The Obstructed View from 2002: Debating One-Flesh and Covenant From the Pulpit

FoundersBaptby Standerinfamilycourt

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?   For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.   For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom;  but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,  but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.   Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.    1 Corinthians 1:19-24

Sometimes in this ministry, the Lord puts an unexpected enlightenment in our hands which allows us to get a very interesting glimpse of what has gone before in the history of the remarriage debate within the evangelical Protestant church.    A late-night instant message linked SIFC to a very interesting recorded sermon where in late 2002, a Baptist pastor from Spring, TX was doing an excellent job of debunking 1 Corinthians 7, faithfully setting the record straight, section by section, on just who Paul was addressing with his various pieces of instruction, and methodically closing the door on the various evangelical heresies that proliferate (like mold) from the humanist propensity to “run with” advice that Paul meant for a different group, while ignoring the context (and even the content) of what he wrote within the same chapter.    We have also blogged recently on this 1 Cor. 7 topic.

Despite the excellent insights this man of God was bringing forward in his message, around 25 minutes in he attempted to use the term “agamos” [ἄγαμος] , as in “let her remain unmarried” per 1 Cor. 7:11,  to assert that man’s divorce was real in God’s eyes and that it indeed dissolved what both Jesus and Paul asserted could only be dissolved by death and by God’s hand.   If according to Paul she is “no longer married”,  he argued,  how can her marriage not actually be dissolved in God’s eyes?   Overlooked is the fact that this passage is silent as to whether a civil divorce is actually undertaken by either spouse,  rather than a mere separation.    “Gamos” can mean either wedding or marriage, i.e. uniting with a spouse, so Paul’s usage could simply mean in a literal sense, “without a new spouse / wedding” while remaining perfectly consistent with Paul’s overall message about indissolubility except by death.   This presumption on Rev. Caldwell’s part that man’s divorce dissolved holy matrimony was troubling, and since this message was part of a 12-part series,  SIFC couldn’t help but wonder how this pastor treated the topic of God’s character in covenant, as well as the crucial topic of the one-flesh state and its severability or inseverability by acts of men short of dying.

Fortunately, this entire sermon series is available online, so a listen to the very first installment of the series proved a bit infuriating, but still very worthwhile for gleaning some insights into the development of evangelical heresies in both of those two pivotal matters, treatment of covenant, and treatment of the one-flesh state joined by God’s hand.    So pivotal and central is a correct understanding of these, that if that foundation isn’t rock-solid, there is no adequate foundation for discerning or refuting the full range of divorce and remarriage heresies.    (The only thing that’s equally pivotal in this regard is a correct understanding of the betrothal nature of our salvation, binding on heaven, but revocable by us through choosing to die in a persistent state of willful disobedience to His commandments.)   Naturally, a Calvinist-leaning Baptist pastor is far more likely to temper his marriage permanence views on  the notion of “once saved, always saved”,  especially when faced with the discomfort of needing to admonish those who are living in a state of being adulterously “married” to someone else’s one-flesh partner, or when faced with the need to refuse to perform such a wedding.    We know of only one (part-time) Baptist pastor whose “pastoral care” is biblically faithful to that extent.

Why did SIFC find the content of that first sermon on Genesis 2:18-24 infuriating as well as enlightening?    First, it strikes us as highly unusual for a pastor, already brave enough to do a 12-part sermon series on marriage,  divorce and remarriage,  to do any sort of a studious “deep dive” into the supernatural nature of the one-flesh state.   It far better serves the evangelical marriage revisionists to claim that the one-flesh state is a gradual human process accruing over the course of the union, rendering counterfeit spouses   interchangeable  with covenant spouses, with the passage of time.   Even the very commendable, and far more accurate series by Church of Christ pastor David Sproule  in 2013 didn’t linger long on the topic of one-flesh.   What was triggering this in 2002, and why have we heard so little about it from any pulpits since?

Secondly, Rev. Caldwell of Spring, TX seemed to be coming up with a very novel treatment of Jesus’ command in Matthew 19:6, “therefore what God has joined, let no man separate.”   He argues, while stating that John MacArthur also makes this point (but we must have missed it), that Jesus was not referring to individual couples in His commandment, but to the institution of holy matrimony as a whole.   This, of course, implies that God covenants with an institution, but with regard to any given pair that He has joined, it’s a sliding covenant, that is, it is in bearer form.    The sole biblical “support” offered for this idea is tenuous at best.   Caldwell argues that Jesus’ use of the word translated “what” was deliberately chosen not to mean “whom“.   That word in the original text shows as     ( 3739 [e]
ho ), according to both www.biblehub.com and www.scripture4all.org.    As we drill into the concordance reference, we find that it can mean either “what” or “whom”, depending on the context.    We feel the context of Jesus’ words argues far more strongly for “whom“,  otherwise Jesus would have been agreeing with the Pharisees and Moses, which He obviously did not do.    If Caldwell got the notion and its support solely from MacArthur, it’s no surprise, the latter being notorious for the liberties he takes with his scriptural eisogesis when it comes to defending marriages that Jesus and Paul repeatedly called adulterous.   Many denominations prefer, post-1970’s, to treat this verse as though it isn’t there – ignore it.   Caldwell and MacArthur apparently prefer to redefine it.   This appears to be a concept that didn’t develop the traction to go anywhere after that. 

With regard to the first thing that’s noteworthy about Caldwell’s sermon, he mentions the work of Dr. William Heth of Taylor University in Indiana, an interdenominational Christian college.  Caldwell is impressed (as are we) with Heth’s insight in his 1985 book, co-authored with Dr. Gordon Wenham,  Jesus and Divorce:  The Problem with the Evangelical Consensus, specifically, that the one-flesh joining of holy matrimony is a point-in-time event effected by God’s hand, and not a gradually-accruing process.

It turns out that the year 2002 produced quite a lot of scholarship (and pseudo-scholarship) on marriage ethics that apparently triggered Caldwell’s sermon series.   That was the year that Dr. David Instone-Brewer published his studious, but thoroughly heretical book,  Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible

CWs_coverDRinBible
and it was a few years before Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary wrote an excellent scholarly paper rebutting that book.   In 2002, the first of the tyrannical same-sex marriage lawsuits was surfacing in Massachusetts resulting in court-ordered legalization of sodomous nuptials the following year, and several years before the hypocritical implications of fighting off this development and its totalitarian fallout while cleaving fiercely to its entrenched system of legalized institutionalized adultery would begin to plague the evangelical church.   In that same year, 2002, the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology published opposing pieces by  Heth, who had now decided to align with Instone-Brewer in a reversal of conviction,  and his former co-author Dr. Gordon Wenham who held true to the biblical position.    This journal edition was also just beginning to grapple with the political rise of the homosexualist lobby.    It is fairly likely that these 2002 developments were at least the backdrop, if not the actual trigger for Caldwell’s unusual deep-dive into one-flesh joining and God’s role in it.

For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.    –  Galatians 1:10

As mentioned before, Heth had recently been influenced to change his earlier position to the liberal position of Instone-Brewer, a journey he describes in this journal article.    This 2002 article reveals that Heth was not only swayed by the pseudo-scholarship of Instone-Brewer but also by two of the scholars mentioned  (and quite convincingly rebutted) by Drs. Jones and Tarwater in their 2005 paper,  Are Biblical Covenants Dissoluble?  : Toward A Theology of Marriage.   That scholar was  G. Hugenberger, author of Marriage as a Covenant,  in which he purported to cite Old Testament instances where God abandoned various covenants as evidence that the marriage covenant was dissoluble if one of the human parties declared it dissolved.
[FB profile 7xtjw SIFC  noteIf Hugenberger’s  rationale truly reflected God’s reality, this would greatly blunt the Christian community’s motivation to set aside their carnal proclivities and take a strong moral, political stand against the constitutionality of unilateral (“no-fault”) divorce, would it not?   Instead, we have religious freedom legal defense ministries shamefully adopting a blanket policy not to get involved in such cases, claiming there’s only an “incidental” violation.]

To be clear, both Heth and Wenham had always taken the politically-correct Protestant position that divorce was “allowed” for so-called biblical grounds, hence that it was recognized by God and effectual in dissolving covenant marriage, but prior to Heth’s change of heart, both men agreed that remarriage while that “former”  covenant spouse lived was forbidden by scripture.    If a premise is incorrect in some respect, it’s really difficult to be on-target in the scholarly discussion that falls out from that.    If divorce is indeed deemed to dissolve the marriage bond in God’s eyes (as per Hugenberger), what basis actually remains at the end of the day for forbidding remarriage?    Indeed if either choice, to remarry or not to remarry, has no effect on either spouse’s eternal destination, why does the debate matter at all, in the first place, against that Calvinist backdrop?   Heth  journeyed to this new place, he tells us, under “concern” for the opinion of other renowned scholars toward his earlier work (fear of man exceeding the  fear of God), and because Instone-Brewer’s arguments seemed compelling to him, as did Hugenberger’s.

What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?  May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written,
That You may be justified in Your words,
And prevail when You re judged.”    –  Romans 3:3-4

From the Jones & Tarwater 2005 rebuttal to Hugenberger and Heth, page 10:

“…both Köstenberger and Heth appeal to the work of Gordon Hugenberger as the basis for their belief that covenants may be dissolved. Hugenberger contends that covenants can be both violated and dissolved, asserting that these ideas are conveyed by the same Hebrew expression (Hiphil of parar + berith).32 In order to corroborate this claim, Hugenberger cites fourteen scriptural examples of covenants that were ostensibly dissolved (Gen. 17:14; Lev. 26:44; Deut. 31:20; 1 Kgs. 15:19; Isa. 33:8; 24:5; Jer. 11:10; 14:21; 31:32; 33:20; Ezek. 16:59; 17:15; 44:7; Zech. 11:10-11).33

Despite Hugenberger’s monumental contribution to the study of biblical covenants, we are not persuaded by his evidence for dissolubility. While Hugenberger correctly notes that the Hebrew word parar may be translated with the English term “broken” or “annulled”34 — connoting violation or dissolution — parar does not necessarily carry both meanings at the same time. Imposing more than one meaning simultaneously upon parar is what James Barr calls the error of “illegitimate totality transfer.”35 In other words, it is wrong to conclude that because a covenant was “broken” it was, therefore, “dissolved.” An examination of the fourteen aforementioned examples, we believe, sufficiently demonstrates this truth.

First, three of the passages (1 Kgs. 15:19; Isa. 33:8; Ezek. 17:15) cited by Hugenberger refer to treaties between men where God is clearly not a covenanting party. Thus, even if these agreements were dissolved, they would have no bearing upon this study, for we are solely concerned with covenants in which God is a part.  With that stated, it is not even certain that any of these three examples constitute an occasion on which a covenant was dissolved. In fact, the example from Ezekiel seems to illustrate the exact opposite as the prophet asks, “Can Israel break her sworn treaties like that and get away with it” (Ezek. 17:15)? The Lord answers with a resounding, “No!” (Ezek. 17:16). By allowing Israel to be punished, then, the Lord demonstrated the applicability and enduring nature of the terms of the covenant. Thus, these three examples fail to demonstrate that covenants in which God participates can be dissolved.

Second, two of Hugenberger’s examples (Jer. 14:21; 33:20) deal with the prophet Jeremiah’s consideration of whether or not the Lord will dissolve his covenant with Israel. Jeremiah records a prayer on behalf of Judah,

LORD, we confess our wickedness and that of our ancestors, too. We all have sinned against you. For the sake of your own name, LORD, do not disgrace yourself and the throne of your glory. Do not break your covenant with us (Jer. 14:20-21).

While it could be argued from this prayer that Jeremiah believed it was possible for God to dissolve his covenant, later God revealed that annulment of the covenant was not possible, not even theoretically, as he declared, “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself. I will rebuild you” (Jer. 31:3-4). Furthermore, in Hugenberger’s second example from Jeremiah, God demonstrates the permanence of his covenant by comparing it to the times of night and day: “If you can break my covenant with the day and the night so that they do not come on their usual schedule, only then will my covenant with David, my servant, be broken” (Jer. 33:20). Thus, these two examples fail to demonstrate that biblical covenants in which God participates can be dissolved — indeed, they seem to indicate the exact opposite.

Third, eight examples mentioned by Hugenberger (Gen. 17:14; Lev. 26:44; Deut. 31:20; Isa. 24:5; Jer. 11:10; 31:32; Ezek. 16:59; 44:7) refer to God’s people violating the terms of a covenant. A careful reading of these texts, however, reveals that such violations did not dissolve the covenants in question. For example, are we to believe that the Abrahamic covenant was dissolved (Gen. 17:14)? To the contrary, Scripture evidences that God’s covenant with Abraham was “forever” and “eternal” (Gen. 13:15; 17:8). Moreover, on at least eight different occasions, Scripture affirms that God “remembered” his covenant with Abraham.36 Thus, Gen. 17:14 cannot represent a dissolved covenant.

Contrary to Hugenberger’s interpretation, these eight examples of Israel “breaking” their covenant with the Lord beautifully illustrate God’s attitude toward the nature of covenants in which he participates. For example, Moses prophesied that the people would rebel and break God’s covenant (Deut. 31:20), and Scripture repeatedly records the fulfillment of this prophecy and its subsequent consequences (Isa. 24:5; Jer. 11:10; 31:32; Ezek. 16:59; 44:7). Yet, as we have argued above, the Lord’s punishment of his people for covenant violations is itself a de facto demonstration of the enduring nature of these arrangements. Ralph Alexander writes that the Lord’s punishment of his people affirms “his immutable faithfulness to his covenants.”37 Similarly, Andersen and Freedman comment on God’s wrath toward covenant disobedience noting that, “The punishment is not an expression of a broken relationship. On the contrary, it is enforced within the relationship; punishment maintains the covenant.”38 Therefore, as with the previous examples, these eight citations fail to demonstrate that biblical covenants in which God participates can be dissolved.

The prophet Zechariah presents the final example (Zech. 11:10-11) cited by Hugenberger. When Israel returned from exile, God implored the people not to act like their fathers had before them (Zech. 1:1-6), because real blessings, Zechariah records, will come only when God’s people obey him and walk in righteousness (3:7; 6:15; 7:9-14; 8:14-17). Sadly, however, the people acted as did their ancestors whose behavior had caused them to be exiled (Zech. 7:1-14). The people of Zechariah’s day had rejected the pleas of the righteous and consequently, writes the prophet, the Lord would withhold his covenant protection if there was no repentance (Zech. 11:10) — that is, God would “break” his covenant. Did the Lord, therefore, dissolve the covenant he had made? Certainly not, as the last three chapters of the book present an eschatological picture of God pouring out his grace upon the nation in the end times (12:10-14:11). Once again, far from dissolution, God’s judgment demonstrates his faithfulness to the covenant.

In addition to the fourteen examples cited by Hugenberger, we surveyed every example of berith in the Old Testament (267 examples), as well as of diatheke and suntheke in the New Testament (34 examples), and were unable to discover a single example of a dissolved covenant in which God participated. Like the language used to describe the nature of biblical covenants, the manner in which covenants are established, and the way in which God deals with covenant violations, the absence of any dissolved covenants in which God participates provides evidence that points to the indissoluble nature of biblical covenants.


Since Rev. Caldwell especially highlighted Dr. Heth’s writings about the nature of the one-flesh relationship, and to Rev. Caldwell’s credit he noted God’s hand in creating it instantaneously, we looked forward to seeing firsthand how Dr. Heth treated the topic of one-flesh and how he could possibly reconcile his new liberal views with what Jesus said in Matt. 19:6 about it being inseverable except by death.    It turns out that Dr. Heth’s revised view fails to mention God’s hand at all, nor the supernatural, instantaneous event.    He instead chooses to degrade  sarx mia to hen soma, citing Gen. 29:14; 37:27; Lev. 18:6; 2 Samuel 5:1; Isaiah 58:7), and steers well clear of the enlightening New Testament descriptions delivered by Jesus and by Paul, for example, Eph. 5:28-30.

I had argued that the covenant and consummation of marriage made two totally unrelated people as closely related as they will be to their own flesh and blood children.   However, the unity between unrelated persons established by the marriage covenant is not the same as the vertical blood relationship between a parent and a child nor the horizontal blood relationship that exists between siblings. The Genesis 2:24 phrase, “they become one flesh,” refers “to the bondedness which results from and is expressed by sexual union” and “refers to the establishment of a new family unit”..

(Dr. Heth, that’s not what Jesus said and you know it.)
Today we know that even sodomists claim to form a sexual union and a “new family unit” under the sanction of the civil state, but today Dr. Heth might well be the first to protest that there’s no one-flesh relationship since God’s hand isn’t joining them, given the correct views he once held but “repented” of with regard to heterosexual unions.

Heth’s co-author, Dr. Wenham, on the other hand, in his countering article tragically fails to address the one-flesh relationship at all, and only touches on the nature of covenant in passing, leaving Heth’s newly-embraced fallacies unrebutted scripturally.    Instead, Wenham embarks on a much-needed contextual argument for the invalidity of concluding that one may remarry after divorce.    He does a masterful job of starting with ante-Nicene church fathers, then working back in time to the apostles’ positions, then the person of Jesus, and finally Judaic tradition, showing quite effectively how none of these support the Erasmean view that the innocent party in adultery or abandonment may remarry.    At one point in the article, Dr. Wenham says this:

“The same is true of the second half of the statement in both gospels: “He who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” (Luke 16:18b); “If she divorces her husband and marriesanother, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:12). The Lukan form of the statement is almost the same as Matthew 5:32b.  The Markan form is unusual in envisaging a woman taking the initiative in divorce proceedings, which rarely happened in first century Palestine.   But what is striking about both forms of the saying is the implication that divorce does not break the marriage bond, so that sexual relations with anyone but one’s first spouse is adultery.

Unfortunately, this is the closest Wenham ever comes to deducing that divorce is entirely man-made and not recognized by God, i.e. that only death dissolves a God-joined union, or that not all civilly-sanctioned heterosexual unions are God-joined for that very reason.    In other words, he never brings his accurate observations to their full inevitable conclusion, and never makes the heaven-or-hell linkage with 1 Cor. 6:9-10 or with Galatians 5:19-21.   Perhaps if he had, he’d have never been published in a Southern Baptist scholarly journal.

Dr. Al Moehler was the editor-in-chief of that 2002 journal edition.    In 2010,  Dr. Moehler went on to write a convicting and influential article,  Divorce – the Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.   How much more convicting and influential might this piece have been if the deceiver hadn’t wooed away Dr. Heth and broken up the collaboration with Dr. Wenham, curtailing their further studies into the divine and inseverable nature of the one-flesh relationship that God has now revealed to so many in the common laity.

 

(Our previous posts on the topics of one-flesh and God’s character in covenants with men are here and here.)

www.standerinfamilycourt.com

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