In the past, I have written a couple of articles on divorce. The major ones that clearly explains my present convictions are:
I also used to offer the much more traditional interpretation of Malachi 2:16 where the English Bible indicates that God hates divorce. Some of us have also lived a judgemental life towards divorced people but as the word of God becomes even clearer, we begin to interpret these things better and become even more useful to those who seek honest answers.
This short article serves as a follow up to the previous articles and I intend to throw more light on the ideology behind what was written in the Bible and how it’s different from what we interpret today. Just like we do not license people to sin when we teach the grace of God, we also do not license people to divorce when we teach these truths.
However, by these truths, we set people’s conscience free as Jesus said: “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”.
WHAT DIVORCE MEANS IN THE BIBLE
You see, when you read “divorce” in the Bible, it doesn’t mean the same thing divorce means today. The word translated to “Divorce” from the Old Testament is שָׁלַח (Shalach) which means “to send” and in context to Malachi 2:16 means “to send away“. In our modern language, we would say “to kick away“.
In Matthew 5:32, the word of Jesus that was translated as divorce from Greek is ἀπολύων (apoluōn) which means “to put away“. So Jesus was saying “whoever puts away his wife…”
The English word “divorce” is gotten from the Latin word “divortium” from “divertere” which means “divert”. It’s known first use was in the 14th century and was used as a noun. This means that before the 14th century, there was no such word as divorce. It’s first known use was used to mean “dissolve”, as in, to legally dissolve a marriage.
You can see that both in the old and new testament, the understanding of what we translated as divorce is different from what we know today as divorce.
Much more, both in the instances of the Old Testament, the laws on divorce was meant to protect the women because their husbands were used to kicking them out after they are tired of them. It’s what we call “use and dump” today. In the Epistles, Paul would address a seeming likelihood but this time around, in the favour of men whose wives were leaving their marriages unprovoked.
When God said “I hate divorce”, he was not addressing what we understand as divorce today, he was addressing the practice of a husband putting his wife away for no tangible reason safe for the fact that he is tired of her.
Now Malachi 5:32 makes more sense, let’s read
“Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty, ” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”
Malachi 2:15-16 NLT
When you look at the above verses, you should understand that God was saying “I hate how you kick out your wives and overwhelm her with cruelty”. He wasn’t and did not address what we understand as divorce today. If we the language we speak today is the original Hebrew or Greek, this would have been easier to understand without controversy.
Jesus said “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.” Matthew 5:31-32 NLT
Jesus was still addressing the same issue, he was rather exposing the hypocrisy of the people and the shortcomings of the law that encourages men to kick their wives away. We see that Jesus however, as we noted in the previous article gave concessions for certain circumstances.
This means divorce can happen and rightly so when a reasonable circumstance is surrounding it. It could be unfaithfulness. Abuse, as far as I am concern also falls into the line as unfaithfulness because anyone who abuses his or her spouse has been unfaithful to the marriage contract.
LEAVING A MARRIAGE UNPROVOKED
Paul writes “But for those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord. A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him. And the husband must not leave his wife.” 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 NLT
Paul was not addressing people who left their marriage because of abuse or unfaithfulness in the above verse. Many people have used this verse to try to woo people into staying in an abusive marriage. Paul was simply addressing a certain audience.
We need to understand the background of Paul’s letter to these people so that we can make a sound judgement. When people started hearing the gospel and getting converted in the Corinthians Church, some women who became believers started leaving their husbands because they are not believers, some also started dishonouring their husbands seeing that they manifest the gift and power of the Spirit while their husbands do not. Hence, in a bid to cut down the excesses, Paul had to take some disciplinary measures and wrote saying
“Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.” 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 NLT
As a side note, let me say that many people misconstrue Paul’s words to usurp unhealthy authority over women. The above verse was simply Paul’s effort to curb the evident acts of immaturity among believers in the Church where there seemed to be a rift between men and their wives. We must note that the woman is not inferior to the man and the man is not superior to the woman. Paul wrote
“But among the Lord’s people, women are not independent of men, and men are not independent of women. For although the first woman came from man, every other man was born from a woman, and everything comes from God.” 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 NLT
Being babies in the faith, they were making hasty decisions, leaving their marriages, having frictions with their spouse, therefore, causing issues which were brought to Paul as a complaint in a letter. We see Paul beginning this chapter with “Now regarding the questions you asked in your letter…”
Paul’s command for the protection of marriage wasn’t just a mere opinion but a command from God. However, Paul was simply addressing people leaving their marriages unprovoked. Jesus already assented to a concession, that one could leave a marriage on certain circumstances.
When Paul encouraged that those who leave their marriages remain unmarried, he was doing so because these people had no reason not to remain married, they left their marriages unprovoked and if they insist to remain separated from their spouse, they must remain single. This is because, the marriage contract was not broken and in essence, they are still married but separated.
The word translated as reconciliation here is the Greek word καταλλαγήτω (katallagētō). It means to “change decisively” and is usually used in the redemptive sense of a sinner reconciling to the Lord. So, in this regard, one who leaves his or her marriage unprovoked is regarded in the same way an unbeliever is regarded as one who is separated from God. In this sense, it can’t apply to someone who left an abusive marriage.
We have seen what Paul meant by “reconciliation”, he was not saying that an abused woman or man should forget what happened and go back to their spouse. He was simply saying “don’t leave your spouse just because you’ve been saved by believing the gospel while he is still an unbeliever. If you have done so, don’t marry someone else. If you still desire marriage, go back to your partner because you are still married.”
However, forgiveness remains a valid option, an option that must be allowed to reach its limit. While forgiveness remains the first option, we need to understand that it doesn’t mean allowing someone to hurt you again. I have seen people get killed in their marriages because of abuse and I have also seen an abused person gets pushed to the wall that they become either suicidal or commit murder.
Before reconciliation of a marriage broken on the grounds of abuse and unfaithfulness can be possible, the erring partner must repent of his or her shortcomings. It takes the willingness of two persons to reconcile and without repentance, reconciliation is impossible. I don’t understand how we encourage people to remain in a place where their lives have been severely threatened, where they have been beaten and abused emotionally, sexually and physically when the perpetrator is not willing to repent and seek rehabilitation.
In my previous teaching on this subject, I explained how an abused person can move on and find love again. I have also written on how one can prevent the chances of divorce before getting married. Of course, many times, marital problems are problems that began even before the marriage but weren’t sorted out. This is why we mustn’t enter a marriage with a blindfold.
I call you blessed.