Christian Divorce and Remarriage – Is It a Sin To Divorce or Remarry After Divorce?
By Thomas Taylor
The Church has been greatly divided on the subjects of divorce and remarriage. Ministers have made blanket, and errant, statements like, “divorce is sin” and “remarriage is sin.” They even go so far as to tell people to forsake their current spouse and reunite with their former spouse so they don’t go to Hell. What utter rubbish! These ministers often have little to no knowledge of the Bible on these subjects. They have simply looked at just one or two passages and made sweeping conclusions about the subject of divorce and remarriage. So I felt it necessary to correct such poor doctrine and show what the Bible says about divorce and remarriage to those seeking the Truth on the subjects.
To start, any sin committed before someone becomes a Christian is washed away as if it never happened. If, for example, a divorce occurred because you committed adultery, the sin is washed away like it never happened once you are born again. You are not to go back and marry that person if they have already been married or you have been remarried.
Many Christians have divorced and remarried. Some ministers teach to “repent” from the remarriage. However, you cannot “repent” from a vow. A second marriage is a vow. To break that vow is to sin. So it is wrong to break that vow to try to keep the first marriage vow which has already been broken, likely, by both parties. So, simply put, you are okay with God if you are remarried. I apply the following verse to second marriages as well as first: 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (11) (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. Even if you feel you have sinned somehow, the second marriage is a vow. You can ask for forgiveness and God will forgive you (1 John 1:9) and so you are right with God. Remember, Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery, John 8:11 NASB “…Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.’” However, you cannot “repent” from a vow. You must keep it.
Divorce and Remarriage
Mark 10:11-12 And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”
If you take verses 11 and 12 all by themselves, it would seem no one can divorce ever or remarry after divorce. But anyone using these verses to say, “all divorce is sin and remarriage is sin,” is taking the verses out of context and oversimplifying a very complex subject. So the errant minister takes this verse out of context then calls you an adulterer if you are divorced and remarried. Then he shows you, “1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NASB Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, (10) nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” So he has just condemned you to Hell with no chance of escape since you are an “adulterer.” You need to walk straight out the door of such a church and don’t look back. Such ignorance of the Bible and the ways of God are staggering! He will destroy your marriage and may cause you to go to sin if you try to go back to your first wife, which I will prove by the Bible later.
Never separate one or two verses to the exclusion of those around it or other Bible passages that explain further the subject under discussion. Let us actually read the whole passage to put it into proper context:
Mark 10:1-12 NASB Getting up, He went from there to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan; crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them. (2) Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. (3) And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” (4) They said, “Moses permitted a man TO WRITE A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY.” (5) But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. (6) “But from the beginning of creation, God MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE. (7) “FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, (8) AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. (9) “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (10) In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. (11) And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; (12) and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”
We need to understand the context of this passage. Some Jews were divorcing their wives without a reason. They thought it was as if Law of Moses was giving them permission to divorce without just cause. So Jesus is given the question about divorce, is it lawful? He answers by referring them back to God’s Word that they already knew on the subject, the Law of Moses. When they answered correctly, He then expounds on God’s intention in marriage. God never intended for men to divorce (Mal. 2:16), just as He never intended mankind to sin. However, we know that what God intends, when it comes to mankind, does not necessarily occur. Man has a free will and rebels against God’s will. Thus, divorce became allowed because of the hardness of man’s heart. Divorce is not necessarily sin, it is just not God’s intention for marriage.
The verses always misapplied are verses 11 and 12, so let us examine them further. Verse 11 is talking about the husband; the “whosoever” is the husband as is evident by the pronoun “his.” This same passage is also mentioned in Matthew where it is more clear (always compare scripture with scripture, never taking just one passage if possible): Matthew 19:9 NASB “And I say to you, whoever [the husband] divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
We learn here that it is only for sexual “immorality,” as it says in the original Greek, that one is allowed to divorce. Sexual immorality = adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, or any sexually deviant behavior. Back to Mark 10:11, not her but the husband that put her away is committing adultery by putting her away for no reason (other than if she committed sexual immorality Matt 19:9), if he remarries. Mark 10:12 is talking about the wife. So, the same is also true of Mark 10:12; not him but the wife that put him away is committing adultery by putting him away for no reason (other than if he committed sexual immorality Matt 19:9), if she remarries.
The Principle or the Example?
Most people read the Bible without proper interpretation rules. One of the rules that most people are not even aware of, including seminary graduates, is the rule of understanding the difference between the principle and the example. A principle is the main thought that is being expressed by the scripture teaching. It can be applied with many examples. The example is an illustration of the main principle.
I may state a principle like, “Gravity makes things fall to the ground.” I then may give an example like, “I let go of a ball and it fell to the ground.” However, one is not to believe only balls are affected by gravity, right? Of course not. But that is what many ministers do with the Scriptures so often. They see an example and then make that into a principle without seeing either properly. Well that happens to be the case for Matthew 5 as follows:
Matthew 5:31-32 “It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; (32) but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
We need to understand that the phrase, “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” is an example. It is a specific example involving the principle Jesus was teaching only concerning wicked Jews who were divorcing for any and every reason. Therefore, we are not to apply this example to all divorced people, only to those He gave the principle to – the Jews divorcing their wives for the wrong reasons.
Jesus is teaching that you cannot divorce just for any reason; it must be because of unchastity, meaning any sexual behavior that is wrong. However, we will later learn in the writings of Paul there can be another reason for divorce, which I will mention at the end.
When the Jews were divorcing for no good reason they thought they were justified but Jesus was telling them they were committing adultery. And the wives that were being put out by these wicked Jews were not to be remarried to another man because they were not put out for the right reason in the first place. These put-out wives in particular were not to be remarried – not that no one can ever remarry that was divorced. See the next passage from the Law of Moses which proves this point:
Deuteronomy 24:1-2 NASB “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, (2) and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife,
So here we see it is legal to remarry once divorced, “she leaves…and becomes another man’s wife.” Jesus did not contradict this Law – He simply clarified the intent of it. Again, the Jews were divorcing for the wrong reasons. When done for the wrong reasons, it actually causes adultery to be committed by both parties if they remarry someone else. But if done for the right reasons, it is legal to get a divorce and remarry. So, again, when Jesus said, “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” is referring to divorcees that were put out for the wrong reason. It is not a blanket statement for all divorcees! Moses’ Law is clear that it was okay to remarry if you were divorced for the right reason, that being sexual immorality.
The Christian CAN remarry once divorced if the divorce was in accordance with the reason Jesus gave: Adultery or any sexual immorality. It is wrong to teach that all divorce is sin; some divorce is justified. It is wrong to teach a Christian cannot remarry once divorced; some remarriages are okay if the divorce was done for the right reason. However, if the divorce was for the wrong reason, as Jesus taught, then a remarriage can equate to adultery.
Going Back to Your Former Spouse?
Some misguided preachers even teach you need to go back to your former spouse if you’ve been divorced even though you have remarried! They do not know this passage:
Deuteronomy 24:3-4 NASB and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, (4) then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.
This passage teaches once you have been remarried to a new spouse, it is sin to go back to the first spouse or for them to come back to you. You must keep your new vow to your new spouse, even if the second marriage was for the wrong reason. You cannot repent from a vow. You cannot take back a sexual act. You can ask for forgiveness if you divorced for the wrong reasons and God will forgive. But you cannot and should not go back to your former spouse ever again if you have remarried.
Does a Christian have to remain unmarried if his/her spouse abandons the family? Someone who would abandon their spouse and/or family is almost certainly not a Christian. There may be exceptions to that statement, like mental health issues, but for the most part, Christians don’t just wake up one day and walk out. (A Christian could walk out if the spouse is committing adultery on them or if the spouse is abusing them or the children.) So this scripture from Paul would apply to unbelievers who walk out on you (even if they claim to be Christians):
1 Corinthians 7:15 NASB Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.
So if the unbeliever walks out on you, let them leave. You can divorce if you choose to. The question is, can you remarry if the unbeliever abandons you? Yes, you can. The principle is the same as for Deuteronomy 24; once divorced for a valid reason, including abandonment, you can remarry. Jesus did not get into this detail in His teaching but that does not mean what Paul said is wrong. The Holy Spirit was the One that actually gave both of them their teachings which we have today as our Scriptures. Your spouse abandoning you is another reason one can divorce and remarry.
In Conclusion, the only reason someone is justified in getting a divorce according to the Bible is sexual immorality or abandonment. All other divorce is not justified and can lead to sin. If you have sinned, ask for forgiveness and God will forgive you (1 John 1:9). However, you cannot go back to your former spouse if you or they have remarried. Remain faithful to the marriage you are in today until death do you part. By the way, when a Christian remarries, they should always marry another Christian (2 Cor 6:14 – be not unequally yoked; 1 Cor 7:39 – marry only in the Lord)!