In Part 1 we noted that, contrary to some traditional teaching, there are biblical grounds for divorce and for re-marriage. This final post compares the teachings of Paul with that of Jesus, summarizes our findings, and offers some possible implications.

Is Paul’s Teaching Consistent with Jesus’ Teaching?
Comparing Mt. 5:31-32 & 1 Cor. 7:10-16
When counseling the Corinthian Church, Paul speaks of two kinds of divorce: 1) Christian couples, i.e., divorce between two believers (1 Cor. 7:10-11), and 2) mixed marriages, i.e., divorce between a believer and unbeliever (1 Cor. 7:12-16). Although Paul does not explicitly say that he is speaking about Christian couples in the first instance (7:10-11), it seems apparent that he has Christian couples in mind. First, he refers to Jesus’ teaching (“not I, but the Lord,” v. 10), presumably referring to the Sermon (Mt. 5:31-32). If, therefore, some of Paul’s teaching on divorce refers to the teaching of Jesus (comp., 1 Cor. 7:10-11 with Mt. 5:31-32), and the Sermon (Mt. 5-7) is primarily referring to those who are pursuing kingdom righteousness (= believers), then the divorce statement in both Mt. 5:31-32 and 1 Cor. 7:10-11 is exclusively referring to Christian couples. In the second instance (divorce between mixed marriages), Paul is careful to say that his instructions come from himself, not the Lord. That is, the teaching on divorce in the case of mixed couples has not been expounded by Jesus until Paul.

If it is the case that Jesus’ teaching in Mt. 5:32 is addressed exclusively to Christian couples (and this comports with Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 7:10, 11), then the adulterous situation Jesus refers to in remarriage does not apply to a divorce born out of a mixed marriage. In Mt. 5:31-32 the prohibition to remarry may very well be given to the man who was presumably guilty for illegitimately divorcing his wife.

Moreover, it is men whom Jesus condemns for their flippant attitude toward the marriage covenant in Mt. 19:8, 9 (note the masculine pronouns throughout). This is also true in Malachi 2:13-16 where the famous “I hate divorce” statement lives. Does God hate all divorce or the the kind being referred to in Malachi where men were notoriously unfaithful to their original wives by divorcing them. In addition, there is a variant reading in Malachi 2:16. It could read “For he [the Israelite husband] has hated, divorced, says the LORD God of Israel, and covered his garment with injustice.” The verb “hate” in the Hebrew is not first person (“I hate”), but third person (“he hates;” thus especially the English Standard Version).

Observations from Mt. 5:31-32

  • Jesus is addressing Christian couples.
  • Jesus allows divorce if a believing spouse is unfaithful to their covenant obligations.
  • Jesus does not explicitly say how the remarriage commits adultery.

“Causes her to become an adulterous” (NIV) does not mean the woman is literally an adulteress, but that the improper grounds of the divorce has caused the woman to be stigmatized. In essence, the woman has been framed by the husband. Yet, the intent of Deut. 24:1-4 is to remove the moral stigma of the divorced woman and emphasize the protection of the innocent wife, whereas Mt. 5:31-32 emphasizes the culpability of the divorcing husband.

“Anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery” may mean any divorced woman who is not legitimately divorced. The definite article is not in the Greek and may indicate “any” illegitimately divorced woman (see NASB).

If divorce occurs between two believers, Jesus prohibits remarriage of the offending party since that is an adulterous situation. However, neither Jesus nor Paul explicitly say how long the believing divorced spouse is to remain unmarried who is illegitimately divorced. Presuming it is an indefinite period of time (i.e., life-long) is going beyond the biblical text. So too, it is equally presumptuous to make it merely a matter of weeks or even months before the divorced believer is free to remarry. Nevertheless, the timing of remarriage is simply not addressed by Jesus nor Paul.

Additional Questions for Mt. 5:32b
What exactly breaks the covenant relationship between two people? Is it the remarriage or the unrepentant heart of the unfaithful partner? Isn’t it true that the “immorality only occurs because the first wife has been unjustly divorced?” (Luck, Divorce and Remarriage, p146, first edition).

Is the marriage covenant really sacred where it cannot be broken under any circumstances? After all, how can adultery be committed against a covenant? In the biblical schema, adultery is committed against persons, not things.

If remarriage by the faithful, innocent spouse adulterizes the original unfaithful spouse, where is the blame laid? Apparently, according to traditional teaching, upon the one who remarries. Why? The unfaithful spouse is where the offense is, and hence where the guilt belongs. Why must such a burden be put upon the faithful, innocent spouse when he/she desires to remarry?

Although the woman in Mt. 5:32b may be the same person as in Mt. 5:31-32a, is it possible that it is the same man (if not the same male attitude) remarrying in v. 32b as in vv. 31-32a? If so, then the man is the adulterer many times over.

If the period of time to wait and remarry is not life-long, how long should the innocent divorcee from a mixed marriage remain unmarried?

Summary
How long a believing, divorced spouse is to remain unmarried is not addressed by Jesus nor Paul. To presume it is an indefinite period of time is going beyond the explicit biblical texts. If the period of time for the innocent, Christian divorcee is not life-long, then necessarily he/she is free to remarry. I suspect this is the “freedom” or “peace” Paul speaks to in 1 Cor. 7:15, 16. The believing spouse who was illegitimately divorced is free not only from the former marriage bond, but free to secure another. Finally, adultery cannot occur unless there is some act of unfaithfulness. Therefore, it is not the remarriage that constitutes adultery, but the breaking of a covenant relationship. It is the person who breaks faith who becomes the adulterer(ess) (e.g., Jer. 3:1-10).

Potential Implications
If a divorce is born out of a mixed marriage and was initiated and consummated by the unbelieving spouse, the believing spouse is free from any covenant obligations to the first marriage and, therefore, free to remarry (1 Cor. 7:15).

If it is the case that Jesus’ teaching in Mt. 5:32 is addressed exclusively to Christian couples, then Mt. 5:31-32 does not apply to an adulterous situation in a mixed marriage.

If the moral, legal, and sexual bonds that make up a covenant relationship between husband and wife are severed by an unbelieving spouse, and divorce ensues, then the believing, innocent party is free to remarry.

Given these conditions, there is no biblical possibility that the remarriage of a believer to another believer constitutes living in an adulterous situation. Since it is true that adultery cannot occur unless there is some act of unfaithfulness, then where is the unfaithfulness when another believer chooses to marry a believing divorcee who was illegitimately put out of their covenant relationship by an unfaithful spouse?


NOTE: The majority of these findings come from Divorce and Remarriage: Recovering the Biblical View (now updated and re-published), by William F. Luck. For an equally important treatment, refer to Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, by David Instone-Brewer. Also, sincere appreciation goes to my good friend Louis McBride who not only sat under Bill Luck at Moody Bible Institute, but helped me think deeply about much of this material.

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8 Comments

  1. Paul,
    Thank you for these posts. It is amazing what will happen if you use simple logic while reading scripture…and not just go on what “everyone” says. Weighing in on Jesus’ teachings, I have often looked at the seeming awkward placing of Luke 16:18…right after a long discussion to the Pharisees on loving money over God. But I believe there is more going on there. If we consider our relationship to God a marriage, then if we make a “god” out of money…put it first, like the Pharisees, then are we not committing adultery? And reminding them, the “experts” in the Law, that they would be judged in the same way they judged…with out mercy (see James 2:13)
    In my own life (and I won’t go into detail), I can’t see that my loving and merciful God would exclude me from ever being married again, with the chance of having a “real” Godly marriage (having never had one before)…albeit, once I finish the process of healing that the Lord is bringing me through. But it is in God’s hands, not mine. (besides, I don’t have time any way!)

  2. Paul,

    Nice job on summarizing Luck’s book. I envy (oops!) admire your skill. The second edition is available from Bible.org.

    Thanks for the posts.

  3. Hey Lisa:
    Yes…logic is our best friend.
    May God’s will be your guide and God’s glory be your goal for all future relational endeavors!

  4. I am married but am asking for a divorce on grounds of adultery.
    The man I am seeing has also filed for a divorce for the same reasons.
    We are both believers….may we marry eachother or do we have to stay alone?
    🙁

  5. I’m confused, Debbie. If you’re married, then how is that you are “seeing” another married man without multiplying the adultery? As I see the Scriptures, unless and until the marriage covenant is broken legally and morally, then the innocent party of an adulterous situation must not be “seeing” another.


  6. Hi Paul,
    Very interesting read you have here, thank you. I’m in a situation where my husband was not a believer when we married(I was, but definately not being obediant) he says he accepted Christ, about 6 yrs ago, but still was into porn, drinking, excessive spending, so on. We have 2 daughters who are now 13 & 17 & my oldest wants nothing to do w/him anymore, his drinking has driven us away…again, but this time for good. We left in Feb ’13, live w/my mom & have no desire to go back. All 3 of us have endured a lot of emotional abuse from him as he always put his desires above God & family. I can & have forgiven him for the hurt caused, but just can’t bring myself to re-establish our marriage. I filed for divorce recently. I believe that I can’t remarry(except him), at this point I don’t even consider it anyway. But, just kind of wondering, is it possible to remarry someone else maybe, someday without it being sin? Just interested in your thoughts on the matter. Thank you.

  7. Hi Tracy,
    Thanks for reading and considering my findings of the biblical data in light of your circumstances. No doubt it has been very difficult on you and your children to endure. While I’m reluctant to offer much advise to anyone I do not know, it would seem that, given the facts as you lay them out, your situation would fall within the biblical grounds for divorce and re-marriage to another believer. I see no biblical reason to remarry an unrepentant person.

    May God’s wisdom and word guide and guard you.

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