Rev Stephen Brooks examines what the Bible says about divorce and re-marriage, and provides some encouraging advice for Christians marrying for a second time
In the Church, the concept of divorce, although not encouraged, is accepted as biblical; but there is no consensus when it comes to the divorced getting remarried. Divorce is always very painful and traumatic for all involved, as it destroys the most intimate of human relationships, including the breaking of a covenant-vow made before God. It’s no wonder that the Bible says “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:14-16).
However, it is important that the Church uses the Bible as its guide to decide all matters, including whether divorced people have the right to remarry. Within the Church, there are typically two views, which are: (i) that remarriage is never acceptable after divorce, whilst the previous spouse is alive, and (ii) remarriage is acceptable after divorce, if the injured party has legitimate grounds for divorce (eg. adultery, desertion, abuse).
These discussions are not new. In Jesus’ day, the rabbis and teachers confronted Jesus with questions regarding divorce and remarriage (Matthew 19:3-9). The question posed by the Pharisees was: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
In order to understand the text, we must know the beliefs they had regarding divorce and remarriage at the time. There were two predominantly held views: ‘Rabbi Shammai’ claimed that divorce and remarriage were acceptable only in the case of adultery, whilst ‘Rabbi Hillel’ reflected the more lenient interpretation that said divorce was acceptable for almost any reason, even as trivial as burning a meal!
Jesus replies in Matthew 19:9: “I tell you the truth, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery.” Jesus’ answer shocked His disciples to the point where they responded: “It is better not to marry.” Was Jesus’ answer contradicting what Moses said in Deuteronomy 24:1-4? It states, “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it comes to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her, then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.”
As Jesus came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets, clearly this was not a contradiction. The Pharisees claimed that Moses commanded them to divorce, but Jesus said He only permitted it because of the hardness of their hearts. Jesus also redefined adultery in Matthew 5:28, letting us know that what we think is as important if not more important than what we do. Moses` `Certificate of Divorce` was a protection for the woman should she remarry, so that she couldn’t be charged with adultery, which was an offence punishable by death (John 8:5)!
The Bible has not given us all the answers to every question regarding divorce. The apostle Paul had to consider the divorce and remarriage issue in 1 Corinthians 7, and he does so in a context where he has to interpret Christ’s answer to respond to different circumstances. The point being, if the apostle Paul had to reapply Jesus’ teaching in a new way for a new situation that Jesus didn’t specifically address, then we may be called upon to do the same in a way that best reflect the values and principles taught in the Scripture.
Jesus encouraged reconciliation by repentance, and for forgiveness to be granted to avoid divorce. If, on the other hand, repentance is not forthcoming and attempts of reconciliation have not been fruitful, then one is free to remarry (1 Corinthians 7:28).
I believe churches need to develop a stronger focus on building healthy relationships, and helping restore and reconcile couples whose marriages are in trouble. Without exception, premarital counselling should be mandatory for couples to help prepare them for the inevitable difficulties they will encounter in marriage.
It is vitally important that pastors are competent and biblically balanced on this issue, as some treat divorced persons as if they had committed the unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31-32). Divorce is not the unpardonable sin and, if a person has wrongfully initiated a divorce, if they come in repentance before God, He will always forgive. We diminish the grace and the forgiveness of God if we say this is not so.
If you are divorced and contemplating remarriage, spend significant time in prayer and also seek out godly counsel from mature believers, who will give you wisdom and insight. You also need to allow a considerable time to lapse from your separation from your former spouse, in order to allow yourself time for reflection, learning and healing. Use this time to look closely at all of the circumstances that led to your divorce and, consequently, deal with the issues that can be dealt with to avoid bringing ‘old baggage’ into a new relationship.
Guided by a responsible Christian leader or counsellor, a repentant divorced person considering remarriage must ask:
- Have I truly repented of having broken a vow to God?
- Have I freed myself from all past obligations?
- Have I sought forgiveness, not only from God but also from my former spouse, children and others?
- Have I made every effort at reconciliation, where possible?
When this process is applied, one will have the ability to choose the right person as a potential partner, and improve on any shortfalls identified, and become a better person having been healed and restored through God’s grace.