THE BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS OF MARRIAGE

STUDY TWELVE: SEPARATION, DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE

Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2004

This area is as full of tension as a marriage heading for divorce. If our perception of the Bible is that it is just a human book, or that it only becomes God's word when it speaks to us, we will have no sure guidelines; we will just take from it the commands and principles that suit us, and leave aside those that don't as relics of a past and different culture. Or, perhaps we will try to change the meaning of Biblical statements to suit our desires or to reflect the current cultural climate of our society. On the other hand, if we approach the Bible confident that it is God's once-given, authoritative and absolute word, relevant for all people, in all places at all times, then we will have confidence about what God says on this question.

A. THE FOUNDATIONAL, IRREVERSIBLE TRUTH

The bottom line is that from the beginning right up to the present, God's will for marriage is one man and one woman together 'for ever' ['till death do us part'] [heterosexual, monogamous, lifelong ].

Write out and memorize these verses. Discuss the phrases prohibiting divorce.

Genesis 2:24

 

 

Matthew 19:4-6

 

 

 

Jesus, who is God incarnate, and who is 'the truth', grounded the permanence of marriage in the very fabric of the original creation and the original created order ordained by God. By the same statement he affirmed God's prohibition of separation and divorce. Separation and divorce are simply not part of the life that God created us for, and are still not what God created us for. Note that Jesus did not say ' in the beginning', he said ' from the beginning', meaning that from creation right up to the present a permanent, monogamous union has always been God's order for marriage. From the beginning, right up to the present, marriage is an indissoluble union between one man and one woman. It is a union that God counts even more important than the relationship between parents and child. It is a union sealed by the word and action of God. [ See Additional Note: #15]

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1 : Why is it never God's will for a marriage to end in separation or divorce?

 

B. ONLY ONE VALID REASON FOR DIVORCE

The Pharisees came to Jesus with the question 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?' From this question we can infer that men were doing exactly that. This ease of termination of a marriage seems to be also in vogue when Moses gave the original divorce regulations. Deuteronomy 22:13-14 speaks of a man wanting to divorce his wife simply because he ' dislikes her', and trumping up a false accusation of immorality to make it legally acceptable. And Deuteronomy 24:1 reveals that men were divorcing their wives simply because they became ' displeasing' to them. Current divorce law in Australia permits divorce after one year's separation, irrespective of the reason for the separation. But according to the Bible there is only one valid reason for divorce:

Read these verses. Discuss their meaning. Write out the phrases identifying the one reason for divorce.

Matthew 5:32

 

Matthew 19:9

 

 

It is clear that adultery (marital unfaithfulness) is the only Biblically valid reason for divorce. The legal divorce papers are not what breaks the marriage: the act of adultery has done that. The legal papers simply confirm that the marriage has been violated, and that this is the reason for the divorce. Note that these verses do not say that divorce must happen in the event of marital unfaithfulness.

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2 : How do forgiveness and grace [the Redemption, Regeneration, Reconciliation Factor] make it possible for a marriage to survive unfaithfulness? [Read Hosea Chs 1-3 for a description of the heart of God towards his unfaithful people.]

C. THE HARDNESS OF OUR HEARTS [ See Additional Note #16]

Alienation in inter-personal relationships entered the world in Genesis 3, and with this alienation a whole range of expressions of sin that would make marriage a rocky road.

Brainstorm and list below sinful attitudes and actions that make it difficult to stay married.

 

 

 

 

 

Because of the Sin Factor marriage relationships deteriorate and fragment for many reasons in addition to adultery. Divorce regulations were given by Moses to put a boundary around how husbands treated their wives when they divorced them [it was the husbands doing most of the divorcing then – it seems wives didn't have much option], and to protect the reputation of wives divorced for non-valid reasons. This does not mean that God approved these divorces; rather in his compassion, he 'permitted' them, and legally regulated this break-up of marriages that had developed because of the Sin Factor, and in which women were getting a rotten deal [this is termed a 'contingency law']. Jesus put it this way: 'Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But this is not the way it was from the beginning' [Matthew 19:8]. Divorce is one of a number of divine 'compromises' with the Sin Factor – evidence of God's sovereign and compassionate grace. [In the same way Biblical regulations stating what to do in the event of rape, do not endorse rape, rather spell out what must happen to protect the victim of rape.]

DISCUSSION QUESTION #3: Even though God hates divorce and it is his will that the marriage relationship is permanent, does he demand a person to remain in a marriage relationship in which there is intolerable abuse and rejection? Validate your answers.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #4: In a fragmenting marriage between two Christians, what Factors make it possible to avoid divorce and save the marriage? [You may need to revisit Parts 1,3 and 4 of these studies.]

D. THE BIBLICAL IMPACT OF DIVORCE FOR REASONS OTHER THAN UNFAITHFULNESS

Although Deuteronomy thus permits divorce for reasons other than adultery, this concession is not without its serious implications and regulations. [See Additional Note #17]

Check out these verses. Write out and discuss what happens as a result of divorce for non-valid reasons.

Matthew 5:32b

 

Matthew 5:32c

 

Matthew 19:9;

 

 

Mark 10:11,12

 

 

Luke 16:18

 

 

 

As far as God is concerned, divorce for reasons other than unfaithfulness does not free the divorced partners to remarry. Any remarriage after divorce for other reasons is viewed as adultery. Why is this? Because no prior adultery has occurred which effectively ruptured the original union; even though legally divorced the two original partners are still 'one flesh' in God's sight. Any remarriage will be a violation of the original marriage union, and Jesus clearly defines it as 'adultery'. Because of this 'defilement' by remarriage, the Bible also forbids a remarried person returning to their former partner after a second divorce or the death of the second partner [Deuteronomy 24:4; Jeremiah 3:1]. [We can reasonably conclude that, as long as there has been no sexual relationship with another person following a divorce, it is okay to remarry the original partner.] All of this underlines the high view of marriage defined in the Bible: that the order of creation is that one man and one woman become one flesh and that this one union is permanent in God's sight. Note: In the Old Testament economy adulterers faced the death penalty, so there was not much chance of a person divorced because of marital unfaithfulness remarrying! [See Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22.] This 'death penalty' aspect is an indication of how abhorrent marital unfaithfulness is in God's eyes.

E. IS SEPARATION AN OPTION?

Separation, like divorce, is not part of God's will for marriage. 'A wife must not separate from her husband' [1 Corinthians 7:10]. If this standard is disobeyed, also as with divorce, a further command prohibits remarrying: 'But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband' [ 7:11]. This provision for separation, allows a way out of an unbearable relationship. It is another of God's compassionate, gracious compromises. However the sacredness of the marriage union is not compromised because remarriage is forbidden, and the door is left open for reconciliation and restoration.

E.1 A specific situation

Referring specifically to a marriage in which one partner has become a Christian and the non-believing partner leaves because of that, Paul says: ' ... let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances' [1 Cor 7:15]. Some Bible teachers [for example, Clarke, Calvin, Henry, Stott, Schaeffer, Adams] understand the 'is not bound' to mean that the believing partner is free to remarry; but other Bible teachers point out that this understanding is contrary to the whole attitude of the Scriptures to the marriage union. They suggest that the 'is not bound' means either of the following:

1. The believing partner is not so enslaved to the marriage law that he/she has to renounce his/her faith in order to save the marriage [Jamieson, Fawcett, Brown].

2. The believing partner is not so enslaved by the marriage law that he/she has to strive so hard to save the marriage that he/she prejudices the unbelieving partner against Christianity [Barnes].

3. That the 'is not bound' means that this separation does not put the believing partner in a state of condemnation for having a failed marriage [Chafin].

4. See Additional Note #18 It would, however, be extremely unlikely that the departing unbeliever would remain celibate; certainly, in the event that he or she enters another relationship he/she commits adultery (in Biblical terms); if he/she divorces the original believing partner, this sequence of events would permit that deserted partner to remarry in accordance with the one valid reason for divorce in B. above. For the deserted believer to initiate divorce proceedings prior to such adultery is contrary to the Scripture.

F. HOW BIBLICAL IS YOUR UNDERSTANDING?

Below are listed some common attitudes to issues relating to divorce, remarriage and separation. How would you respond if a Christian friend or relative said these things to you? Discuss what you could say in support of the Biblical mindset. Try to include Scripture verses in your discussion.

'We don't love each other any more, so we're going to get a divorce.'

 

 

'She just doesn't turn me on! But I've found someone who does.'

 

 

'We've just got nothing in common any more. We're going our separate ways.'

 

 

'We're getting married ... if it doesn't work out we'll get a divorce.'

 

 

'I love her; but if she needs to be free to fulfil her destiny I'll let her go.'

 

 

'”Till death do us part” – that's old-fashioned man!'

 

 

'But everybody gets married again ... '

 

 

 

'She deserves someone nice after all the trouble she had with her first husband.'

 

 
'But we weren't Christians when we got married. God didn't join us together, so it's okay to divorce.'  

'I just can't forgive her ... not knowing she spent the weekend with him.'

 

 

'She's just so immature, so irresponsible, I can't handle it any more.'

 

 

'I've got to stay with him, no matter how much he beats me up.'

 

 
HOMEWORK TASK: During the week work through this Study again with your partner. Together commit to faithfulness in your marriage and to the permanence of your marriage. Together seek the Lord's help to keep that commitment and to work through issues and mindsets that threaten your marriage. Seek forgiveness from God and each other for non-biblical attitudes to your marriage.