Permanence of Adultery
The purpose of this chapter is to determine whether remarriage after divorce constitutes a continuous state of adultery or a one time act with no continuing repercussions. Although many in the church teach that remarriage after divorce should not be considered adultery, it is not the opinion of the majority that will count on judgment day. It is only God’s word and pleasing the Lord that matters.
The Bible clearly states that those who remarry after divorce “commit adultery”. The biblical evidence is as follows:
Matthew 5:32b “…causes her to commit adultery (moicasqai); and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (moicatai).”
Matt. 19:9b “…and marries another, commits adultery (moicatai); and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery (moicatai).”
Mark 10:11-12 “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery (moicatai) against her; and if a wife herself divorces her husband and marries another she commits adultery (moicatai).”
Luke 16:18 “Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery (moiceuei); and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery (moiceuei).”
Romans 7:3 “So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress (moicalis); but if her husband dies she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress (moicalida ), though she has married another man.”
Although Matthew’s Gospel gives one exception for divorce, fornication (porneia), it can be shown that this exception clause allows only for divorce in limited instances and the divorce does not include the right to remarry. In both passages of Matthew’s Gospel it is claimed that the person who remarries still commits adultery.
Ten times the New Testament calls remarriage after divorce adultery. This is where our study will begin.
The Verb Tense
One of the main considerations regarding the permanence of adultery is the use of the verb tense when Jesus pronounces that those who divorce and remarry commit adultery. Most often it is the present tense that controls the meaning of adultery in these sentences.
Matthew 5:32 uses the present active indicative poiei “makes her” in conjunction with the present infinitive moicasqai “to commit adultery”. This is the reading of the majority text. The modern eclectic text uses the aorist infinitive moiceuqhnai. It then reads that whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery moicatai, present middle/passive indicative. The middle/passive form can literally be translated “cause oneself to commit adultery” or “be an adulterer”.
Matthew 19:9 twice uses the present middle/passive indicative moicatai “to be an adulterer”.
Mark 10:11-12 twice uses the present middle/passive indicative moicatai “to be an adulterer”.
Luke 16:18 twice uses the present active indicative moiceuei “commits adultery”.
Romans 7:3 uses nouns for the word “adulteress”. The main verb that modifies this is a future active indicative crhmatisei “she will be called”. The other modifying verb form is the present active infinitive einai “to be”.
The purpose of this section is to give the reader a basic understanding of the present tense as it relates to “kind of action” as well as “time of action”. This will be important as we discuss the use of the verb tense as it relates to the phrase “commits adultery”. The following paragraphs on the Present Tense are a summary from the works of Dana and Mantey - A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament; Robertson – Grammar of the Greek New Testament; Blass, DeBrunner, and Funk – A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.
One important element of tense in Greek is kind of action or progress. Time of action is secondary in most cases. The action may be viewed as continuous, complete, or simply occurring without reference to progress. The three fundamental tenses in Greek are: present, representing continuous action; perfect, representing completed action; and aorist, representing undefined action. The basic meaning of aorist (aoristos) is “undefined” or “without limits”. Continuous action is primarily represented by the present tense and this is primarily with reference to present time. Continuous action in the past is represented by the imperfect, and continuous action in the future is represented by the future tense (Dana and Mantey, p. 178; Robertson, p. 824).
The fundamental meaning of the present tense is that of progress. It is at its root a linear tense. Although this is the main significance of the present tense it is not the only meaning. When the indicative mood is used with present tense the element of time is more relevant. In dealing with the present tense one must consider not only the fundamental force of the tense, but also the meaning of the verb root, and the significance of the context (Dana and Mantey, p. 181).
The present tense may be used to express an action simply (punctiliar), a process (durative or linear), or a state (perfective or perfect) (Robertson, p. 865, 869). Although the present tense may be used in an aoristic sense the present tense more frequently denotes durative or linear action (Robertson, p. 879).
The present tense may be further broken down into “regular” and “special” meanings (Dana and Mantey, p. 182). The most basic (regular) meaning of the present tense is that of the progressive present. This is nearest the root idea of the tense. It shows action as a durative progress or state of persistence. The point of view can be descriptive, retroactive, or used to denote the continuation of existing results. The present tense can also be seen as customary. This is used to denote that which habitually occurs, or may be reasonably expected to occur. The temporal element is remote since the act is assumed to be true in the past or future, as well as the present (Dana and Mantey, p 184). The regular use of the present tense can also be iterative, that which occurs repeatedly at successive intervals (Dana and Mantey, p. 185; Blass, Debruner, and Funk, p. 166).
Special uses of the present tense include: Aoristic, Futuristic, Historical, Tendential, and Static. It is improbable that the present tense used by Jesus, “commits adultery (moicatai)”, should be considered Futuristic, Historical, Tendential, or Static therefore these will not be dealt with at this time. General truths may be expressed by the aoristic present. Much of the time the aoristic present is used where a punctiliar act takes place at the moment of speaking (Blass, Debruner, and Funk, p. 167).
One sub-group of the aoristic present is the gnomic present. The difference between the gnomic aorist and the gnomic present is that the present may be durative (Robertson, p. 836). Some claim that the statement “commits adultery (moicatai)” is a gnomic present.
The reader should not become confused at this point. There is a present Greek tense and an aorist Greek tense. They are separate forms and tenses. This being said it must be noted that the present tense can be translated like an aorist in certain contexts. The basic idea of the aorist is it is “undefined” or “unlimited”. It is punctiliar (momentary), not linear. It represents the action as occurring or having occurred without reference to time. Blass, Debrunner, and Funk claim that the action is conceived as a point with either the beginning or the end emphasized, or the action may be conceived as a whole irrespective of its duration (p. 166). The aorist tense is neither past, present, nor future with reference to time. It relates to “kind” of action (aktionsarten) rather than “time” of action. It is not, as commonly, but erroneously defined, a “once for all” event.
Durative or Aoristic
With the ground work laid for basic uses of the present tense it must now be decided how the words “commit adultery (moicatai)” should be understood in relation to the subject of divorce and remarriage. No matter what view one takes of the “exception clause” of Matthew 19:9 the question must be answered. Even those who allow remarriage after divorce in cases of adultery will have to wrestle with this issue. Of the divorces that occur in the evangelical church many occur for a multitude of reasons where adultery plays no part. Jesus boldly proclaimed that remarriage after such a divorce constitutes adultery.
Eight times the gospels use the present tense to state that those who remarry after divorce “commit adultery”. Romans 7:3 further uses the future indicative once and a present infinitive once. It is claimed that if the present tense in the gospels is understood as durative or progressive then the remarried person is committing continual or repeated acts of adultery. It is then claimed that if the present tense is to be understood as aoristic or gnomic then the divorcee does not continue to commit adultery after a subsequent remarriage. It is not that simple even if the present tense “commits adultery (moicatai)” is aoristic or gnomic, the effects of adultery may still apply to those who continue in a sexual relationship.
Grammar and syntax regulate the formation and usage of words in a sentence. The grammatical rules are derived from analyzing the various uses of a word in context. They are determined by how the word is used. The grammatical usage is governed internally by the text itself. There are no external sources that state how the word “commits adultery (moicatai)” should be understood. The understanding of the word comes from how the word is used in context. Even if every other use of the present tense in Matthew’s Gospel was aoristic that does not mean that “commits adultery (moicatai)” in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 should be taken that way. The converse is also true. The present may predominantly be a progressive or durative tense but this does not necessarily mean that Jesus uses it this way when He states “commits adultery (moicatai)”.
It is possible that “commits adultery (moicatai)” should be taken in an aoristic or gnomic sense. It is also possible that the present tense “commits adultery (moicatai)” should be taken as durative or progressive. There is certainly nothing that would prohibit it from being understood as durative or progressive. It is the word interpreted in context that determines the type of present tense used not some external definition applied to the text.
Aoristic or Gnomic Implications
If the present tense “commits adultery (moicatai)” is to be taken as progressive or durative it would mean that the remarried person continually commits adultery each and every time they have sexual relations after the remarriage. The opposite is not necessarily true if the present tense is to be taken as aoristic or gnomic.
The aoristic (punctiliar) present sets forth the event as now occurring (Dana and Mantey, p. 184). Just because it is now occurring does not mean that there are no residual effects in the future. Dana and Mantey list Acts 9:34 as an example of the aoristic present: “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals (iatai) you”. In this example the healing is stated as presently occurring but there will be lasting effects for a period of time in the future. The present may combine both aoristic action with continuous or durative results (Robertson, p. 865).
The gnomic present is actually a sub-group under the aoristic (punctiliar) present (Robertson, p. 866). The gnomic present expresses general truth but this does not mean there are no continuing consequences. The gnomic present is timeless in reality, meaning that it is true of all time (Robertson, p. 836, 864). It is sometimes called the proverbial present because this use of the present occurs in proverbial statements or general maxims about that which occurs at all times. Robertson lists First Corinthians 15:42 as an example of a gnomic present: “The body it is sown (speiretai) in corruption, it is raised (egeiretai) in incorruption”. Certainly these two gnomic presents have lasting implications in the future.
Another possible option for the present tense “commits adultery (moicatai)” is the iterative present. The iterative present represents an action that is repeated each time. When applied to “commits adultery (moicatai)” it would mean that each time a remarried couple had sexual relations they would be committing a further act of adultery.
In Romans 7:3 the future active indicative “she will be called (crhmatisei)” is used with reference to the description, adulteress, applied to the woman who remarries. The future almost always carries with it an element of time (Robertson, p. 876; Dana and Mantey, p. 191). Instead of mainly representing progress, as do the present and the prefect tenses, the general perspective is aoristic or punctiliar. The context will sometimes require the future tense to be interpreted as progressive but most of the time this is not the case. Romans 7:3 is most likely an example of a gnomic future which means that it is an act that is true of all time (Robertson, p.876).
Romans 7:3 also uses the present infinitive “to be (einai)”. Technically infinitives are verbal nouns and not just a mood (Dana and Mantey, p.208). They are substantival in nature and can occupy the ground of both a verb and a noun. Paul uses the infinitive as a substantive to show that if the woman’s husband dies she is not an adulteress if she remarries. The implication when taken in context with the first part of Romans 7:3 is that she is an adulteress if she marries another man while her first husband is still alive.
The present tense statement of Jesus “commits adultery” is most likely gnomic in meaning. This being said there is no conclusive evidence as to whether the present tense “commits adultery (moicatai)” should be taken as linear (durative or progressive) or punctiliar (aoristic or gnomic). If it is linear then continual adultery would be implied; since this is a primary meaning of the tense this may be what Jesus was speaking of. If the present tense is punctiliar this in no way means the remarriage is not continuous adultery. The aoristic present expresses an action (aktionsarten) as taking place. It is basically timeless. Every act of adultery including sexual relations after remarriage takes place at a specific point in time. Classifying the present indicative as aoristic or gnomic does not rule out the existence of future effects or continuing results from the act of adultery. The use of the present tense does not indicate that continuous or repeated acts of adultery do not occur after remarriage.
A Logically and Biblically Consistent View
A correct understanding of the present tense is not the only deciding factor in determining whether those who remarry after divorce continue in a permanent state of adultery. Logic used in conjunction with a biblical view of the one flesh bond and sin must also be taken into consideration.
A common view is that if one’s spouse commits adultery they are free to obtain a legal divorce and then remarry. There are numerous biblical and logical problems with this view. The Bible teaches that the one flesh bond is severed only by death. The person who has an unfaithful spouse is to forgive them not divorce them. Jesus commanded His followers to forgive others who sin against them seventy times seven. How much more should a husband who is commanded to love his wife as Christ loved the church forgive his own flesh (Eph. 5:25, 29)?
The reason that remarriage after divorce is considered adultery is because of the nature of the one flesh bond. When a person remarries they enter into a sexual relationship with another person outside of the original God ordained marriage. Mankind was created to be in a monogamous sexual relationship. Anything outside of this is considered sin. The claim is sometimes made that remarriage after divorce is an act of adultery but not continual or persistent adultery. Jesus claimed that it is the remarriage of a divorced person that is the cause of their adultery (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). The idea being that after the remarriage ceremony both parties will enter into another sexual relationship.
When a person enters into a sexual relationship outside of the original one flesh bond it is considered adultery. It is not the second wedding ceremony that makes them an adulterer it is the sexual relations committed after the ceremony that makes them an adulterer. This is because divorce does not make one single again. A legal divorce does not end a person’s one flesh bond from their first marriage. If divorce severed or dissolved the one flesh bond then adultery could not occur in remarriage. Adultery occurs in remarriage because the legally divorced spouse is still married to their first marriage partner. Divorced persons who remarry may be recognized by the state as being legally married but “from the beginning it was not so”. A legal document called divorce by the state, from God’s point of view, does not break the marriage bond, else remarriage would not be called adultery.
If the sexual relations entered into after a second marriage ceremony are considered to be an act of adultery then every subsequent sexual act in that relationship would also be considered adultery. To believe that the first sexual act is adultery while subsequent acts are not is illogical. If sexual relations at the beginning of a second marriage are considered adultery they would continue to be considered as such upon each encounter. The reason is that the one flesh bond from the first marriage continues to exist.
Some claim that the second marriage and one act of subsequent sexual relations breaks the first one flesh bond and establishes a second. This is similar to the Erasmian interpretation of the exception clause that teaches that adultery before a second marriage dissolves the one flesh bond and allows those who are married the right to divorce and enter into a second marriage. Jesus clearly stated that not only can people commit adultery by having sexual relations outside of the marriage bond but also a second marriage constitutes adultery. Both are considered adultery and neither excuses a second marriage. There is no biblical evidence to support the claim that a second marriage annuls or dissolves the first one.
The nature of sin must also be taken into consideration when considering the durative or progressive nature of the adultery committed by a second marriage. It has already been established that a second marriage is considered adultery. There is no biblical evidence to support the claim that it does not continue to be adultery. If it is believed that it does not constitute a permanent or persistent state of adultery then there are only two options: 1). It is a one time act of adultery where upon committing this sin it instantaneously ceases to be sin. This is twisted logic since committing a sin once cannot cause it cease. 2). It is a one time act of adultery where upon after committing this sin it slowly ceases to be sin. This is also twisted logic since committing a sin cannot cause it to slowly go away. Sin neither instantaneously ceases nor slowly diminishes by continuing in it.
The only logical and consistently biblical conclusion is that since sexual relations committed upon entering into a second marriage are considered adultery they remain so throughout the entire relationship. It is not only whether the present indicative should be taken as progressive or aoristic it is the nature of the biblical one flesh bond and the nature of sin. Nothing can break the one flesh bond except for death. Sin committed continues to be sin until it is ceased and repented of. There is no other consistent or logical conclusion.
Persistent Sin and Church Discipline
There are no specific verses in the New Testament on how to apply the teachings of Jesus and Paul concerning remarriage and adultery in the local church. This is because the Bible does not give steps in dealing with each specific sin. What the New Testament does teach is broad commands and principles that apply to all sins. The basic New Testament concept is that a professing believer is called to repent of their sin and forsake it. Admit it and quit it, if you will.
If a person persists in living in unrepentant sin the church is to place that person under church discipline until they forsake their sin. The goal of such discipline is to restore the person to fellowship with God and with the local church. This may seem strange to many as the practice of church discipline is almost unheard of in the modern evangelical church. Nevertheless, church discipline is clearly taught in the New Testament.
In Matthew 18:15-20 the steps of discipline include a private meeting, the involvement of one or two others as witnesses, and finally an announcement to the entire local assembly. If a sinning brother or sister remains unrepentant the congregation is to treat that person as an unbeliever. Since the person refuses to live like a believer they are to be treated as an unbeliever. Christians are to judge actions not hearts. The only way to know whether a person may or may not be a believer is by the way they live. If they persist in acting like an unbeliever they should be treated as such. This means they are to be loved by the Christians and have the good news of Christ presented to them. Since the fellowship of the local church is not the place for unbelievers they should not be received into fellowship.
There are some who fall into sin ignorantly. In these instances a spiritually mature believer is to encourage them to make things right with the Lord. These people are to be restored with a spirit of gentleness (Gal. 6:1). There are others who persist in ungodliness and they are to be removed from fellowship (Matt 16:17). It may also be necessary to turn them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so their soul may be saved (1 Cor. 5:1-13). Those who are in positions of leadership are to be rebuked publicly so that others may be fearful of following in their sinful ways (1 Tim. 5:19-22).
What does the subject of church discipline have to do with divorce and remarriage? The New Testament teaches that remarriage after divorce is adultery. Those who live in unrepentant adultery are subject to church discipline. Even those who follow the teachings of Erasmus and allow for remarriage after divorce in cases of adultery will need to deal with this topic. Many Christians divorce with adultery playing no part in their separation. If they remarry they commit adultery and Scripture teaches that believers are not to associate with sexually immoral people in the church and the wicked are to be expelled (1 Cor. 5:9-12).
Consistent Application of the Doctrine of Repentance
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the subject of dealing with those who commit adultery by remarrying after divorce. Some claim that since the subject of how to deal with individuals in this situation is not specifically addressed in the New Testament then those who commit adultery by remarrying after divorce should see their current relationship with their new partner as now being God’s will for their lives. The problem with this view is two fold. First, it condones adultery. It allows a person to sin without further expectation that they cease from such sin. Jesus claimed that those who divorce and remarry commit adultery. If remarriage is considered to be an adulterous relationship then to continue in it is to continue in sin. Second, it may actually encourage divorced people to remarry. If it is believed that a second marriage now becomes God’s will for one’s life then people may treat it as a free pass to sin. If they can just reach the ‘safe platform’ of remarriage then they are secure in that relationship and are never expected to alter their actions. It certainly is not unheard of for people to admit that remarriage is wrong but once they commit adultery by remarrying they feel secure in that sinful relationship.
Others claim that since the subject of how to deal with individuals who have remarried after divorce is not specifically addressed in the New Testament then those who commit adultery by remarrying after divorce should be treated differently than those who commit other forms of sin. It should be noted that the New Testament does not specifically address the subject of how to deal with professing believers who commit homosexual acts, engage in premarital sex, or a multitude of other sins. The only sexual sin that is specifically addressed with regard to church discipline is incest (1 Cor. 5). It is assumed that other sexual sins should be dealt with in the same manner as this case of incest.
The Bible teaches that believers are to cease and desist from all acts of known sin. Adultery committed by remarrying is not a greater form of sexual sin, but it also is not a lesser form of sin that need not be discontinued simply because the New Testament does not specifically address it. The church is to proclaim the consistent application of the doctrine of repentance and the forsaking of one’s sin. If one is truly repentant they will change their mind about that subject and then subsequently change their actions.
Questions and Applications
Now that the basic groundwork has been laid concerning the subject of the divorce, remarriage, and the permanence of adultery the following section will deal with commonly asked questions and practical applications of this doctrine. It is one thing to form doctrinal positions. It is another to lovingly apply biblical doctrine to people’s lives. Doctrine and theology were never meant to be divorced from application. Doctrine was intended to be married with practice. The book of James warns Christians to not simply be hearers of the word, but also doers. If we do not practice what we hear we are said to deceive ourselves (James 1:22).
It is understood that some of the ramifications of the Lord’s teachings on this subject are difficult and may seem harsh from the human perspective. I myself have thought that things would be easier had the Lord not taught that remarriage after divorce was adultery. It is for this very reason that some believe that remarriage after divorce is not adultery at all. They realize the ramifications of the Lord’s teaching about divorce and remarriage and believe that it is too difficult to apply.
Christians need to be educated on the permanence of marriage and the sin of remarriage after divorce. Couples need to be taught that they need to stay together and forgive one another when tough times come. Faithfulness to God and His word requires teaching and applying the whole counsel of God. This is a biblical issue with biblical answers.
1. Is remarriage after a divorce a greater sin than other sexual sins?
Not necessarily. The reason that this subject is so relevant for the church today is that it is so prevalent. It is causing wide spread damage to society, individual homes, and local fellowships. It is a sin that is commonly practiced in the church and some are diligently working to not only allow this sin but even promote it in certain instances.
Most Christians would never think to teach that pornography, premarital sex, or homosexuality are biblically justified. But when it comes to divorce and remarriage, which Jesus calls adultery, the sin is usually either ignored or justified.
2. Does divorce or remarriage make one single again?
No, Romans 7:3 clearly states that neither divorce nor remarriage ends the first marriage. Only death ends marriage. Divorce is a legal action invented by man. There is no place in the Bible which explicitly states that God commands or condones divorce and remarriage for biblically established and consummated marriages. God did not have a plan B in the garden of Eden for Adam and Eve to divorce and remarry if their marriage did not work out.
The church as well as civil government may oversee the establishment of marriage. The church cannot grant a legal divorce, this action belongs only to the state. Divorce can end the legal aspect of marriage but it can never end the one flesh aspect established by God.
Divorce does not make a man or woman single again. Divorce does not end a person’s first marriage. Jesus claimed that remarriage after divorce is adultery. Adultery can only occur if one or both persons involved are married. If two single persons enter into an illicit sexual relationship it would be called fornication not adultery. If both parties in a second marriage were truly single Jesus would not have called their marriage adultery. Jesus taught that when a man marries a divorced woman he commits adultery with her, meaning that he is having sexual relations with another man’s wife. Man’s civil action in divorce court does not end the one flesh and one spirit aspect of marriage that God has joined together.
3. If a person divorces before they come to Christ, may they remarry after becoming a believer?
The answer to this is a difficult “No”. The Bible makes no distinction whether a divorce occurs before or after regeneration. This is because marriage is universal and based upon the ordinances of creation. It is not specifically a Christian institution. Marriage is a union which is recognized and validated by God. It does not matter whether the marriage is solemnized by the church or by the state or whether the two individuals are believers or unbelievers.
Some have attempted to use Second Corinthians 5:17 as a proof text:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away: behold, all things are become new (2 Cor. 5:17).
This verse teaches that at the point of conversion a person is a new creature in Christ. It does not teach that the believer is allowed to remarry or commit any other sin. In context it teaches exactly the opposite. The believer is a new creation and the indwelling Holy Spirit of God enables him to obey the commands of Christ. It is true that at salvation all sins are completely forgiven. Forgiveness does not necessarily release one from the consequences of their past. Nothing occurs at salvation that could be construed to teach that one’s marital status changes when they place their faith in Christ.
4. Is remarriage necessary to lead a fulfilled life?
Many who have never married are able to lead a fulfilled life in Christ. Divorced people who do not remarry can find satisfaction and fulfillment by remaining celibate. In western culture marriage has become a form of self gratification. True satisfaction and fulfillment are found only in obeying Christ as Lord. Our society places an emphasis on the pursuit of happiness; the Bible places an emphasis on the pursuit of holiness. If we first seek God’s righteousness He will amply supply our needs according to His will.
Our society also places an emphasis on sexual gratification and self realization. Neither of these are biblical concepts. Some appeal to verses like First Corinthians 7:9, (“It is better to marry than to burn”) which speaks of widows and widowers, as a basis for remarriage after divorce. Paul is clear that separated or divorced believers are to remain unmarried or be reconciled to their spouse (1 Cor. 7:11).
The story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife and the teachings in Romans 6-8 show us that God has given us control over these areas of our lives. Christians are not enslaved to sexual passions. Beyond this many Christians who have never married can testify to the fulfillment they have outside of sexual areas in their lives.
Geoffrey Bromiley has captured the spirit of the New Testament when he writes:
In a world of the fall the redemptive work of God carries with it a service of God not necessarily a technical ministry but a service according to God’s will, by God’s appointment, and in God’s discipleship which means that some part of life, if not all, must be lived temporarily outside the regular patterns of God’s created order. This reminds us of the order of priorities which Jesus demands in the calling of His disciples. What God requires must come before all else, the good as well as the bad. The followers of Jesus must be ready, should He will, to renounce even marriage for the sake of the gospel. They must be ready to obey God and not remarry after separation even though they might plead, as they often do, that they have a right to happiness and fulfillment of natural desires. To talk of a right to happiness is to delude one’s self. Happiness, when attained, is a gift from God and it cannot be attained, nor can life be fulfilled, where there is a conflict with God’s stated will or a defiant refusal to see that true happiness and fulfillment lie only in a primary commitment to God’s kingdom and righteousness. For God’s sake, some may have to put it in a new perspective, and some who have broken their marriage may have to refrain from marriage. Marriage is a good thing but it is not the ‘one thing needful’ (Luke 10:42). Hence it may be, and in some instances it may have to be, surrendered.
5. Does time change things?
Some wrongly assume that time changes one’s marital status. It is true that God’s grace combined with time can heal damaged emotions. The Bible gives no hint that a ‘period of healing’ changes one’s marital status to allow a divorced person the freedom to remarry. It is also not true that the state of adultery that is entered into by remarrying after a divorce slowly goes away. If remarriage is considered adulterous one day after a divorce it is still considered adulterous one year or ten years after divorce. The one flesh bond continues on until the death of either partner.
6. Does grace change things?
God’s grace does not make an unrighteous act righteous. Paul makes it clear that believers should not continue to sin so that grace may increase (Romans 6:1). Paul also reminded the Corinthian believers that some of them were fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, and homosexuals. Notice the text does not say that some of them are. Their lives had been changed by the grace of God. Those who were fornicators no longer practiced that sin; those who were adulterers no longer practiced that sin; those who were homosexuals no longer practiced that sin.
In 1 Cor. 6:11 Paul tells the Corinthians that they were washed, they were sanctified, they were justified. The statements are given in reverse order of the Christian experience. Justification and positional sanctification are acts of God which take place when a person places their faith in Christ. Justified (edikaiwqhte) and sanctified (hgiasqhte) use the passive voice of the verb to show that the action was done to them when they believed. Washed (apelousasqe) uses the middle voice to show that the believers had washed themselves. Washed speaks of separation from a sinful past, not the washing of salvation. In other words they had left behind their sinful lifestyles which included the above mentioned sexual sins. The grace of God had been poured out on these believer’s lives. Because of the work of God they separated themselves from their sinful lifestyles. They did not continue to sin so that the grace of God would increase.
7. Does adultery or remarriage sever the original one flesh bond?
It is sometimes taught that adultery or the subsequent remarriage after divorce breaks the one flesh bond. Some claim that it is one act of adultery that severs the marriage relationship. Some claim that persistent adultery severs the marriage relationship. Some claim that it is the actual legal divorce that severs the marriage relationship. Others claim that the marriage relationship is severed by a subsequent remarriage to another person. The Bible considers all these acts wrong but it does not teach that any of them sever the marriage relationship.
The error occurs partly because of a misunderstanding as to when the beginning of marriage actually occurs. Marriage takes place at the point in time when the bride and groom signify their commitment to one another. The precise manner may vary from culture to culture but marriage begins at this point. This is most likely the “leaving” spoken of in Scripture. It is this commitment to one another that allows them to consummate the marriage with sexual relations. This is most likely the “cleaving” spoken of in Scripture. A misunderstanding takes place when it is believed that sexual relations commence a marriage. Sexual relations do not begin a marriage and sexual relations do not end a marriage. In western culture there may be instances where a couple commit to one another in a legal and binding marriage relationship but never consummate the marriage. In this case they are still married until death do they part. The situation may be somewhat different in Eastern cultures that practice betrothal.
Some mistakenly believe that 1 Cor. 6:16 shows that the one flesh bond ceases to exist when a man commits adultery. First, the text says nothing about whether the man is married or not. Second, the text states that the man is “one body (swma)” with the harlot not “one flesh (sarka)”. There is a difference. The first speaks of being united in an illegitimate physical relationship with a harlot and no more. The second speaks of being united in a legitimate physical, emotional, and possibly even spiritual relationship with one’s wife.
If it is believed that the one flesh bond ceases to exist when a man commits adultery with a harlot then the next question that must be asked is whether the man is now “one flesh” with the harlot? The text specifically states that he is only “one body” with her. Once again there is no reference to the man being married. For sake of argument if it is believed that adultery ends the one flesh union that a man has with his wife and establishes a one flesh union with the harlot then this would cause the man to cease being married to his wife and marry him to the harlot. If he then returned to his wife and had sexual relations with her he would then be committing adultery against the harlot by having sexual relations with his wife. This is absurd but these are the logical conclusions one would arrive at if they believe that this passage teaches that adultery ends the one flesh bond.
Some erroneously teach that it is persistent adultery that severs the one flesh bond and thus allows a person to divorce their spouse and subsequently remarry. Not only does this view lack scriptural support but the term persistent is vague and indefinable. Jesus told His disciples to forgive those who sin against them seventy times seven. This statement of hyperbole means to forgive no matter how many times one is wronged. Paul told husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. This is unconditional love. The Bible teaches persistent forgiveness of an adulterous spouse, not divorce of the persistently adulterous spouse.
The persistent adultery theory has other inconsistencies. Either one act of adultery does or does not sever the marriage relationship. To claim anything else is illogical. If one act of adultery severs the one flesh marriage bond then those who commit one act of adultery would cease to be married to their spouse; unless they were to remarry their original spouse. This would mean that the married couple would be living in persistent adultery if one partner committed adultery and the other never knew of it. This is absurd, but sometimes absurdity is necessary to illustrate the absurd.
Others teach that adultery is wrong, divorce is wrong, and remarriage is wrong but since a person is now remarried this makes it right. This safe harbor theory has no biblical basis. It is the admission of sin with no practical application of the doctrine of repentance.
8. What about civil divorce courts?
The Bible makes it clear that a believer in Christ is not to take another believer to court (1 Cor. 6:1-7). If a dispute arises between a Christian husband and a Christian wife the matter should be judged by other spiritually minded believers. A case can be made that if a believer gets a summons to appear in court because their spouse is pursuing a divorce they should obey the laws of the land and appear in court. One purpose for appearing should be to see if reconciliation of the marriage can be achieved. A Christian should not be the instigator or aggressor of a divorce in a civil court.
9. Is God’s blessing on a second marriage evidence of His approval?
God does not bless that which he considers to be sin. God is good to the righteous and the unrighteous alike. God has mercy on sinners. It is the goodness of God that leads to repentance. Some believe that compatibility or harmony in a second marriage is the sign of God’s approval. This misunderstanding of marriage is based upon selfish gratification rather than a life long commitment. Outward circumstances are not the determinant of right and wrong. Some second marriages appear to go quite smoothly. Many carry doubt and guilt. Some are filled with strife and end in a second divorce. Final judgment is rendered in the next life after death.
10. What if a remarried person recognizes their error?
They should confess their sin to God and be assured that He is faithful and just to forgive them (1 John 1:9). Forgiveness should be sought of those who were harmed or offended. In some cases restitution may be necessary.
The word repentance (metanoia) literally means to change one’s mind. Part of repentance is to forsake one’s sin. Admit it and quit it, if you will. The Bible knows nothing of being sorry for one’s sin and still continuing in it. If a person is involved in homosexuality, repentance would include acknowledging that it is wrong, as well as ceasing homosexual behavior. If a person is a thief, they are to admit that stealing is wrong and cease.
The question naturally arises whether remarried Christians should discontinue the relationship they are in. This is a difficult question that is not specifically addressed in the New Testament. Since the one flesh bond is never broken by divorce, the logical implication seems to be that a remarried person should terminate the current relationship. The Lord calls remarriage after divorce adultery. There is no biblical reason to believe that this is a one time act of adultery with no further implications. If it was adulterous in the first instance it remains such throughout the relationship.
11. May the repentant person return to their former spouse?
If a person involved in a remarriage relationship was previously married and there is a mutual desire on the part of the original partners to be reunited, there is no New Testament principle that forbids it. This is the logical conclusion based upon the continuance of the one flesh bond. For those who are divorced against their will or those who have divorced and recognize their error and subsequently desire to be reunited with their legitimate spouse they should never give up hope. God can work in the hardest of hearts to bring them to repentance.
The Bible teaches that the first marriage remains intact. This is the reason the repentant person may return to their former spouse. The Lord Jesus Christ taught that the so called ‘second marriage’ is adultery. In order to commit adultery one must be married to someone; that someone is the original spouse. One cannot commit adultery if they are not considered married. Jesus claimed that a second marriage is adultery committed against one’s spouse. This implies that the divorced person is still married to their original partner.
The laws of men allow legitimate subsequent marriages. The law of Christ does not. The implication of Jesus’ teaching is that the person who is granted a civil divorce and then remarries is still married to their original partner in the eyes of God. The two are still one flesh whatever sexual relations either one may have had in the mean time. All additional sexual relations committed are seen as adulterous in the eyes of the Lord. It is for this reason that the repentant person may return to their former spouse because in the eyes of the Lord they did not cease to be married.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 does raise a question for some. Verse 4 teaches that the first husband who divorced his wife was never allowed to receive her back even if her second husband died. The issue is whether this verse applies to Christians today. If it does apply then this would preclude the divorced spouse from returning. There are many things written in the Old Testament which do not apply to Christians. This may be one of them.
12. What if a person has counseled others to divorce and remarry?
If a person encourages someone else to sin they should confess it to God and ask the person whom they have counseled to forgive them. They should admit their error and give correct counsel to the individual. Teaching another person to break one of God’s commands is a serious matter and should not be taken lightly (Matt. 5:19). The Evangelical church has become enamored with so called “Christian Counseling”. The sincere desire to help people is an admirable goal. Erroneous or misguided counsel can hurt people more than help them. All counseling should have its source, method, and conclusions rooted in Scripture. Every counselor, whether personal or professional, should first begin with the question: What does the word of God teach about this subject?
Many counselors are so eager to help hurting people that they will counsel a person to remarry no matter what the circumstances behind the divorce. They just want the person to be ‘happy’. To others, every divorce is different and one is usually encouraged to remarry based upon various subjective criteria such as how long one has been divorced or whether they have had time to ‘heal’. It is not uncommon for divorced women to be told to remarry for the financial sake of the children or that they should remarry in order to fulfill their emotional ‘needs’. There are no verses in Scripture that teach that a woman who does not have children commits adultery if she remarries but if she does have children she does not commit adultery. What if the woman has adequate financial means to support her children and herself? What if the husband has custody of the children?
Those who base their decisions on these and other subjective criteria are practicing a form of situational ethics. Compassion for people is a good thing but answers should be rooted in the authority of Scripture whenever possible. Those who teach that people should remarry because they are ‘unfulfilled’ are subjecting the word of God to a form of moral relativism. The answers to divorce and remarriage questions are to be found inside not outside of Scripture.
Some divorced people remarry because the local church is not functioning in the manner in which God intended it. This is no excuse for sin but local congregations must stand ready to spiritually, emotionally, and financially support divorced people in need, especially those who have children.
13. What if the elders of a congregation encourage divorce and remarriage?
It is common to hear people claim that since this is a tough subject the elders of each local assembly should examine each case and give approval or disapproval for divorce and remarriage. One problem with this form of thinking is that what is sin and forbidden by ‘God’ in one congregation is not sin and allowed by ‘God’ in another congregation. God is not ambivalent.
Elders are established to shepherd the flock by teaching and upholding God’s word. Elders have no more authority to say that a person can divorce and remarry than the Roman Catholic Church has the right to grant annulments. Both are extra-biblical teachings of men with no Scriptural basis.
14. Is divorce allowed for cruelty or abuse?
Jesus allowed divorce for one reason only, fornication (porneia). It is adding to God’s word to claim that this includes physical or emotional abuse. The continuation of marriage is always God’s will. Separation is allowed (and may be advisable) in situations where one’s safety is involved. Any such separation should be taken as a step towards reconciliation of the marriage. Paul clearly states that the wife who departs should be reconciled to her husband or remain single (1 Cor. 7:11).
15. Should divorced Christians remarry in order to help them resist sexual temptation?
This way may seem right but it is not God’s will for the Christian. Since remarriage after divorce is considered adultery then it would make no sense to remarry in order to fulfill one’s sexual desires. In doing so one would be committing adultery so that they would not be tempted to commit adultery. Any sexual relations with another person while one’s original spouse is alive is considered adultery. It makes no difference if further sexual relations are committed inside or outside the confines of a subsequent civil marriage ceremony. Further sexual relations are considered adultery either way.
As stated before, even Erasmian interpreters will have to deal with this subject as most divorces between Christians do not occur because of persistent adultery. Even if it is granted that the ‘exception clause’ allows for divorce and remarriage in limited instances, the vast majority of divorces are not covered by the exception clause.
16. Should divorced Christians remain in a second marriage if they have produced children?
The statement of Jesus that remarriage after a divorce is considered adultery does not mention an ‘exception’ for those who have produced children. The sexual relations between the two are considered adulterous regardless of whether they have children or not. Sin has consequences. Children are harmed when first marriages are granted civil divorces. Children are harmed when they are born out of wedlock. Such consequences remind us of the gravity of sin.
Those who allow divorce and remarriage rarely take into consideration whether the original legitimate marriage produced children. They claim the right to “end” that relationship regardless of whether children were produced or not. It is only when there is talk of ending the second adulterous marriage that concern for children is considered.
This naturally leads to a second question: if a couple repents of their adultery and separates, what should be done for the benefit of the children? Both parents are responsible for the support and upbringing of children which are produced. This is similar to when children are produced out of wedlock before a legitimate marriage. Both persons are responsible for their actions. It would also be similar to a married man who fathers a child during an adulterous affair; he is responsible for the financial and emotional support of that child.
Some have suggested that remarried couples should cease sexual relations but continue to live under the same roof in a brother sister relationship. This may be one alternative; but it is probable that sexual temptation would be too great and one’s testimony would be harmed by outward appearances.
17. May a divorced and remarried person be received into fellowship?
Those who repent and forsake their sin may be received into fellowship. It should be kept in mind that many have been encouraged to remarry by other Christians. This does not excuse the sin but those who are remarried may be seen in two different categories. There who have sinned ignorantly and those who have sinned intentionally. Both sin but the heart is different, especially with those who have remarried before they came to Christ. Now that they have turned to Christ for forgiveness they should be encouraged to repent and confess their sin to God.
Some may be tempted to ignore this sin especially among those who remarried before turning to Christ. It is sometimes taught that those who divorce and remarry before turning to Christ can continue to live in their sin while those who divorce and remarry after turning to Christ should be subject to church discipline. Although it is true that Christians should know better, the sin is the same. Any sexual relationship that a married person has with anyone other than their original spouse is considered adulterous. A consistent approach teaches that a person involved in an adulterous relationship cannot be received into fellowship. It is most incongruous to teach that a person involved in this kind of adulterous relationship can be received into fellowship while those who are in other adulterous relationships should be disciplined or put out.
Another aspect of this question must be considered: may a divorced but not remarried person be received into fellowship? The answer is generally yes. There is a clear distinction between one who is divorced and one who is divorced and remarried. They are related topics but not one and the same. Remarriage after divorce is adultery. Divorce in and of itself is not necessarily sin. If a person is divorced because their spouse has divorced them against their will then the blame lies with the person who sought the divorce.
18. What if a Christian friend chooses to divorce and remarry?
First, one should pray for their friend and then for one’s self. The emphasis should be for wisdom and love based upon Scripture. The person should go and express Christ’s unconditional love to their friend but be prepared to follow Christ no matter what the cost. One should carefully show from Scripture that divorce and remarriage is considered adultery. It is out of concern, not condemnation, that this should be done.
19. What about vows?
Ecclesiates 5:4 makes it clear that people should keep their vows to God. Most who marry make vows before God that their marriage will be “until death do us part”. If the Erasmian position is true then the vows should be changed to read “until adultery, desertion, divorce, or death do us part”. For many modern evangelicals it should also read until “irreconcilable differences, lack of emotional support, falling out of love (or almost anything else one wants to add) do us part”.
20. What is God’s opinion of divorce?
In Malachi 2:16 God gives His direct opinion of divorce, “He hates” it. Divorce covers a man’s garment with wrong. The context of this passage is that the people were weeping and groaning because God would no longer accept their offerings. The reason given for this rejection is that the Israelites were treating their wives treacherously. Three times in Malachi 2:13-16 God states that divorcing one’s wife is a form of treachery. Treachery means to betray a trust or loyalty. God states that a wife is the companion from one’s youth and that marriage is a covenant. He warns the Jews to take heed to their spirit so that they do not deal treacherously with their wives and betray the covenant of marriage.
Though not expressly restated in the New Testament it is possible that the spiritual principles of this passage may apply to the Christian today. If a Christian divorces his wife and deals treacherously against her it may be possible that God will reject his worship. In First Peter 3:7 husbands are warned to treat their wives with honor or their prayers may be hindered. Certainly divorcing one’s wife cannot be considered treating her with honor.
Modern Erasmian interpreters have attempted to explain away this passage by claiming that it is only hateful divorces that cover a man’s garment with wrong. The Hebrew text literally reads “For He hates sending away”. The “He” in this context is God. Modern Erasmian interpreters translate the phrase “For the man who hates and divorces”. This is a loose translation at best the purpose of which appears to be to allow divorce and remarriage; except those based upon hate. We are not told the definition of non-hateful divorces which are not considered treacherous. Further proof that the Erasmian understanding of this text is wrong is the contextual statement that the woman is still “thy companion and thy wife by covenant” even after she was divorced.
21. Did Jesus approve of the Samaritan woman’s five marriages?
In John 4:4-26 Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. When Jesus told her to call her husband she claimed, “I have no husband”. Jesus prophetically replied that she was correct. She had been married to five men and the man she was now with was not her husband. Some have pointed out that Jesus recognized the legality of the woman’s five marriages. There is little doubt that Jesus recognized the cultural legality of these marriages. The issue is that Jesus used this to show the woman her sin and her need for a Savior. He was not approving of her multiple marriages any more than He approved of her current unlawful relationship. Her marriages may have been legal according to the civil authorities but they did not receive divine approval. The passage does not teach the dissolution of marriage with the right to remarry. It teaches the sinfulness of the woman who had multiple marriages. It also teaches the love and forgiveness that Christ bestows on all who believe no matter how great their sin.
22. Are those who teach the permanence of marriage modern day Pharisees?
It is sometimes claimed that those who teach that remarriage after divorce is adultery are similar to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. This analogy has no factual basis. According to the historical record there were few if any Pharisees who taught that a divorced person could not remarry.
In the first century A.D. the Pharisees were divided into two main camps, those who followed the teachings of Hillel and those who followed the teachings of Shammai. Hillel taught that a person could divorce his wife for almost any reason. Shammai taught that a person could divorce his wife only for serious sexual sins. Both claimed that a divorced person had the right to remarry.
It is actually modern day evangelicals who teach that divorce and remarriage is allowed who are the most like the Pharisees. They debate the nuances of the divorce clause and seek legal loopholes that allow people not only the right to divorce but also to remarry. Some allow divorce and remarriage for almost any reason and while others limit it to serious sexual sins. The words of the Lord Jesus would be the same to these teachers as it was for the Pharisees, Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate (Matt. 19:6).
It is also claimed that to require such a high standard as no remarriage after divorce is legalism. Legalism is defined as attempting to earn or keep one’s salvation by works of the Law. Obeying Scripture with a proper heart towards God is not legalism. Nor is it legalism to obey what Christ commands. The balance is found in the command to “speak the truth in love”. How Jesus dealt with the woman accused of adultery in John 8:1-11 is a clear example of love without compromise. He did not condemn the woman to death by stoning. He did not lower God’s standards. He told her to go and sin no more.
There is no greater evil than those who do evil in the name of God.
Copyright 2008 by Joe Fogle. All rights reserved.