Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Marriage and Divorce 1

posted by Scot McKnight

WeddingRing.jpgI don’t think I’ve discussed divorce on this blog, and it is a topic I believe is important for a blog like this, and I was just waiting for something to spark interest … and it arrived in the mail the other day: William F. Luck’s Divorce and Re-Marriage: Recovering the Biblical View
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I’d like to do a series on this topic, and the series is shaped for churches and pastors who are forming “statements” and “policies” for their churches. (At least that is the group I have in mind.)
What kind of “union” is marriage? Would you say it is “permanent” and “indissoluble” or would you say it is “covenanted” and “promissory” and “intentional” but that, due to sin in this world, can be broken (therefore not permanent)?
Luck begins his book by examining Genesis 2:24: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family.”

One can say that the “standard” view — or the “default” view — of this “unites” or “union” is that it is a permanent, ontological union. Luck contends this default view, and the use of words like ontological union, deserve more careful thinking to see what the Bible really does teach.


In chp 1 of Luck’s book — and I want to say that Luck is not not trying to minimize marriage but is instead trying to frame a biblical understanding of both marriage and divorce — an argument is given that the the union is not ontological or permanent. 


In other words, the word “unites” (“cleaves”) does not describe a permanent union or an ontological union but an intended union. He has extensive study of this term in the Bible.  Marriage is a profound union of individual persons. It is an organic union (“one flesh” is not a third thing but the organic union) that stresses bonding and intimacy and consummates a social-legal contract. Divorce, he argues, is a tragedy and another tragedy is that humans have so been preoccupied with the “legalities” of marriage and divorce that they have focused on the wrong thing. 
Marriage is intended to last until death; but that is God’s intent and it is the intent of the married couple, but intention and fact must be distinguished. Luck does not think that the Bible teaches the union is “permanent” or “ontological.” Again, it is intended to last but that intention is not equivalent to an ontological permanence.
The emphasis then for Luck is intentionality instead of ontoloy.


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John W Frye

posted January 11, 2010 at 9:55 am


I know it’s tricky to argue from metaphor, but could Bill Luck be onto something in that Yahweh does give a certificate of divorce to his own “covenanted” people? If marriage for humans is an ontological oneness, would it not be for God, too, and therefore, divorce an anathema? Does Bill have a chapter probing church tradition on this issue of ontological versus intended union in marriage?



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Jim Martin

posted January 11, 2010 at 10:29 am


I was just about to enter my comment, when I read John Frye’s questions. These are very good questions. How does this relate to the metaphor as applied to God and his people?
This sounds like a very interesting book. I wonder, Scot, what this says regarding those who marry today who have no intention in the beginning to make this a lasting union. (Not that they intend to divorce, but their experience is that these marriages don’t last anyway and so perhaps one marries with hope that perhaps it will as least last for awhile.)
So, I look forward to hearing anything he might say about communicating this intention pastorally.



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Bob Porter

posted January 11, 2010 at 10:40 am


I believe that this is a very important topic for the church today. Unfortunately, much I what I read on the subject seems to be focused on ?discovering? biblical justification for divorce and remarriage. Some of the most helpful material that I have read is by John Piper (http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByTopic/135/1488_Divorce_and_Remarriage_A_Position_Paper/).
As I understand it, divorce may be necessary, but it is sin and remarriage, while the original partner is still alive is also sin.



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Tony Myles

posted January 11, 2010 at 10:58 am


I disagree with this argument, but what is most intriguing to me is why I disagree with it. I am a part of a union with my wife that is the “default” view… meaning, we truly have become “one” in a way that has permanently marked and changed us. Not because *any* relationship will mark you in some way, but because this one has *uniquely* marked us.
Which is why divorce is so painful… it’s like having two pieces of paper that have been glued together and then you rip them apart. One will leave pieces of itself upon the other, and vice versa, because they truly were joined together to become one.
So while I mentally struggle with the theology Luck proposes, I more struggle with it because I have tasted the goodness of a permanent union. Specifically to the point that it would be like someone telling me, “Breathing really isn’t breathing… it just feels like breathing.” And I’d respond, “Interesting,” (pause, breathes in) “because my experience tells me otherwise.” (pause, exhales)



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Randy G.

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:05 pm


I am glad to see a thoroughly biblical discussion of marriage. I wonder whether Scot plans to address the question of how much the Bible calls us to marriage in the first place. The Genesis passage and the Wedding at Cana are the only two passages I know of that could be taken as encouraging it, while Paul certainly seems to have reserves about it. I guess I ask how might the structures and issues of our churches be different if we did not present marriage and child-bearing and rearing as defaults? Has the church embraced a creature of the state and social stability?
Peace,
Randy G.



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Michael Harmon

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:36 pm


You know, that’s a clever argument, but I have a problem with clever arguments instead of comprehensive ones. What he seems to be saying is that if the intention of either of the human parties changes, then it is already a divorce. While I think that could be helpful for viewing the spiritual quality of your marriage, I don’t think it makes it a real divorce. Here’s why:
Jesus said that God joins people together. Once the human parties vow, God works, and no one should separate the unification done by God. Malachi also says the Lord hates divorce, because it’s so violent; and frankly, you’d have to be violent just to try to be powerful enough to undo what God actually did. In fact, the only reason Jesus seems to give for divorce is “porneia,” and that’s physical adultery. Jesus even goes so far as to say that the man who marries the divorced woman commits such adultery. Why would Jesus say that? Because the ?divorced? woman is not really divorced, and therefore is susceptible to committing adultery because she is with anyone but her spiritual husband! Period.
Even Paul commands (from the Lord!) that divorce should never be done, and that even if it is done the woman is to remain single.
In other words, “intention to stop the marriage” never constitutes biblical divorce, and from all you presented, Luck is ignoring NT teachings to make a viable argument that he can sell. We can argue whether or not God actually joins certain people together, but that is now arguing about the term of “marriage,” not the state of an actual marriage where God Himself unifies.
I would be interested to know: Is Luck someone who is divorced? Because his ideas seem intended to merely comfort those who do not want to reconcile with their spiritual spouses.



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Matthew

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:46 pm


I just wish I could buy this book, read it, and have time to properly understand this book in the next ten minutes. Part of being a pastor in a broken and sinful world is dealing with the consequences when sinful people to sinful things and hence destroy their marriages. In the last week I’ve heard of two different marriages that began the dissolution process and another one that, thankfully, is being saved. Books like this are needed and welcomed.



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Michael Harmon

posted January 11, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Scot McKnight

posted January 11, 2010 at 1:04 pm


Michael, I wish you could read this book: Luck is clearly not using the word “intentional” as you are. He’s debating the value of the “ontological” when it comes to marriage. For him, the “intent” is permanence — and he’s not talking about anything less than that kind of intent. He never suggests that if one’s intent changes then one can divorce, and even if I disagree with some of Luck’s arguments and conclusions, I want to defend him on this one. He’s fighting ontological ideas and in place of them he sees human intent as central to what marriage is about.



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Paul Adams

posted January 11, 2010 at 2:26 pm


So very good to see this. I’ve captured Luck’s gist on my blog here.
Bill is a good friend and I highly recommend his book.



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Paul Adams

posted January 11, 2010 at 2:31 pm


To Michael Harmon:
Your last question re: Luck’s status is irrelevant and ad hominem. Even if Bill had been divorced the weight of his arguments must be carefully evaluated in light of Scripture. If, after doing so, his conclusions comport with the biblical evidences, then we must side with that.



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John M.

posted January 11, 2010 at 4:30 pm


Randy G. #5 What about: the “creation mandate” to be fruitful and multiply; the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation; Ehpesians 5; Jesus as the Bridegroom, the Chruch as his Bride, etc.? It seems to me that the Bible has a lot more to say about marriage, both literally, metephorically and spiritually than the two weddings you mentioned. And of those two, are both very significant. The first thing God does in the garden is to create Adam and Eve and join them together. The first Miracle Jesus performs is at a wedding…



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Jeff Holton

posted January 11, 2010 at 5:12 pm


Well, the behavior of almost all Christian groups would suggest that it is indissoluble.
Except when it isn’t.



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Brandon Smith

posted January 11, 2010 at 5:26 pm


I think this is the best explanation that I have ever seen on the matter. I often have wondered if it is actually immature and strange to believe in an eternal almost mystical bond between two people. It isn’t that I don’t believe that such bonds and affections do exist, it is just that I have seen many marraiges that no longer have any bond whatsoever, some even held together only by an ontological belief that they must stay together because they are bonded mystically for life. This is something that in the south I know we were taught about sex. If you have sex, then you are bonded with that person for life. Some of us even had the fear that this meant we had were married. Oddly immature now, but I like rational thought on the matter still nonetheless.



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Matt

posted January 11, 2010 at 5:49 pm


I think 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 is the bigger issue. Paul seems to think that something ontological happens between man and prostitute when they have sex. He even uses the same word to describe the way in which a man “unites” himself to a prostitute and the way in which we are “united” to Christ. He doesn’t mention marriage, but he does bring Genesis 2:24 into the discussion.



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Diane

posted January 11, 2010 at 6:19 pm


From Tony Myles: “So while I mentally struggle with the theology Luck proposes, I more struggle with it because I have tasted the goodness of a permanent union. Specifically to the point that it would be like someone telling me, “Breathing really isn’t breathing… it just feels like breathing.” And I’d respond, “Interesting,” (pause, breathes in) “because my experience tells me otherwise.” (pause, exhales)”
I haven’t read the book and don’t want to comment on it, as I am having a bad reaction. I have had a marriage that has been … there is no word for it … God-graced? wonderful?– for almost 24 years and I wish and I wish and I wish everyone in the world could have one like it. And I think everyone could. To argue that “realistically” marriage isn’t usually so good, so we shouldn’t expect it to be supposed to be that, to me is a sin. I believe, ontologically, that marriage IS supposed to be permanent. And if you parse the Bible to be saying something different, I believe you are misreading the Bible. Even though marriage often ISN’T lasting–or good– that doesn’t mean we have to accept a diluted form of it as what it IS, as somehow integral to its being.
OK .. I will try not to tirade, but I believe one the scariest things about the times we live in is the way marriage has been devalued, and I fear that in the latest generation, more than a third of whom are the product of unmarried unions, so many won’t even see… won’t have any reason to believe… that good marriage is anything but fantasy. They won’t know. And thus, something that is absolutely possible and open to everyone and God’s will for humanity, will become more and more easily dismissed as a fairy tale. Isn’t this how evil operates in the world–by telling people the best isn’t possible and they have to settle for less … and then a gnawing unhappiness fills in the emptiness with more vices, not knowing that joy is there for the having?



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Danderson

posted January 11, 2010 at 8:40 pm


Diane,
You are spot on with your post. Jesus calls us to strive to be perfect, even if and when we can’t. One would think that the ideal is The Creation before the Fall when God created male and female to be companions and helpers. I do not think that marriage is a mandate for all, but it is certainly necessary as a standard to ensure a secure and moral society where children can have the benefit of a father and a mother. Statistics and personal experience should bare this out.



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Danderson

posted January 11, 2010 at 8:41 pm


Diane,
You are spot on with your post. Jesus calls us to strive to be perfect, even if and when we can’t. One would think that the ideal is The Creation before the Fall when God created male and female to be companions and helpers. I do not think that marriage is a mandate for all, but it is certainly necessary as a standard to ensure a secure and moral society where children can have the benefit of a father and a mother. Statistics and personal experience should bare this out.



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Pamela Caprino

posted January 11, 2010 at 10:30 pm


I am not a theological scholar, but I am well-versed in the school of divorce. As both a child and an adult, I have been profoundly affected by marriages that failed. In the six years since my own divorce, I have been daily challenged to expose the failure of the church to really address the growing divorce problem. The discussion needs to point us toward the integrity of relationships period: if we love God, we will learn to love each other properly and permanently, whether in marriage or in any other relationship.



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John W Frye

posted January 12, 2010 at 7:02 am


I find it interesting that anecdotal comments are made here to stress the ontological view of marriage rather than deal with Bill Luck’s biblical reasoning for his “intentional” view. Why are evangelicals so quick to use fear and slippery slope thinking whenever an innovation is offered regarding “sacred cow” concepts? As Clark Pinnock points out (on another hot button issue) evangelicals tend to assign inerrancy not only to the Bible but to their favored MAN-MADE theological formulations.



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Diane

posted January 12, 2010 at 7:41 am


John,
Although anecdotal comments are less rigorous, more subjective and more emotional than the realm of the pure intellect, and hence, seen as inferior–some issues, such as marriage, imho, cry out for an emotional dimension. That aspect needs to be drawn into the discussion. Studying marriage isn’t the same as studying mold. It’s truly one of those cases where the personal is the political. Or at least so I think.



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Diane

posted January 12, 2010 at 7:52 am


John,
I’m not sure what you mean by slippery slope thinking? Could you clarify?



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derek leman

posted January 12, 2010 at 9:27 am


Scot:
Are you familiar with David Instone-Brewer’s book on the divorce issue, which brings rabbinics to bear on the sayings of Jesus, but does so in a critically nuanced manner (unlike some earlier studies)?
Derek Leman



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Dan

posted January 12, 2010 at 11:12 am


Might I suggest we rethink the question in the light of the fact that divorce and marriage are not opposites. That is, the opposite of divorce is a wedding (or whatever ceremony binds a couple together). Is there inherent virtue in a wedding ceremony? What does it “do” and what does the divorce “undo”?



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Percival

posted January 12, 2010 at 12:21 pm


Could someone tell me if what is being called a “permanent” union here is meant to be eternal or merely “until death do us part”?



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Percival

posted January 12, 2010 at 12:22 pm


Could someone tell me if what is being called a “permanent” union here is meant to be eternal or merely “until death do us part”?



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Scot McKnight

posted January 12, 2010 at 12:33 pm


Percival, I’m not sure I recall Luck defining the term. But, the issue is whether or not marriage forms an ontological union that is permanent (until death) and therefore re-marriage constitutes adultery.



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Paul

posted January 12, 2010 at 1:49 pm


Luck clearly defines marriage as life-long. It does not extend beyond death. I can get page numbers when I get home as I do not have a copy with me at the office.



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Phil Atley

posted January 12, 2010 at 4:46 pm


As Scriptures go, it does not get much more explicit than Jesus’ words in Mt. 19 as far as denying the legitimacy f divorce and remarriage goes. He explicitly notes the permission for divorce in Judaism, gives a negative reason for it, and announces that He is rejecting Moses’ concession for “hard hearts.” And he explicitly contrasts it with “in the beginning.”
Paul reinforces this in Eph. 5 using mystery (ontological) language, analogizing it to the ontological mystery of union with Christ. This is about as explicit a reinforcement of Jesus by Paul as one can imagine.
Rejection of divorce and remarriage is one of a handful of things absolutely unique to Christianity. Its cultural effect was profound as far as elevating the status of women and demanding commitment of men who, in many cultures were accustomed to casting aside women when they tired of them. The cultural resistance in Europe was immense and thus it took more than a millenium, far longer than the debates over Christology, to convince Christian men to man up to the demands of indissoluble marriage. And theologically this demand had to be ontological and sacramental–one cannot make and keep this pledge by human strength alone. Denying the sacramentality of marriage in the Reformation was a mistake and it may have contributed to the worsening legal status of women in early modern time, though the revival of Roman law also contributed. (See the work of Regine Pernoud.)
For those who find “anecdotal evidence” unconvincing, I’d suggest that sociological data are compatible with the “ontological” approach even if sociologists do not use that sort of language.
Secular sociologists in the 1970s, after no-fault divorce laws and contraception created a spike in divorce, began with the assumption that marriage was not ontological but voluntaristic, that it was no big deal, that children were malleable and bounced back. But Judith Wallerstein and her colleagues, to their credit, have reversed themselves after decades of longitudinal studies. Divorce does leave deep, serious, damage. It often only becomes visible in children of divorce years later when they are considering marriage. That suggests something “ontological” is going on here.
Which seems to be what Jesus and Paul both said. Divorce and remarriage and blended families are widespread. Just because Jesus’ explicit statements, already “hard sayings” when he said them to his disciples, are becoming harder and harder with each passing year, doesn’t mean they aren’t true in the sense they were universally interpreted by the Apostle and the church fathers for a thousand years, in the face of powerful opposition.



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Diane

posted January 13, 2010 at 8:20 am


Very well said, both as to Christianity and sociology.



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Paul

posted January 13, 2010 at 2:56 pm


Uh…Is anyone reading Luck’s book?



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Tammy

posted April 3, 2010 at 9:26 pm


Marriage is a permanent union whether people want to believe it or not. It is not dissolvable and remarriage is never permitted unless your partner dies. That is the only way the union is broken. The only way to remarry while your so called spouse is still alive is to perhaps realize that the sacrament of marriage never took place due to an impediment with the marriage that occurred at the timethe vows were said, which is very rare. No man can undue what God has joined together. Most people think that they can change their spouse, well just because you realize to late that you can’t doesn’t make it justified. That is who you married and gave yourself too, sadly. Unfortunately for most people they will not realize that remarriage is forbidden until after death and they are facing judgement for adultery. Society has perverted so many things and so has the Modern Catholic Church (Novus Ordo).



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