Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Piper and Re-marriage

I have been reading John Piper's (2006) book "What Jesus Demands of the World". This is an excellent read, presenting Jesus' authoritative commands to us and urging us to God-glorifying obedience. The book consists of 50 demands, starting with #1 You must be born again and ending with #50 Make disciples of all nations. Any Christian will profit greatly from reflecting upon these.

Several demands concern marriage: #40 (What God has joined together let no man separate, for marriage mirrors God's covenant with us), #41 (Whoever divorces and marries another commits adultery), and #42 (One man, one woman, by grace, till death).

Piper argues that, according to Jesus, marriage is a great work of God and a sacred covenant breakable only by death (p.301). Jesus set a higher standard for marital faithfulness than Moses; he did not affirm the permission of Deuteronomy 24 (p. 307). According to Piper, the "porneia" in the exception clause of Matt.19:9 refers to sexual immorality before the consummation of marriage. Hence, once married, there are no valid grounds for divorce, let alone re-marriage. Marriage is for life.

Reacting to such high standards, the disciples replied, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry" (Matt.19:10) for, as Piper comments, "if there is no back door to marriage, it is better not to walk through the front door" (p.317).

I believe that Piper makes a convincing biblical case against divorce and re-marriage.

Less convincing to me is Piper's practical advice on how to deal with actual cases of divorce and re-marriage. Piper contends that the couple should confess that the act of re-marriage was a sin, and seek forgiveness, but to continue in the second marriage. In effect, however, this allows for divorce and re-marriage for any reason--as long as one later repents. This seems to undermine Piper's previous principial arguments for life-long commitment: in practise there is, after all, an easily-accessible back door out of any marriage.

Piper lists several grounds. The most pertinent is his contention that covenant keeping is crucial to Jesus; therefore, even though the current covenant is adulterous in the making, it is real and should be kept (p.321).

This rationale seems flawed. Since covenant keeping is crucial to Jesus, and since Jesus teaches that marriage is for life, surely this underscores the necessity of keeping the vows of one's first marriage. Further, if re-marriage constitutes adultery then the vows involved in re-marriage amount to no more than sinful vows to commit adultery. Sinful vows are to be repented of, rather than kept. They are certainly not to be elevated so as to trump one's earlier, God-honouring, "till death do us part" marital vows.

Of course, pastorally, it is much easier to follow Piper's pragmatic advice then to void the re-marriage. Nevertheless, if, as Piper maintains, marriage is indeed a sacred covenant breakable only by death, then it would seem that re-marriage has no more validity than bigamy. If that be the case, how can the church possibly acknowledge such re-marriage as legitimate?


Winston Ewert said...

The second marriage is, as you mention, adultery. The wronged spouse in the original relationship then has the justification for a divorce. By the time the repentance comes, the original marriage has been nulled and voided.

In that context, it makes sense to require faithfulness to the new marriage.

john byl said...

Hi Winston

The difficulty is that Piper argues:

"Jesus sees marrying a second time as adultery, even if you are the innocent party in the divorce"(p.310).

In other words, adultery does not annul the original marriage.

For a similar argument see the on-line paper by the Lutheran Arne Rudvin,"What Jesus said about divorce and remarriage": http://www.marriagedivorce.com/rudvin.pdf

Rudvin, like Piper, concludes:

"In Matthew 19.9 Jesus thus gives his authoritative interpretation of “an indecent thing” in Deuteronomy 24.1. He says that a divorce or an annulment of a marriage is only
permissible when the marriage was based on false grounds and therefore not valid. On the other hand, a marriage legitimately entered into cannot be dissolved, and to divorce and remarry after a legitimate first marriage is to keep on committing adultery against the first spouse(even if both spouses do the same). This is what the Christian church has taught from the beginning."

Rudvin traces the acceptance of remarriage to Erasmus.

Rudvin, unlike Piper, follows through with consistent pastoral advice:

"What then about the one who is divorced and remarried? That is an even harder issue. The answer can only be that he or she must do penance. That is to say, get out of the situation, discontinue the relationship."

Anonymous said...

"According to Piper, the "porneia" in the exception clause of Matt.19:9 refers to sexual immorality before the consummation of marriage."

John, can you please explain a bit how Piper comes to this conclusion, specifically why it only refers to sexual immorality 'before' marriage ?

What would his pastoral advice be for women who are physically beaten up by their husbands, or husbands repeatingly commiting adultery ? Not divorce, but "skeiding van tafel en bed" (seperation?) or what ?

ps. Just another reason why I am also a theonomist: death penalty for adulterers, which will release the unguilty party to remarry again, and not live in hell with a husband continuing a adulterous life and get away with it, the children and wife being the greatest victims.
I believe death penalty for adulterers would also honor the 'marriage bed' again in our godless society (Hebr.13:4), and scare off many of the related 'social ills' our churches and societies are confronted with.

Yes, we must also be mercyful, but not more mercyful than the Lord as He expressed in His law and gospel.

john byl said...

Piper (pp.312-316) notes:

1. That the exception clause is only in Matthew (5:32; 19:9) not in Mark 10:11-12 or Luke 16:18.

2.That Matthew uses "porneia" instead of "moicheia" (adultery). If Matthew meant adultery, why not use moicheia? In Matt.15:19 Matthew uses both words, implying Matthew sees porneia as different from adultery.

3.In Matt.1:18-20 Joseph resolves to divorce Mary, even though they were only betrothed, presumably on account of her assumed porneia. Matthew calls Joseph just, so presumably such divorce was permitted according to Matthew. This is consistent with Matthew's exception clause. This story is not found in Mark or Luke.

Rudvin notes that Matthew was written particularly to the Jews, who would have interpreted this within the context of Deut. 21-24 (particularly 21: 13-21 and 24:1-4), which refers to the case where a man finds out that the woman he married was not a virgin. In this case the marriage is invalid since it was based on fraud.

Neither Piper nor Rudvin discuss cases of physical abuse or repeated adultery. Presumably they might advocate separation, but not remarriage.

Phil said...

I'm sure you won't be surprised by this:

Westminster Confession Chap. XXIV. (Of Marriage and Divorce.) V. Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract.(l) In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce:(m) and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.(n)

(l) Matt. 1:18, 19, 20.
(m) Matt. 5:31, 32.
(n) Matt. 19:9; Rom. 7:2, 3.

Rommy Rempas said...

Yes I agree that Piper argument that after realising remarriage is a sin that the remarriage couple should remain in that situation contradicts with his belief that it is adultery. You cannot go half way in my opinion. The term marriage for life itself contradicts God’s approval of the second marriage while the previous spouse is still alive. I think Piper or many others realised the truth but they have to make compromise because of other opinions from the church where they come from.

Henry said...

John Piper gives some reasons why they should not break up a second marriage:

There are several reasons for why I believe this:

1) First, back in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, where the permission for divorce was given in the law of Moses, it speaks of the divorced woman being “defiled” in the second marriage so that it would be an abomination for her to return to her first husband, even if her second husband died. This language of defilement is similar to Jesus’ language of adultery. And yet the second marriage stood. It was defiling in some sense, yet it was valid.

2) Another reason I think remarried couples should stay together is that when Jesus met the woman of Samaria, he said to her, “You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18). When Jesus says, “The one you have now is not your husband,” he seems to imply that the other five were. Not that it’s right to divorce and marry five times. But the way Jesus speaks of it, it sounds as though he saw them as real marriages. Illicit. Adulterous to enter into, but real. Valid.

3) And the third reason I think remarried couples should stay together is that even vows that should not be made, once they are made, should generally be kept. I don’t want to make that absolute, but there are passages in the Bible that speak of vows being made that should not have been made, but were right to keep (like Joshua’s vow to the Gibeonites in Joshua 9). God puts a very high value on keeping our word, even where it gets us in trouble (“[The godly man] swears to his own hurt and does not change,” Psalm 15:4). In other words, it would have been more in keeping with God’s revealed will not to remarry, but adding the sin of another covenant breaking does not please God more.1

There are marriages in this church that are second marriages for one or both partners which, in my view should not have happened, and are today godly marriages—marriages which are clean and holy, and in which forgiven, justified husbands and wives please God by the way they relate to each other. As forgiven, cleansed, Spirit-led followers of Jesus, they are not committing adultery in their marriage. It began as it should not have, and has become holy.


Unknown said...

Humanism is one of the primary reasons behind the twisting of the word of God on divorce and remarriage. The word of the Lord is so clear on this matter and definitely is inhumane compared to the current standard in the world, and even His disciple could not believe it back then and said it is not good or not worth to marry if that’s the case (Mat 19:10). Those who are running or leading the churches nowadays (actually starting from the 1500 initiated by Erasmus) also do not have the heart to be that cruel even just saying the plain truth as told by our Lord Christ on this matter.

Unknown said...

This blog must be read, this will add light to those who has arguments in thier married life.

Reasons for arguments in married life