Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible
By: Randall J. Runions
God hates Divorce as is recorded in Malachi 2:14-16. He hates it because it is the result of sin on manís part. It involves the unfaithfulness to the covenant of marriage the two partners had entered into. This always brings consequences to the partners in the marriage and the children when a divorce takes place. Divorce as mentioned in Scripture is only permitted as a result of manís sin. Divorce is not part of Godís original plan for marriage. All Christians should hate divorce as God does and it should only be allowed with scriptural allowances. We do not live in an ideal world therefore divorce is a reality. With Godís help even the most severe cases can survive the worst of sins. It needs to be understood that it will take both parties to agree in order to work it out. If one in the conjugal relationship does not want the relationship to work there is nothing the other party can do other than pray.
In Matthew 19:3-9, Christ gives clear teaching on divorce and instructs that it is an accommodation to manís sin that violated Godís original purpose for the intimate unity and permanence of the marriage bond Genesis 2:24. Jesus taught that divorce was only allowed because of the "hardness of manís heart" Matthew 19:9. Legal divorce was a concession for the faithful partner of the relationship due to the sexual sin, desertion or abandonment by the sinning partner. This freed the faithful partner who was no more considered bound to the marriage Matthew 5:32; 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:12-15. (Although Jesus did say that divorce is permitted in some situations, we must remember that His primary point in this teaching was to correct the Jewish ideas that they could divorce one another for any cause as was taught by Rabbi Hillel Matthew 19:3 and to show them gravity of pursuing a sinful divorce.) If two people are Christians divorce should never be an option in the relationship. If divorce is to ever be considered there are only specific circumstances that will warrant it, and it should be done as a last resort where there is no other recourse. These considerations will be discussed later.
The New Testament Grounds for Divorce
The only grounds for divorce in the New Testament are 1) Sexual sins and 2) Desertion by an unbeliever. The first ground is found in Matthew 5:32; 19:9. This is a Greek word porneia. We get the English word pornography from this same word. This word encompassed sexual sins such as adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, incest and other disgusting sexual sins such as the internet has provided to our homes. When one partner violates the unity and intimacy of the marriage by this sin, it forsakes the covenant (promise) obligation. The faithful partner has been placed into a difficult situation. The faithful partner is not to be punished because of the deeds of the guilty party. If all means have been exhausted to bring the guilty party to repentance, the Bible grants a release or divorce for the faithful partner. We are living in a time when sexual sins abound and remaining in the relationship could through disease bring death to the faithful partner.
The second reason granting divorce in the New Testament is one that is often ignored or overlooked. It is in the case where an unbelieving mate does not desire to live with their believing spouse I Corinthians 7:12-15. Because "God has called us to peace" v. 15 divorce is allowed and may be preferable in this situation. When a unbelieving partner desires to leave, how in the world do you think you can make them stay? Is one to beg and plead for them to stay when they have no desire whatsoever to remain in the relationship? Remember that it is because of your Christian testimony they want to leave in the first place. Trying to keep them in the relationship will only create tension and conflict. The unbelieving spouse may even call on the faithful to violate the principles of Scripture as a condition for the unregenerate to stay in the marriage relationship when in the end they will leave anyway. Remember it is always better to obey God rather than man. If the unbeliever leaves the marital relationship permanently but is not willing to file for divorce, perhaps because of lifestyle, irresponsibility, or to avoid monetary obligations, then the believer is in an impossible situation of having legal and moral obligations that they cannot fulfill. Because "the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases" 1 Corinthians 7:15 and is therefore no longer obligated to remain married, the believer may file for the divorce without fear of displeasing God. This is where ignorance often rushes in and begins to blame the faithful partner but God does not.
The Possibility of Remarriage
Remarriage is permitted for the faithful partner only when the divorce is on biblical grounds. In fact, the purpose for the biblical divorce is to make clear that the faithful partner is free to remarry, but only in the Lord Romans 7:1-3, 1 Corinthians 7:39. Divorce is death to a marriage. When the innocent party remarries they are never pictured in Scripture as being polygamist, bigamist, or having another living spouse as some may state.
Those who divorce on any other grounds have sinned against God and their partners, and for them to marry another is considered an act of "adultery" Mark 10:11-12. This is not a state of adultery nor are they living in adultery. This is why I Corinthians 7:10-11 states that a believing woman who sinfully divorces should "remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband." If this woman genuinely repents then the outward expression of her repentance would be to seek reconciliation with her former husband Matthew 5:23-24. The same holds true for the man who divorces on unbiblical reasons 1 Corinthians 7:11. The only permissible way that such a person could remarry and not violate Scripture is, for the former spouse to remarry, proves to be and unbeliever, or the former mate dies. These cases would make reconciliation impossible. Neither should one go back to their former mate who has remarried and expect them to leave there then present spouse as some have suggested.
The Bible also gives a word of caution to one who is considering marriage to a divorcee. If the divorce was not on grounds established by Scripture and there is any possibility of reconciliation the person who married this divorcee is considered an adulterer Mark 10:12.
The Churches Role in the Matter of Divorce
If a Christian pursues a divorce on any ground other than Biblical, they will be subject to the discipline of the church. The reason behind this is they have openly rejected the teachings of Scripture. If one claims to be Christian and belongs to the local assembly then they are asking for church discipline. The one who obtains the divorce on unbiblical grounds and remarries are guilty of adultery. God did not permit the original divorce in the first place Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:11-12. The steps of church discipline are outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. It is my personal belief that, if the church would become more involved in marriages and helping families stay together, less divorces would occur. The church could also be of assistance in determining the innocent and guilty party. This could be of great encouragement to the faithful for we live in a time of much finger pointing. In the event that the divorce goes on ahead and takes place, the church could uphold the innocent, faithful partner and bring discipline to the guilty partner. This would let the faithful partner have the blessings of the church and not be seen as not doing enough to preserve the marriage. If the guilty professing Christian violates the marriage covenant and refuses to repent the Scripture instruct that they should be treated as a unbeliever and put out of the church. That means removed from the church roll v.17. In this situation then the faithful partner would be free to divorce according to the provision for divorce as stated in 1 Corinthians 7:15. Before a divorce occurs under this situation reasonable time should be allowed in case there is any possibility for the unfaithful spouse to return due to the church practicing discipline. The ultimate reason for church discipline is for the guilty to repent.
I believe that the leadership in the local assembly should help the single believers who have gone through the pains of divorce to biblically understand their situation, especially in the cases where biblical teachings do not seem clear. The leadership may need to decide whether either or both of the partners could be considered Christians at the time of their previous divorce. This application will affect their current situation 1 Corinthians 7:17-24. We live in a mobile society and there are people who will be transferring from one church to another. Most churches do not practice church discipline. It could be possible that the leadership of the church could decide whether the estranged, or former spouse of the church member, was considered a Christian or unbeliever because of continued disobedience. In some cases this would affect the biblical principles established in 1 Corinthians 7:15; 2 Corinthians 6:14.
According to 1 Corinthians 7:20-27, there is nothing in salvation that demands a particular social or marital status. The Apostle Paul, therefore, instructs believers to recognize that God in his providence allows the circumstances they find themselves in when they come to Christ. If they became saved while married, then they are not required to seek a divorce (even though divorce may be permitted on biblical grounds). If they were saved while divorced, and cannot be reconciled to their former spouse because that spouse is an unbeliever or is remarried, then they are free to either remain single or be remarried to another believer 1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:16.
Repentance and Forgiveness
In cases where divorce took place on unbiblical grounds and the guilty partner later repents, the grace of God is in effect at the point of repentance. A sign of true repentance will be a desire to follow 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, which would involve a willingness to pursue reconciliation with their former spouse, if that is possible. If reconciliation is not possible, however, because the former spouse is an unbeliever or is remarried, then the forgiven believer could pursue another relationship under the careful guidance and counsel of the churches leadership.
In cases where a believer obtained a divorce on unbiblical grounds and remarried, he or she is guilty of adultery until that sin is confessed Mark 10:11-12 and there is nothing in Scripture to indicate anything other than that. From that point on the believer should continue in his or her current marriage.
This is in no way to be considered an exhaustive study on the topic but will be further discussed at a latter time.
Randall Runions, pastor
317 Church Street
Po Box 161
Clifton, Tn 38425