Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage

Divorce and Remarriage

“For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away.” (MALACHI 2:16)

Fortunately in our assembly the rate of divorce has been extremely low. Couples have always been encouraged and helped to reconcile, as God hates divorce and is a God of reconciliation and order (2 CORINTHIANS 5:18) rather than separation and confusion. However, situations do sometimes occur where one partner deserts the relationship. What is the other partner supposed to do then? As always, we have to distance ourselves from human interpretation and see what the Bible has to say on the subject.

Divorce under Old Testament Law

“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 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.” (DEUTERONOMY 24:1-4)

Under the Old Testament,

  • Divorce as well as remarriage were possible
  • Only the husband could write a bill of divorcement (which actually served to protect the woman from being falsely accused of unfaithfulness or adultery).
  • The only prohibition was that the woman was not allowed to marry her previous husband again.
  • The reason for divorce was uncleanness in the woman. The Hebrew word for “uncleanness” means “nudity”; “shame”; “filthiness”. Most scholars agree that it means some natural, moral or physical defect (such as a disease).
  • Practically, divorce was made very easy for Jewish men, as they could interpret “uncleanness” to mean anything about a wife that displeased her husband. In Jesus’ days, a Jewish man could divorce his wife for virtually any reason (MATTHEW 19:3).

Jesus, however, both criticised the arbitrary practice of the Jews that allowed divorce for any cause and put Moses’ law in the right context.

“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 whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” (MATTHEW 19:8-9)

Divorce in the New Testament

(1) Jesus Allows only One Reason for Divorce – Fornication.

“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 5:32)

In plain words, fornication means sex outside of marriage. Some want to find more reasons for divorce by claiming that the Bible also speaks of “spiritual fornication” (e.g. REVELATION 14:8) or “apostasy”. In that case divorce could take place if one spouse becomes a backslider or unbeliever. However, there is no need to spiritualize marriage or the breaking of marriage and there are no specific biblical examples where this was used as a reason of divorce between a man and a women.

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (GENESIS 2:24)

“Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (MATTHEW 19:6)

Marriage is more than just a contractual agreement between two people; it is sanctified by God – “God hath joined together”! Two people through the act of marriage become “one flesh”. If one spouse fornicates, the fornicating couple also becomes “one flesh” (see 1 CORINTHIANS 6:16 where God warns about becoming one flesh with a harlot). This is a sin against both the other spouse and God, and is why Jesus warned so vehemently against fornication and adultery.

If fornication has occurred, it is important to remember that Jesus didn’t even condemn the woman who was caught in adultery (JOHN 8). Forgiveness is possible even in the case of fornication or adultery, and marriages can be restored even in such cases. 

(2) Jesus Applies the Responsibility Equally to both Men and Women

“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.” (MARK 10:11-12)

The responsibility lies not only with the man, but equally with the woman.

“And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband … and let not the husband put away his wife.” (1 CORINTHIANS 7:10-11)

(3) Temporary Separation

A Christian should never desert marriage. However, there might be cases (i.e. abuse) where a temporary separation might be necessary. This is acknowledged in 1 CORINTHIANS 7:10-11:

“Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband.”

That means that even in the case of a temporary separation, the Christian spouse has no right to divorce. Reconciliation should always be the primary aim wherever possible.

Also if one partner should be an unbeliever, the Christian should not leave him or her.

“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. 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.” (1 CORINTHIANS 7:12-14)

(4) What if One Partner has Deserted the Relationship?

However, a situation may arise where one partner has stopped following the Bible and left their husband or wife. Is divorce allowed in such cases, and even more is remarriage allowed?

“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.” (1 CORINTHIANS 7:15)

This scripture clearly shows that a Christian is to let the unbelieving partner depart. It also states that a brother or a sister is not in bondage in such cases, which means that the marriage contract has been broken by the unbeliever who departed. Nevertheless, it does not state that the one who has been left is to initiate a divorce or is free to remarry.

1 CORINTHIANS 7:27-28 explains that one can be loosed from a wife. However, as stated previously, this does not automatically mean that the one who is left is now free to remarry, but rather encourages one to remain single. Many things need to be considered and remarriage is not categorically allowed, unless the former wife/husband has either died or committed fornication. We believe the main reason for this is God’s hope for reconciliation sometime in the future. Nevertheless, in saying this, there is no ‘blanket rule’ which covers every situation, and therefore each situation must be considered carefully by the pastors in a church.

How long should the Christian try to reconcile with the unbelieving partner who left him or her? There are no rules or guidelines. Remember, God hates divorce. Therefore reconciliation is to be sought as long as possible. However, there are two sides necessary for reconciliation and reconciliation must happen on biblical terms - the Christian partner cannot be blackmailed by the unbelieving / departed partner on unbiblical terms.

Remarriage

If a wife or husband has died or committed fornication then scripturally this does allow for remarriage. Consider the following scriptures:

“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.” (1 CORINTHIANS 7:39)

“Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? 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.” (ROMANS 7:1-3)

“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” (MATTHEW 19:9)

If one partner is unfaithful and reconciliation is not possible the Bible advises to remain unmarried.

“For I would that all men were even as I myself… I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.” (1 CORINTHIANS 7:7-8)

“Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.” (1 CORINTHIANS 7:27)

But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.” (1 CORINTHIANS 7:28)

Though the Bible encourages one to remain single, Paul agrees that it is alright to marry for the first time or remarry, if the partner has died or committed adultery/fornication. Therefore it is not sin for somebody who is “loosed from his wife” to remarry.

“Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. … But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” (1 CORINTHIANS 7:2,9)

A Christian should never seek divorce, not even from an unbeliever. In general if an unbeliever deserts marriage, the Christian is not automatically given the right to remarry unless fornication has occurred.

“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.” (1 CORINTHIANS 7:15)

However, each case must be taken individually and reconciliation should be sought first and foremost.

“For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” (1 CORINTHIANS 7:16)

When considering what is correct scripturally, one can’t always make general statements, as the circumstances surrounding individual cases are always very different. We must also consider that someone may be divorced according to the law of the land and therefore legally able to remarry, yet in God’s eyes that person cannot scripturally remarry (i.e., if fornication or death has not occurred).

“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” (MATTHEW 19:9)

Thus such decisions should be dependant on God’s Word and not a country’s heathen laws.

Divorce or Remarriage Before Salvation

Some churches automatically condemn divorced people and don’t allow them to have an office or preach. However, the Blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sins and everything that has happened before one’s salvation is washed away and should not hinder anybody from getting married again or taking up authority in the church after conversion. 

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.” (1 JOHN 1:9)

Conclusion

The Bible very clearly teaches that God is against divorce and only allows divorce for committing fornication. Nevertheless God’s underlying attitude is always reconciliation according to His Word. Upon fornication or death remarriage is clearly allowed, whereas no other reason can be clearly found in the Scriptures. Separation can be necessary at times even if no fornication has occurred.

When searching the Bible regarding remarriage it becomes clear that it does not give examples for every situation. Therefore each case should be considered individually with much prayer, counsel and advice from the Scriptures.