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Divorce and Remarriage

Although Moses' law allowed for divorce and remarriage, Jesus spoke against it.

Matthew 5:31-32: "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Mark 10:11-12: And he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

Luke 16:18: "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

All but Matthew are unequivocal on divorce and remarriage: It is adulterous behavior to remarry. These are the very words of Jesus. Only Matthew qualifies it with the phrase, "except on the ground of sexual immorality," which has come to be known as the "exception clause."

However, in the original Greek the word for "sexual immorality" is porneia and not moicheia which means adultery. What does porneia mean, if not adultery? A word study of porneia is worth a discussion all by itself. Suffice to say, porneia is not referring to adultery but rather chiefly to unfaithfulness in the betrothal phase of a marriage vow. This was the case with Joseph and Mary. Please note:

Matthew 1:18-19: Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

Only Matthew mentions this--the other gospel writers are silent on the matter. Joseph could rightfully divorce his wife and marry another, because Mary had committed porneia (at least in the eyes of Joseph). Her unfaithfulness had occurred while legally married to Joseph before they had come together in physical union. If it had occurred after, then it would have been adultery or moicheia. This was clearly in Matthew's mind as he wrote the words of Jesus on the subject of divorce. If Matthew had not added this "exception" to the rule then he could not have called Joseph a "just man." (For a lucid discussion of this interpretation go here.)

Other examples of porneia in the marriage setting are incestuous (1 Corinthians 5:1) and sodomite (Jude 7) marriages. Both of which are illegitimate and could (and should) be dissolved.

Moreover, making an "exception" to the marriage vow (other than the ones mentioned above) violates a whole series of Biblical principles. Namely,

  • It breaks a sacred vow. The Christian marital vow states, "till death do us part" not "till divorce do us part." Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 is clear that a vow to God must be kept. To do otherwise invites God to "destroy the work of your hands." See also Proverbs 20:25.
  • It goes against God's hatred of divorce (Malachi 2:16). This is one reason why in the New Testament a Christian leader was to be the "husband of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2) and why Christians were to honor and care for widows who chose to remain single. (By implication divorced women would also be cared for in the same way.)
  • It violates God's original plan for marriage. (Matthew 19:6: So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.)
  • It builds a whole doctrine on one word, porneia. Yet, as I stated earlier, it's the wrong translation of the word! If Jesus meant adultery, he would have used another Greek word.
  • It makes void God's teaching in Ephesians 5. Rather than a husband giving himself up for his wife, divorce would mean he is "giving her up"!
  • God does not command divorce. Rather, divorce is of an individual's free-will and a form of vengeance. Yet, Christians are warned not to take vengeance on anyone (Romans 12:19).
  • It fails to account for the astonishment of Jesus' disciples. (See Matthew 19:9-10.)
  • It negates God's call to suffer for righteousness' sake. (See 1 Peter 2:20-21 and 4:12-14.)

There are also "natural" consequences to divorce and remarriage, including:

  1. Distrust in your word. Having violated a sacred vow, who's to say you will stand behind your other promises and guarantees.
  2. Wounds, dishonor and reproach to your name. (See Proverbs 6:30-33.)
  3. Your influence will damage other marriages. If it goes well with your remarriage, then others will consider doing the same. Pastors have testified to the truth of this statement. The seed is sown for the destruction of many homes.
  4. Increased and lasting guilt. (See Romans 14:23).
  5. Labeled as a Pharisee (i.e. hypocrite). Jesus repudiated the Pharisees view on divorce. When they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" Jesus took them back to Genesis. (See Matthew 19:4-6 and Genesis 2:23-24.) God made no provision for divorce when He instituted marriage.
  6. You dishonor your parents. If the marriage was sanctioned by your parents, then you will dishonor them with a divorce.
  7. It lowers the standard for the yet unmarried. They will not enter marriage with the seriousness that it is life long.
  8. A "wasting disease" will come upon you. This may be the worst of all consequences. (See Psalms 106:15.) Other versions translate this phrase as "leanness of soul." Thus, the individual's capacity to enjoy life is diminished.
  9. Produces a sense of insecurity. The remarriage will have an insecure basis. What the divorcee did once, he is liable to do again. The new spouse and any children involved live a life of insecurity regarding the marriage.
  10. The potential for a wider Christian ministry is curtailed.

Divorce and remarriage is truly devastating to the individual, the Church, and society. So what is a Christian to do who has faced or is facing divorce? There are at least seven steps.