Can a person get divorced or remarried?

The below are some comments on this subject and will be elaborated on in the future in various ways including further bible references.

It is addressed in light of various and very different views on the subject as well as prevailing misconceptions concerning these sensitive areas. For the meantime, it will examine just two main scriptures relating to these topics because they essentially cover the circumstances that reveal important factors which deserve much deeper examination.

Firstly, the passages of Matthew 19:7- 9 and Matthew 5:31-32 are the principle examples of teachings in the New Testament on this subject.

(Matthew 19:7-9)

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

(Matthew 5:31-32)

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery”.

The use of the words “sexual immorality” in both passages stem from the passage in Deuteronomy 24/1:

“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house”.

A study of the Greek word “porneia” for ‘indecent’ in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 refers to the wider meaning of sexual immorality of some sort and not just fornication. This is the reason why Jesus used “porneia” because there are obviously multiple and different things that constitute sexual indecency.

This means that “porneia” refers to any sort of sexual immorality such as masturbation, unnatural sexual acts, pornography, homosexuality and beastiality.

Relevantly, it is wrongly believed by many believers that they cannot be guilty of any unnatural ‘sexual’ acts occurring within the confines of marriage. This belief is due to a misunderstanding of the scripture in Hebrews 13:4 which in some translations states that the ‘married bed is undefiled’. The scripture simply means that because marriage is honourable the marriage bed should be kept pure and that no sexually immoral act should take place within the marriage regardless of it being committed by a married couple, and, by doing so the marriage bed remains undefiled or pure.

Moreover, then, while revealing in context that God did not permit divorce from the beginning, Jesus nevertheless legally had to express words that were consistent with the Old Testament teaching and precedent on the subject. That is, Jesus could not contradict what Moses had permitted the Israelites to do, albeit due to the hardness of their hearts, but had to uphold the teaching and thereby glorify God.

Therefore, His use of “sexual immorality” affirms Moses’ ‘exception’ of “indecent” for divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1. To emphasise, this reveals that when reading the New Testament, there are often biblical and legal precedents stemming from the Old Testament that must require a ‘following’ or an appreciation of in order to understand why a particular word or reasoning is employed for a given subject.

In this context, it must be said that it was never the intention of God from the beginning that people would be divorced. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 19:8 above as well as in Mark chapter 10 and Luke 16.

And, in this light, the sexual immorality ‘exception’ is not automatic. This is because, as stated above, there is the need to adhere to God’s Will for the prohibition of divorce from the beginning though this is tempered by the essential examination of the facts and circumstances that are involved in a marriage in order to navigate whether the couple for instance attempted to resolve their issues before God.

That is, there is the need to discover whether there is the sexual immorality ‘ground’ in the first place and, as said, whether genuine attempts are being made or were made to explore for instance all possible ways to advance a union through biblical counselling. Also, perhaps it may be appropriate that informal separation occurs for a period of time so that the parties may function in an environment that both necessitates an opportunity to properly examine their circumstances as well as facilitates a place of well-being. In saying so, of course, relationship issues are generally very complex and difficult to navigate and are even more challenging when a divorce has already occurred. However, it is neither helpful nor just to tell a spouse to remain at all costs under the same roof with another person where there is real danger to life and limb or general health regardless of whether or not they are a Christian.

Suffice to say in these brief comments that the fact that Jesus affirms a long established legal precedent as an ‘exception’ for divorce and remarriage reveals that such cannot be overlooked or downplayed. Thus, while the Bible teaches that it is not God’s will for divorce or remarriage to take place, this does not mean that God does not permit these given the sexual immorality ground sbove. Thus, divorce or remarriage must truly be ‘personally’ permitted by God alone and therefore it cannot be said that if God permits such that divorce or remarriage is unacceptable in God’s sight.

By the same token, it is important to note that if a divorce or remarriage has taken place without being truly ‘permitted’ by God then it would be unacceptable and sinful in His sight and is adultery. That is, in the case of divorce, the Bible implores moves to reconcile with a spouse otherwise adultery governs the situation and therefore the second marriage is not recognised by God. Thus, the remarried spouse is found in a state of ‘continuous adultery’ as well as the ‘innocent’ spouse of the remarried person.

Importantly, it is noteworthy that the biblical record reveals only two ‘grounds’ upon which remarriage may occur. These are, as above, sexual immorality, and the second ground is the death of a spouse. In saying so, perhaps an at times overlooked truth is that the Bible does not imply that remarriage is permitted in the absence of a stated ground for it. Relevantly, in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, we see that the Bible ultimately permits divorce in circumstances where a believer is married to an unbeliever, for the sake of peace. Before proceeding further, it is important to say that this chapter is permitting divorce in an “unequally yoked” situation, and not merely separation. The error occurs in wrongly believing that the words “put away” mean ‘to separate’ when rather it means to divorce, to ‘put away entirely’ as with Moses’ stipulation, for the sake of peace in this situation.

With this in mind, importantly, we do not find in this chapter or any other place an “unequally yoked” ground for remarriage. This should not be taken lightly but people must exercise great caution to not remarry as it means that the second marriage is not recognised by God and therefore a couple is committing continuous adultery in this marriage. This may seem harsh, however, it should be seen in the light that the very limited grounds of remarriage above reflect the nature of God’s Will where remarriage for any reason is not encouraged and is in keeping with the scriptural admonitions in 1 Corinthians 7 that people should seek to stay unmarried if they are divorced.

At this point, I will turn to a relevant concept called an ‘annulment’ of marriage which may or may not fall into the category of acceptable grounds for divorce in various situations including those that are “unequally yoked”.

‘Annulment’ is where a court dissolves a “marriage” because it was not legal. It resolves the question of whether or not a union is acceptable which is governed by the rules of individual nations. While God’s Word says that we should be subject to the governing authorities (Rom 13:1) the most important consideration is whether a marriage is acceptable to God. So, some of the questions to be asked are, is the marriage bigamous or polygamous? Did it occur by trickery? Were there incorrect legal procedures and considerations present? Were the parties legally allowed to be married in terms of age? These situations call for a proper understanding of all the circumstances and most importantly an appreciation of the nature of a holy God and which, depending on the circumstances, may possibly necessitate a legal ‘annulment’ of the union.

An annulment of a union is given by a court which recognises that the marriage is void and is treated as if it never took place. In the case of under-aged parties, it is obvious that in the sight of God such a “marriage” is not recognised and the parties are free to marry as if they had never been married previously. Thus, this means that it would be wrong and misleading for church leaders and believers alike to dismiss a person’s desire to be ‘remarried’ in circumstances where a party or parties were initially not old enough to do so.

It may seem obvious that seemingly nobody should disagree with permitting such to become married. However, it must be said that it would be naïve to think that there are not believers who would still place under-aged “married” couples in the category of biblically “married” because they believe that a ‘marriage’ was approved by God just because it was pronounced at the altar. Even so, it would be most unfortunate if such thinkers believed that such people were unable to be remarried even if a court annulled it or the Church in its wisdom also considers them as never been married previously.

This aspect on annulment is necessary to include in the divorce and marriage debate because it is another ground upon which a ‘divorce’ can take place irrespective of whether it occurs through the courts or by agreement. Thus, it behoves the church to understand that while the Bible reveals specific stipulations concerning the issues of divorce and remarriage, it should regard other important societal grounds like this one as belonging to God’s moral rules and importantly which do not act disharmoniously with His Word nor His character and intentions.

Thus, the question to be asked is can the “unequally yoked” ground be considered for divorce in circumstances other than one party not being a believer? That is, for instance, if it isn’t God’s Will for two people to be married, even though they are believers, can they be divorced in the absence of the ground of sexual immorality?

These are challenging questions to answer because while it is not God’s Will for a particular couple to be married, does this then mean that they can have their married annulled as if it did not occur in the first place? By little more than speculation, it may seem for instance than in the case where two people are clearly not supposed to be married that they could possibly fall within the annulment category perhaps based on something like improper motives or gross naivety where a readiness for marriage is clearly non-existent.

If so, that is, if it is the Will of God for a union to be annulled and that it is ultimately accepted by a court, then on this basis it may be appear likely that remarriage could occur because of it being recognised as non-existent in the first place.

In saying so, if remarriage were approved by God by way of an annulment ground, it does not at all mean of course that such reasons within a union could be applied to every case where a couple seeks an annulment rather than a divorce. This is because of the prevailing need to where appropriate avoid the attempt by many divorced couples to inevitably use certain grounds that seek to establish a need for an annulment where their circumstances do not warrant such a determination. As said earlier, such a route requires much guidance and counselling to ascertain if it is the right course and also because if one is wrong then such will be found in continuous adultery by then falsely remarrying and in the absence of the established biblical grounds stated earlier.

In brief summary, for the purposes of the principal matter in this writing, it is important to note that it is not the original Will of God for people to be divorced and remarry in terms of God’s general Will. This must heavily be taken into account though at the same time it would be wrong and error to outrightly dismiss the biblical exception, which is a legal exception through Moses’ precedent and which God upholds. Therefore, godly guidance and prayer and counselling is required for the right decision to be made which may be that divorce and remarriage is permitted in certain situations depending on the facts and circumstances involved and most importantly if God permits it for a particular couple.