Divorce: Not The Unforgivable Sin (Or: The Gospel Is For Divorced People Too!)

Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible Some time ago I mentioned the translation issues of Malachi 2:16 and noted that “God hates divorce” is not the best translation of the Hebrew phrase there (see, for example, the ESV, NIV, and HCSB).  Concerning divorce, I appreciate Jay Adams’ words on the stigma that is sometimes attached to divorced people in Christ’s church.

“There are many wrong attitudes in conservative churches about divorce and divorcees.  From the way that some treat divorced persons, you would think that they had committed the unpardonable sin.  Let us make it clear, then, that those who wrongfully (sinfully) obtain a divorce must not be excused for what they have done; it is sin.  But precisely because it is sin, it is forgivable. The sin of divorcing one’s mate on unbiblical grounds is bad, not only because of the misery it occasions, but especially because it is an offense against a holy God.  But it is not so indelibly imprinted in the life of the sinner that it cannot be washed away by Christ’s blood.”

“Indeed, it is noteworthy to discover that in those lists of heinous sins (1 Cor. 6:9-10, Rev. 22:15, Gal. 5:19-21, etc.) selfishness, envy and the other somewhat unexpected items (like slander) take their place side by side with drunkenness, idolatry, murder and homosexuality, but not once is there mentioned the sin of unlawful divorce.”

“My noting this fact does not mean for a moment that I want to tolerate improper divorce, or any divorce sinfully acquired; divorce wrongfully entered into is sin and must be labelled and condemned as such.  No, my purpose in pointing out the absence of any reference to sinful divorce is merely to observe that the apostles must have had a much different concept of divorce than those present-day church leaders who always include it in their list of most hated sins – often near or at the top.  …What I am urging is a proper (biblical) attitude on the part of God’s church.  To fail in this is serious; many lives (including the whole church) cannot escape the adverse effects – all will be hurt.”

“…Even one who sinfully obtains a divorce can be forgiven, cleansed and restored to Christ’s church, just like those repentant drunkards and homosexuals who are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.  They, too, can be washed and sanctified by the same Spirit.  We must not call unclean those whom God has cleansed!”

Adams does say more in this section; I’ve just highlighted a few parts.  I appreciate the main point: the gospel is for divorced people too!

The above quote is found on pages 24-25 of Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible by Jay Adams.

Shane Lems

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