Clear Bible Passages
On Divorce and Remarriage
The Proper Interpretation of Scripture
The first prerequisite in knowing any biblical truth is to establish a sound scriptural premise. Any argument, even if it seems like a strong argument, if based upon a false premise, is error, no matter how logical or pleasant it sounds. Our present day doctrine, based upon a false premise, is already producing bitter water, bad fruit and moral decay in our families.
The first two rules of proper interpretation ofScripture are:
Establish a scriptural premise. This means to find as many Scripture verses as you can that agree and use them as a basis for establishing a doctrine.
Passages that seem unclear should be interpreted in the light of passages that are clear. Then a verdict can be rendered.xxv If the prevailing doctrinal foundation being promoted in much of our Christian culture today contains errors; it will become very difficult for anyone to come to a biblical worldview. Any worldview in the Church other than a biblical worldview is destined for spiritual destruction. Jesus spoke of the importance of a proper foundation in Matthew chapter seven:
And everyone that heareth these sayings (words) of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. Matthew 7:26, 27.
Properly presenting Christ’s saying is one of the most critical tasks any servant of Christ ever faces.
If we distort His words, the Church will ultimately suffer damages.
Let’s remind ourselves again of a vital premise; principles of sound biblical interpretation are best preserved when scriptural passages which seem unclear are interpreted in the light of those passages which are clear. If we compare and evaluate Scripture with Scripture, we find the Bible to be its own best commentary.
One rule of comparing Scripture, which must not be disregarded is; the plain verses are the main verses. All obscure and seemingly contradictory verses must submit to those verses which are clear and concise. If this method is faithfully followed, the unclear, or obscure and seemingly contradictory verses will become clear and harmonious with the clear verses and a sound verdict can be rendered.
If you read the majority of materials available on marriage, divorce and remarriage in Christian book stores, you could very easily come away with writings to support any number of opinions. Most however are based upon life experience and opinions and are not totally based upon scripture. Most present day books begin and end with the Erasmian Theory, which is today called the Matthew/Pauline exception theory. This theory is an attempt to explain a verse of Scripture which we choose to label as an unclear verse. These same present day books then proceed to explain away the clear Scripture passages as being irrelevant or incomplete. This is why we believe it is very important for us to realize this theory was not devised in the New Testament nor by the earliest Church fathers, but in the sixteenth century, by Desiderius Erasmus; and was then perpetuated and enlarged upon by the Reformers.
When the “exception Scripture passages” are honestly compared to the clear passages, containing no exceptions, they seem to contradict the clear passages. If we are to build a truly Biblical basis for this subject, it is imperative we understand what the clear passages say first, and then compare them with the seemingly contradictory verses, which Erasmus “re-interpreted.”
Before we can determine an answer to the divorce problem in our society, we must go back to the foundation; the very beginning; to the actual institution of marriage. If we miss or distort the pure teaching here in the slightest degree, we will be building beautiful castles in the sky of men’s ideas, with no authoritative foundation. Any valid solution must be based solely upon the complete revelation in God’s Word, which also requires beginning at the beginning, comparing Scripture with Scripture and reevaluating all we have assumed in the past.
Genesis 2: 21-24
In the Beginning: The inception of marriage.
And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. Genesis 2:21-24
From this portion of Scripture, we can clearly see God intended one man and one woman to have a “one flesh” relationship for life. They were to leave their parents and “cleave” or be glued to each other; with no acknowledgement of separation or divorce whatsoever.
When Adam spoke his words of acceptance, God immediately spoke up and said, “Therefore…” Something very significant had just taken place which caused God, the Creator, to say, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Adam’s verbal receiving of Eve established the first marriage covenant, which caused the Creator to supernaturally make them “one flesh” for life. The prophet, Malachi, affirms this fact.
Malachi 2:13-16 God hates divorce.
And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand. Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, he God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously. Malachi 2:13-16
In this passage we see:
• God did not accept the sacrifices of these Jews because they divorced their wives.
• Marriage is established by a verbal covenant.xxvi
• God hates divorce.
• Divorce and remarriage always produces negative spiritual and social repercussions.
In the above portion of Scripture we find the Lord God speaking through His servant, Malachi, to a people immersed in confusion and consternation because of their failure to obey His standards concerning marriage. This scene is reminiscent of Samuels’ confrontation with King Saul, when Saul refused to wait for the prophet to arrive before offering the required sacrifices to the Lord.
When Saul attempted to make excuses for his impatience, Samuel reminded him of a divine principle we all should be reminded of today: “…Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.” I Samuel 15:22
New Testament Gospels
Jesus said to his disciples, “Whosoever shall put away his wife except it be for fornication and shall marry another, committeth adultery.” Matthew 5:32
Jesus told the Pharisees,
“Whosoever shall put away (divorce) his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whoso marrieth her which is put away (divorced) doth commit adultery.” Matthew 19:9
And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery. Mark 10: 2-12
On several occasions, the Gospel writers recorded how the Jewish religious leaders tried to trap Jesus. We see in the Scripture above how Mark recorded a particular incident when the Pharisees attempted to entrap Jesus concerning the subject of divorce. These men wanted Him to take sides with either the liberal divorce group of Rabbi Hillel, or the conservative group of Rabbi Shammai. These two groups disagreed over the interpretation of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 24.
It was very interesting to see how Jesus’ answer completely disregarded both Hillel, and Shammai.
He even bypassed Moses, along with the Pharisees’s interpretation of Moses, by stating a husband and wife are not to remarry under any circumstances. Later on, when the disciples asked about this teaching, He clearly declared, any husband who divorces his wife and remarries while his wife is still alive, commits adultery. He then made it even stronger by saying any wife who divorces her husband and remarries while her husband is still alive, commits adultery; with no exceptions.
Jesus said to the Jewish leaders (Pharisees), “Whosoever putteth away (divorces) his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” Luke 16:18
Please note again there is no exception here; unlike what is seemingly found in Matthew 5:27-32 and 19:3-9, “except it be for fornication.”
We could paraphrase what Jesus said in Luke by saying: If anyone ever, for any reason, divorces their wife or husband and marries another, they are committing adultery, with no exceptions and no ambiguity. Remember, without exception this is what all of the earliest Church fathers believed.
The first word to note in this verse is “Whosoever.” This same word is found in John 3:16, and applies to all mankind, thus giving this truth universal application. This particular application, as in John 3:16, applies to any offspring of Adam and Eve, Christian or non-Christian.
To illustrate what Jesus was very clearly saying, we could say: if Dick and Jane are married and Dick divorces Jane and marries Sally; the remarriage is not a marriage at all, but constitutes adultery in God’s sight.
If adultery is sex outside the marriage bond with someone other than your original spouse, then Jesus is saying Dick’s act of divorcing Jane and marrying Sally, did not BREAK the original covenant marriage bond; it only violated it. Most people today would say Dick divorced Jane and is now married to Sally. Today this would be considered a typical divorce and remarriage. We must see these actions through God’s eyes, because Jesus said Dick and Jane were still one flesh, and therefore, by Dick marrying Sally; “They committeth adultery,” according to Jesus’ words in Luke 16:18. This clearly reveals Dick was having a sexual relationship with someone other than his wife, Jane, and called the new relationship, “adultery.” After Dick divorced Jane and married Sally; Jesus said Dick was committing ADULTERY against Jane. Jesus extended this reasoning another step, by adding; if Tom comes along and marries Jane, who has already been divorced by Dick and is considered the “innocent” party; Tom would also be committing adultery and causing Jane to commit adultery against Dick as well. By Tom marrying Jane they both became adulterers.
Let’s read it again: “And whosoever (Tom) marrieth her (Jane) that is put away (divorced) from her husband (Dick), committeth adultery.” This is Christ’s conclusion because in God’s sight, the marriage covenant between Dick and Jane is still valid until death. Like Dick, Jane would be having sexual relations with someone other than her covenant husband. Remember, the Lord Jesus Himself said this without adding any exceptions whatsoever.
This verse (Luke 16:18) when taken at face value, tells us God hears, honors and supernaturally acts upon the first marriage vows any previously unmarried man and woman make to each other, by binding them as “one flesh” for life. By doing so, God considers meaningless any future divorce or multiple marriage certificates. They are forbidden and totally unrecognizable or acceptable in His sight. Other examples of “forbidden marriages” include:
• A mother with her son.
• A father with his daughter.
• A man with a man.
• A woman with a woman.
• Any remarriage while one’s first partner is still alive.
For God to recognize new vows with Dick and Sally or Tom and Jane, He would have to violate His own holiness, righteousness and justice. God set the terms of the marriage covenant; it is “till death.”
No other conclusion of this portion of Scripture can be reached if interpreted in its most natural and logical meaning. If we interpret it any other way, we must also say the disciples’ response to what they heard Jesus say was a monumental overreaction: “If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.” Matthew 19:10
If Christ meant that it was okay to divorce and remarry, then the disciples totally overreacted.
“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 (literally glued together), let not man put asunder.” Matthew 19:5-6
The Living Bible says: “And no man may divorce what God has joined together.”
Epistles Romans 7:2,3
The Law of Marriage
For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Romans 7:2-3
Many people say Paul wasn’t speaking about marriage in this passage as they try to justify remarriage. These same people fail to realize they are repeating Erasmus’ and Luther’s rationalizations, and not Scripture. Not one of the earliest church fathers ever believed or taught this.
Such an interpretation scripturally, contextually and exegetically does not hold water. Paul was comparing how the Law (Decalogue) was applicable to any person until they died just like the marriage covenant is in effect until one or the other married person dies. Paul clearly teaches in this passage that marriage is for life, declaring, anyone who gets remarried while their spouse is still alive is considered an adulteress or an adulterer.
• This is what Paul consistently believed and taught.
• Is this what your church teaches?
• Is this what you believe and teach?
• Is this what your life demonstrates?
I Corinthians 7:10, 11
Paul on Marriage
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. I Corinthians 7:10-11
Again, Paul clearly teaches a woman must either be reconciled to her husband or live alone. He does not even suggest she find another husband. He also says that a man is not to even consider divorcing his wife. It should be noted here, this portion is applicable in reverse, inasmuch as a wife should not divorce her husband and if a husband leaves, he should also remain unmarried, or be reconciled to his wife. This dual responsibility is affirmed in
Mark 10: 11, 12.
• Is this what you believe, teach and practice?
• This is what the New Testament teaches.