Archive for May 2018

They Stumble But Do Not Fall

by Chris White
2018-05-27 Romans 11:1-15
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Published on May 27, 2018 at 4:32 pm |

May A Christian Victim Of Abuse Divorce Without Wearing the Scarlet "D"?

[Editor's note:This article was written before the news about Paige Patterson's removal. It is not a specific response...but it is specifically relevant]


For many months I have pored over the writings of some friends and strangers alike who have shared their hearts, disclosing the perilous situations they found themselves in when trying to follow what they were told was the Bible’s teaching on divorce. Namely, this would be “no divorce,” or, divorce only for adultery or desertion.  Furthermore, desertion would be defined as the actual walking out and abandoning the marriage and household without legal finality.

Romans 10 says that some people have a zeal for God, but they lack knowledge. I have been wondering if some of the teachings I have received on this topic were based on tradition and insular teaching rather than knowledge and understanding.

Most of what I recall about teaching on divorce revolved around the selection of certain verses or passages, which addressed this issue, but gave little historical background to contextualize it and rarely presented a comprehensive view of God’s intention when instituting regulations for it.  

When I set out to study one of the “go to” verses, Malachi 2:16, I discovered that there was difficulty with translation and disagreement about the subject of the verb. For example, the KJV and NASB have made God the subject, the one who is hating. The ESV and the NIV think the one who hates is the man who puts away his wife.  And I couldn’t find the Hebrew word, “divorce” in this verse. Rather, it was as the KJV translates it, “putting away,” which is a different word than that used for divorcement, or the cutting of the matrimonial bond. Also, there are about four different views about the meaning of the word garment. However, the word, “violence,” or “injury,” in the Hebrew, speaks especially to the ill-treatment of a wife. That seemed to be clear.

The specific historical context in this passage in Malachi is that the Israelite men were “putting away” their first wives, those of the house of Israel, and taking pagan women to wife who would inevitably lead them away from the true God and into idolatry.  

These men wanted to be free of their wives, and they may have been taking their frustration with their situation out through physical violence, and most assuredly, verbal and emotional abuse. One cannot despise another person without it showing in our actions and words. At the very least, by turning away and withdrawing from their wives and their responsibility to them, they were placing their wives in a precarious situation as far as housing and provision in the male-dominated, patriarchal society in which they lived.

Whichever definition is correct for the different words in the Malachi passage, it is apparent that God was not only grieved about their inching toward idolatry and unfaithfulness to Him, but also hated the dismantling of the marriage relationship and the treacherous way men were treating their wives.

Marriage was instituted by God—one man and one woman, two similar, but different creations coming together into a “one flesh” union. Man came first, and woman came from him. (Gen.2; 1 Cor. 11:8) God told the man to hold fast to his wife. (Genesis 2) They were both blessed and instructed by God to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over the lesser creatures. (Genesis 1)

Eph. 5:32 tells us that the ordained union in marriage mysteriously has its design in the relationship between Christ and the church. The origin of the church was He who did not cling to His equality with God, but rather, humbled Himself and became obedient to death. (Phil 2:7) In so doing He has secured for Himself a pure bride, a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle.

The way of the Israelite men with their wives was directly contrary to the sacrificial, eternal love of Christ for the church.

So, God does hate divorce because it violates the creation order, breaks the covenant, and degrades the understanding of Christ and the church.

However, he also hates those working out malevolent inclinations.

Psalm 11:5, “…the one who loves violence His soul hates.”

God condemns the conduct of abusers and tells us to avoid them.

2 Timothy 3:1-8 “…lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive,...ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal,…treacherous, rash, …. having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

Yet, it appears there are pastors who counsel wives experiencing the daily trauma of such heinous sin perpetrated by their husbands that they are not permitted to remove themselves from it…unless of course, it is really, really bad to the point of fearing for your life, (consider what this does to children) or if the husband commits adultery. Divorce is sanctioned by many in this case because of Jesus’ answer to the Jewish religious leaders who were trying to ensnare him in Matt. 19. These Jewish men were living under the Mosaic law, and when it came to the topic of divorce, their chief aim was to find a way to make it alright for a husband to divorce his wife.  Jesus took them back to God’s original intent and drove home a very narrow window of acceptance to them because it surely was their desire to find any valid reason. Perhaps they were reminded of their national history of being unfaithful to the Lord and experiencing His divorcement of them. (Jer. 3:8) The word used here means “a cutting of the matrimonial bond.”

When Paul spoke to post-resurrection Jews and Gentiles in 1 Cor. 7:15, he gave Christian men or women consent to divorce if their unbelieving spouse no longer wants to reside with them. This would be the desertion/abandonment exception clause.

Due to lack of understanding about the dynamics of domestic violence, many people fail to understand that an abuser would not depart from his home because that is the place where he wields his position of power and control.

Therefore, the Christian woman will rarely take comfort in the permission granted in this verse because it is usually pointed out to her that her husband has not deserted. However, the Greek word for “depart” is “chorizo,” meaning “to place space between, to separate.”  It was one of the standard terms for legal divorce in the 1st century. The very nature of abuse (overbearing restrictions, twisting of Scripture to leverage power, perverted sexual practices, physical violence, withholding of provision, psychological manipulation, etc.) works to “place space between” and “to separate” from the type of relationship that one vowed to maintain.  When a covenant is broken, well, it’s broken. As my friend, Valerie Jacobsen said, “The definition of marriage doesn’t include fraud. A lie told in a church one day is the antithesis of a covenant promise.”

Puritan theologians saw this in 1 Cor. 7:15 and found ground for divorce under English law called “constructive desertion.” Divorce would be advised if one spouse showed such maltreatment of the other that the victim was justified in leaving the abuser because they were driven to do so. The act of desertion was placed on the abuser.

God used Moses to issue guidelines to limit the power of men over their wives. Other nations allowed men to sell their wives into slavery, but under Mosaic law, this was forbidden. The Mosaic law laid out unlawful sexual relations that would have brought humiliation upon women.  Commanded in the decalogue was for children to show honor to both father and mother. A man who wanted to divorce had to obtain a certificate and present it to his wife. This showed that the woman was legally released from the marriage and free to marry another, thus allowing her to leave a situation where she was viewed with contempt by her husband and to find provision elsewhere.

God’s concern for women caused Him to permit and regulate divorce.  He wanted men to see their wives, not as property, but as people just like them, according to His original design.  Men’s hearts are still hard.

I am not aware of any standardized oath or vow one takes or speaks when being ordained, or commissioned, as a minister, missionary, or evangelist of the Gospel, but if I were in a position to suggest that one might be appropriate, I would recommend including the well-known line from medicine’s Hippocratic oath: “First, do no harm.”


Written by Georgetta Christensen

Published on May 23, 2018 at 2:46 am |

How Will They Hear?

by Drew Sutherland
2018-05-20 Romans 10:14-21
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Published on May 20, 2018 at 5:19 pm |

The Word of Faith is Near You

by Chris White
2018-05-13 Romans 10:5-13
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Published on May 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm |

The Ends and the Means

by Drew Sutherland
2018-05-06 Romans 10:1-4
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Published on May 6, 2018 at 3:07 pm |

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