Israel was a covenant nation. Regardless of geographical borders, they were the same nation wherever they were. Nor was it a question of DNA. According to that covenant, anyone from any genetic heritage could embrace the covenant and become an Israeli with all the covenant blessings and rights accorded any Israeli.
The ancient Roman Empire was not a secular state; it was a pagan empire. Roman Law and government did have tendencies toward the modern secular state, but Roman identity was based on religion and culture. In theory, Paul as a Roman citizen could have been forced to engage in an act of worship of Cesar. Most Roman officials would have been reluctant to raise the issue, knowing how Jews were about such things.
As Rome spread across the ancient Mediterranean Basin, she recognized nations as distinct, with their own language and cultural identity. She recognized their religious heritages; she granted them freedom to exercise their legal traditions for the most part. Rome encountered Israel and realized the necessity of even more adjustments to Roman Law in order to rule over her. As far as Rome was concerned, for most things, a Jew was a subject of the nation of Judea, and therefore subject to Jewish law. In cases where the two legal systems conflicted, it required some kind of judge or magistrate to decide which way it fell, under one jurisdiction or another. Rome was sensitive to the nature of religion as a strong deciding factor in what constitutes a crime and what had to be done about it in any given context.
This was the way of things throughout history until The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. At that time, the principal of the secular state was made into international law. The intent was to recognize national identity, but a stake was driven through the heart of national identity as a matter of religion and culture. It became a matter of secular government authority, however that government came into being.
The US is a secular state empire. There is no national identity of any kind; the term “American” has no useful definition aside from “a US citizen.” It offers no other substantive meaning, despite various attributes commonly associated with it. There most certainly is no covenant involved.
The US is not a covenant nation. It does not inherit any of the blessings of any biblical law covenant. Further, the secular state government has usurped a great many prerogatives rightly belonging under a religious covenant. Aside from some limited tax exemptions, the secular government of the US recognizes no covenants. Ask any of the native nations conquered by the invading European colonists — there is only the smallest tokens of recognition for a preexisting national identity.
The existence of marriage, and the exercise of divorce, are inherently religious and cultural in nature. They are an artifact of the covenant community, and have no meaning outside of that. Marriage is a covenant in itself. The secular state sweeps aside all of that and makes it a simple question of financial obligations, a mere matter of contract. As someone ordained and licensed to conduct marriage ceremonies, I assure you there are two distinct domains at work here as a forthright matter of law.
Divorce is complicated by the intrusion of the state. The Bible does make allowance for declaring a covenant broken and dissolved for certain causes, chiefly infidelity and idolatry. Those two concepts are closely associated, often one indicated by the other. The secular state recognizes none of that, and demands control of the legal status on other grounds.
A secular contract of marriage does not meet the definition of the term used in the Bible. Nor does a secular legal divorce. The typical church insistence on equating to the two is a heresy. A church acting like a civil divorce somehow debilitates your identity as a follower of Christ or an officer of the congregation is downright evil. If the church pretends to be a covenant community, then it is under obligation to discern the matter of whether the marriage was a valid covenant in the first place. It must also judge whether the separation was justified under Biblical Law.
You’ll notice that 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 does not discuss divorce, but separation. He does cite a very tough command from God that a woman not remarry if she leaves her husband. Men and women are not interchangeable before the Lord; they are treated differently. Paul then advises how to handle mixed marriages where one of the pair has come to Christ after a pagan marriage. It’s not a question of validity, but of maintaining stability and spiritual influence (AKA, shalom).
We note that Old Testament Law doesn’t say much about a woman who finds herself married to an idolater, but it does say a lot about men putting away their pagan concubines. The status of a woman who has been ejected from a man’s bedroom makes her used goods, just one step away from a prostitute. If she goes back to her original family household, she’s safe but has no further prospects. In colloquial terms, the man who breaches her hymen is her master in effect for life. That’s a tough call in today’s cultural climate where few men living have standing to exercise such authority under any covenant.
How far does the compassion of Christ go in rehabilitating a woman who has lost her virginity? Joseph received a direct command from God to go through with marriage to Mary despite the presumption of everyone that she lost her virginity to another man. We know the background story in that case. Shall we presume that God is going to limit Himself to our legalistic assumptions about such things? At what point should we say she is a widow-in-effect and probably should marry again to avoid temptation?
The Bible is an Eastern mystical document recording an Eastern mystical revelation to an Eastern mystical people. Legalism has always been a heresy. The whole idea of Moses’ Law was not to bind people but to set them free from failed human reasoning to find the heart of God. You can judge as you see fit, but it only applies to your domain. You are not God, and cannot judge for another believer except in terms of whether they can operate in your earthly domain. You cannot send them to Hell, only eject them from your community.
As the ruling elder of Kiln of the Soul, I tremble before God Almighty and decide such things on case by case.