Today, we continue with our series responding to “Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs” (2019), written by Karlo Broussard. With this next chapter, the Catholic apologist continues his section on Sacraments and the specific topic of divorce and remarriage as he attempts to counter evangelical Protestants’ argument that divorce and remarriage is not allowable “Except for Unchastity”
The Roman Catholic church officially teaches in its catechism that its members may not remarry after a divorce:
“In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law.” – CCC 1650
A divorcee who remarries is judged by the church to be living in an ongoing state of adultery and is barred from the church’s allegedly grace-providing sacraments.
Evangelical Protestants recognize that Jesus Christ generally prohibited divorce and remarriage (see Matthew 19:3-8), but point to Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 19:9 (see also Matthew 5:32) as an “exception clause”:
“And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Broussard attempts to counter this exception clause with five arguments.
(1) Broussard states that the Greek word used in Matthew 19:9 for sexual immorality, porneia, is different from the word Matthew uses elsewhere in his gospel for marital infidelity, moicheuō. Broussard concludes that Jesus wasn’t referring to spousal infidelity in Matthew 19:9.
(2) Broussard then argues that the apostles’ strong reaction in the very next verse, Matthew 19:10, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry,” would be inappropriate if Jesus’s intent was a loophole allowing for spousal infidelity as the grounds for divorce and remarriage.
(3) Broussard follows by claiming that (A) the context of Matthew 19:3-8 forbids the dissolution of a marriage for any reason, therefore (B) Jesus would have been contradicting Himself if v.9 were interpreted as an exception clause.
(4) Broussard argues there is no corroboration for this exception clause in the other gospels or any of the epistles. The Catholic apologist does mention that the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 seems to allow for divorce in the case of when an unbelieving spouse abandons their believing partner, but notes that Paul qualifies this exception as his own opinion rather than a teaching from the Lord.
(5) Broussard claims to have thoroughly refuted the “exception clause” interpretation of Matthew 19:9 with his previous four points. What then is the “correct” interpretation? According to Broussard, Jesus was referring strictly to sexual immorality by one of the partners “before and at the time of the attempted union” (p.163) as legitimate cause for divorce/dissolution. The marriage can thus be ruled unlawful/invalid/void/illicit before it starts (during the betrothal period) or at its inception. Broussard suggests Jesus was affirming the teachings in the Old Testament (e.g., Deuteronomy 22) regarding the validity/invalidity of marriages, which would have already been familiar to Matthew’s primarily Jewish readers. Broussard extrapolates from this interpretation the basis of Roman Catholicism’s practices regarding the validity/invalidity of marriages involving the granting of annulments.
Let’s now reply to Broussard.
(1) Broussard’s argument that Matthew’s use of porneia in Matthew 19:9 indicates something other than spousal infidelity is lexical subterfuge. Porneia is used interchangeably with moicheuō elsewhere in the Bible. See Charles Albright’s excellent article on the topic here.
(2) The apostles’ strong response was a reaction to Jesus’s high regard for the marriage bond, which contradicted the view popularized by rabbi Hillel (110 BC-10 AD) allowing for divorce even for decidedly frivolous reasons.
(3) Broussard is “reaching for straws” here. An exception is an exception precisely because it allows a deviation from the general principle.
(4) Broussard’s argument is specious. He is well aware there are doctrines exclusive to particular gospel accounts. While Broussard discounts Paul’s exception clause in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, evangelicals accept the passage as inspired teaching.
(5) Theologians continue to debate the details of the exception clause presented in Matthew 19:9. Most evangelicals take Jesus’s words at face value; that remarriage after divorce is allowable in cases where the other spouse committed adultery. However, we know that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), and that the ideal responses to adultery within marriage would be repentance and forgiveness.
Broussard construes Matthew 19:9 as one of the bases for the Catholic practice of invalidating marriages and the granting of annulments. I could write a 1000-word post on the capriciousness and invalidity of the annulment process, which became the de facto Catholic substitute for divorce.
IMPORTANT: Recognizing that a large percentage of Catholics have divorced and remarried and were therefore alienated from the church, Pope Francis issued his “Amoris Laetitia” encyclical in 2016, which, via some footnotes, pragmatically allowed priests to administer the sacraments to remarried divorcees based upon their pastoral discretion. The encyclical prompted a strong backlash from conservative clergy and laity, even prompting some to label Francis a heretic. Francis has refused to address his conservative critics, allowing the controversy to wither on the vine, while moderate and progressive prelates propagate the pope’s new guidelines. Broussard understandably makes no mention of this papal controversy. Broussard’s own pope has nullified ALL of the Catholic apologist’s above arguments.
Next up: “All Have Sinned” and Mary