Biblical Polygyny (part 3): Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage

CAUTION! This article contains many Scriptures which will likely require you to reconsider what you may have believed the Bible says about marriage, divorce, adultery, sexual conduct and related matters. If you are not completely committed to placing the written Word of Elohim above all other sources of information, it is highly recommended that you NOT continue reading this article.

Marriage and Divorce

     The marriage relationship is entered into when a man and a woman commit themselves to each other, before Elohim, as husband and wife, and then consummate that commitment with the sexual union. The Scriptures offer NO precepts or guidelines for ceremonies. There is NO command or precept in the Scriptures that says that some man ("clergy") is to "marry" the couple. No man can marry the couple because it is Elohim who created and ordains the institution, and He gives no command in the Scriptures where He calls for a man to serve as the agent of approving the marriage. The couple is to be married before Elohim first and foremost.

     Marriage is defined solely by Elohim, and as such, government-given "marriage licenses" really have no binding authority whatsoever on the actual and true definition of marriage. Likewise, government-based "divorces", or simply the voiding of government-given "marriage licenses", also have no authority on the legitimacy of Biblical marriages. Whatever the government chooses to define or recognize has no bearing in terms of whether Biblical marriages are "existing" or "voided".

     Marriage was ordained and blessed by Elohim from the beginning. He even used it as a model for His own special relationship with His people Israel; He was married to them, and they to Him. Elohim's design was for man to "cleave to his wife". Divorce, in contrast, is often tragic and has lasting consequences on generations to come, at least when children are involved. In most instances, it leaves deep, often permanent scars on one or both divorcees.

     Nevertheless, divorce, in and of itself, is NOT sinful, so long as it is also lawful. Biblical divorce is actually a punishment; a necessary consequence of marital unfaithfulness on the part of the woman. Elohim permitted divorce under only one condition. According to the Torah, a man who wanted to divorce his wife had to "write her a certificate of divorce" and then "send her away" or "put her away". However, he was only allowed to do this under a very unique circumstance.
     "When a man takes a wife and shall marry her, then it shall be, if she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found a matter of uncoveredness in her, and he shall write her a certificate of divorce, and put it in her hand, and send her out of his house" (Deuteronomy 24:1, The Scriptures)
     In this passage, we are told that a husband may divorce his wife if she "finds no favour in his eyes" because he finds "a matter of uncoveredness in her". The Hebrew word translated as "uncoveredness" is 'ervah (Strong's #6172), which means "nudity, literally (especially the pudenda) or figuratively (disgrace, blemish); nakedness, shame, unclean(ness)". It is derived from the Hebrew root 'arah, which means "to make bare; to empty; discover, make naked, uncover". This is the very same word translated throughout Leviticus 18 as "nakedness". Judging by the Hebrew dictionary definitions, it seems that this Scriptural passage refers to discovering or exposing sexual impurity, although some had later expanded the meaning of impurity to include virtually anything a man might find displeasing about his wife.

     About a century before Messiah, there were two leading parties of rabbis (or teachers): the Shammaites and the Hillelites. These two groups would meet on a regular basis to debate various matters of Law at great length, including legal questions regarding the proper grounds for divorce. According to the Mishnah, which is the most ancient part of the Jewish Talmud, Shammai and his followers argued that a man may not divorce his wife unless he finds "a matter of uncoveredness" in her, per Deuteronomy 24:1. The party of Hillel, on the other hand, insisted that the words "matter" and "uncoveredness" be treated separately in order to allow a divorce for either something "uncovered" or for any "matter". In fact, they allowed a man to divorce his wife for almost any reason, even if she was a poor cook or if someone else was prettier. This debate is actually recorded in the Mishnah:
     "Beth Shammai (the Party of Shammai) say a man should not divorce his wife unless he has found her guilty of some unseemly conduct, as it says, "Because he hath found some unseemly thing in her." Beth Hillel (the Party of Hillel) say even if she has merely spoilt his food, since it says, "Because he hath found some unseemly thing in her." (Mishnah Gittin 90a)
     During the time of Yahushua, the differences between these two schools of thought were still being hotly debated. Hillel and his followers made great allowances for divorce, while Shammai and his followers said that divorce was limited to some sort of sexual immorality.

     If the word "uncoveredness" was a reference to adultery, as in Deuteronomy 22:13-24, then the Torah demanded the death penalty. But in context, the word "uncoveredness" in this passage seems to imply prior whoring or fornication on the part of the wife. This would most likely occur if the husband discovers her "lack of virginity" on their wedding night, and as a result, "she finds no favour in his eyes". Yahushua clarified this matter further in Matthew chapters 5 and 19, when He declared the proper and correct interpretation for this disputed passage.
     "And it has been said, 'Whoever puts away his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that whoever puts away his wife, except for the matter of whoring, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a woman who has been put away commits adultery." (Matthew 5:31-32, The Scriptures)

     "And I say to you, whoever puts away his wife, except on the ground of whoring, and marries another, commits adultery. And whoever marries her who has been put away commits adultery." (Matthew 19:9, The Scriptures)
     Although many believers think that Yahushua changed the law on divorce under the New Covenant, these passages demonstrate otherwise. The only valid cause of a man divorcing his wife is if she committed whoring, or sexual immorality. It was for this very same reason that Joseph had thought to divorce Mary, when she was found to be pregnant. He understandably thought she had committed whoring before they came together in sexual union.

     These verses do NOT address a woman divorcing her husband because of sexual immorality. In fact, Scripture does not give a woman permission to divorce her husband under any circumstances. Even under the Torah, it was the men who were permitted to divorce their wives, not the women. Some might think that a woman has a right to divorce her husband if he is sexually immoral, but Scripture says no such thing anywhere.

     The Greek word translated as "whoring" in both Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 is porneia, which we already know means any unlawful sexual relations. It would have been absurd for Yahushua to say "except in the case of adultery", since it was already understood that if the wife had committed adultery, the penalty under the Torah wasn't divorce, but death by stoning. Porneia, therefore, must be understood here in a much wider sense than that of simple adultery.

Divorce and Remarriage

     In marriage, women are not viewed in the same way as men. Under the Torah, if a married or unmarried man had sex with a virgin who was not betrothed, he would simply have to marry her, or at least pay the bride price (Exodus 22:16-17). This act is never called adultery, even though he had sex with another woman. If a married woman had sex with any man other than her husband and she was discovered, she would be killed, along with the man (Leviticus 20:10).

     Scripture calls it adultery when a married woman has sex with a man other than her husband, whether the other man is married or not. For the married man, it is only viewed as adultery if he has sex with a married or betrothed woman (Deuteronomy 22:22-24). If he had sex with a virgin who was not betrothed, this is NOT called adultery (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). It is evident, in the Torah, that marriage for the woman is not exactly the same as marriage for the man.
     For the married woman has been bound by Torah to the living husband, but if the husband dies, she is released from the Torah concerning her husband. So then, while her husband lives, she shall be called an adulteress if she becomes another man's. But if her husband dies, she is free from that part of the Torah, so that she is not an adulteress, having become another man's. (Romans 7:2-3, The Scriptures)
     The Scriptures never say this of the husband with regards to his wife because he may acquire another wife. But here we have a case in which a woman is married to two men. There is no lawful divorce in this passage. It is simply the case of a woman having two husbands. This is called polyandry and it is clearly depicted as evil, because such a woman would rightly be called an adulteress. No such teaching is given for the man. On the contrary, a man could have two (or more) wives, yet he would not be committing adultery. Polygyny is never condemned in Scripture.

     In matters of divorce and remarriage, it is Paul's pattern of writing in 1 Corinthians 7 to apply something to both the wife and the husband if it indeed applies to both. Both a wife and a husband are admonished not to divorce (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). Both the husband and the wife are commanded not to divorce in the case that they are married to an unbeliever (vs. 12-16). But only the wife is told that she cannot be joined to another as long as her husband lives (vs. 11 and 39).
     And to the married I command, not I, but the Master: A wife should not separate from a husband. But if she is indeed separated, let her remain unmarried or be restored to favour with her husband, and let a husband not send away a wife. (1 Corinthians 7:10-11, The Scriptures)

     A wife is bound by the Torah as long as her husband lives, and if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she desires, only in the Master. (1 Corinthians 7:39, The Scriptures)
     The reason the man is not mentioned by Paul is because, according to the Torah, a man could marry another woman while his first wife was still alive and not be guilty of adultery. Therefore, the Biblical position on remarriage is as follows: If a woman is unjustly divorced by her husband or if she divorces her husband, she may not remarry another because she is bound to the first as long as he lives. If a man is divorced by his wife, he may still marry another, but he must pray for his first wife's return, and accept her back as his wife if she does return (1 Corinthians 7:11). If a man divorces his wife unjustly, he may not replace her with another wife or he would then be committing "adultery" against his first wife.

Remarriage and Adultery
     "But I say to you that whoever puts away his wife, except for the matter of whoring, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a woman who has been put away commits adultery." (Matthew 5:32, The Scriptures)

     "And I say to you, whoever puts away his wife, except on the ground of whoring, and marries another, commits adultery. And whoever marries her who has been put away commits adultery." (Matthew 19:9, The Scriptures)

     And He said to them, "Whoever puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman puts away her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." (Mark 10:11-12, The Scriptures)

     "Everyone putting away his wife and marrying another commits adultery. And everyone marrying her who is put away from her husband commits adultery." (Luke 16:18, The Scriptures)
     What is extremely significant here, and one simple fact that many people overlook, is that Matthew mentions the "exception clause" of whoring to his Jewish audience, whereas both Mark and Luke do not, specifically because they were addressing a predominately gentile audience. The concept of "virginity fraud" during the Jewish betrothal period was a foreign one to the gentiles.

     By studying the Scriptures references above, it can't get much clearer than this. If a man were to divorce his wife (except in the case where she committed prior whoring) and he marries another, both the husband and the divorced wife have committed adultery against one another. How and why is this possible?
     And He answering, said to them, "Did you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what Elohim has joined together, let man not separate." (Matthew 19:4-6, The Scriptures)
     Unlawful divorce is against Elohim's Divine will, plain and simple. But when the divine provision for righting a wrong is legitimately used, there is no sin involved. Even Elohim is recorded as having been divorced (Jeremiah 3:8). But it was never intended that marriage be discarded whenever it became inconvenient to one or both parties. Elohim allowed a lawful divorce under one specific circumstance only, and even then simply because of the hardness of man's heart, but it was always His intention that a marriage contract be a life-long commitment.

     Two people getting married who see divorce as a way out aren't entering into a permanent "covenantal" contract. They are merely stating that they will live together until one or both of them decides to break the contract. A good analogy would be like telling two businessmen to sign an agreement that if one of them should ever become unhappy with the agreement, all he has to do is walk away from it. That would be no agreement at all.

     Yahushua is reaffirming that marriage is a "joining together" by Elohim Himself, and that man should never separate what He has joined. Any attempt to unlawfully separate a husband and wife would constitute an unjustified divorce in the eyes of Elohim. Since the very definition of adultery is "woman that breaketh wedlock", if a husband unjustly divorces a wife, he is in effect forcing her to break her marriage covenant by causing her to commit adultery against him when she remarries. The husband is not committing adultery in this case, even though he orchestrated these events.

     However, since the divorce in this case was not authorized by Elohim, if either the husband or the wife remarries, they are effectively replacing their spouse and end up committing adultery against them. It is the treacherous act of "spousal replacement" that causes the husband in this example to commit adultery. If he had not divorced his wife and simply married another woman, dutifully keeping his first wife instead of replacing her, he would not have committed adultery.

     Therefore, it is not the sexual intercourse with another woman, in and of itself, that makes divorce and remarriage, for the man, adultery. It is the combination of unjustified divorce (the unlawful breaking of the marriage covenant), along with remarriage (replacement), that makes this adultery. If the divorce is removed from the equation, no adultery would have been committed, even though he married another woman. This is true for the man, but not for the woman.

     Also notice that when Yahushua declares divorce and remarriage adultery, He leaves the man who is divorced by his wife uncondemned. This is precisely because the so-called "divorce" is unlawful (women cannot lawfully divorce under any circumstances) and therefore they are still married according to the Torah. This man could remarry without committing adultery, provided he did not marry a divorced woman. However, the woman divorced by her husband would be unable to remarry without committing adultery in the process. If a man unlawfully divorces his wife, he causes her to commit adultery. If a woman divorces her husband (which is unlawful in any event), the man does not commit adultery.

Summary of Definitions

     Let's quickly summarize some of the sexual terms we've been using, along with their Biblical definitions:
Adultery: Violation of a marriage contract; consisting of a man (married or unmarried) having sexual intercourse with a woman who is either married or betrothed to another man.

Fornication (zanah): Whoring; consisting of a man (married or unmarried) having sexual intercourse with a woman other than his wife, including a woman who prostitutes her body for hire.

Fornication (porneia): Unlawful sexual relations: consisting of whoring (zanah), a man uncovering the nakedness of specific family members, a man uncovering the nakedness of a woman during her menses, adultery, a man having anal sexual intercourse with another male, and a man or a woman having sexual intercourse with an animal.
     We need to be very clear that regardless of the exact terms used, each of these sexual acts are unlawful and stand condemned by Elohim. Don't be fooled into thinking that whoring is any less of a sin than adultery in His eyes. Nevertheless, now that we know the Biblical definition of these terms, we can finally understand what Yahushua was saying in Matthew chapter 5:
     "You heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone looking at a woman [gune] to lust [epithumeo] for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28, The Scriptures)
     In the original Greek, there is no distinction between the English words "wife", "wives", "woman" or "women". They are all the same word: 'gune' (Strong's #1135). When translating this word into English, the translators simply have to choose the word they feel best fits the context of the message. In order to better understand what Yahushua is saying here, we need to refer to the Strong's Concordance to check the definition of the Greek word 'epithumeo' (Strong's #1937), translated here as "lust".
1135. gune, goo-nay'; prob. from the base of 1090; a woman; spec. a wife: -wife, woman.

1937. epithumeo, ep-ee-thoo-meh-o; from 1909 and 2372; to set the heart upon, i.e. long for (rightfully or otherwise): -covet, desire, would fain, lust (after).
     Yahushua was talking about a married woman! The key word in this verse is lust, which in context would mean to covet after. Since you can only covet that which belongs to another, it seems quite clear that He was clarifying that if a man even imagines sexual intercourse with another man's wife, thereby lusting after or coveting her, he is committing adultery with her in his heart. Applying the proper Biblical understanding of adultery, this verse could just as accurately be translated as:
     "You heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone looking at a wife [gune] to covet [epithumeo] for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28, The Scriptures)
     Had the Scripture meant to say "any female in general", the correct Greek word would have been 'thelus' (Strong's #2338). It may not be obvious at first glance, but a female in Scripture is always described by her sexual status. She is either a baby, a child, a virgin, a harlot, married, divorced, adulterous, widowed, or dead. 'Gune' means a married woman, as opposed to 'parthenous' (Strong's #3933), which means a virgin or maiden.

     Obviously if the physical act with an unmarried woman is not adultery, then the act in your mind with an unmarried woman is not adultery. Taking Yahushua's example of our thought life a step further, however, suggests that the mental act with an unmarried woman would likely qualify as fornication.

Continued in part 4...




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