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What Does The Bible Say about Divorce and Remarriage?


An article from Pastor Paul


I wanted to write a follow up to last Sunday’s sermon in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 that I titled,Singleness, Marriage, Divorce and Death.”In that message we saw that although God views that marriage is for life, God understands that a marriage is made of two imperfect sinners, and as a result, some marriages will end in divorce. Last week we saw that the biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage were 1)“adultery”(Matt 5:31-32, Matt 19:9). 2)“abandonment or desertion”(1Cor 7:12-15). Regarding cases of adultery, we saw that only the “innocent party” was free to remarry, not the person who committed adultery. Additionally, with cases of “abandonment” we saw that this passage was dealing with an “un-equally yoked” marriage between a Christian and a Non-Christian, where the unbelieving spouse deserts or divorces the Christian spouse. In such a case, the Christian who was abandoned is free to remarry. Lastly, we also saw that widows and widowers whose spouse died are free to remarry (1Cor 7:39, RO 7:2).

As you may be able to imagine, last Sunday’s message has prompted people to ask a number of questions regarding marriage and divorce. Like “What if the person who committed adultery, has since remarried someone who is a Christian?” Or “If you got divorced for an ‘un-biblical’ reason and then later remarry are you guilty of adultery?” Another question raised was, “Would abuse be considered ‘grounds’ for divorce?” Finally, someone else asked, “What if you were divorced before you became a Christian?” Admittedly, these matters of the heart are very tricky waters to navigate, I will attempt to do so with compassion.

Now let’s launch out into the ‘tricky waters’ and look at these questions one by one.

Question 1“What if the person who committed adultery, has since remarried someone who is a Christian?”

While it’s true that Jesus permitted divorce in cases of marital unfaithfulness, some are often surprised to discover that only “innocent party,” who was cheated on is permitted to remarry. So, what if the person who had the affair, later meets someone, and marries them? Is their new marriage sinful in God’s eyes? Are they married in God’s eyes at all? Should they seek to end this marriage?

While your situation is not ideal, remember that 1 Corinthians 7:20 says“Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.”The New Century Version renders it with more clarity saying,“Each person should remain in thelife situationin which he was called.” Nowhere in the Bible do we see God “command” a remarried couple to divorce. Therefore, ending a remarriage would be just as sinful as ending a first marriage. Therefore, the Bible’s instruction to you would be to stay married, or remain in the condition you are in. Additionally, invest in your current marriage, learn from your past failings, put necessary safeguards in place to insure that this marriage lasts a lifetime.

Question 2“If you got divorced for an ‘un-biblical’ reason and then later remarry are you guilty of adultery?”

In my message this past Sunday I quoted Matthew 5:31-32 where Jesus said,"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.'32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”

Due to the time constraints of only having 40 minutes to deliver a sermon, I was unable to answer a question that invariably some of you were wondering. “If you marry someone who has been divorced, are you really guilty of committing adultery?”As with most verses in the Bible, Matthew 5:31-32 has a context. During the time of Jesus, many of the Jewish Rabbis had adopted a liberal view of marriage and divorce and taught that a man could divorce his wife for literally any reason. The Rabbis would quote from Deuteronomy 24:1 where Moses said,“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found someuncleannessin her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house.”The debate was centered around the word“uncleanness.”Now the conservative Rabbis have always held that“uncleanness”was strictly defined as adultery. However, the liberal Rabbis at the time of Christ taught that“uncleanness”could be anything under the sun. Rabbi Akiva for example claimed that“uncleanness could include burning her husband’s dinner or just that he met a prettier woman.”Therefore, there were two problems that Jesus was confronting in His culture. Number one, that men would misuse Deuteronomy 24 to selfishly divorce their wives. But the second thing that was happening, is that these men in most cases were refusing to grant their wives a“certificate of divorce.”They would “put their wives away” or leave them but they did not give them a certificate of divorce. Why? In that male dominated society, most women needed the protection and provision of man. However, without that certificate, the woman would not be free to marry a man who would provide for her. In the event that an unsuspecting man did marry a woman who had been previously divorced, but he didn’t know that she did not have a certificate of divorce, then technically that would be adultery.

This is what Jesus had in mind when He said,“anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”Jesus was not condemning all divorced people. Rather He was confronting the selfish husband who divorced his wife for trivial reasons and then forced her into either poverty or into adultery by not giving her a certificate of divorce.

In John chapter 8 we read of the “Woman Caught in Adultery.” In the story the Religious Leaders piously were quoting the Law of Moses, saying she deserved to be put to death for committing adultery. But when Jesus dealt with her, He said,“Go and sin no more.”He did not dismiss her actions or minimize her sin. In fact, He called her actions sinful. However, He went on to tell her to stop sinning, specifically to stop committing adultery. God does not view your new marriage as invalid. However, be sure to learn from your past mistakes and make your current marriage one that brings glory to God. Whatever patterns or behaviors that led to your previous divorce learn from them and be sure not to repeat them. Get counseling, read the Word but do everything in your power to make this marriage a God centered marriage that will stand the test of time.

Question 3“Would abuse be considered ‘grounds’ for divorce?”

Unfortunately, the Bible is silent about whether or not spousal abuse is a reason for divorce. However, it is clear abusing a spouse or a child is absolutely wrong and sinful. Under no circumstances should this kind of abuse ever be tolerated. A spouse who finds themselves in a situation where they or their child is being abused, should immediately seek a safe place, if necessary, file for a restraining order and possibly press charges.

While I cannot say that abuse is a reason for divorce, I can say that abusing your spouse is unbiblical. The Bible gives multiple examples of how a Godly husband is to treat his wife. For example, Ephesians 5:25 says“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” How did Jesus love the church? Well first and foremost He died for the church, He laid down His life to save us. Likewise, the husband is to lay down his life to protect his wife (even from himself). Jesus also served the church. He said,“I have not come to be served, but to serve”(Matt 20:8). Your wife is not to be treated as if she’s nothing but your “indentured slave” to wait on you hand and foot, but rather like Jesus Himself, you are to serve her. The Bible teaches “mutual submission” where you meet each other’s needs (EPH 5:21). Additionally, husbands are to love and cherish their wives (EPH 5:28-31).

Furthermore, 1Peter 3:7 says,“Husbands, likewise, dwell with them(your wife),with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.”According to this verse, the husband is to be “understanding” not abusive. He is to protect her because she is physically the weaker vessel. Finally, your wife is not inferior to you, she is not your subject to rule over, she is your co-heir who equally rules side by side with you.

An abusive husband has clearly failed to fulfill his God given job description of being a godly husband as defined in the Bible. Therefore, a wife in such a situation is clearly within her rights to “separate” from her abusive husband. Once separated, and in a safe place, she should draw hard boundaries and demand true repentance and change from her husband. Not mere lip service, declaring that he’s sorry, but actual verifiable change. This will take time. If he’s truly repentant he should be seeking counselling to help him change his abusive behavior (by the way if he’s truly repentant this will be his idea not hers). While separated she should be watching for red flags, such as irrational jealousy, the need to be in control, a short fuse, attempts to isolate her from her friends and family, drug, or alcohol use, or disrespecting her boundaries. If he refuses to demonstrate true, long-lasting change, the marriage might fall apart as a result. If it does fall apart the responsibility for the failed marriage would fall on the abusive husband’s shoulders because he did not fulfill his biblical role as a godly husband and treat her the way God called him to treat his wife.

Question 4“What if you were divorced before you became a Christian?”

This is a tricky question. On the one hand there are those who would argue that God’s standards for marriage applly to both believer and non-believer alike. Therefore, they would argue that if a divorce occurred for non-biblical reasons (adultery, abandonment), then the divorce was unbiblical and there are no grounds for remarriage.

However, in my opinion that view seems to be inconsistent with the teachings of Scripture. First of all, 2 Corinthians 5:17 says,“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” The Bible makes a couple of things clear. Number one, we are all sinners (RO 3:23). Once we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are saved and forgiven for all our sins, we are in fact a“new creation.” 1 Corinthians 6 lists a variety of lifestyles that include among other things“adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and drunkenness.”Then the Apostle Paul summarizes that list with this statement,“And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God”(1COR 6:11). It is my belief that divorce is no greater of a sin, then any of those others listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-22. Additionally, whatever your sinful lifestyle may have been before Christ even if it was a lifestyle of adultery or divorce those sins no longer define who you are. Paul says,“such were some of you…”(1COR 6:11). You are no longer identified by that sin; you are now a “new creation” in Christ.

While it’s true that you are a new creation now that you’re a Christian. It’s also true that you will still reap the consequences of your sinful past actions (GAL 6:7). Even though you’ve been forgiven, you will still have to endure the emotional ramifications that come with divorce such as a contentious relationship with your ex, as well as possible blended family challenges for your children, spousal and or child support.

However, the principle from John chapter 8 with the woman caught in adultery applies here as well. That principle being when Jesus said,“Go and sin no more.”Statistics clearly illustrate those who have been divorced in the past are much more likely to be divorced in the future. Therefore, if your background before you became a Christian includes divorce, make sure that you learn from your past mistakes. Address any character flaws, personality issues or challenges from your childhood that may have had some influence on your previous divorce so that your new marriage as a Christian has the best chance of glorifying God by lasting a lifetime.

Having attempted to navigate the tricky waters of divorce and remarriage, I want to address that verse in Malachi 2:16 I quoted last week, that says,“I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel.” Understand that verse does NOT say, “God hates divorced PEOPLE.” Rather, it says, that“He hatesdivorce.”In other words, He hates what divorce does to the people He loves. He hates the pain and heartache it causes. He hates the emotional and psychological damage it does to the children brought up in divorced homes. But he very much loves you, even if you have been divorced.

Suggested Resource

No More Perfect (No More Perfect Marriages, No More Perfect Moms, No More Perfect Kids)

Jill and Mark Savage seemed to have the “perfect marriage and family” as he served as the Senior Pastor of Crosswinds Community Church in Bloomington, IL and she led a moms ministry known as “Mom2Mom.” But in 2011, Mark was in a dark place emotionally and spiritually and was in the midst of a full-on midlife crisis with an extramarital affair included. However, on Easter Sunday of 2012, he recommitted his life back to the Lord. Broke off his relationship with the other woman and recommitted to his wife and children. Today Jill and Mark have a passion to encourage others in their marriages.