I’m still uneasy about the implications of Matthew 5:31-32. Moreover, I have a few nagging questions. I’m not being sarcastic, incidentally. Although I was regularly exposed to Catholic doctrine when I was a child (my mother is Catholic, my father was Baptist), I spent far more time in the Southern Baptist tradition. To a Baptist (and I’m only half-kidding), the only real sins are drinking and dancing. Everything else is kosher – and if something happens not to be; just tell Jesus you’re sorry, and promise not to do it again. (How, exactly, this attitude differs from the antinomianism practiced by the nastier sort of Calvinist, or the “Sin today, confess tomorrow, and it’s all good” Catholic mindset is something no one ever bothered explaining to me.)
From 1986 until 2001, I was everything but a Christian. Polytheism, Deism, Pantheism, Atheism, Buddhism, Taoism, Hermeticism – even Diabolism – were all hats I tried on at one time or another. I may or may not post the details of my long, often misty and rocky path to conversion in the future, but for now, I’ll say only that I’ve always hated hypocrisy. As I wasn’t living even a remotely Christian life in those days, and as I had no intention of doing so, I was damned (pun fully – if grimly -- intended) if I’d preach what I didn’t practice, and double-damned if I’d preach what I didn’t believe in the first place.
When I did regain my faith, in 2001, I began reading the Bible again – but without shedding the theological blinders I’d had put on me as a child.
I grew up Baptist. Baptists maintain that divorce is hunky-dory. Therefore, Matthew 5:31-32 are merely examples of the hyperbole and/or parables Jesus was wont to employ, and not meant to be taken literally. Thusly primed (or disarmed, perhaps) I let the text go “in one eye and out the other,” if you will.
As it happens, though, neither verse, when examined textually and contextually, makes the hyperbole/parable mark.
Yes, hairsplitters, I did look them up in my Greek-English interlinear version. Although I’m a still in the process of learning Greek, it’s not a baffling isolate like Basque or Ainu: It is quintessentially Indo-European, and shares many, many features with the Germanic, Celtic, and Romance tongues with which I’m more comfortable. Moreover, picking it up is nothing compared to the relative hell of hacking one’s way through an Altaic language like Turkish, with its vowel-harmony, agglutinative structure, and SOV syntax.
Pardon the digression. My point is that there’s precious little interpretive wriggle-room in English, or in Greek when it comes to 5:32. Ego de lego hymin ho apolyon ten gynaika autou parektos logou porneias poiei auten moikheuthenai, kai hos ean apolelumenai gamese moikhatai (pardon me if I missed any of the rough breathing marks while I was transliterating) is downright brusque in its straightforwardness. If anything, I’m doubly impressed by the forcefulness of the statement, especially in the light of etymology. Apolyon, the word employed for “divorce” suggests destruction or ruin. It’s far more serious than the Latin equivalent, derived from the verb divortere. The latter is gently euphemistic in comparison, implying as it does a mere turning aside or separation of paths. Pornein, for “adultery,” is even more loaded, owing to its derivation from the word porne, “whore.”
If our Lord and Savior, after His Ascension, could confer the gift of tongues upon his evangelists, and could, even as a child, confound the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees with his uncanny understanding of the Law (Think of Him as the ultimate TAG student); it stands to reason that learning and expressing Himself fluently in the idioms (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, etc.) to which He, as a resident of the eastern portion of the Roman Empire, was exposed, wouldn’t have been a difficult undertaking. Hence, I’ll assume that he was fully cognizant not only of the literal content of his words, but of the cultural bells and whistles, as well.
According to no lesser an authority than the very incarnation of God, the Second Person of the Trinity; a man and his wife are one flesh – this confirmed and reaffirmed by his apostle in Ephesians 5:32. Although I have irreconcilable theological differences with the Roman Catholic Church, I’ll have to admit that the Catholic position on divorce is scripturally correct, while my fellow Protestants have subjected the Book to private interpretation.
The Lord says that a man who puts aside his wife for any cause other than adultery/fornication makes an adulteress of her, and adulterers of her future husbands. In short, nothing shy of adultery dissolves the spiritual/physical bond between man and wife. Now if a man puts his wife aside for adultery/fornication, she’s already an adulteress by definition, correct? If so, then a married woman who dallies with another man – a man for whom she ultimately leaves her husband – makes perpetual adulterers/esses of them both, n’est ce pas? Mark 10:11-12 state that this is indeed the case. And if the spiritual/fleshly bond is sundered by infidelity, do the children of such a fractured union or the adulterous unions that follow it become bastards by default?
At any rate, I do wish He had clarified and expanded upon the point. Given my situation, I hope you understand why the verses keep me up long into the night. And until now, I’d thought Augustine’s unnervingly cogent argument that suicides are damned (see The City of God) was a sleep-wrecker…