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
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)
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
- 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:
- Distrust in your word. Having violated a sacred vow, who's to say
you will stand behind your other promises and guarantees.
- Wounds, dishonor and reproach to your name. (See Proverbs 6:30-33.)
- 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.
- Increased and lasting guilt. (See Romans 14:23).
- 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.
- You dishonor your parents. If the marriage was sanctioned by your
parents, then you will dishonor them with a divorce.
- It lowers the standard for the yet unmarried. They will not enter
marriage with the seriousness that it is life long.
- 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.
- 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 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.