Are Biblically Divorced Persons Allowed To Remarry?

Are Biblically Divorced Persons Allowed To Remarry?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Friday, June 8, 2012 at 10:29am

QUESTION. I agree that the Bible permits divorce under certain circumstances, but it seems to me that it does not permit the divorced person to remarry. What do you think?

ANSWER. I answered this question once, in a note from October 2010. I will answer it again here, and will include the material from Guy Duty’s book that was only mentioned in passing in the former note.

For the sake of this question, we are assuming that there are two Biblical grounds for divorce, namely, sexual immorality and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. The question is whether a person is morally free to remarry following such a divorce. The answer is YES. The “except” clause in Matt. 5:32, 19:9 applies both to divorce and to remarriage. In such cases, the marriage bond no longer exists in God’s sight.

An excellent source for a study of this question is Guy Duty’s book, Divorce and Remarriage. I will summarize his main points here. On pp. 24ff. he focuses on the nature or concept of the divorce which is in view in the OT law regarding divorce, which was the point of discussion in Matt. 5:31-32 and Matt. 19:3ff. I.e., what is involved in or implied by the divorce of which the Law of Moses speaks in Deut. 24:1ff.? Duty’s point is that Jesus never disputed the nature of divorce as represented by the OT law. The only issue under question was this: what is a legitimate cause for divorce? Regarding its nature, in the OT context a divorce was a real divorce, and therefore remarriage—not just separation–was allowed. Jesus never challenged this.

Duty argues that in Matt. 5:32 Jesus is referring to the official divorce document referred to in Deut. 24:1-2. It is clear that this divorce dissolved the marriage, since the woman was free to “go and be another man’s wife” (Deut. 24:2). Remarriage was clearly allowed by God and was not considered adultery. “So, here at the origin of divorce, the evidence is clear and strong that biblical divorce signified the absolute dissolution of marriage with the right to remarriage” (Duty, 24). In the Hillel (any cause) vs. Shammai (one cause) dispute, the only question was about the cause of divorce, not about the right to remarry. The latter was assumed.

Jesus informs us that the Shammai school was correct. Unless there has been adultery, divorce does not really dissolve the marriage, and remarriage itself is adultery. But Jesus does give this exception: “except for the cause of immorality.” “For the rightful cause of fornication, Messiah approved the Jewish divorce which allowed remarriage” (Duty, 31). “Jesus did not introduce a new kind of divorce. He did not abolish all divorce. He corrected the abuse of the divorce privilege, but approved the right use of it.” He did not change the concept of divorce into the concept of separation (Duty, 35).

We must remember that immorality prior to marriage (even during betrothal) with someone other than the husband-to-be was punished by death under the Mosaic Law, as was adultery. This kind of sexual immorality in the earlier stages of the relationship was as serious as in the marriage itself. The term porneia refers to sexual sin of any kind (incest, sodomy, bestiality, fornication, adultery). One cannot argue that it refers only to premarital sin. (Duty, 52ff.)

In Matt. 19:9 the issue is the cause for rightful divorce, not remarriage as such. See 19:3. The Pharisees who asked the question did not mention remarriage, since this was not an issue at that time. “There was never any question about this. It was allowed by both Hillel and Shammai” (Duty, 63). The word used in 19:9 is apoluo, the word used in other places in the NT as the equivalent for OT divorce. It always meant divorce in the sense of a dissolution. That is its meaning in Matt. 19:3, 7, 8. How can we change it in 19:9 to mean only separation? (Duty, 68-69). I.e., what was the subject under discussion? “Both sides were discussing marriage as dissolved by divorce, and not as dissolved by death” (Duty, 70).

In his book, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible, Jay Adams discusses 1 Cor. 7:27-28a, where Paul says, “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 should marry, you have not sinned.” Here are his comments (pp. 84-85):

1. The word translated “released” in both instances is the same word, luo.

2. To be released from a wife in the second instance must mean what it does in the first or the intended contrast that is set up would be lost.

3. It is plain that divorce is in view in both instances. Clearly, when Paul says that one must not seek to be released from a wife he doesn’t mean by death! The release in view can mean only one thing—release by divorce. So too, the release in the second instance must refer to release from the bonds of marriage by divorce (N.B., to be “released” is the opposite of being “bound” to a wife).

4. Paul allows for the remarriage of those released from marriage bonds (i.e., divorced) even in a time of severe persecution when marriage, in general, is discouraged (v. 28).

5. And, to boot, he affirms that there is no sin in remarrying.

It is most important, then, to understand that the position of those who hold that under no circumstances whatever may a divorced person remarry, is totally unwarranted. This passage is fatal to that view; the Scriptures plainly contradict it when they affirm the opposite. There can be no doubt about it, the Bible allows the remarriage of some divorced persons . . . .

In the case of a Biblical divorce, WHO is allowed to remarry? The innocent party, to be sure. (Note: the term “innocent” applies to the situation involving Biblical grounds.) But here is a point that must be emphasized: the guilty party ALSO is allowed to remarry. The old marriage bond is severed; the old marriage no longer exists. This is often denied, but usually on an emotional basis rather than on a Biblical basis. (See John Murray’s very good discussion of this in his book, Divorce, pp. 99ff.)

We must be cautious in trying to draw conclusions on this issue from God’s relation to OT Israel (as in Jeremiah 3 and 4, e.g.). The relation between God and Israel was immutable because of God’s choice of Israel as the source of the Messiah. I do not agree with the idea that a spouse’s death is the only way to end a marriage covenant, just as Christ’s death was required to end the Old Covenant and inaugurate the New one. This is a faulty parallel.

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