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Jesus is OK with remarriage because He said “She had five husbands”

A common argument to support remarriage goes like this:

“Jesus affirmed that the woman He met at the well described in John 4 “had five husbands”. Jesus didn’t say that she had four affairs or committed adultery four times. When He said she had five husbands He affirmed that divorce did indeed free a person to enter into a legitimate second (or more) marriage.”

This argument has multiple problems.

1. It fails to distinguish between a ‘lawful’ husband and an ‘unlawful’ husband.

It is agreed that people who enter into second marriages really do acquire a new spouse. But this is not the important question. What is important is if these new marriages are lawful or unlawful.  Is the new marriage a lawful marriage? Jesus did not comment on the lawfulness of the marriages she participated in. He observed that she had had multiple husbands. He did not comment in this passage on their legitimacy. He did that elsewhere.

2. An argument from silence is a weak argument

Some argue that because Jesus did not condemn the four previous marriages then He must have approved of them. This is an argument from silence – and its weakness can be shown from the very same passage. Note that Jesus also stated that the man she was presently living with was not her husband. That is, Jesus knew the women was living in fornication. However Jesus said nothing against this relationship either.

Does that mean that Jesus approves of fornication?

Jesus’ silence on the issue of ‘adultery after remarriage’ is easily accounted for. It is reasonable to assume that His teaching on this subject, which was very controversial, was already known. Also, He may have seen no need to draw the issue out in this encounter because He recognized that the women was repentant. And finally, the recording of this conversation may only be a summary of what was discussed. After all, the woman did declare that Jesus “had told her all that she had ever done”.

3. The argument assumes divorce

We do not know the details as to why the woman had had so many husbands. It is possible that one or more of those husbands had died thus legally freeing her to remarry. Although it seems more likely that some of the marriages were entered after a divorce, this cannot be known for certain. Even if just one was as a result of widowhood, it adds further weight to the reason why Jesus did not condemn all those previous marriages as wrong.

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