Concise Study on Divorce and Remarriage
People often cite Jesus’ words in the Gospels about divorce and remarriage to try to say that all divorce, or at least all divorce and remarriage, are forbidden by the Bible. They might also cite where it says in the Book of Malachi that God hates divorce to try to claim that divorce is never a righteous option. However, the context in both of those cases is rebuke of people who are dealing treacherously against their spouse and forsaking their marriage covenant for wicked reasons (reasons that don’t line up with the Law of God’s narrow provision for divorce). Neither Malachi nor Jesus in the Gospels were saying that the innocent party doesn’t have a lawful recourse when there is adultery, serious perversion, or serious abuse on the part of their spouse.
When Jesus spoke on this topic in the Gospels, He was saying that a man is still an adulterer even though he gets the paperwork done in divorcing his wife so he can leave her to marry another woman. Just having the divorce paperwork done regarding the first marriage, before the second marriage takes place, doesn’t mean one is not guilty of adultery in initiating the second marriage. The Jews of the first century were notorious for abusing the provision the Law of God made for divorce in Deuteronomy chapter 24 to allow divorce for any cause at all. Jesus never broke or spoke against the Law of God. In the Gospels Jesus was clearly rebuking the abuse of God’s provision for divorce in the Law, not the righteous application of it. The Law of God provides a narrow provision for divorce, not a broad one. It is thus wrong to deny that there is indeed a narrow provision for divorce that ought to be applied sometimes. Those who deny this narrow provision are speaking contrary to God’s Law like the people who promote divorce contrary to God’s Law (both groups are in violation of God’s Law and are thus sinning).
In 1 Corinthians chapter 7, as the Apostle Paul taught on the same subject, you see that divorce is never an option when there are two faithful Christians in the marriage (who would indeed continue to be faithful Christians). But then there are also other marriage situations, such as when an unbeliever is present. We see there how there is a time to let such a one depart if they aren’t pleased to dwell with the faithful believer peaceably (if the unbeliever should leave or if the unbeliever should seek to impede their spouse from faithfully obeying God’s Word). And you also see there how the believer in Christ isn’t bound to the marriage in that case. When one’s spouse chooses a course where they are unwilling to dwell peacefully with them as they live as a faithful Christian, the Bible also clearly says in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 that they are not under bondage. That means they ought to let the divorce happen; and they are then free to remarry in the Lord. Whenever there has been a divorce which a person has righteously initiated, or which one had no control over the other initiating without compromising righteousness themselves, there is freedom to remarry. Obviously, a couple which has already divorced for reasons which are not righteous should reconcile if possible. Yet desire for reconciliation is not always mutual; and reconciliation is neither righteous nor practical if one or both of the parties have already remarried. The concept that God only recognizes first marriages is false. Jesus acknowledged in John 4:18 that the Samaritan woman whom He conversed with at the well had had five husbands.
God hates divorce, yet that does not mean it’s never necessary and it doesn’t mean there isn’t such a thing as an innocent party who is blameless in the divorce. He hates it when man’s unrighteousness necessitates a divorce as much as He hates it when man’s unrighteousness initiates a divorce when there was no righteous necessity for it. Wicked people can abuse God’s Word out of context to threaten a victimized spouse not to divorce just as wicked people abuse God’s Word out of context to justify a divorce so they can remarry to gratify their lust or for some other unrighteous reason. There are people who have gone through years and years of constant abuse at the hands of a lunatic or otherwise impossible to bear heathen (who might also be a professing Christian) as they believe that divorce is never, ever righteous. This can also expose children to physical and emotional abuse. Wavering, sloppy Scripture application, and overall bad understanding on this matter throughout churches causes people getting counsel on this to be tossed about in every direction. They will often thus be utterly confused and driven further towards insanity.
Even one act of adultery is potential grounds for a righteous divorce, though it is good for the offended to forgive the offender and move on if and when there is reason to believe that there is true contrition over this and a resolve to not do it again. I wouldn’t advise someone to initiate a divorce without much prayer and showing as much patience as is reasonable. There still might come a time though when it is absolutely necessary due to adultery or some other wicked pattern of behavior which might make living with a spouse in a godly, peaceful way to be impossible. God Himself does not show unlimited patience with His people. He will cast people out of His covenant eventually who provoke Him and resist correction, in spite of good will and much merciful patience exercised on His part (Romans 11:22, Hebrews 3:12-15). To not divorce when corrupting behavior is defended and persisted in is to, by example at least, teach a false grace and to partake of and promote sin through toleration and enabling of it. It is to misrepresent God- as if He can be mocked and as if His commandments are at most rather suggestions. To say that divorcing a spouse is not an absolute righteous necessity when their persistence in sin is corrupting the home and preventing God from being glorified there is fighting against the truth and enabling rebellion against the Lord. That never ends well.
Very often those who contest these things point to Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 7:39 which speak about the woman being bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. And yet, in doing so they are unwittingly proving the point that there is a narrow provision made by God for divorce and remarriage. You have to reference God’s Law to know and understand that. That is the very point and the key to handling this issue wisely and righteously. Those who go quoting Scriptures about the Law in relation to divorce and remarriage should really know what the Law actually teaches about divorce and remarriage. Yet many do not.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4: “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the Lord: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.”
“Uncleanness” here is obviously a reference to violating the purity of the home, and especially the violation of the sacredness of the marriage covenant (it is implied that upholding the sacredness of the marriage covenant and the maintenance of a godly environment in the home are the only valid reasons for initiating a divorce). Such instruction is necessary to supplement the principles laid down regarding marriage in Genesis because sin has since entered the world and it must be dealt with properly when it shows itself and when people are evidently committed to practicing it. The proper way then to see Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 7:39 is that no one can righteously depart from a marriage besides the reasons permitted by the Law of God or through the death of their spouse. And that is also not considering that one’s spouse may unlawfully depart and initiate the divorce directly, or by default, in departing. In that case, the marriage is over by the other person’s choice. When the divorce is final, the other is free to move on. They are not bound to the other person forever nor faced with the utterly stupid task of waiting for their former spouse to die before they are allowed to lawfully remarry.
1 Corinthians 7:14-15: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.”
A brother or a sister is not in bondage in such cases. How clear!
And then later in the chapter we’re told in verses 27 and 28. “Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.”
Some use 1 Corinthians 7:27-28 and 1 Corinthians 7:39 to say that only men who have been released from a spouse can remarry, yet women who are released from a spouse cannot remarry. That is foolish (to say the least). The Bible sometimes communicates a truth about marriage while zeroing in on the man or the woman in doing so, yet obviously not negating the other. Is the husband not also bound by the law to his wife as long as she lives?
Genesis 2:22-24: “And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
This obviously proves that the man is also indeed bound by the Law to his wife as long as she lives. And this is right from the Book of Genesis, the foundational book in the Law of God. On the other hand, does Genesis 2:22-24 mean that the woman does not need to leave her father and mother and cleave to her husband? Of course not. That would be insane to believe. God is not a respecter of persons. His principles of divorce and remarriage are not any different for women than they are for men. Both men and women might have to put away their spouse for the sake of the purity of their home, both men and women might be unjustly put away by their spouse, and both men and women have the same potential struggles in being left single after a marriage which they were in has ended.
We may not know the agenda of those who contend with Scriptural, common-sense principles related to divorce and remarriage, but they evidently like to pick out verses which uphold God’s Law while they simultaneously disregard the Law and the verdicts which God’s servants in the Bible who understood the Law gave. That is not rational. It is not God’s will to altogether forbid marriage to adults who are not married, whether they were previously married or not; and whether those who were married were released from their marriage by death or by a divorce in a marriage which they could not righteously and realistically continue in.
God’s verdict about single Christians is foundational to the other things said about marriage and singleness in 1 Corinthians chapter 7. You just have to read verses 1 to 9 in this chapter to see God’s verdict about single Christians. That verdict shows the absurdity of a Christian being left in a potential life sentence of having to stay single when they very well may struggle, just as much or more, with the problems which single Christians who have not ever been married might struggle with. God rebukes people in Malachi chapter two for dealing treacherously against their spouse by putting them away unjustly. To tell those who have been treacherously dealt with in such a manner that they can never lawfully remarry is to cooperate with, comply with, and increase the treachery which they have tragically been made subject to.
Following the Bible’s actual instructions related to divorce and remarriage will never involve justifying the person who made up some shallow excuse to leave their spouse for someone else. It will also never leave someone to be continually terrorized by an adulterer or an otherwise heathen spouse, whose heathen ways interfere with Christian principles being followed in their home. And it will also never leave one who is divorced, with no reasonable hope of ever reconciling their marriage, waiting for their first spouse to die before they can ever even think about remarriage. And the fact that all of these foolish things, and many other foolish things in relation to this topic, are commonly practiced throughout the realm of professing Christianity is among the multitude of evidence that the churches now (in general) have departed from God’s ways and lack the knowledge of Him.
Aaron’s email is: [email protected]