By Bob Myhan


      At least 50% of all marriages in the US are doomed from the start simply because either the husband or the wife did not take time to learn God's will in this matter. If they had, they would have known that God has regulated marriage and divorce - that people do not have the right to marry, divorce and marry again at will. While some have no scriptural right to be married, others have no scriptural right to be divorced. God's thoughts on any subject must always be respected above our own (Isaiah 55:8,9). The primary concern in any marriage, of course, ought not to be whether the husband and wife get along (as important as that is), but whether their relationship as husband and wife is pleasing to God. This involves a number of factors, including whether they have a right to be married to one another in the first place.


      Let us begin by defining some of the terms we will be using. By “marriage” we will mean either (1) “the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc.” or (2) “the state, condition or relationship of being married.” By “divorce” we will mean either (1) “a judicial declaration dissolving a marriage in whole or in part, esp. one that releases the husband and wife from all matrimonial obligations” or (2) “to break the marriage contract between oneself and one’s spouse by divorce.” “Put away,” “put asunder” and “depart” will mean, “divorce.” Other terms will be defined as they are introduced. [Definitions of English words in this study are taken from Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, 1996 edition.]

      While some marriages and divorces are scriptural (that is, approved by God in the scriptures) and some are not, all marriages are marriages and all divorces are divorces. One cannot be “married to” and “divorced from” the same person at the same time. Such phrases as “married in the eyes of God,” and “not married in the eyes of God” merely cloud the issue. What, for example, does “in the eyes of God” mean? It is much better, at least for the sake of clarity, to speak of marriages and divorces from the standpoint of whether or not they are approved by God in the Scriptures.


      In the beginning, after creating man from the dust of the earth, God said, ”It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). God wanted Adam to feel the need for a companion who would be fitting for him emo­tionally, socially and spiritually, as well as physically. So, prior to creating woman, He brought to Adam “every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air” (Genesis 2:19). As Adam went about naming them, he could not help but notice that for every male there was a suitable female - the lioness for the lion, the hen for the rooster, the mare for the stallion, etc. "But for Adam there was not found a help meet for him" (Genesis 2:20). Unlike the beasts of the field and fowls of the air, man is not merely conscious, but self-conscious, and would need a self-conscious counterpart. Birds, insects, reptiles and other lower creatures are primarily led by instinct, while man has the ability to choose alternatives. Therefore, he would need a partner who likewise had the power of choice. While many animals have the ability to communicate with others of their own kind, only man has the ability to converse. Because of this, he would need a companion with whom he could exchange ideas. Man, unlike beasts, has a moral sense; so he would need a partner who could also distinguish right from wrong. These differences between man and the other creatures resulted from man having been created "in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27). In order to satisfy the man’s need for a suitable mate, “the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man” (Genesis 2:21,22).


     The apostle Paul was inspired to write, “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth” (1 Corinthians 7:39). Clearly, there is a difference between being married and being bound else one is bound only as long as he is married.

     When asked about the right of “a man to put away his wife for every cause” (Matthew 19:3), Jesus replied, “Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:4-6).

     Thus, in a scriptural marriage, God binds a man and woman to one another. This simply means that they are mutually constrained to fulfill the responsibilities of marriage, and mutually restrained from having any other marriage partner. While the state may join two persons together in a marriage, only God can join them together in the marriage bond.

     There are five possible states, relative to marriage and the marriage bond: (1) unmarried and unbound, (2) married and bound to the same person, (3) unmarried but bound, (4) married to one person but bound to another and (5) married but unbound.

     One is unmarried and unbound if (a) he or she has never been married, (b) if he or she has put away previous spouse for fornication and never remarried, (c) if he or she has never been scripturally married but has had to end an unscriptural marriage or (d) if his or her spouse has died and he or she has not remarried.

     One is married and bound to the same person if he or she is in a scriptural marriage.

     One is unmarried but bound if (a) he or she was put away for any reason and has not remarried, or (b) he or she put away a spouse for some reason other than fornication and has not remarried.

     One is married to one person but bound to another if (a) he or she has remarried after having been put away, or (b) he or she has remarried after putting away a spouse for some reason other than fornication.

     One is married but unbound if he or she is in a first marriage with someone who is ineligible for marriage; the other, of course, would also be married but unbound.

     Because marriage is intended by God to be a permanent relationship, it should not be entered into lightly. Nor should it lightly be ended. Each party to a scriptural marriage should be fully committed thereto. In view of this important element, marriage should be viewed as a covenant relationship between two committed people and God.


      Both husband and wife have been given certain responsibilities in keeping with the order and purpose of their respective creations.  For example, the husband is to be the decision maker, inasmuch as "Adam was first formed, then Eve" (1 Timothy 2:13), and Eve was created as "a help meet for” Adam (Genesis 2:18). This does not mean Adam was in any way superior to Eve, only that he was to have authority over her. He was to lead and she was to follow. She was "not made out of his head to rule over him, or out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved" (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 7).

      Paul wrote, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own hus­bands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Hus­bands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word" (Ephesians 5:22-26). He also wrote, "The head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3). Man was given authority over woman. If she wrests it from him, she sins against him and against God. [It is unfortunate that most husbands do not seem to realize that headship involves responsibility. His authority over his wife is similar to that of Christ over the church. Christ acted responsibly in giving himself for the church.]

      Notice the extent to which a husband is to love his wife: "So ought men to love their own wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church." "Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife as him­self" (Ephesians 5:28,29,33). His love for her should resemble that of Christ for His church. When it is obvious to the wife that he loves her thus, it will be easy for her to "reverence her husband" (Ephesians 5:33).

      A man needs his wife’s support, and a woman needs her husband’s concern. She shows her support by being affectionate and managing the house (Titus 2:3-5; 1 Timothy 5:14); he demonstrates his concern by providing for and honoring her (1 Timothy 5:8; 1 Peter 3:7).

      The sex drive is one aspect of man’s unique nature. Thereby the human race is perpetuated. And, inasmuch as the first recorded command of God to Adam and Eve was “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), sex is a vital part of a healthy marriage. Therefore, it is God's will for a scripturally married man and woman to satisfy one another sexually (1 Corinthians 7:2-5). However, those who have sex outside of scriptural marriage are “fornicators and adulterers” (Hebrews 13:4; Matthew 19:9). “To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2).


    While the word “fornication” is defined as “voluntary sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons or two persons not married to each other,” the Greek word simply means “illicit sexual intercourse” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). This would include sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex, a person of the same sex, or even a brute beast. The word “adultery” is defined as “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his or her lawful spouse.” Jesus, however, expanded this to include sexual intercourse between two persons who are married to each other without God’s approval. “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matthew 19:9).


     “The Lord…hateth putting away” (Malachi 2:16). “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10,11). “And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery” (Mark 10:11,12).


     While God hates divorce, He does allow it under certain circumstances. First, He allows an individual to divorce his/her scriptural spouse if that spouse is guilty of fornication (Matthew 19:9). One who divorces his/her scriptural spouse for any other reason does so without God’s approval. If that person then marries another he/she is guilty of adultery. Also, one who marries a person who has been divorced by his/her spouse is guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Luke 16:18). On the other hand, one who divorces his/her spouse for fornication (sexual infidelity) and marries another is not guilty of adultery (Matthew 19:9). In other words, one is not obligated to remain married to a fornicator. Therefore, an innocent person who divorces a sexually unfaithful spouse is no longer bound to that individual and may marry someone else with God’s approval.

      Second, those who are unscripturally married are not bound to one another; they are guilty of adultery and ought not to remain married. “For the woman which hath a husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man” (Romans 7:2,3). She is guilty of adultery because she is still bound to the first man. Therefore, though they have been pronounced “husband and wife” by a duly appointed representative of the state, they have not been “joined together” by God and ought not to stay together, because “fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4 [NKJV]).


     Those who are eligible for scriptural marriage fall into four classes: (1) those who have never been married, (2) those whose spouses have died, (3) those who put their previous spouses away for fornication and (4) those reconciling after a divorce. Unless both persons in a marriage fall into one of these categories, they are unscripturally married and are committing adultery (Matthew 19:9; Romans 7:2,3). 


     While some teach that such an individual may remain in that marriage with God’s approval, this is sadly not the case. Repentance is essential to becoming a Christian. The Greek word translated “repent” means “to change one’s mind or purpose, always, in the N.T., involving a change for the better, an amendment” (Vine). With reference to the word translated “repentance,“ Vine says, “In the N.T. the subject chiefly has reference to repentance from sin, and this change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God.” Thus, repentance is the determination, or resolve, to forsake and avoid sin.

     Both spouses in an unscriptural marriage are committing adultery and must cease doing so if they want to have a proper relationship with God. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

     Surely, the idolaters, the effeminate, the abusers of themselves with mankind, the thieves, the covetous, the drunkards, the revilers and the extortioners were not to continue their respective sins. Nor were the fornicators and adulterers to continue their fornication and adultery. If any who were in unscriptural marriages had remained in those marriages, they would have been constantly facing sexual temptation. We are to “flee fornication” (1 Corinthians 6:18), not court it.


     While there is no New Testament example of Christians specifically being told to put away their unscriptural wives, there is an Old Testament example of some having to do this very thing. When the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity, Ezra was told that the men had taken wives for themselves and their sons from among the heathen nations, which God had forbidden (Ezra 9:1,2). “And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel. Now therefore make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives. Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do” (Ezra 10:10-12).

     Of course, we are not under the Law of Moses. But this event illustrates an eternal principal - whatever God forbids, we must not do, and if we find ourselves doing it, we must stop. The Jews were not authorized to marry foreign women, and those who did so had to separate from them. Thus, if one living under the New Testament has married someone he/she is not authorized to marry, he/she must divorce that person, for such is an adulterous marriage (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Romans 7:2,3).

     There are those who contend that it would be cruel to break up a happy home - especially where children are involved - just because a previous marriage ended without God’s approval. Many think it is unrealistic to expect anyone to live up to what God has revealed on the subject of marriage. But if we really want to go to heaven, and we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:29,30), we will resolve to do whatever is necessary, no matter how difficult. It is not always easy to do what is right. But it will be rewarding in the end.

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Last Updated:  Thursday, January 26, 2006 12:41 PM