Clarity from Jesus about Divorce and Remarriage

Jesus defined adultery to include those who divorce and remarry for any reason other than fornication. Fornication is extra-marital sex. Christ also included those who marry the divorced person as also committing adultery. Jesus declared in Mark 10:11–12, “If one divorced his woman and married another, he is committing adultery against her. And if a woman divorced her man and married another, she is committing adultery.” Note that the divorce and the remarriage are in the past tense while adultery is in the present active tense in Mark 10 as is also in Matthew 19. This shows the active state of adultery when one has married another for another reason other than fornication. Notice that marrying another is adultery against the previous spouse, and that adultery is a transgression against a spouse.

Jesus declared in Luke 16:18, “Everyone divorcing his woman and marrying another is committing adultery; and everyone marrying her who has been divorced from a man is committing adultery.” In Luke 16:18, Jesus teaches that adultery includes when a person divorces and marries another. The adultery begins with the new marriage and continues in an adulterous marriage.

One can only divorce and remarry for one exception. Jesus mentioned that one exception when Jesus declared in Matthew 19:9, “And I say to you that if one divorced his woman, not upon extramarital sex, and married another, he is committing adultery, and he who married the divorced is committing adultery.” If a person finds that one’s spouse was fornicating with another person before or during the marriage, that person is able to divorce and marry another by giving a note for the reason of the divorce being fornication (Matt 5:31–32).

In Matthew 5:32, Jesus said that the spouse divorcing another for any other reason than fornication is guilty of causing adultery when the other spouse marries another. The one divorcing must divorce by “a word of fornication” that is a note given to the adulterous spouse. Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 5:31–32,

And it was said that if one divorced his woman, he must give her a notice of divorce. And I say to you that if one divorced his woman without a word of fornication, he makes her to commit adultery, and if one married the divorced, he is committing adultery.

These previous quotes of Jesus contain precise grammar with the original tenses of each verb and participle. The Greek word apoluo, which is often translated “divorced” or “put away,” occurs 69 times in the New Testament, and yet the word is only used 14 times to refer to divorce and 55 times to mean “put away,” “release,” and even “forgive” by releasing sins (Luke 6:37ff). The Greek apoluo includes two parts. These are the prefix apo meaning “from” and the verb luo meaning “loose.” Apoluo expresses the idea to release or lose someone or something.

Jesus apparently defined adultery to include divorce and remarriage, and He taught that adultery is against the divorced spouse (Mark 10:11–12). One’s eligibility to remarry is dependent upon whether a person is committing adultery by remarrying. This requires repentance as Christ calls sinners to do (Luke 5:32; 13:3, 5). Repentance is essential for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:46–47). God will forgive the guilty and once adulterous person after that person has repented, confessed that sin to God, and confessed repentance to the previous spouse (Matt 5:23–24; 18:15–17, 21-22; Luke 17:3–4). Forgiveness requires repentance from adultery. If a person’s remarriage is not adulterous when the previous spouse has married another, then that person’s remarriage is not adulterous when the previous spouse has died (Mark 10:11; Rom 7:3; 1 Cor 7:39).

In conclusion, Jesus is very clear that those who have divorced and remarried another except for fornication or have married the divorced, are presently committing adultery against the previous unmarried spouse. Adultery defiles the marriage bed (Heb 13:4). Jesus’ instructions about divorce, remarriage, and adultery are just as much in effect as all of His instructions are in effect before and after people are aware of them (Matt 19:11). As Jesus proclaimed, “What therefore God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:9).

About Scott J Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
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29 Responses to Clarity from Jesus about Divorce and Remarriage

  1. thevoiceofonecryingblog says:

    I want to go on record of saying “amen” to this and to the fact that divorce and remarriage is not acceptable from a biblical perspective. I would further point out that fornication is not synonymous with adultery. Fornication is immorality between two unmarried people. The “clause” given by Christ (only in Matthews gospel) of except for fornication probably referred to immorality in the betrothal period, which in Jewish society was basically being married. Joseph wanted to put Mary away privately, in other words divorce her for what seemed to be infidelity. It could also refer to inadvertent marriages to people who were not marriageable, sibling or close family members. If

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  2. Scott says:

    Let me further consider these.

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  3. Below are couple of men from the church of Christ who have difference views on MDR. Hopefully, as time permits, I will share some from some-well known church of preachers who disagree over MDR. Men like Mac Deaver are now regarded as an apostate for holding certain beliefs about the Holy Spirit but regarding MDR disagreements, this seems to be swept away, under the rug, and unity still declared.

    James D. Bales says: “if there is a Christian married to a non-Christian but the non-Christian one day wants out of the marriage, the Christian is obligated to give the divorce and the Christian is then free to marry a Christian.”

    Pat Harrell says: “never in the first 400 years after the church was established was anyone ever told they had an adulterous marriage and must divorce and either live celibate or return to the original spouse to make their lives right with God. Also, no one was ever forbidden water baptism due to their marital state.”

    Regarding the statements from Jesus, there are also differ views on this within the church of Christ. I’ve posted some on my blog already.

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    • Do these men represent the churches of Christ? Are their beliefs widely accepted?

      Bales errs in not slanting 1 Corinthians 7:15 & 27, which are using 2 different words.

      Pat Harrell’s statement is just wrong. Christ’s Spirit taught repentance before baptism. Also, Christ and His Apostles taught that marriage must be restored (Rom. 7, 1 Cor. 7). Clement of Alexandria (c.195) said, “You shall not put away your wife except for the cause of fornication”. Tertullian (c.207) stated that Jesus prohibits divorce “except for the cause of fornication”, and that Christ “permits divorce when the marriage is spotted with unfaithfulness”, and He allows “divorce for no cause, except one”. Novatian (c.235) wrote that Christ “said that a wife must not be put away, except for the cause of adultery”. Origen (c.245) stated that Jesus does not permit “the dissolution of marriages for any other sin than fornication alone”.

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  4. You ask: Do you have any primary sources of preachers teaching that if someone plays while singing Amazing Grace then they will go to Hell?

    Yes. As matter of fact, its widely taught by many preachers of the church of Christ. Do you consider those in the church of Christ who have musical aids with worship songs, to be hell bound?

    My guess is, you are going to say its okay if done at home or any other place except in/at the ‘worship service.’ Or, I may have misunderstood your question. If so, please expound further.

    Regarding MDR, much of this we have covered on my Blog already.

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  5. Sadly, especially within the ultra-hyper conservative church of Christ, this is common practice. Even when small children are involved, this practice is enforced. I have read of some “leaders” within the church of Christ who “allow” the so-called adulteress married couple to remain in the home “for the kids’ sake”, long as they do not share bedrooms and have intercourse. Most, however, say they should DIVORCE and remain UN-married and/or return to their first spouse or they could simply ‘separate.’ Matter of fact, many of the ultra-hyper conservative church of Christ do not even recognize the party as married but ‘living in adultery.’

    I am sure most church of Christ preachers are aware of all of the disagreements over MDR. If so, I do not see how they can honestly hold a position with so much disagreement yet say one will go to hell if he plays the piano to Amazing Grace in ‘the worship service.’ Again, gota love those double-standards

    On one hand, it’s okay to “agree to disagree” when it’s about marriage, divorce, and remarriage but not okay on musical aids in worship. Sorry, but I hate hypocrisy and doubles-standards. If they are going to say people will go to hell for having music in worship, then by their own logic they too will be in hell for allowing disagreements over marriage, divorce, and remarriage and the doctrine of the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

    Frankly, this is one of the major things that I find distasteful with the conservative church of Christ. They break their own hermeneutical rules. In short, since they cannot agree on MDR and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, they say these are just “matters of opinion” not “matters of faith” thus remain in supposed unity. Try to use that reasoning with musical aids in worship and you will find yourself on the outside looking in.

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    • Do you have any primary sources of preachers teaching that if someone plays while singing Amazing Grace then they will go to Hell?

      False teachings about MDR and the Holy Spirit are matters of disfellowship in the churches of Christ. There is a distinction between doctrine in scripture and the inference that people make. People may infer purposes and principles for permitting divorce because of fornication, but this is a matter of inference and we have freedom. Yet, such inference cause no division nor are standards of fellowship not being of Christ. If they take the position of God permitting divorce and remarriage for proven abuse, then they speak contrary to Christ as though they are God making void His Word and being ashamed of the words of Christ. This is all because they do not understand God’s commands that those abused may separate and then return to one another according to God’s will, but the separated are not divorced and free to marry another. This is as Christ’s Spirit teaches. “But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife” (1 Cor. 7:11). God knows better than us why He commanded such. Let us put our faith in Him rather than looking down on Christians, who do take Jesus’ words as perfect, pure, and complete regarding divorce and remarriage.

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  6. Sheila craiger Richards says:

    I think if you would read Mathew 18 , Chapter 19 , maybe it would explain marriage and divorce. It is a confusing subject , especially with todays problems and situations couples get into . But , turn to your Bible not man for your answers.

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  7. James says:

    Thank you for your reponse and for addressing this much negelected topic in the Church.

    I was also wondering your opinion based on the scriptures, of a specific situation:

    I have a family member who is also a member of the local congregation I worship with. This particular relative is entering an adulterous relationship due to their unlawful divorce. My question is this: Would you agree that my relationship with this family member as a brother in Christ takes precedence over my relationship with them as an “earthly” family member? To be more specific, wouldn’t it be rational to disfellowship from this person in the capacity of the Church assembly as well as in personal matters?

    I know these situations are painful when they occur within families and the division due to the sin causes hurt feeling sometimes. But I don’t feel I can tolerate the sin just because it is a family member?

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    • I find that this is your decision whether to withdraw from a family member. I strongly encourage you to speak to them if you can (Gal. 6:1, Luke 17:4). You must withdraw in regards to spiritual matters until they repent. There may be much that could from withdrawing from them. I also withdrew from a family member, who was a member of the Church, because of this sin. Even though Jesus instructed withdrawal in Matthew 18:15-17, he was still in some relationship with His brothers when they did not believe (John 7).

      At the same time, if one’s spouse or parent is disassociated for practicing a sin, then there are still family responsibilities there that we are still commanded to keep (1 Cor. 7:1-15, Eph. 6:1-3, 1 Pet. 3:1-6). Yet, spiritually, I find that we must withdraw from them (1 Cor. 5), but also look to show your love to them (2 Cor. 2:3-11).

      Not knowing your situation, if you think that withdrawing would help them to seriously consider, then I would do it. God bless.

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