Divorce and Remarriage in Scripture

Question from a Site Viewer
I have a friend who has been married twice. The first husband beat and abused her brutally. They are now divorced. If it matters, she was not a Christian until after she married the second husband. The second left and divorced her after she became a Christian. She is on the verge of marrying another man. Will she sin if she does? What does the Bible really have to say about divorce and remarriage?

I looked into what a pastor who I trust says about the Scriptures on divorce and remarriage. This is what I got from him.

In the Bible, there are three ways to divorce and then remarry and still not sin.

  1. spouse dies,
  2. desertion by an unbelieving (not christian) spouse, and
  3. immorality by the spouse.

Case #1:  death
Romans 7:3 and 1 Corinthians 7:39 say a spouse is released and free to remarry if a spouse dies.

Case #2:  desertion
The Bible says you can be released from a marriage if the spouse leaves you because you are a Christian and he/she is not. Read 1 Corinthians 7:15 and 1 Corinthians 7:27-28, which says if you choose to remarry, you have not sinned.

Case #3:  immoral sin by spouse
Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 talk about the third case: unchastity or immorality (pornea).

It is not clear to me if the first husband committed adultery. If he did, then she would be released from her first husband to re-marry according to the Bible, correct?

If the first husband did not commit an immoral act, is still alive, and would accept her back now, then what? Does she need to answer these questions or is there something different because she was not yet Christian back then?

She is not totally against leaving him if he is “not the right one.” I am trying to keep my opinions on romantic relationships out of this. She is open to my counsel and I want to give her the truth from God’s Word.

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for the question. I commend you for looking to Scripture, and not our culture, for the answers. The subject of divorce and remarriage is an issue that affects a great many people in our world. And my advice on the issue is not given with any intent to cause more pain to people, or as a position to be imposed on others, or as a criticism of those who may believe differently. I am afraid that sometimes we who hold a high view of Scripture come across to people who have suffered through divorce as uncaring and worse. People who have successful marriages need to be sensitive to the pain of those who have no one, because of a marriage that fell apart. Ultimately, however, we want to be faithful to the teachings of our God in this area, as in all areas, believing that His view is best for us.

To begin, we understand that God views that it is not good for man to be alone. From the beginning of Genesis and throughout Scripture, the great dramas of Scripture are played out in families. When God made Adam, He said that it was not good for Adam to be alone and He made Eve for him, a perfect companion (Genesis 2:18). Christ picks up the story and states that in the beginning God made them male and female (Matthew 19:4), signifying I think that he intended them to be in union. Paul picks up the same idea in 1 Corinthians 11:11 when Paul states that man is not independent of woman and woman is not independent of man. He states earlier in 1 Corinthians 7:2 that every man should have his own wife and every woman have her own husband. There is favor from God for those who find a good spouse (Proverbs 18:22). So valued was this relationship before God that He commanded that when a man took a new wife, he was not to go out to war or be charged with any business for one year, but he was to bring happiness to his wife (Deuteronomy 24:5). Christ blessed the world with His first miracle at a wedding (John 2). There is considerable instruction in Scripture on how individuals are to function within the family unit and very little instruction on how singles are to function. The reason, as I see it, is that there is a presumption towards marriage in Scripture. Paul states that the younger women should marry (1 Timothy 5:14). And although I know that many have given the passage a different interpretation, the plain statement of Paul in both 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 is that the leaders of the church should be husbands of one wife. Marriage is honorable before God (Hebrews 13:4). This is not to say that God does not have a place for single people, but it is to say that they are seen throughout Scripture as the exception, and not the rule. The priests were to be married, the kings were married, and the prophets (at least some of them including the great prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel) were married. And, we know that the apostles were married (1 Corinthians 9:5).

Marriage, having been instituted by God, is a sacred bond between people. God states three significant things on the subject in Malachi: 1) one’s wife is one’s companion by covenant; 2) the man and the woman are made by God to be one; and 3) God hates divorce (Malachi 2:14-16). The intent of God is for a man and a woman to be united into one union until death parts them, at which point they are free to remarry any other person in the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:39; Romans 7:2-3).

But, we live in a fallen world and the rules of God are often ignored and transgressed. We live in a world of divorce. God understands this and made provision. Jesus said in Matthew 19:8 that Moses permitted divorce because of people’s hard hearts. I believe Jesus is recognizing that sometimes marriage can be worse than divorce, when people’s hearts are hard. If we look at the Mosaic passage in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, we find that a man could divorce his wife by giving her a writing of divorce, but only in the situation when there was an uncleanness (and I believe sexual uncleanness is in view). The wife then goes and becomes another man’s wife (this seems to be presumed as something that would happen). She then is never free to return and be the wife of her first husband. Such is an abomination before the LORD. The second marriage created a new relationship that superseded the first relationship.

I do not read Jesus as doing away with this law. Jesus, earlier in the Sermon of the Mount said that He was not doing away with the law (Matthew 5:17-19). Accordingly, I do not believe that we should read His statements in Matthew 5 or 19 as undoing what Moses has said; rather we should read it as an explanation.

In Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus picks up on the Law and reigns in the great abuses that had grown up with the law on the subject. If we look at Matthew 19:3, the Pharisees seriously asked Christ if a man could divorce his wife for just any reason. Divorce left people destitute, broken, abandoned, and without means to survive, besides the fact that it was a breaking of the covenant. So, in Matthew 5:31-32, I see Jesus as returning to the intent of the Law. Those who divorce their wives “cause” them to commit adultery. Notice the words. It is presumed that the wife who is divorced will remarry. If she does not remarry, then of course there is no adultery. But because Jesus expects her to remarry, Jesus places the blame for the remarriage on the husband who divorced her. In Jesus’ words, he caused her to commit adultery. And Jesus makes the further statement that the one who marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

Christ statements against divorce are repeated in Mark 10:5-12 and Luke 16:18. Mark adds the clause that if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery. The truth is true no matter who obtains the divorce.

But Jesus, I believe, allows the same exception that was allowed under the Mosaic law. If there is sexual immorality, then the divorce is permitted and remarriage is permitted (see Matthew 19:9; 5:32). And because I see it as being the same exception as allowed in Deuteronomy, I am led to the same conclusion that the exception is only granted because of our hard hearts. That is, it should not be encouraged in the church.

A second possible exception from the no-divorce rule exists in 1 Corinthians 7:15, where it is possible to read this passage as saying that if a believer is married to a non-believer and the non-believer departs from the marriage, the believing spouse is no longer in bondage and may remarry.

These are the two possible Scriptural exceptions to the no-divorce rule.

What then should a divorced person do? Based on the above passages, I believe that if a person is divorced and his or her spouse is still alive, it is best, if they are able to live as a single person, for them not to remarry. I think this is the view of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. But some simply do not have an ability to live alone. Paul acknowledges this in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9. Paul says that it is better to marry than to burn. We should not turn Paul’s statement on its head and say that for divorced people it is better to burn than to remarry. Paul tells the unmarried and the widows that if they cannot exercise self-control, they may marry (1 Corinthians 7:8-9). Again, for those who do not think this applies to divorced people, my question is do we think that divorced persons have an ability to exercise self-control that single people do not? I fear lest we create a situation like Paul addresses in 1 Timothy 5:11-15 where we expose believers to the snare of Satan. Paul had the compassion to recognize that some may not be able to exercise self-control, and for these it is better to marry. And as acknowledge earlier, God also seems to understand that remarriage will happen.

The remarriage of those whose prior spouse committed sexual immorality is not seen as adultery in the eyes of God. The same may be true of those who had unbelieving spouses who left them. For the rest, I believe that their remarriage constitutes adultery. If they sought the divorce, then I see the subsequent adultery as being imputed to them. If their former spouses divorced them, then I see the subsequent remarriage constitutes an adultery that is imputed to their former spouse.

Because the second marriage in these later situations may be adultery, some have argued that a second divorce is needed to stop this adultery. But I see such a teaching as being contrary to Scripture. While the second relationship may be adultery in the eyes of God, it is still a marriage (“marries another”). Never in Scripture does God encourage or sanction the breakup of the second marriage. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:27, that if you are bound to a spouse, do not seek to be loosed. Paul does not state that there is an exception to this rule for divorced people who have remarried. Undoubtedly in Corinth there were people who were remarried. God’s plan is best fulfilled if we remain devoted and true to the spouse that we have now.

I trust this helps.

your fellow servant,

tim

Related Articles:
Remarriage After Divorce–Is it Adultery?

2 thoughts on “Divorce and Remarriage in Scripture

  1. MARIO

    I DIVORCED IN 1990. I AM THE ONE WHO WALKED OUT OF THE MARRIAGE. I REMARRIED IN 1997. I AM HAPPILY MARRIED TO A BORN AGAIN CHRISTIAN. LATELY I RAN ACROSS MATT 5:31-32 AND HAVE BEEN FEELING BURDENED THAT BY REMARRYING, WE HAVE COMMITTED AND APPEAR TO CONTINUE COMMITTING ADULTERY. IN YOUR OPINION, HOW CAN I REPENT (REJECT-TURN AWAY) OF THIS SIN AND MAKE IT RIGHT WITH GOD. IN YOUR OPION, DID THE ADULTERY OCCUR BY ENTERING INTO THE NEW MARRIAGE COVENANT OR IS IT FROM EACH INDIVIDUAL SEXUAL ACT THAT OCCURS DURING THE MARRIAGE? THANK YOU

    Reply
  2. Jan

    My husband of 17 years was unfaithful in our marriage multiple times. I became ill and the medication I had to take caused me to gain weight. He no longer wanted to be with me so he left me for another woman. Since his affair with that woman failed he sought other women. God healed me of the pain of losing him & now he wants us to remarry. If I choose not to remarry him, is that displeasing to God.

    Reply

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