Book Plunge: Divorce and Remarriage Four Views — Part 2

What do I think of William Heth’s view? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this volume, Heth defends the position that divorce is allowed, but not remarriage. This is an older work as since then, Heth has changed his position to allow for remarriage after adultery and desertion. Therefore, we can say that eventually he came to abandon his arguments here, but he still has his arguments and we need to address them.

To begin with, I do agree with parts where Heth speaks highly of marriage. I also think ideally that marriage should be permanent, but the problem is that it is too often not. This is even the case with God essentially sending a divorce certificate to Israel and Judah when He allows them to go into exile. There have been some who have said the same thing happens again in Revelation. Hosea 2 has God explicitly saying to Israel “I am not your husband.”

Heth says marriage happens when a man and a woman announce their covenant love for one another and consummate that love together. He says one is not sufficient in itself, pointing to 1 Cor. 6:16. The problem is, as was said yesterday, that 1 Cor. 6:16, quotes Genesis 2:24, which is said to be the foundational passage on marriage. Nothing in Genesis 2:24 speaks about announcing covenant love, for instance.

I do agree with Heth in that the purpose of marriage is not companionship. That is a purpose, but it is not the purpose. After all, men and women have plenty of sources for companionship. They’re called friends. We even consider our pets our companions. That being said, being divorced and single is quite lonely and so yes, that companionship is definitely missed.

I am unconvinced by his point on Deuteronomy 24 considering it does not allow for remarriage of the first husband. The purpose is that it still allows for remarriage. My thinking on this is that a back and forth exchange gives the impression that this is a case of men working together to have the same woman and claim to do so legally. It creates a love triangle scenario.

He speaks on Ezra with the marriages to other tribes at the end and says

As early as 1890, George Rawlinson observed:

It is quite clear that [Ezra] read the Law as absolutely prohibitive of mixed marriages (Ezra 9:10–14)—i.e., as not only forbidding their inception, but their continuance. Strictly speaking, he probably looked upon them as unreal marriages, and so as no better than ordinary illicit connections. For the evils which flow from such unions, those who make them, and not those who break them, are responsible.

William A Heth, “Chapter 2: Divorce, but No Remarriage,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 89.

I find this extremely flimsy. Are we to say that pagan nations had no “real marriages” since evils could flow from such unions? If all that is required for a real marriage is a public testimony and a consummation, then these were real marriages. If these were real marriages, then these were real divorces.

Heth goes on to say that

Yet the most serious cases of unlawful unions could be punished by the death of both parties, just like adulterers (Lev 20:10). Numbers 25:6–15 records the case of an Israelite who took a foreign wife and was summarily executed. It could be a significant act of kindness that Ezra only demanded the “divorce” of the foreigners, not their execution.

William A Heth, “Chapter 2: Divorce, but No Remarriage,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 90.

This also strikes me as problematic. In this case, we have no indication that the two were husband and wife. What is going on is a judgment has come to Israel and right after a public statement denouncing this, a man and a woman brazenly go in public so everyone can see them and then go into a tent and start doing the deed together. Phinehas says that that is enough and takes a spear and runs through both of them in one blow.

Thus, I hardly see this as a parallel. Add in also that Deuteronomy had standards for marrying a woman who was a captive and Rahab and Ruth were foreign women who we see in the genealogy of Jesus. Are we to think that those were illicit marriages?

As we move on, we see a quotation from Tony Lane, a lecturer on Christian doctrine at London Bible College.

If Jesus did allow remarriage, presumably it happened. How did it then cease to happen, despite the fact that his teaching was known, leaving no trace either of a period when it happened or of any controversy.

William A Heth, “Chapter 2: Divorce, but No Remarriage,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 97.

However, what I want to know is how is this known? For instance, let’s go with the early church having a problem with sex for pleasure. Are we to assume then that nowhere in the early church could we find couples having sex for pleasure? The reality is we just don’t have the marriage statistics on the early church so this is really an argument from silence.

Later when talking about Jesus and divorce, Heth says:

Divorce for marital unfaithfulness may be conceded in view of the prevailing social mores, but there must be no remarriage lest adultery be committed. The disciples then react in unbelief at the thought of a life of singleness apart from marital relations: if a man cannot get out of a marriage so as to marry another, it is probably better not to marry at all (v. 10). Jesus then responds by saying that his standards on divorce and remarriage are indeed difficult to understand and to live by. Nevertheless, God gives true disciples the ability to understand and live by Christ’s teaching. Furthermore, God will give faithful disciples the grace they need if they should face a divorce they cannot prevent (v. 11).

William A Heth, “Chapter 2: Divorce, but No Remarriage,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 106.

First, we don’t know why exactly the disciples reacted the way they did. We just know that they did. However, if someone was stunned at the prospect of a life of singleness without sex, there’s a sure way to get that. Never get married. At least if you get married, you could say you can have sex for some time.

I also don’t deny that God can give grace to those of us who have gone through divorce, but at the same time, He can also give us new spouses who will love us faithfully. There is no doubt God can provide for me regardless. My hope is still that that will be through another companion.

As for Paul, Heth says

Paul’s statement that the believer is “not bound” in such cases has the same function that the exception clause does in Matthew 19:9: it relieves the innocent party of the guilt of violating Christ’s command not to divorce. In the case of Matthew 19:9 the woman who commits adultery is held responsible for the breakup of the marriage, while in 1 Corinthians 7:15 Paul exempts the Christian from the responsibility for the divorce which an unbelieving mate brings about. Nothing is said one way or the other about the possibility of remarriage for the believer.

William A Heth, “Chapter 2: Divorce, but No Remarriage,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 112.

This seems like a strange interpretation. Not bound means that the person is not guilty? That doesn’t seem to be the main issue at play here. No one seems to be asking “Who is guilty of the divorce?”

Finally, in looking at the responses, I want to only look at one comment from Thomas Edgar.

Heth’s argument that unless divorce is required it cannot be argued that the one-flesh relationship has been broken due to sexual sin, fails to take into account that although relationship with a prostitute is “one flesh” it is not marriage unless a certain legal ceremony is carried out. In the same way sexual sin breaks the marriage bond, but the marriage is not actually dissolved until a certain legal procedure (divorce) is carried out Does anyone argue that the marriage itself is actually dissolved the instant one enters into sexual unfaithfulness? I think that my discussion of the syntax shows that Heth’s view of Matthew 19:9 is incorrect. It is grammatically impossible to claim that Matthew 19:9 does not allow remarriage in the case of the exception.

J. Carl Laney et al., Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 142.

This is an excellent case. Adultery does not ipso facto destroy the marriage as there can be repentance and it’s not as if the moment a spouse commits adultery, they are a divorced couple and then if the cheater comes home and resumes normal sex with the spouse, that the unaware party is having an affair? Just as the ceremony is part of the marriage, so it is part of the divorce. Adultery doesn’t necessitate divorce, but it is sufficient for it.

Next time, we will look at Thomas Edgar’s essay.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Divorce and Remarriage Part 1

What do I think of J. Carl Laney’s approach? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In looking at the views in this book, I plan on addressing in each part the opinion of the writer as well as the rebuttals by the opposing sides. The first one is going to be Laney. His approach is that the Bible doesn’t allow at all for divorce or remarriage. I should point out that I had a hand copy that I was highlighting, but I seem to have accidentally left it somewhere so I will not be making as many quotations. I am instead using my version Logos. Also, for new readers, I am sadly divorced and seeking remarriage.

So for Laney’s view, I definitely agree with matters upfront that marriage is an institution created by God. We should be doing all that we can to uphold and help marriages. I also do agree that divorce is a great evil in our world. There are times I sadly think it can be necessary, but that is still a tragedy even then. It means somewhere along the way, someone violated the covenant to such a great extent it has to be abandoned. I realize Laney disagrees with me on that last point, but that is fine. I often say if you want to meet someone who hates divorce, look for someone who has been wrongfully divorced.

I also agree that the Bible tells a man to cleave to his new wife, something that can include love but in a sense goes beyond it for something new. A man can love many people in his life, but the only one he should cleave to is his wife. I definitely also agree that sexual faithfulness should be part of the marriage covenant.

I also liked that he said parents should give children roots and wings. Give them roots in the sense that they always have a home that they are welcome at, but also give them wings. They need to leave that home sometime.

I disagree when he says that the marriage bond is indissoluble. For one thing, he points to Genesis 2:24 as the one-flesh union, but just before this has quoted that same verse from 1 Cor. 6:16 where Paul says if a man unites himself with a prostitute he becomes one flesh with her, quoting Genesis 2:24. Are we to think Paul thought a man had entered an indissoluble union with a prostitute? There are plenty of teenagers who are having sex in high school. Are we to think that the moment that they do, that they are automatically married and thus any further marriage is adultery? If so, there are a lot of adulterous people out there, including people who did stay faithful and married someone who wasn’t a virgin on their wedding night.

Laney also says that Deuteronomy 24 doesn’t institute or approve divorce, which is true, but it does treat it as a reality. However, if divorce is a reality, then yes, divorce is possible. If divorce is possible, then it means that it is possible to break apart a marriage covenant.

I also do not see how his claim works when Jesus says that if anyone divorces his wife and marries another, except for porneia, they commit adultery. To me, that is quite clear that in the case of porneia, whatever it is, that divorce and remarriage is allowed. Laney falls back on saying marriage cannot be undone, but that has not been demonstrated and it looks more like saying “Jesus could not mean X because it disagrees with the prior position here.”

Laney says that if porneia just means adultery, then Jesus would just have been siding with the school of Shammai. And the problem? It’s not unthinkable that the Jews actually got some things right in interpreting the Old Testament, including marriage laws. While it is true there is another word that can mean explicit adultery, the word Jesus used is just fine still for conveying the ideas, much like today we can say terms like having sex, making love, intercourse, coitus, hooking up, doing it, etc.

I also think too much is made of Mark and Luke not mentioning the exception in Matthew. It’s more likely that as someone like Instone-Brewer would point out, everyone would know that divorce was allowable for adultery. Matthew made it explicit for his own reasons, but unless the synoptics contradict each other, then they must all agree that adultery is an acceptable reason for divorce.

I will pass over Paul for now and save that for Heth’s position in this book which I highlighted more of and is closely akin to Laney. I also want to say that he and Heth both appeal to the early church and say that the early church did not allow for divorce and remarriage. Not having seen all they said, I will grant that for the sake of argument.

However, many of them also said that sex should be used only for the purpose of procreation. Tertullian referred to it as that dreadful thing. Would Laney and Heth want to embrace that view? I daresay many of your most staunch Catholics and Orthodox would not even take such a position.

They would also likely if they want to be consistent then hold to many of the Marian doctrines. For someone in the RCC or the Orthodox camp, this would not be a problem. For those wanting to be Protestants, it could be. (There are Protestants who do hold to perpetual virginity.) Thus, it’s not sufficient to say the early church believed X. I want to know why they believed it.

I also think that Laney’s position could lead to license of sin. It could mean that if a spouse is committing adultery, well, you can’t divorce so what are you going to do? Well, a spouse is being abusive and/or putting children at risk. Can’t divorce. What are you going to do? I’m sure Laney would have solutions in each of these cases, but I also think that even separation alone would have little effect on someone like that.

Also, when I read cases like this, it seems as if Laney is unaware of those of us who are divorced against our desires. Many of us wanted to celebrate marriage the way that Laney does, and many of us do, but our own experiences of it fell short and it is devastating. I know this is not the intent, but when one reads this, you can come away with the position of “Sucks to be you. Your spouse wronged you and now you have to suffer.”

So in the end, I am not convinced of Laney’s position. Next time, we will explore Heth who allows for divorce, but not remarriage. I will also have more quotations from that one due to highlighting online so expect more interaction.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)


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