Why Jesus thirsted on the cross

As Easter approaches this week, of course Christians are going to focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus.  I personally prefer to break Jesus’ death and resurrection into two parts.  Easter should be focused on celebrating Jesus’ resurrection and shouldn’t dwell on the brutalness of Jesus’ death.

There are many ways to approach Jesus’ death on the cross and from my years of preaching I’ve learned that one sermon can’t cover every aspect of Jesus’ death.  I recently had an odd thought cross my mind as I was looking at Jesus’ death however.  Why did Jesus thirst on the cross?

Obviously we know the physical reason that Jesus thirsted.  He was put on trial in the middle of the night and was taken from Annas to Caiphas to the Sanhedrin to Pilate to Herod and finally back to Pilate in a matter of hours.  By noon was hanging on the cross when darkness fell over the land.  Jesus would have been thirsty for no other reason than the fact that He had had nothing to drink.

The real question is why it is significant that Jesus’ thirst was one of the details of the cross that was recorded by the gospel writers.  “I thirst” is one of the Seven Last Words from the Cross as Jesus’ final statements are known as.  Is Jesus’ thirst a simple reflection of His humanity and a display of the frailty of His body in His last moments before death?

I could be wrong but I believe that there is much greater significance in what takes place because of Jesus’ thirst.  When Jesus declares His thirst, He is perhaps no more than minutes away from death.  If simple thirst was the issue, He could have gone a few minutes longer, knowing that He would soon give up His spirit.  But I believe that what takes place before Jesus’ thirst and immediately after He declares His thirst is quite significant.

Before this, Jesus has asked “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  It is a repeat of the words of the prophetic Psalm 22.  That is the moment that the sins of humanity are laid on Jesus and He is separated from God the Father.  As God the Father looks down upon His Son, he now sees sin.  Jesus is sinful in the eyes of the Father at this moment.

After Jesus declares His thirst, a sponge with wine vinegar is brought to His lips.  We might want to focus on the drink itself but that is not what caught my eye as I studied this passage this year.  It is a hyssop plant that the sponge is attached to.  David mentions cleansing with hyssop in Psalm 51.  It is at least one of the Psalms that he wrote after his sin with Bathsheba was discovered.  A hyssop plant is used for cleansing.

Likewise, this plant is raised to Jesus’ lips.  In Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees God face to face and cries out “Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”  An angel then flies over to him and touches his lips with a hot coal to essentially atone for his sin.

When Jesus declares that He is thirsty, ignore the actual thirst part for a moment.  What transpires is a hyssop plant is raised to His lips.  This occurs just after the sins of the world have been laid upon Him.  Jesus is in need of cleansing and the hyssop plant which David asked for his cleansing is raised to Jesus’ lips, the same location that Isaiah was cleansed of his sin.

This isn’t to pretend that there isn’t other significance to Jesus’ thirst or the wine vinegar or anything else in this passage.  But aside from those other possibilities, I believe that Jesus is cleansed of the sins of the world that has been laid upon Him when the hyssop plant is raised to His lips on the cross.  Moments later He will declare that it is finished and He’ll give up His spirit.  He has taken the sins of the world and they have been cleansed.

Should Protestants care who is pope?

For the last two weeks, one of the major news stories all over the world has been the resignation of the pope.  This is arguably the most important story in the world as 1.2 billion people identify themselves as Catholic and thus should have a vested interest in what is going on in the church.  And of course they should have an interest in who the next pope will be.  History tells us that speculation is almost completely fruitless as likely “frontrunners” for pope are far more difficult to predict than frontrunners of an election.  And in case you don’t recall how well people have done in predicting that, 2012 had no less than five different leaders for the Republican nomination to run for president.

So, this is in no way an attempt to speculate on who will be pope.  The broader question to ask is, should I, as a Protestant, even care who is the next pope?  The easy answer would be no, because I am not Catholic and therefore the selection of pope will have no bearing on me one way or another.  The truth though, is that I am always concerned about who the pope is and you don’t need to be religious at all to have a vested interest in the pope.

The pope has the ability to sway the thoughts and opinions of more people in the world than anyone else.  Of course of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, not all can be considered “good” Catholics as not everyone will listen to the pope.  For instance, the church has taken a stand against abortion and there are still plenty of pro-abortion Catholics.  Secondly, the pope heads an institution in the church that is quite unchanging.  It is unlikely that any pope in the foreseeable future will change any longstanding beliefs and traditions that impact millions of people.  Nevertheless, the potential is there.  Should the church change its stance on a major issue such as homosexuality, the ramifications would be far reaching and ultimately affect far more than just Catholics.

As a Protestant, I have even more interest in who the pope is and what he will do.  For better or worse, the Catholic church symbolizes the universal church for many people.  When the church does something or says something, it often speaks for all of Christianity.  Certainly not every priest is a pedophile (likely a very, very small minority), nor is every Protestant minister without grievous sin, but in the eyes of many outsiders Christianity is full of perverted leaders.  The Catholic church is what shapes the perception of Christianity for many people because they do not know the differences between Catholic and Baptist and Presbyterian.

While I do not hold to many Catholic beliefs, the Catholic church is often in line with conservative Protestant churches on social issues.  In many ways, the battles over social issues have already been fought and popular opinion has swept away any sense of morality or upholding what the Bible teaches.  Nevertheless, should the Catholic church shift from a conservative position on any social issue, conservative Christians will not only be a minority but will find themselves badly outnumbered and possibly even open to persecution.

There are some who look upon the Catholic church as evil and will even try to call the pope the antichrist (or the false prophet of Revelation.)  I believe such speculation is foolish and serves no purpose.  I do believe that anyone who teaches anything other than “salvation by faith alone” is in error.  To that extent I believe that the Catholic church is in error as it upholds works and dogma alongside the importance of faith and scripture.

Nevertheless, no matter what one thinks of the Catholic church and the pope specifically, I believe that it is our duty to pray for the selection of the next pope.  This will be a man who wields more influence over the world than any president or world leader could have.  He has the power to hold the church in a conservative position or to allow it to be washed away with the tides of popular opinion.  Protestants don’t agree with Catholics on issues of faith and many will question whether the pope can be saved while holding to Catholic dogma, we must still recognize the influence that the position holds.

God can use a person to accomplish His will whether they are saved or not.  Without any insult intended to Catholics or the position of pope – if God can speak through Balaam’s donkey, through false prophets, and through Caiaphas the high priest of Jesus’ day, God can certainly accomplish His will through the pope as well.  And that will have ramifications on Catholics and Protestants alike.  So be in prayer that God would place the right man in leadership regardless whether you follow the pope or not.

Where the church is headed now

I am not catholic but the resignation of the pope today got me to thinking.  I was reading a commentary on the irony of the pope’s resignation.  The irony is that he has been labeled as conservative, or more accurately, a traditionalist.  But in resigning, he broke with longstanding tradition in becoming the first pope in 600 years to resign.

The rest of the commentary had to do with the church’s resistance to embrace modern ideals.  This wasn’t an article that was for or against the idea, just rather a statement of fact.

This brought me to thinking about where the church is headed in the future.  Is the death knell being sounded for traditional Christianity?  I would emphatically state that the church is not dead nor is it dying.    Its influence upon modern culture may be waning however.

In the United States a majority of people still identify themselves as Christian.  I’d offer actual numbers but the numbers differ depending on one’s definition of Christianity.  And that is the first major problem that we have.  While many identify themselves as Christian, many of these same people don’t hold to the traditional ideals of Christianity.  So, one must question whether people who call themselves Christians but don’t act like Christians are really Christians.

The so called culture wars have been lost.  I am in no way saying that we give up and embrace things that we consider to be sin.  But there should also be some recognition of where we stand.  Gay marriage has been passed by a majority vote for the first time in the United States.  While several states had previously passed laws, it had never been upheld in a statewide vote before.

The issue of abortion has likewise become a losing battle.  Once it was a battle cry for Christians to stand against.  Now, the same issue has become a rallying cry for the other side as they see the pro-life agenda to be an attack of women’s rights.

So, let’s assume that those two battles that have unfortunately defined conservative Christianity for some time are now lost.  Where do we go from here?  The answer is that we go back to what we should have been doing all along.

I believe that we have been fighting political battles far too much.  And it’s obvious that these battles haven’t gained us much.  We have been fighting to change laws rather than change hearts.

There are good reasons to oppose the things that we’ve opposed.  I don’t want to self righteously declare that Christians know better than others because that sounds foolish and arrogant.  On the other hand though, we do not believe that these are arbitrary rules that we’ve created.  Instead, we believe that these rules come from God and that disobeying them will lead to consequences.

I’m not talking about hurricanes striking cities as a result of God’s judgment.  Instead, I’m talking about individual consequences.  A sinful lifestyle will have bad consequences for the people who lead such lives.  And that is where the church needs to stand.

Sin will lead to consequences of sin.  As society embraces more sinful lifestyles we will see the fallout from it.  Indeed we’re probably already seeing the fallout from it.  Rather than offer a lecture and a stern “I told you so” we need to act with love as the father in the story of the prodigal son.

There will be people who discover that the things that are now being accepted in our culture are empty and worthless.  And when people are ready to turn from sin, the church needs to be there and it needs to show the fulfilling life that is found in Christ.

This doesn’t happen by the church compromising its values.  We must continue to stand for what is right, no matter how unpopular it may be.  And eventually some will discover that a life of sin isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.  When that day comes, we need to accept them with forgiveness and lead them to true repentance.

Setting Priorities

In Luke 14:28-30 Jesus says  “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?  For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him,  saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”

One of the greatest difficulties in life is setting priorities and making a plan according to those priorities.  Personally, I can manage priorities for only about a week at a time.  Each week I know that there are certain things that need to be done and other things that I want to get done.  It’s a good week if I accomplish all of those things.  But to apply that same principle to a month or an entire year?  For me at least, it seems impossible to know how to pace myself.

There are some things in life that are relatively easy to plan for.  If your priority is to go to college, you know that you need to work in high school to have grades that are good enough to get into college.  If you want to go on vacation, you need to save for that vacation (or suffer the credit card debt after the fact.)

On the other hand, there are a lot of curveballs that life throws at us.  A friend of mine went to college to be an elementary school teacher, only to reach the end of the curriculum and have to do student teaching.  There she discovered that she didn’t enjoy the kids as much as she had anticipated.  Likewise, you may make a major purchase only to unexpectedly lose your job six months later.  Or have your house damaged in a storm.  Or deal with a serious illness.

The point is that there are some things that we can plan for and others that we can’t.  There are times that we encounter speed-bumps in life and we need to maintain the course and keep our priorities and goals ahead of us.  Other times we need to recognize when our goal is not reachable or at least currently detoured.

I’ve recently read some of my previous posts regarding goals for Spreading Light Ministries.  I’m quite proud of the things that I’ve accomplished with the site but there are times that my goals have been laughable.  I’ve made reference to pages and sites that I hoped to launch in a month and they haven’t been launched four years later.  There are a multitude of reasons why and ultimately they’re not that important.

In the past month I have completely re-evaluated my online ministry.  There are times when I got away from my priorities.  Other times I had a new priority only to discover that it wasn’t as important or as successful as I had hoped.  In the last month or so I have shut down six websites with plans to close another two.  For the most part I’m not doing away with the content of the sites, just rearranging things in a more logical order under and a smaller footprint.  It does little good to have a dozen sites with fifteen pages each if I can logically reduce them into three sites with sixty pages each.

In church and in our personal lives, we should periodically evaluate our priorities.  We often do this when things are going well but it’s just as important when things are going well.  What worked for us in the past may not be serving us well now.  And even more importantly, it may not serve us well in the future.

This week I got to spend time with my mentor.  He was saying how much he uses Powerpoint in his sermons and presentations and ten years ago he never would have thought about it.  This isn’t someone who is afraid of technology either.  This is someone who had a job offer from IBM in the early 1960’s but ended up being drafted instead.  The point is that times change and we must be willing to adapt with it.

We need to remember that as Christians and a part of the church our main priority never changes.  Jesus Christ is always the main priority.  The difference is how we pursue Him.  Water hasn’t changed since creation but we certainly don’t get it the same way that someone did even 150 years.  We need to constantly be asking ourselves if our priorities are still in line with the direction God wants us headed in.

Why I hate the Christian gun debate

If you’re like me, you’ve seen so many articles about gun control and why it’s a great or terrible idea that your head is probably ready to explode.  My apologies for adding one more voice to the din.  On the other hand I haven’t read a single well thought out approach on the issue from a Christian perspective.  Mostly it has been “I’m a Christian so I’m a Republican, so I’m pro-gun” or “I’m a Christian so I’m a Democrat, so I’m anti-gun.”  Pinning this debate to politics is one of the stupidest things I’ve seen in a while.  And that is saying a lot.

For starters, I’m not going to throw out a lot of statistics.  Statistics can be used and twisted to say anything that we want.  87% of all people know this.  (See what I did just there?)  There are obvious cases where statistics are important but as Christians we should know that we answer to a higher authority and not just what seems statistically right or what might be the most popular option.

And just because I’m sure that some will want to know my history on this issue – I grew up in a household with guns and held a hunting license for a couple of years before I decided that sitting in the woods in the cold without seeing any wildlife was pretty pointless.  I am currently a pastor serving in a pacifist denomination but I also serve under a bishop who served in the active military.  So go ahead and try to figure all of that out.

Unsurprisingly, the Bible doesn’t say anything directly about guns.  Guns came around centuries after the Bible.  But we are told about murder and how we treat our fellow man.  This really isn’t the issue of debate here.  I believe that we pretty much universally agree that murder is wrong and it doesn’t matter if it’s done with an assault rifle, a knife, or any other weapon of choice.

At the heart of this debate is an issue of liberty.  Do we have the “right” to own a gun?  According to the Second Amendment, which has been consistently upheld by the court system, the answer is yes.  Now the debate is whether we have the right to own any gun that we choose and what, if any, responsibilities we have that go along with those rights.  While it’s cliche and not directly from the Bible, the statement “with great power comes great responsibility” may be rather applicable here.  In other words, we have plenty of rights but that doesn’t mean that they should go unchecked.

The most applicable passage of scripture to this debate would be Galatians 5 where Paul writes about freedom in Christ.  Galatians 5:13 tells us: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”  While we are free to own and use guns we obviously should not be using them in a sinful manner.  This doesn’t apply directly as there aren’t many instances of Christians committing mass murder because of their freedom to own guns.

On the other hand, I think that the issue is more like alcohol.  There are plenty of churches that frown upon drinking of any kind and I would never want to advocate it.  On the other hand, we are never forbidden from drinking, only from getting drunk.  It is possible for a Christian to drink responsibly and not violate God’s commands.  However, that personal liberty may set a bad example for others and cause them to actually sin.  In such instances, Galatians 5 applies.  This same idea may be applied to gun ownership.  A Christian has every right, or freedom, or liberty, whatever term you want to use, to own a gun in the United States.  However, we must ask the question of whether that liberty comes at a price that we shouldn’t be willing to pay.

As Christians we are used to dealing with a lot of issues in black and white.  The Bible provides absolutes that we should follow.  Gun control is not a black and white issue because all guns are not created equally.  Many people are treating the issue of gun control as an all or nothing debate and this is just foolish.

There is a big difference between people who own a gun for hunting use (and most hunters own several guns for different hunting purposes), people who own a gun for self defense, and gun enthusiasts/collectors.  All three of these groups have guns for legitimate purposes.  There is a fourth group who own guns for nefarious purposes.  These people own guns with the intent to threaten or harm human life.  It might be with the goal of committing crimes or in order to form a militia to keep the government out of their business.  In either case the intention is not to follow the laws that are already in place.  Additional laws would seem to be a minimal deterrent to people who already don’t intend to follow the law.  It only allows for additional prosecution once those laws are broken.

The problem that we are encountering is making laws that can be properly applied to only one group without affecting the other groups.  It is not a secret that assault weapons are the ones that are being targeted in pending laws.  Assault weapons are not used by hunters and they are not the preferred weapon of those who want a gun for protection.  But there are many gun enthusiasts and collectors who own these guns and have never used them improperly and have no intention of ever using them to cause harm.  Should these rights be trampled upon just because there are a very tiny fraction of gun owners who desire to use  their guns to cause harm?  Or should these people be willing to give up their rights to own such a gun because there is a small percentage of people who abuse that right and cause a great deal of harm?  This is really the core of the gun debate.

As Christians we have a lot of freedoms but we also have many responsibilities.  American citizens likewise have many freedoms but also responsibilities.  Many times these freedoms and responsibilities are the same but there are times when they come into conflict.  We have seen government intrude into religion at times as it upholds the “rights” of others to not come into contact with Christian ideals – such as the removal of nativity scenes on public property.  Christians have upheld the freedom of religion while also fighting against the construction of an Islamic mosque.  We can’t have it both ways.  Our American freedoms say that people are free to worship as they please while our Christian responsibilities say that Christ is the only way to heaven and we cannot advocate any other way.

So the question that we must answer is whether our rights and responsibilities as Christians coincides with our rights and responsibilities as American citizens or if they are at odds with one another.  Can we stand for our American gun rights knowing that those rights will be abused by some for some very sinful actions?  Or do we stand by another Christian ideal that we are only responsible for our own actions and no matter what laws exist we cannot stop someone from sinning if they are determined to sin?  I don’t propose to have the absolute answer to this question but I wish that Christians would stop pretending like this is a black and white issue.

Why I don’t discuss theology much

As a pastor I love studying God’s Word.  I love it when after years I still stumble across new insights or things fall into place in a way that I never quite saw before.  If you’ve read the Bible for years you’ve probably noticed how you can read the same passage but get something totally different from it each time you read it.

Unlike a lot of Christians, I enjoy studying theology.  What I don’t enjoy is arguing about it however.  There are some basic sets of framework that help us interpret all of the Bible.  The best known systems are Calvinism and Arminianism but there are also systems such as dispensationalism and covenant theology.

Systems are valuable if you need to explain your theology quickly and you can say that you’re a Calvinist as easily as you might say that you’re a Baptist.  Whomever you are speaking to can get a pretty quick idea of what you believe.

Outside of the quick need to sum up my beliefs, I hate using the labels.  To proclaim that I am a Calvinist or an Arminian will immediately put up a wall between me and about half of the people I speak or write to.  Many will immediately want to tell me why I am wrong and they are right.  I have no problem defending my beliefs and I feel quite secure in them.  My experience is that many people adamantly hold to beliefs that they don’t really understand themselves but instead have just been taught to believe.  They can repeat arguments that they’ve been given but they can’t actually explain why they believe what they believe.  So if it comes to a debate, I feel pretty good about getting into one.

My problem with arguing theology is that it is typically unproductive.  These issues become divisive within Christian circles.  Unless it is a debate over how one is actually saved, I don’t think that theology is good to be divided over.  Every so often I’ll get an email concerning one of my articles telling me why I’m wrong or what I’ve missed.  For the record, I get more emails in agreement that someone likes my approach to theology.  But the people who disagree are more vocal.

Those who disagree with my understanding of the Bible and wish to provide me with the “right” answer are unlikely to listen to reasoned arguments anyway; they’ve already made up their mind.  People who are actually open to a discussion are unlikely to email me and instead they will do more research on the subject.

For clarity’s sake, I should mention that when I’m talking about theology here I’m talking about what might be termed systematic theology.  There are important social issues that divide the church – homosexuality, poverty, abortion, etc. – that are worth fighting over.  Not to downplay the importance of good theology but ultimately it doesn’t matter if you are a Calvinist or Arminian.  On the other hand, it makes a big difference in life concerning what you believe about poverty or abortion.

Theology is important because it helps us read and understand the entire Bible.  It colors the way we interpret many different passages.  I encourage everyone to study theology and determine not only what they believe but, more importantly, why they believe it.  Debating it with an attempt to change someone’s mind is probably going to be unproductive but you should at least be able to explain why you believe it.

What Should I Do About An Unbelieving Spouse?

1 Corinthian 7:12-16

12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?


In 2 Corinthians 6:14 Paul clearly states that a believer should not marry an unbeliever.  “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”  However there are often times when a person becomes a believer after marriage and the spouse does not share the newfound faith.  This is the situation that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 7.

A believer should continue in marriage with an unbeliever as long as the unbeliever desires to remain married.  A Christian should not initiate a divorce.  Even though there may be difficult circumstances, a Christian is still a witness to their spouse as long as they are married.

Likewise, the children of the family are sanctified by the believing parent.  This does not mean that they are saved because they have a parent who is a Christian.  Instead it means that they are exposed to Christianity and have a greater chance of becoming a Christian because of the influence of the parent.

If the unbelieving spouse wants a divorce, the Christian should let them go.  This does not mean that everything possible shouldn’t be done to first save the marriage.  The reconciliation of a husband and wife is always the first goal.

After every resource has been used to save a marriage and an unbelieving spouse still wants to leave, the Christian should let them leave without the guilt of divorce upon them.  They have no control over the decision of an unbelieving spouse.  Likewise, they should not remain in the marriage because of the chance to witness to their spouse.  While this was a viable reason when the spouse wanted to stay, it is not a reason to maintain the marriage.  As Paul says, there is no way to know if a person will lead their spouse to the Lord.

As to whether a believing spouse can and should get remarried, this is a much more difficult question that will be discussed in the article, “Should I Get Remarried?

Should I Get Remarried?

The answer to the question “Should I get remarried?” is even more complicated than the issue to divorce.  A lot of it comes down to how a person ended up single again.  Even then however there are a lot of gaps in what is spelled out in the Bible.

Paul simplified the issue with advice that is not to be taken as a command in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9.

“Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

Simply put, life is easier as a single person.  However there are more temptations as a single person and if a person cannot control themselves, they should get married.  Of course the implication is that they must control themselves once they are married then.

Widows are free to remarry when their spouse passes away.  Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 7:39.  “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.”

The issue of remarriage gets complicated once divorce is involved.  There are a few things that are clear from scripture.  A person who initiated a divorce should not get remarried with the exception of marital unfaithfulness.  See “Is Infidelity Grounds for Divorce?” for more information about marital unfaithfulness.

In 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 Paul writes, “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  Paul does not give the reason a person should not get remarried after initiating the divorce but Jesus does.  In Matthew 19:9 Jesus says, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”  If a person doesn’t like the words of Paul, the words of Jesus are even more hard hitting and difficult to ignore.

But what about when a spouse leaves?  Is a divorcee an adulterer if they get remarried?  The issue becomes even more difficult with fewer specifics spelled out.  Jesus addresses this issue in Matthew 5:32.  “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”

A Christian should not married a person who has been divorced.  Many would argue that there are exceptions to Jesus’ statement but He offers none here or anywhere else.  Because Jesus uses the words wife and divorced woman, it is clear that he is speaking of marrying someone who did not initiate the divorce and is instead a victim of it.

A victim of divorce is perhaps the best way to depict a person whose spouse has left them.  Jesus says that a person who divorces causes their spouse to become an adulterer.  A person is not an adulterer by virtue of becoming divorced.  It would appear that Jesus is making the assumption that most divorced people will get remarried.  To get remarried would cause the divorcee to become an adulterer.  However, from Jesus’ statement it appears as if the guilt of adultery rests upon the one who initiated the divorce because he or she has caused their spouse to become this.  That being said, a divorced person is responsible for their own actions and even though they are a victim of divorce, they are not forced to get remarried.

There is an exception offered as a legitimate reason for divorce.  If a spouse is unfaithful a divorce is allowed.  From the wording of Jesus’ statement it would appear that getting divorced and remarried as a result of marital unfaithfulness is allowed.  The guilt of adultery rests with the spouse who broke the marriage vows.

There is another category of divorcee that is discussed in “What Should I Do About an Unbelieving Spouse?”  In 1 Corinthians 7:15 Paul writes, “But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.”  A believer is not bound to remain married to an unbeliever, if the unbeliever initiates the divorce.

What we have left is an argument from silence.  The divorce is allowed and the guilt rests on the unbeliever who initiated the divorce.  However there is nothing definitively said when a Christian can remarry after an unbelieving spouse divorces them.

The argument against remarrying is that Jesus only gave one exception to divorce and remarriage, marital unfaithfulness.  Because no other exceptions were made we can’t assume that this divorce means that a person can remarry.

The argument for remarriage is that the divorce was allowed.  Likewise, when Jesus spoke, He addressed a Jewish audience who would not have had marriages where one person was a believer and the spouse was not.  By Paul’s day there were many converts to Christianity and it was likely that many marriages had one spouse that had become a Christian and the other had not.  Jesus had no reason to include this exception but Paul did 25-30 years later as he addressed Christians in an entirely different situation than Jesus addressed Jews in.

This still leaves a lot that is open for interpretation.  About the only things that we can definitively say from scripture is that a widow or widower is free to get remarried.  On the flipside, a person who initiated a divorce should not get remarried or else they are guilty of adultery.

As for other situations, the advice of Paul rings loudest.  If a person can remain single and not be tempted, they are better off to do so.  If a person feels the need to become remarried they should let their conscience be their guide.  If they believe it is wrong to do so, they should refrain.  Only after much prayer and consultation should a victim of divorce consider remarrying.

Analysis of Matthew 19:1-12

1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

4″Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

7″Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”


Jesus acknowledges that not everyone will be able to accept His teaching on divorce.  This does not make it an optional command and that people are excused from following it if they don’t like it.  Instead He is confirming that it exists and that people will continue to divorce because their hearts are hard.

At the time, a man could divorce his wife for any trivial reason, even something such as burning the toast.  Jesus explains that divorce is not God’s will but had been allowed in the law of Moses because of the hardness of people’s hearts.

There are a few lessons from what Jesus says and at least two from what He doesn’t say.  The first is that someone who initiates a divorce and then remarries is guilty of adultery.

The second lesson is a tricky exception to the rule of divorce.  The Greek word that is translated as marital unfaithfulness is porneia.  No one knows the exact meaning of this word although it is understood to be similar to fornication or adultery.  It is the root word where we get the word pornography.  Marital unfaithfulness is grounds for divorce according to Jesus, assuming that this is precisely what porneia means.

What is not said is if a person who has a legitimate reason for a divorce can then remarry.  This topic is discussed under “Is infidelity grounds for divorce?” and “Should I get remarried?

While a person who initiates the divorce is told not to remarry because it is adultery, the fate of the divorcee is not mentioned.  Are they allowed to get remarried because they were not at fault for the divorce?  Jesus addresses this partly in Matthew 5:31-32 and it is discussed here under the topic “Should I get remarried?

Other passages concerning divorce

Malachi 2:13-16

1 Corinthians 7:10-11, 39

Can My Marriage Be Saved?

God wants all people to live in peace and harmony with one another.  Unfortunately when marital problems begin this peace and harmony is broken.

Christians should strive for peace in all of their relationships, not just in marriage.  This means that everything that can be done, should be done to save a marriage.

Even when a partner has hurt their spouse greatly and there appear to be grounds for a divorce such as adultery (see “Is infidelity grounds for a divorce?” for more information) reconciliation should still be the goal.

No matter what harm has been caused by a spouse, a person can repent and seek forgiveness.  God can save any marriage that both parties are interested in saving.  God can also work to turn the heart of a spouse who has lost interest in their marriage and work to bring the couple back to a renewed love.

The Bible gives us one instance where a marriage should be ended for the sake of peace and harmony.  1 Corinthians 7:12-16 lays out an instance where a spouse should be allowed to leave.

12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

In short, if one person is a Christian and the other is not, the Christian should not seek a divorce because they have some influence for good on their spouse and may yet lead them to the Lord.  But if that spouse desires to leave the marriage, they should not feel obligated to remain in the marriage because they are a witness to their spouse.  While this gives permission for a divorce to take place, it does not give permission to remarry.  It is simply in the interest of peace that a divorce is allowed.

Unfortunately there are many instances of Christian couples who are not living in harmony.  True Christians should do everything they can to save the marriage but often one person does not want to work things out.  If a person is acting like an unbeliever, treat them like an unbeliever.  If they refuse to seek the peace that God wants for the marriage, they are no better than an unbeliever.

Obviously this does not mean that the first time a spouse does not want to talk about marriage problems that they are acting as an unbeliever and should be allowed to walk away.  Only in cases where a person obviously is not walking with the Lord despite claiming to be a Christian should this be considered and even then they should be the one to initiate a divorce.