One could have never envisioned, some 50 years ago, that divorce would transition from an isolated tragedy to a cancerous epidemic. With startling acceleration, the bonds of sacred matrimony, have become for so many, nothing more than an ideal built on shifting sands. Time and culture has not served to be a friendly companion to the church. Making matters worse, the broad and diverse interpretations of the Bible’s opinion of the subject has led to confusion, convoluted doctrines, and even spiritual abuse. Therefore, to better serve the Pentecostal community, this treatise seeks to wrest a more informed opinion in regards to the subject matter so that one can prepare for the eventuality of dealing with real people and real events surrounding the topic of marriage, divorce, and remarriage.
The Institution of Marriage
While this treatise is not an expose` on the fundamental arguments of modernity in regards to traditional marriage, one of the present distresses of the hour revolves around the intuition of marriage itself. From a conservative, God-fearing approach, a traditional marriage is defined as, “a permanent and sexually exclusive relationship of extraordinary care between a man and a woman” (Harley, 2005, p. 3). However, lurking behind this standard definition is the question of who or what defined marriage in this context? Where did the institution of marriage find its beginnings? This serves as an extremely important premise to the entire consideration of the topic of divorce and remarriage.
From the Beginning
Addressing the mindset of the first-century Pharisee on the issues of divorce Jesus stated, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:8, KJV). Using the Greek word ἀρχή, translated as beginning in English, Jesus was alluding to at least one of two possible scenarios. Either Jesus was referring to divine will that preceded creation or Jesus was referring directly to the first known union between a male and female. More than likely, especially in light of the direct connection to the creative narrative of Genesis 2:24 quoted in Matthew 19:5, the latter point was being made. Everything that Jesus was saying followed the initial question Jesus had inquired of them: “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female?” (Matt. 19:4).
Based on this scriptural evidence, it lends toward the conclusive understanding that marriage is not the result of a manmade institution, but rather, marriage is of divine origin. As stated by David Engelsma (2014), “The first marriage was a marriage that God made, from beginning to end. He willed it; he created the first two people in such a way that each was prepared for it, indeed, that neither could live without it. When God made this first marriage, he established a perpetual institution among men. On the sixth day God created marriage” (p. 21).
Holding to this same train of thought, Jay Adams (1986) reiterates, “Contrary to much contemporary thought and teaching, marriage is not a human expedience. It wasn’t devised by man, somewhere along the way in the course of human history, as a convenient way of sorting out responsibilities for children, etc. Instead, God tells us that He Himself established, instituted, and ordained marriage at the beginning of human history” (pp. 3-4).
“Naturally” states Engelsma (2014), “if marriage is a man-made institution, man may also do with that institution as he please” (p. 21-22). Therefore, this author would posit, regardless of the machinations of man, that the standard of marriage should not be built upon the fallacies of human explication. Taking this same stance, Adams (1986) writes, “Marriage as an institution (which includes individual marriages, of course) is subject to the rules and regulations set down by God…. God has revealed His will about marriage in the Bible” (p. 4). Since marriage was not left to the whims of human rational, though humanity has done its best to live contradictory to this premise, the case for marriage is one that should be built upon the bedrock of transcendent, Biblical principles.
The Case for Marriage
The creative narratives of Genesis 1 and 2, touted by one author as “a celebration of the divine origins of marriage” (Witte, 2015, p. 51), serves as the introduction to the institution. According to the record found in Genesis 2, upon seeing woman whom God had made from the side of man, Adam declared, “this is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (vs. 23-24).
The grammar of verse 24, as reasoned by Rene Gehring (2013), “carries the meaning of a common, usual practice not restricted to some ancient (possibly only Edenic) time; it rather is a custom maintained since paradise until at least Moses` time. As Jesus later confirms, it is valid even until his time (cf. Matt. 19:5-6). Thus even the grammatical features point to an enduring, normative ideal” (p. 22). If the said scripture does indeed point towards a normative understanding of the marriage relationship, one could make better sense of the statement of Christ on the subject, when he declared, “…. what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6b).
The Hebrew term for “one flesh” of Genesis 2:24, according to Wenham, Heth, Keener, and Strauss (2006), “suggests a bond that cannot easily be broken” (p. 20). According to Pawson (2014), “coming together involves a permanent ‘leaving’ one family (for Adam’s sons onward) and ‘cleaving’ to form another. The latter notion is akin to being ‘glued’; putting it crudely, husband and wife are ‘stuck’ with each other” (p. 11). Weighing in further on the subject Beale & Carson (2006) state:
Since honoring parents is next to honoring God, for a man to forsake them and cling (which is covenantal language [Deut 4:4; 10:20; 30:20], as is also ‘flesh of my flesh’] to his wife stresses the supreme sanctity of marriage. In other words, this is not merely descriptive, but rather, in the context of Torah, constitutes a divine decree. (p. 197)
Without a doubt, this evidence indicates a positive reinforcement of the adhering nature of marriage. In the mind of God, prior to and subsequent of creative action, the divine pattern and will of God included the union of one man and one woman, clearly positing a monogamous relationship that was intended to outlast life itself. Anything that implies otherwise abdicates an accurate exegesis of the Word of God. Not only does scripture express the sanctity of the divine institution of marriage, it also reflects the language and verbiage of God’s relationship with His people.
Marriage as a Covenant
Though the language of a covenant may reflect differences across the broad spectrum of cultures, the concept of a covenant, for the most part, remains similar (Instone-Brewer, 2002). Reflecting on the usage of “cleaving” as found in Genesis 2:24, Richard Davidson (2007) states:
Applied to the relationship between the sexes in Gen. 2:24, it seems clearly to indicate a covenant context, i.e., a marriage covenant….the word dabaq especially emphasizes the inward attitudinal dimensions of the covenant bond. It implies a devotion and an unshakeable bond between humans; it connotes a permanent attraction which transcends genital union to which, nonetheless, it gives meaning. (p. 21)
This idea holds true throughout the Old Testament. In Proverbs the adulterous wife is accused of having forgot the “covenant of her God” (2:17). According to Malachi, God is one of the witnesses of the marriage covenant and alludes to the “wife of thy covenant” (2:14). Multiple times, the prophet Ezekiel portrays the relationship between Israel and God as a covenant specifically declaring in one instance “I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee” (Ezek. 16:8).
“Here,” states Adams (1986), in explanation of Ezekiel 16:8,“God becomes engaged to Israel by spreading His garment over her, thus taking her under His protective care. The plighting of the troth (or lit., swearing, taking of vows) to her may refer to the engagement (or possibly to the wedding later on)” (p. 14). However, though the understanding of Ezekiel’s words may reflect an engagement or marriage, the prophet Hosea speaks of the eternal bond of the said relationship when God declares, “I will betroth thee unto me forever” (Hosea 2:19).
Interestingly, when viewing the idea of forsaking one’s spouse, called a “guide” in Proverbs 2:17, the idea is attached to forgetting the covenant of God. Based on this, any marital covenant with God acting as a witness carried a tremendous degree of gravity (cf. Mal. 2:14). One fundamental reason for this is found within the primal nature of God Himself; the fact that God is indivisibly and numerically one.
Monogamy and Monotheism
Standing as one of the most central and fundamental prayers of the Jewish people, Deuteronomy 6:4 encapsulates the idea of a monogamous covenant relationship. Recognizing the propensity of the children of Israel to run after false gods, a clear objective was articulated that demanded both the observance of one God, as well as, the universal allegiance that that one God. Interestingly, drawing a connection between the one flesh of Genesis 2:24 and Deut. 6:4, Gehring (2013) states, “as it has only rarely been noticed, the Hebrew אֶחָד (“one”) could be understood as contributing to the exceptional quality of that unity, linking it to the Shema of Deut. 6:4” (p. 29).
God has always demanded that His people serve Him with undivided loyalty and commitment. Thus, as already posited, such a relationship is often reflected in the use of marital covenant language. To fail in the commitment of a monogamous relationship with God was the spiritual equivalent of committing adultery. Though polygamy was practiced throughout the Old Testament, the seeming lack of opposition toward it never implied God’s acceptance of the practice. Instead, once again, the language implied in the precedent of Genesis 2:24 carries forward into the entirety of the Scriptures. Providing further insight, Gehring (2013) writes,
“The human (marital) relationship between male and female is a special representation of the divine and as such bears a particular responsibility. This responsibility includes the feature of heterosexuality and exclusivity for it is only one man and one woman who are consummating the first, ideal marriage and there is no hint as to why this relation should or may be broken….Hence, the important Edenic patterns concerning the ‘Edenic ideal’ comprise the principle of combining one man with one woman in marriage, both subordinated to one God whose image they are and whom they are to represent in their dominion over the earth and their ability to multiply and thereby create new human beings” (p. 52).
It becomes even more evident that the covenant of marriage, its language and intended blessings for those who adhered to such commitments, is reflected in the monotheistic affection of God’s people when God clearly forbid Israel to intermarry or serve other gods. Therefore, the allegiance toward one God and the covenantal relationship defined by martial verbiage marked those called out as to serve as a nation of “kingdom and priests” (Ex. 19:6).
Clearly, marriage is a sacred institution that resulted of Divine origin. As such, marriage is meant to reflect an exclusive, permanent commitment between a male and a female. There is to be a “one-fleshed” concept that is held to a superfluous degree of dedication weighed by the understanding that God Himself served as a witness to the contract of marriage. Marriage is literally, as Jay Adams (1986) stated, “the principle building block of society” (p. 19). If marriage fails, the family fails and future progeny is cast into the spiraling curse of a broken world.
However, one cannot ignore the simple fact that, though the institution of marriage survived the fall, humanity and marriage is under the imperfect conditions of a fallen world. Because of this, marriages can frustrate the divine ideal. Divorce does, and will, continue to occur. Does the Bible condemn divorce? Does the Bible allow for divorce and yet condemn remarriage? These are crucial questions that beg further consideration.
Divorce and Remarriage
Divorce, much to the chagrin of some, is clearly spoken of in both the Old and New Testaments. At face value, without getting bogged down in the minutia of material, divorce is not only mentioned but it is also allowed. Jay Adams (1986) expresses his initial thoughts on the subject by saying,
The Bible recognizes and regulates divorce. Certain provisions are made for it. This must be affirmed clearly and without hesitation. Because divorce is a Biblical concept, used and referred to frequently in the pages of the Bible, Christians must do all they can to understand and teach what God, in His Word, says about it. Moreover, the church is required to apply to actual cases the Scriptural principles regarding divorce (p. 23)
However, regardless of how one interprets the allowance and provisions of Biblical text on the matter, it is important to always view the narrative of divorce against the foundational institution of marriage as defined by scripture. David Engelsma (2013), though an advocate for the unbreakable bond of marriage, concedes and gives tremendous advice on the matter:
We must be careful not to consider divorce in abstraction from marriage. Divorce can be viewed rightly only in the light of all that has previously been said concerning marriage. Divorce is a negative. The positive that it negates is marriage. Divorce is the separation of two who have been made one in marriage. Therefore, in order to judge divorce correctly, we need to remember the truth about marriage. (p. 88)
Divorce, excluding conditions involving slaves (see Ex. 21:7-11), is first mentioned in the Bible within the context of Mosaic covenant. According to Leviticus, one of the many stipulations regarding the office of a priest was that an unmarried virgin was to be taken as a wife as opposed to “a widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or a harlot…” (21:14). It is clear, based on this scriptural evidence that, while individual incidents of divorce are not recorded, divorce was already an active part of the culture of the Israelite nation at the time.
Several times in the book of Deuteronomy provisions and regulations for divorce are found. In Deuteronomy 22, a man can annul his marriage if he finds that his newly married wife is not a virgin where, in turn, she is stoned to death. However, if the accusation proved false then the man was to remain married to her forever (22:13-21). Again, in Deuteronomy 24, divorce is allowed if a man finds “some uncleanliness” in his wife (24:1). Furthermore, in the same chapter, the steps for divorce are found. First, a written bill of divorcement was to be clearly written; Second, the bill of divorce had to be served; Third, the divorced person was to be sent away from the home (Deut. 24:1-4).
As one moves through the Prophetic books, divorce is a common motif, not only of the spiritual condition of the nation of Israel, but the actual practice among the people themselves (cf. Hos. 1-3; Jer. 3:1-10; Mal. 2:13-16). Even as one moves into the New Testament, it is clear that divorce remained, even progressing further, among the Israelite’s (cf. Luke 20:27-35; Mark 10:1-12; Matt. 5:31-32, 19:1-12; Rom. 7:1-6; I Cor. 7:1-40). Clearly, though the viewpoints on the subject may vary, divorce was not only regulated but provisions were made for it throughout the scriptures.
It is to be noted that, while Scripture is seen to regulate the practice of divorce, and certain provisions for it are made, God is still recorded as hating divorce (Mal. 2:16). Jay Adams (1986) adds,
“The available (biblical) evidence shows that although divorce is recognized, permitted and regulated in the Bible (as we have already seen), unlike marriage, it was not instituted by God…to allow for (or permit) a practice is not the same as originating, establishing, or instituting it” (p. 27). Adams (1986) also states, “It is altogether true that God hates divorce. But He neither hates all divorces in the same way not hates every aspect of divorce. He hates what occasions every divorce” (p. 23).
Observing the Biblical recognition, regulation, and basic provisions on divorce, are there moral grounds for one within the church to divorce their spouse? The answer to this brings about a convoluted sense of understanding since much of this hinges upon the interpretation of several key scriptures in the New Testament. Based upon the Old Testament, the answer is simply, yes. However, as one brings light to the issue through the teachings of New Testament, the answer begs more consideration.
Grounds for Divorce
When Jesus responded to the Pharisees about lawfulness of divorce (Matthew 19), it would seem, that Christ’s opinion stood solidly against such practices when He declared, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9). According to Instone-Brewer (2002), “Jesus did not appear at first to be interested in answering the question about the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1. He was more concerned with reminding the Pharisees that marriage was meant to be monogamous and lifelong” (p. 137). However, according to Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, it seems an exception is given that allows for an authorized ground for divorce. The exception clause in Matthew 5:32 states, “saving for the cause of fornication” (Matt. 5:32) and in 19:9, “except it be for fornication” (Matt. 19:9).
On the grounds of divorce due to adultery, most opinions on the matter remain the same. According to Engelsma (2014), “Adultery is a ground for divorce before God” (p. 98). Jay Adams (1986) states, “…the exceptional clause in Matthew, chapters 5 and 19, by which Jesus made it plain that there is one ground on which believers might divorce a spouse…fornication” (p. 51). Pawson (2014), though advocating for the strict permanence of marriage, had to agree when he stated, “Of course it is implied, though not specifically stated, that the divorce was justified in the case of her infidelity, and therefore is permitted” (p. 58).
However, based upon an interesting observation by Instone-Brewer (2002) regarding the statement that, “Moses suffered you to put away your wives” (19:8), one must not forget that Jesus moved from the aspect of Moses making a commandment to Moses making an allowance. Following this understanding, Instone-Brewer (2002) suggests, “The implication is that even in a case of adultery, divorce is not mandatory” (p. 143). Then, drawing heavily upon the allusion of Israel’s hardened heart and their refusal to repent and return to God, Instone-Brewer (2002) further posits that:
“the innocent partner could forgive the unfaithful one and decide not to divorce him or her. Jesus appeared to imply that the divorce law should only be used if the guilty partner was stubbornly refusing to repent and give up the adulterous behavior, as in the case of Israel in Jeremiah” (p. 146). Mirroring this idea, Pawson (2013) states, “In such circumstances a divorce can take place but there is not a hint that Jesus thought it must, as Jewish culture demanded” (p. 58).
Leaning upon this interpretation as valid, especially in light of Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness in Luke 17:3-4, it would seem that divorce is an allowable action, though a last resort. Even the Apostle Paul reflects these teachings when he states, “and unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart form her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife” (I Cor. 7:10-11). Recognizing, in this case, that the exception clause is not present, Paul was clearly advocating that divorce be ones last resort as well.
Remarriage after Divorce
This still begs the question, can one that is divorced remarry? Though there will not be a lengthy explanation of this, one must first recognize that divorce is allowable for the cause of adultery, though of last resort. However, does the one flesh aspect of the martial bond remain after a divorce? Is the union dissolved under such circumstance? There are three primary viewpoints surrounding this issue: no remarriage after divorce, remarriage for adultery or desertion, and remarriage for other circumstances (Wenham et al., 2006).
Without launching into an exhaustive commentary as it relates to these viewpoints, there is one common thing that stands out in relation to the three primary arguments; each viewpoint comes with a substantial amount of subjective interpretation on the subject. Everything revolves around the very bond of marriage, or the one-flesh ideal that had occurred in marital union. However, in this authors opinion, there is no conclusive evidence in scripture that argues against the possibility of remarriage after one follows the steps of a moral and biblical divorce.
The extensiveness of the subject begs for a much greater study and a more detailed report and analysis. However, as developed throughout the treatise, marriage is much more than just a sexual relationship and human companionship. Marriage is a bond recognized by God that realizes a one-flesh relationship whose paradigm is reflected in the very nature of God Himself. Thus, the first and foremost strategy that one should take when approaching the concept of marriage, divorce, and remarriage is to highlight the importance of that relationship within the eyes of God and the Bible. Very few, if any, ever give marriage the focus it truly deserves.
Finally, it would be impossible for anyone to provide a blanket statement on issues of divorce and remarriage within the church. It is clear from scripture that divorce is allowable and, based upon the exception clause given in the Gospel of Matthew, the bond of marriage is dissolved, thus allowing for one to remarry. However, as scripture reveals, there is only one unpardonable sin, which is blasphemy, and divorce and remarriage is not held to that standard. Simply put, one cannot extrapolate what scripture does not imply. Therefore, to some extent, every instance of divorce and remarriage would have to undergo a case-by-case review that is weighed in the closet of prayer and the wisdom of God and what scripture has to say in regards to the matter.
- Adams, J. E. (1986). Marriage, divorce, and remarriage in the Bible. Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing
- Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic
- Davidson, R. M. (2007). Flame of Yahweh : sexuality in the Old Testament. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers.
- Engelsma, D. (2014). Marriage : the mystery of Christ and the church (Third edition. ed.).
- Gehring, R. (2013). The Biblical One Flesh Theology of Marriage as Constituted in Genesis 2:24: An Exegetical Study of this Human-Divine Covenant Pattern, Its New … Focusing on the Spiritual Impact of Sexuality. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.
- Pawson, D. (2014). Remarriage is Adultery Unless… Kennington, U.K. : Anchor Recordings
- Wenham, G. J., Heth, W. A., Keener, C. S., & Strauss, M. L. (2006). Remarriage after divorce in today’s church : 3 views. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.
- Witte, J. (2015). The western case for monogamy over polygamy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.