Blog

Divorce, Remarriage, and the Committed Christian

There has been some recent discussion about this issue in my part of the woods. As with some other issues, I am open to amending my theology, especially when it is in an area of great controversy such as this. In fact, I have nuanced and refined my stand on this issue since I last wrote on this. I know how much many Christians who love the Lord struggle with great distress concerning divorce, remarriage, and what is expected of the committed Christan.

The question is: Can there be remarriage after divorce for the committed Christian?

This is not an easy question to answer by any means. While I was on pastoral staff at Stonebriar Community Church, I could not dodge this issue by reducing it to some objective theological position as I would have liked. Practically speaking, it was always before me. I performed many marriages while I was at Stonebriar, so much that I was called the “marrying man.” In many of the marriages I performed, at least one of the two people had been through a divorce. Each pastor on staff had a different position concerning the issue of remarriage after divorce; I think mine was one of the most liberal (relatively speaking). Stonebriar gave us some freedom in our decisions of whom we would marry. If another pastor did not feel comfortable performing a ceremony, they would probably just say “I will send you to Michael, he will marry anyone!” (That is not really true, but there was only one1 that I turned down in my six years in the pastorate.)

As briefly as a blog will allow, I want to give you my current position on the matter and hope that you understand what a struggle this is. I am in no way dogmatic about this, but I do have some thoughts. Generally speaking, I believe that people are either too liberal or too rigid when it comes to this issue. I think that there needs to be a middle ground (as I do with many issues). I hesitate while I write this due to the fear that people will find in my view an excuse for divorce, which is the last thing I want or intend. Yet at the same time, I believe that if what I propose is true, it, like all truth, will always undergo the risk of misapplication.

First let me say that the argument is not over whether divorce is bad. Everyone agrees that divorce is a result of sin and that healthy reconciliation is the perfect will of God. Well, let me rephrase. God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). Let me make this a bit stronger. God always hates divorce. This much is true. We must, however, keep this in perspective: there are a lot of things that are the result of a fallen world that God hates. God hates death (Ez. 18:23). God hates war. I believe that God hates hell, deformities, addiction, and cancer.  But God also, to be sure, hated that he had to divorce Israel:

“And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.” (Jer. 3:8; see also Isa. 50:1)

So for God to say “I hate divorce” helps us recognize that divorce, as a part of the fallen order, is a result of sinfulness in the world and it is this that God hates. It also helps us recognize that divorce, like death and war, is sometimes a necessary part of a fallen world due to sinfulness.

Having said that, there are many disagreements about the issue of remarriage after divorce. I think that the primary passage that causes this particular trouble in dealing with divorce is Matt. 5:31-32 (and parallel passages):

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Christ here uses divorce as an illustration for our consistent inability to live up to the standards of God’s perfection. I say “illustration” because it comes in the context of Christ’s shocking statement, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (v.20). What a terrifying statement that must have been. Christ then goes on to demonstrate how the traditional way that people view the law and righteousness is insufficient. “You have heard it said . . . But I say to you” was Christ’s way of telling the people that what was said before needs to be rethought and intensified. Why? Because fulfilling the requirements of what was said before does not make one righteous unless it is understood correctly. Christ shows that just because someone has never committed the act of murder, this does not make them innocent of the principle that prohibits murder; the spirit of the fifth commandment includes a benevolent disposition to others (vv. 21-26). He then does the same thing with adultery, teaching that the commandment prohibiting adultery goes much deeper than the actual act. One must have fidelity in his thoughts as well (vv. 27-30).

By saying these things in such a way, Christ is turning the Jewish people’s worldview upside down. The scribes and the Pharisees were the best-in-show. Surely, if they could not enter the kingdom by their righteousness, everyone is without hope. The Jewish leadership felt at ease with themselves because, according to their estimation, they had lived pretty good lives. They had not broken any of the commandments, so they were safe. Christ seeks to level the playing field by showing that all people are sinners, even the Jewish leaders. Why? Because everyone has broken the principles of the laws, even if they had managed to avoid breaking a particular expression of the law.

What we must realize about this entire section is that Christ’s argument employs much hyperbole and extreme rhetoric. Speaking of how serious it is, Christ says concerning lust, “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out.” I don’t know about you, but I have never seen even the most conservative Christian who has followed Christ’s advice here. Why? Because they understand it to be hyperbolic. This is not meant to water down the seriousness of Christ’s admonition, but to show that Christ, like any good teacher, used hyperbole to get a point across. Everything that Christ says in this section must be taken in the spirit of its intent. It is in this context that Christ makes his statement about divorce:

“It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Mt 5.31-32)

Ouch! These are very shocking and hard words. But, we must realize that they are no less shocking and hard than the two previous admonitions concerning hatred and lust. I believe (albeit very timidly) that Christ’s words that anyone who divorces his wife makes her commit adultery, etc., must be taken in the same vein as the rest of His teaching in this context. In other words, Christ was using the same methodology to bring shock to his listeners so that all would see the drastic need that everyone has, no matter how good they think they are, for God’s mercy. This is not to say that what Christ says about hate, lust, and divorce are wrong and he really did not mean it; it is just to say that we need to keep this in perspective.

Let’s entertain for a moment the propositions that Christ did intend for us to follow this teaching about divorce literally in every case. What would happen? Well, I think we would have to interpret everything in this context the same way (including the gouging out of eyes and cutting off of hands). The outcome would be disastrous in many ways. This is what could conceivably take place: lusting itself would be an excuse for divorce since it is adultery (v. 28). As well, if you were to lust before you are married, and by lusting you have literally had sex with that person, then you are in God’s eyes joined to that person and are required to marry them (by Pauline extension in 1Cor 6:15). So, if this is the case, is it then God’s perfect will for me to find the first girl I lusted after and be “rejoined” to her so that she does not commit adultery? Of course not.

Craig Keener also provides some insight to this passage in Matthew 5:31-32 when he says,

“If He [Christ] intended this statement literally, the new union is adulterous; hence, sin occurs during every act of intercourse (not simply during the remarriage ceremony). In this case, we should not merely forbid divorced church members to remarry; we should regard their remarriages as adulterous unions and thus seek to break them up, even if the remarriages preceded their conversion” (Mark L. Strauss Remarriage after Divorce in Today’s Church, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2006, p. 104).

Let me take a brief moment and deal with 1 Corinthians and Paul’s comments on the subject. First Corinthians 7 is unique and deserves a fair amount of attention, but I will be brief. It is hard to understand many of Paul statements concerning the issue since many of the situations seem to be unique. Others are hard to reconcile and find one course of action that is always right. For example:

1 Corinthians 7:15 “Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.” What is the bondage here? Does it refer to the bondage of the marriage?

1 Corinthians 7:20 “Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.” Does this represent a universal Pauline stance that a single person should never get married?

1 Corinthians 7:26-27 “I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife.” Is it because of the “present distress” that this entire passage is written? What is the “present distress” that makes Paul think the unmarried should not be “bound”? If the “present distress” is not present does this mean that the one “released” (divorced?) from his wife can seek to be bound to another? Are we, today, out of the “present distress”? If so, what does that do to the series of admonitions of 1 Cor 7?

1 Corinthians 7:29 “But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none.” What does it mean to be married and live as though you had no spouse? Is it hyperbolic rhetoric to demonstrate the seriousness of our mission?

1 Corinthians 7:11 “But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband.” But what if she burns (lusts)? Would this admonishment bend according to 7:9? In other words, Paul says that it is better to be married than to lust for sex (1 Cor 7:9), but that a divorced person must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to their former spouse. What if reconciliation is not possible, yet the person’s sexual drive is difficult to control (i.e. they are “burning”)? Which admonition takes priority? It is like an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object!

Divorce itself is bad, but I don’t think that these passages can be used to justify a strict admonition requiring perpetual celibacy in every case. I just don’t believe that the Bible is as clear here as many suppose, and as I have demonstrated.

Forgiveness and grace is something that we can take literally and act upon. For the person who has lusted in the past, we offer forgiveness, not a bride. For the person who has hated his brother, we offer grace, not the death penalty. For the person who has been divorced, shouldn’t we do the same?

This is what it boils down to and what I discuss during marriage counseling: is there any way possible to be reconciled to your former spouse without sacrificing your family’s safety? If so, I believe it is the Lord’s will to pursue this. If not, then grace and forgiveness are offered. At this point the practical issues of responsibility and maturity come into play. I suggest to people to make sure they have worked out the reasons for the previous divorce to be sure that any personal spiritual issues (including commitment) are not unresolved.

If you have been divorced and have remarried, by God’s grace and mercy enjoy the blessing of your marriage and build your family in a godly way. Don’t spend your time second guessing your decision to remarry. It will drive you nuts and create more problems than it might solve. After all, there is no decision that we make that doesn’t have some precursor of sin. As God’s providence finds its realization, we must understand that lives riddled with sin are all he has to work with. If this is not true, then grace is no longer grace.

In the end, I want to reiterate how difficult these issues are. I am not saying that there are no answers or that we should just throw our hands in the air, wipe the sweat off our brow, and opt for moral subjectivism. But we do need to tread these waters with great humility and timidity as the Scriptures present some ambiguity with regard to divorce and remarriage.

1 It was because of obvious unresolved issues of a woman who had been divorced and remarried many times that I did not perform the ceremony. She simply did not take marriage seriously and I could see that. The couple went to the church down the street!

43 Responses to “Divorce, Remarriage, and the Committed Christian”

  1. Michael, I am happy to see a conservative evangelical working this whole difficult issue out so honestly and directly. At the risk of incurring the wrath of other readers of your excellent blog, I wonder why evangelicals don’t tend to approach the issue of homosexuality with the same grace and care. Before I go on with that idea, let me make it perfectly clear that I do think the Bible speaks out clearly against both divorce and homosexuality. And, no, I don’t think those two sins are “exactly alike,” either. That being said, I consistently see conservative evangelicals approaching the issue of divorce with a certain gentle grace, while they approach homosexuality with what borders on dogmatic legalism. On the other hand, which issue did Our Lord address more specifically? If you search the Scriptures, you will not find the Lord Jesus Christ addressing homosexuality directly (apparently the issue didn’t come up, or he didn’t see fit to address it), while He met the issue of divorce head-on. This is why I find it so difficult to understand why modern evangelicals will stand out on a street corner picketing against gay marriage, but never picket against divorce. How has homosexuality become the Unforgivable Sin in modern American evangelicalism, while divorce is seldom addressed with the directness that you have employed here? It is this inconsistency that makes it difficult for the secular world to understand us sometimes…

  2. Nevertheless, 1) the Old Testament God DID divorce Israel.

    2) And allow others multiple wives.

    While 3) Moses – and the Old Testament God – seemingly allowed divorce.

    So that if he does make divorce forbidden, Jesus seems to, strangely, go against, or overrule, God.

  3. Oh, and on a personal note, I should add one thing. My brother’s wife left him several years ago, because she decided, after a few years of marriage, that she was a lesbian. They were divorced, and she moved in with her female “partner.” I would not have any problem with my brother remarrying, as it was his wife who destroyed the marriage bond. My point is, I was most upset at my ex-sister-in-law’s behavior primarily because of the infidelity she committed, not because she became a practicing homosexual. Her adultery was just that: adultery. The fact that it was committed with a member of her own sex may have made it more painful for my brother, but I am not certain it had any bearing on the brokenness of their marriage covenant. That covenant was broken when by brother’s wife decided to enter into an unrepentant relationship with someone to whom she was not married.

    Anyway, lest anyone accuse me of not having any personal knowledge of the issues involved in both divorce and homosexuality, I would like to make it clear that both issues have negatively impacted the life of my own family.

  4. If anyone is interested, I have summarized David Instone-Brewer’s excellent book Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible at my blog.

  5. It is a rough issue to deal with in this quick divorce world. I have considered this matter a long time and have come to the conclusion that Christians who divorce should never remarry. They should remain single or be reconciled. Divorce is ugly and it has lifelong consequences. Now, as for those Christians who were divorced before being saved, I do not see that old creature having any hold on a new creation in Christ. However, once one comes to Christ, I cannot see the justification for divorce and remarriage. Paul’s presentation of Christ’s command in 1 Cor 7 seems clear to me. Of course reasonable minds might disagree.

  6. In the culture of that day, remarriage was assumed following divorce. That is one of the reasons Jesus spoke about it when discussing this particular matter of “divorce for any cause.”

    It is curious to suggest that someone divorced prior to salvation is under grace but a believer who divorces is somehow under the Law. Regardless, even the Law assumed the right to remarry following a divorce.

  7. Dr. Mike

    You mention 4 reasons for divorce. I did not find the list of these 4 reasons which allow a believer to divorce. I very well may have overlooked it. Could you provide that list of 4 legitimate or valid reasons for divorce for believers?

    Cornell

  8. Cory If you search the Scriptures, you will not find the Lord Jesus Christ addressing homosexuality directly

    Hmmm?

    Matthew 19:4

  9. I’ve struggled with this issue and a great book is “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible” by Jay E. Adams. It covers the “sticky” situations.

  10. There are four grounds for divorce that can be found in the Bible: adultery, desertion, emotional neglect or abuse, material neglect. In every case it was the right of the innocent partner to remarry.

    Adultery, which was a capital crime, is an obvious one: there is little argument over it. Desertion, which Paul addresses in 1 Cor 7, was not only grounds but in Grecian culture was an act of divorce. Emotional neglect was determined by the rabbis by how frequently a man would have sex with his wife: it was the only way they had to quantify love. Material neglect was a refusal – not an inability – to provide for a wife.

    For Christians, the repentance of the offender negates the so-called “right” to divorce. Jesus makes this clear in Mt 18.

    The biblical basis for each is explained and developed at my blog.

  11. Michael,

    If you would allow a “plug”, I wrote on this very issue and came to similar conclusions that you did here.

    – God did divorce Israel
    – Jesus answered a direct question with a direct answer (not an entire theology)
    – Paul deals with all of the broad categories in 1 Corinthians 7

    In short, proper divorce allows proper remarriages.

    My book is available on Amazon.com – “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: Fresh Help and Hope from the Bible”

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1604770279/

    Daniel

  12. bethyada- You simply proved my point by quoting Matthew 19:4. That passage does NOT address homosexuality, but is discussing divorce, which was exactly my point. Certainly, you can make the point that Jesus is affirming heterosexual marriage as the norm, but Jesus was most certainly not discussing gay marriage here. This passage is specifically addressing the issue of married people who get divorced. Thus, in typical conservative fashion, you take a passage about divorce, and use it to address your favorite hot-button issue, homosexuality.

  13. This is indeed a difficult issue. I have a few comments. First, while the Scriptures do not address this directly, the effects of divorce and remarriage upon children are hardly ever brought into this discussion. These decisions impact the children for the rest of their lives.
    Second, I think Keener’s comment is unhelpful. The popular idiom “two wrongs do not make a right” is appropriate here. Missionaries to polygamous people groups are faced with the a similar issue when establishing leadership in the local church. Do you make a polygamous man divorce all of his wives except the first one so that he can be a husband of one wife? Of course not. Don’t force divorce rather begin teaching the next generation about monogamy.
    I haven’t totally made up my mind on the issue, but I think evangelicalism is way to loose with marriage, divorce and remarriage. While the Scriptures do present certain, specific instances where divorce is made available for the well-being of one spouse or the other, it is always the exception and not the standard. Even in cases of adultery, I believe the gospel causes us to consider forgiveness over divorce – if possible. Remarriage…not so sure it is as available as we have made it.

  14. Cory:

    The topic for discussion here is divorce and remarriage, not homosexuality. Michael has addressed that issue elsewhere.

    Please keep comments on-topic.

  15. My most esteemed Admin,
    My whole point was about how I was glad to see a sensitive discussion about divorce. I specifically described how my brother’s divorce was about infidelity (not the homosexuality of his ex-wife, which I think is a subordinate issue), and how I believed his remarriage (if it happens) would be valid. I merely brought up homosexuality as a corollary to the discussion at hand. It was, in fact, another person who responded to my first post, who attempted to make a passage regarding divorce and marriage into a “proof text” about homosexuality. When that happened, I responded by pointing out how the context of that passage WAS about divorce and remarriage.

    My whole original point was about congratulating Michael for directly addressing a topic that too often takes a back seat to the more “popular” issue of homosexuality and gay marriage. I agree that we should all stay on topic, but I don’t think it’s quite fair to accuse me of being off-topic, when I was simply responding to someone else’s out-of-context misuse of Scripture. Grace and peace to you…

  16. Consider my Divorce and Re-marriage series. It augments, to some degree, your insights here.

  17. Truth Unites... and Divides October 14, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Hi Michael,

    This was a very, very good post. Well-reasoned, Scripturally-informed, and pastoral in sharing the truth in love.

    By the way, don’t get divorced.

    P.S. Would you perform Jon Gosselin’s wedding if he was going to get re-married?

    ;-)

  18. My wife and I have discussed the difficulties of this issue many times. She went to a Bible College in central IL, and a tremendous number of people she was friends with are now on second marriages. The national divorce rate is, by all available statistics, pretty close to 1 in 2. One would think the divorce rate for Christians would be considerably less, but sadly, this is not the case. I have heard so many rationalizations of this statistic: Christians are more likely to get married than live together, thus skewing the numbers, etc. But I would say this is a serious challenge to us in the Church. What are we doing to support married Christian brethren and sistren in their marriages? How are we modeling good marriages for other Christians (and the world)? What can we do to convince people to pursue other avenues of working out problems in their marriages, before they even consider divorce? I believe the Church needs to take this challenge far more seriously than we are currently doing.

  19. Michael,

    My confusion comes from the very words themselves…

    OT – shalach – to put away (used 847 times)
    keriythuth – to divorce (used 4 times)

    NT – apolou – to put away
    apostasion – to divorce

    All translations (with the exception of the KJV) translate both of these words as DIVORCE. My question is…Aren’t these two different things and by translating them as the same thing you are just confusing things?

    Example: Matt. 5:32 – But I tell you that anyone who divorces (apolou – putts away) his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced (apolou – putt away) woman commits adultery. (NIV)

    My question…Is Jesus saying that if you marry a divorced woman you commit adultery or is He saying that if you marry a putt away woman that is not divorced you commit adultery? Isn’t He speaking to a cultural issue in this text?

    Another example – Mark 10:2-4 – 2Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce (apolou – putt away) his wife?” 3″What did Moses command you?” he replied. 4They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce (apostasion – divorce) and send her away. (apolou – putt away)”

    vs. 10-12 – When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11He answered, “Anyone who divorces (apolou – put away) his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12And if she divorces (apolou – put away) her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

    In other words, don’t just put away without divorce.

    Same problem with the Malachi passage…The text doesn’t say God hates divorce (keriythuth). It says that God hates putting away (shalach).

    Deut. 24 gives the process for divorce. Give her a bill of divorcement (keriythuth) and then putt her away (shalach). To put her away without divorce makes her “chained” which is what Joseph was going to do to Mary…”put her (apolou) away secretly”. This is seemingly what God hates.

    Am I off base? Thanks for the input.

  20. I think the fact that there was a divorce system in the OT is important in recognising that God wants us to have a way forward. Jesus was saying they were taking it for granted, not that divorce is the end of the road.

    Romanists claim the high road on this (to which I have two words – “Petrine priviledge”!), but the word for divorce in the NT basically means separation, and Rome is very lax in its separation doctrine, it is only rigid in its remarriage doctrine (well, given the whole anullment debacle, one might not even say that anymore). Jesus was asked “can we divorce”, he wasn’t asked “can we remarry”. Remarriage was assumed as a given, and Jesus seems to put the “adultery” error on the one doing the divorcing rather than the one doing the remarrying. The error is the divorce, not the remarriage. The issue for the pastor considering whether to marry divorced persons should be whether appropriate parties have repented.

  21. I started reading this yesterday and am, only mildly, surprised at some of the reactions.

    This is a topic that strikes close to home and I think CMP presented an excellent, balanced, scripturally based approach to this sensitive subject.

    For background:
    I grew up in a pretty strict European Roman-Catholic environment. And divorced. After moving to the US, I remarried a “born and raised” divorced Texas baptist. So yes, this is for both our second marriage.

    We have been extremely blessed with a wonderful marriage of over 10 years now and have found a Church body in which we have been graciously accepted and integrated. Yet we have both struggled with this issue over the years. Praise God that we are on the same page and it is absolutely not affecting our relationship !

    Another really good read on the topic is “Can Divorced Christians remarry ? by Robert Eldredge.

    Now for some comments
    1) As posted earlier by Rex, never underestimate the consequences of divorce on children, parents, friends, etc. Divorce is and remains a sin in Gods eyes.
    2) As CMP posted in an earlier and different post, is there ever an unforgivable sin ? I don’t think so, therefore the sin of divorce is wiped clean by our Saviors sacrifice, just like any other sin.
    3) The Scriptures teach us clearly that we should not “continue to walk in sin” (paraphrased, but 1John makes it pretty clear). In other words, we should continually strive not to sin. Does this mean for a divorced person not to marry again ? Or does this mean for a divorced person that if they marry again, they should do so with all intents and purposes and effort and sacrifice to not let this end in divorce again.

    My personal opinion is that I concur divorce is a tragedy and a sin. Yet if someone does indeed deal with the circumstances of the divorce and the tragedy, why would they not be able to remarry ? I do become uncomfortable when the marriage-divorce becomes a repeating cycle. There is an underlying challenge somewhere that should be addressed before the next marriage is even considered.

    Another comment higher up was that we don’t put enough focus on helping our Christian brothers and sisters work through the marriage and the inevitable challenges. I couldn’t agree more. I recommend everyone here to take up a book called “The Love Dare” and work through that with your spouse. It’s quite enlightening ;-)

    CMP
    I have reached the same language confusion as dcfelty in the past. Any light you can shed on this would be helpful.

    In Him
    Mi

  22. Thanks guys,

    great comments. My opinion as far as I can see is that to “put away” and “divorce” are synonomous as the root for apostasion is “a certificate of divorce.” It is a way of making it legal so that the divorced could be released officially.

  23. Interesting questions about the passages from 1 Corinthians. I hope you do not mind, but I have made them the subject of more detailed exegesis at the Reformed Theology Institute’s discussion forum:
    http://rti.myfineforum.org/sutra6380.php#6380

    AMR

  24. Its interesting to see so many Christians try to get around the plain meaning of Scripture – or at least give it the broadest possible meaning when it comes to divorce. Something they would never do, as a rule, with passages regarding homosexuality.

    The word used in many of these texts is “porneia”. It is quite specific and tranlataing it as unchastity mangles the clear meaning. But opens a wide door for Christians to be able to divorce while putting a Biblical stamp on it.

    Frankly, the multiple divorces common among so many Christians today is basically a form of serial polygamy. IMO.

  25. “Speaking of how serious it is, Christ says concerning lust, “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out.” I don’t know about you, but I have never seen even the most conservative Christian who has followed Christ’s advice here. Why? Because they understand it to be hyperbolic. ”
    Well there was Origen. But then as far as I can tell self mutilation is also sin.

    As a divorced and remarried pastor, I can tell you that this is a serious issue we need to grapple with in the Christian world. It can’t be a one size fits all sort of thing. Perhaps you are correct people tend to be too liberal, or too conservative on these issues. I don’t think though that making everything Jesus said about the issue into hyperbole is the correct way of dealing with the issue. the comparisons you make strike me a bit like apples and oranges. However, I think you are on the right track when you lean back towards the need for forgiveness.

  26. Divorce during the time Christ walked this earth had become a major problem. Rabbi Shammai said there was to be no divorce. But he didn’t find a great following. There was another Rabbi by the name of Hillel and he said you could divorce your wife for any reason you want. (It kinda sounds like the times we live in now.) I believe the partial cause of this was due to a traditional incorrect interpretation of Deut. 24:1-4 and the Pharisees had based divorce on this interpretation. They had taken the term for “offensive” to the extreme.

    Looking at the text of Deut. 24 I believe Jewish Rabbi’s interpreted a command of divorce when a man found something “offensive” in his wife. But in reality the only command in Deut. 24 is, “not permitted to remarry her”. Although there are other passages in the OT where divorce is mentioned, Deut. 24 is the only place we find there is a cause for divorce. And that cause is “offensive” or (the nakedness of a thing).

    To determine the context of this “nakedness of a thing” we should look back to Deut 23:13-14. And in these verses we find it’s about having a spade, digging a hole, and relieving one’s self. Then you should cover it up because your camp should be holy, so that he (God) does not see anything “indecent” or (the nakedness of a thing) among you and turn away from you.

    I may be wrong in this but I don’t believe Deut. 24:1-4 is speaking of adultery. The punishment for adultery was death (as pointed out in Deut. 22) not divorce. So this nakedness of a thing could not have been adultery and must have been something like showing of the sexual organs or possibly the excrement.

    All that being said I don’t necessarily buy in to the belief that Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:31-32 is hyperbole or that Jesus used it as some type of shock. Jesus is just reaffirming what was already spoken in Deut. 24.

    Matthew 5:31-32 states “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

    Jesus says if you divorce your wife for anything less than adultery, or fornication, you make her an adulteress. She became defiled. And that’s why, even if her second husband died, the first husband couldn’t take her back because God doesn’t want him marrying a defiled adulteress. And so, the point of Deuteronomy 24 is that if you divorce your wife for anything short of adultery, you cause her to commit adultery. And whoever married her commits adultery. And then when you remarry, you commit adultery and the woman you marry commits adultery. You literally proliferate adultery throughout the land.

    The only release from a marriage was death; if you committed adultery death was the punishment. Later on in scripture we do not see death occurring after adultery. We can look at David and Solomon for that…

  27. Continue:

    I believe God in His tolerance spared life and allowed divorce. If marriage could only be severed by adultery through death, I’m convinced that God would have only allowed marriage to be severed by divorce in the case of adultery. And then, only where there is hardness of heart when there is an irreconcilable problem, say a partner in the marriage who is in an adulterous relationship and will not sever it, and there’s no way to bring them back, God is gracious to that adulterous person, but where that hard heart is not softened, God permitted divorce for the innocent party to be free to remarry.

    I don’t think scripture is as ambiguous as CMP believes. Matthew 19:3-12 seems clear, especially verse 11.

    I would like to comment more on the 1 Cor. Passages but time and space do not allow for that.

  28. I’m baffled as to why so few bother mentioning Ezra and Hosea when discussing divorce. On one hand, Ezra commanded that Jewish men divorce their foreign wives and send them (and their children) away. Hosea, on the other hand, offered to reconcile with his wife after she had cheated on him (assuming she was from then on faithful). Neither text makes the issue clear–just the opposite, actually. Maybe that’s why nobody bothers mentioning them.

  29. Dr Mike you said that desertion wa a grounds for divorce,surely you have misread the text,
    And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband
    But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife

  30. You know.. I read a lot of good comments and yet honestly, and do forgive me my directness, nothing that someone who has grappled with the issue hasn’t read, digested, considered and thought about.

    I fully agree there’s too much divorce, even with Christians. Yet ask yourself this
    1) Does the Church you attend mandate or at least highly recommend pre-marriage counseling or a seminar ?
    2) What avenues of support does your Church offer for those that are struggling within their marriage ?
    3) And more practically, once a divorced and remarried couple shows up at your local Sunday morning worship, what do you do ?

    After all, if our Churches don’t get in front of this and emphasize the seriousness of marriage before and during the commitment, why are we expecting Christians to behave differently ? I don’t negate the work of the Spirit, but we are being called to live in fellowship and hold each other accountable.

    Too often we react to things and take a position on a certain issue, yet offer little support and guidance beforehand. From some of the comments here I would need to deduce I am as much an adulterer as a married man who continually is sleeping around town. I find it hard to reconcile that with Scripture. Or perhaps it is in Scripture and just need to accept that ;-) Or should each of us should go back to our first spouse ?

    Is divorce sin ? Yes
    Does God hate all sin ? Yes
    Is there room for forgiveness ? Yes (1)
    So if one is forgiven of the sin of divorce, then why is there another sin attached to marrying that person ?

    I for one have taken the same approach as CMP and can wholeheartedly support his advice If you have been divorced and have remarried, by God’s grace and mercy enjoy the blessing of your marriage and build your family in a godly way. Don’t spend your time second guessing your decision to remarry.

    Just food for thought I guess.
    In Him
    Mick

    (1) I am not talking about someone who is caught in a multiple and seemingly endless marry-divorce-marry-divorce cycle. There is forgiveness but there is also repentance. A repeating of the same sin over and over again doesn’t reconcile with the foundation of repentance

  31. I have heard it said that, as a woman had no means of support outside of her family, or if married, her husband, then divorcing her would force her into either poverty and starvation or into prostitution so that she could sustain her life. This may be wrong or right. Just thought I’d put it out there.

    Also… “Romanists”? I thought we left the seventeenth century some time ago… but we keep those artificial walls (“our differences are so much more important than our central belief in Christ Jesus”) so high! I don’t mean to offend, but I found the term as offensive as a slur. We ought to be kinder to each other, and find common ground, as we are all ultimately made up of that common ground.

    Pax Christi vobis

  32. CMP – Thanks for once again stirring the family “pot”.

    Before I get into the bulk of my comment, I would like to correct a little “Folk theology” – that oft’-quoted but incorrect statistic that “The national divorce rate is, by all available statistics, pretty close to 1 in 2.” (Cory, #18). The truth of the matter, which was recently released in a study that I lost out of my email is that approximately 73% of all marriages last. The “1 in 2″ statistic is a skewed statistic due to the high frequency of remarried divorcees divorcing a second, third, or more time.

  33. Quick background: As an unsaved man I was divorced from an unsaved woman. A year later I was born again, and two years after that I was married again, this time to a born again woman who had never been married.

    A red flag always goes up when I hear or read a comment like “he was using hyperbole and extreme rhetoric to show how serious he was. He did not mean it literally.” Surely that is sometimes the case. But what troubles me in some instances is that, if the hyperbole or extreme rhetoric shows how serious he was, how can we rightly exclude that matter used as an example as one of the matters he was talking about? Seriously, if the eye causes you to stumble, is it truly not better that you pluck it out than to burn in hell? If the eye has cancer and will cause the body to perish we pluck it out. Wouldn’t we more readily pluck it out if it was going to be the cause of eternal damnation? Of course, we all know that the eye is not the cause of the stumble, so it seems there would never be reason to pluck it out. But I believe Jesus meant what he said. Now the teachings about marriage, divorce and adultery seem even more realistic (and less hyperbole and extreme rhetoric) than the matter with the eye. We know the eye does not cause sin, so we do not really pluck it out. But divorce and adultery are really sin. We are talking apples and oranges.

    As far as God divorcing Israel: he did not do it because of adulterous hearts. He did it because they actually committed adultery. They did not simply desire other Gods; they went to them and worshipped and served them. God justifies adultery if it is committed, not just for having it in the heart.

    I am not making a judgment one way or the other about marriage. It took a year of church prayer, counseling and Bible study before I and my church were comfortable that I was a new creation, and that old things were passed away and all things were made new. It would never be right for me to remarry, except maybe if my wife died. My old pastor used to look at it this way. If a couple is really walking with the Lord, they will be members of a church family. Their marriage will be observed and prayed over by the body, and scripture will be searched. The decision will be basically approved by the church. He would never marry a couple “from the church down the road.” He believed that, scripturally, the marriage will be handled by the bodies to which they belong. He looked beyond the immediate matter of marriage to the broader matter of faith and life in the body.

    Now say you have a situation where the church body is not reliably walking with God, or the pastor does not really know what he is doing. I believe that just may be one of the situations where Paul suggests that marriage is not something to be pursued at that time. The men of the church (including the one desiring marriage) should be immersed in prayer and service to bring the body into proper relationship with the…

  34. PART TWO…Lord, and not really so concerned about marriage at that point. That seems to have been Paul’s example.

    Sounds a little radical, but the Bible is very radical.

  35. I find Christians typically engage in pragmatic rationalization that does not assist in either reducing sin or the incidence of divorce or the creation of healthy marriages. My observation is that divorce among Christians has to do largely with sin, selfishness and lack of forgiveness amd the potential divorcees are too easily let off the hook (I am not referring here to incidents of abuse, a matter which is both ignored and taken too lightly by the church). Moreover, repentance by those who divorce, for the divorce, is neither required before remarriage, nor is it done by those who divorce.

    Important facts often lost sight of is that neither marriage nor remarriage is either a right or a necessity. People do not need to be married to live out their lives, and the church should be more demanding that people do so.

    regards,
    #John

  36. dcfelty is on to the truth of scripture. Women were simply property of men in scripture times. A man could “put away” his wife… send her away and she was still married to the man… still his wife… still his property. If she remarried she was committing adultery and that caused the startling requirement of Deut. 24. This was the first time in recorded human history that a divorce certificate was required, to enable the put away wife to legally remarry.

    Jesus comments on this evil practice in Matthew 19, “because of the hardness of your hearts…” The fault was in the male according to Jesus, not the female, therefore the confusing statement in Deut. 24 about finding some “uncleanness” in the wife is in fact a statement of derision to the man.

    What God hated was a man putting away his wife. It was an evil practice.

    What we have with the “no remarriage after divorce” stance is actually promoting the very thing that God hates.

    If God wanted to guarantee that remarriage after divorce was in fact adultery then He would not have required the man to give a writ of divorce to start with. What we say when we say adultery is remarriage is that the divorced person is still the wife/husband of the former spouse. The only possible purpose for the ‘get’ was a legal remarriage.

    This holds true in the NT.

    The amazing thing to me in 1Cor chapter 7 is that few read the conclusion by Paul to the discussion about remarriage…

    1Co 7:27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
    1Co 7:28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned…

    Paul plainly concludes that if a person is divorced and remarries that they have not sinned.

    Michael, I’ve written a pretty lengthy paper (28 pages) on this vital issue. It has been read by several seminary profs as well as Dr. Janet Johnson of the University of Chicago. One Bible Prof. actually told me that my presentation was rock solid but that he could not endorse it for he would be fired… and he admitted that it was not what he had taught his entire life…. very sad.

    What is so often missed is that the requirement for a “divorce certificate” that enable a remarriage was actually a part of God’s Justice.

    I certainly can’t share it all here for it is too long, but if you would like to read it just e-mail me and I would be delighted to send it to you via e-mail.

    God Bless

  37. How do you all feel about this quote from The Shepherd of Hermas?

    Shep. 29:1 ¶ {Mandate 4.1.1} “I command you,” he said, “to guard purity, and let no thought enter your heart about another man’s wife or about fornication, or about some such similar evil thing, for in doing this you commit a major sin. But always keep your mind on your own wife and you will never go wrong.
    Shep. 29:2 For if this desire enters your heart, you will go wrong, and if others things as evil as this enter, you commit sin. For this desire in a servant of God is a major sin, and if anyone does this evil deed, he brings death on himself.
    Shep. 29:3 So beware; have nothing to do with this desire; for where holiness lives, there lawlessness ought not to enter the heart of a righteous man.”
    Shep. 29:4 I said to him, “Sir, allow me to ask you a few more questions.” “Speak,” he replied. “Sir,” I said, “if a man has a wife who believes in the Lord, and he finds her in some adulterous situation, does the man sin if he continues to live with her?”
    Shep. 29:5 “As long as he is unaware of it,” he said, “he does not sin. But if the husband knows about her sin and the wife does not repent, but persists in her immorality, and the husband continues to live with her, he becomes responsible for her sin and an accomplice in her adultery.”
    Shep. 29:6 “So what, sir,” I said, “should the husband do, if the wife persists in this passion?” “Let him divorce her,” he said, “and let the husband live by himself. But if after divorcing his wife he should marry another, then he too commits adultery.”
    Shep. 29:7 “So then, sir,” I said, “if, after the wife is divorced, she repents and wants to return to her own husband, she will be taken back, won’t she?”
    Shep. 29:8 “Certainly,” he said. “If the husband does not take her back, he sins, and brings a major sin upon himself. In fact, the one who has sinned and repented must be taken back. But not repeatedly: for there is only one repentance for God’s servants. So, because of the possibility of her repentance, the husband ought not to marry. This procedure applies to wife and husband.

    How does this add to our discussion of divorce and remarriage?

  38. As one who has been divorced and remarried, without death being the deciding factor, but adultery, and now am very happily joined in marriage to a man who actually gets being what a Christian husband is really all about (and that is not total domination of a woman, or the right of a husband to as he pleases, but what a real picture of what Christ considers the picture of Godly marriage), I ask where are legalists coming from?

    Sp who really commits blasphemy, as the legalists would call it, us or those who deny the entire truth of the Holy Sprit in our lives?

  39. David Instone-Brewer is essential reading in this area.

    I have a most full day teaching at

    http://equalitycentral.com/forum/index.php?topic=279.0.
    which is mostly based on his works.

    It is very easy to take the divorce verses out of context. If one takes these verses out of context, it is very easy to end up with condemnation in the body of Christ.

  40. the truth is all in the bible..if one divorces he can be forgiven.if one remarries he is living in a state of adultry and unfaithfulness.they must repent..flee from the sin..saying im sorry isnt enough. they can reconcile or remain single.remarriage is addressed and can be done at death of spouse. marriage is a covenant for life, if one breaks the other needs to always honor and serve the lord. there are verse aftre verse backing this up..there is not 1 verse that allow for a marriage until death without it being a state of adultery. people becuase of the hardness of our hearts have twisted the truth of the bible. marriage is for life. 2nd marriages are a state of living as an adulturer. call sin what it is and teach repentance. if a homosexual lives as one for 30 years he is a homosexual not just each time he has sex. same as a prostitute..we teach them to repent..stop sinning! but so many teach whatever the public wants to hear..tickle the ear… reconcilation forgivness confession and love even tough love….all from the lor…sexual sins are from satan..all divorce comes from satan..pay attention..thus any marriage after that is from this sinful act unless in the lord….

  41. How does Paul’s preaching in 1Corinthians 10:11 fit with God’s grace and mercy? I left my husband. I want to do the Lord’s will and this verse leads me to believe I must stay single. I am saddened as I wish to remarry.

  42. I am a Christian woman who has been divorced for 13 years and now that my children are grown would really love to get remarried to a Christian man (one in particular), but God’s plan will surely prevail in that wish. It profoundly bothers me what is said in Matt. 5:31-32 “And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” How do I get past this with a Christian man? Also, my ex-husband would reconcile with me but he abandoned our marriage long ago and I abandoned him, there is not trust for me to reconcile and I don’t want to; I have prayed about this a lot and its just not something I can do. I would rather be lonely for the rest of my life. Is there any way for me to remarry? Or am I forever doomed to singledom?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Latest Links | blog of dan - October 18, 2009

    […] Divorce, Remarriage, and the Committed Christian […]

Leave a Reply