Remarried, am I committing adultery?

wedding photo
ROUND TWO. Divorce and remarriage, from Jesus’ point of view: “The man who gets married to a divorced woman commits adultery” (Luke 16:18, NIRV). Is that Jesus: (a) for real, (b) misquoted, (c) out of context, (d) angry at having to make wine at the Cana wedding? Photo by Carlos Mendoza Lima / flickr.

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.

A free Kindle download of Understanding Jesus, A Guide to His Life and Times is scheduled for one day only: TODAY, Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2013. Think of it as the publisher’s marketing team blowing you a kiss.

Comments

  1. Sgrisetti says

    I wonder if our modern, more merciful view on marriage and divorce, with full consideration of what the Bible has to say, might also be the key to understanding how to come to terms with homosexuality in today’s world. Does remarrying (like being a homosexual) trump everything else, including the new birth?

    It’s hard to imagine a God who would love us so much as to give his only son to win us back to him — yet would say, “But this issue is still a dealbreaker.”

    • says

      Thanks, Steve.

      Sometimes I fear we worship the Bible instead of God.

      Or put another way, we worship our own narrow interpretation of the Bible more than we worship God.

      It’s a bit like going to Bethlehem’s manger 2,000 years ago, and instead of worshiping Baby Jesus we worship the cradle that’s holding him.

  2. Erin says

    It is troubling to me that two people are considering divorce based upon outdated and patriarchal mis-interpretations of Christ’s words. I would say: do you love each other, have a true desire to honor God and commit yourselves to each other the rest of your lives? If so, then go for it!

  3. Wayne Sacchi says

    Stephen you did an excellent job presenting this very difficult question. I hope that person will find comfort on this. The Christian church has actually really ignored this teaching for several reasons and the fact they are really not sure what to make of it. Roman Catholics developed the concept of annulment to allow remarriage and usually it takes a religious court and Money to allow a second marriage and Protestants just ignore marriage and divorce situations. Most churches have leaders that have been married more than once – usually the same ones that attack GLBT People. It’s pick and choose usually what they want to believe. Personally, I think the standard is very high and marriage is a sacred institution – but thank God for Jesus who came to show us how to live and the rivers of Grace and Mercy knowing that we fail constantly in our lives and relationships.

    • says

      Thanks, Wayne. It is a tough question. I was genuinely shocked at how much elbow room the scholars gave it. I’m wondering if they’re puzzled or they’re afraid to say what they think. I know that in some scholarly circles, you can get into deep trouble by speaking your mind.

  4. Rachel says

    “You is what you is. God loves you that way.”

    Response from the “Lady”

    Yes, God loves you and still loves you when you Sin ….BUT, there is a price to pay for your Sin. His Word says, “the wages of Sin is Death”.

    You are where you are. God is with you there.

    Response from the “Lady”

    So if you are in “Sin” …God is with you there? Huh? Confused on this one. Especially when he says that Sin keeps us apart from him.

    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).

    Response from “Lady” Ok, If we confess our Sins to God, (taken into acct. JESUS calls remarriage Adultery….) he can always be trusted to forgive us….

    True Steve but you forgot a part…..(Using my brain here) So you can STAY IN the sin as long as you confess it? So you are not required to get out of “said Sin” but just confess it, right? Notice 1 Corr, Chapter 6 verse 9 to 12:

    New Living Translation (©2007)
    Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality

    So no repentance is necessary?

    Steve said” 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.

    “Lady’s Response” Ok, so not everything the writer said 2000 years ago applys today? First off, the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible, Secondly….ALL SCRIPTURE is God breathed, Thirdly…..God is the same yesterday, today and FOREVER. God does not flow with the times nor does he care about our culture today….his Word NEVER CHANGES.

    And Bible one liners…..is intended for the WHOLE body of Christ, for he is no respector of persons. All scripture is for everyone…including the verses that makes us uncomfortable because it requires us to have genuine faith. Faith not based on what we want but want HE WANTS.

    Your blog has convinced me even more of the truth of Scripture verses the foolish thoughts of Man. As for me, I am sticking with Jesus and obeying HIS Word.

    Signed, ” The Lady” who loves God with all her heart, mind , soul and spirit.

    • says

      Rachel, you’re view of Scripture is tragically distorted and ill-informed. With this approach, you are going to hurt people and blame it on the Bible. That’s not what the Bible is for. I’m so sorry. I hope God’s Spirit points you in a new direction. I don’t mean this as a joke; I’m serious. Consider taking some Bible classes from a Christian college or a seminary. I wish you better days ahead.

  5. Melissa says

    As for me I will pray for forgiveness and confess my sins, I am now on my 3rd marriage, I Have been married for 8 years. I am finally happy in my life and with that comes the ability and freedom to follow Jesus. Which I always had before but was weighed down with so much sin, to do the right thing. I hope now in my life I am truly forgiven for in the bible it says I am. Jesus sit with the tax collectors and the sinners, and was know to be seen with a prostitute. is not a prostitute a adulterer? He kept company with those that God wanted to become his children, was that not the purpose of Jesus on this earth.?

  6. Tim says

    This subject has plagued me too and the sciptural opinions go from no such thing as divorce to remarriage is fine. After much prayer, research, and tears here is where I’m at. For those that literally read scripture and ignore the circumstances and to whom Jesus was speaking to and why you are missing out on many levels. Many Scriptures surrounding divorce is in reference to mosiac law and those that knew the law and those that lived mosiac law and its bondage to it. Jesus freed us all from that bondage. So to those that cast stones at the unfortunate people that have suffered a d
    divorce and wish to put them in bondage I say to you, are you sure?

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