Churches Of Christ/Remarriage
QUESTION: Hello Joe,
I have a question about remarriage. I have studied the scriptures and thought I understood the Bible's position on the subject, but the more I research the subject the more confused I am. I have read and heard many different interpretations of both Jesus' and Paul's teachings on the subject that I now am unsure of what is correct.
I have read your answers to many questions on this site and seek your wisdom. You seem to have a grasp of what both Paul and Jesus taught on the subject and I would like your thoughts and opinions.
I was baptized and added to the Lord's church as a teenager. I later fell away from the church. I married a woman who was divorced who had been previously married. She told me she divorced her husband for marital unfaithfulness, so I felt comfortable marrying her.
During our marriage she and I started attending church again and she was baptized. However, we soon stopped going to church and I fell away again.
Several years later because of her emotional problems and a lack of any affection or physical contact from her, I was unfaithful in our marriage and divorced her. I am ashamed of that, have repented and asked God to forgive me for both my unfaithfulness and for divorcing her. I belive God has forgiven me for my actions.
My ex-wife has moved on, married and divorced again. We have had no contact for over 10 years and a reconciliation is not possible.
My understanding is that I am not eligible to marry again since I divorced my wife for reasons other than her being unfaithful. I was the unfaithful party.
Is this understanding correct according to the scriptures? I have heard some people argue that Jesus' teachings in Matthew about divorce do not apply to Christians as Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees and addressing the Jewish nation.
I do not date at all so as not to be tempted to do something that would be sinful. I have remained unmarried.
I am proud to say I am once again a faithful member of the church and very active in a local congregation.
Please help me understand the Bible's teaching on this subject for my situation.
ANSWER: Hi Robert,
Your story is a sad one to read but not uncommon unfortunately. So many people make a mess of their lives and there are far too many divorces. The traditional teachings on MDR have been incorrect for many many years and obviously have not helped reduce the number of divorces. It is my belief that the traditional teachings have not only increased the number of divorces but it has also resulted in many people leaving the Lord's church completely. I also want to explain something after reading your story and your question. Reconciliation is never possible once there is a divorce. You can't just reconcile. You have to get married all over again. Why? Well because divorce always ends marriage. That is it's purpose.
I will do my best to help you any way I can in understanding God's Word on this matter more clearly. You stated that you committed adultery because of her emotional problems and lack of any affection or physical contact. While there is no excuse for committing adultery, technically you both are guilty of adultery in the sense of being unfaithful to your marriage covenant. It is adultery - unfaithfulness for her to withhold herself from you. You belong to each other. But all sins can be forgiven when one repents. You repented of your sin of adultery. You are vowing to God that you will never again commit adultery in repenting.
You are incorrect when you state that you are no longer eligible to marry again because you didn't divorce your wife for unfaithfulness. As I said earlier, you both were unfaithful to each other. You involved another person though. But there is no scripture anywhere in the Bible that tells anyone they can never again have a marriage. Does that mean we can divorce for any reason we want? NO! Am I telling you that a Christian can divorce and marry someone new as often as they want? NO!
Many who oppose my teachings on MDR will try to tell others that I do believe and teach we can divorce for any reason and marry someone new as often as we want. But this is not at all true and anyone who takes the time to study with me will see that I do not teach or support any such views. No, a Christian should always strive to marry once and make it last for life - until death parts you. The fact is that in order for a marriage to stay together and strong it takes a great deal of effort from both people in the marriage. If only one is truly working to make the marriage what it should be, there will be problems. If the person who isn't working to make the marriage what it should be doesn't change that and they let sin harden their heart, eventually the marriage will die and divorce will be unavoidable. Sometimes both will let sin harden their hearts and the marriage will fail.
Maybe I should begin by speaking to you about the words of Jesus. Those who hold to what has been traditionally taught on MDR will focus almost completely on Matthew 19:9. They will ignore most of what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth in I Corinthians 7. But they will point to I Corinthians 7:10,11 and try to tie it with Matthew 19:9 to support their false assumptions. Okay let's look carefully at the words of Jesus together.
Matthew 19:1-19 (NKJV)
19 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.
3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
[okay in verse 3 above we see that the Pharisees came to Jesus to test Him. They are testing Him on the Law of Moses; specifically Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and they ask him - is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason? Next is Jesus' response.]
4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made[a] them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’[b] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?[c] 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
[First He asks if they have read what God said in Genesis...now this is a truth that is what I call eternal. It was true from the beginning of creation and remains true today. When a man marries a woman they are joined and become "one flesh".]
7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
[The Pharisees then ask why Moses COMMANDED to give a certificate of divorce and to put her away. Already you can see when you read Deuteronomy 24:1-4 that the Pharisees are twisting the words of Moses. Moses never taught a man could divorce for any reason. If you will look at that passage you will see Moses says if the woman has lost favor in the husband's eyes - because he has learned of something about her which brought shame upon him or disgrace. But we know it wasn't adultery. She would have been stoned to death if she had committed adultery. No divorce would be needed. Moses' instruction was to prevent the man from dealing treacherously with the woman. The certificate of divorce would free her to marry someone new.]
8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
[Jesus responds by telling them Moses gave the instruction because of the hardness of your hearts. It is never something God or Moses wants to happen - for any married couple to divorce. God's intent was the two become one flesh and remain joined for life. He states from the beginning it was not so...stating that God's original purpose should be everyone's goal. Divorce is terrible and it should be avoided if at all possible.]
9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality,[d] and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
[Now we come to the verse many abuse. Let's begin by going over what is traditionally taught. Most will teach that Jesus is saying the only legitimate reason for divorce is ADULTERY. If you divorce because of ADULTERY, the one who is innocent of ADULTERY is free to have a new marriage but the guilty person who committed ADULTERY is never permitted to have a marriage again. They must live celibate the rest of their lives....unless they can reconcile with the original spouse. Now if the divorce was for reasons other than ADULTERY, many teach that NEITHER person is free to have a new marriage ever again. They must live celibate the rest of their lives or reconcile. - this is where they point you to I Corinthians 7:10,11. Now do you see all this in that verse? I don't and never have seen it.
Now let's break it down correctly.
Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. This is the first statement. The divorce and marrying another are what results in committing adultery. They are one time actions. So the committing of adultery is also a one time action.
Jesus continues and says - and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery. Again, it is the one time action of marrying her, which results in a one time action of adultery. Why? Well because the divorce was not done for valid reasons. What is a valid reason? Again, this is Jesus correcting Pharisee error in their teaching of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. This is the context for the entire passage and it does not change. This is Law of Moses. So now let's look at the "exception clause". The NKJV says - except for sexual immorality. Most of the time I prefer the NKJV but in this verse I don't prefer it because the word in Greek is "porneia" and the most accurate translation is "fornication". Now if you look at Strong's or Theyer's they will include adultery as a possible meaning of fornication, but this one word covers many things. I contend and am confident that adultery cannot be a possible meaning. Why? Well first, this is Law of Moses. Adultery needed no divorce. Second, Jesus uses the Greek word " moicheuo" which specifically means adultery at the end of the verse. If He had meant adultery in the exception clause He would have used that same word rather than a word which carries several meanings.
So we should clearly see that Jesus says - if a man divorces his wife and marries another he commits adultery and whoever marries the woman he divorced they commit adultery. Now when we apply the exception clause this is the result - if the reason for divorce is fornication, then the man who divorces his wife and marries another does not commit adultery, nor does the man who marries the woman divorced. No one is guilty of adultery if the reason for divorce is fornication. That is the meaning of what Jesus actually said. If someone tries to insert more assumptions they are adding to God's Word. Nowhere does Jesus tell anyone they must live the rest of their lives celibate unless they can reconcile with the original spouse. Nowhere does any apostle tell anyone such a thing either.]
I could probably write more about the words of Jesus on MDR and cover Matthew 5:31,32 as well but this should be enough for you to study for now. Now let's look at the words of Paul in I Corinthians 7.
1.Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me:
It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
[In the first two verses Paul begins by saying it is good for a man not to touch a woman but because of fornications (he uses the word porneia), let each man have his own wife and let each woman have her own husband. One major purpose of marriage is to help both men and women avoid committing fornications. Paul continues in verses 3-5 to explain that the man belongs to the woman in marriage and the woman belongs to the man. They are not to deprive one another sexually unless mutually agreed on for a short time to focus on fasting and prayer. But he warns them to come together soon so that Satan doesn't tempt you because of your lack of self control. It is not wise to deprive your spouse sexually.]
6 But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. 7 For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
[In verses 6-9 Paul says he wishes all men were like him. He was never married and was still able to not fornicate. But Paul realized that we each have our own gift from God and few would have the gift he had to avoid fornications and remain unmarried. He encourages the widows and unmarried to remain single but if they cannot exercise self control he says it is better to marry than to burn with passion. This is to anyone who currently is not married for whatever reason. Unmarried can refer to those never married and those divorced.]
10 Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.
[Here are two of the most abused verses in the chapter. These are the verses many turn to when they tell someone who is divorced they must remain unmarried the rest of their lives or return to the original spouse. BUT they assume this is about divorce when it is actually referring to when a spouse just abandons the marriage or when the couple is separated but not divorced. How do I know that? Well Paul begins by saying "Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord." Paul did not begin by saying "To the divorced". Again although I prefer NKJV most of the time it is not the best when it translates this passage either. At the end of verse 11, it chose to use the word divorce when that is not really the word used in Greek.
Paul is saying the wife is not to depart from her husband - the meaning is specific and means to leave or put space between her and her husband. If she does depart he says to remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. Now he says "remain unmarried" because if she has left her husband she is living as one who is unmarried even though there was no divorce. The fact that there was no divorce is why she must remain as one unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. As I told you in the beginning, if a couple is divorced they are no longer able to reconcile. They can only choose to get married again. Paul says "or be reconciled to her husband" - she is still married to him...no divorce. Then Paul says and the husband is not to depart from his wife - that is the literal translation from the Greek. These verses are NOT about divorce but about separation. The other evidence that says I am correct is that if it were about divorce, it would conflict with very direct and clear verses in this chapter.]
Verses 12-24 are all about a Christian who is married to someone who is not a Christian and about remaining in the state you are in. It is important to understand that the only reason Paul encourages celibacy is because the church was being persecuted at this time, but he made it clear also that few had the gift he had to live celibate and not sin by fornication.
The last verses I would like to review with you are verses 25-28
25 Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy. 26 I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress—that it is good for a man to remain as he is: 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.
[Paul says if you are bound to a wife don't seek to be loosed - don't seek divorce. If you are loosed from a wife, don't seek to be bound. If you are loosed, at one point you were bound. So either you are divorced or you are widowed. But in verse 28 he tells those loosed from a wife they don't sin if they do marry...and if a virgin marries she has not sinned either. Why would anyone think they sinned? Obviously some had the idea in their head that to marry would be sin. Paul is clear they don't sin if they marry. Paul is not concerned with how they became loosed from a wife either. Do you now see why verses 10 and 11 can only be about separation?
In closing I would like to remind you that the one thing Jesus said that remains true for Christians is that from the beginning God has intended that one man marry one woman and the two become one flesh until death parts them. When two Christians enter into marriage this should be their thinking. They should enter into it with the mindset this is once for life. All marriages will have problems, but I guarantee if both are Christians and truly striving to live to please God, no problem will ever be too big for them to overcome. There are too many divorces. We all can see that and this fact is obvious to all. We must work to change it. But two wrongs don't make a right. When a marriage ends in divorce, it is always due to sin. Sometimes it's both who sin and sometimes only one sins, but sin and selfishness cause all divorce. Divorce always ends a marriage even when done for sinful and selfish reasons. But all sin can be forgiven. When you have sinned and you repent you are vowing to turn from that specific sin. if you committed adultery and are divorced because of it, don't commit adultery again when you enter into a new marriage. Make that new marriage what it should be for life. If you sinned by divorcing when the spouse did nothing to deserve divorce and you repent. You are repenting of covenant breaking. You are vowing not to end a marriage for no real reason. If you marry someone new, don't do that again. Make the marriage for life and centered on God.
I hope I have helped you. If you have more questions I am happy to answer them. I apologize for taking so long to answer. This took more time to do a detailed response and I am in school too right now.
In Christian Love, Joe Norman
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Hello Joe,
After reading your detailed answer and studying the scriptures involved, I do have a follow-up question.
You said, "The divorce and marrying another are what results in committing adultery. They are one time actions. So the committing of adultery is also a one time action."
I have always understood the adulterous remarriage to be a continuous action and as long as one was in that marriage, they were committing adultery, as opposed to being a "one-time" action.
Also, even if the one-time action is a sin, where is repentance? Doesn't one have to repent before asking for forgiveness?
If you can explain why the adulterous re-marriage is a one time event, not a continuous event, I would appreciate it. That will help clarify my understanding.
First I want to clarify that we are discussing the words of Jesus on MDR in Matthew 19:9. Repentance is always required of God. What we need to understand is what sin has been committed? If the divorce was not for reason of fornication, the one time action of divorce is the actual sin of the man who divorces his wife. He broke the marriage covenant without legitimate cause...fornication. The man who marries the woman that was divorced not for reason of fornication commits adultery by marrying her because her first marriage was not ended properly according to the Law of Moses (Deut.24:1-4). Repentance would not require divorce in the new marriage. It would require being committed to the new marriage. The way the sentence is written requires the "commits adultery" to be a one time action because the action words "divorces" and "marries" are one time actions. Another reason I know it is not continuous is because not one married couple in the entire Bible is told they are in an "adulterous" marriage and to be right with God they need to divorce and either live celibate or return to the original spouse.
When we look at all that Paul says on MDR, it becomes even more clear that there is no such thing as an "adulterous" marriage. Even when someone marries for all the wrong reasons, they can make that marriage what it should be and for life. So many times people think they can unscramble an egg when you can't. The important thing is to know what you did that was sinful and do your best to turn from it. When you tell a lie and you repent, you are seeking to never lie again. When you commit adultery and you repent, you are not turning from ever having a marriage again, you are saying I won't cheat again - so when you get into a new marriage, make that one right before God and for life.
I hope that I have helped you.
In Christian Love, Joe Norman