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What Does the Bible Say About Divorce and Remarriage?

Updated: Sep 4, 2022



What does the Bible say about divorce and remarriage? Sincere believers are concerned about knowing what God wants us to do when marital problems come to our door.


Having been in this situation myself, I have done a fairly large body of research on the subject. I admit to not trusting those who just toss off an easy answer, even if they happen to be church pastors. If you shop around, you can easily find someone who will tell you what you want to hear. I realized that the only safe source of information is the Bible itself. The Word of God is always a lamp to our feet and a light to our path as well as a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. The Holy Spirit Himself will make the Word come alive to you. I trust this research will bless you as it has me.



Biblical Grounds for Divorce


Let's start with Scripture. All references are from the Amplified Bible unless noted. First, let's look at what Jesus Himself said on this subject when the Pharisees were trying to test Him on their doctrine regarding divorce:


In Matthew 19, the Pharisees come to Jesus and put Him to the test by asking Him, "Is lawful and right to dismiss and repudiate and divorce one's wife (or husband) for any and every cause?


Jesus' reply includes the words, "Have you never read...a man...shall be united firmly with his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?" Genesis 1:27, 2:24


He goes on to say, "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What God has joined together, let not man put asunder (separate)."


The Pharisees reply, "Why then did Moses command (us) to give a certificate of divorce and thus to dismiss and repudiate a wife?"


Jesus said, "Because of the hardness (stubbornness and perversity) of your hearts Moses permitted you to dismiss and repudiate and divorce your wives; but from the beginning, it has not been so (ordained).


I say to you: whoever dismisses (repudiates, divorces) his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."


In the King James Version of the Bible, the above word 'unchastity' which was the Greek word, 'porneia,' is translated as 'fornication.' So Jesus was saying that for any grounds other than fornication/adultery, marrying another person would itself be an adulterous relationship.


Moses allowed for divorce for the children of Israel due to hardness of the heart in the Old Testament. According to David Instone-Brewer, author of Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, this hardness of heart is a stubborn refusal to repent and to stop breaking marriage vows, without sorrow or trying to change. If the erring spouse is truly sorry and repentant, Jesus would have us forgive them. If on the other hand, there is hard-hearted adultery without change or repentance, then divorce is an option for the innocent party.


God dealt with this problem in Israel, of a hard-hearted dismissal of a wife for any cause, by saying the husband must give her a certificate of divorce, which allowed her to remarry. Jewish law included the right to remarry as part of a divorce. Take a look at Deuteronomy 24: 1,2 KJV


Jesus clearly revised the grounds for divorce in the New Testament era. Divorce just for 'any cause' is invalid grounds, so in that case, remarriage would be equivalent to adultery. The only ground Jesus mentioned was unchastity. Derek Prince, great general of the faith, taught that the word 'unchastity' was originally written in Greek, in the New Testament, as 'porneia' which also means 'uncleanness, sexual immorality, fornication.'


Derek Prince was a professor of Hebrew and Greek. He also remarried after his first wife died. His second wife, Ruth, was divorced from a man who was unfaithful to her. Clearly, Derek Prince believed there were Biblical grounds for them to marry.


Now let's look at what the apostle Paul adds to these grounds for divorce in his letter to the Corinthian church who needed help sorting out God's will in these matters.


First, I'd like you to read 1 Corinthians 7, the whole chapter. Here Paul does not support groundless or 'any cause' divorce either, following his Lord's command.


He does recognize that a person who is the victim of a Roman 'divorce by separation,' whether that spouse was forced out of the home or abandoned, is allowed to divorce and remarry in 1 Corinthians 7:15. (To the Roman head of the household, the actual throwing out of the spouse was the divorce.)


If there wasn't anything they could do about it, Paul says the abandoned spouse is not morally bound to this marriage anymore, but God has called them to peace. This is in the case of an unbeliever married to a believer in Christ. David Instone-Brewer points out that this applies whether the innocent spouse was actually abandoned, or they were forced out against their will.


Now if the believer is the victimized party in this scenario, they should try, if at all possible, to reconcile and remarry their spouse (remember, Roman separation was considered a divorce also.) Of course, the parties involved should remain celibate as they try to put their marriage back together.


If it is not possible to reconcile, then Paul says the injured party can remarry, only in the Lord, meaning another Christian.


Depending upon where you are in this whole spectrum of scenarios, there is hope and joy in verses 26 and 27:


Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you do not sin in doing so, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin in doing so...


As you can see, if you have been freed from the bonds of marriage according to the guidelines Jesus and Paul have set, then if you do remarry, you do not sin. These guidelines are adultery and abandonment.



What About Abusive Situations in a Marriage?


There is also the case of a spouse who is being seriously abused by the other. This would also include someone who is being forced out of the home. Abuse includes abandonment as well. Abuse may force the victim to flee for their own safety or that of their children. Where children are concerned, it is important to put their safety first, if they are in danger. In that case, seek out a domestic abuse shelter immediately. Many take mothers with their children.


If anyone thinks they may be in a dangerous, domestic abuse situation, either for themselves or their children, please locate one or two shelters in your area that will take you in an emergency as soon as possible. Get their addresses and phone numbers, and give them a call. Let them know of your situation before you need their help. This way they will have your name and be familiar with you.


Also, look up GPS directions for these shelters and bookmark them. If you ever have to gather your children in the middle of the night and flee, you want to have that information at the ready.


Lastly, pack a get-away bag for yourself and your children. Hide it in a place where you can grab it easily, but the spouse will never find it. Preferably on the way to your car. Always have your car keys and phone ready and at hand. Try to brainstorm what else you may want to set up while things are calm, and you can think clearly. This may include making plans for pets left behind. You can click the links in this paragraph for more helpful information.


Pack copies or originals of your important legal papers. The angry spouse will be sure to look for them in your absence. Be prepared for them to change the locks once you leave, as well.


Finally, as incidents happen in your home, keep a written journal of them. You may want to record - video or audio - the threats of a narcissistic or borderline spouse, if possible. You should also photograph and date any bruises or injuries suffered at their hands. Remember to keep your phone/camera in a safe place at all times.


Sadly, many people won't believe what you've been going through because your spouse only shows their true colors when you are alone. This happened to me many times. It is frustrating when you are telling the truth, and really need people to believe you, and they instead believe in your charming, friendly spouse!


To that end, call or visit your local police and just let them know your situation. As things happen you can call and report them. They should keep an incident report on these events, and you are building a case for yourself if you ever need it. When the time comes for you to call the police for help in an emergency, they will not doubt you, but be ready to come to your aid.


Please err on the side of full preparation. You never really think it will happen to you. Until it does.


Once, I had to call the local police station at 8pm, to have one of the officers escort me into my own home, past a raging borderline husband, and up to the bedroom I was using at the time (which by the way, had deadbolt locks installed on the inside of the doors, and a padlock on the outside, for my protection).


The Chief of Police was familiar with me through the calls I had made in the past, letting them know the crazy things that were happening in our home. I calmly described these events and asked them to keep a record. The Chief of Police even offered to do drive-bys at night just so the spouse could see their presence in the area. I was so grateful. He did have a healthy fear of the police!

 

Stay close to the Lord God as you go through these heartbreaking times. He will be with you in an amazing way. Talk to Him. Cry out to Him. Write to Him in your journal. Pour out everything until you are filled with His peace. Locked in my upstairs bedroom, the Lord was my constant companion and source of comfort.


I lived in that room with a mattress on the floor as my bed, for over a year. I knew God would rescue me when the time was right. And He did, in a miraculous way. As soon as He opened a door for me to leave, I ran through it! He will do the same for you. Just trust Him with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding! In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5



Biblical Grounds for Remarriage


As I mentioned above, adultery is one of those sins that can keep a soul out of heaven if there is no repentance (agreeing with God and leaving that sin behind). Serious stuff! Eternity is nothing to play around with.


To this point, didn't Jesus Himself say, "...whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery"? Matthew 19:9


This was the verse that has caused many Christians (including me) to fear remarriage. The exact meaning of Jesus' words can be mistaken. After much research and prayer over the last 10 years, I have come to the conclusion that Jesus meant that if there is a divorce for any frivolous cause not supported by Scripture, then this divorce is not recognized by God. Therefore, to marry someone else while you are still married in God's eyes is to commit adultery.


So what are the Biblical grounds recognized by Jesus and Paul, in a nutshell? Jesus said,

"except for unchastity/sexual immorality" in a way that breaks the marriage vows. And Paul said abandonment by an unbeliever. Dr. and Pastor David Instone-Brewer also recognizes as church principle someone who was forced out of the marriage against their will, as abandonment. Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, pg.162.


Dr. Instone-Brewer also points out that Old Testament law includes neglect of a spouse as grounds for divorce. Jesus never repealed this, and Paul assumed that it still applied. However, this cause of neglect is not to be taken lightly. It does not mean, for example, that your spouse doesn't talk to you enough or they go out with their friends too much. No, this means they deprive you of essential food and shelter.


Now, I'd like to address the question I mentioned in the beginning of this article: wouldn't it mean lifelong celibacy if you can't remarry after divorce? This would obviously be a source of temptation. James 1:3 and 1 Corinthians 7:8,9 are just two of the verses that show God doesn't tempt people to sin:


My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. James 1:3 KJV

(God sends testing into our lives, not temptation, to prove and strengthen our character. Temptation only comes from Satan.)


I say therefore to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them to abide even as I. (Paul wasn't married)

But if they cannot contain (themselves), let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn (with lust and passion). 1 Corinthians 7:8,9 KJV


God would not put us in a perpetual state of temptation as would be the case if a young wife or husband had to leave their home, was abandoned; or was the victim of abuse, or an unfaithful, unrepentant spouse.


If this innocent person was not allowed to remarry, they would have no Biblical way to a have a physical relationship, or have a partner. God said, "It isn't good for man to be alone. I will make him a help mate suitable for him." It would also deprive a woman of protection and security. Some Christians do hold this view, however, saying that Jesus meant that a divorced person can never remarry.


This had me confused for a long time, thinking that the Lord Himself said you cannot marry a divorced person. The wording in Matthew 19:9 is a little confusing to modern-day, western minds. But Paul also says in 1 Timothy 4:1,2 that forbidding to marry is the doctrine of devils! I really sought the Lord to clarify this for me. I knew that God would never put us in a position to be tempted to commit fornication or adultery for the rest of our lives! But how to reconcile this apparent disagreement in the Word of God?


God was faithful to show me the answer in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, once again. The Holy Spirit had Paul clarify several different scenarios regarding divorce and remarriage. The Corinthian believers had the same questions as we do.


That answer, in my humble opinion, is this: Jesus upheld the divorce if there was adultery that broke the marriage vows, without repentance. In this case the innocent party was allowed to remarry. It is my understanding that giving them a divorce certificate was still important so that they could remarry.


What if a Christian was abandoned by another Christian?


This was a real dilemma to me because on the surface it fit my case exactly. Was I doomed to a celibate life because I had no Biblical grounds for divorce?


I cried and prayed and sought answers everywhere. This had me roadblocked. My spouse at the time was a Christian. He belonged to a church. Even led worship! He read the Bible! He made all the right noises. I felt utterly trapped, because he was very clever, and I never had any solid evidence - like a verbal or written confession - that he had cheated on me (but I did have some pretty good circumstantial evidence).


I knew in my spirit that he had cheated. He had a lifelong pornography habit. He would disappear for days or weeks at a time, telling me he was in one place while being in another. He was an accomplished liar, too. He fooled everyone outside the home.


My breakthrough came when God led me to a book written by Kenneth E. Hagin called Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage.


One simple story opened my eyes. Kenneth Hagin shared this poignant account of another pastor's daughter. She was married and then abandoned by a Christian man. The pastor didn't know what to tell his young, beautiful daughter as she cried in her room every night. He had always taught that, once divorced, you could not marry again. Finally, the pastor turned to Kenneth Hagin for help and asked what he thought about the situation.


Pastor Hagin wisely pointed out that the verse he was stuck on was 1 Corinthians 7:15. Here it reads that if an unbeliever abandons a believer, that innocent believer is not under bondage to that marriage, but God has called them to peace.


However, in this case, the man was a professing Christian believer. Kenneth brought it to his attention that Paul also says, in 1 Timothy 5:8 KJV, "But if any (Christian believer) provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." In other words, they are worse than unbelievers because they know better!


Hallelujah! This resonated with my spirit so much. It made perfect sense. I had been stuck here too, thinking that my spouse was technically a Christian. I thought I was bound to him because of that. But if he was a Christian, and only God knows the heart, he still behaved as an infidel. He eventually drove me out of the house. There was also evidence that he was unfaithful. And much more.


There is also such a thing as a counterfeit Christian. They are wolves in sheep's clothing. Jesus warns us about them in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 7;15


I can still remember the euphoria I felt when I realized I was not under bondage to this man. Thank God for His Word!



 

In conclusion:


There are many variations on these themes I have mentioned. I hope that I have helped someone who feels trapped in a hopeless situation, especially as a Christian who loves the Lord.


What I learned was that there are some Pharisees out there who will not even lift a finger to help someone struggling with a heavy burden. Meaning, that they are legalistic to an extreme that God never meant to be. Yes, the Lord has set stringent Biblical grounds for divorce, and He hates divorce. But He also has provided for His hurt, abandoned, and abused children that love and trust Him. He is the God who makes a way where there seems to be no way!


I'd like to recommend to you the books I have used as reference in this article:


Divorce and Remarriage in the Church by David Instone-Brewer


Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage by Kenneth E. Hagin


Divorce: God's Will? The Truth of Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible for Christians by Stephen Gola


And this thorough YouTube video:

Divorce, Remarriage, and Putting Away by Messianic Torah Observant Israel and Rabbi Steve Berkson
















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