Is Marriage an Unconditional Covenant,
Since God Never Breaks His Promises?

VIDEO and TRANSCRIPT

My name is Gretchen Baskerville and I'm the author of "The Life-Saving Divorce": Hope for People Leaving Destructive Relationships. And I've been a Christian divorce recovery leader for more than 20 years. I have a degree in Bible from Wheaton College.

 

Today's question is: "Is marriage an unconditional covenant, because God never breaks his promises?" That's a great question because many of us know, as people of faith, we are called to a very high standard. When it comes to agreements our "yes" is to be "yes," and our "no" is to be "no." And we've been taught that God's ideal is that marriage be lifelong, faithful, and loving.

 

So does this mean we cannot divorce even when there's a pattern of adultery, sexual immorality, domestic violence, emotional abuse, severe addictions, or neglect? Is the marriage covenant unbreakable and unconditional?

 

Well I'm grateful to Cambridge theologian and Old Testament scholar Dr. David Instone-Brewer for explaining that in the Bible there are two types of covenants: conditional covenants and unconditional covenants. Conditional covenants are like today's business agreements. Each party agrees to do or provide something valuable to the other. If one party fails to do it, the contract is broken. The other party no longer has to perform their end of the agreement. And of course there are penalties. Think of an apartment rental agreement: the tenant vows to pay the rent and leave the place in good shape. The landlord vows to keep the dwelling at certain standards. No one would expect the landlord to provide shelter forever if the tenant refuses to pay. And if the tenant tears out the bathroom sink out of the wall. There will be penalties.

 

In contrast unconditional covenants are agreements that are one-sided, and cannot be broken. In my opinion only God can enter an unconditional agreement because only God is capable of fulfilling such an agreement as only God cannot fail and cannot sin. In the Hebrew Scriptures, which many of us call the Old Testament, God made seven covenants. Five were unconditional. God was going to hold up his end his promises whether Israel cooperated or not. But God also made two conditional covenants. We find the first one in Genesis 17. It is the covenant God made with Abram, where God made a commitment of land to him, and Abram promised to keep the sign of the Covenant. The second conditional covenant is in Exodus 19- 24, where God promised to make Israel his people, but the condition was that the people were required to obey fully and keep the Covenant. We see later, in Jeremiah 3:8, that God divorced Israel for not keeping its side of the Covenant, and for following false gods. Can any of us blame God?

 

So what about marriage? Well marriage is a conditional covenant. it requires the promises in the form of vows. Now I realize that people today make all kinds of flowery homemade vows. But biblical vows are based on Exodus 21: And those three items are reiterated in Ephesians 5:28-29, which talks about the married person's obligation to nourish, care for, and love their spouse. The concept of faithfulness: "forsaking all others," was added by Jesus' words. And by the way it's important to notice that the vow for women to obey the husband is not a New Testament or Jewish vow. It is a Roman addition and it is not often used anymore. The marriage covenant can be ended if the vows are broken. The other party can choose to keep trying but they are permitted to declare that the covenant is ended. If you're in a marriage with a pattern of adultery, sexual immorality, domestic violence, emotional abuse, severe addictions, or neglect, your spouse has already broken the marriage covenant. And you're free to choose to remain, or to leave without anyone judging you. But I want you to know you can love God and get a divorce and God will still love you. Really.


Footnote:

1   I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. David Instone-Brewer. Any errors in this video are mine, not his.


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