’s not a surprise.
At the end of the day, however, I suppose earthly rulings on such things are merely best attempts to follow God’s design. God knows everyone’s hearts and knows if they are trying to follow Him or trying to please their own desires. I know — at least for me and my study into such matters — I will follow the permanence line of marriage and live that out by my convictions. Whether someone comes to a different conclusion or not is ultimately between them and God, but I leave my analysis here to hopefully convince people to the path which I find most consistent with Scripture.