And many know it firsthand.
Unfortunately, the sting of divorce is rampant. If you haven’t felt it personally, chances are you’ve felt it through friends or family.
Since it is, by nature, the destruction of a covenant of the utmost intimacy, divorce is never a light or easy topic.
This Sunday, I preached, in part, over Matthew 5:31-32. There, Jesus briefly discusses divorce as it relates to adultery. I believe that Jesus’ main point was to reclaim the seriousness of marriage by emphasizing that the marriage covenant should never be severed, unless by the direst of circumstances: sexual immorality within the marriage. To be clear, Jesus is not creating an excuse for divorce; rather, He is limiting His followers to never treat divorce as a readily available option. Christians should always seek to preserve marriages first. Divorce is, on occasion, a necessary action due to the exceeding sinfulness of the human heart, but it should only be utilized under certain circumstances.
Of course, we could spend all day discussing what marriage ought to be, but the reality is that nearly half of all marriages do not survive. And even when brokenness and devestation are left in divorce’s wake, many often find solace in searching for love again in remarriage. Yet because of the Christian’s high view of marriage, is remarriage after divorce an option, or is it sinful?
Truthfully, you will find numerous pastors and theologians arguing a variety of answers to that question, and the purpose behind this post is NOT to defend one of them. Instead, I simply want to present the possible answers and turn your eyes to Scripture.
If we believe that the Bible is God’s Word, we will submit to its teaching, not whatever we feel God should have said.
I cannot do justice to the weight and complexity of this issue within a single post, so I only hope to present for you Scriptures to prayerfully meditate upon and articles, sermons, and books for you to think through.
You will, therefore, find two sections below: first, a list of applicable Scripture (non-exhaustive, of course, but it should be a good start), and second, a brief description of the various views with links to the articles that defend them in more detail (yeah, I know it’s a lot).
What Scripture Says
Malachi 2:14-16 | But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
Matthew 5:31-32 | It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Matthew 19:3-12 | And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
Mark 10:2-12 | And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Luke 16:18 | Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
Romans 7:1-3 | Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
1 Corinthians 7:10-16 | To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
1 Corinthians 7:39-40 | A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.
Ephesians 5:22-33 | Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
4 Views on Remarriage
I should first emphasize that remarriage itself is not a sinful idea, and each of the four presented views agree on at least two crucial matters.
First, the Bible clearly presents remarriage after the death of a spouse as a justifiable action. Romans 7 even uses the idea of death breaking a covenant to describe how Jesus freed us from the Old Covenant. Therefore, each of these views agree that remarriage for a widow or widower is biblical.
Second, they also agree that divorce is permitted, at times. Jesus clearly states that divorce is allowed in the case of sexual immorality within marriage. Paul also adds that if a Christian spouse is divorced by his or her non-Christian spouse, “let it be so.” Thus, the positions below each acknowledge that divorce because of adultery or abandonment is sometimes unavoidable.
Remarriage is the element of disagreement.
View #1 // No Remarriage Outside the Death of a Spouse
This view claims to uphold the words of Jesus in Luke 16:18 (which is similar to Matthew 5:31-32, only without the exception clause), and they often cite Paul’s words at the end of 1 Corinthians 7 as proof that a spouse is only “free” from a marriage when the other dies. Ephesians 5:21-33 is also crucial to their understanding. They argue that if a husband truly loves his wife as Christ loves the Church, wouldn’t that prevent him from clinging to a new wife? Would he not lovingly wait for her in singleness, praying that she would one day be reunited to him?
John Piper argues for this position in this article.
View #2 // Remarriage Only for Death or Adultery
This next view agrees with much of the previous but adds a single caveat: sexual immorality. They argue that Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5:31-32 & 19:3-12 clearly imply remarriage in their discussion of divorce. This view also claims that separation by a non-Christian spouse is permissible, but remarriage is not an available option in that circumstance.
R. C. Sproul holds this view. Read his quick thought on the issue here OR listen to a sermon on it here.
View #3 // Remarriage for Death, Adultery, or Abandonment
Holders of this view agree with the previous views on death and adultery but also claim that abandonment justifies remarriage. 1 Corinthians 7 is the primary text in view here. Paul clearly allows for divorce if a Christian’s non-Christian spouse seeks it. They argue that Paul emphasizes fighting for reconciliation (vv. 10-11), but if the non-believing spouse refuses reconciliation, the Christian is then free to remarry if the Lord wills.
John MacArthur argues for this view of remarriage here.
View #4 // Remarriage for Death, Adultery, Abandonment, or Abuse
This view agrees with view #3, except they add in another caveat: abuse. Some who hold this view support it biblically by claiming that domestic abuse is form of the abandonment that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 7. They state that abuse destroys the marriage since it effectively strong-arms the Christian spouse into acting out the separation.
Mandy Marshall defends this view here.
You can also read another thought on abuse, divorce, and remarriage here.
I’m under no illusion that these four views presented are all-encompassing. They are, however, four of the most common and most biblical.
You will also find within the articles linked a common thread of thought: divorce (and remarriage) is never meant to be an easy solution. Jesus taught that God only permits divorce because of the hardness of people’s hearts (a.k.a. sin).
One man, one woman, lovingly united until death: that’s God’s design of marriage.
I encourage you to let Scripture guide your thoughts on divorce and remarriage. Not the culture. And not even your own experiences.
Below are a few more resources worth checking out.
If you are divorced and remarry, are you living in adultery?
Should I divorce my spouse from an unbiblical remarriage?
Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: 3 Views // This book covers views 1, 3, & 4 above.
Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views // This books also covers the view that divorce is never permissible for Christians.