When a Christian has divorced and remarried
By David Kowalski
Below is a copy of an answer I provided to someone who wrote me, asking if they should stay in their second marriage (they were apparently at fault for the divorce in their first one). They had been getting conflicting advice and wanted my opinion, which is expressed below.
…You do not provide the background details involved in your divorce and remarriage but I think it will be best for the sake of argument, to assume the very worst about your circumstances — that you were the offending party in a previous marriage and left your first spouse not only with no biblical cause but in pursuit of an adulterous relationship that then resulted in a new marriage. Though your exact circumstances may not be thereby described, I think my answer to someone living within that situation will provide an application you will find for yours.
I believe that someone who has been unfaithful to their spouse and divorces them to marry another has committed a sin. I’m convinced the Scriptures are clear on this and I cannot find an orthodox scholar who expresses a differing opinion.
Nevertheless, the confusion you now experience results from an apparent lack of clear teaching in the Bible about what someone in the above-described state should do. As you have found, there are people who insist that such a person should divorce their current spouse since, in their view, such a person is living in a perpetual state of adultery. I do not believe this view can be clearly established from Scripture, however, and I find that even the strictest of Evangelical scholars do not insist upon a new, second divorce in such cases.
Perhaps the most pertinent NT verse in this regard would be Matthew 5:32:
But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
After considering the Greek construction of this verse, J. Carl Laney, who takes a very strict stand on divorce and remarriage, remarks that “The adultery would involve one punctiliar action at the time of the remarriage.” 1 In other words, Laney says the person in our above example commits an act of adultery but is not living in an ongoing state of adultery.
John Murray asserts that after the divorce and remarriage, “The second marriage is the only one that exists.” 2
These considerations cause Robert J. Plekker to say the following:
Those who advocate a second divorce to cure the problem of ‘continual’ adultery forget that a second divorce is as meaningless as the first. The offender may never claim his or her offense as a reason for another divorce. Sin does not cancel sin!…We must do everything within our power to avoid ever willfully repeating the sin. Would it follow then that to be forgiven for the sins of divorce and remarriage, God would demand that we sin in another divorce?” 3
Since God hates divorce a new one would be wrong and two wrongs do not make a right. Though it is an unscriptural act to divorce without cause and subsequently remarry, the act involved does not result in an ongoing, sinful state, and I believe that even if the person described in the first paragraph was culpable in the divorce, the new marriage does represent a new covenant before God that should henceforth be honored (precluding a new divorce). I believe the orthodox advice to such a person is to remain as they are and not further complicate matters with yet another divorce.
In short, even if you find yourself described in my first paragraph, the grace of God is now extended to you and allows you a new start with the command that you remain faithful to your new vows. It’s too late to unscramble eggs or undo what has been done. Receive the grace of God where you are and repent of any tendency to unfaithfulness or unwarranted divorce in the future.
As a postscript to the above email that was sent in response to a question, I would comment that I sympathize to a degree with those who might suggest that my stance on this topic will encourage people to flaunt God’s standards on marriage by repeatedly divorcing and remarrying carelessly and with seeming impunity. I can only say that the same objection could be raised (hypothetically) in regard to the New Testament’s clear teaching that God forgives the sins of believers who repent.
One might say that His grace encourages further sin but this is only so with people whose heart is darkened and who are not really following Christ. Such people will eventually give an account for their actions. In teaching God’s word, I cannot let a fear of this kind of misconduct (as applied to divorce and remarriage) cause me to censor His truth — though I would add that a hardened and repeated disregard for God’s standards will have consequences in this age and in the one to come.
© Copyright 2019, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.
- Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 39. ↩
- John Murray, Divorce (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1961) 113. ↩
- Robert J. Plekker, Divorce and the Christian (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1982), 113-14. ↩
Related topic(s): David Kowalski
First published (or major update) on Tuesday, March 19, 2019.
Last updated on January 04, 2021. Original content is © Copyright Apologetics Index. All Rights Reserved. For usage guidelines see link at the bottom.
I am a devorced man. This is the cause I think about this topic more than 7 years.
I am single.
Whether God ever planned a tolerable sin, which should have to be commit, (Before we would done that, ) and should think about that (before commiting that sin), that is required. Which sin would be unavoidable and desirable because the result is a desirable nonsinful result. Just because of the desirable nonsinful result we should go through a sinful act.
Personnaly I doubt it.
But the reasoning of marriage a devorced woman, Thought as a sinful act, because Jesus told that is sin.
Just because of desire to get marriage with that woman, and a second devorce is also sin and not recommended so the reasoning of just staying in a second marriage after stepping into that marriage, and not thinking about that is a continuous sin.
This way of reasonong result an embravement to commit a sin by marriaging a devorced voman, after the sin would be no problem, because the fact remaining in that marriage thought to be non-sinful.
THis way of reasoning and sinking make people brave to cross the law of God.
Thanks for taking the time to read this brief article. It seems that English is not your first language but I think I understand enough of your comment to perceive that you disagree with some of my conclusions. In response, I would just suggest you reread the article since it is very short, and I believe it speaks to your concerns. I do not advocate unscriptural divorce and remarriage. Nevertheless, all divorce is wrong and two wrongs do not make a right.
Of course, you have the prerogative and responsibility to think for yourself on this and other matters. I commend you for your choice to remain single rather than commit a sinful act.
Thank you for your balanced and biblical article. I divorced my ex husband and married another man. I had to go to the pit if dispare and shame for what I had done. I felt such love and forgivness from a very loving and compasionate God. I believe my second marrige is where I should stay. Grace is what God has given me. The consequences of what I have done will always be with me.
Thanks. I hope this short article helped in some way. All of us have things in our past that must in some way be put behind us even if those things are not as tangible as an ex-spouse. All we can do at this point is to look ahead and make the best of our future.
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 3:12-14 ESV
Although the “one-time adultery” view might be popular, I think it is clearly inconsistent with the texts. That “no-one” holds a different view is simply untrue. Many evangelicals are just too afraid to conclude otherwise. Compare for instance with the view of the RCC, which holds the marriage bond as only separated by death, which surely represent the Christian majority view.
Luk 16:18b “the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery”
Such a man could be unmarried himself, but marrying a divorced woman causes him to commit adultery AFTER HE MARRIES HER. You can NEVER commit adultery with your own wife, BY DEFINITION.
The only conclusion is, is that she is STILL the wife of the husband she divorced from. Therefore, both the divorce and the subsequent “marriage” did NOT sever the marriage bond to her former husband. Furthermore, the new “marriage” did not establish an actual marriage at all.
If the new marriage did not establish an actual marriage, and engaging in sex is called adultery, it still will be adultery if you engage in subsequent sexual activity. “Divorcing” a second “marriage” is therefore not a divorce in the classical sense, but only respecting the existing marriage.
If you think otherwise, explain exactly which conditions causes a single sexual act of adultery to cause all subsequent sexual activities to be non-adulterous.
Paul: Thanks for submitting your question which I can only answer somewhat briefly in this forum (there is no room here for an entire book such as the ones I cite in the article).
First, I cannot answer for the Roman Catholic view since they do not hold to Scripture as the final authority for faith and practice. I am an Evangelical Protestant. Secondly, I am baffled by your claim to know that many Evangelicals hold to a view they are too afraid to express. Personally, I have no way to determine what people believe unless they publicly state their views. I suppose this is the reason you resort to citing the Roman Catholic Church as an authority since you seem to know of no contemporary, Evangelical scholar who is “courageous enough” to publicly agree with you. I think it is invalid to claim a “majority view” when no majority has publicly espoused that view. I would say, though, that you are not completely alone in your opinion.
I do not believe that a single act of adultery causes all subsequent sexual activities to be non-adulterous, and I know of no Evangelical who embraces that straw man which you construct. Furthermore, it is never prudent to base one’s view about such an important matter on just one half of one verse of Scripture. One should study what the entire Word of God states on a given subject (carefully studying the passages involved) and then harmonize all the authorial intent found in each of the pertinent passages that would in any way speak to the issue in question.
If you will look at the end of my short article you will see three books cited and I recommend the reading of them since they painstakingly examine the entire revelation found in the Bible as it relates to this topic. For a brief summary, I recommend the position paper that expresses the stance of the Assemblies of God on this matter. It is quite strong and uncompromising (much like the stance of J. Carl Laney whom I cite in the above article, and is much like my own stance [I am ordained with the Assemblies of God]). Nevertheless, just as do Laney and I, the authors of the document consider all of what God has revealed on this subject and the authorial intent found in each verse or passage. In speaking of church leaders’ need to work within the bounds of an imperfect world in which many congregants have formed unions outside of the ideal or perfect pattern, the paper says the following: “In addressing the ideal nature of marriage, the church must also recognize that among its most needy, and yet potentially most fruitful, congregants are many who are already divorced, possibly remarried, and who struggle with guilt and condemnation from earlier marital failure. It is imperative that the church demonstrate to them Christ’s love and grace.”
It is not my desire nor is it the desire of Evangelical scholars to approve of divorce and remarriage that is not scripturally authorized. Divorce and remarriage outside of the bounds of the scriptural exceptions of infidelity and abandonment by an unbeliever is wrong. Nevertheless, the Bible teaches that all divorce is wrong and one does not cancel a sin by committing yet another one. One repents of the sin of divorce by ceasing to commit that sin.
I have been a pastor and known the frustration of welcoming people into the church who have had multiple marriages before they have entered their current one. I would never proclaim to those who visit a church that I pastored that they must commit still more sin. To a world that has so cavalierly disregarded God’s commands about marital fidelity, I believe we must preach a strong word of repentance in which we proclaim that people must stop committing the sin of divorce!
Since there is so much more to say and so many passages to examine, I commend the reading of the books cited above and the position paper just quoted. I pray that you find them helpful. God bless you. I genuinely appreciate your desire to uphold righteous and uncompromising practices.
(I’m forced to severely limit my reply.) Truth is not found in numbers. Read the work Leslie McFall on the text-critical issue of Mat 19:9.
While I cited half of a verse, it does not make my logic less true. My view is the Church’s historic position and consistent with the Lord’s command 1Cor7:10-11 (Notice how after the separation, her “ex” is still considered “her husband”)
You on the one hand implicitly acknowledge that if the initial sexual encounter is adultery, then subsequent sexual encounters are also adulterous, while defending that when the NT calls the first sexual encounter after marrying a divorcee ‘adultery’, all subsequent sexual encounters automagically stop being adultery. That is inconsistent and illogical. It is however the only option to be able to defend staying in a “marriage” with a divorcee.
I could also rephrase the question; if the Lord calls someone marrying a divorced person as committing adultery, what would exactly cause the adultery to stop and turn such a marriage in a bona-fide one? How does one repent of that sin of adultery? I have NEVER heard those authors answer these questions. Then by what authority can they advice to stay in such a marriage? I think the warnings in 1Cor6:9-10 and Heb13:4 makes this question all the more grave.
On the other hand, in my interpretation, it is not only LOGICAL, but it is NECESSARY to make an end to the adultery, by stop having sex with that person.
Paul: Though I am having persistent health difficulties at this time, I will answer your final question here. I do appreciate your desire to limit the space you take in asking this question since a comment/questions thread is not an appropriate place for protracted debate or alternative articles. There are many outlets for each participant to more fully elaborate upon their views.
I greatly appreciate your apparent desire to uphold standards of godliness, even if you differ with my understanding of what Scripture commands on this complex subject.
I agree with you that numbers are no test of truth, which is why I puzzled over your claim to know that a silent majority of Christians agreed with your view without ever saying so. I just wondered how you knew this if the Christian majority that you claim sided with you did not publicly express an opinion of this kind.
I still do not agree that using half of one verse is good hermeneutics. One must consider both the immediate context as well as the larger context of all Scripture.
The McFall theory has almost no support in the scholarly community and has, I believe, been thoroughly refuted (see this article, for just one example).
One must use great care in claiming their opinion to be the “historic position.” It is easy to cherry-pick historical quotes, and you do not even cite any. Determining “the historic position” is a much more laborious endeavor than just making an unsubstantiated claim.
You seem to have misunderstood my views about punctiliar adultery versus ongoing adultery. I can only recommend you carefully reread the article and my comments. The authors of the books do, indeed, address these issues, which is why I have recommended that you read them to discover what they say.
Verse by Verse Ministries has an excellent article on their website that I commend to you. Copyright concerns allow me to quote only a short portion:
“Matt. 19:9 ‘And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’
It’s important to recognize that Jesus didn’t say that the new marriage after divorce was adultery (i.e., the marriage itself is adulterous). Rather, Jesus said that the one who enters into a marriage after divorce commits adultery (i.e., the person is guilty of sin for having married again). In other words, the institution itself isn’t sinful or illegitimate, but rather the person’s choice to enter into the institution was sin yet the institution itself is still valid. In fact, Jesus said the man ‘marries’ another woman, Jesus’ choice of words make clear a new union has been formed …The man and woman are expected to remain faithful to each other until death.”
The principles observed in Deuteronomy 24 are worth considering here. A divorced and remarried woman was forbidden to remarry her first husband since this was considered infidelity toward her second husband, and she was expected to honor her second marriage as a sacred covenant, recognized by God.
Finally, the authors of Scripture do not seem to know of any marriage that does not involve sexual interaction. Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 7:5 is one indicator that this behavior is considered a part of all marriages.
Thanks again for your input and your concern for righteousness.
I have been divorced and single since 2015. My ex-husband filed the divorce petition to pursue a relationship with the young woman which he was had been having an affair during the last 2 years of our marriage just prior to his filing for divorce. He left the marriage to pursue that relationship. I have not dated yet because I do not desire to date just for the sake of dating. I desire to date a believer who is also looking to date, court then marry if the word of God allows. Do these circumstances allow or bar me from marriage again? Do these circumstances make the man that desires to marry me, walk in a sinful act?
Let me preface my remarks by saying that I can only express my opinion here (one with which some people will strongly disagree, by the way). Ultimately, you must base your decision on your own understanding of Scripture’s teaching and follow the dictates of your own conscience. Many scholars maintain that Mathew 5:32 and 19:9 (CARM has a good article on these verses), along with 1 Corinthians 7:15, present us with an exception to the prohibition against divorce. Many scholars believe these three verses teach that if an unbelieving spouse abandons a believer to pursue an adulterous relationship with another party, they have broken the marriage covenant, and the innocent party is no longer bound by marriage to that person. They are, according to these scholars, single in the eyes of God and eligible for remarriage that would not be sinful. Though I concur with this view, I would exhort you not to make your decision based on my opinion, but to act only on convictions of your own, held from your careful examination of the Bible. You should never act against your own convictions or conscience. I would also encourage you to make an appointment to receive counsel from your pastor. You do not mention the history of the believer you are thinking of dating, so I can offer no commentary on his status. I pray that God guides you in this matter.
It’s very clear that fornication, a word always used for premarital sex, is used by Jesus. The ‘strict’ view Jesus had on marriage surprised his followers since the Christian view was stronger than Hillel or Shammai school of thought. This is the hardest and most neglected teaching in scripture. Jesus didn’t talk about pro life, lgbt, while those are important subjects in all gospels he preaches marriage is only dissolved by death. For teachers to say otherwise will threaten to possibly make them least in the kingdom of heaven. In 1 Cor. 6 Paul says the ‘get’ or bill of remarriage is not necessary and is consistent with the fornication view. The whole church was in agreement till the 1960s when globally divorces skyrocketed. The church has totally caved to the world in this arena, but it will not cave completely if we teach Jesus faithfully.
David: Thanks for your comment. It is always dangerous to base our belief regarding what God says in His Word by focusing on our understanding of one ancient word used in one text and forcing the rest of Scripture to fit into the Procrustean bed of that singular focus. Good hermeneutics demands that we interpret Scripture with Scripture. John Owen is often quoted in this regard when he said, “The only unique, public, authentic, and infallible interpreter of Scripture is none other than the Author of Scripture Himself . . . that is, God the Holy Spirit.” This is why in the above article I sought to harmonize the teaching of the entire New Testament on the topic at hand. Even your handling of Matthew 19:9, when considered in isolation, is faulty, as I noted in an above answer, quoting from Verse by Verse ministries: “It’s important to recognize that Jesus didn’t say that the new marriage after divorce was adultery (i.e., the marriage itself is adulterous). Rather, Jesus said that the one who enters into a marriage after divorce commits adultery (i.e., the person is guilty of sin for having married again). In other words, the institution itself isn’t sinful or illegitimate, but rather the person’s choice to enter into the institution was sin yet the institution itself is still valid. In fact, Jesus said the man ‘marries’ another woman, Jesus’ choice of words make clear a new union has been formed …The man and woman are expected to remain faithful to each other until death.” I also noted there, “The principles observed in Deuteronomy 24 are worth considering here. A divorced and remarried woman was forbidden to remarry her first husband since this was considered infidelity toward her second husband, and she was expected to honor her second marriage as a sacred covenant, recognized by God.”
As for Church history, your claim is problematic. First, the Church has never been monolithic until the formation of the Roman Catholic Church. Origen acknowledged this diversity of views on divorce and remarriage in the third-century Church. Even some scholars such as Thomas More and Erasmus within Roman Catholicism expressed views on this issue that were not in harmony with Roman Catholic dogma. With the Protestant Reformation, a fresh understanding of biblical teaching on divorce and remarriage can be seen in writings as early as those of Luther and Calvin. As I said in a previous answer to a comment, “Determining ‘the historic position’ is a much more laborious endeavor than just making an unsubstantiated claim.” You say that views on this matter changed in the 1960s, though you provide no documentation for this. You also give what you believe to be the motivation for that supposed change even though to reject a view on the basis of one’s claims of the motives of its proponents is a clear example of the genetic fallacy. I am constrained in my views by what God has revealed in His Word. Thus, I have strongly condemned the sin of divorce and will continue to do so, which is why I do not command people to sin yet more in a misguided and unscriptural effort to atone for a previous sin. Sinners repent by ceasing to sin.