One area of disagreement with John Piper that I discovered in What Jesus Demands from the World is in the area of divorce and remarriage. This is an important issue in our day, particularly as we see the utter confusion regarding very public divorces among Christians. We really do need to better understand and apply what Jesus says about divorce and remarriage (both directly and through His apostles and prophets- see 2 Timothy 3 to remember that ALL Scripture is useful in this regard).
Piper proposes a view that I have not heard before. In seminary I wrote a paper on the subject, using Carl Laney as the representative of the view that there is to be no remarriage after divorce. This is a view I held as a young Christian, and argued harshly for much to my shame. I believe, based on Matthew 5:31 & 19:8-9, as well as 1 Corinthians 7, that there are biblical grounds for divorce, and that when those grounds are met, the “innocent” party is free to marry again.
Piper points to the fact that the other gospel accounts do not include an exception. Matthew is the only one that includes the exception. He points for the reason for this exception in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. He argues that this explains how Joseph could be a righteous/just man while considering to put a pregnant Mary away for what he thought was sexual immorality. As a result, Piper thinks that the use of porneia here is limited to sexual sin during the period of betrothment or engagement. Your marriage has not been consummated, no vows have been taken, and you are free to marry (not again, since you were only engaged, not married).
This view would mean that all divorce would be sin, and all remarriage after divorce would be sin. If you had remarried, he would advocate remaining in that marriage instead of compounding your sin with another divorce.
I don’t think his argument holds up exegetically. It would assume too many leaps and assumptions on the part of the listeners/readers. In both instances, the issue is trying to understand the use of porneia (in the Greek translation of the Hebrew text) of Deuteronomy 24. Porneia is a general term for sexual sin which includes, but is not limited to, adultery. Adultery is not the only sexual sin that may be grounds for divorce.
There were a number of sexual sins in the Old Testament that were punishable by death (these included rape, premarital sex in some cases, and bestiality). In the days of Jesus, the Jews were not able to execute the death penalty. So, what was a person to do if their spouse was guilty of adultery or any of these other sins? Normally the marriage would be over due to death and the person free to marry. I agree with Sinclair Ferguson, and others, who argues that these sexual sins are grounds for divorce, and the ‘innocent’ party is free to remarry. Justin Taylor lays out Andreas Kostenberger’s similar argument, with help from Tim Challies in this chart (I can’t get rid of the big space).
|Differences of Views||Shammai||Hillel||Jesus|
|OT background texts for marriage||Deut. 24:1-4||Deut. 24:1-4||Gen. 1:27; 2:24|
|Meaning of porneia||Immodest behavior or sexual immorality||Any instance where a wife did something displeasing to her husband||Immoral behavior on the part of the spouse, including, but not restricted to, adultery (majority view; see Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3, 6, 8, 9)|
|Divorce for porneia||Required||Required||Permitted|
|The application of the standard for divorce and remarriage||Men only||Men only||Both men and women|
I would argue that such sexual sin before marriage, hidden from your spouse could possibly be a grounds for divorce. For instance, you discover your spouse was a prostitute, stripper, child abuser, etc. prior to your marriage this may be grounds for divorce as we see in Deuteronomy 22:13-21. This is something I am not adamant about, and I could be off base, extending Deuteronomy 22 too far.
But let us not forget the words of Jesus, the real reason for divorce is the hardness of hearts! In some cases it is the hardness of heart on the part of the person who refuses to repent of their sexual sin (adultery, pornography, exhibitionism etc.). The divorce may occur because this person refuses to repent and put away their sinful behavior and restore fidelity.
In some cases it is the hardness of heart on the part of the person who refuses to forgive the other of their sexual sin. They are unable to move ahead, extending grace to another repentant sinner.
What Jesus wants from us in marriage is a commitment to repent of our sin and to forgive our spouses of their sin. When we don’t do this, our hearts become hard. Then, whether we have biblical grounds or not, we entertain the notion of divorce. When we do this we tell a lie about the gospel and the relationship between Jesus and His Bride, the Church. We are saying that the gospel is not sufficient to change our hearts. We are saying that God is not gracious and merciful. We are saying that God does not keep His covenant promises. So, our sin is greater than merely a divorce but speaking lies about God.
This is not the unforgivable sin. But in this case, and others, it is not better to ask forgiveness than permission.
Other great resources on this issue would include:
God, Marriage and Family by Andreas Kostenberger