The Grammatical Gymnastics of an Advocate for Divorce and Remarriage: Passive Voice

The first argument concerns the “voice” of the verbs in Matthew 5:32, 19:9, and Mark 10:11–12. In grammar the voice of a verb describes the relationship of the action of the verb to the subject of the verb. For example, “John eats an apple” is in the active voice, for John performs the activity of eating (John is the “subject” of the verb “to eat”). On the other hand, “The apple is eaten by John” is in the passive voice, for the subject of the verb (the apple) does not perform the activity of eating. Instead, the activity happens to the subject, for the apple is eaten.  

Our advocate for remarriage writes,

The verbs in Matthew 5 translated “to commit adultery” are passive. The woman put away and the man who marries her are passive. The original husband is the only active agent in the adultery. He commits adultery against them… To say that the woman commits adultery is as false as can be.

If we attempted to translate Matthew 5:32 with passive verbs, it would read something like this: “Everyone putting away his wife [active]…makes her to have adultery committed against her [passive] and if anyone marries [active] the divorced woman he has adultery committed against him [passive].” This would make the remarried woman (32a) and the man who marries her (32b) the victims (rather than the culprits) of adultery. Our advocate for remarriage writes:

God is principally protecting the innocent. The wife who is put away for any reason other than fornication is wronged. God protects those. Adultery is committed against them wrongfully in that the dismissed woman and the man who marries her are made to appear as adulterers.

We should notice that in the mind of our remarriage advocate, the remarrying people (the divorced woman and her second husband) are not adulterers; they only appear so in the eyes of others. Only the divorced woman’s first husband actively commits adultery. If this were true, it would mean that the guilty party in the divorce is an adulterer and it would forbid him from remarrying. It would not forbid, so the argument goes, remarriage to the innocent parties. Sadly, few advocates for remarriage limit remarriage to the innocent party; they allow remarriage for the guilty and the innocent party.

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The Grammatical Gymnastics of an Advocate for Divorce and Remarriage

Recently I have come across some novel arguments to justify remarriage after divorce while the original spouse is still living. I will not name the advocate of remarriage on the blog: suffice to say that on social media he began commenting on a video link to Prof. David Engelsma’s lecture at the British Reformed Fellowship Conference (2018), “Unbiblical Divorce and Adulterous Remarriage: A Scandal.” He labeled it “proscribed heresy” and called those who agreed with the lecture “hypocritical legalists” who “damage the church and mock the grace of Christ,” adding that we were “perfect illustrations of the haughty Pharisees,” and called us to repent. Then he called our position “false, anti-Reformed, and unbiblical,” as well as “schismatic and destructive of true Christian compassion.” He argued (correctly) that neither Luther nor Calvin agreed with our position, which Prof. Engelsma fully admits in his book Marriage: The Mystery of Christ and the Church. While we admire the Reformers, they were (sadly) not strong on the subject of divorce and remarriage. This is reflected in the otherwise excellent Westminster Confession of Faith.

Because I did not want my answer to be buried in a long Facebook thread where the advocate for remarriage made his novel arguments, I decided to make it public here. I hope it will serve as a witness to the truth of the unbreakable marriage bond. Some of the arguments from Greek grammar are quite involved, so I ask for the reader’s indulgence.

In addition, I am not interested in attacking personalities or churches. I am merely interested in the arguments, especially exegetical arguments, for God’s word is the final arbiter on this and all matters.

I should point out right at the beginning, however, that knowledge of Greek grammar is not necessary for the child of God. The King James Version of the Bible is an accurate translation of the original Greek and Hebrew, and no theologian or pastor should give the impression that the Bible cannot be comprehended without recourse to the original languages: we believe in the perspicuity of holy scripture, that is, we believe that the Bible is clear, so clear that, if a child of God has a good translation, he can understand the scriptures; yet the Bible is so profound and rich that the greatest theologian cannot plumb its depths. Moreover, we believe in the office of believer according to which every child of God has the blessed privilege of knowing and understanding God’s word without the need of “experts” or a “priestly class” in the church.

In addition, the main issue is clear. Marriage is a lifelong, unbreakable bond between one man and one woman, in which the two become one, enjoying intimate fellowship with one another, which fellowship, both in the Old Testament and New Testament reflects the relationship between Christ and the church. In scripture God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16); and even when he gives his adulterous, unfaithful wife a “bill of divorce” (Jer. 3:8), he still declares himself married to his people (v. 14), and he never takes another people (i.e., the Lord never remarries).

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Marital Antinomianism (Lawlessness)

As promised in an earlier post on believing sound doctrine, I wanted to write on doctrines which the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) hold dear and which give us the right of separate existence within the Reformed church world. One of those doctrines is the doctrine of marriage, the biblical view of marriage which we maintain in the PRC. I begin with the doctrine of marriage because of an article a reader sent me—a very sad article—from The Banner, the official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church, which illustrates what inevitably comes to pass within churches that refuse to submit to, or abandon, what the Bible clearly teaches about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. I will quote from that article later in the post.

When world conformity gets a foothold in a denomination of churches, one manifestation of that worldliness is a corruption of and departure from the scripture’s teaching of marriage. First, the church begins to allow divorce for reasons other than fornication. Along with this, those who are biblically divorced (because of fornication) and are the “innocent party” are allowed to remarry. And, as inevitably follows, because divorce breaks (they erroneously argue) the first marriage bond, the “guilty party” is allowed to remarry as well. This follows logically.

Because God's Word is clear the churches allowing this behavior and the individuals in the churches divorcing and remarrying with the approval of the officebearers know very well that marriage is a lifelong bond and that divorce for reasons other than fornication is sin (Matt. 19:9; Romans 7:1-3). But, there is a way around these plain teachings of scripture. Those who are unbiblically divorced and want to remarry must confess their wrongdoing to the church. And after this confession of wrongdoing, which the church gladly accepts, they are free to enter into an adulterous marriage and live as members in good standing in their churches as open adulterers—maybe even alongside the spouse from their first marriage whom they cruelly abandoned.

Confession of wrongdoing, not repentance (a turning from sin), is all that is necessary. And they say, the "grace" of God allows for this. One can ask these adulterers, as did the prophet Jeremiah (7:8-10), "Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery....and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?" And their answer as practicing antinomians is "Yes!"

As mentioned earlier, Judy Cook, author of the article "Divorce Care" in the March 17, 2017 issue of The Banner, accurately represents the reigning view of divorce and remarriage that has taken hold in the Reformed church world. In the name of "love" she promotes blatant disobedience to the will of God regarding marriage. She writes:

The heartache of a broken marriage should not prevent individuals from being able to move forward into a new beginning with a slate cleansed by God and affirmed by their brothers and sisters. Divorce, after all, is not the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit.

Going through a crisis is an opportunity for change, but only those in the crisis are in a position to define what that change needs to be and how it can happen. Every marriage is complex, and mistakes will be made—sometimes with drastic consequences. But couples have the right and responsibility to make decisions about their marriage from their own perspectives, based on their own beliefs and values, their upbringing and experiences, and their faith in God.

As the body of Christ, we are called on to bless each other and not to condemn; to love extravagantly, and to build up rather than tear down. Prone to sin, we bless, love, and build up imperfectly, creating pain in each other we don't intend—also with respect to our divorced brothers and sisters. Let's remember that the ability to forgive is the central command that lets us experience a life of peace, even in the midst of our sins and sorrows.

Ms. Cook is advocating marital lawlessness, that is, marital antinomianism within her denomination, the CRC. Having abandoned the doctrine of the authority of scripture, having perverted the gospel of grace and having flatly disobeyed the Bible's clear teaching on marriage, the CRC and other Reformed churches find themselves drowning in the sins of fornication and adultery and their dreadful consequences. And Ms. Cook's solution to the scourge of divorce, broken homes, and damaged children in her denomination? "Couples have the right and responsibility to make decisions about their marriage from their own perspectives, based on their own beliefs and values, their upbringing and experiences" (emphasis mine—AJC). Further, those in the church who are witnesses to these sins "are called to bless each other and not to condemn; to love extravagantly"....and "forgive." There is no mention of the authority of God's Word, the clear teaching of God's Word concerning marriage, or the power of God's grace to forgive those who repent of their sin of adultery.

That the Protestant Reformed Churches exist as a separate denomination within the Reformed church world is justified, in part, by our confession that marriage is a lifelong bond, broken only by death, that is a reflection of God's everlasting covenant of grace. This bold confession we will address in the next post, Lord willing.

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For those interested in reading how departure from the scripture's teaching on marriage developed within the mother church of the PRC, the CRC, read the 1956 Acts of Synod of the CRC which can be found at this link: http://www.calvin.edu/library/database/crcnasynod/1956agendaacts.pdf. The inquisitive reader should go to pages 15-17; 55-59; 117-119; 285-327; 379-80.

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This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.

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