Are there any biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage?
February 10, 2009
While the Scriptures take the marriage covenant very seriously, they permit divorce and remarriage in some situations. To learn exactly what these circumstances are, we will begin with the Old Testament regulations of divorce and remarriage. Then we will consider the words of Jesus on this subject. And finally, we will look at the instructions given by the apostle Paul.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 tells us that when a man finds "some uncleanness" in his wife, divorces her, and they both marry new mates, they cannot ever undo this new marriage to remarry each other.
We know little about the rate of divorce in
Of course, while this may have been the rabbinical consensus, it certainly does not reflect the biblical view of marriage! The rabbinical schools of Christ's day were often wrong in their interpretation of the Old Testament. They made the Law into a works system for salvation and created loopholes by which clever people could get away with terrible wrongs. It appears that these Jewish scholars, all of whom prided themselves on their loyalty to Moses, were often out of tune with the deep spirituality of the Law.
In this cultural and religious context, the Lord's statement that people who divorced on lesser grounds committed adultery when they remarried was shocking. It even amazed the disciples, as evidenced by their response (Matthew 19:10). Jesus' teaching clearly ran contrary to the easy-going divorce and remarriage customs of His time. He declared that the only grounds for a valid divorce was porneia (sexual immorality -- Matthew 5:32), a term that encompassed a broad range of sexual sins. Later, Paul added another legitimate reason for divorce -- the willful desertion of a Christian by a non-Christian mate (1 Corinthians 7:15 ).
While the New Testament explicitly makes both sexual infidelity and desertion by an unbeliever grounds for a Christian's divorce and remarriage, it does not offer a detailed description of how a Christian should deal with an intolerable marital situation that does not involve either of these circumstances. It appears that Paul had such situations in mind when he wrote:
To sum up, there is general agreement among evangelicals that apart from the death of a mate, the New Testament gives only two situations in which a marriage can be terminated with the right to remarry: illicit sexual activity, and abandonment by an unbelieving mate. There are no other rightful grounds. Although it may be necessary in some other situations for a Christian to separate from or divorce his or her mate, Scripture requires him or her to remain unmarried until reconciled. From the very beginning, God recognized the profound value of unconditional commitment between spouses in marriage. He mercifully provided a way out of relationships that have already been shattered by adultery and abandonment, but He never intended an "easy out."
1. This raises three questions:
a. What is the "uncleanness" that apparently gave the husband grounds to divorce his wife?
b. What is the reason for the restriction that they could never remarry each other?
c. Why did the Law of Moses permit this disruption of a marriage?
2. In Kittel's under the discussion of porneia, we are given evidence that even the strict school of Shammai believed it to be shameful for a divorced man to remain unmarried. Interestingly, according to Kittel, the
3. Since Jewish culture considered it shameful for a man to remain unmarried after either the death of a spouse or a divorce, divorced men of that time quickly married new mates, regardless of the circumstances of the divorce.
I pray that you have been blessed by this teaching message.