Churches Of Christ/Divorce and Remarriage


QUESTION: Dear Brother Howard,

I just read your answer to a question dated 1-29-14 about a couple living together but not married and wondering if they had a "scriptural" reason to be able to marry with God's approval.

I am responding to your answer because I found one part of your discussion interesting, if not even disturbing. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you basically stated that sexual intercourse makes a man and woman "married" in the eyes of God. I have heard of those who believe this way before, but not from a Church of Christ member. That's why I was somewhat surprised when I read it.

I'll offer what I consider some problems with your interpretation and ask for your response:

1) ! Corinthians 6:16 is the passage you referenced and the one most of those who believe this way use to justify their position. However, the context of this verse is Paul writing to the Corinthians to stop them from engaging in what he called the sin of "fornication". Now we know a married couple become one flesh through the act of sexual intercourse. And as Paul states, a man becomes one body when he has sex with a harlot. However, this is the dilemma you face when you make your interpretation of sex equaling marriage. In a traditional marriage, God joins the couple together and even states that what He has joined together, let not man put asunder. Sex with a harlot, although also becoming one body with her, Paul calls this act of sex the sin of fornication, and most importantly, tells the man to FLEE this sin. If they were married in God's eyes, why would Paul contradict clear Scripture stating "what God has joined together, let NOT man put asunder", by stating this is sin and needs to be forsaken? Do you see the inconsistency here?

2) You mention the case of Issac and Rebekah. There seems to be no formal ceremony here when she became Isaac's wife. However, he did take her into his mother Sarah's tent, which very well could have been a part of the formality for marriage in that culture, and commentaries I've consulted have stated there may have been other more formal aspects involved that were not recorded to make the marriage "official". The point I'm trying to make is my understanding of what constitutes a marriage has been and continues to vary from culture to culture. For example, I believe certain African tribes have the custom of a couple jumping over a broom when they marry. We know from the Bible, marriage became very formalized through the custom of "betrothal" where the families of the man and woman made an agreement for their children to become man and wife. And more importantly, at this point they are considered man and wife, even though sexual cohabitation has not taken place between the couple. A Biblical example of the importance of the covenant or agreement in defining the marriage is shown in Deuteronomy 22:23-24 where a man has what appears to be consensual sex with a betrothed woman and the Law demanded the couple be stoned to death, the reason being essentially because an act of adultery was committed, verse 24 stating an evil thing had been done because this man had "humbled his neighbor's WIFE". Now if sex equals God approved marriage, would not the man who took her virginity become her husband and not the man she was betrothed to? However, this Scripture indicates that's clearly not the case.      

It always bothers me when I hear someone say with regard to the marriage license, "it's just a piece of paper". I believe this is usually a response to try and justify their sin. Would you call a will or any other legal document, "just a piece of paper" and I'm not going to honor it because I didn't get what I wanted after the benefactor's death? I'm sure you would have a major legal battle on your hands if you tried to pull that one. That piece of paper called a marriage license represents something very important, that a man and woman are willing to bind themselves to a covenant, publicly and before God and witnesses, to become man and wife. We are bound to the laws of the land as long as they do not conflict with the Laws of God. God establishes and allows government with it's laws for our own protection and order in a society that would be very disorderly without them.

I will admit that what is going on in our country today is disturbing, with men and women living together without the formality of a marriage ceremony. Even more disturbing is they are bearing children in these relationships. What kind of example does that leave to the children when they grow up?

There are a few states that still recognize "common law" marriages. Even though I believe these couples are basically fornicating themselves into what the government would recognize as a marriage, I'm not sure how God would see this type of situation. But I would tend to accept a common law marriage as a "marriage" if the government would recognize it as such, partly because if the couple decides to separate from the common law marriage, the government requires them to obtain a formal divorce decree just like in a traditional marriage and divorce.

These are my thoughts and opinions on the matter and as with any Biblical topic I do not claim I have the ultimate truth. I do hope and trust the Holy Spirit guides me to the ultimate truth on any Biblical subject.

Please feel free to respond. Thank you for your consideration on this matter.

May God bless you,


Mark, I never said not to get the license. I simply made reference to the same fact to which you alluded; that God's law is superior to man's law and takes precedence. Sometimes it takes a while for man to weigh circumstances which God understands instantly. Consequently, sometimes it takes a while for man's understanding to catch up to the facts.

Now, let's turn to the "one flesh" argument. Is a harlot known for being with only one partner? No, there are multiple and random partners. There is no commitment, and sex without a marriage commitment is fornication. It does not change the fact that God designed the sex act to be the evidence of commitment. In short, it is making a mockery of God's laws. God even called religious apostasy harlotry throughout the book of Hosea for the same reason: it made a mockery of what God intended. When a harlot moves to a new partner, the harlot has already torn what God intended.

You, yourself, acknowledged that many different things can constitute the commitment of a marriage. This may or may not include a formal betrothal. A promise of marriage commitment is just as valid in saying you are married as is intercourse. It is possible, but not necessary. My point is that once intercourse occurs, then it is just as consummated as a wedding night after a betrothal. It is the final and culminating act in a marriage no matter the preliminaries that can be anything from a long and formal betrothal to a "jumping of the broom" which you mentioned.

Nothing was said about my discussion and example of Adam and Eve. Could that be because to do so would prove that it is not man who decides who is married? Jesus expressed this particular union as the pattern, and so can I. There was neither ceremony nor betrothal. He simply knew her (carnally by Hebrew idiom) and they were husband and wife.

On this following point, if no other, can we agree? IF God said you are married at point A, can man say with validity that you are only married if you go through point A and finish at B? Can man say you are NOT married at point A? You truthfully said that we are bound by man's law if it is not contradictory to God's law. It is my studied estimation that when a government adds requirements beyond what is written, they are in fact contradicting God's law, which would eliminate our need to follow that law of man.

I do advocate getting the marriage license. Christianity is a religion of evidence (Hebrews 11:1), and that is pretty good evidence. It is simply my understanding that it is not the only kind of evidence that is acceptable to God as born out in history.

My querist made it clear her boyfriend's spouse cheated on him when he had not. At that point (infidelity) he became the innocent party, and thus eligible to marry again under Christ's exception.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


I wanted to comment on the Adam and Eve matter, but forgot to, the reason being I have heard this argument many times. However, what they do not realize is there were no other human beings to witness their marriage and I believe their marriage was officiated by Jehovah God himself. I certainly think that would carry a lot more weight than a preacher or judge officiating the ceremony.

Let's assume your interpretation is correct, and as a hypothetical scenario (although very common), a young couple, both virgins, fall in love and have sexual intercourse. They later fall out of love, break up and move on to other partners, eventually marrying in a traditional ceremony with a marriage license. My question to you is would you consider both of them to now be committing adultery because they were both previously bound by God, as I understand your belief to be, through their first act of sexual intercourse to other people?

ANSWER: Mark, regarding your scenario, it is my understanding that this would be the case. It just goes to show the importance of parental teaching (when they rise up, when they lay down, and as they go along the way - constant teaching by word and example) regarding the whole matter so they can make the right choice. This would be a choice of real love rather than just physical desire. I am not saying appearance is completely unimportant. There needs to be an attraction on some level. But, if that is all it is based upon, then you will reach the end of it as your scenario dictates.

You said enough about Adam and Eve to prove my point to the minutest detail. God presiding over a union carries so much more impact than any human laws, witnesses, or having a minister presiding. If a minister was needed, then all the courthouse weddings or justices of the peace would be invalid marriages. God's presiding is all that is needed to make it acceptable to God. The rest does not make a marriage before God. The rest proves to man that a marriage before God occurred.

From what I see, only three things are necessary for a union to be a valid marriage:

1. Liberty (1st Corinthians 7:28 or Matthew 19:9)

2. Commitment (Matthew 19:6 Luke 1:27 Luke 2:5)

3. Consummation (1st Corinthians 7:3-5)

Liberty would entail both the freedom to marry and the approval of God. Commitment would be promises, vows, contracts, or outward demonstrations. We don't need to define consummation (I hope).

Being espoused is legally similar to purchasing a house. You have the promise, or the earnest. You close. Then the house is considered yours, but the deed rests with another until the transaction is complete. At least that was the case in Biblical times. Notice Mary was an espoused wife: a distinction was made between her relationship and that of a general wife.

By the way, a will is incomparable to a marriage, as God does not dictate who gets material things now. (The only time He did was to preserve Israel to preserve the Seed, and that is finished.) That is governed solely by man, and mans' laws are the deciding factor. The argument of a will is not at all germane to the discussion.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Thank you for your prompt response. Just as another follow-up, would you consider an engaged couple already "married" in the eyes of God, before the actual wedding ceremony? Would it depend on if they had had sexual intercourse or not during their engagement for them to be considered married?

Semantics on this can cause inappropriate conclusions, so I hope any "rambling" can be understood for its intent.

IF someone is engaged "TO BE MARRIED," that is future tense and they are not yet married. IF they are already married, they are no longer engaged as the engagement is fulfilled and it was past tense. Therefore, your premise is impossible: you cannot be married and engaged at the same time.

I suppose what you are asking is if a betrothal in Biblical, Jewish culture equates to a modern day engagement. While it is my opinion that they should equate, it is my observation that they differ in at least one major way. To dissolve the betrothal took the equivalent of a divorce or annulment, but today's engagement does not. There are occasions where a person breaking an engagement today is sued in court for a breach of contract, but they are few and far between. The level of the contracts are taken to be at a lesser level than were the betrothal contracts of yore. I do not believe that is right. IF you are going to add this legal step to the process, you must follow it to the letter. This is the intent of Matthew 7:1-2, where if an extra judgment outside of the Bible is added for someone to fulfill, then they will be judged by BOTH the Bible and the secondary standard.

Now we can only compare with speculations, so I must answer two ways to cover everything. Before we do, I feel it pertinent to remind you that a consummation of marriage is legally similar (not the same) to purchasing a house. Let me immediately say a spouse is not "property!" That is by no means my implication. In fact, that is the BIGGEST difference between the two cases. What is the same is the direction of movement in the arguments. The same logic is used to arrive at the conclusions. When you close on a house, the house is deemed to be yours for most legal purposes, yet the deed rests with another if it is financed. At an engagement, the agreement is reached, BUT, it is not yet fully purchased nor possessed. On the date of move-in, we have the marriage in this simile. Full benefits of the house/marriage may from henceforth be enjoyed. Then, as the marriage progresses, you have something akin to an open-ended mortgage. It is never completely purchased as you are constantly investing into a marriage. But, the further along it goes (or at least it should) the more comfortable and comforting it should become. At the same time, it means more and more to you, and feels more valuable. The value component is not actual, but perceived. A marriage is as valuable in the beginning as at the end. This is just a fact in the human psyche that makes this seem so.

My understanding of this is that IF a couple is in fact eligible to marry, they become engaged, and ultimately have relations before the ceremony, they are married in God's eyes unless there is an exception. This would be IF part of the engagement contract included a stipulation (law term) or vow (religious term) or both, that the consummation would wait until a certain time; usually the ceremony. IF someone cannot keep their promises concerning a marriage (including following this vow if made) he/she is not committed to the marriage. They are interested only in filling the carnal desires of the one and not the furtherance of the union. Without a commitment, you cannot have marriage any more than a harlot is in a committed marriage with a client. Without a marriage, relations are only fornication. Remember the three things I said are required to make a marriage. Therefore, if they go forward as already being married (witnessed), and have not said it will wait (saying they are still only engaged), it is my understanding they are married.

This is rather complex. That is why I told the original querist that she must do what she knows to be right and not sin under the admonition given in James.

Churches Of Christ

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Marvin Howard


I consider myself to be a "doctrine specialist" if there is such a thing. I offer scripture to support or refute (as needed) any doctrine practiced within what is commonly termed "Christianity" today. I am willing to try questions on prophecy and history, though they are weak points. I have learned a little, however. Also, as I am disabled, I have time to research many things. For example, I can find a congregation of the church within twenty miles of your ZIP Code if one exists. If traveling, I can locate a congregation for your visit. I am accountable in this ministry to a group of Christians. I will share my answers with them for review. If a question is private, I will redact the names for privacy.


I became a Christian on April 7, 1969. I have been a substitute, spur-of-the-moment preacher for thirty years. My last pulpit was with the congregation in Braswell, GA. My sermons have always contained at least fifty percent scripture. On occasion, I have preached in seven states, and four foreign nations. This is beside my online ministry. I am now, officially retired.

I hope to never mislead anyone saying I'm a member of one group, when I'm really in another as one here does. By his own admission, he isn't a member of the church, but of the "Christian Church" (sic) denomination. If I can be honest, I don't know why others would want to lie.

Having already acquired significant Bible education from self-study, I attended 1.5 years of Bible college through the church at Dyersburg, TN (before my health waned) in an attempt to get paper to say I know what I know.

©2017 All rights reserved.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]