DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE
Warren R. King
Few subjects stir the emotions like the subject of marriage, divorce and
remarriage. It cuts to the core of our most intimate relationships and touches
virtually every family to some degree. For these reasons, many refuse to discuss
the issue at all. Others search for easy and painless solutions to complicated
and often sinful situations. Neither approach serves the cause of truth.
THE IDEAL VS. MODERNISM
Most Christians are aware of God's ideal plan for marriage. From the early
chapters of Genesis we learn: (1) that we are created in God's image, on
a higher moral plane than animals, (2) that God ordained the marriage
relationship, (3) that marriage is between a man and a woman, (4)
that to marry is to "cleave," implying a life-long commitment, and
(5) that in marriage we can enjoy the richest blessings of companionship
and sexual fulfillment.
This Biblical ideal stands in sharp contrast to the modern view of marriage.
Basing their ideas on humanist philosophies (atheism, evolution, moral
relativism, etc.), many view marriage as a relic of antiquity – a product of
societal evolution. Others are attempting to redefine the very concept of
marriage, in an effort to justify homosexual and lesbian relationships. Still
others view marriage as a curse – an unwelcome hindrance to a selfish lifestyle.
In view of these perceptions, we are not surprised to find that divorce, to
many, is a readily accepted alteration to a "bad marriage." Having long since
abandoned Biblical authority, they feel free to divorce and remarry at will.
The real heartbreak, however, comes in knowing that many Christians are
following the same path. Few do so by an outright rejection of Biblical
authority. Most seek to justify divorce and remarriage on more sophisticated
grounds, arguing a variety of different views from a variety of different
passages, but all having the same result: the loosening of God's plain law on
divorce and remarriage.
The pivotal New Testament text on the subject is Matthew 19:9. "And I
say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication,
and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is
put away doth commit adultery." In this passage Jesus considers two
possible scenarios. The outcome of either one is an adulterous relationship.
The first scenario is simple. Whoever (Christian or non-Christian) shall
put away (send away, boot her out) his wife, and marry another, commits
adultery. The only exception to this rule is the putting away of an unfaithful
spouse. In such a case, the next marriage would not fall under the condemnation
The second scenario is equally simple. Whoso (Christian or non-Christian)
shall marry a person who has been put away (sent away, booted out), commits
adultery – no exception.
One would seem hard-pressed to find any loopholes in such plain language, but
multitudes attempt it. Their efforts range from the absurd to the plausible, yet
all seek to do an "end-run" around God's simple law. This is not to say that all
such are dishonest. It is simply to say there are two types of seekers in the
world: those who are seeking truth, and those who are seeking an excuse. At all
costs, we must be numbered among the truth-seekers. Searching for an excuse to
justify an unlawful relationship is a sure sign of a hardened heart.
When preaching the simple truth on Matthew 19:9, one may be accused of being
factious or contentious. Some, indeed, are guilty of preaching truth with a bad
disposition. The answer, however, is not to stop preaching truth, but to preach
in meekness (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
Similarly, one may be accused of not showing enough love, but again the solution
is not to cease preaching the truth. In fact, love rejoices in the truth (1 Cor.
13:6); thus, we should speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
Others admonish us to preach only the positive, inspirational aspects of
marriage – but faithful preaching of the gospel demands warning and rebuke as
well as exhortation (2 Tim. 4:2). Considering the current trends, warning on
this subject is needed everywhere, and rebuke is needed in many places.
We are told not to judge, and objectors quote Matthew 7:1. The same objectors
fail to consider the next four verses (which clarify the subject as hypocritical
judging), on the plain command of Jesus in John 7:24 to "judge righteous
OBJECTIONS BASED ON MATTHEW 19
Some claim that nothing is said in Matthew 19:9 about the guilty party
remarrying. On the contrary, a guilty party who puts away his innocent wife is
forbidden to remarry per the first clause. A guilty party who is put away is
forbidden to remarry per the second clause. So much for the guilty party.
Others claim that Jesus is simply clarifying the Mosaic code on divorce and
remarriage, implying that it is not a part of the gospel, however, the context
strongly suggests otherwise. The Mosaic law gave permission for divorce under
certain circumstances because of the hardness of their hearts (vss. 7-8). The
code which Jesus offered in verse 9 is clearly on a higher plane and more
restrictive than the Mosaic code (note the disciples' surprise in verse 10).
Still others find solace in verse 11, "All men cannot receive this
saying." They interpret this phrase to mean that not everyone is able to
abide by the teaching of verse 9, thus, Jesus nullified His own law. Such
absurdities are characteristic of those searching for an excuse. Again, the
context suggests that in verse 11 Jesus is commenting on the subject of
celibacy, not the law of verse 9.
Some would say the "whosoever" is not really referring to the
whole world, but only to Christians. The implication is that non-Christians are
free to divorce and remarry at will. Some of this persuasion believe that
non-Christians are not under any law; others believe that non-Christians are
under a general moral law. Both teach that non-Christians are not subject to the
law of Christ. In response, consider: 1) Jesus has all authority (Matt. 28:18),
(2) the gospel is addressed to all (Mk. 16:15), (3) the words of Christ will be
the standard of judgement (Jn. 12:48), (4) disobedience to the gospel will be
the basis of punishment (2 Thess. 1:7-9), and 5) God at one time tolerated
ignorance, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).
OBJECTIONS BASED ON 1 CORINTHIANS 7
Quoting from verses 17, 20 and 24, some argue that individuals who are in an
adulterous marriage upon becoming Christians, are justified in staying in that
relationship. The immediate context, however, is clearly focused on non-sinful
options: single vs. married, married to an unbeliever vs. married to a believer,
circumcised vs. uncircumcised, slave vs. free. By no stretch of the imagination
can these verses be used to justify a sinful relationship (shades of Romans
Others focus on verse 15, stating that "not under bondage" means
that an abandoned spouse has a right to remarry. Besides contradicting the
simple law of Christ in Matthew 19:9, this view forces a definition on the word
"bondage" (Greek douloo) which is nowhere else found in scripture,
despite its very common usage. In the context, Paul is not referring to the
marriage bond (Greek deo – vss. 27, 39, Rom. 7:2), but to a virtual slavery, by
which a sincere Christian woman might feel compelled to chase after the husband
which has deserted her.
OBJECTIONS ON DEFINITIONS
On the concept of forgiveness, some argue that God is able to forgive all
sin, even adultery. Certainly, no one disagrees with this. But the implication
is that individuals who have violated God's law on divorce and remarriage simply
need to ask forgiveness. Nothing more, they say is required. Notice, however,
that forgiveness is always conditioned on repentance. Whether a non-Christian
(Acts 2:38), or a Christian (Acts 8:22), repentance is required – and while the
technical definition of repentance involves a change of mind, the practical
definition involves a change of behavior (Matt. 3:8), including any restitution
(Lk. 19:8) or altering of current lifestyle (Ezra 10:1-4). Some of the
Corinthians had been adulterers. They became Christians and were justified
(implying forgiveness), but they were also sanctified (implying right living – 1
Cor. 6:9-11). Some today want justification without sanctification.
The term "adultery" is often misused. Some view it as a one-time
act, rather than an on-going condition. Of course, one act of unfaithfulness
would certainly qualify as adultery, but an individual who is in an adulterous
marriage is in a perpetually adulterous condition as long as their rightful
spouse lives (Rom. 7:2-3). Furthermore, Paul argues that it is possible to
"live in" adultery, implying a perpetual condition (Col. 3:5-7).
Another abuse of the concept of adultery confuses the metaphorical use of the
term with the literal use. Quoting from Jeremiah 3 and James 4:4, we are told
that adultery may include virtually any sin, from abuse to drunkenness. Such
sloppy exegesis is a violent twisting of the scripture. Jesus is not speaking
metaphorically in Matthew 19. We have no right to so interpret it.
A simplistic concept of the marriage "bond" has led to some sinful
relationships. These view marriage as no more than a covenant between two
people. If it is broken for one, they argue, it is broken for both; thus, the
guilty fornicator can remarry. But the marriage bond is not so simple. God has
done the joining, and God makes the rules for loosing. A guilty fornicator who
has put away his innocent spouse or a guilty fornicator who has been put away,
cannot lawfully remarry. To remarry is to commit adultery (see earlier
arguments). Regardless of our understanding of "bond," he is in adultery simply
because God said he is. To reject such a plain statement is to reject Christ's
Others argue that because some people commit adultery in their hearts (Matt.
5:28) and are allowed to continue in fellowship with the saints, therefore those
who commit the physical act of adultery should be allowed to continue in
fellowship. Besides ignoring the plain thrust of 1 Corinthians 5, this position
overlooks the fact that we are only able to judge others by their fruits (Matt.
Emotions are often appealed to in such discussions, especially if children are
involved. Children are indeed, the most pitiful victims of divorce. This is one
reason we should preach so boldly on the sanctity of marriage. Yet, many who do
not hesitate to break up their families to please themselves, refuse to do so to
please God. Such individuals need to read Ezra 10. Humane arrangements can be
made to provide for children – but we cannot simply ignore God's word with an
appeal to emotion.
Finally, some say that making things right is simply too difficult. Jesus
responds, "There is no man what hath left...wife, or children, for the
kingdom of God's sake, Who shall not receive manifold more in the present time,
and in the world to come life everlasting" (Lk. 18:29-30). Many of your
brothers and sisters have made difficult decisions – including the decision to
die for the Lord. After all, where the kingdom is involved, is any decision
really too difficult?
Indeed, divorce and remarriage is an emotional and difficult issue. But death is
also emotional. The second coming of Jesus is emotional. The judgement is
emotional. Eternity is emotional. Heaven and hell are emotional. We must make a
choice – but we will endure the very real consequences of that choice forever.