What does the Bible say about remarriage and divorce?

Why It’s Controversial for Christians to Remarry After Divorce

Last updated on November 12th, 2019

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What does the Bible say about remarriage and divorce? Let’s open up scripture and find out.

This is a tough question to say the least. And it’s an emotional question. Nobody wants to get divorced when they marry someone. We don’t hear the months of shouting matches that happen. We don’t see the weeks of tears after arguments. So all of us should be sensitive and respectful to people who have divorced when discussing this topic. None of us know how painful that decision is unless we’ve been through it.

What does the Bible say about remarriage and divorce?

With all of that said, let’s consider a question. What does God want if anyone decides to divorce someone? Matthew 5:32 states, “32 but I say to you that everyone who [ae]divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a [af]divorced woman commits adultery.

So we see it here in the first part of this verse.  Divorce of a wife is only to be done for unchasity. Did you notice something? I didn’t say the divorce of a spouse, but the divorce of a wife. That raises a question. Does this verse indicate only men are permitted to divorce in the eyes of God? I’m not making a conclusion here, just throwing out something to think about. Let’s look at the meaning of the Greek word for unchasity.

Unchasity (porneia) – harlotry (including adultery and incest), of illicit sexual intercourse in general.

So divorcing for unchasity means to divorce if someone commits adultery, incest, or illicit sexual intercourse. For those who don’t know what illicit means, it means forbidden laws, rules, or customs.

You’ll find the same Greek word is used in this verse in Matthew 19:9 for immorality, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery”

Now that we know when God accepts divorce, we can understand when re-marriage is allowed. Based on the statements in the verse, it appears re-marriage can only occur if the divorce happened because of unchasity or immorality. But think about this. Does the verse permit the one who committed the immoral act to re-marry? If the allowance to re-marry is only specified for the one divorcing, what are we left to conclude about the one who is divorced? The verse went out of the way to excuse divorcing for immorality, and not call when a man marries another woman in that case committing adultery.

And there lies the controversy of Christians re-marrying after divorce. As I said earlier, these are difficult questions to answer, because the answer may be difficult for us to accept. Even me in trying to understand the right answer in the verse, without being insensitive to anyone.

What about abusive spouses?

One particular sensitive issue that might come up in some of your minds. What if one is being physically abused by their spouse? What is that individual to do? I would suggest 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 perhaps gives us the Biblical answer.

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 states, “But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.”

So Apostle Paul gives this instruction, but he’s careful to say this isn’t the Lord’s instruction. He believes a wife should not leave her husband, but also says that she can. if she does, she must remain unmarried or reconcile with her husband. But this is all in Paul’s opinion. He makes it clear this is not the Lord’s instruction. Now this is an interesting thought. Because Paul says the wife is to remain unmarried, does that perhaps suggest she can choose to divorce? One can’t be unmarried if a divorce has not occurred.

But there’s something that seems reasonable to believe is the truth. If an abusive spouse chooses to divorce without it being for adultery, then the divorced spouse can remarry. But we’re back to the question of if the person who divorces for non-adultery reasons can remarry? And I say again, if Jesus went out of his way to exclude those who divorce for unchasity and immorality as being adulterers if the marry else, what are we left to conclude for those who don’t divorce for that reason?

So what do you think? What does the Bible seem to say about remarriage and divorce? You can feel free to share your thoughts with me in the comments. Because your insight might help increase understanding. May we all rise in our understanding of this issue for the glory of God.

Peace to you all in Christ.

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26 thoughts on “Why It’s Controversial for Christians to Remarry After Divorce

    1. Hi Piers. Thanks for your comment. Indeed, unfortunately sometimes people would rather just believe God is okay with us doing things a little differently than exactly what He said.

      Peace in Christ.

      1. Sadly I find sometimes my relationship is shallow I do not see God’s hand in things. I find myself asking Jesus to bless my plan instead of accepting his plan.
        I thank God he is merciful and I have a chance to change I pray I do not waste the chance given me. I pray also for those lost in their own world to see the light.
        God Bless you.

  1. You write a good argument here. At first I was going to disagree with your propositions, but from what I gather there is the suggestion that maybe separation in the case of abuse is the way to go. As for not remarrying, I actually agree. I’ve never felt all that comfortable with the idea of divorcees remarrying, at least in Christian circles, though I have found that churches that I have been to take it on a case by case basis.

    1. Hi dasarkies. Thanks for your comment. Yes, that seems to be the only way to go as far as I know, but hopefully we can all be careful to make sure we know a person well enough through their consistency of actions to avoid ending up in a situation like that. I never really pondered the issue of re-marrying much until recently. It’s a difficult pill to swallow to tell someone it may be sinful for them to ever re-marry, but scripture says what scripture says for whatever reason God intended for the best. I guess it again emphasizes the importance of picking wisely and acting wisely.

      Peace in Christ

  2. Hello! I really enjoyed this post and just wanted to share my thoughts on this issue! 🙂

    As far as the question about whether woman could leave men I think that verse may be more contextual than only speaking to men. i could be wrong but i believe it was very rare in that time for wives to divorce their husbands so that might be why the wording is like that, however that is just an impression.

    On the issue of divorcing on the basis of abuse: I have yet to find a verse that says you can, however this is how i have always thought of it. In a perfect situation each person would have heavily sought out the Lord and asked for guidance before marrying. When we put it in God’s hands to find our spouse for us these issues don’t arise in our marriages. But lets say that didn’t happen and now your stuck in a bad situation. I will never believe that the Lord would want someone to stay with a spouse that is harming them. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” basically God is saying here if you get yourself into a bad situation ill help you get out. I think this applies to un-Godly marriages as well. Now again without having a direct black and white verse about it I can’t say any of this is a fact, its just the way that I feel.

    1. Hi Hosanna. Thanks for your comment. Glad to hear you really enjoyed the post. 🙂

      I can understand the possibility of chalking it up to the culture of the time. I’m usually careful to use that particular analysis of passages just because you can chalk up a lot of passages as potentially a part of the culture of the times, making it tricky to determine what’s something to take as universal vs something that was just cultural.

      You’re correct. There is no verse that states one can divorce on the basis of abuse. It’s only unchasity/immorality, which in that case, as tricky as it may seem, the abused spouse would perhaps only be left with waiting until the abusive spouse engages in unchaste/immoral relations with another person to have just cause for divorce, unless the abused spouse became psychologically healed of their abusive issues leading to reconciliation. The latter might be quite rare, but the former is certainly plausible. All this trickiness aside, it’s definitely true as you express, that it heightens the importance of all us carefully choosing who we choose to be married to.

      With regards to 1 Corinthians 10:13, it appears that verse was particularly related to avoiding idolatry if you observe the verse before and after this particular verse. That God would not allow someone to be tempted beyond what they could bear with regards to idolatry and the other sins listed in that passage, and that God would provide a way out with regards to those things it seems. Just a thought to ponder.

      Peace in Christ. 🙂

        1. Oops hit reply to early lol! It is definitely a complex situation and I always advise when I have been asked to consult the Lord, I will have to read 1corinthians 10 again thank you very much for pointing that out to me! Your post inspired me to write one of my own on the topic so thank you for that also! God Bless 😄❤️

  3. This verse has always seemed so simple and clear to me. (“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery”) It says it is okay to divorce for immorality, but it does NOT say it is okay to divorce and remarry. And it seems like this verse, “And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” is pretty clear that remarrying is not ok. Sometimes it seems like we just really complicate things. lol

    1. Hi JessLeeAnn. Thanks for your comment. To me it seems the sin of focus and condemnation here is adultery, and not necessarily marrying another person after divorce. It appears there’s a condition to what adultery is. It’s adultery to marry another person if the divorce to the prior spouse is done for reasons other than immorality. If someone marries another person after divorcing for reasons of immorality, wouldn’t it follow from that statement that adultery is not committed in this context?

  4. Yeah, I see what you mean…what of Mark 10:11-12 though (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.)? It seems like to assume remarriage is ok if you divorced for the right reason would contradict this verse.

  5. Good verse. So I view scripture like a puzzle. You have all these verses that are pieces of the puzzle. When one puts all of the pieces of a puzzle together, one gets the full picture. Similarly in the context of verses, when we understand all of the verses together, we get the full truth of scripture. So what I think we have here is a verse that talks about divorcing someone and marrying another person being adulterous. I think with Matthew 19:9, we get more details to this truth with the condition given of “except for immorality”. So I think both verses are right in what they say, just that Matthew 19:9 fills in more details of the picture that Mark 10:11-12 doesn’t show all of, since no one piece of a puzzle shows the full picture, and no one verse of scripture tells the whole story. And I think what we strive to do is to form the most complete belief we can on a particular topic based on what all of the verses state. Does that make any sense?

  6. My understanding of the Matthean exception was that it applies to incestuous marriage. Or, possibly even to ratum et tantum adultery.

    These things are complicated by the Pauline privilege and the derived Petrine privilege. We must see the whole text… And understand it together.

    1. Hi Christian Renaissance Movement. Thanks for your comment. That’s interesting, what gives you the understanding that the exception is applying to incestuous marriage?

      Peace in Christ

  7. If you look at it from the perspective of Christ as the groom and the church the bride. To me it all falls into place. He will not leave us. He could if we were adulteress. In other word worshiping others false gods/ religions. If we do leave Christ we must remain unmarried or be reconciled back to our huband-Christ.

  8. Once married, 2 become one flesh , so, divorce is not allowed even with abuse. Mistreatment and abuse may come especially from unbelieving spouses, but Paul tells us not to leave them. 1 Corinthians 7:12 For the rest of you who are in mixed marriages–Christian married to non-Christian–we have no explicit command from the Master. So this is what you must do. If you are a man with a wife who is not a believer but who still wants to live with you, hold on to her. 1 Corinthians 7:13 If you are a woman with a husband who is not a believer but he wants to live with you, hold on to him.
    God hates divorce and thus, if we are going through challenges in marriage, we should look up to Him for guidance instead of turning to worldly solutions like divorce.

    1. Hi Miss Muthara. 🙂 Thanks for your comment. Yes, as Jesus said in the gospels, divorce was only allowed for adultery. Abuse is an unfortunate situation. I would hope policeman could lock up an abusive spouse so the abused spouse would not have to be physically hurt in that way.

      Peace in Christ!

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