Furthermore, the New Testament actually brought the standard of marriage back to the beginning when Jesus referred to the model of one man joining one woman as Adam joined with Eve in the Garden of Eden. Also, Jesus taught that God’s standards were lower in the Old Covenant. In Mark 10:1-12 He says that God allowed divorce because of the hardness of their hearts. Consequently, in the New Testament a person who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. Also, in Matthew 5:32 Jesus became more specific and taught that if a person divorces their spouse for any reason other than infidelity they cause their spouse to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced person (a biblically unlawful divorce) commits adultery.
In Matthew 19:9 Jesus flat-out says the only allowable biblical reason for divorce is when a spouse commits sexual immorality. Thus, we clearly see that the standard of marriage in the Old Testament is not the standard we should use when making decisions regarding divorce and remarriage in the church today since the Old Testament standard is clearly lower than that of the New Testament.
Furthermore, Deuteronomy 17:17 teaches that kings were not allowed to have many wives (which shows another instance of God suspending His law to allow David and Solomon to do this, to the demise of their kingdom and family!). But the New Testament brings the standard back to the one man-one woman model of the Garden of Eden. Paul teaches that church leaders (elders and deacons) are not allowed to have more than one wife at the same time (1 Tim. 3:2, 12) thus again nullifying the usage of King David’s adultery and marriage experiences as a model of faith and life for today’s Christian leaders. (By that time, Bathsheba would have been at least David’s third wife after Michal and Abigail.)
I will be the first person to admit that unpacking all these verses in the New Testament is not that simple. It also gets real tricky today when we deal with instances of spousal abuse, spousal drug addiction, child molestation involving a spouse with one of their children or another child, sexual abandonment (I know of an instance in which a wife never allowed her marriage to be consummated, with the husband divorcing her after a few years), and the like in which people claim they must divorce their spouses just to survive physically or emotionally. Also, 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 seems to teach that it is acceptable to divorce a spouse that leaves the marriage, but it isn’t clear in this passage if Paul is giving them the green light to remarry or maybe just to stay single.
Since a detailed explanation of all these passages on marriage and divorce is not the purpose of this article, I will end by saying that the primary purpose of this article is to propose that before we can have a doctrine of marriage and divorce, or any other doctrine, we need to first understand the hermeneutical framework in which a passage of Scripture fits, based on which testament (Old or New or pre-Mosaic law) it comes from (with its peculiar standards, laws, patterns and rules of life). This is necessary before we can interpret any passage correctly and apply it to contemporary issues.
Joseph Mattera has been in full-time ministry since 1980 and is currently the presiding bishop of Christ Covenant Coalition and Overseeing Bishop of Resurrection Church in New York, a multiethnic congregation of 40 nationalities that has successfully developed numerous leaders and holistic ministry in the New York region and beyond. Click here to visit his website.
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