I just finished teaching a series of lessons on divorce and remarriage for the young married couples’ class at our church. The passages we studied reopened my eyes to the Bible’s surprising—and oft-ignored—teaching on these crucial and difficult topics. I thought I’d share with you the passages we considered and the insights that emerged from looking closely at them.
In future posts I will consider each passage in turn and explain why I think it means what it does. By looking at each passage you can make up your own mind. In the meantime, so that you see where I’m going, let me begin with my conclusions.
- God hates divorce. (No surprises there, I hope.)
- Just two explicit exceptions are offered for when it’s “okay” to divorce. They are sexual unfaithfulness (Matt 5:32) and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor 7:15). It’s possible that other exceptions exist, but the Bible doesn’t mention any. And yes, we need to look at what “okay” and “not okay” mean in this context. What’s at stake?
- Divorce is only divorce when sexual unfaithfulness is involved. That is, you can get a court to call you divorced, you can call yourself divorced, but in God’s eyes a couple is only truly “unbound” by two things: death or adultery. Consequently, if a “divorced” person gets remarried, the Bible calls that adultery (Matt 5:32; 19:9).
The bottom line is that much of what we call divorce, the Bible calls separation. As a result, much of what we call remarriage, the Bible calls adultery. But there are exceptions.
Don’t take my word for it! If you care what the Bible says about these things, study the passages for yourself. I’ll walk you through it, but I hope you come to your own conclusions in good conscience.
I began by gathering a list of all the Biblical passages that talk about divorce and remarriage. There aren’t as many as you think. Here’s the complete list along with a summary of each.
|Gen 2:24||Foundational biblical passage on marriage: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”|
|Deut 24:1–4||Case law prohibiting a man from remarrying his wife after divorcing her and she has then been remarried. Mentions (doesn’t actually prescribe) writing a certificate of divorce—apparently the basis for the tradition Jesus countermands in Matt 5:32, Mark 10:4, and Matt 19:7.|
|Ezra 10:2–3||A remnant of Israelites return to Israel after the Exile. They have married women from pagan nations and resolve to divorce these women as an act of devotion to God’s law, which prohibited Israelite intermarriage.|
|Mal 2:16||God declares forcefully, “I hate divorce.”|
|Matt 5:32||A man who divorces his wife—unless she has been sexually unfaithful—”causes her to commit adultery”, and if she remarries, the man who marries her also commits adultery.|
|Jesus responding to question from Pharisees. “What God has joined together, let man not separate.” Also, anyone who remarries after divorce—unless the divorce was prompted by marital unfaithfulness by the other person—commits adultery.|
|Rom 7:2–3||Example of the law’s jurisdiction over the living only: a marriage is dissolved by the death of the husband, such that even remarriage—which would otherwise be adultery—is no longer considered adultery.|
|1 Cor 6:6–8||Paul gets very upset about Christians suing other Christians. It drags Christ’s name through the mud. “Why not rather be wronged?! Why not rather be cheated?!”|
|1 Cor 6:16||Even a one-night tryst with a prostitute creates a permanent “one flesh” bond.|
|1 Cor 7:10–16||Most complete NT teaching on divorce and remarriage. A complicated passage with extensive and important context. The basic message is this. Don’t get divorced. If you do, don’t ever marry anyone else. But one exception for divorce: if you’re married to an unbeliever and they decide to go, let them go.|
1 Tim 3:2, 12; 5:9;
|Deacons and elders must be “one-woman men.” Widows who qualify to receive long-term, ongoing help from the church must have been faithful to their husbands.|
Next time I’ll look at the first passage, the biblical foundation of marriage found in Gen 2:24.