Problems with Today’s Divorce and Remarriage Excuses
Examining some of the flaws in the Adultery, Abandonment, Abuse, (etc.) arguments that are used to permit divorce & remarriage
After participating in multiple marriage, divorce, and remarriage (MDR) discussions over the past couple of weeks, I’ve decided that I’d like to post some of the questions that advocates favoring remarriage should consider. I’ve discovered that there are two primary categories into which people fall that support divorce and remarriage.The first group of people are those who support it because they learned it and may have studied it with a bias but are willing to continue reading and studying to be 100% certain they aren’t sinning against God. The second group tends to be comprised of those individuals holding a leadership position that takes extreme offense to being told the position is faulty. They accuse permanence marriage viewers as being “law keepers” and “Pharisees.” Considering the fact that the Pharisees are hypocrites and did not live what they taught, held to the law (“law keepers”) instead of learning why God had commands in place, and were the ones challenging Jesus in order to find reasons to get divorced, the names/insults clearly don’t fit. They’re actually more appropriate for those who want to live under grace but hold to certain portions of the OT as binding, such as Deut 24:1-4, when it suits them. This second group tends to be more about “saving face” in front of their audiences instead of dialoging about the Scriptures.
I understand those that are in remarriages or those who want to remarry feeling as if I’ve cut them and am personally attacking them. When people are hurt, they tend to fight back. I try to say what needs to be said and let them digest what was presented. However, those who claim to be teachers have a much higher standard of accountability, so they have no excuse to keep teaching incorrectly when truth has been presented. As always, I advise that you take what has been posted, pray for understanding, read what the Bible says, and allow God to show you the truth even if it’s painful to accept. (The blog about the permanence of marriage can be found here – blog.)
Let’s examine some of the problems presented when these “exceptions” are permitted.
1. Belief that a covenant is broken due to adultery (today’s interpretation of fornication). Jesus said fornication is the only reason for divorce (Matt 5:31-32, Matt 19:9)
– Problem #1 – Covenant and broken are not mentioned in the verses, and every reference to a broken covenant brings the wrath of God. People claim adultery breaks the covenant, but the Scriptures don’t state that.
Examples: David had to make restitution to the Gibeonites for King Saul violating their covenant. Covenantbreakers (Rom 1:29) are listed among those turned to reprobate minds and worthy of death.
– Jesus said fornication (understood for millennia to be premarital sex) was the one reason people could divorce. Since divorce was needed to break off a legal engagement/betrothal, there was no covenant to be broken because the couple had not completed and consummated the marriage to enter into covenant.
– Problem #2 – God said, “My covenant I will not break” because God keeps His word. The purpose of God giving Israel a divorce was so that she would repent of her adulteries – not for Him to go find another nation. People have a tendency to think God replaced Israel with the Church. Not true. Gentiles were grafted in making all the followers of Christ the Church. Jeremiah 3:14 states that God is married to Israel just 6 verses after He gave her a bill of divorce. Is there any Scripture that suggests that God must keep His covenant with us, but He doesn’t mind us breaking our covenants?
– Problem #3 – When is the covenant “broken”? Is it when someone commits adultery? If so, then does that mean the person that forgives the one that cheated is committing fornication and going against God because adultery “broke the covenant”? If you hold to the idea that the offending spouse broke a covenant, then you must teach that the one who accepts the offender back must get remarried to make a new covenant each time it happens because your position is that once adultery happens, that couple is no longer in covenant with each other, which puts them in a position of sinful living by residing together and acting as husband and wife when you say they aren’t.
– Either the covenant is broken as soon as adultery occurs, and they must separate or remarry, or the covenant is not broken, which opens the way for healing to the couple that chooses to forgive the repentant spouse and move forward.
– Problem #4 – If adultery breaks the covenant, then you must state that God made Hosea live in sin each time he took back Gomer after she gave birth to children of other men. Not only do you imply that those who forgive adulterers live in sin because their marriage no longer exists due to a broken covenant, you’re actually claiming that God sins by continuing to stay with His adulterous people without making new covenants every time they/we sinned. We cheat on God when we place things, including ourselves, before God. There is only one covenant available to us for salvation, and Jesus only died once for that covenant. If covenants are broken due to cheating, then none of us have any hope remaining because God must cast us aside because we are no longer in covenant with Him.
– One of the reasons people say you cannot return to your first spouse is based on Deut 24:1-4, yet the Bible has multiple examples of people returning for their first wives or being commanded to return to their covenant wives: David & Michal, Hosea & Gomer, God & Israel, Philip & Herodias, priests and the wives of their youth.
– If you hold to the position that a husband can’t take his wife back based on the Law of Moses (nailed to the cross), then that means that God can’t take you back once you’ve committed an act of idolatry to put yourself before Him. You must teach that you broke your covenant with Him, have been put away, and can no longer return to Him no matter how repentant you are. You are a walking dead man waiting for the moment you will be thrown into hell. It’s one or the other. You can’t teach that cheating breaks a covenant of marriage for people and tell them to find new spouses while simultaneously teaching that God always forgives those who repent and stays with us “for better or for worse.”
– Problem #5 – If adultery “breaks the covenant,” then the person is automatically single as soon as it happens. Why aren’t you counseling those spouses to look for the new people BEFORE the paperwork is finalized? If there’s no covenant, they’re not sinning by dating before the judge signs the divorce decree, right? There’s no point in telling these people that they can’t date while separated because, according to you, God doesn’t even see them as married anymore.
2. Belief that God permits the “innocent” spouse to divorce & remarry on grounds of adultery/sexual immorality
– Problem #1 – You can’t prove that the “innocent” spouse is actually innocent vs. the one that got caught. Divorce is never 100% the fault of any one person. Since Jesus stated that lust/desiring a person other than the spouse is adultery (Matt 5:28), how can you be sure the innocent spouse never desired or thought about someone else but just never confessed to committing mental adultery?
What about the spouse that didn’t get caught cheating but watched pornography (from porneia that many permit to mean anything sexually immoral) all day? What about if one person wants to do something the other considers unclean or sexually immoral? Does the offended spouse get to divorce his wife because he thinks she’s committed fornication?
By teachings today, the one is “innocent” because her sexual immorality wasn’t “physical.” Many people will tell you that “emotional cheating” is more painful than physical adultery because emotional cheating involves the person’s heart over someone that can have sex without an emotional connection. So, if this innocent spouse is found to have committed adultery in his heart, what are you going to tell him after you told him he was justified in putting away his wife, who confessed to cheating, in order to find someone new? You gave permission and may have officiated this new marriage because you said he could get a new wife only to find out he also committed adultery. Now what?
– Problem #2 – That teaching implies that if the “guilty” spouse remarries, God won’t recognize it.
Why wouldn’t He? If divorce makes both parties “single” because there’s no more covenant, why would God perpetually limit one and not the other? You’re telling people that God “frees” one from the marriage bond and keeps the other “bound” to the marriage. If God sees the adulterer as wrong in the marriage, but he repents, why would God tell him he can’t ever get married again? That’s making his sin unforgiveable. If the adulterer can’t remarry, it’s because he’s still married to the spouse that divorced him. You can’t tell one she can remarry and be “one” with a new man while simultaneously teaching her husband (first man) that if he remarries, he’s committing adultery because you’re saying he’s one with the wife. You’ve now tied her to two men but told one that he’s tied to someone he can’t have. How does that work? She divorces husband one and basically says that he can’t have her and can’t have anyone else either, but she can get a second husband and live like the first doesn’t exist
– Problem #3 – Every single verse (Matt 19:9, Mark 10:11-12, Matt 5:31-32, Luke 16:18) that addresses divorce and remarriage specifically states that the person that marries the divorced person commits adultery.
Jesus does not specify if the person married was the one left and divorced, walked away to file for divorce, was guilty, or innocent. Jesus stated that the one marrying the divorced person commits adultery. You have to read into the verses to make them say one can remarry but the other can’t. Are you willing to stand in front of God and tell Him He meant something He didn’t say?
3. Belief – God recognizes a legal divorce & legal remarriage as long as it’s “Biblical” (for adultery, abuse, or abandonment by an unbeliever)
– Problem #1 – What happens if the first spouse vacates the divorce?
To vacate a divorce means that someone petitioned the court to overturn the divorce. So, imagine Susie & Joe were married and got divorced behind Susie cheating. Joe remarries Ginger. Susie repents, apologizes to Joe, and files to get the divorce undone. The state now reinstates Joe & Susie’s marriage, which makes the marriage of Joe & Ginger null & void (doesn’t exist). The legal marriage is the first marriage. Which marriage does God recognize? If God recognizes the first marriage, then it’s because they were covenant joined and not because the state rejoined them. Their vows are still in effect. If you say it’s the second, then you have to counsel Joe to get divorced (again) because you’re telling him he’s in a marriage God didn’t join.
Are you going to make a distinction between times of marriages? If Joe’s first marriage lasted three years and he was in the second for 12 years, are you going to tell him he must divorce and remarry the second wife (again)? If Joe’s first marriage lasted 20 years while he was married to the second woman only 6 months, would you tell him to stay with the first? You’d have to counsel the same advice for both because you don’t have Scriptural freedom to put a timeline on when someone’s marriage is over.
Regardless of what you choose, you have to advise him to leave someone. Either you must tell him to stop living in adultery and return to his legal and covenant spouse, or you have to tell him to get divorced again from his first wife to get remarried again to the woman who is his legal mistress (The law would see her as “the other woman” because he is married to Susie and living with Ginger). Again, which marriage does GOD recognize? Hint: The laws were originally designed based on the Bible. The law favors and recognizes the first wife.
– Problem #2 – Suppose Joe happens to have horrible discernment and keeps marrying women who cheat. How many times will God allow him to divorce and remarry to “get it right”? Are you going to counsel him that God will join, unjoin, join, unjoin, join, unjoin, and join him with these other women when it could be as often as once per year? Can he be spiritually joined as one to 40 different women and still be okay in God’s eyes as long as the first 39 committed adultery and were divorced, or would you tell him there’s a limit to the number of times he can remarry while simultaneously telling the other women that God will never allow them to remarry due to a one-time infidelity? Do they all get to go try again numerous times? Just imagine what those children are experiencing…
If you claim that adultery breaks the covenant and allows the “innocent” spouse to divorce and remarry, you have no ground on which to stand to tell him that he can’t file for divorces and remarriages as often as he sees fit. He might get remarried every four months.
– Problem #3 – Since people are teaching that fornication for grounds of divorce deals with post-marriage activity, how could you teach anyone what is “permissible” grounds? You’re leaving the definition of sexual “immorality” up to the opinion of the hardhearted individual instead of sticking to the Bible. Remember that Jesus stated lust is adultery. If your listener believes that his wife has behaved with sexual immorality or had an adulterous look, you’ve given him license to divorce and remarry at whim.
4. Belief that God would never demand people divorce and that you can’t advise anyone to divorce
– Problem #1 – What do you do with the Scriptures that show John the Baptist preaching against the legal remarriage of Herodias? - Matt 14:3-4, Mark 6:16-20, Luke 3:19-20
– Problem #2 – What do you do with Ezra 9 & 10? God commanded every man married outside the covenant to separate from the wives and the children of those non-covenant unions. (See Ezra 10:10-12, 44)
– Problem #3 – Would you tell someone that didn’t divorce for “Biblical reasons” (like the cheater than “can’t remarry”) that his marriage is adulterous? Since that remarriage is adulterous, it would mean he needs to repent. Would you tell him to divorce and leave his adultery, or would you tell him that all he has to do is “confess his sin” so that God will bless his remarriage… even though you’re teaching that God doesn’t recognize the remarriages of cheaters? Do you have any Scripture that you could use, in context, to show him that a man can be in sin, confess, and be permitted to continue doing what God said is sin? You can’t use David. He confessed, but he married Bathsheba after she was a widow. He couldn’t be with her while her husband was alive.
– What Scripture do you have to show God hated and forbid something but then allowed someone to continue doing it once he repented of that sin?
5. Belief that God doesn’t recognize a marriage between a Believer & unbeliever or that God permits a Believer to remarry when left by an unbeliever
– Problem #1 – There’s no Scripture to support that. God recognized the marriages of Abigail & Nabal, Joseph & Asenath, the kings & their pagan wives. When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, he told her that he could not touch her. The Bible doesn’t say Potiphar’s live-in harlot. God recognized her as Potiphar’s wife, so Joseph recognized her as his master’s wife. Gen 4 records Cain and his wife having children. Clearly, God recognizes marriages of unbelievers and the marriages between His followers and pagans. Marriage is not a privilege given only to Believers
– Problem #2 – Do you make a distinction between Believers who marry unbelievers and those who were unbelievers but converted during the marriage? To say God doesn’t recognize their marriages is to say that God allows people to fornicate until the other gets saved so He can “recognize” it or to say that God allows marriage to be dictated by the unbeliever. You’re basically saying God joins Believers with Believers, unbelievers with unbelievers, but mixed marriages are in limbo. Either He recognizes it, or He doesn’t.
The instructions in 1 Cor 7 state that a Believer is to stay with an unbeliever as long as the unbeliever will have him. Paul specifically says if a Believer has a wife or husband that doesn’t believe, he or she is to stay. That means that God recognizes the marriage as valid because they are addressed as married couples. If the marriages were invalid or not recognized, God would have commanded them to divorce. God would have to command Believers to live in sin if those marriages weren’t “real” or honored/recognized. When you state that a marriage to an unbeliever wasn’t recognized by God, you claim the Bible is untrue and that God is the One lying.
– Problem #3 – Can you be absolutely certain that the one leaving is an “unbeliever” vs. a Believer or baby Christian who just got tired? If he gets saved after he leaves, will you counsel them to reconcile as 1 Cor 7:10-11 states or tell him he must be forever punished without his spouse because he had the nerve to not be saved while he was married?
I know of situations where both parties are immature Believers, but one wants a divorce more than the other. He knows what the Bible says about lawsuits and divorce, so he antagonizes the wife and treats her cruelly to force her to file divorce. When she files, he says, “Aha! She filed for divorce, so she’s not really saved, and I’m free to remarry!”
What happens if you tell someone that he can move on if his wife was an unbeliever but she actually wasn’t? Are you ready to stand in front of God to give an account for encouraging him to remarry and begin an adulterous relationship?
– Problem #4 – There is no “Pauline/abandonment clause.” Jesus stated that divorce and remarriage for any reason other than fornication is adultery. Being God, I think we can be certain He would know what He permits.
6. Belief – God allows you to remain in your remarriage because your old marriage is “under the Blood”
– Problem #1 – God saved your soul. He made you a new creature spiritually. He altered you – not your relationships. Your status as a married person doesn’t change due to your faith anymore than it changes if you undergo surgery. There is no “check here if married before salvation” box.
Remember, Jesus preached to Believers/disciples and unbelievers/Pharisees at the same time regarding marriage. There is no separate teaching for one group to follow while the other makes up its own rules regarding MDR. Jesus stated “whosoever” marries the divorced person commits adultery. Since Jesus taught to everyone, the requirements surrounding MDR apply to everyone regardless of faith before, during, or after marriage.
– Problem #2 – You can’t repent of something that isn’t sin. If you recall, God recognizes marriages of unbelievers, also. Marriage is a covenant that God honors. That means that He doesn’t call His institution sin. If two sinners get married, God will recognize that covenant. They have chosen not to live in fornication.
1 Cor 7:10-11 restates what Christ says. Paul addresses the “married” – not merely the “married Believers.”
Scenario: Let’s say you were the unbeliever in the marriage and filed for divorce. According to this teaching, you are permitted to remarry and stay in the new relationship because you were unsaved previously. However, the Believer that was married to you can never remarry while you’re alive. BUT, since you didn’t know any better, God will allow you to remarry because you’re saved now. Basically, you’re saying that God will allow you to enter into a new covenant with a new spouse because you’re now Christian, but your faithful first spouse who waits for your return will be punished for honoring his vow and following the command of 1 Cor 7:10-11 to remain unmarried since you’ve remarried and won’t reconcile. You’re stating that God says your first husband is still one with you while making you one with another man – giving you two husbands.
– Do you see the problem with this one, yet? Like the adultery “exception,” this permission gives one person an “out” while perpetually punishing the other. In this case, you’re stating that God makes those who obey suffer to remain waiting for a relationship that will never be reconciled because you believe God joined the spouse that left with another person. Three people are involved. All are Believers now, but one is required to honor his vow to Spouse A while simultaneously being told he can never be reunited with his original Spouse A because Spouse A has been joined as “one” to New Spouse Q. Does that make sense? Since when does God punish people for obedience?
7. Belief – God allows divorce & remarriage for abuse
– Problem #1 – Jesus stated that any reason for divorce and remarriage other than fornication is adultery.
That’s it. Any other reason for divorce and remarriage other than fornication results in an adulterous relationship. If you choose to separate or divorce for abuse for your safety, then you have two choices, but neither option offered permits remarriage (1 Cor 7:10-11). The covenant remains in effect regardless of the actions of either party.
Saying sinners can’t be punished because they didn’t know God’s law is similar to saying they can’t be punished for not recognizing Jesus. God says that they will be held accountable for their sins but with fewer stripes. Those who know better and choose to disobey must pay with more stripes. Jesus spoke to sinners & to His called at the same time. Marriage was instituted when there were only two people in existence, so every people group was instinctively given the law of marriage between one man and one woman for life. In every culture, there is an understanding that you don’t take another man’s wife just as it’s understood that you don’t randomly kill people or take things that don’t belong to you. Yes, the people living in rebellion to God may be sinners, but they are not sinning by being married. In fact, they are following God’s command without realizing it by not having sex without being married. That is why you can’t repent of a marriage. It isn’t sin to be joined to your spouse; therefore, Jesus doesn’t wash away that covenant because it wasn’t sin at the beginning. The sins are in divorcing the spouse and taking another one. The only time marriage is regarding by God as sin is when it is remarriage while there is a previous living spouse.
Look at the problems that arise under “exceptions.” These are not isolated or random examples. These situations happen, and you need to be able to answer these questions without flinching. None of these scenarios is a problem to understand which marriage God recognizes when you see marriage as God created it – a permanent, covenant union that is not broken until death. Marriage is a picture of salvation, and divorce & remarriage is a picture of Jesus casting aside His bride to go find someone else.
When people divorce and remarry, they are saying, “You’re not good enough for me. I’m offended by what you’ve done or haven’t done. You don’t measure up to what I believe you should do, so I’m getting rid of you to find someone who will act the way I think my spouse should act. I ‘forgive’ you, but I’m not willing to give you the opportunity to repent and show it nor do I want anything more to do with you. I have replaced you with someone else because I have things I want, and I need to be married to have them. When I made my vows to you and before God, those vows were conditional. There was a fine print clause that said I would bail out if I was no longer happy in my circumstances. ‘For better or for worse’ and that whole ‘til death do us part’ was strictly for poetic language. I understand my affirmation to accept those conditions includes everything that could possibly go wrong in marriage, including infidelity; however, if I acknowledge that, I must admit that I am the liar and am wrong in my actions. Therefore, I must diligently search and cling to the first loophole I think I’ve found in order to justify my sin.”
What’s the problem with that? Not one of us is “good enough” for God, yet Jesus will NEVER leave nor forsake those with whom He’s entered into covenant. God doesn’t break His covenants, and He works with us to become the bride He wants us to be instead of looking for substitutes to replace us. As followers of Christ, we are to hold fast to our covenants also and pray for the salvation of unsaved spouses as well as for the restoration of our marriages. To do otherwise, is to cast doubt to the world that they can have any assurance of their salvation once they come to Christ.