DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
God hates divorce. He hates it because it always involves unfaithfulness to the solemn covenant of marriage that two partners have entered
into before Him, and because it brings harmful consequences to those partners and their children (Mal. 2:14-16). Divorce in the Scripture is permitted
only because of man’s sin. Since divorce is only a concession to man’s sin and is not part of God’s original plan for marriage, all believers
should hate divorce as God does and pursue it only when there is no other recourse. With God’s help a marriage can survive the worst sins.
In Matthew 19:3-9,
Christ teaches clearly that divorce is an accommodation to man’s sin that violates God’s original purpose for the intimate unity and permanence
of the marriage bond (Gen. 2:24). He taught that God’s law allowed divorce only because of “hardness of heart” (Matt. 19:8).
Legal divorce was a concession for the faithful partner due to the sexual sin or abandonment by the sinning partner, so that the faithful
partner was no longer bound to the marriage (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:12-15). Although Jesus did say that divorce
is permitted in some situations, we must remember that His primary point in this discourse is to correct the Jews’ idea that they could
divorce one another “for any cause at all” (Matt. 19:3), and to show them the gravity of pursuing a sinful divorce. Therefore,
the believer should never consider divorce except in specific circumstances (see next section), and even in those circumstances it should
only be pursued reluctantly because there is no other recourse.
THE GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE
The only New Testament grounds for divorce are sexual sin or desertion by an unbeliever. The first is found in Jesus’ use of the Greek word
porneia (Matt. 5:32;
This is a general term that encompasses sexual sin such as adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and incest. When one partner violates the
unity and intimacy of a marriage by sexual sin—and forsakes his or her covenant obligation—the faithful partner is placed in
an extremely difficult situation. After all means are exhausted to bring the sinning partner to repentance, the Bible permits release for
the faithful partner through divorce (Matt. 5:32; 1 Cor. 7:15).
The second reason for permitting a divorce is in cases where an unbelieving mate does not desire to live with his or her believing spouse (
1 Cor. 7:12-15).
Because “God has called us to peace” (v. 15), divorce is allowed and may be preferable in such situations. When an unbeliever desires to
leave, trying to keep him or her in the marriage may only create greater tension and conflict. Also, if the unbeliever leaves the marital
relationship permanently but is not willing to file for divorce, perhaps because of lifestyle, irresponsibility, or to avoid monetary obligations,
then the believer is in an impossible situation of having legal and moral obligations that he or she cannot fulfill. Because “the brother
or sister is not under bondage in such cases” (1 Cor. 7:15) and is therefore no longer obligated to remain married, the believer
may file for divorce without fearing the displeasure of God.
THE POSSIBILITY OF REMARRIAGE
Remarriage is permitted for the faithful partner only when the divorce was on biblical grounds. In fact, the purpose for a biblical divorce
is to make clear that the faithful partner is free to remarry, but only in the Lord (Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:39).
Those who divorce on any other grounds have sinned against God and their partners, and for them to marry another is an act of “adultery” (
This is why Paul says that a believing woman who sinfully divorces should “remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband” (
1 Cor. 7:10-11). If she repents from her sin of unbiblical divorce, the true fruits of that repentance would be to seek reconciliation
with her former husband (Matt. 5:23-24). The same is true for a man who divorces unbiblically (1 Cor. 7:11). The only time such a person could
remarry another is if the former spouse remarries, proves to be an unbeliever, or dies, in which cases reconciliation would no longer
The Bible also gives a word of caution to anyone who is considering marriage to a divorcee. If the divorce was not on biblical grounds and
there is still a responsibility to reconcile, the person who marries the divorcee is considered an adulterer (Mark 10:12).
THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH
Believers who pursue divorce on unbiblical grounds are subject to church discipline because they openly reject the Word of God. The one who
obtains an unbiblical divorce and remarries is guilty of adultery since God did not permit the original divorce (Matt. 5:32 ; Mark 10:11-12).
That person is subject to the steps of church discipline as outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. If a professing Christian violates
the marriage covenant and refuses to repent during the process of church discipline, Scripture instructs that he or she should be put out
of the church and treated as an unbeliever (v. 17). When the discipline results in such a reclassification of the disobedient spouse as
an “outcast” or unbeliever, the faithful partner would be free to divorce according to the provision for divorce as in the case of an unbeliever
departing, as stated in 1 Corinthians 7:15. Before such a divorce, however, reasonable time should be allowed for the possibility
of the unfaithful spouse returning because of the discipline.
The leadership in the local church should also help single believers who have been divorced to understand their situation biblically, especially
in cases where the appropriate application of biblical teaching does not seem clear. For example, the church leadership may at times need
to decide whether one or both of the former partners could be legitimately considered “believers” at the time of their past divorce, because
this will affect the application of biblical principles to their current situation (1 Cor. 7:17-24). Also, because people often transfer
to or from other churches and many of those churches do not practice church discipline, it might be necessary for the leadership to decide
whether a member’s estranged or former spouse should currently be considered a Christian or treated as an unbeliever because of continued
disobedience. Again, in some cases this would affect the application of the biblical principles (1 Cor. 7:15; 2 Cor. 6:14).
According to 1 Corinthians 7:20-27,
there is nothing in salvation that demands a particular social or marital status. The Apostle Paul, therefore, instructs believers to recognize
that God providentially allows the circumstances they find themselves in when they come to Christ. If they were called while married, then
they are not required to seek a divorce (even though divorce may be permitted on biblical grounds). If they were called while divorced,
and cannot be reconciled to their former spouse because that spouse is an unbeliever or is remarried, then they are free to either remain
single or be remarried to another believer (1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14).
REPENTANCE & FORGIVENESS
In cases where divorce took place on unbiblical grounds and the guilty partner later repents, the grace of God is operative at the point of
repentance. A sign of true repentance will be a desire to implement 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, which would involve a willingness
to pursue reconciliation with his or her former spouse, if that is possible. If reconciliation is not possible, however, because the former
spouse is an unbeliever or is remarried, then the forgiven believer could pursue another relationship under the careful guidance and counsel
of church leadership.
In cases where a believer obtained a divorce on unbiblical grounds and remarried, he or she is guilty of the sin of adultery until that sin
is confessed (Mark 10:11-12). God does forgive that sin immediately when repentance takes place, and there is nothing
in Scripture to indicate anything other than that. From that point on the believer should continue in his or her current marriage.
For a fuller treatment of divorce and remarriage, see The Biblical Position on Divorce & Remarriage from Grace Community Church’s Elders’
Perspective Series, from which this paper was adapted.