Tag Archives: divorce and remarriage

Radical Faithfulness: A Proposal about Marriage Permanence

In this post I want to summarize the basic position I’ve come to in my understanding about marriage permanence. This post will be concise, even simplistic at times. I will use generalizations about what some Christians believe, generalizations that veer into caricature. And I won’t try to prove my own assertions from Scripture, either—that must wait for later.

This post is not really part of my series on Jesus and divorce, but I thought it would be helpful to summarize up front the basic perspective I’ve reached, emphasizing especially my desire for faithfulness in marriage. Perhaps it will prevent a little confusion about my goals as I proceed through future posts that deal with exegetical details.

Here, then, is my basic thesis: God calls us to radical faithfulness in our marriage relationships—not radical freedom nor radical permanence.[1]

Radical Freedom and Radical Permanence

Radical freedom is the perspective on marriage that is dominant in Western culture today, including among many Christians. This perspective disregards the clear and strong teaching of Scripture that marriage is designed to be life-long, stressing instead a more general and genial message that God wants us to be fulfilled in our relationships. Radical freedom says a marriage should exist only as long as there is mutual agreement that it is wanted.

Radical freedom talks much about love but, in a perverse inversion of the second great commandment, love is defined as attraction rather than loyalty. Marriage often lasts only as long as love (attraction) does, rather than love (loyalty) being what preserves a marriage through the fickleness of feelings. Love for God (the first great commandment) is demoted to second place at best, as shown by the disregard of his commands about marriage. Radical freedom multiplies excuses for ending marriages and belittles the treachery and damage of divorce.

Radical permanence rightly rejects radical freedom, but shrivels into a reactionary stance. It uses an incomplete selection of biblical prooftexts, interpreting them with simplistic literalism and applying them, too often, without mercy. It stresses the permanence of marriage but is in danger of forgetting that God designed marriage for our good (“it is not good that man should be alone,” Gen. 2:18). Love for God (defined as obeying his marriage laws) is stressed, but often in such a way that love of neighbor is constrained.

Radical permanence means believing a marriage union is unconditionally permanent—“once married, always married”—with no exceptions ever possible. In a sort of fatalism, one’s actions within marriage are understood to have no effect whatsoever on the true duration of one’s marriage. Marriage is understood to persist even if a marriage partner persists in adultery—even if they leave and become married to someone else. If divorce is ever permitted, it is divorce redefined as separation only, with no possibility of remarriage. By claiming that marriage can never be truly ended except by death, rigid fatalism belittles the damage of sins such as adultery, abandonment, and abuse.

Image from a photo by Margaret Almon.

Radical Faithfulness

Radical faithfulness springs from the full witness of Scripture and seeks to reflect the heart of God. It takes seriously God’s creation intent for marriage to last until death, insisting that human love be understood within the parameters of the greatest commandment, to love God. It also remembers that “marriage was made for man, not man for marriage” and that “the Son of Man is lord even of marriage” (Mark 2:27-28, adapted). This means that, just as he did with Sabbath laws, Jesus has authority to recognize exceptions to the biblical laws surrounding marriage.

Radical faithfulness recognizes the seriousness of anything that ends a marriage; it belittles neither treacherous divorce (divorce without due cause) nor the treachery that precedes many divorces (such as adultery, abandonment, or abuse). Imitating God’s example, it recognizes that true faithfulness can include judging those who are unfaithful (Rom. 3:3-6). It emphasizes that marriage permanence begins in the heart, by cultivating contentment rather than covetousness and a wandering, adulterous eye (Matt. 5:27-30). Stated positively, radical faithfulness means living in such a way that people looking on can clearly see one has “gone the second mile” to preserve and nurture marriage relationships.

What does “going the second mile” look like? It means offering a level of commitment to a marriage that exceeds what the other marriage partner reasonably expects or deserves. It means offering to carry more than your fair share of the burden of marriage, and for longer than looks reasonable to those looking on.

Going the second mile doesn’t mean carrying your enemy’s load with zero help from them for the rest of your life, but it does mean you aren’t parsing the log book to ensure the load-bearing is shared fairly. It doesn’t mean ignoring all offenses, but it does mean inviting repentance. It doesn’t mean the original relationship can or must always be fully restored after betrayal, not even always after repentance, but it does mean you pray for the grace to always offer forgiveness.

Going the second mile doesn’t mean you believe there are no valid grounds for recognizing that a marriage has been broken. It doesn’t mean believing there are never any biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage.[2] It does mean that, when your marriage starts to get difficult, you diligently seek to bring it to life rather than looking for loopholes to escape it.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Let’s be honest: If all Christians practiced this kind of second-mile, radical faithfulness in marriage, divorce rates would plummet and marital joy would skyrocket! In addition—though this may be harder for some of you to imagine—I believe that a move toward this kind of radical faithfulness would make our churches safer and healthier for those whose marriages have been destroyed by spouses who have been radically unfaithful.

Radical Unfaithfulness

For radical unfaithfulness is a problem we dare not ignore or minimize. The best book I have read for understanding the real-life dynamics of abusive marriages is Gretchen Baskerville’s 2020 book The Life-Saving Divorce. Baskerville has been a “Christian divorce recovery leader” since 1998. Based on her experience and studies she has examined, she estimates that in America “at least 42% of divorces, and probably about half of divorces, are for very serious problems, the kind of problems that make the marriage miserable: unfaithfulness [sexual infidelity], physical or mental abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, refusing to support the family, or simply walking out the door.”[3]

What does this tell me? First, it tells me that at least half of divorces were almost certainly unjustified. They are the tragic fruit of, among other things, the perspective on marriage permanence that I’ve called radical freedom. This perspective encourages people to run from marriage as soon as it hits the sort of minor or moderate challenges that most marriages eventually face. Clearly, radical freedom is not serving marriages well.

But this research also tells me that nearly half of divorces are for “very serious” causes, namely adultery, abandonment, and various forms of abuse. Nearly half. That is, frankly, more than I would have guessed—more than what I have been led to believe by those who look at all divorces through a “God hates divorce” lens.[4] And here I need to ask: Which perspective on marriage best serves those suffering from these broken marriages: radical freedom, radical permanence, or radical faithfulness? Consider, for example, Baskerville’s summary of research showing that, in marriages with the kind of series problems named above, divorce is actually better for children than attempting to preserve the toxic marriage.

Image borrowed from “Is it Always Best to ‘Stay for the Kids’? No, Not If the Home is Toxic,” a September 26, 2020 blog post by Gretchen Baskerville. See https://lifesavingdivorce.com/abuse-and-kids/.

Sound Doctrine

Asking which perspective on marriage best serves broken marriages might not sound like a good question. After all, it smacks of pragmatism (What works best?), a concern which must never override the wisdom of God as revealed in the words of Jesus and the Scriptures. Pragmatism that relies on human wisdom can quickly lead us astray. I’ve come to believe, however, that the perspective that not only serves all sorts of marriages best, but also best reflects the heart of God and the witness of Scripture, is radical faithfulness. In other words, I believe radical faithfulness is sound doctrine—teaching that is both true and healthy.

This, then, is what I see in the Scriptures and what I mean to promote: radical faithfulness, not radical freedom nor radical permanence. No, I have not proven here that this is the most biblical perspective on marriage permanence, but as I share from Scripture in future posts you’ll start to see why I believe that it is.

If this summary post seems helpful to you, I’d be glad to know. I’m also open to suggestions about how to express things better—with greater accuracy, balance, or clarity.

If this post doesn’t feel helpful for you, just set it aside. Hopefully we can learn something helpful together as we dig into the Scriptures in future posts.

See you again soon, and thanks for reading!


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[1] Please don’t get hung up on the terms. They aren’t perfect but they give me something to hang my thoughts on. I debated long and hard for a couple of them, trying to be memorable and accurate without being needlessly offensive. It was to avoid offense that I ultimately rejected rootless freedom and rigid fatalism as alternatives to radical faithfulness. The trade-off is that you are subjected yet more often to what has become a buzzword: radical.

[2] Note: I added this clarifying sentence on 6/27/2022, after several readers had already commented on the post. I added it not because I changed my mind, but because one reader noted I did not express my position as clearly as I could have on the question of whether remarriage is ever biblically justified.

[3] Gretchen Baskerville, The Life-Saving Divorce: Hope for People Leaving Destructive Relationships (Torrance, CA: Life Saving Press, 2020), pp. 28-29. Baskerville’s book spends too little time on biblical interpretation to satisfy readers who have significant questions about divorce and remarriage, but it is the best book I have found for understanding the real-life dynamics of abusive marriages. I highly recommend it for pastors in particular, who should find it valuable no matter their own perspective on marriage permanence.

[4] “God hates divorce” is found in some translations of Malachi 2:16. The Hebrew of this verse is notoriously difficult to translate, and many scholars agree that “God hates divorce” is a very unlikely translation, despite the popularity that the KJV provided for this reading. The Christian Standard Bible gives a more likely reading: “If he hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with injustice,” says the Lord of Armies. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously.” The Coverdale Bible (1535) provides a pre-KJV reading that some scholars think is even more likely: “If thou hatest her, put her away, sayeth the Lord God of Israel and give her a clothing for the scorn…”


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Hyper-Literalism, Could vs. Should, and a Guiding Question (JDR-2)

Before I begin discussing Jesus’ words on divorce and remarriage, I want to clarify a few things about my approach. In this post I’ll make two points about interpreting the Bible on the topic of divorce and remarriage:

  • First, I’ll discuss the futility of taking a hyper-literal approach.
  • Second, I’ll propose one point of confusion in Bible interpretation that divides “liberal” and “conservative” camps.[1]

Finally, I’ll use this second point to introduce the question that will guide me as I examine Jesus’ words in forthcoming posts.

Hyper-Literal Bible Interpretation

I want to begin by emphasizing, as strongly as possible, something that I think is utterly essential to acknowledge: Understanding the NT teaching on divorce and remarriage is not as simple as just taking the words of Jesus and Paul at face value. In fact, if one takes a hyper-literal approach to all the NT teachings on divorce—taking them all as universally-true statements, without any exception—then one ends up with multiple contradictions.

Here are just three examples:

  • Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6). On face value, in the minds of most readers, this leaves no room for divorce, period. But Jesus also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). Debates of theologians aside, most people reading that for the first time would conclude that divorce is permitted for a husband whose wife has been sexually unfaithful. Which is true?
  • Matthew 19:9 includes the exception noted above. But Mark 10:11, which records the same historical event as Matthew, has Jesus condemning divorce without exception: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.” Full stop. So, did Jesus give an exception or didn’t he?
  • Paul wrote, “If any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her” (1 Cor. 7:12). Wait a minute: What does Paul mean by “if…she consents to live with him”? Doesn’t that condition contradict Jesus’ unqualified prohibitions of divorce?

The debate over whether the NT ever permits remarriage, then, cannot be reduced to a debate between those who, in simple faith, take the Bible’s teachings at face value and those who, with hardened hearts, try to weasel around its clear teaching. (Simple faith and hard hearts, of course, do play important roles.) Rather, I suggest, it is more foundationally a debate over which of the Bible’s statements about divorce have the best claim to be taken at face value, without qualification—the prohibitions (almost always general statements[2]) or the exceptions (always directed to specific circumstances).

Again, no one takes all the NT divorce teachings at face value, as being universally true without qualification. It is impossible to do so. And because it is impossible, God clearly did not intend for us to do so. We are misunderstanding him, somewhere, if we try to do so.

With those facts clearly before us, we should free each other for an honest, humble discussion about how best to synthesize the Bible’s varied teachings on divorce.

Should Versus Could

How do Christians end up with such different perspectives on divorce and remarriage? One reason, of course, is that they disagree about which texts should control our reading of other texts. (See above.)

Another underlying cause for disagreement between “liberal” and “conservative” camps, it seems to me, is that one emphasizes the “could” of Scripture while the other emphasizes the “should.” The only way to read Scripture well, however, is to appropriately acknowledge both. Let me explain.

A “liberal” approach to divorce and remarriage emphasizes the passages of Scripture that say a marriage could be ended, whether rightly or wrongly. Since it is clear that marriage is not necessarily permanent, it must not be necessary to try to make it permanent, right? (Wrong.) This approach sometimes cites the divorce exceptions of Jesus and Paul (Matt. 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:15), but, in truth, finding specific biblical grounds for divorce is no longer very important. What really matters is just the basic fact that a marriage could come to an end. Such endings may be unfortunate, but they are to be expected and we should just try to navigate them with as much grace as possible, moving on to better relationships when old ones fade.

A ”conservative” approach, in contrast, emphasizes those Scriptures that say a marriage should never be ended by anything besides death. Since it is clearly necessary for marriage to be permanent, marriage must necessarily be permanent, right? (Wrong.) This approach acknowledges that some Scriptures seem to talk about marriages ending, but it quickly overrides all such texts with other passages that seem to indicate that even when a marriage is formally ended by divorce, obligations remain. These passages mentioning obligations are then universalized to apply to all divorce situations, no matter what exceptions may appear in a face-value reading of other Scriptures. Thus, any remarriage is always an “adulterous marriage,” or perhaps should not be called a marriage at all.

Neither approach, it seems to me, reads Scripture fairly.

To be honest, I’ve never been seriously tempted by the “liberal” approach. It shows utter disregard for God’s word and for basic human fidelity, despite the apparently loving motives of some who promote it.

The “conservative” approach, however, is more or less what I grew up with. (Please be patient with my simplistic summaries.) Because I this is the approach I have been taught for most of  my life, it is the position I will test in my forthcoming posts.

Did Jesus Teach That Marriage Is Indissoluble?

The basic question I’ll consider in my posts is this: Did Jesus believe that nothing besides death can truly end a marriage? Did he believe that marriage is indissoluble?

I’ll begin with the NT’s fullest account of Jesus’ teaching on the subject, found in Matthew 19. I’ll start by examining several of his “should statements” about the permanence of marriage, statements that are sometimes misinterpreted, it seems to me, as proof that a marriage could never be fully broken. After discussing key excerpts from Matthew 19, I’ll aim to synthesize Jesus’ other teachings, too. Throughout, I will focus on my basic question: Did Jesus believe marriage is indissoluble?

This series, then, will not try to address the rights and wrongs of every imaginable potential divorce situation. Rather, I’m testing a more foundational point. If Jesus really did believe a validly-contracted marriage cannot be dissolved by anything but death, then the “conservative” approach is fundamentally correct and all apparent exceptions must be read as not truly being exceptions after all.

But if we discover that Jesus never actually said anything that indicates he thought marriage is indissoluble, then this shapes how we must read what he did say. It means we have no reason to preclude, with the “conservative” approach, that Jesus’ exceptions cannot be taken at face value.

This series, then, is more about testing a key assumption many readers bring to Jesus’ words than it is about expounding the full meaning and significance of Jesus’ divorce teachings as might be done in a sermon. It is about testing the starting point of our thinking rather than trying to give a lot of practical guidance or application of Scripture to human life. That said, what I plan to share is anything but just theoretical. Answering the question Did Jesus believe marriage is indissoluble? is just about the most relevant thing I can imagine for anyone who is dealing with a marriage that is currently on the rocks.

Before we begin digging into this question, however, I want to emphasize as strongly as I can that Jesus’ main message about marriage was persistent and clear: God intends marriage to be for life, and any time a marriage union is separated, that marriage has fallen short of God’s creation design. Period. This was the heartbeat of Jesus’ teaching on divorce, and it must be the heartbeat of the church’s teaching, too, when taken as a whole.

My inquiry does not question this divine purpose at all. Rather, it focuses on what happens when humans fail to live up to it. Is it possible for humans to separate what God has joined? And is it possible for one marriage to end, other than by death, in such a way that remarriage may be an option that God blesses?

In short, my posts will address the question of what could happen to a marriage if it falls short of what God’s word clearly shows should happen.


I have one more post to share before I dig into Jesus’ words. In my next post I’ll summarize the general perspective on marriage permanence that I have reached after my study on this topic over the past couple of years. I call this perspective “radical faithfulness,” and I’ll contrast it with the positions I’ve called “liberal” and “conservative” in this post.

Meanwhile, I’d like to hear from you.

What are your thoughts on a hyper-literal approach to the NT teachings on divorce and remarriage? Have you observed confusion between the “should” and “could” of Scripture on this topic? What parts of Jesus’ teaching on the topic do you hope I dig into as I investigate Jesus’ view on marriage permanence?

Thanks for reading!


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[1] I’m using scare quotes because I’m not attempting to precisely define, identify, or affirm either group. In my usage here, “liberal” simply means more permissive of divorce and “conservative” less permissive. Readers will have differing opinions on which position, if either, best conserves biblical doctrine and God’s liberal grace.

[2] I say “almost” because the prohibition in 1 Corinthians 7:11 is tied to a specific circumstance.


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Churchfunding: 2021 Year-End Report

At the turn of every year, as an act of thankfulness and accountability, I like to give a report on our house loans. This year I’ll try to keep it short!

(Background: As many of you know, we purchased our Atlanta house on March 25, 2016, paying the seller in full immediately, thanks to loans and gifts from nearly 90 individuals or families. Since this crowdfunding effort was the work of Christ’s church, we coined a new term: “churchfunding.” Here is the post that officially launched this adventure.)

At the beginning of 2021, we owed $28,782.50 in house loans. By the end of the year, we owed only $21,232.50.

Here is how that $7,550 difference breaks down:

  • We repaid $7,000 in loans, at more than the promised rate of $500 per month.
  • We were forgiven an additional $550 in principal and interest by a generous lender.

In total, our house debt declined by $1,550 more than we expected in 2020.

At the promised $500 per month, we should have all remaining lenders repaid within about 3-1/2 years—by about July of 2025. As promised, we are using a random number generator and prayer to select who is repaid each month. If you have a financial squeeze, let us know and we’ll see what we can do!

In Other Developments…

In many ways, 2021 was a pretty ordinary year for us (apart from you-know-what). We didn’t do any significant repairs or improvements to the house, getting distracted in part by vehicle needs. Our van passed 250,000 miles this summer! Repairing a leaky portion of the roof is apparently next, hopefully followed soon by that leaky shower.

Besides my work, most days our family stays busy with homeschooling, driving the girls to their weekly string classes, taking hikes with homeschool friends, hobbies like reading and music, and doing things with our church family. I’m still responsible to schedule church musicians, and I lead music about once a month, usually helped by our oldest daughter (now a teenager!). I’m also in the rotation to preach a sermon every several months.

In our local neighborhood we aim to be good neighbors for Christ’s sake. Lately this has included taking a neighbor a Christmas meal, having a neighbor boy come over to play basket ball, and helping another neighbor look for a missing family member. We’ve also been reminded recently of the crime that occurs around us, praying for those who have been touched by tragedy.

I’ll mention two trips. In July our family spent a day at Edisto Beach State Park in South Carolina. It was our first family trip to the ocean since moving to Georgia, and we really enjoyed it!

A highlight of the year was finally visiting my mother again, in Canada. It was our first time seeing her since the start of COVID–the first time since our trip to my dad’s funeral. The trip was an answer to many prayers. Family ties are so precious!

In Blogging (Lack of) News…

As you may have noticed, I haven’t done much blogging lately. I got stalled on reporting the history of Mennonites and divorce, and now I’m wrestling more deeply with my own understanding of the biblical teaching on the topic. Recently I read a long book chronicling a journalist’s attempt to solve a murder case. The web of leads he got sucked into, some helpful, some dead ends, reminded me of the many exegetical rabbit trails I’ve run down as I’ve waded through varied interpretations of all the relevant biblical passages.

I invite your prayers as I continue to study—that my heart will be open to God’s truth, that I will be granted insight, and that God will guide my desire to serve the church by writing more on this topic. Maybe, at some point, a book? Surveying Anabaptist history and also sharing my own biblical exegesis and pastoral reflections?

Meanwhile, here’s a quick completion of my answer as to why American  Mennonites adopted a stricter no-divorce position. I’ve already suggested that a spirit of separatism lended itself to adopting increasingly rigid doctrinal positions, that American Mennonites had lost touch with early Anabaptist documents affirming remarriage in case of adultery, and that the switch from German to English may have affected their interpretation of Jesus’ divorce sayings.

To complete the picture, I’d want to discuss at least these additional points:

  • The topic of the “divorce evil” was in the air across the nation at the end of the 1800s (very much like “social justice” has been recently), troubling everyone from the President on down, so the Mennonites simply joined a larger political and ecclesial conversation, some of which was moving in a stricter direction.
  • New Mennonite periodicals, founded by John Funk, alerted them as never before to differences in their own ranks on the question of divorce and remarriage, leading to brisk debate.
  • In the periodicals there were calls for annual conferences, partly to resolve such matters of difference; it was at such a conference that a stricter position was officially adopted in 1905.
  • Before this conference some Mennonite leaders, especially some activist younger leaders like Daniel Kauffman, began to say that the only sufficient response to the “divorce evil” was to give no exception whatsoever. This stance seems to have been adopted for pragmatic reasons as much as for biblical ones, for it was only after the 1905 conference that more fully developed doctrinal explanations were published in support of the stricter position.

That’s a quick survey! Each of those points deserve a book chapter, and I’m sure I should add several more.

(And, to be clear, none of that history proves whether the adoption of a stricter position was good or bad; that would require a separate conversation about exegesis, theology, and pastoral care.)


Our family remains deeply grateful to everyone who helped us buy our Atlanta home, and to all who have supported us in so many other ways. Thank you! 

God is faithful! Please pray we, too, will be faithful, and that we can bear fruit for him in 2022.

For Christ and his church,
Dwight Gingrich


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