What I would like to discuss is how modern protestants, who tend to get divorced at absolutely astounding rates, can reconcile their behavior with their scriptures. From an outsiders point of view, it seems this is a case where the New Testament is so clear on a subject that the only option to rationalize divorce (in most cases, see Matthew below) is to admit the fallibility of the testament itself.
Yes, this could be called a "religion thread". But not, at least in intention, a general one. I am specifically talking here about modern protestant Christian religion when it comes to the subject of Divorce. This was spurred on by thinking about the "sanctity of marriage" arguments that get thrown around in reference to gay marriage and prop. 8. This post will be fairly long and is very much a niche subject.
When quoting here I will be using the NIV
version for readability and linking to the King James
because it is so widely used among protestants. Oddly enough, despite the King James many flaws, this is a case where translational issues are not a problem. In fact because Jesus was so very clear (not even using parables but plain speech) in his views on divorce and because they are referenced in several places throughout the New Testament this is one area where there is little controversy over authenticity.
In order to make the case that Jesus did not say something like these things (even without exact wording the meaning is clear) you have to essentially admit that the gospels (and Paul) are just plain wrong on a fairly important point.
As it is exceedingly likely that Mark was the first gospel to be composed, sometime fairly soon after 70 AD, it seems appropriate to first examine the first few verses of Mark chapter 10:
Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
"What did Moses command you?" he replied.
They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."
"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female. 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."
When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."
You can find the text in the King James version here.
Despite four centuries of change in the English language the meaning is still plainly identical.
In the Gospel of Matthew shortly after the Beatitudes Jesus offers a slightly less strict version allowing for separation in the case of "unfaithfulness" (or immorality or several other similar words depending on how you translate the Greek).
King James version here.
"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce. 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.
Later in Matthew 19 is offered up essentially the same text as appeared in Mark 10 but again allowing for divorce for unfaithfulness:
King James here.
When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
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?"
"Haven't you read," he replied, "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."
"Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"
Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."
The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."
Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 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."
It is also interesting to look at 1 Corinthians 7. While this is one of the letters of Saul of Tarsus and was not intended as scripture (though it quickly became regarded as such) Saul is valuable in that his letters - at least those that he may have actually wrote
are the only portions of the New Testament for whom there is a known author and the only portions which were written prior to the Judean War. Saul himself never met Jesus in life but was, according to him, considered acceptable to preach his message by the pillars of the Jerusalem community of Christians after his death (albeit in exchange for a whopping great payment of cash money which Saul spent most of his life trying to raise).
King James here.
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.
The rest of 1 Corinthians 7 is fascinating in that Saul goes on to disagree with the hard-and-fast ruling of Jesus in some cases and presents his own opinions on the subject with greater nuance. But he at least has the decency to state that these are his opinions as different form those of The Lord.
Is there perhaps some commonly accepted protestant Dogma I am not aware of that twists the meaning of these passages? Or is this simply a case of only following (or forcing others to follow) the few passages and creeds that meet with the approval of ones own earthly judgment?