Can A Christian Remarry?

Mature man toying with gold wedding ring on finger

This is one of the most frequently-asked questions that comes my way in ministry. It is generally asked because of something Jesus said in Mark 10:11, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.”

That passage seems pretty straightforward. And, if we had no other passage dealing with the subject, then we would have a very clear-cut answer to our question. However, it’s not the only passage of Scripture that we need to consider.

Matthew records Jesus as saying something that is very similar to Mark, but with an important clause added. In Matthew 5:32, Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery… (emphasis mine).

Although Mark’s passage does not include Matthew’s clause, it is generally held that an abbreviated passage of scripture will be informed by a larger one of the same topic. In other words, if one author shortens a teaching, but another author expands on it, then we use the larger section of scripture to help us understand the smaller one, not the other way around.  Therefore, the exception clause found in Matthew’s gospel would be implied in Mark’s.

This “exception clause” suggests that Jesus allows for divorce under certain circumstances; when there is sexual immorality.   But, what does that mean?  Admittedly, it’s not immediately clear.

I’ve heard some suggest that Jesus only allows for divorce when adultery has been committed.  However, the Greek word for “sexual immorality” is not the same word as used for “adultery,” which appears in the same sentence.  If Jesus meant to say adultery, then He would have used the word for adultery. But, He did not. Therefore, He must have had something else in mind.

Obviously, the phrase “sexual immorality” might cover a range of things. However, to keep this article brief let me just say that whatever it does mean would seem to imply unrepentant sexual immorality.  That is, when a spouse is sexually immoral in their marriage and does not turn from it. In that instance, it would seem that Jesus recognizes the possibility of a legitimate divorce. If the divorce is legitimate, then a remarriage might also be possible. (Possible, if the new spouse-to-be is legitimately available for marriage.)  If, however, the sexual immoral spouse has truly repented, then it would seem that divorce should not be sought.

There is also another passage of Scripture that I believe pertains to this subject.  It is sometimes referred to as the Pauline Privilege.  That is because the author of the exception is not Jesus, but His Apostle, Paul.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul seems to be answering some questions about marriage that were asked of him. We don’t have the questions; we only have his answers. Beginning in verse 12 of that chapter, Paul seems to deal with questions about the marriage of a believer and non-believer.  It is often thought that some in Corinth had converted to Christianity, while their spouses had not. They may have asked Paul if God had wanted them to divorce their unbelieving spouses and find believing spouses to marry.

Paul’s advice is insightful for us. First, he suggests that if a believer is married to an unbeliever, and the unbeliever wants to stay in the marriage, then they should not divorce.  The reason for this should be obvious; Christians are called to keep their vows just as God keeps His vows.  This should be true even if the vow was made as an unbeliever.  I believe that God can be glorified by the keeping of that promise.  We should not be seeking ways to end those promises, but to fulfill them.

Paul then mentions an exception to the believer/unbeliever marriage question.  He said that if the unbeliever wished to leave the marriage, then the believing spouse was no longer “under bondage” in that case (verse 15).  A person who is no longer under bondage would be a free person.  Although not clearly stated, I suspect that Paul means they are free to remarry if they wish.

The exception given by Paul is sometimes referred to as “desertion” by the unbelieving spouse.  If the believer has been abandoned by the unbelieving spouse, then the believer might be free to remarry.

It would seem then that a Christian could remarry under one of two instances; 1) where unrepentant sexual immorality has been committed by the other spouse, or, 2) if the believer had been abandoned by his/her spouse.  A divorce of two people who “just drifted apart” would not be a legitimate divorce in God’s eyes.  Either of their remarriages would be adultery because they had never been justly divorced.

I recognize that the exceptions given by Jesus and Paul might have to be nuanced in light of some very complex situations.  It would be impossible for me to walk through every possible scenario in which they could be understood. Therefore, let me just end this article with this thought: we should not be looking for reasons to divorce, but to stay married.  Just because you would technically qualify for a divorce does not mean that you should get a divorce or that it’s God’s will for you to have one.  For example, forgiving a repentant spouse will glorify God far more than divorcing them.  Achieving reconciliation should be the goal of every Christian because it is God’s goal as well.

Unfortunately, even Christians are often too quick to divorce and then wrongly remarry. We have been influenced by our culture and our “no fault divorces” offered by the court systems.  Instead, we should be influenced by our God who always keeps His promises and favors forgiveness and reconciliation as the best alternative.

As always, your comments and questions are welcomed.

peace,

dane

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmaker, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us.

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