Divorce & Remarriage: a brief survey of NT Teaching

There is no one who is untouched by divorce. For some, they have lived through it. For others they have seen their parents go through it.  All of us probably know of someone who is divorced: a friend, a family member, or someone else we know. Divorce is painful. It is painful for those involved. It is painful for the children and others who are directly affected by the divorce. According to Stats Canada (2006 Census Results), 4 out of 10 first marriages end in divorce. From documents I have read about the first century, it seems that divorce was just as common. In that day, many of the Jewish religious leaders followed the teaching of rabbi Hillel who taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever-no matter how flimsy. For instance, if a wife burned the toast, the husband could divorce her. Or if he felt his wife had insulted his parents, he could divorce her.  Many of Jesus’ listeners would have been aware of that teaching. In contrast to that view, Jesus says

Matthew 5:31–32 – “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

In addressing the topic of divorce, Jesus starts out in v.31 by quoting (‘it has been said’) from Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The Pharisees and teachers of the law interpreted that Old Testament text to mean that if you find something you don’t like about your wife, divorce her. They saw paperwork as the only issue. The reason Jesus begins his teaching on divorce quoting from this Old Testament passage is to correct their faulty view of Deut. 24 by saying that having a certificate of divorce doesn’t make it morally acceptable. This of course raises the question:  Are there circumstances where it is permissible to divorce (and remarry)? The Lord mentions one in this passage in v.32, and then there is another one mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7.

Divorce and Remarriage is permitted in cases of marital unfaithfulness
Matthew 5:32 – But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
So what Jesus is saying is that if two married people decide to get divorced, and they both move on and remarry other people, those relationships are adulterous—sinful—with the exception of cases where there has been marital unfaithfulness.  So, according to Jesus, marital unfaithfulness does provide legitimate grounds for divorce, but (it should be added) this should only be done as a last resort if all efforts toward reconciliation have been attempted and there is still no repentance by the offending person.  Even where there’s been unfaithfulness, reconciliation is preferable to divorce. Divorce isn’t commanded in cases of unfaithfulness. It’s permitted. Reconciliation is always the most preferable option, even if divorce has taken place already.
Now, are there any other circumstances under which divorce and remarriage is permitted by God? The New Testament also mentions that:
Divorce and Remarriage is permitted for a believer when they are married to an unbeliever who insists on leaving.
1 Corinthians 7:12–13 – To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.
When Paul says, “I, not the Lord,” it’s because he’s talking about a scenario that Jesus didn’t directly teach about during his earthly ministry. Jesus spoke about divorce between two believers, but as the gospel spread to pagans, sometimes one person in a marriage would become a Christian and the other wasn’t. With those scenarios in mind, some Christians in Corinth thought that their non-Christian spouse was going to rub off on them negatively and so maybe they should leave them. Paul says, “No, actually the opposite is true. Marriage has a sanctifying effect on the unbeliever.”
Look what he says in the next verse:
1 Corinthians 7:14 – For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
This doesn’t mean your unsaved spouse will become saved automatically, but that through the consistent godly influence of their Christian mate, the unbeliever may come to know Christ! If the children aren’t saved, Paul says, they are now “holy.” In this context he means that they are separated from the world because they are under the influence of a believing parent. This parent prays for them. This parent talks to them about Christ. This parent brings them to church where they experience the cleansing power of God’s word as it’s preached (John 17:7). It doesn’t guarantee their salvation, but again, their this Christian witness can lead them to Christ.
So, what scripture is saying is that for the sake of the children and the unbelieving spouse, the Christian in a troublesome marriage should not seek a divorce. But then Paul adds an important teaching.
1 Corinthians 7:15–16 – But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?  
The word “leave” in verse 15 is a translation of the Greek word ‘chorizo’ which means “to separate by divorce.” (Jay Adams, Marriage Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, Mich., 1980), p.47).   So, Paul is saying, if the unbeliever wants a divorce, and everything possible has been done to try and work on things, then let them leave. Divorce is permissible under those circumstances. If that’s the situation, Paul says, then, you are not “bound” in such circumstances.  The idea is that the divorce has broken the bonds of marriage and the believer is released from their obligations to that marriage covenant and from the burden of trying to maintain a marriage that their unbelieving spouse doesn’t want. And as a result, the believer can therefore remarry. Since there are legitimate grounds to the divorce—from the perspective of the believer—the believer can legitimately remarry.
So, as can be seen in the New Testament, there are some circumstances where divorce (and remarriage) is permitted.
Where does this leave us?
What if you’ve gotten a divorce?
I believe with all my heart that God is a God of redemption and new beginnings. If you have wronged anyone confess it and ask for forgiveness and make every attempt to reconcile.
What if you’ve gotten remarried when biblically speaking you shouldn’t have?
If that describes you, it’s important to seek God’s forgiveness for what you’ve done. Then, determine to honor God in your new marriage. In the Old Testament, when King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then married her, even though that marriage was adulterous, after David came to see the ugliness of his mistake and finally confessed his sin to God and repented, God allowed the marriage to stand.  In fact, God even blessed that marriage in time because forgiveness was granted, the past was cleansed, and the future was cleared for God’s blessing.  Eventually the Messiah would be descended from David and Bathsheba even though their relationship had a bad beginning. God is a God of redemption and new beginnings.
If on the other hand, you are married but on the verge of divorce, do everything in your power to seek reconciliation and healing. 
Romans 12:18 – If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone for help.  See a Christian counsellor. (In Montreal, Isaiah 40 Foundation has counsellors available for people in every kind of situation).  

Categories Devotionals | Tags: , , | Posted on May 29, 2023

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