One of the most debated issues in the church today is divorce and remarriage. Although this isn’t your average topic on defending the faith, any issue that effects Christians is important to talk about.
(Please Note: I am not advocating for divorce in any way. If you are contemplating divorce or remarriage please spend time in prayer and talk to a mentor, licensed Christian counselor, or your pastor.)
What does the Bible say about divorce?
Did the early church Fathers approve of divorce and remarriage?
Is it a sin to divorce your spouse?
Is it okay to remarry?
God intended marriage to last for the couple’s entire life together but I think there has been an unfortunate consensus that divorced individuals have committed an unforgivable sin. If there was any unforgivable sin then scripture would have told us. As Jesus taught his disciples that would have been a major teaching that we never saw mentioned or alluded to. Jesus said he came to die for all sin, not just certain ones. It’s easy for people who have been married to only one spouse to make this assumption without reading the original scripture verses in context. That is what I hope to do with this article, to help others understand these verses in context as they were meant to be read.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT DIVORCE?
Let’s take a look at what scripture verses cite divorce and what specific word they are using in each verse. Only recently did I come across the different definitions of the word divorce that our English language does not clearly identify. So, it may surprise you that there are five different word references to divorce in the Bible.
Divorce is interpreted to be read literally or figuratively. There are differences between being cast out and going through a formal process to obtain a certificate of divorce. However, most Bible versions use the word divorce to describe the severing of a covenant.
Garash (put away): Leviticus 21:14; Leviticus 22:13; and Numbers 30:10
Kerithuth (a cutting of the bonds of marriage, divorce): Jeremiah 3:8; Deuteronomy 24:1,3; and Isaiah 50:1
Shalach (to send away): Malachi 2:15-16
Aphiyach (helpless): Matthew 5:31; Matthew 19:7; and Mark 10:4
Apoluo (put away): Matthew 1:19; Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:3; Matthew 19:7-9; Mark 10:2; Mark 10:4; Mark 10:11-12; and Luke 16:18
Further, during biblical times only men were allowed to find fault in their wives and divorce them. By giving the woman a certificate of divorce this allowed her to remarry without violating civil or religious laws. Matthew 19:9 addresses what Jesus taught on divorce, “And I say to you whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Here we see that if there is a unfaithful partner, Jesus allows divorce because the act of unfaithfulness has already broken the sacredness of the marriage.
In 1 Corinthians 7:10-17, Paul affirms Jesus’ teaching and also addresses when a believer is married to an unbeliever.
“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.”
Malachi 2:15-16 is one of the most referenced verses used in the context of divorce. We do have to ask, is God using this literally or figuratively? Malachi liked to use dramatic language to question the people’s intentions. Many men at this time were divorcing their wives so that they could marry pagan women. In doing so they were also turning away from the Lord. So, it’s not far fetched for God to want to take extreme steps to redirect these men to turn from this way of living. God intended marriage to be for life and men weren’t to marry pagan women. If they did God knew they would walk away from their faith. We see evidence of that here when Malachi states, “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 yourself 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.”
WHAT DID THE CHURCH FATHERS BELIEVE ABOUT DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE?
The Fathers did not come to a unanimous decision about divorce and remarriage. The earliest Father, Hermas (A.D. 125) did not think remarriage was ever allowed but he has a unique opinion that was not shared by many. He was known as an influential Father but biblically held a “mixed bag” view on these topics. He also wrote about other unpopular rules such as the failure of a husband to divorce a wife who committed adultery is like committing adultery and husbands who remarried were also committing adultery. Needless to say, his ideas were not widely accepted until later when the Roman Catholic Church adopted them.
In all, looking at the church Fathers’ views a few things are clear about their opinions and the scriptures.
1) It was written to a Christian audience;
2) They didn’t expect unbelievers to follow them; and
3) They wanted Christians to take marriage seriously.
IS IT A SIN TO DIVORCE YOUR SPOUSE?
Again, there are only two reasons that divorce is biblically allowed. The first is if someone is unfaithful to their spouse and the second is if the Christian spouse is abandoned by an unbelieving spouse. You may be wondering, what about people in abusive marriages?!
In most instances involving these two biblical reasons for divorce there is abuse of some sort happening.
If you are already divorced please remember there is not an unforgiveable sin, especially not divorce. When we become a regenerate Christian, we must not forget that Jesus died for all of our sin, not just a few. You have been washed by the blood of Jesus and nothing can separate you from God. If you are divorced for other reasons other than the ones stated above, all you need to do is to repent and you are forgiven. I urge all divorced people to know that you are worthy of God’s grace and forgiveness. He is your Savior and redeemer and you are deeply loved by Him.
WHEN IS IT OKAY TO REMARRY?
As noted above, 1 Corinthians 7 states that if your unbelieving spouse departs the marriage you are to allow them to leave and that you are no longer bound to that union. The two biblical reasons for divorce allow for a person to be remarried since that union has been severed by unfaithfulness or an unequally yoked marriage.
If you are thinking about remarriage I would first ask that you pray about it and see where God leads you. Paul urges people to stay single, if they can. Not everyone is called to marriage because some are called to live for God alone and marriage can divert your attention away from God.
“I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.”
-1 Corinthians 7:26-28