FEAR OF GOD:
(Ezra, Chapter 9) …the princes approached me, saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands; indeed, the hands of the princes and the rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness.” When I heard about this matter, I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel on account of the unfaithfulness of the exiles gathered to me, and I sat appalled until the evening offering. But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my ands to the Lord my God; and I said, “O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens.”
FEAR OF MEN:
(John Piper, 8/16/2016) “So, this is a question then for almost every Christian. If the marriage that you are in was entered wrongfully, you shouldn’t have entered it. Should you stay in it? That is the question. And my answer is: Yes. Repent honestly before God to each other and to him. Admit it should not have happened. Ask for forgiveness from each other and from God, perhaps from former spouses. And then keep your promises that you made to each other when you made your vows, rather than a second time breaking your word. And Lisa’s question is: Are there texts for that opinion? I mean, you are just saying that, Piper. What about the Bible? And I want to say here: I could be wrong about this. I could be drawing inferences from texts illegitimately. But there do seem to me to be three or four or more pointers in this direction in the Bible, and I will give them to Lisa now.” [ emphasis is SIFC’s]
We do admire John Piper’s courage in calling out remarriage adultery with unusual scriptural accuracy in this evil age. Prior writings of his have been so bold as to agree with both Jesus and Paul that the “innocent party” in adultery, abuse, abandonment, etc. may not remarry while the spouse of their youth lives, no matter how humanistically unfair that seems. We also admire his humility shown above in admitting, in response to a woman who wrote and challenged him, that there are really no scriptural texts counseling people to remain in a non-covenant marriage sinfully entered while having a living, estranged spouse. What we don’t admire is his ignoring several more relevant passages that make it abundantly clear that exiting those unions in repentance is precisely what disciples of Jesus Christ should and must do.
What’s wrong with the “support” Dr. Piper gives to argue for remaining in the ongoing state of serial polygamy, in light of the repeated warnings that no unrepented adulterer has any inheritance in the kingdom of God? Let’s take a look:
1) In Joshua 9 there is the story of the Gibeonites who, you may remember, hear about Joshua and the Israelites destroying cities, and they don’t want to be destroyed. So, they know they are going to be next on the list of destruction, so they pretend to be from a far away country, they lie to Joshua, and they get him to promise that he will not kill them, because they are not in his territory. And Joshua makes a vow and swears to them before God that he won’t kill them. And then he finds out that they were lying to him. And it says in Joshua 9:19, “All the leaders said to all the congregation, ‘We have sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them.’” There are two reasons why they shouldn’t have entered this vow. One is because the Gibeonites were lying to them and, two, is because it says explicitly that they did not consult God — and God explicitly intended for the Gibeonites to be destroyed (see Joshua 9:14, 24). And now they are keeping the vow they never should have made under horrible circumstances, thus, elevating the importance of promise-keeping or vow-keeping even when it was entered into wrongfully. And I am saying that perhaps suggests — I think it does suggest — that a vow you make to a person to be their husband or their wife till death do you part is not something to be taken lightly.
SIFC: From the beginning, Dr. Piper’s inference with regard to the binding nature of vows starts from a biblically-invalid presumption: that man’s divorce unjoins the one-flesh entity (“sarx mia“) which God’s hand instantaneously and supernaturally creates upon the exchange of valid vows. Dr. Piper presumes that an act of man rather than the death of one of the spouses breaks the prior covenant. God’s word does not say that. God’s word says that only God can unjoin what He has joined, “what therefore God has joined, let NO MAN separate.” – Matt. 19:6, Mark 10:8-9. God’s word says that God covenants with that entity, unconditionally and irrevocably. – Mal. 2:14; Num. 23:19. God’s word says twice that only death releases the partners from their marriage bond. – Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:39.
When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands? – Ecclesiastes 5:4-6
That being the case, if a prior vow to God, with which He still covenants, cannot be fulfilled due a subsequent vow which a party had no capacity to make without condemning himself or herself to hell in fulfilling it, is it not a false vow?
Another reason that Dr. Piper’s “possession is 9/10ths of the law” human logic fails is that a Barna Group survey in 1990 determined that some ninety percent of the divorces with remarriage occurring in the U.S. church occurred after the parties professed Christ. Hence, they had every opportunity to know what God’s word says about remarriage after divorce but they proceeded anyway, with Barna Group also measuring and reporting the serial repeat rate. Is this not mocking God by putting Him to the test? Moses, too, stumbled when he tried to “manage” sin instead of eradicating it, and he was therefore rebuked by Jesus….”but I say unto you…from the beginning IT WAS NOT SO!” – Matt.19:8
Getting back to the Gibeonites, suppose another pagan group also deceived or bribed the descendants of Joshua and company into subsequently vowing to kill the Gibeonites, but they later discovered a scroll with the original vow. Would that subsequent vow be binding on them, simply because it was spoken?
Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the Lord. And the Lord said, “It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them (now the Gibeonites were not of the sons of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites, and the sons of Israel made a covenant with them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the sons of Israel and Judah). Thus David said to the Gibeonites, “What should I do for you? And how can I make atonement that you may bless the inheritance of the Lord?” – 2 Samuel 21:1-3
2) Jesus talked to the woman at the well in terms that suggest pretty strongly that he believed she had five genuine husbands and one non-genuine live-in. He put it like this: “Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true’” (John 4:16–18).
Now, think about that. What does that imply?
It is true that the Greek — that includes this text here — does not have a different word for husband and man or husband and male. So, it could be translated: You have had five men and the man you now have is not your man. But even if you translate it that way, it doesn’t make sense unless you distinguish this sixth man from those other five in some way, because he says: This is not your man. Those were your men. This is not your man. This is not your husband. Those were your husbands. What was the difference? Well, the only thing I know to suggest is that they had somehow formalized the relationship in a ceremony in which they took some promises to create the relationship that was known as marriage — or husband and wife. So, it seems Jesus put some stock in calling those five men real husbands different from five live-in boyfriends that she never married.
SIFC: Oooh, just let me at this one! What does that imply, Dr. Piper? It implies that she was shacking up after the unilateral divorce system entrenched in Mosaic law up to that point (which Jesus was poised to abrogate on many topics, including the sanctity of marriage) tossed this woman around like last week’s garbage.
We have previously blogged on “What about That Samaritan Woman?” First of all, kudos to Dr. Piper for being honest enough to admit that the meaning of the Greek “andra / andros ” is fluid enough to range from God-joined one-flesh husband to her “old man” (shack-up partner), one of several other points we make in our blog. Many a theologian we’ve read aren’t anywhere near as transparent when it comes to the various partners of this chick and how the language could have applied to each. We’ve already shown where Jesus has rebuked and slammed as adultery various situations (for example, among the Pharisees) where the serial polygamists “somehow formalized the relationship in a ceremony in which they took some promises to create the relationship that was known as marriage”.
Okay, then, suppose Jesus walked in today on Justice Ginsburg or Vice President Joe Biden or Rev. T.D. Jakes presiding over a legal civil wedding between two men. Are they not repeating vows? Are they not repeating vows that if fulfilled, “til death do us part”, will cost them their souls and their inheritance in the kingdom of God? Does God’s hand create sarx mia at that particular ceremony? Are those vows to continue in a lifelong state of sodomy, therefore. “binding”?
3) Here is the third one. Interestingly enough, I was talking this over with all the team of the Together for the Gospel guys, and I won’t say who said it, but one of them, I thought, very provocatively pointed this out: Jesus does use the verb marry for what they should not do and do when he is forbidding them from doing it. Let me show you what I mean. “Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32).
He doesn’t say whoever presumably marries or tries to marry. He says marries. He doesn’t say presumes to marry or tries to marry — as if, yes, this is a real marriage being created. It should not be created and it is like committing adultery when you enter it. He says a similar kind of thing in Mark 10:11–12. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
So, if Jesus is willing to call wrongfully entered relationships marriages, then it seems to me that we should hold people to the expectations of holiness and permanence implied in the word marriage, till death do us part. I take the warning that remarriage involves adultery, “whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery,” not to mean that sexual relations in a wrongfully entered relationship can never be sanctified through repentance and forgiveness, but rather that an unholy relationship involves unholy sex until that relationship is newly consecrated to God through repentance and forgiveness. That relationship remains tainted at every level.
SIFC: We’ve already dealt with the supernatural difference between God-joined covenant unions and all other types of unions legal under man’s amoral laws, but illegitimate under God’s law. The other kind of joining is discussed by Paul in 1 Cor. 6:16, where it is contrasted with sarx mia. It is called hen soma (one body), the carnal joining by the devices of man and only the inflicted, unwillful presence of God. It is not only severable by men, it must be severed for the sake of holiness without which no man will see God. It is not something God’s holy nature would ever covenant with (even on a “time-evolved” or “grandfathered” basis), because that means forsaking the prior covenant. As Basil the Great said in A.D. 375, “The man who has deserted his wife and goes to another is himself an adulterer because he makes her commit adultery; and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress because she has caused another woman’s husband to come over to her…the woman who lives with an adulterer is an adulteress the whole time.” – Amphilochius 199 (a)
[‘….as if, yes, this is a real marriage being created. It should not be created and it is like committing adultery when you enter it. “]
Dr. Piper, surely you know that Jesus never said entering an unlawful marriage was “like” committing adultery! Jesus very forcefully stated on three separate occasions, each recorded by two different authors using the same present indicative verb tense in the Greek, that marrying someone who has a living prior spouse is entering into an ongoing state of adultery. Once again, to your credit, Dr. Piper, you stop short of resorting to the intellectual dishonesty of claiming this is a one-time act, as so many of your peers consistently do, but in light of all the points made above, we must still take strong biblical exception to your next statement….
“I take the warning that remarriage involves adultery, “whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery,” not to mean that sexual relations in a wrongfully entered relationship can never be sanctified through repentance and forgiveness, but rather that an unholy relationship involves unholy sex until that relationship is newly consecrated to God through repentance and forgiveness. ”
May we ask what other soul-forfeiting, ongoing state of sin mentioned in Paul’s two “lists” – 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21, may be forgiven and continued? Will the unholy sex between the two civilly married “husbands” be “consecrated to God” through agreeing with God that it was wrong and repenting in their hearts (but not severing the relationship)? That one shares the lists but isn’t mentioned as early in the lineup, or talked about nearly so much by both Jesus and Paul as the heterosexual counterfeit for holy matrimony. From this last point, may we then simply infer, as the gay apologists would like, that just because Jesus didn’t say “whoever ‘marries’ , ‘presumably marries’ or ‘tries to marry’ someone of the same sex enters an ongoing state of sodomy…” that the partners may remain in that relationship and hope to “sanctify” it contrary to Paul’s repeated warnings? How is either abomination “honoring God”?
May we ask, what does God’s word actually say about the modern day idol of sexual autonomy?
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. – Hebrews 10:26-28
Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,“I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you. – 2 Cor. 6:15-17
We love what faithful shepherd and marriage warrior, Dr. Joseph Webb of Christian Principles Restored Ministries says, “no sin ever yet died of old age.”
4) One last thought. If this seems strange that a prohibited relationship can become a consecrated and holy one, consider the example — and there are several in the Bible — of the kingship of Israel. The people came to Samuel in 1 Samuel 8:6–7 and said, “‘Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.’ But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said, ‘Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.’” And yet, in spite of this evil origin of this new relationship of king and people and God, God made the kingship an integral part of his plan for Jesus to come as the King of kings and Lord of lords and as the Son of David.
SIFC: Now we’re really grasping, and it’s a really good thing this piece is wrapping up, at least from the defense of “sanctified” serial polygamy side! An old Sesame Street thinking exercise (and tune) seems really apropos here. “One these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t belong. If you guessed this thing is not like the others, you’re absolutely right!” Without the imperative recognition of God’s role in creating and covenanting with an inseverable one-flesh entity, there’s no way to detect that holy matrimony is not like the others. It is distinct from everything else and cannot be replicated by men, ever.
That said, we can now get to the more obvious flaw in Dr. Piper’s reasoning: in the clamor for a king over Israel and its resigned fulfillment by the Most High, there certainly was a relationship of evil origin, but there was no new vow, (at least not until the time of David)!
Among the overlooked biblical examples that are, in our view, a much more reliable biblical basis for discussing this topic of penitently departing an unlawful civil-only marriage, that do not support Dr. Piper’s position:
(1) Ezra, chapters 9 and 10. Israel and Judah were ending their 70-year exile from the sacking of Jerusalem after both nations turned away from God, became idolatrous and greedy and made a polygamous mockery of holy matrimony. God had given unmerited favor in the restoration of circumstances that had allowed the rebuilding of the temple and the wall, but had one more requirement before He would restore their sovereignty as a nation. Beginning with the disobedient priests, they must purge their nation of unlawful marriages, even where there were children. Concurrent polygamy still prevailed in Israel, so in many cases the foreign wives were not the covenant wife, hence there was no one-flesh entity. These dependents were provided for and the relationships were severed. There was no “repenting in their hearts” that was going to appease God or “consecrate” those unions that His hand never joined.
Although many try to misuse this passage as their proof-text that God allows Christians to drag their unsaved spouses into a pagan court (1 Cor. 6:1-8 and 1 Cor. 7:12-14 notwithstanding) in order to financially and spiritually abandon them with society’s and the church’s approval so as not to be “unequally yoked”, the correct analogy is to the inherent unlawfulness of any subsequent union under God’s clearly-stated law while the true spouse remains alive. (Obvious analogies can also be drawn to the current state of society and threat of foreign invasion in many western countries today where the indissolubility of holy matrimony has been steadily undermined since the Reformation, and most acutely in the U.S. in the last 50 years.)
(2) Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29. The parallel accounts in two gospels of the beheading of John the Baptist for calling out the unlawful “marriage” of King Herod and his brother Philip’s wife Herodias after both had divorced their God-joined one-flesh (pagan) spouses and legalized their adultery under Mosaic law. There’s a bit of irony in the fact that remarriage apologists dive for cover while miscasting the sin John was calling out as “incest”, for that acknowledges the unsevered (indeed, inseverable) one-flesh entity between Herodias and Philip, does it not? John, clearly articulated that it was unlawful for Herod to have his brother’s wife. This is after all the same civil paper was gathered to hide behind that we gather today. In Matthew 11, Jesus forseeing John’s death, spoke the same words over John. as echoed in Luke 16, just before He said for the third time, “everyone who marries a divorced person is committing ongoing adultery.” Jesus said of John:
“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (v. 11-15)
Luke 16:14-31. This sobering “truth sandwich” from Jesus, which the 16th chapter of Luke comprises, starts with a warning about preparing for hell if we are going to be in love with the world system and its unrighteous mammon. In the middle is the commendation of John discussed above, then there was the scoffing by the Pharisees (who had become world-class serial polygamists now that Ezra had done away with concurrent polygamy), to whom Jesus responded:
“You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.” (v 15)
Jesus then echoes His remarks about His cousin, John and the violence suffered in taking the kingdom of God by force, after which He makes HIs enigmatic and exceptionless statement about marrying another after divorcing from a covenant spouse creating an ongoing state of adultery, and immediately following this, He spends the next dozen verses graphically depicting hell. Coincidence?
(Yes, Dr. Piper, we’d did just imply that if people in unlawful marriages don’t repent by exiting those unions while they still draw breath, they will perish in hell. We think it’s reasonable to conclude that’s precisely what Jesus was saying here.)
Which brings us to a natural segue in considering the impact of Dr. Piper’s Calvinist background on his willingness to even consider the prospect of hell for a disobedient-to-apostate believer as they make fateful choices about marital holiness. If you believe “once saved, always saved”, and if you believe the “finished work of the cross” means Jesus died for all “past, present and future sins”, even a learned seminarian might be tempted toward the view of legalistically staying in a non-covenant union rather than go through the disruption, grief-giving and reputational damage of severing it to keep one’s true, undissolved covenant vow of holy matrimony. If you don’t believe that remarriage adultery tends to take even believers to hell in pairs, why not counsel illicit couples to stay in their state of serial polygamy? Why fight the civil laws that foster it, and why not sign immoral and intrusive civil marriage licenses as an agent of the state?
God keep our repenting prodigals away from the John Pipers of this world who are 99% correct in their theology, but the 1% they err in is the very difference between heaven and hell! May the Holy Spirit speak louder than he. Dr. Piper, outcome-wise, is just as dangerous as the thoroughly-heretical Dr. MacArthur to a prodigal trying to return to the Lord and trying to repent of his civilly-sanctioned immorality.
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