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Divorce and Remarriage from the New Testament Perspective
Nowadays, the percentage of divorces and remarriages is great and it keeps increasing with each year. Unfortunately, more and more marriages experience crash because, under modern conditions, people tolerate the possibility of breaking the marriage covenant freely and living with other mates. However, the position of the Church has remained the same; thus, such behavior is not accepted by Christians. Even though remarriage and divorce can be justified from the New Testament perspective, there are different theological positions regarding the concepts: some congregations forbid both, some allow them under special circumstances, while some fully accept them. Most importantly, from the Bible perspective, marriage is a highly critical institution, in which God joins two people in one family to create a holy union. Parties to such a couple have to cherish and support each other. Nonetheless, divorce can be permitted in the case of adultery and abandonment, for example. At the same time, remarriage is possible when one mate dies or in the case of the marriage failure between a believer and nonbeliever. The main point is that marriage is highly critical and its sacredness is emphasized in the New Testament, but in the case of the specific circumstance, remarriage and divorce are accepted by God. Even though the New Testament clearly demonstrates that the marriage is a highly critical and holy unity between a man and a woman that is blessed by God, different Christian congregations have varying positions on divorce and remarriage. Such variations are caused by different interpretations of the teaching of Jesus and His disciples.
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage Concepts
In the modern world, in which the church is separated from the state, moral issues often create the imaginary line that divides believers and nonbelievers and creates some tensions. Divorces are a great problem in today's society. In general, moral advocates of the family that used to argue against divorces disappeared from the U.S. public arena. Also, even organizations that promote moral values in the political field believe that divorce is not the primary concern. Hence, divorce disappeared from the political agenda in the 1920s. Since the time, the divorce rates have been increasing with each year. More so, modern society is rather indifferent to these issues; most people believe it is a part of being free and independent. As a result, divorce and remarriage became widely accepted in society.
The church perspective remains the same. When people marry, they make the covenant with each other before God and utter the marriage vows. In such a manner, people express their readiness to be together even at challenging times. It is a common situation when a marriage experiences some problems or controversies (Amblecote Christian Centre 10). In most cases, the Church demands believers to do everything possible and save unity. However, the covenant may be no longer possible for spouses. There are cases when, despite the support, love, and persistent and willful attitude, the marriage covenants are broken (Amblecote Christian Centre 10). Such situations have a massively destructive impact. Divorce is highly challenging from an emotional perspective. The feeling of fear, guilt and failure are very difficult to handle. More so, it is highly challenging for children.
Even though divorces are allowed by most governments and states, and people can separate without difficulties, the relation of the church is stricter. The church develops but does not change its basic views since they are based on the Holy Scripture. From the Bible perspective, divorce is the formal acknowledgment before God, each other, the community, and church family that the marriage covenant and vow were broken and that such breakdown was beyond the ability of both parties to serve the redemptive purpose of God in this relationship (Amblecote Christian Centre 7). Since God insists that the marriage is highly critical, and it has to be saved, divorce is not welcomed; however, in rare cases, it is the only solution. Hence, all families must understand the reasons that justify the divorce and allow one to receive spiritual acceptance.
Interestingly, but the Christian community does not have a unified position on divorces and remarriages. Several Scripture passages that address remarriage and divorce have been strongly debated by theological groups for many centuries. The Bible emphasizes marriage's sacredness. However, there are some controversies between passages from the Old and New Testaments. Due to the lack of passages for interpreting the issue and its sensitivity, the biblical position regarding divorce has never gained any consensus (Adams 231).
To analyze the remarriage and divorce concepts from the New Testament perspective, one should refer to the Gospels and Epistles. Saint Pauls Epistles and Synoptic Gospels testify to Jesus' logion, according to which the Israelite marriage was declared as the Christian life norm; thus, the divorce was rejected. The logion in the Gospel is provided in two basic sources in St. Marks Gospel and Epistles of Paul's Apostle. In 1 Corinthians 7, 10, the Saint talks about the Lord's teaching on marriage. He asserts that God allows divorces only as the last resort (Adams 231). Regarding remarriage, the New Testament assumes such a possibility but only after legitimate divorce (Wenham 37). Such passages as 1 Corinthians 7 and Mathew 19 talk about the legitimate divorce that would allow the legitimate remarriage.
The remarriage and divorce issues are very arguable; because of some controversies in interpretations, four main positions regarding divorce and remarriage concepts have developed among Christians many centuries ago. The first one is the no/no view: it denies both remarriage and divorce (Bargas 3). According to this position, remarriage after the mate's death is still possible. However, it is outside of the scope of the discussion because remarriage after death is allowed by all Christian congregations. It insists that such passages as Jesus exception clauses in Matthew 18:3-9 can be explained from Marcan or alternative perspectives. Another position on these concepts is the yes/no view. It allows divorce in some cases but prohibits remarriages (Bargas 3). According to this position, usually, one spouse in a broken marriage is the innocent prey. Therefore, mates that suffer from habitual infidelity or violence are allowed to leave the spouse. Nonetheless, the remarriage for them is still believed to be adultery. The third position is the moderate no/yes perspective; particularly, it does not allow people to divorce (except for extreme circumstances) but allows them to remarry freely in the case of the legitimate separation (Bargas 4). This position permits for the more natural rendering of the exception clause texts; it is the predominant position in evangelicalism. The last position is the extreme yes/yes approach; it allows remarriage and divorce with few exceptions (Bargas 4). This position accepts different reasons for the divorce and strongly relies on Deuteronomy 24: 1-4 and 1 Corinthians 7. Hence, the divorce and remarriage concepts can be analyzed from several religious perspectives, all of which claim to be based on the Bible.
Divorce and Remarriage in the New Testament
To understand the position regarding marriage and divorce of Apostles expressed in the New Testament, it is critical to know the historical perspective. During the New Testament times, there existed two Jewish schools of thought such as Hillel and Shammai; the two opposed each other (Plessis & Woodbridge 3). The Shammai believed that there were no legal possibilities for a man to break up with his woman, except for sexual immorality. Meanwhile, the Hillel school insisted that a husband was able to leave the wife for a multitude of other reasons, even in the case she was not pleasant to him anymore (Plessis & Woodbridge 3). These positions confronted each other; thus, Jews had no common perspective, as well. Quite a similar situation can be seen in Christianity; it is caused by some differences between the perspectives of Jesus and the Apostles.
In Matthew 1:31-32, Jesus not only emphasizes the value of marriage but also describes the possibility of divorce. In verse 32, he refers to the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 24:1, for the term applied to divorce (Bargas 7). The New Testament uses another word for divorce; it derives from the Greek word that means from, to, or for and the loss; literally, it means getting free and lose somebody. In the same verse, Jesus challenges the common view of the day concerning divorce (Bargas 7). It can be explained in two ways. People that support the no/no view of divorce lump those that are divorced due to the unchastity in the group that is not permitted to remarry or they will be considered adultery guilty (Bargas 7). Unchastity means sexual immorality of any kind. At the same time, people that support the moderate yes and extreme yes positions believe that the clause, except for the unchastity reason, is excluded from the forbiddance to remarry, which is a sin (Bargas 7).
One of the most valuable passages regarding divorce and remarriage talks about the confrontation between the Pharisees and Jesus in Matthew 19: 1-12. Jesus and Pharisees confront each other on the question about the divorce possibility (Plessis & Woodbridge 3). The Pharisees allow divorces, but appropriate terms were to be used. In particular, the term for diverse meaning something incident was quite an arguable issue (Plessis & Woodbridge 3). In response Jesus states
Haven't you read," He replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate (Matt 19:4-6).
Therefore, Jesus asserts that divorce for any reason is incompatible with God's plan for a family. He considers Genesis 2:24 more important than Deuteronomy 24:1-4 because the last source does not condemn but allows divorce due to hard hearts (Plessis & Woodbridge 4). He notes that such easiness to break the family is not in line with God's will. Jesus rejects the conservative and liberal perspectives on divorce; He emphasizes that marriage is a part of God's plan; thus, it is sacred (Plessis & Woodbridge 4). Jesus insists that God is the one that unites the couple together through marriage. He bases his position on the original plan of the Father for people that are to help each other achieve eternity. Marriage as the permanent institution is the intimate and exclusive union between a woman and a man. To create it, both have to leave their parents, cleave to each other, and become one flesh (Plessis & Woodbridge 6). Through the marriage act, the two create a new family that God blesses as the holy and sacred union, which is similar to the eternal union of Jesus and His Church (Plessis & Woodbridge 6). In such a manner, the divorce breaks the covenant, particularly, the promise made at the marriage time. In its turn, remarriage violates God's plan developed at the beginning of times since He created only one wife for Adam.
Next, Pharisees question why Moses commanded a man to provide his wife with the divorce certificate. Jesus replies:
"Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery (Matt 19:8-9).
Therefore, people were allowed to divorce in the Old Testament due to the hardness of their hearts, but it was in opposition to the origination plan of God since all His creations were good, including humans (Plessis & Woodbridge 7). According to this response, the marriage remains the embodiment of the vision set at the creation and the divorce is the result of the Fall of a human. Jesus makes it clear and asserts that every man that divorces his wife for other reasons than sexual immorality and remarries another woman commits adultery (Plessis & Woodbridge 10). In this statement from verse 9, Jesus refers to the exception clause and it means the only legal grounds for the divorce (Plessis & Woodbridge 10). In particular, Jesus permits the divorce on the fornication grounds (porneia) (Plessis & Woodbridge 10). From this perspective, sexual immorality, particularly fornication, is the only sufficient reason for the divorce because it nullifies the marriage contract of the couple. According to verse 9, in the case the divorce is caused by sexual immorality, any subsequent marriage of the divorce would still be an adultery sin (Plessis & Woodbridge 10). The main point is that the legal divorce does not mean the end of the marriage that was blessed by God.
Hence, from Jesus' perspective, the divorce is unacceptable unless one of the spouses engaged in sexual immorality acts. In the passage, Mathew uses the Greek word porneia, which means a greater number of sexual sins. In this context, it means the sexual sin, including at least one unmarried person or the perverted from the sexual behavior, and in sanctioning the divorce for sexual immorality, Jesus allows remarriage for divorced people (Sper 10). In such a manner, the passage explains both the permissions and restrictions of divorcing. When two people, whose divorce was not legitimate from the perspective of God, enter into sexual relations through the new marriage, they break their previous marriage covenant. God considers the two a married couple when two people have met the civil requirement and it is still valid when the divorce was not legitimate from God's perspective (Sper 12). There are many arguments regarding this passage and the following explanation. In particular, many people point to the fact the Marks' Gospel was written first and the preferences in approaching the issues of remarriage and divorce have to be given to it. Hence, this source is significant and causes many debates. Therefore, the position of Jesus is clear, while Apostles provide a bit confrontation position on divorce and remarriage.
The passage from Mark 10:2 12 is similar to Matthew 19, except for the exception clause and remarriage restriction applied to both a wife and husband. 1 Corinthians 7 provides the extended discussion of remarriage, divorce, and marriage (Bargas 10). In 1 Corinthians 7: 20, Saint Paul encourages believers to try to remain in the marriage they had when they converted to Christianity; however, allows them to leave if the spouse opposes the new faith. In such a manner, when two people remarry after the divorce based on reasons other than specified by Jesus and Paul, they sin against the covenant made in the former marriage (Sper 13). Also, in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, Paul refers to Jesus but does not consider the exception clause (Plessis & Woodbridge 11). In verses 8-9, he teaches the unmarried and widows to remain single just as he is, but in the case of disability to control their passion they have to get married because marriage is not inherently wrong (Bargas 10). Paul focuses on virgins, widowed, unmarried, and married. In verse 11, there is a description of a woman that leaves the husband and in verse 34 the unmarried woman and virgin and placed in opposition to each other, stating they are in different categories (Bargas 10). Therefore, in 1 Corinthians 7: 10-16, Paul suggests single people stay single and married people live with their mates. Also, he insists that unmarried people can marry believers and it would not be a sin since the family is the holy unit. Lastly, he emphasizes that Christian married to the non-Christian that want to break the marriage would not sin by giving the unbeliever the divorce, But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart: a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases (1 Cor. 7: 15).
Therefore, Paul considers the issue of the breakage of the mixed family of a believer and nonbeliever on the ground of different faith (Sper 15), while Jesus describes only one sufficient reason, which is the sexual immorality. Jesus addresses Jews under the law; thus, he talks about relations between Jews that live in one community, while Paul approaches a different relationship between believers and nonbelievers. Hence, Apostle Paul suggests that it is not a sign for a believer to divorce in the case of the nonbeliever's desire to separate. In such a situation, the divorce is legitimate (Sper 15). God considers the marriage finished. Hence, the believer can remarry (Sper 15). Basing on both analyzed sources, it is possible to assert that according to the New Testament, the two reasons for the divorce were the confrontation in the mixed family and the sexual immorality of spouses.
There is another question that asks whether divorce is forbidden under all other circumstances. In particular, it is critical to understand whether divorce is forbidden when one of the mates suffers abuse and violence in the marriage (Sper 17). The New Testament does not have any specific verse that explains such a case. It was stated that a man should cleave to his wife and become one flesh. Still, men were allowed to divorce because of the hardness of their hearts (Sper 17). One can assume that in such a manner, God strives to protect wives from hard-hearted men (Sper 17). In the case that man does not want a woman to be his wife anymore, he cannot discard her but has to provide her with the divorce certificate. It will provide a woman with the freedom to marry another man (Sper 17). Therefore, divorce is not always wrong. It is always provoked by sin, but it is not the act of disobedience in the case it is approved by God. Paul states that women that gain a divorce because of the sexual immorality of the spouse must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband (1 Corinthians 7:10). Similarly, divorce is not the complete severing of the marriage bond if it is caused by the sexual immorality of one of the spouses or the decision of a nonbeliever to leave a believer (Sper 19). Entering the new marriage despite the possibility of reconciliation means adultery (Sper 19). Once one of the sides makes the remarriage impossible through creating the new union, another side is excused from such obligations and should act as if the previous mate died (Sper 20).
In the New Testament, Jesus emphasizes the permanence and seriousness of the marriage union. He clearly states that God wants people to have good hearts and it is the only reason for His prohibitions. At this point, one should realize that people can follow the rules of God without goodwill to follow these standards and accept them fully. Therefore, divorce and remarriage were present even among people that followed God and authority from legal and grace perspectives. Paul asserts The in God's perfect will in case of marriage and divorce a person has to be reconciled or being unmarried (Assembly Committee for Biblical Doctrine and Polity of the Church of God of Prophecy 10). When Jesus addresses the marriage issue, he strives to encourage people to consider marriage more seriously. Hence, the New Testament neither promotes nor accepts remarriage and divorce; nevertheless, these practices were widely performed by the believers. According to the most popular interpretation of the Scripture, God does not encourage people to divorce, but he gives people few exceptions to save his children from hard hearts.
Overall, remarriage and divorce are highly critical issues since more and more Christians have to deal with the issues nowadays. Believers can find justification for their desire to leave the spouse legitimately in the New Testament. God insists that marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman that has to be protected and respected. However, the positions of Jesus and Apostles regarding divorce and remarriage differ a bit. In particular, when Jesus is asked if it is lawful to divorce a wife, He begins his answer with a review of the marriage origins. In such a manner, he emphasizes some critical points to be considered in this regard. First of all, marriage is the union of a wife and a husband; the covenant makes them one flesh. It is blessed by God and since the Almighty joins them together, they cannot separate anymore. Also, Jesus insists that because of the Jews' hard hearts, divorce can be allowed under extreme conditions. It means that divorce is permitted in some cases because it is a fact of the human depravity that some people will willingly engage in unchastity against a spouse due to the heart hardness and will refuse to return to the wife or husband. Jesus considers the teachings of the Hillel, Shammai, and Moses to explain His perspective. Hence, he provides the divorce exception; thus, immorality is the only legitimate reason in God's eyes. At the same time, Apostle Paul states that in the case the nonbelieving spouse wants to leave, it is critical to the believing spouse to let her or him go. Despite there is no clear approval of the remarriage, in this case, it is considered that the spouse that is abandoned by such spouse is free to remarry. Therefore, even though divorce and remarriage are not accepted, there are some cases, in which it is not a sin. Apostles and Jesus utilized different reasons for their viewpoints. In all other cases, such actions are adultery and disobedience to God's will and divine plan. In the case of remarriage, the situation is similar, and it is allowed only in specific cases. One of such reasons is the death of a spouse. Additionally, it is critical to understand that remarriage is neither commanded nor permitted. In other words, God does not allow divorce and remarriage but requires one to save the union. Nonetheless, under the extreme circumstance, these practices are inevitable and are not sins. Thus, due to such different positions, the church and secular society divided into four groups with a different understanding of divorce and remarriage. Nowadays, there is no single and common approach even among Christians.