Churches Of Christ/remarriage after divorce

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Question
Dear Brother Fields:
I am struggling with a situation that I am praying you can help me with.   In my early twenties I was baptized into Christ but then moved across the country and shortly thereafter I fell away from the church.  I then married a man who was baptized into a denominational church but not really affiliated with any religion except maybe in name only.  He was certainly not interested in living a Christian life by any standards.   The marriage very brief and unhappy.   He filed for divorce due to irreconcilable differences and told me he just wasn't interested in being married and needed to find himself.  At first I tried to prevent the divorce , tried to get him to go to counseling, etc. but I finally gave in and signed the papers.  After that he moved to another state and I lost track of him completely.   I later met a wonderful man and married him.  I justified my remarriage with 1 Corinthians 7:15, believing that since I was abandoned by unbelieving husband I was "unbound" and therefore free to have a new marriage.   After much study I now realize that may not be the case, and I am terrified that I am living in adultery and have caused my husband to sin by marrying me.My husband was baptized into Christ after we were married and we are both very active in our church.   No one knows about my previous marriage, as the events I described
happened many years ago.  I learned that my ex-husband has also remarried when I ran across his name in an obituary for one of his relatives.  I don't know whether his remarriage occurred prior to mine and I don't know whether adultery occurred when we were still married.    Please help me understand and know what to do!  Thank you so much

Answer
Annie,

Yours is a common problem. There is little that has been debated as hotly or as commonly as the issue of what to do after a divorce and what a person's state with God and others is afterward relative to their spiritual condition. We know that a person guilty of fornication is guilty of committing the sin of adultery when they marry again or that two people who divorce and remarry when neither is guilty of fornication do as well. But what is the nature of that sin? Is it an ongoing, perpetual state of adultery that exists because two people aren't really married in God's eyes to their current spouses? Are they actually still married to their previous spouses so that each time the marriage bed is shared an ongoing sin is occurring? Or is the nature of that sin one in which violence is done via a one time destruction against a marriage covenant that was damaged when it could have been restored?

The scripture has answers to convict and to comfort.

For those who are serial offenders at breaking their marriages and starting over again with a new one God has a warning. REPENT! But here is the rub. What is repentance in this case and how is it accomplished?

Some say that others must exit a marriage once again and deliver themselves over to a lonely, celibate lifestyle since their situation supposedly can't be fixed (unless they go back to the previous "legal" spouse). To this solution scripture gives a resounding NO !

When Jesus was dealing with the Pharisees they asked Him a question based upon the law figuring to trap Him. Historically, at the time there were two main schools of thought. One was by Rabbi Hillel who held the view that one could divorce his wife for even trivialities and the other was by Rabbi Shammai who held that it could only happen for a serious offense. In essence, Jesus' enemies were asking Him a question that they figured would cause one side to be alienated enough to leave Him over or which would even get Him hurt or killed. What is telling is that Jesus' answer satisfied both sides. Given that their question concerned then EXISTING Mosaic Law, which Jesus observed to the letter, it behooves us to go there.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4   (1) “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, 2 and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife,  4 then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.

It is noticed that there is no mention of her being put away for sexual offenses such as adultery or fornication here. This is because there was a penalty in place for such iniquities, death by stoning. The divorce certificate was put into her hands because of the hardness of the husband's heart in order that she could go and become the wife of another without fear of being accused of adultery. This would be in case the first husband attempted to make an erroneous claim that she still belonged to him when he had actually already put her away. This certificate freed her from any danger of the death penalty that would result from a wrongful accusation/claim by a hard-hearted former husband. Had Jesus suggested, as many do, that each successive marriage after the certificate had been received was then currently in an "adulterous" state He would have been transgressing His own law.

One fix I've heard concerning these scriptures is that one would supposedly go back to the first spouse. Yet, the scripture Jesus was specifically dealing with emphatically forbade that. Had Jesus' use of the scriptures contained such notions as these it would SURELY have been noticed in the responses both of the crowd AND His questioners. Given that His answer stirred up no such trouble or turmoil it should be understood that it essentially upheld then existing notions of the law.

Another point that can be made is this. Jesus said men should not separate what God has joined together. Some essentially suggest that those who divorce are not able to separate what God has joined together because they are supposedly still a married couple in God's eyes. Along from the scriptural reasoning of the first point, sound logic does not support this in other ways. There are four ways that people are joined in marriage: 1) the legal arrangement with the state; 2) the sexual one body union; 3) the sacred vows to God and one another before witnesses; 4) and the Pauline obligation for the one divorced to go back to the spouse or remain single in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 (only for those under Christ's law). When one is divorced and marries again they have erased the legal arrangement with the state, broken the one body union (replacing it with another), broken their sacred vows and have eliminated their ability to reconcile an old covenant due to having replaced it with a new one. How can it be said they are still married in God's eyes to a former spouse?

Still another point is that Jesus said that they committed adultery when they married again (as opposed to the claim that it's only inferred to occur during the sexual union). This is a crucial distinction. I would suggest that it was in the same sense that He says anyone commits adultery in the heart when looking with lust upon another. By the letter no adultery had occurred, but by the spirit it had. Those in Jesus' time had broken their marriages largely due to lustfully wanting others and seeking a legal way to justify their carnal desires. Rather than sleep around on their wives they just slept around by replacing each wife one at a time as their lust was directing them. Many today say that the adultery is only when the marriage bed is shared by these supposedly continually "guilty parties".

Against that reasoning is this. Suppose a man has come back from war and has lost all ability to function sexually due to horrendous injuries. If that man divorces his wife and marries another even when no sexual union is going to take place has he committed adultery by breaking up his first marriage in creating a new one? Jesus says he has. He said it was the marriage that constituted the adultery (a one time act). Therefore it was in the act of marrying again when they were not allowed that this one time sin occurred. There are two kinds of adultery. One is the kind that goes on within a marriage when an unfaithful spouse continually has physical unions with others they are not married to. The other is the one-time dissolution of a marriage for all-time by marrying again. Once the old covenant of marriage is replaced with a new one the old is gone. An ongoing sin CANNOT be taking place apart from continually divorcing and marrying again and again.

A final point is that when Jesus met the Samaritan woman He said she had been married five times previous to her then current situation of being with a man who was not her husband. Can anyone SERIOUSLY believe that she had been scripturally divorced and remarried five times with her husband always having been the guilty one and had been in five true marriages (as many would define them)? I have NEVER observed such a thing in my experience. But Jesus said that even with her sordid past and regardless of how each marriage had started that each of these had, in fact, truly been a marriage.

What has been created by the incredibly harsh solutions that have been suggested by many well meaning church-goers is an iron-bound situation that will essentially lock AT LEAST half of the people who are met evangelistically into a hopeless state. It is hard to conceive that God would leave us to parse words and conjugate Greek in order to settle an issue that would supposedly cause so many to be damned if they find themselves within these situations of perpetual man-made entanglement.

To say I have deep reservations about supporting such a bleak doctrinal outlook is an immense understatement! The unbiblical views I'm addressing here lock people into damnation since it is asking of babes in Christ something that even us grizzled veterans would not do ourselves unless with the greatest difficulty.

In short, repentance for adultery during marriage is to stop treacherously sleeping around with others against your spouse. This wounds and damages that covenant greatly. Repentance of the adultery that actually destroys marriage by forming new ones is to stop marrying around.

Stay in your marriage and lay your head on your pillow in peace. In Christ you are freed from these entanglements. Love your husband, stay in God's grace and stay in your marriage so far as you have anything to say or do about it.

The above answer addresses your situation regardless of the believing or unbelieving state of your previous husband. But for the record, considering how many are believers in Jesus in name only, your reasoning may WELL be supported coming from that other angle as well.

I hope this has helped.

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John Fields

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I strive to intelligently and respectfully discuss thoughtful questions pertaining to doctrinal issues within the Churches of Christ and feel I can contribute thoughtful answers in most cases. I feel myself to be especially adept when answering questions regarding the Gospel of Christ and baptism. I always strive to be humble, realizing that there are some issues that are respectfully and honorably debatable. I realize that the Bible is perfect and able to provide any truth that the seeker of truth is after. At the same time I realize that though I am very conscientious about pointing people in the right direction, I am still a fallible human being and certainly capable of making mistakes. I will always give my opinion AS my opinion and strive not to state as fact something which cannot be supported by good logic or a good thorough study through the scriptures.

Experience

I am a minister within the Churches of Christ. I have been preaching for 14 years and have been on five separate mission trips to the Volta Region of Ghana, West Africa. I have preached the Gospel to literally thousands of people and it is my passion to do so.

Education/Credentials
I graduated with honors from Atkins High School in Atkins, AR in 1984. I went on to get my Bible degree at Harding University in Searcy, AR where I graduated Cum Laude.

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