Christian views on Divorce and Remarriage: A Spectrum

Christian views on Divorce and Remarriage: A Spectrum April 15, 2024

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Is a Biblical Divorce and Remarriage Ever Possible? Churches must learn how to demonstrate love and grace to everyone who has been hurt by divorce and may wish to remarry. But what does the Bible say?

Today we conclude my series on Divorce which began loooking at the associated stigma. I have discovered a helpful spectrum summarising and explaining the variety of views among Christians on divorce and remarriage. I will share excerpts of it here.  This is reminiscent of some of the theological spectrums I have written myself previously. Bible teachers have different views to each other on this subject and I have added quotes from several of them below.

This is not just theoretical and I ask that you are gracious with those who have different views to you on this matter.  Churches must learn how to demonstrate love and kindness to everyone who has been hurt by divorce and who may wish to remarry.

Ultimately divorce is not always a choice, sometimes it is done to you and sometimes it’s the only reasonable thing for you to do given the circumstance.

In certain situations the other partner has effectively already broken the marriage so it would be very cruel for us to demand the one who didn’t break the marriage to continue to be enslaved. Wayne Grudem believes 1 Cor 7:15 can be legitimately paraphrased like this;.

“But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In this and other similarly destructive cases (ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις ) the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. (ESV)” Grudem

Many do genuinely feel enslaved in their marriage or in their aloneness after their marriage is over.  Surely we can do better as churches and individuals to help them?

Finding a place of peace during a difficult marriage or even when it has finished is often incredibly difficult. Some ex spouses seem determine to continue to cause stress to their previous partners.

Sometimes a moral decision is about weighing the lesser of two evils. I don’t think we as Christians consider this often enough. Sometimes there is no good way out of a situation only one that is the least bad. In some situations divorce is less painful and less dangerous than continuing the marriage.  Turkish playwright Mehmet Murat ildan is reported to have written the following widely cited piece of wisdom:

Divorce is a fire exit. When a house is burning, it doesn’t matter who set the fire. If there is no fire exit, everyone in the house will be burned!

I fear that many Christians are too busy worrying about how to best to lock the fire doors and protect the original intention that marriage be permanent. How are so many of us blind to the fact that in some cases the building is already ablaze. The agony caused by prolonging a truly dying marriage and merely delaying the inevitable is far worse than pulling the plug on its life support machine,

Much wisdom is called for here as of course God is in the business of reconciliation and restoration.  But if one spouse has firmly determined they are no longer committed to the marriage there’s really nothing the other spouse can do to save it. In fact attempting to thwart the other one’s desire for a divorce can even be perceived to be abusive or may enrage the deserting spouse more. Christians who are facing divorce should not fight their spouse’s desire and should rather engage mediation and offer a non confrontational exit plan. If appropriate they can also insist that the decision is not what they personally want.

But as Piper rightly says

“Divorce is painful. It is often more emotionally wrenching than the death of a spouse. It is often long years in coming and long years in the settlement and in the adjustment. The upheaval of life is immeasurable” READ MORE

Before we turn to the spectrum of views on this subject, I wanted to share with you a sermon a friend of mine preached just yesterday. He wrote to me and told me how helpful he had found a lot of the material I have been sharing, and he includes many of the quotes I have shared here. If only all preaching on this subject were as grace filled and compassionate as this message which I commend to you:

After preaching this sermon my friend Dave Bish said:

Not sure I’ve ever felt more conscious of how broken and fragile and complex our lives are in this fallen world than preaching this text. Sinners and sinned against. Wrong and wronged. Yet no one is more merciful than Jesus. And nothing could be better for us than to go to him.
Lets hold that value as we consider this subject further.

How have Christian’s tried to handle all this theologically?

One of the Bethlehem Baptist elders has published a detailed paper showing why he believes divorce and remarriage should be more broadly allowed than the official position at his church. He says:

While it is a serious error to permit what God forbids, it is also wrong to forbid what God permits. To insist that (a) initiating a divorce is never legitimate or (b) remarriage after divorce is never legitimate or (c) a divorced/remarried man is automatically disqualified to be an elder is to forbid what God sometimes permits. READ MORE 

He also created a table which nicely summarises the various views Christians have:

We turn now to the spectrum I found:

“Remarriage: Three Views

People who believe that Christians may legitimately divorce their spouses do not necessarily agree that these divorced persons may remarry. Some scholars believe that the divorced spouses must remain unmarried. Others teach that remarriage is permissible in certain circumstances.

View #1: Remarriage after divorce is not allowed under any circumstances.

God intended marriage to be a lifelong commitment. If, however, they do divorce, there is no clear teaching in the New Testament which would indicate that they remarry. On the contrary, the New Testament seems to prohibit remarriage.

Our Lord declared that remarriage after divorce constitutes adultery (Mt. 5:32, Mt. 19:9, Mk. 10:11–12, Lk. 16:18). The Apostle Paul seems to confirm in Ro. 7:3 that remarriage prior to the death of one’s spouse is adultery. In 1 Cor. 7:11, the Apostle Paul says that those who divorce must remain unmarried or reconciled with their spouses. Only a widow may remarry (1 Cor. 7:8–9, 1 Cor. 7:39) . . .”

This remains the view of the Roman Catholic Church as outlined in a helpful Wikipedia page which reviews the views of most Christian denominations. John Piper also believes this but didn’t apply it strictly in the church he pastored. He says:

“I believe Jesus considered the marriage covenant breakable only by death and therefore forbade remarriage while a spouse is living”. READ MORE

The spectrum article continues:

“View #2: Remarriage is allowed when divorce meets the biblical criteria.

Some argue that Scripture allows a person who has divorced an unfaithful spouse, or who has been deserted by an unbelieving spouse to remarry . . .  after divorce, the remarriage of the previously married spouses is not forbidden since there is no marriage to which they are bound. Several biblical passages provide evidence that persons are not forbidden to remarry after divorce . . .  Since four passages in Scripture (Dt. 24:1–4, Mt. 5:32, Mt. 19:9, and 1 Cor. 7:15) seem to allow for some kind of divorce and remarriage, it is wrong to argue that the Bible “clearly teaches” no divorce and remarriage . . In Matthew 19 . . .  the verse may be paraphrased, “Unless one’s spouse has been unfaithful, to divorce and remarry is to commit adultery.” The logical conclusion, then, is that one who divorces because a spouse was unfaithful and then remarries does not commit adultery.

Remarriage may occur when an unbelieving spouse has deserted. Paul says that the believer is “not bound” to the marriage with an unbeliever if the latter departs (1 Cor. 7:15 ). This means that the believer is free to remarry. (Some extend this privilege to a believer deserted by another believer.)”

This has been the majority view since the Reformation among Protestants. Teachers who broadly agree with this perspective (though differing in their application of it)  include

John MacArthur:”The only New Testament grounds for divorce are sexual sin or desertion by an unbeliever . . . Remarriage is permitted for the faithful partner only when the divorce was on biblical grounds

 RT Kendall :  “Today, as Christians, we have this tension we face: to maintain the high standard of Christian marriage and yet show compassion to those who suffer irretrievable marriage breakdown.”

The spectrum continues:

“View #3: Remarriage is allowed whenever the marriage covenant has been broken.

Unfaithfulness and desertion are not the only offenses that justify divorce and allow for remarriage. Marriage partners have certain duties to one another that maintain the marriage covenant. There are other, equally damaging, kinds of actions that break that covenant . . . Though there are no specific biblical texts that extend the reasons for divorce and remarriage, any person whose partner breaks the marriage covenant may divorce and remarry.”

Teachers who appear to broadly agree witb this perspective include:

Tim Keller “There are conditions in which divorce is sometimes the only way to survive . . . some people are awfully self-righteous about divorce and look down their nose at any divorced person . . . God is trying to say to all of us, “I love redeeming the worst situations.” “I love to bless the hardest cases. Try me. Come to me.” No one ever perished at Jesus’ feet. No one who ever came to him was in any way cast out.’

Wayne Grudem: “The Bible allows (but does not require) divorce in the case of adultery or desertion, and it also allows remarriage to another person in such cases. Remarriage in these cases is not sin in God’s sight”  He also explains that by extending the reasons a divorce and remarriage are permisssble we ensure our brothers and sisters are “not enslaved to a spouse who has destroyed the marriage relationship”

Conclusion

So there we have it. Wherever you come down on this issue please show love and grace towards those Christians like me who have expeienced divorce. I’m sure none of us expected that to be the outcome of our marriages. Let’s make sure churches make our experiences better not worse, and do what we can to reduce the stigma,


Spectrum and explanation taken from Discipleship Journal, Issue 75 (May/June 1993) (1993).


This series would not have been possible without my Logos Bible Software. If you do not yet have this wonderful Bible Study tool or you are due an upgrade, readers of this blog get a 10% discount.  This is an affiliate link.


READ MORE

Christian Divorce: Adrian and Dave Bish in Conversation

Wayne Grudem on Divorce and Remarriage

John Piper on Divorce and Remarriage

Tim Keller on Divorce and Remarriage

RT Kendall on Divorce and Remarriage

John MacArthur on Divorce and Remarriage

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