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Posts tagged ‘remarriage’

Blended Families: 10 Things to Know Before You Remarry

SOURCE:  Ron Deal/Family Life

Challenges every single parent should consider before deciding to remarry.

Specializing in stepfamily therapy and education has taught me one thing: Couples should be highly educated about remarriage and the process of becoming a stepfamily before they ever walk down the aisle.  Remarriage—particularly when children are involved—is much more challenging than dating seems to imply. Be sure to open your eyes well before a decision to marry has been made.

The following list represents key challenges every single parent (or those dating a single parent) should know before deciding to remarry. Open your eyes wide now and you—and your children—will be grateful later.

1. Wait two to three years following a divorce or the death of your spouse before seriously dating. No, I’m not kidding. Most people need a few years to fully heal from the ending of a previous relationship. Moving into a new relationship short-circuits the healing process, so do yourself a favor and grieve the pain, don’t run from it. In addition, your children will need at least this much time to heal and find stability in their visitation schedule. Slow down.

2. Date two years before deciding to marry; then date your future spouse’s children before the wedding. Dating two years gives you time to really get to know one another. Too many relationships are formed on the rebound when both people lack godly discernment about their fit with a new person. Give yourself plenty of time to get to know each other thoroughly. Keep in mind—and this is very important—that dating is inconsistent with remarried life.

Even if everything feels right, dramatic psychological and emotional shifts often take place for children, parents, and stepparents right after the wedding. What seems like smooth sailing can become a rocky storm in a hurry. Don’t be fooled into thinking you won’t experience difficulties. As one parent said, “Falling in love is not enough when it comes to remarriage; there’s just more required than that.”

When you do become serious about marriage, date with the intention of deepening the stepparent/stepchild relationships. Young children can attach themselves to a future stepparent rather quickly, so make sure you’re serious before spending lots of time together. Older children will need more time (research suggests that the best time to remarry is before a child’s tenth birthday or after his/her sixteenth; couples who marry between those years collide with the teen’s developmental needs).

3. Know how to “cook” a stepfamily. Most people think the way to cook a stepfamily is with a blender, microwave, pressure cooker, or food processor. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of these “cooking styles” attempt to combine the family ingredients in a rapid fashion. Unfortunately, resentment and frustration are the only results.

The way to cook a stepfamily is with a crockpot. Once thrown into the pot, it will take time and low heat to bring ingredients together, requiring that adults step into a new marriage with determination and patience. The average stepfamily takes five to seven years to combine; some take longer. There are no quick recipes.  (Read more about how to cook a stepfamily here.)

4. Realize that the “honeymoon” comes at the end of the journey for remarried couples, not the beginning. Ingredients thrown into a crockpot that have not had sufficient time to cook don’t taste good—and might make you sick. Couples need to understand that the rewards of stepfamily life (security, family identity, and gratitude for one another) come at the end of the journey. Just as the Israelites traveled a long time before entering the Promise Land, so will it be for your stepfamily.

5. Think about the kids. Children experience numerous losses before entering a stepfamily. In fact, your remarriage is another. It sabotages their fantasy that Mom and Dad can reconcile, or that a deceased parent will always hold his or her place in the home. Seriously consider your children’s losses before deciding to remarry. If waiting till your children leave home before you remarry is not an option, work to be sensitive to your children’s loss issues. Don’t rush them and don’t take their grief away.

6. Manage and be sensitive to loyalties. Even in the best of circumstances, children feel torn between their biological parents and likely feel that enjoying your dating partner will please you but betray the other parent. Don’t force children to make choices, and examine the binds they feel. Give them your permission to love and respect new people in the other home and let them warm up to your new spouse in their own time.

7. Don’t expect your new spouse to feel the same about your children as you do. It’s a good fantasy, but stepparents won’t care for your children to the same degree that you do. This is not to say that stepparents and stepchildren can’t have close bonds; they can. But it won’t be the same. When looking at your daughter, you will see a 16-year-old who brought you mud pies when she was 4 and showered you with hugs each night after work. Your spouse will see a self-centered brat who won’t abide by the house rules. Expect to have different opinions and to disagree on parenting decisions.

8. Realize that remarriage has unique barriers. Are you more committed to your children or your marriage? If you aren’t willing to risk losing your child to the other home, for example, don’t make the commitment of marriage. Making a covenant does not mean neglecting your kids, but it does mean that they are taught which relationship is your ultimate priority. A marriage that is not the priority will be mediocre at best.

Another unique barrier involves the “ghost of marriage past.” Individuals can be haunted by the negative experiences of previous relationships and not even recognize how it is impacting the new marriage. Work to not interpret the present in light of the past, or you might be destined to repeat it.

9. Parent as a team; get your plan ready. No single challenge is more predictive of stepfamily success than the ability of the couple to parent as a team. Stepparents must find their role, know their limits in authority, and borrow power from the biological parent in order to contribute to parental leadership. Biological parents must keep alive their role as primary disciplinarian and nurturer while supporting the stepparent’s developing role (read this series of articles for more on stepparenting). Managing these roles will not be easy; get a plan and stick together.

10. Know what to tell the kids. Tell them:

  • It’s okay to be confused about the new people in your life.
  • It’s okay to be sad about our divorce (or parent’s death).
  • You need to find someone safe to talk to about all this.
  • You don’t have to love my new spouse, but you do need to treat him or her with the same respect you would give a coach or teacher at school.
  • You don’t have to take sides. When you feel caught in the middle between our home and your other home, please tell me and we’ll stop.
  • You belong to two homes with different rules, routines, and relationships. Find your place and contribute good things in each.
  • The stress of our new home will reduce—eventually.
  • I love you and will always have enough room in my heart for you. I know it’s hard sharing me with someone else. I love you.

Work smarter, not harder

For stepfamilies, accidentally finding their way through the wilderness to the promised land is a rarity. Successful navigation requires a map. You’ve got to work smarter, not harder. Before you remarry, be sure to educate yourself on the options and challenges that lie ahead.

Staying Close in Remarriage

SOURCE:  Ron L. Deal

Strong couples feel close to one another because they know what to do to make that happen.

Blended family living can create a unique barrier that often keeps couples from staying close to one another. This barrier grows with the concerns, frustrations, and struggles that are all too common in remarriage. I call it “third party thorns.”

These prickly, blended family realities include things such as tenuous stepparent-stepchild relationships, an antagonizing ex-spouse, leftover debt that preceded the marriage, the memory of a wonderful marriage that ended in death, and even an ex-mother-in-law. But despite these thorns, healthy couples find a way to stay close.

For example, let’s look at Matt and Sherry. Matt has a very high need for closeness. His father and mother divorced when he was very young, so he grew up without a great deal of family stability. He mainly lived with his mother and blamed himself for his father not being around much. His grandfather served as a surrogate father for a few years, but then died an untimely death when Matt was just 10 years old. Because closeness in his childhood family relationships was not something he experienced, he longs for it in his marriage.

Matt’s wife, Sherry, grew up in a hard-working middle-class family. While they loved one another deeply, the demands of earning a living kept parents and children going in multiple directions. As a result, Sherry learned quickly how to remain emotionally and financially independent from loved ones. She prided herself on working her way through technical school after having a child in high school.

A later marriage added another child, but the marriage didn’t last. Sherry found herself divorced and the single parent of two. This series of fragmented romantic relationships fueled her emotional independence as a parent and woman.

When Matt and Sherry met, they quickly became romantically and sexually involved. Matt was enthralled with the amount of attention he received from Sherry. She seemed to be a dedicated mom, but went out of her way to make time for him.

Sherry saw in Matt the kind of stability she wanted her children to experience so she pursued him with passion. Her physical and sexual availability and his need for closeness quickly fused their emotional connection, but substance was lacking. They were fooled into thinking sexual passion equaled a healthy future.

After a rushed courtship and wedding, things changed considerably. Sherry didn’t feel the need to pursue Matt as much as she did before and he felt it. The significant drop in time together produced a great deal of anxiety in Matt. He complained to a friend, “Now that we’re married, Sherry is much more worried about being a mom than she is a wife. I feel like I’ve lost her.”

Neither Matt nor Sherry carries all the blame for their increasing distance. Yet each is responsible to fight through the thorns and stay close.

The doing and feeling of closeness

In general, close couples:

  • Trust and have confidence in one another; they feel secure as a couple.
  • Include one another in important decisions.
  • Have a mutual respect for one another.
  • Have many similar likes and interests.
  • Are committed to spending time together on a regular basis and intentionally plan ways to be together.
  • Feel the freedom to ask each other for help.
  • Choose to be loyal to one another.
  • Balance time with family and friends so as to not take away from their relationship.

The largest study conducted on the strengths of healthy blended family couples reveals that strong couples feel close to one another because they know what to do to make that happen. In The Remarriage Checkup: Tools to Help Your Marriage Last a Lifetime, Dr. David Olson and I reported that 94 percent of happy couples have hobbies and interests that bring them together. They find it easy to think of things to do as a couple (compared to 62 percent or less of discouraged couples). In addition, a full 94 percent said togetherness was a top priority for them, revealing strong couples’ intentional effort to invest in their relationship. Doing things that facilitate closeness certainly contributes to feeling close.

Every healthy relationship has a balance of time spent together and time apart. Healthy couples have both a desire to be together and a respect for the individual interests, pursuits, and freedoms of their spouse. In strong relationships, individuals place emphasis on the “self” as well as the “we.” And there’s something else.

Healthy blended family couples also strive for an appropriate amount of sharing, loyalty, intimacy, and independence within the larger family dynamic. This dance of intimacy is not easily achieved in blended families and demands attention and good communication since couples are continually pulled apart by stressful thorns.

Patience and persistence

Matt and Sherry found balance and a loving heart by doing a number of things. First, both had to calm their fears. Matt had to remember that it was good and right for Sherry to spend focused time with her children and that he really wasn’t in competition with them. Sherry had to recognize that maintaining her independence and emotional distance from Matt was in part an attempt to protect herself from depending on someone she couldn’t guarantee would always be there for her. If she was ever to move closer to him, Sherry had to risk trusting Matt.

Second, both Matt and Sherry became more intentional in carving out time to be together to enjoy a leisurely activity. For them, playing golf on occasion helped them to laugh and connect. But, of course, saying “yes” to golf meant saying “no” to other activities and time with children so they communicated often about finding the appropriate balance.

With patience and persistence, Matt and Sherry removed their thorns and stayed close.

Jesus on Divorce

SOURCE: John MacArthur

It was said, “Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce”; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. – Matthew 5:31–32

Jesus no more approves of divorce than did Moses (cf. Matt. 19:6). Adultery, another reality God never condoned, is the only reason under the law that allows for dissolving of a marriage, with the guilty party to be put to death (Lev. 20:10). Because Jesus mentions this here and again in Matthew 19:9, God must have allowed divorce to replace execution as the penalty for adultery at some time during Israel’s history.

Divorce is never commanded; it is always a last resort, allowed when unrepentant immorality has exhausted the patience of the innocent spouse. This merciful concession to human sinfulness logically implies that God also permits remarriage. Divorce’s purpose is to show mercy to the guilty party, not to sentence the innocent party to a life of loneliness. If you are innocent and have strived to maintain your marriage, you are free to remarry if your spouse insists on continued adultery or divorce.

Jesus does not demand divorce in all cases of unchastity (immorality, primarily adultery in this context), but simply points out that divorce and remarriage on other grounds results in adultery.

Our Lord wants to set the record straight that God still hates divorce (Mal. 2:16) and that His ideal remains a monogamous, lifelong marriage. But as a gracious concession to those innocent spouses whose partners have defiled the marriage, He allows divorce for believers for the reason of immorality. (Paul later added the second reason of desertion, 1 Cor. 7:15.)

Getting Married (Again): Tips for Blending Families

SOURCE:  National Healthy Marriage Resource Center

Getting married when there are children involved can bring with it a new set of challenges and anxieties about making your relationship work successfully for a lifetime.  Stepfamilies are very common, but creating one can be challenging.

It is exciting to get married.

Marriage offers the opportunity to create a new family and new traditions. However, getting married when there are children involved can bring with it a new set of challenges and anxieties about making your relationship work successfully for a lifetime. Stepfamilies are very common, but creating one can be challenging.  In the United States, more than 1,300 stepfamilies are formed every day. It is a great responsibility to model healthy relationships for your children, and now is the perfect time to show them your best stuff! This tip sheet is designed to help engaged parents develop strategies to avoid potential areas of conflict and sustain a healthy marriage while co-parenting and combining families.

Develop a Shared Parenting Philosophy 

It is important to communicate about your parenting styles, beliefs and practices with your fiancé early in the relationship. This will allow you to identify a shared philosophy regarding how you will parent.

Marriage is a team sport. When a couple follows the same parenting “rules,” it sends a positive message to the child/children about your commitment to each other, and to them. Different rules for “yours” and “mine” create division and confusion for children. Discuss with your fiancé in private the rules that will apply to all children such as: bedtime, chores, allowance, homework, computer time, telephone, television and anything else related to the children’s daily routine. Consider giving teenagers a voice when setting the rules and when identifying the consequences for breaking the rules. Participating in a parenting or marriage enrichment course can help you discover parenting differences and similarities, and also help you agree on how to approach parenting conflicts ahead of time.

Establish Rituals

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Journal of Family Psychology finds that family traditions and rituals are associated with marital satisfaction, adolescents’ sense of personal identity, children’s health, academic achievement and stronger family relationships. A blended family has a wonderful opportunity to create new family traditions.  You, your fiancé, and all of the children in your “new” family will need to take the time to develop these new traditions. This will allow them to be more open to different ways of doing things, as well as help the bonding process.

In addition to creating new rituals, it is important to recognize the ones that are already in place in your family or your fiancé’s family. Embrace established traditions without feeling threatened by how they were created or who may have started them.  Family traditions can be found in celebrations such as birthdays, religious ceremonies, holidays, scheduled family time (e.g. movie night or game night), Sunday dinners and family reunions. Be prepared to gracefully accept the rituals that come with your partner’s family and look forward to creating new ones together.

Address Grief and Loss

Ending a relationship (be it a marriage or otherwise), especially one that produced children, is difficult. Our relationships are part of who we are, and breaking up or divorcing is a loss. Even when the break up is “the right thing to do,” your expectations and life course have changed.

Any time there is loss, there is grief. Be sure to address your child’s grief as well as your own prior to remarriage. Talk with your children about what they are experiencing and their expectations for your marriage and family.  Even the creation of an exciting new family can trigger a grief reaction or anxiety for some children as they are reminded of what they have lost. The consequences of not doing this with your children can be severe, as grief and loss tend to become apparent through behavioral and emotional problems.

Similarly, talk with your fiancé about this difficult topic. Not being able to do so may indicate a lack of trust and openness in the relationship that can be detrimental in the long run.

Define Expectations

Everyone enters marriage with their own expectations about who does what, and how things get done. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of our expectations. Thinking about your expectations (even concerning the little things) and talking with your partner about them are essential.

Not all households are run the same. If your children are splitting their time between multiple homes, they are adapting to different rules in each setting. We all do better with some structure in our lives. Children especially need organization, structure and consistency. It is important for you and your fiancé to talk about what is expected in your home, and to understand the environment in other home(s) where your children may spend time. This will allow you to create the most stable situation possible for everyone.

Attend a Marriage Education Course

The best thing a couple can do for the family as a whole is to build and strengthen the couple relationship. Research suggests that the ability to communicate well and solve problems effectively are keys to lifelong marriage. Participate in a marriage education workshop to enhance your communication skills and learn strategies to deal with conflicts and challenges that may arise, including with those that could arise with your ex husband or wife. Some marriage educators have even adapted their programs specifically for blended families. One of the most important lessons to teach your children is the understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like. When children see the commitment and dedication the two of you have toward one another, it can provide a sense of security, reduce fear and anxiety, and reinforce the family bond.

Be Patient 

Good relationships require work. Being a good parent or stepparent requires work as well.  Do not expect the children to immediately bond with your new spouse. Remember, your marriage is a new relationship for them too.  When children are involved, allow friendship and respect to evolve on their own. Make sure you and your fiancé are discussing your individual relationships with the children to prevent any build-up of resentment or the perception of parents taking sides. Keep the lines of communication open and be flexible.  Even after developing a plan and parenting strategy, you may need to alter and adjust it over time.


A marriage is a joyous occasion and an exciting event in your life. Preparing for a marriage that includes blending two families requires special preparation and consideration. The more open you and your fiancé are with one another about your parenting styles, former relationships and expectations, the better prepared you will be for a healthy marriage. This will set a positive tone for communication and problem solving throughout your relationship.


The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center would like to thank Joyce Webb, Ph.D., for her contributions to this Tip Sheet. Dr. Webb is apsychologist with 18 years experience working with couples. Contributing authors also include Rhonda Colbert, Rachel Derrington,MSW, and Courtney Harrison, MPA,  of the NHMRC.

This is a product of the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, led by co-directors Mary Myrick, APR, and Jeanette Hercik, Ph.D., and project manager Patrick Patterson, MSW, MPH.

Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views

SOURCE:  Adapted from the book by Carl Laney, William Heth, Thomas Edgar and Larry Richards

The following are summary notes gleaned by Dr. Randall Johnson from the book, Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views.

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.

Deuteronomy 24

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.

Jesus’ Teaching

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.

Paul’s Teaching

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)

Genesis 1&2

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.

Leviticus 18

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).

Deuteronomy 24

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’ 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’s teaching

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)

Common Misconceptions

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.

Matthew 19:9

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)

Malachi 2

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.

Matthew 19

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.

What does the Bible really teach about divorce?

(Adapted from: Christianity Today online 10/05/07 – by David Instone-Brewer)

What Does the Bible Say?

The New Testament presents a problem in understanding both what the text says about divorce and its pastoral implications. Jesus appears to say that divorce is allowed only if adultery has occurred: “Whoever divorces a wife, except for sexual indecency, and remarries, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). However, this has been interpreted in many different ways. Most say that Jesus allows divorce only for adultery. But some argue that Jesus originally didn’t allow even that. Only in Matthew does he offer an out from marriage: “except for sexual indecency.” Beyond what Jesus says, Paul also allows divorce. He permits it for abandonment by a nonbeliever (1 Cor. 7:12-15). Many theologians add this as a second ground for divorce.

Yet some pastors have found this teaching difficult to accept, because it seems so impractical—even cruel in certain situations. It suggests there can be no divorce for physical or emotional abuse, and Paul even seems to forbid separation (1 Cor. 7:10).

As a result, some Christians quietly ignore this seemingly “impractical” biblical teaching or find ways around it. For example, they suggest that when Jesus talked about “sexual immorality,” perhaps he included other things like abuse. Or when Paul talked about abandonment by a nonbeliever, perhaps he included any behavior that is not supportive of the marriage or abandonment by anyone who is acting like a nonbeliever. Many have welcomed such stretching of Scripture because they couldn’t accept what they believed the text apparently said.

But does the literal text mean what we think it does? While doing doctoral studies at Cambridge, I likely read every surviving writing of the rabbis of Jesus’ time. I “got inside their heads” enough to begin to understand them. When I began working as a pastor and was confronted almost immediately with divorced men and women who wanted to remarry, my first response was to re-read the Bible. I’d read the biblical texts on divorce many times in the past, but I found something strange as I did so again. They now said something I hadn’t heard before I read the rabbis!

‘Any Cause’ Divorce

The texts hadn’t changed, but my knowledge of the language and culture in which they were written had. I was now reading them like a first-century Jew would have read them, and this time those confusing passages made more sense. My book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church (InterVarsity Press), is a summary of several academic papers and books I began writing with this new understanding of what Jesus taught.

One of my most dramatic findings concerns a question the Pharisees asked Jesus: “Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?” (Matt. 19:3). This question reminded me that a few decades before Jesus, some rabbis (the Hillelites) had invented a new form of divorce called the “any cause” divorce. By the time of Jesus, this “any cause” divorce had become so popular that almost no one relied on the literal Old Testament grounds for divorce.

The “any cause” divorce was invented from a single word in Deuteronomy 24:1. Moses allowed divorce for “a cause of immorality,” or, more literally, “a thing of nakedness.” Most Jews recognized that this unusual phrase was talking about adultery. But the Hillelite rabbis wondered why Moses had added the word “thing” or “cause” when he only needed to use the word “immorality.” They decided this extra word implied another ground for divorce—divorce for “a cause.” They argued that anything, including a burnt meal or wrinkles not there when you married your wife, could be a cause! The text, they said, taught that divorce was allowed both for adultery and for “any cause.”

Another group of rabbis (the Shammaites) disagreed with this interpretation. They said Moses’ words were a single phrase that referred to no type of divorce “except immorality”—and therefore the new “any cause” divorces were invalid. These opposing views were well known to all first-century Jews. And the Pharisees wanted to know where Jesus stood. “Is it lawful to divorce your wife for any cause?” they asked. In other words: “Is it lawful for us to use the ‘any cause’ divorce?”

When Jesus answered with a resounding no, he wasn’t condemning “divorce for any cause,” but rather the newly invented “any cause” divorce. Jesus agreed firmly with the second group that the phrase didn’t mean divorce was allowable for “immorality” and for “any cause,” but that Deutermonomy 24:1 referred to no type of divorce “except immorality.”

This was a shocking statement for the crowd and for the disciples. It meant they couldn’t get a divorce whenever they wanted it—there had to be a lawful cause. It also meant that virtually every divorced man or women was not really divorced, because most of them had “any cause” divorces. Luke and Matthew summarized the whole debate in one sentence: Any divorced person who remarried was committing adultery (Matt. 5:32; Luke 16:18), because they were still married. The fact that they said “any divorced person” instead of “virtually all divorced people” is typical Jewish hyperbole—like Mark saying that “everyone” in Jerusalem came to be baptized by John (Mark 1:5). It may not be obvious to us, but their first readers understood clearly what they meant.

Within a few decades, however, no one understood these terms any more. Language often changes quickly (as I found out when my children first heard the Flintstones sing about “a gay old time”). The early church, and even Jewish rabbis, forgot what the “any cause” divorce was, because soon after the days of Jesus, it became the only type of divorce on offer. It was simply called divorce. This meant that when Jesus condemned “divorce for ‘any cause,’ ” later generations thought he meant “divorce for any cause.”

Reaffirming marriage

Now that we know what Jesus did reject, we can also see what he didn’t reject. He wasn’t rejecting the Old Testament—he was rejecting a faulty Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament. He defended the true meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1. And there is one other surprising thing he didn’t reject: Jesus didn’t reject the other ground for divorce in the Old Testament, which all Jews accepted.

Although the church forgot the other cause for divorce, every Jew in Jesus’ day knew about Exodus 21:10-11, which allowed divorce for neglect. Before rabbis introduced the “any cause” divorce, this was probably the most common type. Exodus says that everyone, even a slave wife, had three rights within marriage—the rights to food, clothing, and love. If these were neglected, the wronged spouse had the right to seek freedom from that marriage. Even women could, and did, get divorces for neglect—though the man still had to write out the divorce certificate. Rabbis said he had to do it voluntarily, so if he resisted, the courts had him beaten till he volunteered!

These three rights became the basis of Jewish marriage vows—we find them listed in marriage certificates discovered near the Dead Sea. In later Jewish and Christian marriages, the language became more formal, such as “love, honor, and keep.” These vows, together with a vow of sexual faithfulness, have always been the basis for marriage. Thus, the vows we make when we marry correspond directly to the biblical grounds for divorce.

The three provisions of food, clothing, and love were understood literally by the Jews. The wife had to cook and sew, while the husband provided food and materials, or money. They both had to provide the emotional support of marital love, though they could abstain from sex for short periods. Paul taught the same thing. He said that married couples owed each other love (1 Cor. 7:3-5) and material support (1 Cor. 7:33-34). He didn’t say that neglect of these rights was the basis of divorce because he didn’t need to—it was stated on the marriage certificate. Anyone who was neglected, in terms of emotional support or physical support, could legally claim a divorce.

Divorce for neglect included divorce for abuse, because this was extreme neglect. There was no question about that end of the spectrum of neglect, but what about the other end? What about abandonment, which was merely a kind of passive neglect? This was an uncertain matter, so Paul deals with it. He says to all believers that they may not abandon their partners, and if they have done so, they should return (1 Cor. 7:10-11). In the case of someone who is abandoned by an unbeliever—someone who won’t obey the command to return—he says that the abandoned person is “no longer bound.”  Anyone in first-century Palestine reading this phrase would think immediately of the wording at the end of all Jewish, and most Roman, divorce certificates: “You are free to marry anyone you wish.”

Putting all this together gives us a clear and consistent set of rules for divorce and remarriage. Divorce is only allowed for a limited number of grounds that are found in the Old Testament and affirmed in the New Testament:

  • Adultery (in Deuteronomy 24:1, affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19)
  • Emotional and physical neglect (in Exodus 21:10-11, affirmed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7)
  • Abandonment and abuse (included in neglect, as affirmed in 1 Corinthians 7)

Jewish couples listed these biblical grounds for divorce in their marriage vows. We reiterate them as love, honor, and keep and be faithful to each other. When these vows were broken, it threatened to break up the marriage. As in any broken contract, the wronged party had the right to say, “I forgive you; let’s carry on,” or, “I can’t go on, because this marriage is broken.”

Therefore, while divorce should never happen, God allows it (and subsequent remarriage) when your partner breaks the marriage vows.

Reading the Bible and ancient Jewish documents side-by-side helped me understand much more of the Bible’s teaching about divorce and marriage, not all of which I can summarize here. Dusty scraps of parchment rescued from synagogue rubbish rooms, desert caves, and neglected scholarly collections shone fresh light on the New Testament.

Theologians who have long felt that divorce should be allowed for abuse and abandonment may be vindicated. And, more importantly, victims of broken marriages can see that God’s law is both practical and loving.

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