What does the Bible say about divorce and remarriage?
There are multiple possible biblical explanations about divorce and remarriage. Thus, each Christian must examine the relevant Scriptures and do what they feel is biblical. As Romans 14:22-23 explains:
The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
So you should not just take my words and believe what I believe. You have to study the Scriptures and act on what you believe the Scriptures really mean here. If you have a different view than me because we are interpreting the Scriptures differently, I support you acting on your beliefs so long as you truly believe that is what the Bible says and you “proceed from faith.” I’m writing this article not to tell you what to believe but rather to model for you how I’ve studied this topic so you can better come to your own beliefs.
Therefore, in instances where someone would have a different view than me on remarriage, I would still want them to benefit from all my relationship resources even though I disagree with them about remarrying because ultimately I believe we each have to follow our convictions about what the Bible says here. This is not a salvation issue. I support you remarrying or not remarrying based upon what you believe is biblical.
Having said all that, in this article, I’m going to explain to you the three common views among Christians when it comes to this topic of divorce and remarriage. And I will then tell you which one I believe is the most biblical. Lastly, I will then try to answer some common follow up questions about abuse and what happens when people remarry after a divorce that was unbiblical.
Three Common Views About Divorce and Remarriage for Christians?
The first view among many Christians is that anyone can divorce and remarry for any reason. For example, if a couple gets married but then they both become extremely unhappy with each other, many would say they should just get divorced because marriage is about love and there is no love in this marriage.
People who believe in this view of divorce and remarriage don’t have Bible verses to support this. There reasoning loops back to divorce being allowed sometimes in the Bible; thus they reason the Bible has just not listed all the reasons God would allow divorce. Because God allows divorce sometimes, they believe God would allow divorce for them too when they really want one. They also would rely heavily on the idea of grace in the Bible, using this a reason to disobey God’s word about divorce and remarriage; meaning, they know it’s wrong but also believe God will forgive them so they just do it anyways.
Personally, I find this view unbiblical because in the Bible there are very clear reasons for why someone is allowed to get divorced. The two clearest reasons in Scripture for divorce are adultery (Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:3-9) and an unbelieving spouse wanting a divorce from a believing spouse (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). Since the Bible gives clear reasons for divorce, it seems logical to me that if there were other clear reasons for divorce the Bible would have supplied those too.
The second view on “What does the Bible say about divorce and remarriage?” is that divorce is not permitted except for adultery or if an unbelieving spouse wants the divorce. However, in this view, remarriage is not a biblical option under any circumstance, even if the divorce was biblical. The only reason anyone would be allowed to remarry is if their spouse dies (1 Corinthians 7:39). The argument for this view is that the Bible never explicitly states that remarriage is allowed after divorce. It simply states divorce is allowed in these two instances. Additionally, the Bible then states that if someone gets married after divorce, this is actually an act of adultery (Luke 16:18). This view applies the idea that remarriage is adultery regardless of the reason for the divorce. So even if the divorce was biblical, this view believes remarriage would still mean adultery.
The third view is that divorce and remarriage are forbidden except for adultery or an unbelieving spouse wants to divorce. However, in this view, since divorce is allowed in these instances remarriage is also allowed in these instances. When the Bible states that remarriage after divorce is adultery, this view takes those passages to mean that only divorces for an unbiblical reason would result in adultery if remarriage then occurred. Thus, if you were divorced for any reason other than these two biblical reasons, you should not remarry. But if you divorced for a biblical reason, you would be free to remarry and not be committing adultery.
I can see the biblical validity of these last two views just mentioned (A biblical divorce with no remarriage or a biblical divorce with remarriage). However, after my study on this topic, my personal belief is the third view, which states you can only remarry if you were divorced for a biblical reason.
In the rest of this article, I will explain why I have chosen to believe this third view. I will then also talk about abuse and what should happen if an unbiblical divorce and remarriage does occur. But before I do that, let me also just say that:
Divorce Should Never Be Your First Option to Conflict in Marriage According the Bible
While divorce is a biblical option sometimes, it is never presented in Scripture as a command unless the unbelieving spouse wants to leave the marriage (1 Corinthians 7:15).
So if adultery occurs or there is some reason you feel you would be justified to get a divorce, just remember this is not the first option given to you in Scripture but rather the last option. The first option would be forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation when possible. Forgiveness is always required but sometimes reconciliation is not always possible. But if you can reconcile, this is what God prefers for a married couple. As Matthew 19:6 states, “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
We will discuss the other Scriptures besides these which add more information to this topic of divorce. But here we can see that divorce is not what God wants (Malachi 2:16). Sometimes it needs to happen, but it’s always a sad outcome because of hurtful sin.
God wants a husband and wife to stay together because he made marriage to reflect his union with his church (Ephesians 5:22-33). Christ never leaves his people; therefore divorce does not represent the union between God and his people. If adultery does occur, forgiveness and reconciliation is the first option. Divorce is an option if adultery occurs but it is not required.
Why I Believe Remarriage Is Biblically Permitted When Divorce Is Biblically Permitted
It seems to me that if God allows for divorce in certain instances he would also allow for remarriage in these instances. And one reason I believe this is because of what the Bible explicitly states about widows remarrying. When a spouse dies, the law is no longer binding on that husband or wife who is still living. In other words, they are no longer husband and wife when one passes away. God no longer sees them as husband and wife when one dies and thus the other spouse is free to remarry (1 Corinthians 7:39, Romans 7:1-3).
I believe remarriage is allowed when a death occurs because the marriage covenant is over. “Until death do us part.” When death occurs, the two are no longer married and thus it is not an affair if the living spouse remarries. With this biblical principle in place, I believe God allows remarriage to occur when a biblical divorce occurs because God no longer sees these two people as husband and wife either.
I believe adultery occurs when someone remarries after an unbiblical divorce because the two are still married in the eyes of God. If you divorce for an unbiblical reason, you are not truly divorced according to the Bible. Therefore, when you marry another person, you are committing adultery against the person you are still married to in God’s eyes.
So in summary, when a biblical divorce occurs, I believe God recognizes this divorce and no longer considers this man and woman as a husband and wife. Thus, if they remarry to other people, they are not committing adultery. This is why I believe remarriage is biblical if the divorce itself was biblical. However, if you divorced for an unbiblical reason, I believe God still sees you as married to that person, thus you are not biblically free to remarry.
What Happens When Remarriage Occurs After an Unbiblical Divorce?
In instances where remarriage has occurred after an unbiblical divorce, even though this remarriage was done so in sin, I believe this new marriage should still be honored and the two should not divorce. Once they commit adultery in God’s eyes by remarrying, I also believe God still sees them as married even though the act of getting married was a sin. So if someone gets remarried in an unbiblical way, they should remain married and seek to honor God in the marriage that they are in now. Life is messy. We cannot go back and always undo what was done. Rather, we should seek to honor Christ where we are at in our lives right now (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).
What happens if you divorced for an unbiblical reason, you remained single, but your spouse is now remarried to someone else? If you and your spouse divorced for an unbiblical reason but then your spouse remarries, this means your spouse has committed adultery against you (Matthew 19:9, Luke 16:18); and since adultery is a permissible reason for divorce, this would then make your divorce from your spouse biblical. Also, it seems if you divorced for unbiblical reasons and then your spouse has sex with someone else, that too would be adultery against you thus triggering the biblical right to divorce.
Thus, in my interpretation and application of these Scriptures, you would then also be biblically free to remarry if your spouse has already remarried or had sex with someone else even though you two originally divorced for an unbiblical reason.
What About Abuse as a Biblical Reason for Divorce?
If you were asking me what I thought about divorce because of abuse, I would say, yes, get divorced. But we are not asking me. I am not asking me. I want to obey God through obeying the Bible, not my own opinions. So as much as I personally wish there was a clear verse about this issue, there is not. Scripture never specifically mentions this as a justifiable reason for divorce.
However, with that said, I do believe there is one biblical argument that could be made for abuse justifying a divorce.
I believe there is a case to be made that ongoing abuse is a sign that this spouse is actually an unbeliever because they are not repenting of their sin and real believers always repent (1 John 1:6). And you could also make a case that this person is saying with their actions that they want to divorce. Thus, you could make a case that ongoing abuse falls into the category of an unbelieving spouse wanting to leave the believing spouse, thus this being a biblical divorce (1 Corinthians 7:12-16).
Since there would need to be a lot of interpreting of facts in a situation like this, I believe the local church should greatly assist the abused spouse to determine if their spouse is actually an unbeliever who is saying they want a divorce with their abusive actions. We all need to accept our own flaws to obey the truth, being aware that it would be easy to justify a divorce just because we really want one even if the biblical bases is not there. To keep yourself accountable, I think it would be wise to ask your local church to confirm you are seeing this situation accurately and biblically.
Lastly, I do believe a separation is always a proper approach if abuse is occurring as none of us are called to allow abuse to go on repeatedly without protecting ourselves. (For more on this, you can read my article, Can Christians Divorce for Abuse?)
What Does the Bible Say About Divorce and Remarriage?
Divorce and remarriage is not an easy topic in the Bible. Additionally, divorce and remarriage is never an easy topic in real life. Relationships are always messy even when they are healthy. When there is hurt and dysfunction occurring, the mess only compounds.
Therefore each individual relationship should be examined against the Scriptures closely. We should all do our best to interpret and apply the Scripture accurately. We must all be honest in our hearts about what we feel is the most biblical approach and live by that truth even if we wish it said something else. Whatever view we hold, we must hold to it because we believe the Bible says it, not because we want the Bible to say this.
Lastly, we should all respect each other’s views on this topic and not divide over it. I believe you can serve side-by-side with those who have a different view than you about divorce and remarriage. Even if you have a different view than me on this topic, I still want you to be able to receive my relationship advice because I still want you to have the best relationship possible even though I might disagree about your views regarding remarriage and divorce.
Each person must practice what they believe the Bible says while not passing judgement on their brothers and sisters who believe the Bible says something different on this subject. We should read Romans 14 and seek to live in harmony with one another while holding tightly to what we each believe the Bible really says.
In any case, divorce is always sad. Even when it is not a sin to divorce, sin is the real reason for divorce. Something bad has always happened if a divorce has occurred. If sin did not exist, divorce would not exist. Let us hold tightly to the gospel and Christ’s love for the church. Let us hold marriage in high honor because marriage reflect God’s love for his people (Hebrews 13:4).
Do you know how marriages are actually formed? Do you need a license from the state, the pastor to perform a ceremony, or does sex make you married to someone? I answer that question in this article called, According to the Bible, How Are You Actually Married in God’s Eyes?
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