Can Christians divorce and remarry?


Table of Contents for: Can Christians divorce and remarry?

A man's wedding ring on his hand. Can Christians divorce and remarry?
A wedding ring – Can Christians divorce and remarry?

How did Jesus react to those who were divorced?

When anyone brings up the subject of ‘can Christians divorce and remarry’ I like to think about how Jesus reacted with people.
Jesus went to many meals and parties and we never read that he pointed his finger at them.
Yes he did publicly expose the sin of hypocrisy in the religious leaders, because that was blinding people to the truth and blocking their way to salvation, but he didn’t expose the people at those parties.
Imagine, there would have been fornicators, thieves, adulterers, deceivers, those who were divorced and violent people there, but he said nothing!
He did not condemn.

It can be easy to condemn anyone who is divorced

I come across good Christian families that have not experienced huge conflict within their relationships, they’ve had no kids going off the rails, no drugs, no violent or abusive situations, no breakups and understandably they sincerely believe that everything and anything can be worked through.
But they haven’t experienced someone who refuses to change, or is violent, or who gambles all the money away, or who verbally abuses their partner, or who continues to have other partners.
I used to be one of those people who believed that there was no divorce for Christians.
But God does not expect us to carry on indefinitely, if he knows that person is not going to change.
Would God really expect someone to constantly suffer without any legal way out?

We mustn’t become legalistic.
Do we see things by the letter of the law, or from a place of grace?
Grace has forgiveness, love and acceptance and we need to remember that we too can fall however ‘devout’ we think we are.

God supplies a way out even if it seems contrary to his law

You may think ‘how can that ever be true… contrary to his law!”

Most people would agree that it is God’s will for a couple to marry for life and for it to remain as just the two of them. Agreed?
But in the Old Testament if a ladies husband died and she had no son, she would be left in a very vulnerable position and probably wouldn’t be able to support herself.
So God provided an answer, a way out of her suffering, that would seem contrary to God’s own law:
The Sadducees, who were referring to Deuteronomy 25, said to Jesus:

Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.”

Luke 20:28

That would mean that he had two wives!
God wanted to provide for that lady to stop her suffering.

What does the Bible say about Divorce and Remarriage?

The Rev Dr David Instone-Brewer, a Honorary Research Fellow in
Rabbinics and the New Testament, at Tyndale House, Cambridge UK, has written an acclaimed book called: “Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible and in the Church”.
I have heard him speak on a number of occasions and have had the pleasure of having lunch with him and his wife and I can say that his motives are to get to the Biblical truth as seen in the first century.
For example:

This book interprets the words of Jesus and Paul through the eyes of first century readers who knew about the ‘Any Cause’ divorce which Jesus was asked about (“Is it lawful to divorce for ‘Any Cause’” – Mt.19.3).
Christians in following generations forgot about the ‘Any Cause’ divorce and misunderstood Jesus.
The ‘Any Cause’ divorce was invented by some Pharisees who divided up the phrase “a cause of indecency” (Dt.24.1) into two grounds for divorce: “indecency” (porneia which they interpreted as ‘Adultery’) and “a cause” (ie ‘Any Cause’).
Jesus said the phrase could not be split up and that it meant “nothing except porneia”.
Although almost everyone was using this new type of divorce, Jesus told them that it was invalid, so remarriage was adulterous because they were still married.”

Rev Dr David Instone-Brewer [i]

His conclusions are:

  • The Bible’s message for those suffering within marriage is both realistic and loving
  • Marriage should be lifelong, but broken marriage vows can be grounds for divorce
  • Biblical grounds for divorce include adultery, abuse and abandonment
  • Jesus urged forgiveness but allowed divorce for repeated unrepentant breaking of marriage vows
  • Only the victim, not the perpetrator of such sins, should decide when or whether to divorce
  • Anyone who divorces on biblical grounds or who is divorced against their will can remarry.

References:
[i] “Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible and in the Church”


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