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Divorce and Helping Its Survivors

Introduction

I wrote this back in the mid-1980's, when I was challenged by well-meaning, fellow Christians about a relationship I was developing with a 'divorced' woman. They were so convinced that I was out of God's will, that their attacks got vicious. I decided that I needed to hear what God was trying to tell me, and it was this: "Take three days off from work, and read My word, learn My heart." I did.

Three days and quite a few pages of paper from a legal pad (or two) later, I had something in my hands I never expected to have. I had the first rough draft of what you are about to read. Thanks to those Christians, and their commitment to their beliefs, here it is, years later, on the Internet. Also thanks to her. No, we never married. God got us together for other reasons.

You see here what I learned, what I read and what I have come to strongly believe. I have had several ministers give me feedback on this, but more important is the feedback from readers like yourself, and the feedback from God!

Part One: Divorce and Its Survivors

People who have gone through a divorce can often find churches that will preach at them. However, they need to find those that will minister to them.

Often they are made to feel like modern-day lepers, untouchable and unclean, by modern-day religious leaders more into God's judgment than grace, mercy, or compassion; often with a self-righteous tint. These people appear to be more concerned with rules and appearances in this life than with a relationship with God and the appearance before the throne after this life.

Without excusing divorce, and while recognizing it as a sin, I want to concentrate on how God wants us to minister to people who have gone through the emotional, spiritual and material trauma of a divorce.

There are many Christians who love God deeply, who have experienced a divorce, before or after their spiritual birth, and are unsure about what God thinks of them. Some are concerned about what other Christians think about them. Some don't even know what to think about themselves. Before discussing ministry to people who have experienced a divorce, I want to look at divorce itself, to help lay a common foundation from which to continue.

Before doing that, I want to clarify something, especially for those of you that are 'divorced'. GOD LOVES YOU, and says to you what He said to His people when He 'divorced' them from the land He'd given to Jacob:

Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope." (All scripture quoted from the New King James Version.)

Divorce: What is it?

Most people upon hearing "divorce" think of an unfortunate, sometimes tedious, emotionally charged, legal process. I want to show that it may not be only the paperwork that counts.

Let me illustrate: Let's look at a couple that has been married for fifteen years, with a 13 year old son and an 11 year old daughter. On the surface, they have everything, including active church membership. Yet, their private life (and their sex life) is so bad, they have given up on being a team. However, they choose to stay together until the children finish high school. For 5 years they live together without love, enthusiasm or compassion toward each other. They may even get separate beds. The day their daughter graduates from high school, they file divorce papers.

Notice the decisions the parents made.

They chose to paint a picture of a happy marriage where no such marriage existed. They took the easier way and chose to live a lie. I'm not saying it was painless for them, it wasn't. They stopped working at the marriage, and refused to admit to anyone that they had quit. They may have fooled virtually everybody at a distance, but not their children.

Those children may picture what they saw in their teen years (emotional emptiness, neutrality, mechanical role filling) as a typical 'Christian' marriage. When comparing that to the image of a secular marriage (excitement, lifestyle, materialism, drugs, parties), it is easy to see why so many walk away from the faith and choose pagan lifestyles. They may become emotionally empty (little real love at home between the parents) and look for alternate ways to find fulfillment and 'love'. Drugs, sex, thrills, alcohol, etc., all offer a temporary ecstasy, a poor substitute for 'joy'. They didn't see 'joy' at their Christian home, they don't know what it is.

Death Certificate

I believe that a divorce agreement or a divorce certificate is, in some ways, similar to a death certificate. A doctor signs the death certificate, but doesn't kill anyone! The law requires a doctor's signature as an expert witness whose testimony is proof that the person is dead. Doctors are experts on life and death, so their word is final. Once signed, the death certificate is legal proof that the person is dead. In reality, the person may have died hours, days or weeks before!

Further, let's look at a situation where there is no body for a doctor to examine and declare legally dead. Some of our POW's and MIA's have long ago died, but there are no expert witnesses to close the case. Insurance companies, health firms, families and many others desire to close the door on the past in these cases. Un-closed death cases are an awful emotional drain on the survivors.

Let's further compare the death certificate to a divorce certificate. Both represent a death; one of an individual, the other of a mutual commitment. You may believe, that marriage is a mutual agreement. I believe that's true, but agreement to what? Safe sex? Children? Combining Incomes? Social status?

I believe that marriage is much more than an agreement, contract, or certificate. It is a commitment to each other and (for some) to God.

Before we compare our certificates, let's go over what a marriage is, so we can better understand what it is that died in the divorce.

Marriage: What is it?

The man commits (at least to his bride, and for some, to God) that he will take on (what God has ordained as) the role of the husband. Hopefully, the couple agrees as to what this means, and it can mean different things in different cultures.

The woman commits that she will take on (what God has ordained as) the role of the wife. Again, hopefully they have agreed to what this is between themselves. The better their mutual understanding of what they expect of each other, the better the odds that they will enjoy the union.

They also commit to (God and) each other, that if blessed with children they will take on (what God has ordained as) their role as parents. Here, because other lives are involved, they do best to take these roles not just from discussion with each other, but from their society as well. They are raising the future!

Some say that there really is a conspiracy in our country. There really is a group that is planning on taking over our government at the state, local and federal levels. They plan to take over the school systems, the local businesses. They plan to take over the court system, the health care system and the military. They plan to take over our communities. Even more amazing is that we are willing, no, more than that, we are eager to let them do this. Who are they? Our youth, the next generation.

They also are committing, to their children (usually not yet born) that they will do everything possible to prepare their children for adulthood. Wild animals, by instinct, do what their young need to be prepared for adulthood. Humans would do well to take the same task on voluntarily, and responsibly.

Hopefully, they also both admit that neither of them is 'perfect for the job'. Neither can do their share very well without help, and they hope and promise to be some of the help for each other. Also, I hope they realize that a whole bunch of in-laws comes in this package deal, and find a way to handle that as well. While we try to 'leave mother and father' and 'cleave to each other', it is not always easy for both to do it together.

They DO NOT necessarily commit to a church, even though the ceremony very often takes place in a church. They commit to God and each other with a church as a possible witness. If they are not committing to God, because they do not believe in God, then they are committing to each other. Hopefully, someone in the church is an expert witness on relationships, and is an expert witness to the marriage certificate.

I didn't use the words 'marriage license' because governments give out licenses as legal permission to engage in an activity. (Doctor's license, hunting license, fishing license, business license, driver's license, etc.) Since I am addressing the issue between the husband and wife in this article, I stay away from what the government thinks about all this.

Death of a Marriage

I consider divorce as the 'actual', not the 'legal' death of a marriage commitment. As the authorities estimate when a victim died, and of what causes, we look back at a dead marriage commitment and estimate why and how it died. I am not looking for who killed it, but that no matter what, dead is dead.

Adoption is an example of the 'legal' and the 'real' being different. The real parents, are not available to fulfill their God-ordained roles, and someone else takes on their roles. Both sets of parents may be loving, and have an important, positive effect on the child. I am stating that the LEGAL and the REAL are DIFFERENT. So, when did the death occur?

That is a difficult question, but my point is not how or when, but it does happen. I do not propose to set down a list of 'should's', 'shouldn't's', don'ts, and do's to help someone blame someone for a divorce. Nor to figure out why a divorce happened. Nor am I here to condemn anyone for what happened. We are here to face the reality of divorce in the church. (Those unwilling to take a loving look at divorced people may need to look at my definition of a Pharisee in the opening paragraph. I hope their heart will open easier than Pharaoh's was.) We are here to minister to those that have experienced the trauma of a divorce, and to propose what I believe is God's view.

Let's look at the way the medical community looks at treating a patient: with 2 different viewpoints: BEFORE & AFTER.

Before the patient dies:

  • Maintain life at all costs
  • Teach the living to respect & prolong life
  • Teach higher quality, healthy living
  • Use expertise to extend life
  • Use expertise to remove/reduce sickness/disease
  • Study to become better at all the above

After the patient dies:

  • Accept the loss, deal with it
  • Go on with life
  • Study the death, to learn from it for the sake of the still living
  • Bury the dead. Don't hate them, nor live with them. Live with the living!
  • Don't deny the death or try to hide it, accept it.
  • Do an autopsy as needed to help those still alive from suffering the same way.

I am not writing this for married couples going through difficult stages. There are many excellent articles and books on that on the market. This is not one of them. I believe those who are married are better off treating their marriage commitment as a living being and fighting for its life.

I write this to help those who have gone through a divorce get back into a relationship with God AND a church by understanding what happened. Also, to help the church accept and minister to those who have gone through a divorce by understanding what happened and God's view;

A divorce occurs when the marriage dies, NOT upon signing the divorce certificate. Just as a death certificate is merely a witness to a death, so is a divorce certificate!

The signing of the certificate merely states that THE DEATH HAS ALREADY OCCURRED. Again, for those going through a divorce, I am not condoning what you are doing. Even if your relationship has died, God can resurrect the dead. Don't seek fulfillment anywhere else other than where God has provided it for you. If you don't believe God will resurrect the dead marriage, confess the sin publicly, as you made your vows. Very few people have actually died at the time of their death certificate, a large majority die some time before it. The certificate states that 'as of the time of this certificate' there is death. So it is with a divorce certificate.

How Does God Feel About It

In the Book of Malachi, God speaks to people that have strayed from the path He had chosen for them. Their hearts had grown cold toward Him (and each other). In Chapter 2, verses 14-16, He says to them:

"Because the LORD has been witness Between you and the wife of your youth,
With whom you have dealt treacherously;
Yet, she is your companion And your wife by covenant.
But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit?
And why one? He seeks godly offspring.
Therefore take heed to your spirit,
And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.
For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce..."

Well, that's clear enough. God hates divorce.

Yet, you can find in scripture where God divorced Israel! (Jeremiah 3:6-8)

And Jehovah saith unto me, in the days of Josiah the king, ‘Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? She is going on every high mountain, and unto the place of every green tree, and committeth fornication there. And I say, after her doing all these, Unto Me thou dost turn back, and she hath not turned back, and see it doth her treacherous sister Judah. And I see when (for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery) I have sent her away, and I give the bill of her divorce unto her, that treacherous Judah her sister hath not feared, and goeth and committeth fornication—she also.

Well, if Divorce is always a sin, and God divorced Israel, then God sinned! Well, maybe then Divorce is not always a sin, and that there are at times, legitimate grounds for divorce. Just as killing someone is not always murder, divorcing someone is not always a sin. I do not take killing or divorce lightly, however note that they are often treated in the worst possible way.

However, there are always consequences, though they will vary from one divorce to another.

Children suffer tremendously from divorce, and if you want to debate that, note how most of your logic focuses on the needs of the adults, not on the needs of the children.

Unfortunately, many believe God hates 'legal' divorce, not actual. Even more unfortunate is that some believe that God hates divorced people. THAT'S NOT TRUE! To some people divorce represents failure. They believe that allowing divorced people into their fellowship is to allow failures into their fellowship, making them a failure by association. Even if this is true, I believe Jesus wants us to minister to the down-trodden.

I agree that 'real' divorce, the killing of the commitment made earlier, is a sin. I also agree that a person who has gone through a divorce has not had their marital dreams and wedding vows fulfilled. However, to brand them as a failure is not God's plan! Mistakes and great pain do not make us failures! They show that we are merely human. Sin doesn't make us failures! It reminds us of our need for redemption! Besides, we're all sinners and failures - we all fall short of God's moral guidelines. So why pick on people who have been through a divorce? Is it because we feel safe picking on those whose sins are obvious? If we are not loving toward divorced people, how can we say we are loving toward Jesus? How can we claim to love God yet we hate divorcee's?

Let's look at what Jesus did. He ministered to the lame, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners in general. He spent time with the less loved of society. Does that make Jesus a failure? One could continue along this thought process, pointing out that Jesus is a failure. After all, one of His personal disciples betrayed Him. Executed as a common criminal by His own people. A large majority of people that heard of Him chose to ignore or despise Him. His hometown rejected Him. His family was embarrassed by His behavior and wanted Him to come home. He was frequently misunderstood by all around Him. All but one of His closest friends died a violent death, and that one lived in exile!

No. To view Jesus as a failure is to ignore reality. No other leader in world history has as many dedicated followers so many years after His death. Say what you want about Jesus of Nazareth, but then ponder that an uneducated carpenter has over a billion followers across multiple cultures two thousand years after His execution!

"Confess your sins one to another!

If 'real' divorce is the sin of divorce, then is 'legal' divorce the public confession of that sin?

Let's think about that. After all, we are to confess our sins to each other. Once a 'real' divorce has occurred (the commitment has died), the next step may well be confessing it to each other, to God and to the church. After all, it is difficult to cope with what you deny exists! Again, the admission that it happened, and repentance combine to open the door for change. I do not believe that God heals the dead, I believe God heals the wounded. I also believe that God resurrects the dead, but not the wounded.

Addiction counselors will tell you that they are unable to help someone that denies their addiction. Once an addict (drugs, alcohol, tobacco, food, sex, TV, etc) internally admits to themselves their addiction, they can work out of it. That's one of the reasons God stresses so often that we are sinners. Once we recognize, admit, and face our sin, our addiction can be worked on. Those that hide their divorce from the world, are not 'confessing their sins'. They hurt themselves because they try hide from reality. However, reality does not hide from them, and they have consequences to deal with.

Those of you who have been through both a real divorce and a legal one, I salute your courage in confessing. You've been through a lot of pain, and know that Jesus knows exactly how you feel, He was cut off from the One who loved Him most while He was on the cross. He knows heartache. Many people lack the strength to do what you've done. God was there when the 'real' divorce occurred, pulling for you to handle it in the best way possible. For some of you, He provided a resurrection, for others He did not. Don't take it personally, just remember that He didn't heal all lepers, cripples and blind people, just some. We don't know why, but we trust His judgement.

Another illustration:

I was an F-14 Tomcat radar intercept officer, and one of my jobs in the plane was navigation: knowing where we were, and were our field was. That's not too hard when you fly from an airport that doesn't move. Doing it from an aircraft carrier, in the middle of the ocean, was a bit tougher. Imagine that the only place you could land is the field from which you launched. All the terrain outside your window looks the same, with no distinguishing features. Your airport moves at or about 20-35 miles per hour. So, after you've used most of your fuel, and have about 25 minutes of it left, tell me, where is it? We were trained, upon realizing that we didn't know where we were, to:

"CLIMB, CONFESS, and COMMUNICATE."

CLIMB in altitude, to be easier to spot on land and ship-based radar and to stretch your fuel. This also extends your view of the world around you, you can see further and can be seen from further. (Jet engines get better mileage at higher altitudes, also.)

CONFESS to yourself and to anyone on the radio that you are lost. Humility can be a life saver!

COMMUNICATE on the radio so someone with the proper equipment could find you and help you with directions. Don't try to do it alone. There are many fliers on the bottom of the ocean that were never found.

An interesting sideline, is that whenever this occurred during the Cold War near a Soviet ship, they often tried to deceive us. Pretending to be someone aboard our carrier and giving us false directions. Pretending to help us, they were doing their best to have us run out of fuel and crash. That parallels what Satan does to us, whenever sin has gotten a hold. Posing as an angel of light, He tries to tell us what to do. Pretending he's there for us, when he's out to destroy us. Remember what the demons did to the herd of pigs they entered!

Some thought that the key was never getting lost! Though that would have been preferred, it is unrealistic and impossible. Sooner of later, someone would need help getting home. The professional response was to do whatever one needed to do to. To endure the humiliation and embarrassment others would greet you with, so that life could continue! To swallow pride, to accept help (to qualify false offers of it, also), to live on! How do I know this so surely? I got lost. I also knew how to find myself again.

I also know because I had the honor and priviledge of saving the crew of another airplane when that plane was lost. The pilot did things by the book, and because he was open and honest and trusted me (he knew me already, we were friends) and because I was able to find his plane, we were able to get them going in the right direction, saving both the crew and the airplane.

The best navigators were not those that would never get lost, but those that, once lost, could regain their bearings and once again function.

Sound familiar? I believe that God wants us to do the same with all of our sins once we are ready to deal with them! God doesn't expect us to be perfect and error-free, God wants us to recover from our sins! Here's one way to do just that:

  1. CLIMB: Raise our vision from the sin to the higher altitude of our walk with God. See it, and us, from His viewpoint, not other's. Stop looking at why it is a 'fun' sin, or what it appears to offer. Look at if from God's point of view and see how it makes life worse for you and people around you.
  2. CONFESS: End denial. Stop hiding from yourself and your behaviors. Lying to yourself may have short-term benefits, but in the long run, you are going down a dead-end street. Admit the sin to yourself, then to someone else that really is willing, and able, to help you. They may be a friend, they may be a professional.
  3. COMMUNICATE: By talking it out, with yourself, with God and with a mature Christian, you can do what's best to do to continue with life and your walk with God. What really counts is your walk with God, that's most important. Oh, while you are at it, you need to CO-OPERATE with those that are helping you.

That goes for all sin. Some believe they will never sin again, because they are now perfect. Note that Paul admitted he never reached perfection on earth. Since we humans are not perfect we are going to sin, and sin again. It is important that we learn how to deal with sin in a constructive manner. God wants us to learn to cope with our sins, past, present and future. Christ died for all of those sins. Let's build our lives on the foundation He laid down, which is higher than our sins.

He didn't commend the "pure in behavior," He commended the "pure in heart" and the "pure in spirit."

How Serious is Divorce?

Similar in affect to adultery, it affects both the sinner and others. Despite what some may say, it strongly affects any children that the marriage may have produced. (Look at the high teenage suicide rate, is it related to the high legal divorce rate, and even higher real divorce rate?) It's after-effects, partly because of society's attitudes, last a long time, and may hinder future relationships.

If someone is considering legally divorcing their spouse, because apparently all other options have failed, I would ask them to consider the following:

  • What most people do is not what God wants us to do.
  • The simple way out may not be the Holy Way out.
  • What is simple now, may carry pain for years or decades.
  • God can resurrect the dead.
  • Pray. Remember how Christ prayed when faced with the cross? When it was no longer off in the distant future, but was now ON THE NEXT DAY? After telling others He was having a tough time and admitting what He wanted, He said those powerful words:

Luke 22:42b "...not My will, but Yours, be done."

Divorce, real and legal, is not to be taken lightly.

Now, let's look at some other parts of scripture to get a more complete picture of what divorce is and how God feels about its victims:

Only one of the Ten Commandments has an 'or else' tacked onto it.

Exodus 20:7 "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain."

There is an unforgivable sin, and I am convinced it is not divorce. Jesus talks of the unforgivable sin of 'quenching the Spirit'. While we can have a long and lively discussion of what that may mean, that's not our subject here. For more on what it is, go to my article on "Unforgiveable Sin".

I believe that we can agree that whatever it is, it is not a reference to divorce.

Some believe the third commandment refers to words we say when hurt or angry. That commandment has nothing to do with what we say, it refers to us calling ourselves 'Christians' without doing what Christ would. Nor does it deal with divorce. Divorce did not make it into the 'top ten' of God's list at all. For more what the third commandment really means, go to my article on "The Third Commandment".

Divorce is a forgivable sin, and God forgives!

However, one of the challenges in dealing with this sin is visibility. Many other sins are private, and are between you and God, but not this one, especially if new lives have come out of this commitment.

Also, well-meaning people can unintentionally bruise the emotions of others. For example, an excellent sermon on the seriousness, beauty and joy of the marital commitment (primarily addressed to the already married, or soon to marry) may rightfully condemn 'legal' divorce. However the audience often includes a 'legal' divorce survivor with emotional and spiritual needs that the sermon doesn't address, as well as someone who has survived a 'real' divorce but hasn't had a 'legal' one yet, and is now more confused.

In his letter to the twelve tribes, scattered abroad, James wrote:

James 1:27 "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."

He talks about ministry to those that have lost their family's spiritual leader by death. Those who lost their spiritual leader by means other than death have spiritual and emotional needs that are very similar. The church can lovingly meet those needs, and be in line with this scripture.

What about Paul's words?

Philippians 2:13 "Forgetting those things that ...

Do they apply to every sinner except those who have been through a divorce? That view is inconsistent with the rest of the Bible, and probably inaccurate.

I also read (in 2 Samuel 11) how David, while King of Israel, sinned.

  • Instead of fulfilling responsibility, stayed home during a campaign.
  • While married, lusted for another man's wife
  • Acted upon that lust while her husband was out of town working for David.
  • When told she was pregnant, tried to cover up his paternity by calling her husband back into town (so he'd have a chance to sleep with her, and then believe the child was his).
  • When that failed, got him drunk, hoping that would work.
  • When that failed, sent him off, carrying his 'contract' to be murdered.
  • Waited a month after the murder, (to be 'proper') then married Bathsheba.

If we were to list all the men that God said are men after God's own heart, the only man on that list is ... the same David, King of Israel (Acts 13:22; 1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Kings 11:4b; 1 Kings 15:3b). Maybe, just maybe, David wasn't after God's own heart 100% of the time. (1 King 15:5b)

How did God react to David's sins listed above? (2 Samuel 12)

  • He faced David through the prophet Nathan.
  • After David repented He told David the child would die.
  • The child died, as God promised, despite David's pleading.
  • David never has a quality relationship with any of his sons.

Remember that though there is a forgiveness of sins, there are also consequences. I am not saying the since David did it, we can. I am saying look at God's response and get a glimpse of God's character. Then decide if God would want us to respond the same way.

Notice however, that God didn't ...

  • Prevent David from ever touching a woman again
  • Prevent David from ever having children again.

In fact, God ...

  • Let David stay king and rule for another 20 years!
  • Let David and Bathsheba have another son, born not long afterward.
  • This Solomon, became his heir and one of history's most legendary kings.

God not only gave David a second chance, He blessed that second chance! God also allowed the consequences of David’s actions to fall.

While David had many wonderful successes in his life, there are few documented successes in his role as a father with his sons. They rebelled against him, and maybe they did it paralleling the way David rebelled against God.

I am not saying that we should use God's forgiveness to get away with sin. There will be consequences. Honest repentance of a PAST sin, frees you to live life fully. God erases the slate, though not instantaneously. Some people carry severe emotional scars for years, others for months. The harder it is to forgive (themselves, their ex-spouse, their children, their God, etc), the longer the healing will take. Pent-up hatred and bitterness, both from within and from others, slows the work of love.

Is Re-marriage an Option?

I believe that one of the worst things a divorced person can do is to go out and almost immediately date and/or remarry. They try to fill a hole that one person left in their lives with another person. That puts undue pressure on the second person, and may interfere with God preparing and healing the individual before the next relationship. (Yes, there are exceptions, but why push it?) There are those who use scripture to claim unshakable positions on re-marriage. They believe the "one strike and you're out" theory applies to marriage. They give more weight to the Law than to Mercy. Jonah stated (Jonah 4:2b) that God was a gracious and merciful God, way back then! Let's raise some other interesting questions, such as:

  • What sins fall under the group of 'one strike and you're out'? Which ones take two strikes? Three? Or even seventy times seven?
  • Does God ever bless a sinner after they've sinned? This was already answered above, wasn't it?
  • Can a promiscuous person marry? How much promiscuity is too much to allow the person to marry?
  • If a never-married, sexually active person can get married, receiving God's and the church's blessing, why can't an always monogamous, previously married person marry?
  • Read number four above again, slower.
  • Which heart is harder; the heart that sins, or the heart that refuses to forgive another's sin?

"But the Bible says ..."

Many have used the Bible to support a different view from the one I believe to be God's viewpoint. You may have heard them, or you may be one of them. It is easy to quote verses that don't appear to support what I've said. It is easy to find apparently opposing ones. I commend people for their desire to know God's will, and their diligent search and study of translations of what He has said.

Scripture NEVER contradicts itself.

Whenever we find apparent contradictions, it is our interpretation or translation of what God said that is wrong, not what He actually said or meant for us to hear. For those of you who went through a divorce, (and those of you who want to know what God desires) let's address those verses. First, let's remember a few things about God:

  • God is Love,
  • God is consistent, and never contradicts Himself.
  • God wants a more personal relationship than He already has with each and every one of us. For more on this, see my article section of articles on "God's Voice".

If we think that the Bible contradictions itself, we don't fully understand what God means! As humans, it is difficult for the mind of man to comprehend the will of God. You and I both want to do the best we can.

The Bible was written to ...

  • guide the Jewish people in their culture and as a nation,
  • guide us toward a closer, more intimate relationship with God,
  • let us know that we have eternal life,
  • inform us that our joy may be filled,
  • reveal God's desire for us as individuals and as humanity,
  • reveal God's character,
  • teach us how to be holy, and most of all
  • help us learn to glorify God.

Let's keep those reasons in mind, and pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance on the real meaning of these verses.

Let's also realize something about scripture: Whatever version you are reading, it is a translation of the original. We then try to translate that 'translation' into our lives, sometimes forgetting that something may have been lost in the translation from the original language and culture. Those of you who understand translation, know that to literally translate something is good, however, you often lose the original meaning. It is a very good way to translate the Bible, because so many people read it, and read it often. That does not mean our translations are in error. It means that the readers would better understand what is written if someone with the ability to translate assists them. Remember the Eunuch from Ethiopia in the book of Acts. Though sincere, without help he couldn't understand the scripture!

For example, you may translate a husband's words to his wife as either:

"You are a little kitten." or "You are a little cat!"

The words are almost the same, certainly they would translate the same way literally, yet one meaning can be opposite the other. In current American culture, the phrases have opposite meanings: one phrase is very tender and positive, while the other phrase is angry and negative. One would have to look at the rest of what the husband said, to get a picture of his mood, whether angry or intimate. The punctuation would also help, but ancient Hebrew had no punctuation! For that matter, it didn’t have vowels, or spaces between the words, either!

Let me write something in the same way that Ancient Hebrew was written, and then you try to figure it out, okay?

Ltmwrtsmthngnthsmwythtncnthbrwwswrttnndthnytrtfgrttky?

Some of you will realize that all I did was repeat the above sentence!

Remember that idioms, or sayings, rarely translate their meaning very well if translated word for word.

For example, imagine the frustration you would have, if you tried to translate verbatim the following common American phrases, if you didn't know what they meant:

  1. "We played bridge, and had a blast."
  2. "He ran through them like a hot knife through butter."
  3. "He was watching the boob tube."
  4. "He was a gay fellow."

For those of you that don't know, in America a boob tube is a television, while in England it is a woman's sweater. So sometimes, we need to know the cultural origin of the speaker, not just the language! Also, to complicate things even more, go back to number 4 above. In order to understand the statement, you must know when it was said. If said in 1900 A.D., it meant he was a happy man. If said in 2000 A.D. it meant he is homosexual. So we also need to know the time frame and more importantly, know what the word meant to the listeners when it was said.

In all the above, if they were in a story, one may be able to read the rest of the paragraph to find the real meaning before translating. Even then you'd probably have to add a few words to improve the translation.

My point is this, it is very easy to misunderstand what a speaker or writer was originally saying to their audience when you read a translation of the speech, especially across cultural lines. It is not enough to know the words to get their original meaning, it takes knowledge of the cultural norms, the idioms and more.

For example, I have carried out conversations in several languages, so I learned something about the words that I didn't learn in the classroom. Unfortunately, many biblical scholars that claim to 'know' Hebrew and Greek have never carried a conversation in that language with someone outside the classroom. (To be fair, it is hard to find someone that was raised speaking ancient Hebrew or ancient Greek, so let's not be too hard on them.) So they have what I call 'head knowledge' of a language, without having 'heart knowledge'.

Scriptural References

Here's some of the first one that come to mind.

  • 1 Timothy 1:5
  • Matthew 12:1-8
  • Matthew 12:9-14
  • Matthew 15:1-10
  • Matthew 15:29-30

One thing these scriptures all state is that ministry is more important than tradition. We've forgotten this over the years as we take our traditions to foreign countries, and call it evangelism. Its good to bring the gospel to them, but it is not good to mix in our traditions and claim them as God's.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Moses' divorce laws.

Moses is taking up women's rights long before it became an issue of the 1970's in America. Remember that in ancient Hebrew society, only men had rights. Legal rights, economic rights, etc. That's one of the reasons the Old Testament refers to men in a way that some would call 'sexist language'. Women were due their rights but only through the man in their life. Daughters expected their fathers to take care of them until they married, then their husband would be responsible for caring for them. If a father did not take care of his daughter, he was chastised. If a husband did not take care of his wife, likewise.

If the husband died, the wife would go either to the husband's father, or back to her own. If her husband had a brother, she would go to him for legal protection, first. In fact, it was that brothers duty to provide heirs for the dead man through the wife if none existed! Then on to the next nearest male relative. Women were cared for in this manner. This system apparently worked until some men found a way around it, a 'loop-hole'. They were 'putting-away' their wives by giving them a hut on the corner of their property, but not allowing them into the main house. They did not divorce the woman, thus not allowing any other man to represent the woman in court or society. Then these men would take a second wife, a 'sweet young thing' as they got older. They forced their first wives to make do on their own, without legal rights or source of income or any hope.

Since these women's legal representative was the very man that was abusing them, they couldn't sue, nor get jobs, nor go to social services. They often turned to prostitution, or were at the least accused of it. They were truly trapped unless they were 'freed by a divorce'.

To prevent this, Moses allowed them to divorce the women, (because of the "hardness of their hearts", remember?) so the women would be set free. Free to either return to their father's household, or to remarry again. To not facilitate week-end wife swapping, Moses told them that the wife couldn't come back to her original husband. So now when a man divorced his wife, he could not take her back. Which means if she had any potential at all, he should think twice, or a million times, before divorcing her! Moses made divorce a very serious decision, not a convenient loophole around God's plan for marriage: "One man; one woman; one life-time."

  • Matthew 5:31-32 Jesus teaches Deuteronomy 24:1-4 to (married?) men.
  • Luke 16:18
  • Matthew 19:1-12 Jesus answers Pharisees question on divorce
  • Mark 10:1-12
  • Luke 11:39-52 Jesus scolds religious leaders & lawyers
  • Malachi 2:14-16 God hates divorce
  • John 8:1-11 Jesus' reaction to woman caught in adultery

Note how in the Old Testament, stoning was the legal reaction to adultery. Jesus didn't choose that option. For those that believe that the only divorce allowed is in the case of adultery, I applaud you for not demanding stoning for the adultery. God's people were raised with belief in the death penalty for adultery. It was practical, because it freed the cheated person to remarry. Divorce is more merciful. It frees the cheated person to remarry without condemning the guilty one to death. It gives them another chance to live, to repent, to confess, and to continue. How like Jesus to offer so much to someone who deserves so little!

  • Ephesians 4:28 How to treat a reformed thief
  • 1 Corinth 8:1 Knowledge puffs up, love builds up
  • 1 Timothy 5:1-16 Rules for ministry to widows
  • Colossians 3:18-19 Guidelines for marital relationships.
  • Ephesians 5:21-33.
  • James 1:27 Pure religion is ...

Note again that widows and orphans are people that had a spiritual leader, and have lost him. Divorced women were in the same category, in that they also lost their man, but not to the death of his body, but to the death of his commitment to them!

  • Colossians 2:20-23 List of "don'ts" doesn't work.
  • Leviticus 21:7,13-15 Priests forbidden to marry divorcees.

Yes, the priests were forbidden to marry divorcees. Do you see the other side of the coin? Men who were not priests, were free to marry divorcees, weren't they?!

  • Jeremiah 3:8 God divorces Israel! (Yes He did, go read that again!)
  • Isaiah 50:1
  • Ezra 10 Men forced to divorce heathen wives!
  • 1 Timothy 4:1-3 Beware men who forbid marriage!
  • 1 Corinth 7 Paul on Relationships
    • 1 Corinth 7:1-7 Guidelines for all marriages.
    • 1 Corinth 7:8,9 Guidelines for divorced & widows

    "But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion."

    Let's look closely at the actual Greek word that is translated 'unmarried', and see what it means. 'AGAMOS', comes from two other words; 'A' and 'GAMOS'. 'A' is a negative prefix, similar to 'un-' in English. 'GAMOS' is the Greek word for 'wedding'. Literally then, 'AGAMOS' is ... 'un-wedded' (used as an adjective) or an 'un-wedding' (as a noun). Note that the Greek word for a never-married woman is not used until later in the same chapter, as shown below.

    Therefore, a person addressed as 'AGAMOS', may be someone that is un-wedded, or, to use another term ... divorced. Therefore, it is possible, that in this part of scripture, we have been using the wrong word! Since both widows and divorced women have lost their spiritual leader, it makes sense to offer them both the same advice. It is unfortunate that many people have taken this passage, which was always intended as guidance for a divorced person, and missed it altogether.

    • 1 Corinth 7:10,11 Guidelines for those married to believers

    I believe this part of scripture addresses believers married to believers because of the way the following section reads.

    • 1 Corinth 7:12-16 Guidelines for those married to non-believers

    Most of the Christians in Paul's time became Christians as adults, since they were older than Christianity! Many may have become Christians after they married. Hopefully they changed, and were no longer the same person that their spouse married. Paul is telling people here that if you have become a believer, whether or not you stay married is up to your spouse. If they complain you're not the person they married, and rather than follow you in conversion they want out, leave them in peace. If they don't mind the improvements in your character and life, and they want to keep you around, then you are to stay with them.

    So much for those people that say that adultery is the only scriptural basis for divorce! Notice that YOUR conversion, allows your spouse to divorce you. Hmm, no adultery here, yet God says divorce is an option in this situation!
    • 1 Corinth 7:17-24 General Guidelines
    • 1 Corinth 7:25-38 Guidelines for the never yet married

    The word translated 'virgin' is the Greek word 'PARTHENOS', which means 'maiden' or 'virgin'. It describes a never-married young woman. Some have taken this to mean physically virgin, yet it was also used to mean socially virgin. This was a practice common to both Greek and Hebrew.

    Isaiah reads, "and the young woman will be with child", and is quoted in the New Testament as "and the virgin will be with child".

    There is no contradiction nor conflict here. Those words always meant the same, and only recently, in the last few hundred years, have we started to make their meanings different.

    The next page is my view of what God may have meant when Paul wrote. It is not a word-for-word translation, but I have learned that if you translate something word for word, you lose meaning. I have high respect for anyone that does translation work.

    English is not my first tongue, Ukrainian is. I have formally studied English, Latin, German, Ukrainian and Russian. I have informally studied some Greek and Spanish. I have carried out conversations in English, German, Spanish, Ukrainian, Russian and have been spoken to in Portuguese, Italian, French, Greek, Hebrew along with a few others that I was completely unable to understand.

    Again, what is next is mine, therefore it is not perfect. I hope that you will treat it like a grocery store. (More like a supermarket, read that article!) Take what you need, and ignore the rest. I have never condemned a store for carrying anchovies, and I have never bought them, either. The anchovies are there for other people, and so are the parts next that are not for you.

    PAUL ON MARRIAGE
    From His Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter Seven

    (Taken from the APSV - an unpublished paraphrase of the entire New Testament)

    1 “Concerning your questions on marriage, divorce and remarriage:

    “ON MARITAL RESPONSIBILITY: Its good if you can refrain from sex, but because sexual immorality is so prevalent, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. I strongly recommend that they fulfill their marital duty to each other. Their bodies don't belong to themselves, but to each other. Do not deprive each other except by consent for a time, so you may focus on fasting and prayer. Then come together again so Satan won't tempt you because of your lack of self-control. This is a concession, not a commandment. I wish everyone was like me, but each person has his or her own unique gift from God.

    “TO THOSE WHO THINK ABOUT CHANGING MARITAL STATUS:

    8 “TO THE (FORMERLY MARRIED) DIVORCED AND WIDOWED: It is good for them to stay what they are, as I, Paul, have chosen to. If they have difficulty with self-control, let them marry, because its better to marry than to burn with passion.

    10 “FOR THOSE MARRIED TO BELIEVERS, THE LORD GIVES THIS COMMAND: It is a sin for them to end their commitment to their Christian spouse. They are not free to leave and marry another. Stay in the relationship you are in. Stop thinking that the grass is greener on the other side of the hill. If the wife is planning to leave, let her know that the two best options are to stay divorced, or come back to her husband. Husbands, always be committed to your wives.

    12 “TO THOSE MARRIED TO NON-BELIEVERS: If a Christian man has a wife who is willing to live with him, he is not free to leave her. Vice-versa also: If a Christian woman has a husband who is willing to live with her, she is not free to leave him. In both of those cases, the unbelieving partner is sanctified through the believer. Otherwise your children would be hindered in their development and growth, but as it is, they are in the best position for them.

    15 “However, if the unbelieving partner wants to leave, let them go. A Christian is not bound in that case; God has called us to live in peace. You are free to remarry, since they have chosen to end it. (Don't stone them, just divorce them.) You can't guarantee that you'll save your spouse!

    17 “TO EVERYONE: Don't marry to change your social status, everyone should keep the place in life that the Lord assigned to them and to which God has called them. If you were Jewish, don't become something else. If you weren't Jewish, don't become Jewish. Where and how you worship is not as important as keeping God's commandments and your relationship with God. Bloom where God planted you. If you were a worker when called, don't let it trouble you. Though if you can gain your freedom, do so. Whoever was a worker when called by the Lord, is free for the Lord. The free, when called, are workers for the Lord. You were bought at a price; do not become enslaved by men. Each of us is responsible to God, and should accept our own background and the situation we were in when God called us.

    25 “NOW, TO THE NEVER MARRIED: All I, Paul have to offer is my advice: remain as you are. (If married, don't seek a divorce; if single don't concentrate on looking for a mate.) However if you do marry, that's okay. Those that marry will face many troubles in this life, and you can be spared them. Its best to be free from concern. A single person has God first in their life; they want to please God. A married man wants to please his wife. The same goes for women. This is not a restriction, but a warning, that undivided devotion to the Lord is best. I don't say this to limit you, but to increase your joy and happiness.

    36 through 38 (I admit I don't understand very well, but don't need it here. If you have good ideas about it, please .)

    39 “Remember that a Christian is bound to their spouse as long as they live. If the spouse dies, (remember that what the Old Testament granted stoning for, the New Testament grants a divorce for, so they are included here) they are free to marry anyone they wish, if they know God is calling them to marry. (However, in Paul's opinion, they might stay happier without remarrying, and he is often right.)”

    I hope that this has been a blessing to you and yours, and that you grow closer to the Lord as a result.
    Andrey