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Studies │ Remarriage after Divorce

In Matthew 5:32, page 1508, Jesus first quoted an Old Testament passage on divorce, then gave further instructions. First, Jesus declared that everyone who divorces his wife makes her commit adultery. 1Although I do no agree with some of the authors conclusions about divorce and remarriage, he does present a summary of different views and analyzes them.  See https://bible.org/article/teachings-jesus-divorce-%E2%80%94-matthew-531-32a. Jesus provided one clause of caution: “except for the reason of unchastity.” 2We should also consider the problem of “immorality” that occurred a long time ago in a marriage. What is a long time? In answering that question, we must consider the teaching of Jesus in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, page 325. Jesus used the word “defiled” (“הֻטַּמָּאָה”) there to describe the woman who had been divorced, married by a new husband, and then the new husband died; in that case, the wife cannot remarry the first husband because she is “defiled,” in the sense of taking her would be an abomination (“כִּי-תוֹעֵבָה”). We may learn here that sex with another man renders a woman unclean in reference to having sex with her previous husband. Taking her back would be an abomination if she had remarried, even if her new husband had died. I am not suggesting that we follow this pattern of Old Testament law, but I observe that sex with another person, even in marriage after divorce, causes ceremonial uncleanness in the Old Testament. The more basic point is that taking a person back has serious sexual and spiritual consequences. By taking back, I mean having sex with that person again. Remember that having sex with a prostitute causes you to be joined with her. So, joining these two concepts together (no remarriage and sex with a prostitute), I suggest that if a spouse takes an immoral spouse back and has sex with that spouse, or even continues the marriage after the immorality, then the exception of “immorality” in the teaching of Jesus in the Matthew 19:8, page 1534 no longer applies. If you learn of the immorality, and have a hard-heart and say, no I am going to divorce you, then you commit Hard-Hearted Divorce by filing for divorce. You may avoid Adultery Sin because your spouse was immoral. But if you take the spouse back, continue the marriage or have sex with that spouse again, then you have become one flesh with that spouse again and so the exception of “immorality” no longer applies. I do not teach this with great assurance, but it makes the most sense to me in light of the entire group of passages on divorce and remarriage. So, how long is a long time? The answer is fairly simple: did you have sex after you knew about the immorality, or did you continue the marriage? So, any sin of immorality does not linger in the marriage, except by unforgiveness and a hard heart. Notice that this phrase regarding unchastity relates to the adultery after divorce, not as an exception for divorce. So, I do not agree that “unchastity” provides a permissible basis for divorce. On the contrary, nothing in Matthew 5:31-32, page 1508, conflicts with teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19: 1-9, page 1534. All divorce emerges from a hard heart, and it is always sinful.

In the last phrase of Matthew 5:32, page 1508, Jesus covered the issue of “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” 4In the Greek text, the phrase “whoever” (“καὶ ὃς ἐὰν“) only occurs here and in Matthew 12:39, page 1521, and Matthew 18:5, and seems always part of conditional clause with a subjunctive verb. Not only does this phrase indicate the phrase may stand independently of the first part of the verse, it also suggests something that is likely to happen in the future. Furthermore, this entire last phrase apparently stands independently from the woman in the first part of the verse. No definite article describes the “divorced woman” and so the relationship to the woman divorced in the first part of the verse cannot be pressed to mean the same woman. I am always skeptical of an explanation of any verse that seems to turn the meaning completely opposite. So, I sought careful proof that Jesus had not intended: “every divorced spouse, whether innocent or not, cannot remarry, because if that spouse remarries, then the person who marries that divorced spouse commits adultery.” First, I began my study by noting that the Greek text has certain ambiguities here. The word “divorced” in the phrase “a divorced woman” occurs in an ambiguous form in the Greek text. 3In the Greek text, the term for “divorced” (“ἀπολελυμένην“) may be in the middle voice or the passive voice. It may also be a deponent. But, taking the entire context into consideration, and the larger teaching already developed in Matthew 19:1-9, page 1534, it seems best to take it as middle voice, with the sense that the wife took the action to divorce herself. It may mean “who was divorced,” in which case we do not know who filed for divorce–the wife or the husband. But the word “divorced” in that same phrase may mean “she divorced herself” from her husband. In that case, we know the wife filed for divorce. Second, I thought about the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19:1-9, page 1634, where He developed the doctrine of marriage and divorce in greater detail. There, He taught that filing for divorce was always sinful, because it issued from a hard, unforgiving heart. So, in Matthew 5:31-32, page 1508, it seems unlikely that Jesus would teach that the innocent spouse would not be allowed to remarry, even though she had done nothing wrong. So, in conclusion, I believe Jesus taught that if the wife filed for divorce, anyone who subsequently marries her commits adultery. That interpretation fits well with all the passages, rests upon correct grammar and syntax in the original, and does no obvious violence to the context. Well, can the innocent spouse remarry?


Part Four

The Innocent Spouse


In 1 Corinthians, Paul provided great help regarding marital relationships. As we saw with Jesus teaching on divorce, Paul did not promote divorce. Paul, however, dealt with several specific instances of desertion, and also spoke to general marriage issues. We will focus upon the divorce issues here primarily. 

In 1 Corinthians 7:2, page 1788, Paul taught that a man may avoid the snare of immorality by having his own wife, and the same for a woman. 5Paul used the term “immorality” (“πορνείας”), and that is the same root word used in Matthew 19:9, page 1534. Because of the problem with “immorality,” God provides for a man to have a wife. We also observe that Paul treated the sexual desires the same for men and women, and both of them should marry to avoid immorality.

1 Corinthians 7:2, Page 1788

“But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.”

Notice that the problem with “immorality” confronts the lives of all single believers. Some believers, like Paul himself, have the gift of “self-control” which helps them overcome the temptation of sexual sin. 6In 1 Corinthians 7:5-7, page 1789, Paul described the gift that allowed him to avoid immorality, but he made it plain that not everyone possessed that special gift of “self-control” (“ἀκρασίαν”). Notice too that Satan uses this lack of self-control to tempt believers, especially in the marriage of believers. So, following Paul’s teaching, we see that even in marriage, the lack of “self-control” may be a problem when one spouse deprives the other spouse of sex. As Paul taught, only believers married to each other should have sex, and in that context of a believer’s marriage, “self-control” can still be an issue. Satan tempts married believers when they are deprived of sex. So the remedy will always be mutuality in sexuality. As Paul described in 1 Corinthians 7:4, pages 1788-1789, each spouse controls the sexual activity of the other spouse. In other words, if you perceive that your spouse hungers for sex, then have sex. If you deprive the other spouse of sex, then do it only by agreement and then only for a time (“καιρὸν”) to devote yourselves to prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5, page 1789). So, any spouse who uses sex as a weapon or power play in a marriage clearly violates the Word of God. Paul also had important words for the unmarried. We will look at this category of people further on in this study, but the term “unmarried” will provide specific guidance on remarriage.

References │ Page Numbers Below Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Although I do no agree with some of the authors conclusions about divorce and remarriage, he does present a summary of different views and analyzes them.  See https://bible.org/article/teachings-jesus-divorce-%E2%80%94-matthew-531-32a.
2. We should also consider the problem of “immorality” that occurred a long time ago in a marriage. What is a long time? In answering that question, we must consider the teaching of Jesus in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, page 325. Jesus used the word “defiled” (“הֻטַּמָּאָה”) there to describe the woman who had been divorced, married by a new husband, and then the new husband died; in that case, the wife cannot remarry the first husband because she is “defiled,” in the sense of taking her would be an abomination (“כִּי-תוֹעֵבָה”). We may learn here that sex with another man renders a woman unclean in reference to having sex with her previous husband. Taking her back would be an abomination if she had remarried, even if her new husband had died. I am not suggesting that we follow this pattern of Old Testament law, but I observe that sex with another person, even in marriage after divorce, causes ceremonial uncleanness in the Old Testament. The more basic point is that taking a person back has serious sexual and spiritual consequences. By taking back, I mean having sex with that person again. Remember that having sex with a prostitute causes you to be joined with her. So, joining these two concepts together (no remarriage and sex with a prostitute), I suggest that if a spouse takes an immoral spouse back and has sex with that spouse, or even continues the marriage after the immorality, then the exception of “immorality” in the teaching of Jesus in the Matthew 19:8, page 1534 no longer applies. If you learn of the immorality, and have a hard-heart and say, no I am going to divorce you, then you commit Hard-Hearted Divorce by filing for divorce. You may avoid Adultery Sin because your spouse was immoral. But if you take the spouse back, continue the marriage or have sex with that spouse again, then you have become one flesh with that spouse again and so the exception of “immorality” no longer applies. I do not teach this with great assurance, but it makes the most sense to me in light of the entire group of passages on divorce and remarriage. So, how long is a long time? The answer is fairly simple: did you have sex after you knew about the immorality, or did you continue the marriage? So, any sin of immorality does not linger in the marriage, except by unforgiveness and a hard heart.
3. In the Greek text, the term for “divorced” (“ἀπολελυμένην“) may be in the middle voice or the passive voice. It may also be a deponent. But, taking the entire context into consideration, and the larger teaching already developed in Matthew 19:1-9, page 1534, it seems best to take it as middle voice, with the sense that the wife took the action to divorce herself.
4. In the Greek text, the phrase “whoever” (“καὶ ὃς ἐὰν“) only occurs here and in Matthew 12:39, page 1521, and Matthew 18:5, and seems always part of conditional clause with a subjunctive verb. Not only does this phrase indicate the phrase may stand independently of the first part of the verse, it also suggests something that is likely to happen in the future. Furthermore, this entire last phrase apparently stands independently from the woman in the first part of the verse. No definite article describes the “divorced woman” and so the relationship to the woman divorced in the first part of the verse cannot be pressed to mean the same woman.
5. Paul used the term “immorality” (“πορνείας”), and that is the same root word used in Matthew 19:9, page 1534. Because of the problem with “immorality,” God provides for a man to have a wife.
6. In 1 Corinthians 7:5-7, page 1789, Paul described the gift that allowed him to avoid immorality, but he made it plain that not everyone possessed that special gift of “self-control” (“ἀκρασίαν”). Notice too that Satan uses this lack of self-control to tempt believers, especially in the marriage of believers. So, following Paul’s teaching, we see that even in marriage, the lack of “self-control” may be a problem when one spouse deprives the other spouse of sex. As Paul taught, only believers married to each other should have sex, and in that context of a believer’s marriage, “self-control” can still be an issue. Satan tempts married believers when they are deprived of sex. So the remedy will always be mutuality in sexuality. As Paul described in 1 Corinthians 7:4, pages 1788-1789, each spouse controls the sexual activity of the other spouse. In other words, if you perceive that your spouse hungers for sex, then have sex. If you deprive the other spouse of sex, then do it only by agreement and then only for a time (“καιρὸν”) to devote yourselves to prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5, page 1789). So, any spouse who uses sex as a weapon or power play in a marriage clearly violates the Word of God.