Do not add an extra clause to the marriage covenant after it has been ratified
[August 25, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. (Gal 3:15 ESV)
A man-made covenant is a formal agreement made between two parties. The parties can be individuals, corporations, cities, nation states, or rulers and their subjects. Once the promises and terms of the covenant are set out, agreed upon and ratified by both parties, the covenant is sealed. No one adds to the terms once it has been ratified. The terms of the covenant cannot be changed without a new covenant being drawn up and ratified by both parties.
The marriage covenant involves promises. The exact wording of wedding vows may differ slightly from one wedding ceremony to another, but generally both parties promise to love, cherish, support, protect, respect, and honour each other, and keep fidelity to the exclusion of all others.
But when a person finds that their spouse is exercising a pattern of coercive control, has a mentality of entitlement, and is resisting taking responsibility for their abusive ways, and the oppressed spouse starts to consider separation or divorce, what happens? The hue and cry breaks out: “You mustn’t abandon your marriage! You can’t break the marriage covenant!”
“Everyone knows,” says Paul, “that you can’t modify a covenant once it’s been ratified.” Covenants don’t work that way. Crooks and shysters break covenants and cheat underhandedly, but people of integrity do not. Once the terms of a covenant are ratified it gives security and assurance to both parties and it cannot be altered at whim.
When an abuse victim says “I’m leaving this marriage because my spouse is an anti-spouse, a monster in wedlock,” and folk say, “You can’t abandon your marriage covenant!” — they are adding to the covenant once it has been ratified. They are doing exactly what Paul says ought not to be done. And they are not even the parties to the covenant!
This is what they are really saying, even if they don’t realise it. They are saying:
The marriage covenant states that you cannot divorce your spouse even if they are breaking the promises they made about loving, cherishing, protecting, honouring and being honest and faithful. Even if your spouse has effectively annulled the covenant by breaking their vows, you are not free to divorce. You just can’t do it. Didn’t you know that when you signed up to the marriage covenant there was a no-escape clause for victims of abuse in the fine print? What? You say that clause wasn’t in the covenant when you signed it? Well, we’ve got news for you! There is a new term in the marriage covenant, it says: If your spouse does the opposite of what he vowed to do — if he abuses and oppresses you — there’s no way you can leave. You’ve got to put up with ill-treatment no matter what. And if your abuser fakes repentance you’ve got to believe he is truly repentant.
You better accept this If you don’t, the wrath of God will descend on you, the leaders will discipline you, and the congregation will slander and shun you.
But if you try to tell these people that they have actually added to the covenant once it was ratified, they skirt your logic and put on their nice-guy masks, making out that they are not being unfair because temporary separation is okay.
….with the understanding that the two of you will get back together.
(And that better be sooner rather than later.)
[August 25, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to August 25, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to August 25, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to August 25, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (August 25, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]