Divorce & Remarriage
Perhaps Jesus words to us in Matthew 5:31-32 have divided more people: families, friends and churches than any other words he spoke.
Since the New Testament fails to make a formal pronouncement covering all situations in marriage, we may deduce that the apostles were guided by the Old Testament on problems concerning this topic. Now the question becomes: what does the Old Testament have to say about divorce? However, before we may understand divorce we must first have an accurate understanding of its precursormarriage.
We may define marriage as that lifelong and exclusive state in which a man and a woman are wholly committed to live with each other in a sexual relationship under conditions normally approved and witnessed to by their social group or society.
We must not confuse true marriage with the wedding ceremony. The ceremony merely solemnizes and symbolizes a couples total commitment.
A Permanent Union
That God intended for marriage to be a permanent union is evidenced by the one flesh aspect described in Genesis 2:24, where it stresses that man cleaves to his wife, signifying an underlying sense of commitment. Commitment is essential, therefore, to any true marriage as described in the scriptures and requires more than a voluntary physical experience. God did not expect, neither did he make provision for, any withdrawal from this covenant of unity.
Purposes of Marriage
It was God who declared that it was not good for man to be alone. It becomes apparent in the light of Gods own statement that the initial, divine intention for marriage was for love, fellowship and companionship.
As a one flesh covenant team, man and woman were to exercise their God-given authority over all other created things to the glory of Gods holiness. Since the beasts of the field could not fear and serve God as man could, they were to fear and serve man; Gods greatest creation.
God spoke to the man and the woman and told them to be fruitful and multiply. The procreative aspect of marriage is alluded to in the statement, Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother... Unless procreation took place in the union between the man and woman there would be no father or mother to leave.
Original righteousness was essential to mans image as Scripture teaches (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10).
Gods intention was for man and woman to continue to walk together in the righteousness and holiness in which God had created them. Personal pleasure is not a sufficient reason for entering the covenant of marriage. There would be far less call for divorce if people entered marriage under better conditions.
The focus of Scripture is on the sanctity of marriage, not the possible reasons for divorce. It should come as no surprise, then, that the basic rule is:
More than just no divorce, the basic rule for marriage is no divorce and no remarriage after divorce.
The covenant of marriage was instituted in mans innocence prior to the stain and corruption of sin. It is inconceivable that God would give provisions for a corrupted marital state before corruption had entered into it.
Not a Command
Divorce is never a necessary evil.
God never counsels us in his word to get a divorce.
Yet this divine ideal has not blinded God to the realities of irreconcilable problems that can emerge in marriages. Gods acknowledgment of these seemingly terminal problems is found in the permission to divorce given by Moses (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
Divorces were in use prior to the passage in Deuteronomy (divorce is taken for granted in Leviticus 22:14), and Moses considered it necessary to give specific rules to help preserve both the sanctity of marriage and the honor of women. The rules are:
The Displeasing Wife
In Deuteronomy 24:1, uncleanness (ervah dabhar) cannot mean immorality because the unfaithful Jewess was stoned to death (cf. Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). Uncleanness included every kind of impropriety such as going about with loose hair, familiarity with men in speech, bad breath, burned biscuits, spinning in the street, etc.
Once the husband had complied with the rules Moses had established, the woman was free to go and be another mans wife. In Rabbinical writings it is always agreed that remarriage is allowed after a lawful divorce had taken place.
The legal divorce so completely severed the marriage bond that the woman, once she had become another mans wife, could not return to her first husband, EVER. Even God refers to the womans first husband as her former husband.
Jesus Upheld Old Testament
Jesus is never found negating the Old Testament precepts or concessions. The fundamental saying of Jesus is the same as that found in the Old Testament: no divorce and no remarriage after divorce.
Matthew chapter 5 begins with the sermon on the mount, yet few realize the profound lesson that is taught beginning with verse13.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Jesus is not really concerned with the saltiness of salt, but, rather, with the power of God working effectually through men. If his disciples were not going to live and speak the word of God boldly, they would be as salt that had lost its savor. He tells them that they are the light of the world and that their lives are to be open, highly visible and filled with good works.
In verse 17 Jesus continues speaking to the disciples, telling them that the scriptures of the Old Testament were to be their rule. Jesus shows that the Old Testament scriptures were right and that the scribes and Pharisees were in the wrong. The rules that Jesus came to establish agreed perfectly with the Old Testament scriptures (the law and the prophets).
Beginning with verse 21, Christ begins to explain certain of the original ten commandments. His purpose is to recover them from the cheap glaze put upon them by the scribes and Pharisees.
In all of his speaking he adds nothing new, he only limits and bridles certain permissions and abuses which had arisen under the tutelage of the scribes and Pharisees.
In verses 21 and 27 Jesus says, Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time... This statement is made with regard to the sixth and seventh commandments, precepts given by God to Moses for the nation Israel. But notice the change when we get to the 31st verse, It hath been said,...
Jesus does not say, as before, It hath been said by them of old time, because this was not a commandment as those were; it was only a permission.
The legal term put away had a history, in both grammar and society, that ALWAYS meant the absolute dissolution of a marriage with the right to remarry. Individuals with opposing views on divorce and remarriage do not cite Hebrew or Greek authorities who teach that divorce means separation from bed and board.
The Greek word for divorce or put away in the New Testament is apoluo, which is exactly the same in meaning as the Old Testament word kerithuth. Both of these words mean: To set free; to loose; to liberate; radically dissolved, cut loose as a ship at its launching; to discharge as a soldier from the army; undo a bond; cut apart; to cause all obligation to cease; to sever; to free, as a captive, i.e., to loose his bonds and give him liberty to depart.
The word Apoluo is the same word used in Mark 15:6-15 where we witness the release (apoluo) of Barabbas. It can hardly be argued that Barabbas was only freed from crucifixion. Barabbas was set free, liberated, cut loose.
Does God require innocent people to be one flesh with a person who commits sexual crimes? Would God insist that the one flesh status be preserved even though the law ordered the death of the sexual offender? The answer to these questions must be, NO!
Fornication is prostitution, unchastity of every kind, every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse. Adultery appears as fornication in Sirach 23:23. Porneia is illicit sexual intercourse in general... all other interpretations of the term are to be rejected.
Jesus assumes that the woman will remarry (v. 32). The reason she commits adultery is because she is in sexual sin with another man while still married to the man who divorced her; the marriage was not dissolved by the divorce.
The Writing of Divorcement
The reference is to Israels official divorce bill found in Deuteronomy 24:1-2.
The Jewish divorce bill is found in Matthew 1:19.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
Notice first that Joseph was a just man.
This just man was going to divorce (put away) Mary, secretly, because he thought she had been unfaithful.
Stoned to Death
If a man or woman was found guilty of adultery the prescription of the law called for death by stoning. This ritual stoning left the innocent party free to remarry. No one ever questions or doubts that. But when we move from the LAW to GRACE, people seem to develop a certain fuzziness in their thinking. When we move away from the legal tangibility of the law of stoning into the spiritual aspect of grace and the writing of divorcement people are all too often seen running to try and find a law instead.
The Greek word cause in verse 32 means: for which a thing may be rightly done. Therefore, with the clause, ...saving for the cause of..., we now move to Matthew 19:3-12 to continue our scriptural survey.
Saving For The Cause Of
Jesus is being tempted! If we forget that we are likely to miss the entire point of Jesus answer.
At the time there were two schools of thought: Hillel, the liberal and Shammai, the conservative. The school of Hillel taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason, even bad breath. The school of Shammai taught that a man could only divorce his wife for infidelity. The temptation focused on the contention between these two schools, not on what was right. The Pharisees knew that when Jesus sided with one rabbi the advocates of the other would be outraged. The extreme in the situation would be for Jesus to renounce the decree of Moses, thus angering everyone.
Interestingly enough, the Pharisees did not mention remarriage in their query because it was not an issue. Remarriage was allowed by both according to Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
In verses 3-9 the legal term put away is used five times; twice by the Pharisees and three times by Jesus. Three times (vs. 3, 7, and 8) the term is used to mean complete dissolution of marriage.
Jesus Is Independent
Contrary to appearance, Jesus was not taking sides with the school of Shammai. Hillel and Shammai had gone to opposite extremes.
Jesus did not embrace the teachings of either school, and he left the Mosaic permission unexplained to his immediate audience.
The Marriage Ideal
When the Pharisees tempted Jesus in verse 3, he avoided taking sides by stating the original ideal for marriage.
Some believe that only believers are joined together by God, and that only believers are found in relationships that are genuinely one flesh. No doubt these same individuals are appalled the sun shines just as brightly upon the sinner as it does upon the saint. I am often amazed (and ashamed) at how stingy the church is with Gods abundant grace.
After Jesus masterfully sidestepped the calculated plot of the Pharisees by stating Gods ideal for marriage, the Pharisees counter with the question, Why did Moses command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
In asking this question, the Pharisees bait another trap. Jesus stops them with his proficient insight on the matter - Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered (allowed) you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. Notice that the Pharisees said, Moses commanded us... But Jesus corrected them by stating, Moses allowed you... The Pharisees were, of course, citing Deuteronomy 24:1-4, but they said Moses commanded the woman to be divorced. Jesus pointed out two things:
Moses allowed for divorce in this situation but did not command it.
Moses intention was to regulate the practice of divorce to prevent abuses.
A careful examination of Christs words will show that he neither approved nor condemned the Mosaic permission to divorce.
Jesus would not have said that divorce was for hardness of heart if the woman had been immoral. This is proven by the clause, but from the beginning it was not so.
Jesus could hardly be referring to divorce for infidelity when the law called, not for divorce, but for death.
Hardness of Heart
Though it is often quoted by those opposed to allowing divorce for any reason, Malachi 2:14-16 gives us a clear understanding of hardness of heart.
Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.
God hates divorce; we should not try to erase or make light of that. But there is a specific reason why God hates divorce.
The real reason God hates divorce is treachery. God is not speaking of men and women whose marriage has been shipwrecked by adultery or some other sexual misconduct.
God hates the divorces that take place when men and women deal treacherously with their spouses. When a partner sues for divorce because the bread was burned, because the spouses breath was bad, because the husband or wife is not as young and attractive as in previous years; these are viewed by God as acts of treachery.
While God tells us that he hates divorce, he does not go so far as to state that he hates ALL divorce. If God hated all divorce he could neither sanction nor allow divorce even for sexual sin; yet he does.
Lets consider further the last clause, ...but from the beginning it was not so. Why didnt Jesus add, And it shall not be so now either?
The Greek word for except in Matthew 5:32 is parektos logos, and it has the same meaning as ei me here in verse 9, i.e., 2 To take out; outside of; leave out; to exclude; to abort.
The word except has the same meaning in English as it has in the Greek language. The following definitions for except should suffice.
If any doubt remains on whether or not that is what Jesus meant here, I offer the following citations:
In doubtful questions of interpretation, the doubt goes in favor of the accused.
The words of the exception are to be construed in favor of the grantee.
Jesus gave an exception to the marriage ideal. This exception gives an individual the right both to divorce and to remarry. It also gives the guilty party the right to live.
It makes no difference where we place the clause, except it be for fornication. The exception covers the entire sentence. Please observe:
Except it be for fornication, whosoever shall put away his wife, and shall marry another committeth adultery, and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery
Whosoever shall put away his wife, and shall marry another committeth adultery, and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery, except it be for fornication.
As you can see, the meaning remains unchanged no matter where we place the exception clause. This demonstrates that the clause affects the entire sentence and would, necessarily, permit remarriage.
Jesus asserts that only those who are so gifted may live a celibate life. Therefore, for Jesus to allow divorce without allowing remarriage is non sequitur.
Paul has more to add to this topic later on.
The Context of The Passage
This entire chapter is devoted to one topic: Stewardship. To ascribe any other purpose to this chapter is nothing short of deception. The chapter is neatly broken down into three parts:
Verses 1-13; Jesus speaks to his disciples.
Verses 14-18; Jesus speaks to the Pharisees concerning the taking away of their stewardship.
Verses 19-31; Jesus speaks to the Pharisees on faithfulness After the parable of the unjust steward, part one ends with Jesus telling his disciples it is not possible to serve both God and money.
Part two begins with the declaration:
And the Pharisees also who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.
We now know that the Pharisees were covetous and they ridiculed Jesus. Jesus tells the Pharisees that their stewardship concerning the LAW is about to come to a close and they need to start pressing into new work (v. 16).
Law was God to the Jews. If a Jew left the law or did not keep it, he was called a fornicator (cf. John 8:41). They just learned that the law was until John, but Jesus now preaches the gospel of the kingdom and every man has to press into the kingdom, not into the law.
Jesus knew what the Pharisees would say after the 17th verse: To put away the law is to commit adultery. But God knew that he could not just put away the law. Jesus preached the true use of money in the kingdom of God. Jesus was telling them that the law was going to be fulfilled.
Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.
Jesus is not teaching on divorce and remarriage at all. He is still teaching on stewardship. Through the law, God was married to Israel. Jesus is telling the Pharisees that God is freeing Israel, through the death of Jesus (the perfect fulfillment of the law) to marry one who was raised from the dead (v.31). God also freed Jesus to marry Israel!
Original Law of Marriage
The original law of marriage is stated here and also in Lukes gospel. There are no exceptions for adultery, incest, sodomy, harlotry, sexual bestiality, necrophilia, or any other sexual crime in either account.
The reason for the absence in Luke has been discussed.
The reason for the absence here is simple, though not necessarily apparent.
The original law of marriage contained no exceptions for anything, not even bed and board separation. Gods original ideal for marriage, as previously stated, was for the couple to be a dominion team together for all of their days; not divorcing, not separating.
I think it is good to observe that the original law of death contained no provision (or exception) for new life.
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. Genesis 2:17
This does not make Gods provision for salvation anymore invalid than the original law of marriage makes the exceptions for sex crimes invalid.
If the fornication exceptions are to be considered invalid because they modify the original decree of marriage, then all salvation scriptures must be considered invalid because they modify the original decree of death. Happily, Hebrews 7:22; 8:6 tell us we have, ...a better covenant than the Mosaic covenant. Moses killed the adulterers and allowed the guiltless mate to remarry.
Does Paul teach that no one can remarry as long as a former spouse lives? Does he teach that celibacy is better than marriage?
This is the passage in which many believe Paul teaches that no one may remarry so long as a previous spouse still lives. However, the context of this passage will readily disclose the truth of Pauls message.
These verses were written some 25 years after Matthew 5:32. It is unlikely that the church of Rome heard Jesus speak again on divorce. It was not necessary for them to hear it again because his divorce statements were complete.
Here, Paul is not speaking on divorce and remarriage. He is addressing the subjectivity of man to the law. But Paul does not negate the basic ideal of marriage that normally a man and woman are bound to each other as long as they are both alive; only death, automatically and permanently, ending the marriage.
In Numbers 5:20-22,31, the husband was guiltless in bringing his adulterous wife before the priest.
But if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband:Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell; And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen. Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.
Obviously the man was not motivated by hardness of heart. God did not require a Jew to cleave to and be one flesh with an adulterous wife. Gods own curse upon her caused her body to swell and rot. The innocent husband could divorce her and remarry and be guiltless while she still lived.
1 Corinthians 7:1-40
Once again, context is the key to proper understanding of the passage under consideration. Paul is answering specific questions that have been put to him. Because he is answering questions, and not giving a detailed account of all marital difficulties caused by infidelity, this passage must be supplemented by other passages dealing with divorce and remarriage.
Most likely the questions Paul was responding to were:
We will consider Pauls response to each of these questions.
Celibacy (1-2; 6-9)
Celibacy is good, but good does not mean better.
There are definite benefits to being single, but that does not mean that being single is better than being married. Marriage has many advantages over being single, but being married is not necessarily superior to being single.
Paul says that being celibate is good. He is not speaking of being celibate in a marriage (cf. v. 5). The sexual relationship in marriage is mandatory.
Those who will choose to be celibate must be able to stand against the desire for sexual gratification. Yet, while celibacy is good, Paul cautions all would-be celibates that, in order to avoid fornication, men should take a wife and women should take a husband. He even goes so far as to say:
But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (v. 9 NIV)
By all means, marry if you can. Paul makes it a command in verse 9. Evidently
Paul finds nothing to be accomplished in daily struggling against sexual passion. It is much more virtuous to be married than in constant turmoil.
There are only three classes of people that can accept celibacy
Paul neither instructs that we should marry nor that we should remain celibate. This is not his concern. We must each decide what is best for himself. Each person is gifted by God to be either single or to be married. I, myself, have been single, and I have been married. For me being married is better.
From verses 3-5, Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.
Due benevolence is the mutual debt to one another. Each of the two spouses has certain responsibilities to the other. The husband is to fully satisfy the wife and the wife is to fully satisfy the husband. Failure to give this due benevolence constitutes fraud.
A Problem of Ethics
The marriage covenant requires the surrender of sole control over ones own body. It also requires that each partner seek to GIVE due benevolence, not to receive it.
Due benevolence can be anything from providing finances for the household to a loving word; from cleaning the house to buying those things the household has need of. The wife has the right to expect to live her life without being beaten or abused in any way. The husband has the right to expect his wife to be loving and sensitive to him and to be a good manager of the home.
In many areas of married life the individuals have no right to INSIST upon receiving due benevolence. But there are three areas where failure to give due benevolence constitutes marital fraud and may be viewed as porneia or fornication.
I offer the following more as a warning than as dogmatic doctrine.
Too often sexual misconduct is viewed only as adultery or some other sexual crime. While these are definite aspects of sexual misconduct, there is an even more prevalent case of sexual misconduct among married couples. I am speaking about either withholding the sexual pleasure or insisting upon it.
There is no place in the marriage relationship for such selfishness. To refuse copulation in order to punish or retaliate is to defraud your mate. This is as unspeakable as it is unthinkable.
The sexual act between a married couple goes far beyond the physical boundaries of flesh; there is a spiritual element that cannot be denied. For a husband and wife the sex act is the ultimate expression of surrender and submission to ones partner. To lessen the beauty and intimacy of this, Paul says, is fraud.
Just as there is to be no withholding, there is, likewise, to be no insisting. Many times I have been approached by an offended mate (both sexes) who has been forced (or badgered) to engage in some type of sexual activity. We must not forget that husbands and wives have no more power over their own bodies. Sole rights over ones own flesh is surrendered upon entering the marriage covenant.
A husband or wife who sexually abuses their spouse, either through deprivation or through coercion, is guilty of sexual misconduct. The reader may recall the definition of porneia from page 46.
Porneia is illicit sexual intercourse in general... all other interpretations of the term are to be rejected.
Sexual intercourse between husband and wife is not to be a war of flesh or will. It is to be entered into with mutual consent and respect.
Physical abuse is an ethical problem. A husband or wife who physically or mentally abuses a spouse breaks the covenant of marriage with their spouse just as surely as if they had committed adultery. It is not possible to be one flesh with an abusive spouse. I did not say it was not possible to stay married - I said it was not possible to continue to be one flesh.
The abusive spouse lacks the necessary love, trust and respect that is requisite in a one flesh relationship. Likewise, the abused spouse will not be able to give the proper love, trust and respect. The abusive spouse has grievously sinned against his or her one flesh partner. Scripture tells us that fornication is the only sin that is committed against ones own flesh:
Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:18
This Scripture can be read along with Ephesians 5:28-29:
So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
Again, I offer these insights as a warning!
A husband or wife who deserts their spouse is guilty of defrauding their spouse in the following areas:
I do not want the reader to confuse desertion with separation. Separation assumes continued communication between the parties is possible. By desertion I mean the complete abandonment of one spouse by the other - no communication possible.
Divorce and Remarriage
From verses 10-16; 39-40, Paul reminds his readers that Jesus has already spoken on this matter when he says-
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.
This is for couples who are both Christian. The edict is strong: a Christian couple should neither divorce nor separate. They should rely on Gods word to help reconcile. Still, if they cannot resolve their conflict, they may separate, but they should continue to attempt a reconciliation.
This would apply so long as the trouble in the marriage was not fornication or something extraordinarily despicable, in which case divorce and remarriage would apparently be allowable.
If one of the partners is an unbeliever, the rule changes to accommodate the unbeliever, not the believer. No Christian is to leave or refuse to live with his or her spouse just because that spouse is an unbeliever. The marriage is still valid in the eyes of God. But if the unbelieving spouse desires to leave, Paul says, But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. There is no merit in trying to force an unbeliever to remain.
What does Paul mean by an unbelievers departure or separation? Any of the extremes cited above would constitute a departure by the unbeliever. In any of those situations, the unbeliever would be showing that he was not pleased to dwell with his Christian wife.
The Present Crisis (25-38)
When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, the church was looking at a time of persecution for the present distress.; v. 26. The advice Paul gives here is based upon the persecution that was about to come upon the church of Corinth.
Paul makes a strong point in verses 27-28 and uses language that is pertinent to the nature of his communication.
Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.
Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. NIV
The word bound in verse 27 is used in reference to the marriage bond as in Romans 7:2. The word loosed is used two times in the KJV (translated divorce and unmarried in the NIV) Because the word unmarried is used in the NIV one could get the mistaken idea that Paul is speaking of virgins - those who have never been married. But in verses 25 and 28, Paul uses the word virgin(s), plainly differentiating between those who have never been married and those who have ceased to be married.
Those who are loosed (or unmarried) are loosed by divorce, not by death. Paul used the word for divorce both times in verse 27:
Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you divorced? DO NOT SEEK A WIFE. BUT IF YOU MARRY YOU HAVE NOT SINNED.
Paul gives the advice to virgins not to marry and to the divorced not to remarry only because of the present crisis; the persecution facing them. We must not try to sweep Pauls words, But if you marry you have not sinned, under the rug. We may assume that Paul has taken for granted that those divorced became so on lawful grounds.
By worst case I am referring to a situation in which a Christian husband or wife divorces their spouse for unlawful reasons and then remarries. My first advice is that if you are not the pastor of the individuals involved you should do nothing except love the two people involved in this extremely complex situation. If you are the pastor of one or both of the individuals - PRAY! The pastor involved in a situation like that is going to need as much of Gods wisdom and grace as he or she can get.
Old Testament Guideline
I believe there is one event found in the Old Testament that perfectly depicts how the Christian couple is now to walk and act. While I am confident that this is a valid truth I am equally confident that many will disagree with me. Still, I cannot keep silent just because I know that not all men will be able to hear me.
Yom Kippur means day of covering over or day of appeasement. In accordance with its name, Yom Kippur was instituted for atonement. The blood of sacrifices, suffering death in the place of sinful men, symbolized the propitiation of Gods wrath first of all against Aaron and his priestly family (Leviticus 16:6, 11); for even the high priest stood before God as a death-guilty sinner (v.13). On this day, with the exception of the miter, he does not wear the insignia of his high-priestly office, but dons white garments, which in their simplicity represent the earnestness of the situation. Even as salvation requires both Gods redemptive activity and mans response of faith, so also the ritual of atonement remained ineffective unless accompanied by sincere repentance (cf. Numbers 15:30). As the Talmud later cautioned, there could be no forgiveness for a man who sinned, counting on Yom Kippur for atonement (Yoma viii-ix). In comparison, however, with the consciousness of sin that had been aroused, how great must Gods grace have appeared when once in each year a general remission of sins was vouchsafed!
Let us assume that a married man, on the day following the day of atonement, became engaged in sexual relations with someone other than his wife. Let us further assume that he was not caught by any man (God always knowing the dealings of men). By Gods own word and promise, the lon~st the man could be guilty of adultery would be 364 days because on the 365 day he would be cleansed, purified and forgiven of his sin on the next day of atonement. Therefore, if the man was genuinely sorry for what he had done, and was willing to turn from it, God would forgive him his sin.
Our Present Salvation
We no longer have to make a sacrifice for sin because Jesus is the ONE sacrifice for ALL sin. We also do not have to suffer an entire year under the anger of God:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
But how do we reconcile the husband or wife who, without lawful grounds, divorces their spouse and marries another, forcing an adulterous situation. I will be quick to declare that I cannot answer that question because I do not know the situation of the people involved. However, I believe that our best course is to emulate God as closely as possible, responding with as much mercy and compassion as the situation will allow. If the offending party is truly sorry for being an offense to God (I do not see he could be truly sorry for being an offense to his former wife else they would still be together), and is determined to give his love and faith to the advancement of his present marriage situation, we are left with no recourse but to forgive him and pronounce him clean.
That is our position alone. We should not try to tell God how to handle the treachery of the individual(s). It is never our place to tell God how to act (even if we are right, he is still the creator and we are only his creatures). There may be much that the individual must now suffer, but that is not for us to say. Perhaps the new wife will become terminally ill or paralyzed, in which case he must now content himself with Gods grace for his second marriage or risk becoming anathema.
Both parties should be encouraged and built up by Gods word. Both should be guided into new levels of commitment both to God and to the church. Those who have been graced by God with a healthy faithful covenant of marriage have no business condemning those who have suffered in marital loss.
Finally, it is to be remembered that the only sin that is forever is the sin of unbelief. To die in unbelief is to live for eternity separated from the love and grace of God. No other sin will produce that result.
The Bible gives a general prohibition against divorce and remarriage.
Porneia tears so vehemently at the fabric of marriage that the Bible permits divorce on this ground.
Jesus cited no other ground for divorce, but he allowed the Mosaic permission for hardness of heart to stand.
The direction of Scripture is always toward saving the marriage.
Divorce is never to be made easy
A Christian may divorce an unbeliever who wishes a divorce or if the Christian was defrauded by the unbelieving spouse.
The Bible only contains guidelines for marriage, divorce and remarriage, it does not give an exhaustive set of rules to regulate every problem. The only way we may come to a proper solution for each case is by prayer and sincerely attempting to bring the individuals in line with Gods will.
Where divorce is allowed, remarriage is also allowed.
The pastor who allows remarriage should be guided by the following:
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