Back before I was reconciled to the Church, I “knew” a lot of things. For example, I “knew” that the Catholics had adulterated the Faith once delivered and compromised the teachings of Christ. I’m putting the word “knew” in quotation marks, because this knowing of mine was so very nebulous. Had you thought to ask me, I could not have given you the exact whos, whats, whens, wheres or hows – you know, the historical facts buttressing my certainty. I just “knew” because I had learned this from other Protestants who just “knew.” It was a “known fact” that all of us historically ignorant assumers were assuming: the Catholic Church took the doctrines taught by the apostles and perverted them, adding the teachings of men. The Church played fast and loose with doctrinal truths. This began back in the second, third or fourth century (depending on who was doing the “knowing”). Where Jesus had said “Yes!”, the Catholic Church made a practice of saying “No!” – holding Catholics in bondage to the Law when Jesus wanted them to walk in liberty. Where Jesus had said “No!”, the Catholic Church threw open the doors shouting, “What the hey!” – making broad the narrow way and wide the gate to salvation.
You couldn’t fool me! I was hip to the Catholic scam….
Take the Biblical teaching on celibacy, marriage, divorce and remarriage as a prime example! We “knew” exactly who St. Paul was talking about in his first letter to Timothy:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.
If that isn’t the Catholic Church, I don’t “know” who it is, I would’ve told you if you had asked me. The abstaining-from-foods bit is OBVIOUSLY the unbiblical teaching of “Lent,” and as for marriage being forbidden, well, we all “know” who does that! Priests and nuns are forbidden to marry, right? A perfect example of Catholics forbidding what Jesus said “Yes” to!
I “knew” that if you Catholics would just read the Bible, you would embrace our Biblical Protestant teachings on marriage! As the apostle Paul said, everything created by God is good. Marriage is GOOD – which you Catholics obviously do not realize, or else why in the world would you forbid all those poor priests and nuns to marry? If you had asked me, I could have shown you Old Testament verse after Old Testament verse extolling the goodness of marriage, from Genesis 2:22-24, to Deuteronomy 24:5, to Proverbs 18:22. Why, the last two-thirds of Proverbs 31 is a paean to the wonders of a good wife! The very idea that you Catholics would hold marriage in such low esteem as to forbid your clergy to engage in it just ticked me off. I had never met an unmarried Protestant pastor, and that was because, my friends, Protestants read their Bibles and are familiar with what the Old and the New Testament say about marriage! Flipping through the New Testament in my trusty New International Version, I could have shown you that marriage is such a GOOD thing that Paul wrote to the Ephesians comparing a man’s relationship to his wife with Jesus’ relationship to the church! Flipping back to Paul’s discourse in 1 Corinthians 7, I could have demonstrated to you that Paul, though unmarried himself, taught exactly what my Protestant denomination taught about marriage! In that chapter he shows us the beautiful nature of marriage, proclaiming that a wife’s body no longer belongs to her but to her husband, even as a husband’s body does not belong to him but to his wife. This verse is often quoted in Protestant wedding ceremonies – that’s because Protestants read their Bibles. I could have shown you this directly from my Bible:
Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Hang on a sec…. Marriage is GOOD, we know that from Paul’s teaching and from the whole witness of Scripture. But what he seems to be saying here is that while marriage is “GOOD,” celibacy could be considered “BETTER.”
“It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” verse 1
“Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.” verse 8
“Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is.” verse 26
“But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.” verse 28
“What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not.” verse 29
“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” verses 32-35
“If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.” verses 36-38
He who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does BETTER.
Okay… maybe that’s not the greatest example of what I was talking about…. Let’s move along to what the Bible teaches on divorce! That’s a perfect example of the Catholic Church trying to restrict our liberty in Christ – Catholics aren’t allowed to divorce and remarry! Jesus, in Matthew 19:9, said quite plainly:
I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.
That’s the Protestant NIV translation; other versions use the word “fornication” or “unchastity” where the NIV says “sexual immorality.” The Life Application Bible comes right out and says: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” What Jesus was saying here is crystal clear! If (and only if) your spouse commits adultery, you have Biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage! Jesus said so!
Up until the Reformation, however, the Catholic Church twisted that verse to make it say that if you divorce and remarry, you are committing adultery!! That’s what the “Church Fathers” taught, and that’s what you Catholics believed for 1500 years! Thank God Martin Luther finally came along; he stuck doggedly to the truth of Scripture. He declared that there was such a thing as Biblical grounds for divorce, just as Matthew 19:9 says, and that the ONLY grounds for divorce were adultery…
- AND abandonment, AND impotence, AND refusal of marital relations, AND religious incompatibility
Okay, well, maybe Luther fudged a little on the divorce thing. However, sticking like burrs to the plain words of the Bible, the rest of the Reformers read Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 19 and proclaimed that the ONLY grounds for divorce were adultery…
- AND abandonment (Melancthon)
- AND abandonment, AND impotence, AND religious incompatibility (Calvin)
- AND abandonment, AND endangerment of life, AND insanity (Zwingli)
- AND impotence, AND leprosy, AND insanity, AS WELL AS MUTUAL CONSENT (Bucer)
Well, the Reformers weren’t right about everything. That’s why I’m an Evangelical, I would have told you! Modern-day Evangelical pastors will give you the straight story – straight from Scripture, that is. Basing their preaching on the word of God in Matthew 19:9, they will teach you that the ONLY Biblical grounds for divorce are adultery…
- AND dementia (Pat Robertson)
This is getting tiresome. Okay, look, I – if you had asked me – could have shown you from my Bible that Jesus said that the only “Biblical” divorce was on the grounds of adultery. As Matthew 19:9 clearly states:
I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.
I had a Bible concordance, and if you had insisted I could have even shown you what the words were in the original Greek. If you had asked me, I would have examined Matthew 19:9 and noted that whenever Jesus talked about “adultery,” He used the word “moicheia” – however, when He uttered the word in that verse that we Protestants translated as “sexual immorality” or “unchastity” – the word that we understood to mean “adultery,” He used a different word. In his discussion of divorce and remarriage in Matthew 19, He said:
I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for porneia, and marries another woman commits moicheia.
Hmmm… that’s weird.
If Jesus meant “adultery” in both places, as I insisted that He did, why did He change His choice of words? “Porneia” is not the word for adultery – it is the word for all sorts of disgraceful sexual activity. In Acts 15:29 the word “porneia” is employed in the Council of Jerusalem’s command that Gentile converts abstain from several things: from eating meat offered to idols, from blood, from eating strangled animals, and from “porneia.” Acts 15:29 is a reference back to Leviticus chapters 17-18 where eating meat offered to idols, consuming blood and the meat of strangled animals, and “porneia” are prohibited, in the same order. Note what’s being forbidden in Leviticus 18 – incest, bestiality, homosexual acts – things that would prevent a real marriage from ever taking place in the first place. Jesus is saying that divorce is forbidden, except in the case of “porneia,” so according to Leviticus 18 He is saying that if
- You’ve “married” your mother
- You’ve “married” your stepmother
- You’ve “married” your sister
- You’ve “married” your granddaughter
- You’ve “married” your half-sister
- You’ve “married” your aunt
- You’ve “married” your daughter-in-law
- You’ve “married” your sister-in-law
- You’ve “married” a woman and her daughter
- You’ve “married” a woman and her sister
- You’ve “married” an already married woman
- You’ve “married” someone of the same sex
- You’ve “married” an animal
you will have to admit that your “marriage” was never valid to begin with! In that case, of course divorce and “remarriage” are not forbidden, since no valid marriage ever took place. New Testament corroboration of this can be found in 1 Corinthians 5:1, where Paul uses the word “porneia” to describe what’s going on in the case of the man who is sleeping with his stepmom – incest.
In other words, if Jesus meant “adultery is grounds for divorce,” He would have used the word “moicheia” in the exception clause – it is the word for adultery! He meant, however, that “anyone who divorces his wife (except on the grounds of an indecent, illicit relationship that cannot be legitimized even by the taking of marriage vows) and marries another woman commits adultery.” In other words, in the case of “porneia,” no valid marriage ever existed.
Exactly the Catholic Church’s point when granting an annulment – if no valid marriage ever existed, you can most certainly “remarry.” Once you enter into a valid marriage, though, Jesus said quite clearly that you are committing adultery if you divorce and marry again. That has been the stand taken by the Catholic Church for 2,000 years. Jesus sums it up succinctly in Matthew 19:6 – Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.
And darned if St. Paul doesn’t back Jesus up on this in 1 Corinthians 7:
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
In 1 Timothy 4:1-5, St. Paul is making the case that food is GOOD, just as marriage is GOOD. And the Catholic Church advocates abstaining from certain foods at Lent for that very reason – because with King David the Church declares, “I will not offer a sacrifice to the Lord my God which cost me nothing!” This is the reasoning also behind St. Paul’s advocacy (an advocacy we Evangelicals never really talked about) of celibacy. Marriage is GOOD – no one was ever more convinced of that than the apostle who authored the letter to the Ephesians. Celibacy, the deliberate choice to forgo marriage in order to better serve in God’s kingdom, is in St. Paul’s words simply BETTER. The Church forbids no one to marry, because marriage is GOOD. Certain individuals who hear God’s call to choose something EVEN BETTER are seen by the Church as those called to life as a priest or a religious. As Jesus, Himself unmarried, also said in Matthew 19:11-12:
Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.
As Protestants, we just couldn’t accept it….
Yep, I “knew” a lot of things back when I was a Protestant, and I was sure that you Catholics were playing “loosey-goosey” with the Scriptures. I sure wish one of you Catholics had asked me to explain some of those things I “knew” to you!
Because I might have become Catholic a whole lot sooner!
On the memorial of Blessed Bogumilus
Deo omnis gloria!
Photo credit: A large goose feeding in a city lake. Sullivan, Mo. USA, by Will Sites