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Friday, July 15, 2016

Can I get divorced and remarried?

I use a Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (NASB) for my normal reading. It's nice to have some commentary from someone who knows the languages of the original text. The other day I was in 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul talks about divorce. In the notes, the commentary author recommended I read his book on "Can I get divorced and remarried?" If you are married, you may have asked the question yourself. If not, you've surely heard it. If you haven't heard it, you've the evidence of the question is everywhere. They tell me (whether or not they're correct) that divorce is just as prevalent in Christians as in the world. So the question is everywhere. We Christians, of course, are supposed to find our answers not in the examples of the culture but in the Word of God. As it happens, the question is there, too.

"Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" (Matt 19:3)

What is the biblical answer to this question?
"Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."
(Matt 19:4-6)
Short version -- "No."

"Hey, wait!" some will object. "Is that all you got?" Okay, let's look further. Is it okay to divorce?
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. (Rom 7:2)
Short version -- "No."

"Come on! We know that's not true!" Okay, let's look further. Is it okay to divorce?
"I hate divorce," says the Lord, the God of Israel. (Mal 2:16)
Do I really need to give you a short version here?

"No, seriously, we know this isn't the case." Well, let's see. Is it okay to get a divorce?
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 Cor 7:10-11)
Short version -- "No." Okay, with a little longer version, "Well, perhaps, but only if you don't remarry."

"Oh, stop! You know that's not the answer!" It is true that this isn't the only answer, but it is amazing to me that people who wish to follow Christ consider it inadequate. Scripture repeatedly gives this answer and we're not satisfied. Why is that?

So, what does Jesus say when the Pharisees had the same objection that we just did? What was Jesus's response when they said, "Stop! You know that's not the answer; you know that Moses allowed divorce."?
"Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." (Matt 19:8)
There, that should make you feel better. It's okay to divorce because of the hardness of heart. Oh, wait ... that's not comforting? I don't think He meant it to be.

"So," you will say, "you're saying that we are not allowed to divorce?" No. God said He hates divorce and Jesus said that what God put together let no man separate and that divorce is a product of hard-heartedness. But, at the end of the day, there is an allowance for divorce. Why would we push it that far? Why would we wish to do that which God hates, that which is product of a hard heart?

"So," you may sigh with relief, "we can divorce and remarry." What does the Bible say? We already saw that Paul commanded ("Not I, but the Lord") that if you divorce you should remain unmarried or reconcile to your spouse. Not good enough? What else can we find?
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." (Mark 10:11-12)
Jesus classifies remarriage after divorce as an act of adultery. You make the call.

I have presented a one-sided view here to a long-and-hotly-debated topic. I offer it because it is the Word of God. I offer it because it comes first from the lips of Jesus Christ. I offer it because I'm hoping that Christians want to follow Christ's instructions. I will admit that the question isn't this simple although the core of Scripture takes this view. And I will certainly stress that divorce and remarriage doesn't constitute the "unforgivable sin". Divorce and remarriage are no worse than pride or lust or the other sins we all suffer from. Yes, there is more to the question. But I'm wondering why the repeated message from Scripture that marriage is for life is not a satisfactory answer. When do we Christians decide to agree with Christ?

11 comments:

Marshall Art said...

It's something that has plagued me since I said "I do". My wife was divorced after her husband had cheated on her and expressed no desire to reconcile. While my wife was not necessarily a practicing Christian at the time, her decision to go through with the divorce seemed to me at the time (and still does now) to be within Scriptural teaching as seen in Matt 19:9. But still, that verse doesn't speak to subsequent marriages as being permissible because of it. And here we are...married with no possibility of parole, nor desire for it. Her first was an idiot and a fool, much to my advantage. I'm nowhere near as big an idiot and fool at least because I see death as the only way we'll ever be parted. I'm fairly certain she feels the same way. ;)

Stan said...

I've seen those who argue, "If you or your spouse has been divorced, you need to divorce him/her and go back to the first." This is patent nonsense. It violates Scripture. It violates logic. It violates a second marriage. The question, "Can I get divorced and remarried?", that I answered here was to the person who was contemplating divorce (and the assumed remarriage, at least some day). The answer I see in Scripture is "Don't do it!"

The questions of the person on the other side of that question -- "Been there, done that, what now?" -- are different. No, don't divorce the second and go back to the first. (God calls that abhorrent. See Deut 24:4; Jer 3:1.) There are, of course, about other questions. I, for instance, was divorced by my wife. She left and married another. So I see 1 Cor 7:15 applying in that case. Almost all Bible-believing Christians see Matt 19:9 as Jesus's permission to remarry if your divorce is for adultery. Nuances, you see.

Two important points. 1) Divorce and remarriage is NOT the unpardonable sin. Ever. 2) "Her first was an idiot and a fool" are not good reasons for divorce. (I only offer that second as humor. "Her husband cheated on her" would qualify.)

David said...

I've understood the infidelity verse to be akin to the hardened heart verse. It may break you from the legal marriage but not the spiritual one. The only place I can find that directly dissolves the spiritual side in God's eyes is if a non-believer leaves a believer because of their faith. That to me is the only God sanctified allowance for divorce. All others fall under allowances for hardness of heart or are outright sin. Of those options, I only see the first that allows remarriage because that is the one that God took apart.

Stan said...

I think you'll see that, given what I wrote in the post, I don't find a "God-sanctified allowance for divorce". As I understand the texts I've read, the answer is "No divorce." The only reason for instigating a divorce is hard-heartedness (or worse). Now, if you find yourself divorced, there are some other interesting verses to read.

Oh, and, by the way, my understanding of the Matthew 19 exception clause is that it is NOT talking about infidelity in marriage (adultery). It is talking about sexual immorality prior to marriage. (I wrote about this a few years back.) Jesus didn't use the word for "adultery" there; He used the word for sexual immorality. It would have been the "divorce" that Joseph was planning for Mary in their betrothal (Matt 1:19). But, hey, that's just my take.

David said...

What about receiving a divorce, like 1 Corinthians 7:15? That's what was talking about for the only legitimate means of divorce. Only if the divorcer is a non-believer and leaves because of the believer's faith. Only then would the divorced person be able to remarry in the eyes of God, at least that's what I understand the last part of the verse to mean.

I agree, there is no good, biblical allowance for divorcing someone. Hardness of heart isn't really a good place to stand, in my opinion. It is so sad that we must try to find the loopholes just to get the sin we want "blessed". For those that have divorced, they can't just admit their sin and repent, and those thinking about it can't soften their heart.

Stan said...

That's what I meant why I used the phrase "instigating a divorce." Some people -- especially in our modern day of "no-fault divorce" -- find themselves divorced against their will. In that case, I think the 1 Cor 7 verse you mentioned is applicable. So is 1 Cor 7:27-28.

Stan said...

By the way, you may not know this, but when my wife divorced me, I sought an attorney who would sue for "breach of contract". I had a witnessed promise of "til death do us part" and would have hoped to legally force that contract to be kept. Of course, I couldn't find one.

David said...

I don't think 1 Cor 7 would apply to your situation. Your wife didn't leave you because of your faith. I see that verse as extremely restrictive. Only one minute allowance. Being left because of your faith. I wouldn't believe God to find you at fault for being left, however, I don't think it frees you from the remarriage restrictions. Of course, now that you understand that, all you can do is repent and live your current marriage as biblically as you can. That is the great thing about grace. "Repent and sin no more."

Stan said...

Oh, okay. So, I'm just asking here (ignore the personal pronouns), but assuming you believe that my wife leaving me for another man and claiming it was not because of anything I did does not constitute a valid biblical divorce that allows for remarriage, what would you recommend ... you know, to someone like me? What would you say to someone who is divorced and remarried and does not fall under any sort of "exception clause" that you recommend? It would seem like the options are "Go ahead and live in an adulterous relationship or divorce again and remain single for the rest of your life without the possibility of remarriage." What would you say (and on what basis -- always a helpful thing to include)? (As I understand you, the only valid Christian divorce and remarriage would be if the spouse leaves solely on the basis of the believing spouse's faith.)

David said...

As you pointed out in the post, divorcing again would only be compounding the problem. Repent and live your current marriage as if it were your first. Just because our understanding of something changes doesn't mean we need to do wrong again. At the time of your remarriage you didn't believe that remarriage was a sin because you believed yourself "out" by 1 Cor. standard. You now know better (if you're agreeing with me). It would be the same as someone that divorced and remarried before they were saved. A change in understanding of a past sin doesn't justify compounding more sin. Repent and live as you know you should have. David wasn't commanded to divorce Bathsheba after his involvement was discovered. He could only continue in the correct direction rather than making it worse to try to "return" to the condition before he sinned. Past sin must be repented of and then we must continue on the righteous path.

And yes, the only valid allowance by God for divorce and remarriage is an unbelieving spouse leaving because of the believing spouse's belief. The believing spouse is instructed to remain in the marriage. Only if the unbeliever leaves is God at peace with the dissolution of the marriage vows. At least, that's my understanding of 1 Cor.

Stan said...

Thanks for the information. No, I wasn't agreeing with you. (In fact, I think your view -- desertion for faith -- is the first I've ever heard for that passage. Almost all see it as simple desertion since there isn't anything that says anything about "for your faith".) I was just wondering about your view and suggestions.