Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.
Romans 7:2-3 & Related Verses
Few things in life cause so much anguish and heartache as the break-up of a marriage. Commonly, hateful words, slanderous accusations, and ruthless financial dealings are part and parcel of the divorce venue. The result is often ruined finances, shatter lives, damaged children, and bitterness and distrust that lingers for years.
Perhaps some sitting in this auditorium are in the midst of the divorce mine field. Others have passed through it some time back. Some have remarried and some have not. But, regardless of where they might be on the scale, all who have passed through the divorce gauntlet come out scarred emotionally and spiritually.
My purpose in this message is not to antagonize those who are going through or have gone through a divorce or those who have been divorced and remarried. My purpose is perhaps best stated by borrowing a quote from another pastor --
So this is where I will begin today.
The Permanence of Marriage
The issue of marriage, divorce and remarriage is our topic because of our study of the book of Romans, specifically Romans 7:2-3 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
Paul makes it clear that marriage is intended to be permanent! Now, where did Paul get such an idea? The answer is, it was God's plan! In Genesis 2 we read how God made one woman (Eve) and brought her to one man (Adam) and joined them together saying, Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. Genesis 2:24
Jesus Christ our Lord, the second person of the Trinity, makes it clear what God the Father meant -- Mark 10:2-9 And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. 3 And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? 4 And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. 5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
The point? Marriage is permanent. God the Father says marriage is permanent, God the Son testifies to the permanence of marriage and the Apostle Paul simply confirms the permanent nature of marriage.
The Prohibition of Divorce
God hates divorce! Divorce was widespread among His people, and just before the Old Testament closes He speaks through Malachi the prophet -- Malachi 2: 14, 15b-16 the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant... 15b Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. 16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.
Note the phrase putting away in verse 16. The English phrase is one word in the Hebrew and means divorce. Hence God hates divorce. I should note that God did not say he hates those who are divorced and neither should we hate them. But neither should we condone the practice of divorce. If we look back to the Malachi passage we will see that God characterizes divorce as being violent and treacherous as well.
Heres my point. American social mores, and even the modern "church" endorses and even sometimes encourages divorce for just about any cause. But, it is the Bible and not society or the "church" that dictates the standard. As a preacher of the Bible, I must seek to stem the tide of divorce by preaching and teaching the biblical prohibition against it.
What Does The New Testament Say About Divorce?
There are four clear passages that leave nothing to the imagination in the New Testament
1. Mark 10:11-12 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.
2. Luke 16:18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.
3. Romans 7:2-3 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
4. 1 Corinthians 7:39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
After reading these passages of Scripture you must admit that there is no wiggle room when it comes to divorce. God sanctions no divorce! We need to recognize that. But, before anyone protests, I know that there are two passage that I have not looked at yet, both which are found in Matthews Gospel. They contain what is called the "exception clause."
What About The Exception Clause?
Matthew 5:31-32 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
Matthew 19:9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
Have you ever wondered why these passages differ from what we read in Mark and Lukes Gospel as well as in the teachings of Paul. Does this amount to a conflict in the Bible? Let me state emphatically that there is no contradiction in the Bible. In fact there is a good reason for the difference. Mark wrote primarily for a largely Gentile audience that lived in Rome. This accounts for the large number of Latin terms found in his Gospel. Luke, on the other hand was writing mainly to a Greek audience. Naturally, when Paul wrote to the Romans, he was addressing primarily Romans. When he wrote to the Corinthians, he was addressing primarily Greeks.
An Explanation of Betrothal
That brings me to Matthews Gospel. Matthew wrote his Gospel with the Jew in mind and that explains why the Matthew references are different than all the rest of the New Testament references. To understand Christ's so-called "exception clause" for the Jews, we must understand the Jewish practice betrothal. In the Jewish culture, when a young man wanted to marry a girl, the parents would meet together and decided if and when they should become husband and wife. Once that was decided a formal ceremony was then held in which money was exchanged and a document was signed. At this point the couple was officially declared to be betrothed, which is similar to our engagement, except that is was as binding as marriage. As far as Jewish law was concerned, they were married, even though they both returned home with their parents. The couple would then spend about a year preparing for the actual public wedding. During the time of betrothal the man and woman were prohibited from having sexual contact. Yet in the eyes of the law, they were married. Because this was true, the Jews were very precise about the words they used. In Jewish society fornication (porneia) and adultery (moichao) were two different sins. Adultery was a sin committed by a person whose marriage had been consummated, after the betrothal period. But, a person who had sexual relations with someone else other than their betrothed did not commit adultery, but fornication. Divorce was only allowed for sexual misconduct during the betrothal period. The best illustration of this is found in Matthew 1:18-19 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. (In case you have any doubts as to the nature of the sin Joseph thought Mary had committed you need only look at John 8:41. The supposed sin was fornication, not adultery. Of course, it did not apply because she was pregnant by supernatural intervention).
My point is simple. Fornication and adultery are not interchangeable words, otherwise they would not both be listed when sins are categorized as in Matthew 15:19 and Galatians 5:19. In the Bible, "fornication" always refers to sexual sin committed by single (engaged, or betrothed included) person and "adultery refers to sexual sin committed by those married. Hence, Jesus was not granting permission for the divorce and remarriage of a husband or wife on the grounds of sexual unfaithfulness in contradiction to the other passages cited in Mark, Luke, Romans or 1 Corinthians, but instructing the Jews that an engagement or betrothal could be broken for fornication.
There are two other point that I should make before I close. First, even if Jesus was allowing for a divorce for sexual sin after marriage (which he was not), He did not allow for remarriage because the second half of Matthew 19:9b says, " whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. There is yet another detail that needs to be brought up as well. The Pharisees allowed a divorce for "every cause" as we see in verse 3. Christ allowed for a divorce only in the betrothal period. Not for adultery, that is, sexual infidelity after marriage. His strictness shocked his disciples. Look at their response -- Matthew 19:10 His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.
The Prohibition Against Remarriage
We have previously examined Matthew 5: 31-32, Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18 and Romans 7:2-3 and have seen that none of them allow for remarriage, unless the spouse dies. Again, there is no wiggle room in any of these verses. But, true to form, there are those who wrongly believe that 1 Corinthians 7:15 allows for remarriage if there has been a divorce. But there is no such permission indicated. The verse says, "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace." In fact, a study of the context shows the appropriate response to divorce or desertion is either to remain unmarried or reconciliation. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 points this out. And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
Specifically, Paul is dealing with spiritually mixed marriages in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16; that is, where one person becomes a believer after the marriage has taken place. Christ had not addressed that situation specifically, so Paul does. He commands the believing husband not divorce his unbelieving wife. He commands the believing wife not to leave her unsaved husband. A Christian should continue to live with the unbelieving partner as long as the unbelieving spouse allows it. And there are two good reasons to do so 1) The believer has a spiritual influence on the husband and the children (v. 14) 2) The unbeliever may come to know Christ!
But what about 1 Corinthians 7:15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. Paul is simply saying that if the unbelieving partner demands separation, God does not hold the believer responsible to preserve the marriage union. Paul is saying that the believer is not bound or it is not necessary for the believer to contest the divorce action or engage in legal maneuvers to prevent it. Why? Because God has called us to peace. But note, though the believe is no longer bound to their spouse, they are still bound to the law of God. The freedom of a deserted believer does not imply freedom to remarry. There are but two alternatives reconciliation or lifelong singleness (see 1 Corinthians 7:11). There is absolutely nothing in this passage that would teach otherwise.
So what do you do if you are already divorced and remarried. Should you dump your partner? NO! Certainly not. Look at the chart that I have prepared for you and this and other questions about divorce and remarriage are covered there.
Divorce & Remarriage Overview