Saturday, July 17, 2010


You are a member of a small group/fellowship. Jim, one of your fellow members was divorced by his wife who remarried, leaving Jim to raise the five children. Five years later, she was divorced by her second husband and now wants to return to her first husband - something that Jim has prayed for all along. Quoting Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the fellowship leader advised Jim that, according to Scripture, this was not possible - with the result that now Jim is beside himself with grief and is contemplating suicide. Was the leader right or wrong? Give reasons.

When I was a college student at College of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, I was hired as an Assistant Resident Director in the dormitory in which I lived. One of my responsibilities was to "enforce" something called "Quiet Hours." This was a rule, regulation, or law that provided a period of reasonable quiet time for study and sleep in the dorm, but was only applicable during "final's week." In American colleges, final's week was when the final exams were taken for the courses. This was a semester-by-semester deal. Therefore, the "Quiet Hours" period was a circumstantial, or situational, rule within the dorm.

During the Quiet Hours at the end of each semester, while each student labored with sweaty brows, moist palms, and dry lips over the final examinations, there could be no horsing around, rough housing, loud music, fighting, raucous card games, or anything else that would break one's concentration while trying to cram for the finals. Sleep was also to be respected. Every student was aware of the situational or circumstantial Quiet Hours and the resultant monetary fine for violating the dormitory's law.

The important thing that has to be considered as an Assistant Residential Director in enforcing this dorm law is that specific conditions had to be in place before I could enforce this dorm rule. First of all, it had to be final's week. If it was in the middle of the semester, a Friday night, the dorm was half-empty anyway, and a dorm student was having a little party with friends, then the Quiet Hours did not apply. The mid-semester dorm party could go all night, conceivably. If it was final's week, if it was past eleven in the evening and before seven in the morning (each school's dorms had different regulations), then the Quiet Hours rule or dorm law applied. The conditions had to be exact to apply the Quiet Hours' law. Mid-semester had different conditions than the end of semester.
The same is true concerning the Deuteronomy 24:1-4 text in the above-quoted scenario. Verses 1-3 give conditions for which divorce regulations apply. Verse 4 gives the law that applies in the condition of divorce. I believe the text can be understood in this way:

Divorce is not condemned. (I personally would use Matthew 5:32, 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; I Corinthians 7:10-11 in conjunction with the Deuteronomy passage in a counseling situation. However, in this Old Testament text, the condition for a divorce was as simple as the husband finding no more favor in the wife.)

A condition for remarriage, however, is applied in the event of a divorce. If a man put away his wife and she remained unmarried and then reconciliation occurs, then the two could remarry. A condition forbidding the remarriage would be if the wife had married another person, the new husband put her away or he died, and she tried to remarry her first divorced partner; then there is a problem of defilement.

The Deuteronomy text's regulation or law governing divorce targets the partner who put away his or her partner, the one who was put away remarried and later divorced, or his/her new partner died, and then the one who put the partner away wanted to remarry the former partner. In other words, if two people divorced and later reconciled, remarriage would be ok. If two people divorced, and one partner remarried and lost that new partner through death or another divorce, that one partner could not be reconciled and remarried to his or her original partner. It would be an abomination. Under the New Covenant, the conditions are even more stringent. Exact conditions had to be met before the concession of divorce would apply (see my dorm analogy above).

In the Matthew and Mark texts, Jesus tells us that the only grounds for a biblical divorce is impenitent sexual immorality. If a partner puts away his or her spouse because of unrepentant sexual immorality, he or she is free to remarry another believer - just as those believers who are put away (forsaken) by an unbelieving spouse (See I Cor. 7).
"And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." (Matt. 19:9 ESV)

In the case in the scenario, presuming that Jim's wife put him away for something other than sexual immorality, and then married another, she committed adultery. She is an adulterer. She has, according to the Deuteronomy text, defiled herself in the second marriage, in addition to being an adulterer.

I believe Jim was told the correct advice about remarrying his original wife by the small group leader in the scenario. Though someone might argue that the Deuteronomy text might not apply since it was Jim's wife who put him away and then she remarried, while in the scenario Jim appeared not to remarry, I think in principle it does apply. She defiled herself in remarrying someone else, was divorced from the second husband, and is an adulteress.
I would advise Jim to seek help from the church elders regarding his emotional state and have someone with him at all times until he could get some control over his mental heaviness.