Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage

Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage

In the Garden of Eden, God created marriage to provide men and women lifelong companionship. “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

God intended the marriage commitment to last until death. But, statistics show that many American marriages end in divorce.

What does God’s word say regarding divorce? What does God’s word say regarding those who are in second and third marriages? Matthew 19:3-12 is a good place to start:

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him, and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh’? So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

Jesus makes it clear that God’s will is, basically, “one man, one woman, for life.” It’s true that Law permitted divorce (Deut. 24:1-4). But Jesus, who has “all authority” to reveal God’s will (Matt. 28:19-20), says that the standard of the gospel dispensation shall be: “whoever divorces his wife … and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Notice that Jesus defines a second marriage as adultery. While the law of the land says “whoever divorces and marries another is totally fine,” Jesus says, “whoever divorces and marries another commits adultery.” God was serious when He said, “what God has joined together let no man separate!” Adultery is a term used to describe a special kind of sexual sin—when there is a marriage involved (Romans 7:1-4). Thus, I conclude that God views the original marriage as still in force. How else could He define the second marriage as adultery?

What Jesus says here is so strict that the disciples wondered aloud whether it was better to remain single. One man, one woman, for life! Yes, that is what Jesus demands of our marriages. And He expects us to behave in such as way as to make that an uplifting, enjoyable, mutually beneficial experience. He expects us to learn the same degree of unselfish love which He demonstrated on His cross (Eph. 5:25-33), to never place another person in a situation where he or she would be tempted to commit adultery (Matt. 5:31-32), to practice real forgiveness when the other person does not live up to expectations.

And even when it’s not mutually wonderful, Jesus provides one reason that a marriage may end in divorce with His approval—“…except for immorality.” And in that case, Jesus words it in such a way to suggest that only the one divorcing for the cause of adultery is allowed to remarry. Does this mean that God wants me to stay in an unhappy marriage? Yes. (If two godly people will put their minds to it, there are ways to improve a marriage. In any case the Bible only allows for divorce in the case of adultery, not in the case of dissatisfaction. See also 1 Cor. 7:10-11.) Does this mean that if my spouse is unfaithful and I divorce him, that he may have to remain unmarried for the rest of his life? Yes. Does this mean that there are couples in marriages that God defines as adultery, who are in spiritual danger (1 Cor. 6:9-10)? Yes.

Clearly, your decision to marry, and whom you shall marry, and the kind of spouse you yourself prove to be, are some of the most important considerations of your whole life. According to the Bible, we don’t get a do-over. You must be the very best you can be, and make the very best of what you’ve got.                                                         —John Guzzetta