Yes, There is Biblical Divorce and Remarriage
EDIT: October 11, 2014
Please read my post titled “A Correction” before reading this. Matthew 19 applies to men. Not women, despite any language in this post which would suggest otherwise. Women DO NOT appear to have a right of divorce and remarriage.
There are certain teachings prevalent in many Christian circles which claim there is no Biblical divorce and remarriage. While these groups rightly expose the sin of the frivolous divorce epidemic in the West, they also fail to acknowledge God’s sanctioning of Biblical divorce and remarriage in cases of sexual sin. ‘No!” They’ll say. “There’s never ever grounds for divorce and anyone who remarries in such a case is committing adultery!”
This is a false teaching and is contradicted by the direct words of Christ Himself. While it’s never good to look at individual passages of scripture by themselves, there are certain instances in which a single passage so clearly debunks false doctrines spanning entire books and sermons that it’s enough. Such is the case with this teaching. Divorce and remarriage is Biblical in cases of sexual sin. The following entry will show this to be the case based on the King James Version of the Bible.
Matthew 19 contains such a passage. In verse 3, the Pharisees pose the question, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” Note the context. They are asking if divorce for ANY reason is lawful. It’s clear that they are asking about divorce in cases of marriages which are already consummated. Hence, the answer Jesus gives is in regard to both consummated and unconsummated marriages. It includes marriages in which the man and woman are already joined together in one flesh. This is vital in understanding Christ’s answer.
“4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 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? 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? 8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. 9 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.”
Those who claim there isn’t Biblical divorce like to point to verse 8 and say that all divorce is a result of hardness of heart and is therefore unbiblical. But they neglect two things.
1) They forget the question Jesus is being asked. He isn’t being asked if just divorce for sexual sin is allowed. He’s being asked if divorce for ANY REASON is allowed. Under Levitical law, adulterers had to be killed(Leviticus 20: 10). A man following the law wouldn’t even be able to divorce an unfaithful wife at the time of Christ unless there weren’t enough witnesses to convict her of adultery. The same is the case for a newly married woman(Deuteronomy 22: 20-21). This means “hardness of heart” is referring to other problems in a marriage besides just a bitter(which is sin) husband. Letting go of bitterness in no way implies that there are no consequences for marital unfaithfulness. It’s possible to both forgive and to divorce at the same time. Divorce is often an earthly consequence of adultery the same way being fired from a job is often the earthly consequence for theft.
2) They ignore the following verse(9) in which Jesus makes a special distinction between fornication(sexual sin) with divorce for other reasons. Not only does he make a special distinction for divorce in cases of fornication, but He also makes it clear that a man who remarries in such a case isn’t guilty of adultery.
Critics will try to add to the word of God and say that fornication only refers to premarital sex and divorce can only occur before the marriage is consummated if it’s discovered the woman isn’t a virgin on her wedding night.
Deuteronomy 22: 20-21, “But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: 21 Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.”
The law commands any woman falsely representing her chastity on the night her marriage is to be consummated be put to death. It doesn’t just give the man the option to put her to death. If Joseph had taken Mary and attempted to consummate the marriage, he would have been compelled to have her executed if it turned out she wasn’t a virgin. What this means is the scenarios people give for divorce couldn’t have even taken place because a faithful Jew would have had to report a non-virgin to the priests and she would be executed. This means the answer Christ gives about divorce applies to all cases of sexual sin and includes instances in which the man and woman have cleaved to one another. It also demonstrates why Christ doesn’t mention divorce for cases of sexual sin in Mark and Luke(He hadn’t yet pardoned the adulteress woman described in John). It’s because it would have been very difficult for a man in His time to have even been in a situation in which he could’ve biblically divorced.
Fornication needs to be defined. Multiple dictionaries define it as “sex between unmarried persons” or “sex between people who are not married to each other.” So we must ask a simple question: are two people in an adulterous relationship married to each other? No, they aren’t. Therefore, adultery IS fornication. It’s always been fornication. However, fornication is more than adultery. Premarital sex without a doubt fits the definition above and is therefore also fornication. Adultery is fornication the same way Baal worship is idolatry. Critics will say that because adultery and fornication are listed separately in passages like Galatians 5: 19 they are different.
But lets read the actual passage. Galatians 5: 19-21, “19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Many of these sins overlap with one another. For example, we know that hating one’s brother in one’s heart is murder. Yet, they’re both listed separately. Does this mean hating your brother in your heart is different than murdering him? Nope. In no way does the listing of the two words together imply that they don’t overlap or that they can’t both be committed with a single act. Adultery IS fornication. It’s sex between unmarried persons.
Many other versions of the Bible such as the ESV have been criticized for translating porneia(the Greek word used in Matthew 19) as sexual immorality instead of fornication. However, these critics fail to realize that the word fornication itself has been used as a broad term to describe sexual immorality throughout history.
Deuteronomy 24: 1 reads, “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.”
This is one of the passages the Pharisees were referencing with Jesus. Note that in order for a man to send his wife out of his house requires that she be living with him first. Which in turn means they had consummated the marriage. Note that the law is only giving the man the right to divorce his wife in the case of “uncleanness.” This means it has to be a case of actual uncleanness and not just a random reason concocted by the man himself. Being a nag or overcooking dinner isn’t uncleanness and is therefore not grounds for divorce as the Pharisees were implying. Even supposedly “good” reasons for divorce like a contentious woman(Proverbs 27: 15) aren’t biblical. And this is why the apostles were shocked.
This law could only apply in cases of actual uncleanness such as adultery(without the witnesses to convict) or deception in regard to her sexual history. Things like being unhealthy, annoying, barren or unattractive isn’t uncleanness and is therefore not grounds for divorce. This is what Jesus said the law meant and this is what He reiterated when He distinguished between a man who divorced for fornication from one who did it for any other reason. Again, this meant that under the law, it was almost impossible to ever have grounds for divorce in His time.
These passages demonstrate that in cases of sexual sin a man has the right to divorce his wife. He also has the right to marry another wife. It’s not adultery. God recognizes divorce in the case of fornication. He also recognizes remarriage of the wronged party in such cases. He recognizes divorce and remarriage in these cases the same way He recognizes divorce and remarriage of a new convert who was abandoned by an unbelieving spouse.
A number of common arguments critics of Matthew 19: 9 often use are summarized and addressed below.
“Love your wife as Christ loved the church. So you can never, ever divorce.”
The church is the body of Christ(1 Corinthians 12: 27 and many other passages). And the body of Christ is His bride. It’s IMPOSSIBLE for the body of Christ to be unfaithful. The body of Christ is the collective body of believers. There are always faithful believers around the world who make up Christ’s virgin bride. When we sin we are the Lord’s disobedient children and not His unfaithful wife. Hence the reason why Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son and not the prodigal wife. This means the entire analogy of Christ and His church has broken down when a husband or wife commits sexual sin. Also recall in Zechariah 11: 10-11, God breaks his covenant with the people.
“Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7: 11, ‘But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.'”
In cases of fornication, God recognizes the divorce and the woman who’s been sent away is no longer considered the man’s wife. Paul is talking about instances of divorce other than fornication the same way “thou shalt not kill” is referring to instances other than self-defense. Just because extenuating circumstances aren’t named in every portion of scripture dealing with larger teachings in no way implies they don’t exist. The same way many critics try to alter the reading of Matthew 19 by pointing to Mark and Luke is used by liberal “denominations” to explain away the existence of hell.
It must again be stated that God recognizes divorces which are due to fornication and a couple who is divorced because of that are no longer man and wife. Hence, a woman who’s been divorced for this reason cannot be considered a “wife” anymore. That Paul speaks of a wife being reconciled to her husband makes it clear he isn’t talking about divorces in the case of sexual sin.
A number of other passages in Paul’s writings discuss physical separations and command reconciliation. Again, it’s implicit that these passages aren’t discussing instances of fornication and divorce because they are still called husband and wife.
Anyone who reads this should either show via the scriptures this understanding to be false or change their doctrine to the correct teachings regarding divorce. Fornication has NEVER, EVER meant only premarital sex. It has always meant sex outside of marriage. It also includes other activities which aren’t intercourse. Sodomy, oral sex and other physical acts would be referred to as fornication at the time of King James. Details of cases such as the Monica Lewinsky debacle would never have even been publicly discussed in that time.
If anyone continues to peddle false doctrines about divorce and remarriage never being permitted in cases of sexual sin, they’re knowingly altering the Word of God and furthering a lie. They’re laying up heavy burdens on the brothers. Divorce and Remarriage have and continue to be Biblical in cases of sexual sin. A man is allowed to divorce his wife for sexual sin. He can also remarry the same way a newly converted believer who’s been abandoned by an unbelieving spouse can.