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From the Beginning it Was Not So (Part 2)

Sep 03, 2020

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More Answers to Objections to the Permanence of Marriage


By: Thomas Ackerman


Working for restoration at:

Editorial help from: Pastor Jack Shannon of Saint Athanasius Church, Fort Collins


6: The “loosed” may remarry:

Similar to the other attempt to justify remarriage in these few verses of 1 Corinthians 7, some will claim because the subsequent statement says that the loosed do not sin if they marry (vs. 28), then even if singlehood is instructed, remarriage is not sin. The “loosed” may remarry, right? That means the “divorced” may remarry, right? However, like the above, it assumes that the apostle would contradict himself multiple times in this same chapter. This is impossible, and is also a poor reading of the text.

Considering the introductory statement three verses earlier, it would be odd to read this as a previously married and divorced person being given permission to remarry. We are still in a discussion of virgins. The virgin is being told he does not sin to become betrothed, and subsequently enter a full marriage.

The argument also assumes that the word “loosed” means to be divorced (or otherwise separated), when in fact this word – lyo in Greek - sometimes simply refers to a single man who has never married. My Outline of Biblical Usage says the word means: to loose a person tied, including “of a single man, whether he has already had a wife or has not yet married” Seeing that it can refer to a single person, never having been joined, we do not need to assume this person has broken off an engagement, much less a marriage.


Recognizing this section speaks of virgins, we can read each teaching consistently, and with no contradictions in this chapter or elsewhere. Paul is telling the single virgins that they may get betrothed and marry, even if singlehood is recommended. He is not telling the divorced they may marry again. That would be sin. You will find some marriage liberals don’t even bother to bring up this section of Scripture, because of the context of dealing with virgins. Usually if they do, they are either very misled about this section, or desperate to throw out anything that might make sin sound acceptable. I think you’ll find your own reading of the section on virgins does not allow what liberals try to slip in. It is a teaching for specific situations, and only refers to being bound into licit and moral relationships.


7: Context in Matthew 19 is only super-liberal divorce:

A common attempt to write off the power of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19 is to claim the context somehow limits him to speaking against liberal divorce. That is because in the opening question, the Pharisees ask Him if it is acceptable to divorce for “just any reason.” (vs. 3) Yet the fact they phrase it this way does nothing to alter the substance of Jesus’ response. If all Jesus had wanted to do was teach against super-liberal divorce, He could have taught – “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder for just any cause.” And He could have skipped entirely calling remarriage adultery.

Yet this is what Jesus did instead: He taught that Moses’ permission to divorce was merely a concession to Israel’s sin, He contrasted that doctrine with God’s actual will at creation. Then He gave a teaching harshly contrasting to what the Pharisees, or His disciples would have liked to hear – that man may not tear apart a marriage, and that apart from fornication, to take another wife is adultery. I see nothing in the opening context to cause me to read those words in any other way. Nor do those words say what this liberal approach says they do, which is to critique liberal divorce. There is no critique of liberal divorce here, but a reestablishing of God’s will at creation.

Moreover, as I point out elsewhere in responding to objections, if all that Jesus was doing was saying – “you can’t divorce for any reason you desire” - the ending of the passage comes off as absurd, and does not fit in at all. The disciples would not have any reason to say – “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (vs. 10) And Jesus would not have any cause to respond with a recommendation of celibacy for those who cannot follow such a marriage doctrine. Those are not words that fit into hearing merely a less liberal teaching on marriage. They are words that fit into hearing a very hard teaching, such as the plain meaning of His words indicate.

If that’s not enough for you, remember Mark 10 contains nearly the exact same teaching, but the question the Pharisees ask is not about divorce “for any cause,” but just about divorce in general. So Jesus teaches the same way apart from that unique facet of the context here. The other powerful marriage teachings, which are in harmony with this one, likewise occur apart from any question about extremely liberal divorce. Therefore, that aspect of Matthew 19 changes nothing in how we should understand Jesus’ doctrine of marriage. It prohibits divorce, and does not permit taking a new spouse.


8: Jesus taught the same as Moses on divorce, so He could not have prohibited it:

The claim that Jesus could not have taught any differently from Moses, and logically could not have prohibited divorce and remarriage because Moses didn’t, is one argument I find strange, and I don’t encounter all the time. It should be noted that some marriage permanence teachers ALSO claim that Jesus only “commented” on Moses, and didn’t really teach differently, and they use that claim to their own aims in defending their doctrine. I think it is a very weak claim either way, but I am specifically addressing it in response to the marriage liberals who use it.

The claim that Jesus just COULD NOT have taught differently from Moses – who clearly allowed divorce – is underpinned by another claim: Jesus taught while the Mosaic Covenant was in force, and would never have taught differently from Moses until the cross happened and the New Covenant came in. Didn’t Jesus teach – not one jot or tittle will disappear from the law until all is fulfilled? (Matthew 5:18) He must not have introduced different teachings then.

But this reasoning is wrong on multiple counts. The main error is that it simply ignores Jesus’ actual words, which clearly are different from Moses. Jesus himself CONTRASTS His teaching from Moses’ teaching, saying “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so,” and then gives points that never are found in the commandments – the marriage is God joined, that man may not tear apart a marriage, that this is God’s will at creation, that to divorce a wife and take another is to commit adultery. These teachings He gives more than once, and the same truths are affirmed and applied in the Epistles.

If Jesus taught the same as Moses, then why did He contrast His teaching, explaining that Moses’ statute was only a concession to Israel’s sin? Why did He then go to Genesis 2 to explain God’s will? If Jesus taught the same as Moses why can you find His teaching NOWHERE among the commandments? Clearly, the New Covenant law regarding marriage is different from the Old Covenant law. Remember those words as the Lord confronts Moses’ teaching: From the beginning it was not so.

How is this possible, since Jesus taught BEFORE the cross and resurrection, and while Mosaic Law was in effect? That’s natural to ask since presumably a Jewish teacher could not teach differently from Moses. However, it is possible, because the New Covenant was being laid down in stages, the teachings of John the Baptist and Jesus being the first stage. Scripture is explicit in this when it teaches that the law was “until John” and after that the kingdom has been proclaimed – John’s ministry and Jesus’ ministry. (Luke 16:16) We also see how the Old Covenant is being superseded during the life of Jesus through His high priesthood. As Hebrews clearly explains, Jesus was able to function as a high priest, even though He came from the tribe of Judah, and priests did not come from Judah according to the Law of Moses. This is because Jesus belonged to a higher priesthood, the order of Melchizedek, to whom Abraham had paid tithes. (Hebrews 7:11-17) In this He can function as High Priest, and offer himself as sacrifice. Hebrews even says this necessitates a “change in the law.” (vs. 12) Jesus strictly speaking did not break the law, because of His higher priesthood, but He functioned above the law through it.

Here’s one level of understanding how Jesus was able to do this: It’s because the “law” does not only refer to the commandments of Moses. The law can also refer to all the revelation, whether from Genesis to Deuteronomy, or through the Prophets as well. That is in part why we see Jesus explaining New Covenant marriage from Genesis 2, and why Paul also goes to Genesis to explain Jesus’ priesthood. While transcending the statutes in the Torah, the Lord is indeed resting on the law, in the sense of resting on all previous revelation. Genesis is a part of the Books of Moses, and it reveals truths beyond the commandments. So in that sense Jesus IS explaining the law in His teaching, and not contradicting it. He draws from all revelation. So does Paul.

So how could Jesus’ teachings – which at times are essentially new – coexist with Moses’ teachings shortly before the Mosaic Covenant faded away? A part of the answer lies in the fact that Jesus did not receive full public and official authority over the Church until the resurrection and ascension. It was at this point He became head over all things to the Church. (Ephesians 1:22) It was at this point that He has official authority over all things in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18) That means His teachings were for a time shortly to come, but would not have had binding authority on all the public of Israel anyway. That would happen at His atonement and resurrection. His teachings would become official over the new people of God at that time. They did not have full covenantal authority over all Israelites, even though they were true and reflected God’s truth. That’s why Jesus says, “until all is fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18) The other part of the answer, as I mentioned earlier, is in the fact that Jesus’ teachings rest on Moses already. They do not rest merely in the commandments, but in the whole of Old Covenant revelation. Jesus is teaching Moses then, and He does so in a fuller sense than we find in the law. He gives us the fullness of God’s revelation.

Understanding the New Covenant is a blessing not just to understanding this doctrine, but others as well. If you let Scripture speak plainly, the New Covenant clearly was birthed in stages, and started before the cross. We see the new teachings being laid down in the earliest stages, even beginning with John the Baptist. We see doctrines regarding both marriage and making vows (Matthew 5:34) that are different from Moses, and which Jesus explicitly contrasts with Moses. We see a “new commandment” to love one another as Christ has loved us. (John 13:34) Remember, Jesus taught the apostles that what they “bind on earth” is bound in heaven, and what they “loose on earth” is loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18) This came before the cross, and referred to their authority, even while the Sanhedrin ruled, and the Pharisees were the accepted religious teachers. Jesus gave His apostles power to forgive sins (John 20:23), even while the Temple stood and people were turning to animals and priests to have their sins covered. We also see what some call the “beginning” of the New Covenant before the cross, in the Last Supper. When Jesus taught – “do this in memory of me” – He both gave a new teaching, and a liturgical practice that would be characteristic and lifegiving to the Church up to the present. (Matthew 26:26-28) It was rooted in a past teaching about the Passover, but it was new, and carried new meaning and unique grace. It occurred before His atoning death.

Then we see the cross – which provided atonement – and the resurrection – which brought us to the newness of life. These would be the sin sacrifice for the New Covenant people as well as their rebirth, much like the original Passover and the passing through the Red Sea, protected Israel from death and brought them into being as a nation. After that, we have the Church become the Spirit-filled Church at Pentecost, taking on a spiritual power and a witness that it did not have until that time – the Spirit indwelt new believers and brought miraculous gifts, which witnessed that this was the power of God, and what the apostles taught was true.

I would even extend the coming of the Church as the New Covenant people of God slightly past the New Testament era, since we see the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, a handful of years after the last letter was written by the apostles. This publicly revealed to the world that there are not two people of God side by side, nor is the Church merely a sect within Judaism. The Jewish priesthood was now gone and the constant sacrifices were finally snuffed out. There is only ONE covenant people, and that is the Church. There is only one atonement and way to eternal life. That had clearly been true before 70 AD, but this was a public witness to it, and affirmed in the eyes of many who God’s people was. Clearly the change from the old people, to the new people, did not happen in several hours at the cross, even if that act is most consequential. The change of people, like the change of covenants, happened step by step. Jesus’ teachings were one of those steps.

Finally, let me return to my original point, which is simple by comparison. We don’t have to fully agree on everything regarding covenants to understand this: that Jesus taught new teachings during His earthly ministry. He taught differently from Moses. We can know this fact by His own words: Jesus contrasts His teaching with Moses – in fact contrasting the underpinnings of His teaching with the underpinnings of Moses’ teachings. Then He teaches a marriage doctrine which you will not find anywhere among the commandments. The fact that people who claim Jesus taught the same as Moses cannot find where in Moses that Moses taught the same, only illustrates powerfully that Jesus’ marriage teaching is not the same. Jesus brought in a new teaching for a new covenant, which was to come more fully in the very near future. In fact, He made marriage more fully picture Christ and His people, and even picture the godhead. Its lifelong nature would reflect the permanent union between Christ and the Church, as well as the perseverance of the Church throughout the ages. This is a new teaching for a new revelation. At the same time, it is rooted in the fullness of all revelation before it.


9: Only the Woman is Bound for Life:

An objection you will hear only occasionally is the claim that the New Testament marriage teachings are limited by gender. They will very foolishly claim we need to, “Follow the Pronouns” to understand marriage. Since certain teachings do indeed mention a woman and not a man being divorced, they conclude that the man may remarry, at least in some circumstances. While the Follow-the-Pronouns objection comes in some variants, one of the commoner ones it to say that a man who has been divorced by his wife is not bound to her, and can remarry, since the Bible does not explicitly mention this one situation. Others may claim more broadly that somehow women are bound in general, and men are not. Either way, one of the reasons you hear this objection infrequently is because it is one of the worst, and many would be embarrassed to make it. Since I have dealt with these people before, and at length, I want to include a response.

There is not a limitation by sex on what the New Testament teaches on marriage. Both man and wife are bound for life, and neither man nor wife may remarry. The gender objection rests heavily on the fact that the NT doesn’t mention every possible divorce and remarriage situation, so there must be certain situations that fall outside of its coverage. Yet the NT does not need to mention every possible situation, since the truths it gives make clear that the teaching is broad, is for everyone, and covers both sexes. The reason why some of the teachings specifically mention a man sending away a wife, or a wife being bound for life, is because men divorcing wives was the much more common situation. Few women in that day initiated divorce, and it would have been much harder for them to get by without their husbands. The Bible is speaking to the normal situation of the day, although at times it DOES speak to both genders.

Marriage being fully binding for both sexes makes sense of the covenantal nature of marriage. A covenant in general is binding on both parties. It also makes sense of why remarriage is called adultery; this term applies since if one of the partners takes another partner, they commit adultery because they are already married to someone else. There is consistent logic there. It is the lifelong covenant that does not allow remarriage. In contrast, if one assumes a man can take a new partner (at least in some situations) and a woman cannot, it becomes arbitrary to call the act of remarriage adultery. If there is not really a binding covenant, then a woman remarrying is certainly not adultery either. Neither one is adultery. Yet if there is a covenant, it is adultery for both partners. That means the covenantal sense behind marriage teaching would get destroyed, where a unique situation for the divorced man demands that special rules now apply to covenants. Suddenly they only function one way. Where does that come from, if not wishful thinking? I must add though, that’s no stranger logic than the argument that the “innocent party” in adultery can remarry, but the other sins if they do. Both claims destroy any consistent covenantal logic behind New Testament marriage teachings.

We can know that we don’t need to “follow the pronouns” first because Jesus speaks directly to the nature of marriage BEFORE He mentions the woman being divorced in Matthew 19. He also speaks to the nature of marriage in Mark 10. He establishes that God’s will at creation is different from the teaching in Moses, and that what God has joined together in marriage, man may not separate. These are truths which transcend gender, or the mention of the wife in the teaching He subsequently gives in Matthew 19. He mentions this general truth before He mentions the wife.

We can also see that various teachings in the New Testament mention both sexes. In Mark 10, Jesus says that both man and wife commit adultery if they divorce their spouse and marry another. 1 Corinthians 7 specifically teaches both man and wife not to depart from their spouse. Luke 16:18 speaks of both the man sending away and the woman being sent away committing adultery if they remarry. If all of these mention BOTH sexes why should we assume there is a limitation by sex in the NT marriage teachings? It makes little sense.

One final test would be that in one passage we see that both genders are mentioned, and in another passage teaching the same principle, only one is mentioned. That proves we cannot assume that one gender is intended in the doctrine and not the other. For example, if Mark 10 speaks of both man and wife committing adultery if they remarry (vs. 11-12), and Romans 7 speaks only of the woman committing adultery (vs. 2-3), we can understand that the mention of only the wife at times does not limit it to only the wife. Both spouses are mentioned elsewhere. The same is true when we see 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 - which teaches that neither man or wife may depart from their spouse – and also see that only the wife is said to be bound in 1 Corinthians 7:39. The Holy Spirit does not limit us to gender when He at times only mentions one sex in these teachings. He is speaking to what was the normal, by far most common situation of the day.

That means that while it’s true not every single divorce situation is mentioned in Scripture, we confidently know that men may not remarry just as women may not remarry. We can know this through the broad teaching on the nature of marriage that Jesus gives, prior to mentioning one gender. We can know it from the fact that both man and wife are mentioned in multiple situations. We can know if from the fact that passages teaching the same doctrine at times use one sex, and at times both. Moreover, claiming the lifelong marriage bond only applies one way violates any consistent understandings of covenants. The argument by gender is a poor attempt to justify remarriage, even if only in limited situations, and seems to be wishful thinking on the part of the guys out there. Some of you reading this likely have not heard that argument before, but I want you to be aware of it, and benefit by knowing why it is so poor. We don’t just follow the pronouns when we read the Bible. We follow all the other words too.


10: I Wasn’t a Believer when I Married:

The idea that the binding nature of marriage does not apply to nonbelievers appeals to a multitude. It allows them to wipe marriages clean off the record for just about any reason. If one, or both of the parties wasn’t a believer, then goodbye. The marriage was not binding. The Catholic Church actually uses this reason for a number of annulments, sometimes putting it under the category of Pauline Privilege, even though it falls under a different category. If a Catholic priest wasn’t there, they just can’t be sure it was a real marriage to begin with. They can declare it void. If one spouse was a Protestant, it must not be real.

Yet this ever popular excuse for committing what Jesus calls adultery does not pass the test of the Bible. The plain text, and the general principles of Scripture easily refute it. Marriages are by their nature binding, not just the marriages of Christians. We can know this in part because we know that the moral law applies to all and can be known to all. Romans 1 and 2 teach that man knows about the law of God in his heart, and will be held accountable. Romans 1 specifically ends stating that the nonbeliever knows a variety of sins are worthy of death, but both does them and approves of others who do them. (vs. 29-32) Romans 2 teaches that the pagan has a form of the law on his heart, so that alongside the Jew – who has the law in the Torah – he will be held accountable. He will be judged by God for his sins. (vs. 12-16)

We also see examples of non-believers being held morally accountable. One of the clearest, as it pertains to marriage law and morality, is with King Herod. Herod is commanded to repent of an immoral marriage by John the Baptist. (Matthew 14:3-4) He is not released from moral responsibility because he is not a believer. This is most relevant because it shows a nonbeliever not only held accountable, but held accountable to marriage doctrine. Regarding sin generally, we also see pagan kings judged for their evil (Ezekiel 28:2-10), and pagan tribes destroyed because of their centuries of committing sin. (Deuteronomy 7:1-5) Therefore, we should not expect that the unbeliever is above the moral law, or that it only applies to believing Israelites, or later Christians. The moral law, including in marriage, is for all mankind.

Not only that, but the root of God’s will concerning marriage is in the creation itself. Jesus points to this by citing Genesis 2 in establishing that marriage is for life, and teaching that man may not separate it. The creation is a long time before the Torah, or before the New Testament. Yet this is when God revealed His will regarding marriage, - Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” (vs. 24) - and gave it to Adam and Eve to live by. It applied to them, and by extension to all mankind. Marriage by natural law, and marriage in the Bible are the same – two become one flesh for life. This applies to all.

We can also know that marriage is binding to the unbeliever because of the broad language used by Jesus and Paul. In Matthew 19, Jesus speaks of “whoever,” not of “whatever Israelite,” or “whatever disciple of mine.” He says, “Whoever divorces his wife . . . and married another commits adultery. Whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” He is clearly speaking of anyone who gets married, and teaches they may not divorce, and that they commit adultery if they remarry. When Jesus teaches “let not man separate,” He says “man,” which is the Greek word anthropos, meaning a human being, whether male or female. Likewise, both Jesus and Paul in their marriage teachings speak broadly of man and woman, husband and wife, not of Israelite man and woman or Christian husband and wife. We can see that these teachings themselves are moral laws for all, and there is no language that would limit them only to groups of believers.

That means that when modern Christians claim their remarriage was justified because they had married as an unbeliever before, they are making up an irrational excuse. They are vainly trying to justify their sin. If the case were that they were kidnapped as a child, and sold tragically to abusers who forced them to marry, we could talk about a marriage not being binding. Yet this is not the case with nearly any western Christian. They have legitimate marriages which they just did not want to stay in, because trouble came to the marriage, or because they sought happiness elsewhere. They are being unfaithful to God, and to their spouse. They might be living with another partner right now, but in God’s eyes, they have a covenant with their first and only spouse. Their new marriage is a sham. It can never be what a marriage actually is. They need to repent of that adultery, and if the Lord allows it, return to their covenant spouse. God joins unbelievers together for life, just as He joins us all.


David Married Bathsheba and Got to Stay Married:

You sometimes hear believers using David and Bathsheba as an alleged justification for Christians being able to sin: If David did it, and he didn’t go to hell, maybe I can commit immorality as well. That’s a sad favorite. Once in a while marriage liberals try their hand at the King David excuse, and argue it this way: David married the wife of another man, and he stayed married with her without being condemned by God for it. That means I can stay in my remarriage too. Jesus may call it “adultery,” but He will allow it just as God allowed David to stay married to Bathsheba.

The fact that someone would even try this argument shows how zealously mankind desires to sin. It takes true desperation, and commitment to one’s sin to point to this situation from 2 Samuel and use it as an excuse. Clearly, David’s situation with Bathsheba does not justify remarriage in the least. Firstly, remarriage is never condemned in the Covenant of Moses, under which David lived, and divorce was permitted. (Deuteronomy 24:1-2) We are in the law of Christ now, and not under Moses. The law of marriage has changed since David.

Most significantly though, is that Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was no longer living at that point. (2 Samuel 11:16-17, 27) That means that even in the New Covenant, living with Bathsheba was not adulterous. Her husband was deceased. True, it may be tasteless (to say the least) to marry the woman whose husband you had killed, but according to definitions, it is not adultery. So how can David remaining married to Bathsheba justify staying in a marriage to someone with a living spouse today? There is no meaningful comparison between the two acts, and David’s behavior affects New Covenant doctrine not in the least.


For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband.

So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.

Romans 7:2-3


Lastly, remember that David was severely punished for his adultery while Bathsheba’s husband was still alive, as well as his conspiracy to murder him. According to the words of the prophet, David lost a child as a baby as divine punishment (2 Samuel 12:14), and had his wives taken away. (12:11) Those are only some of the earthly consequences of the evil of adultery, and its natural results today continue to bring misery. Don’t look to David’s adultery as an excuse for your own sin. Death and heartache come together with the sin of adultery.


I’ve come to the end of this discussion of remarriage. Thank you for listening. Do you still think men can continue to live in what God calls adultery?