Divorce and The Christian Woman: Breaking the Chains of Marriage
By | Rev. Dr. A. L. Carpenter
Divorce and The Christian Woman: Breaking the Chains of Marriage
Rev. Dr. A. L. Carpenter
© 2014 Rev. Dr. A. L. Carpenter ISBN
“Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible^®^, Copyright^©^ 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.” (www.lockman.org)
The Christian Woman and Her Freedom to Divorce
Table of Contents
1. A Book for Christian Women.
2. Marriage: Christian or Civil Institution?
3. Marriage: Sacred Covenant or Civil Contract?
4: Wedding Vows: Null and Void
5: Waiting for Adultery
6: What God has Joined Together
7: Does God Hate Divorce?
8: Jesus and Divorce
9: The Apostle Paul and Divorce
10.The Reconciliation Delusion
11.Marriage vs. Remarriage
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
The thesis of this book is simple: You, as a Christian woman, have the right to divorce your husband at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. You do not need to provide an explanation, apology, rationalization, or justification to anyone. This freedom is a basic fundamental human right that cannot be taken from you by the doctrines of the church.
For thousands of years men have used the Bible to claim it is the will of God that a woman abandon her strength, independence, and self-identity upon the day she marries. The woman is expected to become a willing helpmate to her husband and she must be servile and submissive to his authority. She is to acknowledge him as the high priest of the home and teach her children to do likewise. Once she enters into the marriage relationship she is provided no way of escape, other than death. Freedom to divorce her husband is denied. If, for some reason she escapes a brutal husband, it is expected of her to return to him and be reconciled, as this is the way a forgiving Christian woman should behave. Such a picture of marriage cannot be of God nor should his name be used in conjunction with such treatment of women.
The Bible is being misused as a manual on marriage and divorce. As a result, the Christian woman is told whom she can marry, how she is to conduct herself in marriage, how long she must remain married, when she can divorce, under what terms she can divorce, why she should reconcile, and if she is to be allowed to remarry. If she violates any of these rules, threats of divine punishments are said to follow her until she repents. In this book you will find that a woman does not become the faithful, servile servant to her husband by virtue of marriage. She is free before marriage, during marriage, and is free to end her marriage any time and for any reason. This book will show that there is nothing in the entire Bible that restricts a woman’s freedom in marriage or prevents her from divorcing her husband for any reason. The Bible is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a manual on marriage and divorce.
The church has built its interpretation of marriage on the very foundation of inequality. Men rule, women obey, until death; this is the definition of marriage according to universally accepted church doctrine. Under such a definition marriage is predisposed to be a place of discontent for women. It is no surprise that divorce among Christians has always been higher than among atheists and it is no surprise that up to ninety percent of all divorces are initiated by the woman.
The church considers marriage to be a divine institution and that is to be “one man for one woman for one life.” This book will show that it is not possible for marriage to be a divine institution and in fact marriage is common, mundane and ordinary. Marriage is like any other relationship other than it has legal ramifications. If marriage were one man for one woman for life, then the institution of marriage would become tantamount to human bondage. Any time a woman is held against her will it is equivalent to human bondage. To imply marriage was intended by God to be a lifelong arrangement is to say He joins those men who believe they own their wives, for life. It is men, not God, who have imposed lifetime internment of a woman in marriage against her will. There is not a single sentence in the Bible, when rightfully interpreted, that denies a woman her right to divorce her husband.
In the United States to detain someone against their will is a crime in all fifty states. It is illegal and immoral to hold someone against his or her consent. However, the church feels it is completely acceptable to use the Bible and the authority of the name of God, to force a woman to remain in her marriage under threat of divine punishment. The church, its ministers, and its doctrines deny a woman her right to divorce if she so chooses to do so. “One man for one woman for life” is the standard doctrine of the church in regards to marriage. It sounds like the dreadful pronouncement of a sentence of confinement.
This book is written for a specific audience. The intended audience of this book is Christian women who are considering leaving their marriages, but are being held captive by the threats of their husbands and church doctrine. These threats always include a promise of divine retribution for the woman who breaks the rules of God. This book will reveal the Bible is not a rulebook on marriage and divorce and there are no divine threats. In the Old Testament men casually divorced their wives for the slightest provocation and in the New Testament this tradition was continued. Divorce was a male privilege that was common among the people of the Bible. What God is concerned with is not divorce, but how we treat one another. Marriage is entering into a relationship that has legal implications; divorce is ending that same relationship. It is not the institution of marriage that is special; it is how we treat one another within that institution. It is always about how we treat one another.
I may sound as if I am advocating women to divorce their husbands. I am not advocating a woman to do anything in regards to her personal life. However, I strongly advocate that no woman should be wrongly held against her will in any relationship, marriage included, through the use of the Bible. Nothing in the Bible restricts a woman’s right to marry and divorce a hundred times if she so chooses. Likewise, there are no prohibitions given anywhere in the Bible that prevent a woman from divorcing her husband. The practice of using the Bible to control women must end. It is not God that seeks to imprison women in marriage; it is men. Were it not for the great misuse of the Bible to subjugate women to the will of their husbands, men would find themselves called upon to safeguard their own marriages. There is simply no motive whatsoever for a man to treat his wife as an equal when he can claim inequality as a divine plan.
No woman should be held against her will in any relationship. Forced relationships cannot be dignified by the word marriage. It is not the purpose of the Bible to be viewed as a manual on marriage and divorce, and when it is used as such it cannot be called Holy Scripture. If men wish to keep their wives, then it is incumbent upon them to do it apart from any divine authority. If a man loves his wife then he will extend to her the same freedom she once had, even if that freedom includes her right to leave her marriage. She is free to enter into marriage and free to leave her marriage. She is free to say “I do” and free to say “I no longer do.”
There are three things that hold a Christian woman in marriage against her will: The Bible, church doctrine, and fear. This book will show there is not a single verse in the Bible that demands a woman be bound to a man for a lifetime, or for any time for that matter. The doctrine of “one man, for one woman, for life” is a complete fabrication. Also, current church doctrine regarding marriage and divorce is based on a male-oriented theology from the Medieval Period (AD 400-1400) and has no bearing on a woman of the twenty-first century. Lastly, fear has been used as an instrument to insure that a woman never leaves her marriage. Physical violence, theological threats, emotional abuse, shunning, promise of guilt, threat of punishment in the afterlife — all are used against the woman who asks to be free of her marriage. Any man who keeps his wife through fear is not worthy of her. Male rage, threats pronounced by the church, social disapproval, all are used against the woman seeking to exercise her fundamental right of self-determination.
The Bible has many uses but never is it to be used as an instrument of oppression. In the past, the Bible has been used to oppress African-Americans, “heretics,” American Indians, South Africans, homosexuals, women, Aboriginal Australians, atheists, and many others. Every time the Bible is used to cause pain and suffering in any person, for any reason, it is being grievously misused. This book is about how the Bible is used by the church to confine a woman in marriage for all her life regardless of her right to freedom. If anything, the Bible grants freedom — it does not restrict it. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (I Corinthians 3:17).
Throughout this book the term “Christian marriage” will be used. This term is used only for the sake of clarity. When both bride and groom are Christians this does not make their marriage a Christian marriage. Marriage is a legal union between two people regardless of their religious beliefs. A Christian is a person, not an institution. It is not possible for any marriage to be rightly called a Christian marriage, for doing so automatically categorizes all other marriages as “non-Christian” and infers inferiority as not being approved of by God. Marriage is marriage, regardless of the religious opinions of the wife or the husband.
While the Bible recognizes the culture of marriage and divorce, it never claims authority over marriage or grants authority to the church or its ministers. The idea of “Christian marriage” falling under the control of the church is false. Any time we add a preface to the word “marriage” it suggests an attribute that is artificial and serves no purpose other that to obscure the only true definition of marriage: Marriage is a voluntary agreement between consenting adults that is recognized by the community and ratified by the State. Anything beyond that is merely ceremonial.
The Bible is a book about relationships. In the Old Testament we have the story of a relationship between God and a people known as the Israelites. In the New Testament we find the story of a relationship between God and all the people of the world. This is what the Bible is for, to reveal to us a relationship that we may have with our creator. Regrettably, the Bible has been turned into a rulebook that has been used extensively to govern every aspect of our lives. The world has been divided into two categories, believers and unbelievers. The unbelievers are called heretics, apostates, atheists, rebels, skeptics, humanists, sectarians, and even antichrists all because they do not follow the perceived rules of the Bible. The rules are sacred to the believer and therefore the violation of these rules call for the most severe judgment. However…the Bible is not a rulebook that is to govern our lives or the lives of anyone! The Bible is a book of stories, history, prophesies, song, and biography that introduce us to God. The Law of Moses in the Old Testament that governed the ancient Hebrew people was conquered at the Cross, on the hill called Calvary. Only the law of love remains.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35).
It is my hope this book will aid women to find the strength to escape any marriage that is demeaning and cruel. Any marriage where a woman is being held against her will is illegitimate and should come to an end. I encourage women to read this book carefully and come to their own conclusions. Again, a woman is free to divorce her husband any time and for any reason, it is her choice. There are no divine punishments awaiting the woman who uses the very gift that God has given her — the gift of self-determination.
May God bless all women who are willing to stand up to male dominance and church authority and say, “It is my life and I will not consign it to another.” Let the chains of misery fall and take those first steps of regaining strength, dignity, and self-identity. Let the wrath of men roar against the wind and let the ministers of the church pour forth their religious disapproval. It is your life and you have the right to reclaim it from those who illegitimately hold you in bondage. God is always with the oppressed, and there is none more oppressed than a woman being held captive by men who do so under an erroneous claim of authority of their religion. Remember, you have the right to divorce at any time, for any reason, or for no reason.
A Book for Christian Women
If one makes a mistake, and fails to correct it, one has made a greater mistake. —Plato
This is a book for women because it is women who have been victimized in marriage for thousands of years, not men. The ideal Christian marriage is presented as one where a man rules a woman and it is her role to humbly obey him in all things. She is told that “man is the head of the woman” (I Corinthians 11:3) and therefore it is God’s command that she submit to his authority. It does not matter if her husband is a fool, a drunkard, violent, or even molests her children, she still must obey her husband in all things. Christian men are not required to treat their wives as equals because prevailing Church doctrine claims that their wives are not their equals. The favorite verse of men who love to claim authority over their wives is found in I Corinthians, “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” They forget that when they quote this verse that if it is being used as a chain of command it makes the doctrine of the trinity impossible.
When a woman attends a conservative church she is certain to hear a sermon on why she should submit to her husband’s authority and the chaos that will ensue if she fails in her duty. The men revel in every word as the ministers confirm the assertion of male authority in in the home. It is as if Christianity finds its truest expression through the man and the woman is but a sidekick, a helpmate, and an afterthought of creation. The saying we are all familiar with is, “Behind every great man stands a woman.” This is how the church views the role of the perfect wife, standing behind her husband. The highest a woman can achieve is to enable her husband to thrive. She must always remain in the background, in his shadow, and his dreams must become her dreams. This is book for Christian women because the day of the quiet, submissive wife needs to come to an end. The woman who is forced to stand behind her husband may now step forward and stand with him, or stand alone without him — it is her choice. For thousands of years the wife has been forced to remain in the background, her role was to obey. Every Bible verse that can be used against her is used against her in order that she might “know her place” in marriage. Such a misuse of the Bible causes it to appear that God sides with those men who find it completely acceptable to confine women in a marriage that is completely demeaning. Any relationship where it is an unquestionable fact that men rule and women obey cannot be of God and certainly cannot be dignified by the word “marriage.”
There has always been a debasement of women among church theologians. For example, the following are statements made by Christianity’s most honored theologians:
What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother; it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.
(Saint Augustine, 354- 430).
The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes. (Martin Luther, 1483-1546).
Woman was made for only one reason, to serve and obey man. (John Knox, 1514-1572).
Wife: Be content to be insignificant. What loss would it be to God or man had you never been born. (John Wesley, 1703-1791).
Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison to his. Therefore she is unsure in herself. What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil. … Thus in evil and perverse doings woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man. Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good. (Albertus “The Great” Magnus, 1200-1280).
Woman is a temple built over a sewer. [*(*]Tertullian, 160-220).
For it is improper for a woman to speak in an assembly, no matter what even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they come from the mouth of a woman. (Origen, 192-254).
These are but a few of the thousands of grievous statements made by male theologians of the Church in regards to women. A common saying of ministers today is “women are second in creation and first to sin.” This saying is supposed to be evidence that the woman’s lot in life is to obey her husband as a divine punishment for her eating from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. It is mindless statements like this that are used against the woman to insure she will never be equal to her husband. She will always be a helpmate, an assistant. Yes, this is a book for the Christian woman for she has endured such maltreatment at the hands of men through bad theology and misrepresentation of God that it is time for her to reclaim her rightful place in the marriage relationship.
Women today do not carry the curse of Eve any more than men of today carry the curse of Adam. Genesis 3:17-19 states that men are cursed to be farmers who will eke out a living through painful toil and also implies that they will be vegetarians. Billions of men do not plow the fields nor gain their food from painful toil and no one suggests that all men are under the curse of Adam. But the church maintains women are still under the curse of Eve. It is suggested she must suffer the pain of childbirth and she must allow her husband to rule over her because she is the daughter of Eve. It is hard to believe, but this is the argument presented by men to establish the case that man has a divine right to rule over his wife.
There are many Christian ministers and Bible teachers today who follow the teachings of the early church theologians in claiming that the woman is not made in the image of God. Only man is made in the image of God, while woman is made in the image of man. Consider the following:
Woman does not possess the image of God in herself, but only when taken together with the male who is her head, so that the whole substance is one image. But when she is assigned the role as helpmate, a function that pertains to her
alone, then she is not the image of God. But as far as the man is concerned, he
is by himself alone the image of God just as fully and completely as when he and
the woman are joined together into one. (Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo).
Where does the idea come from that women are not made in the image of God? The following verses have been used for centuries to show that only men are made in the image of God:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26).
For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. (I Corinthians 11:7).
It is hard to believe such an assertion would be made, but not only is it claimed to factual men point to these verses (among others) to substantiate their claims that a woman is not made in the image of God. In Genesis 2:22, it says that woman was created from the rib of Adam. As men have pointed out, this passage does not say that Eve was created in the image of God. The insistence is that only man is made in the image of God, and woman is but the glory of man. It is not possible for a woman to have any sense of equality in her marriage if it is to be believed her husband has been made in the image of the Creator of the universe, but she is only the “glory of her husband.”
Marriage, in the Christian context, from its beginning has sown the seeds of misery for the woman. To claim she is but a helpmate, an addendum to man, and the highest she can achieve in life is to be a helper to her husband is an absolute perversion of Scripture. Marriage under such circumstances is demeaning to women and therefore should be avoided at every opportunity. It is just not possible for any woman to thrive as an individual when she most surrender her individuality at the marriage altar. It is only the man who has a bright future and the woman’s role is to facilitate that future.
Male theologians also claim every that woman is cursed at birth for she carries within her the “malediction of Eve.” The malediction of Eve is a curse that is believed to fall upon all women because she was the first to take of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Because of this curse, all women therefore are to suffer the pain of childbirth and are to obey their husband in all things. She can never escape, as this curse as it is said to follow her and her daughters forever. The early theologian Tertullian had this to say on the matter of the curse that every woman carries:
In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die… Woman, you are the gate to hell. (Tertullian, 1600-220).
Yes, this is a book for women. It is written to dispel thousands of years of abuse by men upon their wives through the misuse of the Bible. God is not in league with those men, or any men, who would demean a woman, strip her of her strength and independence, and sentence her to live in a relationship with a man for the rest of her life against her own free will. In Christian marriage the man has everything to gain and nothing to lose, as it has been for thousands of years. It is the only the woman who is to sacrifice upon the altar of marriage the greatest of all her possessions, her freedom, her strength, her dignity, and her self-identity. Yes, this is a book for women.
Why would anyone write a book that makes a case that a Christian woman is free to divorce her husband at any time she chooses without explanation or justification? Marriage in the Christian context is often a very lopsided, unequal relationship that favors the man and is cruel and demeaning to women. In addition, to use the Bible as an instrument to keep women in any relationship she no longer wishes to be a part of is a gross misuse of the Bible. Lastly, a Christian woman is free to divorce her husband any time, for any reason, or no reason, because it is her God given privilege to exercise her free will any time and for any reason she chooses. Because her free will is a gift of God, no person or doctrine has the authority to strip any woman of this fundamental right. God does not demand a woman abandon her free will at the marriage altar and to forever live in the shadow of her husband. She is free to enter marriage, she is free in marriage, and she is free to end her marriage at any time and for any reason she chooses. Anything less than this is not a relationship, it is a prison.
People are surprised to learn that up to ninety percent of all divorces in America are initiated by the wife and that Christians have the highest rate of divorce. Statistics have always demonstrated that atheists have healthier and thus longer lasting marriages than their Christian counterparts. This is a strong indicator that something in Christian marriage is highly dissatisfying to a woman. When a woman marries a Christian man she believes he will be faithful, a good provider, a good father, and that he avoids such things as gambling, alcohol, and drugs. Sometimes the Christian man is everything she hoped he would be as a husband. However, if this same man subscribes to the current doctrine of the church, in regards to the role of the woman, then her marriage becomes a very dark place. The good Christian man comes with a price and that price is her freedom, strength, and her self-respect. To make matters worse, it is expected of her to teach her sons to rule over their wives and to teach her daughters to submit to male headship.
How does one find it acceptable to use the Bible to take a healthy relationship between a man and a woman and turn it into an unhealthy relationship upon marriage? A woman is free to enter into and end any relationship except the marriage relationship. For some reason there are those who insist marriage is a divine supernatural relationship, but in fact it is no different from any other relationship. Like any other relationship a woman should be able to retain her right to freely exit any time she chooses. If it were a true statement that Christian marriage was a divine, supernatural union between a man and a woman then both man and woman would be greatly increased by such a union. But in many Christian marriages only the man benefits and the only the woman suffers. He rules, she obeys. The man gains a servant and the woman gains a master. By definition, any relationship where all authority is vested in one participant and none in the other is a very unhealthy relationship. Also, any relationship that demands either party cannot end the relationship without sanction from the church is an unhealthy relationship. Any relationship that is held together by threats of punishment (guilt, divine anger, excommunication, shunning) or coercion is an unhealthy relationship.
How is it that the wife becomes the victim and the husband the victor in a Christian marriage? It must be observed that the entire Bible was written from a male perspective, as was all ancient literature. Man obeyed God, and woman obeyed man. Every page of the Bible is filled with masculine language and symbolism; even the name for God is masculine. Everything written by the Apostles concerning marriage was written in a time when men owned their women in the same way they owned their cattle and plow. A woman was born as a vessel for the pleasure of men, from birth till death, she was always under male authority. She was passed from her father to her husband, from one man to the next, always under male dominion. It is from this perspective that Christian men claim authority over their wives today. They point to their ancient Bible and cite verses written thousands of years ago in a culture far removed from ours and cry, “Thus sayeth the Lord God; you must obey because that was what women did 2,000 years ago in Palestine.” Out of fear of offending God many women comply. Ignorant men have used the Bible to promote the suffering of women for thousands of years. Today, knowledge is widespread, thanks to the Internet, and oppressive ignorant ideas will be finally exposed to the light of truth.
Yes, this is a book for women. Such an understanding of marriage is destructive to all women. Men see male dominion as a divine privilege and when such dominion is imposed on a woman they claim they are only obeying God. If a woman refuses to submit to her husband’s authority she is said to be in rebellion against God. What woman would ever wish to marry a Christian man if it demands a complete surrender of her strength, independence, freedom, self-identity and her right to choose? It would be far better for a woman to remain single than to marry under such terms that demand obedience to a man for the remainder of her life.
Many women of the Bible are recorded as having no names as they had no status within a world of men. Some of the women that were the most prominent were “harlots,” or prostitutes. One of the most prominent derogatory words in the Bible is “whore,” a female reference. Even as children in Sunday School we learned of the evil women of the Bible: Jezebel, Bathsheba, and Delilah. Even Eve, the mother of all women, is vilified in that through her, sin came into the world. For thousands of years Eve was portrayed as the seducer of Adam and the root cause of all suffering and death in the world. It was Eve and all her female descendants that are the blame for all the evil in the world and her penalty is for her to serve man all her life. There is no marriage that can have as its foundation such inequality and can still be considered a healthy relationship. Marriage under such terms should be ended and it is the purpose of this book to demonstrate that all women are free to end such marriages at any time or for any reason. Marriage does not have one entrance and no exit; just as a woman may freely enter into marriage she may freely leave.
Yes, this is a book for Christian women. Christian men have used the Bible to enslave their wives to a lifetime of servitude for thousands of years. They have made divorce impossible for the woman without the penalty of incurring shame and guilt. In many churches if a woman does divorce her husband, she is punished in that she is prohibited from a second marriage. If a woman chooses to leave her husband for a reason not approved by the church, she is called a sinner or an adulteress.
Men are welcome to read this book and in doing so they perhaps will discover that it is not God who will preserve their marriage; it is up to all men to preserve their own marriages. The only way a man may be worthy of his wife is to extend to her the freedom to choose him again every morning, or not. Marriage must allow the woman the freedom to stay, or leave. Anything less is not a relationship that can be dignified by the word marriage.
Thousands of books have been written celebrating male privilege in the marriage relationship. The authors exploit the Bible to their own ends to insure male dominion and female subordination. Every Bible verse that is used to enslave women in marriage has been lifted out of its historical context. Men know that it is far easier to keep a wife by convincing her that it is “God’s will” that he rule over her as the “high priest of the home,” than by extending to her the freedom to leave any time she chooses. It is weak men, fearful of losing their wives, who resort to the manipulation of the Word of God to frighten their wives into remaining in marriage. Weak men have always been fearful of strong and independent women. So they strip this strength and independence of women in marriage. Men have found the Bible a very effective instrument to keep good women in bad marriages.
The day of a man keeping his wife through divine decree, threat, or coercion is long gone. Women no longer need men to find fulfillment, legitimize their children, provide support, and find security. The arguments from the Bible that have been used against women for thousands of years are without basis. Every page of this book will attempt to convince the woman that she is free to enter into marriage, she is free in marriage, and she is free to leave her marriage. Never does this freedom cause her to provoke God or to incur alienation from Him. It is the man who is angered when his wife dares to be as free as he is in marriage.
Yes, this is a book for women. It has not been written to encourage or discourage divorce. It has been written to reveal that a woman is free to leave her marriage any time, for any reason, or no reason, without violating a single biblical principle. She may anger men, family, friends, and the church, but she will never anger God nor alienate herself from Him for exercising her right of self-determination. It is within the divine nature of God to see all prosper, not just men.
Marriage: Christian or Civil Institution?
In fact, clergymen were among the most vociferous antagonists that women faced. Every scrap of biblical evidence, especially St. Paul, that they could marshal in favor of male superiority was advanced in convention debates by them.
—Lucretia Mott, 1854.
When a woman understands her marriage is a civil institution and not a religious institution, it becomes much easier for her to divorce without inappropriate and unnecessary guilt. When marriage is considered a religious affair it then becomes regulated by the church, its officers, and a myriad of different, and often conflicting, religious doctrine. Therefore when marriage is interpreted as a religious institution a woman is not allowed to leave her marriage at any time or for any reason. Instead, she must meet the satisfaction of her particular denominations interpretation of biblical standards. These standards vary from church to church but the one thing they all have in common is that a woman may never leave her marriage any time or for any reason. If a woman chooses to leave her husband without sanction of the church and its ministers she is branded an adulteress. The woman in a religious marriage is said to have failed God, family, church, self, and even country if she should ever end her marriage apart from reasons strictly stipulated and approved by her church. Marriage becomes very devastating to a woman once it falls under the control of any religion.
First, let it be understood there are no “Christian marriages,” just as there are no Christian schools, hospitals, orphanages, or even churches. The reason for this is that Christians are people, not institutions. No matter how noble of purpose an institution may be, it nevertheless cannot be labeled “Christian.” When one is married in a Christian church it does not magically transform a couple into something called a Christian marriage. If one searches the entire Bible one will not find a single reference to something called a Christian marriage. All marriages are the same. A marriage is a quasi-civil contractual agreement in which the participants are to be known publically as husband and wife for an indeterminate amount of time. Marriage must be ratified by the State in order for it to legal and binding. Anything religion contributes to marriage is purely ceremonial. Perhaps there is nothing more important than understanding that everything a religion contributes to a marriage is only ceremonial. In fact, all professionally trained church theologians concur that the only thing religion contributes to marriage is strictly ceremonial in nature. Yet, it remains a widespread belief that marriage is a Christian institution.
If marriage is a Christian institution then where is the biblical evidence to substantiate such a claim? There is only one passage provided that supposedly establishes marriage as a Christian institution. It is the story of Adam and Eve as it is found in the Book of Genesis:
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib, which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one-flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:21-25).
This passage is often referred to as the first marriage in the Bible and is to be considered a prototype of all subsequent marriages. It is also presented, as the only evidence needed, that it is God who established marriage as a Christian institution. Obviously there are many problems with such a claim. For example, it certainly cannot be considered to be speaking of marriage as a Christian institution, as Christianity would not exist for thousands of years in the future. In fact, in the marriage of Adam and Eve there was no church, ministers, vows, or any other element one might expect in a marriage. The marriage of Adam to Eve was simply an agreement to live together for the sake of companionship. Any conclusion beyond this is to infer the passage is saying something it apparently does not. In other words, putting words in the mouth of the author of the Book of Genesis. The point is, Christianity did not invent marriage, and it is not, nor has it ever been, a Christian institution. It is simply bad biblical interpretation for Christians to look back to the Garden of Eden and say, “God is talking about my marriage.” Look again, it is a story about Adam and Eve, not Mary and Richard.
The story of Adam and Eve does not even suggest marriage. In the original language of this passage there is no word “wife.” In the Hebrew there is only the word “woman.” In other words, Adam was to be joined to his “woman.” Eve never became Adam’s wife; she became his woman. If the story of Adam and Eve is to be used as a prototype for modern marriage, then the woman will become the possession of the man. This is why in the New Testament the model of the Jewish woman was literally to be a possession of her husband. Not because it was ordained by God to be so, but because this was how the Jewish religious leaders interpreted their Bible. They saw it as the religious duty of all Jewish men to be married by the age of twenty-five and have at least two male children in order to “be fruitful and replenish the earth.” Never would a Jewish theologian, modern or ancient, consider the story of Adam and Eve to have even the remotest connection with establishing marriage as a Christian institution.
Why does the church demand complete authority over marriage and divorce? Why do church leaders feel they have the authority to stipulate what are legitimate reasons for divorce and why do they feel it is acceptable to label a woman an adulteress if she divorces for reasons other than those stipulated by the church? In other words, why does the church insist marriage is and always has been a Christian institution, and not a civil contract? If marriage is a civil matter then a woman has the fundamental right to divorce her husband any time and for any reason she chooses without incurring the displeasure of God. If marriage is nothing but a civil agreement adjudicated by the State and not the church, then the woman always retains her freedom to end her marriage any time she chooses. Male privilege ends if the church cannot legitimately claim dominion over marriage.
Civil marriage extends basic rights to women that religion has denied for thousands of years. In the Bible a woman does not have the right to disobey her husband, divorce her husband, or even choose her husband. A woman in the Bible is to obey, submit, care for the home, care for the sick, and have as many children (preferably male) as possible before she dies. In biblical times, women suffered terribly in childbirth, as there were no anesthetics available. Men believed this suffering was the punishment all women must endure because they carried the curse of Eve. When a woman died in childbirth, as was common, it was interpreted as the mysterious, “will of God.” Marriage as a Christian institution has made terrible demands upon women and no demands upon men. The man rules and has the privilege of sex on demand while the woman’s role is to obey and suffer terribly as a result of his, “privilege.” It might be noted that never has a man died while giving birth and yet he considers himself amply qualified to force his wife to have as many children as he pleases.
This passage in Genesis is the only passage used to convince people that marriage is a Christian institution and that it is to be controlled and regulated by the church. One would think that if this claim were true, it would be mentioned more than just once in an obscure text that obviously has no bearing on the claim of marriage. Why do we find nothing in the New Testament of Jesus, Paul, or Peter saying that marriage is to come under the authority of the church? The answer is that the Son of God did not become flesh, dwell among us, teach, heal, and die on a Cross for the purpose of establishing the rules of marriage and divorce. It is the church that has established these rules, completely without any biblical authority. The Bible, from cover to cover, never claims marriage as a Christian institution. Thus, if marriage is not a Christian institution then the church cannot claim regulatory powers.
If one insists on presenting this passage (Genesis 2:21-25) as evidence that marriage is a Christian institution, then the rest of the rules of marriage found in the Old Testament cannot be ignored and must also be considered to be the template for modern marriage. The following is a description of marriage as defined in the Bible: Men are allowed to have as many wives and concubines as they like as polygamy was common; they are allowed to divorce their wives for any reason; if a man marries a woman and it is thought she might not be a virgin, she was killed (Deuteronomy 22:13-21); marriage to a Gentile (anyone not an Israelite) was forbidden (Numbers 25:1-9; Ezra 1:9-12; Nehemiah 10:30); a virgin who is raped must marry her attacker and must remain with him for the rest of her life (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). This is a picture of marriage in the ancient world of the Old Testament. To take one verse from this same Old Testament to establish marriage as a Christian institution and ignore all the rest of the verses that clearly speak of marriage in the Old Testament is a great misuse of the Bible. In fact, there is not a single verse in the Bible that ends the practice of polygamy. One can very well use the Bible to make an argument for the practice of men having multiple wives. Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jacob, Gideon, Solomon all had multiple wives. Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation, wrote:
I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter. (Dr. Martin Luther Letters, Wilhelm De Wette, ed. 1849).
It was not too long ago churches also forbade marriage between different ethic backgrounds based on Old Testament passages. These verses were quoted from the Old Testament to prove people were not allowed to “mix the races.” Yet, this same Old Testament was ignored when it taught that it was appropriate for men to take concubines of any nation that was conquered in war. In the Book of Numbers, the Israelites conquered the people of Midian and while they killed all the men they were allowed to keep the women as concubines, or sex slaves:
And Moses said to them, “Have you spared all the women? Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.” (Numbers 31:15-18).
This is a very clear picture of Moses authorizing taking females who are captured in war as personal sex slaves whom then lived in the home alongside a man’s other wives. If one wishes to point to the Old Testament as a model on marriage, then we should also accept the entire model of marriage as described, including polygamy and the taking of concubines in war.
Since plural marriage was also common, having been authorized by the Law of Moses, and practiced throughout the Bible, then why is it not practiced among Christians today? The use of concubines was also common in the biblical era and it was never suggested to be a sin under any interpretation as long as the woman was treated justly under the standards of the day. A concubine was a woman, Gentile or Jewish, whom a man cared for in his home in exchange for sexual access. She had no legal status as a wife and her children were never to be a part of the family. In exchange for her service she received room and board. In other words, she was a sex slave. If the Old Testament is said to establish the doctrine that marriage is a divine Christian institution, then why is every subsequent passage in the entire Bible ignored except for those found favorable to men such as, “Wives, be submissive to your husbands as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:18)?
If marriage is a Christian institution then what becomes of those who are married but are not Christians? Are their marriages illegitimate? Are their children illegitimate? If married atheists become believers do they have to get married again in order for it to be considered a Christian marriage? If the woman is a Christian and her husband is an atheist would their marriage be a Christian marriage? It is a terrible thing to claim marriage is a Christian institution for in doing so one causes all other non-Christian marriages to be illegitimate, along with their children. Yet, even with a cursory survey of Christian doctrine, one finds the church claiming that marriage is a Christian institution and that it falls under the authority of the church. This means that all marriages, including non-Christian marriages, either fall under the control of the church or that they are illegitimate. It is incomprehensible to accept that the church claims authority over the marriages of Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, and the rest of the world. The only other reasonable answer is that marriage is not a Christian institution and therefore all marriages are to be considered legitimate.
It is a very simple matter to understand that marriage is a civil matter that is governed by the laws of the State and the church only contribution is ceremonial. Currently, there is a new movement in America that is beginning to question whether the church should be involved in marriage in any capacity. It is incumbent upon all ministers who officiate weddings that to clearly state that the religious aspect is only ceremonial and has no legitimacy to bind two people together. Marriage is a matter of a legal agreement that is controlled and ratified by the State. That is why all marriages must file and have in their possession a valid marriage license prior to any marriage being officiated by any person authorized to do so. It is illegal for any minister to perform a marriage without the marriage license in his or her possession.
In a way, this book could end at this point having demonstrated that marriage is not a religious but a civil matter that begins with a license issued by a local government entity and ends by petitioning the secular civil courts for divorce. When the church becomes involved, divorce becomes very difficult, if not impossible for some women, due to the threat of guilt, expulsion, and shame. None of which should occur if and when a woman decides to end her marriage. When a marriage ends as it began — as a non-religious matter overseen by the State and not by the ministers of the church — then there is no guilt, shame, or religious expulsion imposed on the woman. If no guilt can be imposed, then the church has lost its most powerful threat to keep a woman in her marriage against her consent. The threat of offending God is the counter argument to nullify a woman’s right to divorce any time and for any reason. However, the threat of guilt of offending God is not only a poor motivator to keep a woman in her marriage but it is also a disgraceful motivator that has illegitimately borrowed the name of God for its support.
When we hear the term, “failed marriage,” the implication is that “someone” has failed. Not “something” has failed, but “someone” has failed. Marriage is not a materiel object that has components that can fail. Marriage is a relationship and does not have material components. Therefore, when you hear the term “failed marriage,” the implication is that a person has failed. The question is what has this person done to be a failure in marriage. If marriage is a Christian institution the answer is: Failed God, self, family, friends, church, America, and Biblical mandates. This is what happens when a simple, universal idea of marriage is brought under the auspices of religion and becomes a religious institution. In Christian marriage it is always considered a failure when divorce occurs. It is impossible to fail and not feel like a failure. Church doctrine requires a victim if a divorce should occur. When a woman exercises her right to divorce for reasons of her own, she is the one who broke the marriage and she is to be considered the failure. The idea of being a failure can commute a powerful sense of guilt and the fear of this guilt has kept many good women in bad marriages. Divorce is never to be describes in terms of failure. There are no “failed marriages.” When a woman changes her mind it not is not a failure, it is simply a…change of mind.
If marriage is a civil institution, as asserted, then there are no failed marriages or women that are failures because they chose to end their marriage. It is only in religion that we find the idea of women being considered failures because they chose to leave their husbands. It is common doctrine of the church that if a woman divorces her husband for any reason other than that approved by the church and then remarries then she is an adulteress and will remain an adulteress until death. She is considered a stained woman, cursed forever by God. She is cursed in the sense that if a man marries the divorced woman he also becomes cursed and will be branded an adulterer all the remainder of his life. This certainly does not sound like God’s plan for healthy relationships and healthy people. Doctrines like these that try to convert the simple idea of marriage between two people into a complex religious arrangement between a man, woman, God, the Bible, and the church are bizarre, unnatural, cruel, and unnecessary.
What about all those verses in the Bible that speak about marriage and divorce? Even if the church has no authority over marriage and divorce, marriage is not a Christian institution, and the idea of a Christian marriage is a fallacy, does it not remain that the Bible speaks clearly on this matter? No. The entire Bible speaks clearly about marriage and divorce in the ancient Israelite culture as found in the Old Testament and it speaks clearly about marriage among the Jewish men in first century Palestine as described in the New Testament. It is silent regarding marriage customs throughout the world and it never provides a template for marriage. The Bible is not a handbook on marriage and divorce. Our greatest and only guide for marriage and divorce is our own common sense.
Yes, there are verses in the Bible concerning marriage and divorce but one must remember the entire Bible, like all ancient literature, is written from a dominant male perspective, a woman is his subordinate, not just to her husband, but also to all other men. It must always be understood that the Bible, like all literature, reflects the period from which it was written. This is an inescapable fact. This is what we call context. It is impossible to remove the Bible from its historical and literary context and claim to understand the message it is conveying. Every single page of the Bible, like all ancient literature, reflects male dominance and female submission. This pattern is reflected in the stories of the Israelites in the Old Testament and continues throughout the New Testament. Everything that is written in the Bible about marriage and divorce is a picture of how it was being practiced and how it was being abused thousands of years ago in the Middle East. There is no reason to take the practices of marriage and divorce as practiced thousands of years ago by people of cultures far different from our own and use that as a template for modern marriage. It is not only poor theology; it is also destructive to the marriage relationship itself. The Bible is never to be considered a guidebook for establishing and maintaining the “Laws on Marriage and Divorce.”
When one begins to speak in absolute terms in regards to the Bible, it is important to remember the difficulty of knowing exactly what the original writer meant. For example, the Apostle Paul is not present to explain what he meant when he said, “A woman will be saved through the bearing of children” (I Timothy 2:15). We do not know what Paul meant and thus no doctrine should be established on this text, nor can it be used as evidence to support any other doctrine. Often, it simply is not possible to determine the meaning of a passage with one hundred percent certainty. Plato, the Greek philosopher of the fourth century BC, wrote:
Anyone who leaves behind him a written manual, and likewise anyone who receives it, in the belief that such writing will be clear and certain, must be exceedingly simple-minded…
These wise words must always be taken to heart when we read the Bible and try to understand the meaning of authors who are no longer present to explain exactly what they meant. The last words of the Bible were written thousands of years ago and are clouded in mystery. For centuries men have come to a myriad of interpretations for every passage in the Bible, each assuring they hold the correct interpretation. There is one thing we can know for certain: if any verse or passage in the Bible is used to promote suffering and cruelty to a woman, then we have clearly misunderstood the intent of its author.
Marriage: Sacred Covenant or Civil Contract?
Do not tell us before we are even born, that our province is to cook dinners, darn stockings, and sew on buttons.
—Lucy Stone, 1855
In this chapter we must take a bit of time to completely convince that marriage is [_not _]a sacred covenant between a man, woman, and God. In fact, marriage has never been considered a sacred covenant of any sort throughout history. The idea of marriage being a covenant between man, woman, and God is a recent development that has become very widespread and popular in America. Although this is a doctrine that is unique to Americans, it is spoken of as if it is universal throughout the world (it is not), has its roots in antiquity (it does not), and has sound biblical support (it does not).
First, let it be said there is a tremendous effort currently being made today by the church to establish marriage as a sacred covenant between man, woman, and God. The words covenant and marriage are being used synonymously to the point it is being assumed to be a biblically supported idea. However, as will be demonstrated in this chapter, the idea of marriage being a covenant is relatively new and has no biblical support either in the Old Testament, New Testament, or even in church tradition prior to the twenty-first century. There is not a single mention in the Bible of marriage being any kind of covenant in the sense it is being used today. The idea of marriage as a sacred covenant is an entirely recent human construct. Even if the idea of marriage as a sacred covenant were 10,000 years old it still would have no biblical basis and it would still be nothing more than a national religious trend. Marriage is not a three-way relationship between man, woman, and God, nor is it sacred. It is simple, mundane, and secular, like all other preceding relationships. As such, a woman may leave her marriage the same way as she has abandoned her previous relationships.
When marriage is referred to as a sacred covenant, what is being implied is that God is involved in marriage, that it is supernatural, and that the church, as the agency of God, has authority over all marriage and divorce. Under this understanding of marriage the ability of a woman to divorce her husband at her discretion becomes impossible without becoming an offense to God. The problems with such a view are numerous. For example, if God is a co-participant in marriage it is never mentioned anywhere in the Bible nor is it even implied. If all marriages include God as a co-participant then what of all the marriages that do not involve Christians, such as Islam, Buddhists, Hindus and atheists? Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, were all the of these covenant marriages? Is God also a co-participant in the marriage of two non-Christians or does it only apply to Christians? If God is a co-participant in marriage then why are women debased and abused, while the man is allowed, even encouraged, to rule and dominate? If God is involved in marriage then why, as a co-participant, does He allow the man to harm his wife and her children?
To claim that God is a third participant in marriage, who says nothing or does nothing to contribute to the relationship, reveals the absurdity of the idea of marriage as a divine covenant. To imply the Divine enters into a special and supernatural three-way covenant partnership with a man and a woman is a ludicrous doctrine. It is obvious why this doctrine was recently created. In the past it was always difficult, if not impossible, for women to divorce their husbands. In a modern and free society a woman now has access to the right of divorce and are taking advantage of this possibility in large numbers. To prevent this, a new doctrine was created called the “marriage covenant.” Now, a woman cannot divorce her husband without breaking a sacred covenant with God. The entire marriage covenant movement in America is for the sole purpose of preventing a woman from exercising her right to divorce.
The current popular movement to label marriage as a divine covenant is very important to men and the church. A woman may dissolve her marriage if it is a civil contract any time she chooses and for any reason. Any contract may be broken. That is the law under which all contracts are devised and carried out. A woman is entitled under law to divorce her husband if she so chooses. If, as the church claims, marriage is a sacred covenant between a man, woman and God, then divorce becomes a greater difficulty for the woman because she is no longer simply ending a marriage but she is breaking a sacred relationship with God. Again, using fear to keep a woman in marriage is a very poor motivator. Only the worst men use fear to keep their wives in marriage. How is it possible for any marriage, where a man keeps his wife through threats, fear, and manipulation to be labeled a “divine covenant?” God is not involved in any relationship between a man and a woman and it is a twisting of Scripture to suggest otherwise. Most of all, God is not a participant in a marriage that demands that a man must rule over his wife and that she must become his willing servant…for life.
It is only those men who are undeserving of their wives who cry out to God to preserve a marriage they had no interest in preserving by fair treatment of their wives in the first place. It is only a weak man who cries out to God to overthrow his wife’s right of free will and self-determination in order to keep her under his authority. The idea of the doctrine of the covenant marriage is to provide men with a divine insurance plan to keep their wives in a relationship that that otherwise they would leave in droves. If is but one more manipulation of Scripture for the purpose of serving men.
Covenant marriages have become so popular that some churches are offering ceremonies where Christians can convert their existing marriages into covenant marriages with God. The third Sunday of February has been recognized among churches as “Covenant Marriage Sunday.” Here is a sample of the proposed ceremony that is distributed among churches:
Minister to Congregation: We have gathered here today as a body of believers uniting with thousands of other believers in affirming marriage as a covenant relationship. Today, congregations around the world are celebrating marriage as a covenant relationship during their morning worship services.
At this time we want to invite those of you who are married to join with us in a time of affirmation and celebration of marriage as a covenant relationship. We want to affirm our belief that marriage is a covenant relationship intended by God to be a lifelong fruitful relationship. We also want to offer you an opportunity to affirm your belief about your own marriage as you participate in this act of worship and sign the covenant marriage commitment card being made available to you.
During some point in the ceremony, these couples (bear in mind these couple are already married and this is converting their marriage into a covenant marriage) exchange vows and then the officiating minister says:
Believing that marriage is a covenant intended by God to be a lifelong, fruitful relationship between a man and a woman we vow to God, each other, our families, and our community, to remain steadfast in unconditional love, reconciliation, and sexual purity while purposefully growing in our covenant marriage relationship.
Then the couples seal their vows with a kiss. It seems that the original wedding vows are to be considered invalid and therefore must be repeated, only this time including the new doctrine of a covenant with God. However, they may believe their marriage is a sacred covenant with God but one cannot simply wish something into reality. Belief does not create reality. The doctrine of covenant marriage suggests that all marriages between people for thousands of years and in all parts of the world were somehow illegitimate because they did not include the God of Abraham in their ceremonies. Even those who believe Adam and Eve were properly married must admit there was no evidence of it being a special covenant marriage.
Even with all the apparent and obvious problems associated with the idea of marriage being a special covenant relationship with God, one would be hard pressed to find a conservative church in America that does not adopt this new doctrine. But there is a problem...it is not in the Bible. The idea of marriage as a sacred covenant would be considered absolutely alien to the ancient Hebrews, Jesus, Paul, Peter, or anyone else of the biblical era. All the writings of the early church fathers say nothing of covenant marriage. Even today, professional theologians reject the idea that marriage is a three- way agreement between a man, woman, and God. The whole idea behind the doctrine that marriage is a supernatural covenant with God is for the sole purpose of preventing divorce, specifically from keeping women form divorcing their husbands. Because marriage in the Christian context is designed to be demeaning and depersonalizing to women (men rule, women obey) there had to be doctrine created to keep her in a relationship in which she could never thrive.
The Southern Baptist Convention in 2001 held in New Orleans adopted a resolution that states, “Marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman and a holy God intended for life.” There can be no doubt in this matter as far as the largest evangelical denomination in the world is concerned.
On Covenant Marriage
Whereas, Marriage is a sacred covenant between one man, one woman, and a holy God, intended for life (Matthew 19:4-9; Romans 7:2); and
Whereas, LifeWay Church Resources has developed materials for husbands and wives to renew their marriage covenants; and
Whereas, Many of our Southern Baptist Convention entities and churches are active in the Covenant Marriage movement; now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 12-13, 2001, affirm the Covenant Marriage movement; and be it further
Resolved, That we encourage all Southern Baptists to commit themselves to the biblical principles expressed by the Covenant Marriage movement; and be it finally
Resolved, That we urge Southern Baptist churches to celebrate enthusiastically and emphasize annually the third Sunday in February, or some other day of their choice, as Covenant Marriage Sunday beginning on Sunday, February 17, 2002. (Southern Baptist Convention: 2001, New Orleans).
The largest protestant denomination in the world is very clear on how they view marriage. Marriage is a three-way agreement between man, woman, and God. Keep this in mind because it is used against any woman seeking to leave her marriage. Now, she is not breaking a contract between two people, but a sacred covenant between man, woman, and God. The idea that marriage is a sacred covenant is so widespread among the Christian community that it is assumed to be an irrefutable truth that has substantial biblical support. In fact, if this was a true statement and God actually does enter into a supernatural, three-way covenant with a man and a woman through a religious ceremony then there should be ample biblical evidence. Remember, the burden of proof always lies with the person making the claim, not the one challenging the claim.
Where is the biblical evidence for such a claim? One would think that if God were an actual participant in the marriage ceremony, becoming a partner in marriage, then something this important and unique would be clearly written in the Bible. If it is written somewhere in the Bible then why was it impossible for the great theologians of the past to discover it? Why was the doctrine of covenant marriage never discovered in the Bible by Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, Augustine, Jerome, Luther, Calvin, Baxter, Edwards, Whitefield, or any other of the great theologians? The answer is obvious: it cannot be found because it does not exist.
The reason why there was no doctrine of covenant marriage in the past was because there was no need for such a doctrine. Because women in the past were not allowed to divorce their husbands such a doctrine was unnecessary. It was not until the twenty-first century when women began to be free to divorce their husbands that all of a sudden ministers felt the need to establish a doctrine that claimed marriage was a supernatural three-way relationship with God.
First, let it be said that no doctrine is to be established upon suppositions, inferences, obscure references, private interpretations, interpretation by official declarations or fiat (“it is so because we say it is so”), popular appeal, or allusion of any kind. Any doctrine must have sound, clear biblical evidence for its support and if this evidence cannot be presented then it is not a doctrine, it is opinion.
One of the arguments made in defense of covenant marriage is that the word “covenant” is used over 300 hundred times in the Old Testament and the word “contract” is never used once. First, this has nothing to do with marriage. Second, the reason the word covenant is found so often in the Old Testament is that the Hebrew word for covenant and the word for contract are the same word. The Israelites had no separate or specific word for contract and a different word for covenant. Covenant meant contract and contract meant covenant. In addition, it does matter how many times a word is used in the Bible because it is the context in which it is being used that gives the word its meaning. In the Old Testament we have over 1,500 hapex legomena (words used only one time and found nowhere else in the Bible) and in the New Testament we have 686 hapex legomena. Words that are used once do not pale in significance to words used thousands of times. The context, and only the context gives meaning to a word. We can never make an argument based upon the frequency of use. In fact, if it is important it needs only to be said once if it is truly the Word of God. God does not need substantiating evidence through repetition. The word “man” is used nearly 3,000 times in the Bible whereas the word “woman” is used 400 times. Does this mean men are more important to God than women? Certainly not. God does not have to repeat Himself over and over for something to gain value.
This brings us back to the question of evidence. Out of the 750,000 words in the Bible is there anything that says marriage is a three-way relationship between man, woman, and God? If there is, God certainly does not know of this relationship because there is nothing in the Bible that even suggests that such a three-way relationship exists. Also, never in the entire New Testament do we find the idea of marriage as a covenant. Jesus does not call it that and neither do Peter, Paul, or anyone else.
Yet, the Southern Baptists, in addition to the majority of all conservative Christian denominations, have fully committed themselves to the doctrine of covenant marriage. To support this doctrine, the Southern Baptists in their “Resolution on Covenant Marriage” (Whereas, Marriage is a sacred covenant between one man, one woman, and a holy God, intended for life) provide two verses from the Bible, Matthew 19:4-9 and Romans 7:2 as evidence. There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible and these are the only two they can find to support the idea that marriage is a sacred covenant between man, woman, and God. Let us take a look at their evidence in order to determine if these verses are valid support for covenant marriage:
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 reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one-flesh? So 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 of divorce and send her?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. (Matthew 19:4-9).
For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.
As the reader can see, these verses have nothing to do with “marriage as a sacred covenant between one man, one woman, and a holy God, intended for life.” Why would they choose these two verses out of the entire Bible to advance the doctrine of covenant marriage? Because there are no verses in the entire Bible that even infer that marriage is a triune institution instituted by God. It should be enough that neither Jesus, Peter, Paul, or anyone in the New Testament never refers to marriage as a covenant with God or even as a religious institution. It is a common practice for Christian denominations to cite many Bible verses to support a doctrine while hoping no one will actually take the time to look them up to see if they have anything to do with the stated doctrine.
Because there are no verses in the Bible that teach marriage is a divine covenant there are nevertheless those who are more than willing to remove passages from the Bible from their historical context in order to buttress their argument. For example, a passage found in Malachi is often quoted…erroneously.
Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. (Malachi 2:14).
The Hebrew word for “covenant” is the same word that is used for promise, pledge, agreement, contract, pledge, oath, vow, compact, league, ordinance, alliance, confederacy or constitution. The only way we determine the meaning of a word is to view it in its context. We know that all Hebrew marriages were contracts, and not covenants with God. This is why in some modern translations of the Bible the word contract is used, not the word covenant. Modern Orthodox Judaism continues to use the contractual form of marriage as it has been done for thousands of years.
This is the only passage in the entire Bible where the word covenant and the word wife are used in the same sentence. Upon this single usage the entire concept of marriage as a sacred covenant between a man, woman, and God rests, according to some. To make such a claim is to completely ignore the context of this passage and is why others reject it as evidence. This passage has absolutely nothing to do with establishing marriage as a sacred covenant and to my knowledge it is not used as such by any competent theologian.
This passage is addressed to the priests of Israel who have been dealing treacherously with their wives. Everywhere you look in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, you find God the Father or God the Son addressing the abuses of women in marriage. It can be said that God never approves of, or sides with, abuse within any relationship, marriage or otherwise. This passage in Malachi is one where the Priests of Israel were abusing their wives and because of that abuse God was not going to respond to their sacrifices. This is clearly stated in the preceding verse:
This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. (Malachi 2:13).
These priests were weeping and groaning because they could not figure out why God was rejecting their offering and the answer lay in the way they were treating their wives. Today women have the option of standing up and walking out the door, but in ancient Israel they had no choice but to suffer. Any pastor, priest, minister, or any other church authority that cites the prophet Malachi as substantiating evidence that marriage is a sacred covenant and not a civil contract is willfully manipulating Scripture to support a false doctrine. There is a fear in the church that if marriage becomes what it really is, a civil contract and not a sacred covenant, women will readily leave their husbands. The point is, it is the right of a woman to leave her marriage any time she wishes and for any reason, as marriage is simply a civil contract between two people.
To reiterate: There is not a single passage in the entire Bible that even remotely suggests marriage as a sacred, holy covenant between a man, woman, and God. All marriages in the Bible were simple contracts between families as was the custom of the ancient world. All marriages in the biblical era were prearranged by families and were based upon certain agreements and stipulations. If these agreed-upon stipulations were not fulfilled, then the contract was considered to be null and void and the woman was “put out,” or divorced. It may come as a disappointment, but marriage is nothing but the ratification of a relationship that has legal standing in the eyes of the State. This is why those who choose to bypass the tradition of marriage and instead live together under their own terms can have equally satisfying relationships. A middle of the road approach is the marriage that occurs with a prenuptial agreement where the rules of the marriage are stipulated beforehand. The worst form of marriage is one where a woman is made to vow to surrender her right of self-determination, self-identity, and independence, and to live under the complete authority of her husband, to allow the church to adjudicate all matters related to her marriage and divorce, forever.
A simple internet search on marriage as a sacred covenant will bear out everything I have said about how the Church wishes to establish marriage as a supernatural, divine, three-way relationship. There are those who fear nothing greater than the strong, independent woman who has refused to surrender her strength and independence to any man, or even to the church. Strength and independence is too valuable an asset to discard upon the basis of bad doctrine, and upon the demand of men. The false idea of covenant marriage only serves to prop up men who cannot keep their marriages through valid means.
Therefore, your marriage is but a simple relationship that has legal status and is only a quasi-civil contract at best. This contract can be dissolved at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. It is no different than ending any prior relationships. There is nothing magical or supernatural about marriage. It is mundane, secular, and ordinary. As such, a woman may end her marriage any time and for any reason without offense to God. If one removes the idea that marriage is a religious institution, a special covenant with God, then people become solely responsible for their own relationships. Is that not the way it should be from the beginning? You, as a woman are solely responsible for your own life, your marriage, your divorce and all future marriages.
The evidence presented in this chapter outlines only a few of the more obvious reasons why it is not possible for marriage to be a divine covenant with God, the most important being that it never existed anywhere in the Bible. God warned us of such attempts to link His name with doctrines that serve no other purpose than to manipulate others. In the Ten Commandments it is written: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain (Exodus 20:7). In Hebrew, to take the name of God in vain means to use His name for your purpose, to lend credence to advance your ideas. Even a bad idea appears a to be a good idea if you attach the name of God for reference. Historically, people have committed innumerable atrocities because some have convinced others it was “God’s will.” Covenant marriage is not God’s idea nor is it God’s plan, nor God’s will; it is solely a human construct for the singular purpose of preventing divorce at the expense of the woman seeking freedom from her marriage.
In conclusion, marriage is a civil contract ratified by the laws of the State and the only contribution religion can add is strictly ceremonial. Different religions have different ceremonies but the one thing they all have in common is that it is just ceremony and nothing more. As such, it is the State that has power over marriage and divorce, not the church, and in America the State allows a woman to divorce any time for any reason she chooses. Religion is forced to cede power to the State in the matter of marriage and divorce because in the modern era the church’s rule has been rightfully challenged and rightfully removed.
As a professional theologian, it is grievous to see misuse of the Bible, and religious authority, to keep women in marriages they no longer consider to be life affirming. The use of the word “covenant” is nothing but a shallow attempt to put a religious spin on the word “contract/agreement.” It is not the role of the church to insert itself into the personal lives of others for any reason. Only the woman herself has the right to determine the course of her life, for good or ill, and that without religious interference.
Wedding Vows: Null and Void
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them. Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.
—Sojourner Truth, 1851
A bitter woman who stayed in her marriage for over fourty years, upon her husband’s death said, “As much as I hated that man I kept my vows to the end.” I have heard that exact same claim more than once. The keeping of the wedding vows have become more important than life itself. The sacrificing of a woman’s life for the sake of fulfilling wedding vows is not an honorable act nor should it ever be considered as such. As previously noted, the institution of marriage has become greater and more important than the people involved. It must be understood that all wedding vows are simply ceremonial pledges that are never meant to binding. Only in a religious context are wedding vows implied to be binding. There is not a single court in America that considers wedding vows to be binding. It is a gross dereliction of duty for any minister who prepares a couple for marriage to fail to communicate the fact that wedding vows are only ceremonial in nature and are not meant to be kept because of the sheer fact no one can pledge a future they have no power to control.
It is preposterous to believe that the keeping of wedding vows is what makes a good marriage. For example, a husband who is faithful because of his wedding vows is in effect saying were it not for those vows he would be unfaithful. A good husband is one who is faithful to his wife regardless of the wedding vows. Wedding vows have no intrinsic power to convert a bad man into a good man. Marriage must be built upon the free will of both parties and neither is to be faithful to the relationship because of wedding vows. When wedding “vows” become marriage “law” then marriage is reduced to slavishly keeping the vows apart from any desire to do so. The element of free will is lost and marriage is reduced to just another day of upholding the vows. Again, it is vital to understand that all wedding vows are only ceremonial. Wedding vows should never be considered to be binding. The word binding means to be “bound,” as in “held against your will.” There is no relationship, where one is “bound” to another that is a healthy relationship.
During premarital counseling it is incumbent upon the minister to clarify what wedding vows are, and why they are never to be considered binding. In addition, it is most certainly incumbent upon the one officiating the wedding ceremony to stipulate that all wedding vows are ceremonial in nature and have no legal status. If any minister of the church cannot do this, then he should disengage from officiating weddings. To insinuate, a woman may make a vow involving her future and that she will somehow have the power to keep that pledge is disingenuous at best and cruel at worst. To use the power of the church to cause a woman to pledge to an unknown and unknowable future, that she has little or no control, is an act that causes women to stay in a marriage that they should have long abandoned.
There are those who will use the wedding vows as a control device to keep women in their marriages against their will. “You took a vow before God,” is often heard as a last resort when all else has failed. The very idea of a vow, pledge, or promise is a very powerful religious concept. When a vow is made in a religious context then the keeping of those vows is amplified to the point where women will live all their lives with an abusive man and think they are doing the right thing. This is why men will use the wedding vows as an effective device to force women to remain in their marriages. The implication is that the wedding vows were a promise not only to her husband but also to God. Again, the man is using threats to keep his wife.
A woman said to me, “I found out my husband was sleeping with my best friend, what a fool I was. Unlike him, I kept my wedding vows.” I told her, “You would have been faithful to your husband even had you never vowed to do otherwise.” She laughed and agreed. Wedding vows do not make a good woman a better woman, just as they do not make a bad man a good man. It is never the vows that cause us to be faithful; it is simply a conscious choice to choose that path in life. Any behavior that is forced is resented. There can be no healthy relationship when at its center is growing resentment at being forced to behave in a certain way because of wedding vows that are treated as wedding law. What woman would want a man who is faithful because he has to be rather than chooses to be?
When a marriage has reached the point where it is being held together by wedding vows then perhaps it is time to leave the marriage. There are better reasons for staying together then wedding vows. The only marriage worth preserving is the one where a woman wakes every morning and as a result of her own conscience decision decides to remain one more day with her husband. It must be her unhindered decision, free from all influence of religion, family, friends, or neighbors. This is the only marriage that is worth preserving, one built on free will and conscious choice, and one where the possibility exists that at any time, for any reason, the woman may choose to divorce. Divorce is not the back door of marriage, is it the same door she entered into the marriage. If a person is to make any wedding vows at all it should include the vow to acknowledge that a woman’s right to divorce must be as respected as her right to marry.
What is a wedding vow? A vow is a ceremonial promise, oath, or a pledge, nothing more and nothing less. Why are they called wedding vows instead of wedding promises, oaths, or pledges? In the Bible the word oath, pledge, promise, and vow are all the same word. In the traditional marriage we use the term “wedding vow” and not “wedding promises.” The reason for this is because the word “vow” carries with it powerful religious connotations. For example:
When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the Lord your God will surely require it of you. (Deuteronomy 23:21).
When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow. (Ecclesiastes 5:4).
The word “promise” does not carry the same divine threat that the word “vow” carries. It is a tragic misuse of the Bible when it causes women to unnecessarily commit themselves to a marriage they may one day wish to leave. To connect the word “vow” with these passages for the purpose of forcing women to remain in marriage is to borrow the name of God for the purpose of a threat. It is insinuated that a wedding vow is a vow to God and as such it must be carried out in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, until death. A woman is led to believe these vows are to be inviolate and if she does violate them she will incur the curses of God that befall all oath breakers. This is how wedding vows become wedding laws and how they lose their ceremonial status and rule over a woman causing her to forsake her freedom for the sake of her vows. Through the power of insinuation that God will deal harshly with all oath breakers, she surrenders her right of self-determination.
How does a promise become a vow, and a vow become a law, and why do we assign religious terminology to replace the secular counterparts of certain words? The answer is that religious terminology creates an air of authority and mystery. All religions operate on the principles of authority and mystery and are filled with their own unique terminology. Whenever I hear the use of religious terminology I always politely ask for an English definition for the purpose of clarity. If a vow is nothing but a promise, then wedding vows are as breakable as any other promise. They are not divine, they are not made “to” God, and they are never expected to be sacred or unbreakable.
Wedding vows, like any other promises, are made in good faith, but there are times where it becomes foolish or even dangerous to carry them out. Any woman who exposes herself or her children to harm for the sake of fulfilling her wedding vows is making a grave mistake. Any promise that becomes detrimental or demeaning, or causes a woman to suffer in any way, that promise should be broken. Also, any promise that removes the right of free will is illegitimate to begin with and is not enforceable. Lastly, any vow that places a woman in the unnatural position of subornation to her husband, abandoning her right to her freedom, self-identity, and personal strength, is invalid and to strive to keep such a vow is contrary to everything we know about the nature of God. No promise, oath, pledge, or vow has the power to remove the right of a woman to divorce her husband at any time, for any reason.
This section will illustrate why all wedding vows are non-binding, null, and void and why they are an offense to God. It is a terrible thing to even slightly insinuate that a man may look at his wife and believe she must remain with him through better or worse, sickness and health, richer or poorer, until death, because she took wedding vows. The man never needs to reform or to treat his wife with respect or as an equal, because he believes that she is forced to remain in marriage because she vowed to do so. A marriage where the man never fears his wife leaving, based upon her vows, is a foolish man who does not deserve his wife. The married woman who was free to make wedding vows remains free to break those same vows any times she chooses, with or without reason, explanation, or justification. The man who understands this must win his wife afresh every morning, not relying on wedding vows to force her to remain in her marriage.
“If you break your wedding vows you took before God, there will be consequences.” This is a common threat hurled at the departing wife. How is it possible for a man to think his wife can be kept in marriage through the use of threats and fear? The worst of all threats are the ones that include God and the Bible for substantiation. Yes, there will be consequences when a woman leaves her husband but they are never divine consequences. God is not going to rain down judgment on a woman because she chooses to divorce her husband. God does not give us free will then punish us if we use it. How do I know this? Because weak men may hold their wives through threat, fear, and intimidation, but God never holds those He loves through the same devices. When the husband tells his wife “there will be consequences,” he means the pain and suffering that he and the church intend to inflict, not God.
Of course there are always consequences for everything we do and yet what is overlooked is that is often these consequences are often beneficial. When a man threatens his wife by saying, “There will be consequences,” it must be pointed out that she has most likely considered the consequences and found them much more desirable than remaining in her marriage. The fear of consequences must never deter right action. The weak man is dependent on the woman’s fear of consequence to prevent her from leaving. It is only the woman who has been stripped of her self-identity and her strength who stays with her husband out of fear of the consequences of leaving. He has won his wife through threat and fear and in the process he claims partnership with God, the Bible, and the church. Is this what marriage has become in Christianity? The man who uses the Bible to conquer his wife and hold her against her will is a man who is unworthy of any relationship with a woman.
The consequences that occur when a woman chooses to divorce her husband are her consequences. She thoughtfully weighs out the pros and the cons of divorce in a calm, rational process without any outside influence from husband, church, or friends and makes her best decision on the matter. Once she makes her decision to leave her husband she acts on her analysis of any consequences, both positive and negative. In doing so, when someone says, “There will be consequences,” she will reply, “I am aware of that and I have made my decision in light of those consequences.” The woman who flees her husband without any thought of consequences is the woman who has come to despise her marriage to the point any consequence could not be worse than another day with the man who has abused her and her children.
The reason why all wedding vows are null and void and should never be considered binding is because it is impossible for us to determine our future with any degree of accuracy. It is impossible to predict who we will be in the near, much less the distant, future. The other day a man involved in a divorce after twelve years of marriage said, “My wife has changed and I just don’t know who she is anymore.” I said to him, “Of course she’s changed, and so have you.” In a perfect world we keep all our promises but in reality it simply is not possible — including those promises we made at the marriage ceremony. In fact, some promises that are seemingly harmless when taken become so deleterious to one’s well-being they must be broken. Again, any woman in an abusive marriage who remains in that marriage because of her wedding vows is making a grave error. The woman that is placing herself and her children in an unhealthy environment for the sake of her vows is a decision that is neither God honoring nor a wise choice. There is no honor in keeping foolish vows that only serve to diminish, weaken, and harm a woman and her children. It is far better to end any vows that are used to reward bad men and punish good women.
Wedding vows are illusionary. We think we can keep our promise to have and to hold from this day forth, for better for worse, in sickness and in health, in riches or poverty, until death till we part…we think we can. The fact is we do not have a clue as to who we will be in the future, or who our spouse will be in the future, or what will be our abilities or even our goals and desires. It is easy for a young woman in love to promise she will be faithful in marriage through riches and poverty but at some point the poverty grows wearisome. Also, many who promise to remain married in sickness and in health will find themselves unable or unwilling to keep that promise. The woman who vows to remain through sickness and health does not have a clue if she is capable of keeping such a vow. For many, it just is not possible. We all like to think our higher nature will allow us to pour out our lives to care for another. In reality, for many that simply is not possible. Should we force those who find themselves incapable to care for a long-term invalid husband to remain in marriage because she vowed to do so? Is there some sort of divine obligation to remain in sickness and in health because that was what she vowed? Of course not. The point is that when a woman makes these vows she does not know what she will be capable of in the future. She knows nothing of her future, whom she will become, or whom her husband will become. It simply is impossible to pledge a future that is unknown and over which we have little or no control.
Every woman is a different woman every day. The same woman who stood at the marriage altar is not the same woman five years later. How is it possible to hold a woman to vows of the past when she is no longer the same woman who took the vows? The woman of today cannot be bound by the promises she took yesterday. She is a different woman every day. This is the entire meaning of free will. If she is bound by yesterday’s pledge then she is not free. Every day, the woman is free to stay with her husband or leave him regardless of the ceremonial pledges she took. It is not possible to invalidate free will through ceremonial religious pledges.
A woman may love her new husband with unfathomable intensity and is willing to vow endless fidelity to him, but five years later she may love another. Why is this so difficult for some to understand? This is the way of the world and is part of human nature. If the husband wishes to keep his wife, then he must realize it is not to be done through the wedding vows. There is no supernatural power in the wedding vows that can somehow bind two people together and cancel out human nature. The husband must be willing to win his wife every day as he did prior to marriage. This is the only legitimate way a man may have a chance of influencing his wife to remain in her marriage. The idea of wedding vows being permanently binding makes it no longer necessary for the man to win his wife’s affection. It is foolish to think a woman cannot see through the fallacy of the binding wedding vows and eventually figure out the threat of divine consequences is an empty threat. God is not concerned with the breaking of vows that were never legitimate to begin with. Wedding vows are the creation of man, not God.
Many promises are easy to make and are hard to keep. We must not think ill of the woman who chooses to leave her marriage for any reason she chooses. It does not matter if her reasons do not meet our personal standards or the standards established by the church. It is not our marriage, our life, or our decision and therefore it is our duty to help, if asked, and not to hinder or make it more difficult for her. It is best when we tend to our own relationships and let others tend to theirs.
Your future is a blank slate. No one knows what tomorrow holds, therefore no one can make any promises, pledges, or vows regarding tomorrow. You cannot pledge the unknown and those who do make such pledges have a false conception that they somehow have a power over their future. An example of this is found in the Book of Acts:
When it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who formed this plot. They came to the chief priests and the elders and said, we have bound ourselves under a solemn oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul. (Acts 23:12-14).
As we know, Paul successfully escaped and as a result these forty men were faced with death as the result of carrying out their oath. There is no record of these men carrying out their “solemn oath.” This story, recorded nearly 2,000 years ago still illustrates the foolishness of pledging oneself to an unknown future. The men who vowed to kill the apostle Paul made the error of believing they had power over the future. All those who believe their marriage vows can be kept because they also have some sort of control over their future make this same mistake. It is completely hubris, human arrogance, to believe that somehow the marriage vows are something different and that they are exempt from a constantly changing and uncontrollable future. It is impossible to control anything in the future unless all things and all people are under our control. Those men who vowed they would neither eat or drink until they killed Paul were just as foolish as those today who believe they have the power to keep the wedding vows.
Perhaps for a better understanding of the foolishness of the wedding vow we should remember the story of Jephthah and his young daughter. This is a story in the Old Testament of a man who murdered his daughter. This unnamed child is believed to have been under the age of twelve. Jephthah murdered his daughter because he vowed to God that he would kill the first person he saw coming from his home if God would grant him a military victory over the Ammonites. In the Old Testament the story of Jephthah and his daughter is found in the Book of Judges:
“If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:30-31).
Upon his return from his military victory over the Ammonites, Jephthah was determined to kill the first person that came out to greet him in order for him to fulfill his vow. Perhaps he thought it might be a slave, or his wife, to come out to greet him but to his surprise it was his young daughter. To her he said:
“Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.” (Judges 11:35).
Jephthah burns his daughter alive to fulfill his vow to God. Jephthah was wrong to make such a vow, and he was wrong to keep it such a vow. He assumed God would consider murder an acceptable price for vow keeping. It doesn’t matter how you interpret the story of Jephthah — it remains a tragic story of a human sacrifice based on a vow. Jephthah knew someone would come out to meet him upon his return and it just happened to be his daughter. If anything, this is not a story on the importance of vow keeping, it is a story of how one person’s piety can become another person’s tragedy. No vow is worth keeping at the price of a person’s life, be it the life of a daughter or a slave. In the same way, wedding vows have become wedding laws, and have caused innumerable women to be sacrificed for the preservation of bad marriages and to bad men. What is a bad man? A bad man is any man who uses any method to force his wife to remain in marriage against her will.
Sadly, this story is used as evidence that all vows, especially marriage vows, are to be carried out in their fullest. To say such a thing is to imply God was pleased with the murder of this innocent child. It would also suggest God would have been pleased if the forty men who vowed to kill Paul had succeeded. The opposite is true. God is not pleased when we cause others to suffer in order to keep a vow. God is not pleased when you cause others to suffer for the sake of a vow, any vow. The life of the daughter of Jephthah was more precious to God than the keeping of any vow made to Him. The life of a woman is more precious to God than any vow taken at the marriage altar.
Since it is the church that instills in us the idea that wedding vows are necessary and that they must be kept, then it is fair to ask for biblical evidence to support such a religious tradition. This evidence must be clear and not based on inference or symbolism. It must be evidence that is indisputable because the marriage vow has been the root of great suffering among women who wish to end their marriages. Does such biblical evidence exist calling for a woman to take vows, pledging herself to her husband? Of course not. Again, nothing in the Bible implies that the Bible is ever to be considered a manual on marriage and divorce. There is not a single example in the Bible of anyone making wedding vows. Not only are there no wedding vows in the Bible there are also no marriage ceremonies. There does not exist a single passage in the entire Bible that mentions taking or keeping wedding vows. Wedding vows are not of God and never should it be implied that they are to be kept to the detriment of a woman.
The earliest wedding vows do not appear until the twelfth century and are as follows:
Priest to the woman: Do you wish to have this man as a husband, and to obey him, to serve, esteem, honor, and guard him healthy and sick, just as a wife ought to do for a husband, and to forsake all other men, and to cling to him so long as your life and his will endure?
Woman to the priest: I Jane take thee Ken, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to honor and be buxom in bed and at board [to obey night and day], till death us depart, if holy Church will it ordain; and thereto I plight thee my troth. (Medieval wedding rite, c.1500).
As can be seen from this early wedding vow, a woman was expected to obey, serve, esteem, honor, and care for her husband for the entirety of her life. The church claimed complete authority over marriage and as such placed women under the authority of their husbands, for life, just as it was among the Israelites in the Old Testament. These early wedding vows were considered to be an inviolate promise to God. In the same way, the wedding vows taken today are meant to be a solemn, inviolate promise to God. However, Jesus said no one should ever promise anything to God.
Not only is there not the slightest suggestion regarding making or keeping wedding vows in the Bible, Jesus does speak very clearly on making vows of any nature. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says the following:
You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.” But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, yes or no, anything beyond these is of evil. (Matthew 5:33-47).
Jesus is saying very clearly, without providing any chance of being vague or ambiguous, that we are never to swear an oath, promise, pledge, or vow. This is recorded in the same Bible that is considered by the church to be the infallible Word of God. Yet, it’s the practice of the church to violate this clear teaching of Jesus and to have a woman swear before witnesses to remain married to even the worst of men for the rest of her life.
Why does Jesus sternly warn against making and taking wedding vows? Jesus knows that to make a vow presupposes an ability to control the future. It is impossible to control the future without knowledge of the future. Only God knows what tomorrow holds and thus all vows are a foolish attempt to claim to know what God knows. Jesus makes it clear that we are to understand that all vows, promises, pledges and oaths are null and void the minute they pass our lips. How is it reasonable to think we can pledge ourselves to the next sixty years when we do not even know what is going to occur in the next sixty seconds?
It can be argued that wedding vows are only symbolic and an important part of the religious ceremony. To that I reply that wedding vows lose any and all sense of symbolism when it is asked of the woman to swear an oath before witness. If it is argued that wedding vows are only symbolic then why is that fact not stated at the wedding ceremony? It might be mentioned that the wedding ring, gown, veil, bouquet, best man, ring bearer, bridesmaid, and the throwing of rice are all symbolic but never have I heard of even the suggestion that the wedding vows are symbolic. The implication of wedding vows is that they are promises to God, that they are to be considered inviolate, and that a woman must keep them until death. There is no symbolism when the symbol itself is parallel with the fact it claims to symbolize.
When Jesus said to “make no oath at all” He was not speaking symbolically. Jesus knew the power of oaths and all the human suffering they cause by people needlessly trying to carry them out. Does one think that Jesus would have approved the sacrifice of Japheth’s young daughter in order to fulfill a vow to God? Jesus makes it clear that there are not two categories of oaths — those that are good and those that are foolish. All oaths are foolish because no one has the ability to pledge to a future of which they have no control.
It is terrible to know that some women right now are living with cruel and oppressive men but will never seek a divorce because they are committed to keeping their wedding vows. Her marriage has become her prison; the vows have become her chains. However, these chains are not made of iron, but paper. When a woman realizes the vows she took at the marriage altar were nothing but one more element of religious ceremony and have no bearing on reality, then she is able to free herself without guilt. Wedding vows are a product of self-delusion, believing that we have power over our future. This self-delusion is exploited by the church through the use of wedding vows causing a woman to erroneously believe she must subscribe to the doctrine of “one man, for one woman, for life.” Wedding vows are not a contract with God. Jesus asked us to never make a vow of any sort. Because we cannot make a contract with God, all wedding vows are null and void.
It is strange that the very ministers who officiate weddings, who lead a woman to take her marriage vows, are also quite aware that Jesus clearly said we should never make any vows. Jephthah murdered his own daughter because he had made a vow to God. The church explains this by saying that Jephthah’s vow was foolish and foolish vows should never be carried out. The point is that all vows are foolish. Not one of us has the power to manipulate future events that would insure keeping even the simplest vow.
To conclude, the idea of inviolate wedding vows assume a woman will never change. This is simply impossible. A woman changes every day — it is inevitable, universal, cannot be prevented, and should be encouraged. A woman matures and maturity is change. For a woman to fail to change is go against her very nature. Wedding vows create an artificial existence that suggests she will never change, never mature, and that she will always be the same woman she was on her marriage day. This is the inverse of a healthy relationship. Wedding vows create a barrier to personal growth. The woman should not cease rising to her fullest potential upon marriage. It is the false commitment to her wedding vows that prevent her from achieving her highest potential. Any relationship that begins with the restriction of a woman’s maturity is an unhealthy relationship. Marriage in the Christian context restricts the natural maturation of a woman in every way possible. It is not possible for any woman to grow into the person she is to be if that growth is prevented, or hindered because of her wedding vows.
If your wedding vows are keeping you in marriage, I hope this chapter has helped you to understand they are null and void and have no power to bind you in marriage. Without doubt there will be those who will accuse you of breaking your “sacred and solemn” vows to God if you choose to leave your marriage, but be reminded that He does not accept such vows even when taken with sincerity and solemnity. All vows presuppose knowledge of the future that we do not have and a power that is not ours to carry out. Do not lose sight of the fact that wedding vows are not sacred — you are.
Waiting for Adultery
I have looked on many women with lust. I have committed adultery in my heart many times. God knows I will do this and forgives me.
—Jimmy Carter, 1976
How is it that adultery is the high crime of marriage? It was the penultimate sin among the people of the Bible, even making it to the list of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Out of all the possible crimes that can be committed by an individual why was it that adultery was considered to be one of the worst? How is it adultery became a greater offense than murder, assault, rape, child abuse, slavery, genocide, infanticide, patricide, or matricide? In the Bible, when a woman was caught in adultery she was executed. One of the methods used to carry out her death sentence was to bury her in the ground with only her head exposed and then throw rocks at her head until she died. Stoning a person to death is torture. I cannot emphasize this enough, that the ancients’ hatred of adultery was to such a degree that the offending person was tortured to death. Today, ministers of the church claim that all divorces are prohibited except for the grounds of adultery while forgetting that the Bible also calls for the torturing to death of those who commit adultery or are accused of adultery. How can it be said that the Bible verses that speak of divorce being allowed only for reasons of adultery is in full force, but those verses found in the same Bible that call for the torturing to death of adulterers is not in effect?
We must always use three tools when interpreting the Bible: common sense, context, and consistency. It defies common sense to believe torture becomes meritorious if it is being applied to two consenting adults who commit adultery. Also, to torture to death those who commit adultery is inconsistent with everything we know about the nature of God who loves all people equally. Lastly, such verses in the Bible that are used to make adultery appear as a crime that is so odious to God that He must have the perpetrator tortured to death are completely removed from their original historical and cultural context. While adultery may be hurtful and cause terrible emotional suffering, it is never to be thought of as the ultimate crime against God, self, or others. Never, under any circumstance should adultery be considered a crime deserving of death.
Throughout the Bible people lived in an highly patriarchal society and in such a society men ruled over their wives in every manner. The wife was as much a man’s property as his cattle or his plow. When adultery occurred in Israelite society it was considered a two-fold violation. First, it was a theft of property and second it endangered the purity of the husband’s bloodline though the “seed” of another man. This is why adultery was considered a high crime in the Bible. Adultery was an insult to men living in a strictly patriarchal society. It was not about religion, it was about male pride of ownership and the guarantee of exclusive sexual rights and privileges. The very idea of another man violating these rights of sexual exclusivity was reprehensible. Today, when men speak of returning to the biblical view of marriage this is what they have in mind: Male dominion, male ownership, and male exclusivity to a woman’s body.
In the Bible, when a man chose a bride she had to be virgin. If it was discovered that she was not a virgin on her wedding day, she was taken to the doorstep of her father and she was stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). If a child was born from an adulterous relationship, that child and all its descendants for a thousand years were prohibited from participating in the Jewish religion (Deuteronomy 23:2). The King James Bible puts it this way: “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” This is what the marriage relationship looks like in a highly patriarchal society. Even the children are punished for the actions of their parents. The children and their children after them are punished their entire lives as a warning to all women contemplating committing adultery.
In the New Testament, the Jewish men still followed the Law of Moses and still maintained a highly structured patriarchal society. Men continued to own their wives as property and adultery was still considered a capital crime deserving of death by stoning. When a woman was caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3-11) they brought her before Jesus and said, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do you say?” These men still believed they had the right to torture to death this woman who was caught in the act of adultery. These same ideas still prevailed throughout the New Testament, not just the Old Testament. It is with this understanding we can see how it came to be that adultery is used as the only legitimate reason for divorce. This is the context in which we must consider everything Jesus said about marriage, divorce, and adultery. Without reconstructing the historical, cultural, religious, and literary context of the teachings of Jesus on marriage and divorce, His words can be made to appear as if He sides with the men who own their wives as personal property.
Some may argue that the Bible uses adultery as the only valid reason for a woman to divorce her husband as well as the husband to divorce the wife. One can read such meaning into the Scriptures but the fact is that in the New Testament everything about divorce is always about men divorcing their wives not wives divorcing their husbands. The reason for this is that it simply was not possible for a woman to divorce her husband for any reason, adultery or otherwise, for to do so would reduce her to poverty and shame. If a woman left her husband she would have to leave her children behind as they belong to the man. In addition, she would be in great danger of being accused by her husband of adultery and with such an accusation she would be cut off from society and be forced to live as a prostitute or a beggar in order to survive. Even her own family would reject her if she were accused of adultery.
For two thousand years the church has insisted a woman may only leave her marriage for cause of adultery. In other words, if a woman wishes to divorce her husband, according to current church doctrine, she must sit patiently and wait for her husband to commit adultery. No matter if he is abusive and cruel she must remain his faithful wife until he commits the capital crime of adultery as described in the patriarchal world of the Bible. She is powerless; all power belongs to the man. The woman can do nothing but wait. If he never commits divorce she must remain with him until he dies. Only death can liberate a woman from marriage. The warning is sounded upon the marriage day itself when the minister says, “Repeat after me — “from this day forth, until death do we part.” The only release for a woman from her marriage is for her husband to commit adultery and until he does she must wait, even it takes a lifetime. As strange and cruel as this may seem, this is the prevailing doctrine of the church.
Once a woman places her marriage under the auspices of the church, she must remain in her marriage regardless if her husband rapes her, molests her children, forces her to demean herself, and/or causes her to live in extreme poverty as there is no recourse other than to be a quiet woman who is submissive to her husband’s authority and to acknowledge that his supremacy is ordained by God. She can do nothing until he commits adultery in such a way it can be proven to the community. Again, she is stripped of all power and she enters into a passive state of waiting. Even if it is the woman who commits adultery, it is up to the man to choose if he wishes to divorce her. As it can be seen, the woman is utterly powerless in marriage.
If and when that day arrives when her husband does commit adultery, the wife is then expected to forgive, forget, and reconcile. Tremendous pressure is placed on her to forgive her husband for his adultery and to welcome him back into the marriage. It would be foolish for any woman to return to a marriage where the man claims a divine right to rule over her and her only chance of escape is his adultery. No rational woman would make such a decision to return to such a marriage without pressure from the church, family, and friends. She would be branded “unforgiving” and unwilling to reconcile with a repentant husband. It is terrible that a woman who wishes to comply with the church’s doctrines on divorce must forgo perhaps her only opportunity of freedom. It is sorrow that a woman be compelled to return to her marriage in order for others to see her as forgiving. All men are worthy of forgiveness, but certainly not all men are worthy of reconciliation. Just as it is a fundamental right of a woman to divorce her husband at any time and for any reason it is also her fundamental right to choose to reject reconciliation to her husband. In church circles the term “failure to reconcile” is often used to describe a marriage where one of the parties refuses to forgive and restore the relationship. To refuse to reconcile is not a failure at all and for many women it is a significant victory.
Reconciliation is not a matter of spirituality or morality. There is no spiritual merit in reconciliation and there are no spiritual demerits for those who choose not to reconcile. It is the Christian community that has elevated the spiritual status of the woman who forgives her adulterous husband and returns to her marriage. To reconcile is possibly the worst decision a woman can make who has successfully left her husband. For the church to suggest that spiritual awards await her if she should return, and divine punishment if she does not, is thoughtlessly cruel. It is shameful and illegitimate when the Bible is used to pressure a woman to reconcile with her husband against her will and against her better judgment.
While forgiveness is encouraged — as harboring ill feelings does more damage to a person than it can ever do good — reconciliation has nothing to do with forgiveness. A woman should never be reconciled to a man who has made her life miserable. She should never return to a marriage where the man demands submission to his authority, and where he controls her only way of escape. Never should she return to a marriage that does not allow her the right to leave at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. Reconciliation under pressure from husband, church, families, and friends is a mistake many women regret.
In the Bible, adultery is presented as the only legitimate reason for a woman to divorce her husband. This is the doctrine of the Christian Church. However, this creates a lot of problems. First, to come to such an improbable and impossible conclusion, everything Jesus says about marriage and divorce must be removed from its original context and be made to appear as if Jesus is supporting the divorce for adultery only position. Second, there are absolutely no provisions made for divorce for any other cause.
In other words, murder, rape, child molestation, imprisonment, enslavement, or any other egregious and horrible act by the husband does not constitute a valid reason for a woman to divorce her husband in the eyes of the church. The belief that a husband can do anything to a woman, or her children, and she cannot divorce him unless he commits adultery defies common sense and is contrary to everything we know about God. Adultery may be a good reason for divorce but there are many other reasons that are far better. Any woman today who is waiting for her husband to commit adultery in order to fulfill the requirements of the church is waiting in vain. Every day is a day irretrievably lost, and it is lost for no good reason. Women should leave bad men and bad marriages as soon as it is possible.
Some men never commit adultery because they never have the opportunity and that is the only reason. Do women have to stay married to such men because they have not committed adultery? Other men commit adultery but do so in such a way that it is never discovered. Are these men also entitled to their wives? The woman who is waiting for her husband to commit adultery may be living with a man who has committed adultery many times without her knowing. The point is that it is wrong for adultery to have some sort of mystical and supernatural power to dissolve marriages where much more terrible crimes against women do not. The whole idea of adultery as the ultimate crime in marriage comes from the ancient world where women were the property of men. Women today do not need a reason to divorce their husbands and most certainly do not need for their husbands to commit adultery in order to justify their decision.
Because it is an absurdity to make adultery a worse crime than murder, child abuse or spousal abuse, the church has devised a relatively new doctrine that provides grounds for divorce. This new doctrine is entitled “divorce on grounds of abandonment.” This doctrine is used to permit divorce on the grounds of a wide variety of abuse upon a woman and/or her children. Many church ministers, rightfully so, find it impossible to defend the notion that a man may routinely beat his wife or molest her children, but she still cannot divorce him because he has yet to commit adultery. Therefore, it has become popular to allow the abused woman to divorce her abusive husband on the grounds of abandonment. This new doctrine is nowhere to be found in the previous works of theologians for the past two thousand years, and there is nothing in the Bible to support it The only biblical evidence that is provided for the support of this new doctrine of “divorce on grounds of abandonment” is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church:
But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? (I Corinthians 7:12-16).
To my knowledge, there is not a single theologian, living or dead, who would agree this passage is talking about legitimizing divorce for reasons of physical or emotional abuse, rape, murder, child molestation, or any other mistreatment of a woman. Yet this is how this passage is being used, as a catchall to justify a woman divorcing her husband for reasons other than adultery. Again, there is not a single theologian in the past nor competent theologian in the present that agrees this passage is talking about divorce on grounds of cruelty. None. Therefore the woman that is treated cruelly by her husband must return to him and patiently wait for him to commit adultery. It is impossible that we might consider any relationship such as this to be sanctioned by God.
The Bible, when interpreted outside its historical and religious context, gives only one reason for divorce and that is adultery. There are no other provisions provided. When the Bible is rightfully interpreted within its proper context, a woman is free to divorce her husband any time and for any reason — she does not have to wait for her husband to commit adultery.
Common sense tells us there is not “a” reason but “many” reasons that certainly justify a woman divorcing her husband. If there are many legitimate reasons for divorce this restores power in the hands of the woman and creates an equal and balanced relationship. The only relationships worthy of a single day of her life are the ones that are equal, balanced, and mutually rewarding. All relationships, including marriage, must allow a woman to exercise her right to leave at any time, for any reason, without explanation or justification to anyone other than those whom she chooses. A woman does not need a reason to divorce her husband, and the suggestion that she owes an explanation for her decision only goes to demonstrate the policy of male ownership and church authority over her life. She is not in debt to her husband or the church; therefore she owes neither an explanation.
Jesus knew how women suffered in marriage. He took no pleasure in the male ownership of women, their constant demeaning, being forced to serve their husbands and routinely being divorced in order to be replaced by younger and more fertile women. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery,” but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28).
Jesus said that every man was an adulterer. If adultery is “the” single reason for divorce, then every woman hereby has clear scriptural authority to divorce her husband. This is a passage that is aimed directly at men and it has nothing to do with women looking at men with lust in their heart. The word “everyone” is in the masculine form. Jesus knew it was not possible for any man to look at another woman without imagination. Jesus knew that all men are adulterers and often the only thing between the thought and the act is the lack of opportunity.
The common definition of adultery among Jewish men, to whom Jesus was speaking, was that adultery could only occur if a Jewish man had sex with the wife of another Jewish man. However, they felt it was perfectly acceptable to sleep with the wives of the Gentiles as they as did not consider the concept of marriage being valid among all non-Jewish people. Only the marriages between fellow Hebrews were valid before God. Men had sexual access to prostitutes, concubines, and the women of the Gentiles and none of this was to be defined as adultery. Jesus knew the hypocrisy of such views of marriage and thus said adultery is a matter of the heart and not the body. Thus, all men have committed the high crime of adultery and therefore all women may divorce their husband if they so choose. No longer can men claim protection from divorce because they never physically commit adultery. They already have already committed adultery many times over, according to Jesus. Now, if they wish to keep their wives they have to become the men they should have been in the beginning. However, that may no longer be enough. That day may have come and gone and now it is up to all women to make their determination on the matter. If adultery is the only valid reason a woman may divorce her husband then that day has arrived. All men have committed adultery many times over, according to Jesus.
To those women who have been taught they must remain in marriage, no matter how miserable they might be, until her husband commits adultery are now free to go. The teaching of Jesus trumps all the doctrines of the church and the traditions of men. If adultery is the only reason allowable for divorce, then the standard for a woman to leave her marriage has been met. If every man understood this, all men would be forced to make marriage to be a place where a woman would choose to remain by her own free will.
The act of adultery is nothing to be taken lightly. However, adultery is a private matter that does not include the church or its ministers. There are no “adulteresses” or “adulterers,” there are just people. It is religion that insists on using derogatory terms describing those who have violated the sacred doctrines of the church. Just as any child born from parents who are not married should never carry the name “bastard,” a woman who sleeps with a man not her husband should never be called an adulteress. The church has elevated adultery far beyond a private matter and turned it into a spiritual act that must include guilt, shame, and at times expulsion from the church. As pointed out, in the Law of the Israelites the act of adultery solicited the death penalty (Leviticus 20:10). If the daughter of a priest committed adultery she was burnt to death (Leviticus 21:9). It is because of passages like these, in Israelite Law, that there are those in the church who feel that adultery must be publicly exposed and punished. The act of adultery has been wrongly elevated as a supreme act against God deserving of death, isolation, and shaming while the truth of the matter is there are many things far worse than what occurs between a man and a woman in a private relationship. Adultery may be a reason for divorce but it is certainly not the only reason.
Jesus refused to condemn a woman who was caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3-11). Even though the Law of Moses cried out for her execution, Jesus refused to allow her to be stoned to death. To this woman He said, “I do not condemn you.” Jesus understood the Law of Moses, its intent, its spirit, and how it was rightly to be understood. He knew how Jewish men were using the Law to their advantage and how women were being made to suffer. To Jesus, adultery was an act like any other act, good or bad. As an act, it carried its own consequences and these consequences are always enough in themselves. There is no need to add threats of divine punishments, as is common among men who wish to use the Bible to satisfy their longing for retribution against women.
In conclusion, adultery may be a reason to leave your husband but it is certainly not the only reason. It is a mature woman who enters into marriage and it is a mature woman who leaves her marriage. As such, your reasons are your own and do not need to satisfy the standards of church, family, friends, or society. There are some women who leave their marriages who do not understand their own reasons and if so how is it possible to expect them to explain them to others? No explanation is necessary nor are they required. Some women lack the power of articulation and cannot put into words that can coherently explain their decisions. It is not uncommon for women who have long suffered abusive husbands to be unable to give a reasonable, coherent justification for her decision to divorce that can satisfy church, friends, family and community. Should this woman be forced to live under a cloud of shame and guilt because she fled her husband for reasons other than her own? The only thing she knows for certain is she wishes to be free. Freedom is always justification in itself.
What God has Joined Together…
I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.
—Abigail Adams, 1776
It is an absolutely arrogant claim that God joins two people together and that these two previously independent people by some miraculous action become one-flesh upon the day of their marriage. Wedding vows often contain the words, “What God has joined together let no man put asunder.” It does not matter how often these lines are repeated or with what degree of solemnity they are spoken, the fact remains that God does not participate in wedding ceremonies. It is complete human arrogance to believe that of all human relationships marriage is so unique that it merits the creator of the universe to be a participant. The reason why this phrase is included in wedding vows is to establish the fact that marriage is a supernatural event that includes the participation of God and therefore falls under the authority of the church and its doctrines. A woman is led to believe that God is present on her wedding day and He joins her together with her husband into a supernatural one-flesh entity. From that day forward, she lives under the command to never “tear asunder what God has joined together.” Her marriage begins with, and lives under a cloud of a threat.
What happens when a woman wakes up one morning and decides she no longer wishes to be married and she decides to tear asunder what she has been told is a one-flesh relationship that God created? Nothing happens. The reason nothing happens is there is no mystical joining together of two people into one entity. As previously mentioned, everything a religion contributes to the marriage ceremony is strictly ceremonial. Out of the millions of marriages performed every year, among thousands of different religions, not once in recorded history have two people ever become one-flesh. When pressed, religious authorities agree, but then add, “Becoming one-flesh in marriage is symbolic.” If true, then the tearing asunder is also symbolic. Again, when the symbol itself become one and the same with the reality it supposed to symbolize then it no longer is a symbol. The one-flesh motif is presented as a reality, not a symbol, and is done so for no other reason than to threaten a woman to remain in her marriage, for life.
To imply God joins two people together in marriage and that they become one-flesh is to suggest that marriage is somehow supernatural. Is there any evidence whatsoever to substantiate that marriage transcends the laws of nature or that is supernatural in any way that is demonstrable? Is there any discernable difference between the marriages of two atheists as opposed to two Christians? If the wife is an unbeliever and the man a Christian, are they also one-flesh and if not is there a discernable difference? Supernatural means “beyond the natural order,” so does this mean marriage transcends the laws of nature? Oh course not. It is careless to make the claim that marriage is a mystical, supernatural joining together of two people, and then failing to be able to provide a shred of evidence for substantiation. The very fact that the Law of Moses makes provision for divorce should be a pretty good indication that God does not participate in marriage. It is inconceivable that anyone would even be able to tear asunder what God has supernaturally joined together.
Marriage is not a divine, supernatural event and it has never been presented as such anywhere in the Bible. Marriage between two people does not involve the supernatural intrusion of God and we flatter ourselves to believe otherwise. The only difference between marriage and any other relationship is the use of religious ceremony and legal recognition by the State. Therefore, marriage is mundane, average, common, and subject to the laws of nature and to the law of cause and effect. There is no discernable element of divine participation. Two people are separate and independent before marriage, during marriage, and after marriage. There is no special, mystical, co-joining of people together at some undefined point in a religious ceremony. The exchanging of vows, marriage license, witnesses, or the presence of a minister of the church has any effect in turning a marriage into a supernatural union.
The assumption is that God that participates in a marriage, causing two people to become joined together in one-flesh, then it will make divorce a near impossibility. However, this is a false assumption. If marriage has as its foundation a false assumption, everything that is built upon it will likewise be false. Remove this one false assumption and then it is simple to see that marriage is like all other relationships other than legal aspects ratified by the State. Therefore, one of the greatest threats used against a woman seeking divorce is removed. A woman is free to divorce her husband at any time for any reason without destroying anything that God has joined together. She is not “tearing asunder what God has joined together,” because God did not join her to her husband in the first place.
As can be seen by previous chapters in this book, there is a powerful movement within the church to reinstate the practice of marriage as found described in the Bible. The picture of marriage throughout the Bible is one where men owned their wives and the role of a woman was one of servile obedience to her husband. A woman’s entire life was to be devoted to elevating her husband’s status within the community, and living in his shadow. She was to obey his every command and to teach the children to do likewise. Divorce was not a possibility to women who lived in a patriarchal society. In evangelical Christianity today, this is the picture of marriage to which they wish all women to subscribe. However, no intelligent woman today would possibly desire to remain in a marriage where she is forced to obey her husband, to dedicate her entire life to being his helper, and to teach her children to do likewise, apart from some divine threat of retribution if she refuses. “What God joins together, let no man tear asunder,” is that divine threat that the church finds potent enough to intimidate many good women to stay in bad marriages. Christian ministers use this threat because it is effective.
Why is it important for the church to insist marriage is supernatural, that it is divine, and has God as an active participant? The answer is simple: If the marriage relationship is exactly like all other previous relationships, where people are free to enter and free to leave, that same privilege would be extended to the marriage relationship. It is the desire of the church to end a woman’s right to leave her marriage at any time and for any reason and in order to accomplish this they say her marriage is somehow unique among all previous relationships in that God permanently joins her to her husband. The woman had the right to dissolve any previous relationships for any reason, but on the day she was married this right has been forever removed. The only way they can convince people to believe such an assertion is to claim it is God who is removing the ability of a woman to divorce, not man. It is beyond reason to imply that God would condemn a woman to live with a man, against her will, for life. However, all of human history is a record of men abusing women through the use of the name of God and sacred Scripture.
At some point many women become weary of a marriage and choose to divorce their husbands, despite the threat of tearing asunder what God has joined together. The price she pays for this is often in the currency of guilt. It is this threat of guilt that keeps many women from leaving their husbands. Some women stay with their husbands far too long out of fear of offending God. These women have been led to believe that it is better to suffer a bad marriage and the loss of identity, strength, independence, and self-respect than to anger and alienate God. Of course there is no angry God who will pour out His wrath upon any woman who no longer wishes to remain married. It is an empty threat that has been used for thousands of years to intimidate women to remain in marriage. God is never on the side of men who use His Word to diminish a woman in any capacity.
From a common-sense perspective, to claim that marriage is an event where God supernaturally joins together two people together raises a number of questions. For example: Does God supernaturally join together two non-believers, against their will, causing them to become one-flesh? Or, does this doctrine only apply to Christians? In addition, what of all those marriages that occurred thousands of years before any Christians existed, were their marriages also supernaturally joined together by God? If the one-flesh doctrine only applies to Christians then that would mean all non Christian marriages are invalid. Which marriages are valid and which are invalid, and who is charged with the responsibility to make such a determination? It must be remembered, in the Bible only the marriage between a Hebrew man and a Hebrew woman was considered legitimate before God. The church must decide that either some marriages are legitimate or that all marriages are legitimate.
Therefore, in order for the doctrine that God supernaturally joins together two people together into one-flesh during a religious ceremony to make sense, it has to include all marriages. It must include child marriage, atheist marriage, slave marriage, Islam marriage, Buddhist marriage, mock marriage, gay marriage, forced marriage, and every other kind of marriage both good and bad. If it does not include all marriage, it puts the church in the position of officially declaring some marriages valid and others invalid. Any pronouncement by the church on the validity or the invalidly of a marriage, or a divorce, is merely ceremonial and has no legal standing. In addition, there is not a single passage in the Bible that grants the church the authority to declare any marriage or divorce valid or invalid.
To say that marriage is a supernatural invention of God in the joining together into one-flesh makes God the author and sustainer of all marriages. The woman whose husband routinely beats her, belittles her, rules over her, harms her children — this marriage would nevertheless have the sealing imprint of God. The bad man and the good woman are now one-flesh, according to the church, and she must suffer until either he dies or she dies. This is an ugly picture of a relationship that cannot be dignified by the word “marriage” and it should never be associated with the name of God. Marriage, as it is practiced among Christians today, is a demeaning, lopsided, and senselessly cruel institution that victimizes the woman while rewarding the man and cannot be said to have God as its author or its participant.
The only other option is that there has never been a marriage from the very beginning of time to this present day, where God has supernaturally participated and joined two people together into a one-flesh entity that is supposed to last a lifetime. The Israelites of the Bible never claimed marriage to be a matter of two people becoming one-flesh. They could not make such a claim and retain the right to divorce their wives according to Law of Moses. Also, it was not a teaching of Jesus or the Apostles. Even the church did not think of marriage as a supernatural one-flesh union until women began to exercise their right to divorce their husbands. The whole doctrine was simply made up to prevent women from leaving the oppressive institution of marriage.
It is easy to understand why the church insists that people believe this doctrine, but where does the idea come from? It was not until women began to emerge as individuals who were more than a housekeeper and child bearer that this doctrine found its beginning. It was created for no other reason than to threaten a woman to return to the Bronze Age where a woman lived in total submission to her husband regardless of whether he was good or bad. There is nothing weak men fear more than strong independent women. It also seems there is nothing the church fears more than strong and independent women. It is easier for the church to create doctrine than reform marriage and make it more equitable for the woman.
When the Bible is used to demean, threaten, or cause harm or suffering to any person for any reason it can be assured it is being used without the authority of God. Men have used the Bible for thousands of years to justify an untold number of cruel acts and will continue to so because of its effectiveness. People have given away their life savings and their children’s inheritance, because a church official said it was God’s will for them to do so. Others have let their children needlessly perish from treatable diseases because of church doctrine that prohibits medical intervention. Millions have died in war because their religion declared it a “just cause.” In the same manner, women have been forced to remain in marriage against their will because of church doctrine has declared it is the “will of God.”
When the Bible is used to persecute, cause harm, shame, or cause any other form of human suffering — there must be a clear and unambiguous command from God that does not conflict with all other known truths or violate common sense, basic dignity, or the law of love. All statements that are removed from their original context in order to prove any doctrine should be rejected. In addition, all doctrines that are inconsistent with what we know of God are also to be rejected. Likewise, all doctrines that are built on parables, figures of speech, symbolism, and passages that have multiple meaning are also rejected. Lastly, all doctrine that is built upon obscure passages are rejected. Again, any doctrine that causes any degree of suffering be it emotional, physical, or spiritual, must have clear and unambiguous biblical support. With this in mind, where is the evidence that marriage is a mystical, supernatural, divine event?
The evidence presented comes from a story that was written approximately 3,500 years ago, during the Bronze Age, and the context was that it was a story of a nomadic people called the Israelites. It is the story of the first two people of creation, Adam and Eve. The story of Adam and Eve existed in oral form for thousands of years until finally put into written form. It is in this historical context — of a people who lived thousands of years ago, in a culture far removed from our own, written in an ancient language that died out thousands of years hence — that we read this account:
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib, which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one-flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:21-25).
First, this passage has nothing to do with marriage or divorce and as such it should not be used as a model for marriage for anyone living today. This passage was never intended to be used as a template for marriage. This passage does not even contain the slightest suggestion that it is a blueprint for marriage between a man and a woman. This is simply the story of one man and one woman and one relationship. In addition, it can be argued that Eve was not even Adam’s first wife. Prior to the creation of Eve it is said that God created other women at the same time He created man:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27).
In Jewish literature Adam’s first wife was Lilith, who is described in the first account of creation. When Lilith rebelled and abandoned Adam God created Eve to replace her. During the Medieval period an entire body of fables and tales grew up around the mysterious first wife of Adam, Lilith. The story of Lilith was important because it explains the problem of how Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, after killing his brother Able, fled to the city of Nod and found a wife. If Adam and Eve had only two children, where did the city of Nod come from and where did Cain find a wife? Of course, it can be claimed the Land of Nod was a result of Lilith and her offspring. The story of Eve being Adam’s second wife is unknown to most Christians, but the story of a man and a woman becoming one-flesh is common. Why is this the case? Because men only see what serves them best and are blind to all else. In truth, no one knows where Cain found his wife, nor how the Land of Nod became populated. But we do know, the term “one-flesh” is simply a Hebrew figure of speech and has nothing to do with supporting the doctrine of marriage being a supernatural joining of two people.
Second, when this was written, the symbolism of “one-flesh” was the Hebraic equivalent of creating a new family unit. That is all it means. It is not a supernatural joining of two people together into a one-flesh composition during a marriage ceremony. “One-flesh” is a metaphor. It was a metaphor thousands of years ago and it is a metaphor to this very day. This metaphor is used but one time in the entire Bible and was never used a second time to describe any union between a man and a woman. It was simply a Hebraic idiom and not a divine Law. Only the poorest trained Christian theologians use this passage in Genesis to insist marriage is a supernatural event. Biblical interpretation must never be subject to the bias of men. Truth is discovered through the process of objectivity. If men search for “proof” that marriage is some sort of special, divine, supernatural event they are sure to find it.
It is easy to see why the Genesis passage is very poor evidence to support the idea that God is a prime participant in marriage, but what about that passage found in the Gospel of Matthew? In this passage Jesus seems to be ratifying the idea formulated in the account found in Genesis. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus quotes the following passage from Genesis in response to a question raised by the Pharisees:
Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason 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 reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one-flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let no man separate.”
It is important that we understand that without establishing the context of a passage it is impossible to know its meaning. In seminary we learned that “context is king.” The word “context” means to “weave together.” In biblical interpretation we “weave together” everything we know about a text to ensure we know what is being communicated to its intended audience. There are many, many passages in the Bible where it is impossible to restore the context, and thus its meaning is always obscured. When this occurs, responsible theologians always say, “We are not sure what this passage means.” While it may not be possible to know with any degree of certainty what a passage means it is often a simple matter to know what it does not mean. One thing is for certain, never are we to create a doctrine based on any passage in the Bible where the context cannot be reconstructed with a very high degree of confidence.
It is very clear to whom Jesus was directly speaking. Jesus is speaking directly to religious scholars known as the Pharisees. These Pharisees’ motive is known in that they came to “test” Jesus in matters of the Law of Moses. They ask Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” This question is in the form that requires a yes or no answer. However, the answer Jesus gives is neither yes or no. What does Jesus mean when He quotes a passage from the Book of Genesis to these Jewish scholars? We do not know. But, it can be assured that those to whom He was speaking knew exactly what He meant.
For 2,000 years Christian theologians have puzzled over the answer Jesus provides to the Pharisees and there is no general consensus as to what Jesus meant. The reason we do not know is because there is not enough information given in the text to provide a clear picture of what He meant. This is not uncommon when trying to interpret any ancient literature written in a language of which much has been lost to antiquity. There has been much speculation that there were two major schools of thought on marriage and divorce during this time and they were trying to have Jesus commit to one or the other. But…that is speculation. There is nothing in the Gospels that ever mentions two schools of thought among Jewish men on marriage and divorce. We cannot build doctrine on material that is not in the Bible, especially any and all doctrine that causes anyone to suffer.
Even though it is impossible to know why Jesus quoted this passage from Genesis to the Pharisees and what he meant in doing so, it has not stopped the church from using the words “What therefore God has joined together let no man separate” to become the foundation of the wedding ceremony. The implication is that Jesus is endorsing the proposition that marriage is a supernatural joining together of two people in a mystical relationship that is to last until death. To make such a claim is to completely ignore what context that can be established and to build doctrine on mere speculation, and assumption.
What we can be certain of is that Jesus is speaking specifically to the Pharisees, and speaking to them about their understanding of marriage and divorce as they interpreted it under the Law of Moses. Jesus is not ratifying the one-flesh motif as a standard for all marriages. He is speaking to Jewish religious leaders about their understanding of Jewish marriage as it relates to Jewish Law and Jewish tradition. That is the context of this passage. Jesus is not talking about Christian marriage, Buddhist marriage, atheist marriage, or any other kind of marriage. It is very clear to whom He is speaking to and to miss this fact is either intentional or ignorance.
Everything Jesus says about marriage and divorce, without expectation, is in reference to Jewish men living under the Law of Moses. Everything! Jesus utters not a single command or reference about marriage and divorce in regards to the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Asians, or any other Nation or any future religions or institutions. In addition, Jesus never speaks of marriage and divorce as it applies to Christians because, of course, there were no Christians in existence at the time of Christ. Nothing Jesus says about marriage and divorce has any application to Christians because Christians did not yet exist. Everything Jesus says about marriage and divorce is specifically directed to Jewish men living under the Law of Moses. It is impossible to understand anything Jesus says about marriage and divorce until one understands that He is not speaking to anyone other than Jewish men who lived according to the Law of Moses and that they were using this Law to mistreat their wives.
We know whom Jesus was speaking to, and we know the conversation centered on marriage and divorce among the Jewish people. We do not know what Jesus meant when He quoted from the Book of Genesis. Throughout history there have been many attempts to guess what he might have meant but all is merely speculation. What is not debatable is that He was addressing the Pharisees and these Pharisees had a long history of abusing their wives under the authority of the Law of Moses. It cannot be said that Jesus is speaking of marriage among Christians thousands of years in the future. It also cannot be said that Jesus is endorsing the doctrine that marriage is a supernatural joining of a man and a woman into a one-flesh union. Just as Jesus would never side with those men who use the Bible to claim dominion over their wives, Jesus would never endorse the use of the Law of Moses to cause divorce to be solely a male privilege.
If we are to err in our interpretation of the Bible we must err on the side of love. It is better to be wrong and cause no harm than to be right and cause pain, misery, and suffering. All interpretations of biblical passages are in error when such interpretations violate common sense, the law of love, and the nature of God. It is not clear what Jesus meant on that day when He spoke to the Pharisees, but what is clear is that Jesus would never side with those who believe it is the design of God that marriage be a relationship of male privilege and male authority.
To force a woman to remain in marriage against her will based upon the authority of the Bible demands incontrovertible evidence. This evidence has not been presented. It might be added that not only has it not been presented it will never be presented because it simply does not exist. It defies reason that Jesus would be in harmony with those who teach that once a woman enters into marriage she is doomed for the rest of her life to remain in that marriage, against her will, until death. Bad men cannot keep their wives in marriage without the claim, “It is God’s will.” When a man is unwilling or unable to keep his wife through legitimate means it does not mean he is free to enlist God to act on his behalf in forcing his wife to remain in marriage against her consent. The Bible is not a handy device that is available to be called into service for the purpose of forcing a woman to forgo acting in her best interest.
Marriage is neither good or bad, moral or immoral, spiritual or nonspiritual. Marriage is a relationship that has no divine component! Marriage is common, mundane, and ordinary. As such, a woman is free to end her marriage at any time she chooses and for any reason, or for no reason.
Likewise, divorce is neither good or bad, moral or immoral, spiritual or nonspiritual. Some divorces are the absolute best thing that can happen to a woman and should have occurred much sooner. Other divorces are a slow and painful experience filled with doubt, guilt, self-incrimination and sorrow. Historically, men work to insure a woman seeking to divorce her husband is punished in the most severe way. The Bible is often used by men to punish those women who decide to leave their husbands, for the purpose of ensuring she suffer shame and guilt to its fullest.
In conclusion, all marriages are equal in that they are all a human invention. There are no supernatural marriages being sustained, approved, and sealed by God. The marriage relationship is no different in any way than any other relationship between consenting individuals. The only difference between a marriage relationship and a non-marriage relationship is that one is recognized by the State as having certain legal obligations. Marriage is ratified in civil courts, not the church, and marriages may dissolve their legal status in the same civil courts. Therefore like all previous relationships, a woman is free to come and free to go at any time and for any reason she chooses. There is no divine mystical hold on a woman in marriage. Marriage is a common, mundane, ordinary, relationship like all other relationships and has not one element of divine participation. As such, a woman is free to end the marriage relationship any time and for any reason she chooses.
Does God Hate Divorce?
Some people think that it’s holding on that makes one strong; sometimes it’s letting go.
—Hermann Hesse, 1877-1962
When all else fails to keep a woman in a marriage, she will invariably be told that God hates divorce. Where does such support for such an incredulous claim come from? Why would the Creator of the universe hate divorce? One would think if God were to hate anything it would be something more along the lines of rape, murder, war, and slavery. There is only one verse in the Bible that if removed from its literary context can appear to suggest that God hates divorce:
“For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously. (Malachi 2:16).
Church leaders would have us believe that if God hates divorce then all divorces, without exception, are against the expressed will of God. The message is that when a woman divorces her husband she is to live the rest of her life believing she has done that which God hates. Again, this is using the Bible to force women to remain in their marriages through the use of a threat and in this case a divine threat. A threat, regardless of its origin, is never reason enough to stay in a marriage. Threats are used for the purpose of instilling fear. Threats do not enhance relationships; they destroy them. Eventually many women leave their marriages because they grow weary of the threats of divine retaliation. Other women will surrender their lives to bad men and bad marriages out of fear of offending God. But, does God hate divorce? Or, is it the church that hates divorce?
It is an absolutely incredible claim that God would hate anyone or anything. To claim God hates would make hatred a virtue. If God hates then we too must hate and we must teach our children to hate. If hate is a virtue then hate is sanctioned and made holy. In all our churches we proclaim a message of love but the hidden secret is that many believe that God also hates. It seems that God hates certain people — Esau, workers of inequities, witches, wizards, those who raise the dead, liars, the prideful — and even hates the thoughts of the wicked. In fact, there are at least forty-three instances in the Bible identifying people, institutions, religions, acts, and omissions as things that God hates. It even says that He abhors eagles (Leviticus 11:13). Is it true that God hates some people and animals? If so, why does the church never mention this fact? There are many verses in the Bible that say God hates certain people. In the Book of Ecclesiastics it even says, “There is a time to love and a time to hate” (Ecclesiastics 3:8). However, little is mentioned in our churches either of God hating, or that Christians should hate — unless it is in relation to divorce.
Hate is not a virtue; it is a corruption of human character. Hatred is the first step towards violence and a precursor to mental instability. Nothing good comes of hatred and there is not a single thing or a single person God hates. Hatred is a weakness, a flaw of human nature that has brought more horror and suffering in the world than can be measured. To imply God joins us in our hate or that we join God in His hate is foolish, dangerous, and does nothing more than provide false justification for acts of violence. We hate because we are weak; God does not hate because He is strong. When at any time a religion sanctions hate as a virtue the descent into madness begins.
If God hates divorce that means all marriages are better than any divorce, even those marriages where a woman is forced to live in a demeaning, cruel, and servile relationship with her husband. Marriages that are violent and cruel must be endured if God hates divorce. Before a woman enters into marriage this fact should be disclosed. She should be informed that when she has entered into the “happy state of holy matrimony” the door forever closes behind her. She should have been told that even the worst marriage is better than the best divorce for God hates divorce. She should have been told that no matter how much she suffers, or how brutal her husband might become, she must remain in her marriage because God hates divorce. Of course, she is never told these things for if she was, she might lose her interest in marriage altogether.
First, let it unequivocally be stated that God does not hate anything or anyone. It may be claimed in thousands of sermons that God hates divorce and it may be the official dogma of the church, but the fact is that there is no hatred in God of anyone or for anything. God does not hate Esau, workers of inequities, witches, wizards, those who raise the dead, liars, the prideful, eagles, the thoughts of the wicked, or divorce. Hatred is not the opposite of love; it is the absence of love. Hatred consumes a person until it bursts out in violence. God does not need to hate, for there is nothing that has power over Him to cause Him to hate. Hatred is not a virtue nor has it ever been a virtue. Therefore there is no element of hatred in God. If God does not hate then God does not hate divorce.
There can be no other conclusion than God does not hate and neither should we hate. The passage in Ecclesiastics 3:8, “a time to love and a time to hate” is Jewish poetry. It is not a command from God authorizing hatred. Where there is love there is no hatred. It cannot be said that God is love (I John 4:8) and that God hates, for hatred is the absence of love. It is not possible to hate someone and love them at the same time. In addition, if God is all-powerful then there is nothing that has the power to cause Him to hate. To suggest God hates those who hate Him reduces Him to a childish deity.
Why do those who like to point out all the things in the Bible that say God hates seem to fail to mention that there are many things not included in this list? For example it does not say God hates murder, genocide, abortion, child abandonment, war, rape, kidnapping, or slavery. The only thing that is consistently pointed out is that God hates divorce. Again, this is a gross inconsistency that is designed by men to prohibit women from leaving their marriages without permission of the church. God no more hates divorce than He hates eagles or witches.
There is nothing in the New Testament of Jesus hating anyone or anything. If hatred were an attribute and virtue of God then it would also be of the Son of God. Nowhere in the Gospels is it written of Jesus that He hates the wicked, proud, lying, violent, witches, wizards, homosexuals, astrologers, thieves, or those who divorce. Instead it says that Jesus loves the whole world and gave His life as a sacrifice in order that all might find forgiveness. The whole life of Jesus was one of love, never hate. If God hated people, places, and things one would expect Jesus to do likewise. Yet, never is the word “hate” used in conjunction with Jesus.
If it is a false premise that God hates anything or anyone then why does it say in Malachi 2:16 that God hates divorce? The use of the word hate in the Bible is a literary device called an anthropomorphism. The use of anthropomorphisms is common in all ancient literature and its use is found throughout the Bible. Anthropomorphisms are the attribution of human qualities to God. When the Bible speaks of God seeing, smelling, hearing, and touching it does not mean that He has eyes, nose, ears, and hands. These are anthropomorphisms. When it says that we are not to worship other gods because our God is a jealous God it does not mean there are other gods in existence and that God is jealous of them. In the Book of Genesis it says, “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Genesis 2:2). Was God tired from all the work of creation? Of course not. These are all examples of the use of anthropomorphisms. The Bible, like all ancient literature, is rife with their use. Therefore, when it says in the Bible that God hates Esau (Malachi 1:3) or that He hates divorce it is using anthropomorphisms that humans can understand and relate to. The use of figurative speech is the primary form of communication from God to His creation.
If one does not take into account the use of anthropomorphism in the Bible, then Psalms 5:5, “The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity,” teaches that God hates all those who commit sin. This would mean that God hates the entire world for the Bible says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Of course, this is not true since it would be in conflict with the central doctrine of Christianity that God loves the whole world. To reemphasize the point, God does not hate divorce as He does not hate anyone, or anything. Hatred is not a virtue; it is a weakness of man and not an attribute of God.
What does this passage in Malachi mean when it says “God hates divorce?” The answer is simple when we take a look at the context. A the very beginning of this passage
Malachi reveals to whom God is speaking: “And now this commandment is for you, O priests” (Malachi 2:1). This is not a passage that is addressed to anyone other than those priests to whom it is specifically addressed. It cannot be made any clearer for the purpose of biblical interpretation that God is not speaking about marriage and divorce as it applies to anyone other than those He is specifically addressing. It simply cannot be made any clearer. To use this verse to say God hates divorce in respect to anyone, other than these long dead priests of Israel, is a gross misuse of the Word of God.
The prophet Malachi, in the first passage, reveals to whom God is speaking and the subsequent passage reveals the reason He is speaking to them:
This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously. (Malachi 2:13-14).
The context clearly indicates the prophet Malachi was speaking to the priests of Israel who were mistreating their wives while believing such treatment was acceptable to God. These priests were dealing with their wives “treacherously,” and believed God winked at the whole matter. Women meant nothing to the men so they believed they meant nothing to God. However, God refused their religious offerings because of the way they treated their wives. This is not a passage that shows God hates divorce. It is a passage that shows that men believe God is on their side when they abuse their wives. All religion stands or falls on how it is used to love or hate. All religion is empty if it is used to the advantage of one class and at the detriment of another class. To claim God hates divorce, based on this passage, is to believe God sides with oppressive men who have the right to do anything to their wives they choose, as long as it is not divorce. There are far worse things than a divorce and one of them is for a woman to be trapped in a marriage she cannot escape. It is beyond reason to imply that God is the gatekeeper of the prison of marriage.
The mistreatment of women at the hands of men while using the Bible as their justification has been occurring for thousands of years. Nowhere in the Bible can a single verse be mustered indicating that God endorses or approves such treatment of women. Only by gross generalizations, and removing Bible passages from its context can it make it appear as if God supports misogyny, cruelty, subordination, or any other indignation that is applied to a woman.
I am unaware of any theologians who disagree with anything I have written about this passage. Yet, why is this passage still used in weekly sermons as a threat to keep women in their marriages? Because it is an effective threat. It sounds authoritative, absolute, and threatening; God hates divorce. As I write this, there are women who are longing to be free from their marriages who are sitting in church listening to a sermon on why God hates divorce. This verse is used to threaten all women who are considering divorce. Church leaders use it because it is effective, and they will continue to use it until women finally learn it is an empty threat levied by men who are fearful of the fact a woman is free to divorce her husband any time she chooses.
Some say, “Agreed, He does not hate divorce but He hates the pain caused by divorce.” First, such a statement cannot be supported by this passage in Malachi, as it has nothing to do with “the pain of divorce.” Secondly, the pain of marriage for many women is far greater than any pain that might be associated with a divorce. A divorce is often the cessation of pain for many women. It is falsely assumed a woman who is divorced is living a painful, miserable life. For many women the greatest day of her life is when her divorce is final. Divorce is painful for a woman when men make it painful.
If a woman cannot be forced to remain in her marriage through specific biblical mandates, then she is free to end her marriage at any time and for any reason she chooses. It is as simple as that. The fact a woman is free to divorce at any time and for any reason is a grave threat to the men that believe they have the God-given right to own their women, for life. Therefore, if there are no biblical mandates to force women to remain in a marriage they must be created. The Malachi passage has nothing to do with marriage and divorce outside the context in which it was written and when it is used for the purpose of keeping women enslaved in marriage it does nothing but reveal the fact men cannot — or are unwilling — to keep their wives apart from the misuse of the Bible.
At any time a woman is ready to be freed from her marriage, for any reason, and all the verses in the Bible have been brought forth to no avail and when the passage of last resort is used, “God hates divorce,” then you know their case cannot be established nor will it ever be established. It is a last-ditch effort to threaten a woman with the utter displeasure of God. If, and when, the words “God hates divorce” are quoted to a woman seeking a divorce, it is her privilege to ask, “Does God hate all divorces or just mine?” This question will reveal the absurdity of the claim.
In conclusion, God does not hate divorce. Whether you remain married or choose to divorce, it will not change God’s love for you. The love of God is not conditioned on whether a person is married or chooses to divorce. Marriage is not a magical union; it is just two people in a relationship that has legal obligations to the State. The rest is religious ceremony and opinion. It cannot be said God is for marriage and against divorce. It can be said that God, throughout the Bible, is greatly concerned how men treat women in general and wives in particular.
Jesus and Divorce
Divorce isn’t such a tragedy. A tragedy’s staying in an unhappy marriage, teaching your children the wrong things about love.
—Jennifer Weiner, 2011
Every marriage license I have ever seen lists the two people getting married, at least one witness, the individual officiating the wedding, the local register, and the Deputy of Applications, but I have never seen the name “Jesus of Nazareth” on a single marriage license. Also, I have never seen the name of any church or religion listed on any marriage license. It will you do you well to examine your marriage license as a reminder that your marriage is between you and your husband, not two people plus Jesus and/or the church and its officers.
Jesus is not, nor ever was, a marriage reformer. As previously stated, it was not for the establishment of rules on marriage and divorce that the Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) nor was it the reason He gave His life on the Cross at Calvary. He was born, lived, and died in order that all people may have a new relationship with God the Father. This relationship is one of love, not fear. Jesus made this point perfectly clear, when a Scribe, an expert in Jewish Law, came to Him and asked, “Which is the Great Commandment in the Law?” This was a question designed to trick Jesus, as they had divided the Law into 613 commandments, each carrying equal weight. The Law, “Do not trim the corner of your beard” (Leviticus 19:27) carried equal value as, “You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary” (Leviticus 26:2). All 613 Laws were considered given by God and thus must be kept in minute detail. This is Jesus’s response to the Jewish Scribe’s question of “Which is the Great Commandment?”:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:34-40).
Is this not clear? Can it not be any clearer that Jesus is summing up the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, including all the Law and all the prophets, and His summation is that we are to love God, ourselves, and others? This is the lens through which we must learn to read the entire Bible. Every recorded word spoken by Jesus must be understood through this metric: love God, love self, and love others. If any woman allows herself, or her children, to be abused by her husband and remains married to him then she is violating the command of Jesus to love God, herself, and others. She is completely out of harmony with the very heart of the teaching of Jesus by not divorcing her husband. Loving God, self, and others is the very foundation of everything Jesus taught. The woman who loves herself must never allow herself to be abused by anyone — not even those who claim ecclesial or biblical authority to justify such abuse. God has not granted a special dispensation allowing marriage to violate the principle of loving self and others.
Jesus would never teach anything that would contradict Himself. He would never teach us to love ourselves and then teach that divorce sets aside this “law of love.” No woman who loves herself, as commanded by Jesus, would allow herself to be abused or even held against her will in marriage. In addition, no woman who loves her children must ever expose them to an unhealthy home. When a woman allows herself to suffer abuse at the hands of her husband, she is teaching her children to do likewise. Her young boys will learn that a Christian husband has the right to demean, control, and rule his wife, and her daughters will learn that they are to suffer in marriage just like their mother. The children will be taught that — the men will rule and the women will obey — for that is God’ plan for the Christian home, and that divorce is the enemy of God. Sadly, the words of Jesus are turned and twisted until they appear to give credence to such an unholy and unhealthy relationship between a man and a woman. To love God, love yourself, and love others is the greatest of all commandments. To obey this command, to love oneself, allows women to divorce those men who are abusing them and holding them captive through threat, coercion, and cruelty.
The woman who rightfully loves herself should remove herself from a marriage that is demeaning, unequal, degrading, cruel, controlling, and one that has stripped her of her self-identity, her freedom, and her strength. In doing so, she gives strength to all other women who are imprisoned in a marriage that has diminished them to the point they lack the strength to act. No woman can say that she loves God but hates herself. If she loves God she will learn to love herself and when she learns to love herself she will learn to act in her own best interest and often, her best interest will include divorce.
Lastly, no woman who loves God should participate in a marriage that is demeaning to women. When a woman participates in a marriage built upon principles that violate the law of love she is perpetuating an institution that is corrupt. There is nothing that can be found in the Bible that says a woman must set aside the law of loving herself on the day she is married. Marriage does not have the power to cancel out the Great Commandment of Jesus to love oneself. When a woman is taught to love marriage more than she is to love herself then she is being taught to deny the very foundational teaching of Jesus to love God, self and others.
Everything the church teaches about marriage and divorce must be in harmony with the teaching of Jesus on loving God, self, and others. If the church teaches that a woman can never divorce her husband until he commits adultery then this violates the Law of love. If the church teaches that a woman must become servile and suffer loss of freedom, dignity, and self-identity, this also violates the Law of love. Marriage, in the context as it expressed in the Christian community, is one where a woman is stripped of her freedom, self-identity and strength, forced to live in a servile state, and is expected to love the institution more than herself. This is a gross violation of the command of Jesus to love self and others. No woman who loves herself would expose herself to such a relationship; much less commit herself to a lifetime in such a relationship.
“But the Bible says…” are words we often hear that are used to prove that Jesus forbade divorce. Yes, there are verses where Jesus speaks on divorce but there is nothing He has ever said that would violate the His paramount law of loving God, self, and others. His Great Commandment is to be the lens through which we view everything in the entire Bible. When we take that approach to the Bible, Christianity will become a place of equality, love, and acceptance.
Everything Jesus says about marriage is found in these passages: Matthew 5:31-32; 19:1-9; Mark 10:2-12; and Luke 16:18. In every passage Jesus is addressing divorce in relation to Jewish men and the treatment of their spouses under the Mosaic Law. Again, in every single instance Jesus is specifically speaking to Jewish men, without exception, who were using the Law of Moses to divorce their wives without justification. If Jesus were speaking about marriage and divorce for all people, of all cultures, for all time, He would have made that perfectly clear. If Jesus were creating a universal standard for divorce that was to be in force forever He would have spoken in absolute and universal terms. However, He did not speak in absolute or universal terms; instead He spoke directly to Jewish men who were using the Law of Moses to mistreat their wives. This applies to all men today who use their Bible as an instrument of oppression.
To make the claim that Jesus teaches that a woman may only divorce her husband on grounds of adultery is to say Jesus demands a woman live in a state of bondage to her husband regardless of his treatment of her. It is preposterous to believe that a man may rule his wife, beat her, force her to have as many children as he wishes, molest her children, live in poverty, rob her of her freedom, and force her to live with him until he dies and she cannot divorce him until he commits adultery. It is not possible for Jesus to be a part of such cruel treatment of half the world’s population. To take anything Jesus has said about marriage and divorce and twist it into a misogynist male dominating message demonstrates how little one knows of the Son of God.
In reading what the Bible records concerning what Jesus says on marriage and divorce, it might be noticed that He never speaks about women in regards to marriage and divorce. The reason for this is that throughout the Old Testament it is the man who is the antagonist and the woman the victim, never the other way around. She was an easy victim since she was powerless by virtue of her culture and religion. Jesus knew where the problems lay and it was not with women treating men as property. In the New Testament we find Jesus addressing men who believed they had a divine right to rule women and their plan was the continued victimization of women.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is speaking to a strictly Jewish audience. We know He is speaking to a Jewish audience because He refers to the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses was not considered Scripture nor authoritative to anyone other than the Jewish people. This is why it is called the Hebrew Bible. Therefore, to a gathering of Jewish people Jesus says:
It was said, “Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce” but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32).
Every Jewish man and every Jewish woman present that day would have understood exactly what Jesus was saying. Jesus was not establishing rules of marriage and divorce. He was ending the practice of mistreating women in the context of marriage and divorce. Divorce, or the “putting away” of a woman, was a very cruel act perpetrated on a woman in first-century Judaism. If she was not stoned to death for accusations of adultery, the woman was forced into prostitution in order to survive. This is why Jesus said to the men, “Every man who divorces his wife makes her commit adultery.” Jesus is saying to the men, “You did this!” Not only have men made her commit adultery, but also they sought to punish her for becoming a prostitute and committing adultery.
The words “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” have been used as a threat to insure women do not leave their husbands. This is to imply the divorced woman lives under a curse and is never to be allowed to marry another. If this is a true assessment of the words of Jesus, then this curse can never be lifted as no cure is mentioned. It is ridiculous to claim that Jesus is placing a divorced woman under a curse because she is divorced. This is the worst of all explanations for this passage. In the first place, Jesus is only speaking to Jewish men as evidenced by the fact He quotes the Law of Moses. Also, this is a passage directed specifically to men, not women. Lastly, the words “makes her commit adultery” are completely ignored. How do these men “make” their wives commit adultery? Again, when Jewish men divorced their wives, the women often had no other recourse than to become prostitutes in order to prevent starvation. These women were now to be considered unmarriageable for the rest of their lives by Jewish men. This passage is a direct condemnation of the Jewish victimization of women. The church has twisted the words of Jesus, causing Him to join the Jews in their persecution of women.
Jesus is not establishing a law that says a woman who has been divorced by her husband somehow becomes unclean and that no man is ever to marry her. Again, it must be stressed there is nothing in this passage about a woman divorcing her husband for any reason. It is not reasonable to assert Jesus would punish a woman who has been divorced by her husband, for any reason, and that this punishment would follow her until death. The whole story of Jesus is one of love, compassion, and forgiveness. Jesus never adds His voice to those angry men who curse their wives. Jesus would be the first to pick up the fallen woman and restore her. A woman who is divorced by her husband carries no curse or stain, nor is she diminished in any capacity; to claim otherwise is revealing how little one knows about the Son of God.
In the Gospel of Mark we find Jesus once again speaking to a group of Jewish Pharisees in regards to marriage and divorce and when His disciples are alone with Jesus they begin to question Him:
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; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.” (Mark 10:10-12).
Is this an affirmation that if a woman divorces her husband, for any reason, and marries another man she is to be labeled an adulteress despite the fact she has never committed the act of adultery? If this is true, then Jesus is establishing a new definition of adultery not found anywhere else in the Bible. If it is true that all divorced women are forever to be marked as adulteresses and are forbidden to be married by any Christian men, then why is this not taught in our churches? It is not taught in our churches because it would make marriage a relationship that is tantamount to human bondage, inescapable. This passage, when taken out of its context, can be made to say that divorce is prohibited for any reason including adultery, which would be in complete contradiction with other passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Jesus is not placing a curse on a divorced woman and He is not establishing any laws on marriage and divorce. Jesus is speaking to Jewish men in the first century who were using their Sacred Scripture to authorize their cultural mistreatment and oppression of women. Jesus reflects back on them their corruption of the Law of Moses. It is an indictment of the men who viewed divorced women as unclean and not an endorsement of such a practice. Jesus said to these men, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.” Not against God, but against her. The men believed they were free to divorce their wives and remarry a hundred times over, but Jesus said this is an act of violence against women. The Jewish men believed they were free to divorce and remarry but it was forbidden for any Jewish man to marry the divorced woman as she was considered to be unclean. Jesus would never side with those who treat any woman with such careless and cruel disregard. Yet, men today use the very words of Jesus for the illegitimate support of the mistreatment of their wives because “that was the way it was done in the Bible.”
This passage, and others like it, (Luke 16:18), are used today as a threat to insure women never even consider divorce for any reason for if she does she is told she will forever carry the curse of being an adulteress, even if she never committed adultery. It must be understood that if a divorced woman carries some sort of curse that is transferred to any man who marries her, this is implies there is not one unforgivable sin (Matthew 12:31-32) but two. Only in the minds of men who have no interest in daily winning the hearts of their wives are such devious interpretations of the words of Jesus found. The threat levied by men against a woman that she will be an adulteress the rest of her life should she divorce her husband is an empty one. The woman is free to divorce as often as she likes and for any reason she decides is appropriate. The only punishment that will be inflicted will come from men, not God.
Let us remember, it is not possible to interpret any of these passages as governing Christian marriage, as there was no Church and there were no Christians at this time. This fact bears repeating: It is not possible to interpret theses passages as governing Christian marriage as there was no Church and there were no Christians at this time. Everything Jesus said about marriage and divorce is addressed to Jewish men who were living under the Law of Moses. Jesus repeatedly quotes from the Book of Genesis and Deuteronomy. He specifically asks the question to those under the Law, “What did Moses command you?” Every single sentence is directly spoken to Jewish men who were using the Law of Moses for the support of the mistreatment of their wives. Even with the most liberal interpretation of these Jesus passages, one cannot find support for the idea that Jesus is speaking about marriage and divorce among Christians in the twenty-first century. These passages have nothing to do with marriage in any context other than Jewish marriages as governed by the Mosaic Law. Jesus was not speaking to the Greeks, Romans, Samaritans, or Americans, Christians or non-Christians.
There are those who make the argument that even though Jesus was speaking specifically to Jewish men we can still extrapolate certain principles or basic concepts of marriage and divorce. Such an approach is completely acceptable as long as these principles and concepts do not themselves become laws governing marriage and divorce, as has become the case. When the principle behind a statement becomes a law, it is no longer a principle. The principle that we can extrapolate from everything Jesus said about marriage and divorce is that it is not acceptable for a man to mistreat his wife for any reason. When church doctrine says that a woman cannot divorce her husband except for reasons of adultery then the principle is ignored and has become a law. When Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to sin cut it off and cast it from you” (Matthew 5:30, 18:8), we understand that we must only learn the principle behind this passage and not actually cut our hands off. However, when it comes to the words of Jesus concerning marriage and divorce, directly and clearly spoken to the Jewish men of the first century, the principle is ignored and instead it is turned into law.
It cannot be stressed enough that Jesus is not speaking about your marriage or divorce. His audience is clear, His intent is clear, and it is clear He did not come to establish new laws on marriage and divorce. Not a single word uttered by Jesus should be used against a woman who wishes to leave her marriage, for Jesus said nothing in regards to her marriage. I do believe Jesus would be quite surprised and disappointed in our failure to notice something so obvious. It might be dismissed as a minor error if it were not for the fact that the failure to understand the words of Jesus has resulted is so much pain for so many women.
If it were the intent of Jesus to establish rules of marriage and divorce, then He would have done so in detail. He would have stated clearly that everything He says applies to all future marriages and divorces and is not limited to only the Jews but to all people throughout the entire world. There are no such statements recorded in any of the teachings of Jesus. The modern teaching of the church regarding marriage and divorce is simply an invention of men.
In my opinion, it is these passages in the Gospels that strike fear in the hearts of many women who have divorced their husbands or who long to be free from their marriages. The words of Jesus have been taken from their proper context and are used to frighten a woman to remain in her marriage. However, even those without a theological background can easily see that everything Jesus says about marriage is not directed to women, but to men — men who were using the Law of God to sanction abuse in the marriage relationship.
Many years ago while in seminary, I remember my professor teaching us how to interpret the Bible. He said, “Every word has to be interpreted within its sentence, the sentence within its paragraph, the paragraph within the chapter, the chapter within the book, the book within the New Testament, the New Testament along with the Old Testament, and all of that within the age and the culture from which it came.” One pixel does not the whole picture make. Jesus never forbids divorce, as it is not forbidden anywhere in the entire Old Testament, which was the only Bible in available at that time. The New Testament would not exist for another 300 years.
In conclusion, we come full circle, back to the very heart of everything Jesus taught: We are to love God, love ourselves, and love others. Sometimes, the greatest expression of this love is to reclaim your life from male ownership, abuse, self-deprivation, and demeaning servility, and begin a new life with new possibilities and a path of your choice. Never should a woman define herself as divorced, never should she allow herself to be addressed as such. A woman is married or not married; there is nothing in between.
The Apostle Paul and Divorce
If divorce has increased by one thousand percent, don’t blame the women’s movement. Blame the obsolete sex roles on which our marriages were based.
—Betty Friedan, 1974
When the writings of Paul are removed from their original context, in order to make it appear as if he is writing laws that are to govern all marriage and divorce, a number of theological inconsistencies are created. For example, the church views the idea of “one-flesh” as being a supernatural joining together of two people at the time of marriage. However, Paul in his letter to the Corinthian Christians says, “…do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is “one-flesh” with her (I Corinthians 6:16)? Paul does not equate the idea of “one-flesh” of having anything to do with marriage. Also, Paul makes no provision for a woman to divorce her husband for any reason. She is only allowed to leave her husband, but she is not allowed to divorce him, not even for reason of adultery. Again, this is contrary to other passages in the Bible. It is only when all the verses in the entire Bible are read in their proper context does any of it make any sense at all. If Jesus did not establish new laws that are to govern all marriages, in all cultures, for all time, then it cannot be claimed that Paul is undertaking such a task.
Nothing Paul has written on marriage and divorce can be separated from the fact he was writing to a very specific audience, and he was addressing very specific problems occurring within this audience. Therefore, we know to whom Paul was writing and to some degree why he was writing to them. If we remove these two elements, then it becomes possible to use the writings of Paul to support any doctrine one wishes to advance. For example, Christian ministers throughout the world have used the letters of Paul for the establishment and continuation of the practice of slavery. In his letters Paul clearly speaks of his acceptance and support of slavery (Colossians 3:22; 4:1; I Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10; Ephesians 6:5-8; I Peter 2:18-19; Philemon 1:1-25). Paul even gives instructions on how a slave is to obey his master, even if that master is cruel:
Slaves, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. (I Peter 2:18-19).
Paul never condemns slavery or calls for its abolition. Because of this, the Bible was used extensively in America, by Christian pastors, to support and advance the practice of slavery. Slave owners and slave advocates claimed that slavery was sanctioned in the Old Testament and permitted in the New Testament. To use the Bible to protect and advance the practice of slavery was an unconscionable act and an inexcusable failure to interpret the letters of Paul within their historical context. This same neglect of interpreting the epistles of Paul in their historical context is being used today to make it appear that a woman is to be a slave to her husband until he dies. There is no greater failure in biblical interpretation than to willfully ignore the historical, religious, political, cultural, and literary context in which it was written. Some men will always read into the writings of Paul male dominance and female submission because that is what they wish to find. Because of their longing to have God endorse their power over women they become incapable of reading anything Paul has written that does no support their misogyny.
There is no evidence anywhere in the writings of Paul to suggest that it was his intention to establish laws that would govern marriage and divorce throughout out the entire world, for all time. In addition, there is nothing in his letters to the churches or his theology that would suggest he was establishing rules of marriage and divorce for Christians. Yet, this is how the church is using his epistles and his theology. The verses Paul wrote regarding slavery are now dismissed by the church as being “historical,” a cultural artifact of the New Testament era, and are not to be considered applicable in our modern society — but the writings of Paul on marriage and divorce are to be considered to be in effect, to be put into practice, and to be considered divine law.
Paul wrote a lot of things about women. For example, he says that under no circumstances is a woman allowed to speak in church and if she has a question she has to wait until she gets home and then she can ask her husband the question (I Corinthians 14:34-35). This is not a suggestion from Paul; it is a command. The words “let them [women] be silent” is in the imperative form. Furthermore, Paul said it was disgraceful for a woman to speak in church (I Corinthians 14:34-35). Paul also specifically said that a woman is not to wear jewelry, braid her hair, cut her hair, or wear expensive clothes (I Corinthians 11:6; I Timothy 2:9-15). Also, Paul says that a woman is never allowed to teach or have any authority over a man (I Timothy 2:11-12). All of these writings by Paul on women are routinely dismissed by the majority of Christian churches and are not practiced. Women speak in churches, braid their hair, wear jewelry, teach men, and hold offices that place them in authority over men. The church claims these instructions given by Paul concerning women are not to be practiced, just as his writings on slavery are not to be practiced, because they are cultural remnants of the age in which Paul lived. And yet the letters of Paul that speak on the matters of marriage and divorce — these the church claims are still in force.
One would think that if it were the intention of Paul to write universal laws that were to forever govern the institution of marriage he would have said as much. But of course this is not the case. Everything Paul says about divorce is found in a letter he wrote to a group of Christians who were living in the City of Corinth. In this letter Paul writes:
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, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband, and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
(I Corinthians 7:10-11).
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. (I Corinthians 7:39).
These verses are being used to restrict or eliminate the right of a woman to divorce her husband. When these verses are removed from their historical and theological context they are made to say a woman is never allowed to divorce her husband for any reason. It does not matter if he beats her every day; she cannot divorce him, and her only option is to leave him. If she leaves her husband she still remains his wife and will remain his wife until he dies. These passages are used to manipulate a woman to bend to the will of her husband. It is easy for a man to point to these passages and say, “God, in His Holy Book, says you cannot divorce me for any reason, and you are my wife until I die.” The woman is told that she can never divorce but if she chooses to “leave” she can never marry another. She belongs to her man…forever. Is that what the Bible really says? Of course not.
These passages only make sense in an age and in a society where the man owned his wife as property. If the woman left her husband she nevertheless remained his property and would always be his property until he died. If she moved a thousand miles away she still could not remarry because she always remained the property of her husband. If her husband died she was free to marry again and then she would become the property of another man. In our age, men do not own their wives as property and a woman is free to leave her husband at any time she chooses. Paul is writing to Christians living in an age where women did not have the right to divorce their husbands and this is why divorce is only expressed in terms of a male privilege. Today, divorce is not a solely male privilege and is available to any woman who feels she is ready to end her marriage.
Let it be understood that Paul is not telling women today that she can leave her husband, but she is not allowed to divorce him. A woman is no longer the property of her husband and now she is free to leave him, or divorce him at any time and for any reason she chooses. Likewise, Paul is not telling any woman living today that she must remain married to her husband until he dies. A woman is not “bound as long as her husband lives,” as were women in first-century Judaism. The word “bound” in the Greek is the same word used to describe one who is imprisoned. When marriage becomes inescapable then it is no different than a prison. A woman is not “bound” to her husband, even though that was the firm opinion and the accepted practice of men living in first-century Palestine.
It is incumbent on all those who insist on using the writings of Paul to restrict or eliminate a woman’s right to divorce to give equal weight to everything else Paul says to the Corinthian Christians regarding marriage and divorce. For example, Paul clearly commands that a woman whose husband dies is free to marry another except she can only marry a Christian man. Again, this is not a suggestion; it is a command. Yet ministers routinely officiate weddings between Christian women and non-Christian men and these unions are recognized as being legitimate.
In addition, apparently Paul had a very dim view of marriage in general and said that he believed that remaining single was superior to marriage. Paul believed marriage was only for those who cannot control themselves sexually:
But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (I Corinthians 7:7-8).
Paul says marriage is not for love or procreation, but as a defense against immorality. This is not a very high view of marriage. Just think, if we used that same standard today millions of terrible marriages would be the result. Paul wrote, “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband,” and “if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (I Corinthians 7:2-9). In other words Paul sees marriage as only for those who cannot contain their sexual compulsions. Rarely will you hear a sermon based on Paul’s claim that marriage was only to be used by those who cannot control their sexual appetites and that marriage was to be avoided by all spiritually superior people. But, there many sermons preached that a woman must forgo her right to divorce and that marriage is for the life.
Paul also writes that a father has total control over his daughter, her entire life. It is the father who decides if his daughter is to marry. Men in this era owned not only their wives but also their daughters.
But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry. But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authorityover his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well. So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better. (I Corinthians 7:36-38).
It is a simple matter to see that all the writings of Paul on marriage and divorce only make sense when understood in their historical setting. To take these verses and say they apply to women living in the twenty-first century is a perversion of the works of the Apostle Paul.
When we consider everything Paul writes on marriage and divorce, then equal weight must be given to the following passage:
The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (I Corinthians 7:4).
The man is free to force himself on his wife sexually any time he chooses and she must submit. As a consequence she will be forced to have as many children as she can before it becomes impossible for her to continue. Some are quick to point out the woman is also authorized to have access to the man’s body but it is not quite the same and should never be considered as somehow being balanced and equal. A man gets nothing but pleasure from sexual intercourse while a woman gets pregnant.
In marriage, under these terms, a woman loses control of her body. It is no longer her own, but belongs to her husband. This is the sordid picture of marriage in the first century and it is reprehensible to believe there are men today who believe this is God’s plan for women living today. It is likewise reprehensible to use the writings of Paul to support and endorse such cruel treatment of women. Any time a man tells a woman that he owns her body by virtue of the Word of God, she should take it a warning that she is married to an ignorant man who is determined to ruin her life.
While a man claims sexual privilege being a divine right, the children born from his demand for sexual access are his wife’s responsibility. With each new child comes a dividing of resources and a new burden on her health and welfare. While millions of women have died in childbirth there has been yet to be a single man who has lost his life through giving birth. Margret Sanger, a feminist activist wrote in 1920:
The deadly chain of misery is all to plain to anyone who takes the trouble to observe it. A woman of the working class marries and with her husband lives in a degree of comfort upon his earnings. Her household duties are not beyond her strength. Then the children begin to come — one, two, three, four, possibly five or more. The earnings of the husband do not increase as rapidly as the family does. Food, clothing and general comfort in the home grow as the numbers of the family increase. The woman’s work grows heavier, and her strength is less with each child. Possibly, probably, she has to go into a factory to add to her husband’s earnings. There she toils, doing her housework at night. Her health goes, and the crowded conditions and lack of necessities in the home help to bring about disease — especially tuberculosis. Under the circumstances, the woman’s chance of recovering from each succeeding childbirth grow less. Less too, are the chances of the child’s surviving. (Margret Sanger, 1020).
The above is a clear warning of what can occur when a woman surrenders free access to her body upon demand of her husband. In parts of the world where there is no access to any form of birth control women are subject to toil, poverty, sickness, misery, and even death as a result of the use of the use of the Bible to claim a man’s divine right to the body of a woman. Even where birth control is available the church has made its use a sin. In the theology of Catholicism all forms of birth control are considered a mortal sin and grounds for excommunication. They view the role of the woman is to surrender her body to her husband any time he requests. What price does the husband pay for his moment of pleasure? For the woman, the doctrine of “sex on demand” has taken the life of many who have died in childbirth. This misery has been imposed on women throughout the world based on Paul’s writing to the Corinthians, “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.”
The point is that one cannot take a couple of verses from the writings of Paul and use those to restrict or eliminate a woman’s right to divorce while neglecting everything else Paul wrote on the subject of marriage and divorce. When we look at everything he wrote it only makes sense when it is interpreted within its original context. There is not a single verse in the entire Bible that should be removed from its original context. Yet, this is a regular practice as evidenced by the widespread false church doctrines on marriage and divorce. When the letters of Paul are restored to their original setting it becomes easy to see that nothing Paul has written can be used to prevent a woman from divorcing her husband any time and for any reason. Likewise, nothing Paul has written prevents a woman from marrying again as many times as she likes after her divorce. Jesus did not establish laws that would govern marriage and divorce and neither did the Apostle Paul.
In conclusion, it can never be said that Paul instituted laws that are to govern marriage for all people throughout the world. Therefore, all the claims associated with the marriage and divorce passages found in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth are not to be construed — any more than his claims about slavery should be construed — as having universal applications, and should only be interpreted in terms as to whom he was specifically addressing. As such, the doctrine that marriage is a permanent relationship that can only be dissolved by the death of the husband is dismissed. It remains true that a woman is free to divorce her husband any time and for any reason she chooses. In addition, she is free to marry another if she so chooses. It is her life and she is free to choose the path that allows her the greatest degree of happiness.
The Reconciliation Delusion
I do not consider divorce an evil by any means. It is just as much a refuge for women married to brutal men as Canada was to the slaves of brutal masters. I will never vote for a resolution to bar women from that refuge. No one class is more responsible for the evils of marriage than the clergy themselves.
— Susan B. Anthony, 1905
Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, wrote in the sixteenth century, “The worst reconciliation is better than the best divorce.” This view continues to be the firm belief of the church today. The assumption is that divorce is a sin that can only be remedied by the act of reconciliation. Of course, Jesus never taught this doctrine nor is found anywhere in the Bible. Jesus never said a divorced woman must reconcile and return to her husband for the sheer reason that it would be an absolutely foolish thing for many women to do. There can be no universal statement that all women should be reconciled to their husbands. It is entirely up to the woman if she should be reconciled to her husband. The entire idea of reconciliation is based on one passage written by Paul to the Corinthian church:
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, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband, and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
(I Corinthians 7:10-11).
This is the only passage in the Bible that even mentions reconciliation between a man and a woman. Upon this single passage, which has been completely removed from its original context, the church establishes its doctrine of reconciliation. Based on this passage, if a woman leaves her husband and later “fails” to reconcile with her husband it is to be considered a sin on her part. The term “failure to reconcile” is used as opposed “chose not to reconcile.” When a woman chooses to reject reconciliation to her husband it should never to be described in terms of a failure on her part. It is because men believe forced reconciliation is a biblical mandate they feel they have the right to use the word “failure” to describe the woman who refuses reconciliation. The word “failure” should never be used to describe any person under any circumstance. When men, or the church, describe women as unwilling to reconcile they are insinuating that the onus is on them having failed in some way to preserve the marriage. They do not understand the fact that the woman does not want to reconcile because she does not want to preserve the marriage.
Reconciliation is considered to be the gold standard, an act of forgiveness and a personal sacrifice that is expected of the Christian woman. The glaring problem with mandatory reconciliation is that it rewards the offender and punishes the victim. The assumption is that reconciliation is always the right thing to do and divorce always the wrong thing to do. This is a terrible assumption and one for which many women have paid a high price. It has to be admitted that reconciliation is not a higher standard and deserves no special status. The woman who reconciles with her husband is no more to be admired than the woman who chooses to reject reconciliation. Reconciliation is not a religious question, but a question of personal choice.
It is wrong to assume that all women who leave their husbands do so because they are in an abusive relationship. Some women simply tire of marriage and therefore choose to divorce their husbands for no other reason than their own. In this instance there is nothing the husband can do to repair the marriage because there is nothing to repair. The idea of reconciliation is to restore a broken relationship, but sometimes there is nothing broken.
In marriage there are no absolutes and there are no general applications. Every marriage is different because every person involved in the marriage relationship is unique. This is why all attempts at making general and absolute statements on marriage and divorce fail. There are always exceptions to the rules. If one says reconciliation is the gold standard and is expected of all Christian women then does that mean that she must return to the man who has demeaned and terrified her every day since she entered into that “blessed state of holy matrimony”? Of course not. Forced reconciliation is another way of the church telling a woman that marriage is a relationship with a man, governed by the church, where there is no avenue of escape. The worst reconciliation is never to be considered to be better than the best divorce.
The idea of reconciliation works from the assumption that bad marriage relationships can be repaired and turned into good marriage relationships. The idea that all marriages can be repaired is a gross generalization. Some marriages are so destructive and demeaning to a woman that once free she should never consider to return, despite the promises of “I will change.” In the first place, the treatment of the woman by her husband may have nothing to do with her decision to divorce. A woman has the fundamental right to leave a good relationship as quickly as she would leave a bad relationship. Secondly, promises are cheap. The promises of a man who has had every opportunity to make his marriage relationship a place where his wife is his equal and yet fails to do so are empty and untrustworthy. Promises of a better future are illusionary when weighed against to an established history.
Some women may divorce their husbands for no other reason than they are bored with marriage. This reason is as legitimate as any other reason because she is free to do with her life as she pleases. In general, church and society will very publicly condemn the woman who leaves her marriage for reason of boredom but it does not change the fact that it is a woman’s fundamental right to divorce her husband for any reason she chooses. If a woman has left her marriage because she was bored with marriage should she likewise be instructed by the church to be reconciled to her husband? Would she be any less bored? It is not the woman that needs to repent and be reconciled it is the institution itself that needs reformation. Every woman at some point will tire of marriage when she is told there is no escape. Resentment grows in a woman who is held against their will. Resentment grows in a woman who is falsely told that punishments await all those who dare to violate God’s laws on marriage and divorce. Common sense alone warns the woman never to be reconciled to a man who uses the Bible and the authority of the church to threaten, imprison, and demean her.
What is referred to as a Christian marriage is a fundamentally flawed institution. For example, marriage that is based on male dominance and female submission will always be depersonalizing and demeaning to a woman. Until the very foundation of marriage itself is repaired it would be madness for a woman to return to the husband she has finally found the strength to leave. Often, it is not a bad man who has ruined the marriage relationship: It is his belief that he has the God-given right to own his wife, to have complete authority over her, and that she is to obey him in a lifelong relationship from which there is no chance of escape. Marriage under such terms is great for the man, but destructive to the woman. There can be no reconciliation under such an interpretation of marriage. It cannot be asked of a woman to return to her marriage when it will only insure that she will be returning to the same prison, under the same terms. Once again, she will be forced to take up the role of the servile, obedient woman. She may never again find the courage a second time to leave her husband.
Forced reconciliation is the final triumph of the husband over the wife. Such triumph could never occur apart from the pressure that is applied though the church using Bible verses removed from their context. The common sense and innate dignity of a woman would prevail every time and she would know that to reconcile is a mistake were it not for religious pressure. It is when religious pressure is applied to the woman and she is threatened with incurring the displeasure of God through her unwillingness to reconcile that her better judgment becomes clouded. Even if she stands her ground and says, “I will follow what common sense is telling me — never to trust the promises of a man who has proven to be untrustworthy in the past.” This woman is shouted down by those quoting the verse from Proverbs, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto thy own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Common sense and reason are said to be the enemy of God and instead you are to trust the doctrines of the church and return to your untrustworthy husband and be reconciled.
The Protestant reformer Martin Luther believed that reason was the enemy of faith and thus the enemy of God. These opinions were not unique to him but embodied the opinion of the church in general. It is no mystery why the church has feared the use of rational thinking, common sense, and reason. When a woman begins to challenge the doctrines of the church on matters of marriage and divorce it is very easy to see that such doctrines have absolutely no biblical support. The following are quotes from Martin Luther on the matter of the use of reason:
“Reason should be destroyed in all Christians.”
“Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason.”
“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
“Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom … Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.”
Reason is not the enemy of God; it is the enemy of bad church doctrine and false prophets. Reason and common sense are innate in all people and they provide protection against all those who use the Bible for destructive means. If a woman surrenders her reason and common sense, as advised by the church, then a she is left at the mercy of those church officials who claim to only act in her best interest. The church has not acted in the best interest of a woman in the last 2,000 years and there is no indication that will soon change. Yes, the church does fear the day when a woman uses her gift from God — reason and common sense — and begins to question how the church has claimed authority over her life.
Even if there is the possibility a marriage can be repaired does not mean it should be repaired. The man who used dishonest and illicit means to keep his wife in marriage will invariably use the same methods to entice her back. If he used lies and manipulation to keep her in marriage he will use lies and manipulation to lure her back. When all else fails he will invoke the name of God and use religious pressure to force her to return. Once free from such a marriage, why would any woman even considering returning? To use religious pressure to entice a woman to return to her husband is to ask her to abandon her common sense in favor of the doctrine of men.
The onus is on the departing woman to reconcile. It is considered her religious duty to forgive, forget, and be reconciled to her husband. She is to be charitable, forgiving, and accepting of her husband’s pleas and promises. However, as mentioned previously in this book, it is not possible to pledge the future. When the man says he will be a better husband there are no guarantees that he will be and there is the possibility he may turn out to be twice as bad as he was previously. There is nothing, not a single passage that says a man must be reconciled to his wife. This alone should illustrate the fact that it is not the will of God that a woman be coerced into reconciling to her husband.
Once a woman submits to pressure from the church, husband, friends, and family to reconcile and return to her marriage, against her better judgment, she is endorsing a system that has allowed for the abuse of women for thousands of years. In addition, she is by her actions encouraging other women to reconcile with their husbands. When a woman succumbs to the pressure to reconcile to her husband, it can weaken the resolve of other women to resist the pressure to return to their marriages. For some women, this will be an irreversibly tragic decision. Everything the strong woman does is under the watchful eyes of those women who have been ruled over and abused by their husbands for so long there is little strength that remains. The woman who chooses to divorce her husband and rejects reconciliation, in spite of all the threats of the church, is a beacon of courage to all women who also seek to be free from the chains of marriage. No woman acts in a vacuum. Her strength can become the strength of others.
The strong, independent woman will reject any and all attempts to force her to reconcile to any man, under any circumstance, and if it is to be done it will be under her own terms. Her terms, her life, and her choice, anything less than this is a capitulation to a system that has robbed women of their right to self-determination for thousands of years. Men will never rest until the woman surrenders and returns to her husband. Sadly, many women may be convinced it is the will of God that they return to their husbands when men quote from the Bible that: “The wife should not leave her husband, but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband.” It is clear, they say, that Paul is adamant in his counsel that a wife “must not” divorce her husband. They also point out that if she does leave she must return to him and “reconcile.” For the woman there can be no divorce, no freedom, no subsequent marriage; her only choice is to return and be reconciled to her husband. Again, man owns his wife for life. The strong woman, the woman who has not abandoned her rational mind and her common sense, can see such doctrine cannot be of God and is merely the invention of men for the sole purpose of using the Bible for the protection of male dominion over women.
In the very beginning of heaven and earth, God on the sixth day created mankind in His image. Then dominion was granted to him over all the fish in the sea, the birds of the air and the animals on the land. In the first chapter of the Book of Genesis we find this narrative:
Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. (Genesis 1:26).
God granted man dominion over all the living creatures of land, sea, and air, but never was Adam granted dominion over Eve. Therefore, man’s dominion over woman came about as a result of the fall of mankind and was not part of God’s plan for a man and a woman. Male dominion over a woman is a corruption of that perfect relationship between the first man and the first woman. There is nothing the Apostle Paul would ever say or write that would insinuate that male dominion over women was God’s perfect plan. Before sin came into the world, there was no male dominion. All male dominion over women is a corruption of the will of God as clearly expressed in the first pages of the Bible.
The woman has been turned from victim to offender because she refuses to reconcile. She is considered to be at fault because she refuses to forgive and be reconciled to her husband even though he has promised to be a better husband. She is vilified as one who “has not the spirit of forgiveness.” Nothing can be further from the truth. There is nothing in the Bible that links forgiveness with reconciliation, as it pertains to marriage and divorce. A woman is free to forgive without being reconciled to her husband. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two completely different theological concepts and are only used in the sense of being reconciled to God through the forgiveness of sin. There is nothing in the entire Bible where forgiveness and reconciliation are used in the context of marriage and divorce.
Reconciliation is not the gold standard, the high road, or the choice all Christian women should or must take. She is no less a Christian woman, or in rebellion against God, if she refuses to return to her husband. If reconciliation should occur it is because she wishes for it to occur upon her own accord. Any woman who returns to her husband out of religious pressure, threat, guilt, or fear returns to the same hell that she previously escaped. This is a terrible disfiguration of a human relationship between a man and a woman.
If it is the will of God that the departing wife must reconcile with her husband then it is incumbent on those making the claim to provide biblical evidence. It is not enough to say reconciliation is a good idea, and that it is befitting of a Christian woman to forgive and forget and return to her husband. When any claim is made with implied divine association then evidence for that claim must be presented and substantiated. To infer God is for or against something demands clear, unambiguous evidence. If the Bible is silent on a matter then it must be stated as such and any opinion on a matter must be identified as having human origin. Anything beyond that is the borrowing of God’s authority to prop up illegitimate propositions that cannot stand on their own accord.
Where is the wealth of biblical material that suggests that reconciliation is superior to divorce? Where can it be found in the Bible that commands, or even suggests, that the departing wife is under compulsion to seek reconciliation and restoration of her marriage? We know Jesus would never force anyone to do anything against his or her will and He certainly never commanded women who had divorced their husbands to return and be reconciled. From the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation, nowhere can it be found that even suggests a woman is under compulsion to reconcile with her husband. It is completely a doctrine that has been created for one reason, and that is to cause women to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the institution of marriage. As previously mentioned, it is not incumbent upon any woman to sacrifice her life for the purpose of protecting the institution of marriage. There is no institution that is greater than the life of a woman, any woman.
Those who advocate limiting, or eliminating, a woman’s right to divorce based on the letter of Paul to the Corinthian Church are faced with a question that demands an answer. If Paul is establishing universal rules governing divorce, to whom do these rules apply? Do these rules apply to all people who are married throughout the world until the end of time? Or, do these rules on marriage apply only to those he was specifically addressing when he wrote the Corinthian letter? There is no third option. It cannot be supported that Paul is writing a rule book on divorce only for Christians, as that would imply non-Christian marriages are lawless and illegitimate relationships. It is simply absurd to claim Paul is writing a letter to the Corinthians addressing very specific problems in that fellowship and that he intended his advice to be converted into law that will govern all marriages throughout all time. Paul is not instructing an atheist woman whose husband has died that she may remarry, but she must marry a Christian man. It is hard to believe how easy it is for unethical men to use the Bible to threaten and control women to insure they remain servile and obedient in marriage. I have seen no evidence of women manipulating Bible passages for the purpose of ruling over men.
At the very beginning of his letter to the Christians living in the City of Corinth Paul writes, “To the Church of God in Corinth.” It is not addressed “To the church of God in Alabama.” Therefore, at best one can see some of the problems first-century Christians were encountering in in their marriage relationships under this new religion called Christianity. Women, for the first time, were being allowed freedom over their own lives and they were using this freedom to leave their marriages. One thing that is very clear is that Paul is speaking directly to the Christians at Corinth and he is not establishing universal laws on marriage and divorce for the rest of the world. When Paul wrote, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters” (Colossians 3:22), the ministers of the church say, “This passage must be taken in its proper context and of course is no longer binding.” Yet, for these ministers, every single passage in the Bible that can be construed to mean a woman must remain in a servant relationship to her husband until death remains in full effect. Context is only important when it lends support to their favored arguments; when context adversely contradicts or weakens the pretexts of their favorite arguments then it is ignored. It cannot be ignored that Paul specifically addresses his advice on marriage and divorce to people living 2,000 years ago in a culture far removed from our own.
It is pride that causes us to believe every verse in the Bible is speaking directly to us and about us, when in truth we are passive hearers as God speaks directly to others. In the Old Testament God speaks to Adam, Moses, Pharaoh, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Jonah, Noah, Hagar, Esau, Rebekah, Rachael, and all the prophets. When God said to Abraham to offer up his son as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:2), he is not telling us to do the same. In the New Testament Jesus speaks to the Pharisees, priests, Sadducees, the poor, the sick, and even demons and all the while we are invited to listen in on the conversation. Not everything in the Bible is about us; it is about others, and we are invited to listen in as God speaks to His people. In this case, Paul is speaking to Corinthian Christians, he is addressing a very specific problem within the church (immorality), and we are invited to listen in. Therefore, anyone who uses the teaching of Paul to limit a woman’s right to divorce for any reason, based on these passages, is incorrect in doing so.
When the Spanish author Cervantes said, “The worst reconciliation is better than the best divorce,” upon what authority did he base such a claim? What would possess anyone to come to the conclusion that for a woman to return to an abusive relationship is better than for her to divorce? Only in a culture where men believe they own their wives from beginning to end are such things promoted. A man owns his wife in marriage and demands that she return and be reconciled should she ever find the strength to leave. In other words, weak men who have no desire whatsoever to treat their wives fairly demand reconciliation as a male privilege. The clear and resounding truth is that Cervantes and all who believe as he does are wrong: Any divorce, good or bad, is always better than any reconciliation where a woman has been forced against her will and her better judgment.
Reconciliation is not a religious obligation and is neither a moral nor immoral. The woman who decides to reconcile gains no more favor with God than the woman who refuses to reconcile. When a Christian woman is led to believe that it is the will of God for her to seek reconciliation, then she has been misled. There is no obligation to be reconciled, divine or otherwise. Just as a woman is free to enter marriage and free to leave her marriage, she is also free never to reconcile with her former spouse. It is only because men themselves have failed to create a sense of guilt in their wives that they reach for the Bible in order to call for help from God. That help is not forthcoming.
The church’s insistence on reconciliation being expected, if not required of the departing wife is not only disturbing but in many ways it is also cruel. It can be very difficult for a woman to leave her marriage. She knows that to do so means she will be condemned by the church and at times by her family and friends. For her to divorce her husband may mean reduced living conditions and an uncertain future. It takes a lot of determination and strength to leave a marriage, even an abusive one. Her husband may threaten her with violence or revenge if she leaves. Sometimes it takes years to gather the strength and confidence to walk out the door into an uncertain future. At that time when a woman is finally successful at leaving her husband the ministers of the church tells her that God has spoken through the Apostle Paul and that she needs to be reconciled to her husband. Often the manipulation begins with the words, “Have you thought about reconciliation?”
There can be no worse words spoken to a woman who has finally found the inner strength to divorce her husband. She has weighed all the consequences, gone through the process of separation, faced down all her critics and is moving towards divorce, and then a minister of the church says, “Have you thought about reconciliation?” Some women who are fearful of the future, and of a man who can hurt and punish her, are highly susceptible to the influence of the ministers of the church who ask, “have you thought about reconciliation?” In her fearful state, having been dominated and stripped of her strength and self-identity, she is easily steered by subtle manipulation to the same man, the same marriage, and the same misery.
There is only one rational response when someone asks the question, “Have you thought about reconciliation?” The answer is, “No, I am too busy thinking about my divorce and my future.” A man is mistaken to assume he somehow still deserves his departing wife and that she should grant him special treatment and be willing to forget all about his history of abuse and dominance. There are billions of men for a woman to choose from, of which millions can make for a good companion. Yes, she does have a choice and she does not have to return to a man who has a well-established history of abuse. It is a woman’s decision to reconcile and there should not be a single voice that interferes with her decision. Many wise women have been called a foolish because they refuse to do foolish things.
Reconciliation is the worst of all possible worlds for some women leaving their husbands if it is but a continuation of hell and a loss of her life to a man whom she wanted to leave but was fooled into returning. On what basis would reconciliation be appropriate? If the husband promises to stop being abusive and treat her with the dignity she deserves? He did not do these things before so why would he do them now under the threat of divorce? If reconciliation brings the woman back into the marriage it may infinitely harder for her to leave a second time.
It is not possible to make a universal statement that reconciliation is for everyone. On the other hand, it should not be said that reconciliation is for no one. It is up to the woman to make her own decision apart from any unsolicited opinions from others. What is important is that there are no biblical imperatives for a woman to choose one way or the other. There will be those who are more than happy to advise a woman on reconciliation but no one knows what it took to leave the marriage and no one knows what it would cost to return to that same marriage. Every woman either will find support for her decision to divorce without reconciliation, or she will find condemnation. The strong and independent woman chooses her own path and does not allow the opinions of others to influence her future.
It takes strength to leave a marriage and for many women it will take strength to turn away all those who counsel reconciliation. There will be religious authorities quoting Bible verses and well-meaning friends and family members who will encourage you to be reconciled to your husband. It is easy for them to make such a recommendation since they are not the ones who have to live with a man who has used the Bible to rob them of their strength, dignity, and self-identity. The strong and independent woman makes her choice, and then refuses to be intimidated by anyone who disagrees with her. This is the woman who is to be the model for our daughters and sons.
In conclusion, there would be no reason for causing a woman to feel unworthy and in rebellion against God because she refuses to be reconciled to her husband, if her husband worked harder at the marriage in the first place. If a man wishes to win his wife back then he must do it apart from any sense of religious obligation. There is a difference between a woman who wants to reconcile and the woman who has to reconcile. The use of the Bible to force a woman to reconcile is the last gasp, the final effort of the man to force his wife to return. It is a weak man who uses manipulation to keep his wife in marriage and it is a weaker man who uses the Bible and the church to force her to be reconciled to him against her will. Again, any man who keeps his marriage through the use of fear, guilt, coercion, and manipulation is unworthy of his wife.
Marriage vs. Remarriage
I would rather be a beggar and single than a queen and married.
— Elizabeth I,Queen of England, 1564.
One of the key doctrines of the church is to forbid remarriage, or if remarriage is to occur it must occur under certain circumstances — for example, if it can be demonstrated that the husband has committed adultery. If it can be clearly demonstrated before the board of elders, deacons, priests, or other church authorities that the husband has committed adultery, then the wife is free to remarry. First, she is placed under tremendous pressure to forgive him and be reconciled to him, but if she refuses she is granted the right to remarry. Let it be pointed out, it is your marriage and you are the only one who is entitled to make any decisions related to your marriage and divorce. Neither the church nor its ministers have any authority over the marriages — or the divorces — of any person, Christian or non-Christian. Claim of authority does not establish the fact of authority.
The entire idea of “remarriage” is a religious construct and it is one that is designed to punish those women who have divorced. There are some churches that will not allow a woman to be married in their church if she is being remarried. They feel it is the right of their ministers to pore over a woman’s personal life and to scrutinize every detail of her previous marriage to insure she has divorced on what they call biblical grounds. If they are satisfied, they may let her use their facilities and the minister may officiate. On the other hand, when a woman marries for the first time there is no intrusion in her past life. This moral inspection is only reserved for the divorced woman seeking remarriage.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Evangelical denomination in the world, advises their ministers to refuse to participate in the marriage (remarriage) of anyone who is divorced for any reason other than scriptural grounds. Of course, they reserve for themselves the privilege of what constitutes “scriptural grounds.” Consider the following resolutions adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1904:
RESOLVED, That it is the sense of this body that Baptist ministers should refuse to
solemnize the rites of matrimony in cases where one or both parties concerned have
been divorced on other than scriptural grounds, as laid down in Matthew 19:9.
(Resolution on Divorce, 1904).
Again in 2010:
RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to unite in marriage only those who are
biblically qualified to be married to one another and who demonstrate an
understanding of the meaning of lifelong love and fidelity. (Resolution on the
Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce, 2010).
What is not revealed in these resolutions is that some sort of church inquisition and religious court must be established to that will adjudicate and rule over marriage and divorce. Otherwise how would Southern Baptist churches determine what divorces have been done on “biblical grounds”? Not only is the woman’s divorce to become a public matter but all the details of her divorce will be laid out for public perusal and comment, and when necessary public condemnation, humiliation, and punishment.
One of the largest churches in America has its elders rule over all marriages and divorces within its church membership and has written instructions on when they might approve remarriage. The following is an example of these rules, taken from their published documents:
Though a marriage is a blessing given to all humanity and is to be honored as a
binding covenant even when entered into before being in Christ, it is understood
that the non-Christian is ignorant of God’s decrees and expectations. Therefore a
non-Christian cannot be bound by the same expectations governing a Christian.
The atonement of Jesus achieved by His blood is sufficient to pay for previous
sin. Therefore that person would be eligible to remarry a Christian, but only after
every effort is made to restore the previous marriage through a reconciliation
process. It is expected that the previous spouse would be sought out with the
express purpose of reconciliation. A certified letter would be sent to the estranged
spouse requesting a meeting to explore the possibility of reconciliation. If they do
not reply within 30 days, the elders may consider the matter closed and remarriage
may be pursued. If, however, the spouse will entertain the possibility of
reconciliation, every effort should be applied to restore the marriage.
This is a picture of how the church can assume total control of marriage, divorce, and subsequent marriages. It is completely incomprehensible how the church has left its first love — telling the story of how Jesus reconciled to God the whole world through His death at Calvary — to becoming an institution that claims the right to control every aspect of person’s life.
Why would God punish a woman who has divorced her husband, for any reason, by commanding that she never be allowed marry again? Remember, marriage is not a supernatural event with divine participation. Marriage is nothing but a mundane, ordinary relationship like all previous relationships except for the fact it has legal status with the State. Why would God punish a woman for her divorce by commanding she never enter into another marriage? Of course such a proposition is completely preposterous. Never does God punish anyone for anything. Never. If God began to punish people it would not be for acts against Him, it would be against those who willfully harm others. While it is not possible to hurt God, it is possible to hurt those whom He loves.
This brings us to the question: Does the Bible forbid serial marriage? Is a woman free to marry again, if she so chooses after her divorce? As we have seen in every passage where Jesus is speaking about marriage and divorce, He is speaking to Jewish men and the Jewish practice of marriage and divorce, as they understood it through the Law of Moses. This is true in every case. Jesus never said He was speaking of marriage and divorce in any capacity other than to Jewish men under Jewish Law. Jesus did not come to reform the institution of marriage and neither did the Apostle Paul. The only way an argument can be made against serial marriage is to take verses from the Bible completely out of their original historical context. The Bible can never be referred to as Sacred Scripture when it is being used as a handy instrument for the manipulation of people, for any reason.
One of the common phrases one hears as church officials ponder the scriptural validity of divorce is the term “innocent party.” This means the divorce is occurring because of adultery. Therefore, if all attempts at reconciliation have failed then divorce is allowed and remarriage is considered a possibility. The problems with establishing an innocent party are legion. For example, it is not necessary to assume innocence and guilt when a woman wishes to end her marriage. The relationship between two people is highly complex and it cannot be summed up in terms of good/bad, innocent/guilty, love/hate. Only the simplest can fail to see that the marriage relationship is a complex milieu of an ever changing mix of innocence, guilt, good, bad, right, wrong, exciting, and boring. There are no innocent parties in marriage or divorce and to believe such a standard can be used to determine the legitimacy of a divorce is simple minded. A woman does not need a religious determination of innocence to divorce her husband. Like all people in a relationship with another, sometime she is innocent and sometimes she is not. Still, in too many churches, if it is determined the woman is not the innocent party she will not be allowed to remarry and if she does she will be considered an adulteress and the man who marries her will be considered an adulterer.
It is quite amazing that the church on the one hand claims marriage is a supernatural joining of two people into one-flesh, that it is a sacred covenant with God, and on the other hand that this mystical union can be easily dissolved through the act of adultery. How is it an act of God can be so easily cancelled out by an act of man? No man can force the hand of God. Even when a person commits adultery it does not automatically create within the marriage two categories: The innocent and the guilty. A woman who wishes to divorce or marry another never needs the title, “the innocent party.” Divorce does not need the establishment of guilt and innocence in order for it to be legitimate. When a woman chooses to marry after divorce, she never needs to seek the permission of the church to rule that she was the “innocent party” in her divorce.
A legitimate reason for a woman to divorce her husband is any reason she believes is reason enough. There are no lists of legitimate reasons to which every woman has to subscribe. As previously mentioned, a woman may find boredom of marriage reason enough to divorce her husband. While boredom is seldom given as a reason for divorce it is undoubtedly the reason many women divorce their husbands. What is the alternative? Should she be forced to make up reasons that are more satisfying to others? Should she be forced to stay in a marriage that has become miserable for her? There are many reasons for a woman to divorce her husband and none is more legitimate than the next. There is no need for a religious court to investigate a woman’s personal life in order to determine if she is an innocent party in a divorce. The establishment of innocence and guilt in a divorce is just not necessary. A woman is free to marry and free to divorce, at any time and for any reason she chooses.
The very term remarriage is a word that has become so entrenched in our vocabulary that we use it without noticing that it is a redundancy. It is possible for a woman to marry, but it is not possible for a woman to “remarry.” For example, when a person purchases their first car all other subsequent car purchases are not called a “repurchase.” When a woman marries for the first time it is called a marriage and all other subsequent marriages should not assume a new descriptive term called a remarriage. Every marriage is brand new and is unique, and has nothing to do with any previous marriages. The term remarriage is a judgmental and derogatory term that intrudes upon a woman’s private life and personal history. A woman may marry a hundred times and each one is a marriage, not a remarriage.
When the word remarriage is used it always carries with it certain assumptions, and one of those assumptions is that the woman who is remarrying is divorced. A brief survey of Christian position papers, church doctrine, and statements of faith and practice will find the common use of the word remarriage in spite of the fact it is a pejorative and it is demeaning, disrespectful, derogatory, and judgmental. Church doctrine is rife with instructions to its ministers of how to determine what sin has been committed, by whom in the relationship, who is the innocent party, what attempts should be carried out for reconciliation, and how to determine if the person is repentant enough, in order to approve a “remarriage.” The church seeks to control every aspect of a woman in marriage and in divorce and that control does not end after her divorce. The church claims the right to control her in any future “remarriage.” The word remarriage is a reminder to the whole world that the first marriage was a failure, ending in divorce. The word marriage is reserved only for those who are not divorced. The word remarriage is reserved for the divorced woman and is some cheap substitute that is used to lodge in the mind of others that her subsequent marriage is just not the same as the prior one. The term remarriage is shameful and is but one more manipulation and humiliation of the woman who dared to divorce her husband.
When the prefix “re” appears before a word it means “again.” In other words, when we say a woman has remarried we are announcing to the whole world she was previously married. Why do we think it is necessary to announce anything regarding another’s personal and private life? We do not call former alcoholics re-alcoholics nor do we call former criminals re-convicts. When a woman ends her marriage there should not be a constant reminder to everyone within hearing distance that she has either divorced her husband or he has divorced her.
It might be added that there are no “divorced women.” There are women who are single or who are married. Those are the only two possible categories. A woman is single if she is not married, and she is married if she is not single. There is no third category needed. It simply is not incumbent for a woman to disclose anything about her personal life, and yet for some reason people find it perfectly acceptable for a woman to be forced to identify herself as divorced. Being divorced does not constitute an eternal state of being. A woman, all her life, will fall in to one of two categories: Single, not married or married not single. There is no third state of being.
Again, the word divorced is a pejorative used to describe women that is completely unnecessary and does no good other than to create assumptions in the mind of others. A woman does not need a descriptive title to follow her the rest of her life as it can do nothing but harm her. A woman is either married or not married, she does not need to describe herself as divorced as that is a part of her life that is not open to public inspection and comment. A woman may describe herself as having been be previously married if she so chooses but she should never be forced to do so by the doctrine of her church. To be divorced is not a state of being. Divorce is something that happens at a point in time; it has a beginning and it also has an end. To call a woman divorced is to suggest divorce has a beginning but has no end. Just as marriage has a beginning, divorce has an end. Divorce only means that the marriage relationship has been recognized and held legal status by the civil courts of the State have come to an end. In the same way that the civil court ratified the marriage, this same court ratified the divorce. A woman should never be labeled “divorced,” for the rest of her life. There are no supernatural and eternal lingering aftereffects of a divorce that follow a woman for the rest of her life. This is why she is free to marry as often as she wishes and none should be labeled a remarriage.
This brings us to the question: Does the Bible forbid serial marriage? Is a woman free to marry again if she so chooses after her divorce? As we have seen, in every passage where Jesus is speaking about marriage and divorce He is speaking to Jewish men and the Jewish practice of marriage. This is true in every case. In addition, the point has been made that Jesus did not come to reform the institution of marriage and divorce. It was the decision of the church in the thirteenth century to assume control over marriage and divorce apart from any instruction from Jesus or the Apostles. This is not a surprise, because from the fourth century onward the church began to claim complete control over every aspect of a person’s life, from baptism at birth to the last rites at death to who would be allowed into Paradise and who would burn in hell. Jesus refused to write a manual on marriage and divorce but that has not stopped churches throughout the world from writing their own manuals and claiming it was in the Bible all along.
A woman is free to marry as many times as she likes and she is free to divorce as many times as she likes. This is her decision and she need not seek permission from the church, as the church has no authority to permit or deny. To limit a woman’s right to marriage — be it a second, third, or fourth time — is to interfere with her right to choose and her right to assume the responsibility for her own actions. The consequences of her actions, both good and bad, are her own. The church should never use its authority to parent women, telling them how to conduct their lives and their relationships. When the church becomes a spiritual parent it looks upon its members as either obedient or rebellious children. The strong woman who throws off male dominion and the church’s claim over her life is of course considered the rebellious child who must be shepherded back into the fold. She must be told whom she can marry, when she can divorce, and if and when she can “remarry.” The woman who has retained her strength and identity through marriage and divorce knows she is competent to conduct her future relationships apart from the attempted parenting of the church ministers. She never feels compelled to seek permission of the elders or ministers of the church in order to be allowed to “remarry.”
There are many churches that prohibit remarriage (their term not mine) to those whose divorces have not been, as the elders consider it “upon biblical principles.” These churches have an inquiry process that will pry into every corner of a woman’s personal and sexual life in order to see if she qualifies for remarriage. They are seeking to discover if she is a victim of an adulterous husband. In these cases I would advise finding another church, one that has a clearer and more accurate understanding of these matters. Jesus never sought to control the lives of those who chose to follow Him. To follow Jesus is an invitation, not an order or a command. This is the beauty of Christianity — it is always an invitation to follow Jesus.
It is your life and your choice to marry once or a hundred times and every marriage will be as new and unique as the first. There are billions of men to choose from of which millions will make a fine companion. If you choose wrong, then choose again…or choose none at all. The point is, a woman has the right to govern her own life in her own personal pursuit of happiness.
To conclude, marriage is not a supernatural event. It is common and mundane and as such a woman may end her marriage relationship like she ended all her previous relationships; any time and for any reason, or for no reason. Likewise, there is nothing supernatural about divorce. When a woman divorces her husband she becomes as she was before she married: she is a single woman. It is easy to understand why so many good women stay in bad marriages. The very idea that she will be forced to carry the label “divorced” all her life is too much to bear so she capitulates and remains in her marriage. It takes courage to face down the male voices of the church and say, “where in the Bible does it say I must surrender the right to marry again?” It takes courage to say to friends and family that you reject the term remarriage. You are free to marry as many times as you wish and each time is as “first” as the rest. If anyone asks you how many times you have been married just say once, the one you are in now because the rest no longer exist.
Looking back toward the horizon of dawning society what do we see standing clearly against the sky? Woman, assuming chief responsibility for the continuance and care of life. Thus we see primitive women as the inventor of the domestic arts, cooking, spinning, weaving, garnering, guarding, doctoring, providing comforts and conveniences and making beginnings in the decorative arts. They are launching…civilization.
— Mary Ritter Beard, 1931
Women who are atheists have a much better chance of having a long term, mutually affirming marriage than women who are Christian. It may be surprising, but atheists have the lowest divorce rate in America while Christians have the highest. The atheist woman is free to leave her marriage without religious threat of social punishment, guilt, or shame. The church and its ministers feel completely welcome to intrude into the Christian marriage because they believe marriage to be a divine covenant that falls under their jurisdiction. How is it a woman who is a Christian should become diminished upon marriage? Being a Christian should make a woman happier in every way, not cause her to become a servant to a man and inflict upon her the terror of capricious religious authorities. Should marriage come at the price of a woman’s strength, dignity, independence, and self-identity? Should a woman pay the exorbitant price of guilt and shame because she accesses and invokes her right to divorce?
All relationships should be voluntary. When a woman is freely allowed to leave her husband at any time and for any reason, then the responsibility falls upon the man to do everything in his power to create an environment in the marriage that will influence her to say “I do” for one more day. Use of the Bible, church authority, family and cultural pressure to force a woman to remain in her marriage is a very poor substitute for creating a loving and mutually affirming environment.
If one removes a woman’s right to divorce at any time for any reason then one has destroyed any motive for a man to change for the better. The bad man must reform if he is to have any chance of keeping his wife. There are men who refuse to reform because they believe they are in harmony with the Bible in their dominion over their wives. Men who use the Word of God to coerce their wives to remain in their marriage against their will deserve to lose their wives. Threats, religious or otherwise, can never replace the creation of a marriage that is equal in every way. The only healthy relationship is one that always allows for an exit without penalty.
For the first 1,200 years of the Church’s history it had no interest in marriage. It viewed marriage as a private matter. As long as the church had the ability to control the individual it was not important to assume control of the marriage. It was not until the thirteenth century that the church decided to elevate marriage into a supernatural state by declaring it a sacrament. The next step was for the modern church to declare marriage a divine covenant between man, woman, and God. This further entrenched the idea that marriage was a divine, supernatural event that came under the authority of the church and its ministers. The modern woman entering into marriage under such an interpretation places herself in the position of being told what to do for the rest of her life in regards to marriage and divorce and if she fails to submit to the church’s authority she will be labeled an adulteress who is in rebellion against God. From this church-controlled, male- dominated, guilt-producing, independence-robbing, and inescapable definition of marriage a woman is led to believe she can flourish. It is impossible for any woman to flourish in such an institution. Under such a definition of marriage a woman is greatly diminished and the only way she can be restored is to exercise her right to divorce.
There are those who may think I have written this book as an encouragement for women to leave their husbands and that I believe marriage as a Christian institution has all the ingredients that predispose a woman to a life of misery. On the first count, I hope many women who read this book will find encouragement to leave their husbands if what is keeping them in their marriage is a gross misuse of the Bible. The purpose of the Bible is to make one’s life better, relationships better, and church doctrine should exalt womanhood. It is not the purpose of the Bible to enslave a woman, strip her of her dignity, strength, independence, and to make her a servant of a man for life. When the Bible is enlisted to serve men and demean women this use should be exposed for what it is: a false representation of God and the misuse of His Holy Word for the sole purpose of the manipulation of those whom He loves. Yes, I strongly encourage any woman who is being “kept” in marriage through the misuse of the Bible and the false authority of the church to rediscover her strength and self-identity and regain power over her life and her future. Divorce will be the first step of living life on her own terms. It is her choice, her life, her consequences, and her future.
The second accusation — that I believe that marriage as a Christian institution has all the ingredients to condemn a woman to an inescapable life of misery — is absolutely correct. When marriage is defined as “one man for one woman for life,” it means that marriage is inescapable. Every other relationship a woman is involved in allows for an exit at any time and for any reason she chooses, except the marriage relationship. Because marriage has been elevated to a supernatural event she is never allowed to leave. When a woman marries a Christian man the door to her freedom of choice slams eternally and irresistibly shut. Until a woman’s right to divorce her husband at any time for any reason is restored and recognized by her husband and the church, marriage in the Christian context will always be a very poor choice for a woman.
Lastly, to every woman who has taken the time to read this book I offer my utmost encouragement for you to be courageous and fear none but God. Always remember we live our lives before others: children, family, friends, coworkers, classmates, neighbors, and others. These will draw strength from your strength. For every one who criticizes you there will be ten who will admire your bravery and strength to leave a marriage of which you no longer wished to be a part. When someone asks why you left your husband the best answer will always be, “I left my husband because I could.”
On a final note, let us all remember to pray for those women for whom divorce is a near impossibility because of violent men who believe they own their wives. Shelters for battered women are filled to capacity with women who are seeking refuge from men who believe their wives must submit to their authority and are their wives forever. I am unaware of a single conservative church that offers such refuge to women. Instead a woman is instructed to return, to be reconciled to her husband for life. Millions of women cannot break the chains of marriage without incurring violence, poverty, humiliation, and guilt. To be punished by her church and threatened by her husband is a terrible combination and sometimes it is too much, so the woman accepts her chains and her bondage until she is released by death. There are many women who will accept the things written in this book to be true and reasonable, but sometimes fear trumps reason. Many women know they do have the right to divorce their husbands but fear holds them in marriage. These women must somehow, someday find the courage that is necessary to reclaim their lives before it is too late.
May God bless all of us as we try to move through this life and try our best to cause no harm by deed or by word. May we all learn to live according to the Great Commandment, to love God, self, and others, for there is no higher standard given by our Lord.
This book will demonstrate that you, as a Christian woman, have the fundamental right to divorce your husband at any time, for any reason, without explanation or justification. Your marriage is not a covenant relationship governed by the ministers of the Church. There is not a single verse in the entire Bible that forces a woman to remain in any relationship against her consent. God does not hate divorce and you are not the lifelong servant of your husband. Marriage is a relationship between two people that is completely voluntary from beginning to end.