by Greg Rodman, Apostle
The subject of divorce and remarriage has been a much-debated issue for literally thousands of years. This study does not propose to resolve every issue or to cover every situation, but rather to establish some definite guidelines, as laid down in the Scriptures, on the subject.
Any discussion on divorce and/or remarriage should begin with God's initial pronouncement on marriage itself:
Genesis 2:18: And the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him."
Genesis 2:24: Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall he one flesh.
Genesis 1:28: And God blessed them, and God said unto them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth..."
The scriptures of the Bible are given to us by God to form a composite whole. On any given subject, it is important to compare scripture with other scripture. And as we do, our understanding increases. For example, it is essential to read Matt. 28:19 in conjunction with scriptures in Acts, Romans, etc., to correctly learn the water baptismal procedure. It is the same with divorce and remarriage -- we must assemble and compare large quantities of scripture to sort our the truth of this topic. Only then can the overall picture begin to emerge. As a starting point, the following scriptures give a distinct revelation of God's general, overall view of marriage, divorce, and remarriage:
Genesis 2:24: Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
Matthew 19:4-6: And He answered and said unto them, "Have ye not read that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said,'For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh" Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." (Mark 10:6-9)
Matthew 19:8: ... but from the beginning it [divorce as was being discussed there] was not so.
Mark 10:11-12: And he saith unto them, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery."
Luke 16:18: Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery." Romans 7:2-3: For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
I Cor.7:10-13: And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband; but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
I Cor.7:27a: Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to he loosed.
1 Cor. 7:39: The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
The preceding scriptures would seem to conclusively support those who dogmatically oppose divorce and/or remarriage. But in a number of very specific instances (both New Testament and Old), the Bible does give scriptural grounds for certain cases of divorce and remarriage. An honest handling of the scriptures requires regarding not just the general statements on the sanctity of marriage, but also the God-inspired exceptions to the general rule. The following scripture passages more than adequately provide the required two or three witnesses (II Cor. 13:1).
Deut. 21:13-14: [Referring to the law for taking captive enemy women as wives]... and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife. And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.
Deut. 24:1-4: When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour 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 the 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.
Ezra 10:2-3:...We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the
people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. Now therefore let
us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them,
according to the counsel of my Lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our
God; and let it be done according to the law.
Matthew 5:31-32: It hath been said, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a
writing of divorcement:" But I say unto you,
"That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." Matthew 19:7-9: They say unto him, "Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?" He said unto them, "Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." I Cor.7:15, 27-38: But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace ...Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife. But if thou marry, thou hast not sinned. And if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.
Deut. 24:1-4 is a key text in this entire discussion. Moses' law permitted divorce (vs. 1) and remarriage (vs. 2) with the exception that a divorced and remarried woman could never again return to "her former husband" (vs. 3-4). So in the law, divorce for God-permitted cause dissolved the marriage and permitted remarriage (vs. 1-2). The statement "her former husband" (vs. 4) shows that God clearly considered the former marriage dissolved, and not just separated. This passage is critical, in that it establishes the principle that scriptural divorce dissolves marriage and renders the two free to seek new mates.
Before proceeding further, I offer the following conclusions in advance, and I trust that the scriptures that we shall study will more than adequately bear them out:
1. If a Christian husband or wife discovers that his/her mate has been sexually unfaithful to him/her, the innocent party is permitted to divorce the offending mate and to remarry.
2. If a Christian's unbelieving mate leaves the Christian (not vice versa!), the Christian who has been divorced in this way is free to remarry. The former marriage has been dissolved.
Let's look at specific scripture grounds for these statements. As mentioned before, the numerous general statements in the Bible on the sanctity of the marriage bond do not overrule the fact that God in His Word has given some very specific, concrete exceptions to the indissolubility of marriage. Christians are allowed to exercise these exceptions, but nothing beyond the specific exceptions. Let's first examine the Old Testament divorce and/or remarriage scriptures.
In Deut. 21:13-14, Moses' Law permitted an Israelite to divorce a wife taken from a captive nation simply because he had "no delight in her" (vs. 14). This seems a rather loose permission, but note well that, for this dispensation of the law, this was GOD'S WORD! God cannot be shown in the scriptures to be 100% against divorce. (NOTE: I am not, of course, implying that God likes divorce! Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis show otherwise.) Deut. 24: 1-4, Moses' Law again, simply for a man's wife finding "no favour in his eyes ... some uncleanness in her," permitted divorce (Hebrew = "a cutting off'). It was not simply separation, but a complete severing and annulling of the marriage bond that allowed remarriage (vs. 2). This point is critical: scriptural divorce from the earliest Bible records dissolved the marriage and permitted remarriage.
Ezra 10:2-7: Israel's men had taken Gentile wives and were under conviction to divorce them. They were careful (vs. 3) to "put away" those wives "according to the law" of God.
Now let us look at the New Testament scriptures on this subject, with the fact now established (Deut. 24:1-4), and yet to be proven further, that scriptural divorce dissolves the marriage. We will look at the divorce/remarriage scriptures in order of appearance.
Matt 5:31-32. The Greek word "apoluo," translated "put away" in both verses and "is divorced" in verse 32, means "to let loose from, let go free" (Vine's). This is in line with Deut. 24, and it implies a dissolving of the bond of marriage. It is important to see that the main emphasis here is against divorce. The passage conveys this message: if you divorce your wife, and she remarries, you have placed both her and her new mate into a position of adultery, for before God she is still your wife, "saving for the cause of fornication" (Greek= "pornia"). Jesus is forbidding divorce and remarriage, unless one of the couple has committed pornia (sexual immorality, unfaithfulness [Amplified]).
Matt. 19:3-9. In verses 3, 7 and 8, the word "put away" is used as defined by Moses
(remember that Moses' law indicated that this putting away dissolved the marriage and
allowed remarriage). Jesus used the same Greek word twice in verse 9, but notice how
strictly he limited Moses' law. The Pharisees interpreted Moses (vs. 3) as permitting divorce
(and remarriage) "for every cause." Jesus' answer is quite specific: to divorce your wife
("for every cause") and to remarry is adultery. And for another man to marry a woman
divorced "for every cause" is adultery. Jesus did not recognize the validity of divorce and
remarriage "for every cause." He canceled a permission given Israel by Moses "because of
the hardness of (their) hearts" (vs. 8). But Jesus did leave one exception: "Except it be for
fornication (pornia)." One whose mate is unfaithful may divorce and remarry, for the
unfaithfulness has destroyed the "one flesh" marriage bond in the eyes of God.
Matt. 19:9 conclusively shows that, for this exception, divorce and remarriage are allowed. Simply putting away one's wife can in no way be construed as committing adultery. It is the putting away and remarrying that brings adultery, unless the cause of putting away was adultery in the first place. In this latter case, the bond is dissolved, the one-flesh relationship is annulled, and one is permitted to go and establish another one-flesh relationship.
Before proceeding further, an explanation of pornia ("fornication") is in order. Jesus is speaking of married people, and the word in both places in Matthew can be correctly read as sexual unfaithfulness of married people not the restricted sense of single people contained in our modern word "fornication." This is substantiated in I Cor. 5:1, where "pornia" is committed with another man's "wife." I Cor. 10:8 further bears this out. It is absurd to surmise that the 23,000 Israelites mentioned there as "committing fornication" (pornuo) were all unmarried persons.
I Cor. 7:10-11. Notice here that (except for the aforementioned adultery) a Christian should not initiate a divorce even against unbelievers (verses 12-13). And the word (vs. 11) to those Christians who have already done so is to be reconciled or remain single.
I Cor. 7:15, 27-28.'The only exception here is if the unsaved mate leaves the Christian (the Greek word "korizo" for "depart" here is the same one Jesus used for "put asunder" when speaking of divorce in Matt. 19:6). A Christian brother or sister is "not under bondage in such cases." The Greek word for "under bondage" in I Cor. 7:15, according to both Strong's and in the New Englishman's Greek Concordances, is from the same word used in Rom. 7:2 ("bound") and I Cor. 7:27, 39 ("bound"). This is a critical point. The seemingly permanent-for-life bond of these latter scriptures is broken ("not under bondage") when the unbelieving mate is the one who departs.
Notice again in verses 27-28 of I Cor. 7 that God encourages us to stay with the one to whom we are bound. But if that one is an unbeliever and departs, the bond is broken (vs. 15), we are "loosed" (vs. 27), and it is no sin to remarry! (vs. 28).
Let me repeat the scriptural grounds for divorce and remarriage.
1. Sexual unfaithfulness by the spouse.
2. A Christian's unbelieving mate departs from the Christian. The divorced Christian is free to remarry.
3. In conclusion, II Cor. 5:17 offers a third potential for scriptural remarriage after divorce: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." Rom. 14:5, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind," says Paul in a different context. I believe, as a strong personal conviction, that any and every divorce from one's unsaved past is forgiven at the time of salvation, all things become new, and such divorced and subsequently saved people are permitted by God to remarry with His blessing, "only in the Lord." I would personally perform such a marriage if neither partner had been married and then unscripturally divorced since their salvation. But every minister must determine where his own heart is on this particular situation and stand before God for his decision with an uncondemned heart.
It is vital, in treating a topic like this one, not to take license with God's exceptions and expand them into promiscuous, unscriptural divorces and remarriages. But when God has mercifully made certain provisions in this area, then we, as God's children, need to stand by God's Word in the face of ecclesiastical traditions which without mercy bind people to situations for which God has provided release.
Let's believe God's Word and heed Jesus' warning and not "teach for doctrines the commandments of men, ... making the word of God of none effect through [our] tradition" [Mark 7:7, 13]. As we have seen, God in His Bible lists certain scriptural divorce / remarriage situations. Let's obey the Word of God in this critical area of people's lives and have the same compassion on God's people that He Himself has demonstrated. END
Readers' Questions & Our Answers: "Can I marry a divorced woman?" | "I'm divorced twice. Can God still use me?"
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