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Redeemer Bible Church


Unreserved Accountability to Christ. Undeserved Acceptance from Christ.

The Christian Home, Lecture Twenty-One:


A Primer on Divorce and Remarriage
Selected Scriptures

Introduction
With our series on the Christian home coming to a close, you may be wondering
why I have chosen to address the issue of divorce and remarriage in our final lecture rather
than, say, handling the subject when we developed the biblical teaching on marriage. Well,
the answer is simple, really. Throughout our study I have attempted to set before you the
biblical ideal for the Christian home. I wanted you to have a clear idea of what God
envisions the family to be. Divorce is not part of that picture. It is not at all the ideal. The
ideal is that a man would marry until death would separate them. On this matter, the Bible
is clear.

Turn with me in your Bibles to Matt 19:3-9:

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, "Is it lawful for a
man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?" 4 And He answered and said, "Have
you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE
AND FEMALE, 5 and said, 'FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS
FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO
SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH '? 6 "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What
therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." 7 They said to Him, "Why
then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND
SEND her AWAY?" 8 He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses
permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.
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"And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries
another woman commits adultery."

As you know, it is not uncommon in the gospels to find the Pharisees testing Jesus.
Of course, their testing is never benign. It is with the intention of trapping Jesus in a
theological aberration, making him commit some act of blasphemy, or, at least, making him
look foolish. Here, by questioning Jesus on the legitimacy of divorce for any reason at all,
it seems as if they are attempting to corner him into contradicting the Mosaic Law or simply
to tarnish his reputation with the people.

Immediately, Jesus’ answer sets forth what we have asserted is clearly the ideal.
Notice again vv 4-6: And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created
them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man
shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one

The Christian Home, Lecture 21: A Primer on Divorce and Remarriage © 2004 by R W Glenn
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flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined
together, let no man separate.”

God’s heart for marriage was from its very inception that it be indissoluble. This is
not to say that the permanence of marriage would extend beyond the confines of this life;
for later in Matthew, Jesus explains to the Sadducees that “in the resurrection they neither
marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matt 22:30). The point is
that marriage would be a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman, separable
only by death.

Using marriage as an illustration for the Christian’s relationship to the Law, the
Apostle Paul reflects the same teaching. Romans 7:2-3 says,

For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living;
but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So
then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called
an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an
adulteress though she is joined to another man.

So it seems that it is entirely appropriate that most marriage vows include something
to the effect of “till death us do part.” When a man and a woman enter into the covenant of
marriage, it is sealed by God himself—and what God has joined together, let no man
separate. This, insists Jesus at the end of Matt 19:8, is how it has been from the beginning.

Now with such apparently absolute statements affirming the indissolubleness of


marriage, we might be tempted to conclude that God forbids both divorce and remarriage.
If God is the one ultimately behind every marriage covenant, joining man and woman
together, and if while her husband is living a woman is joined to another man, becoming an
adulteress, then it seems to follow that divorce and remarriage are entirely out of the
question.

Marriage Not Absolutely Indissoluble


By God’s grace, however, we are not left with mere inference. The Bible does have
something further to say on the related subjects of divorce and remarriage that functions to
relativize what at first may seem to be absolute statements concerning the permanency of
marriage. The first we’ll look at is right here in Matthew 19. Look again at the Pharisees’
question in v 3: Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a
man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”

As we’ve seen, Jesus’ immediate response is that marriage is something that the Lord
originally intended to be binding until death. Then, in v 7, the Pharisees ask a follow-up
question: They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of
divorce and send her away?” Here they are referring to a passage we will address in a
moment; namely, Deuteronomy 24. For now, notice that Jesus essentially (though not
exactly) agrees that Moses at least permitted divorce. Read v 8 again: He said to them,

The Christian Home, Lecture 21: A Primer on Divorce and Remarriage © 2004 by R W Glenn
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“Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from
the beginning it has not been this way.”

Here, then, we have an important qualification and clarification of the teaching of vv


4-6—a qualification and clarification made by Jesus himself. With it, the Lord is not saying
that God never envisioned divorce; nor is he saying that the Mosaic Law forbids it. Instead,
Jesus’ intention is simply to emphasize the enduring nature of the marriage relationship by
pointing out that although divorce was permitted by the Lord, it was not something
established by him. In other words, divorce was something that the Lord tolerated and (as
we shall see) even regulated, but never the ideal.

Now then, let’s turn to Deut 24:1-4 to see the passage to which the Pharisees are
referring:

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, 3 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.

Perhaps the most significant thing about this passage is what it does not say. It does
not say, “Thou shalt divorce thy wife if she finds no favor in thine sight.” It simply assumes
that men would divorce their wives. In fact, the issue that Deut 24:1-4 is addressing is not
even divorce, per se, but the remarriage of a divorced person to his or her original spouse
should the divorced person be again divorced or widowed. Look again at v 3: 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, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be
his wife, since she has been defiled.

Now even though the text does not command divorce, we can at least say that it does
not forbid it. Assuming that divorce will take place, the Lord regulates it, setting forth the
status of certain persons following divorce, should it occur. Jesus (as we would expect) is
more accurate to say that Moses permitted divorce, rather than the Pharisees’ conclusion that
Moses commanded it. So then, if God permitted divorce, then clearly not all divorce is
necessarily wrong. If this were the case, then Moses likely would not have said something
like that which we find here in Deuteronomy 24.

In addition to this text, there is another passage in the Old Testament in which the
Lord does not simply permit and regulate divorce, but confirms its validity. Turn with me
to Ezra 9:1-2:

The Christian Home, Lecture 21: A Primer on Divorce and Remarriage © 2004 by R W Glenn
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Now when these things had been completed, the princes approached me,
saying, "The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated
themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, those of
the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the
Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites. 2 "For they have taken some of their
daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has
intermingled with the peoples of the lands; indeed, the hands of the princes and the
rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness."

Here we read that the exiles acted foolishly and took foreign wives for themselves.
Ezra’s response to this disobedient and abominable act is self-humiliation and confession on
behalf of the people. Now jump down to 10:1-5, 10-12:

Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and
prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women and
children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly. 2 Shecaniah the son
of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, said to Ezra, "We have been unfaithful to our God
and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope
for Israel in spite of this. 3 "So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away
all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those
who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the
law. 4 "Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you; be
courageous and act." 5 Then Ezra rose and made the leading priests, the Levites and
all Israel, take oath that they would do according to this proposal; so they took the
oath….Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, "You have been unfaithful
and have married foreign wives adding to the guilt of Israel. 11 "Now therefore, make
confession to the LORD God of your fathers and do His will; and separate
yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives." 12 Then all the
assembly replied with a loud voice, "That's right! As you have said, so it is our duty
to do.

You can see that not only do we have a proposal made by Shecaniah for Israel to
divorce their foreign wives, but we see the ratification and reiteration of the proposal by
Ezra the priest in 10:5 & 10:10-11. Indeed, in 10:11, Ezra commands God’s people to
separate themselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.

It would seem that this text goes even further than Deuteronomy 24, commanding
God’s people on this specific occasion to be divorced.

So then, it seems reasonable to conclude that Moses would countenance divorce at


least under certain circumstances. Thus any suggestion that marriage is absolutely
indissoluble in the sight of God is outside the pale of what Scripture actually teaches.
Divorce is therefore not always sinful.

Legitimate Divorce
At what times, then, may divorce be said to be legitimate in the sight of God? To
begin to answer this, let’s turn back to Matthew 19.

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Look again at v 9: And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for
immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. In other words, if a divorce
has been issued on the basis of immorality, the remarriage of the innocent spouse is not
adulterous. This exception1 allowing divorce is articulated earlier in Matt 5:32—read it
with me: 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.

Rather than couching the exception in terms of immorality, Matthew 5 calls it (in
the NASB) unchastity. In both cases, however, the underlying Greek is the same. It is the
word pornei,a, from which we get the English word “pornography.” This is not to say that
the word means “pornography”; rather, the term is used in the New Testament to refer to
sexual sins generally, and occasionally as a substitute for particular sexual sins in
unambiguous contexts (like prostitution, for instance).

I hasten to add that one of the specific sexual sins to which it can refer is the sin of
adultery; that is, the sin in which a spouse involves a third party in the marriage bed. In
addition, the LXX will often refer to the sin of adultery committed by a woman with the word
pornei,a, while the same sin, when ascribed to men is expressed with the more common
word for adultery, moicei,a. Married men commit moicei,a while married women commit
pornei,a. This has led some scholars to understand the exception to refer exclusively to
adultery.

I, however, am inclined to believe that the word pornei,a, in keeping with its usual
usage in the New Testament, cannot be limited to adultery alone, but to any number of
sexual sins committed by married men or women. Aside from the fact that pornei,a is used
predominantly in the New Testament to refer to a wide range of sexual sins, there are two
additional pieces of evidence that incline me to understand the meaning of pornei,a here in
Matthew 19 to be in keeping with its pattern of use in the New Testament.

The first is that in the only other place in Matthew that the word is employed, it is
contrasted with the term for adultery. Look ahead to Matt 15:19: “For out of the heart come
evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”

The word translated fornications reflects the same Greek as that which is used for
unchastity and immorality in Matthew 5 and 19 respectively. Clearly, it is used as
something different from adultery, which is listed immediately after it. This is the first
additional bit of support for the conclusion that the exception cannot be reduced to adultery
alone.

Second, Matthew’s first reference to Jesus’ teaching regarding the exception to the
remarriage of divorced persons describes not only the man’s, but also the woman’s

1
I am aware that there are some who would read the language of Matthew 5 & 19 in such a way that
attenuates the force of Jesus’ exception. For a helpful survey of the various positions see D A Carson, Matthew
13-28 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 413-17.

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remarriage following an unlawful divorce, as resulting in adultery (moiceu,w)—the term


supposedly used only with reference to unfaithful men. Matthew’s earlier use results in a
breakdown of the argument that asserts that pornei,a refers to adultery committed by a
woman.

This is not to say that the pornei,a = moicei,a argument is entirely without merit; it is
simply to say that the evidence seems to direct us to understanding pornei,a more broadly.
Having said that, here’s what we can conclude. Jesus allows for divorce and subsequent
remarriage only on the grounds that the original marriage was dissolved upon evidence of
sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, etc.

It is important that we pause here for a moment in order fully to appreciate what
Jesus is saying, and especially what he isn’t saying. Clearly, he is not commanding divorce in
cases where a spouse has committed acts of immorality. He does not say, “If you find out
that your husband or wife has committed acts of sexual immorality, divorce him or her
immediately; you are free to remarry someone else.”

He is also not commending divorce. In other words, he is not at all saying that divorce
is a good thing, but that if there is a case in which one member of the marriage has been
sexually immoral, Christians may terminate the marriage covenant. It is set forth as one
option in a list of other options of greater priority.

Remember that both under the Old Covenant and under the New Covenant divorce
is a concession, an acknowledgment that our hard-heartedness can often be irreconcilable.
Twice in Matthew 19, Jesus reminds his audience (and us by implication) that marriages
were never meant to end in divorce (vv 4-6, 8). Therefore, in no way should Jesus’
exception be construed as a commendation of divorce. Divorce is always the result of sin.

If we keep in mind that Jesus does not offer a commendation of divorce, but instead
offers divorce as an option available to believers who have been sinned against sexually,
then we position ourselves to entertain alternatives to divorce. Two examples of possible
alternatives from Matthew’s gospel are noteworthy.

First, the innocent spouse may simply choose to offer forgiveness and seek
reconciliation with the guilty partner. Matthew 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive others for
their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive
others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” And in Matt 18:35, at the
conclusion of a parable on forgiveness, the Lord Jesus reminds his disciples that the father
will judge those who do not forgive their brethren from their hearts.

Second, the innocent spouse always has recourse in the discipline of the church set
forth in Matt 18:15-17:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you,
you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more
with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be

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confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to


listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

God has given us church discipline for this very reason: the discipline of the
members of the believing community. Such a procedure is the Lord’s prescribed means for
bringing about reconciliation in the body of Christ.

I’d like to add that on the basis of Matthew 18, I would go so far as to say that if the
innocent spouse has not enacted the process of church discipline, he or she has come very
close to sinning themselves.

In other words, I don’t think that it is proper for believers to terminate a marriage
relationship when a sexually sinning spouse genuinely repents in response to the strictures
of church discipline. To do so, doesn’t seem in keeping with the thrust of the teaching of
Matthew as a whole (and the rest of the New Testament for that matter). Though I could
not say that a brother or sister who divorced his or her spouse for reasons of sexual
immorality without involving the church had sinned, I would nevertheless suggest that
moving forward without having first entered the process of church discipline would be
unwise.

Finally, we should be reminded that in addition to not commanding or commending


divorce, Jesus is also not condemning divorce in Matthew 5 and 19. Indeed, neither is he
condemning the remarriage of legitimately divorced persons. This is an important factor
that needs to be emphasized. Like Deuteronomy 24, the issue in focus for him is not the
divorce considered in isolation, but the divorce considered in combination with remarriage.
Notice again Matt 19:9: And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for
immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.

Divorce Ends the Obligations of Marriage


You can see that divorce is not handled separately from remarriage. Whoever
divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits
adultery. Only in the event (1) that a marriage was terminated for a reason other than
sexual immorality and (2) that the former spouses remarried others would the parties be
committing adultery by their remarriages. Remarriage, then, like divorce itself is not
expressly condemned.

I should add that there is a very reasonable explanation for why divorce and
remarriage are handled together by the Lord Jesus in his teaching, both here and in
Matthew 5. The explanation is found in the nature of divorce itself.

When a person is divorced, by definition it means that they are severed from the
obligations associated with marriage. And this is true even if the divorce is unlawful. In
other words, when a divorce takes place for any reason the couple may be said truly to be no
longer married, and therefore no longer obligated to the duties associated with married life.
This doesn’t mean that they no longer have obligations to one another (we’ll see those in a
moment), but it does mean that following a divorce, they are no longer obligated to one

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another as husband and wife. Allow me to explain by calling your attention to some
additional Scriptures.

Turn with me to 1 Cor 7:10-11: But to the married I give instructions, not I, but
the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (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.

Here we have an even more explicit formulation of the duty of believing couples
when it comes to divorce. The wife should not leave her husband (v 10) and (v 11) the
husband should not divorce his wife. This teaching, according to the Apostle Paul, does
not originate with him; rather, it is instruction from the Lord. In other words, it is
something that the Lord addressed during his earthly ministry and Paul is merely reiterating
it for the Corinthians. This, no doubt, is a reference to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew and the
parallel passages in Mark and Luke.

Now then, v 11 supposes the possibility that the Christian wife might act
disobediently to the Lord’s command (but if she does leave). If she does leave, she must
remain unmarried (notice the obligation) or else be reconciled to her husband. Put
differently, if she is illegitimately divorced from her believing husband, she must remain
unmarried or else be remarried to her spouse. Notice that even in the case of an illegitimate
divorce, the woman is considered unmarried (no longer married). Paul’s instruction to such
disobedient women—or men for that matter, as the teaching is applied to them at the end of
v 11—Paul’s instruction to those who divorce illegitimately is that they remain unmarried,
or else be remarried to their spouse.

The idea here is not that she stay unmarried even with reference to her ex-husband,
but that she remain unmarried with reference to others. Paul does not want her to remarry
someone else because (1) if she does she will be an adulteress and possibly2 because (2) if she
remarries there appears to be no hope for reconciliation with her first husband. For
example, if an illegitimately divorced-and-remarried woman gets divorced from her second
husband, or even if her second husband dies, she may not marry her first husband ever
again.

To see this, turn back again to Deut 24:1-4.

Here, like 1 Cor 7:11, an unlawful divorce is in view. I say this on the basis of the
much disputed meaning of the phrase in v 1 translated some indecency.3 Although some
have suggested that this refers to sexual sin (not unlike sexual immorality), the likelihood is
quite low to suggest that this was in the writer’s mind. The phrase is never used in the Old

2
I say “possibly” here because it seems as if the teaching concerning remarriage from Deut 24:1-4 has not
been abrogated under the New Covenant; rather it is strengthened. In addition, at the very least, since God
recognizes remarriages as genuine marriages, once a person is remarried, he or she is obligated for life to their
new spouse irrespective of the circumstances surrounding their divorce.
3
rb'êD' tw:år>[,

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Testament except earlier in Deut 23:14. Look there with me and let’s read vv 12-14 in
order to understand the context:

You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, 13 and you
shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you
shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement. 14 "Since the LORD your
God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies
before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything
indecent among you or He will turn away from you.

The Israelites were commanded to relieve themselves in a latrine outside the camp,
which would then be covered over with dirt (using a spade). In v 14, the same phrase that
underlies Deut 24:1 is translated anything indecent, referring here of course to the people’s
excrement. It must be admitted that it is extremely difficult to ascertain precisely to what
the phrase some indecency refers. As you may have heard, there were two competing
rabbinic schools that were sharply divided over the meaning of what was (even for them) an
ambiguous statement. The followers of Hillel took a broad view (anything that was at all
displeasing to the husband) and the followers of Shimei took a narrower view, suggesting
that only unchastity was intended.

The point here is that the latter is most certainly incorrect for the following reasons:4
(1) the Mosaic Law prescribed the death penalty for cases of proven adultery; (2) in cases of
suspected adultery, the bitter-water rite, not divorce was the prescribed means of addressing
one’s suspicions; (3) if a newlywed were suspected of having been unchaste and she were
found innocent, the husband could not divorce her; if she were guilty, she would be stoned;
and (4) in general, the Law provides for all sorts of circumstances involving sexual
misconduct of married and betrothed persons, but never is the phrase some indecency used
with reference to it.

In this connection, I would suggest to you that contrary to the Pharisees’ opinions,
God does not command divorce for any reason whatsoever; rather, he simply holds out the
possibility, indeed, the reality that men will divorce their wives for something they consider
indecent. If they do, and the woman remarries, the first husband may never again take her
as his wife. This would be a vile and an unclean thing to the Lord. Thus from the Lord’s
perspective, this instruction was meant not to encourage willy-nilly divorces, but to
discourage them; for if your wife remarried (and it is highly likely she would), you could never
again remarry her, even if her second husband died.

What I want you to notice is that here, as in 1 Corinthians 7, a divorced woman, even
if divorced unlawfully is considered unmarried, then another man’s wife, while the man is
considered that woman’s former husband, who is not allowed to take his ex-wife again as
his wife.

So the remarkable thing is that even when a divorce is obtained for some lawless
reason, the divorce still results in a couple no longer being married; they are now

4
See John Murray, Divorce (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1961), 10-12.

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unmarried. Reconciliation could occur only if both partners had not remarried anyone else
following the divorce.

Now then, remember what brought us to Deuteronomy 24 and 1 Corinthians 7 in the


first place. I asserted that divorce by definition frees the parties from the obligations of
marriage. This is because divorce results in a person’s status changing from married to
unmarried. An unmarried person is a person who by definition is no longer obligated to a
spouse. Therefore remarriage can occur.

I do not mean to say that an illegitimate remarriage would be favorably


countenanced by the Lord, but I do mean that in God’s sight the person would be remarried
and would therefore be obligated to perform marital duties for his or her new spouse, not his
or her former one. This is why divorce and remarriage are understood together. Divorce
ends a marriage in God’s sight and the couple is not obligated to perform the duties
associated with marriage for their ex-partner.

For instance, one of the obligations of marriage is sexual intimacy.5 Once a couple
has been divorced, since they are unmarried, they are actually forbidden from sexual relations
with one another; for sex outside the covenant of marriage is expressly condemned by the
Lord.6 Until the unmarried, unlawfully divorced couple is remarried (hopefully to one
another), they must abstain from sexual relations. I mention this to show that a divorce
results in a person entering the category of the unmarried. And since an unmarried person
by definition is someone who is not married, he or she is no longer obligated to his or her
former spouse. The unmarried are free.

Very well, then, all this is to say that divorce and remarriage need to be understood
together, not because God is pleased with all divorces and all remarriages, but because the
very nature of divorce includes the possibility of remarriage. In addition, when a man or
woman is divorced, the Lord recognizes the divorce, and when a divorced man or woman is
remarried God recognizes the new marriage, even if unlawfully obtained.

Getting back to the teaching of Jesus on the subject, we see in Matt 19:9 that
although a divorce and remarriage are recognized by the Lord under the New Covenant as
well as the Old Covenant, Jesus in the New Covenant both tightens and loosens the
restrictions of the Mosaic economy—this is not at all uncommon, especially in light of the
contrasts of the Sermon on the Mount (“You have heard it said…but I say…”).

In Deuteronomy 24, the language of the passage at the very least (if I may borrow
Jesus’ words) permitted divorce under a wide array of circumstances. Here Jesus limits the
permission to sins of sexual immorality alone. Though under the Old Covenant, the Lord
sanctioned the divorce of Ezra 10, the New Covenant would not.

5
See 1 Cor 7:1-5.
6
See 1 Thess 4:3f.; Heb 13:4.

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Now this second contrast leads us to a very important feature of Jesus’ teaching here
in the gospels; namely, that Jesus is addressing marriage between believers, not marriage
between believers and unbelievers (as Ezra 10 was). Why do I say this? Well, turn back to
1 Corinthians 7.

Mixed Marriages
Look again at v 10: But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that
the wife should not leave her husband. Earlier I noted that the phrase, not I, but the Lord,
is used by Paul to express that the issue he tackles here in vv 10-11 originates with Jesus’
earthly ministry; it is something that Jesus talked about before his ascension.

Keep that in mind as we look down to v 12: But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that
if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he
must not divorce her. Notice that Paul begins this instruction about believers married to
unbelievers with the opposite of his earlier expression: I say, not the Lord. Now this does
not mean that the teaching of vv 10-11 carries the weight of Jesus’ authority while v 12 and
following do not. What it means is that the issue of mixed marriages was not addressed by
the Lord Jesus while he was on earth; rather, it is something that comes from the
authoritative hand of one of the Lord’s apostles.

I point this out in order to show you that in Paul’s mind, Jesus’ instruction preserved
for us in the gospels concerns marriages between believers, not marriages between believers
and unbelievers. This is something that the Lord would only later reveal to his church here
in his letter to the Corinthians. So as far as our New Covenant understanding of divorce
and remarriage between a believer and an unbeliever are concerned, our only recourse is to
the Apostle Paul.

Well, unlike the situation of Ezra 9-10, a believer may not initiate a divorce with an
unbelieving spouse. Verse 12 says that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and
she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. Verse 13 says exactly the same
thing, but from the perspective of the believing wife. Read it with me: And a woman who
has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her
husband away. Believers must not initiate divorces with unbelieving spouses. If the
unbeliever wants to stay in the relationship, he or she may stay; no divorce proceedings may
follow simply on the ground that one’s spouse does not know the Lord.

The reason for this is that in God’s providence the unbeliever’s marriage to the
believer places the unbelieving spouse and their children in a position of privilege and
potential salvation, v 14: For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and
the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your
children are unclean, but now they are holy.

However, v 15 explains that this does not mean that a divorce between a believer and
an unbeliever should never take place. Look down to v 15: 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. Take note of what Paul is saying. If the unbeliever initiates the

The Christian Home, Lecture 21: A Primer on Divorce and Remarriage © 2004 by R W Glenn
12

divorce, Christians are commanded—that’s right, commanded—to accept the terms of the
divorce. The words let him leave do not express mere permission; they reflect an
underlying Greek imperative.7 The believer must let the unbeliever leave. Anything
otherwise would result in a less than peaceful situation; and God has called us to peace.

So then here is the only case under the New Covenant in which the Lord commands
believers to follow through on the dissolution of their marriages: when their unbelieving spouse
initiates a divorce.

Notice that in the case of the first exception (the one taught originally by Jesus on
earth) divorce may be lawfully granted and in the second exception divorce must be granted.
Thus if a believing spouse finds his believing wife guilty of sexual immorality, he does not
need to divorce her. He may choose to do so, but he is not obligated to do it. He could
decide rather in favor of forgiveness and reconciliation after having engaged his wife in the
process of church discipline. But if an unbelieving spouse desires to end his or her marriage
to a believer, the believer has no alternative; the believer must let the unbeliever go.

Together, then, we have two exceptions for God’s ideal of marriage until death.
Divorce is permitted when there is evidence of sexual immorality and when an unbelieving
spouse initiates the divorce. I should add that not incidental to this instruction on divorce
and remarriage is that when a person has been lawfully divorced, they are freed from all the
obligations of their former marriage covenant. This is what the phrase the brother or sister
is not under bondage in such cases means in v 15.

The reason for this is owing to the nature of divorce itself (as we mentioned earlier).
Divorce by definition terminates a marriage and with such termination, all of the marriage’s
obligations. Therefore whenever there is a lawful divorce, the innocent parties may be
remarried with the blessing of God. For further evidence of this, look down to vv 27-28a:
Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do
not seek a wife. But if you marry, you have not sinned.

The first question and answer relate to the person who is married: Are you bound [in
matrimony]? Do not seek to be released. If you are married, do not seek a divorce. The
second question and answer refer to the person who has been divorced: Are you released
from a wife? Do not seek a wife. If you are divorced, do not seek to be remarried.

Yet in giving this instruction to the divorced person, the Apostle Paul adds this
important concluding remark: But if you marry, you have not sinned. But if who marries?
The divorced person, of course. Thus right here in 1 Corinthians 7 in addition to the
language of liberation in v 15 (the brother is not under bondage in such cases) we have a
reference to the lawful remarriage of a divorced person.

Here, then, is the bottom line of our discussion: there are two instances in which
believers may be lawfully divorced and therefore lawfully remarried: (1) evidence of sexual

7
Present passive imperative of cwri,zw.

The Christian Home, Lecture 21: A Primer on Divorce and Remarriage © 2004 by R W Glenn
13

immorality in one partner8 or (2) an unbelieving spouse who wants out of the marriage.
These are the only two cases under the New Covenant in which divorce (and remarriage of
divorced persons) are acceptable to God.

Doesn’t God Hate Divorce?


But what of God’s declaration in Mal 2:16 that he hates divorce? If he hates divorce,
why does he ever permit or mandate it? The answer is that God hates divorce because it
always is precipitated by sin—it always has been precipitated by sin and it always will be.
And God hates sin. Divorces initiated for flimsy reasons are rooted in sins on the part of the
discontented spouse; and divorces initiated for serious reasons are rooted in sins on the part
of the guilty spouse. Divorce is always the result of sin.

So don’t understand the teaching of Mal 2:16 in isolation from the rest of what God
has revealed in Scripture on the subject. God hates divorce because divorce is always
occasioned by sin. He hates the complications that often flow to the children and injured
parties of divorce. And he hates divorces wrongly obtained on grounds that he has not
sanctioned. But he doesn’t hate all divorces in the same way and he doesn’t hate every
aspect of every divorce—thus the content of this morning’s lecture.

Finally, I’d like to conclude by saying that the title of this final lecture is quite
deliberate on my part. It is called, “A Primer on Divorce and Remarriage.” What this
means is that it should not be construed as an exhaustive treatment of the subject. If you
would like further information, I’d be glad to point you in the direction of some additional
resources.

Redeemer Bible Church


16205 Highway 7
Minnetonka, MN 55345
Office: 952.935.2425
Fax: 952.938.8299
info@redeemerbiblechurch.com
www.redeemerbiblechurch.com
www.solidfood.net

8
It seems to me that church discipline is imperative at this point if only to determine if there is proof of
sexual immorality.

The Christian Home, Lecture 21: A Primer on Divorce and Remarriage © 2004 by R W Glenn