How do we read these passages of Scripture about divorce?
I’m passing on the Lord’s command to those who are married: A wife shouldn’t leave her husband, but if she does leave him, then she should stay single or be reconciled to her husband. And a man shouldn’t divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7: 10-11, CEB)
Jesus left that place and went beyond the Jordan and into the region of Judea. Crowds gathered around him again and, as usual, he taught them. Some Pharisees came and, trying to test him, they asked, “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife?”
Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you?”
They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a divorce certificate and to divorce his wife.”
Jesus said to them, “He wrote this commandment for you because of your unyielding hearts. At the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. Because of this, a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, and the two will be one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, humans must not pull apart what God has put together.”
Inside the house, the disciples asked him again about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if a wife divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10: 1-12, CEB)
I am struck by the way both Paul and Jesus make reference to Genesis 2:24 (Paul does this in 1 Corinthians 6:16). I am also struck by how our official United Methodist statement on divorce creates wiggle room around these passages.
God’s plan is for lifelong, faithful marriage. The church must be on the forefront of premarital and postmarital counseling in order to create and preserve strong marriages. However, when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness. We grieve over the devastating emotional, spiritual, and economic consequences of divorce for all involved and are concerned about high divorce rates. …
Divorce does not preclude a new marriage. We encourage an intentional commitment of the Church and society to minister compassionately to those in the process of divorce, as well as members of divorced and remarried families, in a community of faith where God’s grace is shared by all.
So I find myself trying to understand a few things. How should we understand the words of Paul and Jesus? Are they timeless ethical teachings? Are they culturally specific guidelines that do not apply in a post-industrial economy? Does our United Methodist interpretation faithfully embody the spirit and letter of scripture? Does a breach of this command of Jesus constitute a sin that endangers our salvation?