God considers most remarriages after a divorce to be adultery. However, there are a few exceptions to the rule.
- Why does God hate divorce?
- What Jesus said about divorce
- Paul talks about divorce and remarriage
- A few allowances for remarriage
- A few arguments:
- Remaining single and trusting the Lord
- Repentance is better than rebellion
- What God is doing now
Formally titled “Divorce and Remarriage: The Final Study” and originally posted on 12/14/14, this message provides a biblical answer to one of the most controversial topics in Church history: whether a person can get remarried after divorce and remain in right standing with God. The answer is usually No, but there are a few exceptions.
Why does God hate divorce?
Before we get into answering the main question, we need to understand why God hates divorce. A divorce is defined as the separation of a married woman from the bed and board of her husband and the disunion of the two within marriage.
A divorce is the “putting away” of the wife or husband. Some have said “putting away” and divorce are different things, but they’re interchangeable.
We hear the Most High’s heart about divorce in Malachi 2:14-16 when he says:
14 You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows.
15 Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth.
16 “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife” (Malachi 2:14-16 NLT).
God is all about unity among his people (Ephesians 4:1-6). Marriage is the greatest institution in which a man and woman can bond as one (Genesis 2:24). God himself is a trinity (something like a union) of three people: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (1 John 5:7). Therefore, God hates divorce because it tears apart two souls causing great spiritual pain. Here are a few more reasons God hates divorce:
- It makes marriage look like it doesn’t work.
- The divorced may enter into depression and substance abuse.
- The divorcee may be financially devastated due to government involvement.
- The divorcer reveals a lack of godly character: Agape love is faithful.
- If children are involved, they are subjected to trauma from the split.
- The wife no longer has provision, emotional stability or physical protection.
- In some societies, the woman may be forced into harlotry to survive.
Notice these passages are directed at men who divorce their wives. Why? Because marriage is patriarchal and the wife has no power to end her marriage. Today in certain cultures, women have been “liberated” with rights to end their marriage, and so these verses apply to them as well. And many wives are “overwhelming their husbands with cruelty,” as verse 16 says.
However, divorce will not result in eternal damnation because God understands the nature of humanity where sin is abundant and love is scarce. But God still hates divorce.
Common reasons people divorce
The reasons people divorced in the Bible aren’t explicitly given, but we can look at data in modern times and see why couples “call it quits.” Here are ten common answers from an article by the Insider:
- Little or no premarital education and religious differences — 13.3%
- Lack of support from family — 17.3%
- Health problems — 18.2%
- Domestic violence — 23.5%
- Substance abuse — 34.6%
- Financial problems — 36.1%
- Getting married too young — 45.1%
- Too much conflict and arguing — 57.7%
- Infidelity or extramarital affairs — 59.6%
- Lack of commitment — 75%
Granted, these are reasons people breakup and not necessarily the root cause. The real causes will be discussed elsewhere. With a look at these ten reasons, does Jesus support any of these? Let’s see what the Bible says.
What Jesus said about divorce
31 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 5:31-32).
We see here that Jesus first refers to the old law in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which states that a man must issue papers to divorce his wife. But Jesus fulfills (or completes) the Law (Matthew 5:17) by saying, “You cannot divorce your wife unless it’s for fornication.
What is fornication? Fornication is correctly translated sexual immorality. In our study on “Is Premarital Sex a Sin?” we revealed that sexual immorality includes: premarital sex, homosexuality, bestiality and incest.
So, if the man discovers that his wife is practicing any of those things, he may divorce her. I don’t believe it’s saying that he must divorce her, but he has a legal right to divorce and remarry; and still be in right standing with God.
However, if the divorce is not for the reason of sexual immorality, that man who divorces and remarries is considered an adulterer; and whoever marries his wife becomes an adulterer. Why? Because God views the two as still married (1 Corinthians 7:39).
But this isn’t the end of the matter. Here’s another view. Let’s read what Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke:
Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery (Luke 16:18).
Here, there is no exception for divorce. Jesus doesn’t say, “except for fornication.” This is important to note. Why didn’t the Holy Spirit include the exception here as well? Surely this is important for men to know but it’s left out.
If all a man had was the book of Luke, he wouldn’t have complete instructions regarding grounds for divorce and remarriage. So did the Holy Spirit make a mistake? No. Let’s go back to the beginning of Matthew and look at Joseph.
18 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. 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:18-21).
Here we have Joseph about to divorce his wife, Mary, who he wasn’t married to yet. How is that possible? In Israelite culture “being espoused” (betrothed) to someone was considered being their spouse. In America, it’s called “engagement.”
The book of Matthew was written with Israelites in mind which is why, in the beginning, it gives Jesus’ genealogy. In all the other Gospel books no genealogy was given because it didn’t apply to the reader.
Am I saying the book of Matthew is only for the Hebrews? No. I’m saying that all the Gospels were written to different groups of people, but having all four to study today gives us insight into the entire message of God.
Therefore, an Israelite man, in the period of espousal, was able to divorce his soon-to-be wife if he found her to be sexually immoral. But after that, there is no exception for divorce. Meaning: he would have to divorce her before the bride price was paid, the marriage ceremony, and consummation.
Let’s continue in Matthew and read about another time this topic was brought up:
3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? 4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. 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.
10 His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry (Matthew 19:3-10).
Here we have Jesus being asked if a man can divorce his wife for any reason. In his response, he explains the original intent of marriage. When a man and woman come together under the institution of marriage, they become one flesh—God considers the two a union. And then Jesus says, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” So, the answer is: No, you can’t divorce for any reason.
Some pastors justify unlawful divorce saying:
“If you married someone apart from asking God, or he didn’t tell you to marry that person, then God didn’t put you to together. So you’re not sinning against God for divorcing that person and remarrying another.”
But I don’t believe this is what Jesus is giving room for. I believe he’s saying that anyone who walks into the institution of marriage (which God put together), neither party can walk out of it without displeasing God.
But then the Pharisees reply with, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” What they were saying was, “Moses commanded divorces for any reason, and God allowed it. Therefore it should be okay to divorce for any reason.” But Jesus explains the reason for Moses command, and Jesus fulfills the old Law by stating the only exception for divorce (fornication); which we know now only applies to engaged Israelite men.
But notice the last verse where his disciples say, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (vs. 10). Why did they say that? I believe, at that moment, they realized the great magnitude of marriage. It’s really is “till death do you part.” They realized there was no way to divorce and remarry (and be right with God) after the betrothed period. If a man found a problem with his wife after engagement had passed, he just had to live with it!
Let’s see another version in Mark:
2 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. 10 And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. 11 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 (Mark 10:2-12).
Notice in this account “for any reason,” was ommitted from the question posed to Jesus with “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus tells them that divorce is not the will of God, saying, “Let not man separate.”
Later, the disciples ask the same question again and look at what Jesus tells them. This time, both parties are guilty of adultery if they remarry after divorce and we also see there is no exception for sexual immorality stated here.
Paul talks about divorce and remarriage
This matter continues when Paul is asked about this subject. We get his response in first Corinthians chapter 7:
8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. 10 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 (1 Corinthians 7:8-11).
Here, Paul is permitting unmarried folks and widows to marry if they are burning with passion and can’t exercise self-control. Some will say that an unmarried person could be a person that’s been previously divorced. But he’s not talking about previously divorced people. He’s talking to people who have never been married, and to those who have been married, but their spouses are now dead. Look at the scripture again. The following verse (v. 11) supports that.
So God (not Paul), once again, speaks to the married people and tells them not to divorce their spouses, but if so, they are to remain unmarried or reconcile. Why stay unmarried? Because to remarry is to commit adultery as Jesus already taught. So verse eight has nothing to do with divorcees whose spouses are still living—that would be a contradiction in scripture.
Can I divorce my unbelieving spouse?
Paul answers another question about unbelieving spouses:
12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 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 (1 Corinthians 7:12-15).
So the advice here is to stay with the unbelieving spouse if they are willing to live in peace, but if not, they are free to let the unbeliever go. But after that, does it say they can remarry? No, it doesn’t. All it means is that they are “not under bondage” to the marriage. They don’t need to stay in a relationship with a person who’s disrupting their peace, and quite possibly, their spiritual growth.
More about divorce:
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 (1 Corinthians 7:39).
And Paul repeats it in Romans:
2 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. (Romans 7:2-3).
There you have it. This is what the word of God says about divorce. Divorce and remarriage is not permitted by God unless sexual immorality is discovered during the engagement period or if the spouse dies. Remarriage, after divorce, is adultery and the Bible is clear about the fate of those who rebel against God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
While it seems there is no hope for remarriage after divorce, there are two other exceptions for men.
The answer to the question lies in understanding that one way adultery is committed is through remarriage after divorce. So if remarriage after divorce can cause people to be in adultery, we have our answers. According to Scripture, in the following cases, a person cannot remarry and be in right standing with God:
- A man who divorced his wife (Mark 10:11).
- A woman who divorced her husband (Mark 10:12).
- A divorced woman whose husband is still alive (Luke 16:18).
- A man who marries a divorced woman who’s husband is still alive.
- A woman who marries a man who divorced his wife.
A few allowances for remarriage
I see no way for the divorced to remarry except for these cases:
1. When the spouse dies
If the spouse is dies, they are free to remarry. This makes sense, but I’ve heard people voice that they thought they had to remain unmarried even if their spouse died. No. The marriage contract is only for the living, not the dead.
2. When a husband is divorced by his wife
Notice what the following passage in Luke 16:18 leave out:
Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery. (Luke 16:18)
It doesn’t say the husband is in adultery if he marries another after his wife divorces him. It doesn’t say he is committing adultery by replacing the wife that left him. A husband must not divorce his wife, but if she divorces him, he can remarry.
There’s a double standard here and this is because women were made for men and it’s not good for a man to be alone (1 Corinthians 11:9, Genesis 2:18).
It’s clear in Scripture if a man divorces his wife and remarries, he’s committing adultery but (Mark 10:11) it says nothing for the man if he is divorced by his wife. This means he can remarry without it being in adultery.
God knows the heart of a man and if he’s done everything he can to keep his marriage in tact but the wife divorces him anyway, he’s free to remarry without it being considered adultery.
3. If a man’s wife was previously married
If you’re a man who’s married to a divorced woman, you’re committing adultery. You should repent and divorce that woman. Why? Because that woman already belongs to her first husband who’s still alive. While you had a legal marriage according to the country or contract, your union was illegal in God’s eyes. After you let her go, you are free to remarry.
A few arguments:
Here’s what people say to justify remarriages or their refusal to return to the husbands they left.
“But God hates divorce”
When I say the remedy to an illegal remarriage is divorce, people object with “God hates divorce.” True, God does hate divorce, but not all divorces. In Ezra chapter 10, he commanded whole families to be broken up (with children) for obedience:
2 And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, “We have trespassed against our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this. 3 Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law (Ezra 10:2-3).
Some will say it’s wrong to tell people to divorce a second time. No. It’s wrong not to warn people and tell them that if they continue in their state of adultery, they won’t be accepted by God and they won’t inherit eternal life.
Jesus said a person’s eternal soul is more important than family (Matthew 10:37), and God cares more about your obedience to him than your comfort.
But what about the children and me? Whoever get’s custody, God will take care of you and your children and bless you for your obedience. This doesn’t dissolve your responsibility to provide for your children, but God will bless you for your repentance.
“But it’s not good for a man to be alone”
A man who’s wife divorced him is only permitted to get a new wife—he didn’t end the marriage and since men need women, he’ll need a new one.
However, the man who put away his wife is not allowed to get a new wife no matter if he becomes lonely. Perhaps he should bring her back or remain single. You can’t discard you wife no matter how defected she is and except to get an new one. Either work with the defects or add another wife.
God hate’s divorce (Malachi 2:14-16) and he’s made it clear you will be labeled an adulterer if you remarry a new wife (Luke 16:18).
“But returning to your former spouse is defilement”
I’ve been getting emails from some (usually women) who condemn me for telling people to return to their first spouse. The passages they cite are Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which says:
1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. 3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;
4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the Lord: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance (Deuteronomy 24:1-4 KJV).
My responses are these:
The passages mentioned are from the Old Testament under the Old Covenant. The OT also teaches that we should kill a person that defiles the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14). The bottom line is this scripture isn’t the whole counsel of God.
We’re under the New Covenant of grace, godly love, forgiveness, and the blood of Jesus that can wash away that “defilement.” Think about that for a minute. Think about how divorce was permitted under the Old Covenant, but now under the New, if you remarry you’re committing adultery.
How many times did God take Israel back after her adultery against him? (Jeremiah 3:1). He even used the prophet Hosea to illustrate his love. While adultery is defiling, it doesn’t prohibit return to the husband.
The Law in the OT was given to prohibit husbands from divorcing their wives and then taking them back after she’d remarried. God was making it clear to those men that the divorce was final once she married another.
If that law wasn’t in place, it would’ve created an environment where husbands could essentially treat wives as rental property to be passed around from husband to husband. Now that’s foul.
The blood of Jesus changes things for us in this day in age. Back then, the blood of Christ wasn’t available to cleanse the spiritual uncleanliness, now it’s available today.
Think about it: two people who’ve reconciled, one or more leaving their latter spouse to return to their first; how could God prohibit that? God is all about reconciliation especially in the institution of marriage which he established.
We need to consider the whole counsel of God. When we grab any scripture out of context (like that Sabbath command I mentioned at the beginning of this response) we will misunderstand God, but if we study humbly under the Holy Spirit we’ll understand the heart of God.
Remaining single and trusting the Lord
If your spouse left you, there’s a chance the Lord can bring them back. I’ve heard of a story where a man’s wife left for another man, but the husband continued to fast and pray—never giving up and believing God for his marriage—even though she was in a new marriage. God later returned his wife and they’ve been together ever since.
Repentance is better than rebellion
Learn from the example in the Corinthian church. It says in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “and such were some of you,” referring to those who used to be in illegal remarriages—adulterers they were—but they repented. Jesus even mentions a blessing on these people:
“Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s,30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life (Mark 10:29-30)
Why would a person leave their wife? One reason would be if they discovered they were in an illegal remarriage. If you love Jesus, you will obey him (John 14:15).
Jesus continues to say:
13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14).
Jesus said it would be difficult on the road to eternal life. Meaning: most people won’t repent of adultery and forsake their unlawful remarriages for Christ’s sake simply because it’s too hard to bear. I would argue that the Lake of Fire is much harder to bear.
What God is doing now
God is purging his people from sin and purifying his Church. Teachings like these are the start. But in these last days, the devil is working even harder to corrupt the people of God through teachers who validate the sin of adultery through remarriage either ignorantly or rebelliously. We have to beware and guard against deception and listen to the Holy Spirit instead of our emotions.
Readers, this is the hardest thing I’ve had to write. I don’t want to see families broken up again to repent to the Lord. But what does the scripture say? I know people who have divorced and remarried. I feel for them, but I see no room in scripture to continue in a remarriage without violating God’s laws.
While we are “under grace,” the grace of God teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and to live self-controlled, godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11-12 NIV).
There’s much more to say about divorce and remarriage, but this is it for now. I advise that you seek his face diligently and ask him what to do in your case.