Society says that you can marry, divorce, and marry someone else as much as you want. This article is a plea to reconsider divorce and remarriage in the light of Jesus’ words. Note that Jesus said, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given.” Jesus taught that divorce and remarriage for any reason is a false teaching (Matt 19:1–9), which is going to cost many people their marriages and even more so their souls (Gal 5:19–21; 1 Cor 6:9–10). This is a tough subject, but let us turn our beliefs over to Jesus Christ.
Many church leaders have been growing congregations by neglecting Jesus’ teaching about divorce and remarriage. These church leaders say that they seek to “reach out” and be “missional” to fulfill the Great Commission. Such church leaders simply neglect Christ’s teachings on divorce and remarriage, because it offends people. Though this is tolerant, it forsakes the words of Christ and profanes God’s institution of marriage. Should churches abandon a teaching of Christ to grow a congregation? Remember that fornication was used to lead away the men of Israel to worship false gods (Num 25). Believers of Christ are being led away to fornication now. They are following the “progressive” teachings of the Pharisees (Matt 19:3).
God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Many say that they agree, but their actions show something different. Then again, they may be thinking that Jesus’s words are incomplete and imperfect, and that He only partially addressed exceptions to divorce and remarriage. However, Christ was clear when He set the only exception for divorce and remarriage. Jesus taught against separating what God joined together.
Jesus referred back to the beginning of marriage before the Law of Moses. Jesus quoted Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 having stated,
“Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt 19:4–6).
Marriage is God’s beloved institution, and people have drifted from God and from His plan for the home. Christ revealed that divorce was not a part of God’s institution when Christ said, “from the beginning it was not so” (Matt 19:8). Jesus further defined adultery and taught there is one exception for a divorce. Jesus preached, “And I say to you that if someone divorced his woman, not upon extramarital sex, and married another, he is committing adultery, and whoever married the divorced is committing adultery.”
Sexual infidelity is the only reason for a divorce. There may be another reason for separation, but not for a divorce with the ability to marry another (1 Cor. 7:10-11). Note that divorcing and marrying another is committing adultery (Matt. 19:9, Mark 10:11-12). This adulterous marriage is fornication and permits remarriage for the innocent spouse (Matt. 19:9, cf. Rom. 7:3). A person may also divorce one’s spouse for fornication, which includes extramarital before marriage (Matt 19:9; cf. Deut 22). Extramarital sex is the only exception for a divorce and remarriage.
Jesus’s instructions about divorce and remarriage being adultery were not for only a Jewish audience, but for “whoever” – everyone. Christ’s instruction was from the beginning before the Law of Moses or the certificates of divorce. Jesus even said in the “Sermon on the Mount” that the one divorcing shared the guilt of the sin of adultery unless one gave a note of divorce for fornication, which extramarital sex (Matt. 5:32). Yes, Christ’s words apply to both men and women alike, who were both able to divorce and remarry in that culture (Mark 10:12). With emphasis, divorcing and marrying another is adultery (Luke 16:18). Some may say that, “No divorced person has the right to remarry,” but this is speculative and contradicts Matthew 5:32, 19:9, and Romans 7:2–3 .
Some false teachers have sought to redefine “fornication,” so that the exception for divorce and remarriage can include other conflicts in the marriage. This is disregard for God’s institution of marriage and the definition of fornication — sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman (Heb 13:4; Lev 18; 20; Deut 22). Fornication is neither defined as abuse, laziness, drug abuse, neglect, child abuse, nor lack of marital affection. However, these may permit a separation, but not divorce (1 Cor 7:10–11).
The Pharisees sought divorce for any reason of “uncleanness” as they defined “uncleanness” for themselves to mean any reason rather than fornication in contrast to the cleanness of holy living (Deut. 24:1). Jesus clarified that God through Moses “permitted” divorce, because of the hardness of their hearts. In Deuteronomy 24, God was not encouraging divorce, but requiring a certificate of divorce. The passage is addressing the abominable practice of a man divorcing his wife and later taking her back after she had married another. Jesus is clear that there is only one reason for divorce, which is fornication. This is the “uncleanness” referred to by Moses.
Does not the apostle Paul give another reason for divorce and remarriage? Some say, “If the unbeliever departs, let that one depart; a brother or a sister is not bound but released to marry another.” One is not permitted to marry another for the reason that a couple is separated. First Corinthians 7:11 says about the wife that, “she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband”. Misusing 1 Corinthians 7:11 is similar to how the Pharisees misused Deuteronomy 24. First Corinthians 7:15 does not speak of divorce or the freedom to remarry in 7:27, but rather that a spouse is not enslaved to an unbelieving spouse to not let one to leave, who abandons him or her. A Christian can let an unbelieving spouse leave without being enslaved to marital responsibilities to them. That is exactly what the verse says, “Yet if the unbelieving departs, let that one depart: the brother or the sister is not enslaved in such cases: but God has called us in peace” (1 Cor 7:15 ESV). In what cases are Christians not enslaved? They are not enslaved when the unbeliever departs. The believer can let the unbelieving spouse depart, but they are to remain unmarried or return to one another. The context teaches Christians to not depart from an unbelieving spouse, who is willing to live with him or her (1 Cor 7:12–13). First Corinthians 7 is saying that one is not enslaved to live together, so “if the unbeliever departs, let him depart.”
Also note that 1 Corinthians 7:15 uses the Greek word doolo’o meaning “enslavement” unlike the Greek word deo meaning “bound” as with a cord, which refers to marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:27. Marriage is a bond, but it is not bond-service or enslavement as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7:15. Clearly, 1 Corinthians 7:15 is not referring to being released from marriage to be free to marry another. First Corinthians 7:11 is clear that a person is to remain unmarried or be restored to one’s spouse.
Jesus wants us to go to the beginning, restore the meaning of marriage. This is God’s institution, which remains the standard for Christians as seen by the Apostle Paul quoting from Genesis (Eph 5:31).
Jesus Christ defined adultery to include divorce and remarriage (Matt 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11–12; Luke 16:18). Only the person, whose spouse committed fornication, can divorce and remarry without also committing adultery. Let there be no compromising of Christ’s words. Mark 10:11 shows that marrying another is adultery against the previous spouse. Remarrying is not adultery when the previous spouse has died or married another (Rom 7:2–3; Heb 13:4). Therefore, the once adulterous and guilty spouse must repent.
Also, some have said that, “Adultery occurs at the point when one, who does not have a scriptural divorce, takes marriage vows in another marriage. That guilty person can repent while not returning to their previous spouse, stay married to another, and be saved.” Christ is clear in Matthew 19:9, “if one divorced his wife, not upon extramarital sex, and married another, he is committing adultery.” As in the Greek text of the New Testament, “married another” is aorist tense and the phrase “is committing adultery” in the present active tense showing that adultery was continual after the marriage vows and not just at the vows. This is true of Matthew 5:32 and Mark 10:11–12 too. This is not speculative or debatable. The person who divorces and remarries outside Jesus’s exception is practicing the sin of adultery against their previous unmarried spouse, and they must repent from this by ending the adulterous marriage and returning to one’s previous spouse. (This does not exclude them from being responsible for their children from fornication before marriage, a mistress, or an adulterous marriage. Those, who have children through adultery, are still responsible for their children.)
What must someone do to repent from an adulterous marriage to be baptized? When someone is committing adultery by another marriage, then the adultery must be repented before the believer will be forgiven by God in baptism (Acts 2:38; Col 3:12–13, Matt. 18:22; Luke 17:3–4). No one can have their sins washed away at baptism without repenting (Acts 2:38; Rom 6:3–8; Col 2:12–13). What if a polygamist with children converted to Christ, should he have to divorce his wives and be faithfully married only to his first? Yes. He must repent by separating from all but his first wife. According to Jesus, the following marriages of polygamy would be adulterous marriages. If a someone is married to another of the same sex and comes to love Jesus, they must he separate from that marriage. Calling a sexual union “marriage” does not justify any fornication including homosexuality, and a homosexual union is not Jesus’s definition of marriage (Matt 10:6, 9).
Would it be breaking up a home when the relationship has produced children? No, it was adultery that broke up the first home. The adulterous marriage is a marriage to a mistress. It would be a blessing to reestablish the first home and to live up to their faith and convictions in Christ. Having children with a mistress in an adulterous marriage does not make a Christian home for Christian children to be raised. Starting another family does not justify leaving the first spouse behind, alone, and without children. Are adulterous marriages that produce children God’s fault? No. These are the faults of people. Remember what happened in Ezra 10 where men married foreign women, who they were not to marry. They had to separate from those women. This was not God’s fault.
There are 3 ways in which people are usually confused regarding divorce and remarriage. These 3 are confusion over civil law, abusive relationships, and divorces without knowledge what God’s Word teaches about marriage and divorce.
(1) Does civil law make divine law? No. Do not let civil law and legal divorces take more authority than God. Civil divorces do not justify a divorce and make another marriage right in God’s eyes. Civil divorces are not accepted by God, because the divorce is recognized by the governing authorities. Civil law is man’s law. Civil law does not make adultery acceptable to God. Civil law does not make evil good. For instance, if a married couple got a civil divorce for any other reason than fornication, then this couple is still married and must return to each other. Civil law cannot be followed over God’s law. Peter and the Apostles told the Jewish High Court and Senate in Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Yet, we must still be subject to governing authorities (Rom 13:1–7).
Legal recognition of marriage is beneficial. Getting a legal divorce in place of a separation does not mean a person is excluded from getting a divorce according to God’s Word. When fornication does occur, be careful because legal divorces can easily consist a whole other set of sins. Also note that separation and legal divorces should not be used to push one’s spouse to commit adultery. A person is also committing adultery by pushing one’s spouse to marry another by legally divorcing without a Scriptural divorce (Matt. 5:31-32). Much confusion over divorce comes from not recognizing the difference between civil law and God’s law.
(2) What about abuse in the home? Those in the marriage have to determine the level of abuse. Having a spouse who is not a Christian is not abuse (1 Cor 7:11–13). First Corinthian 7 says stay with the unbeliever. First Peter 3 tells wives that they may convert their unbelieving husband. If you are being abused, you may need to separate. If you and the life of your children are endangered, you must separate from that person. Remember that this person is only separated and not divorced, and that person must return to one’s spouse when able (1 Cor 7:10–11). In many cases, the spouse, who is guilty of abuse, will seek another person for a relationship, commit fornication, and thus give a reason for divorce. Yet, this should not the be the objective of a separation, then the spouse promoting this adultery of the other spouse is also guilty according to Jesus (Matt 5:31–32).
(3) What about those divorced without knowing what God’s Word says about marriage and divorce? Ignorance does not make void God’s instruction. Repent. Either way, ignorant believers and unbelievers must keep their marriage vows. There were no marriages in the New Testament that had to be reestablished when believers became Christians by baptism. Those vows did not cease because of their Christian faith. Vows carry over into our faith. As 1 Corinthians 7 presents that if two unbelievers married and one converts to Christ, then the believer must remain married to the unbeliever and keep the marriage vow.
To conclude, Jesus and the Church are an example to how spouses are to treat one another (Eph 5:24–29). Christ’s relationship to the Church and the Church to Christ was shown by the institution of marriage (Eph. 5). Here, the beauty of God’s greatest institution of the Church reveals the ideal for God’s first institution of marriage and the home. What if Christ divorced members of the Church for any reason or members divorced Christ? This idea alone should motivate us to be fearful to cheat Christ, and this should disgust us that anyone from the Church would think of divorcing Jesus. Christ and His Church show the glory and divine unity of marriage. Let us apply that honor to our homes. Let us be careful who we marry.
If there is any confusion here, remember and understand Matthew 19:9. That is the core teaching of Christ about this matter and it is the core conviction of this author about divorce and remarriage. Note that Jesus said, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given.”