Many people view divorce and remarriage as one and the same. For instance, the assumption is often made that if a person living in a remarriage situation cannot be accepted as a member in the church, then a person who is divorced is not able to be a member in the church either. When divorce and remarriage are viewed as one and the same, it significantly hinders one from understanding what God says about both divorce and remarriage. The assumption is often made that divorce makes a person single again and that remarriage is the purpose of divorce. Because remarriage is viewed as the purpose for divorce, they view divorce and remarriage as one and the same: if divorce is permitted then remarriage is also. However, this is not the case according to Scripture.
According to Scripture, God makes the man and woman one.
Marriage is more than a marriage certificate from the civil government. In marriage, God makes the man and the woman one. God says about the being made one aspect in Malachi 2:15: “But did not He make them one? Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.”
Jesus also stated that it is God who joins a man and woman together as one flesh in marriage: “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.” Matthew 19:4-6
Divorce is a legal action that the civil government adopted. A couple may go to the church to get married, but they have to go to the civil government to get a divorce. The Church cannot grant a legal divorce. Although divorce can end the legal aspect of a marriage, it cannot end the “one” aspect of the marriage which God has joined together. Once divorce occurs, a person is not single again in God’s judgment, therefore not free to marry another person even if their first spouse has remarried. The “one” union with their spouse can only be ended by the death of one of the marriage partners. According to Jesus, a marriage cannot be ended by the legal proceedings of the court. There will be more on this later.
In the same passage in Malachi 2 God states that he makes the man and woman one, God also clearly states that after divorce the marriage is still binding “yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.” (Malachi 2:14) Divorce does not end the “one” aspect of the marriage that God joined together when they were married.
God also says, “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 7:3
What is the Act or Action that is Adultery in Remarriage?
Jesus makes it clear that adultery occurs in remarriage. This is stated clearly in the following passages:
“whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”
“whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery“ Matt. 19:9;
“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. 10:11,12;
“Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” Luke 16:18;
“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 7:3
The term “adultery” is the Greek word “moichao” Strong’s number 3429. In all the Greek lexicons (dictionaries) I checked there was only one definition given for this word and that is “to commit adultery”. Thayers adds, “to have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife”
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary also gives only one definition for the word adultery: “Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married man and someone other than his wife or between a married woman and someone other than her husband.”
Jesus added to this and stated that a man can commit the sin of adultery in the fantasy of his mind without the physical act taking place. Jesus said that for a man to desire in his mind to have sexual relations with another woman, that man commits adultery in his heart. Matt. 5:28: “But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” According to the definition for the Greek word for adultery that Jesus used, the act or action that is adultery in remarriage is voluntary sexual intercourse with a person whose first husband or wife is still alive. Adultery is not divorce, adulterating the marriage, nor the one time act of remarriage. Adultery is the sexual relations of the remarried couple the first time, and every time thereafter.
Divorce is not adultery
Divorce is a serious act of violence, defiling the spiritual covering we have over our children and every other aspect of the marriage, but nowhere in the Bible does God say that divorce is adultery. There is no definition in any dictionary or Greek lexicon that says that the action of defiling the marriage with divorce is adultery. Adultery is voluntary sexual intercourse, either mentally or physically, where at least one of those involved is married to someone else. Defilement of a marriage is a consequence of adultery. But the defiling of the marriage with a divorce is not adultery. Jesus makes it clear that adultery occurs in the remarriage, not in the divorce. “And whosoever marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” Matt. 19:9b.
When Jesus said, “whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” Matt. 5:32; Matt. 19:9 He said something significant that I did not see for a long time. When Jesus made that statement, He was stating that divorce does not end the first marriage. People have always assumed that divorce ends the first marriage, but Jesus said that it is not true. The sin of adultery can only occur if one or both of the persons involved is married. If neither of the persons are married the term adultery cannot be used. When Jesus said that “whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery”, He was stating that when a man marries a divorced woman he is living with another man’s wife and therefore is guilty of adultery. Divorce does not make a man or a woman single again. Divorce does not end a person’s first marriage. That is why a person commits adultery when they marry or live with a divorced person.
Do you get the significance of Jesus’ use of the word adultery? Adultery could not occur in remarriage if divorce ended the first marriage. Adultery can only occur in remarriage because the divorced spouse is still married to their first marriage partner in Jesus’ judgment. Jesus is the Judge we will stand before, for our hearing on Judgment Day and it is important that we understand our Judge’s reasoning and logic if we want to enter Heaven.
The significance of the sin of adultery in remarriage is that divorce does not end a person’s first marriage! God has joined the husband and wife together as one. “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.'” Matt. 19:4-6. Man’s civil action of divorce in the court system of this earth, does not end the “one flesh and one spirit” aspect of the marriage that God has joined together.
Is the adultery a one time act that occurs only on the day of remarriage or is the adultery the sexual union of the remarried man and woman throughout their marriage? This question is often phrased: “Is it (the sin of adultery) an act or a state?” Many would like to view the adultery in remarriage as a one time act because then the remarried couple can repent of their one time act and continue in their remarried state without separating or making any other changes. But is the adultery in remarriage only a one time act?
The term “commiteth” (adultery) in Matt. 19:9; and Matt. 5:32 is in the present indicative. Spiros Zodhiates states that “The present tense represents contemporaneous action, as opposed to action in the past or the future. It normally refers to continuous or repeated action. However, in the indicative mood, it may represent punctiliar action. The indicative mood is the only mood in which distinctions can regularly be made about the time when an action occurs. Examples: he will go, they had said, she saw.”1 Therefore, the phrase “commits adultery” may refer to a specific time when adultery occurs but it may also refer to continuous or repeated action of adultery. Some have used the present indicative definition to state that the adultery only occurs one time at marriage and does not occur after that. However that conclusion cannot be decisively made from the present indicative. Every act of adultery (sexual relations in remarriage) occurs at a specific point in time and all repeated acts of adultery occur at specific points in time. At the same time the present indicative does not indicate that the act of adultery cannot or does not occur again. There is the possibility with the present indicative that continuous or repeated action of adultery does occur.
God states that the sexual intercourse of a divorced and remarried couple is adultery. Therefore each time they have sexual intercourse they commit an act of adultery. As they continue to have sexual relations and there is no repentance, it becomes a state of adultery. Therefore, adultery in remarriage is both an act each time it occurs, and a continuing state of sinning. The action of remarriage is adultery.
Both an act or a state of adultery, is sin. Either one bars one from fellowship with Jesus and from entering Heaven. One is guilty of sin before God until they have repented of the sin and stop the sinning. One cannot repent of the “act” of adultery but continue in it and expect God to ignore the fact that they are continuing to commit adultery.
To gain further insight into God’s position on divorce and remarriage, I did a study on God divorcing Israel in the Old Testament. I discovered some interesting things that I had never seen before, that I believe clarifies some of what we wrestle with in the doctrine of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament God uses the analogy of marriage to describe His relationship with His people – in the Old Testament with Israel, and in the New Testament of Christ and the Church.
In Jeremiah 3 God states that He gave Israel a certificate of divorce. However at no point did that annul or end the covenant that He had made with the ten northern tribes of Israel even though Israel had married other gods. Jeremiah 3:1 says “They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? Shall not that land be greatly polluted? But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD.” In spite of the command by Moses in Deut. 24:1-4 that a divorced woman could not return to her first husband, in Jer. 3:1 ( Jews knew divorce was only allowed during the bethrothal period, the woman would have been sent away with divorce papers, called a ‘Get’ because of her fornication with another man. The marriage to her betrothed partner never took place, was not consumated therefore the two never became one in God’s eyes, if it was the Pharisees would have had her stoned.)
God says to Israel, “Yet return again to me.”
God infers that the instruction given in Deut. 24:1-4 on divorce and remarriage is not a command that He gave to Moses. God says in Jer. 3:1 “They say” not “I said” in referring to Deut. 24:1-4. He then goes on to ignore the command that a divorced woman may not return to her first husband by saying “yet return again to me.”
Jesus also implied that divorce and remarriage in Deut. 24:1-4 was something that Moses permitted because the people demanded it, but it was not a permission that God gave. Jesus said that from the beginning it was not so. In Matt. 19:8 Jesus said, ” Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” Jesus at no point indicated that Deut. 24:1-4 was a command that God gave to Moses. Hardness of heart is refusing to believe what God said is sin. Jesus could not endorse the excuse of hardness of heart as justification to do the opposite of what God said.
In addition we see that divorce and remarriage did not end God’s marriage covenant with Israel. In Jer. 3:1-8 God says: ” They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again?Shall not that land be greatly polluted? But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD. 2 Lift up thine eyes unto the high places, and see where thou hast not been lain with men. In the road ways hast thou sat for them, as the Arabian in the wilderness; and thou hast polluted the land with thy whoredoms and with thy wickedness. 3 Therefore the showers have been with holden, and there hath been no latter rain; and thou hadst a whore’s forehead, thou refused to be ashamed. 4 Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My father, thou art the guide of my youth? 5 Will he reserve his anger for ever? Will he keep it to the end? Behold, thou hast spoken and done evil things as thou couldest. 6 The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. 7 And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. 8 And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.”
God asks Israel to return. He says in v. 14 “For I am married unto you” Jer. 3:12-14 “Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the LORD; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever. 13 Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the LORD thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the LORD. 14 Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:”
Ezekiel was younger than Jeremiah. Ezekiel wrote from captivity in Babylon after Israel’s divorce. He testifies that God’s covenant with Israel was not ended by divorce and remarriage. Ez. 20:40-44 “For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the first fruits of your oblations, with all your holy things. 41 I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen. 42 And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to your fathers. 43 And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed. 44 And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have wrought with you for my name’s sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.”
- Neither divorce or remarriage ends the first marriage. God said to Israel after He had given her a certificate of divorce, “For I am married to you” Jer.3:14
- Therefore, in remarriage adultery occurs as if there had been no divorce.
- God indicates, and Jesus confirms, that Moses’ command allowing divorce and remarriage and prohibiting the returning to the first spouse after remarriage, was not a command that God gave to Moses. It is was something that Moses permitted because of the hardness of people’s hearts, and is not one we are to follow, nor can we use it to justify divorce and remarriage. It was never God’s will from the beginning. Matt. 19:8 “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.”
- God’s desire is that the first covenant marriage partners leave all other marriage partners, return, and be reconciled to each other. God said, “Yet return to me” Jer. 3:1
- One must never give up hope that a wayward spouse will return. (Prodigals are humbled by the LORD)
In looking at whether divorce nullifies the first marriage in God’s eyes and therefore makes it permissible for a remarried couple to remain remarried, there are several additional passages of Scripture that indicate that divorce does not end a person’s first marriage.
In Malachi 2, God indicates that even though divorce occurs that He still views them as married. In v.14 He states after the divorce has occurred “yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.” God says here that divorce does not end the marriage covenant. After the divorce she is still his wife and companion.
Another passage is Mk. 6:17,18. This is the account of King Herod and Herodias. Even though Herod was not to marry the wife of his brother there is another observation here. The Jewish historian Josephus writing in the latter part of the first century AD tells us that Herodias was divorced from her first husband and had married Herod. This passage indicates that even though she was divorced and remarried she was still considered the wife of her first husband by God. ” It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.” If divorce nullified the first marriage in God’s eyes, then it would not matter who she married after the divorce. She would no longer be the wife of anyone and it would not be possible for her to marry her husband’s brother, because she would not have a husband to marry his brother. John the Baptist was killed by Herod and Herodias because he told them they needed to separate from their immoral remarriage relationship. It was not a message they wanted to hear! John the Baptist, became a martyr because of the stance he took on the divorce and remarriage situation.
If remarriage had nullified the first marriage, Herod and Herodias would not have been living in sin. Herodias was divorced and remarried so they were living in sin.
There is not any example or teaching in Scripture that the act of remarriage ends the first marriage. Nor is there any place in the Bible where the making of a covenant with a second person ended the covenant with the first person. Jesus clearly stated that remarriage does not end the first marriage when He said “Whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” The first marriage is not ended by remarriage. A person can commit adultery only with someone else’s husband or wife. If both of the persons involved in sexual immorality are single it is fornication not adultery.
To say that remarriage ends the first marriage is to say that remarriage is the “divorce” from the first marriage. There is nothing that Jesus said that would indicate that remarriage was “divorce” from the first marriage. Romans 7:3 states clearly that remarriage does not end the first marriage and that only death ends the first marriage. “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.” I have not found any place in the Bible that would indicate that remarriage is the “divorce” or an event that ends the first marriage.