When one is studying or considering God’s commandments regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage, it is far too easy to focus so much on the details that one misses the bigger picture. While it is true that God has not explicitly spoken regarding every circumstance or situation that we might imagine, it is not as if God has left us without any guiding principle in this issue. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees represents His declaration about marriage and divorce, and it is from this declaration that all of God’s purpose flows.
And he answered and said, “Have ye not read, that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh?’ So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:4-6).
Jesus hearkens back to the creation of man and woman and sets forth the statement of the Genesis author regarding marriage. Two– a man and a woman– are to become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). This, and not homosexual marriage or polygamy, is God’s intention for mankind.
Jesus then sets forth His declaration: what God has joined man is not to separate.
We understand from this passage that it is God who joins two people in marriage. Yes, it is important to respect the earthly authorities and to submit to them, and follow appropriate legal processes for marriage (cf. Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-17), but the marriage is only truly godly if God is the one joining the man to his wife. We have no reason to believe that God ever joins two men or two women in marriage, or that He would join one man to two or more women in marriage. If someone has been divorced for just any reason, or divorced their spouse for reasons other than sexually deviant behavior, we have no reason to believe that God will join them to another. The laws of the land may allow a man to divorce and marry another, but that does not mean that God has joined two people into an adulterous relationship. May it never be!
What God has joined man is not to separate. Notice that Jesus does not say that man cannot separate what God has joined; instead, the statement is an exhortation. Man should not separate what God has joined. This “separation” takes one of two forms. One, of course, is divorce. This illegitimate separation should not take place and it should not be encouraged. Those who have done so ought to repent of separating what God joined, seek to be reconciled, or remain unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). The other form of separation involves sexually deviant behavior– becoming “one flesh” with another (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:15-17). This is why sexually deviant behavior is the “exception” to Jesus’ rule regarding divorce: the offending spouse, by becoming one flesh with another, has torn asunder or separated him or herself from the offended spouse. If there can be reconciliation and not divorce, God is glorified and honored, but in that circumstance, there is no sin in divorce, since the separation of what God joined really already took place.
The only times that God will join a man or woman who was previously married to another are in cases of death (cf. Romans 7:1-4) or when that person has divorced their spouse for sexually deviant behavior (Matthew 19:9).
What God has joined man is not to separate. Let us recognize the profound truth established in this declaration, and proclaim this truth boldly!
Ethan R. Longhenry