The Greek Geek

Aπολύω: Divorce

By Chris Conner

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Jesus' goal, here, was to make sure if a wife was released by her husband, she wouldn't be forced into sin (either adultery or prostitution). It is not a sin to have a divorce forced upon you. In fact, Paul gives at least one example in which a woman should accept divorce peaceably. In 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, he says, "To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her." And skipping over to 1 Corinthians 7:15: "But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace." Now the reason for this is fairly simple: God would love for us to live in peace, in our relationships with Him and with one another. If we are married to someone who is not a believer and they do not wish to be married to us because of our belief in God, then Paul said, let them leave. It is better to not force someone to remain married when they do not wish to be. We do have an example of mixed marriages: "Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek" (Acts 16:1, NIV).

The term "living in adultery" or "still married in the eyes of God" is a Catholic doctrine that came about in the 15th century. This interpretation was never found in any of the church father's writings or before the 15th century. The Catholic Church wanted to decide who gets to be married or not (divorced). What about abuse, gambling, addictions, physical abuse and threats? Jesus always took the side of the oppressed. Jesus always appealed for the ideal but recognized the real. Divorce is always wrong but sometimes it is best. Remaining married is always right but it is not always best. Sometimes divorce is the "lesser of the two evils." God even divorced Israel: "I observed that it was because unfaithful Israel had committed adultery that I had sent her away and had given her a certificate of divorce" (Jeremiah 3:8). There are times when the divorce is the fault of only one person, but not in the vast majority. And even for that part, divorce is sin, but not unpardonable.

Now for the position that Matthew 19:9 is talking about "continuing" to commit adultery: I am not a Greek scholar so I will explain this the best way I know how. "Mood" has a lot to do with the tense of a verb in Greek. Instead of defining the word, let me tell you what "mood" does:
(1) It shows actuality or certainty: a simple statement of fact;
(2) It shows possibility;
(3) It shows the action as being conceivable;
(4) It shows a command.

In Greek it is difficult to determine, except through the context. For example: "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field" (Matthew 13:44; emphasis added). He does not continue to buy a field. It cannot be said that the man kept on buying the field. This is a common use in the Greek. In this verse: "Send her away because she cries out after us" (Matthew 15:23; emphasis added), the situation involves the continual tense: "she continues to cry out." In 1 John 1:7, "But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses (continually cleanses) us from all sin," what we have in Greek is known as the "gnomic" present, and the limits of time on both sides of this type are not defined. It is known as a general truth and continuity is not under consideration here. As in Matthew 7:17, "every good tree produces good fruit...," there is no reference to time. Thus, we might read that "every time the incident of divorce occurs" it is one act of sin (one isolated act of sin) and there is no continuation. If you have been divorced, it is a sin, but not unforgivable. It is a one-time sin, not continual. You committed it, you are forgiven, and you move on.

The last point to be made is that when Jesus met the woman at the well, He told her: "For you've had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband" (John 4:17-18). Yet He still offered her salvation! The Bible is clear in that it says: "Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate" (Matthew 19:6). So, we conclude several things:

(1) God always wanted one man for one woman;

(2) Moses did not command divorce but allowed it because of the hardness of their hearts;

(3) Rabbi Shammai was more strict on the subject than Hillel;

(4) The O.T. never referred to David or Solomon having many wives as adultery;

(5) God allowed David to have many wives: "I gave your master's house to you and your master's wives into your arms, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah, and if that was not enough, I would have given you even more" (2 Samuel 12:8);

(6) God commanded the people of Ezra's day to divorce their wives because of idolatry;

(7) The discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees was a plot to trap Jesus. They wanted him to side with Hillel, who held the more liberal view;

(8) If a non-believer is not willing to stay with you, let them leave. Divorce is better than holding someone in a marriage against their will;

(9) In Malachi 2:16 does not contain the personal pronoun: "I";

(10) According to the Greek construction of the sentence, there is no such thing as "continuing to commit adultery" or "still married in God's eyes";

(11) Divorce is an isolated act of sin and can be forgiven just like any other sin!

Sources: Strong's Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary
Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament
Holman Christian Standard Bible
"Sermons on Divorce," and "The Present Indicative in Matthew 19:9" by Carroll D. Osburn

Image Credit: Brandice Schnabel; "Jim's tungsten band broke! :("; Creative Commons

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Published 1-28-16