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Jesus, the Bible, Divorce, and Remarriage

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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:

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?

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:

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: _____________________________________________________

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