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Can a Divorced Christian be Remarried?

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!

185 Responses to “Can a Divorced Christian be Remarried?”

  1. First of all: if a person is already divorced and remarried, we need to realize that the New Testament requires us to obey Mosaic Law in a limited measure – and one of the items that is required is that we are to abstain from sexual immorality. The context of that command indicates that we are to take the Mosaic rule – with the exception that the rules about divorce are actually stricter now, and polygyny is no longer permitted. The reason I mention this is that the person who has divorced and remarried is said in the Torah to no longer be permitted – ever – to their former spouse because they have become defiled by the remarriage. That means that splitting up the new couple after remarriage has already taken place, and telling them to go back to their first spouse, is absolutely prohibited.

    Secondly: My views on the subject of divorce have undergone a certain evolution over time. I used to believe marriage is by definition indissoluble. I no longer believe this. There is a difference between ‘prohibited’ and ‘impossible’. Perhaps a year or two ago, some friends and I were out for tea and cake after church, and one of them confided that she was divorcing her husband. They had recently celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary, and on that very day, he had finally completely dropped his guard and let it be known that he had undertaken the relationship solely as a financial transaction and nothing more. The object being for him to receive her financial support.

    I said nothing for the moment, but given my views on marriage, I had to think whether I shouldn’t say something to her. But then I began to think: did they ever have a real marriage at all? For one thing, it was founded on deception. For another thing, at very least it can be said that from his point of view, what was joining them together was not God, but Mammon. (to be continued)

  2. David Instone-Brewer has studied and written extensively on this topic – i.e., understanding the 1st-century Jewish customs related to marriage and adultery so as to better understand the cultural context of what Jesus and the NT say:

    http://www.instonebrewer.com/divorceremarriage/

    An interview that summarizes his thesis:

    kingsdivinity.org/theological-articles/college-interview-david-instone-brewer

    Also, Christianity Today published an article about his views, which generated a bit of controversy.

  3. Why it should be a matter when even same sex marriage – sodomarriage :-< becomes a norm for this rotten society?

    Seriously, something prohibits a divorced person to remarry (within the Christian community)? where does the Bible say so?

    Oun

  4. Hi Michael:

    I think we really have to distinguish between Matthew and Jesus. Matthew has a polemic and apologetic purpose in arranging Jesus’ sayings topologically and perhaps embellishing them in an explanatory manner, for purposes of church community guidance.

    A good example is Matthew allowing divorce for fornication, whereas Jesus’ original expression in Mark does not allow for this at all. Did Jesus assume it? leave it out? No. Matthew added it, inspired by his plain syncretic purpose of harmonizing the teaching of Mark/Luke and the teaching of the Jewish-Christians who were insisting on hanging onto Torah.

    The “Sermon on the Mount” is a clever blend of Luke’s original Sermon on the Plain, and various other sayings taken out of their original context from elsewhere (and left now contextless), and of course the Letter of James (Jacob to the 12 tribes).

    One of the main purposes of “Matthew” (read: the church leadership) in writing a new gospel (otherwise unneeded) was to prevent a near-fatal split between the Jewish-Christians and Gentile Christians. So the best of both (Paul/Mark/Luke and James/Torah) were very successfully blended together.

    The result (once the split with the Synagogue was permanent) was the unification of Paul’s church with that of the Jewish Apostles.

    But there was a price to pay for this new synthetic Christianity: Luke’s Social Gospel was sacrificed to attract the rich Jewish and Roman middle and upper classes. And Jesus’ radical changes to Torah and its application were put on hold while law-abiding Jews were absorbed into the Church.

    Luckily, the other gospels were never abandoned, and Matthew was never meant to actually replace Luke/Mark and John/Paul. Instead, the crafty devils established absolutely that there would “always be four” gospels, protecting other unique deposits of the (perhaps truer) Gospel Vision as found in Luke/Paul & John.

    This background is needed to deal with marriage/divorce…

  5. Can a Divorced Christian be Remarried?

    Yes it is possible for a divorced christian to be remmaried. I know several married couples where at least one person is christian, and at least one person is remarried.

    :p

  6. Here is more:

    (1) Michael:”fulfilling the requirements of what was said before does not make one righteous unless it is understood correctly. ”

    This sounds disturbingly like the ‘gnostic’ (and plainly false) gloss in Codex Bezae, concerning the man breaking the sabbath: There Jesus says words to the effect: “If you know what you’re doing, you are blessed. If you don’t, you are cursed.” (i.e., for breaking the sabbath).

    But this is clearly a later philosophical bit of sophistry tacked onto a heavily tampered-with document, far post-dating the real gospel records.

    Jesus wasn’t about “understanding” (i.e. ‘gnosis’) but about a ‘right heart’ and Godly spirit (see the non-gloss but mistakenly deleted statement in modern versions of the real Jesus in the fuller text of Luke 9:55 NKJV).
    —————–
    (2) Michael: “the scribes and the Pharisees…had not broken any of the commandments”.

    This plainly contradicts Jesus, who accused them directly of breaking both the spirit and the letter of the Law in inventing legal loopholes and other nonsense (e.g. Mark 7:10-13 etc., or more directly: “Hypocrites!…”)

    Your characterization is politically correct, but historically wrong if we take Jesus’ position as honest and accurate.
    ——————
    (3) “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out.” may indeed be hyperbolic. But this Matthew-bit originally from Mark 9:43-47, is a strange poetic insertion on the border of the Great Lukan Omission (the section of Mark Luke doesn’t copy or apparently know about). It is likely a piece of floating tradition added when that section was (i.e., after Luke wrote).

    In any case, it is nothing like the plain, NON-poetic statement on marriage given by Jesus in Mark 10:5-12. Here no divorce is allowed. And its not hyperbole.

    peace
    Nazaroo

  7. Michael: “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!”

    Not really. Anyone this messed up isn’t living in the Spirit, and is not regenerate. Its not ‘hyperbole’ for Jesus and Paul to expect people to control themselves. This is quite possible with the Spirit of God’s help.

    The “burning” passage doesn’t give license to be a lawbreaker. It is supposed to *prevent* lawbreaking, not allow easy divorce or remarriage.

    ———————
    Michael: “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.”

    No this isn’t what it boils down to.

    A far more important and overriding principle is whether or not the spouse is a Christian in word and deed. There is no obligation to stay with a NON-Christian ‘partner’ (obviously not joined in the Spirit of God) who leaves or remarries or commits fornication.

    The correct response to unChristian partners, is “Adios.”
    ———————–
    Michael: “…the Scriptures present some ambiguity with regard to divorce and remarriage.”

    If so, you haven’t shown that very clearly. Where is this ambiguity? It has the uncanny appearance of a lack of integrating Scripture properly as a living whole, meant to be a clear and unambiguous light to guide Christians.

    In this case, perhaps ANY systematic organization of Scriptural teaching on marriage is better than none. If you can’t pull this off, maybe its time to be even more humble and consult a source that *has* managed to achieve this.

    peace
    Nazaroo

  8. “I think we really have to distinguish between Matthew and Jesus. Matthew has a polemic and apologetic purpose in arranging Jesus’ sayings topologically and perhaps embellishing them in an explanatory manner, for purposes of church community guidance.”

    Are you implying that Matthew isn’t inerrant??

  9. Michael: “Are you implying that Matthew isn’t inerrant??”

    I’m implying that when the Church serves itself, its singularly uninspired.

    We saw this again later when all the pagan temples were looted to enrich the church, and again when the Inquisition was used to rob Jews of their property in Spain.

    I won’t mention persecution of other Christian groups, witch-hunts, torture to gain confessions, and Galileo.

    The unusual additions (Special Matthew) granting the “Church” the keys to the kingdom…

    The unusual substitutions (Luke: “Blessed are the poor”, Matt. “…in spirit”…) erasing the Social Gospel…

    The lame substitution of Matthew’s “safe” parables for Luke’s edge-cutting ones…

    The rearrangement and removal of the historical context for many of Christ’s sayings…

    The more disturbing chronological rearrangement to change Luke’s structural message into something more sinister…

    These things collectively say,

    “Hey, where is Matthew going?” and “If allowed to go further, where will we end up if we follow him?”

    I love Matthew, because he reproduces nearly 90% of Luke; and his edits make historical sense in a changing circumstance re: the early Church.

    But lets be honest. Luke had it right the first time. And Matthew has muddied the waters.

    peace
    Nazaroo

  10. Nazaroo,
    Thanks for the response. I was going to debate you on some of your points, but I see that is pointless since you and I start with completely different presuppositions. I believe the Bible, including Matthew, are inerrant (as does the author of this blog). As such I believe that things like the marital unfaithfulness exception in Matthew are binding and lawful. If Matthew in fact wrote it then it is infallible.

    Since you basically set up you’re own criteria for determining which passages of the Bible you believe to be inspired and inerrant and which ones are not it is impossible to debate you.

  11. Naz, please read the rules. There is a reason for the character limit.

  12. Carab, please read the rules and, like naz, don’t post one after the other.

  13. Mr. Patton,

    Rather than “God hates divorce” I’d prefer to point out that God probably hates bad translation, too. Simply put, that is an unfair translation of Mal. 2:16, and was unknown prior to the KJV. This includes pre-KJV translations in the West throughout the middle ages, as well as more ancient translations such as the Septuagint. The LXX reads, “But if, having hated, you divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and iniquity will cover your thoughts (his garments), says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not forsake.” This is completely in line with other pre-KJV renderings. I’m also heartened to see that the ESV, too, was not beholden to the traditional translation and instead went with the more textually accurate version. ESV scholar C. John Collins has published a more thorough explanation of the historical and literary support (which is substantial) for the more accurate ESV translation: http://www.esv.org/assets/pdfs/malachi.2.16.collins.pdf

    My point here is not, of course, to say that God thinks divorce is just dandy. But if we are going to endeavor to say what God says on divorce, we need to come to terms with the reality that — at least in the case of Mal. 2:16 — our translation history isn’t helping us much.

  14. I’ve always wondered about this passage.

    And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.
    (Mark 10:2-5 ESV)

    Moses allowed divorce? God hates divorce, but is there room for compassion in this fallen world?

    On what authority did Moses allow this? How should we view this and is there application today?

  15. I’ve posted ‘multi-messages’ before and no one complained. It appears the most important part of what I wrote – the part which discussed in a very practical way what the Scriptures have to say – has been removed. Very interesting sense of priorities there.

  16. But lets be honest. Luke had it right the first time. And Matthew has muddied the waters.
    .
    peace
    Nazaroo

    Nazaroo:

    Luke begins his Gospel by saying he wrote it “so that [Theophilus] may know the exact truth about the things [Theophilus had] been taught.” (Luke 1:4).

    Does this perhaps imply that in Luke’s opinion or source-checking, he believed or found that Matthew and Mark (and maybe even John, if John had been written at the time) had gotten some things not exactly right, and Luke was in his Gospel correcting their errors? After all, it’s a faith statement or faith conviction, not a demonstrated proof, that the Gospels are “inerrant” in all they say, for besides this implication of what Luke wrote, there are some divergences between some of the Synoptics that resist reconciliation such as to call into question the tenet that all the Gospels are all correct in all and each and every detail and in all and each and every thing they say.

    But this thread is not about inerrancy, though your statements about Matthew’s purpose cast a shadow over the assumed objectivity of his Gospel and, if true, would force the reader to read Matthew in a new light.

  17. I have struggled with divorce by reason of abuse (mental as well as physical). Should a wife stay with a husband that is abusive? I am unaware of scripture giving a view on this but I would not suggest to a woman to stay with a man that is capable of causing physical harm.

  18. Michael, I’d also point out that Jesus was speaking to unrepentant Jews who thought divorce was justified under the law, not to repentant Christians who were grieved over thier divorce. The latter are promised forgiveness and cleansing from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9), meaning that God no longer sees them as “divorced.”

    Jesus was rebuking the notion that divorce was okay, and anyone who divorces with that attitude is in danger of adultery. But when one divorces (for whatever reason) and later admits it was wrong or selfish – asking forgiveness – they receive it. God does not “remember” some sins (divorce) while “forgetting” others (hatred,theft,gossip). They are all forgiven and forgotten.

    I wrote a series of blogs on the same subject (I was divorced in 1998) and the comments I received were similar to yours – some supportive and some very condemning. I have found that those who disagree will not listen to any remarriage argument, and seem quite willing to assume God’s total forgiveness for their own sins while denying it to the divorced.

  19. @JRoach:

    I hope it’s OK that I post this here. For the issue of abuse and divorce, probably the most noted conservative scholar to support divorce for neglect (including abuse) was the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen. He lays out a solid foundation for his case in his classic “Theses on Divorce and Spousal Abuse” (see http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pe058.htm) I won’t attempt to recount his points here, only to say that I found it a very interesting read.

    Sometimes, it’s actually OK to pinch heads of wheat on the Sabbath or eat the show bread (Matthew 12), even when the Pharisees can’t see the greater evil from the lesser.

  20. Interesting post. I disagree; I think Scripture rather unambiguously prohibits remarriage. (Of course, some will do it anyway, and we need to deal with that, but the point remains.) Holding that remarriage is sinful isn’t popular, but we need to remember that if indeed God says it is sin, then no matter how it seems to us, it is indeed better for people to remain unmarried. The great temptation is to think that our emotions are a better guide to what is good for friends and family members that Scripture is. In the end, though, if Scripture says, “Don’t!” then so should we.

    The question, of course, is whether Scripture says that!

    Rather than try to go through the arguments exhaustively—I’m trying to follow the blog rules here, and that would take a huge amount of space!—I’ll just point you to our recent series on the topic. Fair warning: it took us 2 posts to deal with the material exegetically, and 3 more to cover all the points of application.

    Another resource that everyone might find helpful on the topic is Piper’s position paper on the topic. Again, it’s long, but he works through each passage and deals with them very carefully and thoroughly.

  21. I find these verses by Paul a wonderful window into a mind that is struggling with a thorny issue. Paul swings back and forth, wanting to be “pure” and consistent in his views but struggling with things as they are in the real world.

    The full context of 1 Cor 7:10-11 is:

    10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

    So Paul is hewing to the same line that MArk has Jesus enunciate.

  22. Nazaroo: Boy, there aren’t many who assume Matthian dependance on Luke! It’s like spotting a rare species ;)

  23. Nazaroo: Boy, there aren’t many who assume Matthian dependance on Luke! It’s like spotting a rare species

    Maybe proto-Matthew was written before Luke (a Hebrew Matthew?), but canonical Matthew was adjusted/edited/written after Luke?

    Just askin’….

  24. Can a Christian who does not give up and give away all his possesssions be a disciple/follower of Jesus?

    Can a Christian who does not give whatever he might have to any or all who ask anything from him, without expecting or asking for its return, be a disciple/follower of Jesus?

    We strain out gnats and swallow camels. We ignore or qualify the plain statements in order to wrestle/wrangle over minutiae in the obscure ones.

    Lord, have mercy.

  25. Thank you Eloquorius!

  26. A couple things:
    porneia is sexual immorality, meaning an illegitimate union in the Second Temple Period. It’s not talking about what is done in marriage, but what marries in the first place. Otherwise, Matthew might feel that his Jewish audience would see a contradiction with John the Baptist telling Herod that his marriage to his brother’s wife (i.e., she had divorced him) was wrong.
    The Markan and Lukan occurrences, of course, have no exception clause, simply because the Greeks would not have understood the word porneia in terms of Lev 18, as did the Jews.

    The statement isn’t hyperbole. It’s showing the breadth of the law, as they all are. Christ is trying to point out the Pharisees don’t interpret law appropriately (look at the context). It’s about legal interpretation that leads to righteousness versus legal interpretation that leads to disobedience.
    The statement is repeated outside of this context again in Matt 19 in the context of radical obedience to Christ.

    Should we untangle the web, leave it a mess and preach to accommodate those who are in the mess, or preach to the new generation and just hope for mercy on the old? I don’t know, but what a ridiculous mess and evil that has let chaos reign in the church for too long.

    “Sometimes, it’s actually OK to pinch heads of wheat on the Sabbath or eat the show bread (Matthew 12), even when the Pharisees can’t see the greater evil from the lesser.”

    An ethic that is sure to kill all of humankind. I wouldn’t apply the setting aside of ritual pictures of ethics to setting aside ethics themselves. Otherwise, we become victims of the Pharisees and will have Christ say to us on that day, “Depart from Me, I never knew you, you who practice lawlessness.”

  27. @Chris Krycho: Funny you should mention Piper, as even his own Board of Elders disagree and his “silly notion” (as Piper himself calls it, tongue in cheek) of strict no divorce/no remarriage is not the policy or practice of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Their hard complementarian, strict abstentionist elders cannot support that view from Scripture, and Piper admits such, though he remains headstrong on the issue.

    Here’s a simply principle: God does not regulate sin, He prohibits it! Right? That’s why we don’t see gay marriage regulated. We don’t see stealing regulated. Etc. We do, however, see divorce and remarriage regulated even under the strict OT law; both in Ex. 21:10 and Deut. 24:1-4.

    It’s interesting to note that William Heth — one of the most well known proponents of no divorce/no remarriage, along with Carl Laney — has since changes his position. Google for “Jesus on Divorce – How My Mind Has Changed” and you can see how he now admits the unsupportable nature of this previous arguments.

  28. @Citizendon: I think it’s worth clarifying that just because I don’t believe remarriage is acceptable doesn’t mean I don’t believe God offers full forgiveness for those who have divorce and those who have remarried. (Quite the contrary, in fact!) It does mean that I think the two are separate sins, and that being forgiven of one’s divorce is not license to sin further by remarrying. Now, of course we disagree on whether that remarriage is sin, but if it is, the fact that God extends forgiveness has zero bearing on whether one should remarry!

    I think the idea being raised is that, if God forgives the divorce, then a remarriage is no longer adultery; the divorce is forgiven, so the first marriage is done away with and no longer an issue. I don’t think that follows; the act of sin has been forgiven, but the consequences remain. Just as with all other sins: forgiveness is complete, but the effects of the sin continue to impact our lives, sometimes indefinitely. The man who commits murder may be forgiven, but he will still (rightly!) serve jail time. The woman who commits adultery may be forgiven, including by her husband, but her marriage will forever bear those scars. And so on.

    @Eloquorious: Indeed, having read the paper I noted that as well. There is definitely a range of opinions here! That said, I arrived at this conclusion by looking at the passages in question. I have yet to hear a compelling, Scripturally based argument that remarriage is not adultery. Emphasis on compelling; obviously this post is attempting to be Scriptural, but I am not convinced by the treatment of Jesus’ several statements on the topic here—not least since he reiterates the same teaching outside the hyperbolic contexts of Matthew 5 (the Lukan and Markan passages). I’m taking a look at Heth’s paper now, though; thanks for linking it.

  29. For the more strict here:

    1. If a person is married and divorced before he is a Christian, once he becomes one, can he get remarried?

    2. If I have slept with someone before I got married, am I married to that person in God’s eyes?

    3. Does God count all second marriages that are not scriptural as illegitimate?

    4. Should a person who is remarried get a divorce from his or her second spouse and rejoin with his first spouse if that is possible?

    5. If I lust after someone, is this grounds for my spouse to divorce me?

    In the end, if you are honest, things are not as clean as we like to think.

  30. Eloqorius,

    By that logic, prostitution, being only regulated in the OT rather than prohibited, should be acceptable in certain circumstances. Do you agree? BTW, this might also apply to adultery in terms of the husband getting involved with a non-married woman in the OT.

    Michael,

    What is not clean is the mess that sin has created. We don’t argue from the results of sin to the ethical principle. What is right is right whether the whole world is condemned for it or not. Of course there is mercy, but should we teach that way? Should you tell your kids that they shouldn’t play in the street, but not to worry because you’ll just forgive them if they do?

    Number 5 misunderstands the exception clause. As I said before, the exception is talking about an illegitimate union in the first place, not what is practiced during marriage. If that is true, then Christ should have just said that you can divorce anyone at any time, since every person has lusted and therefore committed adultery. The verses only make sense when taken in the context of all of their occurrences and historical understandings. Why is that the Church, that did not yet have Matthew, would read Mark or Luke and then conclude that remarriage was adultery? Matthew makes no sense to them when it comes along then. It does however make perfect sense to the Jews.

    How do we untangle the web for this generation? We can’t; but we can teach consistently and save the next from it. Otherwise, we just perpetuate this error, and it continues to build and expand.

  31. @Patton: “2. If I have slept with someone before I got married, am I married to that person in God’s eyes?”

    1 Cor. 6 says that if a man has sex with a prostitute that he has become “one flesh” with her — very specific words to be sure! But does Paul indicate that the man is how married to her? Or, perhaps, an instant polygamists? Scripture doesn’t say that. Though this can be a hard passage, I believe the point is that Christians who engage with prostitutes are committing sexual immorality, rather than some Pauline commentary to proves the sex = instant marriage.

    Thought provoking question tho! I look forward to the responses.

  32. “Adultery” under the Mosaic Covenant only referred to the status of the woman. A married man having sex with an unmarried or unbetrothed woman was not committing adultery under the Mosaic Covenant, whereas sex with or by a married or betrothed woman was adultery. See David Noel Freedman on this (THE NINE COMMANDMENTS). This is still the teaching among Orthodox/Chasidic Jews, as is pointed out in a chapter in Donna Rosenthal’s THE ISRAELIS.

    In its Jewish context, Jesus in Matthew seems to be saying that if you lust for or covet a [man’s] WIFE (gunê means both woman and wife), you have committed adultery, since she does not belong to you. Lust for or sex with a woman who doesn’t belong to a man is more along the lines of porneia than adultery.

  33. @Hodge: “By that logic, prostitution, being only regulated in the OT rather than prohibited, should be acceptable in certain circumstances.”

    I wasn’t aware that prostitution was expressly condoned or regulated in the OT. Did I miss something? (Serious question there. No snark intended.) I know it existed, as did all sorts of sexual sin since the fall, but I wasn’t aware it was regulated like divorce and remarriage.

    BTW, one might also want to draw attention to Ezra 10, where the Nation of Israel, God’s people, repented not *of* divorce, but *through* divorce. Though such an action is proscribed for NT Christians per 1 Cor. 7, the point is that in the time of Ezra men throughout the nation divorced their (foreign, pagan) wives. This form of repentance does not jive wit the understanding that all divorce is sin. Of course, as Mr. Patton has pointed out, God is divorced, too, per Jer. 3:8…. and not for wrongful/illegitimate betrothal, but adultery.

  34. Eric,

    You had it right until you said this:

    “Lust for or sex with a woman who doesn’t belong to a man is more along the lines of porneia than adultery.”

    porneia does not mean lusting after a non-married woman in Second Temple Judaism. That’s what it means to modern evangelicalism. Cf. the use in the DSS, Pseudepigrapha, etc. It refers to the sins in Lev 18. See also Joseph Fitzmeyer in “To Advance the Gospel.”

  35. @CMP: I’ll answer in brief; all of those were issues we address in our posts in detail, so if someone wants more, I’ll direct them there.
    1) No.
    2) No. Marriage is more than sex. Sex is necessary, and consummative, but not sufficient to create a marital union: that involves a covenant as well.
    3) Illegitimate? No. But it was wrong; while now a legitimate marriage that likewise ought not to be broken, it was an act of adultery to remarry.
    4) Per the above, no. That would be double the sin: breaking covenant not once but twice.
    5) No. There are no legitimate grounds for initiating a divorce (though some for initiating separation, and some for accepting a divorce). Moreover, the issue you raise is only an issue for your position: if lust is indeed adultery, then under your position it is grounds for divorce! My view is consistent here.

    One note: from a hermeneutical standpoint, shouldn’t we let the clear, unambiguous prohibitions interpret the one exception clause rather than force the clear prohibitions to be negated by that exception clause?

    @Eloquorius #31: I agree with you here. I think Paul has in view the defiling going on in that act, and how the marriage covenant has been violated.

  36. Eloqorius,

    Prostitution is regulated in terms of the priesthood and fathers (i.e., priests were not to marry prostitutes and father were not to force their daughters into prostitution. God does tell Hosea to marry a prostitute, however, to prove a point; and although it is widely practiced in ancient Israel, it is never prohibited. One might conclude that there are only guidelines placed upon it (i.e., regulated); but not prohibited.

    Marrying a foreign wife was considered an illegitimate union. Hence, Ezra illustrates the same exception that Christ refers to in Matt.

    If you look at it, the men are scolded for divorcing their wives and marrying foreign women who were younger in Mal 2. So there is a remarriage condemnation of foreign wives there, which may not go either way for either one of us.

    Something that should be understood about Deuteronomic codes: they exist as provisions once someone has done something wrong. They do not condone anything. They simply set up provisions for the wronged party. That’s why Christ has to correct the misstatement of the Pharisees that Moses commanded it. He allowed it because of the hardness of their hearts, but law never taught it. It just taught what should be done for the wronged wife.

  37. Question for the less strict:

    If adultery is lusting after another, and this is the exception to which Christ refers, is it OK to divorce anyone who has lusted after another who is not his or her spouse? Why or why not?

    BTW, this is a real scenario. I know of a woman from a church I attended that argued this way and divorced her husband on this basis. It was a major problem for the church, as they believed that adultery was the exception that allowed for her to divorce, but felt that something was wrong with it.

  38. Thanks for the clarification, Hodge. I was kind of winging it with that last sentence.

  39. No. That is why I have taken the position that I have in saying that it is impossible to take all of the issues related to divorce and remarraige at face value. It is important to understand them in the context of Christ’s overall purpose. With Paul, it is even more sticky as I have shown.

    BTW: I have had to deal with this all the time. There are many people out there, especially women, who seek divorce because of their husbands involvement in porn.

  40. Michael,

    Which is why I would say that we should take the clear teaching that is consistent throughout all of the occurrences:

    Matthew: Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery

    Mark: Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery

    Luke: Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery

    1 Corinthians: But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away . . . A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

    Romans: For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man.

    If everything else is fuzzy, these consistencies are clear. The two become one flesh in consummation of the covenant, the cannot be separated by anyone because God has joined them together.

    Saying that we just can’t take all of them into account is a defeatism that stems from our situation, not from the Bible itself. Other statements may be difficult, but the ones above are clear.

    Michael,

    On a side note, I’m curious what you say to them? Do you say that they have a point? If the statement about divorce and remarriage is only hyperbole (which it isn’t in Matt 19), then do they have grounds for divorce in your view?

  41. @Chris Krycho – I would argue that a prohibition against remarriage indicates that some vestige of my sin remains upon me, i.e. God still sees me as “divorced,” a position inconsistent with total forgiveness. What you may not realize is that a divorced Christian does live with legitimate consequences… an inward brokenness that often manifests itself as depression, mental anguish, self-condemnation, etc. These struggles may remain for years, or for life.

    Most Christians – perhaps yourself – presume total forgiveness for “smaller” sins without much in the way of tearful, heartfelt repentance. It’s pretty hypocritical then to think that the divorced – even after such repentance – must additionally serve a “jail sentance” to remain clean.

    Simply put, Jesus was not addressing repentant Christians, and that makes all the difference when considering His statement on adultery.

  42. Eric, anytime. ;)

  43. 40.Hodge on 27 Jul 2010 at 2:05 pm #


    1 Corinthians: But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away . . . A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

    IIRC, Craig Keener (in AND MARRIES ANOTHER, I think) re: 1 Corinthians 7:15: “Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.” (NASB)

    Keener says the Greek says that such a person is no longer “bound” (as opposed to “under bondage”) Greek ou dedoulôtai o adelfos ê ê adelfê. Keener says “you are not bound” is the rabbinical pronouncement after a divorce that continues “and you are free to remarry.” (I think Keener may say that it was almost a command to go ahead and remarry.) I.e., to be no longer bound = you may remarry, and Paul knew this and so did the Corinthians he was writing to. Thus, Paul was allowing remarriage to the person whose unbelieving spouse has chosen to divorce them.

  44. Keener, of course, is notorious for arguing on that side of things. The Corinthians actually would not have known the rabbinic pronouncement, and I would want to see where he is getting this pronouncement. We don’t know that much about Second Temple Jewish rabbis. We have the Mishna and Talmud that is written centuries later. Otherwise, we have things like the DSS which prohibits divorce. What Keener ends up doing is having Paul contradict himself. He says that an individual who has undergone divorce, not of his or her own will, should remain unmarried. That is clear. The term bondage is not clear. I think it most likely refers to the idea that the person is not bound to try and reconcile their entire lives and is therefore guilty if they don’t. So the clear teaching should override any unclear teaching and appeal to a context that does not belong to the Corinthians.
    Once again, what is consistent throughout all of the occurrences is that one should not remarry when one has already been made one flesh with another in a marriage covenant. We can debate about everything else, but that is consistent throughout.

  45. I also think it’s interesting that Paul uses deo, not doulow, when speaking about the bond of marriage in v. 27 and 39, but doulow when speaking about being bound in v. 15. The words can be interchangeable, but why use different words in this context? If Paul really wanted to communicate that one is not “bound” in the same way, why not use the same word? Why contradict himself if in fact he did mean to say that the individual did not need to remain single in both instances?

    BTW, he uses the term doulow in 1 Cor 9:19 to refer to emulation and acceptance of actions. Is he meaning to communicate that the person who is left does not need to emulate or do as the unbelieving spouse will do in divorce and remarriage? In other words, they are not bound to accept the practices of the unbelieving spouse in order to remain married.

  46. What Keener ends up doing is having Paul contradict himself.

    Paul does enough of that himself; he doesn’t need Keener’s help. :)

    Go to the next ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) National Conference and talk to Keener and ask him about those things; he usually attends. He’s very nice and approachable.

    He also likely has an email address where you can query him re: his sources and authorities.

    FYI, I don’t have Keener’s book with me, and my comment was a IIRC, so I may have misstated what he writes.

  47. @Citizendon: right, and that’s where I think the crux of our disagreement is. The divorce itself is not adultery. So the two acts are not the same sin; they are different sins.

    Perhaps the distinction we might make is this: you argue that being forgiven of a divorce means the former marriage no longer has any bearing. I don’t: I say the former marriage still has weight and bearing, but the repentant party is no longer under condemnation for the divorce. The two are separate issues. To take a different example: if I steal something, I may be forgiven by God, but I still have a debt to the person I stole it from. If I break a legal contract, I may repent and yet still have a legal requirement to the party with whom I broke contract. In neither case am I under judgment for sin, but in both cases I still have an ongoing relational obligation to the other party. I would argue the same is true of marriage, only far more so.

    Looking again at someone who has repented of his divorce: we all agree that as long as he and his spouse are both unmarried, they ought to seek to reconcile, right? Paul makes this very clear: their repentance and full forgiveness means God is not holding their sin against them, yet they are still supposed to reconcile. They are not free to remarry! I think the same is true in general. Thus, while specific arguments might be raised against my position, I don’t think this is one of them. The divorced man or woman’s sin may be fully forgiven and yet an obligation remain.

    In fact, everyone agrees that this is so; the only question is where we believe that obligation ends. I believe it ends with reconciliation or one party’s death. Hard to swallow? Yes. But if it’s Biblical, we need to swallow anyway, and trust that God’s will really is best.

  48. “Paul does enough of that himself; he doesn’t need Keener’s help.”

    LOL. I’m sure “Paul’s” contradictions are us trying to read him a certain way and then not having it pan out when we read everything he says. ;)

  49. Hodge,

    “If everything else is fuzzy, these consistencies are clear.”

    Just a curiosity here. If the Bible makes what seems to be a “clear” pronouncement on an issue, but then makes other pronouncements which seem to qualify or make unclear the “clear” pronouncement isn’t it fair to say that the issue isn’t “clear”?? (wow that was a mouthful) Seriously though I run into issues similar to this with court cases all the time where a court has made a statement somewhere in the case that seems a slam dunk for my position, only to qualify that position elsewhere in the same case or in another case making the whole thing as clear as mud.

  50. What it actually means is that the seemingly ambiguous passage ought to be interpreted in light of the clear ones. It should be seen as a nuance to, rather than a contradiction of, the other passages.

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