Jesus once told the religious leaders of Israel abut Gods ideal plan for marriage: So, then, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate (Matthew 19:6 NKJV). Divorce is not a deliberate part of Gods plan from the beginning. In fact, God says He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).
Divorce has crept into human marriage relationships, however, and today has become rampant. Approximately one out of every two marriages in America will be broken by divorce, and the rate is increasing. To those who believe in Jesus Christ, this is a disconcerting state of affairs. It is also a state of affairs that demands a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches about divorce and especially remarriage.
The purpose of this website is to explain in a concise way what God says in the Bible about divorce and remarriage. Certainly every case involving a divorce and/or remarriage must be considered individually, but the principles explained herein should provide a biblical framework to evaluate each individual case.
This explanation operates on the following assumptions:
1. The Bible is the Word of God, inerrant, infallible, and authoritatively binding in every age and culture on earth.
2. The Bible is to be interpreted literally and unless the context clearly indicates that it should be taken otherwise.
3. More specifically related to the issue of divorce and remarriage, it is assumed that whenever God grants permission for a legitimate divorce, He also grants permission for a legitimate remarriage. If God did not desire to grant permission to remarry, He could prescribe permanent separation only (1 Corinthians 7:11). Therefore, since in some cases God does permit divorce, it is assumed that wherever He does, He also permits remarriage.
I. MARRIAGE BETWEEN TWO BELIEVERS
The general principle for a marriage between two actively professing Christians is stated by Paul in his first letter to the church at Corinth: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife (1 Corinthians 7:10, 11 NKJV).
The principles here are very clear:
1. No divorce is permitted to a Christian couple.
2. Separation is allowed in severe circumstances (e.g. physical cruelty or abuse, life threats, etc.) but never divorce or remarriage.
The only exception to this principle is found in Matthew 5:32. Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced (i.e. for any reason other than sexual immorality) commits adultery (NKJV).
Since sexual relations form a bond of oneness between two people (1 Corinthians 6:16), sexual sin on the part of one marriage partner is grounds for divorce. The Greek word translated sexual immorality (pornea) is a general term and would include adultery, homosexuality or any type of sexual perversion. It should be noted that Jesus does not insist upon divorce in such cases nor command it -- nor even encourage it. Considering the Scriptures as a whole, it would seem that divorce should be a last resort, reserved only for cases of repeated and/or flagrant sexual violations. Short of this, forgiveness and reconciliation are to be sought after and the marriage preserved. If a divorce is obtained because of sexual immorality, remarriage is permitted.
II. MARRIAGE BETWEEN A BELIEVER AND AN UNBELIEVER
The Bible speaks directly to this kind of situation in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16: But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to dwell with him, let him not divorce her. And the woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to dwell with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
The principles here are also very clear:
1. If the unbelieving partner desires to preserve the marriage, the believing partner has no freedom to divorce him/her.
2. If the unbelieving partner chooses to leave and sue for divorce, the believing partner is to let him/her depart. In such cases the believing partner is free to remarry, but only in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:39)
III. SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS
Every situation does not fit neatly into these categories. There are a number of varied situations that can and do arise. Many are of such a unique nature that general principles cannot be formulated for them. However, there are a few special cases that tend to reoccur regularly, and these are considered below:
A. When any divorce is obtained on non-biblical grounds, and one of the parties remarries ,that person has committed adultery since God never recognized the divorce as legitimate (Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:11). Since the remarried partner has committed adultery, the marriage bond in now broken and the remaining partner is free to remarry.
B. In the case of a person who has just accepted Christ as his/her Savior, that person becomes a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). This does not mean that God immediately erases all painful memories, bad habits or underlying causes of past marital problems, but that He begins the process of transforming the believer through the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Nor does this mean that the new believer is automatically freed from nature that general principles cannot be formulated for them. However, there are a few special cases that tend to reoccur regularly, and these are considered below:
1. If the new believer is presently separated from his/her spouse, he/she must seek genuine reconciliation with the estranged partner (1 Corinthians 7:11). If the partner refuses, and seeks and receives a divorce, the believer is free to remarry in the Lord according to 1 Corinthians 7:15.
2. If the new believer is presently divorced, he/she must seek genuine reconciliation with the divorced partner (1 Corinthians 7:11). If the partner refuses, the believer is free to remarry in the Lord according to 1 Corinthians 7:15.
3. If the new believer is presently divorced and his/her former spouse has since remarried, the marriage bond has been broken and the new believer is free to remarry in the Lord. To have the remarried partner obtain a second divorce to reconcile with the new believer would be a violation of the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
4. If the new believers former spouse has remarried and is now divorced again, the new believer is not allowed to take the former spouse back (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) but is allowed to remarry in the Lord.
5. If the new believer is presently remarried, but his/her original divorce was not biblical, he/she should not dissolve the present marriage to seek reconciliation with the former partner. To do so would be a violation of the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). The new believer should confess his/her sin, receive Gods forgiveness, and make his/her present marriage honoring to God.
C. It is assumed that the grace of God becomes operative in any attempt to reconcile a marriage. Two people who repent and confess their sin, and seek Gods power and strength, can once again experience the joy of a healthy marriage relationship. A true sign of repentance and salvation will be a sincere desire to restore a former marriage whenever possible.
D. If the innocent party in a legitimate, biblical divorce is seeking remarriage, it is preferable that he/she waits until a spouse who is unwilling to reconcile has remarried. The purpose of such a wait is so as not to preclude any possibility of reconciliation. However, this is not to be a hard and fast rule, but will depend upon a number of factors that must be evaluated by each person in such a situation (e.g., purity of life and thought, time, children needing a father/ mother, etc.)
IV. DIVORCE AND SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP
The church has a responsibility to uphold the biblical ideal of marriage, especially as exemplified by its leadership. In cases where there has been a divorce in a persons past, the church has an obligation to restrict, for a period of time, the persons involvement in leadership until it is proven that the persons life-style and/or present marriage exemplifies godliness, pure devotion and sacrificial love.
On the other hand, divorce is no greater sin than any other, and must not be placed in a unique category that is not in keeping with the Scriptures. 1 Timothy 3:2, 12 does not prohibit previously married men from serving as elders and deacons. Such an interpretation would bar widowers from such service as well as divorced men, and this would be a clear contradiction of the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 7:39: Romans 7:1-3). Where there has been repentance, confession and forgiveness from God, a believers qualifications for leadership must be evaluated on the qualities, which currently characterize his/her life. The Bible does not see divorce as a sin that is to follow a person all his/her life or permanently disqualify him/her for all spiritual service.