What is the Biblical View of Divorce and Remarriage?

What is the Biblical View of Divorce and Remarriage?

Many people, even Christians, have serious questions about divorce and remarriage. What is the biblical view of divorce and remarriage? When may a person divorce a spouse and remarry another? Does God permit a divorced person to remarry while their former spouse is still alive?

We live in a broken world, and everything in this world is broken as well. In the beginning, God created a perfect world and declared it all “very good” (Genesis 1:31). However, when man sinned, all the basic parameters of life set forth in Genesis chapters 1 & 2 – man’s dominion over creation; gender identity and roles; the value and sanctity of human life; love, marriage and child-rearing, have been damaged.

What is the biblical view of divorce and remarriage

But of all God’s ordinances and institutions marred by sin, none bears the mark of damage as much as marriage. You may be surprised to know that the greatest threat to marriages not only in the west but everywhere else in the world is not homosexuality, same-sex marriages or premarital sex, but rather divorce.

Yes, divorce represents one of the major problems facing homes today. So prevalent is divorce today that Christians who regularly go to church divorce at the same rate and percentage as non-churched individuals. This is really alarming and should cause a major concern among church leaders.

God’s Design for Marriage

Marriage is an earthly institution ordained by God Himself and that is why from the dawn of human history, marriage has held a special place in the heart of God. We find God’s design for marriage in Genesis 2:18-25. This passage describes the original marriage as the basis for almost everything else the Bible says about marriage.

God designed marriage to be a monogamous, lifetime commitment between one man and one woman; it is a lifelong union of flesh and spirit (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5 & Ephesians 5:31). Marriage is a covenant; not a contract.

What is the biblical view of divorce and remarriage

Jesus described the relationship between husband and wife this way in Matthew 19:6: “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Jesus reminds us that in the beginning God joined man and woman together.

Marriage, created by God as a “one-flesh” union, is meant to be a sign of God’s unbreakable covenant with us. Throughout Scriptures, God is compared to a husband and God’s people to a wife.

Marriage is used to illustrate the relationship between God and the nation of Israel (Ezekiel 16:8). The union between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32) is used to illustrate the relationship between husband and wife in marriage. It is a solemn, binding agreement entered into on the basis of an oath or a pledge.

And although we see that polygamy is sometimes practiced in the Old Testament, the Bible makes is perfectly clear that marriage as God designed it is between one man and one woman for as long as both of them remain alive (Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:39).

God Hates Divorce

Malachi 2:16 says that God hates divorce. Why? Going back up to Malachi 2:15, God clearly explains His reasons for esteeming marriage so highly. God says it was He who “made them one.” Marriage was God’s idea. He designed it so He gets to define it. Any deviation from His design is abhorrent to Him.

As mentioned earlier, marriage is a covenant; not a contract. Marriage is meant to be a special covenant between a man, a woman and God. Divorce destroys the whole concept of covenant that is so important to God.

A covenant is an unbreakable commitment so when we divorce someone with whom we made a covenant, it makes a mockery of the God-created concept of covenant relationship.

What is the biblical view of divorce and remarriage

Another reason why God hates divorce is because it tears the very heart of God’s redemptive plan for the world. When the Pharisees asked Jesus in Matthew 19:3-6 if it “is lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason,” it’s interesting how Jesus answers by pointing them to God’s original design for marriage:

And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Scriptural Grounds for Divorce

Is there any scriptural ground for divorce? While divorce is always contrary to God’s intentions, it is permitted in certain circumstances. The Bible only explicitly allows divorce for two reasons.

In Matthew 5:32 and again in Matthew 19:9, Jesus proceeded to state one exception in which case divorce is permissible: sexual immorality or infidelity or marital unfaithfulness (termed fornication in another translation) on the part of one’s spouse.

The Greek word translated “marital unfaithfulness” is a word which can mean any form of sexual immorality such as fornication, adultery, prostitution, etc. Since sexual relations are an integral part of the marital bond, any breaking of that bond by sexual relations outside marriage might be a permissible reason for divorce.

The apostle Paul adds a second exception in instances where an unbelieving spouse abandons the marriage. This would typically be the case when one of the couple is converted to Christ at some point after marriage and the other person refuses to continue in the marriage (See 1 Corinthians 7).

In any case, however, divorce is not mandated or even encouraged! Although divorce is permitted in unusual and extreme cases such as where the sinning spouse persists in an adulterous relationship, divorce was not in the original plan.

“Divorce should never be considered as a reason to marry someone else.”

Divorce is expressly denied for the immediate purpose of marrying someone else. Therefore, divorce should never be considered as a reason to marry someone else. If at all possible, forgiveness and reconciliation should be extended and pursued. When faced with challenging marital circumstances, divorce should be the last option.

Christian counselor Leslie Vernick emphasizes that there is a difference between a difficult or disappointing marriage and a destructive marriage. She goes on to point out that we must not seek divorce simply because we are not getting everything we want out of our marriages.

If you have such high expectations, no one can ever live up to that. Vernick believes that a disappointing or difficult marriage is not a ground for divorce but rather a ground for faithfulness.

Why then are there divorces? Jesus explained it this way in Matthew 19:8: “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.”

Remarriage After Divorce

God recognizes that divorce will occur, even among His children. But did Jesus have remarriage in mind when He permitted divorce? Does the Bible allow remarriage after divorce?

While many Christians still hold to the prevailing Protestant view that remarriage after divorce is Biblically sanctioned in cases where divorce resulted from desertion or persistent adultery, I believe that the New Testament prohibits all remarriage, except where a spouse has died.

Listed below are the biblical texts in support of the view that all remarriage after divorce is prohibited while both spouses are alive.

1) Matthew 5:32 reaffirms that marriage after divorce is adultery, even for those who have been divorced innocently. It does not teach that remarriage is lawful in some cases.

“But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” – Matthew 5:32

This seems to be a clear statement that remarriage is wrong not merely when a person is guilty in the process of divorce, but also when a person is innocent. Jesus is opposed to remarriage based on the unbreakableness of the marriage bond by anything but death.

2) Matthew 19:3-8 and Mark 10:2-9 teach that Jesus rejected the Pharisees’ justification for divorce from Deuteronomy 24:1. Instead, He asserted the original purpose of God in creation that no human being shall separate what God has joined together.

And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female.”– Matthew 19:4 (See also Genesis 1:27.)

Jesus criticizes the Pharisees’ failure to recognize in the book of Moses God’s deepest and original intention for marriage. He then goes on to quote Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 to raise the standard of marriage for His disciples to God’s original design for marriage in creation.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” – Mark 10:7-8 (See also Genesis 2:24.)

Jesus is saying that none of us should try to undo the “one flesh” relationship which God has united.

*Related Article: What did Jesus Teach about Marriage 

3) Luke 16:18 calls all remarriage after divorce adultery.

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.” – Luke 16:18

There are no exceptions mentioned in this verse. Instead, we see Jesus clearly rejecting the common cultural conception of divorce as including the right of remarriage.

The second half of the verse also shows that it’s not only the divorcing man who is guilty of adultery when he remarries, but also any man who marries a divorced woman.

4) 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 teaches that divorce is wrong but that if it is inevitable, the person who divorces should remain unmarried.

Paul seems to be aware that separation will be inevitable in certain instances. Perhaps he has in mind a situation of desertion, brutality or unrepentant sexual immorality. In such a case, he is saying that a person who feels constrained to separate should not seek remarriage but remain single.

Paul reinforces the authority of this statement by saying he has a word from the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:10). In short, his interpretation of Jesus’ saying is that remarriage should not be pursued.

“Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 11 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 Corinthians 7:10-11

These verses look very much like Mark 10:11-12 as it addresses both the wife and the husband. Remarriage also seems to be excluded by verse 11 the same way it is excluded in Mark 10:11-12.

5) Romans 7:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 7:39 teach that remarriage is allowed only after the death of a spouse.

“Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? 2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.” – Romans 7:1-3

“A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 7:39

Both of these passages explicitly say that a woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive. There are no exceptions mentioned whatsoever that suggests she could be free from her husband to remarry on any other basis.

6) 1 Corinthians 7:15 (NIV) does not say that a Christian who was deserted by an unbelieving spouse is free to remarry. It simply says that he or she is not under any obligation to fight for their marriage. Separation is allowed if the unbelieving partner insists on it.

“But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.” – 1 Corinthians 7:15 (NIV)

Note: The phrase “is not bound” should not be construed to mean “is free to remarry.”

Conclusion

Although divorce is permissible in extreme and unusual cases, divorce was never God’s will. Jesus emphasizes that marriage is a lifelong commitment between the husband and wife.

If they divorce, then neither he nor she may remarry as long as the former partner is alive, because the first marriage covenant still stands as long as both are alive. From God’s point of view, there is no such thing as divorce.

Since marriage is a “one-flesh” relationship divinely established by God and of extraordinary significance in His eyes, it follows that only God, not man can end it. This is why remarriage is called adultery by Jesus; He assumes that the first marriage is still binding for as long as the spouse remains alive.

What about those who have been divorced and are already remarried? Are they living in sin?

If you are in this situation, you should acknowledge that you’ve sinned, confess it and seek God’s forgiveness. You should not separate and attempt to return to your first partner after entering a second union. While it is not the ideal state, God wills for a couple to stay in their second marriage and they should not feel less loved by God.


*Recommended Resource: 

Divorce & Remarriage: 4 views

When it comes to divorce and remarriage, everyone appeals to Scripture but no one agrees on what it says. In this book, four Christian thinkers (J. Carl Laney, William Heth, Thomas Edgar, and Larry Richards) debate the more perplexing points. Each essayist presents his own view and critiques the others. Case studies apply theories to real-life situations. Contributors are J. Carl Laney, William A. Heth, Thomas R. Edgar, and Larry Richards. Paperback.

Publisher’s Description

Divorce. No one likes it, but it doesn’t go away. Even among Christians, the divorce rate continues to climb. How should Christians approach this issue? May Christians ever legitimately divorce? If they divorce legitimately, may they remarry? Not everyone who appeals to Scripture agrees on how we should understand what it says about divorce and remarriage.
In this book, four authors present their distinct perspectives. Carl Laney argues that the Bible indicates that marriages are always intended to be permanent, that there is never a need for divorce and that remarriage is never permissible after divorce.
William Heth contends that while there are legitimate biblical grounds for divorce, there are no legitimate grounds for remarriage after divorce. Thomas Edgar defends the position that Scripture allows for divorce and remarriage in cases of adultery or desertion.
Larry Richards holds that Scripture, while decrying divorce and the pain it causes, points to a God of grace who will not condemn those who divorce and remarry.
Such a sensitive debate cannot remain abstract, so a case study accompanies each position, followed by critical responses from each essayist. The result is a thoughtful, helpful resource for all who wish to think biblically about a crucial issue confronting the church.

8 Replies to “What is the Biblical View of Divorce and Remarriage?”

  1. An interesting and controversial subject for sure. I have to start by saying I’m on the opposite camp to you in when it comes to how we view the world. I have a scientific worldview and I do not believe in a biblical god. I do believe there are forces of nature we are yet to understand or never will be able to comprehend. Perhaps even intelligent forces but highly unlikely in the form of biblical god or any other deity. I believe religions and religious writing have been created to explain the chaos we live and to set societal norms and rules. And to control the masses. They have created the basis for larger societies to cherish without turning to chaos (which nature essentially is).

    All that said, I believe any intelligent person should be open to views that are controversial to their own. I’m also baptized and still belong to the church. The reason for this is that the church I belong to does some significant charity and good will work in the society. Even more importantly I actually share many values taught in Christianity. I just do it from my own will, not because a greater being expects me to do so.

    On the subject of marriage I believe people should be able to divorce and remarry as they will. But I do think people give up on relationships way too easily these days and also get married on a whim with expectations for their partner to change to their liking. This never happens. I also value monogamy and have lived in a steady relationship for over a decade. Marriage or a registered relationship is something we have thought about only from a legal perspective as Biblical marriage isn’t something that either of us feel affects a healthy relationship in any way.

    Thanks for the interesting read! Even though I don’t share your worldview I found your writing compelling and it made me think about my own values.

    1. You’re absolutely right Jukka, this is a very controversial topic even among Christians. Some believe that remarriage while the former spouse is still alive is acceptable to God, while some believe it’s not. Interestingly too, they quote the exact same Scriptures but interpret them differently. Well, I believe this can be resolved by having a good grasp of the word of God which is done by studying biblical passages within their proper context.

      Anyway, you mentioned being baptized and that you still belong to “the church.” Do you mean to say that you’re a Christian? Because when we say we are part of a “church,” it means we are Christians, regardless whether “nominal” or “true” Christians. I know there are so many denominations under Christianity but all of these denominations believe in a biblical God. The word church I believe refers only to those who hold a Christian worldview. Unless of course, the word church has a different meaning these days

      The reason I say that marriage has been designed to be “for life” is because it is God’s design. It was God who instituted marriage and He designed it to be a partnership between one man and one woman, and it remains valid as long as both are still alive. That’s why when two people get married, they vow to stay together ’til death.

      We may not be on the same page with regards to the subject of divorce and remarriage but thanks for sharing your thoughts. God bless!

  2. I happen to come across your site and i must express my gladness at seeing such a balanced expression of the truth on this matter.

    I enjoyed the flow right from the start. I could see love and truth solidly expressed.

    As a young man preparing for marriage, the information you’ve shared has been helpful. And i’m grateful

    Please continue the good work. I hope to be back some other time to learn some more.

    By God’s grace and by strength of fellowship, may we all find grace to live according to the pattern and life’s template given in God’s word.

    1. Hi Festus,

      Marriage and divorce is one topic that draws a lot of different views even among Christians. However, if we just stick to what the Bible says and rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can all agree that divorce is never in the original plan of God. 

      In today’s society where everything is twisted and perverted by the enemy, I am not surprised that people think divorce and remarriage is okay with God. But it is very important for us Christians to always seek God’s will in our lives, not our own.

      I am glad you find this post useful and I wish you all the best as you prepare to enter into a covenant, not only with your soon-to-be spouse but also with God, in marriage. May the Lord bless your union.

      God bless!

  3. What a wonderful article. 

    With so many people getting married on a whim and then divorced the next day, this world falls farther and farther from God’s will. Speaking as a Born Again Christian, I think it’s great for you to have a way of explaining these Bible basics to those who need to know the truth. Thank you!

    Clay

    1. Hello Clay,

      Marriage is sacred in the eyes of God; He designed it to be a covenant not only between the husband and wife but more importantly with Him.

      Sadly, married couples today seem to take it very lightly, they do not seem to value it as much as God does. 

      As born again Christians, we must know from God’s revealed word that marriage is a lifelong commitment and divorce is not in God’s original plan for marriage.

      Although I am aware that Christians, and even Church leaders do not see eye to eye when it comes to the issue of remarriage after divorce while the former spouse is still alive, I stand firmly on the truth of God’s word that the only accepted reason for remarriage is the death of the spouse.

      I just hope we will all be enlightened about this.

      Shalom!

  4. Great article! 

    Having been divorced and now remarried I’m always interested in other people’s views on this controversial subject. My ex was saved or at least I thought he was, but he was extremely abusive physically and mentally. I put up with it based on scripture. But I got to the point where I didn’t care if I lived or died. I concluded toward the end of our marriage that my ex wasn’t a believer because he wouldn’t seek help and was unrepentant of his actions. I gave him many chances too. 

    I really don’t care anymore what people think of me for divorcing and remarrying because God spoke personally to me that both were ok. Abuse isn’t acceptable and God hates that more than divorce. I’m not going to get into a scripture slinging match but I will add that some of the scriptures you’ve mentioned are out of context. 

    Right up to Jesus’ day men actually divorced their wives over the slightest wrong and they didn’t need divorce papers either. I could go on but I won’t lol and thank you for writing this challenging subject.

    1. Hey Sharon,

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your story. I am so sorry to hear about what you had to go through in your first marriage. And based on what you said, I agree with you that perhaps your first husband didn’t really have a personal relationship with God because a man of God will never abuse his wife. Instead, he would love her the same way that Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25). 

      Indeed, abuse is unacceptable to God. Anyone who is in an abusive relationship should by all means separate themselves from their partner. And if they want to cut all ties, divorce may be an option.

      I would also like to emphasize that divorce is under God’s permissive will, not His perfect will; there’s a huge difference between the two. I still stand on what I said based on Scriptures that for a believer, remarriage after divorce while the former spouse remains alive is prohibited. 

      I would just like to clarify that this article is not meant to “judge” or look down on any Christian who has been divorced and remarried. Although it is in my strong conviction that the Word of God prohibits all remarriage after divorce, I do not agree to the view that a couple who have gone through previous divorce should separate. As I said towards the end of my article, if you are already in this position, you should never consider divorce and should not feel any less loved by God.

      By the way, I’m really interested to know which of the biblical texts I quoted is out of context and what’s your basis for saying that even up to Jesus’ day, men actually divorced their wives over some slightest wrong without having to give a certificate of divorce.

      We need to understand one thing and that is, when Jesus talked about divorce, most of the people He was dealing with are those who claimed to know God and were trying to live by the Law. And many times over, Jesus pointed out how wrong they were by pointing them back to the original plan of God when He designed marriage. 

      One more thing, in the Jewish culture (and in the Middle East), dating and courtship do not apply because these are foreign to them. Once their parents come to an agreement, they are immediately betrothed (or engaged) and that is the time for them to get to know each other. And although they’re as good as married, they do not live together as husband and wife until after the wedding ceremony. During the betrothal period and one of them commits sexual immorality, the other party may file for divorce.

      Joseph and Mary’s story is a classic example of how sexual immorality is ground for divorce. They were not married yet, only betrothed, when Joseph thought of divorcing Mary because he found out that she was pregnant (Matthew 1:1-19).

      Regarding what you said that God spoke to you personally and told you that it was okay to divorce your husband and remarry, I am not going to refute that because that is between you and God. Let me just say that many people who claimed to have heard from God have done things contrary to Scriptures. 

      For instance, I once read the story of a pastor who was attracted to one of the members in his congregation. But he was already married and so he divorced his wife and justified it to his congregation by saying that God spoke to him personally and told him that he was better off with the girl he was attracted to. 

      God will never contradict Himself and His Words. So anything contrary to what He has revealed in His written word definitely did not come from Him. 

      I am glad that you have found happiness in your second marriage. We might disagree on what is the biblical view of divorce and remarriage but I sincerely want you to be happy. After all, a child of God deserves to be happy.

      God bless you!

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