I am not being bad, I promise. I am being serious. In fact, I want to lay some serious groundwork first, to prove that I am being serious. I am being serious, guys.
My topic here has to do with the potential lawfulness of remarriage after divorce, and secondarily, if a remarriage after divorce happens in fact to be unlawful in the eyes of God, what kind of unlawful it is. As I set out my premises, I am doing so simply to review what I have argued for elsewhere.
First, marriage takes place when two conditions are fulfilled. The first is when there is a recognized covenant, and the second is when the union is sexually consummated. Marriage is defined in Scripture as a covenant union relating to a one-flesh union.
Second, I want to make a distinction between adultery as crime and adultery as sin. Adultery as crime is a punishable violation of marriage vows, such that the guilty parties face a civil consequence. But are there instances of adultery that are sinful, but not actionable at law? Yes, there are several instances of this in Scripture. One would be lust. Jesus says that to lust after a woman is tantamount to adultery in God’s sight, but the lusts of the heart are not something the civil courts are competent to deal with. The Tenth Commandment has no penalties attached. Another form of adultery that is sinful but not criminal is when a hard-hearted man divorces his wife and marries another. Jesus expressly says that this is not criminal, and explains why God did not make it criminal.
Third, the difference between those who say that remarriage after divorce is not a genuine marriage at all, but is rather adultery, and those who say that a second marriage after a divorce (even when unlawfully done) constitutes a genuine marriage, is a difference over the very nature of marriage. On one view, marriage is metaphysical marriage (MM) and on the other view it it covenant marriage (CM). A metaphysical union is indissoluble and a covenant union is not. Covenants have terms, and thus can be broken. A metaphysical union just is. Thus a man who divorced his wife for no good reason, married another, and was then converted to Christ ten years later, could recognize that his current marriage was adulterously formed back then, and yet remains a genuine marriage now. But if he divorced his second wife to make amends, he is trying to unscramble the egg by breaking another egg.
Fourth, the fact that we can learn some things about the nature of marriage from polygamous marriages in no way constitutes an approval of polygamous unions. God created one man and one woman in the beginning. Christ has one bride, the Christian Church. Christian leaders are required to be one-woman men. God’s pattern is clearly monogamy, and so polygamous unions are substandard unions, not reflecting God’s creation design. But polygamous marriages are still recognizable marriages, in the same way that a badly drawn triangle can be a recognizable triangle. Homosexual “marriages” are like a circular triangle, a contradiction in terms. It is the difference between a deficient marriage and an un-marriage. That said, we can learn things about monogamous marriage from what God required in polygamous settings. For example, when an Israelite man took a second wife, he was prohibited from robbing his first wife of her due, and he he owed her was full closets, full cupboards, and full arms (Ex. 21:10). Thus a husband who has no intention of ever taking a second wife can learn something of his responsibilities to his one and only wife.
Having set this out, the outline of my argument is straightforward. MM is a view that could only develop after the monogamous view of marriage had largely prevailed in Western culture. If we try to place MM in the context of the Old Testament, we find ourselves defending absurdities. But of course, if MM is correct, it would have to function equally well in polygamous societies as in monogamous. But it doesn’t.
Many examples could be multiplied. But here is one:
“And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife” (Gen. 16:3).
Now Hagar was a wife with fewer rights, a concubine in effect, but she was nevertheless Abram’s wife. The word used here is ishah, the word used earlier in Genesis to describe Eve when given to Adam. Sarai, Abram’s ishah, took her handmaid Hagar, and gave her to Abram to be his ishah. Whatever Sarai was, Hagar was also.
The question before us is this. Can a man have two wives? (Again, I am not asking if he should. I am asking if he can.) In the Old Testament, he was certainly capable of having two wives simultaneously, and the Bible describes second wives as wives. Not as mistresses, or fornication partners, but as wives. But in our current debates, the MM position is forced by definition to say that a man cannot have two wives serially — the second one is considered to be no true wife at all. The first union formed is the only marriage union that can be formed, and all other unions are perpetually illegitimate.
But this means that the position is forced to argue that a polygamist is not an adulterer, and that a man married to a second wife today is an adulterer. Thus if Bob marries Suzy, and then later adds Sally, he is not committing adultery. But if Bob marries Suzy, later puts her away, and then marries Sally, according to the position he is committing adultery, and must divorce Sally to get out of the adultery. But as the logic-rot of Obergefell continues to work its way through our culture, we are not that far away from polygamy becoming fully legal. When that happens, could Bob get out of the adultery simply by marrying Suzy again?
If an advocate of MM wants to avoid such absurdities, he has to say that taking a second wife, even in the time of the Old Testament, was adulterous. But the problem with that is how the Bible describes such women as wives. But if MM is true, how could they be wives? And if they are wives, how are second wives (in our day) not wives equally?
In short, God takes us from where we are, and not from where we should have been. If there have been broken covenants in our past, we must repent and receive forgiveness for what we have done. But having received that forgiveness, we are not to compound the problems our sin caused by trying to fix them on a false principle.