Marriage, Divorce, And
This is a controversial subject, but let us understand something about controversial subjects. It does not mean there is no right and wrong regarding them. It does not mean we cannot know what the truth is. It simply means there is controversy over it, usually because there are those who do not want, will not accept and refuse to admit the truth.
We shall approach the subject by asking questions and allowing the Word of God to provide the answers. When some of us were growing up gospel preachers frequently had lessons on this theme. Possibly the lack of sermons teaching God’s truth on the subject is one big reason why many marriages have suffered divorce and many have remarried when they had no right to do so.
When, Where, by Whom?
Where did marriage originate? A reading of Genesis 2:18-25 makes it unmistakable that God is the author of marriage. Marriage is not merely a social arrangement, an economic situation, a legal contract, but a divine institution. It is the oldest of three institutions ordained of God; the three being the home, civil government, and the church. Any and all disposition of marriage must include God. It is not a matter merely between a man and a woman, a husband and a wife. God is involved. The failure to accept this truth is the reason there is so much error being taught and practiced regarding marriage today.
What are the purposes of marriage? If we were to choose one word above all others to convey the intent of marriage we must choose the word "companionship." The woman is a help meet, or suitable, to man. Marriage partners are to leave all others and cleave to each other. Genesis 2:18 teaches the basic purpose of marriage is companionship.
Procreation, the perpetuation of the human race, is another purpose of marriage (Genesis 1:28). Children are to be born of parents who are married to each other. The home is the basic unit of society. The word “replenish” means to stock with persons.
Marriage is to avoid fornication (First Corinthians 7:2,3). God gave us our bodies and the sexual desire for each other. There is nothing evil, sinful or shameful regarding the sexual relationship of husband and wife. However, sexual activity outside of marriage, either pre-marital, extra-marital, whatever, is to defile that which God has made sacred and holy. Fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, lesbians, etc., are violators of the holy intent of God and they turn what God purposed to be a beautiful and pure relationship into something reprehensible and filthy.
What is to be the duration of marriage? First Corinthians 7:39, “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord.” The last phrase refers to another Christian. Marriage is “till death do you part.”
Romans 7:1-4 teaches the duration of marriage is as long they both shall live, and those who would marry another mate while their first mate lives commits adultery. These passages do not take into consideration the one exception which Jesus taught in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, which we shall consider further in the lesson. But the rule in marriage is for life. Nobody ought to enter marriage with any other design or plan.
Does God allow divorce? The answer is a qualified, “Yes.” Since much of the remaining part of the lesson centers on Matthew 19:3-9, let us focus attention on it. “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them. Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning, made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why then did Moses command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”
Malachi 2:16 reads, “For the Lord God of Israel saith that he hateth putting away.” God will allow divorce, but He does not approve of it. Man ought not put asunder what God has joined.
God has allowed one exception to the lifetime duration of a marriage. To deny this exception is as erroneous as to ignore it and divorce for any cause. It is an exceptive clause, which conveys the idea that it presents the only allowance God grants for divorce. This is not a contradiction to Romans 7:1-4 or First Corinthians 7:39 because it takes all that the Lord has taught on a subject to have His full truth.
Fornication, which is illicit sexual conduct with one other than one’s mate, such as adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality and incest is the cause for which God will allow the one who is innocent of that sin to divorce the one who is guilty of it.
We note here, and shall explore further, the fact that there are two phrases in Matthew 19:9 and they concern two different people.
What if a person divorces for reasons other than fornication, and marries another? They are living in adultery. That is what the passage teaches. Can one live in adultery? Paul said they could (Colossians 3:5-7: First Corinthians 6:11). Some object that adultery is an act and one cannot live in an act. But sin is also an act, and one can live in sin (Romans 6:1,2). Sin is not only an act but also a state, a spiritual condition.
Furthermore, the verb phrase "committeth adultery” is in the present tense, and in the original language of the New Testament the present tense carries the idea of a continuing action, not just a one time intercourse. The Bible is clear. Those who divorce have but one justified cause and that is fornication. To remarry when that is not the cause is to live in adultery. Those who teach otherwise teach people to be comforted in their sin.
One cannot think it is acceptable to divorce just so long as there is no remarriage. It is wrong to divorce. “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” That is plain enough. To divorce is wrong unless it is because of fornication. To remarry is another wrong unless the divorce is because of fornication.
Can the person who is guilty of fornication also remarry? It is evident that the one who is not guilty of fornication can remarry. But what of the one whose sin caused the broken marriage? Can he also remarry?
Here is where we must recognize the two phrases of Matthew 19:9. The first phrase concerns the one who puts away a fornicating mate. That person does not commit sin by remarrying. The second phrase concerns the one who is put away because they are guilty of fornication. There is no exception given to that person. There is no right granted to them to remarry. Rather it is stated that they, and the one who marries them, commits adultery. Nothing is clearer than this.
But someone asks, “How can one be loosed from the other and have the right to remarry and the other not be loosed from the one? It seems if one is loosed, both are loosed.” It is true that they are loosed from each other, but neither is loosed from the teaching of God. God allows the one not guilty of fornication to remarry, but He does not so allow the one who has committed the fornication that caused the divorce to remarry. They are still tied to God’s will even though not to each other.
If one is divorced for reasons other than fornication, and has remarried, cannot they be forgiven? Yes, they can be forgiven when the terms and conditions of forgiveness are met. Some think that because one has remarried that the marriage must be acceptable to God. Just because the Bible speaks of one as married does not mean that the marriage is approved of God. The Bible speaks of prophets, but not all prophets are approved of God. The Bible speaks of the gospel, but there is a perverted gospel. The Bible speaks of marriages, but not all marriages are what God will accept. One must not assume that a remarriage is acceptable just because it is called a marriage.
One of the conditions of forgiveness of sins is repentance. This demands a change of mind that results in a change of life. One cannot continue in sin and claim to have repented. A liar cannot keep on lying. A thief cannot continue to steal. Nor can one in adultery continue living in adultery. The relationship is sinful and must be abandoned.
But what if one has been baptized since he was divorced and remarried? When one is baptized past sins are forgiven, but not future sins. Baptism does not change an adulterous relationship into a holy and sacred one. Baptism does not change one’s marriageability. Baptism does not make lying into something honorable. It does not make stealing acceptable. It does not make adultery an acceptable marriage.
The teaching of Christ regarding marriage applies to all mankind. Some refer to the teaching of Jesus as a "covenant passage,” meaning that the teaching only applies to Christians. But Jesus said His will was as God had decreed it “from the beginning.” If the teaching of Jesus only applies to the Christian then anybody who is not a Christian does not have to conform to anything the Lord has taught. This is ridiculous. If the Lord’s will regarding the sanctity of marriage only applies to the Christian, then anybody who is not a Christian could commit fornication, adultery or any other sin. But we know such a position is absurd. In baptism the blood of Christ washes away sins, but one cannot return to his sins and be thought delivered from his renewed sinfulness (Romans 6:1,2).
But what if children are involved in the second marriage? This is a circumstance that makes matters more difficult, but it does not change the teaching of God. In any divorce, or even the death of a mate, when there are children it makes matters more difficult. We are not insensitive to the hardships involved. But we are not blinded by the emotions that are involved to dismiss the teaching either. Nor does anyone have the right to dismiss the teaching of Christ because children are involved.
We can see this more readily if we consider bigamy, polygamy, homosexuality or some other sinful relationship. We would not entertain the doctrine that one who is guilty of such sins can be baptized and then return to those same sinful relationships acceptably. Then why should anyone think a person could return to adultery? Baptism does not make adultery into a marriage acceptable to God. Those who teach otherwise teach a false doctrine that will cause many who believe and follow it to be lost. Too often religious teachers attempt to accommodate sinful circumstances rather than teach people how to be saved.
Is not desertion scriptural grounds for divorce? To be sure, desertion is a sin (First Timothy 5:8). But it is not grounds for divorce. But one asks about First Corinthians 7:15. Let us read the passage. “But if the unbelieving depart, let him deport. A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.”
What is the “bondage” of this verse? It is a bondage of slavery. It refers to a bondage under which the Christian has not lived to his or her mate. Marriage is not a master-slave relationship. The word translated “bondage” is found 134 times in the New Testament and in the 133 other times it never refers to the marriage bond. But in this chapter the marriage bond is mentioned twice, but with a different word altogether. The marriage bond is from “deo” while the bondage of First Corinthians 7:15 is from “doulou." Should an unbeliever desert his Christian mate the Christian must remember that he is a servant of Christ, and must not abandon Christ simply to hold on to this unbelieving mate. Let him go. One is never so bound to a mate as to be justified in leaving Christ. Nothing is said of divorce in this chapter, but rather, in the event of separation of a Christian from his or her mate, the admonition is that there are two alternatives open: (1) be reconciled to the mate, or (2) remain unmarried. A divorce and remarriage is not given as an acceptable alternative. Only fornication is the grounds for divorce in the Scriptures.
Should a Christian who is married to a non-Christian leave the non-Christian? The answer is, “No.” (First Corinthians 7:12-14). If the non-Christian mate is content to dwell with the Christian, then remain together. If the non-Christian wishes to leave, rather than forsake Christ, the Christian should let them leave. The Christian should bend every effort to convert the unconverted mate (First Peter 3:1,2).
A far better solution to this problem is to marry one who is a Christian. One has calculated that seven out of ten who marry outside the church will eventually leave the church. Only one in six convert their mates. What a spiritual risk to the Christian and to children that may be born into a divided religious home. We cannot overemphasize the extent of folly in marrying outside of Christ.
When is one married? This may seem a rather peculiar question, but with the barrage against the very institution of marriage we must consider it. Some have scoffed at marriage, asking, “What difference does a piece of paper make? What difference does a ceremony make? Why not just begin living together?” We would like someone to tell us the difference between whoremongering and living in adultery and fornication and the lifestyle that allows two people to just start living together without the benefit of being married.
The difference between living together and being married is that one is according to God’s law and the other is a violation of God’s law. That may not make much difference to the ungodly, but it makes a difference to those who respect God. Christians will obey the laws of the land (Romans 13:1; First Peter 2:13,14). God is the One who performed the first “ceremony.” A ceremony is bringing one to the other in recognition of a new relationship. God is the first to do this (Genesis 2:22). He saw fit to denote a point when the relationship is a reality, and so should we.
Some have suggested that marriage does not exist until sexually consummated. But if that is true, what you have is two single people coming together into a sexual relationship. That is fornication, not marriage. Sexual relationship is a privilege of marriage, not that which makes one married. Joseph and Mary were married before they came together. If one is not married until there is sexual intercourse, and upon intercourse there is marriage, then every fornicator becomes married when he or she commits fornication. That is absurd.
When the preacher, or whoever performs the ceremony in marriage says, “I pronounce you husband and wife...” then the two are married, not before, and not at some later point. The ceremony is the point of commitment being recognized and the point where the relationship is changed. Should the groom die immediately prior to that pronouncement, the prospective bride is not a widow. But if he dies immediately thereafter, she is a widow. Even the inheritance laws of the land admit this.
Who has the right of marriage? There are three classes of people who have the right to marry according to God’s will. One, those who have never married (First Corinthians 7:36). Two, those who have married but their mates have died (Romans 7:5; First Corinthians 7:39). Three, those who have married but are divorced because they put away their mate because the mate was guilty of fornication. The Scriptures do not grant the privilege of marriage to any others. Respect for this teaching will prevent and resolve many of the marital problems now in existence.
Marriage is not an obligation, but a privilege. One does not sin to marry, nor does one sin to not marry. But if one marries he or she is obligated to obey God’s will regulating it. When one is married he or she is obligated to live according to the law governing marriage.
There ought be no division over such an important matter. There is no cause for controversy and no room for compromise. Homes, souls, the eternal destiny of untold numbers of people may well be determined by the acceptance or rejection of the teaching of the Bible regarding marriage.
1. Where did marriage originate?
2. What are the purposes for marriage?
3. How long are marriages to last?
4. When will God allow divorce?
5. If one divorces for other reasons, is this wrong?
6. If one divorces for other reasons than fornication and remarries, what is the
spiritual condition of that person?
7. May one divorce for just any cause provided they do not remarry?
8. What “bondage” is under consideration in 1 Cor. 7:15?
9. When is a person married?
10. Is desertion grounds for divorce?
11. Must there be sexual union before marriage is marriage?
12. Who has the right to marry?