Comments & Explanations on Divorce and Remarriage
Issues included in the discussions below:
Jesus, full of Grace & Truth
Biblical authority for specific counsel
Jesus’ teaching on Marriage, Divorce, & Remarriage
Paul’s teaching on Marriage, Divorce, & Remarriage
Saved, unsaved, repentant, ‘heart attitudes’
Vows, Hosea, Jehovah’s ‘Writ of Divorce’, Restoration
“cause to commit adultery”
The full counsel of God
Hard (unpleasant) teachings
Grace, Obedience, Truth, Legalism, Orthodoxy
Authority of Scripture vs. common American church practice
Murder, Mercy, Paul, Parallel, Saved, Unsaved, Repentance, Relevance
We as Christians must address the very sensitive (and pervasive) issue of Divorce and Remarriage. With this issue, there can be no conflict between grace and truth. The problem is understanding both grace and truth. We don’t have to choose which we will emphasize in the ‘ministry of grace’. Jesus didn’t ‘balance’ the two – He was ‘full’ of both Grace and Truth and for us as Christians, the scriptures have been given to reveal Truth and Grace; to guide us, and not confuse us.
I believe that the position statement of Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage is reasonably comprehensive. But, there are just two ‘grounds’ for divorcing without sin, (and therefore of blessing any Remarriage) 1) adultery, and 2) an unbeliever abandoning a believer. That’s all that the Holy Spirit has stated in all of scripture. Any remarriage after a divorce for illegitimate reasons is adultery for both spouses.
Moses, Jesus, Paul’s teaching on Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage
Despite life’s complications and any ‘what-ifs’, the teaching of scripture is simple and straightforward: From the beginning, marriage between one man and one woman was to make them ‘one flesh’, and was permanent (Matt. 19:3-6; Mark 10:1-9). In speaking privately to his disciples (not just to the Pharisees) Jesus gave a straightforward, statement that “if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she commits adultery. (Matt 5:32; Mark 10:12). He restated that principle in Matthew 19:9 but included the “exception” clause of ‘fornication’ (in which case, the vow was already broken by the other party). Paul also states in 1st Corinthians 7:10-14, that a Christian spouse is not to divorce. Paul goes on to state in verses 15 and 16 that if an unbeliever abandons [divorces] the believer, then the believer is not under the bonds of that marriage. All of these statements of Jesus and Paul seem completely reasonable given God’s view of the sanctity, permanence and covenant of marriage. In fact, Paul teaches that Moses’ statements in Genesis, and the statements of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, show that the sacred marriage covenant is a picture of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:31,32). Is there a clear principle that Moses, Jesus and Paul are giving us? I truly believe that it is ‘simple’. It’s not ‘easy’, but it’s simple and straightforward. All other passages on marriage and divorce reinforce this principle.
I believe that Jesus demonstrated how to deal with real people in his ministry of grace, and with his teaching of truth. He never contradicted either. Likewise, Jesus used the Word as ‘truth texts’ to ‘minister grace to the hearers’. Sometimes that grace was convicting, encouraging, correcting, or teaching (how to live). But, sometimes, for some it was too hard to accept. 1 Timothy 3:16 gives the whole range of applications of inspired scripture – some is for ‘reproof’, and some is for ‘instruction in righteousness’. All is binding on God’s children.
Exceptions, qualifications, extenuating circumstances
In privately teaching His disciples His basic principle on marriage (Mark 10:10-12), Jesus repeated the same thing that He gave to a mixed multitude and to the Pharisees in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:31,32); plus in another Pharisee confrontation (Matt19:3-9). In speaking with His disciples, He did not offer qualifying explanations, saved or unsaved conditions, extenuating circumstances, age limits, later ‘heart attitudes’ or subsequent ‘repentance’. In His discourses, the only exception that He gave (recorded in Matthew 19:9) is in the case of adultery that caused the divorce. (since the marriage vows were already violated). Marriage is for life.
Adultery (what if my ex-wife marries? Now she has committed adultery, and I can remarry!)
This ‘adultery’ exception statement cannot be placed into any subsequent remarriage by the innocent, divorced spouse; and hence to ‘free’ the one who illegitimately divorced in the first place. The only legitimate remarriage mentioned in scripture is of the offended party, 1) in the case of adultery in the 1st marriage, and 2) abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. Remember, divorce ’causes’ the other to commit adultery if they remarry.
In fact, the ‘continuing blame’ for ‘causing to commit adultery’ with a subsequent marriage is placed upon the one who divorced the other illegitimately (i.e. not for one of the two legitimate reasons). So, that cannot ‘free’ the divorcing spouse when an ‘illegitimate’ reason was the cause of the divorce.
Further, even the ‘injured party’ is not free to remarry since to do so would be ‘committing adultery’.
Vows of Marriage
The vows of marriage, as a picture of God’s promise of salvation and of His faithfulness to his church, are so sacred that, like other vows, they are not to be broken for any reason. Included in the 91 references to vows, Solomon states in Eccl 5:4 that you cannot even say that you made a ‘mistake’ or ‘error’ in making a vow. My understanding of the exception clause about adultery is that the other party fundamentally broke that covenant vow themselves, and so remarriage of the other spouse does not qualify as sin. However, Hosea’s example demonstrates just how sacred God considers His relationship with his people, and even adultery does not separate us from his unconditional love. This is the high standard of love and faithfulness, and so even in the case of adultery, God Himself gives the example. While this is the example, Jesus (and Paul) makes clear that to divorce and remarry is not sin in the case of adultery. I believe it is because the vows were already broken.
God’s “Writ of Divorce” Even when God gave a ‘writ of divorce’ to Israel, He never married another. Plus, God promised that he would restore Israel, and it is clear that He will fulfill that vow in the later days (Revelation).] Remember that ‘the church’ did not replace Israel, but we are ‘grafted in’ to the believing saints of Israel (Rom 11:17).
But God wants me to be ‘happy’, and I want to get remarried “If ye know these things, happy are ye if you do them” (John 13:17). God’s principles are the very things that give us His joy. We are being presumptuous if we think that we know better that God about our happiness. His principles are for our good, and He knows what is good, what is harmful, and what is sinful. Our happiness is found in Him, not our circumstances or our relationships. Really, we just want ‘our way’ and not what is revealed in His Word.
We cannot confuse obedience with legalism. Jesus didn’t and Paul didn’t. Legalism is relying upon self to either attain or remain righteous. Obedience, on the other hand, is commanded and even expected by Jesus (“if you love me you will keep my commandments”; Please read all of John 14:21-24). Likewise, we are commanded to obey throughout both the Old and New Testaments. It is not ‘the Law’, but rather ‘obedience in our love of the Lord’ which Jesus teaches in that passage. The whole world, saved and unsaved, is accountable to God for their obedience or disobedience. Even the unsaved have His law ‘written upon their hearts’, and are accountable for it. How much more a Christian who has the Holy Spirit dwelling within? While ‘Legalism’ is applying human works to ‘attain righteousness’ in order to be pleasing to God, ‘Obedience’ is in the power of the Holy Spirit, and is in loving response to God’s goodness.
Grace and Forgiveness
Old Testament and New Testament grace, mercy, and forgiveness to those who have divorced illegitimately does not negate principles, nor the straightforward (unqualified) statements of Jesus. His ‘ministering grace’ and his forgiveness of the woman taken in adultery (“neither do I condemn thee”) cannot be taken as a contradiction to what he said Himself about marriage, divorce, and adultery. Jesus was not being ‘legalistic’ in Matthew but then gracious in John. Neither does forgiveness contradict Jesus’ own statements on marriage and divorce. God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness are reflected throughout scripture, both Old and New Testament, and there is ‘no condemnation’ to those who are in Christ Jesus. We see multitudes of sinners and righteous alike flock to Jesus, and he taught them. Some of that teaching was difficult, even for the disciples, but he declared all that the Father had given him to say. Does that mean that those who have divorced and remarried illegitimately are without forgiveness. In no way. But there are consequences. Compare David’s sin and forgiveness. But the forgiveness does not imply that further transgression is acceptable and is to be overlooked. “Shall we sin that grace may abound?”
Actions by Saved and Unsaved (are these principles only for those ‘after’ they have become Christians?)
Considering forgiveness, there is the appearance of a parallel between Paul as a Murderer (as an unbeliever) ‘who obtained mercy’; compared with a person who has divorced (as an unbeliever) and now should be allowed to remarry as a believer. If fact, they are not parallel.
There is no subsequent action by the murderer that could be construed as possible sin related to that murder, whereas a remarriage [due to illegitimate divorce] that ‘causes them to commit adultery’ is a subsequent action that is directly related to the previous sin. I hope that distinction is clear. That is why I don’t see the ‘believer – unbeliever’ prior status as relevant in any case of marriage, divorce, and remarriage.
What that distinction leads to is this. “it’s a good thing that Mrs. ____ was an unbeliever when she was divorced, because if she had the misfortune to be a believer at that time, then she couldn’t remarry now since the ‘caused to commit adultery’ passage would apply.”
Now, none of us can explain all of the things that scripture declares. I can’t explain what the baptism for the dead means, or infallible inspiration through fallible human writers, or even explain the deity of a human Jesus. But, it is the historic, orthodox understanding of Jesus’ statements that if a person has made their vow of marriage and divorces their spouse illegitimately, then subsequent remarriage is adulterous for both, except in the case of immorality. This is clear from many scriptures. In addition, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, adds the case of abandonment of a believer by an unbelieving spouse. I can’t explain that one either.
Grace, Truth, and Love
Jesus is full of Grace ‘and’ Truth, and they do not contradict. Likewise, the ‘full counsel of God’ does not make us choose to obey one and minimize or explain away the other. Jesus loved the rich young ruler, but he gave him a straightforward statement that couldn’t be misunderstood. “Go sell all that you own and come follow me.” That young man fully understood, and it was too hard for him. Leadership and Ministry is difficult, and finding the truth to obey sometimes seems to be difficult, but I truly believe that God hasn’t made important principles of life hard to understand. They are merely difficult and painful to apply. Loving someone is wanting the best for them, and the best for them can never be contradictory to God’s revealed will. God has declared His love for us, and has called us to obedience of his Word. Even Jesus ‘learned obedience by the things which he suffered’ (Heb. 5:8,9). This is a painful issue, but we are called to discern “Grace, Obedience, Legalism, Phariseeism, Love, Ministering, Forgiveness, and Truth”. These must be defined by scripture and not common Christian usage, and we understand that “He has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Relying upon the sufficiency of scripture for faith and practice is not legalism, but orthodoxy.
May God give us wisdom in understanding His Word, and also give us His grace to obey exactly what he reveals to us through His word. “Thy Word is Truth”
– Ike Sweesy