Where the world comes to study the Bible

Apostolic Teachings

Teachings of Paul

Is Divorce Compatible with Love?
(1 Corinthians 13)

“Love endures ail things…”
(1 Corinthians 13:7)

Often one finds people who are unhappy about all this technical analysis of legal passages. From them one hears of a simpler way to handle our subject: simply consider the apostle’s treatment of love in 1 Corinthians 13. For love, we are told, cannot harmonize with such actions as divorce and remarriage. After all, does not the “ode to love” in that letter say in several ways that love would long endure the sorts of “grounds” that have been suggested in this book as morally adequate for divorce and remarriage? Specifically, how can the dissolution of marriage jell with statements that love “is patient, is not jealous, does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, but rather bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things … never fails”? Instead, divorce and remarriage show that someone has ceased to be patient, has made a self-serving response out of provoked jealousy, and has decided to take into account a wrong suffered because he or she has lost hope and refuses to bear more. One who divorces despairs of believing that it will pay to endure more and therefore considers the effort at continued loving a lost or failed cause.489

A proper response to such reasoning begins with the admission that many times lesser motivations and attitudes prevail in the tense conditions that lead up to divorce. But these sorts of attitudes and motives are not commended in this book. They are an abuse of the biblical system, not a proper use of it. And as the saying goes, “Abuse does not prohibit use.”

Second, I argue that, when approached from the biblical viewpoint, such motives and attitudes are not necessary as regards our subject. Proof is ready at hand and, at least in the case of divorce, is clear: God is love (1 John 4:8), yet He divorced Israel Jer. 3:8). If divorce and love are incompatible, then the Bible is indeed confused on the subject, for it certainly attributes both to God at the same time, while arguing that there is no contradiction in Him. But what harmonization is possible? Let us look in turn at each questioned phrase in 1 Corinthians 13.

“Love Is Patient”

Love is patient (makrothumai). God was long-suffering with Israel. For centuries, He put up with “her” infidelity. But there came a point at which no one could reasonably charge God with an unethical lack of patience for His discipline of the covenant partner. Patience overdrawn is coddling or stubbornness. Patience “gone to seed” shows evidence of condoning sin or of inability to act in a way that best promotes wholesomeness. God is guilty of none of these offenses. Likewise, neither is the person who chooses to act as God did to a spouse such as God had.

But, it is rejoined, God waited centuries, should we not be willing to wait throughout a short lifetime? No. In the analogy, both God and Israel are in the place of covenantal partners. The “centuries” may cover the lifetimes of individual members of Israel, but in the analogy, a thousand years is but a day. When God pictured the discipline of divorce in a real human time frame, that is, Hosea, he truncated the centuries into a far shorter time. Patience? Hosea was patient. His second and third “children” were not his but hers by harlotry.490 He did not run out and file for divorce when he first knew that Gomer had broken the covenant. He was patient. But there was a righteous limit to his patience.491

“Love Is Kind”

Love is kind (chrasteutai). The word implies that the lover is of service to the one loved. And though divorce may not seem to fit this idea, that is shortsighted. You must ask if it is kindness to allow an erring spouse to suppose that continued and unrepentant sin is not so bad as to require an appropriate response, a response aimed at restoring the fellowship that is only to be shared by partners in a properly functioning covenant. “Fellowship at any price” is evil. The Church, in kindness, is told to excommunicate the unrepentant from fellowship (Matt. 18). And we should remember that it is interpersonal offenses that lead to this excommunication. If it be subjoined that individuals should not cut off as the institutional Church does, we ask where this lesson is taught in Scripture? The divorce legislation follows the excommunication passage in Matthew, and that divorce legislation includes the “except” clause.

It must be remembered that the proper function of divorce is discipline. And though sentimental people often condemn discipline for showing a lack of love, the opposite is true. Discipline is “severe mercy”— “tough love.” Kindness points out the speck in the other’s eye because kindness does not want the speck to hinder the other’s sight. It is manifestly unkind to allow the sin of the other to go untreated (cf. Luke 17:1 ff.). A lack of discipline is hate or rejection of the other at a most basic level. Joseph understood discipline. In kindness, as well as in justice, Joseph sought to put Mary away. His kindness was seen in his desire to put her away privately; his justice rested in the desire to divorce. But there is no evidence of unkindness to her.

“Not Jealous”

God is revealed to be a “jealous” God (Exod. 20:5). But his jealousy is not like that condemned by Paul. There are actually two different terms used in the Greek. The one used in our present text is never used in a positive sense in the New Testament. It means “inflated” (phusioo), which implies empty pride and selfishness. But this is not necessarily true of the one who divorces. At stake are the words of covenant, not the empty claims of selfishness. To employ this word phusioo of the disciplining divorcer would be to presuppose no right of covenant to the thing envied. It is, after all, wholly improper to speak of a husband as being envious of his wife’s lover in a case of adultery. By vow the husband has the right to her fidelity; it is not a matter of envy or jealousy at all.

“Does Not Act Unbecomingly”

Paul is saying that love will not do anything that is “improper” (aschemo-sune). For some, divorce and remarriage are unbecoming actions. But what is an “unbecoming” act? We want to be sure that we understand the meaning of the biblical writer, not the biblical interpreter. What does the Scripture count as “unbecoming”? That is precisely what we have been seeking to determine in this study. It is my conviction that some types of divorce and remarriage do not merit such an appellation. If the technical analysis does not condemn an action, we must withhold the term unbecoming. Certainly we are not permitted to speak of an action employed by the Holy God himself as “unbecoming.” And God divorced Israel. Should we attempt to be more holy than God?

“Does Not Seek Its Own”

The idea here is that love is not selfish. And as was noted with regard to jealousy, it is inadmissible that a judicious response to covenantal infidelity be branded an act of selfishness. Is God selfish? Certainly not. Fidelity on the part of Israel was a matter of covenantal agreement; it was therefore a matter of reasonable and righteous expectation. Selfishness had nothing to do with the matter. Beyond this, disciplinary divorce is an act done out of love for the offending partner. Such divorce cares enough to place the offending spouse on notice that actions have effects and that those effects have a personal price tag on them. If the discipline works, then this “tough love” has saved the offender from continued offenses of the same kind.

“Is Not Provoked”

This is telling us that love does not give way to “vicious outbursts” (ou paroxunetai), outpourings of bitterness and rage. One must admit that often divorce is associated with such outbursts on the part of the offended. But this does not have to be the case. Does the disciplinary concept of divorce necessarily have such behavior associated with it? Hosea and God responded in righteous indignation, but theirs were actions of love, with the aim of a loving restoration. Ezra responded in very forceful righteous indignation, but who would charge him with a “vicious” outburst?

“Does Not Take Into Account a Wrong Suffered”

Only if an evil is suffered and taken into account can a biblical divorce take place, so how can divorce not fail the test at this point? On the other hand, if divorce cannot pass, how can we remove the charge of an unloving attitude from God? Remember, God will eventually send evildoers to hell, if they have not trusted in his Son. Therefore, this phrase cannot mean that love ignores a wrong suffered. Rather, it means that it is always willing to forgive and will forgive if the conditions of forgiveness are met. Love notes wrong and calls the erring other to repentance (Matt. 18; Luke 17; Gal. 6:1). Anything less is not agapic love. Love is willing to forgive, but does not unless there is repentance. Otherwise, God, motivated by love, would empty Hell. Love is willing to forgive seventy times seventy times, but not even once if repentance is insincere (cf. Matt. 18:23-35). Love does not hold a grudge, but it has a righteous memory. It does not count tit for tat, but it must forget on the basis of righteous forgiveness.492 So “takes no account of evil [ou logizetai] done to it” must be understood in the light of the next phrase.

“Does Not Rejoice In Unrighteousness”

Love is “unhappy” (ou chairo) when it discovers evil in marriage. It does not ignore it, thinking it not important enough to expose as wrong. Divorce is a formal way of stating righteous indignation against the object of one’s Christian love. One of the saddest failures in Church and home today is the failure of love to show its tough side—show it not in spite, but in grief. Love knows wrong when it sees it and cares enough to do what it can (non-hypocritically) to take the speck out of the other’s eye.

“Rejoices In the Truth”

Paul is not speaking of a giddy attitude that ignores what is going on around the Christian. “Rejoices in the truth” refers to a joy (sunchairo) that harmonizes with the facts. In the case of covenant breaking, love rejoices through the suffering with the knowledge that God brings repentance by discipline. Only when the pattern of righteous discipline is exercised can love be said to rejoice in the truth. Far too many believers “hang in there” acting and/or believing that the infidelity of their spouse was only a figment of the imagination. They have been deceived into thinking that a peaceful coexistence with sin is possible. To retain a “happy attitude” in a marriage full of covenant breaking is to “rejoice in error.”

“Bears All Things”

Now come the positive statements. Love “preserves” itself (stego) through unhappiness in marriage. It continues to do so as it puts away the loved one. And it keeps on loving though it countenances remarriage. Love suffers through. But love is also realistic. God suffered the sins of Israel. Hosea suffered the infidelity of Gomer. And when they put away the offender their love continued to bear up under the effects of broken covenant. One might even wonder about the bearing up of love when God set His bride, Israel, aside and married the Gentiles. Paul even quotes from Hosea when he speaks of God’s acceptance of the Gentiles into a relationship that had formerly only been with the Jews (Romans 9:25-27) and when he continues on the subject in a later chapter (11:17), the language, though with a metaphor changed to pruning in a vineyard, sounds very much like divorce and remarriage: “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree … ” Who broke them off? Why did He not bear all things?

For the follower of Christ, the issue is not whether love toward the offender will continue, but how it is appropriate to express positive love toward the offender. Part of bearing up is the “tough love” of divorce. Part of bearing up through the realism of remarriage is the continued willingness to forgive the former spouse. It is illegitimate to presume that all divorce and remarriage are incompatible with the preservation of Christian love.

“Believes All Things”

Love is “confident” (pisteuo), but not credulous. It neither pays attention to rumors nor ignores clear evidence. God, Ezra, and Hosea did not believe rumors. They knew the sad truth that there comes a time when continuing to live in a broken covenant passes beyond confidence into self-deception and foolishness. Divorce, and even remarriage, comes as a result of knowing the truth. The fact that love is confident does not inhibit such actions as disciplinary divorce.

“Hopes All Things”

Love is “trusting” (elpizo). It has favorable and confident expectations of the marriage partner, even the sinning partner. But, again, agapic love is not a blind passion. In divorcing as a discipline it hopes for the best: reconciliation. But, as time goes on, it may realize that the best that may be hoped for short-term is remarriage for the innocent, though it hopes for the repentance of the former spouse in the long-term. Love hopes for the day when Christian fellowship may be restored. It hopes all things, but it continues to live with its feet in the real world. It “hopes all things” in the now.

“Endures All Things”

Love “bears up courageously” (hupomeno). It bears up even during the trauma of divorcing the unrepentant spouse. Though remarriage to another takes place in the face of continuing failure of the disciplined one to respond, the nonsentimental love of the believer endures. God is our best example of this. After divorcing Israel, his love of Israel endured during their continued rejection in exile. It endured even while he joined himself to the Gentiles. For humans, remarriage may preclude certain responses that love could make were the sinner to repent later on. But it does not end a responses, especially the most important of them: forgiveness.

“Love Never Fails”

Love does not, on its own, fall into inactivity (katargeo). It is active, without being obnoxious. It reaches out with forgiveness to the offender, but it does not make the offender accept it. Love may take the “tough” role, trying to make sinners see the error of their ways, but whether by negative or positive means it perseveres. It may see marriages fall into inactivity. It may see covenants be legally abolished. It may see remarriages. But it is alive.

Summary Comments: What Is “Love”?

In all these statements about how love behaves, one may miss what the Bible actually means by love. And without going into undue detail, we would serve ourselves by clarifying how the love that acts in these ways through broken covenants/divorces/remarriages differs from other attitudes. The word at issue is agape. Some incautiously speak of it as divine love or unconditional self-sacrifice, but we must understand this word (which the pagans also knew and used)493 in less religious terms. It refers to an attitude of regard toward its object—the treatment of the object in a manner appropriate to that object. Earlier we mentioned it as “responsible love” that treats its object with the respect due the object’s status. Because its behavior is not dependent upon the response of the object, it is thought to be unconditional. This is not quite correct. Its behavior is always determined by the nature and status of the object. For example, God loves the world, not because it acts positively toward him, but because it is made up of persons whom He in His sovereign will has created in His own image and likeness. He does not have the same regard for the lower creation, which has a different nature—though He loves them also.

By the same token, God loves different groups of people differently. His regard for the Church leads him to behave toward it differently than he does toward those outside it. They have a different status. So, too, a given man has general obligations toward every woman but has special obligations to his covenant partner. He owes her no such regard until she becomes his wife. Technically speaking, he does not regard his wife because she treats him well or poorly but because she is his wife. It is her status, not her behavior that determines his behavior. There are levels of agape, and the respect given depends on the nature of the level.

Friendship (philos) is another matter. This term speaks of an attitude that is determined by response on the part of the recipient. It reaches out and gives of the self, but retracts its kindnesses if it is spurned. God loves all, but is the friend of few. Marriage demands love, but hopes for friendship. Nor should we suppose that the nature of this friendship is only cool affection. It may include passion. But if it is not requited, it dies. It would probably be a sin to fail to want to be the friend of one’s marital partner—it is a sin to fail to want to be the friend of God. But to be a friend cannot be required, because it is dependent upon the condition of both parties at the moment.

The love Paul speaks of is the first kind. It responds appropriately to its object. It inquires who objects are and regards them according to their nature and status. To apply this to our discussion, we may say that the provisions of marriage (the essential actions pledged) need only be given to the covenant partner. Men need not provide food and clothing to every woman, and they should not provide sex to any woman who is not their spouse. Likewise, women need not promise a man to abstain from a sexual relationship with someone else unless the man is their husband. But the man who is in covenant with a woman must provide the essentials to her. She may be “unbearably” nasty to him. It does not matter. Those things she deserves because she is his wife. She, in turn, must be exclusive to him, whether or not he is nice to her. Monogamy is her due to her husband.

Does divorce not offend the nature of this sort of love? Not necessarily. If divorce is merely a statement that one will no longer keep one’s side of the bargain, it is offensive to love’s requirements. But if one of the two partners has intentionally broken the covenant, that partner has thereby changed status.

The only regard subsequently due such a partner is that which must be shown to any other human being. Sin against the covenant removes the covenant partner’s status. Covenant-breaking behavior is not like just any behavior. Just as the speaking of the initial vows established the covenant status, so the breaking of the essential terms of those vows ends that status.494

Paul knew that we owe it to our marriage partners to keep covenant. But if they have broken covenant, we then no longer owe to them those special obligations stated in that covenant. The obligations of love stated in 1 Corinthians 13 are general obligations, and, therefore, we still owe them and can give them to the (former) partner though divorce and remarriage have taken place.

A final comment is in order. Though love may be coexist with divorce and remarriage, it will take God’s power to love an offender through divorce and remarriage, or through forgiveness in marriage. But God is in that sort of business.

Is Divorce Compatible with the Way Christ Loves His Church?
(Ephesians 5:22-33)

“… as Christ also loved the Church.”

The Analogical Argument

Another passage that is often put to service in inhibiting divorce and remarriage of all kinds is Ephesians 5:22-33. Here is how Laney forges the argument:

The marriage union is designed to reflect the relationship between Christ and His church. Just as a union is formed in marriage when two people commit their lives to each other, so a union is formed when the believer is joined to Christ. Will Christ ever break the relationship between himself and His church? Absolutely not (Heb. 13:5)! Will Christ ever be “divorced” or separated from the believer? Never (Romans 8:35-39; John 10:28)! Since the marriage union is a picture of the permanent relationship between Christ and His church, the marriage union itself must be permanent. If marriage were a dissolvable relationship, it would be an inaccurate representation of the indissoluble relationship between Christ and His church.495

The clarity of this argument requires no further exposition. Its criticism does.

The Criticism of The Argument:

The Direction of the Analogy

Several assumptions and conclusions in this argument can properly be challenged. First, it is stated that marriage is designed to reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church. But is this true? Not really. For though it is true that the apostle uses certain similarities between marriage and the Christ-Church relation to enhance his ethical admonitions to both husbands and wives, it is not quite correct to say that marriage is designed to picture the relationship between Christ and the Church. It is an existing institution of marriage that is being discussed. There is no evidence of design except that the apostle designs to use the Christ-Church relation to illuminate ethics. Laney has turned the analogy around.

Theological Digression in the Analogy

A careful reading of the passage in the Epistle will reveal that the apostle begins by admonishing a spouse, sanctions his admonition by drawing attention to a similarity in the Christ-Church relationship, becomes “carried away” with the analogy, becomes aware of his theological digression, and returns to the subject of marriage. He does this on several occasions.

        • Digression One: Savior of the Body

The initial point is that wives should be subject to their husbands as to the Lord. This admonition is supported by the analogical argument that, just as the Church is subject to Christ, so wives should be subject to their husbands. Husbands stand in the place of Christ in the same respect that wives stand in the place of the Church. But then Paul rises into the theological skies, making the statement that Christ is the Savior of the body. Question: Is the husband the savior of the wife? Well the husband is to be the protector of the wife’s well-being, but that is not the same thing as saying that he is her savior. And Paul admits the lack of analogy by saying, “but as the Church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything” (v. 24).

Careful consideration of this pattern is instructive. It teaches us that there are limits to the analogical relationships that can be drawn between the pairs. Accordingly, it is dangerous to press the truths of the Christ-Church relation into the husband-wife relation. We must take care not to overdraw the analogy. We must limit ourselves to what Paul says.

        • Digression Two: Sanctifier of the Church

The second analogical relation begins with the admonition that husbands should “love their wives” (v. 25). Then comes the analogy: “Just as Christ also loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” This is followed by the theological digression: “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present to himself the Church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless” (vv. 26 f.).

Again, it is noteworthy that the digression contains elements that simply are not true of the husband-wife relationship. Does the husband cleanse the wife? Does he present her to himself holy and blameless as a result of his own work in her life? Probably not even though the husband is to be careful to preserve the purity of the wife496 and has a Christian obligation to be a part of the cleansing of another Christian from his or her daily sins (John 13:1-17). This is not exactly parallel to foot-washing.

        • Digression Three: Mysterious Union

The third movement relates quite directly to the second. Admonition: husbands ought to love their wives. But the analogy becomes more complex. Paul inserts a different sort of analogy into the pattern: “as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (vv. 28 f.). Then the pattern returns. Analogy: “just as Christ also does the Church because they are members of his own body” (v. 30). Then the interruption, a quote of Genesis 2:24, followed by the theological digression, “this mystery is great” (v. 32), with its analogical disclaimer, “but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the Church.” This disclaimer is doubled by the disjunction “nevertheless,” with which Paul concludes the entire discussion by restating the initial admonitions: husbands, love; wives, respect. Those who use such a passage to speak of marriage as mysterious do not even understand the biblical concept of mystery, which is something unknown for a while, but later revealed. Certainly this does not apply to marriage, which was revealed at the time of creation.

The Missing Analogue: Permanent Union

The question that now presents itself is, “Where exactly are we to locate the alleged teaching that divorce and remarriage of human beings is impermissible insofar as the relationship between Christ and the Church is permanent?” Clearly, the likely location would be in the discussion of love. But we have already seen that nothing essential to love (agape) disagrees with the concept of disciplinary divorce and remarriage set forth in this book. Therefore, the point regarding love must center, not in its nature, but in the specific application of love in the Christ-Church relation. This is to say, with Laney, that since Christ would never divorce the Church, the husband should never divorce the wife.

The Ignored Analogy: Divine Discipline

But this is a conclusion—an analogue not explicit in the text. And it is risky to offer it—not only insofar as Paul never broaches the subject, and therefore the point is analogically speculative, but also because such a conclusion seems based upon thinking contrary to explicit biblical teaching. I am referring here to a similar analogy drawn in the Old Testament that proves the opposite point. In Jeremiah, Hosea, and Isaiah, Yahweh is spoken of as the husband of Israel. And yet God does divorce his covenant people and marry another. In Hosea, the analogy is tight: Hosea is to Gomer as Yahweh is to Israel. Or, the human relationship is to be a picture of the relationship existing between God and his chosen bride, Israel. In that case, the analogy explicitly involves divorce, and it does so in a positive light.

The upshot is that where the discussion of divorce does occur in a divine-human analogy, far from implying a rejection of it, divorce is pictured as a righteous act—a disciplinary measure of love. We saw earlier that the detractors of divorce and remarriage simply dismiss the Old Testament analogy by saying that if we take it seriously we would also have to take polygyny seriously, since God is pictured as a polygamist in the same passages.497 They do not take seriously the possibility that they are wrong about the polygyny, and they do not take seriously that, polygamy aside, their sort of critique at this point might just as well dismiss the discussion of Ephesians 5. After all, if such analogical discussions are not to be taken seriously with regard to human marriages, why take the New Testament seriously either? If metaphors are to be discounted because they are figures, then we must play fair and discount them all. And if it be argued that the God-Israel metaphor is never applied to human marriage, whereas the New Testament Christ-Church language is, we must stress that the Hosea case proves this rejoinder invalid. It is left then to try and argue that God-Israel is metaphorical and the Christ-Church relation is not. This will prove a very difficult alternative, because Christ is not a literal brain, and the Church is not a literal torso.498

Such discussions of the Old Testament are even more significant in view of Laney’s textual support for his statement that Christ will never abandon the Church. Hebrews 13:5 speaks its promise, not to the Church, but to individual believers, and is a quote of certain Old Testament promises (Deut. 31:6, Josh. 1:5) that are made to Israel. In view of the conditional nature of such promises in the Law—the surrounding contexts deal with cursings as well as blessings—it might be well for Laney to search for a stronger text. Perhaps one can be found; in any case his point is not well made.499

Nor will it do to argue that although God might divorce his covenant people, he would never finally divorce and marry another. Does not God finally cut off those insincere ones in the Church (Heb. 6:4 ff.)? And did not God marry the Church before he fully restored his bride, Israel?500

Also interesting is an analysis of the “intruding” analogy in movement three. Paul says that men should love their wives as they love their bodies. Does the love of the body imply that I will refuse to discipline it? Might I not find there to be circumstances in which an amputation of my arm might be necessary for the good of the rest of the body? Is it unloving to my body to remove a defective kidney and replace it with another? I do not wish to be flippant, but such questions prove that even here one cannot exclude the very ideas involved in our position. To be sure, Paul does not explicitly discuss them, but they are actually more relevant than seriously considering unstated theological analogues, when the text clearly omitted similar digressions in re the husband-wife relation.

Laney is not to be summarily believed when he argues that if marriage is not permanent then marriage is not a fitting picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church. The analogues fit as stated in the text. There is no reason to suppose that disanalogy in unstated matters disallows analogy in matters stated. It is simply wrong to argue that Paul intends marriage to be an “accurate representation” of the Christ-Church relation with regard to every possible discussion, especially permanency. Paul argues nothing of the kind. He merely states that we ought to do X in the same way that Christ does X to the Church. Loving without recourse to divorce and remarriage is never stated as a value of X.

Mosaic or Abrahamic: Which Relation?

A final word needs to be said in regard to the relation of the Mosaic to the Abrahamic covenant. As we began to argue in chapter 1, the Old Testament analogy of God-Israel is a Mosaic discussion. In Ephesians the analogy seems to be Abrahamic. Could it not be argued that since the New Testament analogy is Abrahamic, and the Abrahamic covenant is unilateral and permanent, marriage is understood in the new covenant as unilateral and permanent This is possible, but not likely. Marriage may be likened to either the Mosaic or the Abrahamic covenant, because both are covenants. Marriage may be like the Abrahamic or the Mosaic in some respects without being like either in all respects. The key to proper argument is sticking to the evidence. Marriage is like the Mosaic covenant in divorce and remarriage. Marriage is never likened to the Abrahamic covenant in being unilateral in commitment and permanent in duration.

Conclusion

In summary, Ephesians 5 does not draw the analogical relation between Christ-Church and husband-wife on the point of permanence; nor does it discuss divorce, human or divine. Therefore, use of this passage to affirm permanence in marriage or to deny the moral propriety of divorce/remarriage is simply overworking an analogical argument and should be shunned. If any discussion of analogy is proper on the subject of divorce/remarriage it would be one drawn between human marriage and God’s divorce of Israel and subsequent remarriage to the Church. To create your own analogical relationships and then use them to determine other people’s behavior is highly risky and ethically questionable.

The Teaching of Peter: Is Divorce Compatible with Submission?
(1 Peter 3:1-6)

“Wives be submissive to your own husbands

Just as 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 5 can be unjustly pressed into shore up prior insufficient teaching on divorce and remarriage, the same could be done with 1 Peter 3:1-6, which expands upon another theme in Ephesians: submission. The question is raised, “How can a woman submit to her husband and divorce him at the same time?”

“Be Submissive To Your Own Husbands”

As we have noted before, the admonition is to one’s “own husband.” The text is not addressing a woman whose husband has morally disqualified himself from the office of husband.501

“Even To Them That Are Disobedient To The Word”

It is not immediately clear what problem this husband has. Some consider him to be a believer who has fallen into some sin. Considering what the wife is told to do, namely have pure and chaste behavior, it might be that the man has been visiting prostitutes, who are not pure or respectful of God’s word in such passages as 1 Cor. 6. But would this not be behavior worthy of divorce—such that she is being told not to divorce him even though she had grounds? No, because his sexual purity was never a ground for divorce according to the Law. In our day, such a husband’s sin might be addiction to pornography—which word originally meant “writings about prostitutes”. That too would not be a ground for divorce. Does that mean that he is sinless or that his sinning should be winked at? No, not at all, after all that is the very point of the passage. He is sinning and needs to stop it. The question is how, and the answer is through her being a model of proper sexual behavior and not a mirror of the prostitute’s behavior.502

She is admonished not to adorn herself with outward grandeur: fancy hair, expensive jewelry, or fine clothes. Rather than exhibit flashy, “hot” actions, she is to be gentle, tranquil and precious in God’s sight. Some have suggested that this latter collection may identify a different problem with the husband, namely that he is a materialist, committed to the high life and fancy adult male toys.

To admonish the wife in such cases not to divorce but to seek to change his behavior in some other way is completely in accord with what we have heretofore found in the Scriptures. Does this mean that she should be submissive and not divorce if he physically abuses her, either actively or passively? No. That kind of sin is not at issue.

Others see his sin as a refusal to accept the gospel. This is based on the fact that he may be “won” (kerlathasontai) by the good behavior of the wife. This word is related to the word (kerdaso) that is used in 1 Cor. 9:19, where Paul speaks of changing his own behavior so as to facilitate gaining souls for Christ. In 1 Peter, the wife’s submissive behavior is offered as a way to win the man over—similar concepts. On this interpretation, the husband is an unbeliever who has not converted to belief in Christ, as his wife has, but, unlike the unbelieving husband in 1 Cor. 7, he is willing to live with his converted wife. In other words, he has not chosen to divorce her, or cease to live with her according to the requirements of provision a part of all male wedding vows. He has not committed an offense against her that justifies divorce, and therefore the admonition to the wife does not encompass such a situation.

Thus, on either interpretation of his sin, what he is doing is not a non-divorceable offence. What other indicators does the text include? There is an Old Testament reference that may shed light on the issues at hand.

“Thus Sarah …”

Sarah was a pretty feisty woman. What incidents in her life fit this picture? Probably when Abraham put her chastity in jeopardy by presenting her as his sister in Egypt and Philistia (see Chapter Two above). In this, Abraham was not disobedient to his vows per se, but he certainly was playing on the edges of the vows. These incidents have a similarity to the husband of Deut. 21:1, who allowed his wife to belong to another. But the differences are marked as well. Abraham was not hard-hearted, only scared for his life. But it has to be admitted that he did not have her best (marital) interests in view. Second, it is not clear that he thought he would ever get Sarah back from those kings. So he wasn’t tossing her back and forth. He thought that if he didn’t give her up, the kings would kill him and take her anyway. So he was practicing a sort of lesser of evils approach to marital ethics.

Or, perhaps this reference suggests that, like Abraham, the husband’s problem centers upon a lack of faith in God to provide for his needs. But, we must ask, is such a lack of faith a breach of the marital covenant? No, though it comes close by placing her chastity at risk.

In short, the wife of 1 Peter is not in the place of a woman whose husband had breached the marriage vows; therefore, Peter does not speak of or urge divorce but rather submission. The marital covenant is not sundered by unrelated problems in the husband’s personal relationship with his God. But what about the admonition to husbands which follows.

“Live With Your Wives …”

The admonition to husbands begins with a reference back: “in the same way”. What does this mean? Probably it simply means that just as the wife is to act in a way appropriate to her status as a wife, the husband is to act like a good husband.

Specifically mentioned is living with her in an understanding way (3:7). Husbands were to provide sex for their wives, according to the passage in Exodus 21. That seems to be euphemistic for sexual relations, so this woman does accept a physical relationship with her husband, uncharacteristic of a woman having an affair. The text goes on to speak of honoring her, a grossly inappropriate bit of advice if the woman were guilty of adultery. Clearly, then, the text is not discussing a woman who has sundered the marriage, but rather someone whose personal piety may be lacking. The man is to see her or her role as “weaker,” but not unchaste. Note also that the wife in this instance is a believer, so her problem is not being unreceptive to the gospel. Actually, no particular sin of the woman is mentioned at all. Thus, the only relevance that this section seems remotely to have to our discussion is that the husband is commanded to have sexual relations with his wife … something that would inhibit divorce from being considered by the wife. What the text does not say is that if he does not do so, she has no right to divorce him for it (Ex. 21).

It is simply irrelevant to trot out this passage to inhibit “just divorce,” when the passage does not hint at porneia as being involved in the circumstances of either husband or wife. To do so would be to employ a misguided hermeneutic which turns admonitions to behave properly in a valid marriage into prohibitions to divorce in one which has been sundered by sin.

The Teaching of Paul: Is Divorce Compatible with Church Office?
(1 Timothy 3:1 f.; 12 / Titus 1:6 f.)

“The overseer must be above reproach.”

The final passages to be considered are found in the pastoral Epistles, in three sections dealing with the qualifications of church leaders (1 Tim. 3:1-11; 3:12-13; Titus 1:6-9). Each contains a phrase (1 Tim. 3:2; 3:12; Titus 1:6) that is usually translated rather literally “the husband of one wife.” It is the interpretation of this phrase that concerns us. Does it mean to exclude from positions of leadership persons who are divorced and remarried, or not? And does the fact that it is found in a section dealing with leadership mean to imply that its application is to be limited to that group? Let us look at the second issue first.

To Whom Does The Qualification Apply?

There are rules in the Old Testament concerning the priests that only applied to them. In Leviticus 21:7, 14-15, the Levitical priest and the High Priest, respectively, were prohibited from marrying certain categories of women, namely, harlots, divorcees, and widows. The common people were not subject to these exclusions. Indeed, there are celebrated cases of the common people marrying such women: For example, Ruth, a widow, married Boaz, in a story that moves its reader with appreciation for the system of levirate marriage, which God himself implemented and sanctioned (Deut. 25:5 ff.). Or there is the case of Rahab, the harlot, who is usually thought to be the same Rahab in the line of Christ (Matt. 1:5). And David married the divorcee Michal (his former wife, who had been married to another just before he married her again, 2 Sam. 3:12-16).

Laney, who believes that the Levitical rules offer us a “precedent” for understanding the Pauline qualifications section,503 nonetheless objects to understanding these qualifications as restricting only persons holding the office of elder or deacon. He expands the application to everyone who functions as if they were in those offices. Examples he gives of such functioning include church planting and teaching in a church or seminary.504

Strangely, however, Laney allows for persons not living up to the “husband of one wife” qualification to function in “evangelism, discipleship, counseling, and many other support ministries serving the local church and missionary groups.”505 The strangeness involved in this concession centers around the fact that all the allowed ministries would seem to involve the essential aspects of the forbidden group. Specifically, we note: spiritual authority (certainly involved in the tasks of elders and disciplers), teaching (for elders and disciplers/counselors), and the beginning of the Church in at least the lives of those evangelized. Indeed, was not the office of deacons in the Book of Acts specifically established to “support” the ministry of the elders (Acts 6:1-7)? It would seem that Laney is on the right track but does not go far enough, for there is no reason to believe that a person not meeting the qualifications should be allowed to function in any capacity in the Church.

But the application actually goes far beyond the matter of “functioning.” This is evident by looking at the list. There is not a single qualification in the list that should not be enjoined upon each and every church member. What church would not send the elders to the home of a member whose life publicly exhibited the offenses proscribed?506 The offenses include intemperance; insensitivity, disorderliness, inhospitality, drunkenness, hostility, contentiousness, avariciousness, carelessness about the order of the home, capriciousness about life in general, double-tonguedness, lewdness, unjustness, unholiness, unruliness. On the positive side, the qualifications include “aptness to teach.” The women (wives?) mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:11 should avoid slander and unfaithfulness. Now, what Christian men or women should not have it said of them that they meet these qualifications, or that the Church should be obliged to correct them, even to the point of excluding the incorrigible from communion and other forms of fellowship?

What I am driving at is that God expects each member of the body of Christ to live up to all these qualifications. None of the qualifications are designed exclusively for the leadership in the local church. The function of these sections is to set forth a checklist of what it means to be a proper disciple, so that the Church may be especially careful to screen out persons from leadership who are not fit. But holding the list up to their lives does not imply that the list should not be a part of the normal discipleship of every follower of Christ. After all, persons qualified for leadership in the Church do not become qualified as the list is held before them; rather, having previously disciplined themselves according to such a list, their life now is revealed by checking against a formal list to be “approved.” Thus, whatever “the husband of one wife” means, it is to be expected that every Christian meets that standard. One who does not should be disciplined by the church for failure to do so and brought into alignment with the standard on this matter of Christian ethics.

Thus, churches that simply exclude divorced and/or remarried people from leadership (on the basis of these passages) should also discipline them—even to the point of excluding them from fellowship—if they do not repent and bring forth the fruit of repentance! To omit to do so is to reject the words of Jesus, who said: “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”507

To What Does The Qualification Refer?

Several alternatives have been offered to explain what the qualification refers to. Carl Laney succinctly itemizes the standard options.508

The Alternative Views:

1. 1. Exclusion of married men from official offices. The Roman Catholic teaches that priests and persons in orders should be celibate, since such persons should be “married” only to Christ and his Church, not to a human woman or man. 509

2. 2. Exclusion of unmarried men from such offices. The idea here is that only men who are married are qualified to counsel and lead the Church, as their experience in the marital and familial spheres is a testing ground for their experience in office.510

3. 3. Exclusion of polygamists. Laney (and most others) consider such a practice to be exemplary of “immorality.”

4. 4. Exclusion of digamists. Digamy is a term referring to a person being twice (or more) married (legally). The category could be further divided into groups identified by the nature of the second marriage: remarried widowers, the divorced and remarried, those who marry the divorced.511

Evaluation of the Positions:

Celibate Priesthood

Laney quickly identifies the problem with the first alternative, celibate priesthood. Says he, ‘This view … is refuted right in the context where we read that the elder is one ‘keeping his children under control’ (3:4).” He also cites other passages that affirm marriage (1 Tim. 4:3; Gen. 2:24; Heb. 13:4).512

Married Priesthood

The second view, married priesthood, fares almost as poorly with the context. Laney again: “Consistency of interpretation would mean that if the elder must be married, he must also have children (3:4), yet no expositor that I am aware of is willing to push the issue that far.”513 I underscore these remarks. Since the form of qualification is the same in both cases, if he may have at least one wife, then he must have at least two children. And that seems manifestly absurd. Paul himself had neither wife nor children; there is no evidence that Timothy was married; and history records that the apostle John was likewise wifeless and childless. Would one wifeless leader write to another wifeless leader requiring lesser leaders to have wives?

Monogamous Priesthood

The third alternative, monogamous priesthood—the most sure on the face of it—is nevertheless improbable. Laney notes that Roman law forbade polygyny and that the Greeks (Timothy’s father was a Greek) did not practice it.514 All this raises the question of why Paul proscribes, in the position of greatest prominence (it comes immediately after the heading demand for blamelessness), an institution not even being practiced by the people whom Timothy was to check for qualifications.515

Is it conceivable that a Church built upon the foundation of the prophets (Eph. 2:20) and blessed in Abraham (Gal. 3:29) could not allow David or Abraham to function in the position of a deacon? Some may insist upon it, but I cannot. And if I am correct in this matter, then, in turn, this truth would have ramifications for the discussion that follows, on the matter of remarriage.

A Once-Married Priesthood

        • An Unblemished Priesthood?

The fourth view, a once-married priesthood, has numerous problems as well. First, if the subcategory of remarried widowers is considered, we again are compelled to note that this seems out of context with previous (i.e., Old Testament) permissions. Only the High Priest was prohibited from marrying a widow, and a priest who was a widower was not prohibited from marrying a second wife. Since the list of qualifications of a High Priest excludes only the marrying of a widow, anyone arguing that a widower priest would be ceremonially defiled by remarrying bears the burden of proof. Additionally, we may at this point object to the procedure of using the Old Testament Levitical system as a precedent for a discussion of New Testament office. For the Old Testament system also excluded handicapped priests, whereas the New Testament presents us all as priests (“a holy priesthood,” 1 Pet. 2:5-10).516

In short, priests of the kingdom of God are to be spiritually pure, not ceremonially pure. The Old Testament priestly system is obsolete (Heb. 8:13). Nonetheless, I believe that we can say with assurance that if a practice such as remarriage of a widower priest is not seen as even ceremonially disqualifying under the old system, as concerned with social purity as it was, it is fruitless to suggest that same practice is prohibited of church leaders in the new covenant. Thus I also reject the idea that “husband of one wife” is meant to prohibit a church leader from marrying a widow.

But, of course, ours is not a study in ecclesiology per se. Our chief concern is with the subcategory of digamy, which sees this clause as excluding the remarried person or a person married to a divorced person from the office of overseer. What of this option? First, let us note that the phrase does not literally speak to the matter of marrying a divorced person. The emphasis is upon the status of the man, not the woman. Frankly, that which was the issue in the Old Testament would be reversed by this statement in the New. The Old was concerned with divorced priests marrying another (specifically, because polygamy was permissible) except if to do so they had divorced their own wives unjustly.517 The New Testament directs its qualifying statement to the male and ignores the status of the wife. And to argue that the New continues the practice of the Old on this matter is wrong-headed for reasons just stated concerning the obsolescence of ceremonial legislation.

As for the suggestion that the phrase refers to remarried widowers, we should keep the thought in the context of 1 Timothy 5:9. If the phrase in 5:9 is taken to exclude a second marriage after the death of the spouse, then, Robert Saucy notes, we have the anomaly of Paul telling young widows to marry again, whereupon if, after following this advice they are widowed again and fall on hard times, they find that the apostle has cut them off from perhaps desperately needed financial aid. For Paul excludes from church aid widows who have not been a “one-husband wife.” This does not seem fair or likely.518 But if 5:9 does not mean to exclude widows who have remarried, then it is not likely that 3:2 is meant to exclude widowers who have remarried. Kent asks the question pointedly: Was this the most serious moral problem in Ephesus or Crete?519 Certainly not.

        • A Not-Divorced/Remarried Priesthood?

This seems to leave only the digamists identified as being divorced and/or remarried. Laney actually deals with this group in two parts: the divorced and remarried, and the simply divorced. The divorced and remarried he faults for living in a state of adultery.520 Since they are guilty of the sin of adultery, they should not be in positions of leadership. But this, of course, assumes that all divorced and remarried persons are guilty of adultery, and that the sin of adultery is a sin from which there is no complete restoration. The first presumption depends upon the thinking that it is the act consummating the second marriage that is adulterous. And with this point I cannot agree. I stand by the conclusions set out earlier that the primary offense in divorce/remarriage centers upon the breach of covenant, which occurs before the divorce, and therefore stands as its ground, or is the divorce itself, which then sunders the marriage. I further feel that it has been adequately shown (chapters 5 and following) that at least the innocent party has the right to remarry if post-divorce reconciliation is unsuccessful. Indeed, since the divorce itself morally as well as legally severs the covenant where there are no moral grounds for the divorce, even the guilty party may remarry, though the guilty should only do so after attempting to restore the former covenant. The divorce ends the first marriage; therefore, the divorced and remarried man has only one wife at a time.521

But Laney is manifestly against any interpretation that would allow for the divorced and remarried to stand qualified. He believes that to broaden the qualification to allow for those who are married merely to “one wife at a time vitiates the value of the qualification, since virtually anyone could [then] meet the standard.”522 Laney reveals by such a response that his is far too quantitative an understanding of the clause. Had he a qualitative grasp of it, he would see that this argument is far from sound.

Laney’s second argument is that such an interpretation is “refuted by the requirement that the elder or deacon [be] one who ‘manages his own household well’ (1 Tim. 3:4, 12). The disaster of divorce and remarriage would be evidence of the mismanagement of one’s household.”523

This is a “disaster” of an argument. In the first place, this argument is irrelevant to the issue of remarriage, which Laney (against Ryrie) says must be involved with the “husband of one wife” clause. It is, in fact, an abandonment of the “husband of one wife” clause in favor of another clause that is said to disqualify the divorced/remarried. And, in its own right, the ‘household management” qualification, at least as Laney details it, will not support disqualification of the divorced. For such analysis would imply that both God (who divorced Israel, Jer. 3:8) and Hosea (who divorced Gomer, Hos. 1-2) were poor managers. It seems overbearing to suggest that a Church based on the prophets could not have allowed one of them to serve communion, or that the God they worship in church could not have distributed food to the widows! We are forced to suggest that Laney has, again, read his prejudice against the divorced into a qualification. Nonetheless, it is profitable for us to consider this second qualification, for implicit in it is an argument for seeing some divorced people as eminently qualified to serve. For if divorce is a rebuke, then, far from revealing poor management, it may show control. It may be a sign of decency and order on the part of the person in question. Would not Eli have been exonerated by God had he rebuked his sons?

But we are getting ahead of ourselves, for this argument we are discussing really deals with the category of those persons who are simply divorced (irrespective of their subsequent marital status). Regarding this group, Laney resubmits the “management” argument, then shifts on the qualifications list to the heading statement that such leaders should be “above reproach.” Says Laney, “the elder and deacon must be above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2,10)—blameless! Although the circumstances vary, it generally takes two to make a divorce. A divorced man, though remaining single, would probably not be ‘above reproach.’”524 Later, Laney explicitly says that there is in a “real sense … no ‘innocent party’ in a divorce.”525

To this it must be said, first, that “above reproach” is a heading, a structural form to be filled with what follows. The qualifications speak of what constitutes “reproach.” Laney, whose previous use of the material qualifications has not proved the divorced/remarried are disqualified, cannot expect help from the term that summarizes the qualifications. Second, aside from the definition he gives to “reproach” in the passage and the general argument he makes from it, Laney has not proved from any other passage that all divorce/remarriage is sinful. Third, by arguing that in troubled marriages none are “innocent,” Laney puts qualification beyond us all. For if perfection be the criterion for holding the offices, then they will remain vacant. Laney has not shown us that the divorcer is guilty of the sin of adultery, but only suggested that the divorcer must have done something that led to the divorce or omitted to do something that could have prevented the divorce. The Scripture, on the other hand, argues that no simple aggravations of a spouse justify divorce.526 This seems to put Laney in the rather peculiar situation or arguing that there is no sin serious enough to justify divorce, but any sins that lead to a person being divorced are so serious that that person should be disqualified from functioning as a leader in the church.

And what about those who admit that the divorce was immoral and subsequently try unsuccessfully to reconcile with their spouse—or the person who treacherously divorced them before they became Christians? Are these, too, permanently disqualified? Laney: “It is important to recognize that while the guilt of sin is entirely forgiven at the time of salvation (Rom. 8:1), the consequences of that sin in this present life are not necessarily removed … While divorce (and remarriage) are forgivable sins, they may have lifelong consequences.”527 One of those consequences, obviously, is disqualification from functioning as a leader in the church.

What is so incredible about this argument is that forgiveness entails “not taking into account.” But that is exactly what Laney insists upon doing. Christ has forgiven and forgotten, but He enjoins us to hold it against this person till “death do us part.” And what multiplies one’s perplexity on reading Laney is that the Epistle was written by a person who was complicitous (by his own admission) in the sin of murder. Thus, though Paul can be a leader of the Church, even though guilty of breaking one of the Ten Commandments, he enjoins Timothy to exclude persons who have been treacherously divorced by adulterous spouses! And Laney tells us that divorce and remarriage are not unpardonable sins! On this line of logic, divorced persons should probably be disqualified for a lack of Pharasaic “horse sense.” If they had only murdered their spouses, they could have become bishops. But, because they did not have that presence of mind or knowledge of how Christian ethics work, they allowed themselves to be divorced, perhaps even fought the divorce, and ended up disqualified for office. If this is not an instance of Christians shooting their wounded, I’m not sure what would be!

Laney has confused his categories. Becoming a Christian does not remove the need to seek the forgiveness of those previously offended. It does not change “the state you are in.” But if repentance at the foot of the Cross and subsequent “fruits” (e.g., going back to a spouse unjustly divorced and seeking restoration-even if rejected by that person) are not enough to render us fit to serve and lead in the Church, then forgiveness means nothing at all in this world—a sub-Christian perspective.

Laney’s other argument against the divorced (and not remarried) serving as church leaders, is misplaced; it is really an argument against a man serving if he has married a divorced woman. Accepting the interpretation that the women of 1 Timothy 3:11 are the wives of deacons, Laney notes that these women are to be “exemplary in their conduct and faithful in all things.”528 He concludes that a wife’s former marital condition disqualifies her husband from leadership. The implied premise is that the divorce is a sign of unfaithfulness and of bad conduct. But, of course, this is all begging the question, if Laney has not previously shown us that all divorces are instances of misbehavior or that repentance does not make a difference.529

Let us summarize our conclusion drawn from “husband of one wife” alone. If the verse demands marriage, then the divorced are in the same position as the virgins and widowers. Divorce per se is not identified as an offense. Second, if the phrase demands no more than one marriage in a lifetime, the divorced are in the same boat as the widower; again, divorce is not any more morally offensive than the death of the spouse. If the verse proscribes plurality of wives at the same time, the divorced man is qualified to be a leader if he has not remarried, and the remarried man is qualified if his divorce has truly dissolved his first marriage. Only in the case of a man who has divorced and remarried and the first marriage was not dissolved does this verse disqualify. And, if it does, he would be disqualified for the same reason as the polygamist, that is, for having two wives at the same time. However, I am convinced that the polygamist is not excluded, and that the first marriage is dissolved. Therefore, I do not believe that this passage of Scripture deals with the divorced/remarried person at all with regard to the divorce/remarriage per se.

        • A One-Woman-Kind-of-Man—a Fornicator

But what then is the proper interpretation of these texts? The grammar helps a little. In the Greek, two elements are significant. First, the phrase reads, “of one wife husband.”530 Lenski translates it “one wife’s husband.” Robert Saucy prefers the less marital translation of the terms: a “one woman man.”531 This is entirely permissible, since the Greek words for “woman/wife” and “man/husband” are the same. Both these authors seem to suggest that Paul’s primary concern is the prohibition of known fornicators (sexually immoral men) from leadership in the church. And neither would exclude the repentant.532 In this Greek phrase, the word one is put forward, showing emphasis, but it is also anarthrous (without the definite article “the”). The net result of this structure is to stress the singleness of devotion rather than the number of wives. This is a one-woman type of man, a man who is not looking at every toga that passes. Standing out against the background of sexual promiscuity in the Greek and Roman world, he is a man who does not have “eyes of adultery” (2 Pet. 2:14), who does not go to the prostitutes (1 Cor. 6:13-7:2).

Not only does this interpretation fit the cultural background, but it also explains how Paul, who is usually explicit about sexual immorality in lists of sins (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:9 ff.; Rom. 1:21 ff.; Gal. 5:19 ff.), misses sexual permissiveness completely when mentioning qualifications for church office.533 However, if “one-woman man” is simply idiomatic for “not sexually promiscuous,” the gap is filled. In fact, Laney touches upon the key idea when, in combating polygamy, he cites 1 Corinthians 7:2 as prohibiting sexual immorality.534 Paul is not concerned with the sex one has with a legitimate wife (or wives, though the Greeks in Ephesus and Crete had only one), but with illicit sex. And even a single person, like himself, could fall to such temptations. Thus, whether we translate the clause “one-woman man” or “one wife’s husband,” we are to understand that it is directed against fornication, not previous legal marriages.

Herein we find another strange phenomenon in the thinking exhibited by such writers as Laney. They would allow a man who has committed simple adultery to be an overseer, but a legally married, then divorced, then legally remarried person would be excluded. Though both are guilty of adultery in their minds, only the divorce and remarriage disqualifies.535

If the text wishes to prohibit known immoral persons from becoming church leaders, is it fair to conclude, as Laney does, that “virtually anyone could meet the standard” if it permits the qualification of “one wife at a time”?536 Of course not. On our reading, a monogamist, a virgin, a widower, a divorced and/or remarried person, or a polygamist might be excluded if they are known to be immoral. But is it fair to conclude that any person is immoral simply by falling into one of those categories? None of the categories in themselves are offense-terms. Immorality is an offense.

Paul wishes to block the immoral from office—not the innocent, or even the guilty but repentant. Thus, the qualification sections of these pastoral Epistles may exclude the divorced and remarried from office, but not simply because they have been divorced and remarried. In that sense, these passages are irrelevant to the development of a biblical theology of divorce and remarriage.537


489   Even Steele and Ryrie draw such an inference. See Meant, pp. 77-79.

490   Cf. chap. 4.

491   Of course, under the Law, patience was more severely limited. A single act of adultery was to lead to the execution of the guilty. The victim was not asked to be patient. The government was not to practice patience. We are to presume that governments differ from individuals in such matters.

492   Cf. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1st ed., s.v. “forgiveness.”

493 BAGD, s v. “agape.”

494   As noted before, some critics seek to belittle this idea by saying that, if true, it is logically possible that a person could be no longer married and not even know it! It is possible that a man whose wife has been unfaithful would not know it. Her action has morally reduced her status such that her legal husband has no moral reason to act as a husband toward her. But unfaithful wives seldom inform their husbands of their affairs! Thus, because the legal status exists and because he is ignorant of her affair, he will continue to act as a husband toward her. Were he to be made aware of her affair, he might, with moral sanction, cease to act as a husband toward her. The legal action of divorce merely clarifies their status and states their independence or freedom from obligation. Ethically speaking, the offended party does not cease to act as a spouse because of being treated unkindly—a matter of friendship—but because the offense in view has by its nature changed the status of the (former) partner.

495   Laney, Myth, pp. 122-23.

496   Cf. Chap 2.

497   Heth and Wenham, Jesus, p. 136.

498   The sort of argument Laney uses here employs very questionable hermeneutical principles. It ignores stated analogues in one location in favor of unstated analogues in another.

499   There are legitimate theological alternatives to the assumption that Christ would never divorce the Church. Arminian theology would do so. Though Christ might not divorce the church, or true believers, Christ does say that He will spew professing but imitation believers out of his mouth (Rev. 3:16). And who are these imitation believers? They are people who spoke the vows of commitment to Christ but who continually sin and are unrepentant about their sanctions (1 John 3:4 ff, Heb. 6:4 ff.). Are these not very much like a spouse who makes a profession of faithfulness but then continually and unrepentantly breaks those vows? I believe that Christ will not cut off the true believers, but a true believer would never continually sin and refuse to repent He has not promised nor to abandon the truly unfaithful. So there are certain assumptions here too that are not beyond question. It is also possible that Old Testament believers could lose their salvation and New Testament ones not, because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost. But the fact that the analogy regarding permanency is not drawn by Paul undercuts the credibility of doing so.

500   I recognize that these statements will not ring sound in the ears of fellowships that do not hold to a premillennial eschatology as I do. Some see in the Church a continuation of the bride, Israel, and they see the covenant with the Church as the promised “new covenant” of Jer. 31. In all of these opinions, it is important to remember that the final disposition of the matter of remarriage does not rest solely upon this passage in Eph. 5.

501   Cf. the previous chapter, in its discussion of 1 Cor. 7:39 and Rom. 7:2.

502   The citizen is to act with knowledge to the foolishness of government officials (2:15 ff.), and the slave is not to respond to the harshness of a master with more harshness, but rather long-suffering (2:20). Thus, if the woman is told not to dress gaudily, this perhaps identifies wherein the husband is disobedient. Or perhaps the text refers to the husband’s sexual looseness. After all, it would be the loose women of the world-prostitutes—who would dress so. Thus, the wife is enjoined to be “chaste” and respectful.

503   Laney, Myth, pp. 92-94.

504   Laney, Myth, p. 100.

505   Ibid.

506   Cf 1 Tim. 5:20. This verse makes it mandatory for elders to publicly rebuke “those who continue in sin.”

507   Luke 17:3; and note that this admonition appears in the context of condemning the Pharisees for not rebuking Herod Antipas for his divorce/remarriage sins with Herodias!

508   Laney, Myth, pp. 95-99.

509   This view is mentioned without explicit proponents in Homer Kent, Jr., The Pastoral Epistles (Chicago: Moody, 1958), p. 126.

510   Again, a view mentioned sans supporters by Kent, Pastoral Epistles, pp. 128-29.

511   Some early Church Fathers held this view. See Appendix F.

512   Laney, Myth, p. 95.

513   Ibid., p. 96.

514   Ibid.

515   But, having said as much, we must consider the possibility that whatever this practice is, it might prohibit polygyny indirectly. I shall have more to say about the principle at issue here at a later point But let us note at this time that it is highly unlikely that the institution of polygyny would be indirectly prohibited. For though it is Paul’s habit to make new applications of principles resident in the teachings of Christ and the Old Testament (1 Cor. 7:10, 25; 9:9 f.), it is not his habit to make major alterations of permissions. Would it be likely that Paul would change the acceptableness of polygyny if it had been allowed all the way up to the time of the writing of this personal letter? Most likely not. Of course this presupposes that neither Jesus (cf. Matt 19: J) nor he himself (cf. 1 Cor. 7:2) had altered the Old Testament practice of polygyny, which played an implied but integral part in the levirate and fornication laws, and which was expressly condoned in the cases of David (2 Sam. 12:8) and Abraham (Mal. 2:15). (See Appendix B for the arguments supporting these points.)

516   Acts 10 reveals a relaxation of the food laws of the old priestly system. Acts 8:26 ff. reveals a relaxation of the law concerning mutilated persons being in the assembly. I know that it is argued that “eunuch” does not necessarily mean a castrated male, but I suggest that this is still the preferable understanding unless there is proof otherwise.

The reader might find it interesting that subsequent to the publication of Heth’s contribution to Four Christian Views, he delivered a paper at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (November 1990) in which he argued from several scant sources (I believe only 2 were remotely relevant) that digamy was the issue, and that Paul would not allow a widower to serve as an elder. The gist of the argument was that since a couple of pagan sources revealed that a mystery religion or two did not allow widowers to be priests, Paul was trying to get the Christian Church to come up to that level of strictness, so as (apparently) not to appear too lenient. He also attempted to provide biblical support for this position, after the manner of Laney.

I was going to raise objections to his paper, but Dr. ‘s H. Hoener of Dallas Theological Seminary and G. Knight of Covenant Theological Seminary beat me to the punch and delivered withering criticisms which left Heth backing off and saying that his paper was only offering a tentative position!

517   Cf. chap. 4. And this is a logical inference from applying the oracle of Malachi to the priestly group, whom we know from Ezra had been a part of the marrying of the women of the land-though we do not know if they had also been guilty of divorcing their Hebrew wives in the process.

518   Robert L Saucy, “The Husband of One Wife,” Bibliotheca Sacra 131 (July-September 1974): 230.

519   Kent, Pastoral Epistles, p. 128. Some synods of the early Church were opposed to “lawful” digamists, i.e., widowers marrying again. The Synod of Laodicea, in its First Canon, tries to correct strictures against the digamists. The Canons of Basil speaks of no other penance than that required of “digamists” being required of remarrying widowers (Canon 24).

520   Laney, Myth, p. 100.

521   Kent takes the interesting perspective that divorced men are not the husband of one wife (Pastoral Epistles, p. 130). But this is unimpressive when he has previously denied the interpretation that leaders must be married (pp. 28-29).

522   Laney, Myth, p. 96.

523   Ibid.

524   Ibid., p. 98.

525   Ibid., p 118.

526   This is not to say that breaches of the “Canons” of covenant would not do so. Cf. chap. 2.

527   Laney, Myth, p. 119.

528   Laney, Myth, p. 99.

529   Not to mention the question of his conclusion regarding the exact nature of these women.

530   R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Pauls Epistle to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon (Columbus, Ohio: Augsburg, 1937), pp. 580-81.

531   Saucy, “Husband,” p. 229.

532   Cf. ibid., p. 240.

533   Peter certainly does not~2 Pet 2. John (1 John 2:15 ff.), Jude (v. 4), and James (2:11) mention sexual matters as being problems in the Church.

534   Laney, Myth, p. 96.

535   Laney argues that “becoming one flesh does not in and of itself make a marriage’ but that sexual intercourse always results in a one-flesh relationship, which is a “mystical, spiritual unity” (Myth, p. 21). Laney later disqualifies the divorced/remarried, but he never suggests that those who have fornicated or committed adultery without divorce/remarriage are disqualified.

536   Ibid., p. 96.

537   This interpretation also makes sense of the 1 Tim. 3:9 phrase “one husband wife.” On my interpretation that text simply means to exclude from church aid notoriously promiscuous women. In earlier life they depended on their lovers, let them turn to them now in their old age! Paul does not, on the other hand, wish to disqualify the holy women, even if they were married more than once—and even if that had come about through divorce.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Divorce, Love, Marriage, Men's Articles, Women