Friday, August 29, 2008

Indecency and Divorce: Deuteronomy 24:1-4

(This is part 3 of a series studying the biblical teachings of divorce and remarriage. The key question I intend to deal with is whether divorced men should be allowed to serve as pastors, elders or deacons. Before we deal with that issue, we must look at all the biblical evidence.)

Old Testament Teachings on Divorce

Women did not have high standing in ancient Semitic cultures. They were treated as property, regarded as servile – put on earth to provide pleasure and comfort for men. The thrust of the law was to prohibit men from treating women cruelly or arbitrarily.

Genesis 2 reveals God’s perfect purpose for marriage – one man, one woman, one lifetime. When a man and woman marry, the two become one in God’s eyes. Divorce is a violent separation of what God has joined together. Divorce was not part of God’s original plan. In Malachi, God expresses his displeasure with Israelites who divorce their wives for pagan women. The Ezra passage tells us that there are circumstances in which divorce is permissible, even commanded by God.

Now, we turn our attention to the key Old Testament passage on divorce, Deuteronomy 24:1-4. This passage is the only clear Old Testament instruction on divorce, and it is foundational to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4

While this passage is the clearest Old Testament divorce teaching, its primary subject is not divorce, but remarriage. It is a prohibition against capricious divorce and remarriage. In the culture to which this command was given, men had an almost unlimited right to divorce their wives. Women, of course, had no such right. This passage prohibits a man from remarrying a woman he has divorced who has married another man after the divorce.

Grounds for Divorce

There are several key teachings in this passage that have application to our current discussion. First of all, this passage establishes something that generally did not exist in that culture – the necessity of a proper grounds for divorce. Divorce could not be done capriciously, but the husband had to find “some indecency” in his wife.

The meaning of the word “indecency” is not easy to establish in this context. The word normally means “to expose the genitals” and is usually translated “nakedness.” In Genesis 9:22, Ham found his drunken father and “saw the nakedness of his father.” There was shame attached to exposing the genitals. That meaning is clear in almost every use of the word.

But here, the meaning is almost certainly figurative – a unique use of the word. It doesn’t seem likely that divorce was only permitted if a women exposed herself in public. The natural deduction would be that divorce would only be granted on the ground of immorality, as Jesus later taught. However, there is a problem with that deduction. There was a penalty in place for sexual immorality, whether premarital or extramarital – death. Deuteronomy 22:20-22 had just established that clearly. So, it seems unlikely that sexual immorality is in view here.

So, what does “some indecency” mean? First, it is a limit on capricious divorce. A man could not divorce his wife because she gained a few pounds or because someone new came along. A man needed to find some moral flaw in his wife’s character that brought shame to him and his family. Unfortunately, there is nothing more specific here. Did it refer to a rebellious spirit, a sinful heart, a mean disposition? We do not know.

Fortunately, Jesus spelled out the grounds for divorce more clearly in the New Testament. But there are two key deductions that I would draw here. First, divorce may only be sought for serious moral reasons. It can never be done lightly or frivolously. The Shammai and Hillel rabbinic schools argued over the meaning of this phrase. The Shammai school took a very narrow view and the Hillel school a very broad view. Those in the Hillel school maintained that a man could divorce his wife for burning his food. If there was anything he did not like about his wife, that qualified as “something indecent.” But it is clear here that a man was required to find serious moral fault in his wife before he could divorce her.

Second, this passage in God’s laws establish that there are grounds upon which a divorce is biblically acceptable. Whatever “some indecency” means, it establishes that there are divinely acceptable reasons to end a marriage. Jesus said that this law was given permissively, because of human hardheartedness. Divorce may not have been a part of God’s original ideal, but in a sinful world, He makes allowances. The sinful behavior of human beings can make divorce an acceptable if not desirable option.

Process of Divorce

Prior to this law, men would just send their wives away and publicly declare themselves divorced. The law mandated a “certificate of divorce” be given to the woman. The purpose of this seems to be two-fold. First, it formalizes the process and may make a man think twice about it if he is acting out of uncontrolled emotion. Also, it gives the woman a document which establishes that she has been freed from her marriage commitment and responsibilities and is free to remarry.

The Mishnah gives us the wording of this certificate that was used among the Hebrews. “Let this be from me your write of divorce and letter of dismissal and deed of liberation, that you may marry whatsoever man you will.”

This establishes an important fact. A divorce done under proper grounds and in a proper fashion is the ending of the marriage relationship. The person properly divorced is free to and expected to remarry. Divorce is the severing of the marriage relationship and frees the person to remarry.

Summary of Old Testament Teachings

The Old Testament makes several points very clear. First, God’s ideal was a marriage that united two people as one “as long as they both should live.” It is still God’s desire today that marriages be permanent and give joy and fulfillment to both parties. Second, human sin has sometimes made the divine ideal impossible. In view of man’s sinfulness, God gave certain reasonable instances in which divorce was an acceptable alternative to a broken marriage. Third, God severely limited the rights of men to capriciously or arbitrarily seek divorce. They needed a legitimate grounds for divorce if it was to be acceptable. Finally, it is clear that remarriage is part and parcel with divorce – it is assumed that those who divorce will remarry. Divorce did not free someone just to live single, but to seek another spouse.

The Old Testament teachings lay the foundation on which Jesus’ teachings and those of the Apostle Paul are built. The New Testament expands and clarifies these teachings, but does not negate them. .

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Divorce: The Old Testament Evidence

When we look at the OT, we must remember what the place of women was in Ancient Near Eastern society. Women were essentially glorified slaves, property bought from the father, and replaced at the whim of the husband. Divorce was generally very easy for the man to get on any grounds. A well-known Jewish tradition permitted a man to divorce his wife for burning his food. The woman had no right to divorce, any more than a slave could sell his master. Men were free to use or abuse their wives in just about any way they desired. God’s Law protected women from gross mistreatment by their husbands.

One note on methodology is needed. We are going to look at the Old Testament evidence on divorce, but not in chronological or biblical order. We are looking at them in an order that seems logical to me in laying down the fundamental Old Testament teachings on divorce.

God’s Original Intent: A Blessed Partnership – Genesis 2:24

In Genesis 2:24, we see the clearest revelation of the original intent of God in marriage. No matter how far mankind has strayed from that intent, it remains God’s perfect design. A man was to separate from his parents to partner with his wife and become one with each other. In God’s paradise, marriage would have been a satisfying and pleasurable partnership and divorce would have been unthinkable.

Unfortunately, sin entered God’s world and messed up God’s perfect plan. The world became corrupt with sin. There is no record of the first divorce, but it is clear that divorce is a result of the fall of man into sin. Sin cursed the physical world with all sorts of disasters; it cursed men with fruitless toil, women with pain in labor; it cursed the spirit of man with death; and it cursed marriage with the specter of failure and divorce.

Several things are clear in this passage. First of all, monogamy was the intent of God. A man was to leave home and marry “his wife.” There is no hint that polygamy was what God intended. Why was it permitted during biblical times? That is a complicated issue, not in the scope of this study. My theory is that after sin marred God’s intent for marriage, He brought His people back to the original standard progressively. By the New Testament era, monogamy was clearly once again the biblical ethic.

It is also clear here that marriage is intended to involve a man and a woman. While this study is not about homosexuality, it cannot be argued that God’s intent in creation was for homosexuality to be an option. Homosexuality is a result of the fall not of God’s creation. We should minister to homosexuals with compassion, but we cannot approve a lifestyle contrary to the will of God.

Perhaps the clearest teaching here is that marriage was intended to be a blessed partnership, not open warfare. God meant for a man and woman to become one – united in body, in soul and in spirit. I noticed a trend in recent years at weddings. Now, when people do the unity candle, they leave the original candles lit. In days gone by, they were usually extinguished. The symbolism is clear. People today want to have independent, separate lives and then come together a share a small part with their husband or wife. Biblical marriage was a complete joining of the two into one.

This is the hopeful word in all this. We will be discussing divorce. It is a brutal act, severing two people meant to be one as long as they live. It is depressing to talk about it. But, when I have counseled couples considering divorce, I have been able to give them this advice. God is on the side of lifelong, blessed, contented, fulfilling marriage. If two people will both give themselves to God and to each other, God becomes your ally in making the marriage work. I have seen God work in marvelous ways when people gave Him the opportunity by looking to Him. Marriage in this world is not easy. But we are not alone in the world. We have the power of Almighty God at work in us to sustain us and help us.

Marriage in a fallen world may not be perfect, but God will work to rebuild what sin has broken. Marriage is still God’s will and He blesses those who seek Him in it.

God’s Attitude toward Divorce

What does God think about divorce? Most would start and finish their study in Malachi 2:10-16, where God says “I hate divorce.” But there is other scripture that must be balanced here.

God Hates Divorce – Malachi 2:10-16

For many, this verse is formative, a clear denunciation of divorce from the mouth of God. He states unequivocally, ‘‘I hate divorce’’. And He does. When there is a divorce, it is clear evidence that someone has violated His revealed will and it is a tearing apart of two people that God has made one. Divorce brings brokenness and pain. All of this grieves the heart of God. He hates sin and all its effects. God hates divorce.

The divorce in this passage was a particularly heinous form of divorce. Men were leaving their Israelites wives and marrying Canaanite women. Not only were they leaving the wives of their youth, but they were joining to women who would lead them into idolatry. It was the pattern Israel had followed in the period of the Judges and Kings and God did not want that to happen again. Israelite men were not only divorcing their wives, but were flirting again with the idolatry that brought such destruction on the people.

But this verse is not the only word on divorce. In fact, there are some significant issues with the common interpretation of the verse. First of all, the divorce in question here is an odious form of divorce, as stated above. God was not making a blanket statement here, but was addressing a specific situation. Men were leaving their wives for pagan women. God hates that. But it may not be the blanket statement it has often been taken to be.

Here’s the kicker. The quote, “I hate Divorce” is probably a bad translation. Newer translations have given what is probably a better rendering of the verse. God is probably not the subject of the verb “hate.” It is not God who hates divorce in this passage, but a man who hates and subsequently divorces his wife. Let us examine this verse in brief detail.

After the opening conjunction, the verse throws three verbs together in a row. Literally, it says “For he hates to divorce, says the Lord.” The verbs “hate” and “divorce” mostly likely identify the man who is the subject of the main clause later in the verse, “covers his garment with violence.” In the context, it probably means, “For he who hates (his wife) to (the point that) he divorces (her), says the Lord, covers his garment with violence…”

The first verb, “hates” is a different verb than was used in Malachi 1:3 (Esau I hated). This verb is more visceral. It speaks to someone having an emotional disgust. In this context, it refers to a man who treats his wife as if she were refuse, throwing her away in divorce to marry a Canaanite woman.

It is a third person verb, “he hates.” This is key to the understanding of the verse. If God is the subject of the verb, and God is speaking, why does He not say, “I hate divorce.” God is not the subject of the verb. The subject is “he.” Who is “he?” The person who despises his wife to whom he committed himself, divorces her and finds a pagan, foreign wife is the subject of this verse.

That does not change the fact that God hates the kind of divorce that is going on in this situation, a man leaving his wife for another woman (or vice-versa, I assume). But there is no blanket statement in this verse that governs all our discussions on divorce.

So, to summarize, this verse makes it clear that God was angered by Israelite men leaving their wives for pagan, Canaanite women. This buttresses the original intent of marriage: one man and one woman, sharing a lifetime together. But, this verse is not the authoritative, blanket condemnation of all divorce that some have made it out to be.

God Commands Divorce – Ezra 9-10

This verse, addressing a situation very similar to the one in Malachi 2:16, is a strange verse and is hard for some people to swallow. In this passage, God commands Israelite men to divorce their pagan wives and return to their Israelite wives. Through Ezra, the leader of Israel, God commanded divorce. If the men were going to be right with God, they would have to divorce the foreign women they had married.
I know this is a special and unique situation. My only point in bringing this up is that it proves that divorce is not ALWAYS a sin. Here, to stay married was the sin; the sin was NOT to divorce. In a sinful world, the ideal of God is not always possible. In this situation, the will of God was that men divorce their wives.

If all divorce is always wrong in every situation, then why did God command the people to get divorces? Would not that make it necessary to say that God told the people to sin? It is absurd to say that God commanded sin. It is equally absurd then to say that God opposes all divorce. Here, He clearly approved of it.

Why did God authorize divorce here? Because the marriages were founded on sin and could not be made righteous. There is no such thing in God’s eyes as a “no-fault divorce.” But sometimes, man’s sin causes situations in which the best option, perhaps the only option is divorce. Divorce is never God’s ideal and no man or woman of God should seek a divorce except in the most extreme and impossible of circumstances. But, at least in one situation in this passage, and I believe in other situations, human sin makes divorce a viable option. Jesus even mentioned this when he said that Moses made divorce exceptions “because of the hardness of man’s heart.”

On the other hand, if two people will confess their sin and accept God’s forgiveness, no marriage is beyond repair. Divorce may be an option only when the heart of one or both of the marriage partners is so hardened in sin that no reconciliation is possible.

I would make one other observation here. The intent of the command was that these men would divorce their foreign wives and return to Israelite women. When God authorizes divorce, remarriage is also authorized. It was God’s will that they not only divorce, but remarry as well.

There is no doubt that this is a unique situation and it would be a mistake to make this passage a formative teaching on divorce and remarriage. However, it does establish some truths beyond contestation. First, there is at least one time in which divorce was the will of God. I am going to argue that there are other times when divorce is God’s will as well. But this passage is clear that there was at least one time when God commanded divorce. I would also point out something that will become more significant in later discussions. A divinely-approved divorce seems to imply the right to remarry.

God Divorced Israel – Jeremiah 3, Isaiah 50:1

In several prophetic passages, God refers to the destruction of Israel and Judah as if it were a divorce. God is the aggrieved husband who has put up with his wife’s infidelity, then finally divorces her.

While this is another anomalous passage, and cannot be used definitively in this debate, it does lead to a poignant question. Why, if divorce is always a sin, does God describe Himself as divorcing Israel? If divorce is a sin 100% of the time, this seems to be a strange choice of figures of speech.


In these verses, we catch a glimpse into God’s heart about divorce. It is certainly contrary to His intent. When a divorce takes place, one party or both have committed grievous sin. Without sin there is no divorce.

But that does not mean that all divorce is sin. The Ezra verse, and to a lesser extent the prophetic divorce of Israel, illustrate the principle that sometimes, in a sinful world, divorce may be an acceptable alternative.

Monday, August 11, 2008

BTOS Syndrome: A Raging Baptist Disease

I have been a Southern Baptist all my life, a graduate of a Baptist college and of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. My dad is a Southern Baptist pastor and missionary. My grandpa was a Southern Baptist pastor, seminary professor and denominational servant. I have been on staff at 4 Baptist churches – one in Florida, one in Virginia and two in Iowa in a 26 year ministry. I have served as the president of my state convention, as associational moderator, and in many other denominational positions. I say all this to make one point – I have some level of expertise on the ways of Southern Baptists.

I think many Southern Baptists are infected with BTOS Syndrome. BTOS: Baptist Tradition over Scripture Syndrome. Some have a tendency to let ourselves be guided more by Baptist tradition than by the clear teaching of scripture.

Exhibit A: I can confess publicly to several sins and keep my job as a pastor. I can admit to lust, greed or pride, I can gossip or slander (where would the blogs be without this?) and violate many other scriptures without issues of job security. But if I have a glass of wine, or play a hand of money poker, smoke a cigar, or go out dancing with my wife, I could be working my resume. You have a hard time finding scriptures that call any of those a sin. (For the record, I don’t drink, smoke cuss or chew. I play a little poker, but only for fun. And the only time I have danced is at my son’s wedding – that’s a coordination issue, not a moral one.)

Baptists sometimes put a higher emphasis on traditional sins than on biblical sins.

Exhibit B: Blogs have buzzed in the last couple of years over the baptism policies of the IMB. There is little scriptural support for “BI” (near-landmark) baptismal policies, but nonetheless, they have been advocated on the basis of denominational history and policy. Advocates promote this view without support from the Bible, but that does not stop them.

Some Baptists even put a higher emphasis on tradition in the study of baptism than on what the Bible says.

Exhibit C: It was recent discussion of the divorce issue in my own church that started me thinking about the BTOS Syndrome. A man (good friend-great guy) said with absolute dogmatism and certainty “the Bible says divorced men cannot be deacons.” Where? What verse is that? “A deacon must be the husband of one wife,” right? But that verse does not say anything about divorce. It is an interpretation and application of the verse. It is one possible interpretation, but there are several other valid interpretations. There is no verse that says, “divorced men cannot be deacons.” But yet we state that as if it is established biblical fact.

I have an invitation every Sunday morning. Why? In Acts 2, Peter “exhorted the people with many words to save themselves.” He didn’t sing “Just As I Am” or have people come forward, but he invited them to respond. But there are people in my church who feel like a church isn’t a church unless it gives an invitation. Even though the church existed for 1800 years without invitations, now, they are seen as biblical imperatives. There is no verse commanding invitations. I do it, but it is not a biblical command.

Try suggesting that your church do away with Sunday School. Again, Sunday School has only been around a couple hundred years. But now, we would question the salvation of someone who suggested doing away with it. I am not advocating that. My point is that we tend to put things like Sunday School on the level of a biblical mandate.

These are just examples. It is my observation that we tend to be led by “the way we’ve always done it” or “the Baptist Way” as much as what the sacred text says. Baptists have called ourselves “People of the Book.” We have said we have “no creed but Christ.” Yet, on so many issues, we rely more on majority opinion and denominational tradition than on what the Bible teaches.

Why did we fight the “Battle for the Bible” if we are going to let ourselves be infected by BTOS and let denominational tradition guide us instead of scripture? Why not just let the Bible guide us? We need to fight BTOS with all our hearts!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Bible and Divorce

(Note: this will be the first part in a series on Christians and divorce. It will be posted at both this blog and my devotional blog)

Once, the evangelical church spoke with a united voice on issues related to divorce. Those who divorced were sinners and were largely marginalized, sometimes shunned. They were certainly not permitted roles of influence in the church. Divorcees were not pastors, elders or deacons. Then, a (not so) funny thing happened. Divorce swept through our nation and churches were filled with people who had been divorced. In addition to that, Christianity in America developed a man-centered, therapeutic attitude. Gradually, divorced people took more and more significant places in the church. And now, we have much bigger issues. Denominations today are fighting over whether to allow unrepentant homosexuals into pulpits. Divorce seems like a much less crucial issue.

American Christians have often been led more by their culture than by the scriptures. When Southern culture approved and defended slavery, so did Southern Christians. As the feminist agenda took hold of our national mindset, women in pulpits became more common. As homosexuality has become more acceptable in culture, it has become more acceptable to Christians.

We are called to be biblical and our first responsibility is to God and His Word. If what the scripture teaches is offensive to culture, we must offend. But as we must let scripture confront what is culturally popular, we must also allow scripture to confront our personal and denominational traditions. We like to assume that our traditions are firmly based on scripture, but many may not be. So our goal is to look at the biblical evidence and live by that, even if we find ourselves in conflict with cultural norms or church traditions.

You will have to continue reading to get my full view on divorce. But this I will say now. I believe that many Christians have wrongly let our cultural norms dictate biblical interpretation. But I also believe that the traditional church teaching on divorce was also based on cultural norms and church traditions more than it was based on the Bible.

So, in this study, we will set forth some preliminary concerns, then we will look at every passage in the Bible that deals with the subject of divorce. We will look for answers to several questions. Is divorce always a sin? Can a divorced person remarry? What positions of service can a divorced person hold in the church?

We will seek biblical answers. I know that some who read this will certainly disagree with my position. I will argue that my position is soundly based in the proper interpretation of scripture and that it is the view that is most faithful to the intent of the Word of God. I will argue that those who disagree are misinterpreting scripture and arguing more from traditional bias than from biblical truth. I believe that the position I am advocating here is the one that bests fits all the scriptural pieces together.

But I do not question the faith, biblical integrity or love for our Lord of those who disagree. I can disagree with someone’s position on this issue without calling their love for Jesus or for the Word into question. I can say I think your position is wrong without saying I think you are wrong. So, I am going to argue forcefully for the position I believe, but do not break faith with those who hold to a different position.

In fact, the church I serve as pastor has an official position opposite mine. I have told them what I believe and why I believe it. Several men thought my position was a signal of compromise and could not accept it. Several stated unequivocally that they would leave the church if my position was adopted. I think the official position of my church is wrong. Yet, I still serve that church with joy. I will continue to try to convince them that my position is biblical and I assume they will continue to advocate for their position. But, as we study this, we can have uninterrupted fellowship and I can abide by a church policy I don’t agree with.

Defining the Sides

There are just about as many positions on divorce as there are teachers on the subject. I am going to try to categorize the views, but it is actually more of a continuum. Each of the major positions has subtle variants. The danger of simplifying is always over-simplifying. I believe that there are three major positions on divorce that modern evangelicals have fallen into.

The “Compassionate” View

Divorce is traumatic – it rips apart homes and families, devastates lives and brings heartache to all. There is really no such thing as an easy divorce. You hear celebrities sometimes talk about a “friendly” divorce. In reality, those are very rare.

The advocates of this position are primarily concerned with ministering to the divorced and helping them. Of course, all of us must do that. Advocates of every position believe in ministering to divorced people and their families.

What is unique about this position is that the church refuses to hold divorced people to any standard at all. One of the most prominent pastors in my denomination, a man with a national television ministry, was divorced by his wife. There have been no allegations of adultery on either side. This man had advocated for years that divorced men should not serve as pastors. When he was divorced, evidently his position changed. He continues to serve as pastor of that megachurch

Churches do not want to seem judgmental or exclusionary. That is a heinous sin in our culture. So, these churches welcome the divorced without judgment. They are permitted to serve in any and every position in the church without distinction. Biblical mandates have taken a back seat to therapeutic concerns. We don’t want to harm people’s self-esteem by confronting them with sin.

The positive side of this view is its compassion for those whom life has damaged. Every viewpoint should include the desire to minister to and make welcome those who have gone through the trauma of divorce. The doors of the church must be wide open to the divorced.

But we who love the Word cannot so easily dismiss its teachings. We cannot just pretend the Bible does not hold up the standard of “till-death-do-us-part” marriage. We cannot ignore the warnings of our Savior that those who divorce and remarry contrary to scripture are adulterers. Those commands have not been abrogated and we have no right to act as if they are not in God’s Word. Our position must be biblical. It must uphold scripture, not compromise it.

The “Prohibitionist” View

“We have to uphold the biblical standard of marriage.” That is what I have heard almost every time I have advocated my position. I agree with that. But the assumption behind this statement is that the Bible advocates a strict prohibition on divorce, on remarriage after divorce and on service in the church.

To the proponents of this position, the clear teaching of scripture is that all divorce is sin. Most make an exception for adultery, but some do not even grant that. Because all divorce is sin, remarriage after divorce is adultery. Since adultery is sin, those living in adulterous relationships are not eligible to serve in positions of responsibility in the church. Pastor, elder, deacon; these and other leadership positions would not available to those who have been divorced. Some make exceptions for those who were divorced before they were saved, figuring that what a person did before salvation should not be held against them afterward. Those who hold this position are often still reluctant to allow the divorced to serve in key church positions.

On the positive side, proponents of this view have a high view of scripture and are willing to stand by scripture even if it offends culture. This is admirable. If their position is biblical then their stand is noble.

My problem, though, is that I do not believe that the Bible teaches the position they are advocating. I think that position is based on church and cultural traditions. So, if the proponents of this position are not upholding the standard of scripture, they are enforcing a legalistic, extra-biblical position on divorced people. They are excluding them contrary to the revealed will of God. If their position is biblical, it is noble. If it is not biblical, it is cruel. So, the question is simple: is the prohibitionist position biblical or not? That is the focus of this study.

The “Redemptive” View

This is the position that I will advocate. I reject the Compassionate view because it does not uphold biblical standards. I reject the Prohibitionist view because I think it enforces a standard that goes beyond that which is taught in scripture. It is legalistic and cruel. In fact, I believe that the Prohibitionist view is a denial of the redemptive power of Christ. I know that such is not the intent of anyone who advocates that view, but I believe that it is the effect.

The redemptive view is based on the transforming power of Jesus Christ and the Cross. This view upholds the biblical standard of lifelong marriage and recognizes that divorce is the result of sin on the part of one or both partners. What this view refuses to do is put divorcees into a special category of sin.

Jesus came to forgive sin and redeem sinners. A murderer can be forgiven and redeemed. An adulterer can have his sin washed white as snow. So can a thief, a drug addict, a prostitute, even a homosexual. In the same way, those who are divorced are forgiven and redeemed by the power of Christ.

Leadership in the church is a matter of character and integrity. Those who lead the church must have spiritual integrity in their walk with Christ and must have demonstrated character to the church and community in their public walk. We are all sinners, though that sin takes different forms. God is working to conform us to the image of Christ. Those who lead the church are those who are farthest in the process of Christlikeness.

What matters is not what I did 20 years ago, but what I am today. Maybe, 20 years ago I was a drug dealer. But today I am walking with Christ and people can see what I am. Maybe, 20 years ago I robbed a bank. I did my time, got right with God and began to grow. If I have demonstrated that I am a new man in Christ, and have reliable character, I can be a leader in God’s church.

Why is divorce any different? If I am in the middle of a divorce, I am probably not ready to be a pastor, elder or deacon in the church, even if I am the “innocent” party in the divorce. But if I was divorced 25 years ago, remarried, and have been a faithful husband to my wife for all these years, should that divorce forever eliminate me from service.

I believe that blanket elimination of a person who has been divorced from service in the church is a denial of the redemptive power of Christ. Jesus came to redeem sinners and to make them like Christ. To continually throw a sin of the past in the face of someone who has repented and has been renewed in Christ is, to me, a heinous thing.

Once again, if the biblical evidence supports the Prohibitionist viewpoint, then my view is weak and compromising. If Paul, when he told Timothy that leaders must be “the husband of one wife” meant “never divorced”, then my view is wrong. That is why we need to inductively study scripture.

Toward a Biblical View

The Biblical position strikes a balance between the opposing sides of prohibitionism and compassion. We must take into account both God’s terrible holiness, and His gracious forgiveness in view of the sinfulness of man. It must stress both the sanctity of marriage in God’s eyes, and the harsh reality of life in a sinful, fallen world. It must stress forgiveness and restoration to divorced people, just as is true for people guilty of other sins. To find the biblical position on divorce and remarriage issues, we must:

1. Approach the scriptures open-mindedly. We all have the tendency to believe what we’ve always been taught, without looking at our views critically, to see if they are consistent with scripture. The person who desires to know God’s mind must always come to the word with a pure heart and an open mind, leaving prejudices and preconceived ideas behind. WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT IS THAT WE FIND OUT WHAT GOD SAYS ABOUT DIVORCE, NOT THAT WE PROVE THAT WHAT WE SAY IS RIGHT.

2. Look at all the scriptural evidence. We cannot just rely on those verses which support our cherished positions. That is how we so often argue scripture. I marshal several texts which support my position, then deny or ignore the texts you have marshaled to support yours. For a view to be biblical, it must fit every scriptural text into the view without denying or doing hermeneutical violence to any position.

3. Look at each scripture in its context. The context of a passage will never change the meaning of a verse, but it will clarify the meaning. Each text must be studies on its own, faithfully understanding it in context. Then, we seek to put all the verses together into a unified and consistent whole. If the Bible is God’s Word, then every verse’s clear meaning will fit together into a totality that is logical and consistent.

Methodology of This Study

In this study, we will look at the biblical evidence on divorce in its entirety. We will look at the Old Testament evidence, then the words of Jesus himself, and then the evidence from the New Testament Epistles. Each section will have summary statements, and at the end, there will be an overall summary. The issue of remarriage will be dealt with in a separate summary at the end of the stud, though it will also be mentioned in dealing with the separate verses.