Divorce and remarriage

Questions and Responses about Biblical Divorce and Remarriage

Q: If a man decides to divorce his wife without good reason (i.e. an unscriptural divorce) and then marries another woman, does the Bible permit his ex-wife to remarry?

A: According to 1 Corinthians 7:15, the woman unbiblically divorced by her husband, is “not bound.” As the “innocent party,” she is not a party to the adultery of an unbiblical divorce or remarriage. Jesus said that marriage was permanent “except for sexual immorality.” Thus it is permitted for the faithful partner to divorce and remarry – either the faithful man (Matthew 19:9) or the faithful wife. An innocent spouse will not be punished by the unfaithful conduct of their marriage partner.

Q:What should an individual who is already in a second or third marriage following an unscriptural divorce and who is willing to make amends and repent do now? Should he or she break up this second marriage and return to the first spouse? What does the Bible teach concerning this sort of situation? Is there any place for restitution? What if the ex-spouse has already moved on and it is no longer possible for a person in a second marriage to return to his ex-spouse? Should he continue with his current second marriage?

A: When a divorced and remarried person comes to repentance and faith, and sees their divorce and remarriage as a violation of God’s law, they must not add sin to sin. Two divorces do not make for fidelity. They should not divorce a second time and attempt to remarry the first spouse. The passage in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which Jesus is addressing in Matthew 19:1-12, prohibits that. God is both forgiving and gracious. He will forgive penitent people who repent of unbiblical divorces, and graciously accommodate Himself to bless the second marriage, which was not His perfect will, if that second marriage is yielded to Christ and God’s will. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16 – NASB), so He desires that second marriages, biblical or not, remain intact and be consecrated to Him. God is the God of second chances.

Q: Could you explain 1 Corinthians 7:28a, "But if you do marry, you have not sinned." Is this scripture addressed to singles/widows or divorced persons?

A: 1 Corinthians 7:28 applies to single people who once decided to be single but have changed their minds and desire to marry, or the widowed or innocent party who’ve been divorced by another. If they choose to marry (or remarry) they have not sinned. Marriage (remarriage) is always permissible for those free to marry in God’s sight. This is not a blanket permission to divorce and remarry whenever you wish. Verse 15 limits verses 27 and 28. Those “not bound” (v. 15) are free to remarry, but “only in the Lord” (v. 39); i.e., only to a fellow Christian.

Q: What exactly did Jesus mean by His statement in the latter part of Matthew 19:9, "whoever marries the divorced woman commits adultery" (Matthews 19:9), and what is the practical implication of this statement for the innocent partner in an unbiblical divorce who wishes to remarry? Wouldn't that person’s new spouse be committing adultery according to Jesus' teaching?

A: The phrase, which must be considered along with related verses, means this: if the man leaves his wife for any reason other than her adultery, he adds to his own sin by putting her in a position of marrying into an adulterous second marriage because the first marriage was still valid in God’s eyes. The guilt lies on the husband’s part, not that of the innocent wife. Taken with 1 Corinthians 7, Matthew 5:31-32 does not prohibit the innocent wife’s remarriage, since she did nothing sinful. It only increases the husband’s guilt over his unbiblical divorce. Jesus will not punish an innocent wife (spouse) for the sins of the husband (partner). Note that Mark 10:12 and Luke 16:18 do not include this troubling phrase. Matthew was writing to Jews confused by Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and its misapplication. Mark and Luke were writing to Gentile audiences.

To read more on this topic by Dr. Ross, see Christian Research Journal, Vol.33, No 1, 2010.http://www.equip.org/article/biblical-grounds-for-divorce-and-remarriage/