DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE
Not Everybody Will Like What I Write But I Must Give the Correct Biblical Teaching and Allow My Words to Fall Where They Will...
S ome time ago I received a question on the topic of divorce and remarriage from a Christian viewpoint and quickly realised that we have nothing on this topic in all of our 1,600 plus pages!
Here is the question I received:
"Can you give me your input on divorce and remarriage? Is a person supposed to divorce and remain single to be right with God? I divorced my first husband due to ..... and his refusal to appropriately deal with it. I didn't want to divorce and tried to reconcile but he went crazy and weird and still refused help (he heaped all the guilt and problems on me). That's not to say I was without fault, I have plenty of faults and want to get right with God. I have been seeking to find a Biblical church and the one I found is telling me to divorce as I'm in adultery and will not go to heaven per the scriptures. We've been married 13 years."
First of all let me say that I am astonished at the advice this woman was given, a point which I will return to later.
Now, liberal Christians would not even consider this question worth asking. Sadly, many of them divorce and remarry without any reference to the Scriptures, or to their liberal ministers, they simply follow the dictates of modern society. My words, then, are for Bible-believers who take the Holy Bible seriously. Even there, one should not assume that one will agree with every single thing I am about to write because there are certain variations of opinion here but I have tried hard to be faithful to Bible teaching and I simply have to allow my words to fall where they will!
Okay, firstly divorce was possible in the Old Testament, that is, under the Old Covenant, but only under certain circumstances. Let us look at what Jesus said about this.
... 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'... So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." (Matthew 19:5-9)
These are pretty stiff standards and many who come to Christ may have already remarried, even perhaps many years previously, so where do such people now stand under the New Covenant, where do they stand upon becoming Christians? I am going to consider several possible scenarios in which remarriage might possibly occur. Please stay with me until the end.
1. In the Case of Fornication/Adultery.
In the above passage of Scripture, the Lord Jesus Christ gave grounds for divorce. The first Biblical ground for divorce therefore is plainly "fornication."
Obviously both singles and married people are capable of committing the sin of fornication. If a married person joins himself/herself sexually to someone other than their spouse, they are guilty of the sin of fornication and adultery and it is grounds for divorce. Nevertheless, dreadful though such a thing is, It must be said at once that divorce is not strictly necessary, especially, perhaps, in the case of a one-off lapse or incident under temptation. If the offended party forgives (it will be impossible to forget, at least initially), and the offender truly repents and forsakes his or her sin and sexual liaison, then that marriage can be mended and the relationship restored. I obviously speak of Christians here; this should include a full repentance before God, whether or not one's pastor/minister is brought into the matter. For a Christian - if not for many unbelievers - this must - I repeat must - be the first 'port of call,' the situation should hopefully lead to a Christian couple sitting down and going through all the reasons for possible estrangement with a determination to repair the damage and to rebuild trust. This is what should happen, but I fear it often does not and the straying 'believer' will quickly look for all sorts of reasons to justify either a permanent separation or a divorce. A tragedy.
Nevertheless, adultery is a biblical ground for divorce, especially perhaps where the deception has continued for a very long time and where the relationship has irrepairably broken down.
2. In the Case of Desertion.
This is where either a husband or a wife has deserted the spouse, maybe to set up home with somebody else, but is now nowhere on the scene.
Strictly speaking this is not Biblical grounds for a divorce according to what Paul the Apostle wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:
For I would that all men were even as myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. 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. (1 Corinthians 7:7-11).
So if a couple have separated it is fine if they later reconcile, eventually restoring a full marriage, yet presumably only if they have remained sexually loyal to each other.
As I think we all know, Paul stated that a person is better off to remain single if possible. The reason is they are able to focus on bringing glory to God. A man who has a family obviously has obligations to them (see vs. 32-35). When the Bible says you are better off married than to burn, it is speaking of burning with lust. But we should take careful note of something here: God's ideal situation is for a person is to fulfill their sexual desires with their spouse. Some, possibly like Paul, are given the gift of celibacy (see Matthew 19:11-12), but I fear it is extremely few in an age which bombards everyone with sexual temptation just about everywhere one looks. That was not the case in Paul's day.
So Paul states that the deserter of a spouse is better to remain unmarried or eventually to be reunited with his/her marital partner. Yet in our modern Western world if the departed insists on divorce there is probably nothing a believer can do. These may not be biblical grounds but the deserter will not be concerned with that. Not good, but divorce may eventually be inevitable.
3. The Death of a Spouse.
On the subject of remarriage here is another possible area though it is obviously not divorce.
In Romans 7 Paul writes,
For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband is dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she is married to another man. (Romans 7:2-3).
The only way he or she can now legally be married to another person is for his/her wife/husband to die. This is according to the Old Testament law (vs. 1). As we have seen, there are proper divorces, because of fornication (Matthew 19) and, as we are about to see, because of desertion by a non-believer (1 Corinthians 7). Again, neither case necessarily has to lead to divorce but these are grounds. One should also consult 1 Tim. 5:14.
4. Believer/Unbeliever Marriages and Possible Desertion.
So now let us consider this possible scenario where either spouse comes to Christ but the other marital partner remains a non-believer. It should go without even saying that a believer should never marry an unbeliever but , of course, one can come to the true Faith whilst in the state of marriage and here there can obviously be problems.
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: if any brother have a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases; but God has called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save your husband? Or how do you know, O man, whether you shall save your wife? But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all of the churches. (1 Cor. 7:12-17).
So this is the guidance given to a believer married to an unbeliever who deserts him or her. In verses ten and eleven, Paul explains that while on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ gave the commandment that the wife is not to depart from her husband and the husband is not to put away his wife. The Corinthians want to know if there are any exceptions to this commandment. Their question may possibly have been put to the Apostle Paul in this manner: "Suppose two lost people are married and one of them gets saved, may a Christian divorce a lost person?" So in these verses the Apostle is addressing a subject upon which the Lord Jesus Christ was silent, yet He is speaking under inspiration of the Holy Spirit so it cannot be dismissed as merely Paul's opinion. Paul the Apostle answers their question of separation with an emphatic "No." If the lost person desires to remain married to the saved person, then the saved person is under biblical obligations to remain married. However, if the lost person departs and plainly considers the marriage to be over, then the saved person is not under the 'bondage' of verses 10-11 in such cases. This then is the second ground for divorce, but again, divorce is not strictly necessary.
So this divorce is initiated by the departed unbeliever, Paul states, 'A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases; but God has called us to peace. '
But let us be clear: if you are a Christian and your spouse departs, you are not given the Biblical sanction to divorce that spouse. Even there, your only option is to remain single (1 Cor. 7:10). If your spouse decides to divorce you, however, then you are no longer under bondage (1 Cor. 7:25-28). Therefore, the Biblical definition of desertion is in the instance where your spouse leaves and wants to divorce you. If they simply leave, you are not free to divorce them. This re-emphasizes the Biblical truth that God does not expect two Christians to divorce. The ideal is to be married for life. Some may not like this but I must present the relevant Scriptures in the correct and responsible manner, although there is more information on this yet to come, so ensure that you read right to the end.
5. Marriage to an Unbeliever Before Becoming a Believer.
A woman has written to me suggesting her own personal story; before she became a believer she had an early marriage to a non-believer. He deserted her for another woman; within five years she had no idea where he was. Again, she is not bound in this situation. Desertion is grounds for divorce; becoming a believer initiates a fresh start for such people.
REMARRIAGE; Not According To Biblical Guidelines?
Jesus said in Matthew 19:9,
"And I say to you, Whoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery: and whoever marries her who has been put away commits adultery."
Now let us suppose that a man divorces his wife away because of her adultery. She is guilty of abandoning her husband and joining herself to another man. In this instance, the man has scriptural grounds for divorce and is entirely free to remarry, being in no danger of committing adultery. Now please understand that this is not just my opinion, but the words of the Lord Jesus Christ! Therefore, the man who divorces his wife for the cause of her adultery is no longer married to that particular woman. He is now again single. He should now be regarded as having no wife at all. Obviously all of this also applies in reverse. If he - or she - marries somebody (who is not divorced) that is absolutely fine, it's a clean start.
Now some - perhaps many - reading this may have already remarried, being ignorant of these teachings from the Word of God, or having had these teachings poorly explained to them in the past. In effect, I have to say that according to God's Word you are living in adultery - however - if your question then is, "Should I then divorce the person I am now married to and make an attempt to be reconciled to my former spouse?" The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is absolutely not! You must attempt to preserve your present marriage according to Christian principles. This is according to a principle to be found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in which it is forbidden for a remarried wife to return to a former husband which is called an "abomination before the LORD."
If you are legally married (Romans 13:1-4), even if this is a remarriage not entirely according to Christian principles, you should remain legally married to that person and be totally faithful to your spouse. But what - it might be asked - of the ongoing adultery? The answer is that none of us can be entirely sin-free in this life. As far as the adultery is concerned, one should repent, then put complete trust in Jesus Christ to take the sin away. Neither should any think that it would then be fine to deny one's second spouse sexual intercourse - that is most certainly not the answer. After all, one is hardly in such a serious situation as a former prostitute and we know that, upon repentance, their sins can be wiped completely clean! Just be determined to be loyal to your present marital partner. Adultery is not the unforgivable sin. The Lord Jesus Christ has died for your sins. The debt is paid. The sacrifice is made. This is why I abhor the advice some legalistic cults and sects give, that one should ideally divorce and possibly return to a former marital partner (almost never possible in any case).
Some Consideration of Unusual Cases
Okay, here I have looked at the main points, if you will, the black and white points of biblical teaching on this matter. As always, there will be more difficult and grey areas; hopefully the reader of this article will be able to discuss these with a dedicated and sympathetic pastor on a local level. Let us just consider one or two such scenarios, these are based on actual questions which have come my way over the years:
a. "Due to her ill health, my wife and I have been unable to have sexual relations for many years. I would never leave nor divorce her but does God still expect me to be fully faithful to her at all times?"
In a word, yes. This is possibly one of the hardest things to affect a marriage. Thankfully, we have a merciful high priest who looks down with compassion upon such situations. This situation can never make adultery acceptable but it does perhaps make moments of weakness understandable and our God is quick to forgive.
b. "I was involved in plural marriage when I followed a group which I now accept to be a cult. I was one of three wives of one man. I left him along ago. Under God's law am I now still his wife? The marriage ceremony seemed to be entirely biblical at the time. The marriage was illegal under state law."
If the marriage was "illegal under state law" I presume you have no problem at all on a civic/legal level, but then there is the moral and spiritual level. How comprehensive was your knowledge of the Word of God at the time? Ultimately this becomes a question of conscience and of one's relationship with God. If one is swept along with the teachings of a cult one might come to believe all sorts of things, but if - right now - one is a believer, having come to the True Faith then there is a new footing and one can put the past behind one. The bottom line is: a marriage cannot be a marriage if one has been forced or pressurized into it, or if one was under-age at the time.
c. "Is a 'common law marriage' a real marriage, or can I walk away?"
If you and your partner have lived together and been involved in a loving faithful relationship then, yes, it was as a 'real marriage' for all intents and purposes. We must all remember that no particular formal marriage ceremony is given in the Bible; if a couple love each other, live together and accept all the responsibilities of marriage then they are 'as married.' It can be weak, cowardly and irresponsible to then walk away from this, especially if children are involved. To simply walk away from this into another relationship is certainly fornication. Legally there may be no need for divorce but God's moral law still stands.
We have seen that the Bible allows two clear areas where divorce might occur and there is also really a third area (desertion), not so much biblically sanctioned but probably an where divorce might finally be inevitable. But God hates divorce and Christian believers should be expected to do all within their power to preserve their marriages. We have also seen that even if one has remarried in a manner not strictly according to biblical guidelines the answer is to do nothing to break one's current marriage but to do everything to preserve it.
None of this means any of us should expect marriage to be constantly trouble-free. All marriages can have stresses and difficulties from time to time, unbelievers may walk away but Christians are expected to work to overcome problems. Many, many years ago I had a friend whose wife committed adultery. This Christian couple worked hard to put this unfortunate episode behind them and they succeeded; they became a very happy couple indeed. They are both deceased now but they became a very fine example.
In today's modern West people no longer see marriage as an unbreakable contract of love and fidelty - whatever the cost. I just read about a young celebrity whose second marriage is, we are told, heading for divorce after 18 months yet she is still very young. This sort of thing is reprehensible and shows again how marriage has become devalued and deroded but we Christians should not allow such things to affect us.
Robin A. Brace. January 12th-29th, 2016.