Divorce and Remarriage

Part 2



Dr. John Hoole – August 7, 2016



Today we continue and finish our discussion about divorce and remarriage.


Matthew 5:31-32 NKJV


31     Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.'

32     But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.


Contrary to some, the concept of divorce is biblical.  The Bible recognizes and regulates divorce.  Certain provisions are made for it, which we will address today.  Divorce is a biblical concept, used and referred to frequently in the Bible.


How did divorce begin?  I don’t believe anyone other than God knows.  From a little research – not an exhaustive one – we can find that divorce existed far earlier than Moses.


Whereas marriage is an institution established by God, divorce is a human institution.  The available biblical evidence shows that although divorces is recognized, permitted and regulated in the Bible, it was not instituted by God as marriage was.


Divorce begins on the pages of the Bible, where it recognizes its existence as a fait accompli, over which God, through Moses, exercised a regulating function.  It appears that divorce was already a common practice when Moses wrote the Torah.  Divorce appears in the Bible as a full-blown, well-known, practice.


Quickly look at Deuteronomy 24:1 to see where the controversy lies.


Deuteronomy 24:1   (NAS)


1        "When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts {it} in her hand and sends her out from his house,


We know from historical records that a controversy about divorce was current among the Jews during the times of Christ.  It was being conducted between  the rival rabinnic schools of Hillel and Shammai.  Rabbi Shammai took a hard, rigorous line, and taught from Deut. 24:1 that the sole ground for divorce was some grave matrimonial offense.


Rabbi Hillel, on the other hand, held a very lax view of divorce.  If we can trust the Jewish historian Josephus, this was the most common attitude, for he applied the Mosaic provision to a man who “desires to be divorced from his wife for any cause whatsoever.”


Hillel argued that the word “indecent” or “unseemly” could be interpreted in the widest possible way.  This could include a wife’s most trivial offense.  If she proved to be an incompetent cook and burnt her husband’s food or if he lost interest in her because he became enamored by another woman or she embarrassed him in front of his friends.


Any of these things could be said to be “unseemly” and justify him in divorcing her.  Often the husband did not bother to give a reason, since none was required.


The Pharisees seem to have been attracted by Rabbi Hillel’s laxity, which explains the form their question took: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”  In other words, they wanted to know whose side Jesus was on in their current debate and whether he belonged to the school of rigorism or of laxity.


The rabbinic justification for such easy divorce was based on an erroneous interpretation of Moses’s writings.  In Matthew 19, both the Pharisees and Jesus quote the words of Moses.  So let’s look at what Moses wrote about divorce and remarriage.


Deuteronomy 24:1-4 NKJV


1       When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,

2       when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man's wife,

3       if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife,

4       then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.


This is the Bible’s first mention of a “certificate of dismissal.”




The NAS above says a certificate of divorce could be given if he ”found some indecency in her.”  So also reads the RSV.  The KJV translates it “some uncleanness.”  So also does the NKJV.  The NIV says he has “found something indecent about her.”  The ASV reads “he has found some unseemly thing in her.”


Exactly what is included in the word, as it is used here, is not fully known.  The Hebrew word ERVAH, translated “indecency,” is elsewhere translated:


                   -- shame                      Isaiah 20:4

                   -- nakedness                Gen. 9:22-23;  42:9, and 14 other places.


The Hebrew word comes from “ARAH,” which means to make bare; empty; destitute; discover; make naked, uncover.  This has led to two schools of interpretation.  Some interpreters say it refers to repeated indecent exposure on the part of the wife -- In other words, a promiscuous life.  Others say the word indicates the uncovering of something about the wife that was unknown to the husband prior to marriage.


It cannot refer to any form of adultery, because the penalty for such an act back then was death, in which case there would be no need for a certificate of divorcement.


I found it interesting how some older Bible versions translated this passage.


                   Young:                     “nakedness of anything”

                   Rotherham:              “some matter of shame”

                   Peshitta:                   “some evidence of prostitution in her”

                   Berkeley:                 “something improper in her”

                   Moffatt:                   “found her immodest in some way”

                   Septuagint:               “found something unseemly in her”

                   Fenton:                    “found repulsive qualities in her”


All of this would seem to indicate some sort of serious moral sin.  The historian, Alfred Edersheim (in Sketches of Jewish Social Life), went a little farther to says that the word includes every kind of impropriety and describes a generally poor reputation.


In Matthew 19:8, when Jesus replied to the Pharisees that had come to test Him, He said “...Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”


From that statement we can surmise that even though God sanctioned what Moses did, it was not His original desire.  If the uncleanness, or indecency, refers to some moral sin, thus requiring the death penalty, perhaps Moses, seeing that by carrying out the letter of such law there would be frequent executions because of the extreme laxity of morals among the Israelites thus felt it necessary to modify the law.  We do know that in some cases, the wife was permitted to clear herself by a solemn oath (Numbers 5:11-31).  In other cases of unfaithfulness, the man was allowed to put his wife away privately, and not bring her to trial, which was certainly the case of Joseph and Mary.  No stoning was required - no death by any means.  So we know that there were modifications made along the way somewhere.


If you look at Deuteronomy 24 closely, you will notice that the focus of the Passage is not on whether divorce is permissible or not.  It was in fact a warning for those who went in that direction.  Its focus was to let the people know that if they divorced their wife, and if the woman remarried, and if the woman’s second husband divorced her or died, the first husband was not allowed to remarry his former wife for any reason.


The Lord’s primary purpose in Deuteronomy 24 was not to give an excuse for divorce but to show the potential evil of it.  In addition, the certificate did not make the divorce right, but only gave the woman some protection.  It protected her reputation from slander and provided proof of her legal freedom from her former husband and her consequent right to remarry.


The whole instruction in Deut. 24 is that of a warning against a man having any relationship with his ex-wife after she has married again.  It is assumed that, in most cases, the woman will remarry.


Now, let’s go to Matthew 19, where the Pharisees sought to trick Jesus by asking Him what they thought was a tough question about divorce.


Matt 19:3-9   (NIV)


3        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?"

4        "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,'

5        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'?

6        So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

7        "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"

8        Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.

9        I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."


Matthew says they were “testing Him” (vs. 3), which indicates they weren’t entirely serious about their question.  They just wanted to catch Jesus between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  So they asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?”  Or, to put it in modern-day vernacular, can you get a no-fault divorce for any reason you want?


As stated earlier, there were two extreme schools of thought in the religious community regarding divorce.  The conservative Jews and their rabbis held that a person could not get divorced for any reason at all.  The liberal Jews and their rabbis held that a person could get divorced for almost any reason.


So Jesus was being asked to decide this Jewish controversy.  Of course, He knew what their motive was, and He wasn’t about to fall into their trap.  He began by asking them, “Have you not read?” (v. 4).  In other words, “Don’t you have a Bible?”


What Jesus was saying is that this issue should not be left up to discussion, debate, or personal viewpoints.  You know, when it comes to divorce, everybody has an opinion.  And if you have marital difficulties, you can always find somebody who is going to make you comfortable about your position.  But Jesus was not interested in popular opinion.  He didn’t wet his finger and stick it in the air to see which way the wind was blowing.  He took the Pharisees right back to Scripture, to the very beginning in Genesis 1-2.


When God created Adam and Eve and performed the first marriage, divorce was not part of the formula.  It was never God’s intention that there would be even one case of divorce.  In Malachi 2:16, we find God saying, ”I hate divorce.”  It is outside His original intention and ideal.


Although I believe that God’s way in most cases is not divorce, I hope I shall teach this subject with some sensitivity, especially for those here today who have gone through a divorce.  I know you have suffered pain, and I have no wish to add to your distress.


Only four basic interpretation of the biblical data on divorce and remarriage are possible and all four are found to be held in various Christian circles.


1.      The strictest view is that divorce is not permissible under any circumstance or for any reason.


2.      The opposite position contends that both divorce and remarriage are permissible for any reason or no reason.


The other two views lie between those extremes.


3.      One is that divorce is permitted under certain circumstances but remarriage is never permitted.


4.      The other is that both divorce and remarriage are permitted under certain circumstances.


The Bible, of course, actually teaches only one of those four possibilities.


So the question becomes, “under what circumstances does God permit divorce today”?  I heard (or read) a statement some time ago that fits here: “Two processes ought never be entered into prematurely ---  Embalming and Divorce.”


In trying to answer the question “When does God allow divorce?,” I will also answer the question “When does God allow remarriage?”  I believe they go together.


I believe that remarriage is allowed by God when divorce is the result of one of three situations.


1.    Immorality


Let’s look at the two statements of Christ in Matthew 5 & 19 side by side.


Matthewe 5:32  (NIV)


32       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 19:9   (NIV)


9        I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."


                   KJV translates it, “except for fornication.”

                   NAS reads, “except for immorality.”

                   Others give the exception as “sexual immorality,” or “unchastity.”


The English words come from the Greek word “Porneia,” from which comes the word pornography.  This is saying that when one spouse is guilty of immoral sexual conduct with another person and is unwilling to remain faithful to the innocent partner, the option is there which allows the faithful mate to divorce and remarry.


Before going to the second point, I want you to notice that I said the faithful mate has the OPTION to leave.  It is an option.  It is not as the Pharisees said in quoting Moses, saying “it was a command.”  It is NOT a command……and as such is not mandatory -- but the grounds for divorce and remarriage is there if that path is taken.


Chuck Swindoll    (Page 144, “Strike the Original Match”)


         “I have seen numerous marriages rebuilt rather than ended because the faithful partner had no inner peace pursuing a divorce.  how much better to look for ways to make a marriage work rather than anxiously anticipate evidence that is needed to break off the relationship.”


2.    Desertion by a spouse.


Another word for this is abandonment.


Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 7.


1 Corinthians 7:1-15  (NIV)


Notice that in the first 11 verses, Paul is speaking to Christians.  Whenever he is talking about marriage, he is discussing the case where both husband and wife are Christians.


Notice verses 2 & 3.


2        But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.

3        The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.


Here Paul is stating, in different words, precisely what Christ had said in Matthew 19:9.  Each married person is to remain faithful to their spouse and not commit immorality with another.


Now look at Verses 10 & 11.


10       To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.

11       But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.


These verses, which are referring to the marriage of two Christians, tell us that God’s desire is that there should be no divorce for any reason.  But, if one disobeys this command and leaves their spouse, and gets a divorce, both are to remain unmarried unless they are reconciled to each other.


Now let’s look at Verses 12 - 15.  This passage brings us to the second case where divorce and remarriage is allowed.


12       To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.

13       And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.

14       For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

15       But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances;……


At this point Paul is giving counsel which is found nowhere else in Scripture.  He addresses a particular issue that Jesus did not discuss.  He touches on a very common situation in every church where we find a Christian (believer) married to a non-Christian.  


First of all, it is interesting to note that Paul’s counsel does not assume that such marriages are unbearable.  The fact is, there are times when harmony and compatibility are possible.  In such cases the spouse who is the Christian is forbidden to walk away from the marriage.  If the unbeliever desires to remain --- then the believer should stay put.  But the occasion may arise where the unbelieving spouse leaves where the non-Christian willfully deserts, walks out, refuses to stay any longer.  What recourse does the believing spouse have?


Verse 15 again.      “But if the unbelieving depart, LET HIM DEPART;”     i.e., let him leave.  Now notice the rest of verse 15: “…..the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases.”


Look at verse 39.  Paul is describing a different marriage situation, but uses this same word.


1 Corinthians 7:39  (NAS)


39       A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.


This verse clearly shows us that to be free from the bonds of marriage is to allow remarriage.  This equally applies to either a divorcee or a widow.


3.    Divorce prior to salvation allows remarriage after being saved.


2 Corinthians 5:17  (KJV)


17       Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.


I take this Scripture literally.  I believe “new” means “new.”  When God promises that the believing sinner is a “new creature,” I take it to mean precisely that.


         Ephesians 2:15 speaks of a sinner being made a “new man.”

         Ephesians 4:24 speaks of that person now having a “new self.”

         Revelation 2:17 tells us that he has a “new name” in heaven.

         -- and according to Rev. 21:1, a “new heaven and a new earth” awaits them.

         If that isn’t enough, Paul adds:          “…..old things are passed away……”

         By the grace of God, they are removed……forgiven……totally and completely.


If that still isn’t enough, then look at Ephesians 2:1-7


Ephesians 2:1-7   (NIV)


1        As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,

2        in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

3        All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

4        But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,

5        made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-- it is by grace you have been saved.

6        And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

7        in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.


I believe that divorce prior to salvation falls within the context of God’s superabundant grace to wipe our slate clean, when we turn, by faith, to Christ.  I believe that God grants his “new creatures” the freedom to remarry.


I need to address one more issue.


According to Matthew 19:9, if a person divorces and remarries outside the acceptable Scriptural basis, they commit adultery.  And if any person marries an individual who is not the innocent partner of a divorce, then that person commits adultery as well.


It should be made clear that those who wrongfully (i.e., sinfully) obtain a divorce must not be excused for what they have done.  They have indeed sinned.  But, because it is sin, it is forgivable!  But every sin sets in motion the laws of sowing and reaping.  Nor does being forgiven erase all the hurts of a divorce.  You may pay for it for the rest of your life.  There are hurts and misery – to children and to in-laws not to mention the couple involved.       


But everyone who sinfully obtains a divorce can be forgiven, cleansed and restored to the Church of Christ.  And the rest of the church ought not to add to their pain by shunning them or looking down on them.


Now take a look at 1 Corinthians 6:9-10  (NIV)


9          Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders

10       nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.


Here we have a whole list of sins, among which we find adultery and sexual immorality.  While this Passage does not speak expressly of marriage, or divorce, or remarriage, it surely includes the whole range of immoral acts, including situations which we have just enumerated.


Now read Verse 11.


1 Corinthians 6:11 (NIV)


11       And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.


I have mentioned this passage to show what our attitudes ought to be towards those whom we know have not followed God’s pattern for remarriage.  God says he will give them forgiveness if they want it.  And if God will forgive, so ought we.