Divorce, Remarriage, and the Bible

How God looks on divorce and remarriage can be compared to how He looks upon capital punishment. A quick summary of some foundational truth will help explain this:

As we read in Genesis 1 and 2, God created a perfect universe, a perfect earth, and two perfect human beings with a perfect marriage - all in the space of six days. As we read in Genesis 3, Adam transgressed against God. Therefore God cursed the formerly perfect universe, and subjected it to futility, as Paul the apostle writes at Romans 8:20, 21.

The curse of God along with the guilt and corruption of sin came upon Adam, Eve, and all of us, their descendants. Jesus came to redeem such a fallen world. His perfect sacrifice of Himself for the salvation of sinners already has been made, once for all (John 19:30, Hebrews 10:10). When Christ returns bodily to earth in His glory, all things will be restored to perfection again - there will be a "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells", 2 Peter 2:13.

After the great flood, as recorded at Genesis 9:6, God ordained that death be the penalty for the murderer, and that man be the executioner. The Law of Moses confirms this; the just penalty for murdering another human being (and for certain other crimes), is loss of life for the perpetrator. See Exodus 21:12, Deuteronomy 19:20, 21, Leviticus 20:27, et. al.

With that summary in mind, let's ask a question. Does God love life or death? In 2 Timothy 1:10, we read that the Lord Jesus "abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." He Himself said "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). We might say that God hated death so much that He was willing to become incarnate for the express purpose of confronting death and destroying it forever - by dying Himself! He did that, and rose victoriously from the dead. Clearly, the living God is radically pro-life!

Yet, for as long as the world continues in this fallen state (that is, until Jesus returns), the God Who hates death and loves life has commanded that death be executed upon certain persons in certain situations: for instance, murderers who criminally take the physical life of another person.

Perhaps you begin to see the comparison with divorce. Of course, the God Who wrote the Seventh Commandment with His own finger (Exodus 20:14, 31:18) loves fidelity in marriage! The Lord Jesus so instructed us when He said "...what God has joined together, let not man separate." (Matthew 19:6, Mark 10:9). And of course God hates divorce, as we read at Malachi 2:16.

Yet, in this fallen world, the God Who hates divorce and loves lifelong marriage between one man and one woman has allowed for divorce in certain situations.

Let's continue the comparison with capital punishment, as we consider the issue of the remarriage of a divorced Christian. When the just and lawful execution of a criminal has taken place, no guilt is attributed to those involved in the execution. In other words, neither the jury who found the perpetrator guilty, nor the judge who passed the sentence, nor the person who administered the lethal injection are murderers. Yes, a human life has been taken, but another murder has not occured. The jury, judge, and "hangman" are not due any punishment for taking the murderer's life. Rather, God's own statute has been honored. Hopefully, the perpetrator came to know the Savior before his execution. For by the grace of God in Christ, though the worst of sinners lose their lives in this world, they can have the hope of eternal life.

Some Christians apparently hold that when a just and lawful divorce has taken place, an indelible blemish of some kind should be assigned to the innocent party in the former marriage. A former husband or wife, treated treacherously and wickedly by his or her former spouse, must be punished by being denied the God ordained comforts and blessings of marriage for the rest of his or her life. Although innocent in the matter of the former marriage, they must suffer by being forbidden to marry again. This view, although perhaps having the appearance of strict piety to some eyes, is unscriptural and graceless!

Consider Matthew 1:18-25. There, Joseph is said to have been of a mind to divorce his betrothed wife Mary, before he learned from an angel of the Lord that she was indeed a virgin who had not committed sexual immorality, and that she had conceived miraculously by the power of the Holy Spirit (we believe in the virgin conception as well as the virgin birth!) Though Joseph was so minded, Matthew wrote under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, that Joseph was a "just man". There is no reason to believe that this just man would have been forbidden by the Lord to divorce his betrothed wife, if she had in fact conceived in the usual way, as a result of sexual immorality.

At Matthew 19:9, the Lord Jesus specifically allows for divorce in the case of sexual immorality. "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." At 1 Corinthians 7:15, Christ's apostle specifically allows that willful desertion is ground for a lawful divorce. "...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." Rather than punishing the innocent, God in Scripture gives them liberty and peace - not peace as the world gives, but the peace that begins with a good conscience toward God through Jesus Christ. (John 14:27, Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 3:21)

The context of the 1 Corinthians 7 passage is that of a mixed marriage: a believer and an unbeliever. Perhaps Paul had in mind a case where one spouse had been converted, and the other had not. However, at 1 Timothy 5:8, Paul writes "...But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever". A professing Christian husband, for example, who deserts his wife and family would certainly fall into this category. A Christian wife in that situation is surely not under bondage either, even though her husband had claimed to be a Christian.

It should be affirmed that although divorce and remarriage are permissable in these certain limited and sorrowful circumstances, neither is required. A Christian who has been the victim of adultery or desertion might prayerfully wait upon God for the repentance and restoration of his or her spouse. Or, such a victim who has become divorced is at peace and free in the Lord to choose to remain single. We have been called to peace...we have been called into the Kingdom where grace reigns through righteousness.

We have already asserted briefly that God allows for divorce in certain situations, and that remarriage is permissable for the innocent party. The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 24, has well articulated all of this in a theological format, all based on Scripture. A paraphrase of Chapter 24 of the Confession follows, with Bible references.

I. Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time.[1]

1. Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6; Rom. 7:3; Prov. 2:17

II. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife,[2] for the increase of mankind with legitimate offspring, and of the church with an holy seed;[3] and for the prevention of uncleanness.[4]

2. Gen. 2:18; Eph. 5:28; I Peter 3:7
3. Gen. 1:28; 9:1; Mal. 2:15
4. I Cor. 7:2, 9

III. It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry, who are able with judgment to give their consent. [5] Yet it is the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord.[6] And therefore such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with unbelievers, papists, or other idolaters: neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies.[7]

5. Heb. 13:4; I Tim. 4:3; I Cor. 7:36-38; Gen. 24:57, 88
6. I Cor. 7:39
7. Gen. 34:14; Exod. 34:16; see II Cor. 6:14; Deut. 7:3-4; I Kings 11:4; Neh. 13:25-27; Mal. 2:11-12

IV. Marriage ought not to be within the limits of blood or other relation forbidden by the Word.[8] Nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife.[9]

8. Lev. 18:6-17; 24-30; Lev. 20:19; I Cor. 5:1; Amos 2:7
9. Mark 6:18; Lev. 18:24-28

V. Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, gives just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract.[10] In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce:[11] and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.[12]

10. Matt. 1:18-20; see Deut. 22:23-24
11. Matt. 5:31-32
12. Matt. 19:9; Rom. 7:2-3

VI. Although the corruption of man causes him to look for "loopholes" to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage:[13] A divorce should include a public and orderly course of proceeding; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case.[14]

13. Matt. 19:8-9; I Cor. 7:15; Matt. 19:6
14. Deut. 24:1-4

Please note that this paraphrase of chapter 24 of the Westminster Confession of Faith has updated a few terms and phrases for the benefit of the 21st century American reader. The Scripture references are as given by the writers of the Confession. Scripture quotations in the body of this paper are from the New King James version.

Pastor Keith Graham, October 2004
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