The following article, along with Peter S. Ruckman’s booklet on ‘Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage’, are the absolute best and most truthful on this very sensitive subject. Friends, marriage in the word of God has always been and still always is all about the FLESH! DON’T let anyone tell you otherwise.
From Marriage to Remarriage (Morton, 1997)
The subjects of marriage, divorce, and remarriage are some of the most contentious and controversial subjects among Fundamentalists today. They are such hotly disputed topics that some of the brethren will disassociate themselves from others who hold even a slightly different view. Some hold a rather generous position and condone divorce and remarriage for more reasons than the Scriptures allow, while others are so strict and legalistic they will not permit a man who has been divorced or remarried under any circumstances to have any type of ministry. His divorce and remarriage are for all practical purposes unpardonable. In this study we will try to find what the Scriptures alone (AV 1611) say about these matters apart from any bias for or against so-called “traditional” or “historic” positions.
Every Christian has a duty to search and be true to the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as his absolute, final authority for ALL matters regardless of what may be popular or considered “accepted teaching” among his fellow believers. The author very well realizes the position promoted in this booklet is not the commonly accepted teaching on this subject and many will reject it for this reason. But, again, every Christian’s duty is to God and his word and not to a preconceived bias no matter how “biblical” it sounds. Early in his ministry the author naively accepted several popular, Fundamentalist doctrines as his own because he admired the men, churches, or schools that promoted them, but he later had to renounce some of these teachings because he found the Scriptures simply didn’t support them. The issue of what the Bible says about marriage and divorce is one of those doctrines. We challenge the reader to consider the position presented below and see if it is consistent with the Scriptures.
Should a Christian marry?
Before we look at what the Bible says about marriage, divorce, and remarriage, we should first realize that the Scriptures recommend a Christian not marry at all if he can avoid it. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:1 “…it is good for a man not to touch a woman…,” that is, touch her in the marriage sense. He goes on to say in verse seven, “For I would that all men were even as myself (single). But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.” In verse 8 he continues, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I” (single). In verse 20 he says, “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called,” that is, if he was called (saved) when he was unmarried, let him remain unmarried. In verse 27 he is very clear, “…Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.” (See also verses 24, 28, 35, 38.) What Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 just attests to what the Lord says in Matthew 19:11-12, “But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” A “eunuch” is a man who is physically unable or simply unwilling to marry in the biblical sense. Christ said this in response to the disciples statement, “…it is good not to marry” (vs. 10).
So the first recommendation and admonition of the Lord is for an unmarried Christian NOT to marry. This should be clear. The reason is an unmarried person is less likely to be encumbered with the cares of the world, “But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:33), and to “spare” him “trouble in the flesh” (1 Corinthians 7:28).
However, for those who feel they need to marry and are unduly burdened by not having a spouse, the Bible makes an allowance for them and says in 1 Corinthians 7:9, “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” The Bible is very practical; it knows some Christians would be greatly burdened and unduly tempted to sin if they couldn’t marry. Verse 2 says, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife….” So before we even get into what constitutes the act of marriage, we need to realize that the first will of God in this matter is a believer stay single, but if he can’t bear it, it is perfectly proper and even “honorable” (Hebrews 13:4) to marry, “But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned” (1 Corinthians 7:28).
The act of marriage
Most people in America when they think of a man and woman getting married envision a ceremony where the two people stand before a minister or other official, make vows to each other (and sometimes to God), exchange rings, the man kisses the bride, and then the minister pronounces them husband and wife. After this they are considered married—the ceremony being the act. But what does the Bible say is the act? It is understandable why most Americans, Christian or not, think the ceremony or vow is the act of marriage because American culture and law leads them to that conclusion. But a ceremony or vow is not the act of marriage in the Bible. In fact, in the Bible one can be married apart from any ceremony, vows, minister, rings, ritual, commitment, or even love. The Scriptures are clear: the ACT of marriage is solely a PHYSICAL act.
That the essence and act of marriage is the physical union of the two parties should be an indisputable fact to any believer who believes the Scriptures as they stand. The matter is so clearly presented in the Bible that one would have to be highly prejudiced and biased against it not to see it. The idea that the essence of marriage is a vow or ceremony is actually a Roman Catholic idea. Catholics believe marriage is one of the sacraments the church can grant to a couple. And since they believe the church can grant a marriage, they also believe it can annul one. Since to them the act of marriage is a decree of the church and not the physical union of the man and woman, the church can easily dissolve a marriage as if it never existed by simply decreeing it. As unbiblical as this position is, many Fundamentalists have been swept away by tradition and agree with the Catholics in insisting the act of marriage is essentially a sacramental ceremony God uses to join a man to his wife.
The first indication of a marriage in the Bible is, of course, the union of Adam and Eve. In Genesis 2:23-24 Adam makes a prophetic statement: “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Adam says a man is to leave his father and mother (Adam had neither in the common sense) and cleave unto his wife, and this would make them “one flesh.” Ephesians 5:28-29 states that the one flesh is the man’s flesh: “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.”
So, from the very beginning it is clear God declares the defining act of marriage as the physical union. There is no vow, ceremony, or ritual even hinted. Nearly all marriages in the Bible would be today considered “common law” marriages. The two parties simply agree to live together as man and wife and join as “one flesh.” According to the World Book Encyclopedia, some states still recognize common law marriage as a valid, legal marriage and treat the couple as “husband and wife” apart from any ceremony or “vows.” Throughout history, and in nearly every culture, the physical union of a man and woman has been considered the act of marriage.
Another passage which shows the act of marriage is physical is the account of Abram and Hagar in Genesis 16:3-4: “And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.” Here Sarai simply gives Hagar to Abram to be his wife and Hagar becomes such when Abram “went in unto” her. No vow, no ceremony, not even any love or affection is mentioned or implied, but nonetheless, the physical union made Hagar Abram’s wife.
Isaac and Rebekah are another example. Genesis 24:67 says, “And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” After Isaac took Rebekah into his mother’s tent, she became his wife. No vows, ceremony, giving away the bride, etc., they simply came together and became husband and wife.
Genesis 38:8 is very clear on what constitutes marriage. Here, Judah tells his son Onan to “Go in unto thy brothers wife and MARRY her….” How much plainer could it be? The going in unto her is the marriage! No vow or anything else is hinted or implied.
Probably the most obvious passage showing the act of marriage as the physical union is the account of Jacob and Leah in Genesis 29:23-28, “And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her. And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid. And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me? And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Fulfill her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years. And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.”
Even if Jacob did make a vow in marriage he would have made it to Rachel, not Leah. But Leah is the one he was deceived into marrying. If Jacob would have discovered “it was Leah” before he “went in unto her,” he would not have been married; but he didn’t discover that until after he was married. Nevertheless, since he did go in unto her, all of the parties involved knew they were married (notice the “also” in vs. 28). So one can be married in the Biblical sense even if he is deceived into it! This proves beyond any doubt that the act and essence of marriage is the physical union.
Furthermore, when Jacob went “in unto” Rachel’s handmaid, Bilhah, he married her (Genesis 30:3-4). The same is true with Leah’s handmaid, Zilpah (Genesis 30:9). Jacob likely didn’t consider these two handmaids wives in the same sense as Leah and Rachel, (he may have considered them concubines. A concubine is a “secondary wife”) but, nevertheless, morally and biblically they were his wives. Deuteronomy 21:13 is another passage that clearly shows marriage is physical, “…and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.” See also Deuteronomy 25:5.
The New Testament, also, clearly states the act of marriage is the physical union. Paul bluntly says when a man goes in unto a harlot he essentially marries her, “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:15-18).
Who could miss it? The man and the harlot are “one flesh” just like Adam and Eve were in the garden. This is why Paul says one is to “Flee fornication.” If a man is already married and fornicates with a harlot, he is sinning against his own body—his wife. And if he is not married, he still sins against his body because he has no intention of remaining with the harlot and treating her as a wife even though he has in essence married her and made his body “members” with hers. The thought that a man would make a marriage vow to a harlot is absurd. The whole practice of whoredom or harlotry is based on the assumption that a man can go in unto one with “no commitments.” Judah, one of Jacob’s sons, thought his daughter-in-law, Tamar, was a harlot, and he “came in unto her, and she conceived by him” (Genesis 38:18). One of the sons born, Pharez, was an ancestor of Jesus Christ (vs. 29).
In Matthew 19:4-6 Christ Himself says the two become man and wife when they become “one flesh,” “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?” Paul again says the same in Ephesians 5:31, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.” The facts are indisputable, the act of marriage is the physical union of a man and woman where they become “one body” and “one flesh” and whether there is or isn’t a vow, ceremony, ritual, engagement, exchange of rings, etc., is irrelevant.
Now as soon as we say this we know some will jump to conclusions and ask, “Do you mean to say that a Christian who marries doesn’t have to get a license or go through a ceremony?” No, this is not what we are saying at all. What we are trying to make clear is what constitutes the defining act of marriage in God’s eyes as found in the Scriptures, not what is required for one to be married under state or governmental law. A Christian is to obey the laws of the land (Romans 13:1-5) and live honestly, openly, and above reproach before all men (2 Corinthians 8:21). Thus he is to go through the legal ceremony of marriage so no one can bring an accusation against him (1 Timothy 3:7), but the ceremony is only a marriage in the eyes of the state or “religion.”
In some countries and among some peoples (the Eskimos, for example) yet today there is still no accepted, standard marriage ceremony. The man just takes the woman as his wife and they come together as such and are considered married by their peers. Those who insist marriage is a vow or ceremony have a hard time explaining marriage in cultures where they have neither. The Bible, however, has no problem, it simply says marriage is when they become “one flesh.”
“Vows” and “Commitments”
Those who insist marriage is a ceremony claim the physical union is not a marriage since no marriage “vow” or commitment was made. But as we have seen, in the Bible one can be married apart from any vow, commitment, or even love. Biblically, a couple can be married without “vows,” or they can make vows and not be fully married. Those who say otherwise have swallowed a foreign concept of marriage at the expense of the Scriptures. Nowhere in the Scriptures is a “vow” ever linked with marriage. The term “vow,” or forms of it, is found in 68 verses and not one time is it associated with marriage. When these facts are presented to one of these sacramentalists the author has found they often become very insecure. They realize, contrary to what they have been taught, the Bible doesn’t support their position. The Scriptures have torn down the basis of their entire belief system concerning marriage.
This is not to say a person is not obligated to keep a vow or promise made before the Lord whether it concerns marriage or anything else (Numbers 30), but only that vows are not the essence of marriage. Of course, there is an implied commitment between a couple when they by mutual consent physically come together as husband and wife. By doing so they have made a covenant with each other that they will live as such (“wife of thy covenant,” Malachi 2:14). Most will agree a loving, sacrificial commitment of both parties is essential for a marriage to be fruitful and lasting, but, again, their commitment is not what actually caused the marriage. In the Bible if a man “slept with” a woman, in essence marrying her, he was expected and required to continue the marriage by making a public covenant or commitment to her (Deuteronomy. 22:28-29). In short, a commitment or covenant may continue or make a marriage last, but it is not the initial cause of one. Those today who “put the cart before the horse” by treating the vows or covenant as the act of marriage fail to realize they are compromising and weakening the very concept of marriage with their position.
If vows constitute the marriage, then anytime those vows are broken the marriage is dissolved. Furthermore, there are no standard “wedding vows” for those who even make them. The Bible sure doesn’t list any. Marriage ceremonies vary considerably in the United States (not to mention other countries) and many today even write their own vows. Does this mean the marriage stands or falls on whether the particular vows in a given ceremony are broken, no matter how vague or “anemic” they may be? Some wedding ceremonies with “prenuptial agreements” and self-written vows express very little if any true marital commitment on either party and only reflect a shadow of the “traditional vows.” Does this mean if they have nonspecific “irreconcilable differences, “or break their self-made vows, that this is grounds for divorce? Maybe with today’s twisted mentality it is grounds, but not according to the Scriptures. But if vows are the marriage, this reasoning must be valid. The modern no-fault divorce is a fruit of this mentality. Until the early 1970s, in most states legitimate grounds had to be proven in court before a divorce could be granted.
On the other hand, what about the Fundamentalist Christians who make the traditional vows to each other, promising to “love, honor, and cherish until death do you part,” etc.? Are they always consistent with their vows? The author has heard men who have been married several years boast of how they kept their vows to their wives, but have they really? Have they always loved their wives as a Christian is commanded to (as Christ loved the church, Ephesians 5:25) since the day they made their vows? Have they without exception honored and cherished their bride in every way as Christ honors and cherishes the church? Any honest man (or woman) will admit there have been times he has not met this high ideal and has been less than loving or honorable towards his wife, thus admitting he has broken his vows. As with any contract or covenant, if one party breaks their part the other party is no longer obligated to keep theirs. Therefore, if vows are the marriage, then these men’s wives have legitimate grounds to divorce them.
Clearly, those who promote the marriage-is-a-ceremony view have not considered the implications and inconsistencies their position brings. With the scriptural view, however, all the complications vanish. Since a vow or ceremony doesn’t constitute the act of marriage, neither can the breaking of a vow, in itself, dissolve it. The Bible allows three grounds for the breaking of a marriage; they will be examined in the next chapter
It appears one reason the Bible definition of marriage is so repulsive to some people is believing it causes them to contradict what they have taught in the past. For instance: if the physical union is the act of marriage, then all the “affairs,” “rendezvous,” “carousing,” “sowing wild oats,” etc., some of them have done in the past (whether saved or not) were actually marriages. And if marriages, then by their own teachings on marriage and divorce they have condemned themselves as “perpetual adulterers”! They conveniently protect themselves, though, by insisting fornication and adultery are not marriages in any sense and hide behind the flimsy excuse they have gone through only one ceremony.
These same people, though, will reject a man for Christian service who has never committed fornication and was true to his wife but remarries after his first wife commits adultery and/or leaves him. He remained true but has had two ceremonies. They, however, may have fornicated with a dozen different women, but since they have only gone through one ceremony, they remain “qualified” for Christian service. They reason fornication and adultery can be forgiven as long as they have only one marriage license, but a second ceremony cannot. This is at the least gross ignorance of the Scriptures, or at the most gross hypocrisy. It reminds one of Christ’s words, “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24).
Some of the most extreme of them will insist a man is not qualified for any ministry if he or his wife was divorced and remarried BEFORE either was saved! Yet the “indiscretions” some of them have committed (which only fall short of marriage in the modern sense) are of no consequence. They claim the blood of Christ has cleansed them. What hypocrisy! What legalistic, Pharisaical “paper-counters”! No wonder some leading Fundamentalists won’t allow the physical union to be the act of marriage, because if they do, they condemn themselves (or their buddies) with their own legalistic words.
In essence they are saying “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17) except for the “unpardonable sins” of divorce and remarriage. These a believer carries over from his past and becomes in their eyes an unforgiven, “perpetual adulterer”—unfit to preach, minister, and in some cases even join a church! They act (though they won’t say it) as if the blood of Christ that cleansed them cannot purge away these two “heinous sins.” This pious attitude often leaves their divorced brethren feeling like tainted, second-class Christians. Unfortunately, by following a sacramental, Catholic mentality, many Fundamentalists have essentially become bigoted, legalistic, unforgiving Pharisees (Mark 7:8-9).
“Betrothed” and “Espoused”
Before we end this section on marriage, we need to look at betrothal or espousal. There are some “interpretations” floating around in Fundamentalism on this subject in relation to marriage that the Bible doesn’t support. To be “espoused” or “betrothed” is very much like the contemporary term to be “engaged.” “Betrothed” means “engaged to be married,” and “espouse(d)” is defined as “to take as a spouse.” In the Bible these terms refer to a contractual agreement between a man and woman (or their families) that they intend to become husband and wife. Some teach that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 refers to people who were only betrothed and had not yet come together, but look at verse 1, “When a man HATH TAKEN a wife, and MARRIED HER, and it come to pass….” Obviously, the two are fully married. The man “hath taken” her, “married her,” and lived with her for a while (“and it come to pass”). To say otherwise is to “wrest the scriptures” to support a pet teaching. Both the Pharisees and the disciples knew this passage referred to truly married people (Matthew 19:3, 10).
Some will point to how Joseph and Mary were called “husband” and “wife” in Matthew 1 before they came together, but the Bible is only speaking of them in an espousal or betrothal sense, not as actually married. They were promised to each other as husband and wife, and only in that sense could they be referred to as such. Remember how Jacob told Laban “Give me my wife” (Genesis 29:21), that is, Rachel? But she really wasn’t his wife, it turned out to be Leah. Deuteronomy 22:23-24 speaks of this also, “If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband…because he hath humbled his neighbor’s wife….” Notice the “betrothed” “damsel” is a “virgin,” she is not yet married. Since she is “betrothed unto a husband,” she is considered “his…wife,” even though they are not yet married. As we have seen, to marry, a man must “go in unto” his wife (Genesis 38:8). Concerning the way the Bible uses terms, it even speaks of a dead man being a “husband” (Deuteronomy 25:5). By no means, however, is the woman still married to a corpse. The Scriptures often speak this way. So in the Bible a betrothed or espoused couple may be referred to as husband and wife before they are actually married. Today, we often say “husband-to-be” or “wife-to-be” in reference to similar circumstances.
What about divorce?
Since the essence of marriage is flesh joining flesh as we have seen, the essence of divorce is simply when flesh leaves flesh with no intention of returning. As any good dictionary will tell, the basic meaning of “divorce” is a “separation or disunion.” These matters are not nearly as difficult as many make them out to be. The modern notion that divorce doesn’t occur until there is a decree from a court is only valid in the civil, legal sense. The real divorce occurs before the papers are ever signed.
Before we continue we need to understand and emphasize that the Bible doesn’t in any way recommend or encourage divorce. In fact, God says He “hateth putting away” (Malachi 2:16). The Scriptures basically allow for it to keep a greater evil from happening, and then, only under certain circumstances. Divorce (and the problems that cause it) is a tragic and terrible thing. It divides a home and family, alienates people, discourages children, and often adversely affects the relatives and friends of both parties. But as terrible as it is, under certain circumstances divorce can be preffered as the lesser of evils.
Though He hates divorce, the Lord at one time even divorced His Wife—Israel. In a sense the Lord was married to Israel (Jeremiah 3:14, 20), but after she broke the covenant God made with them (Exodus 19:5-8) by committing adultery with idols, God put her away with a bill of divorcement (Jeremiah 30:8). So even though divorce is hated and discouraged by the Lord, there is a place for it when scriptural grounds are met—as the Lord’s dealings with Israel testify.
In the Old Testament the allowance for divorce was very generous (“because of the hardness of your [man’s] hearts”), and a man could put away his wife for practically any reason, “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance” (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). The man only had to find some unspecified “uncleanness” in her to put her away, and both were free to remarry. However if the woman did remarry, she could not again marry her “former husband” even if the “latter husband” died.
A good example of a marriage and divorce in essence can be found in 2 Samuel 13 with the account of Amnon and Tamar. Amnon thought he loved his half-sister Tamar and said to her, “Come lie with me, my sister” (vs. 11). Once Tamar understood his intentions, she told him to ask their father, David, and he would likely give her to him making the marriage somewhat legal and proper (vs. 13, the marriage was actually unlawful [Lev. 18:9]). But Amnon, driven only by his lusts, refused and “forced” his sister—in essence marrying her (vs. 14).
According to Deuteronomy 22:28-29, if a man lies with an unbetrothed virgin, he is to pay her father fifty shekels of silver; thus publicly acknowledging her as his wife. Furthermore, because he humbled her without going through the proper procedure of marriage, he could never lawfully divorce her. But Amnon had no desire for the law and put Tamar away as quickly as he took her (vs. 15). Tamar protested knowing that if he put her out (divorced her), she would be ruined because she was no longer a virgin and could not be legally divorced. She rightly says the divorce is a greater sin than the rape (marriage, vs. 16), but Amnon put her away nevertheless (vs. 17). Though not a legal marriage and divorce in the modern sense, Amnon and Tamar were morally and biblically married and divorced in one day. Again, marriage is when flesh joins flesh; divorce is when flesh permanently leaves flesh.
In the New Testament, however, grounds for divorce are not so generous. Though there are several passages in the gospels where Christ mentions divorce, the definitive passage is Matthew 19:1-9. Some will quote one of the other passages where the Lord doesn’t mention any grounds for divorce (Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18;) and insist there are no grounds. But this forces Christ to contradict himself in Matthew 19 where He does mention grounds. None of the other passages add anything to what is recorded in Matthew 19, so this is the passage we will concentrate on.
The Pharisees on previous occasions had heard Christ make statements about divorce that were contrary to what they believed about the law of Moses (Matthew 5:31-32; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). Christ would purposely make these blunt, incomplete statements in the hearing of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20; Luke 16:14) because He knew they were heavily abusing the allowance for divorce God had granted, thus making light of marriage. He would flatly tell them words like “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery” (Luke 16:18) without mentioning any grounds for divorce because he knew their hearts (John 2:25) and guilt (Matthew 5:28).
The classic passage on this is the account of the woman taken in adultery in John 8. Here, the Pharisees bring before Christ a woman they claim “was taken in adultery, in the very act” (vs. 4), and bring up Moses’s law saying “that such should be stoned” (vs. 5). But Christ, knowing their hearts and guilt in this area, did an amazing thing, He “stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground…” (vs 6). Now, what did he write? Though the Scriptures do not say, it would not be unreasonable to believe he wrote the passage from Moses’s law that was pertinent to the situation—Leviticus 20:10, “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” This verse plainly says that the “adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” If the Pharisees caught the woman in the “very act,” how could they not catch the man?
Apparently, the man was one of them and all of the others were guilty of the same because when Christ said “He that is without sin (the sin of adultery) among you let him first cast a stone at her” (vs. 7), they were “convicted by their own conscience” and “went out one by one.” Since the woman now had no accusers, the law could not condemn her and the Lord let her go with a warning. The point we want to emphasize here, however, is many of the Pharisees were guilty of taking the institution of marriage much too lightly, abusing the allowance for divorce, and also adultery. This is the reason for Christ’s sharp, blunt, but also incomplete statements about divorce. Again, the definitive passage is Matthew 19 where Christ’s statements are complete.
The cause of Fornication
The statements Christ made about divorce caused the Pharisees to tempt Him with questions. In Matthew 19:3 the question they ask is not if one could be divorced at all, but “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for EVERY CAUSE.” That is, can a man divorce his wife for any reason as the law of Moses indicates. Christ replies with a rebuke by saying, “Have ye not read…” (vs. 3) and then answers with Scripture, “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?” (vs. 4-5). He refers them to the marriage of Adam and Eve before the fall and again declares marriage as a physical act.
In verse 6 Christ continues by saying, “they are no more twain, but one flesh,” and then makes a statement that has been the basis of much confusion and debate ever since, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Remember, the context of these words is with the prophetic statement of Adam found in Genesis 2:24. Adam was not only speaking for himself when he said this, he was mainly speaking of marriage itself as an institution. Some will insist that “What therefore God hath joined together…” refers to God in some mystical manner spiritually and permanently joining a couple who make “vows” at an altar and come together in marriage, but this view has some problems and inconsistencies.
For instance, Where in the Bible does God “join” two lost people in marriage? Unsaved people are “dead,” “lost,” and “without hope and without God” yet God “joins” them together as husband and wife? Hardly. Sure, their marriage is a valid marriage since flesh has joined flesh, but where do the Scriptures say God is the one who joined them? How about a saved person marrying a lost person? Does God join them even after He forbids the union (1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18)? They have agreed to join themselves in an institution God has established, but to say God is the one who is actually joining them is really stretching the verse. What Christ is referring to in verse 6 is the institution of marriage in the beginning—the joining of man (Adam) and woman (Eve) in the bond of marriage—not to every individual case of marriage since then. If the verse refers to individual cases today, then Christ contradicts Himself in verse 9 for there He says a “man” CAN “put asunder” his wife!
Verse 6 speaks of the innocent state of man before the fall and thus of an ideal marriage situation. God never desired, planned, or mentioned anything about divorce while Adam was in this state, but since his fall, He now allows for it in certain situations as apparently the lesser of evils. Of course, no man (or woman) should “put asunder” any marriage if it can be salvaged, but this verse speaks of an ideal marriage “in the beginning…” (vs. 8), and God knows man has since become much less than “ideal.” This is why He has made allowances for divorce.
In verse 7 the Pharisees understand that Christ was saying God never originally intended for a couple to divorce, so they say trying to tempt and trap Him, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?” They are trying to make Christ’s words contradict Moses’. Christ replies, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives:” and then adds, “but from the beginning it was not so.” God, through the law of Moses, “suffered” a man to put away his wife because since “the beginning” the fall occurred where man became a sinner and acquired an evil nature. This change in man’s nature made him incapable of always adhering to the ideal concept of marriage before the fall, thus God allowed divorce to keep a worse evil from happening if the husband and wife were forced to stay together. God knows the stubbornness of man and the hardness of his heart (Jeremiah 17:9; Acts 7:51) and also that if he grew to “hate” (Deuteronomy 24:3) his wife, it was best for them to separate than risk the physical harm or death of either. So, even though “from the beginning [divorce] was not so,” and God never originally intended for a man to “put asunder” any marriage; He does allow for it today “because of the hardness of [man’s] heart.”
In verse 9 Christ greatly restricts Moses’s allowance of initiating a divorce down to only one ground—fornication, “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” He says man should no longer “put away” his wife for “every cause” but only “for fornication.” So “fornication” is the only ground which a believer can initiate divorce proceedings. The believer actually doesn’t cause the divorce because his spouse must fornicate with another before the believer can scripturally put her away. Thus the fornicator causes the divorce by joining to another—separating from her husband in the process. In this case the one innocent of fornication can initiate divorce proceedings even if the fornicator wants to remain with him.
That the Scriptures allow a man (or woman) to “put away” his wife because of fornication, however, doesn’t mean he has to do it. The best thing to do would be to forgive the offending spouse and receive her back (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13), but if he believes that would only make matters worse or cause undue strife, contention, hatred, violence, and other unchristian feelings, he can put her away. If he puts her away for any other reason and remarries, he commits adultery, but if he remarries because she was put away because of fornication, he doesn’t commit adultery (we will deal more with remarriage in the next chapter). The exception to the remarriage being adultery is fornication. Read the verse carefully. Remarriage is in the context.
On the other hand, the passage indicates a man who marries a woman who was scripturally put away because she committed fornication also commits adultery. The reason is he is marrying someone who is already guilty of fornication and was “put away” for it. They become “one flesh” and consequently share the guilt. If a man unscripturally puts away his wife, many today will insist the woman, who has NOT committed fornication, can’t remarry without her and her new husband both committing adultery and use this verse as a “proof text,” but Christ is here referring to only the guilty party in both cases. The man who remarries after causing an unscriptural divorce is an adulterer and his new wife an adulteress, and the guilty woman who was put away because of fornication commits adultery with the one she marries. Only the guilty are considered adulterers or adulteresses; the innocent are not “under bondage” (1 Corinthians 7:15).
When a woman who has unscripturally been put away remarries, she is no adulteress because she has been essentially deserted by her husband (we will examine “desertion” shortly), but when the man who put her away remarries, he commits adultery. God only condemns the guilty; the innocent (innocent as far as grounds for divorce are concerned) are not guilty (Deuteronomy 24:16; Matthew 12:7).
If her husband be dead
Another divorce found in the Bible is one people today don’t usually think of as a divorce, but it is nonetheless, that is, death. Since divorce is when flesh permanently leaves flesh, then death is clearly a divorce. As we mentioned, any good dictionary will show that the term divorce basically means to sever or separate. The Merriam Webster Collegiate, Tenth Edition defines it as “the action or an instance of legally dissolving a marriage” and also as “separation; severance.” The Webster’s New International Dictionary (1927) adds “To dissolve a (marriage or union)”. Since death is the ultimate of physical separation, it is a divorce under all these definitions. Clearly, when one’s spouse dies the two are no longer married because of the legal separation (divorce) of death. Furthermore, nearly all will agree after one’s spouse dies he is free to remarry because death dissolves the marriage.
The Bible also is clear that death dissolves a marriage, leaving the one remaining free to remarry (1 Corinthians 7:39). If the spouse still alive has not been divorced by death from his wife and is still in some way married to his dead companion, then he couldn’t remarry without being an adulterer and a bigamist! Divorce is anything that dissolves a marriage, and if death doesn’t dissolve a marriage, what else could? Many who believe marriage is a vow have trouble realizing death in a marriage is a divorce because they believe vows must be broken before a divorce can occur, but the definition of the words as well as the Scriptures insist that it is.
In relation to this, one of the most heavily abused passages of Scripture by some Fundamentalists dealing with death in a marriage is Romans 7:1-3, “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so then she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.” Some will “interpret” this passage to the point it is nearly unrecognizable and teach it says things it clearly doesn’t say.
If we were to treat this passage as many of the brethren treat it, it would read something like: “For the woman which had a husband she was once married to but now divorced from, is bound by the law to her former husband as long as he liveth; but if her former husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her former husband liveth, she be married to another man, she is called an adulteress: but if her former husband be dead, she is free from that law….”
These people read a divorce into the passage that is simply not there. Notice the tense of the word “hath,” it is present tense! “The woman which HATH a husband…,” that is, the husband she is married to at the present time, not a former husband she is divorced from. The only divorce mentioned is that of death (“loosed”). There is no indication the woman was ever divorced or that she was ever married before. Those who insist the “husband” is a former, divorced husband are so biased in their opinions that they will wrest and sacrifice the truth of this passage to protect their treasured position that a divorced person cannot remarry until their former spouse dies. But anyone who reads the passage objectively will see that it says no such thing. If the woman did marry another man while still married to her present husband, she would be both an adulteress and a bigamist, but it says nothing about her being so if she had a former husband.
From the way these sacramentalists interpret this passage, they are saying even though a person can be divorced, they are actually still married to their former spouse as long as they are alive! They believe a person can be divorced from and yet still married to the same person at the same time! This is inconsistent, irrational, and a contradiction in terms. In every sense and definition a “former husband” (Deuteronomy 24:4) is not a present husband. “Former” means, “having been previously: onetime,” it clearly refers to the past. The Bible doesn’t talk the way these people talk. Notice in John 4:18 how the Lord tells the woman at the well “thou hast had five husbands.” He doesn’t say she presently HAS five husbands. What these legalists can’t seem to understand is that a former or “ex” spouse is not a present spouse. When people are divorced they are simply no longer married, neither from the Bible’s standpoint or the world’s. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is very clear on this. It speaks of “latter husband” and “former husband” and doesn’t confuse the two.
Since these brethren believe divorced people are still “joined together by God” because of their vows, some have concluded a person who has been divorced and remarried should leave his present spouse and return to his former before he can “be right with God.” This is completely ridiculous. Even in the Old Testament where divorce and remarriage was permitted for basically any reason, a person was forbidden to go back to his former spouse if he remarried. These legalists, with their codes, standards, and “traditions of men,” in the name of keeping the Scriptures have reasoned themselves into breaking it.
Can you imagine the scene if these men applied this “teaching” to themselves concerning the truth about the act of marriage? They would have to forsake their present wives and return and remarry (publicaly) the first woman they “slept with”! See the problems man-made traditions get one into? These fellows have trapped themselves in a logic-tight belief system that leaves little room for escape. Furthermore, some of them will never concede the physical union is the act of marriage because of the price; it is much more than their egos are willing to pay.
Paul is not teaching about divorce and remarriage in Romans 7, anyway. He is using death in a marriage as a picture of how a believer in Christ is dead to and free from the law. He is giving an illustration from the law to those who “know the law.” So to understand what Paul is saying one has to have some knowledge of what the law says.
If one takes the passage as it stands and believes what he reads, the correct reading will be, “For the woman which hath an husband (present tense, married to a man now) is bound by the law to her husband (the man she is now married to) so long as he liveth; but if the husband (her present husband) be dead, she is loosed (divorced, separated) from the law of her husband (and she is free to remarry). So then if, while her husband liveth (her present husband, not a former, divorced husband), she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress….” Unless someone has an ulterior motive or is biased to a prejudiced “opinion,” this passage is clear as crystal.
If the unbelieving depart
The third and final grounds for divorce is found in 1 Corinthians 7. As mentioned earlier, this chapter highly recommends that a single Christian not marry (vs. 1, 7, 8, 11, 20, 27, etc.), but it also deals with marriage and some of its problems. In verses 10-11 we find a principle that is used several times in the Bible: the Lord’s directive and desired will is listed first, but an allowed, permissive action is addressed second. In verse 10 Paul says, “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband” It is not God’s desire that the woman depart from her husband. But verse 11 continues with, “But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.” The Lord very well realizes that man (including Christians) is not always capable of living up to His ideal concept of marriage (“because of the hardness of your hearts”), so instead of ignoring his weaknesses, He addresses it. His perfect laws and will are not intended to destroy people, the law was made for man not man for the law (Matthew 12:1-8).
In verse 12 Paul continues his discourse with, “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord…,” which leads some to believe that the following verses are only Paul’s opinion and not the will or words of the Lord. However, all of Paul’s words, here, and in the rest of the Bible are “scripture” and “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). At the time Paul said these words he had no direct statement from the Lord dealing with the circumstances he was addressing, so he wrote what he thought the Lord’s will would be. Since these words are recorded in the Scriptures, this proves that they are God’s very words.
Verses 12-15 deal with a Christian being married to an unbeliever, “If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.” And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.” Clearly, a Christian is not to initiate a divorce with his lost spouse just because she is lost. If “she be pleased to dwell with him” he is to remain with her.
One reason is the unbeliever is “sanctified” by being married to a believer, and their children are in a sense “holy” by having a Christian parent. This doesn’t mean that unbelievers are saved by merely being related to a believer, but that they are “set apart” to the gospel and the Lord through an immediate relative who is a Christian. Paul takes it for granted that a believer will influence his lost family members for the Lord, so every believer is to remain with his lost spouse in the hope of saving her, “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” (vs. 16).
In verse 15, however, we come across another “But.” The Lord knows in some “unequally yoked” marriage situations the unbeliever will not be content to remain married to a believer and will break the marriage. In cases like this the believer is simply to “let him depart.” No individual can guarantee another’s actions and neither can they force another to do what they want or what is even right. Every individual, whether saved or not, has a free will, so a believer cannot force his spouse to stay in a marriage if she is determined to go. Again, the Scriptures say “let him depart.” The believer is not “bound” in such a marriage. In some cases if the believer insisted to stay with the unbeliever and followed him when he departed, violence may result; but “God hath called us to peace.” Strife, contention, and violence are not conducive to peace, so “let him depart.” Though by no means God’s desire “from the beginning,” it will likely be best for all concerned if he (or she) does depart.
The Bible often refers to married people as being “bound” (Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:27, 39) or in “bondage” (vs. 15) and divorced people as “free” (Romans 7:3) or “loosed” (Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:27), so it is only reasonable to conclude that in a chapter that deals with marriage, the “bondage” of verse 15 is the bondage of marriage. Therefore, when an unbeliever departs a divorce occurs and the remaining believer is no longer bound in the marriage. They are simply no longer married. The unbeliever deserts his wife, causing a divorce, leaving the believer no longer “under bondage.” Thus the third legitimate scriptural divorce is desertion.
Unfortunately, desertion does not only occur in lost/saved marriages, they also occur when both parties claim to be saved. Though the scriptures don’t address two Christians divorcing (unless verses 10-11 do), when they do at least one of them is acting like an unbeliever. If a backslidden believer deserts a more spiritual believing spouse, how is the more spiritual to stop him? Again, a person cannot control another’s actions. Though Christians, above all, should be able to work out all their problems with the Lord’s help, if one is determined to leave, divorcing his spouse, how can the spouse stop him? “God hath called us to peace.” Desertion is desertion whether the one who leaves is a believer or not, so it is only reasonable that verse 15 applies in these situations also. The same can be said of fornication. Though it should be unthinkable that a Christian would commit fornication against the Lord and his spouse, if he does his spouse has grounds for divorce.
From the passages listed above, it should be clear to any believer that the Bible gives three grounds of legal, scriptural divorce. Fornication as found in Matthew 5 and 19; death as seen in Romans 7 and 1 Corinthians 7; and desertion found also in 1 Corinthians 7. The Scriptures mention no more or less for a New Testament believer. Furthermore, in every case of divorce, the two parties are no longer bound to each other in any marriage sense. Notice in 1 Corinthians 7:11 how the woman who leaves (divorces) her husband is considered “unmarried.” Some who adhere to the legalist position insist that “unmarried” in verse 8 means “never married,” but the Bible has a way of correcting biased, “private interpretation(s).” The simple fact is when two people are divorced (even if it is unscriptural) the Bible doesn’t treat them as still married in any way. They are both “unmarried” until they rejoin or marry another.
Now we come upon the highly controversial topic of remarriage for a divorced person. As we have seen many who hold the so-called “traditional view” vehemently insist a divorced person should never remarry as long as his former spouse is alive or else they live in “perpetual adultery.” But who ever heard of such a thing as “perpetual adultery” when reading the Bible? A person may commit an act of adultery, but to commit perpetual adultery he would have to have a different “partner” every time! In an unscriptural remarriage the first “going in unto her” may be adultery but after that it wouldn’t be because with the first time he essentially married her. As we have stated before, the reason the sacramentalists talk like this is they really believe a man (or woman) is actually still married to his divorced spouse until death. Remnants of Roman Catholicism. The King James Bible, however, says different. For every grounds of legal, legitimate scriptural divorce one will find a legal, legitimate, scriptural allowance for remarriage in the context.
In the case of divorce caused by death, there is no controversy. Practically all will agree the remaining spouse can remarry, and the Bible says the same (Romans 7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7:39). The Scriptures also insist, however, that a believer marry “only in the Lord.” It is with the remaining two scriptural divorces that the controversy begins.
When Christ mentioned fornication as a grounds for divorce in Matthew 19, He placed a remarriage right in the middle of the verse, “…and shall marry another….” The man who put his wife away for any reason other than fornication commits adultery when he remarries. But the flip side is if he does scripturally put her away because of fornication and remarries, he doesn’t commit adultery. Notice the “except” in the verse. Fornication is the exception to the remarriage being adultery. We realize the Pharisees ignore the exception and claim that any divorced person who remarries commits adultery, but we are weary of their “private interpretation(s).” Clearly, when a divorce is caused by fornication, remarriage is in the context.
Concerning desertion, one will also find remarriage in the context. In 1 Corinthians 7:11 Paul directs a divorced person to remain “unmarried” or return to their former spouse. In verses 17-20 he tells the deserted believer to remain in the “calling wherein he was called.” In verse 27 he tells those who are “bound (married) to a wife, seek not to be loosed (divorced)” and to those “loosed from a wife, seek not a wife.” But in verse 28 Paul says a terrible thing in the eyes of the legalists, “But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned….” The familiar pattern is obvious: the Lord’s gives His directive desire first, and then His permission for those who can’t endure the former. The Scriptures are not near the stickler for legalistic codes as many modern day Pharisees are. It allows the innocent party in a divorce to remarry WITHOUT committing adultery. “But and if thou marry, thou hast NOT sinned.”
When confronted with such clear allowances for remarriage as these, the legalists will sheepishly insist that “loosed” doesn’t refer to a divorced person but only to a “never married” person. Nonsense. How could a person who has never been married be loosed from the bond of marriage? These people will without hesitation sacrifice the Scriptures, their integrity, and common sense to protect their “traditional position.” They think because “Dr. So-and-so” taught it that way and he is a “good, godly man,” it must be right; so they won’t even reconsider their position when the Scriptures indicate otherwise.
“Loosed” clearly means loosed from the bond of marriage, and for those who have “Greekitis” (habitually going to “the Greek” to confirm an English word), why don’t you look up the last occurrence of “loosed” in verse 27 in a Greek dictionary? We believe the Authorized Version of 1611 is the inerrant word of God in English and don’t see any need to consult a dead language God abandoned centuries ago to supposedly correct or confirm it; but we realize some reading this booklet may take confidence in “the Greek,” so what does the Greek say here? Strongs says the Greek word “lusis” (#3080) means, “a loosing, setting free…of the bond of marriage, divorce…,” and Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words adds, “…in 1 Corinthians 7:27, of divorce, is translated `to be loosed.'” So in both Greek and English “loosed” in verse 27 is in reference to a divorce.
But even with such proof, many of these characters still will not concede to the Scriptures. When confronted with the above some of them will say, “Yes, `loosed’ does mean “divorced,” but the reference to marriage in verse 28 doesn’t refer to the divorced man in verse 27.” How biased and prejudiced can people get? They will believe anything but the text, and “a text without a context is a pretext.” To any rational, objective person the “thou” of verse 28 corresponds to the “thou(s)” in verse 27. “But and if THOU marry, thou hast not sinned;” who is the “thou”? “Art THOU loosed from a wife….” Who could miss it except someone who is playing word games to circumvent the truth?
Furthermore, Paul addresses the never married “virgin” later in the verse, “…and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.” All is obvious, the first part of the verse refers to divorced people remarrying, and the next part refers to the never married marrying. He is not saying the same thing twice.
Before we leave our examination of remarriage, we need to look at a passage that has been the cause of much concern to believers who have suffered through a divorce—Matthew 5:32, “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” The words “causeth her to commit adultery” are the words of difficulty. The modern day Pharisees are quick to use this verse to condemn an innocent, divorced Christian as an adulterer; but as we mentioned earlier, this passage is incomplete in regards to all the Bible says about divorce and remarriage. Again, Christ used blunt but often incomplete statements like this to warn the Pharisees and other Jews who were treating marriage lightly (vs. 5:20), and to convict their hearts of sin.
Furthermore, look at the verse. In what biblical sense could a man merely divorcing his wife cause her to commit adultery? Would she not have to remarry first? The verse says nothing about remarriage. What if the man died before the woman remarried, would she then be an adulteress? Not according to the “traditional view.” To use this verse to condemn the unfortunate and make them feel dirty, tainted, and unclean if they remarry is unchristian. The Bible says believers are to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), but some act like it is their calling to increase a brother’s burden with Pharisaical rhetoric (Matthew 23:4).
Nevertheless, there is more to the subject of divorce and remarriage than this verse says, and also this verse is part of the “Sermon on the Mount” which is a message to Jews about a Jewish Messiah, who is going to set up a Jewish kingdom. Verse 32 is no more the last word on divorce than the “beatitudes” (vs. 1-11) are the last word on the plan of salvation. Look at verse 39 where Christ says “resist not evil.” Does this mean a person is not to “resist the Devil” (James 4:7; 2 Peter 5:9) or sin (Hebrews 12:4)? Verse 32 has to be read with all the other passages that deal with divorce just like verse 39 must be read with those that speak of resisting things. The man could in a sense cause his wife to commit adultery if he divorced her unscriptually and she then remarried someone like him who also divorced his wife unscriptually. These are the type of abuses Christ was dealing with.
The husband of one wife
Another passage we need to examine is in 1 Timothy 3 where the phrase “the husband of one wife” is found in connection with “bishop(s)” and “deacons.” More inconsistencies of the legalistic crowd can easily be seen with their “interpretation” of this phrase. The author has heard several who insist that the phrase “the husband of one wife” means “married only once.” They are very dogmatic on this matter and state it is a “firm conviction” and are certain it doesn’t mean anything else. They vehemently insist a preacher (the passage only addresses bishops, however) or deacon must have been married only one time or else he is not qualified for the ministry. When questioned some of them will even go as far as saying, “The passage definitely doesn’t mean `to have one wife at a time.'” As the old saying goes, “give a horse enough rope and he will hang himself,” and those who talk like this hang themselves with their own words.
One simple question will show that these people are not being honest or are, at least, ignorant and just repeating what they have been taught without studying the subject. Just ask them, “If `the husband of one wife’ means `married only once,’ what if the man’s wife dies, can he remarry?” They will say without hesitation something like, “Of course he can remarry, his wife died,” completely oblivious to the fact that they have flatly contradicted themselves. They are either ignorant that they have contradicted themselves or know it and simply don’t care. If a man remarries, for whatever reason, he has been married at least TWICE, and this clearly violates their “firm conviction” that a “preacher” be “married only once.”
Concerning those who realize the inconsistency but continue in it, we are familiar with their hypocritical and self-serving tactics. They want the passage to mean “married only once” when it best suits their position and “one wife at a time” when that best suits them. They reason like a Jesuit Priest “explaining” the inquisition. The phrase can mean one or the other, but it can’t consistently mean both. This, however, means nothing to the legalists. Their precious position must stand at all costs and anyone who questions it is branded as liberal.
Considering everything we have examined from the Bible concerning divorce and remarriage, the phrase “the husband of one wife” can only consistently mean “one wife at a time.” That is, a bishop (as every other Christian) should have only one wife and be true to her. If he looses his wife by any of the three Scriptural grounds of divorce, he is free to remarry, and while remaining true to his present wife, continue his ministry. This is “heresy” to the legalists, but it remains the most sensible and consistent understanding of the passage. If a man can remarry because of one scriptural divorce (death), why can’t he remarry because of the others? There is no biblical reason he can’t. To say otherwise is to “…bind (upon him) heavy burdens and grievous to be borne…” (Matthew 23:4).
Concerning the qualifications of a bishop or deacon, what honest pastor or deacon can stand before God, man, or themselves and claim he fulfills ALL the qualifications ALL the time? Not one can. If He wanted to, God could show ANY man where he has failed or violated ALL of these qualifications at one time or another in either thought, word, or deed. Any honest man will admit as much. These qualifications speak of the ideal, like “one man; one woman; for one lifetime” is the ideal. But, again, God knows man is less than ideal and allows men to be pastors who may only have half of the qualifications. Many good pastors are not very “apt to teach,” “vigilant,” or “sober,” etc., and least of all “blameless,” but God allows them to pastor, and their churches are glad to have them.
The sad thing, though, is some of these same pastors God has shown grace to will not extend grace to a brother they feel has broken the “married only once” qualification. They will break fellowship with him and claim he is “not qualified for the ministry” for the rest of his life because they think he has broken one qualification. However, if the truth were known about some of them, as they and the Lord know it, they have broken some of the qualifications themselves. Some pastors are somewhat “greedy” and “covetous,” while others are not “patient,” “given to hospitality,” nor do they “ruleth well his own house” or “have a good report of them which are without.” The children of some pastors are anything but “in subjection with all gravity.” But we understand their mentality, the terrible “sins” of divorce and remarriage are unforgivable even if they occur under scriptural grounds, while their “failings” or “weaknesses” are forgivable even though unscriptural. They remind one of Job’s “friends,” who self-righteously condemned a brother who is innocent (Job 42:7).
Some of the most extreme of these legalists will not even allow a “once married” man to preach or be a deacon if only his wife has been married before! He is “the husband of one wife” by even their “married only once” definition, yet he is still not qualified because they feel he is in some way “tainted” by being married to a scripturally divorced woman. Some of the same will not even allow them to join their church. They consider them “living in adultery.” Though this position is insupportable by the overall teaching of the Scriptures, it is, at least, consistent with their extreme view. If a man is considered an open adulterer, then he shouldn’t be received as a church member until his sin is confessed and forsaken; but if he isn’t considered an adulterer, then why can’t he not only become a member but also preach or be a deacon? Many churches compromise on this issue by allowing a divorced and remarried man to be a member but refuse him any type of ministry. Others may allow him to “teach” but not to preach. This mentality is inconsistent and compromising. Either the man is “qualified” or he isn’t. If he isn’t he should be rejected from the church (1 Corinthians 5:1-8); if he is he shouldn’t be barred from a ministry the Lord has (“without repentance,” Romans 11:29) called him to do.
To all but the most jaded of minds, the Bible is clear; for every one of the three grounds of scriptural divorce there is an allowance for remarriage in the context for the innocent or living party. But even if the position stated in this booklet is not as clear to some as we believe it to be, they should at least admit that our position is based on Scripture and not “baseless and unscriptural” as they often claim. We believe we have taken the Scriptures as they stand and not twisted one word to conform it to our position. We looked at practically every passage that deals with the subject, and we produced Scripture for the basis of every argument we presented. It is up to the reader to decide through study and prayer if “those things are so” (Acts 17:11).
A final word
In this study we have only looked at marriage and remarriage from a strict biblical perspective. That is, we only considered grounds for divorce and remarriage the Bible clearly presented. But there are severe problems in some marriages that the Bible doesn’t address.Nearly all have heard horror stories about people who have been subjected to heavily abusive and vile treatment from their spouses; what about them? What about a woman who is married to a man who routinely beats her or sexually abuses her and her children? Is she compelled to stay with him and endure such treatment at the risk of her and her children’s lives even if he has not “cheated” on her or deserted her? There are no clear, biblical answers, but there are some general principles in the Scriptures that a person can prayerfully consider when he finds himself in these type of situations. One is, the Lord has “called us to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15) and, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). The Bible acknowledges some people can be impossible to live with, and allows an escape from these situations, but each person must be sure he has tried to live peaceably “as much as lieth in you.”
Because of today’s liberal divorce laws and the selfish mentality of the average American, divorce is much too common in the United States. But on the other hand, since some people can be nearly impossible to live with, some Christians have unfortunately found themselves in miserable, abusive marriages. The believer often prays for their spouse to get saved or repent (if they claim to be saved) and they try their best to make their marriage work, but sometimes it still fails. Some Christians are quick to judge their brethren who have suffered through a failed marriage and say hurtful things like “If you are a failure in marriage, you are a failure in life,” but the Scriptures say believers are to “bear one another’s burdens” and not “think himself to be something when he is nothing” (Galatians 6:2-3). Every Christian (divorced or not) should be given the benefit of the doubt and not treated in a condescending manner as if he or she is “tainted.” Every believer is to “esteem other better than themselves” even if they are divorced (or remarried)!
- The Bible recommends a believer remain in whatever marital state he is in when he gets saved. If unmarried, he should consider remaining so; if married, he should not seek a divorce.
- However, if an unmarried believer is burdened and tempted by being single, it is perfectly proper and even “honorable” to marry.
- In the Bible the act or essence of marriage is the physical union of the man and woman—when they become “one flesh.”
- Marriage is NOT a ceremony or vow, though these can accompany a marriage.
- Betrothal and Espousal as used in the Bible refer to a promise or contract to marry—an engagement. They do not refer to the actual marriage.
- The Bible in no way encourages or recommends divorce, in fact God hates it. The Scriptures only ALLOW for it under certain circumstances.
- Divorce occurs when flesh leaves flesh with no intention of returning or because of death.
- In the Old Testament one could divorce his wife for practically “every cause,” but in the New Testament it is limited to three grounds—death, fornication, and desertion.
- Death in a marriage causes a divorce, and the remaining party is free to remarry.
- Fornication is the only grounds under which a believer can initiate divorce proceedings even if his spouse wishes to remain. Also, the innocent party can remarry without committing adultery.
- Desertion is a divorce caused by a departing spouse, and the remaining believer in this case also is free to remarry.
- The phrase “the husband of one wife” refers to a man being true to the “one wife” he presently has.
- Morton, T. S. (1997). From Marriage to Remarriage – Has A Remarried Christian Committed An “Unpardonable Sin”? Available: http://preservedwords.com/marriage.htm. Last accessed 13th Oct 2017.
- Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage Booklet (Peter S. Ruckman)