The first response we often have upon receiving a letter or article on the general subject of divorce and remarriage is to cast it aside, and we may do this for a variety of reasons. I urge my brethren and sisters to bear with the me; for I approach this subject not just on a theoretical basis, or as one who has diligently sought out the matter over many years, but crucially as one who has lived through the sorrow and despair of marriage breakdown. I understand the feelings of those who have suffered years of protracted marriage difficulties, holding to the sincere belief that loving patience and forgiveness would remedy these marital problems. I know the feeling of regret, of wanting to rise above the despair and wretchedness of the flesh that envelops you and not being able to do so. I understand the heartache and disbelief that, despite all efforts, your spouse chooses to at last depart. I have experienced the debilitating loneliness of years within a loveless marriage and the darkness of depression. I understand the feeling of betrayal when one you count as a close friend betrays you and takes what is not lawfully theirs to have!
I also know the healing power of Yahweh’s word in which is made plain ‘the glory of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth,’ who consoles us in all our trials that ‘his strength is made perfect in weakness’. By His strength I learnt how to ‘do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you’ (Matthew 5:44, KJV). I have, sadly, seen ecclesias and entire fellowships torn apart by the divorce and remarriage question. However I have also seen the ecclesia as a place of divine therapy, healing and restoration, despite all the seemingly human impossibilities, because there was an understanding of the weightier matters of God’s law―love, justice, mercy and faith—by which Yahweh is honoured and glorified as the basis and divine condition of redemption and forgiveness.
There is a scriptural answer to every question that this subject in all its complexity of human emotion and experience presents. Those answers however are not always pleasant or agreeable to fleshly thinking. “For my ways are not your ways nor are my thoughts your thoughts says Yahweh” (Isaiah 55:8). In diligently seeking out the answers to many questions on this subject it becomes a matter of whether we are prepared to allow Yahweh’s word to elevate us above our natural inclinations—our ways which we may earnestly insist are motivated by God’s principles, our thoughts which we may have convinced ourselves reflect righteousness!
The key to understanding this most important subject and its broader theme is how Yahweh does not count a sinner’s iniquity against him, and how his transgression may be forgiven and sin covered (Psalm 32:2; 2 Corinthians 5:19). God must first be seen to be “just”; only then may He be the justifier of the one who humbly and contritely comes unto Him through faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:26).
I have heard it said that one can ‘correctly’ argue the divorce and remarriage question in various ways. However, Yahweh is one; there is one faith, and one baptism (Ephesians 4:5–6). There is only one way that declares God’s righteousness as the basis and condition of divine mercy and forgiveness. On the subject of the atonement, Yahweh requires the humble acceptance of, and exercise of faith in only one correct doctrine as the only basis of acceptable approach unto Him. On the general subject of divorce and remarriage there is in fact only one way that is able to reconcile all the inspired statements in Yahweh’s word that lifts up and exalts Yahweh as holy, holy, holy. Any other interpretation will, in some aspect, diminish or deny that His way is “just” and that the humble recognition of this is the only means of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace.
When divorce and remarriage for reasons other than ‘porneia’ occur; a request for re-fellowship by a repentant brother or sister may understandably cause much grief and anxiety especially amongst ecclesias whose members are relatives of those involved. Such cases invariably produce a wide range of reactions either because of close emotional connections with those involved, or one’s own life experiences. These extremes may take the form of man’s mercy which is quick to forgive sin without regard to Yahweh’s righteousness or man’s righteousness quick to condemn with little reflection of that “glory of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth”.
Precedence should not be the guiding principle of how to respond to those who have broken Christ’s commands and desire re-fellowship. Every case must be “judged” on the basis of individual circumstances (1 Corinthians 5:3; 6:2, 5) as well as the attitude and response of the brother or sister concerned, according to the teachings of the Lord and his inspired apostles. The acceptance back into fellowship of any brother or sister who has been “judged” to have broken the commandments of Christ should be entirely contingent upon their humble acknowledgement of God’s righteousness and holiness (Psalm 51:4; 32:2,5). It should also depend on their understanding that what they did was an affront to Yahweh’s character, goodness and truth (Psalm 32:9; 51:6, 7). They need to acknowledge how their actions put them out of fellowship with God (Psalm 51:11; 2 John 9). “Fellowship with the Father and with His son Jesus Christ” consists in walking in the Light as God is in the Light (1 John 1:3 -7). Like-wise “Fellowship with one another” depends, says bro. Roberts “entirely upon our conformity to this first and necessary principle of all fellowship”. When scriptural repentance has taken place and transgressors now “walk in the light as he is in the light” the divine reassurance is “we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin”. This scriptural repentance depends upon a “spirit” (Psalm 51:17, 13) that is motivated by a clear understanding of the Lord’s teachings.
For the above reasons we must therefore pause and consider the fundamental principles contained in Christ’s teachings of the inner-man with respect to adultery (Matthew 5:27–32) and more broadly, how Christ wants his disciples to be motivated by “the righteousness that comes from God” in contrast with the righteousness of man (Matthew 5:20). The Lord Jesus Christ’s law of the inner-man with respect to adultery forms only one aspect of a broader interlocking theme encompassing six examples (Matthew 5: 21-48) by which the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20) is contrasted with what Paul, the great interpreter of his Master’s words calls, “the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9). This remarkable contrast, which forms such an important element of Christ’s introductory teaching, is played out until the very end between those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt” and he whom they mocked, “trusted in God”, and “saved others but cannot save himself” (Luke 18:9; Matthew 26:42–43). Christ’s teaching and example established a great gulf between false shepherds who were ravenous wolves, and the good Shepherd; between healthy trees that bear good fruit, and diseased trees that bore bad fruit; between those who do the will of the Father and those who the Lord declares “I never knew you”; between those who “hear and do his words” and those who “hear and do them not” (Matthew 7:15–27). To correctly understand Christ’s teachings with respect to divorce and remarriage, we must see how it forms a part of his broader doctrine, and in searching out the matter, we must accompany the Lord in his ministry to behold Yahweh’s “true religion”.
The Christadelphian No. 255, September 1885 “The Nature and Conditions of Fellowship in the Truth.”
Man’s religion has a tendency either towards a Judaistic spirit or a belief that “God’s grace is all sufficient for salvation”. This tendency can be present in the body of Christ, as is illustrated by the Lord’s warning to the seven ecclesias (Revelation 2 & 3). The Judaistic spirit is illustrated with the first of the seven, and the “Grace is all sufficient” by the last of Christ’s seven messages. Both are particularly applicable to the Christadelphian body of this age before the thief like Advent of the Lord.
The Laodiceans had a confidence but not a true faith, for what Christ describes as the Laodicean spiritual condition is the antithesis of faithfulness. True faithfulness is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen, as illustrated by that woman who knew she was “wretched, pitiable and poor”, who said in herself “if I only touch his garment, I will be made whole.” But the Laodiceans thought they were whole! (Matthew 9:22; Revelation 3:17). True faith encourages the hopelessly blind to be able to respond to Christ’s gracious, faith-inspiring offer of healing, “do you believe that I am able to do this?” The answer is emphatically “yes!” But it did not enter the mind of the Laodiceans that they were blind (Matthew 9:28–29; Revelation 3:17). Despite their wretchedness, love will draw the disciple to Christ to wash his feet (Luke 7:38) by responding to the needs of even the least of his little ones (Matthew 25:40). Though such a faith is convinced that any mountain blocking the disciples’ path to the kingdom (1 Corinthians 13:2) can be removed, Christ only deems as “the righteous” (Matthew 25:37; Luke 7:50) those who demonstrated that they understood “if I have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). The woman of Luke 7:37-50, in faith and love, washed the feet of the “Amen” or true “faithfulness” (Revelation 3:14; Isaiah 65:16). This love was the first thing to decline in those seven ecclesias and in its place there arose a harsh Judaistic spirit that was manifested in their treatment of others (Luke 18:9; 1 John 2:7–11).
The problem with the ecclesia in Ephesus was that they had relaxed their first love; the cause is implied in the opening title used by the Lord who “walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks”. The spirit of Christ was no longer seen in them that they might be constituted the ecclesia of the “living deity”. If as a “witnessing” community we are to burn brightly, then the light exhibited must be a reflection of “the glory of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth” and makes plain that Christ is in us individually and as an ecclesia. The warning for us is that although Ephesus was an apparently vigorous, strong ecclesia opposed to error, and would not “bear with those who are evil”; they in fact did not exhibit the characteristics and very purpose of a lampstand! If they did not change, Christ, whose teaching they so vigorously defended, would come and remove their light stand! (Revelation 2:1–5). The spirit word and its power were not causing them to grow in love. They were industrious in defending the truth, but the truth was not working in them individually or ecclesially to reflect (i.e. make alive as a witness) “the glory of the only son full of grace and truth” ESV. They had forgotten and consequently fallen from their first love. They had abandoned that love which was evidenced by works that characterise their thankful appreciation of Christ’s sacrifice (Ephesians 2:12–13). For that reason the Lord exhorts them to do the first works (Revelation 2: 6); works which reflected Paul’s exhortation—“speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love”(Ephesians 4:15–16).
“Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees you shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20)
The book of Deuteronomy is Moses’s inspired explanation of the law, to that which the law was designed to lead, even to the righteousness of faith. Israel however, “being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:3–4). Paul could therefore say that God made Christ “our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1Corinthians 1:30). In Deuteronomy 6: 20–25 a father teaches his son the meaning of the law, humbly describing that it was not by his wisdom or any man’s wisdom, nor by his might or any man’s might that he or Israel was delivered from the power of sin; that Yahweh had given commandments that we might fear Him for our good; that He will keep us to the coming of His kingdom and that “it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to do all this commandment”. This section of Deuteronomy 6 illustrates the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees—humble thankfulness for what Yahweh had done for a man who knew that there was nothing in him for which he could boast; except by the trials through which Yahweh had caused him to pass, he learnt about Yahweh “who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth” and that in these things Yahweh delighted (Jeremiah 9:24). This knowledge transformed his life and filled him with a determination that as the heavenly Father is, so this humbled man, despite his sins, would be in the world.
In Luke chapter 18:9–14 the Lord Jesus told a parable “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt”. It was a parable about two men who went up to worship, one a Pharisee and the other “a sinner” (verses 10 & 13). The Pharisee separated himself from this sinner and “standing by himself, prayed” for all to hear, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector”. By contrast the tax collector who stood afar off, conscious of his fellow worshipper’s righteousness, adopting the spirit of Deuteronomy 6 prayed “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” This humble confession justified this man, and is the “righteousness” which the Lord said must “exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees” for entry into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5: 20). The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees nullified the spirit of the law and negated the first and greatest command expressed in the context of Deuteronomy 6, because this type of thinking is incapable of loving Yahweh and “thy neighbour as thyself” and therefore incapable of beholding “the glory of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth”.
This digression I hope will help the reader appreciate that the Lord’s teaching on adultery of the heart (Matthew 5: 21–48) needs to be understood in its spiritual context and when taken as a whole, it is the way by which we might “enter the kingdom of heaven”. These general principles have a direct bearing on every aspect of the disciple’s relationship with the heavenly Father. The Lord Jesus Christ shows that true perfection of that relationship is governed by the nature of our inner self towards our fellow men and women. We can at this time only consider a few aspects of this most important part of our Lord’s teachings.
In Matthew 5: 21–24 the Lord immediately establishes the arena of judgement in which he alone will sit to examine. In contrast with the act, the Lord considers the mind and spoken word as if it were the deed already performed. The Lord had said in verse 17 that he had come to “fulfil the law”. Its fulfilment, he states in another place, rested in one’s undiminished love of God who “loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins”. The disciple, in thankful response under trial, makes plain the Father’s character by “loving one another” as the Father loved us, who “while we were enemies were reconciled to God by the death of his son”. This knowledge strengthens one’s faith so that under trial we are able to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:37, 38; 1 John 4:10, 11; Romans 5:10; 1 Peter 2:20–24).
Anger is primarily the displacement of the love of God from our minds, a wilful disregard of what God has done for us in Christ. If anyone has reason to be angry because of one’s rights being violated, it is Yahweh. If anyone has the right to call transgressors “thou empty and worthless one”, it is Yahweh. If anyone has the right to say “thou fool”, it is Yahweh. The apostle Paul reminds us, “You that were some time alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works yet now has he reconciled, in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight” (Colossians 1:21–22).
If we through God’s grace have been so constituted, how can we manifest a mind that is of the world, the angry, abhorring, vengeful mind of the children of disobedience? From where then does adultery of the mind arise; from the mind of God or from the spirit of this world? From where does an angry, unforgiving, intolerant, unmerciful, irreconcilable spirit arise? Is it from friendship with God or friendship with the world? James states, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust and have not: you kill and desire to have… You fight and war….” By so doing the minds of these brethren were joined with the world and James calls them, “adulterers and adulteresses”! “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?”(James 4:1–4). Paul adds, “that all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and evil speaking, be put away from you with all malice: And be kind one to another tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31–32).
The Lord has called us to do this because Yahweh has first reconciled and forgiven. We can love because Yahweh first loved us. The gift we therefore bring to the altar of Christ (Matthew 5:23–24) is that which God has already first given to us by way of example, as set forth in the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ. If that gift which by our acknowledgement is provided by God, then it can only be received by God if we are reconciled towards those who have “something against us”. The Lord Jesus Christ is not interested in seeing his disciples upholding their rights; this is not the example he left us to follow, but rather have we done all in our power to heal, forgive and be reconciled? There may be in our brother’s or sister’s mind an enmity that we know of, that has caused them to have “something against us” and it may stand in the way of their salvation. It does not matter therefore whether our actions in causing this enmity were right or wrong, because “when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life”—that is, his resurrected life in which we are commanded to walk in newness of life, following his example (Romans 5:10; Romans 6:4: 1Peter 2:20–24).
Immediately preceding Christ’s words on adultery (Matthew 5:27–32), the Lord, not without significance, speaks of a debtor and his creditor. In this parable the Lord presents three principal characters—the creditor, whose rights have been abused and seeks redress, the debtor, and the judge who is Yahweh. The creditor being fully persuaded that the facts of the case are all in his favour, has no hesitation in appealing to Yahweh’s law to vindicate his rights. He dogmatically appeals to the letter of the law, which he feels no doubt will reveal the true character of his debtor. However in so doing, he lovelessly condemns his debtor to judgement without mercy, and unknowingly abrogates the very essence of the law to which he appealed. It is these words of Christ that leads James in his consideration of this very law to which the creditor was so quick to appeal, to speak of “the royal law”, because it is intimately connected with “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart…”
“If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ you are doing well” (James 2:8).
Where does such consideration leave the creditor in Christ’s parable and in James’s consideration? For if the old covenant taught anything, it taught that all were under condemnation because of sin. This realisation should have evoked the spirit of mercy. This spirit should have likewise permeated the debtor in his willingness to settle their differences. How much more should we have this spirit; we who live under the bonds of the everlasting covenant, purged through God’s unbounded love and mercy with the blood of Christ, who did no sin, who died and redeemed us from the burden of incalculable debt!
“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgement is without mercy to one who showed no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement” (James 2:12–13).
We are to be judged by the law of liberty, not the law of an eye for an eye or just recompense for damage incurred. How thankful we ought to be for this, for what flesh will stand before the great judge if grace and mercy are not the characteristics of his law of love? It is this grace which must find its spontaneous outworking in the newly created lives of the children of light as manifestations of Yahweh’s character. We follow him who suffered for us, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21–23). The “law of liberty” frees us both in this life and that which is to come from the continuous chain of sin and retribution. Woe unto us who without exception, longingly desire God’s mercy, if we make Christ’s example—the law of liberty and the law of love—a law of condemnation and of judgement that in any way erects barriers or even destroys the principles of reconciliation and forgiveness! I have seen individuals and entire fellowships utterly destroyed because they refused to face these pressing responsibilities.
We deceive ourselves if we think that by adopting unscriptural principles we can compel ecclesial debtors to pay unscriptural penance, erecting unscriptural barriers in the name of maintaining ecclesial peace, that only serve to prohibit any possibility of reconciliation. When I have seen ecclesias do this, more and more cases arose which only served to compound the unscriptural, unloving, unChristlike position they adopted, eventually tearing them apart until their witness for Christ was no more! However, when as a fellowship, we take the yoke of Christ upon us and learn from him who is gentle and lowly in heart, we find “rest for our souls” in surrendering to his example, though at first the mind of the flesh may think that it is too hard and we recoil at the prospect. Regardless of how difficult the problems are that may arise in ecclesial life, when Christ is by our side “his yoke is easy and his burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–29).
When the facts of a particular dispute are examined and we inevitably appeal to God’s law to support our respective positions, it will not be a simple question of whether we are right or wrong, but whether the spirit of Christ was the governing principle at the heart of our actions. When we stand before the great King, he will not be interested in whether we can justify our actions by an appeal to his law in a cold legalistic manner, but will judge our spirit or disposition towards our fellow man or woman irrespective of the facts. Have we allowed any opportunity for reconciliation to pass? And even if all attempts failed, has love been our patient rejoinder, declaring that the path to reconciliation remains open, and if it was closed, that it was not by our doing? Why? Because by our new birth being “born from above,” born “not of blood nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12–13) we are a godly seed. We know that he (God) is righteous and “that everyone that does righteousness is born of him” (1 John 1:29) and “are of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
What is this ‘righteousness’ that the sons of God are to do? Bro. Thomas explains in one of his many treatises on God manifestation, “The manifestation of the Yahweh name is only initiated, not completed in the person of Jesus Christ. The manifestation of Deity in flesh by the Holy Spirit or truth is amplified in the characters of true believers among men, who are ‘partakers of the divine nature’ in its constitution, as the earnest of their future participation in the divine substance… He is manifested in them through the truth affectionately and righteously believed. If ‘the truth as it is in Jesus’ is in men, thus Christ who is the truth, is in them and the spirit of Christ is in them, for ‘the spirit is the truth’” (1 John 5:6).
The evidence of God’s love was His reconciliation to Himself of His enemies. The supreme sacrifice was the giving of His beloved son, forsaken, violated, wronged, despised, rejected, whipped, spat upon and cursed, for truly what man did to Christ was done unto his Father. Tragically, we can return to that “old man” state as enemies arrayed against Yahweh, if by our actions we hinder the revelation of God’s work in us by consciously choosing not to follow Christ’s example in our responses to the personal and ecclesial trials through which we pass. Situations will arise in our lives which will help us gain a deep appreciation of that work and its motivation, that is, the spirit of forgiveness, mercy and love. If His work of reconciliation is central to that revelation of God, how much more should be His children’s, if we are His children indeed?
Reconciliation becomes the paramount issue of Christ’s parable; “whilst thou art with him in the way” (Matthew 5:25 RV). Of course the debtor must acknowledge his/her sin, must forsake his/her way. But the disposition of the creditor is often the primary means by which repentance can be facilitated and a true and lasting reconciliation forged. Yahweh in His grace, mercy and forgiveness becomes the great example of what the mind of every wronged brother or sister should strive to be. Upon a purely human basis, this reasoning obviously has certain shortcomings, for the debtor could very easily point out the blatant shortcomings of his creditor, if not on the current dispute, then most certainly on many others. Such a realisation ought constantly to temper the creditor’s attitude, who should perceive, that both he and his debtor are unredeemable debtors to God if His grace was not extended, lest he fall into the position of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21–25).
The lot that is therefore common to all God’s servants is our need for continual reconciliation and mercy. As Yahweh is our creditor, we must “seek Him while He may be found”, to “call upon Him while He is near” and to forsake our wicked ways and thoughts and “return unto the Lord” while we are in the way, in the day of opportunity, before we come and stand before Him as our judge, that He will have “mercy” and “abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6–7).
Christ in his teaching on the doctrine of the new covenant and its bearing on the inner man fulfilled and superseded the old covenant and condemned the practices of the scribes and Pharisees which the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 24) regulated. The Lord contrasted His supremely higher law of the inner man with the then current morally insipid and motive driven pharisaic interpretation of the Mosaic Law. The pharisaic interpretations dramatically altered Yahweh’s intent with Israel under Moses. The extent of their immorality on this question is illustrated by Josephus, himself a Pharisee, who stated “that there are many causes for a man to put away his wife”. The greatest abuses had arisen in regard to divorce that was permitted on very trivial grounds. One rabbinical saying was, “if any man hates his wife, let him put her away”.
The tradition of the scribes and the Pharisees was to quote one rabbinical opinion upon another, each opinion being tainted by the popular sentiment of the day. By the time of the coming of the Lord the nation was entering that final phase of corruption in which that generation would fill up the iniquities of their fathers. The scribes and Pharisees were addressed by Christ’s forerunner in these words “O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” The Lord Jesus takes up the same language to address the scribes and the Pharisees in Matthew 12 describing them as, “an evil and adulterous and wicked generation” (Matthew 12:34, 39, 45). This “adulterous generation” passed over the penalty due for what Job calls “an heinous crime… an iniquity to be punished by the judges” (Job 31:11). The Lord laid bare their inner man, the motive in all their dealings. The Law which condemned them all to a violent death (Leviticus 20:7, 8, 10, 23) was taught through their traditions in a way which seemed to elevate Israel’s rulers beyond the Law’s condemnation.
The basis of judgement in relation to the new and everlasting covenant rests on higher principles altogether. The Lord Jesus Christ will not ultimately enter into eternal fellowship with someone through entrance “into the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 5:20) if that person’s spirit or disposition of mind is not brought into servitude to Christ’s.
Christ’s teachings (Matthew 5:28–32) elevates the seventh commandment, “thou shalt not commit adultery,” to encompass two aspects, one mental, the other moral. This was a new way of thinking for his disciples, who had been indoctrinated by the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees. The Lord’s teaching brought them uncomfortably to consider the undisciplined musings of the heart upon “deceitful lusts” which if not brought under servitude to Christ would lead to the condemnation of adultery. This laid bare the real motive for divorce. The Lord in his teachings concerning adultery (verses 28–32), though he continually refers to the man’s position, does not of course exclude the woman from the type of thinking that can lead to the practice of divorce and remarriage for reasons other than unrepentant unfaithfulness. The Lord’s words are applicable to all, male and female, as is illustrated in Mark 10:12. This being understood, the object of Christ’s consideration in Matthew 5:32 is the same type of man who has adulterous intentions as described in verses 27 and 28. It is this adulterous motive of the heart that led this man to quote the “it hath been said” Pharisees’ tradition of verse 31 which falsely interpreted the Mosaic Law of Deuteronomy 24:1–3, to provide permission for divorce for every cause. It is also possible for brethren and sisters to use Christ’s teachings of the new covenant in a way in which he never intended, to circumvent his motive of transforming principles! This man’s righteousness did not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, who for the lust of his heart believed the law allowed divorce for any cause or ground. It is this adulterous man of verses 27–30 who is the predominant subject of Christ’s words in verses 31–32, the man who puts away his wife who is innocent of unfaithfulness. The Lord reveals this man’s terrible sin (versus 28–32) in terms of the consequences for his wife who was put away for improper grounds.
The Lord shows that this man’s motive is not the known and verified fact of his wife’s persistent unfaithfulness which the word “fornication” (Greek “porneia”) indicates, as Christ states in his words “apart from the cause of fornication” (Young’s literal translation). The reason we know this is evident is by Christ’s next words; for in the putting away of his innocent wife this man “causes,” or makes his wife to “commit adultery”. If sexual immorality was the reason for this man’s putting away of his wife, his putting her away would not “make” her commit adultery, because she was already doing so. If she was responsible for the illicit union and not her husband, then could he be accused of “causing her to commit” something, if she was already guilty of it?
By the act of divorce, this man causes his wife, who was innocent of “porneia”, to commit adultery because she would ultimately remarry under the circumstances of Jewish life. Furthermore, he who marries his divorced wife also commits adultery. This in itself proves that under Christ’s new law, the divorced wife, put away for reasons other than her known unfaithfulness, remains the wife of the man whose adulterous heart caused the putting asunder. Thus Christ’s doctrine (verse 32), sweeps away the Pharisees’ contention that divorce for any cause severs the marriage bond, for upon what grounds could the Lord then say that he who marries her who has been put away also commits adultery? It is this fact under Christ’s new law that prohibits remarriage where separation has occurred for causes other than continued unfaithfulness (1 Corinthians 7:10–11), ensuring the reconciliation hoped for of the separated spouses.
Bro. Roberts, in the April 1882 Christadelphian states, “There is nothing in the law of Christ to interfere with the remarriage of a man and woman who have been previously divorced from one another. The law of Christ rather favours every kind of reconciliation and triumph of peace”.
What is to be done, however, where a spouse is guilty of “porneia” and the condition exists in which the other spouse could “put away” and be free of the charge in doing so of causing to commit adultery? Indeed, necessity may leave no other choice but like Hosea, to separate and send his erring wife away from his house. Does this give the innocent spouse the right to divorce and remarry? The Lord answers this in Matthew 19:9. Where no other commands of Christ is violated (i.e. suing at law etc.) divorce from an unrepentant adulterous spouse is not a sin against either Christ’s teachings or against the spirit of them. However, Christ does not in his words encourage, let alone command it.
Bro. Roberts in the 1891 Christadelphian answering a request to explain Matthew 5:32 states, “Christ’s words relate to divorce for insufficient cause as was at that time common among the Jews. He recognises no divorce as lawful ‘save for the cause of fornication’. (Notice bro. Roberts states Christ’s words relate to divorce, not just separation and that Christ’s teachings do recognise divorce for the cause of fornication and that he is speaking of divorce in the context of Christ’s day.) This severs the bond. Human law recognises this, and we are commanded to submit to human law where it does not conflict with divine law. Where the law recognises man and woman in any case as husband and wife, there can be no question of adultery” (notice bro. Roberts dismisses the idea of a continued state of adultery where remarriage has taken place).
The Christadelphian No. 214―April 1882 Notes
The Christadelphian 1891, Inside front cover
I would like to reiterate that the injured husband is not commanded to put away his wife who is committing porneia. The Lord’s words are very carefully chosen. His words of verse 32 are compassed about by a multitude of other precepts that highlight the continual unabated characteristics of Yahweh manifested in the Son—long-suffering, mercy, forgiveness, patience, tireless seeking of reconciliation, which must find their representation in all God’s sons and daughters that grace might be pleasurably extended. Christ’s own example of laying down his life for those who the apostle calls “enemies,” (Romans 5:10) is the basis of our redemption, the recognition of which and manifestation of its principles in our own lives towards the undeserving, are our garments of beauty (Revelation 19:8). It is interesting to consider why the Lord did not give definitive commands regarding the rights or otherwise of the injured partner either in Matthew 5 or 19. This of course is the reason why over many years there has been so much contention over these verses. Why didn’t the Lord make the matter absolutely clear?
It is a trait of human nature to love to have everything clearly defined so that man does not have to seek matters out and exercise his mind to understand great truths. But this matter of divorce and remarriage touches perhaps the greatest spiritual type revealed in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. The reason the Master is not as clear and decisive about the injured partner as he is about the guilty, is because the sons and daughters of God would not interpret Matthew 5 in isolation from all their Master’s other teachings in chapters 5–7; principles by which “we judge (or discern) ourselves truly, that we might not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:31).
We are ever called upon to exercise our minds on the overall principles Yahweh has revealed to us through His son’s example and teachings. The writer is fully convinced that this process cannot be without suffering, trial and tribulation, because integral to the understanding of Yahweh’s mind, is the development of a character that is receptive to it. By this process alone, the disciple can “attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”; and by “speaking the truth in love grow up in every way into him who is the head”, into Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 4:13–15, ESV).