Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage

Since email and phone calls from visitors to our public website and FAM members often concern questions about standing for a second or subsequent marriage, this page attempts to answer questions about divorce and remarriage based on Scripture and to address some of the things churches and Christian leaders teach and promote about marriage, divorce and remarriage today that are not consistent with the Bible.

Unfortunately, there’s very little agreement among Christians concerning what the Bible teaches about marriage, divorce and remarriage, so there’s a wide array of opinions from one extreme to the other, and everyone appears convinced they have the right answers. While most everyone attempts to support their position regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage with Scripture, it is often taken out of context or with total disregard for other Biblical teaching. Since God’s Word can never accurately and reliably be interpreted to mean anything inconsistent with the rest of the Bible, it’s easy to dismiss many opinions because of the double talk and verbal contortions required to reach such conclusions. However, some opinions might not be so easily dismissed since they appear to be correct without considering their relevant context, especially as it relates to adultery and remarriage after divorce, so we have to dig even deeper into God’s Word for answers to these questions while praying for divine revelation and understanding.

To start with, Jesus very strongly reaffirmed God’s plan for marriage as a lifelong one flesh covenant and totally disavowed the Mosaic law that permitted a man to divorce his wife for any cause (same as today’s “no fault divorce”) in Matthew 19:4-9 (NKJV) and again in Mark 10:2-12 (NKJV). So despite contrary opinion, there’s NO reasonable or rational doubt about Jesus’ statements concerning adultery, divorce and remarriage based on what He said in either Matthew 19:9 or Matthew 5:32 (NKJV), which says, But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. Again, Jesus clearly stated that anyone who divorces a woman “causes” her to commit adultery (probably because divorced women in that time had to remarry or turn to prostitution to survive) and that anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery…UNLESS the wife is guilty of “sexual immorality.” That’s why many see that verse as an “escape clause” permitting remarriage after divorce in cases of adultery, but simply reading the footnote for that verse proves that’s NOT true because it says “Or fornication.” Since fornication very specifically refers to sexual immorality BEFORE marriage, Jesus was NOT referring to sexual immorality occurring during the marriage; if He was, He would have called it “adultery.” And if a woman “commits” adultery during her marriage, her husband obviously didn’t “cause” her to commit adultery by divorcing her. So Jesus was stating the obvious based on Deuteronomy 22:13-19 (NKJV)…that a bride was expected to be a virgin on her wedding night (why the bride’s parents collected the bed sheets from the wedding night), and if she wasn’t a virgin, her husband could divorce her. But if she was a virgin on their wedding night, he could NOT divorce her all the days of his life. Needless to say, since God STILL expects and commands brides to be virgins on their wedding night, our permissive culture has really made an unholy mess of things! So reading the rest of Deuteronomy 22 (NKJV) might be helpful in trying to sort out some of the messes we’ve made of marriage in today’s sinful culture. In any case, no one can reasonably use Matthew 19:9 or Matthew 5:32 to claim that Jesus said it’s okay to divorce an unfaithful spouse and remarry because He didn’t say that. In fact, Luke 16:18 (NKJV) leaves no doubt about that since it says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.” Putting that together with Mark 10:11-12 (NKJV), it’s hard to see how anyone can honestly convince themselves that God allows remarriage after divorce when it says, 11 So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. 12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” There’s obviously NO exception or “escape clause” in either of those verses; thus God’s Word clearly teaches that marriage is a one flesh, lifelong covenant relationship, created by God, and that no one should separate what God joins together.

Another widely held opinion not supported by the Bible is that God releases a Christian to remarry when an unsaved spouse divorces them based on 1 Corinthians 7:15 (NKJV), which says, 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. Since the Greek word for bondage there is “DOULOO,” which means slavery (the same word used in Acts 7:6 and 2 Peter 2:19), Paul wasn’t saying the believing spouse is released from the bond/bondage of marriage when a non-believing spouse divorces them. IF that’s what it meant, the very next verse wouldn’t say For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? Interpreting 1 Corinthians 7:15 to mean the saved person is released to remarry disregards what Paul said a few verses earlier in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 (NKJV), which he VERY unusually and specifically stated was not a command from him but from the Lord. It says 10 Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife. And since that was the FIRST thing Paul said on the matter of separation, divorce and remarriage in this chapter, EVERYTHING ELSE he said AFTER that must be taken in that context. If Paul was teaching that one is release to remarry for some reason, he wouldn’t conclude the very same chapter, using a DIFFERENT Greek word for being bound in 1 Corinthians 7:39 (NKJV), by saying A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. The Greek word Paul used there is “DEO,” which means mutual commitment or agreement, as by contract (the same word he used in Romans 7:2-3). And since that was the LAST thing Paul said about marriage and remarriage in that chapter, he obviously felt it was important enough to restate and clarify; probably to make sure there was no misunderstanding or misinterpretation of anything he had previously written on the matter. Paul stated the same thing with even more clarification in Romans 7:2-3 (NKJV), which says, 2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.

Therefore, A more accurate and biblically consistent explanation of what 1 Corinthians 7:15 means is found in Luke 15:11-32 (NKJV), the parable of The prodigal son, and Hosea 1-3 (NKJV), about Hosea and Gomer (a portrait of how God deals with unfaithfulness and disobedience); which both illustrate very important principles of marriage restoration. The Prodigal’s father and Hosea did not “stand in the path of sinners”, their son and wife, and they “let them go” when they wanted to leave. Then they lived in peace and obedience to the Lord in their daily lives, putting their trust in Him and allowing HIM to create the circumstances that brought their son and wife back and restored their relationships. In both situations, the consequences of sin and disobedience led to the prodigal son’s and Gomer’s realization that they were better off before they left, which made them glad to return home. And since God ALWAYS calls us to live in peace, we can’t infer a special interpretation in this context, especially since the same thing is seen in many other passages; such as Romans 12:18 (NKJV), which says, If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

Additionally, the “escape clause” interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:15 (together with verse 16) is further called into question since those verses are much more consistent with the instructions given to wives in 1 Peter 3:1-4 (NKJV) as follow:
1 Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives,
2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.
3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—
4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.

So the above passage amplifies the real meaning of 1 Corinthians 7:15-16 and makes a lot more sense, especially since many men and women with restored marriages say it was the unexplainable peace (a gentle and quiet spirit–not giving way to fear because our hope is in god) they observed in their spouses that first drew them back to their homes.

As for not being bound in such circumstances, that can NOT possibly mean something so totally contrary to what so many other passages of Scripture say; especially since Paul did NOT use the Greek word DEO. So perhaps it is just a statement of the obvious…that while our spouses are away from home, we’re no longer bound and expected to perform or act as their spouses in terms of our daily duties and responsibilities, and are thereby able to serve the Lord with undivided devotion and without distraction. In fact, Paul clearly considered remaining unmarried a better choice since he later stated that married men and women care about the things of this world–how they may please their spouses in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 (NKJV). That interpretation makes even more sense considering how strongly Paul stated that married people can’t serve the Lord with the same level of faithfulness and commitment as those who don’t have the responsibilities and concerns of marriage, which he clearly viewed as a form of bondage.

Another erroneous justification many pastors and Christian leaders and teachers use for marriage after divorce is God’s grace. However, most of the above passages of Scripture were written by Paul well after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so the “grace” so many Christian leaders now teach covers and pardons the sin of adultery in marriages after divorce was already in existence and was something Paul very well understood. Yet these passages of Scripture are very precise and explicit, and they don’t include any exceptions or allowances for remarriage after divorce based on God’s grace, which they would if that was God’s intention because the Bible says God is not the author of confusion. That’s why it’s so important to read the Bible for ourselves rather than rely on someone else’s interpretation. In fact, the Bible provides very clear and irrefutable evidence and confirmation of how God views “legally sanctioned” adulterous marriages in the case of Herod and Herodias,who GOD continued to call Philip’s wife even though she was then married to his brother, Herod. Mark 6:17 (NKJV) says For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. Then again in Matthew 14:3-4 (NKJV), even though Herod had married Herodias, we see that she was still considered his brother’s wife in the eyes of God because it says 3 For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. 4 Because John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Let’s not forget that John The Baptist lost his head for preaching AGAINST Herod’s adulterous marriage and for refusing to accept and acknowledge it as lawful! And since the Bible tells us that the Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever, we have NO scriptural basis for believing that God blesses or recognizes the same kind of non-covenant marriages today.

Finally, a much more challenging issue concerning divorce and remarriage is what to do when someone is already in what the Bible calls an adulterous marriage or an adulterous relationship and gets saved or finds themselves in the midst of a divorce. That’s why reading 1 Corinthians 7 from beginning to end is so helpful in more fully understanding God’s will and Word regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage, along with the other Scriptures mentioned and included above. Sadly, taking verses in 1 Corinthians 7 out of context, many prominent Christian leaders today believe and teach that if we’re in an adulterous marriage or relationship (in which case they push the adulterous couple to get married) when we get saved, we don’t have to worry about it because all of our sins are forgiven, all things old are passed away and made new again, we are new creations in Christ, the grace of God covers even the sin of adultery, AND that we’re called to stay in the state or situation in which we were saved–despite the Bible clearly calling it adultery . However, when we carefully read 1 Corinthians 7 all the way through, we see that in most of the examples Paul used, he said stay that way, but if you don’t, that’s okay too! Additionally, reading Philemon 1 proves that Paul didn’t believe being saved meant Onesimus was no longer a slave and was therefore free to stay in the state he was in when he was saved; in which case he could have continued serving the Lord with Paul. In fact, the interpretation that it’s okay to stay in a sinful state once we’re saved as it’s widely promoted and accepted couldn’t be further from the truth because that’s the exact opposite of what 2 Corinthians 5:15-17 (NKJV) clearly declares as follows:
15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

And since there’s absolutely NO WAY being “in Christ” means living CONTRARY to the written Word of God, the true meaning of “a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” is made abundantly clear in Romans 7:5-7 (NKJV), which states:
5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.
6 But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.”

While it was Paul’s personal opinion that it’s better not to be married, he made it abundantly clear that when we do get married, it’s for life. So it’s not possible to reconcile that with the fact that an adulterous relationship or marriage is the ONLY sin pastors don’t tell people they have to give up by repenting and sinning no more. And since there’s no other sin that people are encourage to continue living in after being saved, it’s ridiculous to use 1 Corinthians 7 as the basis for staying in adulterous marriages or teaching that God blesses and condones adulterous relationships when the adulterers get married; much less believing that it’s the one and only sin that doesn’t require confession and repentance, which literally means confessing our adultery as sin and NOT continuing in it. And even worse yet, are the pastors who encourage, support and perform adulterous marriages on the basis of God’s grace and forgiveness, which blatantly disregards Romans 6:14-15 (NKJV) since it says, 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Jude 1:4 even warns against that very teaching because it says, For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, such false teaching is based on ignorance of what the grace of God is. God’s grace is NOT the same as His mercy; rather it’s His anointing power to do everything His Word calls us to do as revealed in Philippians 4:13 (NKJV), which simply declares, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NKJV), Paul left no doubt about exactly what God’s grace is when he wrote, 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

In summation, there’s NO basis for teaching that God blesses and condones adulterous marriages anywhere in the Bible. Even in the genealogy of Jesus as provided in Matthew 1:6 (NKJV), David’s adultery with Bathsheba was forever exposed and recorded (even though they were married) because it refers to Solomon’s mother as “her who had been the wife of Uriah”…and it says that even though Uriah was dead at the time David married Bathsheba! Not only that, the other mothers acknowledged in the genealogy of Jesus provided in Matthew 1 are mentioned by name! That should be more than enough to convince anyone how serious God is about the covenant of marriage, how much He hates divorce and that to Him, remarriage after divorce is adultery as long as one’s covenant spouse lives—and even after death if the adultery began while a covenant spouse lived.

I know from personal experience how very painful these circumstances are for those seeking answers in God’s written Word regarding such matters because I literally started this ministry while standing for an adulterous second marriage and fully believed that was God’s will because I accepted many of the erroneous teachings mentioned above. But in His infinite love and mercy, God showed me the truth of His Word as shared here, so It is my heart’s desire and prayer that you will find the answers you seek at this time in your lives as well. As Jesus taught in John 8:31-32, and as I have experienced personally, when we BELIEVE Him and ABIDE IN HIS WORD, we are truly His disciples and we will know the truth and the truth will make us free! So may God bless and guide you all as you seek GOD’S truth in His written Word!

For additional information on related topics, check out the following links:
Adultery Does Not Invalidate Or Destroy The Marriage Covenant
When Your Spouse Remarries

All Bible verses are from the New International Version 1984 unless otherwise indicated.