DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE - BELIEF 3:
DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE SOMETIMES OK
Variety of Bible-based beliefs:
We are faced with a dilemma:
||Various Christian groups -- conservative Protestants, liberal
Protestants and Roman Catholics have reached different beliefs about under
which conditions the Bible permits divorce, if any.
||Even those groups who interpret the Bible as permitting divorce may or may not allow remarriage.
||Each of the authors and webmasters who has written on these topics
seem to conclude that their belief alone is the correct interpretation of
The main positions are:
- Neither divorce nor remarriage are allowed. (A
conservative Protestant view)
- Divorce is OK, but remarriage is forbidden. (A second conservative Protestant
Divorce is OK; remarriage is OK, in cases of adultery or desertion; .
-- described below (A conservative/mainline Protestant view)
- Divorce is OK for many reasons; remarriage is OK. (A mainline/liberal
- Divorce is impossible, unless the marriage never existed. (Roman
- Divorce is OK in cases of marriage breakdown; remarriage is OK.
(Religious liberal and secular view.)
This essay describes the third position: that the Bible allows
marital separation and divorce. But unless the divorce was on the grounds of adultery or desertion, remarriage
This is sometimes referred to as the "Protestant View," although it
is by no means accepted by all Protestants. It is found most often among
mainline Protestant denominations. Various denominations allow remarriage
only to the "innocent" spouse.
Fundamentalist and other Evangelical
denomination generally take a more restrictive view,
that allows neither divorce or remarriage.
This view has been well argued by author Thomas R. Edgar. 1
His position is that more restrictive views -- those prohibiting all
divorces, or those which allow divorces but not remarriage -- are based on
the belief that marriage is indissoluble, except after the death of
one spouse. Edgar claims that "No verse in Scripture explicitly teaches
that marriage is indissoluble." 2 He believes that a
careful reading of the Bible will lead an individual to the position that
divorce and subsequent remarriage is permissible in cases of adultery or
Key passages from the Hebrew Scriptures:
The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) includes the following passages
relating to divorce and remarriage:
||Genesis 2:24: Leaving and cleaving: "Therefore shall a man leave
his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they
shall be one flesh." The key words in this verse are "leave,"
"cleave," and "one flesh." This
describes the typical sequence of events leading to a normal heterosexual
marriage. The term "one flesh" has sometimes been used to imply
that marriage is forever. However, Paul uses the same phrase in
Corinthians 6:6 to describe a man engaging in sexual activity with a
prostitute -- hardly an indissoluble relationship. We can conclude that
Genesis 2 is silent on the matter of divorce and subsequent remarriage.
||Deuteronomy 24:1-2 Divorce and remarriage: "When a man hath taken a wife, and
married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes,
because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a
bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his
house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be
another man's wife." Divorce was a
practice that had been imported by the ancient Hebrews from adjacent
cultures, where it was a universal custom. This passage allowed a man to divorce his wife
(or wives). She was then free to remarry another man. However, it did not allow a woman to divorce her husband.
It is unclear what the term "uncleanness" means. Presumably it does not
mean that she had committed adultery, because then she would have been
executed by stoning.
The passage does not approve of divorce. It remains an unfortunate
for the couple involved. God's ideal pattern for marriage is that it be
permanent. If God approves of an individual divorce, it is
only because it is the least-worse option to a couple whose marriage has
||Ezra 9:1-2: Religious intolerance -- requiring couples in
mixed-marriages to divorce: "...The people of Israel, and the
priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of
the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites,
the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites,
the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their
sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of
those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in
this trespass." Ezra was a scribe who had led a small group of Jews
from exile in Babylon back to Jerusalem. He found that many Jews had
entered into inter-faith marriages with women from nearby Pagan countries.
He felt that if these marriages continued, the Jewish people would quickly lose their national identity and start
to worship other Gods. He ordered the marriages terminated. It is probable
that the Hebrew men remarried within their religion and remarried. Otherwise, they would
have no additional children to help build up their national identity.
||Malachi 2:10: Religious intolerance -- requiring couples in
mixed-marriages to separate: "Judah hath dealt treacherously, and
an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath
profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the
daughter of a strange god." Malachi is faced with the same problem as
Ezra, described above. Jewish males were marrying foreign women who
followed different religions. "Daughter of a strange god" refers to
a foreign woman who worshiped a Pagan deity or deities rather than Yahweh.
In Verse 12, he predicted that God would "cut off" (that is,
murder) any man who remained in a mixed marriage. Again, it was probable
that the Hebrew men remarried women within their faith.
||Malachi 2:14-16: Divorce is treacherous behavior: "... the LORD hath been witness between thee
and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet
is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant....let none deal
treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of
Israel, saith that he hateth putting away..." Malachi is
condemning Hebrew men for abandoning their wives after many years of
loyal marriage, presumably so that he could marry a young, more attractive woman. Malaci quotes God as saying that he hates
putting away one's wife (i.e. divorce). This is the only place in the Hebrew
Scriptures where God condemns divorce. But God's hatred is
not directed against divorce in general, but towards the treachery of
these men who abandoned a wife after many years, in favor of marriage to a young woman.
Key passages from the Christian Scriptures:
The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) includes the following passages
relating to divorce and remarriage:
||Matthew 5:31-32: Divorce allowed, but remarriage often involves
hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a
writing of divorcement. 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." This passage implies that if a man divorces his wife, that
she and her next husband commit adultery. Also, her original husband will
be partly responsible for the adultery. However, if the woman had been
guilty of fornication, then no adultery would be involved in the divorce
or remarriage. And of course, if the wife does not remarry, then no
adultery would be involved either.
||Matthew 19:4-9: Divorce allowed, but remarriage often involves
adultery: "...Have ye not read, that he which made
them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause
shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and
they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one
flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of
divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the
hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the
beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his
wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth
adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." The Pharisees were challenging Jesus'
beliefs about divorce. They asked him to interpret the passage in Deuteronomy 24:1-2
which allowed a husband to divorce his wife if he "found some
uncleanness in her." Jesus describes God's expectations for
marriage: "What therefore God
hath joined together, let not man put asunder." However, some
marriages cannot live up to this ideal. Because humans are not perfect, God
included provision for divorce in the Mosaic Law. In Matthew 5:18 and Luke
16:17, Jesus said that the Law was still in place. Not "...one jot or
one tittle shall...pass from the law..."
Jesus concludes his speech with a repeat of Matthew 5:31-32. Again, there
is no problem for a person who divorces and remains single. However, a man
who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery. If his
wife marries again, her new husband also commits adultery. However, no
adultery results if the woman was guilty of fornication.
||Mark 10:2-12: Divorce OK, but remarriage involves adultery: "And the
Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away
his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses
command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement,
and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the
hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning
of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man
leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall
be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What
therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the
house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto
them, 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." This passage refers
to the same incident as was described in Matthew 19. However, this time,
Jesus states that remarriage always involves adultery on the part of the
ex-wife and her new husband. The grounds for divorce are immaterial.
||Luke 16:18: Divorce OK, but remarriage involves adultery: "Whosoever putteth
away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever
marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery."
This appears to be a third version of the same incident with the
Pharisees. Here, divorce is not condemned. But Jesus links adultery to the
act of remarriage.
||1 Corinthians 7:10-12: Ideal for separated couples: "And unto
the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart
from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be
reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
Paul wrote this passage in response to questions raised by the church at
Corinth about divorce and remarriage. He is describing God's concept for
marriage: that it is life-long. But since humans are not perfect, some
will not be able to attain this ideal.
||1 Corinthians 7:10-15: Special case where an unbeliever wants a
divorce: "But to the rest speak I, not the
Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to
dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an
husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let
her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife,
and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your
children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart,
let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases:
but God hath called us to peace." This is a continuation of the above
passage. It covers the situation where a believer is married to a
non-Christian, and the non-Christian insists on a divorce. Paul
writes that the Christian
is not required to resort to legal means to preserve the marriage; he or
she is to leave the unbeliever at peace, by not contesting the divorce.
This particular passage says nothing about remarriage after divorce.
The message of the Bible is consistent:
Genesis 2:24 does not preclude divorce and remarriage.
No passage in the Bible directly states that marriage is permanent.
Divorce and remarriage was permitted in the
Mosaic Law that God gave to Moses.
Jesus later acknowledged the unchangeable nature of the Mosaic
Ezra and Malachi ordered couples in inter-faith
marriages to divorce. This might have been because their marriages were viewed
as illicit. There is nothing in the text to indicate that the Hebrew men were
forbidden to remarry.
Jesus statement, quoted in Matthew and Mark: "What therefore
God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" indicates God's goal
for marriage. All couples should aim for this goal; however some cannot attain
it. Thus, divorce has always been an option. However, unless one spouse is
guilty of fornication or adultery during the marriage then remarriage involves
Paul instructed the members of the church at Corinth that the
ideal goal for a separated or divorced couple are to seek
reconciliation or to remain celibate. However, a divorce is permissible in the
case of desertion. He says nothing about remarriage. But from the rest of the
Bible one can assume that remarriage was permitted.
Interpreting the Bible for today's society:
Couples should aim for a permanent marriage, until death do them
part. However, humans are not perfect. Divorce and subsequent remarriage on
grounds of adultery or desertion may be the least worse option in those instances where
marriage turns toxic. Divorce and remarriage on other grounds involve acts of
Marital separation is another option that is open to couples.
T.R. Edgar, "Divorce & Remarriage for Adultery or Desertion,"
in H.W. House, Ed., "Divorce and remarriage: Four Christian
views," InterVarsity Press, (1990), Pages 151 to 196. Read
reviews or order this book safely from the Amazon.com online book
- Ibid, Page 152.
Copyright © 2002, by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 2002-APR-178
Latest update: 2002-APR-18
Author: B.A. Robinson