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Divorce and Remarriage


Divorce and Remarriage

Text.  Matthew 19:1-9 Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

Divorce is a dilemma for Christians of every denomination, and historically especially for evangelicals.  Divorce has split churches, divided families, ruined testimonies, hindered evangelism.  It’s a huge, complex subject, hundreds of books have been written on it, maybe thousands of sermons, conferences and colloquies…  and we are still at odds about it. So in this short, inadequate study of the matter, we try to get just an overview of the Bible teaching about divorce. 

1 The Pharisees’ Question. V3. The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”

Now of course, the Pharisees were being totally disingenuous.  There was a debate raging among the Jews about divorce, and the Pharisees hoped that by asking Jesus to comment on it, that they could draw him into the controversy, and harm his ministry, and damage his following among the people.  Let’s try to understand exactly what they were asking him to comment on.  Consider…

  • The status of women among the Jews.  The Jews had a much higher view of women, and of marriage than any of the Gentile nations, but ultimately a woman was the property of the man in Jewish society.  That’s why Paul’s teaching on the mutuality of husband and wife in a marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 is so needful and so instructive, for them and for us.  1 Corinthians 7:3   
  • The possibility of ending a marriage.  Because a woman was the property of her husband, only a man could initiate a divorce but marriage could certainly be brought to an end, and the Law on this was found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.   In Jesus, day, there was a debate raging between three popular rabbis over the precise meaning of Moses’s words, ‘some indecency.’  


Now the pharisees saw this as a golden opportunity to trap Jesus into a pointless argument.  ‘Is is lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?’ Jesus answers them by stating the ideal, God’s design for marriage, the Adam and Eve Marriage. ‘So when Moses commanded divorce, was he wrong?’  Matthew 19:7   Again, Jesus’ answer goes right back to God’s ideal of marriage.  Matthew 19:8  Moses did not COMMAND divorce, he only PERMITTED it – because he recognised the hardness, the sinfulness of the human heart.  

2 The Doctrine of Divorce. 

Divorce is not good, it is not God’s will for marriage but we are sinners, and we offend against each other, and we treat each other abominably, and we separate and we divorce.  So the bible lays down rules for us, so that we will be able to maintain our integrity, and repent from our sins and be forgiven

  • God’s Plan for Marriage.  The Ideal of One Flesh. This is the divine standard.Matthew 19:4-6   God created us for each other, and when we marry it is a lifelong union, the two becoming one flesh and because of this, God hates divorce.  
  • The Lord and His Divorce of Israel. 
    • GOD HATES DIVORCE. Malachi 2:14-16, God hates divorce yet…
    • The LORD DIVORCED ISRAEL! In Jeremiah 3:8, the prophet is warning the people of Judah to repent of their sins, and trust the Lord, and he attributed the fall of Israel in 722BC to the fact that God had ‘divorced’ them because of their wickedness and unfaithfulness.  Jeremiah 3:8.

So God hates divorce yet sometimes human relationships break down so much that they can never be repaired and divorce is the only option. Moses knew about the sinfulness of the human heart, the imperfection of our condition.  He recognised the reality of our broken sin cursed world.  We fall short of God’s standards in every sense, including in our marriages.  No human marriage is perfect, some are far less perfect than others.  So Moses permits divorce because of human sin.  Matthew 19:7 -8  It was on this basis that Moses allowed and regulated divorce in the civil law of Israel


3 The Grounds for Divorce and Remarriage.  And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.

There are only two grounds for divorce and possible subsequent remarriage in the Bible.

  1. Sexual Depravity.  9And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” If a party to a marriage has been unfaithful, and the ideal of ONE flesh between husband and wife has been shattered, then, says Jesus, that person who has been sinned against may legitimately divorce and remarry.  Two considerations…
    1. The nature of the sin.  Sexual immorality obviously means adultery.  But there are other forms of sexual immorality.  The Greek word translated as sexual immorality is πορνεια, and it could just as easily be translated as ‘fornication.’ Matthew 5:27-30   BUT
    2. The preference is forgiveness. In Jewish Law an adulterous wife MUST be divorced, but Jesus in Matthew 18 has been teaching his disciples about the extent of forgiveness. Matthew 18:21  A party sinned against may forgive the sinner, SHOULD forgive the sinner.  There should always be strenuous efforts for reconciliation.  
  2. Spiritual Desertion.  Paul introduces this in 1 Corinthians.  What if a married man or woman becomes a believer in Christ.  Their whole lifestyle will be affected.  Paul advises that in such circumstances the believer is not to seek separation, for who knows if their Christian life and testimony may win over their unbelieving spouse. But what if the unbeliever decides to leave?  1 Corinthians 7:15 

In both these cases, the innocent party, the one sinned against, or the one deserted, is free to remarry.  The Reformed position on this is stated in the WCF. 24:V. Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, gives just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract. In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce and, after the divorce to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.  So, unlike the RCs and Anglicans, and Dispensationalist Evangelicals of every hue, the Reformed churches have always ‘believed’ in divorce, and allowed for remarriage of divorcees, – but only under very limited and very strict circumstances.

So, there is a ‘theology of divorce’. Marriage is for life, and God does not approve of separation.  He hates it.  But we are sinners, and we fall short of God’s standards in every area of life, including in marriage.  When that happens marriages break up.  The Christian response is to go to great lengths to seek reconciliation, but sometimes that just isn’t possible.  In two cases, and two alone, fornication and the desertion of believer by an unbeliever, remarriage is possible. 

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