Divorce and Remarriage – Does the Bible Allow It?

One question I have been asked on several occasions is, “Does the Bible permit one to be in a relationship with (or marry) someone who has been previously married but has gotten a divorce?” And similarly, “Is it okay to remarry someone new if you are the divorcee?”

Many pastors have shied away from answering this controversial question. But as a former journalist, I enjoy investigating controversial subject matters and reporting on them. So here is the thorough Bible study I recently conducted on marriage, divorce and remarriage.

Marriage was established by God in Genesis with Adam and Eve. God originally created woman for the man (1 Corinthians 11:9), and marriage was instituted to establish companionship (Genesis 2:18), for the woman to help the man have dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28), to create a sanctified atmosphere for godly offspring to be born (Malachi 2:15), and to help the individuals avoid acts of sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 7:2). The natural union between husband and wife also symbolizes and reflects the spiritual union between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32). The Bible teaches that when a man finds a wife, he finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord (Proverbs 18:22). And it also says marriage is honorable above all and the marriage bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). Although marriage is a blessing and gift from God, honorable and favorable, it is unfortunate that over half of all marriages –both in the world and in the Church — end in divorce.

Divorce, also known as dissolution of marriage, is the process of legally terminating a marriage or marital union by a court or other competent body. But is divorce biblical? Is it ok for Christians to divorce? Does God allow divorce for any reason?

The Pharisees asked Jesus the same questions in Matthew 19:1-12. Jesus’ response was that although Moses allowed divorce as a concession because of the hardness of hearts (aka irreconcilable differences), it was never God’s will for divorce to take place. Upon hearing this, Jesus’ disciples replied by saying “if divorce is not permissible for just any reason, and one must stay in the marriage even when their heart is hard towards their spouse, then it would be better to just not get married. Jesus agreed! He replied that not everyone can accept this fact. But for those who can, let them. Jesus told his disciples it’s okay to choose to stay single and celibate for the sake of the kingdom if they believe marriage will be too much of a commitment.

Malachi 2:16, says that God hates divorce, or “putting away”. God hates divorce because He is a God of promise, or covenantal loyalty. To get a divorce means you are breaking a vow or promise that you have made with the other person and with God. And when you break a promise you made, you are guilty of committing sin.

Deuteronomy 23:21-23 NLT
““When you make a vow to the Lord your God, be prompt in fulfilling whatever you promised him. For the Lord your God demands that you promptly fulfill all your vows, or you will be guilty of sin. However, it is not a sin to refrain from making a vow. But once you have voluntarily made a vow, be careful to fulfill your promise to the Lord your God.”

Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 NLT
“When you make a promise to God, don’t delay in following through, for God takes no pleasure in fools. Keep all the promises you make to him. It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it. Don’t let your mouth make you sin. And don’t defend yourself by telling the Temple messenger that the promise you made was a mistake. That would make God angry, and he might wipe out everything you have achieved.”

When God came up with the institution of marriage, He designed for a man and a woman to come together to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24), and for their covenant to last a lifetime— or “till death do us part” (Romans 7:2).

Although God didn’t originally institute divorce and the scriptures are generally against it, the Scriptures give at least three clear scenarios that would breach the marriage covenant and give justification for divorce: adultery from either spouse, desertion from a non believing spouse, and death.

Both in Matthew 5:32 and in Matthew 19: 9, Jesus himself said, “Whoever divorces his wife, EXCEPT in the case of fornication or sexual immorality (also referred to as cheating, adultery, infidelity or having an affair), and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

So according to the passage in Matthew, Jesus permits (but not mandates) divorce only if someone has been unfaithful in the marriage. In such a case, both divorced spouses are free to remarry without it being accredited unto them or unto their new spouses as committing adultery. But if a divorce has taken place yet neither partner has had an affair, then in this case, they are still technically married in God’s eyes, just separated. And if either of them were to remarry while still technically married to their “ex”, then they will become an adulterer or adulteress, and so will their new spouse.

In 1 Corinthians 7:12,13,15, Apostle Paul says, “But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.”

In this passage, God himself didn’t give this command, but Paul, who has been given wisdom from God, has given this counsel: that a believer is not to divorce their unbelieving spouse. But if the unbelieving spouse decides to walk away from the marriage, they are allowed to do so, because they are not saved, and are not under any obligation to keep the law. The divorced, believing spouse in this case is free to remarry, if they choose, without it being accredited to them or their new spouse as committing adultery. Only they must marry another believer.

The third option for a divorced person to be able to legally remarry in the eyes of God is if their ex-spouse has died.

1 Corinthians 7:39-40 says, “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.”

And Romans 7:1-3 says, Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

So in summary, the Bible doesn’t endorse divorce, but it is not totally against divorce and remarriage. It is permissible, but with restrictions. Although there are many reasons why people may want to get a divorce (i.e., the couple fell out of love, grew bored of each other, fell in love with someone else, financial hardship, sickness, interference from friends and parents, emotional/physical abuse, etc.), the truth is that the only Biblical grounds for divorce — and even remarriage — is if the first marriage was annulled due to infidelity, desertion from a non-believing spouse, or if their ex dies.

If a married couple has separated or has committed an unjustified divorce, the only option they have for remarriage is to be reconciled back to their ex-spouse.

“To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.” -1 Corinthians 7:10-11

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