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Marriage and Divorce: An Orthodox Christian Perspective

by Fr. John Kunjukunju
Indian Orthodox Church

Key Verses: “I hate divorce,” Mal 2:16. “Is it lawful for man to divorce for any reason? What God has joined together, let no man separate,” Mat 19:6. “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so,” v9.

“Divorce” is a legal word meaning full and final separation so that each one is free to remarry or live alone at will. Ray E Baber defines divorce as, “Divorce is merely a process of un-marrying people who have been married. It is an official recognition that their marriage is a failure and therefore has more cause for terminating than for continuing. Divorce indicates the failure of a given marriage,” Marriage and Family, page 443. He notes; from 1867 to 1950 while the population increased fourfold, divorces increased thirty-nine-fold that is ten times faster than the population growth.

Baber cites nine major causes for divorce:

(1) adultery
(2) desertion
(3) cruelty
(4) conviction for crime
(5) alcoholism
(6) impotence
(7) nonsupport
(8) insanity, and
(9) living apart.

Some of the thirty-nine minor reasons for which divorces were granted in various states as of 1950 are:

drug habit
ante-nuptial un-chastity by wife
joining cults that disbelieves in cohabitation of spouses
vagrancy of husband
crime against nature
violent temper
venereal disease
public defamation of spouse
gross misbehavior and

According to one study, quoted in Bhoomiyil Parudeesa (Paradise on Earth) by Fr. Dr O Thomas, page192, there were 650 divorces in England in 1911. The number rose in 1951 to 28767, in 1971 to 74400 and in 1980 to 148200.

According to United Nations, Demographic yearbook 1954, divorce is peculiar problem of America because each year America grants more divorces than the rest of the world combined. In 1951 America reported 381,000 divorces while all other nations combined granted 235,000 divorces. In this third millennium, needless to search numbers for, one out of every two marriages ends in divorce and it is on fast climbing trend. As in many aspects in the case of divorce also, “America is the world leader.”

Despite the crumbling relations, chaotic social situation and frightfully escalating divorce rate, people still attach great importance to the institution of marriage at least in principle, according to a columnist. This being true, peoples’ understanding of marriage and family life is distorted and a source of great distress. I do not presuppose by a flight of fancy that just because most couples live together without divorce they all are leading virtuous family life. There are couples disdainfully pulling together for various constraints.

Looking at divorce by any standard there can be no greater tragedy in the life of individuals and society. Relationships are shattered, children stranded, finance crumbled, violence induced and hopes and aspirations devastated. The anxiety, fear, hate and feeling of insecurity which it creates carry for the rest of the life and pass it on a bad legacy to next generation. No one can ever replenish the void created. It is a dereliction from the basic duties as an individual and an affront to moral standards and God. Divorce itself is no sin but the result of sin.

Children are the most hapless victims. Children need the love and care of mother and father both, grandparents and close relatives to develop positive attitude about life, toward family and society. Children living with parents who constantly argue and fight, single parent, foster parent, etc are more susceptible to all sorts of wild feelings than those who live in lovable family atmosphere. Children, who are isolated from the love of parents live in seclusion, and suffer low esteem. Wantonness induces abuses, addiction to drug, alcohol and sex which in turn incites violence, psychological disorders and ultimately become threat to themselves and society. Words fail to express the havoc that divorce brings into the lives of spouses and children but the staggering question is; who cares? I am yet to come across one single opinion supporting divorce, addiction and violence and yet there is no end in sight; rather addiction, violence and divorce increase unabated. We can point fingers and write volumes on the many reasons and aspects that lead to divorce and all the chaos that it creates. All of them could be condensed in one sentence and that is; humanity driven by outlandish ego first divorced God from life; thus lost the standard point of reference as to what is right and wrong or good and evil. In this case Satan is the victor.

My humble attempt is to search the biblical perspective on divorce. Divorce discussed in Mathew 19:3-9 is the basis of my discussion. Marriage and divorce are two separate subjects meriting detailed discussions because both are closely intertwined and touching on both subjects is inevitable to discuss either one. Chief point of discourse here is divorce; not marriage.

However it is essential to consider Mark’s version on the same subject, Mk 10:1-12, without which discussion on divorce will be inconclusive. A remarkable difference in the two passages is the condition that Mathew says, “except for sexual immorality,”v9, to divorce. Scholars also say that the conditional clause in Mathew 19:9, “except for sexual immorality,” is not found in the oldest manuscripts of Mathew’s Gospel. Similar to the portion in Mark 16:9-20 this was added later by someone more liberal.

Liberal thinkers like Baber and Jay Adams think that Jesus justified divorce. This interpretation serves a guide to ‘tidal increase in divorce.’ This condition induces immorality; to commit adultery and divorce; thus rendered more damage than good to the all-time burning issue of divorce. Mark does not mention it at all as a condition to divorce. We need to analytically view both passages. Mark’s presentation is more a natural dialogue than that of Mathew. Most scholars, especially ancient Churches, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, agree that Mark is the first evangelist who wrote a Gospel of our Lord. Mark, as the faithful disciple of St Peter, wrote his Gospel as per St Peter’s advice and it is undoubtedly the Gospel of Peter himself. Both Mathew and Luke considered the Gospel of Mark as their base. Gospel of Mark is thus more accurate rendering of events. Luke deserves distinction too; he does not mention this lengthy discussion at all. He says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery,” Luke 16:18. This is a précis statement banning all kinds of divorce. Surely, Jesus did not conceive a conditional divorce in opposition to the original intent of creator because Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me,” John 4:34.

Roman Catholics consider marriage a sacrament. There is no uniform approach among Protestants, but most consider it a civil union. Orthodox considers marriage not only a sacrament but also a mystery (Roso) beyond human understanding. God in His unfathomable love for humanity makes the impossible, possible that is, unites and makes one male and one female repeating after what He did to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Mathew says that Pharisees brought up the question of divorce to test Jesus. It was a clearly devised snare against Jesus. Divorce was a nagging question for all people of all the time and continues without solution until today. But it was never before as rampant and uncontrollable as of today. Rabbis could not find a common solution for the ravaging problem. Three rabbinical schools were prominent in the days of Jesus totally opposed to one another. (1) Shammai taught that it was legal to divorce wife for reason of infidelity. (2) Hillel taught any reason, as silly as a spoiled dish, would be sufficient reason to divorce. (3) Rabbi Akiba taught an extremely liberal view, ‘if you see a prettier woman divorce the first wife.’ They claimed basis of their teaching in Mosaic Law regarding divorce, Deut 24:1-4. In the light of conflicting rabbinical positions the question to Jesus in itself was not malicious. But the intent was malicious merely because they wanted to drag him in the rabbinical brawl. The group of questioners would have comprised of followers from all disciplines. Depending upon the reply they could easily brand him in one or the other side of Rabbis; conservative, liberal or ultraliberal which would prove detrimental to his authority. Such a situation would cause dissention among his own following. They failed to trap him because Jesus very cautiously handled the situation. He went all the way back to Genesis to clarify the question. He called their attention to the original intent of creation asserting the fact that humanity in His days drifted too far off the original purpose of creation.

In the beginning God created them male and female (in Syriac: Dkar v nekbo bro enoon), Jesus said. Hebrew word for male is tsakar, which means prick or pierce. This imports masculine sense to convey that which is powerful, sturdy, upright, etc. The word for female is neqbah, means perforation, tunnel, etc which imports feminine sense; soft, delicate, etc. Scholars suggest evidence of sexual union and that ‘become one (sarx) flesh’ directly points to sexual union. St Paul agrees to this explanation, “He who is joined to a harlot is one body with her,” 1C6:16. God is the one who designed sex and procreation through sexual union. This happened before the fall and therefore not incidental to fall. What the fall brought upon the humanity is loss of control, desire and misuse of sex through such perverted desire. Sex is the gift of God; not an evil in itself. Proper use of sex is exercising Will of God and a function that fulfills God’s purpose. Biological scientists now think reproduction is possible without sex and man can conceive child!

Man and woman were created to live in perfect unity and harmony, respecting and mutually complementing one another. God expected them to live together forever without parting or death constantly enjoying the company of God and each other on daily basis. Desire, sickness, death and decay came in later as a result of sin. God’s care for their continued welfare was evident from the fact that He made a place where there was no lacking before He placed them there. God did not assign them hard toil. Simple gardening and up-keeping was only expected of them. They were free to move around and do what they liked with a light limitation not to eat fruit of the forbidden tree. Comparing the magnitude of amenities and freedom that were granted the restriction was tenuous. This was to make them know that they ought to acknowledge God, their creator and they were subject to Him.

Until then Adam had only two-tier relationship; (1) with God and (2) with other creations. Between Adam and God it was a worshipping relationship for he was subordinate to God. Between him and other creations the relationship was of nurturing and maintaining for he was above them. God introduced a third kind of relationship by creating Eve that was special and equal which until then did not exist so that Adam could relate to it himself in a meaningful way. God wanted man to sustain the whole order of creations.

“Fill the earth and subdue it,” Genesis 1:28. God, by the words, “fill the earth” authorized them to procreate and multiply without which it is impossible to fill the earth. By the word “subdue” God placed humanity above all creations so that he could command and guide them as a duty, not a right. “Subdue” has created certain confusion. Some secular thinkers feel that anchoring on this word “subdue” Christians desecrated the ecological balance by overexploitation and environmental pollution and that other religions are ecologically friendlier than Christianity. While we find solace attributing the causes of ecological imbalances to advancement of science and technology one cannot be passive onlooker to the devastation we have brought upon ourselves. Man, puffed up in his knowledge and self-comfort often forgets that, he has no right to endanger existence of his own kind and other living beings. “Subdue” means, (1) “to bring under control” which certainly requires some kind of force but not to destroy and (2) “to soften, make gentler.” Very thought of exploitation of earth is the aftereffect of man’s fall. Considering the next verse, that is, God commanded that all “vegetables, herbs and fruits that grow in earth shall be their food,” it could be imagined that God was telling them to use sufficient force to till, plow and cultivate, to maximize the fecundity of earth to bear fruits for his sustenance, according to Jerome. There can be no ambiguity that man has no right to exploit earth or other creations so as to cause ecological imbalance. “Subdue” should not be taken as a license for man to treat the earth as he pleases. This is against the very intent of creation.

In the beginning, monogamy: God made one female to one male. God originally intended monogamy as the universal standard for all generations. Anatomical proof I have explained in my article, “Fidelity and Marriage.” Church fathers did not justify polygamy. However, Theodoret of Cyrus, Nestorian heretic is an exception; “Indeed for this reason (to be fruitful and multiply) He did not forbid the ancients to have many wives: so that the race of men might be increased,” The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol III, page 245. I do not find the arguments tenable. Some say, polygamy is the natural order and monogamy is a social triumph (of Christianity?). “Monogamy is a social triumph, always more or less precarious and not a natural state,” says George Crespy, “Marriage and Christian Tradition” page 21. This view is in outright opposition to what Jesus said.

By pointing to the order in the beginning Jesus in unequivocal terms declared that what God expects from human beings is to disown the evil that has crept in as the result of fall and adopt the principle of monogamy. Christianity ever-since is known to be the champion of monogamy. If we relate the words of Jesus, “No servant can serve two masters,” Luke 16:13, it is practically proven fact that where there was more than one wife, there was turmoil.

Human mind is not wired to romantically associate with and harmoniously cherish two individuals at once with equal honesty. Sarah compelled Abraham to go to Hagar. When Hagar conceived she despised Sarah. Sarah on the other hand resorted to hard treatment, so severe that Hagar had to flee to desert. The struggle was passed on to Ishmael and Isaac. Then Sarah compelled Abraham to forsake Hagar and the child and he obliged, may be unwillingly. Jacob loved Rachael more than Leah. This attracted jealousy and sibling rivalry. However, polygamy was practiced and tolerated in olden times. Islam and Mormons practice it even today. The reason I suppose; God’s grace to fully distinguish right and wrong was not manifested until it was fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ. “The word of God says, Man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife, not wives.” Singular number affirms the practice of monogamy, says Hudaya Canon 8: 1.

The basic purpose of creating Eve was companionship, not procreation; some scholars say. Had procreation not the basic intent by partaking in the creative faculty of God to keep up human generation there was no need for companionship. God felt, “It is not good that man be alone,” Gen 2:14. This is because man alone is unable to be happy or procreate. God did not feel ‘it is not good than woman be alone’ because she was not alone at any point; Adam was already there to offer companionship to Eve. Happiness must precede the act of procreation. Here God is realizing that He infused in human the natural instinct to love and to be loved without which life and procreation become monotonous and meaningless. So both companionship and procreation are equally valid and proper. One does not destroy or takes over the other. If the spouse fails to fill the void of loneliness in the other spouse by offering constant companionship and actively participate in the process of procreation, that spouse is living in opposition to God’s will. In the same vein, looking down on a barren couple, especially women, with contempt even if they live in disharmony is opposed to God’s purpose of creation. Even today most of us attach such a cultural taboo to women without knowing that husband or wife could be the cause of infertility. King Henry VIII divorced Catherine saying that she did not bear him male children from which sprouted the Anglican Church. Science has now come to the aid of hapless women proving that men, not women, (xy, x factor) are responsible in such cases.

Roman Catholics for a long time defined the basic purpose of marriage as, procreation mitigating importance of companionship. It seems they understood the folly; later they named it sacrament as a retort to Luther’s reformation and included companionship. They further expanded it saying, spouses ought to mutually accept, live lifelong without separation and in harmony according to the will of God. Giving first place to sexual relationship in marriage is against the original purpose. Sacrificial love, intimacy, companionship, lifelong commitment and unity of mind and higher purpose should precede sexual relationship to make it meaningful, enjoyable and lasting. Sexual relationship without sacrificial, self-humbling love, feeling of oneness and mutual caring between spouses is carnal and hence immoral. Adam when saw Eve for the first time was first elevated to such an ecstatic state that he said, “At last” (some versions), “Ishah” in Hebrew, which is the pinnacle of exultation and identified himself one with Eve saying, “Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones,” before he had physical contact with Eve.

World literature as a whole fails to replace a better expression of the inexorable joy and oneness a spouse experiences from the companionship of the spouse as one’s own flesh and blood. God expects every husband to feel the same way as Adam felt. Whenever he sees her he should look at as if seeing first-time. True love and commitment should first commence before the first contact and steadily grow into maturity as years of life progress together. The wealth of experience, sense of togetherness and oneness progressively climb the ladder to reach celestial heights with increased interdependence.

I have heard many older husbands/wives say, “Who will take care of her/him after I had gone.” In physical infirmities, they nurse each other with respect and pleasure. If that does not happen as years go by, in a couple’s life, there is something wrong. On the contrary, one who gives first priority to physical appearance and sex is merely cohabiting for the sake of lust, cannot stay married, would surely regret and wean when the brightness of the youth fades away and the body becomes weak. It is not enough saying “honey, darling” when spouse is near and lusting after other men/women when the spouse is away. Such people are sure to wreck the marriage.

“Adam knew Eve,” Gen 4:1. This biblical terminology is very significant and thought provoking. Bible employs three different terms for sexual involvements.

(1) To know. “Adam knew Eve.” “Cain knew his wife,” Gen 4:17. It was not merely sexual contact but perfect union of two wills, minds, emotions, spirits, bodies and interests. The word ‘know’ denotes the most intimate form of relationship, which also involves sexual union flowing out of intimacy, not a casual sensory perception. “Know” is self-humbling and self-giving to the other experiencing wholeness of divine love. Conception followed on both occasions. The word “knew” is employed only when the relationship is divinely ordained and legally valid.

(2) “Go in to,” “Sarai said to Abram, go in unto my maid,” Gen 16:2. “He went in unto Hagar,” v4. The single purpose here was to plant the seed (impregnate). The same word is employed in the case of levirate law where a brother dies without male child the younger brother of the deceased should go in to the widow of the deceased brother and the child so born shall bear the lineage of the deceased brother. Genesis chapter 38: 1-26 makes us know that not only the brother but also the father of the deceased husband is obliged to perform levirate law because Judah regretted his failure to allow his youngest son Shelah to perform the law with Tamar and justified Tamar. The offspring was blameless. According to Ruth and Boaz episode, kinsmen were also obliged to perform the levirate law, (Ruth Ch 4). Whether or not it seems absurd or unacceptable morality for us now such was the custom in the Middle East among the nomadic and primitive tribes in the ancient days to maintain lineage. The offspring and the act of parents were then legitimate. Abraham was simply performing a local custom when he went in unto Hagar. Thus Jacob’s 12 sons from two wives and two concubines were at par in all matters of rights and privileges.

(3) “To lie with” on the other hand denote illicit sexual relationship. “She (wife of Potiphar) caught him (Joseph) by his garment saying, lie with me,” Gen 39:12. “He (David) lay with her (Bathsheba),” 2Sam 11:4. These copulations of bodies were aimed only to satisfy lust of the flesh outside the context of marriage. Therefore they are fornication or adultery which St Paul says God will judge, Heb 13:4.

Two shall become one: Jesus then said it is God’s purpose that man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and the two shall become one. It is very difficult to grasp this verse without spiritual discernment. Some scholars interpret that ‘becoming one’ is fulfilled only when a child is born to the couple. But it has a spiritual dimension that is when a spouse wholeheartedly accepts the other as an integral part his/her being and meets in unity of purpose they become one flesh even without sexual contact. Carnal man/woman would never comprehend this divine mystery. St Makrina, daughter in a wealthy family and sister of St Basil the Great, lived lifelong celibate at the same time considering herself married. She was betrothed to marry a handsome prosperous young man. The bridegroom died before marriage could be solemnized. Her parents brought many proposals insisting her to marry. They persuaded her to consider that marriage never took place because of bridegroom’s death and that there was no point in wasting the rest of life. She replied, “No, human being has only one birth; one death; and therefore must have only one marriage. He is not dead but not here; he will come to life on the Resurrection day; therefore it is sin to be infidel.” She said the marriage was over when she was betrothed to marry. Saint Makrina, never again thought of pleasure of flesh, became a nun and founded nunnery.

A friend of mine in Air Force went to Kerala and betrothed to a girl who worked in North India. The marriage was to take place after a few months. The would-be bride and bridegroom left for workplaces and the families started preparations. My friend traveled towards Bangalore in a train. When train stopped at a station he got down for platform shopping. After a while the train blew whistle and started moving. Those who were in the platform rushed in; some people made it but my friend could not. He put his feet on the step when the train picked up speed. He slipped and fell in the track and one leg caught under the wheel severing it below knee. He was treated at the Air Force hospital and then sent to artificial limb centre, Poona and got it fixed. He was assigned to light duty for the rest of his service. The news of accident met with great distress to all, especially, bride’s family. Parents and relatives tried their level-best to dissuade her out and cancel the marriage. My friend was also very skeptical for sometime, thinking she might decline to marry him. To everyone’s surprise, the bride made an emphatic resolve and declared that if she ever married that would be the same man to whom she was betrothed to. She said, “I wedded him the day I betrothed to him. I cannot now change. If it is my fate to nurse him for the rest of life, I would do so with pleasure.” Friends and relatives were in fact enthralled at her extraordinary courage and yielded to her. Marriage was conducted with slight changes in date and venue. I learned a great lesson from this; that holy women are not a thing of the past; there are holy women even today in our midst and we must honor them wholeheartedly.

“One and one are not two but one,” one thinker said. “Consciously get away from external beauty, it is just. Do not get attracted to the beauty of a wicked woman,” Hudaya Canon 8:1. But this is an alien thought in a Western society where men and women change spouse faster than they change costume; there cannot be a greater travesty in the whole human history.

“Leave thy father and mother:” God added this condition in order to cleave unto wife. It implies a practical application relevant for all times, especially in the ancient times when marriages were conducted at very early age. Cleaving unto the wife is often difficult when husband is under the control of father and mother as was until marriage. A shifting of allegiance is imperative. Parents, especially mothers, develop even without own knowledge and store in their sub-conscious mind that ‘he is my child, I have the right to direct him what to do and not, he must always obey me, he must not love anyone more than me,’ etc. Most parents develop an insecurity feeling and fear ‘if our son will go out of our life, or love his wife more,’ etc. This concealed thought will in turn come out in the form of controls and at times hate the newcomer. He will be drawn in between the devil and the deep sea. God set limits to everyone. So the man ought to be fully independent with the marriage capable enough to take care of his wife and children, to teach them and nurture them in the manner pleasing to God. I suggest man should not get into marriage until he reaches maturity to discern the situation pragmatically.

Hudaya Canon 8:3 asks, “Who else do have more relationship and intimacy to a husband than his wife, because they are not two but one?” That means neither father, nor mother, nor sibling, is more intimate than the wife. Church fathers understood this principle and teach us that at the marriage ceremony the bridegroom is elevated to the kingly status and the bride to the queenly status as Adam and Eve, in paradise, before fall. He is going to be the head of the household and hence needs his undivided loyalty to wife. Relationship of a man after his marriage with his parents or sibling is not the one of submission at the cost of wife but the one of affection and duty. He should not be under the influence of parents or siblings so far as his duties and obligations to his wife. And also should not be overtly influenced by wife so far as his obligations to his parents and siblings. Parents, wife and siblings should not exert undue pressure nor should he yield which prevents him from what is obligatory to each relationship.

Wife submits to husband, husband loves wife as himself, nothing less, and son honors/cares parents. This is what apostle St Paul says in chapter 5 and 6 of Ephesians. Family life will be smoother if one obeys this advice.

“Cleave:” this word is carefully employed to express indissolubility of marriage union. It deserves a close study. “Man shall cleave unto his wife,” Gen 2:24, ASV. The word “cleave” is archaic usage that means stick fast together, be faithful, etc. “Cleave” has another meaning too, “to separate using blunt force.” Blunt force is necessary because it is stuck together so fast that ordinary force is insufficient to separate. And in such an unnatural event disfigurement and pangs of breakage are sure effects. For easy understanding I would say “glued together” with the intention of not separating any time. When we glue together two materials, say paper, with the aid of adhesive the sticking effect remains for the rest of its life. Material thus stuck together with the aid of an adhesive cannot be separated without causing damage and disfigurement. The adhesive element in the spousal relationship is pure love imbedded in between. Without the aid of an external force such as sin separation is impossible. Separation will cause disfigurement of both personalities and offspring, if any, when separated. Some versions say, ‘cling together,’ “patticherum” (Malayalam). This would also mean the same, “hold tight, resist separation.” These import the underlying factor, that is, inseparable unity of the spouses. Therefore it is clear that divorce was conceived neither in the mind of the creator nor in the mind of Moses who compiled creation account. Jesus by asserting, “It was not so in the beginning” repudiated forever legality of divorce. Clement of Alexandria said, “The Son only confirms what the Father has instituted.”

Deut 24:1: But the Pharisees were determined to corner Jesus. They asked, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce and put her away?” They were quoting Deuteronomy chapter 24:1, which says, “When a man has taken a wife (meaning new marriage) and married her and it comes to pass that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.” Peseetha rendering is more explicit, it says, “A man marries a woman and after he lay with her found in her something repugnant and feels ill of her he may write a bill of divorcement and give it in her hand and send her away.” The context is undoubtedly new marriage and the spouses coming together for the first time. It is not applicable to an ill-will developed for any reason at a later stage in married life. Protestant thinkers based on this verse generalize without giving credit to the context and treat it a sanction of divorce like the Rabbis of Jesus’ days. Here is another sinister snare. Had Jesus said Moses was right the burden of proof which school of thought he belonged to rested with him and on the contrary, it was blasphemous for a Jew to question authority of Moses. They could easily disgrace him as Jewish law breaker.

“Found in her something repugnant:” This portion has been variously translated, to suit to one’s own interpretation:
“uncleanness,” KJV,
“indecency,” Catholic,
“something bad,” New Century.
Scholars say “Erwath dabar” is the Hebrew word, literally meaning “something of nakedness.” The vagueness implied in the word has given rise to various loose interpretations and abuses. Since the same word is used in Deuteronomy 23:14, “Thy camp shall be holy that He sees no ‘unclean’ thing in thee and turn away from thee.” Genital discharge and excretion are the two kinds deemed “uncleanness” in the camp which God detests according to verses 9-13. This is more a hygiene issue rather than moral.

Commentators unanimously agree that the uncleanness mentioned here has nothing to do with adultery. “Uncleanness” since literally means “nakedness of a thing,” I consider it something which was not revealed before marriage and factually came to light after spouses came together. It was easy to hide infirmities because women on those days covered their skin including face fully. What Moses envisaged here is not sexual immorality because adultery was punishable with death. It should have been a physical defect namely, lunacy, leprosy, or the like where normal functions of a spouse were in jeopardy. The condition, “found some uncleanness in her,” makes the ground of writing bill of divorcement harder. “It is not a divorce law as the “vulgate mistranslates it” but a stipulation that the husband who divorces his wife may not take her back after she has remarried,” says Jerome. Sufficient safeguard we see in this condition against divorce on flimsy reasons. Not only valid reason but also proper manner was necessary. When he had given the bill of divorce she was free to go and live as she chose. Was it equal to a protection order? Moses did not newly introduce divorce but regulated what then existed.

In the pragmatic sense, considering the fact that there was no freedom to women, they were nothing more than a commodity at the sole discretion of husband/father, this was necessary for their health and well-being. When husband and wife live in sin they loose the grace of God and what remains between them is only animal instinct. The spouses who lost grace are susceptible to all sorts of vile namely; infidelity, ill-temper, quarrel, violence, abuse etc that worsen the relationship. It would be hazardous for the weaker sex to cohabitate with the wicked spouse. In such situation divorce is the lesser evil. So Moses by stipulating a condition to write a bill of divorcement and hand it to the wife was not only an innovation but also a safeguard to the wife who lost favor in the sight of her wicked husband.

Unlike what is popularly misunderstood and connived, adultery itself is not a valid ground for divorce according to biblical perspective. We have a case in point here; Hosea and Gomer. Hosea stands in God’s stead and Gomer represents Israel in this story. Israel turned denigrated, corrupt, immoral and idolaters. They disobeyed Yahweh and worshipped Baal. God was displeased. Yahweh’s intimacy to Israel is always compared to the relationship between husband and wife because there is no better form of intimate relationship on earth. “Your maker is your husband; the Lord of hosts is his name,” Is 54:5, Ezek 16:8. God told Hosea to marry an adulterous woman. He married Gomer, an adulterous woman. Hosea loved her. She bore him three children. Again she deserted him and turned to adultery, 2:2. Hosea loved her so much that he went out and purchased her paying the price of a slave, forgave her and gently admonished her not turn again to whoredom. He did all these as God revealed him to do, the sole purpose being, to teach Israel a lesson that despite their repeated infidelity God did not abandon them and God is willing to forgive and reinstate if repented. Some scholars believe this truly happened to Hosea, because of certain historic references in the book. I think it is allegorical presentation to show how God Yahweh loved Israel unconditionally despite their repeated infidelity.

Prophet Hosea lived in a time when the nation was materially prosperous. Where material prosperity is on the rise morality is on the decline. Thus immorality, adultery and violence grew to epidemic proportion. Rabbis so liberally interpreted the Mosaic Law that caused divorce increase in divorce. People became too selfish that they neglected the virtue of forgiveness. It was this deteriorating trend that Hosea resolutely withstood permeating a pragmatic lesson of forgiveness even in the face of extreme infidelity to contain immorality and divorce. He relentlessly rebuked their moral corruption. If God is forgiving and longsuffering so should the people too.

However this does not give clean chit to those who are infidels to the spouses. Jeremiah chapter 3 clarifies that there is chance of reinstatement in case of true repentance. Hosea forgave Gomer subject to a condition that Gomer would not go back again to the unchaste life. The lesson is; remorse would lead to forgiveness and spouses could heal the rupture and again enjoy good companionship. Didn’t Jesus say, “Go and sin no more?” Change of attitude is imperative.

Anchoring on the verses that describe God as husband, Isaiah 54:5, “I sent her away and gave her a bill of divorce,” Jer 3:8, etc liberal thinkers say, ‘If God allowed divorce why man cannot divorce?’ God strongly denounced faithlessness to the wife of youth. “I hate divorce,” Malachi 2:14-15. If God hates divorce why He gave bill of divorce? Are these contradictory? Jay Adams misquotes, “Joseph (a just man) was not condemned for determining to divorce Mary,” “Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage” Page 23. What he forgets is; God did not approve what Joseph determined, instead cleared him off the doubt. Joseph is just because he did not determine to put Mary to ridicule and death. The relationship of God with Israel is equated to husband and wife relationship to show the intensity of relationship and to demonstrate the indissolubility in that relation.

But there are differences; God by very nature is above all human limitations. God is Spirit, not made of material. Man is made of both earth and Spirit of God. God cannot sin or lie or be unholy. Man can reach higher realm of divine or stoop down to earth according to what he thinks. God is infinite and cannot be contained in space and time. Man is finite and confined to time and space. God has neither sex nor desire of flesh. Man has desires of flesh. God cannot be tempted. Man is liable to temptation; he is already in fallen state, and the list goes on.

Therefore, God being husband or God giving a divorce bill or tolerating certain reasons for divorce, etc need be taken in the pragmatic sense to uphold moral and ethical values for safety of the weaker sex and good of society. These are so written in figurative language so that man could easily relate and understand how God feels when human relationships crumble due to sin. For example, recently, a wife of 17 years was caught in adultery. Husband placed camera and caught her red-handed. He obtained court order to evict her. Police came to serve the order. She, as nothing ever happened, called parish priest. Incidentally, this family is very religious and very active in the parish. The parish priest responded quickly, without knowing all the facts, tried to pacify the husband, pleaded with him to reconcile, give another chance, etc. The husband then asked this question to the priest “Father, what will you do if you see your wife lying in your bed with another man?” The priest retreated. No wife or husband having self-esteem could face without losing equilibrium and or be silent spectator in such an unfortunate event. That is human nature because he is made of flesh.

Church fathers deplored adultery and never justified divorce but they differentiated human frailty from God’s immutability and recognized certain valid reasons for divorce.

Hudaya Canon 8:5 recognizes 7 reasons that allow divorce:

(1) adultery,
(2) black magic,
(3) unbelief,
(4) forbidden relationship,
(5) celibacy,
(6) slavery, and
(7) infirmities that are detestable and prevent sexual union.

Infirmities that prevent sexual union are further clarified,

2 for men:
(1) being eunuch,
(2) mutation of sex organ

2 for women:
(1) absence or deformity to vagina,
(2) venereal disease (boil).

There are 3 detestable and common to men and women:
(1) leprosy,
(2) elephantiasis and
(3) demon possessed.

Also included,
(1) incurable foul-smell from mouth and armpits and
(2) involuntary excretion are reasons for divorce.

Canon at no point commands or justifies divorce but only recognizes its existence. In all probabilities uncleanness or indecency referred in Deut 24:1 are these things. Ancients derided exposing or discussing sex which is why there is vagueness whenever they mention such matters; see Gen 38:9. However, pertinently most of these reasons are now redundant because they are curable with the aid of advanced medical and cosmetic science. Church fathers (Synod) have authority to amend, add or delete canonical conditions as the Holy Spirit inspire them to ameliorate the suffering of the faithful. We cannot in these situations equate God with humanity for He is Spirit, not flesh. Protestant scholars seem to ignore this disparity in a rush to justify divorce.

“Hardness of heart:” Jesus did not go into the details of law but went deeper into to the reason why Moses gave such a ruling. Jesus said Moses permitted divorce because of “hardness of heart.” It is very important to note that Mathew and Mark say “your heart” instead of ‘their heart’. Moses lived and gave law about 1300 years before Christ. By saying in the ‘second person’ Jesus was making them know that the law as well as the circumstances that caused Moses to give such a law never changed and that they still lived in the same hardness of heart as their forefathers. Israel is often reprimanded for being guilty of Hardness of heart. Prophet Ezekiel alleges that they had a stony heart. “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh,” Ezekiel 36:26. Rebellious and unrepentant attitude is what the prophet refers here.

Disbelief and failure to obey God’s commandments is hardness of heart. Hardness of heart is a symptom of destruction as in the case of Pharaoh. Scholars say hardness of heart is “sklerocardia” in Greek. This has got some link with the function of heart. Blood flows to and from heart regulated by rhythmic opening and closing of heart-valves. When the heart-valve is closed blood cannot flow in and out. If the valve is defective it will not open and that will cause death. Similarly, marriage union is by the grace of God.

The relationship of the spouses is guided by and through the grace. Spouses sin because they disbelieve the grace. Heart of the sinner or disbeliever is in closed condition that it prevents grace to flow in causing spiritual death. Spiritual death is severing the communion with God. The spouse who is spiritually dead does not consider God’s laws mandatory and is vulnerable to all sorts of evils. Satan immediately takes control over them instigating to commit all wickedness. This situation is harmful to the other. In this situation Moses was allowing a lesser evil for the safety of women, as explained above.

“Kiddusin,” is Hebrew word for marriage. Of all the Middle East ancient tribes, Israel had the best form of family and social life. Although it is a fact that women were not given equality with men, comparing other nations like Rome, Greece, etc they were far better of. Man and woman who wed say each other, “Enter into kiddusin with me.” Kiddusin means holy or sanctify. It is said in the same sense as we sanctify and dedicate a house for dwelling or a church-building exclusively for worship. That means; husband is setting himself apart exclusively for relationship with his wedded woman and woman is setting apart herself for exclusive relationship with her wedded man. In other words each one is setting apart and consecrating oneself for each other. From this mutually sanctifying commitment experience there flows grace of God, true love, companionship, physical, emotional and spiritual fulfillment. In this context St Paul said their children are holly.

Celibacy was unknown in Judaism. Every man of 20 years must marry and lead family life until the age of 60; it was mandatory obligation. Sanctification invokes a sense of ownership. When spouses sanctify each other they are voluntarily surrendering their right of ownership to the other spouse. St Paul said, “Wife has no authority over her own body, but the husband; and likewise also the husband has no authority over his own body, but the wife,” 1C7:4. They should not separate themselves except for prayer time rather they ought to do all things together and in harmony.

Apostles envisaged an outgrowing, self-humbling and self-emptying love that transcends all personal limitations enabling perfect submission to the other’s interest. It is in this background St Paul said; no one should seek one’s own comfort but of the other. In such state of oneness there is no room for divorce.

“Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate.” This is the final standing order for all those who accept Lord Jesus Christ as personal Savior. Lord Jesus Christ by his redeeming passion on the cross wiped away the curse that fell upon humanity consequent to the fall in the Garden of Eden. Therefore a believer should not look to the model of fallen man but obey what the Savior commanded. But to put it into practice, one has to honestly believe what the Lord said is infallible truth that every legitimate marriage union is joined together by God and it is a sin to break it by sinful behavior.

How one can profess that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savor and live in utter disregard to his teachings at the same time? The Book of Tobit, Deutero-canonical according to Protestants, clearly teaches us that a legitimate marriage is God ordained. It is the story of a marriage; Thobiah to Sarah. God appointed angel Raphael to mediate the marriage. On the way Thobiah raised several doubts about Sarah’s past history. He knew that she was demon possessed and married to seven men and all of them died in the first night itself because the demon slew them. Raphael advised certain method to exorcise the demon. Raphael said, “Do not be afraid, Sarah is set apart for you from the beginning (before the world existed),” 6:18. After marriage before they came together Tobiah told Sarah, “My love, get up, Let us pray and beg our Lord to have mercy on us and to grant us deliverance,” 8:4. They prayed, “Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine not because of lust, but for a noble purpose,” 8:7. This is the way couple should begin life together. This is a good instance of correct perspective about marriage. Strong conviction that God ordains the marriage, guides through. It is fulfillment of the law and not lust. Indeed, when lust instead of divine love intrudes, the marriage breaks apart.

‘Liberal Protestantism is one reason for increased divorce,’ E. E. Aubery quotes Prof Lichtenberger, “Man and Wife” page 141. I fully agree with the professor because during reformation period they shifted from the authority of Church to the authority of Bible. Luther said, “Marriage is worldly thing,” Britannica. This led to free interpretation according to the whims and fancies of freelance interpreters. In less than thirty years the best champion Luther publicly regretted how ‘disrespectfully people behave with Gospel’. It was just the starting point of exploitation of “Word of God,” for private ends. From then onwards, immorality is on the rise. To them “Two people seek mutual physical satisfaction as part of the expression of their love for each other, this would be a higher expression of sexual life” is marriage.

What is the higher purpose without God? More conservative Protestants consider God a witness. Statistics show, this is where the moral landslide started. But the Bible clearly says besides what I cited above that God is not merely a spectator but active partner in between spouses and the very reason for them being together. He is the one who conducts the marriage. God created Eve and gave her to Adam and blessed them to be together evolving triune dimension united in love to family concept. Father, Son and Holy Spirit; so is man + God + woman = family. When we overrule this truth we loose a standard point of reference and the spouses are vulnerable to any kind of immodesty. They do not seek God’s counsel because it would require them to meet divine standards and live righteously. Why people go to counselors is because they place counselors above God. Why counselors fail to reverse the trend? Same reason; they depend on human wisdom rather than God’s wisdom. Would a counselor risk his business interest? Think about it. Modern counselors wrought more degeneration than good. Husband is Christ-like and wife is Churchlike says St Paul; where is the question of doubts, infidelity, violence or divorce?

Verse to ponder: “If my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal the land,” 2Chr 7:14. Is this not the most exigency of the hour? So let us.

Johnachen, 11/1/05
Source: MOSC Forum

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