Several years ago I researched the topic of divorce and remarriage. Many of my friends were in the process of through a divorce or were picking up the pieces of their lives after a divorce. Many felt discarded by the church because of their divorce and were wondering what their future held concerning love, and church leadership. I knew I needed to be able to give them a Biblical response to what the Bible teaches on Divorce and remarriage. I know that this is a very difficult conversation to talk about but my hope is that there will be grace and mercy passed on my this study.
Divorce and Remarriage: A Practical Doctrinal Study
Prepared by Mike Harder
End in mind:
- To give a Biblical, understandable explanation about what Green Hills Church believes about divorce, remarriage, and the role of divorced people in leadership
Problem at hand:
- Multiple understandings and general confusion about what the Bible teaches concerning divorce and remarriage.
- Many people in our church have been divorced or are going through the divorce process and need an answer concerning how to proceed in a Biblical manner.
Issues concerning divorce
- Abandonment by an unbeliever
- Abandonment by a believer
- Drug use
- Falling out of love
- Married before they were a believer
- Young marriage: changed as they grew older
What we believe about the value of Marriage
- We believe that marriage is ordained by God and is a holy institution. Marriage is one man and one woman entering into a lifelong covenant. This is a bond that is the basis of human society. The disruption of marriages damages the fabric of families and our social structure. We believe in helping people save their marriages and helping those who feel they cannot resolve their marriages to find healing and godliness in Christ.
- We believe a person should not remarry if his/her marriage bond has not been broken by the sexual union of either of the marriage partners. If both partners are believers and neither has broken the marriage bond, they are as married in God’s eyes. Jesus taught in Matthew 5:32 that those who enter into another wedding without the bond being broken commit adultery. That is why it is vital for believers to pursue reconciliation with their spouse instead of leaving them for another mate. To enter into another relationship is sinful and outside the will of God.
- We believe divorce is a serious issue with significant spiritual ramifications. In Malachi 2:14-16, God states that he hates divorce. Divorce destroys God’s symbol of a relationship with him as well as the infrastructure he has given to human society. Divorce causes shame and emotional scars. Divorce, however, is not an unpardonable sin. Jesus died to heal and forgive people of their sins. Divorce outside God’s parameters is sin, but the beauty of the cross is forgiveness, healing and hope.
- We believe a primary reason to fight for marriages is the impact on children. Statistics prove that children who go through a divorce are significantly at risk at developing relational dysfunctions. Children receive their primary source of relational modeling from their parents. When their primary caregivers and role models fail to model love and relational stability, children begin to appropriate the negative patterns seen in their parents. Dr. Judith Wallerstein a top authority in the affects of divorce on children, in her book, Second Chances: Men and Woman a Decade After Divorce, found that serious emotional and relational problems follow children of divorce throughout adolescence into adulthood. In fact, in some important measures, the negative effects of parental divorce grow worse as the child enters adulthood.
Other studies have found that children from divorced families struggle in education as well. Sara McLanahan of Princeton University finds that:
Regardless of which survey we looked at, children from one-parent families are about twice as likely to drop out of school as children from two-parent families.
Children from biological two-parent families have, on average, test scores and grade-point averages that are higher, they miss fewer school days, and have greater expectations of attending college than children living with one parent.
Children who experience a divorce in their family are hurt emotionally, relationally and socially. It is very important for families to stay together. Because of the effects of divorce on the family, Green Hills Church believes in fighting to resolve conflicts between marriage partners for the sake of both parents and children.
- We believe divorced people have great value and can be used by God. Divorce is incredibly painful and relationally harmful; however, those hurts can be healed through Christ. We believe that the scars of life can either be seen as marks of loss or marks of victory and growth. People who become divorced are not damaged goods.
Clear Teachings on Divorce and Remarriage
- In Scripture, the bulk of New Testament teaching on divorce is found in Matthew 5 and 19, Mark 10 and 1 Corinthians 7. These teachings of Jesus and Paul define the Biblical position on divorce and remarriage.
- Jesus’ teaching on divorce is found in Matthew 5:27-32 19:1-11 and Mark 10:1-12. It is important to notice that Jesus never advocates or demands divorce but does give a Biblical allowance for a marriage partner to divorce his/her spouse. The reason given for a divorce is unchastity. Jesus uses the Greek word, pornea, which is used for adultery, as well as any sort of sexual infidelity. The act of marital infidelity breaks the bond that a man and a woman have by introducing a foreign relationship into an exclusive bond. In God’s original definition of marriage, found in Genesis 2:24, a man and a woman become one flesh and are made one. Adultery creates a type of double-bonding that destroys the purity of a marriage, causing tremendous damage. However, in this case, divorce is not allowed because of the disruption of the marriage bond, but because it is an expression of mercy to the person who committed adultery.
In the Old Testament, divorce because of adultery was not very common. That is because those who committed adultery were summarily executed because of their sin. MacArthur notes in his commentary on Matthew that at some point in Jewish history, divorce became permissible as a merciful alternative to being stoned to death. The bond of marriage would be dissolved upon the death of the offending partner as taught in Romans 7:2. The purpose of divorce was to show mercy to a guilty adulterer but not to sentence the innocent to a life of loneliness and personal misery.
The Bible alludes to a change in the law in the book of Hosea where the prophet divorces his wife in Hosea 2:2 but does not put her to death. He later reconciles with his unfaithful wife as a symbol of God’s mercy and desire for his people, Israel.
A case study that can be used to illustrate this change in practice is found in the life of Jesus’ own parents. Mary was pregnant with Jesus, but had not yet entered into physical union with Joseph. However, although they were betrothed, the marriage union in the Jewish law began at betrothal, not at consummation. For Mary to have slept with someone other than her fiancé, was considered adultery. Joseph as an honorable man decided to divorce Mary privately instead of allowing her to be stoned. Joseph and Mary perfectly illustrate the change in the customs and law that allowed divorce to be used as a bloodless alternative to stoning. Divorce for the reason of adultery was given as an option for a person breaking the marriage covenant to escape death and end the marriage in divorce.
Under the original practices of the law, there was no reason for a divorce; the unfaithful partner would be put to death, ending the marriage bond. The widow then would be free to seek remarriage. It is assumed then, considering the customs at that time, the partner who did not sin was also then free to remarry. When a person divorced because of adultery, he/she was free to remarry because it was under the same condition as someone who had lost their spouse because of the demands of the law.
In Matthew 5:32, Jesus distinguishes between those who divorce on the condition of unchastity and those who simply divorced. Because they were allowed to divorce by law, they did not consider divorce to be sinful at that time. The situation is similar today where most people do not see anything wrong with casual divorce. Jesus defied the current thought of the religious establishment by his interpretation of a divorce for reasons other than adultery. Men were divorcing their wives for unbiblical reasons and marrying other women. As was customary, divorced women would find a new husband. This was their only recourse of personal survival; and because their bond had not been broken with their former husband, they became adulteresses once they remarried. Once the union was broken by the consummation of the new marriage, the people involved in the new marriages became adulterers. Succinctly put, “A person who has no right to a divorce has no right to remarry.” The only way to become right after entering into sin is to receive grace that is provided by God, repenting from all known sin and living a holy life.
- The second provision for divorce found in the New Testament is given by Paul in his writings in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. Believers who are married to unbelievers are to stay with their spouses if the unbelieving spouse is willing to live with them. However, if the unbelieving spouse chooses to leave the relationship, the believing partner would not be in sin. The Greek word, chorizo, was often used for divorce. This passage does not merely mean separation, but carries the weight of divorce language. Those who have unbelieving partners who wish to leave have a provision provided by God to be divorced. There are some misunderstandings in reconciling 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, with 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, that must be read with the rest of the passage.
What must be understood is that 1 Corinthians 7:8-16, are specific instructions for three different scenarios in which people find themselves. Verses eight and nine are addressed to the unattached: those who are unmarried and the widows. Verses ten and eleven are addressed to people who are believers who wish to leave their spouse. The latter verses, twelve through sixteen, concern believers who wish to remain in their relationship, but have an unbelieving spouse who wishes to leave. Paul tells believing women who wish to leave their husbands to remain unmarried if they leave or to be reconciled to her husband because she did not have the power to dissolve the relationship in a divorce in that time. She was still bonded to her husband. Also as a believer, she was not to leave her husband if he desired to remain in the relationship. Husbands are told to not divorce their wives in a striking contrast of language, because they did have the ability to end the relationship legally and send their wives away. The ideal situation that God desired was no divorce unless it was an unbeliever who chose to not remain in the relationship.
- Other reasons for divorce.
- Abandonment is an issue that leads to many divorces. Many people leave their spouses and the remaining partner does not know where their former spouse is or if they have entered into another relationship. In some extreme cases, abandonment may be present although neither of the partners has physically left the relationship. These cases are rare, but godly counsel from a pastor is encouraged to define the definition of abandonment on a case by case scenario.
Green Hills Church’s Stance on Remarriage
- The issues:
- Many theologians differ on their interpretation about remarriage after divorce. Some prominent pastors and writers, such as John Piper, believe there is no permission for remarriage for anyone who has been divorced. Others, such as John MacArthur, believe the Bible allows people to be remarried after they have been divorced, but only if they have been divorced for Biblically accepted reasons. He teaches if believers become divorced for any reason other than adultery they may never remarry. Finally, some pastors believe the Bible does not restrict anyone from becoming remarried as long as they enter into a process of healing and repentance.
- Clear Teaching
- God has a very high view of marriage. The first teaching in the Bible concerning marriage in Genesis 2:24 speaks of a man and a woman becoming ‘one flesh’ signifying that a marriage union goes much farther than a formal living arrangement. A specific type of bonding occurs during marriage: a man and woman become one. When a marriage is dissolved, it hurts and sin occurs because of the separation of one flesh back into two separate entities. Because of God’s high view of marriage and his distaste for divorce, Green Hills Church fights to resolve conflict in marriages and commits to walk with people in order to save marriages from divorce, if at all possible. Green Hills Church shares Jesus’ heart for healthy marriages and for reconciliation in marriage for the sake of both the spouses and their children. At the same time, Green Hills Church believes in the forgiveness of Christ and the full restoration of believers who have been divorced. As God’s church, we must be fully committed to a high view of marriage. We must fight earnestly for it, and provide a place for people to enter into forgiveness and restoration.
- It is difficult to reconcile God’s word with today’s culture. How does the church respond to the apparent new cases or reasons for divorce that are not found in scripture? How does the church minister to and lead the many people who become divorced and remarried? The following section will attempt to define what God says about remarriage and the proper steps to becoming remarried after a divorce.
- First, the question of whether there are new reasons for divorce, other than what is found in the Bible, must be answered. Although not every case for divorce is mentioned in the Bible, the world has not changed drastically in the way men and women relate in relationship. In the first century, there were people who fell out of love, physically abused their spouses, cheated on their mates and abandoned relationships. So the question is, how did the first century church lead their people in these difficult life experiences?
- The only time that Paul addresses the unmarried in a specific manner concerning their status of singleness is in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9. He tells them it is better to remain unmarried, but if they are unable to control their passions, then it is better to be married instead of indulging in sexual promiscuity. The unmarried in this case is not specified to virgins only or to the never married, but is defined by the generic definition of the unattached, meaning both divorced and never married. God instituted marriage to be a safeguard against sexual immorality and loneliness. The marriage bond between believers keeps men and women from falling into sexual sin.
- Some theologians, including MacArthur. make a distinction in the level of responsibility for believers in contrast to unbelievers, particularly in the area of remarriage. Those who hold this view believe that an unregenerate unbeliever cannot be held to the same standards as a believer. Therefore, a person who is divorced before his/her salvation is not accountable for it. However, believers are held accountable for their wrong actions and are not allowed to remarry, but must seek to reconcile with their spouse. MacArthur believes that Corinthians 7:10-11 is a proof text that does not allow Christians to become remarried if they divorce another believer. The Bible does distinguish, in many places between the knowledge and responsibility for which a believer is held accountable, as well as what an unregenerate unbeliever is responsible to hold as a moral code. A believer should not seek to remarry unless the bond of the relationship is dissolved and broken. Until one of the partners has moved on by remarriage or adultery, the wedding bond is still valid in the eyes of God. However, once the bond is broken through one of the partners entering into a sexual relationship with another person, the faithful partner is then free from the bond of marriage, and in time, free to remarry.
- Some pastors and denominations believe that people who have been divorced before their salvation experience are permitted to become remarried, but those who are already believers cannot be remarried after they are divorced. The reason this is a common belief is because of a misunderstanding of the doctrine of grace. A biblical understanding of redemptive grace is crucial to understanding why God allows people who have committed adultery, as well as those who divorced their spouse for wrong reasons, to become remarried. Grace applies to people on both sides of their salvation experience.
Adultery and divorce for unbiblical reasons are sins but are not unpardonable sins. The power of the blood of Christ gives grace to people for both the sins they commit before salvation and after their conversion. Salvation is only through grace that works on both sides of a person’s conversion. God’s forgiveness covers all sins that are committed by people when they return in repentance.
- One of the foundational principles guiding a Biblical understanding about remarriage is that, in the culture of that time it was common for both men and women to become remarried as a result of natural desire and survival. The only place in the New Testament where there is specific instruction given to single believers about the restrictions of being married is in 1 Corinthians 7:2,8. Paul states, in verse two, that it is right for a man and woman to be married to keep from sexual immorality. Marriage, in essence, is God’s provision for men and women to stay sexually pure. In verse eight, Paul continues by saying that, if it is possible, staying single is good. However, if they are driven by passion, it is better for the unmarried to become married.
The key to understanding this passage is defining these unmarried. When Paul distinguishes the unmarried from the divorced, is he speaking of only unmarried virgins, or is he also speaking of everyone who is unmarried, regardless of the reason? The Greek work agamois, translated as unmarried, is used only in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, except for one curious exception in Matthew 22. The Danker and Bauer’s Lexicon gives a definition of agamois as simply an unmarried man or woman. This same word is translated in verse 11 as divorced women. So there is a connection that this word agamois not only means those who have never been married but also includes those who have been divorced. If Paul’s instructions to all the unmarried are to get married rather than burn with passion, then this verse permits marriage for any who are not married. This pertains to those who have never been married, as well as those who were divorced for Biblical reasons and have been released from their previous bond of marriage. This verse opens the door for the rightly divorced to be remarried, as well as those who have gone through the steps of repentance and restoration.
- The clearest teaching that the Bible gives about remarriage is that it is God’s desire that men and women be married. This is a safeguard against sexual immorality. All unattached people are encouraged to become married, with the stipulation that it be done in a holy manner. However, marriage is a serious commitment and the wedding bond must not be taken lightly. Therefore anyone who desires to marry again is encouraged to be very careful, to be above reproach, to be repentant of any sin and to have resolved any lingering issues that may damage any current or future relationship.
Green Hills Church’s Practices concerning Remarriage
- We believe that remarriage after divorce is permitted by the Bible. Throughout scripture, legitimate remarriage after legitimate divorce is assumed. However, we also believe that because of grace and repentance, people who have been divorced for non-biblical reasons may become remarried if they enter into genuine repentance and show evidence of sustained repentance and recovery. Repentance is a permanent state of a change of behavior and desire. Although repentance is permanent, it is not perfect but is progressive, that is, it is a process of becoming right in behavior and mindset.
- We ask those who have been divorced to adhere to the following guidelines to find a place of repentance and health and a status of being above reproach.
- Come under the authority of God.
- Attempt to reconcile with previous marriage partner. Their marriage bond is still active if neither has entered into sexual union with another. If both are believers, they must strive to work out that relationship.
- Renounce all known sin and commit their lives to godliness and purity.
- Entrust his/her life completely to God.
- Resolve any lingering behavioral patterns that were the cause of the last divorce.
- Come under the authority of godly leadership
- Allow a respected pastor to speak truth into his/her life.
- Not walk through the process of healing alone.
- Follow the recommendations of that pastor or pastoral team concerning his/her readiness to proceed with a relationship.
- If someone does not allow his/her life to come under God’s authority, and has been divorced for an unbiblical reason, has shown no repentance or desire to reconcile with his/her partner, that person will not be encouraged by Green Hills Church to remarry.
- To allow concise character changes to take place.
- Forgiveness from God is immediate but restoring health takes time.
- We suggest that people, who have been divorced, wait for a healthy time frame before resuming dating and pursuing of marriage, in order to become emotionally and relationally healthy after their divorce.
- Time allows sustained repentance and character formation to form.
- Building character takes a long time.
- We suggest that people recovering from a divorce; spend a lengthy healing time, more than a year, before pursuing new romantic relationships.
Points of Application
- People labor under the misperception that love is an emotion or feeling. Love is a choice. Many marriages fail because the participants fail to choose to love. They allow distance to creep between them and their spouse. They become detached while they are still living together. Love chooses to become involved in the life the another person and make things work.
- Marriage relationships are long term events. Many people become frustrated with their relationships because they are not what they expected in the short term. The success of a marriage is not measured over five years but rather after decades of relationship together. Taking time and developing the marriage around Christ and each other creates a healthy marriage.
- Divorce is a debated issue in the area of church leadership. Many churches do not accept men who have been divorced as Elders. The definitive verse that is used to both accept divorced men as Elders is also the same verse that is used to keep them out. The qualifications of an elder are found in 1 Timothy 3. The first two qualifications, found in verse two are to be above reproach and a husband of one wife. Many churches hold that this is means that an Elder cannot have been divorced.
Green Hills Church holds to the same position on the definition of the word for wife/woman that John MacArthur and others do. The Greek word for wife gune, is the generic word for woman, which then translated literally then, “husband of one wife” reads, “a one-woman man.” This interpretation means that a divorced person may serve as an Elder if he meets the other qualifications and is a man above reproach. At Green Hills Church, we desire that any person being considered for the position of Eldership would be respected and above reproach, even if many have full knowledge of the person’s past. They all consider him to be a one-woman man.
At Green Hills Church, we believe that those who have been divorced and are being considered to be Elders should go through the processes outlined in the Divorce and Remarriage document. They should be a person well known to be above reproach concerning their status as a one woman man. In order to ensure that “above reproach” status, the leadership of Green Hills Church will not consider candidates for Eldership until they have been married to their current spouse for a minimum of five years. If a person who has been divorced meets all the qualities that are outlined in 1 Timothy 3, then they will be free to continue with the Elder selection process.
Summary of views on Divorce and Remarriage
Divorce happens among both Christians and non believers for a variety of reasons. The Bible teaches that God hates divorce because he has instituted marriage to be a covenant between a man and a woman that serves various functions. It is an image of God’s relationship and love toward his church, the primary building block of human society, and God’s mechanism to keep people from loneliness and sexual immorality. Divorce is incredibly painful because of the breaking of the intimate bond between a man and a woman.
The Bible gives two provisions for a divorce. The first is if one of the marriage partners has committed adultery, then the remaining faithful partner is not considered an adulterer and the marriage bond is dissolved. The second is if a believer has an unbelieving marriage partner who desires to abandon the relationship. At Green Hills Church, abandonment is determined in a case by case basis by a Highpoint pastor.
People, who get divorced for reasons other than these two they commit the sin of adultery when they remarry (Matt 5:32). The former partner breaks the marriage bond of the former union through fulfilling their marital duty with their new spouse. This is considered by God an act of adultery, and the partner who pursued divorce for reasons other than for infidelity is considered at fault by God. However, the mercy of God works in believers to forgive repentant people from the sins of adultery and divorce and God’s grace works to restore sinners to becoming fully healthy believers.
There are two major view points concerning remarriage. The first is that only those who have been divorced for Biblical reasons or before their salvation may become remarried without sinning further. Those who have sinned by adultery, in this view, cannot become remarried with the blessing of the church. However, after they have become remarried, the church will work to keep that current bond alive. The second view teaches that people who have been divorced for any reason can be remarried if they have repented and been restored. The latter view is the position of Green Hills Church.
The view that Green Hills Church holds on remarriage is that if the wedding bond is still in place between believers, every attempt at reconciliation must take place. If the bond has not been broken between believers, they are not free to remarry. If the bond has been broken through abandonment by an unbeliever, adultery or sexual union by one of the marriage partners after the divorce was final then a believer is free from the bond of marriage. Once a person is released from the bond of marriage, he/she is free to remarry if he has undergone a period of genuine repentance and healing. This is accomplished by confessing all known sin, reconciling as best as they can any outstanding issues with their former spouse, coming under the leadership of a pastor, and having sufficient time to heal the wounds from the breaking of their marriage bond and divorce. Green Hills Church believes that divorce does not leave people as damaged goods, but grace can heal and fully restore people to health and leadership.
At Green Hills Church we believe that those who have been divorced and are being considered to be Elders should go through the processes outlined in the Divorce and Remarriage document and are well known as a person above reproach concerning their status as a one-woman man. In order to ensure that above reproach status, the leadership of Green Hills Church will not consider candidates for Eldership until he has been married to his current spouse for a minimum of five years. If such a person who has been divorced meets all the qualities that are outlined in I Timothy 3, then he will be free to continue with the Elder selection process.
- We believe strongly in the sanctity of marriage and fight to save marriages through counseling and pastoral care.
- We believe that when marriage partners are estranged, Green Hills Church should work to ensure that every attempt at reconciliation takes place.
- We believe that divorce creates hurt in every person who is affected by the dissolution of the marriage bond. This includes the marriage partners, the children that may be involved, and other family members.
- We believe that children who go through a divorce are more likely to have problems relating to others due to of their lack of trust which was developed through negative modeling, and are at a higher risk at not being raised in a manner that encourages them to begin a personal relationship with Christ.
- We believe that divorce is a breaking of a physical and spiritual bond that God has instituted.
- We believe the Bible teaches there are only two reasons for divorce that are excused by God as sinless: adultery and abandonment by an unbeliever.
- We believe that when someone commits adultery, they break the marriage bond with their spouse and that divorce is allowed by God out of his mercy, instead of the marriage bond being severed by the death of the adulterer.
- We believe God allows for divorce to happen between a believer and an unbeliever if the unbeliever chooses to leave. This reason is due to the uneven yoking between a believer and an unbeliever. However, if the unbelieving spouse chooses to stay, then the believer is not to leave.
- We believe God allows divorce for other types of abandonment, such as abuse. However, each situation should be evaluated by a pastor on a case by case basis to give godly counsel.
- We believe people who have gone through a divorce are fully redeemable, regardless of the reason for their divorce.
- We believe remarriage was the assumed action for those who had become divorced in biblical times and it should be for us as well.
- We believe those who were divorced on biblical grounds are allowed to be remarried on biblical grounds.
- We believe those who been divorced on unbiblical grounds but have gone through sustained repentance and reconciliation are allowed to be remarried on biblical grounds.
- We believe we must equally fight for the sanctity of marriage and reconciliation in marriage partners as well as for grace and full restoration for those who have sinned in unbiblical divorce.
- We believe the Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:1, 9 that it is God’s heart for people to be in marriage covenant because God has built us to be in relationship with others.
- We believe all people desiring to be married at Green Hills Church will be well prepared for marriage through counseling and pastoral care.
- We believe someone who has been divorced should come under the godly leadership of a pastor, demonstrate sustained repentance, deal with all known sin and wait for a healthy time frame before pursuing a new marriage partner.
- We believe that men who have been divorced are able to serve as Elders if they have lived a sustained lifestyle of being known as a one-woman man with their current spouse and are above reproach.
 Wallerstein, Judith and Sandra Blakeslee, Second Chances: Men and Woman a Decade After Divorce Ticknor & Fields: New York 1990.
 McLanahan, Sara and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps Harvard University Press: Cambridge 1994.
 MacArthur, John. Matthew. QuickVerse Parsons Church Group: Omaha 2001.
 Danker, Fredrick William and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2000, (1095)
 Piper, John. On Divorce and Remarriage in the Event of Adultery Website: www.desiringGod.org.
 MacArthur, John. Divorce and Remarriage. Grace Community Church: Panorama City, 2001.
 MacArthur, John Guidelines for Christians Married to Other Christians. Grace Community Church: Panorama City.
MacArthur, John. Divorce and Remarriage. Grace Community Church: Panorama City, 2001.
 MacArthur, John Guidelines for Christians Married to Other Christians. Grace Community Church: Panorama City.
 Danker, Fredrick William and Walter Bauer, (page 5).
 MacArthur, John. Divorce and Remarriage Grace Community Church: Panorama City, 2001.