I Disagree With John Piper On Adultery/Divorce

Pastor John Piper is a major figure in Reformed, Evangelical Christianity in the United States. He hails from my home state of Minnesota. Having heard him preach myself years ago, I would say that he is a very gifted communicator, and I do not doubt his passion for Christ. He strikes me as a man who is sincere about his convictions and his desire to honor Scripture.

 

So, I want to be clear about my purpose behind writing this piece. I am not interested in calling John Piper’s character in question. This is not a personal attack. In fact, I hope my words will be found edifying for all who read them.

 

I choose to write a response to Piper’s blog post and audio file entitled, “Does the Bible Allow for Divorce In the Case of Adultery?” for several reasons. First, the post by John Piper pertains directly to the focus of this blog–namely, adultery and divorce. Second, his very public position and arguments on these matters have a major impact on evangelical Christianity and are thereby worth addressing. And finally, his teaching on this matter fall into several of the classical pastoral errors on the matter of adultery and divorce. They are dangerously damaging teachings and thereby need addressing pastorally.

Piper states,

Does the Bible allow for divorce in the case of adultery?

I don’t think so. I don’t think the Bible allows divorce and remarriage ever while the spouse is living. That’s my radical, crazy, conservative, narrow, hard-nosed, very needed view in our divorce-happy culture.

 

As I hear/read his position, Piper seems to take divorce and remarriage as more egregious sins than adultery. This is not the heart of God on the matter as consistently demonstrated throughout Scripture. Divorce did not make the explicit prohibitive list of the Ten Commandments! Adultery did. I wrote on this distortion in an early blog post entitled “Divorce is not sin.” and again in conversation with another pastor (link here).

 

Piper goes on to dismiss the exception clauses for divorce in Mathew 5:32 and Mathew 19:9 as not referring to adultery but rather fornication as the word Jesus uses (original is “porneia”) may have that meaning. He makes the argument that Jesus was thinking of his parents in their situation prior to his birth as he said this and was encouraging people to marry not letting past sexual sin (i.e. fornication) prevent them.

 

Honestly, this argument is far from coherent. If you are not married, then you cannot get divorced. Even if Jesus is thinking of the betrothed situation of his parents (similar to legal marriage today), Joseph’s decision to divorce quietly was attributed to his righteous character! It makes no sense to say this is about encouraging marrige after Scripture clearly states the decision to not marry–i.e. to divorce Mary quietly–was a perfectly fine choice of a righteous man. Furthermore, this interpretation misses the point that Mary was with Child by the Holy Spirit (i.e. she did not fornicate, even if waging tongues said otherwise).

 

Finally, I will point out his interpretation hangs on his tenuous treatment of “porneia” as only meaning one thing sexually–i.e. sex before marriage (fornication). This restrictive definition is contrary to what my Greek lexicon says, and I trust my Greek lexicon more than any one pastor’s interpretation of a word. Furthermore, I have seen it argued that this word–“porneia”–was used to expand, not restrict, the sexual exception clause for divorce as it made it more broadly about sexual sins and not just the specific sexual sin of adultery (Richard Hays, New Testament professor at Duke Divinity School makes this case for interpreting “porneia” more broadly in his book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, pp 354-355.).

 

Next, John Piper moves to Ephesians 5,

But, even if you leave aside all that I have just said here, go to Ephesians 5 where it says, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.”

Well, has the church ever committed adultery? Like, daily?

 

I address this distorted us of Ephesians 5 in my post entitled, “Not A Submission Or Leadership Failure.” Unless Piper wants to defend a position that all enter heaven, I find this position untenable. More on this later…

Now, we go to his interpretation of Jeremiah 3:8, and I do hand it to him that he actually brings up this text:

And God, ultimately, never divorces his people. There are separations: she goes into exile in Babylon. And you get divorce-type language. You’ve got to be careful in Jeremiah! It says he gave her a bill of divorcement, but not really. He sent her away and then he went and said, “My heart grows warm for you. I’m taking you back!” And then Hosea illustrates that by going and marrying a prostitute.

Because Piper seems fuzzy here, let me quote to you what it actually says in Jeremiah 3:8–“She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore” (ESV).* Piper misses the part where the Scripture says God “sent her away.” I think it is very dangerous to say the Bible says something but it does not mean it.

 

The text is very clear in this verse: God divorced Israel in this instance.

 

The woman (Israel) is even sent away further indicating a divorce actually took place.

 

God was not bluffing. And this was no “separation” as Piper calls it as God sent Israel packing with a certificate of divorce!

 

As to the question of whether God reunites with Israel, I would suggest this point is moot if we take the plain meaning of the metaphor in Jeremiah 3:8 as it is written. We could have an eschatological argument over whether every single biological descendant of Jacob will be in Heaven, but I doubt that is a position Piper would defend and such a discussion is unnecessary in light of the plain meaning of the text.

 

God divorced Israel. Period. If God did this, it cannot be sin.

 

And God entered into another covenant with Gentiles through grace in Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, does that make God an adulterer? I think not.

 

My final point is that Piper does not deal with the elephant in the room about adultery. He does not speak about the proscribed death penality in Scripture for this serious sin (e.g. Deut. 22:22). This is a major Biblical omission to make in this discussion about God’s mind on the matter of adultery and divorce. Divorce would be unnecessary if we followed the Hebrew Scriptures in this directive–not that I think we should start killing adulterers/adulteresses, mind you. Divorce is the merciful alternative to death.

 

It seems Piper would rather extend mercy and grace to cheaters than to the faithful spouse thereby leaving the faithful spouse in a position less merciful than if they lived in Old Testament times. Personally, I think that violates both the letter and spirit of the Law.

 

My next post will be on how these teachings are damaging.

rings

 

*As a side note, I wonder how many pastors you know who would say a cheating spouse is someone who “played the whore” like Jeremiah does here? My point in that is to say God is very consistent in calling out the sin of adultery and making it the focus, which is unlike the current focus too many Christians place on stopping the divorce after adultery.

 

Here’s the full link to the Piper audio/blog from which I quote–http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/does-the-bible-allow-for-divorce-in-the-case-of-adultery

21 thoughts on “I Disagree With John Piper On Adultery/Divorce”

  1. I want to thank you for this post and for your blog in general. I take my vows very seriously and the decision to divorce was not taken lightly, even after I discovered my husband’s repeated infidelities with multiple women and prostitutes throughout our entire marriage. During the darkest period of my life, a time when I need the support of the Church more than ever, it is more salt in the wound to hear Christians telling me I am in the wrong. Your blog is an encouraging voice to a marginalized group of us who are hurting and suffering with little to no spiritual support.

    1. ShatteredHeart,

      Thank you for your kind words. Glad you found your way here. I hope someday stories like yours about the church dealing with adultery and divorce will be the exception and no longer the rule.

  2. Thank you. You continue to take the time to thoughtfully lay out the scriptural guidance on a topic that is painful and incendiary at best. No one wants to talk about this way too frequent reality mainly for lack of compassionate, yet strong guidance. You are filling a huge vacuum. My priest advised me to seek annulment once my divorce was final. (It is not yet). I felt conflicted. Your blog has helped me to reconsider my priest’ s advice, with confidence.

    1. M,

      You are welcome. And I am glad this blog is having a positive impact in your life. Annulment is a long and hard process as I understand, but I am encouraged to hear that your priest is supportive of you in the event you choose this path.

      Blessings and comfort upon you!
      DM

    2. I went through the same thing. I can feel your pain.I had to leave that church. Thank God I found a church now and who really practices the love of Jesus and accept me even though I’m a divorced woman and a single mom. I can also guarantee you the church I attend now would call anybody out on infidelity and not treat the other person badly. I pray you find that kind of church to where you can be loved and accepted for the amazing woman you are because you are a child of the King.

    1. Thanks, Chuck. Yes, I did see this long and older document. The pertinent parts I address in his short, summary statement on adultery and divorce on this post and its second installment. A major problem Piper’s argument has is that it makes Mt 19:9 an anomaly. Adultery was normally a capital offense. It strikes me as more likely Jesus does not address adultery as a fair exception in more of the Gospel records because even the most conservative Rabbinical school of the day accepted it as such. Finally, God is said to divorce (Jeremiah 3:8), and Gentiles are grafted into the family of God…read metaphorical remarriage. I don’t see God as sinning and the Jewish people still existed–i.e. the original bride was alive. And I am loathed to teach that Jesus is less merciful to an adultery victim than the OT law. Piper’s position makes the OT law look too merciful to the faithful spouse. It is not a position I am willing to defend. I am more in agreement with Pastor Tim Keller on these matters.

  3. Do you think John Piper would ever enter into debate with you? I’m not sure who to believe, I am wondering if watching a debate would come out with a clear winner in the end. Or…is there no right answer? Is Scripture too vague to really know whether or not remarriage is okay?

    1. Benjamin,

      I doubt Piper would be interested in engaging in a debate or dialogue with me. As far as evangelical-land is concerned, I am small fry. Ha! That’s okay. I know God is using this blog to bring healing to many who are not even in evangelical-land.

      Our positions are pretty clear, though. Piper hitches his wagon to “porneia” strictly meaning only “fornication” when it has a much broader meaning in the language of its day, and so, I disagree with him. Besides that point, I find it odd to push a Gospel that is less merciful to sin’s victims–i.e. faithful spouses–than the Old Testament Law, which clearly set faithful spouses free to remarry (by ending the marriage to an adulterous spouse by a mandatory death penalty–e.g. Deut. 22:22).

      Obviously, I hope you follow your own conscience on the matter. Mine is settled, and I obviously do not agree with Piper on this one.

      -DM

  4. Thank you, as this was both informative and unbiased. I have found it interesting that also in most churches, a man who commits adultery is often enabled with the ” boys will be boys”, or his “wife pushed him into it ” type thinking. When my ex.husband cheated/ and abused me, no one in the leadership church did anything to protect me or set him straight. They said it was my fault. They treated me like a garbage when I finally filed for divorce. Now when another couple came forward that the wife had cheated, she was scorned and disciplined by the church, and her husband got pity from all the leadership when he filed for divorce. I believe God saved me, and my sons from a sick marriage. Also after my friend contracted HIV an Herpies from her cheating husband, I thank God I’m spared from that. My friend now has full-blown AIDS so please pray for her. God has blessed her to be able to see her grandchildren born but her husband has already died of AIDS several years ago. I believe if her church had supported her and helped her start a new healthy life she never would have contracted HIV from her husband and his affairs. ( Last year I was actually hit on by a married pastor with 3 kids and he told me that God is ok with men having sex outside of marriage just not women. I set him straight and told him he is not a man of God if that is his belief and I have never talked to him since.) I believe that people who have one affair can change if they go to counseling and submit to God and repent. The habitual cheater however already betrayed and divorced their spouse in their heart and we should not blame the other person for ending it legally.

    1. That is so sad! I’m glad she has a good faithful friend like you to go through it with.
      My biggest problem with John Piper’s position paper is that I felt he revictimize the faithful spouse and did not hold the adulterer accountable. It was the faithful spouse that he held to the origional marriage vow – that the adulterer broke!
      Although Piper talked tough in the beginning about staying married and keeping the vow, he did a complete about face when it came to the cheater following the sin of adultery to completion by divorcing his/her spouse and marrying the AP. Piper lets them of the hook but still held the faithful spouse to the vow. It’s like he was promoting the “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission” position!
      He justifies the marriage of affair partners because David married Bathseba. How can that be a comparison? There was no divorce involved!

  5. Thank you so so so so much for posting this. A few years ago in my desperate search to discover God’s true heart on the matter of adultery and divorce, I must say that John Piper’s teaching was the most disturbing and unsettling. Nothing about it resonated in my heart. I listened to teachings from every imaginable “camp” of theology searching for God’s truth. I found it hard to believe that the faithful spouse must be punished for life bc of their unfaithful spouses sin. And in my case it was my unfaithful husband who filed for divorce despite my willingness to attempt reconciliation. You are a fresh voice of God’s truth. Thank you for your ministry in an area that is greatly underserved.

  6. My husband and I were married 43 years. We both were unfaithful on several occasions the first 20 years. I quit being unfaithful but my husband continued with 2 or 3 others that I know about. He became distant to me as I got older. I hate myself for my infidelity. Despite infidelity, I thought no matter what, there would never be anyone else for either one of us. My husband did not know of my unfaithfulness but I did suspect him of his. I went through so much pain and suffering when I realized how much I had hurt my marriage and disrespected the gift and covenant of marriage. My husband throughout the years would separate from me and always say it was because he did not love me anymore. He would return and I would be afraid of him leaving me again. I have since learned that love is not just emotion. Love is doing things God’s way, forgiveness, sacrifice, commitment. Emotion has no strength as it is fickle and a responder to people or circumstances. Emotion is a follower and not a leader. When emotion responds to God’s teaching it is correct but when it reponds to sin it is wrong.

    I spent most of every spare moment trying to learn all I could about God. I never was unfaithful again but my husband continued. Finally about year 43 of our marriage he left me for good. He said I was miserable to live with and that I was old. Our sexual lives were not good because I developed some physical problems with age. He lives with a girlfriend whom he lied about under oath in court. They have been together 6 years now. I still hurt and miss him. Divorce is truly the tearing of flesh. We had raised two children now in their 40’s and had adopted a grandson who is 14 now. I am raising him mostly by myself. He does not enjoy going to see his grandfather who lives with the other woman but he misses his grandfather but grandfather is not the same person that he was. The whole family is fragmented from divorce. I cannot forget the good times we had although there was plenty good and bad. I cry myself to sleep at night. After 43 years of marriage, there are tons of memories that hurt to remember and there is not a day go by that I do not remember my love for him. I can say I hate adultery and I also hate divorce. They both are ugly and rebellious against God. They both destroy the beauty of a marriage and though it does not look good, I still pray for reconcilliation.

    1. Barbara,

      It is normal to grieve over the losses and bargain for reconciliation. That is what grief is. 43 years of a life together is a lot of memories–including good ones–to let go and grieve. That is completely healthy and normal.

      Personally, I would not put adultery and divorce in the same category. Adultery is always a sin (e.g. Exodus 20). However, divorce is sometimes–for example, in the case of adulterous betrayal–an acceptable and godly choice (e.g. Jeremiah 3:8 and Matthew 1:19). I am convinced God offers divorce to us as a mercy to deal with situations where one spouse is impossibly stuck in rebellious, adulterous sin. Divorce allows us to cut the cords and not go down with them. That is how I see Scripture on those matters.

      That said, divorce is painful and destructive. It feels like a dismemberment, because it is in a spiritual sense. But like a necessary surgery, divorce sometimes is a necessary source of pain. It would be best not to have the “disease” to begin with, of course.

      Blessings on your healing journey!
      -DM

  7. Thank you so much for this post. Piper is a great speaker and I agree with some of his stuff, but I disagreed with his stance prior to my now situation. But still it has ruffled me consistently. Thank you again for this!!

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