Gospel Truths, Volume XIV, NUMBER 11 (November, 2003)
Posted with permission

Divorce and Remarriage 

By J. T. Smith 

God instituted marriage. “Therefore a man shall leave his father I and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). God intended one man for one woman for life. “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man” (Romans 7:2-3).

The issue of divorce and remarriage is causing one of the greatest problems today among brethren. Hardly a family in America has escaped the horrible effects that this problem has brought about. Divorce is getting easier to obtain. Today in most large cities one can pick up a newspaper and read advertisements of how a divorce may be obtained for less than $100. People who have been involved in 2nd and 3rd marriages are learning the gospel, and are faced with the problem of what they must do in order to be right with God. Also, many people find themselves worshipping with congregations where preachers and elders teach and/or except the doctrine that a person may remarry after having divorced for any and every cause, remain in that condition and be in full fellowship with God’s people. Those who find themselves in that condition are faced with the problem of what they must do to be right with God. What are the answers to these important questions? The purpose of this article is to try to find some Bible answers.

God has always hated “putting away” (Malachi 2:16). In His confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus specified God’s Will on marriage: how long it is to last, “putting away,” remarriage, and in what condition one places himself when he divorces and remarries (Matthew 5:32; 19:1-9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). As far as I can determine from the above passages, God permitted “putting away” and remarrying under Moses’ Law “because of the hardness of their hearts” as Jesus said in Matthew 19:8. This, however, was not God’s plan from the beginning. And even though God permitted it in times past, Jesus instructs those of us who are living now.

In Matthew 5:32, 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18, Jesus discusses people being “put away” for fornication and for other causes. “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32). “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). “So He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’” (Mark 10:11-12) “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery” (Luke 16:18). Jesus discusses people being “put away” for fornication and for other causes. His main point in this discussion is the condition of one who “puts away” his/her spouse and remarries – and the condition of the one who marries that person who has been “put away.” The text in Matthew 19:9 shows that the one who “puts away” his spouse for every cause (with one exception: fornication) commits adultery when he/she remarries. One who marries the one who has been “put away” (whether for every cause or for fornication) commits adultery.

Problem 1: Some say, “If one who has put away his spouse ‘for fornication’ is free to remarry, it is obvious that he is not ‘bound’ to his spouse. And, if the ‘bond’ is broken for one, then she is obviously not bound to him and is thus free to remarry.

Answer 1: Although this human reasoning may sound good, there are a number of things wrong with it. In the first place, the word “marry” is being equated with the word “bound.” But they are not equal. The word “bound” is from the Greek word dedesai and means, “to bind by a legal or moral tie, as marriage, Rom.7:2; I Cor. 7:27, 39” (Bagster’s Analytical Greek Lexicon, page 89). “To bind, i.e. put under obligation, s.c. of law, duty, etc. To be bound to one: of a wife, Rom. 7:2; I Cor. 7:27, 39” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, page 131). Romans 7:2: “Bound by the law of her husband.” “The law here referred to, is the law of marriage promulgated in Paradise, Gen. 2:24, whereby our Lord declared Matt. 9:6, marriages were appointed to continue for life, except in the case of adultery” (MacKnight On The Epistles, volume I, page 313). One can be “married” and not “bound” or he can be “bound”, and not “married.”

Herod’s case is an example of one being “married” (according to the laws of the land) but not “bound” by God (Mark 6:17-18). The woman in Romans 7:2-3 is a good example of one who was “married” to another but was still “bound” to the first husband. Thus, according to the above definition of the word “bound,” I can tell a person who has “put away” his spouse for fornication that he may remarry because Jesus releases him from “his obligation to the law of his wife.” However, Christ nowhere indicates that the wife is released from “her obligation to the law of her husband.”

In fact, Paul is using this matter as a means of illustrating to the Jews the reason why they are no longer under the Law of Moses. But notice in verse 1 that Paul points out “that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he lives,” and then illustrates it by showing that the same is true with the marriage law, that it has dominion over a man so long as he lives. “Why then,” someone may ask, “may the innocent one (who has put away his wife for fornication) remarry if the marriage law has dominion over one until death?” Because Jesus releases the innocent one from the relationship as well as the law which had dominion over him. And, there is no passage that gives such authority for the release of the guilty one.

“But,” someone says, “it is impossible for one to be bound while the other is loosed. If one is bound, both are bound.” This, however, is not the case. For example: if an officer and a thief are bound together, wherever the officer goes the thief must go. But, when they get to the courtroom, the thief must remain, yet the officer may leave. Though they are loosed from each other, the thief is bound by law to remain until sentence is pronounced upon him. Thus he is both loosed (from the officer) and bound (to remain in the courtroom) at the same time.

Another way to show that a position is erroneous is to see if you can reduce it to an absurdity. If one is put away for some cause other than fornication, (burning the bread) when that person remarries he commits adultery. But, if one is put away for fornication, when that person remarries he does not commit adultery – so we are told.

God said He would judge adulterers (Hebrews 13:4). But, according to the above statement, God judges the “bread burner” guilty and the fornicator innocent. Thus God’s consequences are much greater for the “bread burner” than for the “fornicator!” This is absurd. That the adulterer may remarry without sinning but the “bread burner” may not is indeed absurd.

Problem 2: “But,” someone may say, “what about I Corinthians 7:27-28 which says, ‘art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife. But if thou marry, thou hast not sinned…’ Who are those who are loosed?”

Answer: 2: Yes, Paul said those who are “loosed” may be married. Here again, the mistake is made of trying to equate “loosed” with “divorced.” Man divorces, God looses. But who is loosed? The answer is simple if we go the Scriptures.

1. One who has never been married is free to marry a person who is eligible to marry according to the Scriptures (I Corinthians 7:28).

2. The innocent party who has put away his mate for fornication is “loosed” and free to marry. (Matthew 19:9).

3. One whose mate has died is “loosed” from the law of her husband and has the scriptural right to marry another man (Romans 7:3). Just because one is divorced does not mean he is “loosed.” Unless one is loosed by God, when that person remarries he/she commits adultery and continues to do so as long as the first mate lives (Romans 7:2-3).

Problem 3: Some attempt to find a cause for “putting away” after the fact. This is sometimes referred to as mental divorce. This is not said in effort to cause prejudice. It is simply an explanation of what is being done. The reasoning goes like this. When the person was “put away,” it was not for the cause of fornication. So, the one who was put away did not want the divorce and begged his spouse not to get the divorce. However, at a later time when the first spouse remarried (or was known to be committing adultery) the one who was “put away” could then mentally divorce the spouse for fornication and be free to remarry.

Answer 3: There is nothing in the Scriptures that indicate a mental “putting away.” To explain this, let’s just say that two people can’t get along. They get a divorce and at this point no fornication is involved. After the divorce (which one of the parties did not want and begged the other not to get) is final, the person who got the divorce decides that he cannot live alone. So, he either moves in with someone or remarries. Now the person’s first spouse says, “My former husband is married again and is committing adultery. Therefore since I did not want the divorce in the first place, I can now put him away for fornication and have scriptural grounds (be free) to remarry.”

The above is simply human reasoning. If we search all the Scriptures in the New Testament that deal with remarriage (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:2-3), we will not find a single passage that teaches the above doctrine. In fact, the Scriptures teach just the opposite.

For example, let’s look at the first half of Luke 16:18. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” As you can see, this is the very situation of the person we described in problem 3. He has put away his wife and has married another and is committing adultery. Now, the question was raised, “is it possible for the one who has been put away to now put that person away for fornication (adultery) and remarry without sin?” If we just read the latter part of the verse we can let Jesus answer the question. “And whoever marries her that is divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

But someone is heard to say, “But if that is the case, one would have to suffer for the rest of his life for someone else’s mistake, and that is not fair.” That is true, it is not fair. However, that is life. Someone is put in prison for life for a crime he committed. His wife and children begged him not to commit it. Nevertheless, the children are left without a father and the wife without a husband for the rest of their lives.

Some have used Mark 10:11-12 to try to prove their case. However, you will observe that in Mark’s account, Jesus does not discuss the “put away” person remarrying. You must go to other passages that discuss remarriage in order to find the answer to that question. (See Maurice Barnett’s article on this subject in this issue of Gospel Truths)

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