Scripture & social principles on divorce

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)

And this:

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?

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8 thoughts on “Scripture & social principles on divorce

  1. In my opinion, God intended marriage to represent to us our individual relationships with Christ. I believe Christ’s words are a rule we’re intended to follow, in part to display our devotion to Him and in part to better understand our relationship to Him.

  2. Orthodox voices on homosexuality (and I try to be one of them) can look to UMC accommodation on divorce and remarriage and see the initial decay that brought us to where we are today. Having caved on divorce and remarriage (for a number of reasons), we lack credibility to speak on issues of sexuality in the present.

    I know of few denominations or even individual churches who would hold to Jesus’ standard, or Paul’s restatement. A pity.

    1. In my opinion….based on the studying of humanity since the days of antiquity…..it is an error to state that the “accommodation on divorce and remarriage” is linked in any way shape or form to the sin of homosexuality. You see…..in that time Jesus spoke about divorce it was the common practice of divorcing for absolutely any reason at all….and even for no reason at all. They took that “clause” in the law of Moses and said in essence…”see….we just need a certificate and we can be divorced”. Unless the UMC has that same mind set that one can divorce for any reason….then she certainly has not lost any credibility when it comes to speaking on any other sin issue including issues of sexuality. I am not a part of UMC….but from what I understand of their position and what they do in the face of divorce is in any way “caving” in and in NO way is making accommodations for divorce and/or subsequent remarriage.

      The pity would be the church that doesn’t have room to provide grace, mercy, and forgiveness to those impacted by divorce, but rather sees fit to cast the individuals harmed by divorce out on the streets.

      If you….an “orthodox voice on homosexuality” believes divorce caused the “decay that brought us to where we are today”……I would dare say you missed the cause…..and have focused on only one of the symptoms of the decay.

      My hope is that we all prayerfully consider what God’s desire is for us as individuals and as a church and/or as a denomination as far as what we are to do with divorce. It is a tragic sin……a tragic victory of our enemy…..and a complete misrepresentation of God’s plan for marriage……but it is not the root of decay.

  3. Wow….way to big of a topic to ever expect any sort of resolution of on this type of venue. I personally believe that the teachings you referenced are certainly timeless. It was never God’s plan for divorce to occur. Adultery seems to be the accepted pardon. Breaching this command would constitute a sin, and though it is an incredibly harmful sin that effects so many in the most extreme ways….it is not the unpardonable sin. Perhaps the forgiveness that is found for those in divorce can be found in that many “Knew not what they did” when they got married. Most people, I believe, equally within the church and outside of the church have absolutely no idea what marriage means….what its origins are…..and what it accomplishes, or its purpose, within society.

    I don’t believe your “Official United Methodist statement” provides wiggle room in the sense that it advocates the acceptability of divorce….but I do believe that official statement gives a pretty darn good image of what the church should do in the event of a divorce.

  4. It is a perplexing question of the ideal and the real. Jesus seems to understand that sometimes divorce is necessary. However, he opposes serial polygamy that was then common, and increasingly so, now. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church would not recognize divorce, although accepting separation of habitation. It caused divorced people the anguish of separation from their church or their new loved one. Paul made a judgment that is worse to be consumed by longing love, than not be the ideal, that is celibate as he was.

  5. I read this post yesterday and started asking lots of other questions. Things like, “I wonder if we’d be a more biblical church if we did genitalia checks on every man who comes in” because the Scriptures clearly state that “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord” (Deut 23:1).

    I also think that we need to stop accommodating for the physically handicapped clergy, for the Scriptures clearly state that, “No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles” (Lev. 21: 17ff).

    As for women in the pulpit, it should never have happened in we are to be a truly biblical church. For the Scriptures clearly state that, ” the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (1 Tim 2: 9-15). Clearly, the woman’s role is to have lots of children and hope that the process of childbearing will lead to her salvation. Such pitiful deceived flawed being have no other entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Perhaps it is time we really clean out the church and recognize that the assembly of the Lord is only for able-bodied men and stop all this inclusion nonsense. Inclusion, after all, is not spoken of clearly in the Bible.

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