Wayne Grudem on Divorce and Remarriage

Wayne Grudem on Divorce and Remarriage April 14, 2024


Wayne Grudem is one of the most widely read and respected Evangelical Theologians of the last 50 years. This quote from his published work continues our series looking at various views on divorce and remarriage. Grudem says he believes divorce and remarriage is allowed for adultery or desertion:

The most common understanding among Protestant interpreters since the time of the Reformation has been that Jesus allowed divorce for the physical act of adultery and also allowed remarriage in such cases:

“And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9).

The implication is that if a man divorces his wife for sexual immorality and marries another, this action does not constitute adultery and it is not sin.

In addition, Paul allowed divorce in a case where an unbelieving spouse has deserted a believing partner:

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace (1 Cor. 7:15).

There have been other interpretations of these passages. Some have held that Jesus allowed divorce but not remarriage. Others have held that even in the case of adultery, divorce was not allowed, in part because Jesus’ words, “except for sexual immorality” (Matt. 19:9), are found in Matthew 5:32 but not in Mark 10:11 or Luke 16:18. But my own understanding of these passages, and the understanding of the majority of evangelical interpreters, is that 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 . . .

Because marriage provides society with unique and immensely valuable benefits, society has an interest in protecting and encouraging marriage.

Grudem, W.A. (2010) Politics according to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, pp. 220–238.

However in an article from 2020, he explains that his views have now developed.  He’s expanded the reasons he believes  divorce is allowed.

Grudem hones in on the phrase “in such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.” (1 Corinthians 7:15).  This is used to infer that Paul (and perhaps by extension Jesus) are not giving the only reasons that a divorce may be allowed to happen, but rather giving examples of the kinds of serious reasons that should be used. In other words, don’t divorce for any reason, only divorce for serious reasons like adultery or desertion.  Grudem suggests the phrase could mean  any cases that have similarly destroyed a marriage”.

Grudem explains, “I found that several examples from extra-biblical literature show that Greek ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις (“in such cases”) often includes more kinds of situations than the original example.Grudem’s article gives some examples of the phrase being used  outside the Bible in such a way.  He also explains that Paul often uses another phrase in his writings when it its clear he is meaning one specific case (eg 1 Cor. 11:22, 2 Cor. 3:10, 2 Cor. 5:2, 2 Cor. 8:10). And so Paul’s choice not to use that other phrase strongly implies he is talking about more than desertion as a reason that you can conclude your spouse has broken your wedding vows. 

Grudem cites abuse as a specific example and states that the idea contained in the verse of not being trapped means “not enslaved to a spouse who has destroyed the marriage relationship . . . being trapped in a life of hardship, mistreatment, and debasement.”

Grudem also focuses on the peace referred to in this verse and states, “Paul contrasts the life God has called us to with the continually unsettled situation of being married to a spouse who has left the marriage. This would also apply to an abusive spouse.”  

Grudem goes so far as to paraphrase the verse as follows:

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 explains:

This reasoning also explains why Paul felt freedom to add desertion as another ground for divorce in addition to adultery, which Jesus had specified. In both cases, the marriage has been very substantially, or even fatally, harmed. Abuse is in some ways more harmful than desertion, because abuse includes repeated demonstrations of actual malice, not simply indifference. Abuse is actively and repeatedly malevolent.  READ THE REST

Grudem has also published a book on the subject of divorce and remarriage.

Grudem is basically saying that Christians will need to ensure we do not advocate divorce for any reason. But 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.  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 circumstances.


Christian views on Divorce and Remarriage: A Spectrum

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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