God’s Will Concerning Remarriage

If divorce is a devastating problem for God’s church, remarriage is as great!

Divorce is an evil because of the sin it often leads to: remarriage, while one’s original spouse still lives. With God’s people of old, “with overwhelming grief I weep,” because of this violation of God’s law.

Has it come to such as pass, however, that divorce and remarriage are not considered evils?

Is it so, that God’s people have so wearied of the problem that they have given in?

Has the church surrendered to the pressures to allow divorce for “every cause” and remarriage of any who have “confessed” their sin?

Here, more than ever, it is important not to allow our emotions guide us. There are very few who are not personally touched by these questions. For believers who have deep wounds and scars from the troubles of bad marriages, we pray that God’s Word may heal, that Jesus Christ may be the Great Physician for them.

Study with me the Bible’s teaching on remarriage.

The Bible teaches that there may be no remarriage unless one’s spouse has died. This means physical death, as every person who has made the vows at marriage would admit is the meaning of the phrase, “till death do us part.”

Some claim that two New Testament passages especially are grounds for remarriage after divorce, even when one’s spouse is still living. Matthew 19:9 and I Corinthians 7:15 both are interpreted to allow for remarriage of the “innocent party” – – the faithful or deserted spouse.

Apart from the interpretation of these texts, consider what has happened in the churches that have taken this view of these texts. All will admit that divorce is allowed not only on these two grounds – adultery and desertion – but for almost every cause. Desertion is taken to mean almost everything, from mental cruelty to being aloof. Remarriage is allowed not only for the “innocent party,” but for anyone who has divorced. The floodgates have been opened, allowing to be swept away the blessed institution of marriage (to say nothing yet, about what happens to the children).

What does the Scripture say?

In every other passage of Scripture, God makes it very plain that He does not allow remarriage. Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18, Romans 7:1-3, and I Corinthians 7:39, all show plainly that God forbids marriage when one’s original spouse is still living.

If one appeals to Deuteronomy 24 as grounds for remarriage, he must first read Matthew 19 and hear what Jesus said about that kind of appeal.

Matthew 19 is more important. Apart from the difficulty of judging who really is “innocent” in a divorce, Matthew 19 does not allow for an innocent party to remarry. Four things make that clear:

FIRST, one must look carefully at the clause beginning with the word “except”. See what the “except clause” refers to. The exception is to Jesus’ prohibition of divorce, and not of remarriage. Jesus gives an exception that allows divorce; there is not an exception here that allows remarriage. Jesus could easily have said, “Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, except it be for fornication. . .” Instead, He said, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery.” Notice carefully the placement of the “except” clause.

SECOND, it seems that Jesus referred to a woman who had not committed adultery here – an innocent party. About her Jesus says, “and whoso marries her which is put away doth commit adultery”. If the man that marries the innocent woman commits adultery by marrying her, she certainly is committing adultery. That’s plain.

THIRD, even though we might not think Jesus’ teaching was very clear, His disciples did! It seems that everyone who uses this passage to support remarriage fails completely to deal with the following verses, 10-12. In these verses, Jesus’ disciples privately and bitterly complained to their Teacher. They said, in effect, “Jesus, if your teaching is true, it would be better for a man not ever to marry.”

Why would the disciples make such a statement?

If divorce were so easy, and remarriage allowable with a statement of confession of sin, why should the disciples have said that it would be better not ever to marry?

There is no other explanation, except that they saw Jesus’ hard, humanly impossible calling for some after they marry.

Jesus’ own answer to the disciples shows that this explanation of the disciple’s remarks is correct. Jesus answers the disciple’s concern by teaching that there are three kinds of eunuchs (men or women who are not sexually active). Some are born with no sexual desire. Others are made eunuchs by men (it was common for slaves in a king’s harem to be castrated). Others “have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it”.

What is Jesus saying?

Very simply, some refrain from all sexual activity (remarriage) for the sake of obedience to Jesus Christ. If remarriage is permitted after divorce, Jesus would not have taught that some make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He also recognizes the extreme difficulty: “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” He is a Savior Who sympathizes with His people.

FOURTH, Jesus’ apostles understood well what Jesus taught here. Paul, the chief among them, took the time to explain and apply Jesus’ teaching about remarriage when he wrote I Corinthians 7. In verses 10 and 11 Paul makes a distinction between what the Lord commands and what he, Paul, commands. The difference is not between what is required by God and what is Paul’s own opinion, but between that the Lord Jesus had explained in His earthly ministry and what Paul adds to that teaching by inspiration of the Spirit. In verse 10 Paul refers to something the Lord Himself had commanded.

What was that?

“Let not the wife depart from (divorce) her husband: but and if she depart (divorce), let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband”.

That’s amazing!

It is also powerful.

Paul says that Jesus gave two options to a woman who had to leave her husband:

(1) Remain unmarried;
(2) Be reconciled.

It would be the height of cruelty (to say nothing of wicked folly) for Paul to give only these two options to a divorced mother of children, if Jesus had given another option – remarry. Faithful to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19, Paul does not give permission to remarry while one’s spouse is living.

I Corinthians 7:15 is often used to support remarriage while one’s spouse still lives. Briefly, the explanation goes, if a man deserts his wife (or vice-versa) the wife is not “bound” any longer. Then, since verse 39 shows “not bound” means free to marry, this deserted spouse is free to marry. One sad aspect of this line of thought is that it is based on the NIV translation that carelessly translates two different Greek words with the same English word. Verse 15 speaks of being in bondage (slavery), and verse 39 speaks of being bound (tied firmly). Marriage binds a man to his wife for life; but a deserted spouse is not a slave (in bondage) to the dread of guilt, excommunication, etc. God calls us to peace. (For a lengthier explanation of this passage, please call or write us, and we will gladly send it to you.)

Why this strict teaching of Scripture?

Because marriage is a bond made by God, to be broken only by Him.

No legal contract that can be broken by the parties at their will and whim, marriage is God’s bond (I Corinthians 7:39). Genisis 2 says, “They two shall be one flesh.”

No man can do that.

The question is, “Can anything but death break that bond?”

The answer of some is, “Divorce”. If that is the answer, there is no reason the guilty party may not remarry. Alas, this is the case in almost every church that began allowing divorce for only the “innocent party.”

Those who remarry, while their original spouse still lives, are living in continual adultery.

Repentance from that sin is to leave the new spouse and remain unmarried, or be reconciled to the original spouse (I Corinthians 7:11). Reconciliation must be prayed for, sought out, zealously, for God’s sake and the children’s.

Is this possible?

Is it the case, as it is argued so persuasively, that “Jesus would never requires such hardship as that”?

If so, Christianity has been transformed into a religion far different from what its founder taught it to be.

Jesus said that the life of His disciples would be a cross – – losing life, giving up family members, perhaps even calling His people to hate father or mother. Jesus said that His followers must “count the cost” before they follow Him, lest they be mocked because they find they have not the will to continue (Luke 14:25-33). What Jesus says in Matthew 10:34-39, 19:1-12, Mark 10:28ff, and Luke 12:49-53 is powerful opposition to the teaching that Jesus does not require of His people humanly impossible things.

Let God’s people be motivated by this teaching to work on their marriages, warn their children, preach the truth about marriage, guard jealously God’s institutions, and (especially!) pray for grace to walk in God’s way, where they carry away His blessing. Be encouraged, God’s people, by His Word to you in Ephesians 3:20-21.

By Barry Gritters

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