• Ron Johnson, Pastor

Till Death - The Biblical Covenant Bond of Marriage

Updated: Jun 19


Till Death - The Biblical Covenant Bond of Marriage

Introduction

The following paper explains why I have come to my convictions on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. I have not come to them without much struggle and study. I do not say this to give the impression that others who hold different convictions have not also struggled with this emotionally charged and difficult subject. Far from it! If I could, with a clear conscience, hold the position I once held, which is sadly the current major and popular view in the church, I would. It would be so much easier to do so. To my shame and repentance, this was a factor in my trying to support the popular view for too long! But the easy way is really not easy when you go against conscience and the clear teachings of the Scriptures. For, I now believe, due to an inadequate understanding of the relevant passages of Scripture, that my agreeing with the prevailing view within the church today, was wrong. I do not say this to sinfully judge or condemn anyone who holds it. I desire to speak the truth in love since it is only the truth that the Spirit of Truth will affirm.

What is a Covenant-Bond Marriage, an Adulterous Marriage and Fornication?

These are crucial questions. For without understanding what I mean by these three terms you will not understand why I have come to my convictions as to what the Scriptures teach.

A covenant-bond marriage is: the one flesh union created by God, not man, between a virgin man, or a widowed man, or a man who has never had this bond formed, and is not presently in such a marriage and a woman who is a virgin, or a widow woman, or a woman who has never had this bond formed, and is not presently in such a marriage who exchange marriage vows in the presence of human witnesses and God where God creates this covenant bond. This covenant-bond is created by God, not man, and can only be broken by the physical death of either the man or the woman, or both. This definition means it is impossible for a man or a woman to be in more than one covenant-bond marriage while they are physically living since only the physical death of the husband, the wife or both breaks this bond. Romans 7: 2-3 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Therefore sexual activity by those with whom this covenant-bond is not present, a bond created by God alone, is either adultery or fornication. Hebrews 13:4 Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers (fornicatiors) and adulterers God will judge.

An adulterous marriage is: the sinful union of a man or woman to another man or woman after the exchange of vows in the presence of human witnesses and God while their covenant-bond marriage husband or wife is still physically living. God does not create a covenant bond during this adulterous marriage ceremony because this bond already exists between one or both of those who have exchanged these sinful vows and someone else who is still physically living.

Fornication is the sinful sexual activity of a man or woman with someone else, male or female, with whom they do not have a covenant bond created by God between them. It is impossible for two men or two women to have a covenant bond created between them by God. Such sinful sexual activity is fornication, adultery or both.

What needs to be clearly seen by the above three definitions is that a man or woman can only be in one covenant bond marriage at a time. It is not possible for a man or a woman to be in a covenant-bond marriage with more than one living man or woman. The only thing that breaks a covenant bond marriage, created by God, is the physical death of the man, the woman or both that God has created it between. A covenant-bond married husband or wife can commit adultery without entering into an adulterous marriage. For if a covenant-bond marriage partner engages in sexual activity with someone who is not their covenant-bond marriage mate they are committing adultery even if they do not compound their sin by entering into an adulterous marriage. The person they are engaging in sinful sexual activity with is guilty of the sin of adultery or fornication - adultery if their covenant-bond husband or wife is still physically living. Fornication if they do not, or cannot have, God’s covenant bond created between them and the one they are sexually active with. The teaching presented in this paper, in light of the above definitions, is that many of the current marital unions both within and outside the church are not covenant-bond marriages but sinful adulterous marriages that need to be repented of and forsaken as evidence of true repentance.

For after a covenant-bond marriage is created by God, as defined above, those who enter into such a union become the covenant bond husband or wife of the other until the physical death of one or the other. Therefore, those who enter into other marital unions while their covenant husband or wife are still physically living are entering into adulterous marriages and are therefore adulterers. This is because an adulterous marriage does not destroy the covenant-bond created by God of a covenant-bond marriage as defined above. The Scriptural support for these definitions and these comments can be seen from the following Scriptures to which emphasis has been added:

Genesis 2:22-24 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. 23 And Adam 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. 24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Malachi 2:14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.

Matthew 19:4-6 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain (two) shall be one flesh? 6 Wherefore they are no more twain (two), but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Mark 10:6-12 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8 And they twain (two) shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain (two), but one flesh. 9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 10 And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. 11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

Luke 16:18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

Romans 7:1-3 Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? 2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.

1 Corinthians 7:39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

Who Creates The Covenant-Bond Marriage

The important thing to notice with respect to the creation of the covenant-bond marriage is who the man leaves. He leaves his father and mother. He does not leave his wife. If he leaves his wife, in any other way than her physical death, to enter into a sinful marital union with another woman, he does not create a new covenant-bond marriage because only God can create this type of marriage. And, God does not create a second covenant-bond marriage while one’s covenant-bond marriage husband or wife is still living. A new marriage entered into while the covenant-bound husband or wife is still living is called an adulterous marriage. The Scriptures quoted above clearly and repeatedly declare this truth. Remember, it is God who creates this covenant-bond marriage. The state does not create it. Neither does the church. Neither do those who are able to enter into a covenant-bond marriage. It is God who creates the covenant bond between one man and one woman He alone is able to create it. Jesus declares this, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matt. 19:6; Mark 10:9) and Paul affirms the truth of this in Romans 7:2 “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. and 1 Corinthians 7:39 “A wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth...” The word translated “bound” in English is in the perfect tense and passive voice in the Greek. The perfect tense means an action that has been completed and results in a new state of being from that time forward. The passive voice means the man and/or woman is not performing the action. They are receiving the action. So when those who are able to enter into a covenant-bond marriage do so, they are bound by God in that one-flesh covenant bond from that point forward until the physical death of one or both of them. Sexual relations do not create the covenant-bond marriage. It is the covenant-bond marriage, created by God, that enables the husband and wife to enjoy sexual relations in the marriage bed without committing sin. Sexual activity outside of a covenant-bond marriage is sinful sexual activity. It is either fornication or adultery. This is clearly declared by Hebrews 13:4 Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers (fornicators) and adulterers God will judge. When Joseph took Mary, his betrothed wife, to be his covenant-bond wife they were bound together by God in a covenant-bond marriage though they did not partake of the pleasures of the marriage bed until after Jesus was born - the Lord opening Mary’s womb to give birth to the step brothers and sisters of Jesus, after Jesus was born, despite what Catholicism falsely teaches. (Matt. 1:24-25)

Who Are Joined in a Covenant-Bond Marriage

As long as the man or woman are able to enter into a covenant-bond marriage as defined above, the bond created by God in this marriage is created by God. This is regardless of the spiritual state, saved or lost, of those entering into a covenant-bond marriage. The idea that an unbeliever who is able to enter into a covenant-bond marriage is not bound in the sight of God, is wrong. For, if only the marriage of two believers is a covenant-bond marriage, then the Scriptures would never refer to unbelievers as being husband and wife. But they repeatedly do so. John the Baptist could never have rebuked Herod, an unbeliever, for his adulterous union with Herodias another unbeliever. John was able to do so because Herodias was already in a covenant-bond marriage with Philip. (Mark 6:17,18) Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:13,14 about a believing man or woman remaining with their unbelieving husband or wife whom they had married prior to conversion, would be wrong if the marriage they had entered into in unbelief was not a valid covenant-bond marriage. This covenant-bond marriage bond is created by the God of marriage regardless of whether or not the man and woman entering the marriage are believers. The fact that a non-believer does not understand the full meaning and significance of the marriage covenant he is entering into makes no difference. He may even deny the fact that God exists, but that does not change the fact that God creates this bond. If this covenant-bond marriage was not created by God when two non-believers, who are qualified to enter into it did so, it would not be possible for non-believers to commit the sin of adultery!

Does Divorce Dissolve The Covenant-Bond Marriage Created By God?

The issue is not whether or not a man or woman in a covenant-bond marriage disobey the command of God not to divorce and then remarry. They do! But does God acknowledge this sinful action and dissolve the covenant-bond He created? No! Does this act of sin dissolve the covenant-bond marriage created by God? No! Why? Because God is the One who creates the covenant-bond marriage. Since He alone creates it He alone can declare what, if anything, can dissolve what He has created. Based on the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ and His inspired and infallible apostles, the only thing that God says breaks the marriage bond He creates is the physical death of one or both of the parties He has created it between. This is why the innocent husband or wife deserted or divorced by their mate is guilty of adultery if they marry someone else while their covenant-bond marriage spouse is still living. This new marriage may be declared a valid marriage by the state and have the endorsement of the church, but it is an adulterous marriage in the eyes of God. This is repeatedly declared in the verses quoted above. The exception clause, found only in Matthew’s gospel in chapters 5 & 19, does not contradict or nullify this truth. This will be seen when these passages are dealt with below. At issue are not all the difficulties created by the many assaults on a covenant-bond marriage. They are numerous, heart wrenching and difficult. But, they have been made more numerous and difficult by the almost universal acceptance of incorrect teaching on this subject. For, God declares what He forms when those able to enter into a covenant-bond marriage enter into it. He forms a one-flesh covenant-bond that can only be broken by the physical death of either the man, the woman or both.

Difficult But Biblical Truth

The fact that men reject and rebel against this truth does not change it. If a man breaks God’s law against stealing we call him a thief. The reason is because he is one. This is not to condemn him or sinfully judge him. It is his thievery that condemns and judges him. Calling him a thief is simply declaring the truth of what he is. The hope is that he will face his true condition and, by the grace of God, repent and forsake his thievery. But the church, for the most part today, is not willing to call what the Bible calls those who are married to someone else while their covenant-bond marriage husband or wife is still living. The Bible calls them adulterers. Now, saying this is not to condemn those involved in these adulterous unions or to sinfully judge them! It is their adultery that condemns and judges them. Calling them adulterers is simply declaring what the Word of God calls them. The fact that the church and state sanctions such marriages does not alter the fact that they are adulterous marriages and should be forsaken. But, this clear Biblical truth has been made more difficult to see because teachers in the church, myself included to my repentance and shame, have sought to make adultery a unique sin in that it can be confessed but not forsaken: Proverbs 28:13 “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” If people are unwilling to call a thief who continues to steal truly repentant, why are we willing to call a adulterer truly repentant if they do not forsake their adulterous marital union? What about a fornicator or sodomite? Would you say that they have truly repented of their fornication or sodomy if they continue in it? The fact that adulterous unions are recognized by the state and the erring church does not mean they cease being sinful adulterous unions not covenant marriages. For the first 1500 years of Christianity, the church did not recognize the unions of a man and a woman if their covenant-bond marriage husband or wife was still living. They called them adulterous marriages. For a covenant-bound husband or wife to forsake their adulterous marriage is not divorcing one’s covenant-bond mate. It is forsaking the sin of adultery. An adulterer can forsake an adulteress or the reverse. Adultery is not the unforgivable sin. But it is a sin to which Proverbs 28:13 applies. It is sin to which the warning of 1 Cor 6 applies if not repented of and forsaken!

The Meaning of the Exception Clauses in Matthew

If all you had were Mark’s and Luke’s infallible records of the Lord’s teaching on the subject of marriage and divorce as well as that of the inspired Apostle Paul’s teaching you would, or should come away saying that only physical death breaks the covenant- bond marriage. Matt 5:32 & 19:9 appear to be teaching something different. They do not. The popular, but incorrect, teaching in the church today, is based on the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. and Matthew 19:9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. The popular teaching is that the physical act of adultery breaks the covenant-bond marriage created by God and thus permits the innocent party, the one not guilty of physical adultery, to remarry. But is this what Jesus is teaching? Popular interpretations can be wrong. I believe this one is. Now Matthew is a gospel for all the church for all time. But when he wrote it, the reason He wrote it was to show to his Jewish brethren that Jesus is the Messiah. His primary audience was to his Jewish brethren and it is within this context that the fact that he is the only one to record what has been called the exception clause must be understood. What Matthew records Jesus saying in Matthew 5:32 & 19:9 does not negate the truth that only physical death of the husband or wife dissolves the covenant-bond marriage and one flesh union created by God in this marriage and this can be seen by three things:

First: By The words Matthew uses writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The popular teaching is that the physical act of adultery gives grounds for divorce and remarriage to the partner not guilty of this sin. This teaching is supported by saying that this is what Jesus means when He says: “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. (Matt. 19:9) The popular teaching is that you should read verse 9 as “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for adultery, and shall marry another,... The word fornication is to be interpreted as meaning adultery, which Jesus defines as marriage to someone else while one’s covenant-bond marriage husband or wife is still living, or sexual relations with someone who is not your covenant-bond marriage husband or wife while your covenant-bond marriage husband or wife is still physically living. The problem with this teaching is that Matthew, under the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit, did not use the Greek Word for adultery which he has already used in the verse. He uses the Greek word for fornication. If Jesus had meant adultery, Matthew would have used the word for adultery which he had already used. But he did not. He records Jesus as saying except it be for fornication. Now when a word is used in the Scriptures you must allow the author to define how he is using it. When you are dealing with the intent of the author in the case of the Scriptures you are dealing with an infallibly inspired human author who is recording the Words of the LORD Jesus Christ as he is infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit! (John 16:13-15) Now, if they differentiate fornication, from adultery, you must allow their liberty as the Speaker (Jesus), human author (Matthew) and infallible Inspirer (The Holy Spirit). Words, even the infallibly inspired words in the Word of God, have a range of meanings. Words can have a broad or narrow meaning in the Word of God. For example, the common Greek word for land can refer to the earth or to a specific area on it. If the authors are showing that they are using a word in a narrow or broad way I must grant them that liberty. The intent of the infallible speaker and teacher, the Lord Jesus Christ, the infallibly guided human author Matthew, and infallible Inspirer and ultimate author – The Holy Spirit must be kept in mind. Not what do you want the text to say. Not what do you think it says. But what did Jesus mean and the authors both human and divine mean when they recorded what Jesus said and taught. Matthew clearly writes showing that Jesus differentiated between fornication from adultery. This can be seen here and in Matthew 15:19 where Jesus is not directly dealing with the subject of divorce and remarriage: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” Now, since the Holy Spirit is the ultimate and infallible author of the Scriptures, this differentiation when the words are used together belongs to Him and this can be seen in what Paul wrote under the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit: 1 Corinthians 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Galatians 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Hebrews 13:4 Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers (fornicators) and adulterers God will judge. This is not to dispute that fornication and adultery can have a broad meaning as well as a narrow meaning, as will be seen below. But the important point to see is that they are differentiated by Jesus and by the Holy Spirit Who infallibly inspired both Matthew and Paul. When they are used together as they are in the above verses that are not synonyms describing the same sexual sin but words describing different sexual sins. Matthew’s infallibly inspired intention was not to confuse but to clarify things which he did by using the word fornication and not the word adultery. Matthew’s Jewish readers, and Jesus’ original hearers would have understood the word fornication is a word defining sexual relations between those who have not been bound together by God in the one flesh union of a covenant-bond marriage. They would have understood adultery as the act of marrying someone while someone’s covenant-bond husband or wife is still physically living or having sexual relations with someone else while your covenant-bond marriage husband or wife, who you have been bound to by God, is still physically living. Once you see that fornication and adultery are clearly differentiated by Jesus then you are faced with the legitimate question, “Why does only Matthew record what he does?” “Why does he record this exception and not Mark or Luke or Paul?” The reason for this will be explained under my second point:

Second: Why only Matthew records the exception clause.

Once you see that the word fornication refers to sexual relations between two people who are not married and have not been bound by God in a covenant-bond marriage with someone else you can understand why only Matthew records what he does and why this teaching on the part of the Lord Jesus Christ caused such shock to the disciples. For, Jesus was not affirming the Pharisees’ misunderstanding and misuse of Moses in Deut. 24:1-4. He was correctly applying it. Remember Matthew was recording the truth that Jesus is the Messiah which would be critical for His Jewish brethren to see. This is why Matthew records the genealogy and birth of the Lord Jesus Christ in the opening chapters of his gospel. He does not go back to Adam like Luke does through Mary. He goes back to Abraham through David and Solomon to show that Jesus alone had the right to be the prophesied Messianic King. But because inheriting a sinful nature is through the man and not the woman, (Genesis 5:3), as well as God’s curse on the Kingly line of which Joseph was a part, (Jer. 22:29-30) – the virgin conception was required so that Jesus receives David’s blood line, apart from sin, through Mary, and He would inherit the legal right to the throne of David, through being the adopted first born son of Joseph, having been kept from the stain of original sin by being conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. But in recording how the virgin conception of Jesus overcame the problem with both original sin and the curse on the Kingly line you have Matthew’s record of the problem the virgin conception caused to Joseph: Matthew 1:19 “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.” Joseph knew that he had the right to put her away because of the teaching of Deut 24:1-4 but as he thought about these things, the angel came and told Joseph it would not be wrong for him to take Mary as his wife, whom he thought had been guilty of fornication. For in the Jewish marriage custom – Mary was Joseph’s betrothed wife. But, she had not yet been bound to Joseph in the covenant-bond marriage, by God, in the one flesh union created by God after the public ceremony. Therefore, because Mary was the betrothed wife of Joseph but not yet the covenant-bond wife of Joseph it would have been possible for her to commit the sin of fornication, which Joseph had thought she had committed. From a public Jewish standpoint, they were set apart as husband and wife even though they had not gone through the public ceremony in which the unbreakable covenant-bond marriage would be created by God. In Jewish marriage custom, up to a year of time could transpire between the time they were viewed upon as being husband and wife and actually coming together in the public ceremony to be bound by God in the one-flesh covenant- bond resulting in the covenant-bond marriage. Now, if during this period of time fornication was committed, it would have been allowable for the public ceremony resulting in the establishment of the covenant-bond marriage by God, not to proceed. Understanding this Jewish custom explains the shameful conduct of Deut. 22.17 and some uncleanness in Deut. 24.1. Both have reference to fornication prior to the public ceremony in which the covenant-bond marriage, breakable only by physical death, is formed. This is why only Matthew records the exception, because he is the only one to record what Joseph was considering doing because of his thinking that Mary had committed fornication prior to the covenant-marriage bond that he had hoped to enter into publically with Mary. For,even the unbelieving Pharisees thought that Jesus was a result of fornication on the part of Mary as seen by John 8:41: “Then the said to Him, We were not born of fornication.” The implied meaning behind this statement being, “Like we think you were!” Deut. 24:1 was not justifying divorce and remarriage as the Pharisees had incorrectly taught. It was saying that if the uncleanness of fornication was found out or it was believed that the prospective bride was not the virgin that either she or her parents had claimed her to be as seen by Deut 22:17 proceeding to establish the covenant-marriage bond by God in the public ceremony did not need to be followed through with due to the discovered sin of fornication. And this is exactly what you see Joseph considering in Matthew 1:19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. Joseph thought he had no other option but to put her away for what he thought was fornication on the part of Mary. But when the angel came he told him, “Joseph son of David do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. So Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife.”(Matt. 1:24) That is: the public ceremony took place and they were bound together by God in the covenant-bond marriage until the physical death of one of them, and he did not know her sexually until after Jesus was born. Matthew records this because his primary audience, being Jewish, would have understood that Jesus was giving the correct understanding of the passage in Deut. 24 based on the Jewish marriage custom. He would have known that his Jewish readers would have understood fornication as referring to sinful sexual relations, such as Joseph thought Mary was guilty of. They would not have considered fornication as referring to adultery giving the right of remarriage. Because adultery in the Old Testament was a capital offense with the death penalty over it. (Lev. 20:10) And once this is seen as the reason for what Matthew uniquely records, “except if be for fornication”, it explains why he is the only one to record it and does require the clear absolute statements found in Mark, Luke and Paul to bend to the popular teaching that physical adultery permits remarriage. It makes all the passages fit together without any difficulties – all of them affirming and teaching the truth about what Biblical marriage is – a covenant-bond and one flesh union breakable only by the physical death of the man or woman God is able to create it between. In contemporary terms, although modern engagement does not have the same legally binding aspects to it that Jewish betrothal marriage had in first century Judaism, if an engaged couple today decided that they were not, to use the popular teaching today, compatible, nothing apart from hurt feelings and other things would result if they decided not to proceed with marriage. But even revealed fornication for a New Covenant believer does not demand that the marriage not be proceeded with – Repentance and reconciliation are the teachings of the New Testament. But once the public ceremony takes place and the public vows are exchanged and as long as that man and woman are not already bound together in a covenant-bond marriage with someone else still living, God makes them one flesh until death. That this is the correct understanding of why only Matthew records the exception clause can be seen by my third point:

Third: The support the rest of the Scriptures give to this understanding of the exception clause versus the weaknesses of the popular teaching.

This can be seen by six things:

First: This explains why only Matthew has what is called the exception clause as explained above. He is dealing with a uniquely Jewish marriage practice that Joseph thought he needed to comply with until he was told by the angel that he need not be afraid to take his betrothed wife to become his covenant-bond wife in the public ceremony.

Second: The exception clause remains just that, an exception clause, and not an exception that every other passage dealing with divorce and remarriage has to bend to and which has led to an epidemic of sinful divorce and remarriage in the church.

Third: This understanding upholds the high view of marriage that Jesus teaches in all the Gospel accounts. It does not involve Jesus in a contradiction. For, in Matthew 19:6 Jesus declares: “Wherefore they are no more twain, (two) but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. But, based on the popular teaching only 3 verses later, He teaches but now here is a way men can separate what God has joined together. Just go out and commit adultery! And Paul is affirming, not contradicting, what the Lord says here when he writes in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. Paul is painfully aware of the fact that sinful man will rebel against the teaching of the Lord, and there are situations where it may be legitimate for a wife to separate from her husband for a time. But notice what he says, But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. But, if adultery breaks the covenant-bond marriage and one flesh union as is commonly and incorrectly taught it would be impossible for the woman to be reconciled to her husband because adultery based on the popular view breaks the covenant-bond that makes them husband and wife. For, how can you be reconciled to your sinning covenant-bond husband or wife if their act of adultery has broken the one flesh union that God created? No, Paul teaches that they are to remain unmarried, because if you remarry prior to the death of your covenant-bond spouse you enter into an adulterous union which only complicates an already difficult situation caused by sin. The above also agrees with the almost universal teaching record of the church up until the 1500's that only the physical death of the husband or wife breaks the covenant-bond marriage. The popular view in the church today that the physical act of adultery, as well as many other unscriptural reasons break a covenant-bond marriage are based on an appeal to the difficulties and sufferings created by sin, not whether or not this teaching explains correctly what Jesus and Paul were teaching. And that this is true can be seen by the reaction of many to this explanation of what Jesus and Paul are teaching. The response is not, “This is not what Jesus is teaching and here is why He is not teaching it.” The majority response is, “That’s not fair”, or “Such teaching is too difficult.” Which is exactly how His disciples first reacted to Christ’s teaching as will be shown below. Jesus never said following Him and confessing Him would be easy. But the majority of the church today wants to make it easy with respect to adultery.

Fourth: This understanding of what Jesus teaches maintains the differentiation that Matthew and Paul and ultimately the Holy Spirit make between the words fornication and adultery. The popular view is that Jesus means adultery when He uses the word fornication as explained above. But a further example of the weakness and clearly untenable nature of this popular teaching can be seen by how Jesus defines what adultery is in Matthew 5:27-28 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. Remember Jesus is correcting the incorrect and inadequate understanding of the law as taught by the Pharisees. Jesus is not saying there is anything wrong with the seventh commandment but with the Pharisees inadequate application and understanding of it. The seventh commandment is simply a summary commandment concerning sexual sin. It would be an example of the word adultery being used with a broad understanding. But the Pharisees’ false and inadequate understanding was that as long as a married man did not have sexual intercourse with someone who was not his wife he was not guilty of breaking the seventh commandment. But Jesus crushes all of this false and inadequate teaching by striking at the heart of the physical act of adultery: Heart Lust. Just as there is such a thing as heart murder that makes you guilty before God of breaking the commandment, thou shalt not murder, there is such a thing as heart lust. Looking upon another person who is not your covenant-bond marriage husband or wife and to lust for them is to commit heart adultery. Now the popular view is that adultery breaks the covenant-bond marriage and one flesh union created by God in the public ceremony. But Jesus, infallibly and authoritatively, defines what adultery is. Adultery according to Jesus is not just the physical act but heart lust! Therefore, take Christ’s infallible definition of adultery and apply it to our adulterous society today! How many covenant-bond husbands are no longer married to their covenant-bond wives they think they are married to because they have lusted after another woman by the myriad of ways this sin is fueled in our society today? How many covenant-bond wives are no longer married to their covenant-bond husbands they think they are married to because they have lusted after another man. Jesus is not teaching that adultery breaks the covenant-bond marriage and one flesh union created by God! Because if He is you have to define adultery the way He defines it. Which would mean that once a covenant-bond husband sinfully lusts after another woman he has broken the covenant-bond marriage created by God and he is no longer married to her! No, adultery is not grounds for divorce and remarriage. It is grounds for repentance on the part of the guilty party and forgiveness and reconciliation on the part if the one sinned against. For, if you limit the right to divorce and remarry to the physical act of adultery, you are treating adultery and the Scriptures the same way the Pharisees did and not the way the infallible, authoritative interpreter of Scripture the Lord Jesus Christ does. For, if you say that adultery breaks the marriage bond and apply Jesus’ declaration about what adultery is, how many are really married today? Is anyone? Just think! All a wife who is in a difficult covenant-bond marriage would have to do is to suggest that her husband watch some inappropriate movie with her and once she sees him sinning with his eyes she can say, “I’m out of here.” But what happens when the man she sinfully married commits the same sin? Then she is no longer married to him!

Fifth: This understanding of what Jesus teaches adequately addresses both Jesus’ disciples’ shocked reaction to His teaching and His response to their shocked response. What was the disciples response to Jesus’ teaching: Matthew 19:10 “His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” What case? That only physical death breaks the one flesh bond. For, had Jesus simply been affirming teaching they already knew was being taught by the Pharisees, they would not have reacted the way they did. It’s better not to marry if only physical death separates you from the one you were first bound to by God! The only way out of marriage is physical death. Who wants to be bound to one man or one woman until physical death!? But, that only physical death gives grounds for remarriage is also seen by what the Lord says in response to their shocked response. He declares that those who are His disciples understand that following Him and confessing Him as Lord may be costly even in the area of marriage: Matthew 19:11-12 But he said unto them, “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. 12 For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” Cannot receive what saying? That only physical death breaks a covenant-bond marriage. But, there is no need for someone to make himself a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven’s sake based on the popular teaching on this subject in the church today. Jesus is not introducing a new subject in verses 11 and 12 of Matthew 19. He is simply illustrating the cost of being one of His disciples.

Sixth: This understanding of what Jesus teaches does not involve a believer in a legal fiction and false reality unsupportable by the Bible. How can something be a legal fiction and a false reality? They can’t be. But in order to justify the popular teaching today such legal fictions and false realities have to be assumed to be true. Adultery is taken, by the majority in the church today, as giving grounds for divorce and remarriage, on the part of the innocent partner, rather than repentance on the part of the adulterer and forgiveness on the part of the mate sinned against and reconciliation. The teaching of Jesus about forgiving a person seventy times seven upon repentance is not even considered today when the subject of adultery is mentioned. But in order to give support to this incorrect understanding the framers of the Westminster Confession of Faith had to come up with what I call a legal fiction and a false reality. They teach that the innocent marriage partner is to treat the guilty marriage partner as if he or she was dead to justify the idea that it is now legitimate for the innocent party to remarry even though their covenant-bond marriage mate is still physically living. But I ask you, “Where in Scripture do you read that you are to treat another physically living person as if he was physically dead?” Nowhere in Scripture are you told to treat someone who is still physically living and who has sinned against you as if they are physically dead. But, adultery in the Old Testament was grounds for the death penalty. True. Therefore since we are not applying that law today I have the right as treating my adulterous mate as if they are dead. Where in Scriptures do you find such an idea? Nowhere. The New Testament teaching when you are sinned against is not: “Treat them as if they are dead.” It is hoping and praying for their repentance and having the willingness to be forgiving and reconciled to him or her when it happens. Just think if you were to apply this false unbiblical human reasoning to other sins that called for the death penalty in the Old Testament: Deuteronomy 21:18-21 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: 19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; 20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. 21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. We don’t put rebellious children to death today, just as we don’t put adulterers to death, but since we don’t we obviously do not treat them as dead! I am no longer your father. You are no longer my son. I am to treat you as dead! What does a loving parent want as far as their rebellious son or daughter is concerned based on New Testament teaching – that they would be put to death?! Not according to the teaching of 2 Timothy 2:24-26 “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” But in the case of a man or woman that someone has joined into a covenant-bond marriage and who has sinned against that bond by committing adultery - the innocent partner can treat the guilty party as if he or she is dead and they no longer need to concern themselves about the New Testament teachings concerning repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. But the guilty party is not dead. He or she is very much alive. Treating the so-called guilty party as if they were dead would mean you would not take them to court. Who takes a corpse to court? You can only take a living person, not a dead person, to court! Treating the person as if they were dead would mean not expecting any alimony payments from them, because you cannot receive alimony payments from a dead man. It would mean that any children produced from this marriage would not have to, or be able to go and visit their guilty father or mother because they are to be treated as dead! You do not give visitation rights to a dead person! What would people think if a mother dropped her children off at the cemetery for the weekend because she was giving visitation rights to her dead husband? Neither does a living person fight with a dead person over possessions! Plus in the popular teaching it is the act of adultery that dissolves the covenant-bond marriage and one flesh union. But if it is the act of adultery that breaks the covenant bond, it breaks it from the moment it is committed not after all the legal proceedings in which believers, despite what the Bible says, go to court to fight for their rights and half of everything from a fictitious dead person. And what this means is that there may very well be, right now, in the visible church, a woman sleeping with a man she thinks is her husband but because he has committed adultery unknown to her – he has dissolved the bond created by God. They are no longer husband and wife since the act of adultery, in the popular view, breaks the covenant-bond. If adultery breaks the covenant-bond then they are not husband and wife. They are an unmarried man and an unmarried woman committing fornication. No! They are very much still married to one another. He has just sinfully assaulted the bond created by God. He has not dissolved it. In order for a person to commit adultery in the sense that Jesus teaches in Mark 10 and Luke 16 the covenant-bond marriage husband or wife still has to be physically living. If either of them are not physically living the bond is no longer there. If both of them are living the bond is still there despite what the popular view is in the church today. It is only physical death that breaks the covenant bond of marriage created by God, not adultery or any other sinful action or activity by the one a man or woman was bound to by God. And the awesome truth and significance of this can be seen when a believer realizes, or comes to realize, that the covenant-bond marriage he or she has entered into is a picture of their relationship with Christ as Paul teaches in Ephesians 5:32 “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Just think, if you are a true believer, How often you have sinned against your covenant mate – the Lord Jesus Christ? Does He divorce you for your spiritual adulteries and unfaithfulness? Perish the thought! It is a covenant union that only death can break. But He is risen from the dead - death no longer has any dominion over Him which means that His covenant with a true believer can never be broken. A true believer’s sinful acts of adultery against the Lord will lead to a grieving of the Spirit and sense of the loss of fellowship with Him, even His chastising Hand, but it will not sever the covenant-bond He made with His church when He purchased His bride on the Cross. And this is why Jesus gives the reason for the teaching in Deut. 24:1-4 as hardness of heart. A believer commits spiritual fornications prior to being united with Christ by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, and to his shame, he commits spiritual adulteries after he has been bound to the Lord Jesus Christ. But a believer’s fornications prior to his regeneration and his adulteries afterward did not cause Jesus to say I no longer want to be in covenant-bond with my bride. A believer’s fornications prior to being united with Christ did not stop Him from purchasing him or her, and a believer’s adulteries after regeneration will not cause Him to divorce His bride. He keeps is word even when it hurts. When is the church going to teach the same thing for those who profess to be part of His body?

Desertion is Not a Reason for Divorce and Remarriage

In light of all that has been shown above Paul is not giving “another” reason for divorce and remarriage in 1 Corinthians 7:15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. Desertion by an unbeliever does not break the covenant- bond marriage created by God and therefore is not grounds for divorce and remarriage regardless of what the Westminster Confession of Faith or any confession says on the subject. Confessions are not infallible - only the Word of God is. Paul is not giving a new reason for divorce and remarriage in 1 Corinthians 7:15! He is telling the believing partner that they are not in bondage to do all they can to keep the marriage together. They are to let the unbeliever go and be at peace that the unbeliever’s leaving was not their fault. But he or she is to remain unmarried with the hope that their sinning mate will repent and they can be reconciled. The unbeliever’s desertion does not break the covenant-bond marriage. The very fact that Paul tells the believer that he or she is not to divorce their unbelieving mate clearly shows that the marriages of unbelievers are marriages in God’s eyes! (1 Cor. 7:10-11) Plus, bondage in verse 15 and bound in verse 39 are two different words and mean two different things! The fact that the New International Version translates both words as bound shows how dangerous modern “translations” can be! People who use the New International Version translation of verse 15 as justification for their belief that they are no longer bound to their covenant-bond husband or wife if they desert them are basing that justification on a grievous mistranslation of the Word of God. A believer is not under bondage if their unbelieving mate deserts them. But they are still in a covenant-bond marriage with them until their physical death. For, in the very next verse, verse 16, Paul teaches that the deserted believer is to hope for the conversion of their deserting husband or wife, “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” And then he teaches about remaining in the calling in which you were called. (1 Cor 7:17-24) Where is the willingness to forgive and the hope for reconciliation if this sinful path of divorce is taken? Are you showing sacrificial love in pursuing such a course of action? Are you denying self and taking up your cross because of the teaching of Jesus on this subject by such an action? Has your mate become your enemy because he or she has deserted you? What are believers to do with their enemies? They are to love them! Is divorce and remarriage an expression of love towards a covenant-bond marriage mate who has deserted you?

Celibacy for the Kingdom of Heaven’s Sake

Men may look upon a covenant-bond marriage as a contract easily entered into and just as easily broken. But God does not and it is time that the church affirmed God’s position as well. But some may say that such teaching is cruel and harsh and does not take into account the fact that those who have entered into the covenant of marriage obviously do not have the gift of celibacy! Does not Paul say, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” (1 Cor 7:2) and “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” (1 Cor 7:9) Yes, he does! But he is referring to those who have never been married i.e. virgins, or to widows: I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. (1 Cor. 7:8) The word unmarried may also be a reference to male widowers. For in verse 11 of 1 Corinthians 7 Paul clearly teaches what those who have been divorced or deserted are to do, “But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.” The reason for this is because only physical death breaks the covenant-bond marriage: “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:39) There is no denying that the sinful actions of others may put a person in difficult situations. But the fact that the sinful actions of another may put a person in the difficult situation of celibacy does not justify committing adultery to solve the difficulty. This is the very point that Jesus makes in addressing the response of His shocked disciples to His teaching in Matthew 19:10 - 12. as explained above. I may need to become a eunuch for the Kingdom of heaven’s sake because of the sin of others -- even the sin of my covenant-bond husband or wife. But, all of us, in varying degrees, have had to face trials and difficulties due to the sins of others and living in a fallen world. If a covenant-bond husband or wife is paralyzed, after marriage, does their inability to render to their covenant-bond husband or wife that due affection, permit the non-paralyzed partner to divorce them so they can marry someone who can! The consequences of the fall, or the sinful action of others do not give us the right to break our vow, “.... for better for worse....” Does the fact that a married man whose wife has just given birth and is prevented from sexual relations for a number of weeks mean that he is to engage in immoral activity because he does not have the gift of celibacy? Does the Bible not teach the sanctification of self-discipline in the area of sexual expression? (I Thessalonians. 4:3,4) What about those couples who are separated due to persecution or war? Do these realities, due to the sin of men, justify the “Dear John” letters that are sent out! In the area of marriage, the church no longer believes in the truth of sanctified suffering and loss due to the sin of others. Nor does it believe in the possibility of repentance and reconciliation. It pays it lip service, but does not really believe it with respect to the sin of adultery, because if it did those who were sinned against because of it would not be so quickly willing to consider the marriage covenant no longer there so they could enter into adulterous unions. How long is the hope and prayer for true repentance and reconciliation to last on the part of the sinned against party? It is until the physical death of their covenant -bound husband or wife, not until they find someone new!

Conclusion

The above has been my attempt to explain my position on marriage, divorce, and remarriage and why I no longer believe the popular, but biblically unsound, teachings held by those in the majority of the church today. I believe my position has the support of the Scriptures and is a right dividing of them.


I shall leave you to decide if you think it is as well.



Ron Johnson, Pastor

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