Questions about Divorce And Remarriage

This subject has become controversial, especially in this generation, but the Bible has very definite answers to the problem. In our society it is very easy to obtain a divorce, but just because society accepts it does not make it right in the eyes of God. Because divorce is so widespread even among evangelicals today, the issue can no longer be ignored. There is a pressing need for clear Scriptural teaching on the subject. Our sympathy goes out to those already involved in a marital disaster, but we write with the hope of helping others to avoid the tragedy of divorce.

Divorce and remarriage is not a new subject. There is probably no one today who has not been touched by the tragedy of divorce and its repercussions. Most of us agree that the Bible teaches marriage was designed by God to be permanent until death. The teaching of Jesus is clear when He stated, "what therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." It is not our intent to be narrow-minded and bigoted on this subject, but rather to reflect the clear, consistent teaching of the Bible. It needs to be understood at the onset of this study that we are not down on divorced people. God is in the business of restoring all fallen men and that includes all of us. The Lord forgives the sin of divorce and remarriage just the same as He forgives any other sin. But remember that God expects the sin to be discontinued. God never compromises the issue of sin. When a drunkard gets right with God, the Lord expects him to quit his drinking. Perhaps we would not see so much divorce within the body of Christ today, if so many pastors, teachers, and Christian writers did not take such a mild approach concerning the subject.

Because of the numerous Scriptures that deal with this subject, we have listed the questions most often asked and the Scriptures that apply.

1. Can I know for certain that God has joined my marriage together?

When two people enter into a marriage lawfully God recognizes this action. Though they may term their marriage unsuccessful, they are still one flesh and will remain one flesh as long as they both live. Matthew 19:4, 5 reads, "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'." Genesis 2:24, "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and thy shall be one flesh." Genesis 2:24 is the only statement in the Bible about marriage that is repeated four times. (See: Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7; Ephesians 5:31). There are some things which automatically take place when an unmarried man and woman come together in the covenant relationship of marriage. One is that God binds them. Psychologists say (and we have witnessed this) that the marriage bond with the first mate is a strong one that can hardly be broken. This applies to all people, not just Christians. Even though people go through the act of divorce, if they are honest they will admit that they still have a tender spot in their hearts for that first mate. We do not understand how this comes about, but neither did Paul. In Ephesians he calls it a mystery. Marriage is symbolic of the union between Christ and the Church. In this symbolism we see absolutely no room for divorce. If it would fit in, we would have to say that in eternity there would be a possibility of us being cast out again. Since the marriage union is a picture of the permanent relationship between Christ and His Church, the marriage union itself must be permanent.

Marriage was ordained by God for all people, not just Christians. John the Baptist recognized this when he condemned Herod for violating God's marriage laws. From this incident we understand that marriages before salvation are binding, Matthew 14:3, 4. Even though the Pharisees were not Christians, Jesus told them they were responsible for obeying God's marriage laws, Matthew 19:3-9.

2. What if I have married the wrong person?

Once you are married, that person becomes the right person. God will perfect the character of Christ in us for honoring His Word. God's Word does not change to meet the circumstances of our lives. God is more than willing to work through whatever relationship we are in, in order to bring us to perfection and into the image of His Son.

One of the causes for an unsuitable marriage partner is a hasty marriage. Only a miracle can prevent a tragedy in the home when people marry, after they've known each other only a few weeks. Too many couples marry first and only then get acquainted.

God's Word is plain that believers and non-believers should not marry. This is bound to bring problems to a marriage especially if the believer wishes to remain in fellowship with the Lord, II Corinthians 6:14-18. I Corinthians Chapter 7 deals with God's plan for staying in a marriage that may be less than desirable.

3. Is death the only means by which a marriage can be dissolved?

Romans the 7th chapter, makes it very plain (as also does the teaching of Jesus) that we are bound to the law until our death. This directly refers to the great truth of redemption. If we could be married to Christ without our 'old self' dying (our old master), there would have been no need for Christ to die for us, enabling us to enter into His death. If we change the marriage standard, we change the truth of God's great redemption plan. God always used the natural to bring out the spiritual application. Thus in Romans 7, He emphasizes this Scriptural truth by referring to the sinfulness of a woman remarrying while her husband is still living. It plainly states here that the woman is bound by the law as long as her husband lives. No exceptions. If she chooses to remarry, the Bible plainly states that she is an adulteress. If a woman's husband dies, she is released from the marital relationship. Death, and death alone, affords release from the bond of marriage. The question is then asked, "but doesn't God forgive the act of adultery." Yes He does! But forgiveness comes when sin is no longer in operation in our lives. Remember what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more." Jesus made it very plain in this passage that we are not to continue in sin. The release from sin comes when we quit sinning. Romans the 7th chapter, explains the believer's release from the law, while at the same time revealing the permanence of the marriage union. We must understand that Paul was affirming the teaching of Jesus in Romans the 7th chapter. We also need to understand that the woman is not the only one bound by this marital code. Jesus said, "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. God demands purity among believers. "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God," I Corinthians 6:9-11. God never leaves us without a way of escape. Praise God that we can be clean through our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus declared marriage to be a divinely ordained relationship, thus giving God, alone, the right and power to appoint the beginning and end of marriage. Until the marriage is broken by the death of one of the partners, the couple should heed the words of Jesus, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."

4. What if my spouse is physically abusing me? Do I have to remain in this marriage? Surely this justifies divorce.

Jesus in His writings gives no biblical grounds for divorce. The Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 7:10, 11 gives instruction to one who might wish to depart from a marriage. He emphasizes that the command is from the Lord. He makes it plain that no departure should take place, but if it does, that person should remain unmarried or be reconciled to (her) husband. Remember that Jesus surely encountered all of the problems we face today, such as physical abuse, marital infidelity, or any of the numerous problems, yet He never addressed or made allowances for any of these problems. As painful as it may be, God's intent is for these problems to be worked out. If physical abuse is taking place the provision would be a separation from the spouse inflicting the abuse, but with no thought of divorce and remarriage. ("For a Christian husband or wife, divorce is excluded by the law of Christ: here Paul has no need to express judgment of his own, for the Lordís ruling on this matter was explicit," F.F. Bruce.) Paul taught what Jesus taught on divorce and remarriage.

5. Didn't Jesus forgive the woman caught in adultery, and didn't He recognize the "husbands" of the Samaritan woman? (John 8:3-11; John 4:7-18)

Yes, indeed, Jesus extended forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery. However, He did tell her to go and sin no more, implying that if she continued in her same lifestyle she would still be living in adultery.

In speaking to the Samaritan woman, Jesus addressed the sin she was involved in at that time, living with a man she was not married to. It needs to be pointed out here that God's law always takes precedence over civil law. Jesus did not in any way condone the five marriages, He simply pointed out this woman's sin and her need of salvation. It cannot be argued that legal divorce dissolves a marriage. If that were true perhaps there would have been no need for John the Baptist to have lost his head defending the principle of only one marriage. He told Herod that it was not lawful for him to have his brother's wife. In both God's eyes and John's, that second (third, fourth, fifth) marriage was not lawful. Remember there were lax divorce laws at the time of Christ just as there are today.

6. Because my spouse divorced me and no longer serves God he/she is spiritually dead.

No where in God's Word is the marriage union between physical man and woman spiritualized. In Matthew 19:5, 6, Jesus referred to the original plan found in Genesis 2:24. Here we find a physical man being joined to a physical woman and becoming one flesh, not one spirit. We are married in this flesh and the Bible deals with this subject pertaining to our flesh. According to Paul's teaching, a marriage union is not altered in any way by one of the partners becoming a Christian. Nor does it alter the marriage vow just because one partner decides to quit serving God. (See I Corinthians 7:12-16). The Apostle Paul spoke explicitly concerning marriage in Ephesians chapter 5. In verse 31 he reiterated once again the original plan; "...and they two shall be one flesh" (not spirit). In the next verse he refers to that great spiritual marriage between Christ and the Church! Oh, what a glorious day that will be! Let us remember that we are now in the type physical) looking forward to the antitype. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. . . . For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Cor. 15:50, 53).

7. Didn't the Apostle Paul say we are not in bondage if an unbelieving spouse departs? Are we free to remarry then? I Corinthians 7:12-16

This passage is dealing with a Christian whose unbelieving spouse left because he or she did not want to live with a Christian. These scriptures do not speak of remarriage. If they did they would be a contradiction to the rest of the chapter.

Many people use this word "bondage" to mean that they are legally free to marry another, but in the Greek, this word "bond" refers to the obligations that are ours to perform toward our marriage partner. "Not under bondage" simply means that person is no longer under obligation to the other person. If the statement Paul used in verse 15 (a brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases) means that they were free to marry someone else, why did he firmly state in verse 10 and 11 that they were to remain unmarried? Would not these two statements contradict one another. And would not Paul be showing respect of persons if he gave permission for some to remarry, when just a few verses before, he said the Lord commanded they would have to remain unmarried or be reconciled to their spouse? If a husband leaves his wife she is no longer bound by civil law to her husband, but she is still under God's law. (Romans 7:2, 3). Paul is saying that the woman is not under bondage to obey her husband any longer, but she still must obey God's commands. I Corinthians Chapter 7 clearly teaches singleness, not remarriage. Paul was just as much against divorce as was John the Baptist, Jesus, and every true believer should be. Why? Because divorce is man's way, not God's way.

8. What about the exception clause Jesus spoke of, and doesn't this free the innocent party to remarry?

The word "fornication" is used in the exception clause (Matthew 19: 9). The term "except it be for fornication" is often used as permission for remarriage. The word fornication is used in a number of other passages throughout the Bible. We can understand from these other passages that fornication is sexual sin. The exception clause has to do with fornication, and not with adultery. Fornication means illicit relations on the part of the unmarried, while adultery means illicit relations on the part of the married. It is true that the Greek word translated "fornication" sometimes widens out to include all kinds of immorality, but in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, Jesus uses both the words "adultery" and "fornication" in the same sentence. And whenever the two Greek words stand in contrast to each other in the same setting, the word "fornication" always refers to impurity among the unmarried. Notice that Jesus did not make an exception in these passages for adultery, but for fornication. Notice also that these verses were not in Christ's original answer to the deceptive question of the Pharisees. Obviously the Pharisees did not really want to do God's will or they would have accepted the creation account of one flesh. The word fornication cannot mean the same as adultery in these passages.

The man in the Corinthian Church who married his father's wife was condemned by Paul for his incestuous relationship. His sin is named as porneia (fornication) in I Corinthians 5:1. Incestuous marriages are condemned in Leviticus 18.

A marriage between two men or two women was also condemned as an illegal marriage in Leviticus 18:22. The word ekporneuo (fornication) is used for sodomy in Jude 7.

In the time of Christ, an engaged couple was considered to be legally married. To break the engagement would, therefore, require a legal divorce. While Joseph and Mary were still engaged, but before they had physically consummated their marriage, Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph loved Mary and did not want to make her a public example, he considered quietly divorcing her. (Matthew 1:18-20.)

Christ's exception clause in Matthew 5 and 19 certainly referred to the three cases listed above. (Rebuilder's Guide: Institute in Basic Life Principles).

What about the innocent party? What about the husband or wife who decides to leave and the other really tries to work things out between them? If we would be honest, we would have to say that there is hardly ever a case where the blame rests completely upon one person. But even if that was the case, we still have to apply God's standards to the existing problem. The problem with thinking innocent party is that it tends to make us feel justified when considering remarriage. If we insist On using "innocent" party for remarriage we must apply it to other situations in life as well. What about those who are suffering in concentration camps around the world? What about those who lose a mate through death and never find someone else to marry? If, in our hearts, we begin to question God about "fairness" we tread on dangerous ground. (See Ezekiel 18:25). This kind of thinking borders on the "universal salvation" doctrine and we soon begin to feel that there is no such thing as the judgment of God. After all, God is a loving God, and He is not going to punish anyone.

Jesus, in Matthew 5:32, does not say there is an innocent party. He simply states, that whether husband or wife divorces and marries another, they are committing adultery. When all scriptures are prayerfully considered we must conclude that marital unfaithfulness does not apply to the "exception clause."

9. Since God divorced Israel shouldn't I be able to divorce my mate also?

We have to understand that God was using a metaphor or figure of speech when he said to Israel, "And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also," Jeremiah 3:8. Because of Israel's violations of the conditional covenant made with God, He sent them away into exile. We realize this was figurative rather than literal when God declared, "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you; and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion," Jeremiah 3:14. Israel's separation from God was a result of her own sin and not because God had forsaken them. The same applies today. We break fellowship with God and bring all kinds of problems on ourselves when we disobey. Read Isaiah 50:1. God dealt with Israel to bring her to repentance, not to cut her off forever. The important point here is to note that God has never looked for another wife for Himself. Rather, He is looking forward to the time when He will "take away her sins," Romans 11:27.

There are two points to remember about God divorcing Israel:

a. Israel continued, time after time, to commit adultery. She had a real problem with idol (Baal) worship. She was not true to her Husband. Yet He forgave her time after time, until He could not tolerate her sins any longer.

b. Even though He could not tolerate her sins any longer and divorced her, He still longed for her to be holy and looked forward to the day when she would see her wretched state and He would receive her back unto Himself.

"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them," Ezekiel 36:26, 27.

10. Is a divorced person qualified for the ministry? (1 Timothy3: 1-13; Titus 1:5-9)

Since God has called us to holiness, that theme should pervade every area of our life. First of all, the marriage standard is not the only prerequisite for serving in the ministry. The first qualification given by Paul, is that the elder must be above reproach. Paul goes on to instruct the elder to be the "husband of one wife." What does I Timothy 3:2 mean when it says the husband of "one" wife? Strong's Concordance #3391 renders one or first. ONE: mia (Greek) pronounced mee'ah. The implication of the Greek word mia (our English word "one") is: first. It's a primary numeral and that number is the beginning number in counting -- one. There are obviously no numbers before "one," and any number after is plural, and not the beginning. The Old Testament gives instruction to who may serve in the priesthood. See Leviticus chapters 21 and 22. God made it very plain in these passages that He required holiness among those who served in leadership. The Old Testament sets the precedent in requiring that the priests, the spiritual leaders of the people, be above reproach in their marital relationship. We can see this carried over into the New Testament qualifications for the elders and deacons.

It is well to realize that Paul in these New Testament passages is setting forth qualifications for office, not simply goals for which those in office are to strive. "An overseer, then must be . . . ." This implies that only those who meet the standards should be considered for appointment to the office. It seems obvious that all men do not meet these qualifications, hence the need for the guidelines set forth in scripture. This is not to say that God cannot use men in other areas of Christian service.

It is argued that as long as a divorced person does not remarry (remains the husband of one wife) he is eligible for the office of elder. The two primary objections to this way of thinking are: 1 An elder or deacon must be above reproach. 2. An elder or deacon must manage his household well. Divorce would seem to indicate that something went wrong in the household and the man, who as the God-given authority, did not rule his house well. We find no record in the New Testament of any divorced person being permitted to serve in a leadership position.

Our attitude toward divorced people should never be one of superiority. We should always extend God's love and forgiveness to those caught in this situation. This does not mean that we condone the sin, but rather bring the truth of God's Word in a gentle and loving way. We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give account. May our hearts be clean and free in every area of our lives.

-- written by Paul Woods, leader of the Seventh Day Church of God, Box 804, Caldwell, Idaho 83606-0804. (Mr. Woods is distinguished by being one of the few Church leaders who upholds the indissolubility of marriage.)


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