– what God has joined together
15 from The Great Divorce Controversy by ES Williams
tracing the pathway to mass divorce we saw how the debates in 19th century
England were dominated by scriptural references to marriage and divorce. On one
side were those who held that marriage was a contract that could be dissolved on
certain grounds. Those who followed the Protestant doctrine of divorce, argued
that divorce was permissible for adultery and desertion, while the secular
humanists rejected the Scriptures and supported divorce for any and every
reason. In the parliamentary debates, the proponents argued that divorce was a
remedy that offered another chance of happiness to those in unhappy marriages.
They claimed that divorce followed by remarriage offered the hope of happy,
stable relationships and would reduce the number of illegitimate children. They
also asserted that it would be better for children from unhappy homes if their
opposed to the legalisation of divorce believed that the Bible taught that
marriage is an indissoluble covenant between a man and his wife. From their
knowledge of the Scriptures they understood the consequences of ignoring God’s
plan for marriage, and warned of the dire consequences of divorce. The Bishop
of Oxford, for example, argued that the legalisation of divorce would weaken the
institution of marriage in the eyes of society. Although it might take time, he
predicted that slowly, step by step, divorce would change the moral aspect of
the nation. He believed that the Divorce Reform Act of 1857 was contrary to the
law of God, and fruitful in future crime and misery to the people of England.1 Lord Salisbury argued that extending divorce would poison
the happiness of the home and inflict a curse upon the poor.2
Viscount Dungannon feared that divorce would be the means of introducing great
misery among the poorer classes that was too painful to contemplate. He warned
of the consequences that would follow once society let go of the idea that
marriage was a lifelong union.3
Lord John Manners declared that divorce was against the express declaration of
the Scriptures and its legalisation would inevitably loosen the marriage tie,
and would have momentous consequences for the nation.4
Mr William Gladstone said that the indissolubility of marriage was an idea
firmly established in the mind of England, and therefore introducing divorce
would have the most serious social consequences.5
Sir William Heathcote claimed that the introduction of divorce into England was
a national crisis for it affected the sanctity of the family home and the purity
prediction that divorce would damage the fabric of society is coming true during
our lifetime, and the experience of millions of people confirms that divorce is
the cause of great human suffering. (The evidence presented in later chapters
provides overwhelming evidence of the harm that divorce causes to men, women and
children). Moreover, many people feel uneasy about divorce for they know that
the Bible teaches that it is wrong. When Christ was asked about the reasons for
divorce he drew attention to the biblical account of marriage as described in
Genesis and, before discussing divorce, he clarified God’s law regarding
marriage. Clearly Jesus was making the point that it is necessary to understand
the meaning and significance of marriage before one can even begin to think
about divorce. So Jesus went right back to the creation of man and woman to
explain the significance of marriage, emphasising God’s plan revealed in the
first few chapters of the Bible. In our thinking about divorce we would do well
to follow the example of our Lord and first understand God’s will with regard to
Marriage at Creation
According to the Bible, God instituted marriage immediately after he created the
first man and woman, while Adam and Eve were still in the Garden of Eden. We
see that the idea of marriage was in the mind of God from the beginning of
Creation. In other words, marriage was no afterthought but central to the
purpose for which man was created.
God created male and female
created mankind as sexual beings and his plan is that men and women should unite
in marriage to create families and thereby propagate the human race.
created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and
female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and
increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it’ (Genesis 1:27–28a).
sexual nature of mankind is fundamental to God’s creation plan—sexuality is at
the centre of the human condition as created in the image of God. Jesus quoted
from the first chapter of Genesis to emphasise this ultimate truth; he said that
at the beginning of creation ‘God made them male and female’ (Mark 10:6). Thus,
in the original purpose of God, humanity is complete in man and woman. The
human race is divided into two sexes and both are required for procreation.
Neither male nor female is complete on their own; they need each other. The
first command that God gave to mankind, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number;
fill the earth...’ (Genesis 1:28) can only be fulfilled by men and women joining
together in sexual intercourse. For this reason God has placed within human
nature a strong sexual attraction between men and women. We are endowed with
sexual desires that make it natural for us to be attracted to the opposite sex
and to enter a sexual relationship. But we are not free to indulge our sexual
appetites as we wish, for God has given us moral laws to control our sexual
behaviour. These moral laws are not only right, they are also for our good.
Implicit within divine law is the idea that sexual intercourse should take place
within the marriage union. The God-given mandate to be fruitful and increase in
number is to be fulfilled by the marriage of a man to his wife. So we see that
human sexuality, which finds its meaning in the procreation of the race, and
marriage, are central to God’s plan for men and women.
Not good to be alone
the time of Creation the Lord God emphasised the need that mankind has for
companionship. Men and women are not created to live in isolation, but to live
in relationship with each other.
Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper
suitable for him.’ …Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out
of the man, and he brought her to the man (Genesis 2:18,22).
provide a suitable partner for the man God created a woman from his rib, thereby
highlighting the closeness of the relationship between the sexes, and providing
a symbol of the one flesh union that is created at marriage. Notice that it is
God himself who gives the woman Eve to Adam, as if he is the father of the
bride. The man is overjoyed with the woman, his God-given marriage partner.
Adam recognises the closeness of the relationship to his new wife, and describes
her as, ‘…bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman”,
for she was taken out of man’ (Genesis 2:23). By referring to bone and flesh
Adam is showing that he understands that his wife is a part of him, that she is
his flesh and blood, for she was taken out of him. Indeed, the true definition
of woman is one who is taken out of man. Adam then names her woman, signifying
the role of the man as the head of the family. Later, after the Fall, Adam
names his wife Eve (Genesis 3:20), because she would become the mother of all
the living. The significance of the family name is discussed later.
Following the introduction of Eve to Adam, God lays down the principles that are
to govern all future marriages.
this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,
and they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
Scripture explains the reason for marriage: it is because of the fundamental
unity between man and woman. God has created males and females to complement
each other. The woman is created to be a suitable partner for the man; she is
created from the body of the man, and is of the same flesh and bone as the man.
The joining together of male and female in marriage creates the fundamental
unity of humanity. By joining together in sexual intercourse, husband and wife
create a new life which is the natural fruit of their marriage union. It is
God’s will that children are born into the family created by the one flesh
marriage union. Husband and wife, through the fruitfulness of their marriage
union, become father and mother to the children born as a consequence of their
one flesh union. Both Jesus, in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, and the
apostle Paul, in Ephesians 5:25–33, referred to Genesis 2:24 to explain the
mystery of the one flesh union created by marriage.
The sinfulness of men
inherent sinfulness of mankind is widely acknowledged, and the pathway of
history is strewn with evidence of mankind’s sinful nature. The Bible provides
a clear explanation of mankind’s tendency to sin. The third chapter of Genesis
tells how Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command not to eat of the Tree of the
knowledge of Good and Evil. By this act of rebellion against God, sin entered
the human race and all became sinners. The Bible tells us, ‘There is no-one
righteous, not even one’ and ‘all have turned away, they have together become
worthless; there is no-one who does good, not even one’ (Romans 3:10,12). This
truth, that all people are sinful, is one of the most profound truths of the
Bible, for it demonstrates that all mankind need salvation from sin. It also
explains that we live in an imperfect world, with imperfect human
relationships. The corollary of this is that relationships between men and
women are affected by our tendency to sin. It follows that all marriages will
have problems, for both husbands and wives are imperfect sinful human beings.
There are no perfectly happy marriages.
Jesus’ teaching on
the Pharisees challenged Jesus about the grounds for divorce, he took the
opportunity to re-emphasise God’s plan for marriage. He pointed out that the
divine blueprint for marriage was given at the time of Creation and quoted from
Genesis 2:24, thereby reiterating its importance. Jesus said:
you read, …that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ 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’? So they are no longer two, but
one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate (Matthew
these famous words Christ endorsed marriage as a divine ordinance established at
Creation and highlighted its essential characteristics.
A man leaves his father and mother
the heart of marriage is the idea that a man leaves the family into which he was
born and forms a new family with his wife. This point is of fundamental
importance and needs to be clearly understood; marriage creates a new family as
husband and wife leave the family of their parents and start a family home
together. In an essay on divorce, Carl Laney makes the point that ‘a man must
let go of his parents, with the view to establishing his own home and family’.7
In order to cement
this unity the man leaves his father and mother so that he can give his full
devotion to his wife. The leaving of the parental family is a public event.
According to Henri Blocher, ‘In biblical times the event the Bible calls
marriage involved the whole society. The idea of a purely private marriage is
simply a recent aberration, the result of individualism and of the
disintegration of traditional communities. The marriage feast assured that the
marriage was a public event. For Scripture the marriage bond is a part of those
social realities supervised by the civil authority; it is the law which binds a
woman to her husband.’8
It is important for society to know that when a couple start living together
they are joined to each other in marriage. This is because the family is the
basic institution of a good society. Marriage is good for the stability of
society, and for the moral well-being of the nation.
reason a good society has always frowned on people living together in a sexual
relationship without being married. Those who cohabit have correctly been
labelled as living in sin for they are flaunting the most basic moral laws of a
good society. Children born outside marriage, until a few years ago, were
officially referred to as illegitimate, for they were the product of a
relationship that was not recognised by society. It is customary for a
forthcoming marriage to be announced in public so that society knows that a man
and woman are to be joined in a lawful marriage. A prerequisite is that both
partners are eligible for marriage and any person who knows of a reason why the
marriage cannot lawfully take place has a responsibility to declare it. There
is a social responsibility to prevent unlawful, bigamist marriages, and to
prevent illegitimate births.
husband and wife take their marriage vows in front of witnesses and make clear
their intention to live together as a family for life. It is public knowledge
that the man and woman are committed for life and are not available to others.
Marriage rings may be exchanged as an outward symbol of the marriage union. A
register records the details of the marriage, and most are celebrated with a
ceremony. Many marriages are announced in a newspaper and everybody in the
community knows that a couple have become man and wife.
A man is united to his wife
marriage a man is united to his wife. Their unity is based upon vows to live
together as husband and wife and to be faithful to each other, whatever the
circumstances, until ‘death us do part’. Their vows are made in the presence of
God, and he is the divine witness to the marriage. Husband and wife are, in
fact, entering into a covenant relationship that cannot be broken, except by
death, even should one partner prove unfaithful. In their heart and conscience
they know that the bond created by marriage is for life. The marriage union
provides the fullest expression of mutual loving companionship that human beings
can experience in this world. The union created by marriage is not only
physical, but is also an emotional and spiritual unity of profound dimensions,
as a husband and wife become one flesh.
cleave is used in the older translations of the Bible and means to cling to or
keep close to, implying loyalty and affection. According to Laney ‘a study of
the word cleave suggests that marriage involves a partnership commitment to
which the husband and wife must be loyal; the biblical concept suggests the idea
of being super-glued together – bound inseparably by a commitment to a lifelong
relationship’.9 It follows that a man and woman who have been glued together
by marriage cannot be easily separated – indeed, separation is likely to cause
No longer two, but one flesh
Quoting the verse in Genesis, Jesus says ‘the two will become one flesh’ and
draws the following conclusion, ‘So they are no longer two, but one.’ The man
and woman who enter into the marriage bond become one flesh and are no longer
two, but one entity. The apostle Paul develops this concept by teaching that
‘husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife
loves himself. After all, no-one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and
cares for it’ (Ephesians 5:28–29). Paul is saying that a wife is actually a
part of her husband’s body—she is of his flesh and blood. He illustrates this
mystery by revealing a profound truth that when a man loves his wife he loves
himself for she is a part of him. It follows that when a man hates his wife he
hates his own body. Paul then quotes Genesis 2:24, ‘For this reason a man will
leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become
one flesh’, acknowledging that it is a mystery. There is something so deep and
wonderful in the marriage bond that we need spiritual insight fully to
understand its divine significance. The union of husband and wife is used in
the Scriptures as a symbol of the unity between Christ and his Church; Christ is
the bridegroom and the Church is his bride. Paul says that the Church is a part
of Christ; we are members of the body of Christ and Christ is the head of the
Church. In the same way, the wife is part of the body of her husband. This
union between Christ and his Church is based on the covenant promise, sealed in
his blood, that he will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He
will remain faithful to his promises even although we are faithless.
man and woman become one flesh by marriage they can never again be the same as
they were before this transformation takes place. In an essay on divorce
William Heth explains the union in this way. ‘Something unique and “creational”
takes place when husband and wife consummate their marriage covenant: they
become closely related (one flesh).’10 Heth shows that Jesus’ interpretation of Scripture implies
that God himself is involved in creating this new family unit. ‘Thus Jesus
explains that marriage involves three persons: a man, a woman, and the One who
in the beginning created mankind as male and female.’11 This union changes the relationship of the man and his wife
with other family members. Indeed, the biblical statement ‘they become one
flesh’ affirms that just as blood relations are one’s flesh and blood, so
marriage creates a similar kinship relation between man and wife. They are as
closely related as a brother and sister. In their book, Jesus and Divorce
(1984), Wenham and Heth express the view that ‘the moment a man married a
woman she became an integral part of his family in the same way in which
children born into that family did’.12
It follows that a husband is closely related to his wife’s female relatives, and
should his wife die or he divorce her, he could not marry them, for the family
relationship remains intact. For the same reason, the wife will never be able
to marry her husband’s father even should her husband die, or divorce her.
fundamental principle is that the one flesh marriage bond is indissoluble and
even divorce cannot break it. Moreover, the family relationships between
children and their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins are not changed by
divorce; they remain each other’s flesh and blood, and are related for life. So
Jesus made a profound statement when he said they are one, thereby
confirming the indissoluble nature of the marriage bond—the consequences of
marriage are for life. As the apostle Paul says, ‘by law a married woman is
bound to her husband as long as he is alive…’ (Romans 7:2). This is why it is
so important for husband and wife to be faithful to each other.
flesh union is complete when the couple consummate their marriage union by
sexual intercourse. Husband and wife lovingly share their sexual life,
accepting that their sexual union is likely to be blessed by the birth of
children. They accept with joy the children that result, for they are the
natural, legitimate products of their union—clear evidence that they are truly
one flesh. According to Laney the concept of one flesh is illustrated by the
children who are born into the family. By their offspring, husband and wife are
indissolubly united into one person.13
Both parents contribute equally to the genetic make up of their children, and
the likeness to their parents witnesses to this fact. The one flesh bond
created by parenthood is indissoluble, and a child can have only one set of
parents. Divorce does not break the bond between parents and children.
custom of a woman taking the surname of the man she marries symbolised their
oneness as a family, and is based on the biblical truth illustrated when Adam
was given the responsibility of naming his wife. The family name is important,
for society is able to identify the members of a family by their name. The fact
that all the members share a common name illustrates their unity as a family and
that they belong together as an entity. All the children born into the family
will be known by the family name. The contemporary notion that a married woman
can retain her maiden name is fundamentally contrary to the idea of biblical
marriage; it denies the reality of the one flesh marriage bond. Furthermore,
through marriage the husband and wife become members of a wider extended family,
with a host of new family relationships. Both husband and wife acquire many
relatives, which may include father and mother-in-law, and brothers and
sisters-in-law. Because of the current confusion that surrounds definitions of
the family, this point must again be emphasised. Biblical teaching makes it
clear that a family is formed by the marriage of a man and a woman. Without
marriage, there is no family.
What God has joined let man not separate
Having stressed the importance of the creational ordinance of marriage, Jesus
concluded with the words, ‘Therefore what God has joined together, let man not
separate.’ He contrasts the divine action of joining together husband and wife
with the human inclination to separate as a matter of convenience. According to
Jesus, it is God who joins a husband and wife in marriage. This means that God
is the author of the new family created by marriage. And so we see a profound
biblical truth— families are created by God, and not by man. Jesus is saying
that at the most fundamental level a man and woman are joined by God to become a
family in marriage. In his book Divorce & Remarriage (1993), Andrew
Cornes writes, ‘whenever a man and woman marry, whatever the circumstances that
have brought them together, it is God who is yoking them to one another’.14
who think correctly about marriage will no longer think of a man and his wife as
two separate entities.15
warns of the human inclination to break the marriage bond with the words ‘let
man not separate’. He knew what was in the heart of men and women; he knew that
they would not readily accept the divine institution of marriage but would want
to use divorce as the remedy for unhappy marriages. And so he warns them not to
separate what God has joined together. A married couple has a moral
responsibility before God to maintain the family formed at their marriage.
Because God joins a couple in marriage, no human being should attempt to destroy
it. This is a warning to the marriage partners themselves; they should not do
anything that will endanger their marriage. In particular, they should not form
any relationship that would threaten their marriage and the family of which
their children are a part. Other people should also be careful not to take any
action that could endanger a marriage and thereby break a family. For a third
person to form a liaison with someone who is married is fundamentally wrong as
it endangers the marriage. Adultery is a grievous sin for it can break a
marriage, and cause great harm to the whole family, husband, wife and children.
Biblical teaching on
the marriage relationship
Because marriage is an essential, indissoluble bond, the Bible gives clear
instructions about how a married couple should live together. In the Bible the
unity between Christ and his Church is used as a symbol of the marriage
relationship—just as Christ and his Church are one, so husband and wife are one.
The roles and responsibilities of husband and wife and the way the family should
be governed are described in the Bible. The need for husband and wife to have a
correct understanding of the significance of their marriage, and the right
attitude towards each other is emphasized. Biblical Christianity lays down a
clear moral framework for the behaviour of men and women, teaching that sexual
activity should be confined to the marriage relationship. All forms of sexual
immorality are condemned as sinful and a cause of harm to those involved. The
Bible teaches that ‘marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed
kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral’
passages in the Bible provide teaching about the behaviour of husband and wife.
The apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (5:22–33) and the apostle Peter
in his first letter (1 Peter 3:1–7) give clear instructions to Christian
believers on the way they ought to behave in marriage.
submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife
as Christ is the head of the church… Now as the church submits to Christ, so
also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your
wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her
holy… In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself… Each one of you also must love his wife as
he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:22–33).
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do
not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of
their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. ...They were
submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him
her master... Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your
wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you
of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers (1 Peter
The headship of the husband
Bible teaches that the husband is the head of the family. The headship of the
husband is taught explicitly in Ephesians. ‘For the husband is the head of the
wife as Christ is the head of the church... Now as the church submits to Christ,
so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything’ (Ephesians
5:23,24). In 1 Corinthians 11:3 we read, ‘Now I want you to realise that the
head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of
Christ is God.’ According to the Bible there is a hierarchy of authority within
the family. The family is not to be leaderless, nor is it to be governed by
whim or fancy, nor by the majority view. Instead the husband has been given the
responsibility of leadership in the family.
husband, however, is to exercise his leadership role under the authority of
Christ, who is his head and the example he should follow in exercising his role.
As the leader, he has a responsibility to provide for and protect his wife and
children, and is responsible, together with his wife, for the moral well-being
of his family. In an essay on headship Edward Donnelly writes, ‘God has
established a structure in which “the head of the woman is man”. This is
evident from creation, witnessed to by “nature” and supported by universal
Christian practice. Man’s headship is carefully qualified so that it poses no
threat to woman’s worth, dignity or meaningful role in life. Still, he is head
and the woman rejects this authority to her and his shame and to dishonour God.’16
For a husband not to take on his God-given leadership responsibility in marriage
is to fail his wife and his family, and lays the seeds of dissension in the
marriage. He has a unique leadership role in the family that he should not
concept of male headship is anathema to feminist ideology. As we have seen, it
is attacked as the foundation of the patriarchal society, and the cause of
women’s oppression. According to feminist thinking, marriage must be an equal
partnership where each submits to the other.18
But this is a dangerous teaching for it denies biblical truth. Throughout the
Bible it is made clear that the man has a leadership role in the family.
Wives submit to your husbands
Bible teaches that the wife should accept the authority of her husband to lead
the family, and submit willingly to his leadership.19
According to George Knight, writing in Recovering biblical Manhood and
Womanhood (1991), ‘this particular exhortation to the wife to submit to her
husband is the universal teaching of the New Testament. Every passage that
deals with the relationship of the wife to her husband tells her to “submit to”
Colossians 3:18 tells wives to ‘submit to their husbands, as is fitting in the
Lord’, and Titus 2:5 instructs wives ‘to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy
at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no-one will
malign the word of God’. She should not challenge his leadership, but should
rather support and help him in this role, accepting that it is God who has
vested the leadership of the family in her husband. And the example that is
used to illustrate the attitude of the wife, is that she should submit to her
husband in the same way as the Church submits to its Lord. There can be no
greater example of submission. So the wife should not in any way undermine the
authority of her husband, for that would damage the family of which she is an
integral part; it would also damage her children. Moreover, not only should she
submit with an attitude of complete acceptance, but also in everything
(Ephesians 5:24). The Bible leaves little doubt about the importance of
submission to the headship role of the husband. It mentions the holy women of
the past who were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed her
husband Abraham, and called him her master (1 Peter 3:5–6).
It is not
difficult to see why feminist ideology is violently opposed to this Christian
teaching. The idea that a wife should actually submit to her husband is
unthinkable to the feminist mind, and goes against the most fundamental tenet of
feminism. For this reason many feminist writers have attacked marriage as an
irrelevant and outdated institution.
Husbands love your wives
husband is to show a deep love for his wife. We have seen that God has joined
the husband and wife together so that they become one flesh, one entity, and
part of each other. The husband should love and cherish his wife as himself, as
the Scripture says ‘husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies’
(Ephesians 5:28). As Christ loved the church so the husband must love his
wife. Christ’s love was unconditional—he loved us although we did not love
him. And he showed his love by giving of himself, for ‘Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her’ (Ephesians 5:25). Following this example, the
husband must put the interests of his wife and family above his own. A loving
husband will give of himself for the benefit of his wife.21
By loving his wife, he will bring great blessing on the family of which he is
the head. And if he does not love his wife then he damages his family, his
children and himself. As the Bible says, ‘He who loves his wife loves himself’
Wives respect your husbands
have seen that the wife must submit to her husband because he is the head of the
family. Yet she can submit to her husband without respecting him. But that
would be wrong for submission without respect means that the wife submits with a
poor attitude, not really understanding why she should do so. She must respect
her husband because he is the head of the family, the father of her children,
and the provider and protector of the family home. She should respect her
husband because God has commanded her to do so (Ephesians 5:33) and because it
is the right thing to do. George Knight writes, ‘A wife’s respecting her
husband and his headship therefore implies that her submission involves not only
what she does but also her attitude in doing it.’22
The husband has the major responsibility for maintaining order and discipline
within the family; this is no easy task, and he needs the respect of his wife as
he strives to fulfil his role. After all, how will the children respect their
father if his wife does not do so?
action of Jesus following the dramatic encounter with the Pharisees show why
marriage is so important and why divorce is not an option. After issuing his
serious warning to married couples not to separate, the gospel of Matthew
little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and
pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said,
‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of
heaven belongs to such as these’ (Matthew 19:13–14).
his loving attitude towards children Jesus is showing that divorce is not even
to be contemplated; that husband and wife, and especially father and mother, are
never to separate. Here again we see the action of Christ, which is to love and
care for children, and the action of his disciples, who fail to understand the
value God places on children. Jesus knew that marriage is the God-given
institution in which the divine command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ is to be
fulfilled. God’s intention is that the marriage relationship should be fruitful
and produce children. The Bible tells us that, ‘Sons are a heritage from the
Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are
sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them’
(Psalm 127: 3–5). Children are a gift from God and those parents who have many
children – or as the Psalmist would say, ‘a quiver full of arrows’ – are blessed
by God. The birth of children brings with it parental responsibilities as
husband and wife become father and mother. Parents have a God-given
responsibility to care for their children—it is unthinkable that they would not
do so. The Proverbs of Solomon make it clear that the father and mother must
teach and instruct their children, and so children are advised to ‘Listen ...
to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching’
(Proverbs 1:8). Within the family home, children are to be loved, taught, and
disciplined by both their mother and their father. This is God’s plan.
Parents, and especially fathers, have a duty to train and discipline their
children. The Bible makes it very clear that all children need parental
discipline, and that the father should take the lead in disciplining the
children, ‘For what son is not disciplined by his father?’ (Hebrews 12:7).
discipline is for the good of the children, for it teaches them that they cannot
always have their own way; they need to develop self-control and
self-discipline, and they need to recognise and respect the authority of their
parents. Parental discipline warns children of the dangers of immoral
behaviour. The discipline that parents exercise over their children is a sign
of their love, for while any discipline seems unpleasant at the time, it
produces a harvest of good in the long run. Parents are to teach their children
the difference between right and wrong, and, by their behaviour, set an example
for their children to follow. A major problem associated with divorce is that
it separates parents from their children. This makes it difficult for parents
to discipline their children and to teach them a moral foundation on which they
can base their lives. By divorcing, parents show their children that marriage
does not matter; by honouring their marriage vows, parents teach their children
the importance of marriage and the family.
teaches that a fundamental purpose of marriage is to provide a secure family
home in which children are to be nurtured as they grow into adulthood. This
biblical teaching is an eternal truth, and applies to all people, and for all
time. And this point needs to be underlined—God’s plan for marriage is not only
for Christians, but is for all people. It is part of God’s common grace; the
Creator designed marriage for the good of all. Those who are not Christian need
to recognise the wisdom of the biblical view of marriage; to do so will bring
great blessing to their family. Those who accept and follow biblical teaching,
and understand the true meaning and significance of marriage, are unlikely ever
to contemplate divorce, for they know that a father and mother must protect and
love their children when they are at their most innocent and vulnerable. The
marital relationship between husband and wife, and the parental relationship
between parents and children are inextricably linked, because they are the
relationships that make the family home complete. To break either relationship
is to harm the family, and when one member of the family suffers the whole
family is damaged. This is the reason why divorce is such as disaster for all
the members of the family.
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Chapter 15. What God has joined together
1. Hansard. Lords debate, 18 May 1857, cc523-31.
2. Ibid. cc516-21.
3. Ibid. cc513-14.
4. Hansard. Commons debate, 3 July 1857, cc767-73.
5. Hansard. Commons debate, 31 July 1857, cc825-55.
6. Hansard. Commons debate, 30 July 1857, cc736-42.
7. J. Carl Laney. ‘No divorce and no remarriage’, in H. Wayne
House (ed.), Divorce and remarriage: Four Christian views. Downers Grove,
Inter-Varsity Press, 1990, p17.
8. Henri Blocher. In the Beginning. Leicester,
Inter-Varsity Press, 1984, pp105-6.
9. Laney, ‘No divorce and no remarriage’, p18.
10. William A. Heth. ‘Divorce, but No Remarriage’, in H. Wayne
House (ed.), Divorce and remarriage: Four Christian views. Downers Grove,
Inter-Varsity Press, 1990, p77.
11. Ibid. p77.
12. Gordon J. Wenham and William E. Heth. Jesus and divorce.
Updated edition. Carlisle, Paternoster Press, 1997, p105.
13. Laney, ‘No divorce and no remarriage’, p20.
14. Andrew Cornes. Divorce and remarriage: Biblical
principles and pastoral practice. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1993, p66.
15. Ibid. p65.
16. Edward Donnelly. ‘Headship,’ in Brian Edwards (ed.),
Men, women and authority. London, Day One Publications, 1996, p110.
17. Wayne Grudem. ‘Wives like Sarah, and the husbands who
honour them: 1 Peter 3:17’, in John Piper and Wayne Grudem. (eds.),
Recovering biblical manhood and womanhood. Wheaton, Ill., Crossway Books,
18. Elaine Storkey. What’s right with feminism. London,
Third Way Books, SPCK, 1985, p182.
19. Wayne Grudem. ‘Wives like Sarah, and the husbands who
honour them: 1 Peter 3:17’, p196.
20. George W. Knight. ‘Husbands and wives as analogues of
Christ and the Church: Ephesians 5:21-33’, in John Piper and Wayne Grudem.
(eds.), Recovering biblical manhood and womanhood. Wheaton, Ill.,
Crossway Books, 199l, p168.
21. Ibid. p172.
22. Ibid. p175.