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Ask Donnell: What's The Bible's position on Divorce and Remarriage?

Ask Donnell: What's The Bible's position on Divorce and Remarriage?

We received the following question from J;

"Hi Donnell,
I have a question: My sister and I had a heated argument about divorcees remarrying. We both agree that divorce is only permissible in the case of infidelity but according to her interpretation of what the bible teaches (Mathew 5:32) a divorcee remarrying in any circumstances (once their spouse is alive) is a sin and against God's law. I on the other hand cannot accept this interpretation and argued that if there is infidelity resulting in a divorce, the exception “clause” in this scripture (or the innocent party) I believe is free to remarry. Why would Jesus make a point of mentioning an exception and turn around and tell the innocent party, you can divorce because your spouse broke the covenant, but you can never remarry for the rest of your life, unless it’s to the same cheating spouse (who now makes your skin crawl by the way) - it just does not make sense! What about secular people who went ahead and divorce (not for biblical reasons) and remarry and then became saved? wouldn’t they be given? This is just one of the scenarios I see in this complex issue and since divorce is not an unpardonable sin I cannot agree with her interpretation - Am I wrong?"

J, this is a trap question. What looks like the right answer may not be the only right answer. 🙂 I appreciate you asking it because now is as good a time as any to release a solid answer. I've been avoiding addressing it publicly for a long time but since we just started a church we won't be able to avoid addressing it too much longer. Regardless, I have to be very wise with my response because this answer affects us all. Divorce is much more common in the church these days than it's ever been. It's easy to blurt out an answer when you're either not in the situation or it doesn't affect you in any way.

As a result, people can have very strong opinions based on a narrow understanding of scripture while being very insensitive to other people's situations. However, when the answer affects you or people you love, you think twice before running your mouth. You stop giving your opinion and you dig deep into The Word of God for the truth. So let's start with the scripture you cited.

Matthew 5:32(AMP) - But I tell you, Whoever dismisses and repudiates and divorces his wife, except on the grounds of unfaithfulness (sexual immorality), causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a woman who has been divorced commits adultery.

One message in this scripture is clear. Unfaithfulness is grounds for divorce. Therefore, when a spouse makes the decision to have sexual relations with someone outside of the marriage, the covenant is broken and the option for bringing an end to the marriage is available to the spouse who remained faithful. That is what Jesus said. What Jesus did not say is that if one spouse is committing adultery it means the other spouse is free to also commit adultery. The two wrongs don't cancel each other out. The same way you can't steal from someone who stole from you and expect it to be alright you cannot respond to adultery with adultery. Adultery is still a sin whether or not the other spouse did it first. As long as you're still married the rules of marriage still apply.

Now concerning remarriage, the message is not so clear in this scripture even though it seems to be so. Jesus first said that divorce is permitted as a response to unfaithfulness and that's easy to see. However, he follows that up by saying that the divorced person cannot be remarried without committing adultery. That's where the confusion lies. Does He really mean it's okay to get a divorce when a spouse cheats on you but it's not okay to remarry after getting that divorce He just permitted? This is why we have to thank God that there are four gospels. Four different writers heard Jesus say the same things and wrote them in four different ways. If you read something in one of the gospels and you need clarity, look it up in another gospel. Also, since none of us are native speakers of the Hebrew or Greek language from which The Bible is translated, when there is confusion, we also have to balance scriptures by looking at different translations.

Matthew 19:3-9(NLT) - Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?” “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’” And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” “Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” they asked. Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful.

In a nutshell if there has been unfaithfulness in a marriage, the intentions of Jesus are captured in Matthew 19:9(NLT). In that unique case divorce and remarriage are permitted. However, before giving His response to the trap question, Jesus made it clear to those who would listen that marriage is valuable in the eyes of God. Divorce was never in God's plan. In God's eyes, marriage is forever. Divorce was only a concession due to the hardness of people's hearts. Therefore, it should never be an option when entering the marriage covenant. If you choose to get married, choose wisely because God expects you to stick with it until the end of your time on the earth.

As I stated earlier, this is a trap question and has been one since the days of Jesus on the earth. The New Living Translation makes it much easier to understand His response in Matthew 19:9. Here's the story behind this translation of The Bible according to BibleGateway.com;

"New Living Translation (NLT Bible)

The goal of any Bible translation is to convey the meaning of the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts as accurately as possible to the modern reader. The New Living Translation is based on the most recent scholarship in the theory of translation. The challenge for the translators was to create a text that would make the same impact in the life of modern readers that the original text had for the original readers. In the New Living Translation, this is accomplished by translating entire thoughts (rather than just words) into natural, everyday English. The end result is a translation that is easy to read and understand and that accurately communicates the meaning of the original text."

Here is the basis for your answer. Since modern speech has many nuances that help to convey meaning over and above the literal words being used the New Living Translation focuses on translating thoughts instead of just words. The same way you cannot translate Spanish to English or vice versa word for word without losing the essence of what's being said you cannot translate Hebrew or Greek to English word for word. That's how you end up with parts of some translated scriptures which appear to be inconsistent with a logical thought process. Every scripture that's translated to English should logically flow in a certain direction based on the thoughts being expressed. That's why I accept the New Living Translation of Matthew 19:9 as the answer to the question of divorce and remarriage.

Now, here's an interesting point. Since Jesus only spent a very short time addressing the issue of marriage and divorce, The Apostle Paul elaborated on it some more. It was his responsibility to bring structure to the church so he went into a little more detail than Jesus did on several issues including this one. Jesus already addressed infidelity as a concession for divorce so Apostle Paul did not have to repeat that. However, since his job was to address the situations facing the church at the time he could not take a hard-line stance without trying to understand what people were dealing with. Here's what Apostle Paul had to say;

1 Corinthians 7:10-16(NLT) - But for those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord. A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him. And the husband must not leave his wife. Now, I will speak to the rest of you, though I do not have a direct command from the Lord. If a Christian man has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her. And if a Christian woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him. For the Christian wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the Christian husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy. (But if the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the Christian husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace.) Don’t you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don’t you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you?

This is another concession for divorce that was created to address a situation they were currently facing. Christian women whose unsaved husbands walked out on them were stuck between a rock and a hard place. They didn't trigger the divorce and their husbands had no regard for the Biblical position on divorce because they were not saved in the first place. The same was taking place with husbands whose unsaved wives divorced them. They were stuck even though they did nothing wrong. The assumption here is that the couples got married when they were both unbelievers and one spouse became a believer during the course of the marriage. That's because The Bible discourages the initiation of marriage between Christians and non-Christians in 2 Corinthians 6:14.

So what's the conclusion of the entire matter? Jesus laid the foundation, then the Apostle Paul built upon it. The safest place to be is in a position where you can quote directly from the scriptures to support your position. However, there are issues we face today in the church that the Apostle Paul had not seen during his time. Issues like spousal abuse, child abuse or homosexuality during a marriage were not addressed directly. What do you do when your life is in danger as a result of spousal abuse? Do you stay married until the person kills you? What do you do if you find out your spouse is abusing your children? Do you keep your children in an abusive situation?

What do you do if your spouse decides to "come out of the closet" in the middle of your marriage? Do you stay married to a spouse who is gay? Had they faced these issues at that time they could have asked Apostle Paul and he would have addressed them in one of his letters to the churches. Hence, we would be able to quote the scripture to establish our position. However, what do we do when we cannot quote an exact scripture? We have to do the same thing Apostle Paul did. First, he outlined what was the direct commandment from The Lord. Once that was established he clearly stated that what he was about to say was not a commandment. He then gave the best advice he could based on the wisdom of God in his own heart.

That's how we handle divorce and remarriage now. The same way Apostle Paul did it. We outline the commandment first then we address people's personal situations and give them the best advice we could give them based on the wisdom of The Holy Ghost within us. If Apostle Paul drew a hard line and just quoted what Jesus said, he would not have given the concession for Christian spouses to divorce unsaved spouses who walked out on them. However, he did just that. He was an Apostle so he dealt with people like a father. He loved them and did his best to help them deal with their issues in a Godly way. He was not a Pharisee. We must be willing to understand God's heart in dealing with people's lives but we must be sure not to confuse Godly advice with a command from God. What's The Bible's position on Divorce and Remarriage? It depends! The command is no divorce or remarriage without adultery. Now let's address your situation and see how The Holy Spirit directs us.

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