Divorce & Remarriage

Compiled by Rodney E. Barnes

1. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Divorce in the Scripture is permitted as an accommodation to man's sin for the protection of the innocent party. Since divorce is only a concession to man's sin and is not a part of God's original plan for marriage, all believers considering divorce should have the same attitude toward divorce as does God.

Notice that in Matthew 19:5-9, Christ teaches that divorce is an accommodation to man's sin and is in violation of God's purpose for the intimate unity of the marriage bond (cf. Gen. 2:24). It was a concession for the "innocent party" due to the insensitivity of the other partner to God. This is defined biblically as the "hardness of heart" (Matt. 19:8). Dissolution meant that the innocent party no longer had to remain in a hopeless and intolerable situation (Matt. 5:32, 19:9; I Cor. 7:12-15). It is to be expected that a believer will have the same attitude toward divorce as does God and will see it as a violation of God's expressed purpose for marriage.

2. The only biblical grounds for divorce are (1) fornication (any sinful sexual activity, including adultery--unfaithfulness of a marriage partner), or (2) a nonbelieving partner who initiates the divorce due to incompatibility with a Christian. The first is "pornea", which seems to cover a wide area of sexual activity such as adultery, homosexuality, bestiality and incest (Matt. 5:32; Mk. 19:9; I Cor. 5:1). Adultery will take place even after the "official" dissolution of the marriage if the divorce is on nonbiblical grounds (Matt. 5:32; Mk. 10:11,12). The second reason for permitting a divorce is in cases where a nonbelieving mate refuses to live with his or her believing spouse, especially because of his or her Christian testimony (1 Cor. 7:12-15). It is essential to keep in mind that the Bible merely permits divorce in these limited circumstances but never commands divorce. (This is clearly indicated in Hosea 1-3, where the adulterous wife is forgiven and restored.)

3. Remarriage is permitted for the innocent party when the divorce was on biblical grounds. In cases where a divorce was obtained between believers on nonbiblical grounds; a) the person who remarries first commits "adultery" (Matt. 19:9), and b) the person who marries a person who was divorced on nonbiblical grounds also commits adultery (Lk. 16:18). According to the Old Testament pattern, remarriage was allowed after the divorce except when remarring your former wife when she has been remarried after the your divorce (Deut. 24:1-4). The New Testament allows for remarriage when the divorce was based upon biblical grounds (I Cor. 7:15). In cases where the divorce was not for the two biblical reasons stated above, the believer is exhorted to (1) seek for reconciliation, or else (2) remain unmarried (I Cor. 7:10-11). When one party remarries after a divorce which was on nonbiblical grounds, that person has committed adultery because God did not recognize the validity of the divorce (Matt. 5:32; Mk. 10:11). Since the remarried partner has "committed adultery," the marriage bond is now broken and the remaining partner is free to remarry. The Bible gives a word of caution to anyone who is considering marriage to a divorcee. If the divorce was not on biblical grounds, the person who marries the divorcee is considered an adulterer (Mark 10:12).

4. Believers who pursue divorce on nonbiblical grounds are subject to church discipline because they openly reject the Word of God. That person is subject to the steps of church discipline as outlined in Matt. 18:15-17 and as illustrated in I Cor. 5:1-13. Some argue that this is a "state" of sin, but the verb tense used in Matt. 5:32 ("commits") indicates that it is an act of sin and happens once. Church disipline should only be used to help the person recognize and repent of that sin. Their reason for agueing for the sin being a "state" of sin, is in response to our cultures ungodly view of divorce and remarriage, and not based on the text.

5. Salvation means that a person begins a new life. The believer is responsible to live up to what God has revealed about marriage and divorce from the point of his or her salvation. The apostle Paul's counsel in I Cor. 7:20, 27 is that a believer is to see every circumstance that they are in when they became a believer as from God. If they were called while married, they are not to seek a divorce (except on the grounds given in Matt. 5:32, 19:9; I Cor. 7:12- 16). If they were called while divorced, they are free to be remarried to another believer (2 Cor. 6:14).

6. In cases where divorce took place on nonbiblical grounds and where the guilty party repents, the grace of God is operative at the point of repentance. It is assumed that the repentant party will endeavor to restore the marriage whenever possible as a sign of true repentance. In other words, where two believers were divorce on nonbiblical grounds, the grace of God becomes operative at the point of repentance and confession, and they can once again experience the joy of their relationship with Christ and their mate. A true sign of repentance will be a desire to implement I Cor. 7:11. This involves a willingness to remain unmarried or else to be reconciled to their mate, unless their former mate has remarried or dies, then they are no longer bound and may remarry. In cases where a believer obtained a divorce on nonbiblical grounds and remarried, the second marriage union is recognized as an act of sin (Mk. 10:11-12). If repentance takes place, it is recognized that to obtain a second divorce would disobey Scripture (Deut. 24:1-4). hence, they are to remain in the second marriage.


7. I Timothy 3:2, 12 sets the marital qualification for leadership within the church. The phrase "the husband of one wife" does not mean that a person cannot have had a divorce in his past since none of the other qualifications listed refer to specific acts in the past (prior to salvation or subsequent to salvation) but rather to qualities which currently characterize a man's life.


I Tim. 3 in detail:

Paul's instruction includes only three words, "mias gunaikos andra," as one of several requirements for being an elder (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1;6) or a deacon (1 Tim. 3:12, where the pl. "andres" is used). "Gune" refers to any adult female, including wives and widows. The King James Version translates it "woman" 129 times and "wife" 92 times. The noun "gunaikos" is in the genitive and therefore deals with attribution. It may refer to relationship or quality, for "the genitive defines by attributing a quality or relationship to the noun which it modifies." Dana and Mantey define the genitive as "the case which specifies with reference to class or kind." The genitive here is used to define or describe the noun "aner." This should not be considered a possessive genitive, for that would mean that the word in the genitive indicates one who owns or possesses the noun it modifies. In that case the translation would be "a man owned by one woman." Nor can this be considered as a genitive of relationship ("a man who has [possesses] one wife") for there is no indication within the phrase or context that that relationship is implied. It is best to understand this "gunaikos" as being a genitive of quality, that is, giving a characteristic to the noun it modifies. The noun being modified is "andra," accusative singular of "aner." "Aner" is translated "man" 156 times in the King James version and "husband" only 50 times (including the passage under discussion). This accusative functions here as an object of the main verb "be" along with a long list of other accusative nouns and participles. Stated simply, the clause is "Therefore . . . an elder must be . . . a man . . ." The words "one woman" modify "man" to explain what kind, or to qualify the noun by attributing to him this character, Robertson adds that the genitive of quality (also called attributive genitive). "expresses quality like an adjective indeed, but with more sharpness and distinctness." He also points out that usually the genitive follows the limiting substantive, "but the genitive comes first if it is emphatic," is the case here. Since the other qualification in 1 Timothy 3 deal with the man's character and since the grammatical structure is more naturally consistent with this emphasis, it seems best to understand the phrase as meaning that he is a one-woman type of man. This point will be further discussed later in this study. If, on the other hand, one understands the phrase to mean that he possesses only one wife (though this does not seem best grammatically), then other qualifications must be made. First, it must be decided if this means only one wife in a lifetime or one wife at a time. Since neither the grammar of the phrase nor any reference in the context implies that Paul was discussing a once-in-a-lifetime situation, then that idea must not be forced into the text. As suggested earlier, if Paul had said something like "eschon mias gunaikos mones," then one could speak more assuredly that Paul meant having had only one wife ever. Paul, however, simply said he must "be" ("einai," present tense) a man of one woman. If, indeed, Paul was reacting to the problem of divorce and remarriage as White suggests, it would have been more easily and clearly said by "me apolelumenon," even as he did write "me aroinon," prohibiting the abuse of wine, and "me plekten," prohibiting physically violent men. In prohibiting these men, the negative "me" is used with the phrase under consideration; however, here Paul was concerned with a positive character, not with a prohibition. Though this argument does not prove that Paul was not referring to divorce and remarriage, hopefully it shows that there is no room for dogmatic limitations based on this verse. One should guard against enforcing authoritative assumptions. Another consideration that leads to this view is that the nouns being used are without the definite article. Some translators feel this anarthrous construction is important. Wuest explains, "The two nouns [for 'woman' and 'man'] are without the definite article, which construction emphasizes character or nature." He concludes, "Thus one can translate, 'a one-wife sort of a husband,' or 'a one-woman sort of man.'" 18 Though the absence of the article does not "prove" the translation, it certainly supports it. Robertson explains that the qualitative force of a noun is "best brought out in anarthrous nouns." Dana and Mantey offer this explanation:

Sometimes with a noun which the context proves to be definite the article is not used. This places stress upon the qualitative aspect of the noun rather than its mere identity. An object of thought may be conceived of from two points of view: as to "identity" or "quality." To convey the first point of view the Greek uses the article; for the second the anarthrous construction is used. The context is discussing "the overseer" ("ton episkopon") and therefore is definite; so then the absence of the article with the word "andra" can rightly emphasize the idea of character.

In other words what Paul was emphasizing is the man's character, not his marital status. In the excessive moral laxity of the Greek culture Paul was planting young, fragile churches; and during that period of church development issues which today may be taken for granted had to be clarified. Getz follows this thought as he offers his understanding of Paul's qualification. "In a culture where men frequently cohabited with more than one woman, Paul needed it very clear that an elder in the church was to be a 'one-wife man' -- loyal to her and her alone." 21 Earle is another commentator who sees the point of Paul's phrase as meaning that "the overseer must be completely faithful to his wife."



Divorce and remarriage, when committed outside the provisions for them in the Bible, are sins; but like any other sins, they can be forgiven and the believer cleansed. Once a person has come to Christ, all sins are forgiven and to claim that so long as a man stays married to his second wife, he is still living in sin is to ignore God's provision of mercy, to degrade the power of Christ's work, and to overlook God's forgiveness. Chafer explains the extent and power of God's forgiveness. It is the taking away of sin and its condemnation from the offender or offenders, by imputing the sin to, and imposing its righteous judgments upon Another . . . .divine forgiveness is never extended to the offender as an act of leniency, nor is the penalty waived, since God, being infinitely holy and upholding His government which is founded on undeviating righteousness, cannot make light of sin. Divine forgiveness is therefore extended only when the last demand or penalty against the offended has been satisfied.

Everyone who has been born into God's family has experienced this forgiveness which is based on God's satisfaction that Christ's sacrifice was adequate compensation for the violation of God's holiness. A person's second marriage may have indeed been sin, but after conversion one cannot divorce his second wife in hope of returning to his first wife, for that would involve a new sin in itself. Further, it is inconsistent to allow a divorced and remarried can to become a member of a church on the grounds that his previous sins have been adequately paid for through Christ and yet forbid him a leadership role because of his "previous" sins (which Christ removed by His death). If a church is bound to judge its members on the consequences of their lives before conversion, who then could meet the majority of the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3? Are churches as quick to forbid a man the office of elder or deacon because before his conversion he was not "above reproach" or because he was "pugnacious"?

Certainly one cannot attempt to make the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 apply to a man's life before he was saved. If God has forgiven him and made him a part of His church, why do Christians hold his past against him? When one is saved, all his sins are forgiven (Col. 2:13); he becomes a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13); his body becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19); he receives a new nature created after God's own holiness (Eph. 4:24); he becomes a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17); and he becomes a part of God's "spiritual house" (1 Pet. 2:5) and "royal priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:9). Before a man is saved, he is dead toward God and his holy standards. He has no power over sin, no knowledge of God's Word or will; thus to judge one's life before his new birth is totally unjust. Paul states that even adulterers (as in divorce and remarriage) were 'washed . . . sanctified . . . ustified"(1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Paul's concern in 1 Timothy 3:1-10 is that if a man desires the office of elder he must be qualified "at that time," not before his conversion. For those concerned with the testimony of the church, let them consider which glorifies God more -- that He takes an unworthy, defiled human and makes him pure enough to become His own servant (cf. 1 Tim. 1:12-16) or that though God forgives, he does not let a man's past sins be forgotten? Even divorced and remarried Christians can trust the great promises of Psalm 103:12-13 and Isaiah 38:17. If God has made a man clean, how can the church consider him unworthy to serve God even on the highest levels? Is the church guilty of Peter's prejudice (Acts 10:9-16) so that God must also rebuke believers and say as he did to Peter, "What God has cleansed, no 'longer' consider unholy?"

It does not seem possible that by Paul's phrase in 1 Timothy 3:2 he intends to hold a man's preconversion sins against him.