Critique: John MacArthur’s “Marriage, Divorce, and Singleness”
My comments [mark by an *] on some of MacArthur’s quotes:
John MacArthur says, “Paul says, ‘Look, it’s okay to be single, it’s okay to live without any relationships with the opposite sex, but it’s a whole lot better to marry because of immoralities’.” – *This is conditional. Christ says it is greater to be celibate for God [Mt 19:12]. Paul confirms this [1 Cor 7:32-35]. What Paul is calling greater when he speaks of marriage is that marriage is only greater than celibacy if you can’t be sexually celibate and pure; it is better to be married and pure than celibate and impure. But celibacy with purity is the highest devotion.
MacArthur goes further to say, “And then when you do marry, you have the duty to fulfill to each other. That duty, obviously, is to render the physical affection that is consistent and God-ordained for the procreation and the pleasure of people in a marriage.” – *Fulfillment first begins with spirituality, then fleshly fulfillment. This is why the Bible speaks of a married couples intimacy as “knowing each other”. We are to respect each other as God respects us. God, according to scripture, “knows the secrets of our heart”, “knows us intimately”, et cetera. The highest respect of marriage is not sex but the full knowledge of the other persons being as God knows us. God’s love is consummate without sex, and so should our love. Granted, sex is a gift, but it is not the highest gift of marriage.
John says, “In fact, the duty is so high in a marriage that the wife doesn’t even have authority over her own body, the husband does. And likewise, the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body but the wife does. So, stop depriving one another.” – *Where is the respect? If a woman is not interested, or the man is not interested, the partner ought to wait. Remember, love is patient, it is kind, it is not self-seeking, etc.[1 Cor 13:4-8]. Of course, there are times where the wife or husband are to submit themselves out of love though they are not physically desiring it. But the dignity of person-hood is foremost import. St. Paul only tells wives to submit to the husband, not for sexual pleasure, but because the woman should be as the Church, the Bride of Christ, and the man is called to be the groom as Christ was, to be as Christ is toward His Bride. Christ gave Himself fully to Her, in love. Therefore the Bride, the Church, could fully submit Herself to the Bridegroom, Jesus. We are called to be as Christ and Church, the Bride. Christ never thought of Himself first, but gave Himself so that His Bride could lovingly and fearless submit to Him, knowing He would never demand, only offer Himself, which was true love. Remember, Christ tells us, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. We should be merciful, not demanding the sacrifice of our partners body because it is ours. We should be merciful.
He goes further to say, “fulfill your marriage covenant physically”. – *A marriage is not consummated by sex only. In the Old Testament, Numbers chapter 30 gives us instructions for those who wish to marry and stay abstinate. Though they remain physically virginal by their abstinence, their marriages are still considered consummated by God. This is because they “know each other” on level deeper than physical. This is why God writes of couples “they knew one another”; an animal can have sex, but not truly “know” it’s partner. It’s the full acceptance [knowing the person] that is the consummation, not the physical act. Just like Jesus said, “it is the spirit that gives life, the flesh profits nothing” [Jn 6:63].
MacArthur goes further to say, “[Paul] ‘But I say to the unmarried and to widows,’ these would be two categories of formerly married people. Now there are only two ways that you can be married and then not be married. You either were widowed or you were divorced.” – *To say that the “unmarried” had once been married is eisegesis. No where does Scripture indicate that the “unmarried” are divorced individuals. This is a great assumption surmised by MacArthur. In fact, the Greek word Paul uses for unmarried “agamos” means “a person not in a state of wedlock, whether he or she has formerly been married or not.” But Paul knew Jesus’ teachings, that one cannot marry and divorce and consummate another marriage. So the unmarried people in this statement would mean those who were never married to begin with. Since he is speaking of widows, which indicates a lack of fault for their solidarity, than the unmarried must be faultless [without the stain of divorce], to be consistent with the theme of being faultless for their single state.
John is right when he quotes Paul, “if she leaves, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband” *but falters when he says “Down in verse 34, you have the unmarried and the virgin. The unmarried aren’t the widows and the unmarried aren’t the virgins. So who are the unmarried? They have to be the people who were married and now are no longer married.”- *Again, the verb Paul uses for unmarried applies to those who were never married. This is most consistent with Jesus’ teaching Who says that anyone who divorces and remarries is an adulterer.
John makes a hermeneutic error, “But, look at verse 9, ‘If they do not have self-control, let them…what?…marry. It’s better to marry than to burn.’ Not burn in hell, but burn with desire.” – * Paul doesn’t mean burn with desire, but burn in hell. When Scripture talks about discipline and burning, burning always means hell. Such as, “if you can’t discipline your hand, cut it off. It is better to enter heaven maimed than thrown into hell with your whole body and burn” [Mt 18:8-9]. Is Jesus saying that it is better to enter heaven maimed than to burn with an earthly desire of the flesh?
He quotes, “verse 26, ‘I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife, don’t seek to be released. If you’re released from a wife, don’t seek a wife’.” – *“If you are released…don’t seek a wife” is quoting Jesus whom says that whoever is divorced is to remain single, lest he or she remarry and become an adulterer.
John errors when he states, “look at verse 9, “If they do not have self-control, let them… what?… marry. It’s better to marry than to burn.” Not burn in hell, but burn with desire .Should the formerly married remarry? Yes if they desire to be married because it’s better to be married than to burn.’ Not burn in hell, but burn with desire.” – *Jesus says, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” and “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” Do not remarry if you are divorced lest you commit adultery. Also, if “burn” did mean desire, it is by far greater of a virtue to discipline yourself and burn with desire, than to have no discipline and give into the burning temptation of desire. This is why Paul says, “I chastise my body [desire] lest I be disqualified” [1 Cor 9:27]; Paul felt the ‘burn of desire’ but still would rather be celibate and face the ‘burn of desire.’ What John MacArthur says in this quote is an apparent contradiction to what Paul is trying to tell us.
John does come back and admit, “And, of course, the Lord’s teaching was no divorce.” – *But those who divorce cannot remarry.
John goes on to say, “God hates divorce and because God joins together every couple. ‘What God has joined together, let not man separate’.” – *So he reiterates what the Lord taught. God hates divorce. Don’t divorce. One man, one woman, in one union, the indivisible one for life, no separation.” Note, the “indivisible one for life”; he is quoting Jesus whom said “what God has joined, no man can lay asunder” [Mk 10:9]. A man cannot lay a marriage asunder by adultery and divorce, because God has joined them as “one flesh” [Gen 2:24, Mk 10:8].
Notice that John quotes, “’If any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever and she consents to live with him,’ this is the opposite situation. But in this case, this is a brother who has a wife and in this case she’s the unbeliever but she wants to live with him. Should he divorce her just because she’s an unbeliever? The answer, ‘No, he must not divorce her. And a woman, verse 13, who has an unbelieving husband and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband or divorce her husband’. Why? ‘For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband, for otherwise your children are unclean but now they are holy’.” – *This is an interesting dichotomy which is considered a pagan marriage [because one is an unbeliever or unbaptized].
John takes this out of context when he says, “verse 15 creates another scenario. ‘If the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave. Let him leave.’ Literally, if he takes himself out, that’s the verb, if he eliminates himself, chorizo, technical term really for divorce. ‘If an unbeliever divorces a believer, let him leave. The brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases but God has called us to peace.’ Here is the second exception for divorce. The first is adultery, we saw that in Matthew 19, Matthew 5. Second one is an unbeliever divorces a believer.” – *First, John doesn’t realize that a Christian and Pagan marriage is not truly consummated, because they are not equally yoked. Second, the Jesus says “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness [Greek porneia], and marries another woman commits adultery [Greek moichatai].” Notice that unlawfulness [porneia] is not the same as adultery [moichatai]. If Christ wanted to say that divorce was permissible over adultery, he would have said moichatai, not porneia.
John misses a point when he says, “Single or married, whatever God wills in whatever situation you’re in, stay that way. That is so important because Christianity was never intended to just rip and shred families. The very opposite is true. Unless that unbeliever wants to leave, you become the sanctifying influence for the one that stays.” – *Christianity never tends to rip families. But our unlawfulness of divorce and remarriage rips spiritual families. Like Jesus said, Moses allowed divorce, “but it was not so from the beginning” [Mt 19:8]; meaning God does not approve of it, although Moses allowed it. As a great saint once said, “sanctify yourself so you can sanctify society.” How true is that. God calls for holiness of the person, to endure their commitments to marriage. This is why the vows say, “do you take this person, in sickness and in health, till death do you part?” You are accepting everything, even a life of solidarity after divorce so as not to break your commitment of “being one flesh” with that person. Jesus warns us “let your yeses be yes and nos be no” [Mt 5:37]. When Jesus asks, “will you be one flesh with this person, as it decreed by God from the beginning”, your answer is “unconditionally yes.” If the unfaithful spouse leaves, they dirty their promise of being one flesh, but the victim incurs no shame unless the victim remarries; remember, they are always one flesh, they can’t undue their one flesh because what God has joined together as one flesh, no man can separate.
John MacArthur is absolutely right when he says, “What are the alternatives then for married people, to Christians? No divorce. And if you do leave, you don’t remarry anybody else and you come back to your husband. Those are your two options. If you’re married to a non-Christian and the non-Christian decides to divorce you…let it happen, you’re free to remarry.”
But John makes a mistake when he says, “Now there’s another question in Paul’s mind at this point and it has to do with virgins, verse 25. ‘Now concerning virgins,’ these are the never married”. – *The book of Numbers chapter 30 tells us that many married couples remain virgins as a sacrifice to God. It is a vast assumption to say that the virgins were never married.
John makes a mistake when says, “Marriage has no relation to the eternal, right? You remember when they said to Jesus, ‘Who’s wife shall she be in heaven?’ And Jesus said, ‘In heaven there is neither marrying or giving in marriage.’ This is…this is good advice, Paul says, the pressure of the system, the problems of the flesh, living in this life, and the passing of the world means that if you can concentrate on the eternal things, in dire times, you simplify your life. We’re all going to have to simplify.” – *The reason that no marriage is needed in heaven is because man will find all his pleasure in his nuptial with God. Man is united with woman as an expression of God’s desire to be one with us. But when we are one with God, we will no longer need this symbol of sex as a means to understand the oneness with God. The oneness of sex mirrors the Trinity of God, where two come together in full love [God the Father and Jesus] and from them, their love together is the Third Person [the Holy Spirit]. Mankind is made in the image and likeness of God that when a man and woman come together in complete love, then comes a third person, a baby, who is the complete product of love. The baby is no different from the mother or the father, because they baby is the mother and the father combined, yet the baby is their own person. Just as Jesus’ and Father’s love come together, their love is the Holy Spirit. Three divine persons that are all the same family/nature [which we call God]. The baby is literally the father and the mother [the father and mother are also not two fleshes but now one flesh], yet we have three people who are all one flesh. This is why mankind is said to be made in the image and likeness of God; they mirror the Trinity of God’s love.
MacArthur is correct when he says that celibacy is greater than marriage, but only celibacy by a calling from God, “And I say this to you who are single, particularly, if you can remain single in the service of Christ, do so, but not to the jeopardy of your purity. If that’s an issue, get married”.
“Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family – a domestic church.” Pope John Paul II