The institution of marriage was established at Creation. “And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him” (Gen. 2:19-20). Adam was not complete before the creation of Eve.
And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh (Gen. 2:21-24).
Adam was now complete, and the institution of marriage began. While most men and women marry during their lifetime, some do not. After Jesus expounded some principles regarding marriage, Jesus’ disciples said, “. . . If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry” (Matt. 19:10). Jesus then went on to explain, “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (Matt. 19:11-12). Many people who never marry find themselves isolated, forsaken, and despondent in their old age. Marriage has some long-range benefits, for example, loving children who are concerned about their parents in their old age. People who live a promiscuous life and never marry have failed to recognize the future benefits of marriage. Their short-sighted view makes them live for temporary gratification only.
Marriage is a divine institution. God, the Author of marriage, made it a holy union. Jesus expounded this truth when He said, “. . . Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:4-6). The seventh commandment prohibits the rending apart of the marriage union-the basis of a stable society.
The seventh commandment reads as follows: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14). This commandment is so significant in God’s sight that to violate it constitutes one of the ten great sins. What does the Bible teach about this seventh commandment?
Jesus’ instruction was that marriage is bound for life. Notice it.
The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female. . . . Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder (Matt. 19:3-4, 6).
This answer immediately brought up another question. “They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?” (Matt. 19:7). Jesus answered, “. . . Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matt. 19:8-9). Many people find this direct answer by Christ very hard, if not impossible, to bear. Divorce and remarriage is rampant in this present-day world.
There are two references in the Old Testament that clarify the meaning of fornication. Jesus referred to one of them in the above statement. This text is found in Deuteronomy, chapter twenty-two, beginning in verse thirteen. A man who married a damsel, and later smeared her reputation by accusing her of not being a virgin at the time of marriage, could be severely punished if the accusation was false. He was publicly whipped and assessed a heavy fine. If the accusation turned out to be true, the damsel could be executed. The man had been deceived and would not have married her had he known. The man had married her in good faith, and she had lied about her previous conduct. The only way he could know her claim was true was to consummate the marriage. To lie under these circumstances was a grave transgression in God’s sight. The stability of the entire nation is tied to the stability of the family. When families break apart on a large-scale level, the soundness of the nation is in jeopardy. One of the causes for the fall of the Roman Empire was the high divorce rate.
The second text that clarifies the meaning of fornication is located in Deuteronomy, chapter twenty-four, beginning in verse one. We read, “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house” (Deut. 24:1). The Bible does not clarify what this uncleanness is. See the margin, which has “matter of nakedness.” Whatever it is, what is clear here is that the husband was unaware of it at the time of marriage. Important information had been withheld which would have had a major impact on the success of the marriage. In such a case the man had been defrauded, but if he put her away, he could never take her back if she had remarried and then later divorced. The word “uncleanness” is vague, making the interpretation quite broad. The information that had been withheld had a strong relevance on the success of the marriage. Some fraudulent reason, then, could be the grounds for a legal divorce during the Old Testament period.
Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees in Matthew 19:9 contains what is called the exception clause, “. . . Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” We will examine this exception clause shortly. Let us first notice the permanence of marriage in the New Testament.
Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man (Rom. 7:1-3).
The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39).
In Matthew, chapter five, we also find this exception clause. Jesus said, “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matt. 5:31-32). What does the New Testament reveal about this word “fornication?” Notice Matthew 1:18-20.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy [Spirit]. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy [Spirit].
Had Mary been pregnant as a result of fornication, Joseph had a legal right to put her away. He could have annulled the marriage, but an angel told him otherwise.
Jesus’ comment in Matthew 5:31 was a reference to Deuteronomy 24:1. What is important here is that while fornication was the precise act which had not been revealed in advance, the fundamental principle for the exception clause is fraud. One who accepts the past conduct of the other party, however bad it was, waives his right to annul the marriage on the basis of fraud. The facts had been made known in advance.
The question, however, that should be asked is: How broad should the interpretation of fraud be? Should fraud be limited to improper sexual activity only? Let’s notice this example that recently occurred. A man killed an eighty-three-year-old woman, then kidnapped and robbed a twenty-six-year-old housewife. He was sent to prison but escaped. He moved to another state, changed his identity, found work, and married. Sometime later he was apprehended. His wife filed for an annulment on the grounds that she was completely unaware of his criminal past. The man had done a good job in keeping his past a secret. Was this fraud? Of course! His criminal past had such a bearing on the marriage, that had it been revealed in advance, the woman would have never married the man. Because the word “uncleanness” is extremely vague in Deuteronomy 24:1, this example can serve as a description of fraud. Going back to Matthew, chapter nineteen, the reader should be aware of the difference between adultery and fornication. “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matt. 19:9).
Fornication means premarital sex-sex before marriage. Adultery comes from a Greek word other than the word used for fornication. Fornication is illicit sex before marriage, while adultery is illicit sex after marriage. The Bible, however, indicates that a longstanding practice of fornication can continue after marriage and is so labeled as such in some Old Testament passages. In these instances it is referred to as harlotry. Generally speaking, the distinction between fornication and adultery has to do with whether or not one is married. Single people who indulge in sexual relations commit fornication. Married people who indulge in sexual relations with a person other than their own spouse commit adultery. Essential knowledge that has been withheld regarding the promiscuous conduct of a person prior to marriage, which would have had an effect on the stability of the marriage, constitutes fraud.
Marriage is a character-building experience. It requires sacrifice and teaches service to one’s wife and family. It requires loyalty, love, and devotion. One who abandons or puts away his wife after being married a number of years, in order to marry someone else, commits a serious offense in the eyes of God.
And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand. Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth [divorce]. . . (Mal. 2:13-16).
It requires character to build a happy and stable marriage. Character is the ability to know right from wrong and to always choose the right over the wrong. That means there is a standard to follow. What is that standard? The Law of God which includes the seventh commandment.
Marriage depicts the relationship between Christ and the Church. The Apostle Paul shows the parallel. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing” (Eph. 5:22-24). Christ is loyal to His Church. He will never abandon it. God says, “. . . I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5). How many married couples pay little or no attention to God’s instruction. Married couples by the thousands sue for divorce every year, and what is happening to the nation as a result? This kind of conduct does not express the kind of loyalty and devotion God shows toward His Church. Paul continues the parallel:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband (Eph. 5:25-33).
The Church and Christ respond one to the other. Marriage is an institution that should teach us to follow that example. Those who treat marriage lightly and seek to divorce their mates are failing to learn a valuable purpose for marriage. It is a type of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Those who refuse to pay heed to the Bible teaching on marriage will have much for which to answer (1 Cor. 6:9, Heb. 13:4).
Marriage is God’s means by which He creates heirs for His kingdom. God instructed our first parents, “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Children are the heritage of the Lord-His reward (Psa. 127:3). A child who is properly trained in the admonition and fear of the Lord is a great blessing. We are instructed, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Parenthood is a challenge to any parent. It is the time to teach and train their children in the ways of the Lord. Parents who fail in this task often suffer dearly. Running the home properly is a serious responsibility on the part of both parents. Older women should be able to “. . . teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:4-5). Who are the real victims when the home falls apart? The children, of course! The family is the cornerstone of the society. When families fall apart, the nation is at risk. Marriage is an awesome responsibility before God and should never be taken lightly.