Scriptural and Early Christian Perspectives on Divorce and Remarriage


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“Not Under Bondage”

Another question people often ask is how we should understand Paul’s instructions regarding an unbelieving spouse in 1 Corinthians 7. Verses 10–15 read as follows:

“And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11But and if she depart [leave her husband], let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away [divorce] his wife. 12But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. . . . 15But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases.”

Verse 39 of the same chapter adds,

“The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”

Some people have claimed, based on 1 Corinthians 7, that if you are a Christian with an unbelieving spouse who does not want to live with you, you are free to divorce and marry someone else.

The first problem with that teaching is that it directly contradicts Jesus Christ, who banned divorce with one and only one exception—for a husband to divorce his wife for sexual immorality. The second problem is that Paul actually says nothing of the sort in this passage. Although he is addressing a situation Jesus did not address, Paul never mentions remarriage, and he says nothing that contradicts Jesus.

To start with, let’s look at the different terms Paul uses in this passage as he addresses the responsibilities of a husbands and wives. First he says a wife should not “depart” from her husband; then he says a husband should not “put away” his wife. “Depart” and “put away” are translated from two different Greek words here, and the KJV translators did an excellent job of capturing the sense. “Depart” simply means simply to leave, while “put away” refers to divorce.

Paul, like Jesus, does not permit a wife to divorce her husband, but he recognizes that there may be dire situations where she must physically leave him. Even then, Paul says, she is not free to remarry. Her only options are to remain unmarried or, if possible, to reconcile with her husband.

Next, Paul addresses how a Christian should respond if an unbelieving spouse leaves him or her. In this case, Paul says, a believer is “not under bondage.” In other words, the believing spouse is not bound to pursue the departing unbeliever.

What Paul does not say is that a Christian in this situation is freed from the marriage bond. Nor is he saying the Christian is free to remarry; later in the same chapter, he repeats that a wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. Notice that Paul does not say a husband is bound to his wife as long as she lives. All this dovetails exactly with Jesus’ teaching that only a husband may initiate divorce, and only for porneia.

Once again, all the Scriptures on the subject harmonize with each other, with no contradictions. As I have said before, when one looks at what the early Christians believed on a topic, one finds that their view always accounts for everything in the New Testament. When they read the Scriptures, they did not have “problem verses” that must be avoided or neutralized with elaborate explanations. Here, as with other subjects, their interpretation follows the natural meaning of the text and takes into account everything the Bible says on the topic.

“Bound by the Law”

Another passage where Paul addresses these topics is in Romans 7:2–3:

For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.

Under what law is the woman bound to her husband “as long as he lives”? Not under Roman law, which allowed either spouse to divorce, but under God’s law. Just as in the other scriptures we examined, only one thing can release her from that bond:

“. . . but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.”

Jesus said anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery, and Paul agrees with this:

“So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.”

Again, the only condition under which remarriage is permitted for a wife is if her husband dies. Abandonment does not free her from the “law of her husband” and allow her to remarry. This is not a popular teaching, but if your heart is honest and open, I trust you can see that this is what the Scriptures say.

The church today is in a state of enormous apostasy. The divorce rate among professing, Bible-believing Christians is the same or slightly higher than that of the world. Instead of obeying the clear instructions of God on this matter, the church has, for the most part, simply followed the world, and when divorce became acceptable in the world, it was soon accepted in the church. This state of affairs is an abomination to God, and Christ will not receive a Bride who refuses to be faithful to His teachings.

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18 Comments

  1. Hello – my best friend is divorced for about 13 years now. Years ago before the Most High began teaching me HIS truth, in error I thought because she was the “innocent party” that there was an exception to all remarriage is adultery, and suggested that she should find a widower and not pursue a marital relationship with men who are also divorced. Ignorance is not bliss and my foolishness has caused so much confusion and chaos… She is currently involved with a man whose wife of 34 years recently passed, that in itself seems too odd for words. Nonetheless, I am concerned for the eternal welfare of my best friend, she says she is a believer but it seems that she does not have ears to hear or eyes to see… Not to mention that her home church pastor is a divorced man remarried with a former (wife of his youth) still living, and he thinks I the one who is in error here. Please if you could provide me with some scripturally sound reference in addition to this article, which is very thorough but quite long, I would appreciate that.
    I am sure that the resounding opinion is that I should probably just mind my business and be happy for my friend – but I just can’t… I am troubled in my spirit about all this and our friendship is suffering horribly also. Please help!

    • @Michelle. Thanks for sharing. Many churches today are caving in on this teaching. I like Eph 5:22 – 33 in this context. Marriage is to be a type of Christ and His bride, the church. Christ would never divorce his bride and look for another one. And when we do that, we break the type God intended marriage to be. Finally, marriage is not the ultimate goal for human beings. Serving God is. And we should be willing to give up marriage in order to obey God.

      • Thank you for replying… I spoke with my best friend and I am going to email this article to her. Please pray with me that she will have eyes to see and ears to hear. My only concern is how disregarding the truth may impact her eternal fate. I love her and I have been trying to keep quiet and “mind my own business”, and I have prayed that the Most High will release me from this burden. However, no matter how I try to study other things and steer clear of this subject – it seems to pop back up.
        Thank you again… Praying that you continue fearlessly in your pursuit to bring your readers to a better understanding of scripture.
        Shalom & Love,
        Michelle

  2. Ok
    Here is my question
    I was for the betrothed argument
    And i don’t know if I’ve really changed it.
    But
    My question is
    If they leave you, the unbeliever…you’re saying you can’t remarry.
    But wouldn’t they probably go start another relationship??
    Then what??
    Then could you remarry?
    Or no still

    Thank you
    And
    God Bless

    • @Fred: They may leave you. They may start another relationship. But that doesn’t change the vows that you made.

      • Thank you for answering.

        I have one more

        If the wife was committing adultery and you tried to work it out but she still decided to leave.
        Would there but a right to remarry then do you believe or should the husband not remarry?

        Thank you for your time

        God Bless
        And a Happy New Year

        • @Fred, I think Ephesians 5:22 – 33 helps to understand some of these questions, even though it doesn’t speak directly about divorce and remarriage. God uses marriage as a parallel of Christ and the Church. I believe that when a person turns their back on Christ, Jesus leaves the door open for them to return, even if they “marry” the world. You should do the same. Read the book of Hosea and meditate on the story of Gomer and the parallel that God drew there between Hosea’s marriage and the children of Israel. I know that these are tough questions and hard answers. But I do know several people who have separated and remained single because their spouses were unfaithful. It is important to find a believer’s fellowship and close Christian friends who will stand by you when the going gets tough (and it will). If you want help to find such people, or just someone to pray with you, feel free to call our toll-free number [855-367-8788]. Note that this only works in North America. If you can’t use the number, leave a note here and I’ll send you and email address.

        • Thank you for your quick response and your insight.
          I have read them
          And understand the seriousness of marriage 100%

          From reading the article
          To be ok with remarriage at all the husband would have had to put away the wife for sexual immorality before she left to be able to remarry?

          Last question I promise

          I’m just trying to make sense of it

          Thank you for your time

        • @Fred. Throughout church history, there have been various interpretations. Edersheim, a converted Jewish scholar, promoted the viewpoint that Jesus was speaking about a betrothal agreement when he gave the exception clause. According to that, there would be no way out for a married person. Other leaders, even conservative ones like Menno Simons, did leave room for a man to put away his wife because of adultery. These leaders tended to leave more room for a man to put away his wife than the other way around, even though men tend to be unfaithful more than women do. I feel that when we start opening doors for divorce and remarriage, we start down a slippery slope that has no end. Like I said in my last post, marriage is a figure of Christ and his bride, the church. Divorce and remarriage destroys this picture. I feel that we are better off to take the “no remarriage” position rather than take chances. I feel that for me to break my vows to my wife, even if she breaks her vows to me, would be wrong for me. That also is the position of most of the groups sponsoring this site and the church I am part of. I realize that this isn’t what you were hoping to hear from me, probably. But I think it is the only safe position. Thanks again for your comments and questions, and God bless you in 2019.

  3. I am currently separated from my husband due to his continued use of prostitutes. We attempted counseling, but he did not repent and he continued to seek out prostitutes. He says he wants to reconcile, yet does not provide me access to this email and text messages. Nor does he adequately financially provide for our children and for me, even the minimum Mount the state would require for child support. We are currently entangled I’m the legal process.

    I want to be obedient to Christ, above all things. And I believe that God led me to as much information as I needed to leave in good conscience. I have no desire to remarry, or even to consider remarriage. Much of my church leadership encourages me to consider reconciliation, since God hates divorce. They do not condone his use of prostitutes, and they encourage him to repent. However, nothing in his provision or behavior leads me to believe there is true repentance.

    I am continuing to search scripture for my answers, but I am left confused by my leadership as to how to move forward. What does Scripture teach about living in continual sin and whether I should initiate reconciliation under those circumstances?

    • Hi Tammy. Have you read this whole article? I think it answers some of your questions. I know its long and perhaps a bit tedious, but its worth reading all the way through (all seven pages!) For more discussion, call the toll free number at the beginning of this comments section.

  4. My husband was killed. We have 2 small children. 7 and 8. A few weeks later after my husbands death, I’m with his older brother. We’ve fallen in love. He wants to marry me and raise his brothers children. He has left his wife, they neither have any children. He is divorcing her. Neither one of us understand this because before my husbands passing, his brother and I could not stand each other. Are we to question this? Is this Gods plan? Are we wrong to have fallen in love? I must say after 3 months we are still together. His wife and him were having problems way before my husbands death. She had an affair and he never forgot it. She “was” also my friend for years.

    • Do you think it is safer to go by your feelings than by God’s word? The Bible is clear that someone who divorces their partner and marries another is committing adultery. I can see that your husband’s death left you very vulnerable, but that still doesn’t change what the Bible states about such a situation.

      • Are you sure that someone should value the lord above their own feelings? Because I feel that if this were true, then He would tell us who to love in the first place, and not wait until we’ve made a wrong decision to tell us what to do. I believe that we are living our own lives with god simply watching over us, not disapproving of our every action.

        • @Shannon, The problem too often is that we don’t pay any attention when God tries to warn us of a wrong choice. And of course, there are situations where the other person makes bad choices after the fact.

  5. kimberley taylor

    i remarried before coming to this knowledge can i return to my first spouse with Gods approval or must i LEAVE?

    • Hi Kimberly. This is a tough question and better answered by your local church if you have one. Feel free to call our toll free number at 855.367.8788 for more discussion or reply here if you want to continue the discussion off line by e-mail.

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