Divorce and Remarriage

The whole subject of
divorce and remarriage is one of the most vexing problems which the
church faces today. Complicated cases are arising continually which
would tax the wisdom of Solomon. 

Of one thing we can be
absolutely sure, namely, that divorce was never God’s intention for
man. His ideal is that a man and woman should remain married until the
union is broken by death (Rom 7:1‑3). 

Lord Jesus taught this clearly. When the Pharisees asked Him if it was
lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause, He replied: 

. .Have ye not read, that He who made them at the beginning made them
male and female, and said, For this cause a man shall leave his 
father and mother, and be joined to his wife and the two shall
become one flesh. So then, they are no more two, but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt.

also Mark 10:2-9. 

further emphasize the fact that divorce is contrary to God’ s will as
a general rule, the Lord said: 

Whoever divorces his wife,, and marries another commits adultery; and
whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits
adultery.” (Lk. 16:18) 

is repeated in Mark 10:11 and 12 , but here it is broadened to include
not only a man putting away his wife, but also a woman putting away her

divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. 
And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she
commits adultery.” 

these were the only verses in the Bible on the subject, then there would
be no further need of discussion. It would be obvious that God does not
permit divorce under any circumstances. But these are not the only
verses in God’s Word on this topic. The Savior Himself made an
exception to the general rule. 

Matthew 5:31, 32, for instance, He taught: 

Furthermore it has been said, Whoever divorces 
his wife,  let him
give her a certificate of  divorce. 
But I say to you, that whoever divorces 
his wife,  for any
reason except sexual immorality; and whoever marries a woman who
is divorced commits adultery.”

clearly establishes the principle that divorce is permitted where the
wife has been guilty of  sexual
immorality. But if a husband puts away his wife for any other reason, he
causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries her commits adultery. 

example, if a man divorces his wife for incompatibility or for mental
cruelty, he causes her to commit adultery. Also, any man who marries a
woman who is divorced for incompatibility or mental cruelty thereby
commits adultery—because the woman is not divorced on Scriptural
grounds. It is not a valid divorce. The man would be marrying another
man’s wife. 

Lord Jesus repeats this statement in Matthew 19:9: 

I say to you, Whoever divorces  his
wife, except  for sexual
immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries
her who is divorced commits adultery.” 

conclusion thus far is that although divorce is not God’s ideal, yet
He does allow it in the case where one’s partner has committed sexual
immorality.  This, of
course, raises the question as to what is meant by sexual

immorality is any sexual intercourse outside of marriage. It includes
illicit sex involving a single person, which in English usage is
commonly called fornication. In the New Testament, the word porneia
can refer to adultery, fornication or any other sexual intercourse
outside of marriage. 

a spouse has been guilty of unfaithfulness, this does not mean that
divorce is compulsory. It is permitted but not commanded. The offended
party may show grace and forgiveness, and the original marriage may be
continued. (Mt. 23:21-22) 

is sexual immorality the only Scriptural ground on which a
divorce may be obtained? Some students of the Bible suggest that another
ground is  given in 1
Corinthians 7:12‑16. This portion deals with the case where a
believer is married to an unbeliever. (No doubt the believer was saved
after marrying.) If the unbeliever is willing to remain with the
Christian, then that is good because there is always the possibility of
the unconverted person’s being saved. If, however, the unbeliever
leaves the Christian, the Scripture says that the latter “is not under
bondage.” Many interpret this to mean that the Christian is at liberty
to obtain a divorce on the ground of desertion. 

difficulty with this passage is that the words “not under bondage”
are not very specific. While they may mean that a divorce is allowed,
they do not clearly say so. Such Bible scholars as Ellicott, Darby,
Grant, Hodge, and Jennings teach that divorce is permitted by 1
Corinthians 7:16, but many others feel that the verse deals only with
separation and not divorce.

question will arise, “What about people who were divorced before they
were saved?” The answer is that Christ’s teaching on divorce was
addressed to professing believers. It does not deal with the question of
what people were before conversion. Unlawful divorces contracted before
the time of one’s salvation should not exclude a person from the
fellowship of the local church. Some of the Corinthian believers had
formerly been fornicators, adulterers, thieves, drunkards, and other
forms of sinners (1 Cor 6:9-10), but they had been washed, sanctified
and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God (1
Cor 6:11). Their past life did not bar them from full participation in
the privileges of the local church. 

more difficult question concerns Christians who are divorced for reasons
not allowed in the New Testament. Can they ever be received back into
the fellowship of the local church? This raises the further question as
to whether adultery is the state or condition in which they live, or if
it describes the initial act. If such people are living in a state of
adultery, then obviously they would have to repent and forsake their
present partner. If, however, adultery only refers to the initial act,
then presumably they could repent and be restored to fellowship. 

the matter of divorce, it seems that almost every case is different. The
elders in a local church must investigate and deliberate in the fear of
God and in obedience to His Word. When they take action in a godly
manner, their decision is honored in heaven (Mt 18:18). The Christians
should submit to the decision and not seek to defend the disciplined

point that should be mentioned is this: God is a realist. He states the
ideal in His Word concerning the marriage relationship, but He realizes
that not all will attain the ideal. So He makes allowances for some
things which He does not necessarily approve. 

God’s remedy for these problems is never one that creates worse prob­lems.
If, in order to untangle a marital snarl, men or women are forced into
sin, or women and children are left homeless or penniless, the solution
could be worse than the problem. 


is often contended that although divorce is permitted by the New
Testament, yet remarriage is never contemplated. 

a position is pointless. One of the main purposes of a Scriptural
divorce is to permit remarriage. Otherwise separation would be

seems clear from the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5:31, 32, and 19:9,
that if a person obtains a divorce on the ground of sexual
immorality (or adultery), he is free to remarry. The expression
“saving for the cause of “sexual immorality” permits
both divorce and remarriage for that specific reason.


conclude from the above study that God’s ideal is that His people should
continue in the married state until that state is broken by death. Divorce
is not according to His will. 

divorce is permitted when one partner in a marriage has been guilty of
unfaithfulness. In such a case, the innocent party is free to remarry. 

is possible that the desertion of an unbelieving partner also constitutes
grounds for divorce, but the Scripture is not sufficiently clear on this
point that we can speak with finality. 

thinking of divorce, we dare not be more liberal than the Bible because
this would only lead to a growing disrespect for the holy institution of
­marriage. Yet we must not be more strict than God’s Word because this
would amount to a limiting of the forgiving grace of God. 

William MacDonald, 
Used with permission