Divorce and Remarriage, part 1

The subject of divorce and remarriage is not easy one to deal with. In this study we will attempt to find answers as to whether a person should divorce and whether to remarry. Divorce and Remarriage, part 2 will discuss "After the Divorce, then what?"

What Marriage Is

It is important for us to first understand what marriage is, in God's sight.

1. Marriage is a human right, not just a Christian one.

When Jesus referred to marriage in Matt. 19:3-6, He taught the right to marry began with Adam and Eve, which was before the Law was given or the Church was established. Marriage became a human right on Day 6 of the creation (Gen. 1:27-28,31, 2:18-25).

2. For the Christian, marriage is a sanctified right.

Because the Christian is joined or "married" to Jesus, his or her earthly right to marry becomes a sanctified one. A Christian should only marry another Christian (2 Cor 6:14-16, 1 Cor 7:39). However, even if a Christian is married to an unbeliever, the marriage is still sanctified in the sight of God (1 Cor 7:14).

3. Marriage is a covenant.

Malachi 2:14 tells us marriage is a covenant between two people. It is not just a piece of paper signed by a Justice of the Peace. God regards marriage seriously, as a covenant before Him and society as something to be honored until death.

Some Divorce is Permitted in Scripture

In most marriages, God doesn't permit divorce. There are some situations however, where God does permit a divorce to take place. In Jesus' day Rabbi Shammai restricted divorce to cases of adultery only, while Rabbi Hillel taught divorce was permitted for just about any reason. In Matthew 19:3-9, some Pharisees wanted Jesus to take a stand on the issue by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?" Jesus answered by quoting Genesis 2:22, "...they shall become one flesh. What God has joined together, let no man separate." They were looking for a cause to separate, and Jesus said to let no man separate.

The Pharisees then asked, "Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate and divorce her?" It should be pointed out Moses never commanded this. The Pharisees referred to Deut. 24:1-4, where Moses merely regulated and restricted something that had gotten out of hand. Jesus answered, "Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way." The Pharisees thought Moses commanded divorce, but Jesus said he only permitted it. They pointed back to Moses, but Jesus pushed it all the way back to Adam.

If some marriages are legitimate cases where divorce is permitted, where do we draw the line? Do we draw the line, or does God draw the line? Unfortunately today, we have drawn our own lines and erased God's line. We have allowed our own logic and sentimentalism to dictate our theology rather than God's Word. The divorce-court doors are smoking at the hinges as a result. As the Church continues to hide its light under a bushel, the divorce rate sky-rockets. In 1920, only 1 in 7 marriages ended in divorce. In 1940, 1 in 6; in 1960, 1 in 4; in 1972, 1 in 3; and today 1 in every 2 marriages end in divorce. Because we have made so many loopholes, the commitment of a marriage for life is no longer viewed as a covenant before God.

Biblical Reasons for Divorce

God intends for one man to be married to one woman until death separates them. "For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning her husband." (Rom 7:2) If her husband dies, she is free to marry another and is not guilty of adultery if she does so (Rom 7:3). There are a few other cases in which the marriage bond is dissolved.

First, the case of sexual immorality.

In Matt 19:9 Jesus said, "Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery." The Greek word for "immorality" is porneia from which we get the word pornography. Throughout the New Testament the term is used to describe illicit sexual relationships such as adultery, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, etc. In the case of immorality, Jesus is not commanding divorce but permitting it. The best response is repentance by the guilty party and forgiveness by the innocent party. However, if the person continues in sexual immorality, the innocent husband or wife is permitted to divorce and marry another.

In Matt 5:32, Jesus adds "and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." It is not only the divorced person who commits adultery, but also the person who is joined to her. John Murray, in his book Divorce and Remarriage, says that divorce does not dissolve the marriage bond except for the case of adultery. He writes, "If divorce involves dissolution of the marriage bond, then we should not expect that remarriage would be regarded as adultery." But Jesus does regard it as so, except for immorality.

Second, the case of the unbeliever departing.

In 1 Cor 7:12-15 we see that a brother or sister in Christ who is married to an unbeliever can be free from the bondage of marriage if the unbeliever leaves. It is the unbeliever who is to depart, not the believer. Verse 15 says the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases. It is debated what "not under bondage" means. Some teach that this couldn't mean legitimate divorce and freedom to remarry because Jesus only gave the one exception, which was immorality. Christ dealt with the question of putting away. Paul, on the other hand, speaks about willful desertion on the part of the unbeliever. There is a difference between putting away and irresponsible going away. Paul was aware of the Jesus' teaching and he taught many things by his authority as an apostle, which Jesus didn't teach. "Not under bondage" means the marriage bond is dissolved and the believer is free to remarry in the Lord.

Is Remarriage After Divorce Sin?

In the cases of sexual immorality and the unbeliever departing, divorce and remarriage is not sin. But there is another case where remarriage after divorce is permitted, and this is the case of a person who becomes a Christian after his or her divorce.

After a person is saved, he or she becomes a new creation in Christ Jesus. The old things are passed away (2 Cor. 5:17), and God gives the person a completely new start. In 1 Cor. 6:9-11, Paul addresses people who were formerly adulterers and says, "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 Christ." A lost person does not have the knowledge of God, "for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light." (Eph. 5:8). Because God holds us accountable from the point of salvation onward, this means when a person is born again, he or she is free to marry another believer.

If you have remarried and don't fit one of the above cases, God can still bless your marriage. Please go to our next study, Divorce and Remarriage, part 2.

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