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Biblical Shakespeare: "To be ('divorced') or not to be (unhappily married ever after); that is the Question?"

by Robert Randle  
6/18/2009 / Marriage

One of the more interesting controversial issues facing the Christian is that of divorce and remarriage, and surprisingly, the Bible doesn't offer a lot of specific guidelines to this complex and often contentious social experience. What needs to be kept in mind is that Christianity inherited a Jewish cultural as well as theological perspective imprinted upon a non-Jewish world. In a patriarchal society where the 'man' was more valued because he controlled the factors of production, religious and social laws, and inheritance of property was through the lineage of the male, it is not surprising that a woman would not have the same rights and be esteemed as much.

Even when it comes to the order of 'creation,' the "Woman" was created from the "Man (Cp. Genesis 2: 7, 18, 21-23)," but since that one unique and special act, the woman is the one from whom all subsequent human life springs from. Throughout the entire history of the Jewish people, and even before they were a nation as such, a woman's body and reproductive rights were controlled by a male-dominated society; and strict requirements pertaining to a woman's virginity, chastity, and purity was strictly enforced. There were harsh penalties for a woman [punishment, usually 'death' by stoning], and possible social stigma or isolation for violating this taboo. It doesn't seem that the man's behavior in this matter was quite as demanding, closely watched or regulated, or even as much of a concern.

Exodus 22: 16-17
And if a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay the money equal to the dowry of virgins.

Leviticus 21: 1a, 7, 13-15
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them. . . They shall not take a woman who is profaned by harlotry, nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband; for he [the priest] is holy to his God. 'And he shall take a wife in her virginity. "A widow or a divorced woman, or one who is profaned by harlotry, these he may not take; but rather, he is to marry a virgin of his own people; that he may not profane his offspring among his people; for I am the Lord who sanctifies him."

Deuteronomy 22: 28-29
If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her ["rapes her"] and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.

NOTE: Could the woman divorce her husband??

Deuteronomy 22: 13-19
If a man takes a wife and goes in to her and then turns against her and charges her with shameful deeds ("harlotry;" Cp. 22: 20-21), and publicly defames her, and says, "I took this woman, but when I came near her, I did not find her a virgin," then the girl's father and her mother shall take and bring the evidence of the girl's virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. And the girl's father shall say to the elders, "I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, but he turned against her; and behold, he has charged her with shameful deeds, saying, "I did not find your daughter a virgin." But this is the evidence of my daughter's virginity." And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. So the elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give it to the girl's father, because he publicly defamed a virgin of Israel. And she shall remain his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.

NOTE: The issue of blood resulting from penetrating the 'hymen' of the female is collected and brought to the elders ("men") for examination; talk about humiliation, outrage, embarrassment, and a few other thoughts on the matter.

Deuteronomy 22: 20-21
But if the charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel, by playing the harlot in her father's house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.

NOTE: What if the circumstances were like in Exodus 22: 16-17??

Deuteronomy 24: 1-2
When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife.

Matthew 19: 3-11
And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?" And He answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, 'FOR THIS CAUSE SHALL A MAN LEAVE THE FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BE ONE FLESH'? "Consequently they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let no man separate." They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE AND DIVORCE HER?" He said to them, Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives [for any reason]; but from the beginning it had not been this way. "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality [adultery], and marries another woman commits adultery. The disciples said to Him, "If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry." But He said to them, "Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given."

Mark 10: 10-12
And in the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. And He said to them, ""Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her [his wife]; and if she herself [a wife] divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery [against him].

The aforementioned passages in Matthew and repeated in Mark has been used by the Christian Church to condemn divorce and remarriage of a formerly married spouse, but the circumstances, tradition, history, and context must be carefully read before fully understanding the meaning of a Biblical text. The background of this event is that the Pharisees weren't interested in spiritual enlightenment or guidance but rather were seeking an opportunity to 'trap' Jesus, and they cleverly and rightly asked about divorcing the woman "for any reason;" since this is essentially what the Jewish men had been doing to their wives by their harsh treatment for centuries, no doubt. And even Jesus' statement cannot be fully appreciated without reading Deuteronomy 24: 1-2 for some perspective.

Jesus answered more than what the Pharisees really wanted to know and by His edict, helped the woman gain a little bit more dignity and protection as well as challenge this nonsense where men were almost getting away with murder when it came to the shameful treatment of a woman. The part that many people don't realize is that Jesus is saying that in the way divorce was practiced ["for any reason"] isn't justified and if someone else marries anyone who leaves a marriage under such circumstances when that person is still 'bound' [married]; and therefore, if the individual remarries, this is tantamount to committing adultery, and it is in point-of-fact.

However, this may be not the definitive and only answer to the marriage/divorce question, but rather a direct answer to a specific trick question from a sect of Jewish leaders who did not even exist in the times of Moses and the giving of the Law. The following passages by the apostle Paul expands more on this question, is more widely applicable, invaluable, as well as relevant to the circumstances in which other guidelines on this subject are desperately needed and appreciated.

I Corinthians 7: 10-11
But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away.

NOTE: the verse in parenthesis is an editor's comment and should be taken as that.

25, 27-28a
Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek to be bound. But if you should marry, you have not sinned (after being released??); and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned.

A wife is bound as long as her husband lives but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.

Romans 7: 1-3
Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by the law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she be joined to another man
(Cp. Matthew 19: 5-6).

Even the apostle Paul, whose writings compromise most of the New Testament Church's teachings, was in his own words, brought up in the strictest sect of Judaism, a "Pharisee of Pharisees" (Cp. Acts 26: 4-5; Philippians 3: 5), was not without some bias when it came to his attitude about the rights of men and women. If in this study with the myriads of complex social, psychological, and financial problems among other considerations that married couples face is such that infidelity is the 'only' legitimate reason for a man or woman to legally or obtain a spiritually sanctioned divorce [outside of secretly praying that the other spouse 'drop dead'], is quite disheartening; and perhaps the disciples were quite astute when they said, "If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry."

In certain instances, a growing number of the leadership in Protestant Churches are reluctantly acquiescing to allow and Biblically authorize 'divorce' (similar to the Catholic Church's rite of 'annulment'), but usually with some counseling and admonition against remarriage. This may have the impact of seeming to condemn 'remarriage' and thereby subject one to a life of loneliness, bitterness, solitude, indolence, and may make the person socially inhibited, withdrawn, and suspicious; at least on the negative side. However, there are those rare individuals endowed with the special gift of God who can live a life of 'celibacy,' devoting themselves to the things of God while enjoying a full, healthy, vibrant, and purposeful life filled with fun, social philanthropy and activism.

The one thing to keep in mind is the principle found in Genesis 2: 18, which applies to most of us, and that is, The Lord said, "It is not good that the man should be alone. . ." To reinforce that point, the lyrics of a popular 'Rock and Roll' song from the 1970's included the lyrics which go something like this, "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever use. . ." and it is inconceivable that 'the God Who is Love' would deny to anyone the right to find and experience the most beautiful and cherished of human expressions in a lifelong 'covenant' relationship with another person.

Finally, it doesn't seem consistent with God's nature and the fulfillment of human happiness and a stable society that just because of our imperfections and the limitation of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual being-ness, and in some cases due to circumstances beyond our control or influence, that anyone should be prohibited from finding that one 'special' person of our heart's desire who can truly make us very, very, happy.

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