A Fifteen-Year Journey, Pt. 3

The next issue that demanded examination was the ‘exception clause’ found in Matt 5:32 and 19:9. Two major concerns became apparent: 1) How should the word porneia be understood, and 2) What was the origin of the clause? Evidently Matthew did not think porenia and the word for adultery (moikia) had the same meaning because he used both terms in Matt 15:19. This distinction is also supported by other texts such as Mark 7:21, Cor 6:9, and Heb 13:4. After extensive research, I determined the two most probable meanings for porneia were incest or unfaithfulness during the engagement. The later supported Joseph’s plan to divorce Mary and the former addressed the issues of Gentiles integrating into Matthew’s Jewish church. Significantly, Mark, Luke and Paul showed no knowledge of the exception clause therefore their Greco-Roman readers would have been oblivious to it. If that were the case, what was its origin? Two options seemed most probable: (1) Jesus could have included the clause but if the teaching were truly significant, why did the other synoptic authors omit it? (2) Matthew inserted the clause to deal with the issues his Jewish audience was facing. Also, If the exception was added by Matthew, the synoptic gospels (and Paul) supported Jesus’s explanation of Gen 2:24 (“what God joined together, let man not separate”), and explained the disciples’ response in referring to marriage in Matthew 19.

The New Testament is strangely silent on issues dealing with marriage and divorce, and after years of study, I was faced with the dilemma of maintaining the integrity of the text and integrating its principles into a 21st century world. The textual silence is especially problematic given the common practice of divorce in the Greco-Roman world and the popularity of the no fault divorce in the Jewish culture. Seemingly if marriage and divorce had been an issue in the early church, it would have been the topic of more instruction. A theology on the topic could not be based in part upon metaphors and hyperboles used to communicate its message.

I was convinced that because of occasion, linguistic style, and historical context, the marriage and divorce texts had built in limitations.

As I reflected on the biblical story as a whole I realized perhaps I had missed the obvious. Paul was the apostle to the Greco-Roman world of the first century (Acts 9:15; Gal 2:7). It was a world of paganism characterize by immoral conduct (Rom 1:26-32; 1 Cor 5:1; 7:2). As I studied the writings of Paul, I concluded Paul’s foundational approach for the ethical and doctrinal challenges he faced in the Greco-Roman world were two fold: the character of God and the mind of Jesus. Whether Paul was dealing with conduct or doctrine, his approach was always the same. Because of his strong rabbinic background and his understanding of the teachings and life of Jesus, this was the natural foundation for his ministry. The more I reflected the clearer a biblical/contemporary pattern of marriage and divorce became.
Because of his understanding of Torah, Paul believed God should be imitated and followed (Eph 5:1; Col 3:10; 1 Peter 1:15-16). God’s marriage to Israel became the standard. God’s patience, compassion, forgiveness and his determination to save marriage became Paul’s paradigm.
The mind and ministry of Jesus became the lens through which he determined the proper conduct for all disciples (Gal 4:19; Col 1:27; 2:6; Rom 8:29; 13:14; 2 Cor 3:18).

Using the character of God and the mind of Jesus as the benchmark, Paul declared what conduct was right or wrong. In an ideal world, divorce would be a non-issue but the world is anything but ideal. We are a flawed people living in a flawed world. People divorce. Perhaps instead of imposing our opinions on how various situations should be viewed, we should take a cue from Paul. When we approach all of life through the lens of the character of God and the mind of Christ, our sight is clarified. Such was the goal in writing my book, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: Seen Through the Character of God and the Mind of Jesus. Even with a lack of information on how the early church dealt with specific situations, we can navigate life’s most complex issues, including those surrounding marriage and divorce.

I readily admit my journey is far from over and my treatise is certainly not the final word on the topic. I invite you to join me in the pursuit of the heart of God and the mind of Christ as we study the truths in His word.


To read the previous articles in this series, please follow these links:

A Fifteen-Year Journey, Pt. 2

Using a better grasp of Torah and God’s divorce from Israel as a backdrop, I turned to the marriage and divorce texts in the synoptic gospels. The God of the Hebrew Bible was also the God of the New Testament. He had not changed nor had his will. However in many respects I began to realize my own deficiency in acknowledging God’s continuity in his attitude toward marriage. While at this point I was still years away from finalizing my thoughts, the seeds of a different view on marriage, divorce and remarriage were planted.

When not addressed in person, issues in the early church were addressed by pen—in the form of a letter or a gospel (Jas 1:1). While both were responses to situations, they were constructed differently. The more I learned, the more I realized that unlike biographies of today, the gospels were life stories that were written with theological objectives. I quickly grasped how significant this would be.

I began my study of marriage and divorce in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) with Mark 10:1-12 because it is considered to be the first gospel written. Neither Matthew nor Luke had written their gospels at the time of Mark’s writing so he had no access to their texts, however Matthew could have used the gospel of Mark as a resource. With this in mind I compared the Mark text with a similar text in Matt 19:1-12 and studied the fourteen differences in the recording of the Jesus-Pharisee dialogue by the two authors. This prompted extensive research into the individual gospels and after a period of time I realized my previous approach to their study had been incorrect. I concluded that I had thought and had even taught that the synoptic gospels could be harmonized; however doing so distorted the unique objective each writer had for their readers (Matt 24:15; Mark 13:14). Each gospel writer achieved his objective by the selection, arrangement, and adaptation of the information about Jesus that he included. Efforts to understand each gospel text could not be limited by who wrote it, to whom and why, but should also take into account the selection, arrangement and adaptation of the material in order to grasp the theological objective. For example, Mark evidently adapted his text to fit his mostly non-Jewish audience and his purpose for writing by including Jesus’s reference to a woman divorcing her husband (under Jewish law that was impossible because she was the property of her husband). Matthew, who omitted the illustration, wrote to a Jewish audience who would have recognized a woman could not divorce her husband. When Matthew mentioned Jewish practices he did not explain them as Mark had done to his non-Jewish readers (Matt 15:1-6; Mark 7:1-13). The teaching on divorce in Matthew 19 is one of two examples showing the fallacy of law keeping (a non-issue to Mark’s mostly Gentile audience) as opposed to humble servanthood. As with 1 Corinthians 7, each of the synoptic gospels had an occasion for which they were written. However unlike 1 Corinthians 7, the gospels encompassed two occasions. The first was the occurrence of the actual event and the second how the author used the event to achieve his theological objective when penning his gospel years later. This understanding explained why the events were not recorded in the same way and why some of the writers did not use the same stories or materials.

With this perspective in mind I moved my focus to Matt 5:32 and tried to approach the text as the people would have heard and received it. Like Paul, Jesus was a Torah observant rabbi (Matt 5:17-20). Because the Deut 24:1-4 text is mentioned in three of the marriage and divorce passages in the synoptic gospels I felt the need to revisit that text. Admittedly, defining the word indecent was problematic, but even so the concession was granted because of hard-hearted men. The more I studied, the more I realized the text had a three-fold purpose: (1) to keep divorce from occurring, (2) to protect women, and (3) to protect a second marriage. Building on Jesus’ rabbinic background I returned to Matthew and soon realized, among other things, that Matthew 5:32 could not be understood literally without violating Deut 24:1-4—something Jesus would never do. He had come to clarify (fulfill) the law not to abolish it. Because of his respect for Torah and its intended meaning, throughout the sermon on the mount Jesus had chosen to use a very common teaching style at that time (hyperbole and metaphor) to make his point. With this understanding the teaching of Matt 5:32 became clear: Jesus was opposed to divorce. He was not answering the question can divorced people marry, but can married people divorce. The similarity of the teachings found in Matthew 5, 19 and Mark 10 all provided a uniform message: disciples do not divorce.

The Luke 16:18 text was more of a challenge to understand because of it’s vague context. Luke chose not to include the Pharisee-Jesus dialogue for his readers however the text did compare favorably with Matt 5:32. It is located in a cluster of teachings about money and greed so perhaps this text is best seen as an illustration of those who would divorce and marry to gain another dowry (Luke 16:14). Again the teaching is there: disciples do not divorce.

To be continued…

To read the article previous to this: A Fifteen-Year Journey, Pt. 1

To read the following article: A Fifteen-Year Journey, Pt. 3

A Fifteen-Year Journey, Pt. 1

Perhaps one of the greatest blessings of getting older (I turn 79 this year) is the opportunity to question youthful certainty. As I reflect now, much of my early ministry was rooted in my perceptions of absolutes and non-negotiable concepts. I learned to argue passionately with those in religious communities who disagreed with me, and frequently did so. Through the years time and life have mellowed me, certainly making me older and hopefully wiser. While non-negotiable concepts of my life still stand, they are fewer now—specifically two: Jesus Christ is Lord and the Bible is the word of God. My youthful determination to ‘get it all right’ has faded and I realize that a God who is gracious in my personal life is also gracious in my theology. On my very best day, my life and my theological views need grace. Decades of working ‘in the trenches’ have made me more tenuous in many areas of thought including the issues surrounding marriage and divorce. The ministry Lynn and I were and are involved in brought us almost weekly into the lives of good men and women struggling to do the ‘right thing’ in this area but uncertain as to what that was. My views on the topic had been rather stringent, and I began to wonder if my interpretations could be flawed. I read virtually everything that had been published on the subject in our fellowship and in other communities of faith as well. This only led to more confusion as I discovered vast disagreement on the topic. Many believed one thing but practiced another as the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy became more accepted. Surely there was a better way. Thus the journey began.

Initially I determined I would try to look at the individual biblical texts—and just the texts—without superimposing other texts as a filter. I began my study with 1 Corinthians 7 since chronologically it is the first recorded information on the marriage and divorce topic in the New Testament. Using only that text, it became quite obvious the information presented was not intended to be a theology on marriage and divorce, but rather a response to the questions Paul had been asked. Like a game of Jeopardy, we knew the answers but could only surmise the questions. Also woven into his responses were Paul’s beliefs in an early return of Jesus, his preference for a single and celibate life, and the present distress (historically a famine). Certain Greek words including unmarried, separate, and bondage begged to be restudied, as did the reason for Paul’s more tentative vocabulary as compared to his other letters. The introduction of the 2011 edition of the NIV proved to be very helpful in the translation of the chapter as I noted four changes in the reading of the text. A more subtle undertone in 1 Corinthians as well as his other letters was Paul’s early rabbinic training (Acts 22:3; Phil 3:4-6). He was a Torah educated Jew and Judaism was his default mindset. In order to correctly interpret Paul, I needed a better understanding of Torah and ancient Judaism.

According to ancient Judaism, marriage involved a change of loyalty, exclusiveness, covenant, and the provisions of food, clothing, and marital rights (Gen 2:24; Pro 2:17; Exod 21:10-11). In addition, God instructed his people not to marry foreigners and the home was to be a teaching center for the children (Deut 6:6-7; 7:3; Eph 6:4). Restudying God’s divorce from Israel and separation from Judah served as crucial background material ( Jer 3:6-10; Ezek 16:8-32; Isa 50:1; Hos 2:2-3:13) for my eventual conclusions. The Deut 24:1-4 text was essential in my future examination of the synoptic texts (Matt 5:31; 19:7; Mark 10:4).

Paul’s understanding of Torah provided a foundation for many of the teachings in 1 Corinthians 7. Based on his understanding of Jesus’s teaching, divorce was not a good option for any marriage but if it did occur reconciliation should be pursued. If an unbeliever left, the marriage was over because the elements of the Hebrew marriage (food, clothing, and marital rights) departed as well. The divorce certificate pronounced the end of the marriage and the freedom for a second marriage (Deut 24:1-4). Influenced by his views of the Lord’s return, the famine and his personal preference for singleness, his advice for everyone was to stay where they were. Circumcision and slavery further illustrated this marital concept in 7:17-24. The exception to his teaching of staying single was the issue of self-control (7:9, 37). His parting teaching for the widow to marry “only in the Lord” was based on his understanding of Deuteronomy 6 and 7. The information found in 1 Corinthians 7 was rooted in Torah, his view of the present situation or occasion, and his being trustworthy (7:25, 40).

To be continued…

A Fifteen-Year Journey, Pt. 2

A Fifteen-Year Journey, Pt. 3

Book Review: Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage

Edward Fudge 2Our new book, Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage: Seen Through the Character of God and the Mind of Jesus, has been out for a short time now. We’ve seen several reviews come through. Here is one that comes from Edward Fudge through his gracEmail newsletter. Thanks Edward!


BOOK NOTICE: Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage Seen Through the Character of God and the Mind of Jesus. Jerry Jones. College Press, 270 pages, 2016.

Dr. Jerry Jones had served God as an evangelist, local pastor, church-planter, and chairman of the Bible department in a Christian university, but no matter which hat he wore, he was called on to teach and to counsel other imperfect people on issues of marriage, divorce, and remarriage (MDR). His own views on MDR and the views of others in his faith-tradition were the same as those held by a great majority of evangelicals–views that sported a chain of neatly-arranged biblical proof-verses. But while contemporary churches often required would-be new members to undergo intensive grilling about their marriage history, Jones was struck by the fact that “the book of Acts chronicled how people became Christians, yet their marital status was never mentioned” (11).

The feeling that something was missing in his traditional understanding of MDR continued to nag Jones until he finally surrendered to the conviction that he must restudy the entire subject. That is what he did, for 15 years, and then he wrote this book. ” I had invested 50 years in a somewhat limited view,” Jones writes, ” . . . and changing that paradigm would be quite painful and difficult” (11). The book is practically all-encompassing– in scope, research, application. Along the way, Jones deals with such issues as canon, text, context, hermaneutics, Biblical languages, and culture. This is a work of first class scholarship, well worth the 15-year wait.

But as impressive as all that is, the scholarship is not the book’s greatest feature. That comes, in my opinion, in its “heart” and wisdom, as summed up in its subtitle: “seen through the character of God and the mind of Jesus.” That is the extra ingredient that scholarship alone can never provide, but which resonates with those who wish to replicate God’s character and to have the mind of Christ.

Jones takes on the subject under three major headings. In Part 1 (15-53) he examines Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 on sex, celibacy and marriage. Noting that much of 1 Corinthians consists of Paul’s answers to questions from the Corinthians, Jones seeks to reconstruct the “other side” of the conversation. Chapter 7 presents another challenge in Paul’s appeals to a hierarchy of authority– things Jesus said, things Paul believed Jesus would agree with, Paul’s own opinions, etc. Recognizing the importance of cultural background to teaching on MDR, in both the first century and the twenty-first, Jones’ research shines through as he delves into Jewish and Roman practices and laws.

Part 1 concludes with a summary titled “Paul and Marriage,” which includes the apostle’s rationale for marriage, preferred status (single and celibate), and limitations of this chapter. Part 2 (54-110) turns to the teaching of Jesus on MDR in the gospels. Jones takes up Hebrew Bible texts, basic definitions, contextual considerations, comparisons of Matthew 19 and Mark 10, and thoughts on interpreting the marriage and divorce texts.

In Part 3 (111-128) Jones sets forth a theology of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, assigning himself to primary chores. The first concerns “understanding the situational, occasional nature of scripture.” The Bible’s teaching on MDR is not in the form of articles on systematic theology. The second chore is developing “a biblical, contemporary paradigm for marriage, divorce, and remarriage.” These two sections are followed by pastoral considerations and a conclusion to Part 3.

A 16-page selective bibliography provides some indication of the research behind this book. Twenty-five appendices on a variety of related topics, special areas of study, reflect the author’s wide-ranging interests and exhaustive research on MDR.

In closing, serious Bible students with no prior knowledge of Biblical languages can read this book and benefit from it, while its contents will leave the most ardent scholar satisfied as to its methodology and research.

For the past 20 years, Jones and his wife Lynn have been involved in strengthening marriages through their “Marriage Matters” conferences, which they have conducted more than 450 times in 43 states and 6 foreign countries. For more information on the conferences or to order this book, see the website www.marriagematters.ws or by email to marmatsem@gmail.com or call 636-936-1075.

Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: Seen Through the Character of God and the Mind of Jesus

Jones Deerstand picFor the past 19 years Lynn and I have been conducting relationship and marriage conferences. Our work has taken us across this nation, into foreign countries, and into the lives of thousands of Christian men and women struggling with the issues of divorce and remarriage. Many had experienced the trauma of divorce yet many others were in places of leadership and were wrestling with the practical application of the biblical text. As a result, over fifteen years ago I determined to prayerfully restudy the topic.

MarriageDivorce2015Through the years I have read and researched reams of material written on this subject. I have studied with conservative rabbis to better understand the Hebrew Bible. I have spent hundreds of hours with numerous preachers and church leaders gleaning insight from their study and experiences. Most importantly I have studied and restudied the biblical text and have challenged many of my previously held conclusions. I was forced to examine how I looked at scripture and admit how little I really knew about the topic.

Undoubtedly my study is an ongoing process, but I finally decided to put into print what I had learned. The resulting manuscript, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: Seen Through the Character of God and the Mind of Jesus is scheduled to be released by College Press in Joplin, Missouri, this fall. The heart of the book includes an in depth study of 1 Corinthians 7 and the divorce texts in the gospels. An accompanying study guide for classroom use will be available for download through our website. Certainly this volume is not the “final word” on this subject, but I pray it will spawn further conversation, research, and study on the topic.

My desire is that it will also provide guidance as the church attempts to reach out to a lost and broken world.

This book is now available from our online store at this link.

Roman Catholicism and Marriage

Jones Deerstand picThe influence of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) on views of marriage, divorce and remarriage has been profound. As one of the seven sacraments, marriage and its guidelines are based on scripture. However since the church produced the scripture, the church has the authority to interpret its meaning.Specifically, the following scriptures provide the framework for the Indissoluability of marriage:

  1. Broken RingsThe couple is united (glued) together and cannot be separated (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:6).
  2. A second marriage that follows a divorce for any reason is adulterous (Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18).
  3. Only the death of a spouse dissolves a marriage (Rom 7:1-4).
  4. There are only two options after a divorce: reconciling or remaining unmarried (I Cor 7:10-11).

Even the ‘exception’ clause of Matt 19:9 and 5:32 does not break a marriage. While it may define the divorce, the clause does not allow a second marriage. While the couple may be divorced in “man’s eyes” they are still married in the “eyes of God”. If one of them does remarry after the divorce yet prior to the death of their previous spouse, the marriage is not recognized by the Catholic church and is considered adulterous. As such the couple is “living in adultery” and neither is eligible to take communion therefore placing their eternal salvation in jeopardy.

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