The subject of divorce and remarriage is very controversial in our day, and yet the Bible is very clear on God’s position on this subject. We live in a era when it has become very simple to get a divorce. Many people are divorcing and remarrying, and many who are doing this are professing to be Christians. Even so, the simplicity of it, and the acceptance of it by society, does not mean that it is acceptable by God.
It is important that we search out the scriptures and find out what God thinks about divorce and remarriage before we actually face the test, so that we know how we should react. Many people who were strongly opposed to it changed their views when their own son or daughter was involved.
When Jesus was asked about this subject (Mark 10:3), He quoted from Genesis 2:24: "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh:” Jesus then continued by highlighting the strength of the marriage bond: "So then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
Marriage is symbolic of the union between Christ and the church, and there is notable symbolism between the salvation story and the Jewish marriage. When a young man had chosen his bride-to-be, he left his father's house and traveled to the home of his chosen one. In the same way, Christ left His Father's house to come to earth to gain His bride. Then the father of the bride and the groom would agree on a price. Christ paid the price for us with His own blood. Afterwards the covenant was established, even though as yet no physical union had taken place. They were sanctified, or set apart for each other, even as the church is to be set apart for Christ. Afterwards the bride and groom drank from the cup over which the betrothal blessings had been pronounced, symbolizing the institution of the covenant. Christ did this also when He blessed the cup at the Last Supper. Next the groom returned to his father's house for a period of twelve months. Christ also returned to heaven and is separated from His bride. (This is where we, the church, are today.) During this twelve-month period, the groom prepared a place for them to live at the father's house. Christ is preparing a place for us in Heaven, (John 14:1-3). When this waiting time was over, the groom would return to receive his bride. Someday Jesus Christ will return to receive us to Himself. Though the bride knew just about when the groom would come, she did not know the exact day; therefore, the groom's arrival was announced with a shout. So it will be with us; someday Christ will return with His hosts of angels and with a great shout.
In the above symbolism we see there is unquestionably no room for divorce. If it were so, we would have to say that after we reach heaven there would be the possibility of us being thrown out again.
The Bible teaches us that to marry someone else while a spouse is still living is sin: adultery. In Mark 10:11-12, Jesus said, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.” In Romans 7:2-3, it is recorded: “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.”
Some churches today are trying very hard to form the Bible to fit their mores, making it say what they want it to say, instead of molding their mores to fit the Bible. There are numerous studies done to see if they can make the Bible say divorce is acceptable. This comes very close to the attitude Satan had when he approached Eve in the Garden with, "Yea, hath God said?” They search the Bible, saying, "Are you sure it says there is no way to get around the rules against divorce?" Consequently, Christian-professing people have come up with some "loopholes." We will consider some of these.
The first one is the exception clause as found in Matthew 5:31 and in Matthew 19:9. "But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery" (5:32). "And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except if be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (19:9).
There are many who will say this means divorce and remarriage is permissible if either companion has been unfaithful. But we must remember that this clause is only stated in the Gospel of Matthew, which was written to the Jews. Mark and Luke do not record this clause because they are writing to people who had different marriage customs. In this clause in Matthew, Jesus is referring to that betrothal period which was mentioned earlier: that period of waiting before marriage. In Jewish customs this couple was called husband and wife before the actual marriage ceremony took place, and the espousal could be broken if either one was found to be unfaithful during that period. An example of this is found in Matthew 1:18-25, Joseph was betrothed, (engaged), to Mary. Mary was found to be pregnant, and Joseph considered putting her away, (divorcing her).
Another objection to this "loophole" is that the word fornication is used instead of adultery, which would imply that the person was thus far unmarried. The Jewish groom would have taken his bride back to his father's house if, upon returning to get her, he had found she had been unfaithful. We also will not be among those who are "caught up ... to meet the Lord in the air”, if we turn from following Jesus during our “betrothal” period here on earth.
A second "loophole" is the question, Is adultery a state or an act? If it is the act, then we can be remarried, confess the sin, and continue living together free from sin. But Romans 7:3 definitely says, "She shall be called an adulteress,” which indicates continuous action. The first marriage is still binding, which makes the second marriage adulterous. It must be confessed as sin and forsaken in order for one to be restored to a right relationship to God.
A third excuse people give is the pre-Christian mix-up. In this situation, a person has been married and divorced one or several times before becoming a Christian. Humanly speaking, we may be inclined to say there is no need to break up another home. We may think that because the other marriages were not Christian, they do not count. Yet, Jesus recognized several non-Christian marriages, as recorded in John 4:16-18 when he spoke to the Samaritan woman: “Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.” John the Baptist told Herod, (who was not a Christian), that it was wrong for him to marry his brother’s wife. In both God's eyes and John's, that second marriage was sin. Herod was living in adultery. Marriage is not a Christian institution. God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden before the plan of salvation was introduced.
Another objection is the word whosoever as used in Matthew 19:9. This word is not just speaking of Christians.
Still other people will say that the Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 7:17, 20, and 24 that we are to remain in the same situation we were in when we were called to be a Christian. But these people fail to realize that the verses in between are not referring to marriage but circumcision and servant hood. These are matters in which we can be a Christian, blessed of God, either way: circumcised or uncircumcised, bond or free. If we would apply it in the way these people do, we could say the thief is to continue stealing and the murderer is to continue killing; but we are taught in the Bible to confess and forsake our sins if we wish to have mercy. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper" (Proverbs 28:13).
But we may ask, "What about the innocent victim? What about the husband or wife who decides to leave and the other really tries to work things out between them?" First of all, there is hardly ever a case where the blame rests completely upon one person. But even if that were the case, marriage is so sacred in the eyes of God that here there are still no exceptions. To remarry while your spouse is living is adultery.
First Corinthians 7:15 may look like another loophole. "A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace." This may sound as though we are no longer married to that person, but in the Greek, this word bond refers to the obligations that are ours to perform toward our marriage partner, such as the wife keeping house for the husband, and the husband providing materially for the wife. Paul is saying that if a partner leaves, we are free from these obligations toward one another. It does not say that we are free to remarry.
Another “loophole” is the situation when a single (never married before) person marries a divorced person. Some people will then conclude that God doesn’t recognize this as marriage, therefore this formerly single person can divorce and is then free to marry another single person. Again, we need to consider what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman; Jesus recognized all her marriages as valid, though they were sinful. That “single” person can no longer be single as before; they are married. To remarry would be adultery. They do need to repent and forsake their first adulterous situation and not marry again.
We also want to consider the expression, "Two wrongs never make a right." It is terrible if one marriage breaks up, so why break up the second one? Nevertheless, we read in the story of Ezra how that the Jews had taken strange wives. Ezra told them that they must put away their strange wives from them, and this most likely broke up some contented homes too. It was not an painless thing to do, but there are no easy answers to these hard questions in life. We must understand that the way of the transgressor is hard, and this is one matter in which we must reap what we have sown. The Bible condemns adultery. To bring to a close an adulterous relationship may not be easy, but it is right. If we were crippled as a result of involvement in a sinful activity, we do not consequentially become healed just by becoming a Christian, or by repenting and forsaking sin. Some of these wounds must then be carried the remainder of our lives.
Some will say, "What about the children?" It seems so pitiless. But it was so in the time of Ezra, and it specifically mentions children in that story. Children become the innocent sufferers. Every adulterous marriage and relationship can only add to the heartache and bewilderment of the child. God's law of purity and holiness must be given primacy. But we realize that God is the Father of the fatherless and widows. He will bless and look after those children whose parents are truly obeying Him.
What about returning to the first marriage partner after divorce? The Bible says in I Corinthians 7:11a, “But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband:” Yes, there is place for reconciliation after leaving your spouse; however, if you have been divorced and remarried, then we need to consider the scripture as recorded in Deuteronomy 24:4a: “Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; (she had remarried another man and was sent away again) for that is abomination before the LORD:” True, this is speaking to the Israelites in Old Testament permission of divorce & remarriage; however, it is an “abomination before the LORD:”. An abomination is something morally disgusting, an abhorrence. We should not want to do something that is morally disgusting to God.
May God help you to take a Biblical New Testament stand on the issue of divorce and remarriage, even though many people may rebuke and scoff you for your stand. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” (II Timothy 3:12-13) If you have been involved in this issue of divorce and remarriage, may the Lord give you grace to work through your situation to come to repentance and acceptance by God.
Let us remember the words of Jesus, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)