Iron Rod 032 – Divorce
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Casually reading what the scriptures have to say about divorce can be confusing. The Law of Moses spells out the process of divorce and makes it clear that people are allowed to remarry after divorce. Yet in the New Testament Jesus makes comments that appear to condemn divorce and equate remarriage with adultery. In this episode we dig into the Greek and Hebrew, demonstrate the scriptural difference between putting away and divorce, and show how bad translations have significantly changed what Jesus was criticizing, and how the corrected view is consistent with ancient and modern scripture.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4

Jeremiah 3:1

Deuteronomy 22:13-19, 28-39

Malachi 2:14-16

Matthew 5:31-32

3 Nephi 12:27-32

Matthew 19:3-9

Luke 16:18

Mark 10:11-12

1 Corinthian 7:10-15

D&C 42:22-26, 74-77

D&C 49:15-17

Article on Marriage (1835 D&C 101)

Romans 7:1-3

1 Corinthians 7:8-9

1 Timothy 5:14

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13 comments on “Iron Rod 032 – Divorce

  1. This podcast was so enlightening! It answered so many questions I’ve had over the years. This is an incredible gift you are giving the church community–a clarification and explanation of so many confusing and seemingly contradictory scriptural passages.

    This podcast brought up a question for me. In D&C 124: 16-17, the Lord speaks favorably about John C. Bennett when we know now that at the time of this revelation, he had already abandoned a wife and children and was a known philanderer before coming to the saints. What do you make of that and does it mean Section 124 needs to be examined for possible tampering?

    • Kathy Griffiths Jul 15, 2019

      Joy. Yesterday, I just re-read section 124 and had the same question you have, in relationship to John Bennett. I noticed that this revelation was given in 1841. I was going to research the time period in which Bennet was giving the prophet grief. From my understanding, in a court of law, Bennett retracted his Grievances with Joseph, which absolved the prophet from teaching and promoting polygamy. It is this case that those who do not believe Joseph taught or practice polygamy hold tight to Any correction or further understanding about this would be helpful.

      • Kathy, Thank you for responding. Could you further explain your statement here? Are you saying that at some point, under oath, Bennett retracted his earlier statements that Joseph was teaching and practicing polygamy? Do you have a reference for that? At this point I lean towards believing that Joseph did not teach or practice the form of polygamy the church maintains he did. I think he was teaching something about relationships in the eternities that lead others to believe he was teaching earthly plurality of marriage. I have yet to learn of any “smoking gun” that proves he did.

        Also, I, like you, would appreciate any feedback about my question relating to Section 124.

  2. Shirley Jul 15, 2019

    The following is a link to scripture search and study program from an acquaintance that is to be released in the future. Thought you might be interested.
    https://scripturenotes.com/

  3. In regards to John C. Bennet: “For his love he shall be great, for he shall be mine IF HE DO THIS.” (D&C 124:17)

    I believe if Bennet had remained faithful he would have contributed to receiving the the fulness and would have repented and returned to his wife.

    “His reward shall not fail if he receive counsel.”

    Bennet had the makings of being a godly man. He chose wrong.

    -G.azelem

    • Your take on this is interesting, however, I’m still conflicted by these scriptures because the Lord says, “I have seen the work which he hath done, which I accept if he continue, . . .” At the moment this revelation was received part of the “work” which Bennett had done was leave his wife and children and, from what I understand, he had a history of infidelity. That “work” would disqualify him from being accepted by the Lord. If the Lord had said something like, “I have seen the sins which he has committed, and if he turn from them, repent and fully come unto me, I will accept him.” That would have fit the circumstances better.

      • Watcher Jul 20, 2019

        Years ago this apparent discrepancy, between scripture and history, (and other doctrinal issues) caused me to take a much more detailed and critical look at the validity of section 124. As part of my research I actually catalogued what the Lord said about each of the many people mentioned in the revelation and then evaluated those statements with what we know about the decisions they ultimately made when the succession crisis took place.

        For the most part, I was impressed with what I found although there were a few head scratchers.

        Other prophetic aspects of the revelation were absolutely compelling as to the validity of the revelatory nature of the revelation including the declaration that the fulness had been taken and how the saints would be moved out of their place if they did not repent and build the temple, etc.

        Once I gained a solid testimony that the revelation was indeed valid, I then decided that I needed to weigh the credibility of what the Lord was saying about people against the findings of historians with regard to the lives and character of these people.

        I have come to the conclusion that the Lords statements have more credibility than the historical findings of historians.

        None of us can really know for sure what the historical truth is about Bennett or anyone else. We cannot know all of the true details having to do with his relationship with his wife and other women. We cannot know the true intent of his heart at the time the revelation was given other than what the Lord has declared.

        It is very possible that secular history has not been fair to him. I have decided to take the word of the Lord over the testimony of historians, many of which had a bias and an agenda when they wrote about Bennett.

        Virtually everyone of the great men of the restoration movement appear to have embarrassed themselves once the Lord withdrew his spirit from them. Three of the people I admire most, Sidney Rigdon, William Law, and Lyman Wight all ended up doing and saying things that make them look ridiculous, stupid and uncredible once the Lord began to hide his face from the saints. The story of the LDS restoration is a story of how great human beings can appear when the spirit of the Lord rests upon them and how incredibly proud and stupid they appear once God withdraws his spirit from those same men.

        IMO we simply cannot categorize and judge the actions and intents of peoples hearts solely based on the testimony of historians, particularly when the Lord provides a contrary view.

  4. Ranae Jul 18, 2019

    Sorry guys, but I think this time you missed the point. You painted such a stark contrast between “divorce” being okay, and “putting away” being something the Lord hates where a clearer reading of the text would see that both cases involve breaking the family unit. My reading of these scriptures is that God is not pleased in either case, but if you are going to separate, at least do so in a way that does not further victimize the women and children involved.

    “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matt. 19:5-6) In other scriptures we are told if your eye offend you, pluck it out. However, the difference is that no one who removes his eye would do so expecting they could find a better one later to replace the one they lost. There are times when the cost of remaining in an abusive situation is too much, but the choice Jesus presents is to recognize your choice is between what you have or no marriage. (note: I am NOT saying that God would be displeased with a later marriage, but getting divorced with that option in mind is too much like chasing the fantasy of “the grass is greener”.)

    When the Pharisees pressed him about why a “writing of divorcement” was commanded by Moses, Jesus replied “because of the hardness of your hearts”. A hard heart is unforgiving. A hard heart is proud. Could it be that the divorce was allowed so the hard-hearted spouse didn’t drive their mate into an early grave through physical and emotional abuse, thinking they were justified? A true Christian would handle things differently, thus a different standard applies.

    If your reading of this passage were correct, why would the Pharisees have continued to complain that his answer was too harsh and Jesus agreed that not all can receive this saying. Why would it be followed up with a brief discussion of eunuchs?

    Your reference to 1 Cor. 7:10-11 says it is the commandment of the Lord for a wife not to leave her husband nor the husband to put away the wife. In the following verses, Paul is talking about the actions of the non-Christian marriage partner in relation to the Christian partner. Namely, as long as your unbelieving spouse wants to be with you, you stay together. In this case, becoming a Christian after being married introduces a radical change in the dynamic of the relationship because you are part of the church, which is the “bride of Christ”. In a figurative sense, you have taken another spouse and it is up to your first spouse to decide whether or not they are willing to stay in the marriage under the new arrangement.

    So what reason would God have for wanting people to stay in a bad marriage? First, because that is the example He set for us… “Thus saith the Lord, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, who I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.” (Isaiah 50:1) I can easily argue that God has covenanted with a fickle, adulterous group of people who abuse their privileges and sully His name. He has every reason in the world to leave us to the punishment we deserve, but He doesn’t. His hand is stretched out still.

    Second, a bad marriage provides ample opportunity for practicing repentance and forgiveness, for turning the other cheek, and for driving us to our Savior for relief. Even in the worst case scenario, adultery, couples who have a desire to stay together and work out their problems can rebuild trust and eventually report a stronger, happier marriage than before the betrayal, if they have the right tools and support. These tools include humility, honesty, forgiveness, patience, long-suffering, and trusting God with all your heart.

    I am not trying to minimize the real pain that exists. I know women who have suffered tremendously because of their husband’s actions both in the home and outside. (Maybe you know of men who do the same.) They raise children alone while their husbands are in prison, or addicted to drugs/alcohol, they have dealt with the insecurity of sudden job loss, and yes, even emotional and physical affairs. And I see husbands and wives who are coming to know God’s infinite love because it is manifest through a spouse who is not willing to either “put away”, or “divorce”. As a result, with God’s help, they are healing their homes and families.

    I would much rather hear about how powerfully God can heal a broken world as families apply gospel principles and the example of Jesus Christ in their daily challenges than to “wrest” the scriptures to justify taking a position on divorce that I do not believe is completely in line with God’s will for those who have covenanted to live a different standard than the world offers.

    • I think we’re all in agreement that if two “true” Christians are married, divorce isn’t going to be an issue. The problem arises when one person’s actions reveal that he/she is not a true Christian. This isn’t implying that a true Christian would never sin against a spouse, but rather, that a true Christian would repent of it, repair the marriage, and move forward. This is the ideal that Christ taught.

      The problem is when the spouse committing the grievous sins chooses not to repent. D&C 42 says repeatedly that someone who does not repent is to be cast out (stated 6 times in verses 20-28). If we followed that counsel from the Lord, an unrepentant spouse would be cast out and then we would have the situation of a believer married to an unbeliever who isn’t a good person. The scriptures we shared make it clear that in such a situation, divorce is not a sin and there is no prohibition against remarriage. (And we’re not talking about burnt-toast sins here, these need to be significant).

      We can then ask ourselves what it means to be an unbelieving spouse. Is it someone who worships a different God? What if it’s someone who has been baptized, but refuses to repent and continue to follow Christ (even if the Church hasn’t cast them out)? Hebrew 3:12 says “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” He’s talking to members, and warning them of developing an unbelieving heart, so unbelievers aren’t non-Christians only. If someone wants to stay in a marriage with an unbelieving spouse who has departed from the living God, that is their choice; but only those in that situation are in a position to judge whether that is the right decision or not.

      As we pointed out, often times the offending spouse is the one who wants the divorce, and modern divorce laws only require one person to end the marriage. In that case, it doesn’t matter at all what the faithful spouse wants to do – the decision has been made for them. How can a victim sin? Is the dead person guilty of murder? We also mentioned the Lord knowing our hearts, and if we are choosing to divorce because we think the grass is going to be greener, we will be accountable for that. No argument there – 100% in agreement. As we mentioned in the podcast, I think that’s covered under looking at a woman with lust in your heart…you’re thinking how much better a new wife would be than keeping your current one, and Jesus considers that adultery.

      Those who choose to remain in a damaged marriage and try to work it out can definitely learn, grow, and receive God’s healing power. Miracles can definitely happen. But there aren’t scriptural examples we can cite, and scriptures and doctrine is our schtick on this podcast. But we do have scriptures to show that there is no doctrinal requirement that people stay in those damaged relationships with a partner that doesn’t want to fix things, and that the notion that divorce itself is a sin is not scriptural, so that’s what we focused on. The actions that lead to a divorce are sinful (abuse, adultery, greener grass thinking, etc.), but the divorce is the consequence of those sins, not the sin itself.

      Regarding Matthew 19:10-12: The disciples say “If the case of the man be so with a wife, it is not good to marry.” From a Law of Moses perspective, this seemed pretty severe – no chance of escape. But in a true Christian relationship, with both spouses having been born of the Spirit and committed to the Lord, each other, and repentance, this isn’t a big deal. But the disciples hadn’t received the Holy Ghost yet, so they couldn’t understand living on a higher level like that. Christ taught the ideal, but even Paul’s writings made it clear that “not everyone can accept this word…but only those to whom it has been given,” and so those with unbelieving spouses weren’t held to this standard.

      As for Isaiah 50:1, that seems to be offset by Jeremiah 3:8 – “And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.” These are metaphors, and can be problematic when applied to other situations.

      • Ranae Jul 18, 2019

        I appreciate the clarification of your views. However, it still sounds like you are justifying divorce for things other than adultery because your description of “true Christian” versus “unbeliever” is a pretty black and white scenario. Granted, the “true Christian” will repent when they see their sin, but the sticky thing is that we are often blind to our own failings, and more likely than not fall short of being “true” Christians.

        I don’t take issue with your position on whether divorce is a sin or not. I just feel that people in general want to jump out of life’s fiery furnaces before they are fully purified. God doesn’t fault us for that. I have even seen people who leave one marriage under very justifiable conditions, only to find themselves learning the same lessons later through similar trials in their next marriage. I have come to accept that once I put my life in God’s hands, I need to trust Him with the direction that life takes, even when I don’t like it.

        You say the scriptures don’t address marriage difficulties, but I find things like “forgive 70 times 7”, “turn the other cheek”, “neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more”, “let he that is without sin cast the first stone”, “give thanks in all things”, etc. to be relevant to our discussion. You have not specified that your position is limited to cases of domestic violence or adultery, so I assume that you have a more lenient view of what is reasonable grounds for divorce.

        I recognize this is a really personal, sensitive topic. My continued discussion is not in an effort to change your mind, but rather because of my own experiences in seeing how an “unbelieving” spouse can be changed through patience, long-suffering, and love unfeigned. This change is not only in how they see their marriage partner, but more importantly, in their ability to feel the love of Christ and understand His forgiveness. For some of us, the gospel is merely an intellectual exercise until we are hit with the lived experience of someone who really does turn the other cheek and forgive when we know we don’t deserve it.

        • I’d like to push back on some of your last comments.

          You write, “it still sounds like you are justifying divorce for things other than adultery.” I am. You are too. You wrote, “you have not specified that your position is limited to cases of domestic violence or adultery.” Where does Jesus ever say domestic violence is a valid reason to divorce? I would like to study those verses.

          If we are to wrest the scriptures, “turn the other cheek” would seem to be more literally applicable to domestic violence than other marital problems. How many times should a wife go to the emergency room after being beaten by her husband? 70 times 7? Would your words “an unbelieving spouse can be changed through patience, long-suffering, and love unfeigned” apply to domestic violence? One could cite other scriptures to support such a position (Ephesians 5:22 Women, submit yourselves unto your own husbands.)

          Obviously, all those arguments are repugnant. I denounce any such thinking. But we cannot say that we must take Jesus’ English words literally, and then carve out exceptions and give them the same validity. When we put Jesus’ words in context, that results in a doctrine that is consistent with other gospel writers and the overall gospel of Jesus Christ which is not a list of does and don’ts, exceptions and exclusions, but general principles so that each person can evaluate their own individual situation and decide what is best, without outsiders passing judgment.

          • Ranae Jul 19, 2019

            Domestic violence actually falls into two categories, situational and characterological, only one of which seems to have a good chance of rehabilitation and success for the marriage. See this article for a quick summary: https://www.gottman.com/blog/a-review-of-the-research-on-domestic-violence/

            For someone who is involved in characterological domestic violence, the answer is absolutely GET OUT! In this case there are actual scriptural situations which are relevant. The first that comes to mind is when the people of anti-Nephi-Lehi were at risk of death if they stayed in their land. They prayed to know the will of the Lord and he told them to go. As you said, each circumstance is individual.

            There is no place for any of us to judge the hearts of our fellow brothers and sisters on this journey. The spiritual danger I see is when we become too casual about what the Lord does expect of those who are called by His name. Individually we each wrestle with imperfect skills and imperfect knowledge and make the best choices we can at the time. Maybe as time passes we learn that we could have acted differently, so we learn and repent, having gained from the experience. That’s why the atonement is such a profound gift – we don’t have to get everything right to still win the prize.

  5. Thirsting Jul 22, 2019

    It’s sad that you, MD, were told to wait to serve as a result of your divorce. It would be interesting to study the lives of modern prophets to see where there’s contradictions in this policy. For example, both Brigham Young and Jospeh F. Smith were divorced. Joseph F. Smith from his first wife after his first mission and yet that didn’t stop him from becoming an apostle and later proper.