Divorce, Remarriage, and Adultery

It is hard to imagine that anyone in this country has not been touched by divorce in one way or another.

Divorce, the most visible sign of a culture in collapse, has become easy in our society.

Nearly two-thirds of today's marriages will end in divorce or separation. Forty-five percent of all first marriages end in divorce. [Dwight Hervey Small, The Right to Remarry, 1975] Of these divorces, seventy-five percent of the divorced women remarry while eighty-three percent of the men do. [Florence W. Kaslow & Lita Linzer Schwartz, The Dynamics of Divorce: A Life Cycle Perspective, 1987] The figures for second marriages are even more discouraging. Fifty-five percent of these end in divorce [Small, 1986].

Sadly, divorce is not just a non-Christian problem. Pollster George Barna discovered that born-again Christians actually have a higher rate of divorce (27 percent) than nonbelievers (23 percent). Fundamentalists top them all (30 percent). And 87 percent divorced after accepting Christ, presumably aware of the biblical teaching on divorce [Chuck Colson, "Any Ol' World View Won't Do," Jubilee Extra, May 1996].

Why such a high rate of divorce?
For many today, divorce seems a relatively simple solution to a complex problem, a cheap way to escape from a troublesome marriage. Prior to the divorce reforms of the 1970s, most divorces were based upon the ground of "fault." Generally one of the spouses had to be guilty of some act of unfaithfulness or misbehavior, such as adultery. More recently this has given way to "no-fault" divorces.

Prior to no-fault, "traditional legal marriage was grounded in the Christian conception of marriage as a sacrament, a holy union between a man and a women, a commitment to join together "to love and cherish, in sickness and in health, for better, for worse, until death do us part."

[Marriage] is the most solemn and important of human transactions. It is regarded by all Christian nations as the basis of civilzed society, of sound morals, and of the domestic affections...The mutual comfort and happiness of the parties are the principal, but not the only, objects of the [marriage]. It is intended also for the benefit of their common offspring, and is an important element in the moral order, security and tranquility of civilized society. The parties cannot dissolve the contract, as they can others, by mutual consent, and no light or trivial causes should be suffered to effect its recision... according to the experience of the most enlightened nations, the happiness of married life greatly depends on its indissolubility. [Sheffield v. Sheffield, 3 Tex. 79, 85-86 (Tex. Sup. Ct. 1848)].

Writes Lenora Weitzman in her book The Divorce Revolution. "Divorce laws reinforced those responsibilites, rewarding spouses who fulfilled thir marital obligations and punishing those who did not." If a man ran off with his secretary, his wife got the family home, child custody, child support, and alimony until she remarried or died. No-fault's goal was to reduce the acrimony of divorce proceedings by eliminating arguments over who was most at fault. But in abolishing "the concept of fault, it also eliminated the framework of guilt, innocence and ... the law's condemnation of marital misconduct," Weitzman says.

These "convenience" divorces have both weakened the institution of marriage and undermined the lifelong commitment that God ordained for marriage. The result has been a soaring rise in divorce rates that is destroying the middle class. Divorce rates have soared from 706,000 in 1970 to 1,169,000 in 1995.

What the Bible says about divorce.
Regardless of what you or I may think about divorce or whether its socially acceptable or not, you must understand what God thinks about divorce:

"... I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel ..." [Malachi 2:16]

Pretty simple, huh? That shouldn't be too difficult to interpret.

But man still often has problems with it. Throughout time, man has attempted to make God's law say what he wants at the time.

Jesus addressed this specific issue of man's interpretation of the laws concerning divorce in Luke 16:16ff

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. [Luke 16:16-18]

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked," Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" "Haven't you read," he replied," that at the beginning the Creator' made them male and female,' and said,' For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one' flesh' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.""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 marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."The disciples said to him," If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry." Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it." - Matthew 19:3-12

Jesus answered the Pharasees by correcting them and stating that the original intent was not to have divorce, but, because of the sinfulness of man, divorce was a concession. He reminds them of Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." - Genesis 1:27,28

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. - Genesis 2:24

Jesus focuses on God's intent for marriage rather than on divorce. God intended for the husband and wife to be spiritually one. This Divine intent is what makes a marriage permanent because the two become a single unity. He pointed out that Scripture intended marriage to be permanent and gave four reasons for the importance of marriage:

  1. God created man and woman.
  2. Man should leave his father and mother, and be forever united to his wife.
  3. The two shall become one - no longer two, but one.
  4. No man may divorce what God has joined together.

Marriage is a covenant.
Not only a covenant between the man and woman but a covenant with God. Maybe you got married too young and maybe God had nothing to do with the selection of the person. Once you made that commitment, that covenant, God recognizes it as a covenant no matter who you married (1 Cor. 7:10-17).

In today's society, a fad that's in the church as much as it is in the world is to not take the marriage covenant as seriously as we once did.

Today, if a Christian wants a divorce, they twist the scriptures to fit their desire or they hear a prophecy, or a voice that says, "God doesn't want you to suffer anymore." They try to justify their decision to others because they KNOW they're guilty. These fine Christian people, ministers, pastors, prophets, and evangelists come up with all sorts of wild ideas why it's okay to divorce. But, there truly are few good reasons to divorce.

Is it okay to divorce my spouse since God didn't put us together in the first place?
Your answer is in 1 Cor. 7:13:

"And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him."

It may not be God's perfect will, being married to an unbeliever, but God still recognizes the covenant.

Is it okay to divorce my spouse if they are abusive?
This reason has become increasingly popular today. Surely it can't be God's will for me to stay with a person who beats me up two or three times a week. God doesn't want his temple being beat up, but it's not grounds for divorce. It is grounds for separation. You'd be a fool to stay in that situation. But, you separate yourself and give yourself to fasting and prayer, asking God to intervene in the situation bringing reconcilliation to your marriage.

Is it okay to divorce my spouse if they commit adultery?
In my opionion, this is the only reason given in Scripture as grounds for divorce. The exception of "marital unfaithfulness" [Gk porneia] is not in the parallel passages Mark 10:11-12 or Luke 16:18. Perhaps Matthew included it because he was writing to the Jews where there was a dispute between the schools of Shammai and Hillel over the interpretation of "something indecent" (Deut. 24:1). The Shammai school held that "something indecent" meant "marital unfaithfulness." The Hillel school held that it included anything that becomes displeasing to the man. Apparently there were those who believed in granting a divorce in the case where a husband discovered premarital unchastity after the marriage had taken place, and this would appear to be what Jesus was addressing in the Matthew passage. The passage in Matthew seems to help clear up this dispute, seemingly siding with the Shammai interpretation, thus making "marital unfaithfulness" as the only allowable cause for divorce. In the case of premarital unchastity, the couple should remain together.

If your spouse leaves you and commits the act of adultery against you, then you're free to divorce them (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). In Old Testament law, the offending parties in adultery would both be put to death (Lev. 20:10; Dt. 22:22), thus leaving the innocent party free to remarry (Rom. 7:2; 1Cor. 7:39). Under the New Covenant, the sin of adultery is not diminished, but the penalties or results are redefined in light of grace and the innocent party has a proper right to end the marrage by divorce and is free to remarry another believer.

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness [sexual immorality], causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. - Matthew 5:32

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness [sexual immorality], and marries another woman commits adultery." - Matthew 19:9

This doesn't mean that you immediately get out of the marriage. Just upon the act of adultery, you shouldn't rush to the divorce court. Your first act should be, "... if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently (Gal. 6:1). In 1 Cor. 7:10-11, Paul writes, "A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband."

If they refuse to restore and continue in the act of adultery, then you have every right to divorce.

Is it okay to divorce my unbelieving spouse if they desert me and want a divorce?
This does seem to be a second possible allowable case for divorce. You need to be careful here though. 1 Cor. 7:15 says,

"But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace."

I say to be careful here because alot of people get this verse wrong.

Let's assume for the sake of this discussion the guy is the believer and the girl is the unbeliever. Let's say the guy is a real creep. He is such a creep this woman finally gives up and says, "I am not living with you anymore." To justify himself, he goes to 1 Cor. 7:15 where it says, "let him do so." But friends, that's not the spirit of this verse.

Let's say, for example, both people in this marriage were unbelievers when you got married. Later, the guy becomes a believer in Christ, and now is living for God. If this woman says, "You choose God or me," you're going to choose God, right? Well if the unbeliever wishes to depart, they cannot live with you because of your Christian walk, there's nothing you can do. You would not be under bondage. You would not be condemned to a sin by God.

If the unbeliever wants to depart from you because you are rotten, you are no good, you don't work, you don't provide and you just mistreat her all day, you are not released. You can't just say, "Well I just release her." You better be praying that she comes back, or he comes back, because it's your sinfulness that drove that person away.

This verse is talking about a believer because of faith in Christ and devotion to God, they find themselves in this situation. It's not an excuse for selfishness. If she wants to depart from you because you became a Christian, you've got to choose between her and Jesus. You choose Jesus, you lose her, and you're not under bondage in those cases.

Keep in mind, too, that this verse doesn't apply to when a believer is the one divorcing their mate. In this case, prayer and fasting should be the response, praying that God would restore the marriage. If, however, the mate departs and then remarries, then you're free. In their act of marrying someone else they have committed adultery against you.

If you're a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and find yourself in a divorce situation with a believing spouse, don't lie to yourself and say, "Well they're really an unbeliever" or "I can't put up with this abuse". What you need to do is to fast, pray, and to possibly separate because you're going to make a horrible decision in the middle of that mess. What you need is to get focused on God and get his directions, rather than to stay and fight and argue.

The purpose of the separation is for reconciliation. The purpose of fasting and prayer is to find out what your part of the problem is, to say, "God, how can I change?", even if they're the one that's doing wrong. If you're responding wrongly to their wrong, now you're wrong too.

What the Bible says about remarriage.

He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery." - Mark 10:11-12

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. - Matthew 5:32

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." - Matthew 19:9

What are biblical grounds for remarriage?
The Bible does give you permission to remarry in a few situations. If your spouse committed adultery against you, you can divorce and remarry (see discussion above). If your unbelieving spouse deserted you, even if they don't remarry, you can remarry (1Cor. 7:12-16). Or if you're a widow or a widower the Bible says you can remarry. If you remarry in another situation, regardless of the cultural acceptance of it, you commit adultery.

What's the remedy for the sin of adultery?
It's the same as for any other sin. Adultery is not the unforgivable sin. If you've made a mistake, don't defend your action, ask for God's forgiveness! Ask God to forgive and cleanse you. He'll forgive the sin of adultery just like He'll forgive any other sin, whether it be lying, murder, or any other sin that we could ever commit. You might think that God can't forgive you because you can't make it right. Well, if you murdered someone and they're dead in the grave, how do you make that right? God will forgive you if you ask Him.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. - 1 John 1:8-10

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Reader comments...

Rusty wrote, saying: "I just read your web site and I appreciate your scriptural position on divorce. I`m glad to see you recognize paul teaches there is relief for a Christian deserted by a mate. Many people don`t acknowledge there is more than adultery that gives the innocent party the freedom to remarry. I personally go a little further in my belief that if a young believing couple marry and one deserts the other there is one innocent party left that does not have to remain single for the next possible 40 years. I don`t think the one that leaves positively has to be known as the unbeliever since in many cases that is not always clear. I carry the privelide to remarry after being left a little further; the one left has been wronged if they have not commited adultry. Yes the divorce rate is real bad, even among pastors and leaders, much less the christian on the street."

Don wrote, saying: "The only kind of marriage Jesus spoke of was hebrew marriage. Substituting spouse for husband or wife is a liberal trend. What purpose does it serve other than to cloud the issue of marriage. Nowhere in Scriputre is a woman given the right to divorce her husband for adultery or for any other reason."

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