SOURCE: Adapted from the book by Carl Laney, William Heth, Thomas Edgar and Larry Richards
The authors of this book each present one of four standard arguments about the validity of divorce and/or remarriage based on Scriptural support. You can overview the following notes about each position and assess your own position about this important and complicated topic. It is suggested you consider obtaining the book for greater detail and insight into these positions.
No Divorce, No Remarriage (Laney)
Three Requirements for Marriage:
-a public act of leaving one’s family to establish a new home
-a permanent bond or partnership as husband and wife
-sexual union to become one flesh (sexual union does not make a marriage without the preceding requirements, but all sexual union results in two people becoming one flesh; sexual gratification is not an end in itself but designed to produce children)
Definition of Marriage: God’s act of joining a man and a woman in a permanent, covenanted, one-flesh relationship.
The vow or promise makes the obligation binding, making faithfulness to one’s word a priority in spite of the personal cost.
Increased laxity regarding divorce and remarriage among the Hebrews necessitated this legislation.
The legislation does not institute or approve divorce, but merely treats it as a practice already known and existing.
Its intent is not to give legal sanction to divorce but to prohibit the remarriage of a man to his divorced wife if there is an intervening marriage on her part.
It’s unlikely that the matter of indecency (nakedness) refers to adultery because was punishable by death.
Her second marriage defiles her making it similar to adultery.
A certificate of divorce (which typically read “you are free to marry any man”) was not required by the text but noted as the custom to protect the rejected wife from further responsibility to her husband and from his interference in a subsequent marriage.
The prohibition against remarrying the divorced wife after her second marriage is to prevent bringing guilt of sin upon the land of Israel because it would be tantamount to marrying his sister (a one flesh relationship still existing in some sense) and that this was designed to discourage divorces.
Other Passages on Divorce in the Old Testament
A divorced woman could not marry a priest (Lev. 21:7) suggesting that there was a measure of moral or ceremonial defilement associated with her.
In Ezra 10, the word “put away” could mean merely a legal separation rather than a divorce. We should not assume that the Gentile wives remarried or that the Jewish men remarried. Either way, this passage is not designed to provide us with a Biblical pattern for divorce and remarriage. We cannot conclude that it is okay to divorce an unbelieving spouse because this would contradict 1 Cor. 7:12,13.
God hates divorce, not the divorced person, because it comes from treachery toward women and violation of one’s vows, and makes raising a godly family very difficult.
Because Jesus rejects both the Hillel (more liberal view of Dt. 24) and Shammai (adultery only view of Dt. 24) schools by pointing out that God’s original intent was no divorce period, we should focus on God’s original plan instead of the concession Moses (and God?) makes because of hard hearts.
Jesus opposed the teachers of his day by labeling divorce and remarriage as adultery, since the legal divorce does not dissolve the actual marriage created by God, except in the case of porneia.
Porneia does not mean adultery (this would make Jesus’ view the same as the school of Shammai), nor general sexual sin (this would make his view more liberal than Shammai), nor violation of the betrothal period (the context is consummated marriage, not betrothal), but marriage within the prohibited relationships of Lev. 18:6-18.
Even in the case of divorce for porneia there is no allowance for remarriage. Jesus’ remarks about becoming a eunuch for the kingdom may refer to remaining unmarried after divorce.
The adultery of marrying a divorced person is not a continual sin, but a one-time transgression. Confessing the sin but continuing the marriage is the least guilty course of action, though those who choose to end their wrongfully created marriage are to be respected.
1 Cor. 7:10-11 is Paul’s interpretation of Jesus that divorce (the words “leave” and “send away” both mean divorce) is not permitted.
Paul recognized however that believers do divorce and so he left them only the options of remaining unmarried (for life) or remarrying one another.
A believer is not to divorce his unbelieving spouse, but if the unbeliever refuses to live with the believer he or she is not under obligation to prevent it, and is not free to remarry another.
Remarriage is only allowed if the former partner dies.
Divorce, But No Remarriage (Heth)
The words “leave” and “cleave” are covenant terminology (Hosea did not divorce his wife but stopped living together with her as husband and wife, and so neither did God abandon the covenant with Israel); “one flesh” does not refer primarily to the sexual union nor the child from their relationship, but speaks of the husband and wife becoming closely related in kinship (marriage requires both covenant and consummation).
The aloneness that marriage is designed to take away is not “loneliness” or lack of companionship, but the need for help in perpetuating the human race and cultivating and governing the earth.
These forbidden unions (whether marital or otherwise) for affinities of marriage (also described as “flesh of his flesh” in the Hebrew) indicate that the one flesh of Gen. 2:24 equals becoming one kin or blood relation through marriage.
Though the kinship aspect of marriage does not continue after the death of a spouse, the circle of relationships established by marriage endure beyond death. If that is the case, they continue beyond divorce, also. The only exception is the law of levirate marriage (Dt. 25) or sororate marriage (Lev. 18:18).
The words for divorce here do not carry the weight of the view that the marriage bond is completely dissolved.
The issue at stake in this legislation is a man divorcing his wife legally (for some uncleanness short of adultery) and not being required to pay her dowry back, and then remarrying her after she has been divorced illegally (her husband dislikes her) or her second husband dying, resulting in her receiving her dowry back and other penalties, thus trying to profit from her new-found wealth after he had declared her unclean. He cannot now declare that wrong and remarry her. This is an abomination because it is a violation of the law, Thou shalt not steal. Thus the legislation says nothing about the ability of divorce to “dissolve” the one-flesh relationship and make remarriage allowable.
Ezra 9 & 10
This is not a justification for remarriage because Ezra did not view these intermarriages as real marriages. They were strictly forbidden by the Law. The evils which flow from such unions are the responsibility of those who make them. This was a nullification of illegitimate relationships.
These unions posed a threat to the nation of Israel of incurring God’s wrath.
Ezra does not use the normal word for marry but talks about the men “taking” wives and “giving them a dwelling” though they were foreigners.
Ezra’s prayer (9:2 with 9:14) shows he did not consider intermarriage to have actually occurred. They could not put away legal “wives” if they had made a covenant in the presence of God. Ezra might have been justified in asking for death for taking a foreign wife (Numbers 25:6-15) but mercifully only asked for divorce.
Just because the Old Covenant allowed for remarriage, this does not speak to the New Testament restrictions stemming from Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus’ disciples responded to his teachings with shock at how strict they were.
Matthew 5 merely indicates that the man who divorces his wife who is already unfaithful has not caused her to commit adultery by marrying her next partner. She did that. It does not grant him permission to remarry. Jesus’ statement immediately following that whoever marries the divorced woman commits adultery suggests that Jesus never sanctioned remarriage after divorce even for marital unfaithfulness.
The modern notion of divorce as a “dissolution” of the marital relationship with the possibility of remarriage afterwards was unheard of in the early Christian centuries. This view must have gone back to Jesus himself.
Sexual sin in marriage does not dissolve the marriage bond. If it did, divorce would be a requirement in such cases, or, if the spouse forgave the offender and wanted to take him or her back, a new marriage covenant would be required. But marriage is not constituted solely on the basis of sexual union, and unfaithfulness is not even the most detrimental impact possible on the marriage relationship (consider battering).
The exceptive clause means, in light of the first century Jewish marriage laws and the ongoing debate between Hillel and Shammai, that the man is relieved of responsibility for the divorce and its consequences if his wife is adulterous. It does not sanction remarriage.
Jesus is not saying that porneia is the only grounds for separating from a spouse but is only taking note of a situation that his disciples would encounter in the face of Jewish marriage customs that did not permit but demanded the divorce of an unfaithful wife. If someone divorced a spouse for a single act of marital unfaithfulness today Jesus would call that person hard-hearted.
The exception clause in 19:9, “except for marital unfaithfulness,” does not have to be applied to both parts of the statement, divorce and remarriage, except if one presupposes already that Jesus permits remarriage. The early Greek fathers did limit it to the divorce segment.
The discussion that follows Jesus’ statement seems to confirm Jesus’ teaching on the indissolubility of marriage in verses 4-9. Unbelievers cannot accept Jesus’ teaching, he says, but when his disciples act like unbelievers in their objection to his strict teaching, they must understand that he will give them help to accept and obey it. Continence in the face of a broken marriage is possible, just as it is possible for eunuchs to do so, especially with God’s help, as is given to those who become eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom.
The Mark and Luke accounts of Jesus’ teaching do not include the exception clause because the general tenor of Jesus’ teaching is that there is no right to remarry.
Paul does not mention sexual sin as a valid reason for remarriage for the believer. He or she must remain unmarried or be reconciled.
The believer whose unbelieving spouse does not want to be married is not under bondage to remain married or prevent the breaking up of a mixed marriage with all the means at his disposal, but this does not give freedom to remarry for the following reasons: (1) church fathers did not see this as permission to remarry. (2) Paul never uses douloō in reference to the biblical-legal aspect of marriage that can only be broken by death, he uses deō. (3) if Paul did not permit a Christian divorced by a Christian to remarry, why would he allow a Christian divorced by a non-Christian to remarry. The bond is a creation ordinance that cannot be broken. (4) Paul’s whole argument centers on his strict adherence to the Lord’s command that a believer should not divorce. (5) Paul uses the same word for divorce in v.15 as he does in v.11 where it is clear that remarriage is not permitted. (6) Just as v.11 offers the hope of reconciliation if there is not remarriage, v.16 offers hope of the unbeliever’s conversion if there no remarriage. (7) The principle of vv.17-24 immediately following is the one should not change his or her status, which should include remarriage.
Divorce & Remarriage for Adultery or Desertion (Edgar)
The Bible clearly prohibits divorce. In fact, of the nine passages usually referred to on this subject (Genesis 2:24; Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Malachi 2:6-16; Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:1-6, and 1 Corinthians 7:10-15) four seem to allow for some kind of divorce and remarriage and none definitively states that divorce and remarriage are never allowable.
Marriage is unbreakable or indissoluble. No biblical passage directly states such a concept. The concept of “one flesh” being equivalent to “blood relative” and therefore permanent is an invalid inference. Its use in 1 Cor. 6:6 to describe sexual relations with a prostitute can hardly be referring to an indissoluble relationship, especially one which disallows marriage to another. If it means “blood relative” then marriage creates an incestuous relationship, so it cannot be equivalent to it in the full sense and therefore cannot be used to argue for the indissolubility of marriage. Even if it did mean “blood relative” and implied a permanent relationship, the fact that persons are blood relatives does not restrict them from marriage to others. Dt. 24 clearly teaches that a divorced woman is so completely severed from her first husband that she can marry anyone else but her first husband without incurring God’s displeasure.
It is a clear statement, not complex or strange.
Those who would exclude remarriage from Jesus’ exception would have the verse refer to both some who divorce (all those except for fornication) and all who divorce and then remarry, but this is grammatically impossible. The main verb is “commits adultery” and is described by the relative clause “whoever divorces is wife except for fornication and marries another.” These have to be the same individual. Thus, the one who divorces his wife except for fornication is the same one who commits adultery. This verse does not discuss the individual who merely divorces and does not remarry. The fact that the church fathers denied remarriage is poor proof since they were frequently unreliable on matters of marriage and Scripture is our only authority.
Consider the sentence, “Whoever drives on this road except an ambulance driver on call and exceeds the speed limit is breaking the law.” If interpreted as the no divorce/no remarriage view does, it would contain two propositions: (a) anyone who drives on this road except an ambulance driver on call is breaking the law, and (b) to drive on this road and exceed the speed limit (including ambulance drivers on call) is breaking the law. But both statements are actually contrary to the real meaning. The problem is trying to interpret this statement with two different individuals in mind. But that is grammatically impossible. It is just as wrong to teach from Mt. 19 that all who remarry (including those divorced for fornication) are adulterers. Jesus definitely states that the subject of the verb “divorces” is someone who divorces for some reason other than fornication. One who divorces for fornication is not mentioned. The verse can only say, therefore, “Some (not all) divorcees who remarry commit adultery.” The one who divorces due to the exception and the marries another does not commit adultery.
The exception refers to adultery. Even though porneia can mean any form of illicit sex, because it is used in this context of illicit sex on the part of the wife, it most probably refers to adultery. The common word used for women in illicit sex is porneia, whereas the most common term used for men in illicit sex is moichao. The words are therefore synonyms in this context. It is unreasonable to imply that the term porneia indicates a meaning other than adultery.
There is no negative implication that the person who divorces his wife for adultery is spiritually deficient and should have forgiven his spouse. But Jesus teaches that it is not wrong. Jesus does not require divorce, but it is without stigma. Jesus regards fidelity in marriage as far more important than the formal institution itself.
To argue that the exception clause is only recorded in Matthew because of his Jewish audience and Mark omits it because it does not apply to Gentiles loses sight of the fact that Jesus said it to the Pharisees, and implies that Mark is giving a false impression. Mark must be assuming the exception even though he does not state it. When in Mark 8:12 Jesus says, “There shall no sign be given to this generation,” but in Matthew he adds, “except the sign of the prophet Jonah,” these do not contradict each other and the normal response is to note that Matthew has the more full account. The clearest account is the longer account.
Porneia cannot refer to an invalid mixed marriage because to allow divorce on such grounds contradicts Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 7 that such marriages are valid and should not be dissolved. Nor can it refer to unfaithfulness during betrothal because the question being answered and the passages appealed to are all talking about marriage, not pre-marriage, and if it is argued that betrothal was as binding as marriage, then what Jesus teaches applies as well to marriage. It cannot refer to an invalid incestuous marriage because if no dissolution of a one flesh relationship is possible, on their view of things, neither could this one flesh relationship be dissolved, even if it is considered immoral. So is the “one flesh” relationship with the prostitute (1 Cor. 6), but God still considers it “one flesh.” And would Jesus allow that the husband is not guilty if he divorces her when he must have known she was a blood relative? Besides, there is no evidence to link the meaning of porneia to incestuous marriage.
Divorce and Remarriage for Desertion
Though the verb deō is used and not douloō the two verbs are approximately the same and deō is possibly stronger and its meaning must be determined by context. Because Paul states the if the unbeliever is willing to stay you must not divorce him, it is reasonable to assume that if the unbeliever is unwilling to stay you may divorce him. Besides, if the unbeliever chooses to leave, the believer hardly has a choice to stop a divorce. And a biblically valid divorce should allow for remarriage. Though it is not definitely stated that desertion by a believing spouse would allow for remarriage there is no substantial difference between the validity of marriage to a believer compared to an unbeliever.
The following teaching that one is not to change his or her status does not pertain to remarriage but to any marriage. But if you desire to marry you do not sin.
Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances (Richards)
It is not the case that God hates every divorce, but the divorce of a wife by his partner that is motivated by selfishness and is disloyal to his devoted wife.
The context of this passage indicates that Jesus’ intent is to dispose of their legalism as a ground of spiritual pride and expose the shallowness of every Pharisee-like approach to faith.
“Is it lawful?” Instead of asking what grounds legitimize divorce they should have asked, “How can a troubled marriage be saved?” If we who minister the Word of God did a better job preaching how to live with others in God’s way we might not have the plague of divorces.
“In the beginning the Creator” This was God’s ideal for marriage, a gift to bond two people together in a wondrous unity that enables each to enrich the life of the other. He did not go back to creation to lay the foundation for a new, stricter law.
“Because your hearts were hard” God has given permission in Moses’ law for human beings to take a course of action that actually goes against his own ideal. If God treated human frailty so graciously in the old covenant, how can we in the age of grace treat it so legalistically? How can we deny divorce to those few whose suffering cries out that their marriages, too, should end?
“Let not man separate” This is not spoken to couples considering divorce but to leaders who assumed that divorce was a matter for an ecclesiastical court. Human judges are not competent and have no right to say “this marriage can or can’t be put asunder.” Dt. 24 indicates that the couple did not need to come to a court but determined the divorce on their own. Modern pastors similarly have no right to make these judgments. It must be a personal decision only as a last resort and with a heartfelt desire to know God’s will.
“Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” A comparison with Mt. 5 indicates that Jesus is teaching that though divorce and remarriage are permissible, they are sinful. Since we cannot be sure what porneia means, we must view any divorce and remarriage as involving sin and adultery. We must not justify ourselves or pretend that something terrible has not happened. Just as Jesus, however, does not recommend legislation prohibiting lust or anger (what motivates adultery and murder), so he does not here create legislation against divorce and remarriage. It does not result in an adulterous state, only an act, and it is forgivable.
Though 1 Cor. 7:10 seems to allow no exceptions for divorce, v.11 immediately begins discussion of exceptions and how to handle it if you divorce.