Marriage, Divorce and the Internet
This article is written by Hans Neser and is used with his permission.

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"Marriage is the state in which men and women can live together in sexual relationship with the approval of their social group. Adultery and fornication are sexual relationships that society does not recognize as constituting marriage. This definition is necessary to show that in the OT polygamy is not sexually immoral, since it constitutes a recognized married state; though it is generally shown to be inexpedient." - New Bible Dictionary

Marriage - Biblical Times
Marriage in the bible is a wonderful institute, on this I can speak from experience with eleven years of marriage to my wonderful wife. Marriage is a permanent contract that is sworn out in the presence of God and of human witnesses. When the social obligations of the marriage have been met the marriage is then consummated in marital chamber and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

Throughout the Bible, with one exception, all marriages were confirmed by the society they were living in. The sole exception to this can be found in Genesis 2 where Adam and Eve, the first two people on Earth, were joined together as husband and wife by God himself. In this case there was no society to recognise the marriage, God himself took the place of society.

Throughout the bible it is expected that people will become engaged, usually in biblical times this was by the parents choosing a partner for their son (Genesis 21:21 for example). The betrothal was considered to be nearly the equivalent of marriage (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) the engaged couple were considered husband and wife but there was no physical union between them. Any sexual act before the marriage ceremony / approval of society was deemed to be immorality / fornication.

One of the misconceptions is that if two people love each other and they sleep together and make a lifelong pledge that they are married in God's site. The verses that are quoted for this are Adam and eve in Genesis 2 and Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24:66. Neither of these two verses maintain that this kind of relationship is considered marriage. As discussed previously there was no society to give approval for Adam and Eve and Isaac's parents sent way for a wife for Isaac thereby fulfilling the social customs and law at the time, also Genesis 24 does not preclude a formal ceremony for Isaac and Rebekah it just isn't mentioned either way.

Exodus 22:16-17 NIV
"If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins."

Exodus 22:16-17 The Message
"If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the marriage price and marry her. If her father absolutely refuses to give her away, the man must still pay the marriage price for virgins."

Here we can see that sleeping with someone is not the same as marrying them - a clear distinction in the Old Testament and in fact it is given down in the first sets of laws given to the Hebrew people. If sleeping with someone was the same as marrying them then the Father would not have a choice but to give the daughter to the man that seduced her.

Marriage - Modern Days (US & Australia)
Customs change over time but Gods standards for marriage and purity do not. Today we live in a society where legally and socially there are certain expectations that need to be met before a couple can consider themselves married. The idea that we are married in God's eye's and don't need to worry about the paperwork is a fallacy. As true believers we are expected to fulfil and obey all the laws of the governments which we reside under (unless so doing would cause us to sin). There are no excuses for not obeying government regulations of marriage and what it takes to be legally recognised as married. The verses that stipulate our requirements to the ruling authorities can be found in Mark 12:13-17 (Jesus commands that we pay our dues to our government) and Romans 13:1-6 (Paul outlines the disciple's duties to obey laws and pay taxes as a matter of conscience).

Here I will concentrate on Australian and US law as they are relevant to the people for whom this study was written. In Australia marriage is not recognised unless the correct paperwork has been filed at least one month in advance and no more than six months in advance. Then the services of qualified marriage celebrant need to be engaged to carry out a simple ceremony that ends with the couple signing more paperwork and witnessed by two other people. In Australia most priests are registered as marriage celebrants and the ceremony itself can be as complex as a huge wedding or as simple as five people (The betrothed, the celebrant and two witnesses). The consummation is implicit in marriage as impotence is a recognised as legal grounds for an annulment.

Among the legal requirements in Australia is that neither party can be under age or that either party can be married - in the case of divorce it must be legally finalised before any marriage ceremony can take place.

In Australia there is no recognition of common law marriages but the state of de-facto can be obtained after a certain period of time of cohabitation. De-facto is not considered in any sense to be marriage, de-facto grants certain legal rights to people who have been living together for a long period of time. De-facto is not considered marriage in God's eyes as the couple has not made a socially acceptable permanent commitment that is legally recognised as marriage by the government.

De-facto relationships are sexually immoral relationships - the couple have to be living together for a period of months before De-Facto relationships are legally recognised.

In the US the requirements are similar that paperwork has to filled in and witnessed by an authorised authority, again this can be a huge wedding or a simple private ceremony. In the US eleven States recognise common law marriages - these laws were mainly enacted for frontier settlers that did not have access to authorities for their marriages. For Common law marriage to be applied the couple have to have been mutually cohabitating for a certain period of time and be generally recognised as living as husband and wife. In the case where no legal authorities are present or are within traveling distance this would be an acceptable form of marriage, in these States, especially if witnessed but friends and families with the couple having made a pledge before God. In today's world the need for this kind of marriage is obsolete, modern transportation ensures that we are all within reach of an authorised authority or that we can bring one to us - it may require time and patience but we can meet the legal obligations of the ruling authorities under which we reside.

Immorality and Adultery according to the Bible
According to the New Testament any sexual act outside of the bounds of marriage is considered sexual immorality (Mark 7:20-23). This is a serious situation that will lead to eternal separation from God (Isaiah 59:1-2, Galatians 5:19-21) and must be repented of immediately (Luke 13:5).

Any sexual act that takes place between someone who is married and someone who isn't their partner is considered adultery even if they have been separated for a period of time. The verse that people often quote (Matthew 5:27-28) needs to be taken in its full context (Mat 5:27-30).

Here Jesus is reminding us of the original intent of the law as given in the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:14 & 17). Jesus is telling us that sin starts in the heart, the physical act of immorality / adultery is the end product of sin burning within. Jesus is warning us to cut off sin at the root, at the very point where desire begins. It is important not to give into temptation or desire and also to be wary of our feelings - Love is often given as a reason for unfaithfulness or getting involved with someone who is married - I think Jeremiah expresses it best when he wrote Jeremiah 17:9-10.

It is important to remember that Love is never an excuse for disobeying God or the laws of the land that you live in.

Divorce and the Bible
The first thing to realise about divorce is that God hates it and should only be considered in the most extreme of circumstances. When people marry it is for life, the "try before you buy" attitude prevalent today is not biblical, the fear of incompatibility that most people cite is not an issue when two people work on building a Godly marriage. In the NT we see that divorce is allowed in only two circumstances:

  1. Unfaithfulness (Matthew 5:31-32)
  2. Unbelief (1st Corinthians 7:10-16)

There is no biblical reason for two believing Christians to get divorced. In the midst of marital difficulties some couples separate and live apart for a time, I have been in this situation due to sin in my life. In the end it is important to have a focus on God and place him at the centre of a marriage - when this is the case a marriage will work out - it takes work and effort but is always worth it.

This passage of scripture can not be used to justify leaving someone who is not a believer if that person wishes to remain in a marriage relationship. Likewise a marriage between two non-believers is still considered to be a lawful marriage in God's eyes - this passage cannot be used to try and state that a marriage is invalid because it was between two non-believers but rather that if one becomes a Christian and the other refuses there are grounds if the unbeliever chooses to leave.

Where you have a case of a violent partner, sexually abusive partner or emotionally abusive partner it is important to get some distance for the sake of safety. If that partner is unwilling to be counseled and live the life of a true believer then there is a case for divorce - again I stress that this is only in the most extreme cases when counseling has not worked.

Unfortunately today there are many reasons why people can legally obtain divorces - please note that this "legal" divorce is not necessarily valid in God's eyes.

Internet / Cyber Relationships
The internet has added a whole new perspective on the way we as people can find friends and mates. It breaks down all distance barriers to communications and allows for real-time interaction to take place between people on opposite sides of the planet. The internet also allows for people to find other people of like mind and interests much easier than in real life, plus you can meet a lot more people faster. You are also in a position of security and power - if you dislike someone you can get rid of them as easy as deleting e-mail and placing that person on ignore.

The internet also does away with a lot of the prejudices that occur when people meet - on the internet it is one mind talking or interacting with another - the physical form of a person is not important. The internet allows one person to get to know another without judgement on race, appearance or social background. Of course these factors can come into the relationship at a latter stage but they tend to be dissipated by the friendship that has built up over time. This is a very positive aspect of the internet.

As with any environment you attract an undesirable element - people that prey on others - a lot of this has been made aware in the press over the years and so I won't dwell on it at this point.

As with all social interactions people can meet and be attracted to each other as potential mates - the ability to communicate at any time is a powerful influencing factor - I know this from experience. I have been married for eleven years and I praise God for that nearly every day since our marriage was restored. For about a year my wife and I were separated - I became enamoured with a lady on the Internet and believed myself to be in love. We met and talked through the internet and eventually decide to meet up. At this time in my life I was not a Christian, I have fallen away from God and was completely self absorbed. A number of things occurred the best of which was the restoration of my relationship with God and secondly the reconciliation of my marriage. i bring this painful part of my life to light so that I can say that I speak with firsthand knowledge and understanding of the power of relationships built with people you have never met physically - whilst we can see this on the internet it is even more evident in my relationship with an Unseen God through a Saviour I have never met and will not meet until I die.

As in real life, relationships on the internet are complex, rich and varied. These relationships are still governed by the same laws of God and Government. Sin will readily invade any medium and chief amongst these sins is lust. On the net it is not possible to have physical contact until a couple decide to meet up in real life. This however leaves a void that people want to feel - they feel as though they love someone and want to have an "intimate" relationship with their online companion and this in turn leads to what is called cyber-sex.

Cyber sex or cybering as it is known is basically sharing a mutual fantasy with another person often resulting in physical masturbation - it has its counterparts in real life from the seedy one night stand to a long lasting and committed relationship between two people. It can take the form of e-mailing, on-line chatting, voice and or video conferencing (web cams).

To the people involved it is a real emotional and physical experience and in long term relationships can be seen as the equivalent of consummating a marriage. To most people it is a method of achieving a cheap thrill the equivalent of calling a phone sex service.

The Bible's stance on this kind of conduct is abundantly clear - it is sexual immorality pure and simple. the fact that two people who love each other are sharing a mutual experience does not take away the fact that it is lust and mental immorality or adultery (in the case where a married person is involved). It is a legitimate means of expression between a married couple that are separated by distance - much the same way as a phone call or a letter can express erotic thoughts to their life partner but between two people who are not married it is a serious sin.

We have already mentioned God's view by referring to Galatians 5:19-21.

This kind of long distance sexual act can not be considered as the consummation of marriage. Consummation is a physical union between two people as we have seen above in Genesis 2. It is the physical act of consummation between two people that is the final binding in a marriage that is acceptable to both God and the governing authorities.

Regardless of the intensity of emotion, sincere love and earnest pledge and commitment between two people - cybering is not a physical consummation it is a relief of lust and outside of marriage has no place in a Godly relationship.

The argument that then arises is one well adultery in the heart is considered to be actual adultery so surely consummation is a heart related event not necessarily a physical event - Lets have a look at two verses. Matthew 5:27-28 is a commentary by Jesus on the sinfulness of man and that the sin of adultery starts in the heart. This is further exemplified in Mark 7:20-23 where Jesus makes it very clear that sin comes from within men.

No where does the Bible talk about marriage of the heart - it is a physical act between two people a physical joining of two people into one flesh as seen Genesis 2:24 - For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

As a side note it should be noted that in Genesis 29 Jacob has one of the longest engagements on record - 7 years.

In Conclusion
To conclude I would ask you to consider two verses: 1st Peter 1:13-16 and 1st Corinthians 10:31-11:1.

W. R. Smith, Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia, 1903
E. A. Westermarck, The History of Human Marriage, 3 vols., 1922
H. Granquist, Marriage Conditions in a Palestinian Village, 2 Vols., 1931, 1935
M. Burrows, The Basis of Israelite Marriage, 1938
E. Neufeld, Ancient Hebrew Marriage Laws, 1944
D. R. Mace, Hebrew Marriage, 1953
J. Murray, Divorce, 1953
D. S. Bailey, The Man-Woman Relation in Christian Thought, 1959
R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 1961
E. Stauffer, TDNT 1, pp. 648-657; W. Günther et al., NIDNTT 2, pp. 575-590; M. J. Harris, C. Brown, NIDNTT 3, pp. 534-543. j.s.w. j.t.
Douglas, J. (1982; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996). New Bible Dictionary. Includes index. (electronic ed. of 2nd ed.) (Pages 742-746). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.