The Gospel Coalition

I preached this sermon, entitled "What Did Jesus Think of Divorce and Remarriage," at URC on October 24, 2010. The bulk of the sermon moves through seven principles of divorce and remarriage.

1. Marriage is the sacred union between one man and one woman and God's intention is for marriage to last a lifetime.

2. Divorce is not always sinful.

3. Divorce is permitted, but not required, on the ground of sexual immorality.

4. Divorce is permitted, but not required, on the ground of desertion by an unbelieving spouse.

5. When the divorce was not permissible, any subsequent remarriage (to someone other than the original spouse) results in adultery.

6. In situations where the divorce was permissible, remarriage is also permissible.

7. Improperly divorced and remarried Christians should stay as they are, but repent and be forgiven of their past sins and make whatever amends are necessary.

Since the topic is so difficult, nuanced, and emotional, I wrote out a manuscript--just to be extra careful. The whole sermon, with a few minor tweaks, is reprinted below.

*******


There are a couple challenges that make preaching on divorce and remarriage especially difficult. One challenge is that there are so many legitimate approaches I could take with this sermon.

I could make the sermon a warning: “Marriage is sacred. Remember your vows. Jesus never encouraged divorce. So don’t do it.” I could legitimately preach this way because the weight of the New Testament falls on the side of warning against divorce.

But I could also use the sermon to talk about God’s compassion for those who have been hurt in marriage, or those left behind in marriage, or those sinned against in marriage.

I could take the sermon in a different direction encourage those who have sinned in divorce or sinned in remarriage to repent and receive God’s merciful forgiveness. I could also take more of a theological approach and try to explain the acceptable grounds for divorce and remarriage, asking questions like: Are there any justifiable reasons for divorce? If so, what are they? And if you may get divorced under certain circumstances, what about remarriage?

I wish I had time to go deep pastorally and theologically in all these way, but I just can’t in one sermon. That’s the first challenge.

The other challenge in preaching on this topic is that there are so many unique scenarios that don’t lend themselves to easy answers. Many of you will listen to this sermon not simply for theological information, but you’ll be listening to hear if I think God thinks your divorce was acceptable, or whether your parents’ remarriage was appropriate, or whether you are free to remarry now that you are divorced. There are so many intricate, specific situations that I can’t possibly speak to all of them. These situations require tremendous wisdom because it’s not always clear what is the correct counsel.

For example:

•    A wife commits adultery. She is repentant and wants to save the marriage. The husband knows he must forgive, but he wants to file for divorce? Would you grant him that right? Does it make any difference if the wife was frequently unfaithful?

•    A wife gets a divorce because of marital unfaithfulness? You’ve determined she has legitimate grounds for that divorce. Is she then free to remarry? What if the husband repents, is he? Or only to his ex-wife? And what if she gets remarried, does that change his obligation?

•    A non-Christian couple gets a divorce. Later the man becomes a Christian and realizes the divorce was wrong. Is he obligated to try to win back his non-Christian ex-wife? What if he tries to be reconciled and his ex-wife has no interest, is he free to remarry in the Lord?

•    A remarried couple comes to realize their divorce and remarriage was sinful. Are they committing adultery by staying married? If they stay married, what should they do to make things right? Can they be members in the church? What about leaders?

•    Both husband and wife commit adultery. They both have grounds for divorce and they are both the “guilty” party. Would you allow a divorce? Two years later they are both sincerely repentant. Should they remarry each other? Could they remarry someone else?

There are as many scenarios as there are couples in the world. How do we know what’s right in each situation, especially when so many of the scenarios have no parallel in Scripture? The simple thing is to turn a blind eye to divorce in the church. Just pretend it doesn’t happen. Don’t ask people about it. Don’t bring it up. Don’t say anything during a membership interview. The hard thing is to take a few biblical principles about marriage, divorce, and remarriage and then try to apply them prayerfully and wisely to a thousand different situations.

Seven Principles

Let me give you seven biblical principles on divorce and remarriage.



1. Marriage is the sacred union between one man and one woman and God’s intention is for marriage to last a lifetime.


Look at Mark 10:1-12:
And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

This was a trap. The Pharisees were not genuinely inquiring of Jesus’ position.  They wanted to test him and make him look bad. Everyone in Judaism agreed that divorce was permissible. You can read all the same scholarly stuff I’ve been reading and the same Jewish documents and see that people on all sides of the divorce issue agree first century Judaism allowed for divorce, even required it in some situations. The Pharisees certainly allowed for divorce, and as we’ll see in a moment, probably for a lot of reasons. But they have a suspicion that Jesus will be stricter. Maybe they heard his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Maybe they just assume he will be strict. Maybe they want to get him in trouble with Herod who already killed John the Baptist for objecting to his divorce. Whatever the reason, they are setting a trap.

Like a good teacher, Jesus answers their question with a question. “What did Moses say?” “Well,” they answer, “Moses allowed a man to divorce his wife.” They’re think of Deuteronomy 24 which we’ll come back to in a minute. Jesus doesn’t reject Moses’ teaching, but he recasts it. “Yes, Moses allowed for divorce. But this was a concession to human sin. Certainly not a requirement. The law was making the best of a bad situation.” Then Jesus takes them back to the very beginning. “Deuteronomy gives Moses a concession, but Genesis gives God’s intention. Marriage is one man and one woman. The two become one flesh. They leave their family behind and this new family takes priority over all other allegiances except to God. Marriage is a sacred union. God himself joins the couple together. And what God puts together, no one should separate.”

The main thing Jesus wants to say about divorce is this: don’t do it. It’s not God’s intention for marriage. It’s not what you promised before God and a room full of witnesses. In fact, Jesus says pretty flatly in verses 11-12, anyone who divorces husband or wife and remarries someone else commits adultery. Why? Because the divorce shouldn’t have happened in the first place. There’s no reason this man and woman shouldn’t still be married. So for them to be married to someone else, presumably having sex with someone else, is like committing adultery. You may be sleeping with someone who is your husband or wife, but you aren’t sleeping with the person who still should be your husband or wife.

Before we see anything else about divorce and remarriage we have to feel the weight of what Jesus is saying. The Pharisees want to talk about acceptable reasons for a divorce. Jesus wants to talk about the sanctity of marriage. They want to talk about when a marriage can be broken. He wants to talk about why marriages shouldn’t be broken. If all you hear are the reasons a marriage covenant might be broken, it’s like learning to fly by practicing your crash landings or training for battle by practicing your retreats. Whatever exceptions there might be, the main thing is that marriage is supposed to be permanent.

2. Divorce is not always sinful.

Is every divorce the product of sin?  Yes.  Is every divorce therefore sinful?  No.  That’s why it’s not always a fair comparison to say “Look, you Christians are so worked up about homosexuality, but you don’t do anything about divorce.” Certainly, Christians have too often turned a blind eye to divorce, but the situations are different because divorce, unlike homosexuality, is not always wrong.

Think of the Christmas story.  When Joseph, who was engaged to Mary, found that she was with child, the text says that “Because Joseph was a righteous man he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”  The first thing we notice is that Joseph had to divorce Mary even though they were only engaged.  Jewish betrothals were legally binding in the first century.  Leaving that aside, we also see that Joseph was considered righteous for divorcing her quietly.  He is commended for the quietness mostly, but the divorce didn’t seem to reflect badly on Joseph.  Mary, it was thought, had committed sexual immorality, and so Joseph was considered righteous for divorcing her quietly.

We also see in some Old Testament texts that the Lord divorced his people. For example, Jeremiah 3:8 says “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.” God’s people were spiritual adulterers and so the Lord after putting up with them for generations, finally said, “Enough, you’ve broken the covenant for the last time.  Here’s your certificate of divorce.  Be gone.”  Now, the love story is that God still woos his wayward bride back to himself, and welcomes her home when she turns and repents.  But if the Lord can divorce his adulterous spouse, then divorce must not always be wrong.

One other thing to note is that marriage is not indissoluble. This means marriage really can end. Now, usually they shouldn’t. But they can. The covenant can be severed. When Jesus says “What God has joined together, let no man separate” he implies that the couple can be separated. I mention this because sometimes people will argue against remarriage saying “She’s still married in God’s eyes.” I don’t think that’s the right way to talk about the situation. Divorced couples are divorced. They are not married in God’s eyes. The question is whether they should still be married and hence, they ought not to be with another man or woman.

3. Divorce is permitted, but not required, on the ground of sexual immorality.

We need to look at a few different passages, starting with Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man's wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.

The key phrase is in verse 1: “something indecent” (erwath dabar).  It’s a very ambiguous phrase, and the Jews argued about it constantly. The phrase is actually used a chapter earlier in Deuteronomy 23:12-14.
You shall have a place outside the camp, and you shall go out to it. And you shall have a trowel with your tools, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it and turn back and cover up your excrement. Because the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.

You can see that erwath dabar means in general something repulsive, something indecent.  It’s not a precise phrase. Because of this ambiguity, two different rabbinical schools emerged. On one side was the more conservative Shammai school, and on the other, the more liberal Hillel school, both well known around the time of Jesus.  The Mishna records:
The School of Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, for it is written, Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.  And the School of Hillel say: [He may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him, for it is written, Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.

They referred to the same verse, but Shammai emphasized “indecency” and Hillel emphasized “anything.”  Jesus is going to side squarely with the more conservative school.  Turn to Matthew 19. This is the same incident we read about earlier in Mark. The Pharisees have come to test Jesus. They specifically ask him about the grounds for divorce and what Moses commanded in Deuteronomy 24. But notice Jesus’ words here are a bit different. They include an exception in verse 9: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness [porneia], and marries another woman commits adultery [moichaomai].” Divorce is not allowed for any reason whatsoever (like Hillel said), only for martial unfaithfulness (like Shammai said). Sexual sin breaks the marriage covenant because sex is the oath signing of the covenant.  Having sexual experiences with someone other than your spouse is like trying to sign on someone else’s dotted line.  That breaks the covenant and is a ground for divorce. Divorce is still not required, but it is allowed.

Of course, all this raises the question: why does Matthew include the exception clause when Mark doesn’t? Some people have argued that Matthew’s gospel isn’t talking about sex during marriage, but sex before marriage. In first century Judaism a betrothal was legally binding. That’s why Joseph was going to divorce Mary after he found out she was with child. They were only engaged at the time, but even breaking off an engagement required a divorce. So the theory is Matthew records these words so his readers will be clear that Joseph wasn’t doing anything wrong when he planned to divorce Mary for what seemed to be fornication.

Some Christians I really respect hold to this view, but I don’t think it will work. For starters, the question from the Pharisees revolves around Deuteronomy 24 which was not about betrothal. Second, the word porneia is a broad word that includes all kinds of sexual sin, not just sex before marriage while engaged. And besides, Matthew 1 never uses the word porneia to describe Mary’s supposed sin and nothing in Matthew 19 explicitly ties the situation back to Mary and Joseph.

So how do we understand this–Matthew includes the exception, while Mark and Luke don’t? Remember these are parallel accounts. They are describing the same event. You could say the Matthew added something to Jesus’ words, but isn’t is easier to assume Mark and Luke left something out? And why would they leave the exception out? Because they wanted the saying more memorable? Perhaps. But I think the basic reason they left out the exception is because it was already a given. No one in Judaism disagreed that divorce was acceptable on grounds of sexual immorality. Mark and Luke didn’t have to include Jesus’ exception because they figured it was a given. It’s like when Jesus said “If your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go be reconciled first” (Matt. 5:23-24). We naturally assume Jesus means “If your brother has something legitimate against you,” because Jesus didn’t go tracking down everyone who was upset with him. In the same way, when Mark records “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her” the implied assumption is “Whoever divorces his wife without cause...” I believe Jesus spoke the exception clause.  Matthew included it to be clear, while Mark and Luke left it out because they thought it was already a given.

4. Divorce is permitted, but not required, on the ground of desertion by an unbelieving spouse.

Turn to 1 Corinthians 7. Let’s pick things up at verse 8.
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it  is good for them to remain single as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Paul would like everyone to stay as they are (cf. 17, 20), but if they have to marry, then go ahead and marry.  That’s what he says to the singles and widows.  This is what he says to the married.
10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband.

Paul is saying, “This is not my own rule.  I got this from Jesus.”

(but if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband) and the husband should not divorce his wife.

So if someone does get wrongly divorce, they should try to be reconciled with their spouse or stay single.  They should not remarry after an illegitimate divorce.
12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord):

He means, “This command is not from the lips of Jesus himself, but it’s still a command you need to follow.”
that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife.

Here’s the second ground for a divorce: desertion by an unbelieving spouse.  Now, we should try to live at peace with an unbelieving spouse.  After all, God may save your spouse through you.  Reconciliation is still the ideal.  But if the unbeliever refuses to live with you and leaves, let him do so.  You are not bound to be married when your unbelieving spouse deserts you.

The traditional Protestant position–the position written down in the Westminster Confession and held by most evangelicals–is that divorce is permissible on two grounds: sexual immorality and desertion. In both case the marriage covenant is severed. In one case, because sexual intimacy has taken place with another. And in the second case, because the spouse just plain isn’t there.

Let me just add that I am sympathetic to and yet extremely cautious about finding other grounds for divorce. On the one hand, I think it’s possible that God did not mean to give us every possible grounds for divorce in the New Testament. Jesus gave one and Paul (admittedly, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), mentioned another one relevant to the Corinthian situation. So might there be one or two other grounds for divorce? Perhaps. And yet, if you say that you open up a Pandora’s box of trouble. People will argue that psychological abuse is a ground and emotional neglect is a ground and maybe terrible unhappiness is a ground for divorce. I think it is safer biblically to maintain that there are two acceptable grounds for divorce. But having said that, I could envision in extreme situations the elders might conclude: “This man (or woman) has not completely disappeared but his life is tantamount to desertion.” If a guy is strung out on drugs, gambling all their worldly possessions, and has repeatedly beaten his wife, might that count as desertion at some point?

This is why each case needs to be dealt with individually. It’s also why we need biblical principles, so we have something to apply in these gut-wrenching, difficult sinful scenarios.

5. When the divorce was not permissible, any subsequent remarriage (to someone other than the original spouse) results in adultery.

We’ve already seen Jesus make this point in Mark 10. If you are illegitimately divorced, then the remarriage is also illegitimate. This doesn’t mean you aren’t really divorce and you aren’t really remarried. It means you shouldn’t have been divorced. The covenant hadn’t been broken and shouldn’t have been severed. Consequently, you shouldn’t be married to someone other than your original spouse. And that means if you are remarried that new sexual relationship is sinful. So what do you do if you are already in a sinful second marriage? I’ll come back to that in the last point.

6. In situations where the divorce was permissible, remarriage is also permissible.

Now what about remarriage?  Remarriage is clearly allowed after a spouse dies (Romans 7:3).  But what about after a biblically sanctioned divorce? Let me give you a few reasons why I think remarriage is permissible.

First, I think grammatically it is more likely that the exception clause in Matthew 19 modified both verbs. In other words, when Jesus says “except for marital unfaithfulness” that covers “whoever divorces” and “marries another.”

Second, all scholars on every side of this divorce and remarriage debate agree that it was a given for first century Jews that remarriage was a valid option after a valid divorce. To be granted a legal separation meant de facto that you were no longer bound to anyone and thus free to remarry. No one in Jesus audience was thinking that remarriage wouldn’t be an option.  If Jesus wanted to teach that remarriage after every divorce was unacceptable, he would have made that new teaching much clearer.

Third, the phrase “is not enslaved” in 1 Corinthians 7:15 probably implies that the spouse who has been deserted is free to marry.  This would have been the default Jewish position and it seems to be the same idea found clearly in v. 39 (“she is free to be married to whom she wishes”).  The Greek word is different in verse 15, but they are related words that convey the same idea.

Of course, just because a divorced person may be free to remarry does not mean it is necessarily a good or wise idea. A lot of other considerations come into play. But the general principles is, after a legitimate divorce, there is freedom to remarry.

7. Improperly divorced and remarried Christians should stay as they are, but repent and be forgiven of their past sins and make whatever amends are necessary.

This is where things get really messy. What if you are in a second or third marriage that you now realize is sinful? Should you get a divorce? I don’t think so. The principle in 1 Corinthians 7, repeated in verse 17, 20, and 24, is “remain as you are.” God does not want you to add to the sin of a remarriage the sin of another divorce.

Does this mean those Christians have gotten away with sin? Not at all. We are never better off for having sinned. There are consequences in our relationships. There may be consequences in your spiritual life. And if you look back at your sinful divorce and remarriage and think “Wow, I’m glad I didn’t know all this ten years ago” that is a dreadful sign that something is very wrong in your heart. If the Spirit is at work you will not think “Phew, I really got away with one here.” Instead you will think, “O Lord, I am so sorry. I was ignorant of the Scriptures. I was blind to my own sin. I have broken your law and sullied the name of Christ. Please forgive me. Have mercy on us Lord.” And you’ll not only ask for the Lord’s forgiveness, you’ll make things right with your ex-spouse, with your kids, your parents, your in-laws–you’ll make amends and ask for forgiveness with anyone else you hurt by breaking your marriage vows.

Let me just finish by very briefly addressing three groups of people.

To the married: Stay married. Guard your marriage. Don’t think you are above falling. Don’t think you are above temptation. Pray together. Take walks together. Get away from the kids to be together. There are few things more precious in life than your marriage. Do not take it for granted. And if you are contemplating divorce, please talk to someone. Please don’t give up. If you have biblical grounds for divorce, consider what glory it might be to God to patiently work toward reconciliation. And if you don’t have biblical grounds, consider what offense it will be to God to break the promises you made in his name. Consider the harm to your kids. Stay married.

To the divorced and single: If you had grounds for a divorce, the leaders want to do everything we can to make sure no one looks down on you. If you have been sinned against, we do not want to treat you as the sinner. We do not want you to run from the church, but find grace and fellowship here.

If you are divorced but shouldn’t be, can you find hope in your heart that God might be able to reconcile you and your spouse? It would be a great trophy of his grace to bring you two back together. If that doesn’t happen, don’t get remarried. Don’t think you can always repent later. You never know: the next time you blatantly sin may be the time the Lord gives you over to the hardness of your heart and puts you beyond the pale.

To those who have sinfully divorced, to those whose sin caused the divorce, to those who are now remarried when you shouldn’t be: run to the cross. It is not light thing to tear asunder what God joined together. It is no small mistake to pursue an adulterous second marriage. But God’s grace is not light and it is not small. Divorce is not the unpardonable sin. There is mercy yet for you. But the contrition must be real, the admission of guilt must be honest, the repentance must be earnest. A broken heart and a contrite spirit the Lord will never deny. Run to God. Plead with God. Know his adopting love. Experience again his justifying free grace. There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins. And sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.


Comments:

[...] questions this week. First, up the link to the talk by Kevin de Young that I spoke about. Find it here. 1 – What are we to make of Paul’s clarification in 1 Cor 7:12 where he says “But [...]

Latest Links | blog of dan

November 8, 2010 at 12:04 PM

[...] A Sermon on Divorce and Remarriage [...]

[...] when it is appropriate to divorce and remarry Their heterosexuality, their normalcy, was assumed. We make no such assumption [...]

Bennie Smith

November 7, 2012 at 01:38 AM

This was put together in a wonderful understanding way.
Thank You so much.

[...] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2010/11/03/a-sermon-on-divorce-and-remarriage/ [...]

[...] Kevin DeYoung lays out biblical principles regarding divorce and remarriage (see here). [...]

Stephen Shead

November 4, 2010 at 11:26 AM

Jason:

Great question. And not sure the answer can be short and simple. By far the best thing I have read on the subject of forgiveness and repentance in general is an 8-part blog post by an Australian theologian - a fairly meandering journey through the topic from many angles (including pastoral), but superb theology. The final post (with links to posts 1 to 7) is here: http://solapanel.org/article/forgiveness_and_repentance_part_8/

I think he's spot on. His big "theological" point is that the gospel itself - justification by faith apart from works - pushes the injured believer to work (slowly and painfully) towards full, unconditional forgiveness, REGARDLESS of whether the guilty party repents or not. Christian forgiveness cannot be dependent on repentance. When we make it thus dependent, not only are we actually denying justification by faith alone, but there are massive pastoral problems which result.

However, reconciliation or accepting back the one who has broken the marriage covenant must be kept a separate issue to forgiveness. Since, in my view, the marriage (i.e. the covenant vows which constitute it) is already broken by the act of committing adultery, I'm not sure that "I need to forgive" automatically means "I am not permitted to divorce" - though of course it may have a big bearing on it. I need to keep thinking that one through...

So ... um, I haven't answered your question at all, in terms of obligation to rescue the marriage. But in terms of a crystal-clear, reformed clarification of the basic issues - especially distinguishing "forgive" from "reconcile and remain in the marriage" - I cannot commend highly enough those posts. (For extra value, the discussions with the author in the comments are gold as well, but they are LONG. The comments way down in post 4 touch tangentially on the practical implications, e.g. whether forgiveness discounts the possibility to take legal action against someone - perhaps starting from http://solapanel.org/article/forgiveness_and_repentance_part_4/#5124)

Steve Cornell

November 4, 2010 at 11:26 AM

In applying forgiveness to marital circumstances, it is very important to distinguish forgiveness from reconciliation. See: Forgiveness is one thing; Reconciliation is another:
http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2007/07/28/forgiveness-is-one-thing-reconciliation-is-another/

Morris Brooks

November 4, 2010 at 11:04 PM

The response to this subject has been as it usually is, disagreements, strong feelings, and confusion. Greek nuances, context, Jewish customs, and whom Jesus and Paul were talking to, all lead to different opinions as to the legitimacy of certain divorces and remarriages. Among conservative evangelicals there are only two other subjects that generate this much discussion, baptism and eschatology.

At the end of the day those with strong opinions will not change, some of the confused will finally choose a position, and the debate will continue on.

There is a principle in Romans 14:22-23 that we all need to follow, and that is, "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God...whatever is not of faith is sin." If you believe that divorce and remarriage is only permitted when the other spouse committs adultery, then stick to your guns, don't compromise yourself. If you have a more generous view of what is permissible like Kevin and Dan, then don't be a hypocrite and look down your nose at those whom you feel have biblical permission to divorce and/or to remarry and view them as second-class Christians.

If you are one of those who has not made up their mind, don't take someone else's word for it. Study it for yourself, pray over it and ask God's guidance and illumination of His word. Then be settled in your own mind.

Great post, Kevin. This was acutually braver than you taking up impassability at T4G.

Morris

Dan Phillips

November 4, 2010 at 10:39 AM

Some excellent thoughts.

I wonder:

1. If God permits something, who am I to "allow" or "permit" or "grant the right"?

2. So, you think if a believing spouse deserts, the deserted believer is stuck? I have never understood that logic.

John Thomson

November 4, 2010 at 10:12 AM

Jason

The trouble is with this whole topic we often fail to see the wood for the trees. Or perhaps another danger we become legalists rather than gospel people.

The gospel is plain to us all in all situations - it is a call to forgive. It is a message about how God has forgiven us. It is a message about reconciliation. We who are indwelt by by this God, in Christ, through the Spirit, if living as gospel people will have the same instincts. We will long in every area of life to forgive and reconcile.

It's not so much that forgiving is what we are required to do (though it is) but what the new life of Christ in us wants to do. To be unforgiving and unwilling to reconcile are marks of the flesh not the Spirit. Indeed, if these are characteristic of us, we have no right to think we are believers.

Don't misunderstand me, I know the offended partner will find forgiveness very hard, extremely and painfully hard. I have great sympathy here. Yet the truth is forgiveness is always hard. It was hard and costly for God to forgive us. We should not let the offended party feel we are so in sympathy with them that we will readily approve their inclinations not to forgive.

Moreover, forgiveness is in their interests. A broken marriage is no success story. Forgiveness is healing for all, that again is the gospel.

Of course, there are riders. Forgiveness that is willing to enter again into relationship-commitment is based on true repentance. The forgiving person has every reason to expect the change that true repentance implies. God does not forgive us and let us go on living as we once did.

What if the offended refuses to forgive? This ultimately is spiritual failure. It reveals a hardness of heart. At the very best separation with a view to ultimate reconciliation seems the biblical way forward. Paul tells couples to stay together but conceded that some will not through and gives this advice,

1Cor 7:10-11 (ESV)
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

Jason Johns

November 4, 2010 at 09:43 AM

Kevin,
My name is Jason Johns and I Pastor the FBC of Lake Butler, Fl. It's really weird that I preached the same exact topic last week in my church and I just happened to run across your sermon on "The Gospel Coalition" site. I agree w/ you on all points and I am using Jay Adamas book "Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage" as my primary source. My question is when you have 2 believers and one of them commits fornication/sexual sin and according to Jesus divorce is permissible, but not required in this situation. What do you do when the guilty party sincerely seeks forgiveness and repentance? Is the non-guilty, believing spouse, biblically required to forgive them, according to Matthew 18, and if so, does forgiveness and reconciliation require remaining in the marriage. I believe Jay Adams' stance is that the non-guilty spouse is required to extend forgiveness and fulfill marital obligations if he/she would not then it would be necessary for the church to begin the Mt. 18 process w/ her because of the refusal to extend forgiveness and because they would be seeking a sinful divorce because the spouse is seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. Do you think this is correct? or do you think the offended party can forgive, but not be required to stay in the marriage, and still have a non-sinful divorce and remarriage. Very interested in others thoughts on this. thanks.

Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage « Antagoniz

November 4, 2010 at 06:02 PM

[...] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2010/11/03/a-sermon-on-divorce-and-remarriage/ [...]

John Thomson

November 4, 2010 at 03:14 PM

Lisa

Absolutely. God's grace to us all is fathomless. Yet we must assume that when the woman was changed by Christ she did not have five more husbands and that she regulated the relationship she had at that point.

lisa

November 4, 2010 at 02:32 PM

Let us never forget the first missionary, (the first one to point to Jesus, knowing who he was). Jesus considered her worthy to be his disciple and carry his good news. To the Samaritan Woman, undergoing the scorn of rejection and embarrassment from 5 failed marriages, Jesus revealed himself as the Messiah for the 1st time.

(more at my site)

[...] Read Kevin’s sermon manuscript. [...]

Leslie Jebaraj

November 3, 2010 at 12:19 PM

Kevin:

Appreciate your stance. But somehow abuse never gets mentioned while preaching/discussing on divorce. As a husband who was abused verbally and sometimes physically, it hurts that I do not read much about abuse. My wife asked me to leave the house (equivalent to desertion?)about 6 months, and now I live alone. But, she would not come to divorce too. Situations like mine needs attention by the Church, I feel.

Malin Friess

November 3, 2010 at 11:48 AM

Solid post on not a ivy tower issue...but a hard saying of Jesus we all struggle to understand and apply.

David Strunk

November 3, 2010 at 11:41 AM

Quick question, Kevin.
Scenario: two married Christians, one trying to live a godly life and the other not showing fruit for years. The nominal Christian files for divorce when the active Christian does not wish it. The acting Christians has tried years of marital counseling to no reconciliation (though the acting Christian desires it). Divorce is inevitable.

Is it possible for the nominal Christian to be sinning while the other doesn't because he/she does not desire it (even though they will be legally pressed to sign divorce papers)?

This is a real scenario- not trying to trip you up.

John

November 3, 2010 at 11:18 AM

Good message Kevin, I think your spot on and this is the majority view since at least the time of the reformation.

John E: You left out an important statement that both Jesus and Kevin made in Matthew 19:9 "And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." If we are going to be faithful to Our Lords teaching we need to stand upon His principle and exceptions.

John Thompson: The context of 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 is key to understanding this: 8,9 addressing unmarried and the widows, 10,11 addressing married believers and then in verse 12 he said "To the rest I say (I, not the Lord)..." In 12-16 he is addressing a new group who are believers married to unbelievers. Two things should signal to us that the instructions are different one is he is addressing different groups (in Ephesians you surely don't apply instruction for the children and wives) and two the parenthesis, he is giving new revelation concerning this special case. Also as kevin pointed out it seems any first century reader would have understood not enslaved to be freedom to remarry. Either your bound or not!!

Chap

November 3, 2010 at 11:12 AM

Thank you for this biblical, truth and grace filled explanation of divorce and remarriage. It will certainly assist me in ministry!

Stephen Shead

November 3, 2010 at 11:12 AM

Hi Kevin,

Many thanks - very helpful, especially since several pastors have recently asked me for advice and help on the issue, both theologically and pastorally. (I'm a missionary in South America.)

I wonder if you could clarify an ambiguity in your sermon. Actually, I have two related questions. The situation I am thinking of is where one spouse has committed adultery.

1. You say that divorce is permitted in this case. I agree - and I take it that the marriage covenant has already been broken by the act of adultery. But do you mean that only the INNOCENT party may divorce the adulterous spouse? i.e. Would you say the adulterer (assuming they are a believer who has fallen in sin and subsequently repented, and who thus should listen to Christian counsel) may not choose to initiate the divorce?

2. You say: "If you are illegitimately divorced, then the remarriage is also illegitimate."

Again, I'm with you. But let's imagine the innocent party does divorce the spouse who committed adultery. This is a "legitimate" divorce, so remarriage is a possibility. But are BOTH parties free to remarry? Or is the one who committed adultery obliged to remain unmarried (as an ongoing consequence of their sinful action, even if they have sought and found forgiveness)? And if the innocent party actually does remarry, does that change things for the one who sinned, or not?

This last bit has long been perhaps my biggest wrestling point (amony many!) in terms of the biblical teaching.

Many thanks again.

Aaron Britton

November 3, 2010 at 10:55 AM

Hey guys. . .I'm not sure what the difference is between "desertion" and "physical abuse". Obviously the abuser is "deserting" in a real way, this marriage. Not that even this shouldn't try to be reconciled, but physical abuse would most times require separation for the abusee, for physical safety. Then, during that separation, the abuser would need to reconcile and show how he has not "deserted" his spouse.

My point is, abuse almost requires a level of "desertion" and then for reconciliation to happen, . . .the abuser would have to "come back" through repentance and faith.

Justin

November 3, 2010 at 10:21 AM

Kevin,

Good post. What's your opinion on divorce on the grounds of physical abuse? I didn't see it addressed in the sermon and was curious for your thoughts.

John Thomson

November 3, 2010 at 10:14 AM

Larry

In my view there are situations that cannot be undone and must be lived with. I see an unbiblical example as one. New vows and commitments have been entered that ought not to have been entered, but they have been entered. To 'undo' them would simply be to multiply the offence. The new marriage is a real marriage, albeit one that should not have happened. Its responsibilities need to be lived and these include sexual relations.

I see the situation as analogous to polygamy. If any early Christians were polygamous they could be menbers of the church but were not able to be involved in official positions such as elders or deacons, for they are not 'blameless'. Serial monogamy seems parallel.

Some years ago I wrote a paper for our elders when the biblical teaching on divorce was being considered. I argue for the Wenham/Heth position (which Heth has subsequently changed his mind on). It is a position argued at a more popular level than W/H by Andrew Cornes whose book, irrespective what one's convictions are is well worth the read for its discussion of pastoral examples alone. It should be required reading for every pastor.

I believe my position is also similar to J Piper's. I have included a link for any who are interested.

http://www.greenviewchurch.co.uk/resources/johnthomson/divorce_and_remarriage/

It was written ten years ago and does not interact with more recent writers like Instone-Brewer (view that depends heavily on reconstructed backgrounds and appears to open the door for divorce even wider).

Stephen Shead

November 3, 2010 at 09:11 PM

Jimmy:

Actually, I think it's the best kind of zeal for the absolute seriousness and sanctity of the marriage covenant - a seriousness and sanctity found from beginning to end of the Bible, especially on the lips of our Lord, precisely because it is a "picture" (if that's the right word) of the covenant relationship between God and his people. Hence, death for breaking it in the OT Law.

However, couldn't agree with you more that there is absolutely no place for violence or abuse in marriage, no excuse for it whatsoever, and have seen it and dealt with it close hand from those seated in the front pews of my church. And it must be dealt with properly, not simply papered over. (Priority #1, in my book, is the safety of the wife - i.e. get her out of there, quick.)

Don't worry, I'm living in the same world as you.

Jimmy

November 3, 2010 at 08:59 PM

Someone please explain to me how this isn't a classic example of the worst kind of 'pharisaism'. Making 'cases' and 'arguments' and such. There's no exception for a violent husband who beats the boloney out of his wife? "Well, he couldn't be a Christian", you might say. Ahem -- wake up. Lots of wife-beaters are seated in the front pews of their churches week in and week out, and publicly confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Not quite sure what world y'all are living in....

henrybish

November 3, 2010 at 08:50 AM

Kevin,

given that you say:

"the word porneia is a broad word that includes all kinds of sexual sin, not just sex before marriage while engaged"

then on what basis do you limit its meaning to adultery when Jesus uses it in the exception clause?

It seems that you (aswell as Piper etc..) also have to limit its meaning. Otherwise one may divorce for pornography use which is surely classes as within the bounds of 'all kinds of sexual sin'.

Dan

November 3, 2010 at 08:11 AM

Great post Kevin.

I'm glad you touched on abuse. I find it so strange and sad that the Bible doesn't state clearly that abuse is an allowable reason for divorce. I can't imagine that God would intend for women who are being beaten by their husband to stay and take it. I think spousal abuse is a horrible evil. I find it sad and fustrating that many within the Church are accomplices to spousal abuse because of their rigid/legalistic views on this. They are condemning these women to a living hell and doing so in the name of Christ.

OK, now that I got that off my chest, I want to state that in our society people are getting divorced for largely selfish reasons. It should only be for the most serious of reasons, such as infidelity, desertion, and yes... abuse.

Larry

November 3, 2010 at 08:05 AM

Something I've never seen addressed in discussions like this is the sexual relationship in a sinful remarriage. How does one repent from committing adultery without actually stopping the adultery?

If one is re-married after an inappropriate divorce, I understand what's being said here about repentance involving making things right with those you've hurt, etc. However, if they've "made things right" with those they've hurt, does their sexual contact now become un-adulterous? The assumption seems to always be that they can go on having a sexual relationship after "repentance" because they are "married" - yet no other adulterer would be told he can go on having a sexual relationship with the object of his adultery after he's repented of it.

Stephen Shead

November 3, 2010 at 07:51 PM

Allan:

Nobody (I trust) is saying marriage is meant to be anything but permanent. Certainly the first part of Kevin's sermon makes that very clear. This is in no way meant to be an "easy out" for marriage. And just so you know, even though I'm sure you disagree with my view on the subject, as a pastor I have never once suggested to anybody that they divorce, despite having dealt with people in horribly difficult situations of betrayal.

I think, however, you and I may have different understandings of what breaking the marriage vows/covenant is about. Life-long faithfulness and commitment - especially sexual fidelity (though not limited to that) - is precisely what the husband and wife promise. Period. No conditions, no escape clauses, until death. They are not just obliged to "remain married" for life, they are obliged to remain faithful for life. That IS the marriage covenant.

That means if one party commits adultery or disavows their commitment to the other, they have ALREADY "violated their covenant" (in your terms). The marriage is already, in a very real and profound sense, broken, because the absolute and binding promises which constitute it have already been broken. It is not possible to "un-break" a covenant. This is why, in my view, the Bible permits divorce in this case: it is, in a sense, a legal finalization of the "covenant violation" which has occurred. (I believe this is the logic behind Kevin's statement that, even though the Bible permits divorce in some cases, nevertheless every divorce is the PRODUCT of sin - of covenant-breaking, if you like.)

The miracle, really, is that a marriage can be saved and begun again after it has been broken. But that is the reconciling power of the gospel! It is surely the gospel and the forgiveness which God has held out to covenant-breaking rebels which, above all else, may enable a person to forgive and work towards reconciliation (though saying it like that makes it sound simple and easy, which couldn't be further from the truth!). Hosea 1-3 is perhaps the most striking biblical paradigm.

I hope that helps clarify things somewhat - and most of all, that you don't see people like me as condoning "easy out" or non-permanent marriages. Nothing could be further from the truth!!

John E.

November 3, 2010 at 07:46 AM

What Kevin DeYoung says: Divorce is not always sinful.

What Jesus says:
1 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.

4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’[a] 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,[b] 8 and the two will become one flesh.’[c] So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10)

[...] A Sermon on Divorce and Remarriage – Kevin DeYoung <span class="“> – Annotated [...]

Eluros Aabye

November 3, 2010 at 07:29 AM

Quick note-- "sexual immortality"? I think you meant "sexual immorality". Otherwise, a great post!

Allan Schwarb

November 3, 2010 at 06:46 PM

Hasn’t allowing divorce and remarriage, in effect, created two classes of Christian marriage — those permanent and those impermanent?

The following are some points I’ve pondered about marriage, divorce and remarriage:

(A) It’s interesting that divorce was virtually unknown for the first 1,500 years of Christianity:

Because of Erasmus’ new interpretation of the Bible on divorce and remarriage (circa 1519), divorce has now flooded millions of American homes and Evangelical sanctuaries.

Here’s a good Evangelical summary of Church history on divorce and remarriage:

http://www.lornematthews.com/articlespages/churchhist.html

(B) If a Christian couple exchanged vows in Christ without sexual immorality and desertion "exceptions," aren’t they obligated to remain married for life – lest they violate their covenant?

(C) If sexual immorality and desertion are now biblical grounds for divorce, then shouldn’t a pastor use the following type of vow?:

“For better or for worse … until death do us part unless [name] (a) engages in sexual immorality or (b) desertion.”

(D) If marriage isn’t for life, then for full disclosure of the terms and conditions of a marriage, mustn’t a pastor add these two exceptions (a) and (b) to the wedding vows?

(E) Doesn’t this create two classes of Christian marriage, permanent (B) and impermanent (C)? How would another pastor know which version of vows a couple used and judge if they may divorce or not?

(F) Since Erasmus’ new interpretation of the Bible on divorce and remarriage, hasn’t Christian marriage effectively been down-graded to be impermanent (C) when one spouse merely wants out?

(G) If allowing divorce and remarriage has created thousands of adulterous remarriages, even in the pulpit, what is the long-term consequence for the Church?

(H) If God does what he says and prevents adulterers from inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven, what must those in adulterous remarriages do to be saved?

Regards in Christ,

Allan Schwarb

John Thomson

November 3, 2010 at 05:53 AM

Kevin

A well presented case. I am among those who (tentatively) think divorce for sexual sin is (given your riders) permissible but remarriage is not envisaged. I am much more strongly convinced that to read remarriage into desertion is a mistake. If Jesus allowed but one exception I don't see how Paul can add to it. Paul, in my opinion, is merely freeing the conscience of the deserted spouse from thinking they must pursue their partner; if divorced then they need not feel guilty.

In practice, once we have conceded remarriage for desertion and sexual misconduct, have we not almost completely opened the pandora's box. These two exceptions can be applied to a great many divorces.

It is some time since I examined the issues so the various arguments are not fresh in my mind. One point though 1 Cor 7 which you quote (a powerful text to be reckoned with)

10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband.but if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband) and the husband should not divorce his wife.

Here separation and divorce (in Paul's vocabulary) seem synonomous. It seems that Paul interprets Jesus' words to mean separation/divorce is possible but no remarriage, only reconciliation.

It is clear to me that the number of divorces and remarriages in the church is a deep denial of the gospel of reconciliation and peace.

John Thomson

November 3, 2010 at 03:37 PM

John

Yes, it was. And that is what the Law demanded. Indeed the Law required a Jew to divorce a non-Jew for a non-kosher partner would defile them. Paul expresses the opposite; he argues not that the unbeliever defiles the believer but that the believer sanctifies the unbeliever. He gives no excuse for divorce.

Re meanings John, I'm not sure all would agreee with you. For me, if I were building so much on a word, I would want to be crystal clear and I would be concerned if the writer used different words for what I was assuming to be the same. At the very least it would raise warning bells.

Good to discuss the issue though - needs regular reflection.

[...] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2010/11/03/a-sermon-on-divorce-and-remarriage/ [...]

John

November 3, 2010 at 03:15 PM

John Thomson,

Was not the practice in Judaism in Jesus day that a Jew would marry a Jew at least among those serious about God? If this is true then Jesus' statement "Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you , but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three...(Lk12:51-53) would be a new thing, division in the home over the gospel. Paul is dealing with this new problem (from now on) in the Church in Corinth.

As far as the different words in 1 Cor 7, although they are different they do seem to have the same meaning: be under bondage and be bound.

God Bless brother

Philip

November 3, 2010 at 02:33 PM

It says remarry and COMMIT adultery. It doesn't say that it's an ongoing act of adulteries. It's a one and done thing as far as I can tell.

Steve Cornell

November 3, 2010 at 02:15 PM

In relation to my long response, if interested, my full statement on marriage, divorce and remarriage is at: http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/position-statement-on-marriage-divorce-remarriage/

Thanks again!

John Thomson

November 3, 2010 at 02:14 PM

John

'“To the rest I say (I, not the Lord)…” I understand your point and it may well be right. I have simply taken it that the new comment is not about divorce at all but about the possible obligation the devout believer being left may feel to resist divorce and try to maintain the marriage and - about that Jesus says nothing. (Incidentally, Paul's advice about staying with the unbeliever and the sanctifying effect of the gospel on the unbeliever is exactly the opposite that the Law gave).

It is hard to believe that Jesus' teaching on divorce did not include a believer married to an unbeliever. After all he is speaking about marriage as God intended it for all. It is to all he says - no divorce except for sexual sin. I find it hard to believe that Paul is contradicting Jesus and adding another category where divorce is acceptable.

It is worth noting that Paul uses a different word for bound (douloo) in verse 15 than he does when he speaks of the legal aspect of being bound (deo) to a marriage partner (I Cor 7:39,27; Roms 7:2).

David

November 3, 2010 at 02:06 PM

Larry makes a good point noting that "no other adulterer would be told he can go on having a sexual relationship with the object of his adultery after he’s repented of it."

Let's get back to what God says, and let hard things be hard - not for our sake, but for the fame of His Name. If we were trying to win friends it would be a different story. But, because we want to shine the light of WHO God is (One), we must make sure his commands are upheld in holiness.

We should ask these questions:

If I believed God hated divorce, how hard should it be for me to actually advocate this?

If it were true that to remain single is better in Jesus' eyes and Paul's eyes, would I really be okay with advocating a "re-marriage" that has a high potential (if not surely in your view) of being considered adultery by the Lord and might lead someone to Hell?

Have I ever actually explained or preached to my brothers and sisters how much better it is to remain single?

If I believed that Jesus can redeem people out of sin, should I really walk in my own understanding that to break up the unlawful marriage would be more harmful in God's eyes than letting it remain (consider John to Herod and Paul to Corinth)?

Have I prayed "Thy will be done?"


May the Lord grant you wisdom.

God bless

Steve Cornell

November 3, 2010 at 02:05 PM

First, I appreciate your determination to wrestle with this incredibly important biblical and pastoral issue. These are perplexing times when serial divorce has become the new norm. 49 % of first marriage divorce. 90 % of these divorcees remarry; 65% divorce again (if they remarry within 2 years and or have children involved); 70% of third marriages end in divorce.... Really bad picture! This is why premarital preparation must become a HUGE part of our ministries.

As to some details: It seems best to understand the exception of Matthew 19 in relation to an act of adultery. This is an explicit breaking of the marital bond.

Although divorce was permitted in some cases under the Old Testament economy, Jesus Christ taught that this was an accommodation and not God’s plan from the beginning. When pressed further as to why divorce was permitted, Jesus clarified that, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” Jesus then added an exception: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9; cf. Matthew 5:31, 32).

The discovery of marital unfaithfulness on the part of one’ spouse is a permitted grounds for divorce. In Old Testament Law, adultery (a clear case of marital unfaithfulness), ended the marriage because adultery was a capital offence. Deuteronomy 22:22 “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.”
Leviticus 20:10 “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbor–both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.”

Adultery under Old Testament Law ends the marital relationship by death. The disciples of Jesus lived under Roman rule and could not exercise rights of capital punishment. Perhaps Jesus’ teaching is a way of honoring the original intention of the Law of God. All views on divorce and remarriage agree that if your mate dies, you are free to remarry.

Permission for remarriage:

All positions on divorce and remarriage agree that when your spouse is deceased, you are free to remarry (Rom 7:2-3; I Corinthians 7:39). Beyond this, Jesus assumed remarriage in Matthew 19:9 when he added the phrase “and marries another…” A divorce obtained for reasons other than marital unfaithfulness (read, adultery), according to Jesus, makes remarriage an adulterous relationship.

As noted, Jesus’ words should be understood as a provision not a prescription or command. This is an important distinction because Scripture does prescribe forgiveness and reconciliation as the highest ethical calling for the believer. Since believers have been forgiven by God of their sins and reconciled to God through the sacrificial death of Christ, they should first seek to forgive and be reconciled when sinned against. Therefore, even in cases of unfaithfulness, the prescription of forgiveness and reconciliation should be pursued first. Yet having said this, Jesus does make a clear provision for divorce and remarriage in cases of marital unfaithfulness.

A closer look at I Corinthians 7:13-16– When a believer is abandoned by an unbelieving spouse.


13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? (NASB–a better translation I Corin. 7:13-16)

While it appears that the text makes provision for divorce and remarriage, I do not believe it is the primary purpose of it. A key question focuses on the meaning of the phrases “not bound in such circumstances” and “God has called us to live in peace.” Although many jump quickly to a provision for divorce in this text, the emphasis is on staying together not divorcing (see: vv. 12-13). The key to this interpretation is the “But….For” construction from verses 15 to 16. Unfortunately, the NIV does not retain the exactness of the Greek structure as the NASB does.

In verse 15,– “But” –that is, “in contrast with leaving” —- “God has called us to peace”-– that is, ”seeking to stay together.” This way of interpreting the text is strengthened by the “For” of v. 16 which focuses on potential spiritual influence through ongoing contact and relationship.

The NIV gives the impression that “God has called us to peace” means “you don’t have to live in the bondage of a marriage to an unbeliever.” But, while the text makes a provision for separation, one should not use it as a blank check for divorce and remarriage. Instead, the emphasis is on the believing spouse seeking to reach the unbelieving spouse with the gospel:

Verse 16 —“For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”

“Not under bondage” does indicate an allowance for marital separation, which in the text, is the choice of the unbeliever to abandon the marriage. But, based on the rest of the text, it would not be right to stretch this to a “just let him go” attitude without some kind of effort to preserve and protect the union—with the aim of Christian witness. The text simply does not go on to explain where the marriage itself “ends up.” This is where pastoral counseling must do a case by case evaluation and include application of other biblical principles. It could be the case that a believer is abandoned by an unbeliever and the believer has done all he/she can to preserve the marriage. We (the Church) must not jump to superficial judgments when hearing of a separation.

One final thought, though I've already said too much! It is helpful to review
God’s original plan for the marriage relationship. It involved four essential elements:

1. Exclusivity: One man/one woman in lifelong monogamy

2. Uniqueness: Leaving your home of origin and establishing a new family.

3. Permanence: A man is to be united to his wife—a word that means to hold fast to with unswerving loyalty. Vows: “Till death causes us to part; As long as we both shall live.” Jesus said, “What God has joined together let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6).

4. Extra ordinary care: Ephesians 5:25, 28-29; John 10:11-13. Exodus 21:10 “…he must not deprive… her of food, clothing and marital rights.” Vows: “Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sadness and in joy, to cherish and forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her as long as you both shall live?”

Reflection:

When husbands and wives respect each one of the four essential elements: exclusivity, uniqueness, permanence and care, they strengthen their marriages. A failure to respect any one of the essentials will weaken and harm the marriage relationship. A key reason many marital problems occur is a failure to understand, respect and live by the God-intended essence of marriage.


The purposes for marriage could be put like this:

1. Companionship (Genesis 2:18; Malachi 2:14)
2. Completion (Genesis 2:18)
3. Continuance (Genesis 1:28- of the human race)
4. Cooperation (Genesis 1:28)
5. Care: (Exodus 21:10-11; 1 Corinthians 7:15)
6. Communication (Genesis 1:27; of God’s image and Ephesians 5- Christ’s relationship with his people)
7. Constraint (I Corinthians 7:3-5)

OK, way too much from me. Thank you again for giving such thoughtful attention to this important subject!

Craig Hurst

November 3, 2010 at 01:14 PM

I am teaching through the 10 Commandments on Sunday nights and will be addressing this commandment this week....I will be using some of this to help!

[...] [6] The form of these applicational points was inspired by Kevin DeYoung, “A Sermon on Divorce and Remarriage,” Nov. 3, 2010. Available at: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2010/11/03/a-sermon-on-divorce-and-remarriage/. [...]

Barb

March 21, 2014 at 03:21 PM

Thanks for this thoughtful article. I love your book on God's will so I was interested to see what you had to say about this subject. I can see the logic on both sides of the argument about remarriage after divorce for those who have a biblical reason to divorce.

I can't quite see the logic behind saying it's okay to continue committing adultery if the remarriage is definitely in the unbiblical category. I've heard there are some people who stay married for the sake of the kids but don't have sex. This seems like a loving thing to do if it's the best thing for the kids.

Here's my reasoning. If the remarriage is defined as adultery in the Bible, then every time you had sex, you would be committing adultery. Adultery is always labeled as a sin in the Bible, just as you pointed out that homosexuality is always labeled as a sin.

To me, this would be similar to a situation where you have a gay couple that gets married and has kids before becoming Christians. When they become Christians, will the church also say, yes, it's okay to continue having sex because you got married and adopted kids before you were Christians?

I would think that in both of those situations - the illegitimate marriage after divorce and the homosexual marriage - the sex of that union would continue to be a sin. But that the loving thing to do for the kids might be to continue living together as a family unit.

Neil

March 19, 2014 at 09:08 PM

This is false teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Scripture proves it.
//1. Marriage is the sacred union between one man and one woman and God’s intention is for marriage to last a lifetime.//
This definition of marriage is the foundation of any discussion that involves divorce and remarriage. If you get the definition, the conditions, and the duration of marriage wrong, you will not correctly define divorce and remarriage. Marriage is a binding one-flesh covenant only broken by death. (Gen 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9; Romans 7:2,3; 1 Cor 7:39; Eph 5:31)
//2. Divorce is not always sinful.//
One two occasions, Jesus calls divorce hardheartedness. Matthew 19:8 and Mark 10:5 Is hardheartedness a sin? Divorce is a meaningless piece of paper initiated by a hardhearted person. Divorce is incompatible to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ calls divorce hardheartedness (Mal 2:13-16; Matthew 19:8 and Mark 10:5)
//3. Divorce is permitted, but not required, on the ground of sexual immorality.//
Divorce is permitted for fornication, but not required. Fornication is sexual intercourse outside a consummated marriage covenant. This would only apply to a wife or husband who committed fornication during Jewish betrothal marriage. If a man found his wife to be unclean (not a virgin) on his consummation wedding day, he could right a divorce decree to send her away.(example Read Matthew 1:18-19,25)
//4. Divorce is permitted, but not required, on the ground of desertion by an unbelieving spouse.//
Divorce is NOT permitted on the grounds on the desertion because the marriage is a one-flesh covenant only separated by death, not abandonment. A believing spouse is commanded no to leave an unbeliever because they sanctify the marriage because it is a one-flesh covenant. (1 Cor 7:12-14) A believer in singleness lives in peace because they are no longer enslaved to an unequally yoked (2 Cor 6:14) spouse. In context, 1 Cor 7:12-16 are Paul’s example of a believer who marries an unbeliever, and two unbelievers who marry and one comes to salvation in Christ. No believer would divorce a one-flesh covenant they made before God because they would trust God to restore a prodigal first to Him, and then to restore the marriage. This Pauline principle is not a loophole for a believer to divorce and remarry because the believer’s actions would run contrary to 1 Cor 7:10,11.
//5. When the divorce was not permissible, any subsequent remarriage (to someone other than the original spouse) results in adultery.//
Anyone who divorces a living covenant spouse and remarries commits adultery. Anyone who marries a divorced person who has a living covenant spouse commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32, 19:9; Mark 10:11,12;Luke 16:18)
//6. In situations where the divorce was permissible, remarriage is also permissible.//
Again, divorce is not permissible and remarriage is adultery in EVERY case.
//7. Improperly divorced and remarried Christians should stay as they are, but repent and be forgiven of their past sins and make whatever amends are necessary.//
Divorced and remarried Christians MUST dissolve an adulterous union.
You said…“These situations require tremendous wisdom because it’s not always clear what is the correct counsel. I disagree. These are easy to understand once you have an understanding of the permanence of marriage.”
“For example:”
• “A wife commits adultery. She is repentant and wants to save the marriage. The husband knows he must forgive, but he wants to file for divorce? Would you grant him that right? Does it make any difference if the wife was frequently unfaithful?”
No, the husband is required to forgive a repentant wife, just as Christ forgave us. Seven times seventy… Adultery is NOT an excuse to divorce. If the wife repents, he must forgive. If she does not repent:
1. She is in adultery, she cannot remarry. She has no choice but to repent.
2. She must go through the steps of church discipline in order that she repents. (Matthew 18:15-17)
3. She cannot divorce because she is on a covenant with a living husband.
4. If she remarries because some liberal church remarried her, they, she, and the person she remarried are in adultery and/or encourages adultery.
5. If she remains in sin, the husband must remain single until she repents or dies.
• “A wife gets a divorce because of marital unfaithfulness? You’ve determined she has legitimate grounds for that divorce. Is she then free to remarry? What if the husband repents, is he? Or only to his ex-wife? And what if she gets remarried, does that change his obligation?”
If you understand the permanence of marriage, divorce is not an option unless both wish to remain single the rest of their lives because of their hardheartedness to divorce. IF one or both divorce and remarry, they are in adultery. It cannot be any simpler than that.
• “A non-Christian couple gets a divorce. Later the man becomes a Christian and realizes the divorce was wrong. Is he obligated to try to win back his non-Christian ex-wife? What if he tries to be reconciled and his ex-wife has no interest, is he free to remarry in the Lord?”
First question is this: If they were unbelievers when they married, what vow did they make to each other that God did not recognize if God recognizes all marriage vows regardless of whether the person believes in God or not? God is not mocked. A person is without excuse if they say they do not believe in God (Romans 1:18-20), yet they will stand before witnesses and God and make a marriage vow to their spouse. A marriage is for life and EVERY person that makes a vow of marriage is without excuse. The man that became a Christian is obligated to restore his covenant marriage with his covenant bride. If she remarried, she and the man she married are in adultery because her first covenant husband is alive. Therefore, he must remain single to restore the marriage once the adultery is dissolved. The church needs to preach the truth about marriage.
• “A remarried couple comes to realize their divorce and remarriage was sinful. Are they committing adultery by staying married? If they stay married, what should they do to make things right? Can they be members in the church? What about leaders?”
They MUST dissolve the remarriage because this unholy union is NOT a marriage it is adultery. Once they dissolve the adultery, they showed that they repented of this sin and this brings them back into fellowship within the body of Christ.
The permanence of marriage is what the Lord Jesus Christ taught. Regardless the circumstance…there is clear instructions that require very little wisdom to answer any question or resolve any situation that comes to mind. The scribes and Pharisees created loopholes to divorce and remarriage…The Lord Jesus Chris said this….
What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Please repent of your false teaching to create loopholes for divorce and adultery before it is too late.

„Die Ehe ist ein heiliger Bund…“

June 23, 2013 at 11:57 PM

[...] Schon im Frühjahr war diese Position mit Artikeln auf der Internetseite der Kirche begleitet und erläutert worden. Übersetzt wurde z.B. ein Text von Kevin DeYoung zum Thema. Der junge Pastor der University Reformed Chruch in East Lansing, Michigan, ist in den USA bekannter Redner und Buchautor, Mitglied der „Gospel Coalition“. Seine sieben Punkte zu Ehe und Scheidung, die den heutigen evangelikalen Konsens umreißen, finden sich im Original hier. [...]

Paul Munro

June 16, 2013 at 03:51 PM

So my question by way of follow up to this excellent (and much needed) article is: if remarriage is made provision for is entry into the ministry given that Biblical grounds for divorce have been proven and enacted?

Example: I got married over 25 years ago now and the woman I married was (a) a non-Christian (I had been saved for only several months and wasn't aware of the rules about marrying non-believers; (b) had multiple affairs - one of which was with my own Dad.

She filed for one of those convenient "no blame" divorces we in the UK can get now. I delayed as long as legally possible and a year later the divorce papers came through. I was devastated. Within a week of her leaving the home my Pastor told me that I could no longer serve as a deacon and that I could not ever be a pastor/missionary/teacher in the Church. Devastated again. I lost my wife, my Dad, and what I believed to be a stirring in my heart towards missionary work.

I have now been married for 19 years to a beautiful Christian woman and we have four lovely children together. This relationship is totally different. But I am still haunted by those words (and the words of Christians since) that such a person as I (they call me "divorced and remarried" rather than "married") has basically been placed on the "junk heap" (in fact a previous Pastor gave me a sermon titled "God's JunkYard" in which the preacher declared that all those who have been divorced have forfeited God's working through them for the remainder of their lives).

So what of this situation?

Thank you for the article again and God bless you!

[...] to the traditional Protestant understanding, which is centuries old, divorce is permissible on certain biblical grounds. This alone makes divorce different from homosexuality. The latter is always wrong in the Bible; [...]

[...] Hier geht es zur Predigt. Zitiert Kevin DeYoung, Sexualethik, Systematische Theologie [...]

Anon

February 2, 2011 at 09:17 AM

Researcher and author, Dr. Eric Kaufmann, a secular liberal scholar of politics at the University of London, has written the following, soon-to-be-released significant book:

"Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?"

What does it conclude?:

"Yes, they will."

Who, did the research find, shall "inherit the Earth"?:

(1.) Old Order Amish
(2.) Quiverfull Evangelical Movement
(3.) Traditional Latin Mass Catholics
(4.) American Mormons
(5.) Hasidic Jews
(6.) Muslims

If we're open to children and bequeath our faith to them through staying married, won't we, prayerfully, in the end, inherit the Earth?

However, if a couple deviates from this (e.g., by breaking their vows) what are their children likely to inherit?

[…] “Irrespective of competency,” evangelicalism tells us, men and women are set in their roles. A woman using her skill set to protect a man, in the evangelical world, is an affront to God and a subversion of her purpose. She is to submit to her husband in all things, because cisgender, heterosexual marriage is the central tenet of this gendered theology. Other pastors fall along these lines too. Kevin DeYoung, a pastor and a contributor at the Gospel Coalition, writes of divorce in cases of abuse: […]

Andrew

August 29, 2011 at 12:30 PM

Hello fellow pastor, I want to comment on your website and page on divorce and remarriage. I find in your statement that if the person that has been divorced and they are remarried to someone else that they should reamin the way they are. I disagree with that statement because I believe that Jesus was talking to the high priest and the only exception to get a divorce was through fornication according to Matthew ch.19. We all know what fornication mean right? Well how can married couples commit fornication if they're married, that would be adultery if they go outside the marriage. Jesus was talking about before they get married and man or woman find that she or he had sex before they could get a divorce but in mark and luke he was talking to his disciples and told them that everyone cannot recieve this saying. The couple that stays in a remarriage relationship must repent and seek Jesus as Lord because he said that clearly "will commit adultery".

Shelley Dustin

April 20, 2014 at 07:52 PM

Me & my boyfriend was planning to get married last month, just last week we had some argument that made him get angry on me just because of the argument, he said we will not be married again and the next day he left me and we broke up. I still loved him and I wanted him to marry me, for me to get him back i had no choice than to contacted dr.marnish@ yahoo. com to help me and he helped me to bring my lover back to me so we can continue our plan to be married. he came back after 3 days
Shelley Dustin
Spain