IT’S A BONUS QUESTION OF THE WEEK.
A Valentine’s Day Special Edition.
I got this question a few days ago from an emotionally exhausted divorcee who has remarried a divorced man.
Both divorced. Both remarried.
They’re struggling over what Jesus said about divorced people who get remarried:
He said they’re adulterers.
It’s true. He did.
I promised to keep the Lady of the Question of the Week anonymous. She gets a free book, too.
I don’t personally know the lady who asked the Question of the Week. Never met her. But I get a sense from some of her comments that she’s either thinking of divorcing her Second Husband or stopping the sexual intimacy.
A clue: “We have lost many friends….because we are choosing to follow Christ’s very clear teaching on the subject.”
Her question troubled me so much that I decided to fast-track it to Valentine’s Day, as a Bonus Question of the Week—instead of waiting for Monday, when I typically answer the Question of the Week.
Here’s her question:
My Husband (second husband) and I have been married 4 years and recently after a lot of prayer, discovered Jesus’s teachings on remarriage….
We have seen several pastors. All pretty much disclaim Jesus’ teachings on Luke 16:18, “Whosoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” …
We would like to get different views on the subject. It is very hard to discount Jesus’s own words. Whatever way this goes, we will continue to trust him in all this.
Okay, the Lady of the Question of the Week wants to see different views. Here’s a sampling of what scholars say about Jesus’ in-your-face quote:
- Don’t soft-pedal Jesus. “There is no way to soften or explain that reading….for people who take the Bible seriously as a guide for their life, the sting of these teachings remains” (Sharon H. Ringe, professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., Luke).
- It’s an ideal. “It is better, probably, to let his words stand in their uncompromising rigor as the ideal at which his followers ought to aim” (Walter C. Kaiser Jr, and others, Hard Sayings of the Bible).
- Jesus probably wasn’t misquoted. “That the underlying tradition may be traced to the historical Jesus has, rightfully, not been seriously questioned” (John Noland, Head of Biblical Studies, Trinity College in England, Word Biblical Commentary).
- There’s forgiveness, with consequences. Though divorce is sin, it is not an unpardonable sin….The penalty for divorce may mean certain functions in the church (like eldership) may not be an option for ministry, see 1 Tim. 3:2* (Darrell L. Bock, research professor of New Testament, Dallas Theological Seminary, The NIV Application Commentary).
- No remarriage for Catholics. “The official policy of the Roman Catholic church, for instance, is to refuse any semblance of celebrating a second marriage after divorce….It is claimed that this is not meant to imply that they are living in sin….Nevertheless, for those on the receiving end, this is rarely experienced as pastoral care but as an unforgiving and even punitive attitude” (Kevin T. Kelly, senior research fellow in moral theology, Liverpool Hope University College, The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought).
Now for my two cents.
I’m shocked at how unhelpful the scholars sitting on my library shelves seem to be at explaining what Jesus was talking about or how it relates to us today.
Let me raise a few questions for the scholars.
- Jesus misquoted? I was educated as a news journalist. I’m skeptical by nature and by degree—bachelor’s degree, followed by a master’s degree in biblical studies. In light of what else I read in the Bible about divorce and remarriage, I wonder if the anonymous writer of Luke accurately quoted Jesus.
- Jesus exaggerating? This is just one statement that Jesus made to a group of hostile Jewish leaders who allowed divorce under any circumstances. Couldn’t it be that Jesus was pushing back with “camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle” exaggeration to make his point? Words intended to nudge the Jews in his day instead of distressing the Lady of the Question of the Week 2,000 years later?
- Jesus taken out of context? Jesus allowed for divorce in cases of “adultery” (Matthew 19:9). Paul allowed it when a spouse was abandoned: “Under these circumstances a Christian man or Christian woman is not bound by a marriage vow” (1 Corinthians 7:15, GWT). Couldn’t these exceptions be clues that Jesus didn’t intend the in-your-face quote to become the 11th Commandment?
- Divorce is sin? I don’t doubt that sinful behavior leads to the death of many marriages. But sometimes it’s just one sinner causing the problem. Abuse, for example.
- Live as brother and sister? No sex? That’s what some advocate in the Second Marriage. I looked in my Bible concordance for the word “horny.” Not there. Fortunately, the topic is in the Bible nonetheless:
“It’s better to marry than to burn with lust” (1 Corinthians 7:9, NLT).
“Do not deprive each other of sexual relations” (1 Corinthians 7:5, NLT).
- Divorce husband Number Two? We could read that into bachelor Paul’s marital advice if we worked hard enough at it: “A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does, she must not get married again. Or she can go back to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:11, NIRV). On the other hand, if God hates divorce—and the Bible says he does—how is Divorce Number Two not doubling sin, and God’s displeasure?
- What would Jesus do? Given the whole ball of wax—the entire teaching of Jesus and his habit of treating people as more important than hurtful, literal interpretations of the Bible—could anyone imagine him telling the remarried Lady of the Question of the Week to divorce her second husband and return to her first one? For some women, that would be like Jesus telling them to go to hell.
If the Lady of the Question of the Week were my sis, or a friend in my Bible study class, here’s what I’d tell her, based on what little I know of her story.
You is what you is. God loves you that way.
You are where you are. God is with you there.
When you realize you’ve done something wrong, tell God you’re sorry. “If we confess our sins to God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away” (1 John 1:9, CEV).
Learn from your past mistakes. Make Husband Two your Husband Last: “Do your best to live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18, CEV). Husbands qualify.
When you read your Bible, use your brain. Not everything that the writers tell their audience 2,000 years ago applies to us in our unique situations today. Bible one-liners aren’t always intended as one size, fits all.
Quote the Bible to your husband. “Honeybun, hold me close to your heart—as close as the ring is to your finger. Love is a keeper, and I’ll be keeping you for the long haul. “Till death us do part” doesn’t describe it. The love I have for you is stronger than death. I’ll love you forever” (Song of Songs 8:6, Steve’s paraphrase for the Lady of the Question of the Week).
Happy Valentine’s Day.
*“A bishop must be above reproach, married only once” (1 Timothy 3:2, NRSV).
PS. If you’ve got advice for the Lady of the Question of the Week, have at it. That’s why God inspired the invention of Comment Boxes.