I had an email handed to me that someone had sent to someone else asking some questions about divorce and remarriage. In our time the church struggles when it comes to counseling people about divorce and remarriage. Even though in the Old Testament divorce was permitted, God says through the prophet Malachi:
“You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, …16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” [Malachi 2:13-14, 16]
And Jesus taught that a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her (Matthew 19: 9).
On the other hand, the New Testament permits divorce in cases of adultery and desertion (1 Corinthians 7: 15, Matthew 19: 9). It also permits separation for Christian spouses (1 Cor. 7:10-11).
So what do we do in a setting in which there is so much divorce, particularly in the case of those who have troubled consciences? It’s not a simple question for pastors. In the case of those who are unrepentant it seems pretty apparent to me that there needs to be remedial teaching and a return to church discipline. But in the case of the repentant who have perhaps remarried already, or in the case of spouses who are not seeking a divorce and yet have functionally abandoned their spouses already, it’s not always so clear. So for those who have unsettled consciences I thought I would post Luther’s sermon from 1522 on marriage, not necessarily as referring to it as the definitive answer to questions about marriage for our time, but as a place to begin thinking about the questions confronting pastors and congregations with regard to questions of marriage and divorce.
Martin Luther, “The Estate of Marriage” (1522)
How I dread preaching on the estate of marriage! I am reluctant to do it because I am afraid if I once get really involved in the subject it will make a lot of work for me and for others. The shameful confusion wrought by the accursed papal law has occasioned so much distress, and the lax authority of both the spiritual and the temporal swords has given rise to so many dreadful abuses and false situations, that I would much prefer neither to look into the matter nor to hear of it. But timidity is no help in an emergency; I must proceed. I must try to instruct poor bewildered consciences, and take up the matter boldly. This sermon is divided into three parts.
In the first part we shall consider which persons may enter into marriage with one another. In order to proceed aright let us direct our attention to Genesis 1 [:27], “So God created man… male and female he created them.” From this passage we may be assured that God divided mankind into two classes, namely, male and female, or a he and a she. This was so pleasing to him that he himself called it a good creation [Gen. 1:31]. Therefore, each one of us must have the kind of body God has created for us. I cannot make myself a woman, nor can you make yourself a man; we do not have that power. But we are exactly as he created us: I a man and you a woman. Moreover, he wills to have his excellent handiwork honoured as his divine creation, and not despised. The man is not to despise or scoff at the woman or her body, nor the woman the man. But each should honour the other’s image and body as a divine and good creation that is well-pleasing unto God himself.
In the second place, after God had made man and woman he blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply” [Gen. 1:28]. From this passage we may be assured that man and woman should and must come together in order to multiply. Now this [ordinance] is just as inflexible as the first, and no more to be despised and made fun of than the other, since God gives it his blessing and does something over and above the act of creation. Hence, as it is not within my power not to be a man, so it is not my prerogative to be without a woman. Again, as it is not in your power not to be a woman, so it is not your prerogative to be without a man. For it is not a matter of free choice or decision but a natural and necessary thing, that whatever is a man must have a woman and whatever is a woman must have a man.
For this word which God speaks, “Be fruitful and multiply,” is not a command. It is more than a command, namely, a divine ordinance [werck] which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore. Rather, it is just as necessary as the fact that I am a man, and more necessary than sleeping and waking, eating and drinking, and emptying the bowels and bladder. It is a nature and disposition just as innate as the organs involved in it Therefore, just as God does not command anyone to be a man or a woman but creates them the way they have to be, so he does not command them to multiply but creates them so that they have to multiply. And wherever men try to resist this, it remains irresistible nonetheless and goes its way through fornication, adultery, and secret sins, for this is a matter of nature and not of choice.
- Claims about Individual Interpretation of the Bible (pastorreeder.wordpress.com)
- Martin Luther on Baptizing Babies (prodigalpaul.com)
- Martin Luther (1483-1546) on theology and music (deovivendiperchristum.wordpress.com)