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by C. Burns

As the rate of divorces increases so do the number of remarriages, and this increase of divorce and remarriage has even affected our conservative churches. Since this issue is so prevalent in our churches today, it would be good to consult the Bible and find out what God has to say about divorce and remarriage. 

There are several Scriptures that deal with this subject. These verses are: Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:1-3; and I Corinthians 7:10-11, 39. 

Let's look at these verses and see if God condones divorce and remarriage and if there are any exceptions that allow us to break the marriage contract. Turn to Romans 7:2-3: "For the woman which hath an husband is BOUND BY THE LAW [OF GOD, NOT MAN] to her husband SO LONG AS HE LIVETH; but IF her 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." Anyone who is married a SECOND TIME (or more) while there is a LIVING PARTNER is STILL BOUND BY GOD'S LAW TO THE FIRST PARTNER. The laws of the land may say that a woman is no longer bound to her first partner, but GOD says that she is and it is God's Word that counts. Although God can and does forgive the adulterers and adulteresses (if they ask Him to do so), God says that they are still BOUND BY THE LAW until death parts them. In conjunction with this is I Corinthians 7:39: "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." The ONLY EXCEPTION listed here is when a partner dies. Then, AND ONLY THEN, is a person allowed to remarry and this person is commanded to be remarried to another Christian. This passage also states that if a woman marries another man while her first partner is still living, she is an adulteress. This, of course, also goes for the man who remarries and we are told numerous places in God's Word that those who commit adultery cannot enter heaven in an unforgiven condition (Galatians 5:19-21; I Corinthians 6:9; Hebrews 13:4; Malachi 3:5; Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21). 

Now, let's turn back to Mark 10:2-12. The Pharisees came to Jesus and asked Him if it were lawful to put away one's wife. They told Jesus that Moses allowed a "bill of divorcement." What did Jesus answer? "For the HARDNESS OF YOUR HEART he [Moses] wrote you this precept, BUT FROM THE BEGINNING of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother; and cleave to his wife; And they twain SHALL BE ONE FLESH: so then they are no longer twain, but one flesh. . . . And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she COMMITTETH ADULTERY." Here we see that even though Moses did permit people to write bills of divorcement, FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE CREATION it WAS NOT God's intention and precept. Moses allowed the bills of divorcement, not because God said it was okay, but because of the REBELLIOUSNESS of the people. God NEVER intended for this to be. Jesus states in Matthew 5:31-32: "It Hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: BUT I SAY unto you [NOTICE: Jesus is saying this!], That WHOSOEVER shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and WHOSOEVER shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." 

Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:9 give us what is called the "exception clause"--"saving for the cause of fornication." In Matthew 19:9 Jesus says: "And I say unto you, WHOSOEVER shall put away his wife, EXCEPT it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whose marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." This is the verse that many people TRY to use to condone what is referred to as "the innocent party" divorce and remarriage. However, this IS NOT the "exception clause" that many would like it to be. This "exception" is only written in the book of Matthew. There is a VERY GOOD and IMPORTANT reason for this. You see, the book of Matthew was written to the Jews and the Jewish custom was different from some other customs. When Mark writes about this same situation he DOES NOT mention this so-called "exception clause." First of all, we must understand that there is a DIFFERENCE between "adultery" and "fornication." "Adultery" is sexual relations between two MARRIED people (other than husband and wife). "Fornication" is sexual relations between two UNMARRIED people. If a married man has relations with an unmarried woman then the man has committed "adultery," but the woman has committed "fornication." 

Now, notice what Jesus says in Matthew: "And I say unto you, WHOSOEVER shall put away his WIFE, EXCEPT it be for FORNICATION . . ." If "fornication" is relations between unmarried people then why does Matthew mention "wife" and "fornication" together? Simply because the Jewish people had a special custom. (This custom is still practiced in some Eastern places today!) The wedding actually had a TWO-PART ceremony. When a boyfriend and girlfriend decided that they were for each other, the FIRST STAGE of the "wedding" (or the engagement) was held. The friends and relatives were called together for an engagement ceremony that was witnessed just like a wedding ceremony. Everyone knew that from this time on, this boy and girl were meant for each other, but they were to still remain pure UNTIL they had gone through the SECOND PHASE of the wedding. If, DURING THIS "ENGAGEMENT" TIME, either one found out that the other one had been unfaithful (committed fornication), a "bill of divorcement" was allowed to be written. To help prove this we find that Matthew (who was writing to the Jews) stated this about Joseph and Mary: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as His mother Mary was ESPOUSED [engaged] to Joseph, BEFORE THEY CAME TOGETHER [before they were married and had relations], she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph HER HUSBAND, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily [write a "bill of divorcement"]. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy WIFE: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him HIS WIFE: And knew her not [did not have any relations with her] till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called His name JESUS" (Matthew 1:18-25). The Greek word for "espoused" is "mnesteuo" and means "to be promised in marriage" or "to be betrothed" so we can see that Mary and Joseph were only ENGAGED and yet under the Jewish custom they were considered as HUSBAND and WIFE even BEFORE they had any relations. 

This type of situation is what is referred to in Matthew 19. If during the engagement period the man or the woman found out that his or her partner had been unfaithful to him, that man or woman could have a "bill of divorcement" written and would then be free to marry another person. This "bill of divorcement," however, was only to be written BEFORE the SECOND PHASE of the wedding ceremony took place. 

This verse in Matthew CANNOT possibly be an "exception" for a divorce and remarriage situation simply because once ANYONE is married, any relations outside of their marriage is considered ADULTERY since both parties are married. Matthew SPECIFICALLY stated that this "bill of divorcement" could ONLY be for the cause of "fornication" and "fornication" can only be committed before a person marries for the first time. If we understood more of the Jewish laws and customs we would have less problems in the church today.

 I would also like to add here that those who believe that once a couple becomes engaged that they are free to have relations certainly won't find any scriptural proof to back up their claim. A couple should never have any relations UNTIL after the wedding ceremony has taken place. 

When did this theory that the innocent party was free to divorce and remarry start? This "exception clause" was not endorsed until 1519 when Erasmus gave his view of I Corinthians. The Protestant Reformers then adopted this view but for OVER 1500 years after Christ this theory was not taught. So, this "exception clause" is less than 470 years old but many in the church have been looking for a "loophole" or an excuse to remarry and so Erasmus' postulation is gladly accepted. 

Many people will respond that it isn't fair for them to remain single when their partner was unfaithful. After all, they were the INNOCENT party. As the old saying goes, there are two sides to every story. Did the innocent party do anything to cause his or her partner to cheat? If so, that person is not completely innocent. Even if this party is completely innocent, however, it is still not right for a remarriage. After all, we live in an imperfect and sinful world and there are many innocent people who suffer. Children in a drunkard's home are innocent parties but do they have a chance to select different parents? When a drunk driver hits a family on the way to church and cripples a child, the innocent person is the sufferer but that child doesn't get a second chance. So, what makes you think that a poor marriage is an excuse for a second chance? Remember, you are responsible for your decisions and after all, you did make the decision to marry the one you married. Did you not make the vow: "For better or WORSE . . ?" You promised to stand by your partner in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse. You at least had a choice in your marriage partner but the children raised in drunkards' homes did not have a choice of parents. If these poor children don't get a second chance, why do you insist that you should have a second chance because you did not know the person you married was like he or she was? That uncertainty went into the wedding vow "for better or worse." 

There will be those who will say: "My partner cheated on me so I prayed and fasted about remarrying and I felt that God has given me the okay." There are some things wrong with this objection. First of all, God has already said in His Word that divorce and remarriage is wrong so why would He change His mind for your situations Secondly, there is no need to fast and pray about something that God has said "no" to. All your fasting and praying will not change God's Word for it is forever "settled in heaven" (Psalm 119:89). Thirdly, you may feel that God has given you the go ahead but if you study His Word you will find that God DID NOT give you the okay for remarriage. You either had a FALSE IMPRESSION of God sanctioning your remarriage or you were led astray by accepting Satan's advice as God's voice. Satan does come as an "angel of light" (II Corinthians 11:14) and when Satan's advice agrees with your fleshly desires, it is easy for you to feel (and even believe) that God told you or that you were led of God to do it. God, however, will never lead you to do something CONTRARY to His will and His Word. 

One missionary woman fasted and prayed about marrying a divorced missionary man, but she never received an answer directly from God. The Bible tells us why: "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3). God has already given His view of divorce and remarriage in His Word and there is no need for Him to even answer your prayer and fasting because "ye ask amiss." This woman did eventually marry the divorced missionary because people said that her case was different, but neither one of them had any peace of mind after the marriage. Then, after many years of marriage, she realized why God had not answered her. His Word condemned divorce and remarriage and she had gone against God's Word. 

Another objection may be: "Our church manual allows for innocent party divorce and remarriage," or, "Our pastor said it's all right in our situation." It doesn't matter what any manual or any pastor says--if it's against God's Word then IT IS WRONG REGARDLESS of what ANYONE says. 

For those who ask, "My husband left me. Now what do I do?," Paul has the answer. Turn to I Corinthians 7:10-13,15: "And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. . . . But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases." Paul also says that if the husband or wife does depart, he or she is to remain UNMARRIED: "And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her REMAIN UNMARRIED, or BE RECONCILED to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife" (I Corinthians 7:10-11). 

God never intended for anyone to get a divorce and then remarry. But what about those who did this in ignorance of God's law or in rebellion against God and then ask for forgiveness? I know that it has been said that these people can never get saved, but Paul states in I Corinthians 6:9-11: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And SUCH WERE SOME OF YOU: BUT ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." There is hope for those who have done wrong and "If we CONFESS our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). While these people may be forgiven and cleansed from their sin and wrongdoing, there are some consequences that will follow them. God does forgive but He also tells us that those who have been divorced and remarried are not to hold positions within the church. We find in I Timothy 3:12: "Let the deacons be the husbands of ONE wife . . ." The Greek word for "deacon" means "teacher, servant, or minister." The Greek word for "one" means "first" or "ONLY one." It has been wrongly said that someone who has three living husbands only has one husband--the rest are not legally binding. But this is not so, for we see that Jesus told the Samaritan woman that she had had FIVE HUSBANDS and the man she was then living with WAS NOT her husband (John 4:16-18). This woman was living with a man to whom she was not married but Jesus knew that she had been married FIVE times previously and He recognized this by saying that she had had FIVE HUSBANDS. Jesus did not tell her that she had only one husband and that the other men were not recognized as husbands. Jesus clearly stated that she did have FIVE HUSBANDS acknowledging that this Samaritan woman had taken the vow to all five men and that she was legally bound to all of these men by her vow. Also, IF only the first husband would be recognized while all the others would not, then Paul was wrong in stating that a deacon was only to have ONE wife since all those after the first marriage would not be recognized and even though a deacon had ten marriages only the first one was recognized (according to this false philosophy). 

Another thing to remember is that when a sinner makes a contract for anything he is still held to that contract EVEN IF HE GETS SAVED BEFORE THE CONTRACT IS FULFILLED (unless it is against God's Word). For instance, let's say that a sinner signs a contract for someone to build his house and while the house is being built he gets saved. He is still OBLIGATED to go through with the contract. Likewise, marriage is a contract and even though a person was unsaved when that contract was made does not make it valid for it to be broken. Once again, God forgives the adulterers and adulteresses but He also says that no one like this (even though forgiven) should be a deacon ("teachers" "servants" etc.). God gives us clear instructions about this area. 

You may ask: "If God forgives the adulterers and adulteresses why can't they serve as leaders in the church?" All I know is that God said that these people ARE NOT to be leaders. We cannot understand everything that God says but we are nonetheless obligated to obey. I do know that Paul states in I Corinthians 6:18: "Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body." Here we see that the sin of fornication is DIFFERENT from EVERY OTHER SIN, so perhaps this is one reason why God forbids a divorced and remarried person to hold leadership in the church. Another reason is that those who see a divorced and remarried person taking charge may get the impression that the sin that they have committed is not so bad after all. It may provide the "loophole" that some young people are looking for and they will feel that should they decide to get divorced and remarried that they, too, will be able to take a position in the church. 

"But," you may say, "that seems unfair. A person does wrong and then they are penalized for the rest of their lives." Yes, but sin, many times, carries a stiff penalty. What about the girl who falls for a man and commits fornication with him one time and contacts a venereal disease? Does the venereal disease leave when she becomes a Christian? No, but she will have to live the rest of her life with this disease--all because of a night of sinful pleasure. The story is told of a young man who lived a very sinful life before becoming a Christian. He married and soon a baby was born to them. The baby, however, was born blind due to a venereal disease. The man told the doctor that God had forgiven him and that he was living a pure and clean life since becoming a Christian. The doctor said that he did not doubt his testimony but his past sin had been passed on to his innocent baby. Yes, God does forgive, but the results of our past sins may go with us the rest of our lives. A young man may be speeding along a highway for "pleasure" and have an accident that leaves him paralyzed. Does becoming a Christian give him the use of his limbs back? No, the result of his sin goes with him and so it is with those who get divorced and remarried. There are penalties that follow a sinful life. 

King David was a man after God's own heart (I Samuel 13:14; Acts l3:22) but he committed adultery with Bathsheba (II Samuel 11:2-5). Because of this sin a stiff penalty was pronounced upon David. God sent Nathan, the prophet, to tell him: "Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised Me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house . . . the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die" (II Samuel 12:10-11,14). Here again we can see that the father sinned and the innocent baby, as well as other members of David's household, had to suffer the consequences. Yes, God forgave David's sin for we read: "The Lord also hath put away thy sin" (II Samuel 12:13), but Nathan went on to tell David that because of his sin he had "given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme" (II Samuel 12:14). Yes, your sin can be forgiven by God but you will have to live with the consequences of that sin and one of these consequences is that you are not to be in leadership in the church according to I Timothy 3:12.

I know this article will probably cause much controversy, but let us forget what others may say and what preachers suppose because their leaders have followed the teaching of Erasmus. After all, Erasmus only had a theory which is less than 500 years old, but Jesus gave the truth. The fact still remains that His Word is eternal and shall not pass away. We will not be judged by another man's theory but by God's Word. It is high time to get back to the teaching of Christ and begin to spare our young people and our churches. Let's take on the challenge to uphold the Word of God and do as Paul tells Us: "Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but AFTER THEIR OWN LUSTS shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they SHALL TURN AWAY THEIR EARS FROM THE TRUTH, and shall be turned unto fables" (II Timothy 4:2-4). 

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