Accustomed to "Divorce" Procedure
Tim Haile

March 06, 2003

   People grow accustomed to things being done a certain way. Centuries-old practices and customs become ingrained as a part of our very psyche. Concrete word associations often develop, in which it becomes impossible to think of any application of a word apart from what society has assigned, and to which we were made accustomed. In such cases, simply saying that particular word conjures the image of whatever practice or procedure has been associated with the word. Too, words themselves change their meaning, adopting the meaning attached to them by tradition and society. This is often harmless. However, God has already defined some words. In these cases, we must always default to God's definitions. We are not permitted to disregard His will in deference to the customs of society and culture. Christians must view God as sovereign. His concepts must be defined by His terms in His way.

Accustomed To Idols

   Paul reminded the Corinthians of the cultural impact of idolatry in the lives of some. He wrote,

   "Howbeit there is not in all men that knowledge: but some, being used until now to the idol, eat as of a thing sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled" (1 Cor. 8:7, ASV).

   "It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled" (1 Cor. 8:7, RSV).

   The American Standard Version uses the language that some were "used to the idol." The Old King James speaks of them "having conscience of the idol." The Revised Standard (along with the NASB and NIV), speak of the Corinthians being "accustomed to the idol." Observe what had happened to some Corinthians. Being raised in an idolatrous climate had caused them to accept idols as a reality. Their long time association with idolatry had made them accustomed to it. They were used to idols because they had grown up with them. As a result, they "were led away unto these dumb idols" (1 Cor. 12:2). Paul's convictions led him to conclude that there was only one God (1 Cor. 8:4). However, to some Corinthians, mention of the word "god" was suggestive of "many (pagan) gods" (1 Cor. 8:5). What made their understanding different from Paul's? As he said, they had become accustomed to thinking that way. Their society had shaped their beliefs, and they were wrong as a result.

The Present Divorce Climate

   It is obvious that most people, including many Christians, are accustomed to identifying marriage and divorce with civil court procedure. To most people, the very mention of the words "marriage" and "divorce" conjure images of a courthouse, with its lawyers, judges, documents and procedures. In fact, the words "divorce" and "courthouse" are inseparable in the minds of many. Just as the Corinthians were accustomed to thinking of "idols" when they heard the word "god" (Acts 17:29), many people in our society automatically think of "civil court procedures" when they think of marriage and divorce. What has caused them to think this way? Have they been so instructed in God's word? Are there biblical statements directly linking the marriage bond to civil court procedures? What about "divorce?" Are there passages that specify civil law procedures as the only means by which a person may sunder his marriage or repudiate a mate? Every honest student of the Scriptures knows the answer - it is "no"! In the absence of any Scripture, to what, then, do we attribute this linkage? 1 Corinthians 8:7 provides the answer. Men have become accustomed to think of marriage and divorce as legal actions. They have now grown so familiar with the practice that they are uncomfortable with any suggestion that the two are not inherently connected. Much of the present controversy over biblical putting away is the result of people being unable or unwilling to disassociate court rulings from divine acknowledgement and approval. A brief historical review will help the reader understand what has gone wrong.

The Relationship Between Civil Law and Divine Law

   It is quite easy to see why some are having trouble distinguishing between divine law and civil procedures on the subjects of marriage and divorce. For many years this country witnessed considerable harmony between God's laws and man's laws on the subjects of marriage and divorce. The reason being, this country was once influenced by God-fearing men who had general respect for God and His word. The marital choices and decisions of Bible conscious people were generally accommodated by the extant civil court procedures. Human law and divine law ran a fairly parallel course. I do wish to emphasize the word "parallel." I use the word parallel because federal and state legislatures and courts have never been synonymous with divine will and legislation. Civil courts and judges have no role in interpreting and applying Scripture. Neither are they the arbiters of when and where divine liberties and other forms of divine authority are applied. According to Romans 13:1-4, God ordains civil authority for the purpose of praising those who do well and for punishing those who do evil. God did not ordain civil government as an institution for legislating on His other institutions!

Civil Law, Divine Law, Marriage and Divorce

   Subsequent to, and coordinate with the rise of Secularism, our country's divorce laws have undergone dramatic change. Whereas those laws once reflected the general sentiment of the Scriptures, they no longer do. They are at complete odds with one another. Jesus approved of only one kind of putting away - one in which an innocent mate puts away his spouse for the cause of sexual immorality (Matt. 19:9). Today's courts echo the sentiment of 1st century Pharisees. Laws have been passed permitting divorce for any cause, or no cause at all (cp. Matt. 19:3,7). On the subject of divorce, man's laws are no longer generally running on a parallel course with God's, they are on a collision course. When questioned about divorce, Jesus expressed His concern about one's cause for putting away his mate, not the procedure. Again, as the first century Pharisees, who questioned Jesus, were not concerned about the cause that God gives for the reason for divorce, neither are our modern day courts. And our brethren, in pressing the requirement for civil divorce-procedure, like the Pharisees of old, who were not concerned about God's cause for divorce, make the right of remarriage contingent upon the divorce procedure, rather than upon the God-given cause. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their hardness of heart. Let us not be guilty with the Pharisees of focusing more on divorce procedure than we do on divorce cause.


   Civil court pronouncements do not determine the right of remarriage for the innocent. Judges, many of whom are secularistic, humanistic, godless, immoral, and ignorant of the Scriptures, are not the arbiters or dispensers of marital rights. Control of the marriage bond is exclusively in God's hands. It is not in the hands of the courts. God's treatment of the marriage bond is what determines the right of remarriage, and He has been quite clear as to who is loosed from that bond. 1). The death of one's spouse looses him from the marriage bond, allowing the right of remarriage (Rom. 7:2). 2). Fornication, committed by one's spouse, allows the innocent the scriptural basis to put away (repudiate, dismiss, leave) the guilty. A direct statement in Matthew 19:9 permits the innocent to put away his sexually immoral mate and remarry. These two people, the one whose mate has deceased, and the one who repudiates his mate for sexual immorality, are the only two people scripturally authorized to remarry.

   Let us not attribute to civil governments more authority than divinely bestowed. Let us not allow human courts to define divine institutions, or become the arbiters of the dispensing of divine liberties. They have been given no such authority. Anything we do in compliance with civil laws relating to marriage and divorce, we do in addition to, not instead of, God's requirements or allowances. We must obey God rather than men. And God's authority is expressed in more ways than just commands. It is also expressed in approved examples, necessary inferences, and direct statements. Our respect for God's authority must supercede our respect for the contrivances of mere men.

Tim Haile

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