by Paul Benson
What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. -Jesus Christ
A reader recently posed a question to me concerning my view on divorce and remarriage. Though I could have probably satisfied her request with a ‘nutshell’ answer I felt it might be a good time to share my view (and experience) in an article for all to consider.
The issue of divorce and remarriage by those professing faith in Christ is one that is frequently addressed and taught upon in the Church today. But it is my personal opinion that it is seldom addressed in a manner that is in accord with the true teachings of the New Testament. At the risk of taking a hit to my readership stats (hopefully I am more concerned about winning God’s approval than yours!) let’s take a look at what the Bible really does and does not say about this topic.
Modern Revelation or Apostate Teachings?
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 2Timothy 4:2-3
When examining any doctrinal issue I always like to ask: ‘What has been the historical view of the true Body of Christ on this issue?’ Though we should certainly understand that certain unbiblical teachings (OSAS, Pre-trib rapture, God no longer gives spiritual gifts etc.) have infiltrated and polluted the doctrine of the Christian Church, even to the extent of being falsely claimed by some to be the ‘traditional and correct’ view of the Church, we should still consider any departure from the historical view as a major red-flag.
I find the dramatic change in recent decades on the teachings concerning divorce and remarriage among the Western Church to be quite telling and also quite concerning. Why the setting aside of standards and requirements held for so long in favor of the more liberal guidelines so popular today? Did the Body of Christ have it so wrong for 2,000 years, and now in this generation God has finally decided to issue a memo and clue us in to the real deal?
Boy, and you thought snail-mail was slow!
But seriously, I think we ought to view this remarkable back-peddling of standards more along the lines of evidence of apostasy at work than as the followers of Christ finally ‘getting it right’ on the subject of Christians divorcing and remarrying. We live in a day where sound doctrine is becoming less and less accepted; and never before has the phrase ‘truth lays fallen in the street’ (Isaiah 59:14) been more applicable than in these the final years of this age.
The matter of divorce and remarriage is a sensitive one. There are precious hearts and lives impacted and even devastated by the tragedy of divorce. Particularly when children are involved. And I want you to understand I am not someone who approaches this issue from the outside-looking-in. Please excuse a well-worn catch phrase but, yes, I have ‘been there – done that’! As a young believer in Christ I, in rebellion to the voice of the Holy Spirit, listened to faulty counsel and entered into a marriage that was not sanctified in God’s sight.
When I met the Lord in 1980 I had been estranged (due to drugs, alcohol, and womanizing) from my wife and 2 children for several years. We were living in different parts of the country, and she was even pregnant with the child of her current live-in boyfriend. (We had both been with multiple partners since separating.) The marriage was in shambles, and neither of us had any love left for the other. There seemed no hope of reconciliation.
The Church I was attending gave me false counsel that it would be acceptable to God for me to go ahead and divorce my wife and to take a new one. So just two years into my walk, in spite of others in my life warning me this was not God’s will for me, I married a girl from the Church. After several years I came to the realization I needed to repent and to put away that adulterous remarriage. So I did.
I will spare you all the details of that time (and the dealings of God I experienced). Personal experience is not the standard we are to follow. We must always look to the Word of God for understanding of what is his perfect plan for us.
What I would like to share with you is the focus of study the Lord impressed upon me that brought clarity to me concerning this most vital issue. That focus came to me in the form of a simple question:
‘What is it that truly severs a marriage covenant?’
When we answer that question from the teachings of Christ and his Apostles (and not from the faulty wisdom of man) we will come to an understanding quite diverse from what is commonly taught in the majority of Churches today.
Does Divorce Sever The Marriage Covenant? Not According To Jesus!
Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery. Luke16:18
When attempting (under deep conviction) to sort all of this out, through prayer and an in-depth study of the Word of God, I could not get by Christ’s statement that to marry a divorced woman was to commit adultery. I found myself confronted with the question: If divorce truly ends the union between husband and wife then WHY would it be considered in God’s sight as adulterous to marry a divorced woman? Is there still a covenant in effect even though they are cut-off from one another by a divorce? We must answer this by a proper understanding of what adultery is.
What is adultery? Adultery is sexual relations between two people when one (or both) is in a covenant of marriage with someone other than the person they are having sex with. It’s not rocket science!
Adultery is the violation of a marriage covenant by sexual unfaithfulness.
When Jesus said whosoever marries her that is divorced commits adultery he was saying there is a violation of the covenant of marriage taking place. We need to get this right; and we need to take it to heart! If divorce severed a covenant of marriage it would not be adulterous to marry a divorced woman, and Jesus would have been speaking untruthfully.
Do you think Jesus ever misspoke? I sure don’t!
The only way Jesus’ words that marrying a divorced woman is adulterous could possibly be correct is if, even though divorced (cut off) from their mate, the person was still bound by that covenant of marriage. That could be the ONLY reason Jesus would say it is adulterous to marry a divorced person. PERIOD.
And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 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. 1Corinthians 7:10-11
There is much truth to be gleaned from this passage that many purposefully choose to ignore. In speaking of this theoretical termination of a marriage Paul makes a few points the Lord deeply emphasized to me in my quest for the truth on this matter:
First, he calls her unmarried. Meaning this is not just some spat or trial separation. There has been a divorce.
Second, he says that God commands she is to remain unmarried or be reconciled. Is this the biblical standard preached today? No!
Thirdly, he calls the man she is divorced from HER HUSBAND! The reason he is still her husband is because the covenant of marriage they entered into is still in effect even though they are cut-off one from another by a divorcement.
What Truly Severs A Marriage Covenant?
The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. 1Corinthians 7:39
In all my years as a student of the Bible the only thing I have ever found detailed as severing (ending) the covenant of marriage is death! Not adultery, not abuse, not saying ‘I divorce you three times’ to your wife (actually believed in some cultures!), and not any certificate issued by the local magistrate! According to the Scriptures only death truly ends the covenant of a marriage that is sanctified in God’s eyes.
But brother Paul that passage in 1Corinthians is speaking of the Law! Do you think we are still under the Law?
No, we are not still under the Law! We are freed from the Law by the grace of God and by the Blood of our Lord Jesus. But through the Law we learn many of the principles of God’s Kingdom. Paul made a similar statement about the covenant of marriage being unto death in Romans. Let’s look at that passage.
Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? 2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Romans 7:1-3
Paul then uses the principle of death freeing a person from the covenant of marriage to illustrate that we become dead to the Law when we come into the Body of Christ. (THANK GOD!) He goes on to say we should now serve God in the freedom we have, and exhibit a newness of character; but that we should not despise or disregard the Law as it brings us understanding of vital truths.
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. 6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. 7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. Romans 7:4-7
In the same manner the Law teaches us right and wrong (the example used here is lust/covetousness), it also raises the standard that the covenant of marriage is unto death. The fact it is the Law that teaches us this spiritual principle about marriage no more suggests we should disregard it than we ought to disregard the principle that lusting is evil. Learning the principles of righteous behavior from the Law does NOT put us under the curse of the Law!
But Paul,what about Moses? He allowed divorce!
Much could be discussed on this, but let me just say: If we do not understand that the teachings of Christ and his Apostles supersede, and even in many instances contradict, the teachings of Moses and the requirements of the Law then we probably have a lot more problems with our belief system than just the issue of divorce and remarriage.
Those Loopy Loop-holes!
And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery. Mark 10:11-12
This clear-cut and unambiguous standard put forth by Jesus is one of the most ignored in all the Bible. It is absolutely amazing to me the amount of time and effort spent in the pulpit explaining away his words, and fabricating excuses that (supposedly) allow an end-run around them! And once again I find myself compelled to make the statement:
If we are going to claim to be followers of Christ don’t you think we ought to be actually following his teachings instead of looking for excuses not to?
In spite of the insistence of many as to supposed ‘loop-holes’ in Christ’s teachings on the adulterous nature of divorce and remarriage, they are in actuality teaching falsehood. Most claims to loop-holes involve a twisting of Matt. 19:9 into saying something Christ did not!
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. Matthew 19:9
The word fornication does NOT carry the same meaning as marital unfaithfulness. The fornication referred to in this verse is sex before marriage. Though many modern versions of the Scriptures translate this verse as ‘except it be for marital unfaithfulness’ that is actually a perversion of Christ’s words. (This serial perverting of the Scriptures in the modern versions is why I teach that they are not to be trusted.) Christ was not referring to the act of adultery! One must look at his words in light of the godly standards already in effect in the day he spoke them. The true nature of Christ’s words here are lost upon a generation that has no expectation of purity until marriage.
A girl in those days (though sadly not in ours) was expected to keep herself pure for her future husband. And that future husband had the right to expect that his future bride would in fact not be defiled by fornicating before her marriage. If, on the wedding night, the man discovered his bride had presented herself to be chaste when she was not, he could consider the marriage null and void in that the covenant was entered into deceitfully.
He could then (if he so chose) put her away for that fornication, and the deceit she had expressed, without worry of accountability for the sin of adultery in her future or his. Though any Jewish historian or most honest theologians would concur to this interpretation of Matthew 19:9, in the backslid Western Church most would rather hold to an alternative (wrested) interpretation that jives with our practice of jumping from partner to partner like rabbits in the bush.
But I fully believe that Jesus, speaking in that passage above, is dealing with premarital sex, and not the unfaithfulness of a married couple. Instead of twisting Christ’s words to fit our beliefs or our personal experience, maybe we ought to try twisting our beliefs to fit the Word of God. Novel concept I know, but quite prudent I think.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22
If any think they have excuse to set aside this standard of forgiveness for sins committed against a spouse; and that it does not apply to a Christian marriage, I suggest you prayerfully read the parable that follows those words of Jesus in Matthew 18.
There is NO excuse for unforgiveness in ANY case! The godly response to sins committed against us by a spouse is ALWAYS forgiveness.
This is not to suggest someone is mandated to remain in a relationship that is unhealthy or dangerous in order to express forgiveness; a person has the right to remove themselves to a safe and healthy environment; it is not a sin to separate from a spouse if you cannot abide their behavior (1Cor. 7:10-11).
But there is not the ‘He/she cheated on me so I have a right to get a new spouse’ clause that has been so popularized in this modern age in order to excuse something our Lord Jesus condemned as adultery. That supposed ‘loop-hole’ is NOT biblical, and it will put one in an adulterous condition if followed!
I do sympathize with those who suffer the pain and humiliation of an unfaithful spouse. And I understand it is tempting to follow Joyce Meyers’ advice that: ‘if you are miserable with the one you are married to: Go find a mate that will make you happy. God wants you happy!’ Yes, she does actually teach that crap!
But have you ever considered that for some the struggles associated with marital tribulations may be their call in life as a follower of Jesus? To lay down their life and be a long-suffering intercessor on behalf of a habitually unfaithful or untenable spouse? Yes, I know that doesn’t sound like the ‘your best life now’ gospel of Osteen. But I wonder how many women who gave up on their mate instead of travailing in prayer year after year could have, like Abigail did, ended up with a David if they had hung on til the ‘Nabor’ in their Christ professing but sin loving husband died out?
And the same goes for the fellas too. But then again, these days the words ‘he that endures unto the end’ don’t seem to fit into the pseudo-message claiming to be the Gospel, do they now?
Finding Grace In It All
I believe there will be an enormous amount of grace given in this matter on the Day of Judgment. But not in the manner some are foolishly teaching or others are mistakenly expecting.
Those who think the disregard for the sanctity of the marriage covenant shown in this generation is no big deal to God are sadly mistaken. Adultery IS a grievous act in his sight, and there will be great accountability!
But there seems to me to be evidence in Christ’s teachings that much of that accountability may fall upon those who CAUSED the adultery in the lives of others, and not necessarily every one of those living in that ‘remarried’ state.
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. Matthew 5:32
Again, this is not a verse teaching marital unfaithfulness OK’s remarriage! It does not say remarriage is alright if there has been cheating like many are claiming it does. The focus is whether or not someone is causing an adulterous remarriage.
This is just my opinion, and I would not suggest risking your soul upon it, but I suspect that on the Day of Judgment some may escape the Judgment of God upon the adulterous union they embraced, and that God’s anger will fall upon the one who caused that person to seek a new mate. I could be wrong on this, so don’t count on it!
Also many who are of a diminished mental capacity will see mercy those with a full understanding of right or wrong will not. And to those who had good knowledge of the Word of God, and chose to ignore the teachings of Christ, or worse yet had taught others to do so, grace may well be a rare commodity on the Day of Reckoning!
What Counsel Do I Give The Divorced And Remarried?
Though I have received much flack, and even strong rebuke, for my beliefs that it is *usually adulterous when believers divorce and remarry, I have never counseled anyone to depart from such a union! I DO NOT tell those who are divorced and remarried that they should leave their new spouse or forsake their family! That is not my job; nor is it a part of my calling.
*Be careful who you judge as adulterous! Some remarriages may not be adulterous! If the first marriage was not sanctified in God’s sight (for instance if you had married someone who already had a marriage covenant in effect) a remarriage might be perfectly acceptable to the Lord. Departing from an unholy union would not necessarily disqualify you from remarriage.
I am not the Judge, not the jury, nor the executioner! You will not stand before me and give an account of your life. But you WILL stand before your Creator. The advice I give to the divorced and remarried is a very short exhortation and always the same:
If you are in that state you need to seek God until you hear his voice, and then you need to do as he says. It is up to you to follow the leading of your Heavenly Father. If you cannot hear from God or do not have the heart to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit then divorce and remarriage is probably not the paramount issue in your life anyway.
That is the counsel, and the only counsel, I give to those in an adulterous remarriage. Period.
If you want to throw stones at me for that, or for taking Jesus and his Apostles at their word on this issue, then go ahead I guess. You wouldn’t be the first and you probably will not be the last!
Lord, help us as followers of Christ to seek out his true teachings, take them to heart, and to live by them. ALL of them. In Jesus name!
P.S.: I know many are going to be tempted to send me their rendition of why it is OK to remarry after divorce. Go ahead and send them. (E-mail please – I don’t like to post false, or even overly long, teachings to my comment section and I would hate for you to take a great deal of time writing a teaching that I will not post to the comment section) But please bear in mind I was formerly schooled in the art of the loophole. I learned them all. I may of even made up a couple of my own to excuse my divorce and remarriage. So you are probably not going to tell me anything I have not heard before. But I do prayerfully consider ALL correspondence and do appreciate the contacts. P.B.
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