Wednesday, September 9

May the Divorced Remarry?

This question has plagued people now for centuries. The consensus in many “Bible-believing churches (should this be redundant?)” is that Jesus said it was an absolute no-no because God has decreed that every marriage is forever, end of discussion. But is this the case?

Before going farther, there is no intent here to encourage anyone to take the marriage vows any less seriously. “Til death do us part” still means the same thing and, as many of us know, divorce can be even worse than death for those so-affected. If you are married, then unless your life is in real danger, that is, if at all possible, make it work, please! Many go running out that “back door” only to find themselves slammed through the brick wall on the other side of the doorway.

If Jesus said that divorce is a sin, and that those divorced must stay single, then we have an interpretation problem. In the Sermon on the Mount He had said that He would not be changing “one jot or one tittle” of the Law of Moses, but to fulfill it. As a body, it is “fulfilled” when every figure and prediction has come to pass. At present count, the 2/3 which covers the Second Coming and the Kingdom Age is yet to happen. The Law, then, including the parts in which God gave the statutes for divorce as well as the parts for honoring parents, respecting others' property, and loving God with our all, are still in effect.

“Giving divorce?” Yes, before the Giving of the Law divorce did not exist. A man had all rights in the marriage, including to expect a deserted wife to wait for him indefinitely in case he wanted to come back in a few years and sell her and her children on the auction block. God, through Moses, changed this for His people. “For the hardness of your hearts it was given” Jesus said. To protect the injured party from continued neglect, abuse, or infidelity the Law al lowed a clean break, with a certificate to show that person was free to remarry or, as Moses wrote it, “free to go where she will.” Marriage, even remarriage, was the norm because of God's command to “be fruitful and multiply” and the male-driven economy which made it nigh-to-impossible for a woman to strike out on her own. This would have been the exception, not the rule.

If we but recognise that Jesus is, Himself, the Word, the Logos, of God, then we see that for Him to change course with any detail of the Law would be for Him to contradict Himself as the Law-Giver. It was not His purpose to outlaw divorce, or any other detail of the Law. As much as it can hurt, and yes it can be about like an amputation, if the amputation takes years to complete and the anesthetic is in short supply. But like an amputation it is not done for cosmetic purposes unless one is either incredibly dense or psychotic, but to save a life. In like manner, for the Church to marginalise the divorced would be like a handicapped parking spot being open for all but amputees.

Is this the whole story? Not by a long shot. There is more- We have yet to touch on Jesus actual words on the subject, or the implications in the Church for leadership, or the charge given to modern pastors and leaders for dealing with the situation as it stands. But this is a good spot to stop for questions. What's yours?


  1. Can I have 2 wives? That could be a lot of fun! And then again, I could have two persons in my life I can't quite figure out.

  2. I m still awaiting your remarks about Complementarianism and gender-based eldership of the church.


  4. Dr. John Owen is Right ON!!! Thanks to Covenant of Grace for keeping that available. Thank you to Anony Mouse for providing the Link.

  5. Here is another take on the subject:
    "What God Has Joined: What does the Bible really teach about divorce?"
    David Instone-Brewer | posted 10/05/2007 08:39AM

    Sure - you can divorce, but I would not advise it. Statistics show that 50+% of first marriages end in divorce. 80+% of second marriages end in divorce. 90% of third marriages end in divorce.

    Sure you can live together before marriage, but I would not advise that either. Statistics show those who have cohabitated before marriage double their chances of divorce.

    Sometimes divorce is a mercy, but it is never painless or inconsequential. It tears childrens' hearts in half and scars the hearts of the adults as well.

    I went through a divorce after 32 years of marriage and lost my first husband after 7 weeks of marriage due to a plane crash.

    There is no pain like a lost marriage...none. My the price and do the work to make it work if you can.

  6. With so many Episcopal/Anglican/Continuing Bishops and priests practicing Serial-Monogomy, what could possibly be wrong with it? Why, its almost as fashionable as being Ambisexual.

  7. I think Fad Faith has its place. If I turn my scripture at certain angles, I can get it to agree with me. Great, how I have two well meaning persons here telling me the Word says two opposing things. One says the Big D (no, not Dallas) is ok, and one can re-marry (well, unless you were the adultress), and the other says, God says -"NO!" What God has joined together, let NO ONE -did I see "No One?"

    Anyway, I am now more confused then when this began. The Bible says I can. The Bible says I can't What else does it say and not say? Is that part of the same sex marriage issue? The Bible says, sort of says, or doesn't specifically address? aargh!

  8. OK, I guess no answer is an answer! The Bible does not answer in black and white the questions regarding single-sex unions, women as leaders in Church, and whether someone can divorce and once divorced can remarry. What's the point then of all this speculation. Love the person in your path. If they seek forgiveness, forgive them. Live on. As far as using Scripture, focus on the main issues that it does fully and completely support without human phrase twisting and theological pretzel making. I could give up at this point. This is all so disappointing.

  9. In the whole of Luke’s gospel, there is just one context in which the verbs "divorce" and "marry" appear together, Luke 16:18. That single verse ought to contribute to a correct understand of Jesus’ attitude toward divorce and remarriage. In many English translations, the first half of it says, Any man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.

    Here Jesus appears to teach that a man who has divorced his wife should not remarry. Apparently, Jesus would not consider a man an adulterer if he divorced his wife but did not remarry. Does this simplistic interpretation of a difficult verse do justice to Jesus' approach to Torah?

    Luke 16:18 is full of Semitic idioms, indicating that he may have uttered it in Hebrew or Aramaic. One of the most effective ways to approach such a passage is first to put its Greek text into Hebrew, then study the Hebrew resonstruction to see if it contributes to our understanding of the verse.

    The key to Luke 16:18a turns out to be finding the best translation for the Hebrew word vav (and), appearing in our text as the Greek word kai (and).

    While the English word "and" can mean "also", "as well as", or can connect words or phrases like a comma, the Biblical Hebrew word vav can do the work of "but", "or", "so", "then", "namely", "since", "while", "on the contrary", and more.

    "In order to" or "so that" is another meaning of vav, known as "the and of purpose or intention." It occurs in Biblical Hebrew in such places as Exodus 7:16, "Let my people go, and [i.e., so that] they may worship me in the wilderness." The sense of "in order to" for vav is also attested in Mishnaic or Middle Hebrew, the language that many scholars believe Jesus spoke.

    Contrary to normal Greek Usage, Greek's kai (and) apparently is used in Luke 16:18a in the "purpose or intention" sense. The Greek text reverts easily and smoothly into beautiful Hebrew: kol hamegarech et ishto venose aheret, mena'ef, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries [i.e., in order to marry] another [f.] is committing adultery."

    And if we look at Luke 16:18b in light of this translation, Jesus' words should act as a warning: a husband who divorces his wife in order to marry another sets in motion a chain of disaster in his life and the lives of others.

    (The above is from the research paper of Dr. David Bivin, "And" or "In Order To" Marry)

    Your comments?
    Br_er Rabbit.

  10. Dr. Blivin must make some assumptions and take some liberties to get to this spot, namely the pivotting notion that Jesus "may have uttered it in Hebrew or Aramaic," therefore we look to translate it in Hebrew. The outcome while plausible and assuring to some, is still a conjecture leap.

    I for one am still left with the understanding there is no truly clear answer to this divorce/remarriage issue as well as the other notions I mentioned earlier (single-sex relationships/unions and women as leaders in Church). I guess we are left to twist our own position together and rationalize our defense using our artful theo-pretzel. Trouble is, all that rationalizing, conjecture, and theological reasoning stands to burn away before the Bema seat. I am now more confused, more fearful, and more terrified about my walk and my spiritual condition. I can only hope God's grace, mercy and love will cover my known and unrealised transgressions.

  11. Anon, Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, primarily in Hebrew, the older notion of the domination of Aramaic as a spoken language among the Jews of Jesus' time has been getting less and less currency. Although the early church used the Greek Septuagint, it is now known that the scriptures read in the Synagogue were almost uniformly in Hebrew.

    In addition, it is recognized that 1) Hebrew was the preferred spoken language among Jewish revolutionaries as late as Bar Kochba in AD 135, and 2) Hebrew was the spoken language of religious discourse: that is, when learned scholars discussed scripture, they discussed it in Hebrew.

    In the full article, it is Bivin's contention that the context for Luke 16:18 is similar to (if not the identical occasion of) the context of Matthew 19, where learned scholars are testing out Jesus' knowledge and opinions.

    The least likely case would be for Jesus to be speaking in Greek. The nonstandard syntax of verses like these make for tortured Greek, but fall nicely (Bivin says "beautifully") into Semitic patterns of speech.

    Much of the linguistic background of the synoptic Gospels is Semitic in origin, and a back-translation into Hebrew often reveals Semitic figures of speech that illuminate the Greek translation.

    I disagree with our blog host, in that I consider divorce to be a sin--all the time, every instance, both parties. That does not mean it is always avoidable. But hardness of heart is clearly, by Jesus' standards, a named sin.

  12. i am intrigued by what you are saying regarding the Hebrew, and I hope this is true. Call sin a sin then right? Divorce, no matter how you ended up there is a sin. A sin which must cause us to find God's mercy and forgiveness, regardless of the reason for the divorce. We need the forgiveness offered at the cross? But, what if I want to remarry? What if I find a person who loves our Lord and wants to share that faith and themselves with me. This remarriage would also be a sin, but should I enter in knowing this is so, and anticipate forgiveness later?

  13. AS far as the theological ben upon which I wrest, I lean toward a theology thatpresupposes God's Word alone as our ultimate authority.
    It stresses the sovereignty of God, that is, His reign over all things, meticulously determining (Eph 1:11) all that comes to pass (i.e. God is never taken by surprise).
    I believe in a Christ-Centered proclamation of the gospel, that salvation is wholly of God, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as revealed in the Scripture alone to the Glory of God alone.
    I am bent to views the Bible as a redemptive-historical organic unfolding of revelation which is structured by three covenants (redemption, works and grace).

    Maybe this will be a stumbling block to our discussions. I hope not. I needed to plant somewhere, but I pray I have a heart that is pliable if I am in error. Please bear through this with me.

  14. "This remarriage would also be a sin, but should I enter in knowing this is so, and anticipate forgiveness later?"

    So says one of the anon's above. (It would surely be helpful if all these anon's would differentiate themselves.)

    As implied by my posts, I hold the position, supported by scripture, that remarriage is not a sin, unless a person obtained a divorce with the intention to (re-)marry a specific person. In other words, if another woman looks better to you than the one you're married to, it would be a sin to obtain a divorce so that you could marry her.

  15. Mr. Bruno, I am all the Anons from Sibyl's comment on down. I do appreciate your insights, and what you have said makes a lot of sense. The text seems to take on its intended meaning when you place it back where it was originally spoken. There, we can more clearly grasp the nuances and intended meanings. That insight by itself, aside from this particular issue, is most helpful. Maybe I need to matriculate at Trinity Episcopal School For Ministry (if it is still there)just so I can be nearby. Then, we could go up to Eagle Rock or President area along the Allegheny and catch some fish. I have a lot to learn about Scripture . . . and about fishin'. The Allegheny I know! IHS Anon2

  16. IHS, thanks for the comments. What you will not learn from clicking on my name above this post is that I have personally experienced all of the vicissitudes of divorce and remarriage. I was deeply troubled by my status as a result of this, as you appear to be, while I was pursuing degrees in religion on the west coast. As part of that exercise, I researched and produced two major papers on the subject of divorce and remarriage.

    What I learned is that we serve a God of second chances. In my previous work I served alongside former heroin addicts and thieves who had been called to serve as evangelists and pastors. If God could raise up the likes of these, he could also raise up me. And, IHS, he can raise up you.

    Signing out as known elsewhere,
    Br_er Rabbit

  17. Again, Bruno, thank you for your assistance. I actually had done a bit more than click on your name before I responded last time. I did some research on Saint Aiden Lindisfarne including its Statement of Faith, the Doctrinal Essentials,, the Right Reverend Alan Morris, Colin Munroe (I am sure I have met him before along the Way). I read about your heart for and work with the people of Gulfport. I read about the Convergence Movement, the connection with the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Chrches. I read Alan's article "The Spiritual Distinctives of The Missionary Diocese of Saint Aidan Lindisfarne." I wanted to know (at least generally) where you were coming from to better understand and to not ignorantly offend you.

    For a time, I criss-crossed this country and visited a couple others as a musician. I was very blessed to meet so many of God's children. With each person, I discovered a unique faith construct - as unique as the person. It truly caused me to find the essentials of faith, to be flexible, maybe even pliable, when experiencing anothers faith-life no matter how uncomfortable I felt. When I began this journey of faith at least from my heartfelt acknowledgement 37 years ago, I was very guarded ultra-conservative high church in thought.From those very humble beginnings, the journey has torn down much of my suppositions. I am now trying to reconstruct my "theology" if you will. There seem to be so many things I thought were black and white Scripturally, that are in some cases hanging by suppositions. albeit well researched ones, but theory all the same. It is daunting and frankly a little frightening to my spirit. I can hope only that Jesus did die for me, that I have not lost His salvation by my actions, that I can and will still be able to call Him Father. Please forgive my persistence and for assuming some much upon you. If my inquiries personal and of doctrine have offended you or upset you in any way, I am deeply sorry. Seeking the real Joy! IHS

  18. Y'all, from some glitch I'm just now seeing this exchange (Thanks, Rolin, for notifying me!). IHS, I would really like to be able to hear more of your journey/experience some time.

    Rolin, on the question of whether divorce is a sin, I have to look at 1 Corin. 10:13, that God gives us a "way of escape" rather than have us "tempted beyond (our) ability," as the stress of living out a one-sided marriage "covenant" can be. Abuse, neglect, denial, and adultery are seriously outworkings of "the hardness of your hearts" from which God gave a "way of escape" through the civil process of divorce. There was apparently no such thing as divorce before the Law, and if a wife had to flee an abusive home she still belonged legally to her husband and could not marry or have many legitimate means of support. "Courtly love" and women's rights have levelled that field somewhat so that men are also at risk. but life on Earth being what it is, I think it is best to recognise that using the back door / emergency exit provided by the very Author of marriage (if used properly) is not a sin any more than using a fire escape to escape a fire. I understand some people use fire escapes for criminal purposes, but that is another discussion, to my way of thinking.

  19. Sibyl, thank you for your contribution! I often characterise divorce as an amputation- but only if one can imagine an amputation taking years of work with a dull saw. Yes, by all means, do what it takes to build a marriage, if there is even a shred of hope to be found! Some, however, from "the hardness of (their) hearts," insist on tearing down their own house despite all pleas and reasons, and we can only be responsible for another person's foolishness so far. In Jesus, we do have hope, and healing, beyond our imaginations. Thanks be to God!

  20. "Abuse, neglect, denial, and adultery are seriously outworkings of "the hardness of your hearts" from which God gave a "way of escape" through the civil process of divorce."

    There is evidence that the early church recognized the necessity of divorce. Origen in A.D. 246 noted the discrepancy between the practice of Bishops who were granting permission for divorce and the demands of scripture. Yet he noted that they had reasons for their actions, and were avoiding greater evils.

    (citation from: Bishop Peter L’Huiller, “The Indissolubility of Marriage in Orthodox Law and Practice,” pp 199-201 in Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 32.03, 203. This article was to be published in a later issue of Studia Canonica.)


So what's your take?