Have you ever asked yourself the above question? I sure have. “Greater works than these will you do because I go to the Father”. Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, walked on water, calmed the sea and dismissed demons by simple commands. For the most part, the church is not seeing very much in the way of similarity with what Jesus did much less the “greater”. So I, you, we find ourselves often asking why.
I cannot say definitively that I have the answer, but I must submit this for consideration. It’s not easy, it’s not politically correct, it’s not even religiously correct to suggest what I am putting forth as the likely barrier to our sacrifices and prayers not being answered or acceptable to our Holy God, but I must submit it nonetheless.
I will start by asking what symbol best represents God’s covenant with His people? There are probably several good answers to that question, but I suggest the answer at the apex of that question would be the marriage covenant. Marriage was the first institution God introduced. He uses it in prophetic ways throughout the Old Testament (Hosea, Ruth, Malachi) and culminates the New Testament with the wedding feast of the Lamb to His Church.
God made His covenant to Abraham and His descendants the Jewish people. Even though they have not always been faithful, perhaps even most of the time, He has remained faithful even to this day. The story in Hosea was specifically scripted to illustrate the absolute faithfulness by God to an unfaithful “wife” (Israel) and even a wife that was un-pure to start with. So for me, this places the marriage covenant as the centerpiece symbol representing the faithfulness of our God and potentially the greatest witness to the lost. I say potentially because it would seem the church has discarded this holy covenantal union in exchange for easy no stigma divorce. Discarded is a strong a word, but I always try and write with a nod as to how the world views the church and with the divorce rate at similar percentages in the church as in secular society we have on some level lost the moral high ground when it come to marriage – any kind or gender.
What I am suggesting is pretty radical in its implication and as such I will need to present some tedious academic supporting evidence. But basically I am suggesting that a high divorce rate amongst Christians is one, if not THE reason our prayers often go unanswered.
In Malachi 2, Judah is crying out to God asking why their sacrifices and prayers are not accepted and God’s answer, not my answer-not Malachi’s answer and not the world’s answer, but GOD’s answer is because of the high divorce rate (paraphrased) with God stating emphatically that He hates divorce. I’ll place bets you never heard that sermon before. And here is where I must get a bit academic.
In the 1984 NIV version of Malachi 2:16 it reads in part “I hate divorce says the Lord God ..” and yet in the NIV 2011 version the same section reads “the man who hates and divorces his wife..” Because I happen to be able to read and speak Hebrew and my wife teaches Biblical Hebrew I can tell you with absolute accuracy the more recent translation is categorically wrong to change the subject to the man hating and divorcing his wife instead of God being the one who hates the act of divorce.
This is not the only example of decades and centuries old translations being changed/softened on the subject of divorce. Take the comparison of Matt. 19:9 in the American Standard Bible between the 1901 version – And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery. And now here is the 1995 AS version of the same verse – And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality (almost all new versions now say adultery), and marries another woman commits adultery – part B of this verse is omitted entirely even thou it show up in 6 of the 7 main manuscripts most commonly used for translation purposes. The King James Version finally caved to this “trend” with the American King James published in 1999.
What must be understood is that there are two very specific and different words used in both Greek and English to describe fornication (sex amongst non married people) and adultery (sexually breaking the marriage vow). The Greek word for fornication (porneia – from which we also get pornography) is the word used in this text. Because of this, in centuries past, this verse was clearly understood to mean that if, after getting married, it was found out that the girl (I embrace this applying equally to both genders) had fornicated but had presented herself as a virgin, then the husband had the right to divorce her or have the marriage annulled because it was under false pretenses. Such was the case with Joseph’s initial inclination to divorce Mary privately. This is also why the Catholic Church allowed for annulment, although that is totally abused in modern times to be for almost any reason. But the more recent translations suggest that sexual immorality or adultery after marriage can be cause for divorce. These are two totally different scenarios. One is from promiscuity before marriage and the other after the vows are taken.
There is a story from the life of Jesus which would seem to support the 1900 year old understanding of Matthew 19:9 instead of the more modern trending interpretation. If adultery was what the author (Jesus) intended, there would have been no need to address it as the clear and practiced punishment for adultery at the time of Jesus was death. Remember the woman caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus. Jesus totally agreed with the crowd that death was the proper punishment and encouraged those standing there who had no sin to carry out the execution. You see, as harsh as it sounds today, there would have been no need to address adultery in the context of divorce at the time of Christ since the death sentence would have been assumed. This would have freed the non-offending party to re-marry with no divorce proceedings necessary. However death was not the practiced punishment for fornication. In fact the practice of temple prostitution was not uncommon.
The reason this is such a vitally important distinction is because of what covenant is supposed to look like. God has never wavered in His faithfulness to fulfill His covenantal vow to often unfaithful Israel. That is the depth of commitment and love He displays in His promise, and He established marriage to be a blessing, a testimony and a witness of that faithfulness to His people and to outsiders.
I believe covenant marriage is right under salvation as the most valuable gift God has given mankind. But why would God withhold just because of high divorce rates? I can only offer a humble illustration. Say God decided to build you a mansion (which He actually is) and He personally carved a magnificently beautiful front door as the first thing everyone saw when they came to visit. But you take that amazing front door and put it on the back door or on the shed out back effectively removing it from its place of honor. God doesn’t kick you out of the house, but He would likely be very hesitant to make further upgrades and improvements on the house until you return that special door to its rightful place.
I know the implications of what I am suggesting are radical and far reaching but there is no denying the fact that high divorce rates among His people was the reason He wasn’t responding to the appeals of Judah in Malachi 2. You may not like that fact, but it is a fact nonetheless. It is important to keep in mind that various punishments including invasion or exile were doled out by God for Israel’s “adultery”. But even with all of Israel’s unfaithfulness, God never broke covenant.
I will give another example of modern translations bending to what’s “tending” in regards to divorce. In Timothy 3:12 NIV 1984 version – A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well: and the same verse from the 2011 version – A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. This same “accommodation” occurs in an increasing number of other translations which, simply put, allows the significant change from a deacon only ever having one wife (to which he is faithful) to allowing a deacon to be a man who is faithful to one wife at a time. This is a complete misrepresentation of that verse and the intended testimony of covenant marriage to the local Christian congregation as well as to the un-churched.
This is not an easy thing to consider and I know what I’m talking about. Barbie’s and my marriage has not always been easy. We had a very tumultuous first 5 years. Fighting, yelling, verbal abuse and a lot of unhappiness abounded. We looked at each other and actually verbalized something to the effect of “I don’t love you and I don’t want to be with you!” Fortunately for us, and our kids, we were both raised that divorce was not an option and we got counseling, lots of counseling, got serious about loving and serving each other and fought through to victory and boy is victory SWEET! I was talking to Barbie last night and she agrees that we would put our marriage up against any marriage for friendship, love, serving each other’s goals and joy.
I am not suggesting someone stay in an abusive marriage. Neither am I suggesting that adultery should in anyway be ignored or glossed over. What I am saying is that I completely embrace the sacred position to which the holy covenant of marriage must be returned to. I fully endorse scriptures’ admonition that we only marry people who are born again Christians and who are submitted to Christ and His church. But we can’t stop there. I am also in agreement with the exhortations in scripture for people to not only be in committed fellowship in a local church but to also walk in absolute accountability for the character of their lives. If we make the above commitments we will be placing tremendous safeguards to protect marriages and give support, rebuke and exhortation when one or both spouses gets off track.
And for those wondering about those who were married before they became Christians, we see clearly that you should stay married unless the unbelieving spouse is unwilling to remain married. 1 Cor. 7:13-15
In no way is this some judgment on those who have experienced the devastation of divorce. This is an exhortation, going forward, for the church to make a recommitment before God to honor the covenant of marriage.
So I suggest the Church has a monumental decision to make if we want to change the status-quo. Do we want the Father to come in power, hear our prayers and accept our sacrifices or do we want easy, no-fault and no-stigma divorce. I believe it really does come down to that simple of a question albeit with a very weighty answer. I’ve been watching the church for over half a century try almost everything else to coax the heavens open and for God to come in power, healings, miracles and those “greater works than these” with little to no avail. Maybe we should try covenant level commitment, holiness and an honoring of God in our marriages – yes even when the going gets tough and when unfaithfulness raises its ugly head because that is the kind of commitment the Father has towards us. And maybe, just maybe, the heavens will again be opened and the lost of this world would actually see something to desire, pursue and be jealous of. It’s a huge decision, but decide we must.
And because I believe so strongly that this is key to the future power and testimony of the Gospel, I would ask you to consider sharing this blog with others to include your pastor.
I have attached a link below to one of the more annotated and referenced studies on the subject of tracking changes in translations over the years.