Is Divorce & Remarriage Biblical?

Last week, I received an email from one of my reader's who asked me a few questions regarding Christians divorcing and remarrying.

Before I share my answer I'd like to say a few things:

First, I'd like to state that my answer is strictly based on God's word regarding His children's involvement in both divorce and remarriage. I am neither condemning nor supporting any of you (or those you love) who have divorced and remarried in a way that is unbiblical. I am very aware that we are all sinners, and by God's generous grace, He has provided us forgiveness for all our sins by the shed blood of His one and only begotten Son, Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Therefore, if you have participated in an unbiblical divorce and/or remarriage, I encourage you to repent of sins before God, carefully listen to His admonition and teach others what He has graciously taught you, then thank God for His forgiveness and His continued blessings He bestows on your life because He is faithful even when we are not. Then move on from this place and let it burden you no more. As God's holy and dearly loved children, we ought never allow our past sins to deem us ineffective for future Kingdom work (Isaiah 43:19, Philippians 3:13-14); instead we ought to share our past sins (when/where appropriate) as a spring-board to teach others of God's immeasurable grace, mercy and love as we encourage them (just as we have been) to "go and sin no more" (John 5:14, 8:11) as you give glory and praise to God for His miraculous work of restoration.

Second, I want so much to bring God's peace and harmony and truth to all of you. Divorce is a very difficult trial that has come to many of us who have been called by God and I I know you have already suffered much, and I don't desire to bring you any further grief or pain by my answer. Instead, my prayer has been that through my answer, God will grant you much peace (regarding your divorce and/or remarriage) where there was no peace; that God will grant you comfort and clear answers through His word so that you may stand firm in His view of you and not in the opinions of others (even other brothers and sisters in Christ); and also that our Father in Heaven will spur you on toward love and good deeds without the cloud of condemnation, guilt and shame you may have or still are experiencing right now due to your divorce and/or remarriage.

Third, my prayer has been that through my answer, the Lord will call His children to return to His high view of marriage so that His word may not be maligned due to the current divorce rate in the church being the same as the divorce rate of those in this world. I pray that my answer will be used by God to build up every believer in the faith, impart much grace to the hearers (or readers in this case) and will demonstrate not my own fallible opinions, but the wisdom of God that is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

Question #1:
"I don't know if I've ever read any of your thoughts on divorce and remarriage, but through my own study and the teaching of those whom I trust, I believe divorce and remarriage is sinful. I know there may be cases when spouses just leave or whatever, but even in such cases, I believe the deserted spouse should remain unmarried (1 Corinthians 7). Even considering the possible exception clause, I think Jesus still is saying that remarriage is adultery (Matthew 19:9). What do you think about the divorce/remarriage issue?"

Answer #1:
The word "divorce" is mentioned 43 times in the Bible (24 in the OT and 19 in the NT). In order to illustrate God's view of marriage and also to keep this answer from being ineffective, I will use three passages from the OT and nine from the NT that pertain to this reader's specific question.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4
Due to the hardness of the Jewish mens' hearts at the time (Matthew 19:8), Moses "allowed" a man to divorce his wife, but only in the case where she commits sexual immorality (the HEBREW word used here for sexual immorality is 'ervah, which means "nakedness and includes sexual indecency, fornication and adultery"). Moses did not make this "allowance" in opposition to God who clearly states that He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Instead, Moses put this "allowance" into place to protect women who lived during this time from being divorced for any reason (Matthew 19:3), as was commonly practiced. But notice that a man is not commanded to divorce his wife in the case of her sexually immoral behavior, but he is only permitted to divorce her if he is not able to withstand the heartache (and/or trust God) to reconcile all things in His perfect timing.

** NOTE: In all cases of sins against one another, God makes His preference for forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation clear all throughout His word.**

Moses does not mention here that a woman can divorce her husband because that was strictly against Jewish law and at that time, women did not have this right. Instead, it was expected that if a godly woman were married to a harsh and ungodly man, she would entrust herself to the one who judges justly (1 Peter 2:20b - 23), the Lord God, who alone is her Helper, Defender and Protector in times of trouble; and this word still holds true today.

"The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit."
~ Psalm 34:18

Isaiah 50:1 and Jeremiah 3:8
The LORD God states that He divorced His people Israel due to their sins; their adulteress ways. The Lord also mentions later in both Isaiah 50 and Jeremiah 3, that He also restores those in Israel who will obey the voice of the Lord and return to Him when Jesus comes. We see here that the LORD clearly states that His people Israel had broken the written covenant (the Law) with Him through their practice of sexual immorality; therefore, He divorced them. Then He makes a new covenant with them, not by the letter of the Law, for the letter kills, but by the grace of God's Spirit that gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6); through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Father makes for His Son, a new bride - the Church, who has been cleansed of all her sins (Revelation 19:7-8); born of water and the Spirit and no longer flesh of flesh (John 3:5-6).

There are several passages in the gospels where Jesus teaches on the subject of God's people divorcing and remarrying: Matthew 1:19, 5:31-32, 19:1-9, Mark 10:1-12, Luke 16:18 as well as a couple of passages in the writings of the Apostle Paul: Romans 7:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 7:8-15, 39.

Matthew 1:19
"And her [Mary's] husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly." We see here clearly that Joseph was "just" in being resolved to divorce Mary due to her seemingly sexually immoral behavior. But the Lord graciously sends an angel to tell Joseph that Mary had not been sexually immoral, but instead had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit; therefore it was "just" and right for him to marry her.

Matthew 19:9
"And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." Which means if a man's wife has been sexual immoral, he is free to marry another without committing adultery, but if she has not been sexual immoral and he divorces her, and remarries, he will be an adulterer, for he will be the first to break the marriage covenant and not her. This is the only place in Scripture where I found Jesus stating that remarriage of the "innocent" party is permitted; in the case of sexual immorality by a spouse.

It used to be my understanding that since the Lord Jesus does not mention here or in any of the gospels that a woman can divorce her husband, that meant that a woman did not have the right to do so. But as I continued to pray and meditate on God's word, I have come to realize that Jesus was speaking to the Jews (which in their custom, women did not have equal rights as men) and our Lord was only answering the question the Pharisees posed to Him regarding the husband's responsibility in marriage and not the wife's.

In order to understand God's eternal words, we must first search His word, while carefully listening to the counsel of His Holy Spirit that we might rightly interpret Scripture according to the mind of God and not according to the ways or inclinations of man (1 Corinthians 2:10-13). From this truth, we can safely ascertain that while Christ upheld the order in which a Christian household should be maintained (husband is the "head", etc.), Jesus never missed an opportunity to show the Jewish men that He gave women equal value and worth as He did men (e.g. in Jewish synagogues women could not enter where the men were, but Jesus allowed women to travel with Him and stay just as close to Him as the men; and when Jesus resurrected on the Third Day, He chose to first appear to a woman and sent her to tell the brothers). Therefore, it seems clear that if our Lord Jesus permitted a man to divorce his wife due to his wife's sexual immorality, and remarry without becoming an adulterer, then we can be assured that our gracious Lord Jesus has granted this allowance to women as well.

**Again, I can not stress this enough, although our Lord permitted this one and only reason for biblical divorce and remarriage of the innocent party, He always advocates mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation over judgment and the breaking of any bond between Christians (James 2:13).**

Matthew 1:19, 5:32, 19:9; Mark 10:2, 11 and Luke 16:18
The GREEK word used for "divorce" in these passages is: apoluo which means, "to release, to set free, to dismiss from one's house, send away".

1 Corinthians 7:10 and 15
The GREEK word used for "divorce" in these two passages is: chorizo, meaning "to separate, to divide, put asunder, divorce".

1 Corinthians 7:11
Interestingly, the Apostle Paul uses a completely different GREEK word for "divorce": aphiemi which means, "to abandon, leave destitute, wrongly desert".

You might be asking "Why were three different GREEK words used to describe divorce?" The answer is because each word illustrated three different circumstances in which divorce occurred.

This word is used when God grants the innocent party, permission to be released from the marriage covenant from a spouse who has behaved in a sexual immoral way; as the sexually immoral spouse has "cut off" his own body and bound it with another.

"Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two will become one flesh.' But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body."
~ 1 Corinthians 6:16-18

The writer uses this word to remind the hearers that it is not permitted by God for a husband to put asunder ("cut off) that which God has made one, for any reason he chooses.

This word is used to strongly admonish a Christian husband that he must not unbiblically abandon his Christian wife (which is the point Jesus was making in the previously mentioned gospels).

Included in this first question, the reader cites two Scripture passages regarding a Christian's divorce and remarriage: 1 Corinthians 7 (more specifically, vv. 11 and 15) and Matthew 19:9.

1 Corinthians 7:11 is not referring to a Christian woman who has separated or divorced her husband due to abandonment. Instead, in this verse, the Apostle Paul, through the Spirit of Christ is commanding a Christian woman to never separate herself or divorce herself from her Christian husband, but that she must die to self, submit herself to God and her Christian husband in order to keep the bond of peace in the Holy Spirit by which they have become one in the body. The Apostle Paul also states that should a Christian woman sin by either separating herself or divorcing herself from her husband (except in the case of her husband's sexual immorality), God is still gracious and merciful and upon her repentance, He will either reconcile her to her husband or give her the gift of remaining single (Matthew 19:10-12). This is obviously a case-by-case situation and no one can speak for another as to whether or not God has granted them the gift of remaining single. We ought never to judge another brother or sister in Christ, for we know not what the Lord has commanded them in their hearts (James 4:11-12). This is strictly between them and the Lord and if we must assume one way or the other, then as Christians we ought to assume the best of our brothers and sisters and impart to them much grace; just as God has given it to us.

In 1 Corinthians 7:15 the Apostle Paul is specifically addressing Christian men and women married to unbelieving spouses who desire to divorce them due to their faith in Christ causing discord in their marriage. As Christians, we are admonished to live at peace with everyone, as much as it is up to us (Romans 12:18). But if an unbelieving spouse is the instigator of strife in the life of their Christian spouse because of their faith (and not because the Christian spouse is behaving in a manner unworthy of the Lord [1 Peter 2:16, 20]), then Scripture says that the Christian spouse is "free" to let the unbelieving spouse file for divorce. This Scripture however does not state that the Christian spouse is the one who should file for the divorce or should choose to leave because he/she is married to an unbeliever (1 Corinthians 7:12-14).

1 Corinthians 7:15 is sadly one of the most misinterpreted verses of Scripture and has unfortunately been used by many Christians as an excuse to divorce their unbelieving spouse and remarry a Christian spouse. In this verse, the Apostle Paul does not mention the Christian's spouses option to leave an unbelieving spouse, nor does he state that once divorced, the Christian spouse is permitted to remarry. As a matter of fact, the GREEK word used in v. 15 for "bound" is douloo which means, "to make a slave (bondservant), to give oneself wholly to another's needs and service". Which is very different from the GREEK word used in 1 Corinthians 7:39 and Romans 7:2 where the GREEK word used for "bound" is deo which means, "to bind, fasten, put under obligation of the law, to be bound to one as a husband or wife".

Therefore, we can clearly conclude that when Paul wrote that a Christian is not "bound" in such a case, he was stating that unlike what he mentioned in the previous verses (10-11 regarding Christians who are equally yoked), a Christian who is unequally yoked is not "bound" to make peace, serve, or submit to an unbelieving spouse who desires to divorce them. Instead, the Christian spouse is "free" to allow the unbelieving spouse to leave and file for the divorce. What Paul does not mention here is whether or not the Lord our God permits the Christian man/woman (whom an unbelieving spouse divorced) is free to remarry. Therefore, where God has not clearly revealed His will, I choose to stay silent on the matter, for I fear the LORD God Almighty too much to presume.

Question #2:
"So, my question is this: is it right to join in fellowship, evangelism, etc. with someone I believe to be living in sin? There are several Scriptures that tell us not to associate with people who call themselves brothers but who are living sinfully (like 1 Corinthians 5), so even though I would love to have an opportunity to witness and learn more about witnessing, I just feel like it might be hypocritical or wrong."

Answer #2:
According to Scripture the brothers/sisters in Christ whom we are not to associate with are those who continually practice sexual immorality (i.e., sexual indecency, adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism, etc.), greed, idolatry, revilers (people who speak disgracefully or defamatory of others), drunkards, swindlers and those who continue in idleness (1 Corinthians 5:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:6).

If you have solid evidence (it can't just be a "hunch" or from "word-of-mouth") that a believer is habitually living in any of the sins listed above, then biblically, you are commanded to break fellowship with them, but only after rebuking them in love. But if you do not have solid evidence of this, it is unbiblical for you to break fellowship/disassociate yourself with them.

Breaking fellowship/association with another believer is only applied in order to allow them to clearly see their sin for the sake of their repentance and restoration in their personal walk with Christ and with other believers (2 Corinthians 2:5-8, Galatians 6:1). That's why Paul writes in verse 6, "For such a one, this [breaking fellowship] punishment by the majority is enough," for a believer who has been convinced of his sin before God and possibly others; confessed and repentant of his/her sins and have asked for forgiveness ought to be gladly and lovingly (with no strings attached) restored to the fellowship of believers. Breaking fellowship with another believer should never been done in joy, malice or out of conceit, but it must only be done out of Christ's love, humility and with the hopes of their repentance for the purpose of their good, not yours.

Question #3:
"I also wonder if I should address this issue with her, although she has already talked to me about how she "believes in marriage" but just ended up in a bad first marriage after marrying young."

Answer #3:

Yes, you should absolutely discuss this with her, as there is much that is unknown and unclear regarding her divorce and remarriage. As children of God, we ought to always in love, desire to bring all things into the light so that everything may be clearly seen whether or not all things have been carried out in God (John 3:21). Following are some questions you might want to ask her:

  1. Were you and your first spouse both Christians when you were married? (If no, skip to question #4)
  2. Was there sexual immorality involved?
  3. If not, who filed for divorce and why?
  4. Do you take any responsibility for the disintegration of your first marriage?
  5. If so, what has God taught you through your mistakes/sins so that you can help others to avoid them?
  6. Do you feel deserving of your second marriage or blessed that God has been merciful and gracious to you?

Prayerfully consider what the Lord will have you discuss with her, keeping in mind and meditating on: Ephesians 4:29, 2 Timothy 2:24-26 and James 3:17-18. I will be in prayer for you as well.

May the LORD our God direct your heart to His love and to the steadfastness of Christ Jesus our Savior.