Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage
Dr. Mike Johnston
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
I open by making a heartfelt plea: If by any means you can avoid divorce – DO IT! To begin with, marriage is a divinely created covenant entered into by one man and one woman as one flesh who vow to “love, honor, and cherish” one another as long as they both shall live. God says that “he hateth putting away”, considering it an act of violence and treachery (Mal. 2:16). The Lord Jesus revealed the severity of divorce with a warning that breaking the covenant with a living spouse renders both the husband and wife commandment breaking adulterers (Ex. 20:14) – unless the severing is the result of fornication.
“The Pharisees also came unto (Jesus), 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 … Here’s the caveat: “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” (excerpted from Matthew 19:3-9).
Here’s the caveat: “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” (Matthew 19:3-9).
Fornication and divorce
The English word “fornication” is from the Greek por-ni’-ah. It’s where we get our word pornography. Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary defines it as follows:
“harlotry (including adultery and incest); figuratively idolatry: – fornication.” The Complete Word Study Dictionary by Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D., Editor adds that the word includes “lewdness, any sexual sin.” This means that the word also covers sexual deviancy such as bestiality and sodomy (Lev. 18: 22-23).
But here’s a startling fact. Sexual promiscuity isn’t its primary usage. Easton unveils a facet of this word many don’t know and have never considered. “This word is more frequently used in a symbolical than in its ordinary sense … it means the forsaking of God …” (Isa_1:2; Jer_2:20; Ezek. 16; Hos_1:2; Hos_2:1-5; Jer_3:8, Jer_3:9). The OT prophets pictured it as “playing the harlot” (Jer. 2:20; see Jer. 3:1, 6, 8; Ezek. 16:5; etc), and called it “adultery” (Jer. 23:13-14; Hos. 4:13-14).
To be fair with context, we must incorporate this definition into Paul’s teaching on divorce if we are to be honest with the real interpretation regarding Biblical grounds. Let me explain.
Paul’s teaching on marriage and divorce – under grace
Paul is the minister to the uncircumcision (Gal. 2:7) in this “dispensation of the grace of God” (Eph. 3:2). He was never married, so his knowledge comes from his training under the famous Jewish scholar Gamaliel, and the “revelation of the mystery” (Rom. 16:25) given to him alone by Christ (Gal. 1:12) which pictures the Church as the Bride (Ephesians 5:25-28).
One of the churches he founded was Corinth, an idol worshiping, hedonist metropolis perhaps like San Francisco. Paul spent eighteen-months there, evangelizing and equipping them for ministry (Acts 18:11). However, after his departure, he received bad news that the church had broken into factions and heresy (1 Cor. 1:10-17).
First Corinthians was Paul’s chapter-by-chapter refutation of every false teaching the Corinthians were confused by including judgment, law suits, the Lord’s supper, spiritual gifts, the gospel, the resurrection, his own apostolic authority, and Christians who were divorcing their spouses which I’ll post and comment on in in [brackets].
1 Cor. 7:10-11: “And unto the married I command [considering vs. 12-13 addresses spouses that believeth not, this passage appears to be directed to Christians], yet not I, but the Lord [Paul teaches what Christ Himself taught], Let not the [Christian] wife depart from her [Christian] husband [focus on arbitrary abandonment by the Christian wife]: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband [since the wife initiated this groundless separation, she cannot be remarried while the husband lives]: and let not the husband put away his wife” [frivolous, groundless divorce is not tolerated by wives or husbands].
Once again, pay attention to the specific language in the passage above: it is primarily addressed to a wife who arbitrarily and frivolously breaks the marriage covenant by forsaking her husband which we define in our earlier discussion as a form of fornication. Therefore, there would be NO RESTRICTION on her husband remarrying.
1 Cor. 7:12-13: Now Paul now directs his conversation to spouses that believeth not: “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.”
1 Cor. 7:27-28: Here’s Paul’s final advice on the matter. Notice that this appears as a final summary of his previous discussion wherein permission to marry is fully extended: “Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned …”
Therefore, my counsel to marrieds seeking divorce is simple: pray continually and proceed cautiously!