There has been some recent discussion about this issue in my part of the woods. As with some other issues, I am open to amending my theology, especially when it is in an area of great controversy such as this. In fact, I have nuanced and refined my stand on this issue since I last wrote on this. I know how much many Christians who love the Lord struggle with great distress concerning divorce, remarriage, and what is expected of the committed Christan.

The question is: Can there be remarriage after divorce for the committed Christian?

This is not an easy question to answer by any means. While I was on pastoral staff at Stonebriar Community Church, I could not dodge this issue by reducing it to some objective theological position as I would have liked. Practically speaking, it was always before me. I performed many marriages while I was at Stonebriar, so much that I was called the “marrying man.” In many of the marriages I performed, at least one of the two people had been through a divorce. Each pastor on staff had a different position concerning the issue of remarriage after divorce; I think mine was one of the most liberal (relatively speaking). Stonebriar gave us some freedom in our decisions of whom we would marry. If another pastor did not feel comfortable performing a ceremony, they would probably just say “I will send you to Michael, he will marry anyone!” (That is not really true, but there was only one1 that I turned down in my six years in the pastorate.)

As briefly as a blog will allow, I want to give you my current position on the matter and hope that you understand what a struggle this is. I am in no way dogmatic about this, but I do have some thoughts. Generally speaking, I believe that people are either too liberal or too rigid when it comes to this issue. I think that there needs to be a middle ground (as I do with many issues). I hesitate while I write this due to the fear that people will find in my view an excuse for divorce, which is the last thing I want or intend. Yet at the same time, I believe that if what I propose is true, it, like all truth, will always undergo the risk of misapplication.

First let me say that the argument is not over whether divorce is bad. Everyone agrees that divorce is a result of sin and that healthy reconciliation is the perfect will of God. Well, let me rephrase. God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). Let me make this a bit stronger. God always hates divorce. This much is true. We must, however, keep this in perspective: there are a lot of things that are the result of a fallen world that God hates. God hates death (Ez. 18:23). God hates war. I believe that God hates hell, deformities, addiction, and cancer.  But God also, to be sure, hated that he had to divorce Israel:

“And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.” (Jer. 3:8; see also Isa. 50:1)

So for God to say “I hate divorce” helps us recognize that divorce, as a part of the fallen order, is a result of sinfulness in the world and it is this that God hates. It also helps us recognize that divorce, like death and war, is sometimes a necessary part of a fallen world due to sinfulness.

Having said that, there are many disagreements about the issue of remarriage after divorce. I think that the primary passage that causes this particular trouble in dealing with divorce is Matt. 5:31-32 (and parallel passages):

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 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.”

Christ here uses divorce as an illustration for our consistent inability to live up to the standards of God’s perfection. I say “illustration” because it comes in the context of Christ’s shocking statement, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (v.20). What a terrifying statement that must have been. Christ then goes on to demonstrate how the traditional way that people view the law and righteousness is insufficient. “You have heard it said . . . But I say to you” was Christ’s way of telling the people that what was said before needs to be rethought and intensified. Why? Because fulfilling the requirements of what was said before does not make one righteous unless it is understood correctly. Christ shows that just because someone has never committed the act of murder, this does not make them innocent of the principle that prohibits murder; the spirit of the fifth commandment includes a benevolent disposition to others (vv. 21-26). He then does the same thing with adultery, teaching that the commandment prohibiting adultery goes much deeper than the actual act. One must have fidelity in his thoughts as well (vv. 27-30).

By saying these things in such a way, Christ is turning the Jewish people’s worldview upside down. The scribes and the Pharisees were the best-in-show. Surely, if they could not enter the kingdom by their righteousness, everyone is without hope. The Jewish leadership felt at ease with themselves because, according to their estimation, they had lived pretty good lives. They had not broken any of the commandments, so they were safe. Christ seeks to level the playing field by showing that all people are sinners, even the Jewish leaders. Why? Because everyone has broken the principles of the laws, even if they had managed to avoid breaking a particular expression of the law.

What we must realize about this entire section is that Christ’s argument employs much hyperbole and extreme rhetoric. Speaking of how serious it is, Christ says concerning lust, “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out.” I don’t know about you, but I have never seen even the most conservative Christian who has followed Christ’s advice here. Why? Because they understand it to be hyperbolic. This is not meant to water down the seriousness of Christ’s admonition, but to show that Christ, like any good teacher, used hyperbole to get a point across. Everything that Christ says in this section must be taken in the spirit of its intent. It is in this context that Christ makes his statement about divorce:

“It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Mt 5.31-32)

Ouch! These are very shocking and hard words. But, we must realize that they are no less shocking and hard than the two previous admonitions concerning hatred and lust. I believe (albeit very timidly) that Christ’s words that anyone who divorces his wife makes her commit adultery, etc., must be taken in the same vein as the rest of His teaching in this context. In other words, Christ was using the same methodology to bring shock to his listeners so that all would see the drastic need that everyone has, no matter how good they think they are, for God’s mercy. This is not to say that what Christ says about hate, lust, and divorce are wrong and he really did not mean it; it is just to say that we need to keep this in perspective.

Let’s entertain for a moment the propositions that Christ did intend for us to follow this teaching about divorce literally in every case. What would happen? Well, I think we would have to interpret everything in this context the same way (including the gouging out of eyes and cutting off of hands). The outcome would be disastrous in many ways. This is what could conceivably take place: lusting itself would be an excuse for divorce since it is adultery (v. 28). As well, if you were to lust before you are married, and by lusting you have literally had sex with that person, then you are in God’s eyes joined to that person and are required to marry them (by Pauline extension in 1Cor 6:15). So, if this is the case, is it then God’s perfect will for me to find the first girl I lusted after and be “rejoined” to her so that she does not commit adultery? Of course not.

Craig Keener also provides some insight to this passage in Matthew 5:31-32 when he says,

“If He [Christ] intended this statement literally, the new union is adulterous; hence, sin occurs during every act of intercourse (not simply during the remarriage ceremony). In this case, we should not merely forbid divorced church members to remarry; we should regard their remarriages as adulterous unions and thus seek to break them up, even if the remarriages preceded their conversion” (Mark L. Strauss Remarriage after Divorce in Today’s Church, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2006, p. 104).

Let me take a brief moment and deal with 1 Corinthians and Paul’s comments on the subject. First Corinthians 7 is unique and deserves a fair amount of attention, but I will be brief. It is hard to understand many of Paul statements concerning the issue since many of the situations seem to be unique. Others are hard to reconcile and find one course of action that is always right. For example:

1 Corinthians 7:15 “Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.” What is the bondage here? Does it refer to the bondage of the marriage?

1 Corinthians 7:20 “Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.” Does this represent a universal Pauline stance that a single person should never get married?

1 Corinthians 7:26-27 “I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife.” Is it because of the “present distress” that this entire passage is written? What is the “present distress” that makes Paul think the unmarried should not be “bound”? If the “present distress” is not present does this mean that the one “released” (divorced?) from his wife can seek to be bound to another? Are we, today, out of the “present distress”? If so, what does that do to the series of admonitions of 1 Cor 7?

1 Corinthians 7:29 “But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none.” What does it mean to be married and live as though you had no spouse? Is it hyperbolic rhetoric to demonstrate the seriousness of our mission?

1 Corinthians 7:11 “But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband.” But what if she burns (lusts)? Would this admonishment bend according to 7:9? In other words, Paul says that it is better to be married than to lust for sex (1 Cor 7:9), but that a divorced person must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to their former spouse. What if reconciliation is not possible, yet the person’s sexual drive is difficult to control (i.e. they are “burning”)? Which admonition takes priority? It is like an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object!

Divorce itself is bad, but I don’t think that these passages can be used to justify a strict admonition requiring perpetual celibacy in every case. I just don’t believe that the Bible is as clear here as many suppose, and as I have demonstrated.

Forgiveness and grace is something that we can take literally and act upon. For the person who has lusted in the past, we offer forgiveness, not a bride. For the person who has hated his brother, we offer grace, not the death penalty. For the person who has been divorced, shouldn’t we do the same?

This is what it boils down to and what I discuss during marriage counseling: is there any way possible to be reconciled to your former spouse without sacrificing your family’s safety? If so, I believe it is the Lord’s will to pursue this. If not, then grace and forgiveness are offered. At this point the practical issues of responsibility and maturity come into play. I suggest to people to make sure they have worked out the reasons for the previous divorce to be sure that any personal spiritual issues (including commitment) are not unresolved.

If you have been divorced and have remarried, by God’s grace and mercy enjoy the blessing of your marriage and build your family in a godly way. Don’t spend your time second guessing your decision to remarry. It will drive you nuts and create more problems than it might solve. After all, there is no decision that we make that doesn’t have some precursor of sin. As God’s providence finds its realization, we must understand that lives riddled with sin are all he has to work with. If this is not true, then grace is no longer grace.

In the end, I want to reiterate how difficult these issues are. I am not saying that there are no answers or that we should just throw our hands in the air, wipe the sweat off our brow, and opt for moral subjectivism. But we do need to tread these waters with great humility and timidity as the Scriptures present some ambiguity with regard to divorce and remarriage.

1 It was because of obvious unresolved issues of a woman who had been divorced and remarried many times that I did not perform the ceremony. She simply did not take marriage seriously and I could see that. The couple went to the church down the street!


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    186 replies to "Can a Divorced Christian be Remarried?"

    • Chris Krycho

      Granted, and I don’t want to dismiss that concern. (I realize my post may have come off that way; sorry.) In this particular case, I do think the passages are pretty clear… honestly, I think most of the resistance to the view my co-writer and I outline comes because it’s emotionally very difficult. (Not all of it; there is a legitimate exegetical difference here, but a lot of it.) I think when we have really only the Matthew passage pushing us to consider another view—the Pauline passages lining up quite readily with the absolute view, and being workable the other way but certainly not pushing toward it—we ought to consider what other factors might be in view in the Matthew passage. Piper (and others) argued fairly conclusively, at least from my perspective, for the inclusion being to help clarify the issues with Joseph in the beginning of the book. In short: the “sexual immorality” in view here is of the sort Joseph thought he was facing: pre-marital, but post-betrothal. Very serious, but not adultery (which is why Matthew doesn’t use the word for adultery, though he does elsewhere).

    • Ed Kratz

      That is right. Christ’s statement about gouging out eyes could be said to be “clear” as well.

    • Ed Kratz

      Paul’s statement about not seeking to ever get married seems pretty clear as well. But if everyone followed that there would be no more people!

    • Chris Krycho

      CMP: Respectfully, you’re not being very respectful! Try to give the benefit of the doubt here; I’m not ignoring context, I’m embracing it. I would appreciate it if you would at least interact with the arguments raised, rather than simply blowing them off. I hardly think you’d interact that way if it were Dr. Piper making the same arguments here. He may not comment on blogs, but he does make the same arguments I am—arguments I concluded on before ever reading his position. You may disagree, but I would appreciate your doing so in the same way you would have us disagree with you.

    • Ed Kratz

      Chris, I was only responding to Michael T’s statement. I have not read many of the comments, but I read his since it was brief. I immediately wrote those two comments after. I was agreeing with him when I said “That is right.”

      I am not sure which position you take, but I hope you understand that I am not being dismissive intentionally.

      If Piper was here I would just have said “That is right” and then left it at that 😉

    • mbaker

      As someone who has been divorced, and has no regrets, and for years was held hostage by my church which believed that divorce was the unforgivable sin, I say this is an issue that we who are divorced will have to take up with God personally. If you haven’t walked in our shoes, leave us alone!

      I am very happily remarried. Here’s where I disagree with the premise that others are presenting here: In the church it seems it is the actual dissolution regarding the legal filing, when the divorce itself takes place long before that. I had good reasons, and the main one was that my child’s father wanted to put our child up for adoption after she was born. There was also addiction to porn and other issues.

      Would I have done better in God’s eyes to have stayed and lost my child?
      I don’t think so. Some folks will take a thing so literally they lose sight of the forest for the trees.

      Have I committed the unpardonable sin by remarrying? I don’t think so. This is not a case of mistaken theology, but a more personal case by case issue. If anyone here thinks it okay for a woman to submit to abuse and addiction simply to obey the law, they are living back in OT days. I, for one held on and put up with a lot of unnecessary abuse because of it.

    • Ed Kratz

      mbaker,

      “In the church it seems it is the actual dissolution regarding the legal filing, when the divorce itself takes place long before that.” I agree so much. People are so concerned with this legal piece of paper downtown and don’t realize that a divorce is something that normally takes place internally well before the papers are signed.

      I know people who could care less about their marriage, neglecting all their responsibilities, but would never sign a paper of divorce, as if that is the worst of it. When did we give the state so much authority and respect? When did this marriage paper replace the marriage?

      Your situation presents us with a serious dilemma which cannot be solved with a simple quotation of Scripture. There are great goods that we must consider. In your case, from the limited amount that I know, I would much rather stand before God and give an account of myself for keeping my child than for divorcing my spouse.

      As I have said in my blog here: I don’t think these things are cut-and-dry Scripturally or practically. We need to fight for marriage, but understand that there are other “goods” and other much worse sins that can be committed just to keep from signing a paper. We need wisdom and balance.

    • Hodge

      mbaker,

      I’m afraid this discussion belongs to us, not to you. It is for the elders, pastors and teachers of the Church to decide, not those who participate in it. That’s like saying that it’s not the Church’s business to discuss sin, it belongs to the sinner. Not quite. I grow tired of this line of argumentation. We all have to deal with others’ sin, and this is especially true when it comes to issues that destroy family and covenant.

      Whether one separates or divorces is a different issue than what we are talking about. You’re justification of abuse has nothing to do with remarriage.

      Michael,

      I don’t think you guys are understanding the point. I’m not claiming that it’s clear. It is clear. Does every passage talk about the exception of porneia? No. Does every passage talk about an unbeliever leaving? No. But every passage says that a person is married as long as the other lives based on the two become one flesh idea. Every passage talks about the prohibition to remarry. That is clear.

    • JasonJ

      Most of 1 Cor 7 Paul is giving his opinion only.

      He makes this clear in vss. 12- the start of his opinions, 25, and 40 as the chapter ends.

      He chooses phases like, in vs 6 “…by way of concession, not of command. 7 yet I wish…”

      vs 12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord…

      Only vss. 10-11 are clear and should be viewed in light of the other passages on that topic.

      Reading 1 Cor 7 it seems to me that Paul is more simpathetic to what CMP and others are wrestling with than the more hard-liners would like to make it out to be.

    • Ed Kratz

      Hodge, as usual, I don’t keep up very well on the comments. But from what I have seen, there is nothing that has refuted the argument of my post showing how messy this is and how it is not always so cut-and-dry.

      I think I made a good case that Christ’s purpose is to demonstrate that we are all living outside God’s ideal, either through divorce or hating our brethern. The “no-fault” stuff that the Jewish leaders promoted was at issue. Abandonment is a given. There is simply nothing anyone can do about this.

      However, the key issue that everyone assumes is that marriage has been defined. Is it something that the state says, a lifesyle, living together, sex, a personal comittment before God, or something only a pastor can pronounce. Most people here, I assume, are talking ultimately about a peice of paper downtown. As long as we don’t sign that, we are good. But that is pretty silly to me. Divorce is something that happens whether a peice of paper recognizes it or not. I know we don’t enjoy being so subjective, but it does not have to be so.

      However, I do think that there are so many people out there who have had “illegal divorces.” They are divorced in their committment to each other and their vows, but they have yet to sign the “legal” papers (and may never do so). These are looked upon as better than those who have left their marraige for reasons such as mbaker said above. I don’t get this. We give too much authority to this paper.

      There are abandoned people out there all over who have the heaviness of the church ready to beat them down while they show grace to those of us who are actually at fault for our sins.

      Simply put, I do think that there are “greater goods” that we have to consider.

      Which is the greater sin for the divorced person, to remarry or to burn with desire? Who determines this?

    • EricW

      It is for the elders, pastors and teachers of the Church to decide, not those who participate in it.

      Spoken like a true authoritarian.

      I grow tired of this line of argumentation.

      And I suspect that hurting and divorced people get tired of the boilerplate inflexible “this is the way it is” line of argumentation they hear from the elders, pastors and teachers of the Church.

      Maybe these people should have murdered their spouses instead of divorced them and gotten remarried. That way after they do their time, they can give a “testimony” and be restored and maybe even get a TV ministry.

      I thought Protestants rejected the extreme aestheticism of Catholic and Orthodox priests and monks.

    • Ed Kratz

      In short, I think we are great a recieving grace, but lousy at giving it.

    • Hodge

      Michael,

      I don’t disagree completely. I think you’re right in that the mess is just absurdly out of control. We can’t untangle it. I would, however, then just teach that remarriage is not OK in any instance. It does beg the question to say that we can get remarried to avoid sin. What if getting remarried is sin? That’s the question we need to answer first. We shouldn’t sin to avoid sin. In the same way, we wouldn’t argue that one should go see a prostitute because it’s better not to burn, so why would we say that it’s OK to commit adultery in remarriage? We need to take Paul’s advice and remain as he is if we find ourselves in that situation. That’s what we need to teach. If one then commits the sin, THEN we can talk about forgiveness through prayer and repentance. That’s my only issue.

    • Hodge

      Eric,

      I’d like to see the church filled with people who decide for themselves what sin is and isn’t. Oh wait, we’re already there.

      “Spoken like a true authoritarian.”

      You mean as opposed to an antinomian and Christian anarchist? Yes, I do believe the Bible and its authority structures for dealing with sin, and it does not fall to the biased sinner who wants to justify him or herself to decide what is sin.

      “Maybe these people should have murdered their spouses instead of divorced them and gotten remarried.”

      Do you argue for all ethics this way? Maybe Hitler should have blown up the world instead of taken out his aggression on the Jews? Do you see the absurdity in arguing this way? Are you seriously suggesting that we need sinful avenues to release our desires so that they don’t lead to greater sinful avenues?

    • EricW

      I’d rather be in a church of messed-up sinners who rise, fall, rise, fall, stumble, bumble, and fumble around with each other and in their walk with and walk away from the Lord than in one of people and leaders with all the right answers and all the right rules and all the right ways to do things – taught and enforced by the elders, pastors and teachers of the Church, of course, rather than by those who “merely” participate in it.

      I’ve been in both. I prefer the fuzziness and messiness and slack and give and take, because life is that way.

      YMMV, of course.

      Whatever floats your boat. Go for it. See you on the other side.

    • Hodge

      Eric,

      And I prefer the Christian Church over an atheistic one, but that’s just me. I don’t mind being in a church with sinners who fall and rise and fall and rise. I’m concerned with the fallen never rising because they want to justify their sins while they tell the God-given authorities of the Church to stay out of their personal, sinful business.

    • mbaker

      “I’m afraid this discussion belongs to us, not to you.”

      Who said otherwise, Hodge? I am simply presenting the other of side of a very difficult scenario for those of us who have been placed in that situation. Lot easier to judge if you haven’t been there and done that. You can thank God if you not been there, having to do make that very difficult decision. Pretty darn easy to argue it otherwise.

      Are you saying I should have given up my daughter to satisfy the biblical requirements especially, after since year after year,this man still does not recognize what a real father is really all about? Do you think a real marriage doesn’t include the children you have in common as well?

    • Nazaroo

      Busy thread! Just goes to show that important topics trump joke-posts.

      22. 23. ScottF, EricW.

      I know this isn’t a Synoptics thread, so I won’t offer a long explanation for why I believe in the relative priority of Luke to Matthew.

      Suffice to say the “Special” (unique) material in each and their differences in purpose and emphasis, has to be accounted for in a plausible history of the early church.

      There are actually several models which include Lukan priority over Matthew, not necessarily agreeing with Markan priority over both.

      For a fuller account of why we have taken our stand of relative Lukan priority over Matthew, see our Synoptic Problem section here:
      http://adultera.awardspace.com/SYNOP/index.html
      We’re not promoting our view, just providing our data. We have a lot of really great full color charts on Synoptic relations there. They are free to download, copy, propagate, and print out.

      Enjoy!
      Nazaroo

    • Hodge

      mbaker,

      I don’t argue from experience, so it doesn’t matter what I’ve been through and what I haven’t. That’s atheism, not Christianity. We have authorities outside of ourselves precisely so we don’t just live as we like.

      Second to this, you are again confusing divorce and remarriage. Let me remind you of the title of this post:
      “Can a Divorced Christian Be Remarried?”

      What does remarriage have to do with saving your child? Divorce maybe, and I think the Bible makes provisions for that. How is remarriage addressing abuse?

      “Who said otherwise, Hodge?”

      I thought you did:

      “I say this is an issue that we who are divorced will have to take up with God personally. If you haven’t walked in our shoes, leave us alone!” – mbaker

    • mbaker

      I am saying marriage, at least in the sense God meant it is a real union of two spirits, representing Christ and the church. It takes to two to tango, if not it is a farce, whether it is secular or Christian. Lots of Christian folks stay married but don’t really have a Godly union. That’s my point. Where do we draw the line?

    • Hodge

      mbaker,

      That’s the problem. Marriage isn’t a spiritual union. It’s not that mystical. The two become one FLESH, not one spirit. Otherwise, death would not break the union. I agree that it is meant to be more than this, but the flesh union is where the line is drawn within the marriage covenant. I agree with Michael that there are those who have poor marriages, and think that somehow that’s OK because they’re not divorced; but there is no such thing as a spiritual divorce. Divorce is a separation of the two flesh union, a leaving of one person by their other half. So Scripture draws the lines. Even if one leaves, the flesh union is not broken. Only death can do that. Hence, if one remarries while in that union, they commit adultery, as Christ says.

    • A. M. Mallett

      I do not understand how any Christian justifies moving away from this:

      “And unto the married I command, [yet] not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from [her] husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to [her] husband: and let not the husband put away [his] wife.” (1Co 7:10-11 AV)

    • Dennis M

      Here is somethings I think we must consider when addressing this issue.

      If we rationalize what Jesus said as is suggest, that Jesus did not mean what He said, His words are not to be taken literally, and that grace covers us, and it does.

      Well then single people can say the same thing about fornication, so I’m free to sleep with all the girls I want, because just like with divorce and adultery in Matthew 5:31-32. I can say Jesus did not mean what He said about fornication in other verses ether, that we should not take what He said literally about fornication ether. After all grace covers fornication too, right? And we could say the same thing about any sin we want to commit. When one person says I can change what God’s word says to allow my sin, then so can everyone else. The very excuses given to discredit what Jesus said in Mat 5 31-32 can be applied to every verse, every sin in the bible if I so chose.

      To say that Jesus was not being serious about what He was teaching on marriage and adultery in Mat 5.31-32, when it is a God truth that has been consistently taught by God is not something I want to do. To say Jesus’ words in Mat 5 are not to be taken serious is like saying as to regard to the ten commandments that they are noting but God dong a Dave Letterman Top list, and not be taken seriously.

      We must remember that at the time that Jesus said what He did in Mt 5.31-32, the people where divorcing right and left for any reason and marry others (like today), which is what He was addressing as wrong.

      Today people spend all there time it seams looking for loopholes to commit what every sin they want, to live how ever they want. Instead of changing their lives to match the word of God, they seek to change the word of God match their lives.

    • John

      Both sides are trying to deal with Scriptures the best they can.

      My thought is that those who take the “stricter” view are doing so because they believe it is God clearest teaching. They see the discrepancies, but they see clear teaching too. They also see that most of the more liberal theologians/pastors hold to the more lenient view.

      Unfortunately, for the strong evangelical, conservatives that take the more lenient position, they need to argue AGAINST those who are simply liberal in their view of scripture’s authority over man.

      Those that take M. Patton’s view, I believe, are seeing that the literary development of the author (in Matthew, for instance) is drawing out a deeper point. There is something more central to what Matthew (and what Jesus) is teaching than “No, don’t divorce.” If that were not the case (as CMP has ably brought out), then Jesus would say, “No, don’t do X and don’t do Y and don’t do Z.” and that would be sufficient. Rather, his “You have head it said, but I say” formulations are building to a deeper point. And I believe it is a no brainer to maintain that one thing we know that Jesus is saying is “no divorce.” but he is also saying more than that.

      My wife and I have not had relations in over 8 years. She does not like me. She is convinced that he life is ruined because of me. She doesn’t kiss me nor will she let me embrace her. The lack of sex is certainly (in OT times, esp) a type of pornea.. .it is something not right in the marriage. And in the OT scheme, I would probably be granted a writ of divorce.

      My church does not think this is a qualifying reason for divorce, since there is no adultery. My wife engages in vile speech, she watches lesbian movies, she is thrilled with manly women, her emotional state is one of attachment to other women… My point is that this is a twisting of what marriage is, to the point of destruction.

      I remain married because I see that Christ is calling me…

    • Ed Kratz

      Dennis, no one is saying that Christ did not say divorce was not wrong. What we are dealing with is the rhetoric and extreme consequences tied to it.

      I doubt you have ever gouged out your eyes because they caused you to stumble. Have you? Stumbling (sinning) is not being justified, but the consequences have a rhetorical purpose.

      There is also the context of a “divorce-for-any-reason” philosophy that plays into this and heightens the rhetoric.

      Paul’s statements need to be tempered in the context as well. The Bible always deals with ideals and we need to hope and try for those ideals. But when you have a situation where worse and more sinful things are occurring because of the union, we need to carefully handle the situation otherwise we may find ourselves demanding we engage in a more destructive and sinful situation to keep from a lesser sin.

      Concerning fornication, there is no prohibition that says that one cannot have sex again after fornication has occurred. Therefore, there is no parallel here (unless you want to say that Paul’s admonition to about being joined with a harlot has marital implications—then we open up a whole new issue with even more problems!).

      Again, each situation is unique. We have far too many people who enter the marriage bonds lightly and therefore leave lightly. But we also have situations that are severe enough to call upon one spouse to leave (sometimes because the other spouse really left long ago).

      In the end, I see more condemnation and judgment in this issue than any other I know of. Somehow grace can enter into every sphere of life (including the homosexual who CAN get married after being involved in such a relationship), but not here.

    • Hodge

      Michael,

      If remarriage is adultery, why would we say that it is grace that allows for it. Grace does not exist to allow sin to thrive, but to restore from it. The homosexual wouldn’t be prohibited from marrying because he never had a legitimate union. They are apples and oranges. Grace exists in repentance from sin, not for the permission to sin. Hence, I would not speak of grace in this context, as though people who commit adultery by remarrying are somehow exercising grace rather than rejecting its purpose.

    • EricW

      In the end, I see more condemnation and judgment in this issue than any other I know of.

      Sad, but true.

    • Ed Kratz

      Hodge,

      I get where you are coming from and often go there as well. I also appreciate what I do see to be tenderness in the way you are putting things. I often think of what it would be like if divorce was simply illegal. What would happen? I am sure that people would take things a lot more seriously (eventually) and make sure they are prepared mentally for what the commitment is about.

      But I know you cannot make sin illegal. Divorce would happen anyway since, I believe, the county clerk has very little to do with marriage.

      In the end, I guess the question is whether or not we have the “right” to pursue happiness, biblically speaking. I don’t know. I do know that we are all sinners and there are some terrible situations out there that cause us to second guess our understanding of what God is trying to say.

      When my sister’s husband left her, I was much more idealistic. I told her that it was her obligation to do everything in her power to fight for her marriage (even though the guy was a mentally abusive control monger who had “left” the marriage years ago). He wanted to leave and I encouraged her to do all she could to prevent the divorce.

      She did. I am sure it was because of my encouragement since by this time she did not really care. But she wanted to do what was “right.” A little over a year later, his abuse drove her crazy and she killed herself.

      I often think that I should have encouraged her to let him leave. After all, isn’t this what Paul says? “If the unbelieving spouse wants to leave, let them.” It is an permissive imperative I believe. But my conservative stance and fear of the shame of divorce drove me to ignore this and do what a good Evangelical would do. I am as certain as I can be with such things that she would be alive without my counsel.

      Even with all of this, I am not sure what I would counsel her to do today. Is being alive what we are trying to accomplish? Is being happy? Was there a greater good here that I missed? I don’t know.

      I know that this is not about remarriage, but I thought I would come clean.

    • Hodge

      “In the end, I see more condemnation and judgment in this issue than any other I know of.”

      I guess it depends on where you hang out. I see far more licentiousness in this area than in any other. It’s not even considered that much of a sin at the church we attend right now. I think most of the people in the congregation are divorced and remarried.

    • Hodge

      Thanks Michael. It helps to know all this. I too have many people in my life, very close to me, that confuse this issue for me as well. As a pastor, it was hard to know what to do with all of the divorced and remarried (and people who wanted to get divorced) within the church. I know you have experienced much of the same. It is VERY difficult to know how to apply this. I do believe in divorce, since Paul does teach it, as you stated; but we really need to stop the remarriage and easy divorce trend somehow, and I think unwavering teaching for the next generation is the way to do that. It will not be done with ease, or with perfect knowledge or execution (that’s for sure). It will cost us a lot, and it will cause us to ask what our life’s purpose is really all about, as you have indicated. And grace must always be offered to the repentant on the other side of any sin. I appreciate you bringing up this important topic, and always appreciate your honest grappling with the issues. God bless.

    • Eloquorius

      @CMP: “I know that this is not about remarriage, but I thought I would come clean.”

      I’m glad you did. Something has been prodding me all day to say something and I’m finally going to say it. At 19 I married what I thought was an believer, as I was very immature in the faith myself. While both of us are the guilty party, each having transgressed the marriage in our own ways (there’s rarely any “innocent party” in a divorce). In the early months of the divorce proceeding and following, I set out on the internet to see what I could find in perspectives on divorce. Suffice to say that what I say gave no hope; only threats and the most unloving, hopeless language to describe the future. The thought of facing a life of celibacy and decades of answering the “You’re such a nice guy, why aren’t you married?” question from nosey church ladies drove me to dark places. What I hid from my friends and family at the time was that I struggled for months fighting off thoughts of hopelessness and suicide. No one knew and I didn’t want them to know. In the decade since I’ve come to talk to many divorced people and — if I ask pointedly — some are candid enough to share that the hopeless messages of non-restoration, earthly penance for sins, and the self-appointed minions who dish out shame are what drove many to nearly make your sister’s choice. I’m sorry for your loss, and I cannot claim to understand the sense of responsibility you must feel for all that was said and done. If you have not read Bahnsen on the issue (see my link I posted above) your personal ministry on this topic will suffer a tad. Yes, really.

    • Eloquorius

      @AM Mallet: “I do not understand how any Christian justifies moving away from this: (1Co 7:10-11 AV)”

      From a pastoral counsel perspective, that an interesting one. I’ve been doing singles issues and around singles ministries in various capacities (from spectator to leader) since 2001. Let me tell ya, I’ve never seen two Christians — i.e., born-again regenerate believers who have died to themselves an taken after following Christ — end in divorce. Most of what I’ve seen has been a Christian and a non-Christian, or (all too often) two “spiritual” types who’d like to think they’re Christian… but not two Christians.

      After sometimes all too brief an inquiry, it quickly becomes apparent that one or both proves their unregenerate nature through refusal to love, forgive, repent, confess, etc. Once it’s established that one party isn’t Christian, the section of Scripture you cited gives way to 1 Cor. 7:15 and the so-called Pauline Privilege, “But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.”

    • Ed Kratz

      A.M.

      “I do not understand how any Christian justifies moving away from this:

      “And unto the married I command, [yet] not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from [her] husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to [her] husband: and let not the husband put away [his] wife.” (1Co 7:10-11 AV)

      Again, I don’t think this is as clear as you might think. All of chapter 7 is devoted to some rather odd statements of Paul, including an admonition to all to remain unmarried.

      More importantly, the passage above is only to women who divorce. They are not to get remarried. Leaving out the men when he admonishes them differently in the same passage leaves one to think that there is much more to it than this. Do you think it is ok for men to get remarried according to Paul? Why or why not?

    • Chris Krycho

      I think a few points of clarification are needed from the other side. First, a believer is allowed to accept a divorce if the unbelieving party wants it. Professing or otherwise, it’s quite apparent that the situation you described with your sister fits that category, CMP. (I”m so sorry about all of that. Depression is a terrible thing, one I know all too well from close relationships in my own life. It’s been very close to how your story ended.) The believer is not bound to remain with a nonbeliever.

      As regards the general question of “pursuit of happiness:” if (and I recognize that’s a big one in this conversation, but run with me) remarriage is indeed a sin while the other spouse is alive, then people really are better off not remarrying. Really. No matter how much the opposite seems true to us. Because God’s will is always the best for us, even if it doesn’t seem so.

      Finally, the pastoral perspective: yes, people are going to do both of these things. These are not unforgivable sins (horrible thought). They are just like any other. We will have people who have divorced and remarried in our churches. Our response should be to lovingly, gently, kindly point out this issue—carefully and clearly—and let the Spirit convict. But the response on their part is going to depend immensely on the circumstances. It may simply be an apology to an already-remarried ex-spouse, an apology to one’s own current spouse, or in fact remarrying one’s ex-spouse if both parties can be reconciled. The combination of church discipline and deep pastoral concern seems incredibly helpful: people will divorce less, and when a divorce actually happens, it will be clear that the party in question, as Eloquorious noted, is not a believe: if he or she were, (s)he would accept the correction. Then, of course, we must really support divorcees. <a href='http://www.pillarontherock.com/2010/05/divorce-and-remarriage-what-does-god

    • EricW

      So, why exactly is it a sin for the divorced ex-spouses of a broken and unrepairable marriage to remarry another person if their ex-spouse, whom they will NOT remarry or be reconciled to, is still living? What does “become one flesh” mean and do Frank Moore Cross’s comments count. Google for book/journal excerpts.

    • Chris Krycho

      Blast, my link broke. Link to the series

      Eric: In short, we hold that because, with the sole exception of the Matthew 19 passage, it’s the clear and obvious understanding from the rest of them. Our hermeneutical approach was then to understand that exception in relation to those passages, rather than the other way around. Paul’s comments line up quite nicely with Jesus’: while a person’s spouse is still living, they are not free to remarry, but if their spouse dies, they are free. As to why, well, “one flesh” seems to pretty definitely be on the right track, as does the importance God assigns to the marriage covenant in using it as one of our primary earthly models of Christ’s relationship to the church.

      I’m trying to stick to the blog rules, here, and part of that means I am unable to go into detail exegetically on this; I really would point you to our series of articles on the topic, where we spent over 5000 words hammering out both the doctrine and the practice.

      I searched on Frank Moore Cross, but I’m not seeing anything particularly relevant; can you point me to a link?

    • EricW

      So, what exactly is it about marriage that makes it a sin for the divorced ex-partners of a broken and irreparable marriage to remarry someone else while their ex-spouse is still living when there is NO chance or possibility that they and their ex-spouse will or should reconcile and remarry each other? Does it all have to do with the “one flesh” thing? What exactly does that mean? Does Frank Moore Cross’s explanation of “one flesh” impact this? (Google for book/journal excerpts.)

      Just askin’….

      Well, let me rephrase. God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). Let me make this a bit stronger. God always hates divorce.

      FWIW, the LXX and the DSS of this passage do not say this.

    • MzEllen

      So, what if the other party remarries and there is no hope for reconciliation?

      A man is left because his wife committed adultery and married another man…

      1) His is not the one who committed adultery,
      2) He is not the one who committed the divorce
      3) He is not the one who made the marriage irreconcilable.

      He must, however, pay the penalty for his sin (the sin of being divorced by an adulterious woman who will not reconcile)

    • Citizendon

      @Eloquorius – Your identification of one who refuses to “love, forgive, repent, confess, etc.” as “unregenerate” is incredibly presumptuous. No born again believer starts off with a fully compliant slate of Christian virtues. To refuse to love or forgive in some particular situation (e.g. a troubled marriage) is more likely a sign of immaturity or lack of understanding than an unregenerate nature.

      Using your logic, one could claim the “Pauline Privilege” any time a spouse behaves in any way inconsistent with Christ as evidence of being “unregenerate.” We all sin in various ways and circumstances, and we don’t always acknowledge our wrongness or repent in a timely manner. That fact doesn’t classify us as unbelievers, and I certainly hope you don’t judge others by that standard.

    • Chris Krycho

      Actually, no: the only time it would be applicable is at the end of the church discipline process—when, after months of pleading and attempting to bring reconciliation, one partner is still set on leaving the other. Note: a Christian isn’t supposed to initiate a divorce, but is allowed to let an unbelieving spouse go peaceably. That’s not at all the same as pulling, as you put it, “Pauline Priviledge” (great line! it cracked me up a bit), which would take the view of, “Oh, well, my spouse is an unbeliever, I’ll just divorce them.” Paul’s argument in 1 Cor. 7 runs quite the opposite: Christians married to nonbelievers should stay with them as long as the unbelieving spouse is willing. The point is that they are free to let the marriage end peaceably.

      This presumes, however, that the church discipline process is working correctly in this situation. If it is, then it’s not a single individual making a pronouncement; it’s the judgment of the church, following a Biblical pattern for dealing with unrepentant sinners. Of course people will have sin issues ongoing in their life. But when someone is stubbornly unwilling to attempt to reconcile, despite the church and other spouse doing all they can to reconcile… the church should treat them like a heathen, a tax collector. (Remember: that means trying to win them to Christ, not scorning them, but neither counting them a part of the church.)

    • EricW

      Sorry for the double-posting where #85. appeared before the fuller #87. My iPhone was acting weird on P&P and sent #85. even though it looked like it had vanished.

    • EricW

      So, what is a church to do if a Christian remarries after a divorce and their spouse is still living:

      Withhold the so-called “sacraments” from them? (Big deal. They’re just symbolic for most EvangeProts anyway.)

      Forbid them from raising their hands during worship?

      Make them wear T-Shirts with a red “A” on them?

      Make them stay in the lobby with the other unsanctified things during the worship service and not let them sit in a pew or chair until the sermon time?

      Don’t let them lay hands on and pray for other members during the ministry time?

      Disfellowship them?

      Make them go through a repentance process before they can be members of the body again? And then let them be handicapped members at most?

      Disallow them from serving in the church as a teacher or leader and only let them do parking lot or kitchen or janitor duty?

    • mbaker

      Because of the hard core attitude about remarriage being a sin in the church, we now have a generation of divorced Christians simply living together in secret. While they may not be in the same household, they are enjoying all the benefits of marriage, including sex, and yet patting themselves on the back because they have not broken the commandment not to remarry!

      What’s wrong with that picture? They have obeyed the prohibition about remarriage to the letter, but are still in sin.

      I believe it is better to remarry legally before the church, even if there is condemnation for it than to secretly live as if you were married, but brag that you kept the non re-marriage rule to the letter.

      There are also many who leave the church entirely because of the overly legalistic views on remarriage. Let us hope they don’t decide they can’t be Christians at all anymore if they do break the rule and remarry, because then we as a church would, by default, be guilty of causing our brothers and sisters to stumble far worse than divorce and remarrying would.

    • Chris Krycho

      @EricW: do you have a context for the church discipline process in your framework? It doesn’t seem like it, based on what you just wrote.

      Because what I’m advocating here is what I’d advocate for people who were unrepentant cheaters, unrepentant liars, unrepentantly prideful, unrepentant gossipers, unrepentant fornicators, unrepentant quarrelers, unrepentant sinners. I’m not targeting this particular sin. If someone habitually provokes quarrels, the church should walk through the same process.

      Unfortunately, there is no way I can do all of your questions about church discipline justice in 3000 characters. You might take a look at 9 Marks’ material on church discipline, or the series my co-admin wrote at our site.

      @mbaker: there are a host of issues there, but the main one I see is this: sin is sin. If remarriage is a sin, then avoiding it isn’t legalism; it’s holiness! One sin doesn’t excuse another. Condemnation is not what the church ought to offer, of course. But calling sin what the Bible calls sin is not legalism, when it is accompanied by preaching gospel grace.

    • EricW

      From IX Marks:

      What is church discipline?

      •Church discipline is the church’s act of confronting someone’s sin and calling them to repent, which, if the person doesn’t repent, will culminate in excluding a professing Christian from membership in the church and participation in the Lord’s Supper because of serious unrepentant sin.

      So, how does a remarried divorced person repent vis-a-vis such a church?

      Are they to divorce their current spouse and return to singlehood as long as their former marriage partner is still living?

      If they agree with the church’s teaching against remarriage while the ex-spouse is still living (even if the ex-spouse has remarried?), does repentance consist of expressing sorrow over failing God in this area? Something more? Something less? Can they afterwards experience the full rights and responsibilities of all other persons in the church, including positions of leadership/ministry?

      If they honestly disagree with the church’s teaching in this area (as this thread indicates, there will be honest Christians who honestly disagree on this subject), is their only option to leave that particular church?

      I haven’t listened to the messages at IX Marks; maybe these questions are addressed in the audios.

    • mbaker

      Chris,

      No one is excusing sin. What we are saying that remarriage is treated with a lot more condemnation in the church than it should be. I am just saying that people will forgive worse things, but look upon the divorced and remarried with undue condemnation and contempt.

      I stick by my contention that to ostracize another Christian for remarrying is a worse sin in the church because it puts the emphasis upon their sin rather than Christ’s forgiveness for all sinners, and God’s grace in the matter.

      There has also been talk of repentance. How does one repent of remarriage? Get another divorce, and thus sin again?

    • Chris Krycho

      Primarily by confession of sin and reconciling to whatever extent is possible. If neither spouse has remarried, marital reconciliation is the ultimate goal. If either spouse is remarried, obviously marital reconciliation is impossible—but personal reconciliation may be possible. Apologies can be offered to all parties who were sinned against (including the person one got remarried to). One should not divorce a second spouse; this would repeating the same sin again.

      I believe that those who have been divorced and/or remarried are qualified to hold office (even high office) in the church once it is clear that they have repented of past sins and are walking in accord with God’s word now. For example, a man who has only been remarried a year probably wouldn’t be a good choice for an elder. One has been married five or ten or twenty years, though, might well be, if he is currently living out God’s call to honor his marriage.

      Re: submitting to the church on the topic—it probably depends on the church’s history. In the case of a church coming to this view, present members should be allowed to remain, of course; new members in any church would have to submit to the church’s views. Just like on any other issue.

      That’s perhaps the most important thing: we need to stop treating divorce and remarriage as different from other sins! (None of this “unforgivable” garbage.)

    • mbaker

      “That’s perhaps the most important thing: we need to stop treating divorce and remarriage as different from other sins! (None of this “unforgivable” garbage.)”

      Then we agree on that point. I believe that a lot of churches fail to put enough emphasis on preparing folks for marriage in the first place, but rather try to handle the problem after the barn has already burned down, by shaming and blaming the couple themselves.

      As both individual Christian brothers and sisters, and a body of believers, we would do a much greater service to Christian marriage, IMHO, by not talking so much against divorce after the fact, and putting much more emphasis on how to treat one another equitably in a Godly marriage. A once in a while Christian ‘marriage encounter’ weekend isn’t nearly enough to prepare anyone for the realities of everyday life together.

      Like the old saying goes: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I see pounds of ‘cure’ in the church, with the legalistic condemnation, but very little effort to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place.

    • Chris Krycho

      Absolutely. I haven’t spent as much time on that here, because it wasn’t the issue in focus, but putting our emphasis on training people to do marriage well helps immensely. When we combine that with the Biblical view of divorce (which all of us think should be far less frequent than it is), I think we equip people to actually persevere when marriage is hard—as, inevitably, it is. Christian men need to see examples of other Christian men who really do die for their wives in a real way every day. Christian women need to have older women who can “teach them to love their husbands and children” (Titus 2). When we do those things consistently, instead of throwing a little bit of premarital counseling at a couple and recommending they go to a retreat once a year or so and then panicking when they are considering a divorce, we will do much better.

      A lot of the work is in sloughing off cultural clutter regarding marriage, too: so many people expect their spouse to ‘complete’ them or fulfill them in ways that no one can, and then find their hopes dashed as marriage proves to be both wonderful and incredibly challenging. Gary Thomas’ Sacred Marriage (or books like it) should be mandatory reading. Marriage may make you happy, but it’s designed much more to make us holy.

      If the church really supported couples, it would help a lot. Prevention indeed!

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