1 The issues regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage
do not appear as broad as we, the authors of this
paper, thought in the beginning of our study. We reached
our conclusions much more quickly and easily than
first imagined. Having said this, we recognize fully
that this issue is not a simple one, nor should it
be addressed lightly. Applying the biblical teaching
on divorce/remarriage to the myriad situations people
get themselves into is often fraught with difficulties.
It is one whose application has become more and more
pressing as greater numbers of believers come from
divorced backgrounds or are in challenging marriages
already. Our mode in this study has been to not only
wrestle with the issues, but to reach some unifying
conclusions that can be shared with congregational
leaders worldwide. Otherwise, we might fall into the
contradiction of advising one thing for divorced people
in one church, and another thing for those in a different
2 At least two potentially disunifying factors have
been present in our churches in past years. First,
our individual religious backgrounds have caused some
of us to want to question things more because we have
preconceived conclusions. We must learn to deal wisely
with difficult issues that are not easy to harmonize,
especially those in the more challenging realms of
application. It is going to take patience and a willingness
to study more deeply to avoid jumping to legislative
(and often legalistic) conclusions. Second, a desire
for quick resolution can cause us to take lightly
something that God takes very seriously. Quick fixes
are often appealing, but over time they will come
back to haunt us. Doing things God's way is not normally
the easiest way in the short term, but in the long
term, it always pays dividends.
3 Even if people divorce for biblically correct reasons,
the damage is there for life, and we cannot take it
lightly. Due to the complexity of the issue, having
an overview of many passages to get a clearer picture
is paramount. This subject is not like that of baptism,
where one verse may clearly state the bottom line
and others on the subject merely amplify it. To gain
a biblical view of divorce and remarriage we will
begin with the pertinent OT passages and then proceed
to the NT passages that directly shed light on the
issues facing us today. Our focus will be on societies
characterized by monogamous marriages; therefore,
the issue of how to deal with polygamy will not fall
within the scope of this study.
4 Any study of marriage, divorce, and remarriage
needs to begin with God's view of divorce, which is
stated clearly and succinctly in Malachi 2:16: "'I
hate divorce,' says the Lord God of Israel."
Here Malachi warns husbands to stay faithful to the
wife of their youth. Obviously, this was a problem
in their culture. Why stay faithful? Because God hates
divorce. Any study of divorce and remarriage must
recognize where God stands on the issue: God hates
divorce. Since he does not take our vows lightly,
neither can we. In Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, we read: "When
you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling
it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.
It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not
fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin.
And do not protest to the temple messenger, 'My vow
was a mistake.' Why should God be angry at what you
say and destroy the work of your hands?" Proverbs
2:17 describes the wayward wife as one "who has
left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant
she made before God." Obviously, marriage vows
fall into a realm of utmost seriousness before God.
5 We must continually keep in front of our people
both God's ideal for marriage and his view of divorce.
Church members should not view divorce as an option.
In our premarital counseling, we must stress that
God hates divorce. We must maintain a high standard
of helping those married as disciples to remain happily
6 The revelation of God began with the creation of
man, followed quickly by the institution of marriage,
since "It is not good for the man to be alone"
(Genesis 2:18). God's ideal for marriage was clear
one man for one woman for life. Verses can be multiplied
to show the exalted view of marriage in the mind of
God. In fact, God often used the relationship between
husband and wife as the best description of his covenant
relationship with his chosen people (Isaiah 54:5-8;
Jeremiah 3:14; Hosea 1-3).
7 Old Testament legislation regarding marriage and
divorce shows clearly that God is deadly serious about
fidelity in marriage and the sanctity of the marriage
covenant. An Israelite man was not allowed to marry
certain of his close relatives, a former wife that
had since re-married then divorced, or any Gentile
women (excluding captives of war). If a newly married
woman was found not to be a virgin, she was to be
stoned to death, as were a man and a woman who slept
together while she was already betrothed to another
man (if it happened in the countryside then only the
man was killed and the woman was presumed innocent).
If a man seduced a virgin who was not pledged to be
married, then he had to pay the bride price and marry
her (if her father was willing) and could never divorce
her. Illegitimate children (born outside of marriage)
had to be excluded from the assembly of the Lord.
8 In spite of the seriousness of the marriage vows,
God did allow divorce. The best known OT passage regarding
this is Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which reads:
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to
him because he finds something indecent about her,
and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives
it to her and sends her from his house,  and if
after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of
another man,  and her second husband dislikes her
and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it
to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies,
 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not
allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled.
That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord.
Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is
giving you as an inheritance.
9 Here a man is instructed that if he finds something
indecent ('erwat dabar) about his wife, then he can
give her a certificate of divorce (seper keritut).
This certificate gave her the right to remarry. The
teaching of Jesus helps us understand that God allowed
divorce under this legislation because of the hard-heartedness
of humanity (Matthew 19:8). Men were leaving their
wives and abandoning them without any rights or privileges.
This legislation was apparently designed to force
the husband to count the cost soberly before divorcing
his wife (since he could later not remarry her) and
to establish some rights for women in this unjust
environment. God loves justice. His heart for his
people allowed divorce to be established in the Mosaic
code to meet a practical need.
10 The "indecent" thing found in a wife
has been much debated. In Jesus' day, two schools
of thought predominated. One group believed the indecency
was immorality and the other believed it to be almost
anything displeasing to the husband. Since God hates
divorce, it surely could not have been anything trivial.
On the other hand, although it must have been directed
at something very serious, it seems likely that it
was not full-blown immorality, since that was punishable
by stoning. Regardless of the exact identification
of the indecent behavior, the passage clearly demonstrates
that in some situations, something less than God's
ideal was allowed by way of concession.
11 Therefore, all divorce allowed by God is concessionary
in nature which shows that God has both an ideal will
(no divorce) and a concessionary will (divorce under
certain circumstances). Under God's concessionary
will for marriage also fall both polygamy and concubinage.
Regardless of how our sensibilities may be shocked
by these OT practices, God did allow them. Polygamy
was regulated but not prohibited. Some of God's most
outstanding OT heroes had multiple wives and concubines.
Solomon was condemned for marrying foreign wives but
not for marrying multiple wives (1 Kings 11:1-6, Nehemiah
13: 26). These observations alone should militate
against our becoming too rigid in dealing with marriage,
divorce and remarriage in the New Testament, since
in the OT period God's concessionary will was considerably
broader than his ideal will.
12 The contemporary applications of the latitude
of God's concessionary will are not always easy to
identify. When the Israelites were called back to
God after the Babylonian captivity, those who had
married foreign women were required to send the women
(and their common offspring) away. This was not called
divorce in the passages, and would probably best be
described as annulment (Ezra 9-10). A period of time
was allowed during which unlawful relationships were
identified and repentance effected. Nehemiah, on the
other hand, although he rebuked the erring Israelites,
apparently did not require them to divorce. The different
approaches of these contemporaries, Ezra and Nehemiah,
along with the "grace period" allowed by
Ezra, are factors to take into account as we lead
the people of God into a fuller appreciation of God's
position on divorce and remarriage. Rigidity and dogmatism
are unsavory qualities generally, but they are especially
dangerous when trying to discern appropriate practical
applications in sensitive areas.
13 The primary NT passages regarding marriage, divorce
and remarriage are the following: Matthew 5:31-32;
19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; and 1 Corinthians
7. In order to compare the Synoptic accounts, they
are included at this point, beginning with the simpler
passages in Mark and Luke.
 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking,
"Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
 "What did Moses command you?" he replied.
 They said, "Moses permitted a man to write
a certificate of divorce and send her away."
 "It was because your hearts were hard that
Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. 
"But at the beginning of creation God 'made them
male and female.'  '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."
 When they were in the house again, the disciples
asked Jesus about this.  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"
"Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another
woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a
divorced woman commits adultery" (Luke 16:18).
14 In Mark's account, we see that a man or woman
who divorces their mate and marries another commits
adultery (against her, in the case of the man divorcing
his wife). The presupposition is that they are divorcing
for the express purpose of remarrying, since divorce
is allowed by concession in some situations, as is
remarriage. Luke adds that the man who marries a divorced
woman commits adultery. What was Jesus dealing with?
He was addressing legalistic, hard-hearted people
who went by the letter of the law and not by its spirit.
These are people who had lost the meaning of the heart
of God's law and had turned it into rules and regulations.
Taking the marriage vows lightly was never acceptable
to God. Hence, these accounts state unequivocally
the ideal divine marriage law with no exceptions noted.
Now consider the accounts in Matthew that seem to
include exceptions (highlighted in the passages below)
of a concessionary nature.
 "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces
his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.'
 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 5:31-32).
 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).
15 The question naturally arises about why these
exceptions are included in Matthew (i.e. 5:31, 19:9)
and not in Mark or Luke. First, we must remember the
principle that all relevant passages on a given subject
have to be studied, not just isolated ones. Especially
is this principle true when some passages on a topic
are general in nature while related ones contain detailed
specifics. For example, the biblical doctrine of salvation
stated in John 3:16 is absolutely true, but can be
easily misunderstood unless we consider other more
detailed passages which elaborate on the need for
repentance and baptism.
16 Perhaps more significantly, we cannot leave out
an important part of determining doctrine in the early
church as well as providing practical direction to
the early disciples the revelatory ministry of the
Spirit. It is clear that the gradual formation of
the canon would have left many theological and practical
gaps in many parts of the early church. For instance,
the early church functioned a considerable amount
of time without the benefit of Paul's writing on the
important distinction between faith and works. Yet,
there was still the expectation to be faithful disciples
and to live by faith and not by works.
17 During the time the canon was being written, the
Spirit was actively communicating through unrecorded
prophecy and revelation, filling in the theological
and doctrinal gaps. It would take some time before
the canon would have been sufficiently completed to
clear up any doctrinal misunderstandings. As applied
to the issue of divorce and remarriage, since there
is one Spirit, we can trust there is one teaching
on divorce which the Spirit made known through his
prophets and inspired people during those times of
confusion. The Scriptures that appear somewhat contradictory
to us would assumedly have been clearer to the early
writers in that the necessary assumptions surrounding
those passages for a conciliatory understanding were
intact as the Spirit revealed the necessary information
in all the churches.
18 The simplest answer for us today regarding the
"exception passages" in Matthew is that
Matthew recognized a growing problem in the church
over the divorce issue and included it in his gospel
to expand and explain what Mark and Luke stated more
generally. Similar examples can be found involving
other biblical subjects, and were it not for the controversial
nature of this issue, we would likely not even feel
the need to take the time to explain the principle
in any detail.
Matthew Examined More Closely
19 Jesus was always more concerned with the effect
of our behavior on our relationship with God and with
other people than with legal perfection. When a man
divorced his wife he thereby placed her in a difficult
and hard position in the world (women of that day
did not have the employment opportunities available
in today's society) and virtually forced her to re-marry
to protect herself. To Jesus, this was a great offense.
The wording of Matthew 5:31-32 seems to indicate that
his words are more condemning of the man's actions
in placing his divorced wife in the situation of compromise
then they are of the woman for re-marrying. However,
he makes it clear that she sins when she re-marries.
20 Many religious folk have exhibited a strong tendency
to force Matthew's apparent exceptions to be aligned
with Mark's and Luke's lack of exceptions rather than
vice versa. In other words, they are uncomfortable
with accepting any divorce and remarriage. A similar
tack is taken regarding 1 Corinthians 7:15, which
appears to allow divorce and remarriage when an unbelieving
mate deserts one who is a disciple. Even if this most
rigid position is avoided, the issue of whether a
"guilty party" can remarry ushers in even
a greater challenge. There are a couple of factors
that likely have contributed to this emotional reaction
against allowing divorce and remarriage of the guilty
party for sexual unfaithfulness. First, there is the
concern that such an option promotes a strong temptation
to engage in adultery for the purpose of getting out
of a less-than-ideal marriage relationship, and secondly,
a failure to regard marital unfaithfulness as a sin
from which someone can truly repent and be trusted
enough to remarry.
21 Those so inclined would allow someone to remarry
who murdered his wife and repented, but someone who
commits adultery may not be offered the same opportunity.
If this track is followed, once a person is "put
away" for the sin of immorality, no hope is offered
of overcoming the sins that led to the adultery to
the point of entering another marriage relationship.
Some have justified this position by maintaining that
the consequences for sin are sometimes great, yet
with no solid biblical evidence for such an extreme
position, the consequences for imposing such a position
on God's people would seem even more consequential
and discouraging. If the guilty party cannot remarry,
it cannot be that the guilty party is still joined
to the now divorced partner. When the union is broken
for one, it is broken for the other. Therefore, if
the guilty party does not have the right of remarriage
also, it must be because penance in the form of lifetime
celibacy is demanded.
22 There are two circumstances that allow a divorce
and remarriage to take place: 1) marital unfaithfulness
(porneia) which, from the definition of the Greek
word, would include sex with another person, and 2)
desertion by a non-Christian spouse (1 Corinthians
7:15). In the latter case, a strong implication that
the deserting spouse would inevitably be involved
with other relationships is reasonable but not stated.
Jesus addresses the situation of his day by telling
the men within his community that there is only one
reason (parektos logou "except for the reason/word/matter")
for divorce. The sole reason to give a certificate
of divorce is porneia, meaning sexual unfaithfulness.
To divorce her for any other reason is to make the
divorced woman an adulteress. Because of the socio-economic
situation of first century Palestine, the woman would
be forced to find another husband to support her.
Since she was divorced illegitimately, she would become
an adulteress and anyone who married her would become
23 Another example of Jesus' teaching in this area
is found in John 8: 1-11, the well-known story of
the woman caught in adultery. Jesus did not enforce
upon the woman the teachings of Deuteronomy 22:22-24;
instead he dealt with the hypocrisy, hard heartedness
and self-righteousness of her accusers. Instead of
the prescribed stoning, he admonished the adulterous
woman to leave her life of sin. A study of Jesus'
teachings and their emphases will reveal a pattern:
he stands against legalism, harshness and binding
burdens on people that hinder them from entering the
kingdom of heaven; he upholds justice, mercy and right
24 For most sins, repentance means something like
this: "What I did was wrong; I wish I had never
done it; if I had it all to do over, I would not have
done it; and I will never do it again in the future."
Even if one committed a sin like murder, he would
have no further recourse but to honestly repent, and
we would then have to accept such a person back into
our fellowship. Our best approach with some divorces
and remarriages that are difficult to sort out should
probably follow the same reasoning. Since those who
come into the kingdom with remarriages after a divorce
(or divorces!) not based on scriptural grounds are
accepted as they are, then those who as disciples
sin by unscriptural divorces and remarriages and who
later repent of this should be accepted "as they
are" as well. Since we do not demand a change
in the marital status of those coming into the kingdom
with unscriptural divorces and remarriages, how can
we fail to follow the same logic with, and extend
the same mercy to, disciples who sin in this same
way and later repent? This may be unsettling to us,
but can we do otherwise and be consistent? Some cases
become so tangled that leaders can do no more than
point out the appropriate Scriptures, give their best
advice and leave ultimate judgment in the hands of
1 Corinthians 7 - Preliminary Considerations
25 Before we proceed to discuss divorce and remarriage,
a related teaching of this chapter is both obvious
and striking: some people should remain unmarried
simply on practical grounds. We have often used Genesis
2 to stress the need for marriage to the point that
harmonizing Paul's admonitions here becomes somewhat
challenging. In other words, we have been reluctant
to encourage permanent singleness in the way that
Paul did. We have tended to make people feel guilty
(subtly and unintentionally) for not getting married.
We very much need to address this issue and remove
the stigma of remaining single.
26 Paul and Barnabas gave up their right to be married
in order to serve in the ministry unencumbered (1
Corinthians 9:5). Where are the single evangelists
among us who remain single without feeling pressured
to marry? Yet no one can question Paul's statement
in 1 Corinthians 7:33-34 that "a married man
is concerned about the affairs of this world how he
can please his wife and his interests are divided."
The issue becomes even more significant when we are
considering church plantings in dangerous places.
Clearly the unmarried evangelist would have a huge
advantage over a married one. Considering 1 Corinthians
7:34, it would probably only be fair and reasonable
to include that a sister might remain single to better
serve "full-time" in some ministry of the
church as well.
27 Purely on practical grounds, many disciples should
be advised against remarriage, or at the very least,
not be encouraged to remarry. Among this number would
be divorcees that come into the kingdom with terrible
track records in previous marriages. Another group
that should think long and hard before remarrying
are those who are divorced and have older children
still at home. These disciples hope that an additional
parent will help them in raising their children, but
they may instead find themselves in the middle of
horrendous marital and family strife. When both potential
partners are in this situation, entering into a "blended
family" status may invite dire consequences.
Another category in which marriage might be a very
unwise choice would be the case of older singles with
personality and character qualities that would make
adjustments in marriage very challenging.
28 Getting married, according to Paul, is not always
the ideal. Marriage is neither commanded nor absolutely
forbidden. Putting undue pressure on people either
way is not biblical or practical. Remaining single
may be the wisest choice. On the one hand is the need
to be kingdom-focused in a way that marriage does
not allow, and on the other hand are the practical
issues that make marriage for some downright difficult
and perhaps disastrous. Great wisdom is needed in
giving advice in this arena. Some do not want to get
married but should, while others want to marry who
should not. The person's own conscience is an important
factor in deciding whether to marry or remain single,
as indicated by Paul's comments in verse 37: "But
the man who has settled the matter in his own mind,
who is under no compulsion but has control over his
own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry
the virgin this man also does the right thing."
In summary, if we improved our advice regarding contracting
marriage in the first place, we would lower the number
of seriously dysfunctional marriages among us.
1 Corinthians 7 - Examined More Closely
29 Now let us begin considering the specific passages
in 1 Corinthians 7 relating directly to our subject.
In verses 8-16, Paul addresses those in three different
marriage categories: the unmarried and widows; marriages
in which both partners are disciples; and "mixed"
marriages in which one partner is a disciple and one
is not. The advice and applications vary in each.
30 He begins with the unmarried and widows (verses
8-9), who are said to be better off remaining unmarried.
However, if they did not have the gift of celibacy,
it was better to marry than to burn with passion.
This passage cannot be construed to mean that lust
is excused for single people, nor can it be used to
justify hasty marriages. Further, it cannot be used
to excuse breaking up a marriage in which one partner
is incapacitated (i.e. poor physical or mental health)
or unavailable (in jail, for example). Any of these
interpretations would violate many other passages.
The setting that lay behind this advice (the "present
distress" of verse 26) is mentioned as a practical
reason for remaining unmarried. Others have already
been mentioned in the introductory comments to this
31 In verses 10-11, the "married" are addressed.
A comparison of these verses with those immediately
following them will demonstrate that the "married"
referred to here are both disciples. (Note also that
these verses are commands and not concessions, in
contrast to the previous verses, which give the unmarried
the right to marry without sinning.) Paul states that
he is not giving this command, but the Lord is. When
Paul says that the Lord has already spoken to this
situation, he must have had in mind the Lord's teaching
recorded in Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:3-9; Mark
10:2-12; Luke 16:18. Therefore, these passages in
the gospel accounts must be viewed as covenant legislation
(where both marriage partners are in a relationship
with God) not universal legislation.
32 If either spouse leaves, then both disciples must
remain unmarried or else be reconciled to one another.
Neither disciple is allowed to remarry. While God's
ideal will is here stated clearly (no separation),
the very mention of separation shows that God allows
this concession as long as no remarriage to other
partners takes place. In some rare cases, church leaders
might counsel or approve, albeit reluctantly, ongoing
separation between two married disciples without church
discipline being applied. Paul's statements have to
be harmonized with the exception clause in Matthew
19, but the general application was what evidently
was the need of the hour in the Corinthian church.
Although the text does not mention other reasons for
separation, in certain extreme cases it might be recommended.
However, if both spouses were supposedly disciples,
any ongoing sin in the life of either disciple in
this situation would be dealt with by counseling,
and if need be, by church discipline, resulting in
repentance or removal from the church. If one disciple
was disfellowshipped or fell away, the marriage would
then move into the category of a believer married
to an unbeliever, which is next discussed.
33 In 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, Paul moves on to address
those he terms "the rest." Contextually,
it is evident that this marriage is comprised of one
disciple and one non-disciple. We would have to assume
that one partner became a disciple and the other did
not, as is often the case today. This passage should
not be regarded as an example of a Christian marrying
a non-Christian, because that is ruled out by other
passages, including verse 39 in this very chapter.
Note that Paul says that he, not the Lord, is speaking
to this specific situation. This means that the Lord's
teaching noted above was to be applied to those in
the kingdom. Now, however, Paul, as an inspired apostle,
is making an application that became necessary as
the church was spreading, especially into Gentile
culture. In passages like John 14:26 and John 16:12-13,
Jesus prepared the apostles for additional revelation
they would receive to meet needs that would arise
in the future. Obviously, the situation in Corinth
constituted such a case.
34 If the non-Christian is willing to live with the
Christian, the Christian must stay in the marriage.
It should be noted that the non-believer is willing
to live with the disciple as a disciple. In other
words, the non-Christian must be willing to allow
the Christian spouse to practice his or her Christianity.
Obviously, a disciple could apply the definition of
"willing" in an unreasonable manner by insisting
that absolutely no tension be produced by the religious
differences present in the home. Such a position would
not only be impractical, but it would also be quite
unbiblical. It is important to remember that 1 Peter
3:1-6 is a continuation of the admonition to be submissive
in less-than-ideal situations. No disciple can expect
an absence of tension when his or her spouse is governed
by a very different standard. But they can expect
that an unbelieving spouse be "willing"
to live with them as they serve Jesus on his terms.
Wisdom is vital in attempting to apply biblical principles
in difficult situations, necessitating the seeking
of much advice from spiritual leaders.
35 But a highly significant issue in the passage
is what it means to no longer be bound (verse 15)
- what is the bondage? It would seem clear that the
marriage bond is in view, and all of the kingdom teachers
agree that this is the case. If the unbeliever departs,
the believer is no longer bound, but if the unbeliever
is content to live with the believer, the believer
is still bound. Many commentators feel compelled to
harmonize this passage with the gospel accounts, which
would necessitate ruling out the possibility of divorce
and remarriage. But Paul himself makes it clear that
the situation here being considered is different from
the situation and the teaching in the gospel accounts
("The Lord, not I;" "I, not the Lord").
If mere separation were in view, the directions would
be the same as for two married disciples as in verses
36 Paul writes in verse 14 that the unbeliever is
"sanctified" through the Christian mate.
This, of course, does not mean that they are thereby
saved - it merely means that God recognizes the marriage
as valid and they can remain in it. If it were not
thus recognized, then the children born into it would
be "unclean" (illegitimate). Since Paul
was answering the questions about marriage raised
by the Corinthians (verse 1), they evidently were
wondering if a Christian/non-Christian marriage was
acceptable to God as a lawful relationship. Here Paul
says "yes." Perhaps they mistakenly applied
a teaching like that found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
to the marriage bond itself.
37 Verse 16 most likely is saying that the Christian
should accept the departure of their mate and the
subsequent divorce it will bring, rather than try
to hang on to a lost cause in the hopes of saving
the mate. If the unbeliever leaves, they are demonstrating
their lack of openness to the gospel by the very act
of leaving. The breakup of a marriage is always tragic
and the Christian should always do everything within
reason to avoid a breakup. A disciple must focus on
the principles of 1 Peter 3 in seeking the most righteous
solutions, not on trying to justify getting out of
a marriage. Exhibiting an arrogant attitude violates
both 1 Corinthians 7 and 1 Peter 3. If we are doing
all we can to make the marriage work and the unbeliever
leaves anyway, so be it, but our conscience must remain
38 A question regarding the identity of the unbeliever
naturally arises when a disciple falls away. Does
such an apostate qualify as an unbeliever in this
context? Yes, they do. One who falls away can certainly
be prone to become a persecutor of their mate, and
desertion is not uncommon for such a person. In the
case of a believer who leaves the church under any
circumstances, we will have to strive to maintain
gracious attitudes toward them if they decide to return
after messing up their life considerably, including
by marrying again. What if they are single when they
are restored, but their former spouse is remarried
already? Can the restored disciple now be allowed
to marry another disciple in the church? This issue
may be a thorny one, but the righteous approach is
to allow this person a new beginning. If they leave
the kingdom and later get restored, they return under
the same status they entered originally with a clean
39 No other human relationship is like that of marriage,
for it pictures the relationship between Christ and
his church (Ephesians 5:22-33). Both relationships
are a great mystery, deeper than human intelligence
can fathom. We must do everything within our power
as leaders to preserve the sanctity and permanence
of the marriage union. Our constant focus must be
to keep marriages together, even if we have to expend
much counseling energy over long periods of time.
God hates divorce but loves harmony and resolution.
If reconciliation between all brothers and sisters
in Christ is crucial, reconciliation between estranged
marriage partners is even more essential. The tendency
to allow unrighteousness in Christian marriage relationships
that would not be tolerated in any other kingdom relationships
must cease. Leaders must exercise their God-given
responsibility to not allow Christians to remain in
a state of bitterness, resentment, animosity and conflict.
Sin must be dealt with and repented of. In some extreme
cases, in keeping with Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians
7:10-11, separation of spouses might be tolerated
as a concession to weakness and immaturity. Certainly,
leaders would need to exercise much godly wisdom in
reaching such decisions.
40 Marriage or remarriage is not for everyone. In
fact, we have much need to build a biblical mind-set
about the practical value of remaining single in a
number of different situations. As we give advice
of this nature, two things must be kept in mind: 1)
the need to explain the principles behind the advice
in specific detail, and 2) the necessity of realizing
that advice is just advice. If Paul as an inspired
apostle refused to bind his advice on people, we certainly
cannot succumb to viewing our advice as being tantamount
to God's will.
41 We must always strive to strike a balance between
being more legislative than God and being more tolerant
than he. We cannot bind what he has not bound nor
loose what he has not loosed. Being aware of God's
concessionary will in the realm of marriage should
cause us to shun legalistic answers to difficult circumstances.
For those disciples in the unfortunate position of
having divorced (as disciples) without due grounds
(adultery), we must have faith that they will be able
to survive without remarriage. Reconciliation is the
only alternative allowed by Scripture, but God will
be with them in that situation (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Similarly, dating couples where one partner is divorced
from a believer (on any grounds other than adultery)
should "break up."
42 In brief form, the following observations sum
up most of the key issues:
1. At conversion, people are accepted in their present
2. Those who leave the fellowship and are later restored
to it are also accepted in their present (possibly
altered) marital status.
3. Someone in the church whose spouse has been unfaithful
has the right to divorce and remarry since the cause
of the divorce was immorality on the part of the mate.
Since this sin allows the marriage bond to be broken
for the innocent party, the bond is broken for both
parties, and hence both can remarry. Each local leadership
will need to decide how to deal with the immorality
4. It is noteworthy that although the leadership of
a local church might respond to an isolated act of
adultery with no more than a private warning to the
one who sinned, the spouse of such a person would
be within his/her biblical rights to demand a divorce.
Although reconciliation would always be strongly encouraged,
the unfaithfulness may be so devastating that the
faithful spouse can no longer stay in marriage with
the adulterous partner. Divorce should always be considered
the last possible resort.
5. Disciples should certainly not divorce one another
for other causes, but if they do, they must remain
unmarried or be reconciled (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
6. If a non-Christian mate leaves a disciple, then
the disciple is not bound and can divorce the one
7. Any Christian who leaves God is considered an "unbeliever"
in light of 1 Corinthians 7:12-15. If the unbelieving
spouse deserts the disciple and is no longer willing
to live with them, the faithful spouse can then divorce
8. The need for preventive counseling, including the
disciplinary steps of Matthew 18:15-17, should always
remain our first and strongest line of defense against
9. Though there are definite Biblical commands and
principles regarding divorce and remarriage, we cannot
underestimate the need for leaders to pray for wisdom
and seek advice in order to properly apply them.