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One scenario for remarriage

Summary.

  1. All remarriage is forbidden for a man who has divorced his wife.
  2. All remarriage is forbidden for a woman.
  3. Remarriage is permitted for a man who did not divorce his wife but was divorced by her.

Remarriage is forbidden in most instances.

That remarriage was forbidden seemed to be the position of the early church fathers. John Piper summarises the New Testament support for this position. Well known Baptist preacher David Pawson repeats the essential arguments in this sermon. I outline 22 reasons why I think remarriage is never permitted. And I had written my own testimony explaining why I can’t remarry. However, after 15 years, my position has changed slightly. This ‘slight’ change permits me to remarry which, understandably, may be seen by most as a dramatic change.

Around 2006 I became convinced that remarriage was not permitted under any circumstances.  But because so many Christians hold very different views to my own, I tried to reassess my own views on divorce and remarriage every year or so.

It was during the COVID lockdown in 2020 that I had more time to reflect and read on this topic. An important consideration that I had not given sufficient weight to was the link Jesus made between remarriage and the divorce which preceded it. For example, in Mark 10:11 Jesus says “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery”. This pattern is repeated in the NT as can be seen in the passages below.

Although that idea had been presented to me more than once, I ignored the conjunction and read the passage simply as “Whoever marries another commits adultery”. I found this compelling because this is how the passages read from a woman’s perspective. Jesus does in fact say that if an innocent women remarries, both she and her new husband commit adultery. Because of the egalitarian society we live in, I had assumed that if it is wrong for an innocent women to remarry it must also be wrong for an innocent man to remarry.

However when rereading the relevant passages I noticed that in each instance the man was forbidden remarriage only if he had divorced his former wife while the women was always forbidden to remarry (see table). It was the divorce that made remarriage wrong for the man.

I suspect many will find the following explanation pedantic, probably to an extreme. This will be especially so for those who hold that the Bible permits remarriage in almost any situation. I readily admit that this seems like I found (or forced) a loophole just so I could pursue my own desires. But in truth I feel more like this ‘loophole’ found me.

I had often thought there was no conceivable way my understanding of the Biblical teaching on remarriage could be altered in such a way that would permit me to remarry. It was not because I was certain I was right – every year or so I would revisit the topic for fear I was not. It was rather because I had read and reread the same handful of Biblical passages so many times over 15 years that I could not imagine what new insight could possibly be revealed that would force such a change in my position. When that insight started to materialise I was shocked both at my failure to clearly see it earlier and the implications it might hold for my life.

Jesus did not condemn OT saints.

I believe one reason the NT holds the position that remarriage is wrong for a man only after divorce is because the alternative would condemn the saints of the Old Testament.

In Matthew 19:9 and Luke 16:18 Jesus explained that a man who takes a second wife commits adultery. However He qualifies this by saying that it is adultery if the man has divorced his wife.

This is an important qualification. Abraham, Jacob, David and many others all took additional wives. If Jesus was now saying that any married man who married again committed adultery, He would condemn the most important men of the Old Testament as adulterers. But there is nothing to suggest that Jesus or any of the first Christians believed this.

So it seems that Jesus wasn’t saying taking a second wife was a sin. He said divorcing one wife in order to take another was sin.

One rule for men and another women.

This is the case for the man but it is not the case for the woman. Both Matthew 5:32 and Luke 16:18 state explicitly that if the woman who was wrongfully divorced remarries she commits adultery. It did not matter if she was innocent or guilty in the divorce. Nor did it matter if the one she was marrying was innocent or guilty. Jesus said her remarriage to anyone else results in adultery.

It is not unusual for the Bible to present two different rules – one for the man and one for the woman. This seems grossly unfair in today’s society. Yet God did not seem to mind.

I suspect one reason for this particular difference is because the institution of marriage is not primarily about the happiness of the married couple but about representing a much greater and more important truth – that of Christ and the church. Human marriage will come to an end (Mat 22:30) while the Divine marriage will last forever. The church is repeatedly represented as the bride of Christ. This bride is to be married to one and only one man.

So the divorced woman is in a difficult position. Once married she is considered always married to her first husband until he dies. Thus, any remarriage for her necessarily results in adultery.

What this means for remarried men today.

This has the following implications for the man who did not divorce his wife but was divorced by her:

  1. There is no scriptural command that explicitly forbids remarriage.
  2. A subsequent marriage might be thought of in the same way as a polygamous marriage was in the OT.   
  3. Polygamous marriages are explicitly approved of in the Old Testament and receive tacit approval in the New.
  4. The core principle seems to be that of keeping covenant. Marriage is a covenant and as such cannot be annulled. Because the divorced man did not violate that covenant, he is not guilty of adultery when taking a second wife.

What this means for me.

I did not want my marriage to end and opposed the divorce. The ending of our marriage was ultimately a decision made solely by my wife. For years after the divorce I actively sought or prayed for reconciliation. I believe I remained faithful to my wedding vows and have done my best to keep the covenant I swore to keep in 1996. Therefore, given my new understanding of Jesus’ words, I believe that I am now able to remarry.

I have two main concerns now that the possibility of remarriage is available. For over 14 years I have believed, defended and lived as best I could my belief that to remarry would be to disobey Jesus. So I feel if I did remarry I would be more likely to convey hypocrisy than obedience. This is discouraging on two levels – I don’t want to look like (or be!) a hypocrite and I want Jesus to look (and be!) more important than any human relationship.

Second, by remarrying I may be understood to affirm what many already believe about remarriage – that it is acceptable in most situations. Although my influence is small, this is not a message I want to convey.

This article is my attempt to explain my apparent hypocrisy and how narrow I understand this exception to be. Of course, few people will read this article, of those who do read it even fewer will care for the details and of those still even fewer will agree.

But this is not written to persuade others to my view. It is written in the hope that my view might be understood by those closest to me.

Divorce and Remarriage Scenarios Tabulated.

The table below shows all the relevant verses in the NT and how they are applied to the remarried husband and wife.

Scenario

PassageMAN
New marriage
is…
WOMAN
New marriage
is…
Man
divorces his wife

Mat 5
Mat 19
Mar 10
Luk 16
1 Cor 7a


Adultery
Adultery
Adultery
Forbidden?

Adultery


Adultery

Woman divorces her husband
Woman leaves her husband

Mar 10
1 Cor 7a
Mat 14:3-4



Adultery
Forbidden
Unlawful*

Woman divorced by
her husband

Mat 5

Adultery

Man divorced by his wife

Mar 10

Adultery

Husband dies

Rom 7

OK

Woman remarries
while husband is alive

Rom 7

Adultery

Unbeliever leaves

1 Cor 7b

‘Not enslaved

‘Not enslaved’

Polygyny
(man marries an extra wife)

OT + Jesus

Permitted

Permitted

Polyandry
(woman marries an extra man)

OT

Forbidden?

Man marries a
divorced innocent woman

Mat 5
Luk 16

Adultery
Adultery

Adultery
Adultery

Woman marries a
divorced innocent man

  

Scripture List.

Mat 5:32 ESV  But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Mat 19:9 ESV  And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

Mar 10:11-12 ESV  And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her,  12  and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Luk 16:18 ESV  “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

Rom 7:2-3 ESV  For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.  3  Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

1Co 7:10-11 ESV  To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband  11  (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

1Co 7:15-16 ESV  But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.  16  For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

 

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