Monday, December 22, 2008

Divorce and Remarriage

Last week a friend of a friend asked my opinion about the idea of a divorced person being permitted to marry again. I offered my opinion but I wasn't satisfied with that and wanted to do some additional research. After reading a ton of material and thinking about different scriptures and stories in the Bible I wrote the following reply. Most of this is really groundbreaking information to me. Maybe it will be a blessing to others as well. Enjoy.

In researching the idea of a divorced people who wish to remarry it seems that Paul is the most appropriate example of this. Until the past 2 days I have always been under the impression that Paul was never married since he says that he wishes that everyone would remain as him and not marry (I Cor 7:7). However there is a significant amount of information leading me to believe that Paul was in fact not married as he wrote I Corinthians but that he had in fact been married before. This is why I say that Paul had been married before, for some reason he was no longer married (I have a good theory for why that may be as well) and Paul felt that, should he so choose, he was free to marry again.

Paul was a Pharisee and the son of Pharisees according to Acts 23:6. That one statement tells us a lot about Paul. It tells us that he and his family had very rigid expectations and laws by which they lived. As a Jew and more specifically a Pharisee, though most of this would apply to Sadducees as well, his marriage would have occurred no later than his early 20's. Additionally, his marriage would have been arranged by his parents. There is no precedent or reason to think that Pharisees would not choose a spouse for their child outside of other devout Pharisees. In fact, choosing someone outside of their social strata could lead to someone being ineligible for leadership and being a social outcast.

Paul, actually prior to his conversion so it would be Saul, was a member of the Sanhedrin Counsel. The Sanhedrin members were selected and only the best of the best, in terms of knowing and following all 613 laws of the Mitzvot. An additional requirement for the Sanhedrin was that they be married. Therefore, for Paul to be a member, as we know he was based on his presence at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:59). We also know of his membership in the Sanhedrin because only the Sanhedrin could cast votes condemning others and Acts 26:9-11 states Paul did just that. We also know this because Acts 22 states that Paul was a student of the Sanhedrin High Priest, Nasa Gamaliel. Only a younger Sanhedrin member would be allowed to study under a chief priest. So anyway, we can feel quite comfortable that Paul was married at one point. So what happened so that he became single again?

Paul wrote about such highly emotional issues that he likely would have written about the death of his wife, especially at what would have been such an unexpected death due to her age. I feel that it is unlikely that his wife died. I think it is more likely that Paul's wife divorced him due to his conversion. I say that because as prestigious as Paul and his family were, Paul would have been betrothed to someone equally prestigious in the religious circles. It is also true that Paul climbed the ladder of religious success and his wife would have received a place of honor among the other religious types due to Paul's success. It wouldn't be unlike a very young attractive Governor or Senator in the US and how it may be like someone that married into the Kennedy would come with certain expectations from both sides. My best theory is that when Paul converted to Christianity his wife, with the support of her family, divorced Paul and returned to her home. Philippians 4:3 may also indicate that Paul had come to Christ at such a great cost. When Paul writes that he lost everything to follow Christ, that certainly would include his status within his religious society and very likely a marriage.

So if we can accept that Paul was married and that his wife left him after his conversion to Christianity...or at any other time for any other reason, we know that by the time he wrote I Cor he was single. We know that Paul wrote his first letter to the churches in Corinth while he was in Ephesus around the year 56 A.D and that this letter was likely only his 4th letter written of the 14 letters that became the majority of the New Testament. This would also support that early on in his ministry he was already single. The most important part of this conversation comes in the 7th and 9th chapters of I Corinthians. Paul writes the following:

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don't we have the right to food and drink? Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas

It seems from this passage that Paul would feel comfortable in and even entitled to "taking a believing wife". I would suggest that this is in opposition to the unbelieving wife he had previously and would also answer those people still focused on Mosaic Law who may be trying to sit in judgment of Paul for the very thought of him taking a wife after being divorced. Otherwise we must ask why would Paul defend something that he was being judged regarding? We can also tell through implication and inference that people who attempt to prevent people from remarrying are attempting to deny people freedom extended to them by God. The idea of a religious leader attempting to limit the freedom of others certainly wasn't an act pertaining to the 1st Century alone.

Perhaps we can learn a good deal about Paul from the ways in which he refers to himself. I think the Greek in the I Cor 9 text is important as Paul doesn't refer to himself in this text as "parqenos" which is "a virgin-one never married". Further in I Cor 7:7-9 Paul refers to himself as "Agamoi" which means "one previously given in marriage". He goes on to suggest to other "Agamoi" that he wishes they would stay unmarried as he is doing but that should they have within them a passion to be with another sexually that they should indeed marry rather than stay technically unmarried and "burn with passion". This verse is typically not taught as specifically speaking to the previously married among us and if it is understood in a general context it seems to be in opposition to God saying in Genesis that man was alone and it was not good. If understood as a confirmation to people have been married before and may wish to remarry, this scripture doesn't have any conflicting facets with God's opinion in Genesis.

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