Book Review of John Murray’s “Divorce”

Posted: February 12, 2008 by Rick Hogaboam in Book Reviews, Ecclesiology (Church Stuff), Fatherhood
Tags: , , ,


This was not a fun read. Reading about divorce is quite depressing to tell the truth. It is always a tragedy and God hates it. My heart breaks over it. It isn’t something we celebrate, but grieve over. Divorce is usually the result of many tears, sleepless nights, betrayal, abuse, and such. It is not the result of happiness, peace, and joy.

John Murray ( spends time in the major passages of Scripture regarding divorce and basically concludes that divorce is allowable in the case of sexual sin and the abandonment of an unbeliever. In both cases, remarriage is allowed.

I will continue to do some more research, but I think that allowances would be made for other situations as well. One such example may be a physically and/or verbally abusive spouse. I would say that it would be right for the victimized spouse to leave (live apart from) the abuser with the hope of reconciliation. The offending party should then be approached lovingly by the church elders with the intent to restore. So long as the offending party repents and abides by stipulations in the desire to rejoin the other spouse, the offended spouse must remain married (legal binding). If the offending party should reject the counsel of the elders, then such would be excommunicated from the church body and basically deemed an “unbeliever”. In such a case, would this example constitute the departure of an unbeliever, in which the believer is no longer “bound”? Resulting in the offended party rightly freed from the marital bond?

Murray also deals with the awkward situation where individuals who were wrongly divorced commit adultery by “remarrying” someone else. This is no easy task to deal with pastorally. Murray essentially states that the “act” of adultery in consummating a new relationship breaks the previous bond. The newly consummated marriage isn’t to be broken. Instead, such individuals should acknowledge that they sinned in their actions and then proceed with their new partner with an understanding that their marriage is “valid”.  Murray struggles with what words to use in reference to such remarriages for fear of either condoning it on one hand or outright condemning it on another hand. Murray sees such situations as the “exception”…even though it is increasingly more commonplace.

At the very core of this issue is that God wants marriage to last a lifetime, and any marriage that fails is a tragedy. Adultery is a tragedy, abuse is a tragedy, neglect is a tragedy, lack of intimacy is a tragedy, and on and on with the multitude of reasons why marriages fail. It is all sad.

I hope to research some more into this issue…but realize that the best research is to learn how to love my wife more and more everyday. By God’s grace, divorce will never be an issue for us. The whole issue of divorce and remarriage has been a hot issue in the church, I admit, and should be discussed…however, it is my prayer that I spend more time pastorally building marriages up rather than understanding all of the nuances for Scriptural allowances on divorce and remarriage. I will do both, but I will exert all that I am in the domain of my own marriage, seeking to love my wife more and more everyday.


  1. Joe Lamay says:

    Concerning separation or divorce for verbal abuse, how do you think Peter would respond to your comment based on his statement in 1 Peter 3:1-5.

  2. rickhogaboam says:

    I think Peter is addressing situations much like Paul addressed where a believer is urged to remain with an unbeliever so long as the unbelieving spouse wishes to remain under the one roof.

    1 PT 3:1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives

    The phrase “so that even if some do not obey the word” is generally understood to simply state that the spouse doesn’t believe the gospel. Some commentators would even suggest that the phrase carries more weightiness than that and actually refers to conduct that is inappropriate. I can see it going either way, especially when Peter follows up by encouraging the wives to win over their husbands by “pure conduct”, which would contrast the supposed impure conduct of the unbelieving spouse.

    To be sure in Peter’s context, we are called to suffering and this would include wives and husbands who find themselves in a very challenging marriage. Such circumstances actually serve as a testing ground for one’s faith and an opportunity to live out the gospel under persecution and perhaps win some over.

    Wives in the situation discussed really had no option to just get up and leave their husbands. They would face reproach from their own family and society. They would find it hard to remarry as it is and even harder to work a job as a single woman. I think Peter is urging wives to look upward rather than horizontal and seek to glorify Christ in their conduct in such a marital union…to be empowered with a zeal and boldness to woo and win over their spouse.

    As for physical and verbal abuse, I think each situation needs to be carefully measured. There are some who would say that they would keep on loving their husbands under such abuse and there is perhaps testimony of husbands won over because of a wife’s faithfulness under such hostility. There are situations where the wife, fearing for her life, seeks separation. Scripture makes provision for separation and I think it would apply in a very abusive situation. If a spouse separated under such a situation, then I think the unbelieving spouse needs to be approached as one who really doesn’t wish to live peacefully with their spouse. They need to be encouraged to change some of their behavior for some sort of reconciliation. Where the unbeliever refuses, then it confirms their desire to not really care and go it alone. In these circumstances, it is my understanding that Reformed theology would treat the unbelieving spouse as has departing and the believing spouse would be released from the marital bond. In such cases, the believing spouse would be free to remarry.

    As I said, I need to do some more research, and I would definitely say that there are too many separations occurring for reasons that wouldn’t apply. We Americans can’t stand a little suffering and avoid it at all costs…with divorce being one solution. There is more to be said about a spouse who embraces their suffering and seeks to win over their spouse…it is a high and difficult calling. The Lord promises strength and will be glorified in it all.
    I think I can speak with all husbands in saying that I have benefited from a gracious wife who didn’t abandon me at every turn of my own nastiness and sin. As a result, I have been won over more and more to the grace of God. I believe that Martin Luther said that marriage was a school for sanctification. I have understood the grace of God more and more through my wife’s kindness to me and I also have learned the grace of God to empower me by getting over myself when I want to be angry about insignificant things in my wife. It would be easy to take the world’s way out in the false promise that there is someone better out there who will make me happier. Sometimes such “happiness”, defined on the world’s terms is our lot in life. For many of is, it is appointed by God that we should suffer. Such suffering is paradoxically empowered by a supreme joy in God, which enables us to seek the reward of our suffering. For the joy set before Christ, He endured the shame of the cross. For us, too, we must endure suffering with our eyes set on infinite joy!!!

  3. Eloquorius says:


    I came across your post when looking for info on John Murray’s book. I study this topic extensively and if you’re looking for an excellent position paper on divorce and abuse, I recommend Dr. Greg Bahnsen’s “Theses on Divorce and Spousal Abuse”. Bahnsen was well known in conservative apologetics and ethics, but also dealt specifically with divorce and remarried. He has a very compelling take on the so-called “Pauline Privilege” in 1 Cor. 7. It can be summed up as: 1. Jesus gave only one exception: porneia; 2.) The word porneia is often used in the Septuigint (LXX) for covenantal unfaithfulness; 3.) Therefore Paul could not be adding to, but rather properly applying, a right understanding of Jesus’s exception clause. As Banhen deduces, “unless Paul be pitted against Christ, the Pauline permission of divorce for desertion must imply that desertion is a form of fornication in God’s evaluation, regardless of any accompanying issue of illicit sexual intercourse.”


  4. Eloquorius says:

    One more thing. As others (Instone-Brewer, Bahnsen and others) have noted, Deut. 24 is not the only OT governing of divorce. Exodus 21 gives the right of divorce to a slave wife in the event her husband takes another bride and thus “diminish[es] her food, her clothing, and her conjugal rights.” The standard understanding goes that, “if even slave-wives went out free from the marriage due to physical deprivation (or abuse), then surely the same privilege and protection was afforded to non-slave wives.” (see Bahnsen, “Theses on Divorce and Spousal Abuse”, sec. K(7) ).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s