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Variety of Bible-based beliefs:

We are faced with a dilemma:

bullet Various Christian groups -- conservative Protestants, liberal Protestants and Roman Catholics have reached different beliefs about under which conditions the Bible permits divorce, if any.
bullet Even those groups who interpret the Bible as permitting divorce may or may not allow remarriage.
bullet 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 Bible.

The main positions are:

  1. Neither divorce nor remarriage are allowed. (A conservative Protestant view)
  2. Divorce is OK, but remarriage is forbidden. (A second conservative Protestant view)
  3. Divorce is OK; remarriage is OK, in cases of adultery or desertion; .  -- described below (A conservative/mainline Protestant view)
  4. Divorce is OK for many reasons; remarriage is OK. (A mainline/liberal Protestant view)
  5. Divorce is impossible, unless the marriage never existed. (Roman Catholic)
  6. 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 involves adultery. 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.

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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 desertion.

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Key passages from the Hebrew Scriptures:

The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) includes the following passages relating to divorce and remarriage:

bullet 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. 
bullet 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 Middle-Eastern Pagan 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 personal failure 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 failed.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.

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Key passages from the Christian Scriptures:

The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) includes the following passages relating to divorce and remarriage:

bullet Matthew 5:31-32: Divorce allowed, but remarriage often involves adultery: "It 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.
bullet 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 " 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.

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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 Law.


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 adultery.


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.

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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 adultery.

Marital separation is another option that is open to couples.

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  1. 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 online book store
  2. Ibid, Page 152.

Copyright 2002, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-APR-178
Latest update: 2002-APR-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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