Divorce And Remarriage – “Biblical Summary On Divorce & Remarriage”

This article is part 5 of 9 in the series Divorce and Remarriage

(We are grateful for this material by Olan Hicks, provided here with permission.)

   In Matthew 19, verses 3-12, Jesus stated several facts clearly. First He said that marriage is of God, that it is to be a “one flesh” relationship, and that man must not put it asunder. The Pharisees, evidently thinking this was an inconsistency, asked “Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce and put her away?” (vs. 7) Jesus replied, “For the hardness of your hearts Moses suffered you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” Looking back at what Moses said in Deut. 24:1-3 we find that what was commanded there was the paper work, the “bill of divorce,” in a case where a wife was being put away. It was not a command to put her away but rather a command that in the event you were putting her away you must give her the written release or bill of divorcement. The “hardness of heart” or cruelty, consisted in putting her away without the formal release. As Josephus said, “without the bill of divorcement she was not permitted so to do.” (Marry another)

   In the Pharisees’ logic this seemed to imply an approval of marriage breaking. But at verse 8 Jesus said that from the beginning it was “not so,” i.e. not God’s will that marriages break up. Then He said that when a man does put away his wife and she is not guilty of fornication, and marries another, he “commits adultery.” This is not a present infinitive verb. It does not denote an ongoing, continuous action. It is present indicative. It points to an action that happens, as the text says, when he puts away one and marries another, two punctiliar actions, not later in the sexual cohabitation in another marriage.

   Thus the first thing we need to do is identify what the sin is according to what the text says, not according to human theory. The words of Jesus are clear on this. The sin occurs when two things are done, (1) the man puts away his innocent wife and (2) marries another. In Mark 10:11 Jesus clarified this matter further. He said that the man who does this “commits adultery against her,” i.e.the wife put away. The adultery then is against the first wife, not with the second wife.  It is a betrayal of his vows and obligations to the original wife. This fact is not altered one way or the other by what he does after that, whether he marries again or not. The fact is he has committed a sin against the wife and in so doing has violated the will of God.

   One significant thing is not in the Biblical text. As Foy Wallace Jr. pointed out, Jesus did not “legislate a disciplinary procedure.” (Sermon on the Mt. & the civil state, pg. 41) The Lord said it is a sin but He did not specify the penalty, what must be done about it. Wallace said, “We cannot make one without human legislation.”

   This is exactly what did happen in later years, human legislation prescribed the penalty. The Council of Trent (middle 16th century) had good intentions. They said their intention was “to curb the abuse of marriage.” That is a good thing. But the problem is they chose to do it according to their traditional human theories, not according to Bible prescriptions. Their theology was traditional Catholic teaching so the “sacrament” theory of marriage was their basic view point. Reasoning on the basis of that premise their interpretation of this text changes “do not” to “cannot.” They believed that marriage, as a sacrament, is not breakable until death. The resulting conclusion of their logic is that the divorced and remarried man is not living with the one who is still his wife in God’s sight and is living with a woman who is not his wife in God’s sight. They put the label “adultery” there.

   As you can see, this line of reasoning also causes them to move the sin from the two acts of putting away and marrying another to the sexual activity in the subsequent marriage. They set aside the specification Jesus gave, that unscriptural divorce and remarriage is adultery, and declare that “adultery is a sex act.” And so it is that from this source, the human theories of the council of Trent,  we have what is called “the traditional view” on divorce and remarriage, i.e. that sinfully divorced people lose their “eligibility” to participate in marriage.

   This theory not only damages lives by requiring people to live an abnormal life, (without a mate) it also brings them into conflict with another very serious premise in scripture, in which the perpetrators may be jeopardizing their own souls. In 1 Timothy 4:1-3 the apostle says that the Spirit predicts a falling away in the last times when men will depart from the faith and give heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons. The first feature of it (in verse 3) is “forbidding to marry.” Again here they have good intentions, they want people not to “live in adultery.” But like the Council of Trent, they lose sight of what God has said about the matter. God states very clearly that He does not want marriage forbidden, He wants it practiced. Marriage is God’s appointed way of preventing “immorality.” (1 Cor. 7:2) “Let them marry, for it is better to marry then to burn.” (Vs. 9) Thus it is not surprising that this passage would say of those who forbid marriage that they  “depart from the faith.”

   So if we strip away the human theories, even though well intentioned, what we have left is the fact of a sin and a need to apply the Bible way of dealing with sin. Repentance, of course, is the Biblical way. If we have been doing something that is contrary to God’s will, such as breaking marriage, we must stop doing that and start doing what is according to God’s will. In this matter the will of God is one man married to one woman, and both are committed to that for life. Whether it is now the first marriage or the third or fourth or what, the prescription is the same, one man for one woman for life. Change your practice. Stop being unfaithful in marriage and start being faithful in marriage. Forgiveness of the past is available in the blood of Jesus.

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