Many people, even Christians, have serious questions about divorce and remarriage. What is the biblical view of divorce and remarriage? When may a person divorce a spouse and remarry another? Does God permit a divorced person to remarry while their former spouse is still alive?
We live in a broken world, and everything in this world is broken as well. In the beginning, God created a perfect world and declared it all “very good” (Genesis 1:31). However, when man sinned, all the basic parameters of life set forth in Genesis chapters 1 & 2 – man’s dominion over creation; gender identity and roles; the value and sanctity of human life; love, marriage and child-rearing, have been damaged.
If you are in this situation, you should acknowledge that you’ve sinned, confess it and seek God’s forgiveness. You should not separate and attempt to return to your first partner after entering a second union. While it is not the ideal state, God wills for a couple to stay in their second marriage and they should not feel less loved by God.
Biblical View of Divorce and Remarriage
But of all God’s ordinances and institutions marred by sin, none bears the mark of damage as much as marriage. You may be surprised to know that the greatest threat to marriages not only in the west but everywhere else in the world is not homosexuality, same-sex marriages or premarital sex, but rather divorce.
Yes, divorce represents one of the major problems facing homes today. So prevalent is divorce today that Christians who regularly go to church divorce at the same rate and percentage as non-churched individuals. This is really alarming and should cause a major concern among church leaders.
Marriage is an earthly institution ordained by God Himself and that is why from the dawn of human history, marriage has held a special place in the heart of God. We find God’s design for marriage in Genesis 2:18-25. This passage describes the original marriage as the basis for almost everything else the Bible says about marriage.
God designed marriage to be a monogamous, lifetime commitment between one man and one woman; it is a lifelong union of flesh and spirit (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5 & Ephesians 5:31). Marriage is a covenant; not a contract.
Jesus described the relationship between husband and wife this way in Matthew 19:6: “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Jesus reminds us that in the beginning God joined man and woman together.
Marriage, created by God as a “one-flesh” union, is meant to be a sign of God’s unbreakable covenant with us. Throughout Scriptures, God is compared to a husband and God’s people to a wife.
Marriage is used to illustrate the relationship between God and the nation of Israel (Ezekiel 16:8). The union between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32) is used to illustrate the relationship between husband and wife in marriage. It is a solemn, binding agreement entered into on the basis of an oath or a pledge.
And although we see that polygamy is sometimes practiced in the Old Testament, the Bible makes is perfectly clear that marriage as God designed it is between one man and one woman for as long as both of them remain alive (Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:39).
Malachi 2:16 says that God hates divorce. Why? Going back up to Malachi 2:15, God clearly explains His reasons for esteeming marriage so highly. God says it was He who “made them one.” Marriage was God’s idea. He designed it so He gets to define it. Any deviation from His design is abhorrent to Him.
As mentioned earlier, marriage is a covenant; not a contract. Marriage is meant to be a special covenant between a man, a woman and God. Divorce destroys the whole concept of covenant that is so important to God.
Another reason why God hates divorce is because it tears the very heart of God’s redemptive plan for the world. When the Pharisees asked Jesus in Matthew 19:3-6 if it “is lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason,” it’s interesting how Jesus answers by pointing them to God’s original design for marriage:
And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Is there any scriptural ground for divorce? While divorce is always contrary to God’s intentions, it is permitted in certain circumstances. The Bible only explicitly allows divorce for two reasons.
In Matthew 5:32 and again in Matthew 19:9, Jesus proceeded to state one exception in which case divorce is permissible: sexual immorality or infidelity or marital unfaithfulness (termed fornication in another translation) on the part of one’s spouse.
The Greek word translated “marital unfaithfulness” is a word which can mean any form of sexual immorality such as fornication, adultery, prostitution, etc. Since sexual relations are an integral part of the marital bond, any breaking of that bond by sexual relations outside marriage might be a permissible reason for divorce.
The apostle Paul adds a second exception in instances where an unbelieving spouse abandons the marriage. This would typically be the case when one of the couple is converted to Christ at some point after marriage and the other person refuses to continue in the marriage (See 1 Corinthians 7).
In any case, however, divorce is not mandated or even encouraged! Although divorce is permitted in unusual and extreme cases such as where the sinning spouse persists in an adulterous relationship, divorce was not in the original plan.
Divorce is expressly denied for the immediate purpose of marrying someone else. Therefore, divorce should never be considered as a reason to marry someone else. If at all possible, forgiveness and reconciliation should be extended and pursued. When faced with challenging marital circumstances, divorce should be the last option.
Christian counselor Leslie Vernick emphasizes that there is a difference between a difficult or disappointing marriage and a destructive marriage. She goes on to point out that we must not seek divorce simply because we are not getting everything we want out of our marriages.
If you have such high expectations, no one can ever live up to that. Vernick believes that a disappointing or difficult marriage is not a ground for divorce but rather a ground for faithfulness.
Why then are there divorces? Jesus explained it this way in Matthew 19:8: “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.”
God recognizes that divorce will occur, even among His children. But did Jesus have remarriage in mind when He permitted divorce? Does the Bible allow remarriage after divorce?
While many Christians still hold to the prevailing Protestant view that remarriage after divorce is Biblically sanctioned in cases where divorce resulted from desertion or persistent adultery, I believe that the New Testament prohibits all remarriage, except where a spouse has died.
Listed below are the biblical texts in support of the view that all remarriage after divorce is prohibited while both spouses are alive.
1) Matthew 5:32 reaffirms that marriage after divorce is adultery, even for those who have been divorced innocently. It does not teach that remarriage is lawful in some cases.
“But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” – Matthew 5:32
This seems to be a clear statement that remarriage is wrong not merely when a person is guilty in the process of divorce, but also when a person is innocent. Jesus is opposed to remarriage based on the unbreakableness of the marriage bond by anything but death.
2) Matthew 19:3-8 and Mark 10:2-9 teach that Jesus rejected the Pharisees’ justification for divorce from Deuteronomy 24:1. Instead, He asserted the original purpose of God in creation that no human being shall separate what God has joined together.
And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female.”– Matthew 19:4 (See also Genesis 1:27.)
Jesus criticizes the Pharisees’ failure to recognize in the book of Moses God’s deepest and original intention for marriage. He then goes on to quote Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 to raise the standard of marriage for His disciples to God’s original design for marriage in creation.
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” – Mark 10:7-8 (See also Genesis 2:24.)
Jesus is saying that none of us should try to undo the “one flesh” relationship which God has united.
3) Luke 16:18 calls all remarriage after divorce adultery.
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.” – Luke 16:18
There are no exceptions mentioned in this verse. Instead, we see Jesus clearly rejecting the common cultural conception of divorce as including the right of remarriage.
The second half of the verse also shows that it’s not only the divorcing man who is guilty of adultery when he remarries, but also any man who marries a divorced woman.
4) 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 teaches that divorce is wrong but that if it is inevitable, the person who divorces should remain unmarried.
Paul seems to be aware that separation will be inevitable in certain instances. Perhaps he has in mind a situation of desertion, brutality or unrepentant sexual immorality. In such a case, he is saying that a person who feels constrained to separate should not seek remarriage but remain single.
Paul reinforces the authority of this statement by saying he has a word from the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:10). In short, his interpretation of Jesus’ saying is that remarriage should not be pursued.
“Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.” – 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
These verses look very much like Mark 10:11-12 as it addresses both the wife and the husband. Remarriage also seems to be excluded by verse 11 the same way it is excluded in Mark 10:11-12.
5) Romans 7:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 7:39 teach that remarriage is allowed only after the death of a spouse.
“Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? 2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.” – Romans 7:1-3
“A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 7:39
Both of these passages explicitly say that a woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive. There are no exceptions mentioned whatsoever that suggests she could be free from her husband to remarry on any other basis.
6) 1 Corinthians 7:15 (NIV) does not say that a Christian who was deserted by an unbelieving spouse is free to remarry. It simply says that he or she is not under any obligation to fight for their marriage. Separation is allowed if the unbelieving partner insists on it.
“But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.” – 1 Corinthians 7:15 (NIV)
Note: The phrase “is not bound” should not be construed to mean “is free to remarry.”
Although divorce is permissible in extreme and unusual cases, divorce was never God’s will. Jesus emphasizes that marriage is a lifelong commitment between the husband and wife.
If they divorce, then neither he nor she may remarry as long as the former partner is alive, because the first marriage covenant still stands as long as both are alive. From God’s point of view, there is no such thing as divorce.
Since marriage is a “one-flesh” relationship divinely established by God and of extraordinary significance in His eyes, it follows that only God, not man can end it. This is why remarriage is called adultery by Jesus; He assumes that the first marriage is still binding for as long as the spouse remains alive.
Divorce & Remarriage: 4 views
When it comes to divorce and remarriage, everyone appeals to Scripture but no one agrees on what it says. In this book, four Christian thinkers (J. Carl Laney, William Heth, Thomas Edgar, and Larry Richards) debate the more perplexing points. Each essayist presents his own view and critiques the others. Case studies apply theories to real-life situations. Contributors are J. Carl Laney, William A. Heth, Thomas R. Edgar, and Larry Richards. Paperback.
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