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Dave Brisbin

Darker Before Dawn

One of the most misinterpreted and misused passages in the Bible affects a foundational part of our personal lives. Jesus appears to tell us in Matthew that adultery is the only legitimate ground for divorce and anyone who remarries after divorce for any other reason commits adultery. In Mark and Luke Jesus seems to remove the exception: all remarriage after divorce is adultery. I’ve seen pastors send women back to abusive husbands, toxic marriages held together at all costs, divorced people leave the church in order to live their lives.

Is it legal to drink under the age of twenty-one?

We mentally add alcohol or the question is nonsense. We leave it out of the question because the context is clear. Same happens biblically, but we don’t know the context. Everyone in first century Israel knew there were five legal grounds for divorce, and adultery was not one of them. Proven adultery was punishable by death, not divorce. The matter of indecency Jesus cites that we have translated as adultery, meant bringing shame to the family, while the other four dealt with neglect, abuse, and infertility—common-sense responses to the realities of marriage in their culture.

Jesus was asked: is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any matter? “Any matter” created a narrow legal question. One school of Pharisees maintained the “matter of indecency” as a single ground for divorce; another school broke it in two: indecency and “any matter,” which meant a husband who wanted another woman, could divorce his wife for any or no reason at all. When pressed to choose between the two, Jesus maintained a matter of indecency as one ground—a husband had to show just cause, and if he divorced for “any matter” in order to marry another, it was the same as adultery. Common decency. Common sense.

God’s purpose is always to bring together, make separate things one, peace out of chaos. This is the purpose of marriage as well. But if a marriage is chaotic, abusive, toxic, divorce may be the only way to create greater oneness later.

God knows this…that sometimes it has to get darker before the dawn. Jesus did too. How about us?


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