SWM 069 – Is it okay to remarry after being divorced?

Is it okay to remarry after being divorced?  What does the Bible say?

A friend of mine recently asked if the Bible allows you to remarry after you’ve been divorced.  Her husband had divorced her, years ago, and while she had no specific candidates in mind, she didn’t want to even entertain the idea of a relationship that might lead to something romantic.  I mean, who wants to be stuck choosing between God and someone you want to marry?  If only more people had that foresight in other situations …

Her impression from reading the Bible was that if you were divorced and remarried, not only would you be committing adultery in God’s eyes, but so too would be your future spouse.  So, how can she entertain the idea of remarriage if it means she’s committing adultery, and causing this potential spouse to also commit adultery?

Knowing that I like to tackle difficult questions, that I like to find answers, and that I work with couples, she asked me – is it okay to remarry after being divorced?

Right away, my impression was that it doesn’t seem right for someone whose spouse divorced them, to be relegated to a life of singleness.  That doesn’t mean they are owed another spouse, by any means, but if the opportunity presents itself – why not?

But, as Christians, we shouldn’t be guided by our feelings, contrary to what many Christians seem to believe these days, but rather by the word of God. So, I opened up my Bible, and I quickly saw why she had formed the opinion she had when I read this verse:

But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

Matthew 5:32 NKJV

Well, that’s pretty clear-cut, isn’t it?  At least it appears to be.  However, the more I dug into it, the less clear it seemed.  After all, how can the husband make his wife an adulterer by his actions?  The Bible is quite clear that we are responsible for our own actions, our own sins.  Ezekiel 18 shows the principle clearly when talking about the righteous man and the unrighteous son.  

So, let’s look at what some other translations did with this verse.

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:32 NIV

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, brings adultery upon her. And he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Berean Matthew 5:32 Bible Study

But I can guarantee that any man who divorces his wife for any reason other than unfaithfulness makes her look as though she has committed adultery. Whoever marries a woman divorced in this way makes himself look as though he has committed adultery.

Matthew 5:32 God’s Word Translation

Now, the God’s Word translation I think is taking some liberties there, but all in all, I think the proper meaning is conveyed.  Reading scholar’s opinions of the Greek shows that the “causes her to” show that the object of the sentence, the wife, is the passive one in this sentence.  It’s the husband who is doing the divorcing and acting upon her. 

We have a similar thing happen in 1 John:

If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

1 John 1:10 NKJV

Now, can I cause God to be a liar?  Can any action I do make Him not be truthful?  No, of course not.  By the same token, can I do anything to make my wife an adulteress?  No, of course not.  

But in English, we don’t really have good words to represent this.  In Greek the active and passive forms of the word are clearer, but not in English.  We don’t have an “adulter-ed” word.  

Lastly, I decided to check out one of the translations done from a Hebrew version of Matthew, which some believe comes from a version that pre-dates the Greek versions of Matthew, which would make it more accurate.  Here’s what it comes out like:

And I say to you that everyone who leaves his wife is to give her a bill of divorce. But concerning adultery, he is the one who commits adultery and he who takes her commits adultery.

Matthew 5:32 (Translated by George Howard from the Shem Tov Hebrew Matthew)

Interestingly, it seems to agree that the husband (in this case) is the actor and that the fault, responsibility, sin and label of adulterer falls upon him.  She has been adulter-ed against.  She is the violated one, not the one doing the violation. And one of my readers pointed out Malachi 2:6, which is often quoted as saying “God hates divorce”. However, looking at other translations, you get messages like this:

The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘does violence to the one he should protect,’ says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.

Malachi 2:16 NIV

That leaves us with a message that’s consistent through the Bible and also makes logical sense – those are the interpretations I favor, because I believe in a God who brings order to chaos, not the other way around.

So, then what do we do with the second part of the verse?

and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:32b NKJV

This is problematic because we also have this verse in the Bible:

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved.

1 Corinthians 7:15

This seems to contradict a plain-text reading of Matthew 5:32b. Is it because he’s an unbeliever? That doesn’t seem to make much sense. I mean, why would it be okay for an unbeliever to leave, but not a believer? This, again, seems to need more study.

Later on in Matthew 19, we see Jesus tackle the subject again.  In that chapter, we see the Pharisees coming to Jesus with a question, as they often did.  They quote Deuteronomy 24 and ask if it is lawful for a husband to divorce his wife.  After responding that God never intended for divorce, the disciples asked Jesus the same question basically, wanting to know the legalistic answer rather than the principle Jesus was trying to teach – that marriage is serious.

Here’s what Jesus says:

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.

Matthew 19:9

In Mark we get the same story, where He says this:

So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Mark 10:11-12

Oddly enough, no mention of remarriage counting as adultery.  Also what’s interesting is that in Deuteronomy 24, the only mention of remarriage that appears to be abhorrent is if you divorce your wife, she marries another man, then he divorces her, or dies, and you remarry your wife again.  I wonder if this was a way to stop husbands from trying to “legally” wife-swap.  

And that would make the verse in Matthew 5:32 make sense – if you meet another man, you each are attracted to the other’s wife, but are bored with your own, if you each agree to divorce your wife and marry the other, “legally” it would be okay, but really, you’re just conspiring to commit adultery.

As well, all of this is within a larger talk in Matthew 5 of Jesus trying to teach people, my guess is the Pharisees most of all, that the principles behind the laws are the important part.  Stop looking for legal loopholes, stop being legalistic.  “Not murdering” isn’t enough – you have to love even your enemy.  Divorcing “for lawful reasons” isn’t enough – you have to love your spouse, even when it’s hard or when you don’t want to.  

The entire point is that a marriage should be a living example of the love God has for us. It’s not a joke, and it’s not to be taken lightly.  We see this when we look at other verses on the same topic:

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.

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 NKJV

If you’re going to leave a marriage for frivolous reasons (like “we fell out of love” or “it was too hard” or “I was unhappy”) – well, you better stay unmarried.  Marriage isn’t for you.  Frankly, you don’t have the character it requires.  If you can’t take it seriously, don’t get into another one.  If you can convince your spouse to take you back and try again, fine, but don’t make someone else miserable because you’re the problem, not the marriage – again if you’re divorcing for frivolous reasons (not adultery, real abuse, etc).

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved.

1 Corinthians 7:15 NKJV

What does this “enslaved” mean?  Well, I also found this verse:

A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 7:39 NKJV

The word “bound” and “enslaved” share the same root in Greek.  It’s being subject to the law, the law that binds you together.  

For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

Romans 7:2-3 NKJV

So, there are ways that binding can be broken.  If your spouse dies, you aren’t bound.  Likewise, seemingly, if they divorce you, you aren’t bound.  That’s what a certificate of divorce was for – it was a legal document saying you are no longer bound by the law.  If your spouse leaves you for frivolous reasons, then it’s not your fault! – you haven’t done anything wrong, and you aren’t bound by the law.  You are free from it.

What I read from all of this is that marriage is really important.  So important that choosing to enter, or leave it is a serious thing – far more serious than our society seems to take it.  I think more seriously than many Christians take it, to be honest.  

I’m amazed at some of the emails I get asking if it’s okay to leave your spouse just because things have gotten difficult.  And by difficult, I mean “first-world problems” difficult, if you know what I mean, not really serious issues.

I was recently asked, "Is it okay to remarry after being divorced?"  Here's what I found in the Bible.

So, how do I read this verse now?

But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

Matthew 5:32 NKJV

My understanding of this is that if you choose to leave the marriage for a frivolous issue, then you aren’t fit to be married. You aren’t giving it the weight it deserves. 

The corollary to this is the opposite case: if you marry someone whose spouse divorced them for a serious issue (like adultery) – well, that’s probably not wise either. What makes you think they won’t do the same wrong behaviour in your marriage as well?  

In fact, I just read a recent study (One a Cheater, Always a Cheater? Serial Infidelity Across Subsequent Relationships) which found that someone who has cheated in a relationship is 3.4 times more likely to engage in infidelity in a subsequent relationship, compared to someone who never has cheated.  Another way to put it is that 44% of subjects who engaged in infidelity did so again in their next relationship.  That’s nearly 50/50.  Sort of rolling the dice there.

So, can you get married again if you’re divorced?  As far as I can tell, if you didn’t instigate the divorce or cause the divorce through sexual immorality, then I don’t see why not.

Alternatively, if you did instigate the divorce, repent, and convince your spouse to take you back, then you can marry them again.

That’s how I see it anyways.  If you disagree, I’d love to hear your reasons and verses to back them up in the comments below.

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