Jesus, the Bible, Divorce, and Remarriage


Jesus, the Bible, Divorce, and Remarriage


Jesus, the Bible, Divorce, and Remarriage

Mark 10:1-12

Main Idea: Marriage is a sacred covenant that ideally is dissolved only by death.

  1. Divorce and Remarriage: A Look at the Key Biblical Texts with Theological Observations
  2. Some Basic Observations About Divorce and Remarriage from a Survey of Scripture
  3. Four Major Views on Divorce and Remarriage
  4. The Teaching of Paul on Divorce (1 Corinthians 7)
  5. A Summation of Evangelical Positions on Divorce and Remarriage (After Sexually Consummated Marriage)
  6. Conclusion
  7. A Premarital Wedding Covenant

Few issues have caused me more grief, soul searching, and study than what the Bible says about divorce and remarriage. In addition to the dozens of books and sermons I have on the subject, I have four, four-inchthick files. With divorce being so common, many ministers avoid the subject to keep from hurting feelings and causing conflict. Some believe the Bible is no longer relevant to the issue in a world of no-fault divorce, the pill, “living together,” and same-sex relationships.

The church has a dismal and embarrassing track record in this area. Many believers are as casual about divorce and remarriage as are their lost friends and neighbors. In a culture that bears proudly the motto “I have the right to be happy,” “serial polygamy” is considered a right, as well as being normal. Never mind that bodies are strewn everywhere (especially the children), and happiness is even more elusive for those in subsequent marriages. Consider this poem penned by a little girl:

The Monster

The monster’s here

The monster’s there

The monster is just everywhere.

In my milk,

In my tea,

201Doesn’t it ever think of me?

Mom’s here,

Dad’s there,

And I’m just not anywhere!

How can I say this,

Without any force;

The monster is called

Divorce! (author unknown)

Divorce is even more traumatic than losing a spouse or parent. John Piper is right: “Death is usually clean pain. Divorce is usually dirty pain” (“What God Has Joined Together”).

Kelly Clarkson, the first winner of American Idol, saw her parents divorce at age six. “I know people probably think I’ve been heartbroken, because of the stuff I’ve sung and written,” she says. “I love my friends and my family. But I have never said the words ‘I love you’ to anyone in a romantic relationship. I shouldn’t be a mother at all, because I’d be horrible. I’m not willing to be that selfless. I’m not keen on marriage. Men come and go.” Clarkson acknowledges that she fears betrayal. “When it comes to certain parts of my life, I won’t allow myself to be vulnerable at all. I have a lot of trust issues. I don’t let many people in.” Making a relationship work, she says, requires too much effort. “Love is something you work at. It doesn’t come easily. There are going to be bad days. You are going to have to work at loving someone when they are being an idiot. People think they’re just going to meet the right guy.” She laughs. “Don’t be ridiculous” (Djansezian, “Kelly Clarkson”). The effect of divorce can be seen in Clarkson’s music, especially her blockbuster hit “Because of You,” a reflection on the pain and fallout of divorce. First we will see exactly what the Bible says about divorce and remarriage. Then I want us to note the different perspectives held by those who accept the full authority of the Bible. We will conclude with observations from Mark 10:1-12, as well as some practical points of application. This study demands our most careful and humble efforts. It is treacherous territory. Two competing rabbinic schools of thought were present in Jesus’ day:

  1. The more conservative school followed Rabbi Shammai and said the only ground for divorce was adultery (sexual immorality).
  2. The more liberal school followed Rabbi Hillel and said divorce could be granted for “any indecency.”

The Pharisees in that day, for the most part, followed Rabbi Hillel, made divorce easy and wanted it to stay that way. So they come to Jesus “to202 test Him” (v. 2). Jesus was, therefore, thrust into a debate like many of us are today. The Pharisees wanted to talk about divorce, but Jesus wanted to talk about marriage and God’s divine blueprint.

Divorce and Remarriage:
A Look at the Key Biblical Texts with Theological Observations

Genesis 2:18-25 tells us,

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helper as his complement.” So the Lord God had formed out of the ground every wild animal and every bird of the sky, and brought each to the man to see what he would call it. And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the livestock, to the birds of the sky, and to every wild animal; but for the man no helper was found as his complement. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. Then the Lord God made the rib He had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. And the man said:

This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh;

this one will be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man.

This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.

Marriage is a good gift from a great God to be enjoyed. Sex is a part of this good gift. God’s design is one man, for one woman, for a lifetime (unless separated by death; Rom 7:1-3). Marriage is the joining of two bodies, two wills, two minds, and two sets of God-given emotions. Marriage is sacred because it reflects the spiritual union of Christ and His church (Eph 5:21-33). As Jesus would never divorce His bride, a spouse should never divorce his or her mate. “The ultimate meaning of marriage is the representation of the covenant keeping love between Christ and His church” (Piper, “What God Has Joined Together”).

In Deuteronomy 24:1-4 we see,

If a man marries a woman, but she becomes displeasing to him because he finds something improper about her, he may write her a divorce certificate, hand it to her, and send her away from his house. If after leaving his house she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the second man hates her, and writes her a divorce certificate, hands it to her, and sends her away from his203 house or if he dies, the first husband who sent her away may not marry her again after she has been defiled, because that would be detestable to the Lord. You must not bring guilt on the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

Though the Bible never condones divorce, it does recognize the reality of divorce (see also Isa 50:1; Jer 3:1, 8-9). The allowance of a divorce certificate provides regulations and is a concession for the protection and welfare of an innocent victim. Remarriage to one’s former spouse after marrying another is strictly forbidden.

Ezra 10:2-3, 10-12 states,

Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, an Elamite, responded to Ezra: “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the surrounding peoples, but there is still hope for Israel in spite of this. Let us therefore make a covenant before our God to send away all the foreign wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the command of our God. Let it be done according to the law.” ... Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful by marrying foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. Therefore, make a confession to Yahweh the God of your fathers and do His will. Separate yourselves from the surrounding peoples and your foreign wives.” Then all the assembly responded with a loud voice: “Yes, we will do what you say!”

This appears to be a unique situation. (Nowhere does God give a direct command to divorce. The text may be recording their activity but not affirming it.) Some believe polygamy was an issue, though the text does not say this. In the best light this is an exceptional act eliminating the greater of two evils: defilement through mixed marriages, which led to idolatry.

In Malachi 2:13-16, we read,

And this is another thing you do: you cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning, because He no longer respects your offerings or receives them gladly from your hands.

Yet you ask, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have acted treacherously against her, though she was your marriage partner and your wife by covenant. Didn’t the one God make us with a remnant of His life-breath? And what does the One seek? A godly offspring. So watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously against the wife of your youth.

“If he hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with injustice,” says the Lord of Hosts. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously.

204Malachi wrote during the time of Ezra. God hates divorce. It is never His perfect will. (Is this perhaps a counter to the activity recorded in Ezra?)

Matthew 19:3-12 says,

Some Pharisees approached [Jesus] to test Him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?”

“Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female, and He also said:

‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

“Why then,” they asked Him, “did Moses command us to give divorce papers and to send her away?”

He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not like that from the beginning. And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

His disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of a man with his wife is like this, it’s better not to marry!”

But He told them, “Not everyone can accept this saying, but only those it has been given to. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs who were made by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way because of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

Jesus affirms God’s original design for marriage. He states that divorce is the result of sin and the hardness of men’s hearts. He says divorce is permitted in a case of sexual immorality (viewed only in a Jewish “betrothal” context by some). He seems to imply permission to remarry though this is not clearly stated (19:9-12).

Mark 10:1-12 parallels Matthew 19:1-12. There is an important omission of the words “except for sexual immorality.” The omission is because either the betrothal view of Matthew 19 is correct and Mark (being written to Romans) would not need to address the exception, or Mark’s account is simply a summation of Matthew’s and assumes the exception.

Luke 16:18 states, “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” This is an even more concise account of the Matthew 19 and Mark 10 passages. The last point under Mark 10:1-12 also applies here.

According to Romans 7:1-3,

205Since I am speaking to those who understand law, brothers, are you unaware that the law has authority over someone as long as he lives? For example, a married woman is legally bound to her husband while he lives. But if her husband dies, she is released from the law regarding the husband. So then, if she gives herself to another man while her husband is living, she will be called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law. Then, if she gives herself to another man, she is not an adulteress.

Paul reaffirms (like Jesus) God’s original design for marriage. The death of a spouse is the only instance in which God advocates remarriage. This is stated in 1 Corinthians 7:8-16, 39-40:

I say to the unmarried and to widows: It is good for them if they remain as I am. But if they do not have self-control, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with desire.

I command the married—not I, but the Lord—a wife is not to leave her husband. But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband—and a husband is not to leave his wife. But I (not the Lord) say to the rest: If any brother has an unbelieving wife and she is willing to live with him, he must not leave her. Also, if any woman has an unbelieving husband and he is willing to live with her, she must not leave her husband. For the unbelieving husband is set apart for God by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is set apart for God by the husband. Otherwise your children would be corrupt, but now they are set apart for God. But if the unbeliever leaves, let him leave. A brother or a sister is not bound in such cases. God has called you to live in peace. For you, wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Or you, husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?

A wife is bound as long as her husband is living. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to anyone she wants—only in the Lord. But she is happier if she remains as she is, in my opinion. And I think that I also have the Spirit of God.

Paul affirms the positive nature of the single life. Paul says it is better to marry than to burn with lust (and possibly fall into sexual immorality). God’s desire for troubled marriages is always reconciliation. God’s desire for those separated in marriage is to be reconciled or remain separated. Desertion by an unbelieving spouse permits divorce and, it seems, grants permission for remarriage (some believe the summation of verses 39-40 rules out remarriage).

Some Basic Observations About Divorce and Remarriage from a Survey of Scripture


Our goal must be to be biblical and not emotional. We should also emphasize prevention and not be reactionary. The latter is difficult, especially for those who have experienced the pain of divorce in some way. One man joined to one woman for a lifetime is God’s perfect will for every marriage (Gen 2:18-25).

God hates divorce (Mal 2:13-16). God’s desire is that troubled marriages would always be reconciled. Divorce is never commanded or desired by God. Separation is sometimes wise (1 Cor 7:10-11).

I believe divorce may be biblically permissible in the cases of

  1. sexual immorality,
  2. desertion by an unbeliever, or
  3. if the divorce was preconversion (2 Cor 5:17).

Where reconciliation is not possible, permission to remarry in the Lord may be allowed (though it is not expressly stated).

Divorce and remarriage are not sanctioned for reasons other than sexual immorality or desertion by an unbeliever. Some counter that it would be better to remarry than to commit sexual immorality (1 Cor 7:9) or to be unduly burdened and oppressed in a single state (Deut 24:1-4). However, God commends a single status (1 Cor 7). Single people look to God in faith to provide self-control and to meet their needs.

Four Major Views on Divorce and Remarriage

1. Patristic (Church Fathers) View: The exception clause “except for sexual immorality” (fornication, porneia) in Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:9-10 qualifies only the verb “divorces” and not the remarriage clause. Divorce is allowed for adultery only. No remarriage is allowed. Those holding this view note the lack of any expressed statement for remarriage, and the nearness of the early church fathers to the apostles.

2. Protestant-Evangelical View: The exception clause qualifies both “divorces” and “marries another.” Divorce is allowed for adultery and desertion by an unbelieving spouse with no possibility of reconciliation. Remarriage to a believer is permissible for the innocent party. However, the reaction of the disciples in 19:10—“If the relationship of a man with his wife is like this, it’s better not to marry!”—does not seem to be explained as well by this view. This is also an argument from silence.

2073. Betrothal View: The exception clause means “premarital sexual intercourse” in the case of a betrothed couple. Jewish betrothal was a legal contract that could only be broken by divorce or death. It was more than an engagement but not a sexually consummated marriage. This view better explains the disciples’ reaction. Divorce is allowed only for unfaithfulness during the betrothal period. If adultery was committed after the marriage, then divorce was not allowed for any reason.

However, the technical meaning given to the phrase “sexual immorality” as “premarital sexual intercourse” is unknown elsewhere in the Bible or in Greek literature. The context of Deuteronomy 24, which is the Old Testament passage forming the foundation of Jesus’ statements in Matthew 5 and 19, implies a married wife. This view makes Matthew 19:7 and 8 refer to a married wife, while verse 9 is a betrothed wife. The context seems to point to a married wife in both cases.

4. Unlawful Marriage View: This view takes “sexual immorality” in the exception clause to refer to incestuous marriages. Divorce is allowed for those marriages within the prohibited degrees of kinship in Leviticus 18:6-18. Remarriage is usually not allowed, though there seem to be some differences of opinion. However, the technical meaning of “incest” given to “sexual immorality” does not fit the total context of the passage.

The Teaching of Paul on Divorce (1 Corinthians 7)

Jesus had already spoken on divorce for adultery. Paul takes up the Corinthians’ questions on the subject of divorce for desertion.

In 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, Paul says that a husband and a wife who are both Christians are not to divorce, but if they do, they are not to remarry. In verses 12-16, Paul addresses the problem of a saved spouse who is married to an unsaved spouse. If the unsaved party departs, the saved party is “not bound” in such cases. “Not bound” can mean: (1) free to divorce, (2) free to divorce and remarry, or (3) free to separate but not allowed to divorce and remarry.

A Summation of Evangelical Positions on Divorce and Remarriage (After Sexually Consummated Marriage)

As a result of the above survey, several biblical positions on the subject of divorce are possible today:

  1. Divorce is never permitted for any reason.
  2. Divorce is permitted for adultery only, but remarriage is not allowed.
  3. 208Divorce is permitted for adultery and desertion of an unbelieving spouse, but remarriage is not permitted.
  4. Divorce is permitted for adultery or desertion of an unbelieving spouse, and remarriage to a believer is granted to the innocent party. (Those who believe the Bible allows for remarriage do so on the grounds of the exception clause in Matthew and the logic that if God grants divorce to the innocent party, by His grace He would also grant permission to remarry.)
  5. Divorce is permitted in the case of an incestuous marriage.
  6. Divorce is permitted in the case of the divorce taking place prior to one’s conversion and there is no possibility of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:17 is the basis of this position).


Dogmatism and certainty are not appropriate in an area where good and godly students who affirm the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible hold differing views. Still, there are some things we can affirm based on Jesus’ words in Mark:

  1. Marriage is a gift and work of God that receives its meaning and significance from Him.
  2. God’s design for marriage is exclusively heterosexual and unique among all human relationships (10:6-7).
  3. God’s plan from the beginning is that marriage would be permanent (10:9).
  4. Jesus acknowledges that because we live in a fallen world and have hard hearts, divorce will occur (10:3-4). However, no divorce is ever necessary, though it may be occasionally permissible to those whose divorce is on biblical grounds.
  5. To divorce one’s mate (without a biblical cause?) and remarry another is to commit the sin of adultery (10:11-12).

Now, to these clear statements in Mark 10:1-12, what else can we say about divorce and remarriage that is both prophetic and pastoral, instructive and redemptive?

  1. Where the sin of adultery and/or divorce has taken place, forgiveness is possible and available to those who repent and confess their sin (1 John 1:9).
  2. If we are in an unbiblical marriage, we should not attempt to get out of it. Seek forgiveness for the sin of adultery, and then work209 hard to glorify God and be a blessing to the mate with whom you are married.
  3. In the church we should emphasize the value and dignity of marriage while eliminating the shame and stigma of the divorced. We “mingle the call to obedience with the tears of compassion” (Storms, “Divorce and Remarriage”).
  4. We should acknowledge that divorce is a sin that is far more hurtful and destructive than many other sins.
  5. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” No minister should perform a wedding without requiring extensive premarital counseling and the signing of a premarital wedding covenant.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. How has the world changed in the last 50 years with regard to relationships and divorce? What were the social trends behind those changes? What can the church do to improve society?
  2. What aspects of Genesis 2:18-25 point to God’s prescription for the ideal marriage?
  3. What is the definition of marriage? What is the purpose of marriage? How does this affect our view on the legal definition of marriage?
  4. What is the difference in the Bible between regulating or reporting divorce, on the one hand, and sanctioning or affirming divorce on the other?
  5. Why is it difficult not to let feelings enter into the determination of what is the biblical truth about divorce? For a Christian leader, what is the place of compassion with regard to divorce?
  6. How has the fall influenced God’s ideal for marriage? How does it affect the way a Christian might counsel couples?
  7. How would you respond to someone who says, “I’ll just get divorced and remarried, then I’ll ask God to forgive me”?
  8. Why are there so many different Christian opinions on divorce and remarriage? How does this uncertainty affect the way a Christian leader might counsel a couple? What do we know for sure?
  9. What interest does the church have in defining and regulating secular marriage?
  10. What can the church do to help prevent divorce before it happens? What can individuals do?

A Premarital Wedding Covenant


The decision to marry is the second most important decision one will ever make. (The first is whether one will commit to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.) Keeping this in mind, we commit to God, our minister, and each other to do the following:

  1. Seek God’s will for our lives personally and together by following biblical principles for Christian living and marriage.
  2. Don’t engage in premarital sex.
  3. Do everything possible to build a Christian marriage and home. This means that both of us have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that we desire growth for that relationship over the entire course of our lives by being obedient to His Word.
  4. Read and listen to all premarital material provided by our minister.
  5. Be active in a Bible-believing church beginning now and throughout our marriage.
  6. Buy and read His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley, The Act of Marriage by Tim LaHaye, God on Sex by Danny Akin, and A Promise Kept by Robertson McQuilkin.
  7. Maintain total openness and honesty with our minister and with each other both now and after our wedding.
  8. Postpone or cancel the marriage if, at any time between now and the wedding, either one of us comes to believe this marriage is not right.
  9. Never allow the word divorce to enter the realm of our relationship. We are in this together for the duration of our lives. Divorce is not an option for us!
  10. Seek competent Christian counsel if we encounter any difficulty in our marriage.

With the above commitments made, we believe God will be honored and the prospects for a meaningful and happy marriage enhanced. With God’s help we will seek to honor God with our lives and marriage all the days of our lives.

Husband: _____________________________________________________

Wife: _____________________________________________________

Witness: _____________________________________________________