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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


Divorce and Remarriage: Introduction and Basics

The Importance of Family Part 1: Marriage
The Importance of Family Part 2: The Family
Divorce and Remarriage: Introduction and Basics
Separation and Divorce in the Law of Moses
Marital Separation in the Gospels
Marital Separation after the Gospels and Conclusions
Marital Separation: Objections 1-3
Marital Separation: Objections 4-6 and the Early Church
Remarriage Addendum: Exception Clause Comparison
New Testament Protocols Regarding Men and Women (Part 1)
New Testament Protocols Regarding Men and Women (Part 2)
Comparative Peer Dynamics Chart



In this study we will not only be covering a very controversial subject, but unfortunately, the conclusion that we will be establishing is one that will be considered even more controversial and unacceptable to many in modern Christianity. And although some will undoubtedly be offended, it is not our goal or desire to offend. And while the behavior of many Christians will consequently be condemned as Biblically unacceptable, it is not our goal or desire to condemn.

We pass no judgment of our own. Instead, our goal is simply to understand what the New Testament teaches regarding divorce and remarriage, without bias and without prejudice. In this way, our conclusions will not be the judgments of man, but the teaching of the Word of God.

At this point, it should be said that we have no vested interest or biases on our own. We have not been divorced or remarried. Nor do we have close friends who have been. Thus, we do not have anyone that we are trying to protect or whose actions we are trying to defend or justify. On the other hand, we do have very close relatives who have been divorced and remarried, our own parents in fact. So, we are not altogether untouched by the issue and unsympathetic to those involved with it. As we shall see, it is precisely such difficulty that in part leads to the New Testament teachings against divorce and remarriage in the first place.

It is also very important to state the following up front. As we will see later on from Deuteronomy 24, beginning in the Old Testament instructions concerning divorce were addressed primarily to men. For the most part, this continues in the New Testament teaching on the subject as well. The evolution to modern cultures since the Old and New Testaments have in various ways dramatically increased the ability of the wife to initiate divorce. However, the fact that the Biblical protocols were primarily addressed to husbands, does not mean that the protocols don't apply equally to wives who initiate divorce. It is not as though God has one standard for marriage and divorce that he applies to men while not providing any instructions or limitations for women with the result being that women can do whatever they want in these areas. Instead, we should assume that the principles governing marriage and divorce apply equally to either gender.

This application of the same protocols to women can be seen most clearly in Jesus' words in Mark 10.

Mark 10:11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

As we can see, by the time of Jesus a woman's ability to initiate divorce was common enough that Jesus applied his teaching equally to either spouse. So we will proceed forward in this study with the understanding that even when protocols are addressed specifically to the husband, the same principles apply equally to the wife. There were not different rules and standards for each but God had one standard that applied to both.

Now, given the emotional nature of this study, we think that it is good to state our position clearly right from the start. Our goal is to go through the scripture (followed by a survey of Christian teaching from the first few centuries AD) to display the evidence that has led us to the following conclusion.

Much to the grief of those in these situations, it is our assessment that according to the teaching of Jesus Christ as expressed plainly in the New Testament:

1.) Marriage to another person besides your first spouse while that first spouse is still alive is adultery.
2.) After the death of the first spouse, the surviving spouse is permitted to marry someone else if they so choose.
3.) For persons who are married to someone besides their first spouse while that first spouse is still alive, repentance requires ending the marriage and separating from to any subsequent spouse and either remaining single or if possible, being reconciled to the original spouse.

Of course, on such a difficult subject, it is essential that these three conclusions are shown to be the teaching of scripture itself rather than mere constructs of our own invention. So, the question arises of where to begin. And the answer of course is an understanding of the basic terminology and language surrounding this issue.

(NOTE: We should clearly state up front that it is not the idea of being married to more than one person over the course of one's lifetime that God finds unacceptable. Both the New Testament and the Old Testament are quite clear that in cases where one spouse dies, the other spouse is free to remarry. This is perfectly acceptable in God's eyes. Death ends the physical and spiritual union established by God in every marriage.)


Basic Concepts and Terms

Fortunately, the most basic concepts involved in this issue are also the focal point of Jesus' own teaching on these matters. The details of the two passages below (along with their parallel passages) will be discussed in greater depth later on. However, since at this point we are establishing an understanding of just some basic concepts, our commentary from these two passages will be much more focused.

Matthew 19:4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Mark 10:6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

The fundamental concepts of the issue of divorce and remarriage are established sufficiently by Jesus in this passage. Those fundamental concepts are the joining of a husband and wife. Jesus tells us several things about that union.

A.) The union results from the coming together of the male and female.
B.) In this union the two (male and female) become no longer two but one.
C.) God is described as the one who makes the two into one.

There are several things that are evident in these statements. First, a fact that will become more significant later is that in the passages above Jesus is clearly referring back to the words of Genesis as the starting point of this standard.

Genesis 2:21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; 22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. 23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. 24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Second, the association of the male and female coming together and becoming "one flesh" indicates that the union is a initiated and established by a physical act, the act of sexual intercourse.

Third, although it is certainly the man and woman who perform the act of intercourse, the uniting of them together is described as the work of God himself. Thus, for the two to be separated afterward is not simply a matter of undoing human work, but a work of God.

And from these two Gospel passages and Genesis 2 we arrive at the two fundamental concepts of this issue:

Married couples are either in a state of being joined or they are in a state of separation.

Since we do not want to insert our own meaning for these words into the text, at this point it is necessary to define those terms as they are used in the Bible.

Now, the nature of the union does not require much explanation. From the statements above out of Genesis 2, Matthew 19, and Mark 10, we know that this joining brings to an end the status of the man and wife as two separate units. The union makes them one. But it is important to understand the extent of this oneness so that we do not think of it as something insignificant or easily dispensed.

Starting with Genesis 2:21, the Hebrew word for "one" is "echad" (Strong's No. 0259), which means simply, the numeral "one." It is most significant to note that this word "echad" is the same word used in Deuteronomy 6:4, which declares, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one (0259) LORD." The fact that the books of Moses describe the oneness of a husband and wife in the same terms as the oneness of the Godhead prevents us from taking the oneness of marriage as a light or fleeting matter.

One additional point that must be made from Jesus comments in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 is that at this point, it is not the committing of adultery that Jesus is forbidding (although he does do so in the following verses.) Instead, in Matthew 19:3- 4-6 and Mark 10:6-9, Jesus is forbidding the very act of separating from one's spouse. So, it is not just adultery that is forbidden, but in truth before Jesus forbid adultery in this discussion, he first forbid splitting up the marriage union. And this fact should not be swept under the rug as if the only thing to be avoided is adulterous unions, when in fact the splitting up of what God has united is just as much prohibited by Jesus.

This brings us to the next critical point: the concept of separation.

Modern society, including modern church culture, conceives of three stages of marriage: married, separated, and divorced. In this way, separation is thought of as an intermediary step between a couple living together as man and wife on one hand and being legally divorced on the other. Subsequently, in Christian circles separation is thought to be an acceptable alternative (even if it is an unfortunate one) while only divorce is considered forbidden by such passages as Matthew 19 and Mark 10.

However, it is essential to demonstrate that this three-stage concept is merely a modern contrivance that has no basis or place in scripture. For where the modern concept allows for separation and defines it as an acceptable intermediate stage before divorce, in the Bible, including the Old Testament, divorce was simply defined as the formal declaration of separation. This formal declaration originates in the Old Testament for the benefit of the party being put away. And so, in Biblical terms, there are only 2 stages of a marriage: the state of being together living as man and wife or the state of being separated and living separately. Divorce was only the formal declaration required at the initiation of the second stage in the Old Testament. It was not a new stage of its own.

In fact, the word "divorce" doesn't even occur in the New Testament. The word "divorcement" does, but only 3 times and it is always a reference to the written declaration of separation. Thus, in both the New and Old Testaments, divorce is never associated with a distinct stage other than separation.

"Divorcement" occurs only in Matthew 5:31, Matthew 19:7, and Mark 10:4 and in all three cases it is the Greek word "apostasion" (Strong's No. 647), which simply means "bill of divorce" and is derived from "aphistemi" (Strong's No. 868), which means "to make stand off, cause to withdraw, to remove." The word "aphistemi" merely denotes the separation and the only additional conceptual element in "apostasion" is that the separation was written down.

Furthermore, in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, the apostle Paul speaks of what in the English is translated into "the falling away." The Greek word for this phrase "falling away" is "apostasia" (Strong's No. 646). The definition of apostasia includes the notation that it is "feminine of the same as 647," which means that it is simply the feminine form of apostasion (Strong's No. 647.) The definition of apostasia does not include the notion of a document or bill, but it simply means, "a falling away, defection." This gives us further insight into its masculine counterpart apostasion, which likewise simply involves the idea of a separation or forsaking.

Therefore, in the New Testament, divorce is not a different stage from separation but is merely the required written statement given to the spouse to initiate the separation in simplest terms. And what was separation? It was simply the putting away of the spouse out of the household, which in itself ended the marriage. And we will now establish these facts.

In accordance with the process of progressive revelation in which God revealed his will and instructions to mankind over time, it is necessary that we determine our understanding of how God introduced and used such terms as "separation" and "divorce" leading up to the use of these terms in the New Testament. The New Testament teachers and writers, including Jesus Christ, did not come up with these terms themselves or use them in a vacuum. Instead, they were Jewish men speaking to Jews and using terms that they as Jews knew in accordance with how Jews understood those terms from God's own commands in the Old Testament.

In Matthew 5, Matthew 19, and Mark 10, Jesus does comment on the idea of a "bill of divorcement." In fact, in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, it is the Pharisees who first bring this up and they attribute the notion to the Law of Moses.

Matthew 5:31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

Matthew 19:7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? 8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

Mark 10:3 And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? 4 And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. 5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.

Since the bill of divorcement discussed by Jesus and the Pharisees comes from the Law of Moses, we need to understand its meaning from the Law of Moses. Only then will we properly understand the relationship that the word "divorce" has to the idea of a married couple being separated.