Divorce and Remarriage by Bruce Lackey
As we consider the subject of divorce and remarriage, it is most important that we approach it with the proper attitude.
1 Pe. 4:7-8 describes the three-fold attitude that that we need, especially in these last days as we look for the return of
the Lord Jesus Christ--being sober, watching unto prayer, and having fervent charity. We might say, simply, that we
need to think, pray, and love. When he says "be ye therefore sober," that obviously means to think. We cannot give
in to our feelings, or to sentiment, or to public opinion, or even to the particular needs of our closest friends or family.
Thinking properly would be thinking according to Scripture. Then, we are to pray. We must seek the Lord's wisdom
about this matter. Then, of course, love. It is a serious mistake to develop any kind of a scriptural opinion which
causes us to hate or snub people, to look down upon them, or fail to love them. That would be an improper use of the
Word of God.
1. Mal. 2:14-16 makes it clear that God hates divorce.
There can be no doubt that "putting away"
is another term for divorce. It is vital to know what God's attitude toward divorce is, especially when we see other
Scriptures which give permission for the very thing that God hates!
Why would God hate divorce? All of us can think of situations where we are sure that divorce was the proper thing;
in some cases we are sure that it was the only answer to a very unhappy situation. At the same time, all who have
dealt with people who have gone through a divorce realize that it is always the children who suffer most. That is
exactly the reason which God gives here for hating it. Verse 15 tells us that God made one (that is, one woman for one
man, as He did in the Garden of Eden) that He might seek a godly seed. God is interested in children being brought
up in His nurture and admonition.
Many people disagree with that, saying that the children are better off with a single parent, or with a new parent, than
being in an unhappy home. At first, this seems reasonable, but the years have taught us, even unbelievers who deal
with children's problems, that it is an unsettling and detrimental thing for children to be shuttled back and forth
between parents who have custody or visitation privileges. How often have we heard a parent say, "I dread to see
the children go to visit their father (or mother) this weekend, because I know they will get into some kind of
ungodliness, or will return being adversely affected by it all."
In many cases, the children will follow the ungodly parent rather than the one who is trying to obey the Bible.
Divorce does not prevent that from happening.
2. God's original plan for marriage was that there would be no divorce.
In Mt. 19 this was made very clear in a conversation between Christ and the Pharisees. In verse 3, we should note
that they were asking the Lord about De. 24:1, which was the only verse giving permission for divorce. However,
rather than explaining that verse, Christ first referred to Ge. 1:27 and 2:24 by saying, "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?" (Mt. 19:4-5). Then He applied the two verses by
saying, "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man
put asunder" (v.6). Thus, God's original plan, that which He had "at the beginning," was one woman for one man,
becoming one flesh, and cleaving to each other. The important thing to notice is that when the Pharisees asked about
De. 24:1, Christ did not explain that verse; rather, He went all the way back to Ge. 1 and 2 to show God's original plan.
Why, then, did God give permission for divorce in De. 24:1? That was the very question which was asked by the
Pharisees and brings us to the verse in question, and to point number three.
3. God did permit divorce for one reason.
De. 24:1-2, "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." Here is clear permission and instruction about divorce and remarriage!
The problem of interpretation, for the Pharisees, was that phrase in verse 1, "some uncleanness." Did it mean
immorality, or any thing that the man might have disliked about his wife? Such had been the controversy through the
years between rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel, and those who followed one or the other. The Pharisees were asking
the Lord Jesus which interpretation He agreed with. However, they had a serious misunderstanding about the passage
which is seen by their question in Mt. 19:7, "Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement..?"
Christ corrected them in the next verse by saying, "Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to
put away your wives." "Suffer" in Scripture means to permit; we must note that there is a great difference between a
command and a permission. Sometimes in Scripture God permitted things that He did not command (such as polygamy).
Sometimes people object to that as an inconsistency in God. Why would He do that? Christ explained: "because of
the hardness of your hearts." Then, it is most important to see that He immediately said, "but from the beginning it
was not so." God made changes in the various dispensations; He changed what He required man to do, from one
age to another; He also gave permissions in one age that He did not give to others. Until He gave the law through
Moses, man could offer sacrifices to God anywhere, but in De. 12:5-14, He required them to come to a particular place,
and to that place only. Now, in our age, we do not even offer such sacrifices! Clearly, then, God has changed His
requirements and permissions for mankind from age to age.
The commands of the law were not meant to be permanent, but temporary, for Israel during those years while they
awaited the coming of the Saviour. God knew, of course, that when Christ would come, He would be the Lamb of
God which would take away the sin of the world. The Law was temporary, and that includes the permission about
4. This permission about divorce was only for the dispensation of law.
To prove this point, let's back up one chapter to De. 23, and read v. 1. "He that is wounded in the stones, or hath
his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord." Everyone understands that this was
temporary; no one tries to enforce this rule today, when a person wants to join a church!
Another prohibition in that chapter that people do not enforce today is found in v. 2, "A bastard shall not enter into
the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord."
Similarly, no one enforces v. 3), which prohibits an Ammonite or a Moabite from entering the congregation of the
Lord. These were obviously temporary, since Christ commanded us to go and preach the gospel to all nations,
baptizing them and teaching them to follow Him. Everyone realizes that about chapter 23, but many ignore this
matter when they get to chapter 24!
5. Christ's plan for the church age is not found in Mt. 19, but in 1 Co. 7.
How can we be sure of that? By remembering that Christ lived under the dispensation of the law (see Ga. 4:4,
"God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law..."). Thus, He observed the Passover, one of the
regulations of the law of Moses, but we are certainly not commanded to do so today. Christ explained De. 24:1 to
the Pharisees because they were still under the law. The four Gospels record many places where the Lord Jesus
dealt with local and temporary matters which affected them, at that time, in that place, but not us today.
We are obligated to do as Christ did with the Pharisees: distinguish between what God gave through Moses for Israel
during that time, and what God's original plan was. In other words, we must "rightly divide the word of truth"
(2 Ti. 2:15).
Almost all of 1 Co. 7 is devoted to the subject of marriage and the various problems that attend it. Verses 10-11 show
that God's plan for us today is the same as it was in the beginning: "And unto the married I command, yet not I, but
the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to
her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife."
This clearly shows that God does not want divorce. However, recognizing that some people will divorce in spite of
what God wants, He admonishes that the wife who departs has only two options: "let her remain unmarried, or be
reconciled to her husband." Perhaps He had in mind a situation where a husband was physically harming the wife
and/or children, or where their lives were threatened. Or, He might have been thinking of situations such as those
today in which one person can get a divorce whether the other partner wants it or not. In such a case, the options are
clear: remain unmarried or be reconciled. If God permitted remarriage today, this would have been the perfect place
to state it; as a matter of fact, this is the place that it would have been absolutely necessary to state so.
We note that Paul said, "...yet not I, but the Lord." This was not merely what Paul thought, but what God commanded.
In v. 12, "But to the rest speak I, not the Lord..." Paul did not disclaim inspiration, but rather taught that he was
dealing with a matter which Christ did not mention while He was on earth. We should remember that Christ told His
disciples, in Jn. 16:12-13, that He had not told them everything, because they could not have absorbed it. He said
that the Holy Spirit would come and reveal more of Christ's truth; this situation in 1 Corinthians is a fulfillment of that.
While on earth, the Lord Jesus did not say anything about a believer being married to an unbeliever. That was left
for Paul to deal with.
1 Co. 7:14 gives one reason why divorce should not occur: the unbelieving partner is sanctified by the believer.
A second reason is that the children would be sanctified, also. What a great privilege it is for one person in a family
to be saved! The presence of one Christian in a family brings the blessing of God, which would be impossible
otherwise. To say that the unbeliever is sanctified does not guarantee his salvation; to say that the children are
holy does not guarantee their salvation, either. Sanctified and holy do not necessarily mean to be saved or purified
or made better. A good example of that is 1 Pe. 3:15, where we read that we are to "sanctify the Lord God" in our
hearts; obviously, we cannot improve the Lord. We sanctify Him, but we certainly do not save or purify Him! To
sanctify means to set something or someone apart, to be different from all else. Thus, to sanctify the Lord in our
hearts is to give Him a place which is above all else.
In a family where at least one member is saved, that family is set apart, different from other families which do not have
any believers in them, in this respect: not only can they hear the gospel, but they can also see the effects of it in
everyday life. [Such a family also has a special blessing of the Lord because of the presence of the child of God.]
How few in this heathen world have that privilege! A family which had at least one Christian in it would have a
better chance of being saved than otherwise.
Therefore, Scripture is admonishing the believer not to leave the unbelieving mate. We can imagine what a problem
it be to be married to an idolater, especially when we learn that idolaters often participated in fornication as a part of
their worship. What conflict there would be, also, in religious discussions in the home! How easy it would be to get
into heated arguments about funerals, etc. Even though such conditions might be miserable to live in, the Bible says
that the unbeliever should not depart. Reason? Verse 16, "For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save
thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?"
God is interested in saving people! He knows that believers can win others to Christ, especially when they live with
them and demonstrate the benefits of the gospel. Our problem is that we not only are not very zealous about soul
winning, we also do a poor job of living Christ in everyday activities.
Verse 15 is taken by some Christians to give permission for divorce and remarriage, when it says, "But if the
unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister in not under bondage in such cases: but God has called us to
peace." Does the phrase "not under bondage" free the divorced person to remarry? A little common sense will show
that it does not. Even if we consider this writing to be uninspired, there would be no way that a sane person would
make a statement in v. 11 and then contradict it in v. 15. In v. 11 he gave only two options to the divorced person:
remain unmarried, or be reconciled. Why would a person limit the possibilities to these two, then add another a few
sentences later? No intelligent person does things that way. Then, when we remember that these words were inspired
by the Holy Spirit, it is ridiculous to think that the Spirit of God would set down a requirement, then change it thirty
What, then, does v. 15 teach? Simply that when the unbeliever leaves, the believer has no further responsibility to be
the proper wife or husband to that departed one. To understand the necessity for this we need only to remember that,
even in our day, a divorced man sometimes returns to his estranged wife and wants to spend the night. Sometimes a
Christian woman thinks that she should permit such, since she did not seek the divorce in the first place; but this verse
teaches that the believer has no responsibility of marriage toward the one who has departed. The departed husband
may not return and expect the wife to be obedient, unless there is a reconciliation. The departed wife may not return
and expect to be provided for, unless there is a reconciliation.
In a similar way, some Christians interpret v. 28 to permit remarriage after divorce, when it says, "But and if thou
marry, thou hast not sinned..." The same reasoning applies. Even from a human standpoint, no one would make a
regulation in v. 11 and then change it in v. 28. Add inspiration, and the argument is strengthened.
God's plan for the church age is no divorce. If a divorce does take place, He certainly does not permit remarriage.
The only possibilities, if a divorce occurs, are indicated in v. 11: either remain unmarried, or be reconciled. That may
seem to be very difficult, even harsh, for God to make such a demand, but there are many passages of Scripture
which teach that if we follow the Saviour, we are going to have to make some sacrifices. That is the missing
requirement in modern Christianity! We are trying to formulate a Christian life that is nothing but a bed of roses; we
insist on pleasure and comfort, believing that if we obey the Bible everything will be good and easy. Such a life is not
taught in Scripture. Consider: Ro. 12:1 and Lk. 9:23. Each one who is serious about obeying the Lord will have to make
a sacrifice in some way. God calls on some to make financial sacrifices; a great many of God's choice servants have to
get by on very little money. Others must sacrifice health, as Paul did in enduring his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Co. 12:7-10).
Others are called upon to live without a mate, when divorce occurs, doing without a family, which many others are
permitted to have. No doubt the Saviour had this in mind when He said, "...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." (Mat. 19:12).
6. Conversion does not change the prohibition regarding remarriage.
Some Christians believe that since we become
new creatures when we are converted, with old things passing away and all things becoming new (2 Co. 5:17), the new
believer is free to remarry a Christian if the divorce took place before conversion. The fact that this is not true is seen
in 1 Co. 7; in four places, the Lord says that we should remain in the situation in which we were saved. Consider "But
as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called everyone, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all
churches" (1 Co. 7:17). The word "called" does not mean "called to preach," or "called to be a missionary," but "called
to salvation." 1 Co. 1:9 and many other verses use the word "called" to describe what God does when He convicts us
of our sins by the preaching of the gospel, and saves us.
He applied that command to circumcision, then repeated: "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was
called" (1 Co. 7:20). Another application was made regarding being a servant or being free; then the statement was
repeated in verse 24, "Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God." Then he applies the very
same command to the state of marriage in verses 25-26, rewording the command in v. 27, "Art thou bound unto a wife?
Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife."
7. The remarried person is not "living in adultery."
We often hear that phrase, but it is not found in Scripture, to my
knowledge. It is true, according to Mt. 19:9, that adultery is committed when the divorced person remarries, but it is
improper to say that such people are continuing to live in adultery every time they come together. Reason?
1 Co. 6:9-10 says that neither fornicators nor adulterers shall inherit the kingdom of God. (It will not do to say that a
person could be saved without having an inheritance in the kingdom of God, because Ro. 8:17 says, "...if children then
heirs." Therefore, to inherit the kingdom of God is the same thing as to be saved.)
Perhaps a person committed adultery at a second marriage before conversion; if so, then 1 Co. 6:11 describes that
person as "washed... sanctified... justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." They are not
"living in adultery" any longer.
But what if the remarriage takes place after conversion? If they were "living in adultery," they would lose eternal life,
an impossibility because of such promises as Jn. 6:37. Also, I Jn. 1:9 would not be true; they could not confess their
sins and be forgiven.
Sometimes people try to solve this problem by saying that such persons should cease having physical relationships
altogether, so that they will not be guilty of adultery. However, such a situation would be a contradiction of
1 Co. 7:2-5, which tells the husband and wife that they should not deny themselves to each other, unless they agree to
do so for a limited time for the purpose of fasting and prayer. Then, they are to come together again in order to avoid
being tempted by Satan.
If a Christian is guilty of remarriage, he or she should confess it as the sin of adultery (not lightly or frivolously, but
realizing the seriousness of the sin) and receive God's forgiveness. Then, that Christian should believe God's promise
in He. 10:17.