The Marriage Bond: What Scripture Says About Divorce and Remarriage

 •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 11
It is important to recognize that "Married" signifies a position taken at a definite time, and in a way that is recognized as such by the "powers that be." When a man and woman come together they become "one flesh" (1 Cor. 6:16), but this in itself is not marriage in the Scriptural sense, (John 4:18). Marriage is a legal thing, having some public recognition of the event, as in John 2:1. The marriage relationship is the consummation of the marriage. It is fornication if a man and woman have a relationship apart from marriage (Gen. 34:1-31; 1 Cor. 6:15-18). Even Cain's wife was his wife when he had a relationship with her (Gen. 4:17).
If a married person commits adultery, he or she becomes "one flesh" with someone else (1 Cor. 6:16), but this in itself does not break the marriage. It is a very serious sin in the eyes of God, requiring assembly action (Gen. 39:9, Prov. 6:32,33, 1 Cor. 5:11-13). It is also a serious sin against one's partner because it breaks the tie between man and wife. It also brings down the solemn government of God (2 Sam. 12:10), but the marriage lawfully remains unless it is broken before the "powers that be". The question therefore, which we wish to consider in this paper is this, Does the Scripture allow it to be broken before the "powers that be", and on what ground? Does God, if the marriage is broken in a Scriptural way, allow remarriage? Prayerfully looking at the following Scriptures will show us His mind in these matters, but each case must stand on its own, and be considered before the Lord who alone can give the needed wisdom. This is what is meant by "priestly discernment" (Lev. 13:5,6), for "the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed." 1 Sam. 2:3.
There is perhaps one more point that should be mentioned here. It is the question as to whether the person was saved at the time of his or her divorce or remarriage. If he or she professed salvation at that time, they are looked upon as coming under the responsibility of the "house of God". 1 Peter 4:17.
It is not one's desire to put out any new teaching in regard to this subject, but since it is pressed upon us by the sad breakdown of marriage on every hand, one has sought to bring together what has been taught by men of God in the past who trembled at God's Word. One would commend it to the consciences of the saints of God, desiring that we might be "joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." 1 Cor. 1:10.
THE MARRIAGE BOND—and...Divorce and Remarriage.
One hesitates to bring in the thought of divorce and remarriage when speaking of the marriage bond, for it is much more desirable to speak of God's plan for a happy marriage. More than this it is most encouraging to know that there are many such marriages, and to them the very word "divorce" is unsavory and repulsive. Indeed we read in God's Word that "The Lord.... saith that He hateth putting away." Mal. 2:16. We can say at the very outset of this paper that the Word of God never speaks of one being "free" to divorce, or "free" to remarry. God "allowed" it under certain circumstances but it should never be looked upon lightly.
Under the law "because of the hardness of their hearts," that is because the law was addressed to Israel as a nation, many of whom were without living faith (Heb. 4:2), God allowed divorce for many reasons, (see Deut. 24:1,2). Now in Christianity every believer possesses a new life, and so the standard is much higher, as we will see from the various Scriptures to be considered herein. One would like to speak first of the true meaning of marriage, for when we have this before us, we then look at marriage as established by God, and not according to the various opinions of men.
Marriage was instituted of God before sin entered the world, and this is why, when the Pharisees asked the Lord about divorce and remarriage in Matt. 19, He took them back to God's original plan when He formed Eve for Adam. This is a principle in God's ways, that He sets a pattern before us—His mind—and though He may make allowance for man's weakness (though not overlooking it) He will judge according to His original standard. And why was this original plan as to marriage so important? It was a picture of a far earlier plan in the heart of God, for we learn that it was God's eternal purpose (Eph. 3:11) that Christ should have a bride, and marriage is the figure of this (Eph. 5:22-33). It is also used as a figure of the relationship of Jehovah to His earthly people Israel (Isa. 54:5).
When we see this in the Scripture it puts a new light on the subject of marriage as Eph. 5 shows us, and makes the subject of divorce more humiliating. Is Jehovah going to change all His promises to Israel? Will He not in a coming day, in spite of all their unfaithfulness, rejoice over them as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride? (Isa. 62:5). Will not Christ in a coming day, present His bride to Himself "without spot or wrinkle or any such thing" in spite of all her unfaithfulness? Thoughts like this humble us, but they surely put a character on marriage that we would not see or consider if we looked at it merely from man's viewpoint.
In order to have a happy marriage we need to think of the love Christ has for His church. What kind of a church does He love? Surely we have often failed to respond to His love, but His love has ever remained the same. What has He done for His church? He gave Himself for it. No sacrifice was too great to win us for Himself, and to have us as His eternal companions in glory. No doubt if we remembered this love and this self sacrifice, many difficulties in marriage would be overcome, and love for one another would deepen instead of weakening. We tend to look for love instead of showing it, to expect our partner to make sacrifices, instead of making sacrifices ourselves.
Then too, there is forgiveness, which Christ has shown to us in times of failure. The very One who bore our sins in His own body on the tree, now lives for us as our Great High Priest to help us in our infirmities, and as our Advocate to restore us when we have failed. Are we ready to forgive one another rather than consider the breakup of a marriage? We have such a perfect pattern for the marriage relationship in God's Word, and above all the power by the Holy Spirit to carry out, in our lives, all the things that are pleasing to our Lord and Savior. If anyone who reads these lines is passing through a marriage problem, I would beseech you to consider these things before the Lord, and if it seems difficult, remember that the Scripture says, "He giveth more grace," James 4:6.
"For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again."
There is one more thing to be considered, unpopular as it may seem in our day, and that is the place of the man and the place of the woman in God's creation and in marriage. God has placed the man as head of the woman and calls upon the woman to submit, just as Christ is the Head of the church and the church's place is submission to Christ. (Eph. 5:22-24). It is not that the man has assumed the place of headship, for he has been put in that place by God. He may fail and has failed in fulfilling his place, not holding it with wisdom and love, but it is his place. A wise wife will try to help her husband fill his place, and not try to take his place for herself. A wife may fail in filling her place as a help meet for her husband, but a wise husband will try to win the respect of his wife so as to make it easier for her to submit. All these things are like oil in the "machinery" to make things run smoothly. Sometimes we have to add oil too! It tends to get low under friction, and the friction will increase if the oil is not added! The oil, no doubt, is love, made operative by the Holy Spirit.
Having spoken of the secret of a happy marriage, we must now speak of what God has ordered in connection with divorce and remarriage. If the person or persons in such a case were unbelievers at the time, they were not as responsible as believers for the Scripture says "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" Luke 12:48. We know that an unbeliever does not possess a new life and is not indwelled by the Holy Spirit, so we see that while God does not lower the standard of His holiness—NEVER—He does make provision as He did in Corinth, for what those there had done, before being "washed" (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Some had sad and awful records before they were saved, and then on receiving Christ as their Savior, they were not only cleansed from all sin in the precious blood of Christ (1 John 1:7), but they had the "washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:4-7). They began afresh as new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and though they might have to reap many sorrows for sowing to the flesh (Gal. 6:7,8) they were received into the assembly at Corinth in a new position of responsibility, for judgment begins at the house of God. (1 Peter 4:17).
Those who have made a profession of faith in Christ come under the government of the house of God, and we read in Psa. 93:5, "Thy testimonies are very sure: holiness becometh Thine house, 0 Lord, forever." Then too, the reaping is more serious, for "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." Luke 12:48. God said to Israel, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." Amos 3:2. When we look at God's standards as to divorce and remarriage, we must bear in mind that if a person enters into these positions (divorce and remarriage) as a professing believer, he is much more responsible than an unbeliever. One feels that this is a serious and important point to bear in mind in regard to the measure of guilt. The Scripture says, "That servant which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes, but he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes." Luke 12:47,48. The assembly will have to consider these things if one asks to be received at the Lord's table.
In the comments that follow one has taken up the various New Testament Scriptures that speak of divorce and remarriage, making a few simple comments as to what one believes the Word of God teaches, and how it applies to the assembly. It is important to bear in mind that if a marriage is called "adultery" according to the truth of God, then time does not change it—it subsists as such until death breaks the previous bond. How important to consider this before entering the forbidden relationship. How serious it is before God! What a loss of Christian privilege it entails!
Divorce & Remarriage
Undoubtedly the following Scriptures would apply to man or woman, "he" or "she". This is confirmed by Mark 10:2-12.
Matt. 5:31,32
Under the law a man was permitted to give his wife a "writing of divorcement" if he wished, and to "put her away" in this manner.
The Lord Jesus said in this passage of Scripture that now if a man puts away his wife for any other reason than for fornication, he "causeth her to commit adultery." That is, he is morally responsible before God if, after he "puts her away" (except for fornication) she commits adultery. In the original Greek in which the New Testament was written, the word translated "put away" is the same Greek word as "divorce." This is very solemn, and it shows us that it is not a question of how a man "puts away" his wife (for "put away" and "divorce" are the same Greek word), if he "puts her away" for a reason other than for fornication, he is the cause if she afterward falls into sin. In that case she is responsible for committing adultery, but the Lord Jesus said that he also is guilty for "causing" it. This makes us realize the seriousness of a permanent legal separation which, if obtained as a moderated form of "putting away" could make one morally responsible before God for the sin of adultery. (see also 1 Cor. 7:5).
The Lord Jesus also said that if anyone were to marry the guilty woman, he commits adultery in such a marriage.
Matthew 19:3-12
A man is not permitted to put away his wife for any other reason than fornication. If he does put her away for some other reason, and then remarries, he becomes guilty of adultery in such a marriage.
If anyone were to marry the one who is put away for fornication, he becomes guilty of adultery in such a marriage.
The innocent one, (i.e., not the one who broke the tie by fornication), is not forbidden to remarry. The Lord does not commend such a marriage, but said, when asked by the disciples about this situation, "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." I believe the Lord was teaching that a believer might well hesitate about the wisdom of such a marriage, but it was not forbidden.
Mark 10:2-12, Luke 16:18
In Mark 10 we notice that the Lord speaks of either husband or wife putting away his or her partner, showing that His directions in regard to divorce apply to either man or woman. Neither of these Scriptures mention the one exception (fornication) for I believe it is important to realize that the Lord hates putting away (Mal. 2:14-16), though the other two Scriptures previously referred to in Matthew show that He allowed it for fornication. The reason for this omission is no doubt that He would teach us never to look lightly on the marriage tie, for it is a figure of Christ and the church. As Christians we possess a new life, so that the offended partner can forgive rather than divorce. This is no doubt that "more excellent way."
Romans 7:2,3
These verses as they read in the J.N.D. translation rather refer to adultery while the marriage tie still exists. The subject of faithfulness in marriage is introduced here as a figure of a spiritual truth. God intended that the marriage tie should only be broken by death (or at the Lord's coming) and the question of divorce is not considered here. However the verses in Matt. 19 show us that fornication did break the bond, and therefore divorce was allowed when the bond had been broken by fornication. Divorce was then the legal procedure because "the powers that be are ordained of God," and before God, fornication had already broken the bond. Divorce in such a case was not required, but allowed. The grace of God would enable one to forgive the guilty partner rather than put away or divorce. "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." Eph. 4:32.
1 Corinthians 7:15
In this passage the subject of desertion is taken up, and it is clear that the Christian is told not to leave his or her partner. If he or she did leave, such were to remain unmarried. (Verse 11). If, however, the unbelieving partner were to leave, we read, "a brother or a sister is not bound in such (cases)." (see J.N.D. translation). Not being "bound" refers to verse 39 where we read that, "the wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth." If, however, the husband or wife is willfully deserted and divorced by the unbelieving partner, such is no longer "bound" in the marriage relationship. Of course each case must be examined before the Lord as to whether every attempt was made to effect a reconciliation, and that the partner was not driven away by harsh unkind treatment, but if the unbeliever willfully deserted his or her partner and obtained the divorce, the Christian is then no longer "bound" in the marriage relationship, nor is there any command here, (as there is in the case described in verse 11) forbidding remarriage in such a case.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
If the divorce (and perhaps remarriage) took place before being saved, it should be made clear to him or her (or both) that as Christians they should realize God's order as to divorce and remarriage. The past could not be entirely forgotten, for we reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7). Nevertheless we see that, in the assembly at Corinth, there were many sins of their unsaved days that would call for assembly discipline if they were saved at the time, for judgment begins at the house of God. (1 Peter 4:17). They were received as they were, when saved, as new creatures in Christ, the "washing of regeneration" having taken place. Now they were to be "careful to maintain good works" (Titus 3:3-8), and were under the discipline of God's assembly (1 Cor. 5:12).
Romans 6:17
It is important to see that our obedience is to be "from the heart." God desires obedience out of love for Him. A case might be technically clear according to Scripture, but there may be circumstances such as an attitude that drives the partner away, or even violence, or improper advances to another that could disrupt a home, so that a Christian might cause the unbeliever to depart, or even obtain a divorce. Priestly discernment is required in each case, like the priest in Israel discerning if leprosy was really at work when appearances were uncertain (Lev. 13:4-8), so that the holiness of God's house is maintained in every detail. "Thy testimonies are very sure: holiness becometh Thine house, 0 Lord, forever." Psa. 93:5.
It is not that we are superior to the evil in ourselves but because the One in the midst is "holy and true" (Rev. 3:7). In every instance where such cases have to be taken up in the assembly, we should take our places as part of the failure and eat the sin offering in the holy place (Lev. 6:26,10:17). We should never forget that the Lord hates putting away (Mal. 2:14-16) and that divorce came in because of the hardness of our hearts. Love in the marriage should overcome, and will overcome many difficulties.
May the Lord keep us in these last days, in the path of obedience, knowing that "a little leaven, leaveneth the whole lump" (1 Cor. 5:6), and any unjudged evil defiles the assembly who allows it to remain unjudged. The enemy would seek to destroy the Christian home and God's assembly, and we need the Word of God to direct us, the love of Christ to constrain us, and the power of God to keep us.
"O Lamb of God still keep us
Close to Thy pierced side;
'Tis only there in safety
And peace we can abide."
L.F. 318.
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