Divorce & Remarriage

Perhaps Yeshua’s words to us in Matthew 5:31-32 have divided more people; families, friends, and churches, than any other words he spoke. At the very least they have served as a point of heated contention for centuries. It should not be surprising then, that the road to understanding this difficult subject has many problems. Yet it is God’s will for us both to know his will and to do his will.
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Fourth Edition, December 16, 2013 |
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Perhaps Yeshua’s words to us in Matthew 5:31-32 have divided more people; families, friends, and churches, than any other words he spoke. At the very least they have served as a point of heated contention for centuries. It should not be surprising then, that the road to understanding this difficult subject has many problems. Yet it is God’s will for us both to know his will and to do his will.


Although the path we are about to venture upon is not an easy one, it is to be remembered that God gives us understanding of his plan and purpose. So long as we keep our eyes fixed upon Christ, our rock, we may expect his understanding to be ours as well. Let us, therefore, continue on in faith, knowing that God gives us revelation of his perfect will and the grace to carry out that will. No matter what your current beliefs are on the subject of divorce and remarriage, you will have to make certain choices during the course of this study:

Are your views valid in the light of scripture?
Are your views based upon a legalistic approach to scripture or are they rooted in the same grace and compassion found in Christ?
Are you willing to allow God to change your point of view by revealing a greater truth than you have previously recognized?

As I see it, the difficulties involved in this study may be reduced to three:

Personal Bias

I am reminded of the classic words of Knute Rockne who said, “Most men, when they think they are thinking, are merely rearranging their prejudices.” It is not possible for anyone to approach the task of Biblical interpretation completely unbiased. I, myself, have not undertaken this study independent of previous learning and understanding.

It is required of all sincere students of scripture to be guided by God’s Holy Spirit when seeking revelation and understanding. Indeed, scripture warns us that, “...if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” When faced with a contradiction between what we have believed to be true and what we now see scripture affirming as truth, we must give way to scripture. When we are shown what God’s word says, we need to submit our thinking to God and bring our understanding into unity with his. It was Plato who said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

The best form of bias is to approach the scriptures with the humble attitude that God knows what he is talking about, and whether we can easily agree with it or not, God is right. The individual whose approach to the study of scripture is based upon a desire to know more of God will learn more than the person who comes to God’s word saturated with pretensions about what he has already learned. The former is open and teachable, trusting in the Spirit of God for new revelation, while the latter runs the risk of becoming crystallized in self-sufficiency.

Differences Of Interpretation

The interpretation of any written text is going to be handled differently by everyone attempting to understand that text. Scripture is no exception. However, the unique character of the Bible will, to a great extent, determine the principles that are to govern its interpretation.

I believe the words of Louis Berkhof will serve for our foundation in interpreting scripture.

“...though it be true that the interpreter must be perfectly free in his labors, he should not confuse his freedom with licentiousness. He is indeed free from all external restrictions and authority, but he is not free from the laws inherent in the object of his interpretation. In all his expositions he is bound by that which is written, and has no right to ascribe his thoughts to the authors.”

Since the Bible is its own best commentary, I think it best to allow scripture to tell us what it means whenever possible. I offer the following scriptures to illustrate my point:

Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. Revelation 7:3-4

These verses tell us of 144,000 who are sealed in their foreheads, but exactly what is put on those foreheads. We might be persuaded to engage in some grand theological speculations as to what is to be place on those foreheads, but there is really no need for all of that wasted time and effort because scripture tells us plainly what is written on the foreheads of the 144,000.

And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. Revelation 14:1

The mystery vanishes when scripture is allowed to declare its secondary truth. The name of the Father is written in their foreheads. I hope this serves to make my point. In allowing scripture to declare to us what it means, students of the Bible must give all diligence to learning as much of the scriptures as they can in order to give the Bible its highest commentary potential.


While legalism certainly makes many aspects of Christian life, morals, and ethics much easier, it also creates problems that cannot be dealt with in the same narrowness of thought. Those who condemn doctrine through the exaltation of precept leave men with neither reason nor power to keep the precept. Those who impose rigid restraints in one area—like not eating meat—are very unlikely to impose those restraints with the same inflexibility in other areas, cf. Matthew 5:29-30.

No one has ever drawn a straight line or a perfect curve; but to strive for anything less would make a man a very poor architect. Men never live up to their ideals, so in aiming to live an average life one will, inevitably, fall below average. Yeshua is both the ideal and the way to attain the ideal. Yet Yeshua did not teach slavish obedience to every minute requirement of the Mosaic code. What man ought to be requires God’s law—what man is requires God’s love.

Most rigid perspectives on divorce and remarriage seem to stem from the erroneous assumption that scripture has all the information needed to create a singular rule for failing marriages. Not only does the New Testament lack the necessary detail on divorce and remarriage to form a strict rule for every failing or problematic marriage, but the New Testament also fails to offer an explicit procedure by which we may approach every occasion of divorce or remarriage. All occurrences of the topic in the New Testament are in responding to a specific question or circumstance. Since the New Testament fails to make a formal pronouncement covering all situations in marriage, we may deduce that the apostles were guided by the Old Testament on problems concerning this topic. Now the question becomes: what does the Old Testament have to say about divorce? However, before we may understand divorce we must first have an accurate understanding of its precursor—marriage.

I think it is unfair to the gospel of grace to insist upon a strict, stingy, impersonal rule for passages of scripture that are open to differing interpretations, especially when that passage readily lends itself to a more magnanimous, relaxed interpretation.

It is not the purpose of revelation to disclose the whole of our duties. Scripture is not a complete code of rules for practical action, but an enunciation of principles, with occasional precepts by way of illustration... Scripture is not a series of minute injunctions and prohibitions such as the Pharisees and the Jesuits laid down. The Koran showed its immeasurable inferiority to the Bible by establishing the letter instead of the spirit, by giving permanent, definite, and specific rules of conduct, instead of leaving room for the growth of the free spirit and for the education of conscience. This is not true either of O.T. or of N.T. law. In Miss Fowler’s novel The Farringdons, Mrs. Herbert wishes “that the Bible had been written on the principle of that dreadful little book called `Don’t,’ which gives a list of the solecisms you should avoid; she would have understood it so much better than the present system.” Our Savior’s words about giving to him that asketh, and turning the other cheek to the smiter (Matthew 5:39-42) must be interpreted by the principle of love that lies at the foundation of the law. Giving to every tramp and yielding to every marauder is not pleasing our neighbor “for that which is good unto edifying” (Romans 15:2). [A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology, pp. 545-546, Judson Press, 1985].


We may define marriage as that lifelong and exclusive state in which a man and a woman are wholly committed to live with each other in sexual relationship under conditions normally approved and witnessed to by their social group or society. Although Christian opinion is divided on the necessity of coitus for validating marriage, Paul plainly taught that it is the specific act by which man and woman become one flesh (Bailey, Sexual Relation in Christian Thought, p. 119). We must not confuse true marriage with the wedding ceremony. The ceremony merely solemnizes and symbolizes a couple’s total commitment.


God expects the love, commitment and attraction between the man and the woman to be so strong that they will leave the ties of blood and family and devote themselves exclusively to one another. That God intended for marriage to be a permanent union is evidenced by the “one flesh” aspect described in Genesis 2:24, where it stresses that man “cleaves” to his wife, signifying an underlying sense of “commitment”. Commitment is essential, therefore, to any true marriage as described in the scriptures and requires more than a voluntary physical experience.

Marriages should be characterized by:

intentions of a permanent relationship (Hosea 2:19; Matthew 19:6)
overriding, sacrificial love of the husband for the wife (Hosea 2:19; Ephesians 5:25)
a unity by which the two become one, spiritually and physically [R.K. Bower].

God did not expect, neither did he make provision for, any withdrawal from this covenant of unity.



It was God who declared that it was not good for man to be alone. While God had made man in his own image, he had not created man with a divine nature. Man would benefit greatly from a being who, like Adam, was made in the image of God, but with a human nature. It becomes apparent in the light of God’s own statement that the initial, divine intention for marriage was for love, fellowship and companionship.


The next purpose God gives us for the covenant of marriage was that of procreation. God spoke to the man and the woman and told them to be fruitful and multiply. The procreative aspect of marriage is alluded to in the statement, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother...” Unless procreation took place in the union between the man and woman there would be no father or mother to leave.

Shared Dominion

As a one flesh covenant team, man and woman were to exercise their God-given authority over all other created things to the glory of God’s holiness. Since the beasts of the field could not fear and serve God as man could, they were to fear and serve man; God’s greatest creation.


The final purpose for marriage (though really the first) is holiness. Holiness is the foundational attribute of God, this must of necessity be the chief attribute of his image in man. Original righteousness was essential to man’s image as scripture teaches (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). God’s intention was for man and woman to continue to walk together in the righteousness and holiness in which God had created them. Personal pleasure is not a sufficient reason for entering the covenant of marriage. People would not get divorced for such trivial reasons if they did not get married for such trivial reasons. There would be far less call for divorce if people entered marriage under better conditions.


The focus of scripture is on the sanctity of marriage, not the possible reasons for divorce. Nowhere in scripture do we find the concept of easy divorce. It should come as no surprise, then, that the basic rule is:


More than just no divorce, the basic rule for marriage is no divorce and no remarriage after divorce. Scripture always seeks to heal any wounds or hurts and to preserve the marriage relationship. The standard God gave to man directly reflected the divine nature, but man has a human nature.

The soul of man was not produced by heaven or earth, but was breathed immediately from God; so the ways and dealings of God with spirits are not included in nature, that is, in the laws of heaven and earth, but are reserved to the law of his secret will and grace. —Lord Bacon, Confession of Faith.

God’s Compassion

The covenant of marriage was instituted in man’s innocence prior to the stain and corruption of sin. It is inconceivable that God would give provisions for a corrupted marital state before corruption had entered into it. This is apparent because God did not give any details of the plan of salvation until man sinned and came to be in need of a savior. When the need for salvation arose, God revealed his plan for man’s return to righteousness and holiness before him. Likewise, when the frailty of human nature in interpersonal relationships was revealed, the compassion of God for those involved in those relationships was revealed also.

God’s greatest concern is for the men and women found in the covenant of marriage, not in the covenant itself. Just as the Sabbath was made for man, so too, marriage was made for man, not man for marriage.

Not A Command

Divorce is never a necessary evil. Once we assuage our conscience by calling something a “necessary evil,” it begins to look more and more necessary, and less and less evil. God never counsels us in his word to get a divorce. No matter how badly the marriage has been damaged, it is God’s desire to see the problems overcome and the relationship healed. Yet this divine ideal has not blinded God to the realities of irreconcilable problems that can emerge in marriages. God’s acknowledgment of these seemingly terminal problems is found in the permission to divorce given by Moses:

When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. —Deuteronomy 24:1-4

Divorces were in use prior to the passage in Deuteronomy (divorce is taken for granted in Leviticus 22:14), and Moses considered it necessary to give specific rules to help preserve both the sanctity of marriage and the honor of women. The rules are:

The husband must find some serious uncleanness in her. This uncleanness was less serious than adultery because she would have been put to death for that.
The divorce could not be by word of mouth, it had to be in writing before witnesses.
The husband had to deliver the writing of divorcement into the hand of his wife and then send her away.
Once divorced the woman could go and be another man’s wife. The divorce had dissolved the marriage just as completely as death.
Once remarried, the woman could never go back to her first husband. Apparently the woman’s remarriage was looked upon as her formal renunciation of her first husband. This may be viewed as a physical act of divorcement on behalf of the woman.

The Displeasing Wife

In Deuteronomy 24:1, uncleanness cannot mean immorality because the unfaithful Jewess was stoned to death (cf. Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). Uncleanness included every kind of impropriety such as going about with loose hair, familiarity with men in speech, bad breath, burned biscuits, spinning in the street, etc.

The true meaning of is definitely something more serious than burned biscuits or bad breath. This topic will be covered more completely later.

The idea of divorce with the automatic right to remarry seems to be taken for granted in the laws of all civilized communities. Once the husband had complied with the rules Moses had established, the woman was free to go and be another man’s wife.

In Rabbinical writings it is always agreed that remarriage is allowed after a lawful divorce had taken place. There was a great deal of conflict about what constituted a lawful divorce, but there was never any dispute that Moses allowed a lawfully divorced couple to remarry.

The legal divorce so completely severed the marriage bond that the woman, once she had become another man’s wife, could not return to her first husband, EVER. This should serve to dissuade people from insisting that couples who have divorced and remarried return to their former spouses. Even God refers to the woman’s first husband as her “former” husband.



Yeshua is never found negating the Old Testament precepts or concessions. The fundamental saying of Yeshua is the same as that found in the Old Testament: no divorce and no remarriage after divorce. Although scripture provides for the weaknesses and frailties of humanity, it is the ideal which should be sought out. Victory is always to be our goal, not concession or compromise.

MATTHEW 5:31-32

Many readers will recall that Matthew chapter 5 begins with the sermon on the mount, yet few realize the profound lesson that is taught beginning with verse 13.

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Yeshua is not really concerned with the saltiness of salt, but, rather, with the power of God working effectually through men. If his disciples were not going to live and speak the word of God boldly, they would be as salt that had lost its savor. He tells them that they are the light of the world and that their lives are to be open, highly visible and filled with good works.

Christianity will give a man a relish; but if a man can take up and continue the profession of it, and yet remain flat and foolish, and graceless and insipid, no other doctrine, no other means, can be applied, to make him savory. Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Whole Bible, Vol. 5, p. 54, MacDonald Publishing Company, McLean, VA

In verse 17 Yeshua continues speaking to the disciples, telling them that the scriptures of the Old Testament were to be their rule. Yeshua shows that the Old Testament scriptures were right and that the scribes and Pharisees were in the wrong. The rules that Yeshua came to establish agreed perfectly with the Old Testament scriptures (the law and the prophets).

Two Commandments

Beginning with verse 21, Yeshua begins to explain certain of the original ten commandments. His purpose is to recover them from the cheap glaze put upon them by the scribes and Pharisees. In all of his speaking he adds nothing new, he only limits and bridles certain permissions and abuses which had arisen under the tutelage of the scribes and Pharisees.

The text of verse 21 is the sixth commandment. The Jewish teachers had taught that nothing except actual murder was forbidden by the sixth commandment. Yeshua shows that all rash anger is heart murder, i.e., murder committed in the heart.

The text of verse 27 is the seventh commandment. Yeshua is not in the least suggesting that we literally remove eye or hand from the body. What he is saying is that all of our senses and powers must be kept from those things which lead to transgression. We must, as a doctor removes a diseased limb, remove ourselves from temptation to sin. Please note that in verses 21 and 27 Yeshua says, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time...” This statement is made with regard to the sixth and seventh commandments, precepts given by God to Moses for the nation Israel. But notice the change when we get to the verse, “It hath been said,...” He does not say, as before, “It hath been said by them of old time”, because this was not a commandment as those were; it was only a permission. The Pharisees were willing to treat this as a command; elevating it to the same status as God’s commands. Yeshua points out the abuse and calls his hearers to a higher standard in verses 31 and 32.

Put Away

The legal term “put away” had a history, in both grammar and society, that ALWAYS meant the absolute dissolution of a marriage with the right to remarry. Individuals with opposing views on divorce and remarriage do not cite Hebrew or Greek authorities who teach that divorce means separation from bed and board.” This is quite simply because the lexicons of the Hebrew and Greek languages give a different meaning than “separation from bed and board.”

The Greek word for divorce or “put away” in the New Testament is apoluo, which is exactly the same in meaning as the Old Testament word kerithuth. Both of these words mean: “To set free; to loose; to liberate; radically dissolved, cut loose as a ship at its launching; to discharge as a soldier from the army; undo a bond; cut apart; to cause all obligation to cease; to sever; to free, as a captive, i.e., to loose his bonds and give him liberty to depart.”

The word apoluo is the same word used in Mark 15:6-15 where we witness the release apoluo of Barabbas. It can hardly be argued that Barabbas was only freed from crucifixion. Barabbas was set free, liberated, cut loose. His bonds were removed and he was at liberty to go where ever he chose. This is the only acceptable meaning for the word.


Does God require innocent people to be one flesh with a person who commits sexual crimes? Would God insist that the one flesh status be preserved even though the law ordered the death of the sexual offender? The answer to these questions must be, “NO!” If God insisted that a person remain one flesh with a sexual deviate then he would not allow divorce for any reason. But God did tolerate divorce and, therefore, we know the one flesh relationship may be severed in God’s eyes.

Fornication is prostitution, unchastity of every kind, every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse. Adultery appears as fornication in Sirach 23:23. Porneia is illicit sexual intercourse in general... all other interpretations of the term are to be rejected. Yeshua assumes that the woman will remarry (v. 32). The reason she commits adultery is because she is in sexual sin with another man while still married to the man who divorced her; the marriage was not dissolved by the divorce.

The Writing Of Divorcement

The reference is to Israel’s official divorce bill found in Deuteronomy 24:1-2.

The rules of interpretation require us to interpret this divorce bill in the light of its historical setting. “What a term or word or expression literally means can be determined only by inspection of the culture of the people who used it... God’s revelation is set in an historical context... We may appeal to history. We may argue that such-and-such was the practice among the Jews at the time of Yeshua as witnessed by Rabbinal law and writings. All interpretations that do not measure up to these criteria must be rejected or at least held suspect.” (Protestant Biblical Interpretations, Ramm, Bernard, pp. 96-97; 101-104)

I will begin the discussion of the Jewish divorce bill as it is found in Matthew 1:19.

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.

Notice first that Joseph was a just man. He was not called foolish, impetuous or corrupt. He is clearly acknowledged as a just man. This just man was going to divorce (put away) Mary, secretly, because he thought she had been unfaithful. But this just man was going contrary to the law which prescribed a different remedy for an unfaithful woman espoused to a man. According to Deuteronomy 22:22-24, both the adulterous wife and the betrothed bride were to be stoned to death. The penalty was death, not divorcement. The penalty was the same because the Jewish betrothal was much more binding than our engagement. The only way out of a betrothal was with a writing of divorcement. One could not merely return a ring as in the practice we are acquainted with today.

Stoned To Death

I think it fitting to comment on the death penalty for adultery. If a man or woman was found guilty of adultery the prescription of the law called for death by stoning. This ritual stoning left the innocent party free to remarry. No one ever questions or doubts that. But when we move from the LAW to GRACE, people seem to develop a certain fuzziness in their thinking. When we move away from the legal tangibility of the law of stoning into the spiritual aspect of grace and the writing of divorcement people are all too often seen running to try and find a law instead.

An adulterer was put to death and removed from the picture leaving the innocent spouse free to remarry. The only thing that changes under the covenant of grace is the death of the adulterous spouse. Were it not for grace, the adulterer would be stoned and removed, thereby freeing the innocent mate to remarry. Under grace, the adulterous spouse is given a writing of divorcement and ALLOWED TO LIVE even though he or she is removed from the picture. The innocent spouse is just as free to remarry under grace as he or she was under the law. But since the guilty party is not put to death under grace, he, too, is allowed to remarry.

The Greek word “cause” in verse 32 means: for which a thing may be rightly done. Therefore, with the clause, “...saving for the cause of...”, we now move to Matthew 19:3-12 to continue our scriptural survey.

MATTHEW 19:3-12

Saving For The Cause Of

Yeshua is being tempted! If we forget that we are likely to miss the entire point of Yeshua’ answer. The Pharisees are trying to trap Yeshua on a point of law, not for the sake of right and wrong, but for political reasons.

At the time there were two major schools of thought: Hillel, the liberal and Shammai, the conservative. The school of Hillel taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason, even bad breath. The school of Shammai taught that a man could only divorce his wife for infidelity. The temptation focused on the contention between these two schools, not on what was right. The Pharisees knew that when Yeshua sided with one rabbi the advocates of the other would be outraged. The extreme in the situation would be for Yeshua to renounce the decree of Moses, thus angering everyone.

Interestingly enough, the Pharisees did not mention remarriage in their query because it was not an issue. Remarriage was allowed by both according to Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

In verses 3-9 the legal term “put away” is used five times; twice by the Pharisees and three times by Yeshua. Three times (vs. 3, 7, and 8) the term is used to mean complete dissolution of marriage. Yet there are those who would have us believe that the same term, put away” magically becomes “separation from bed and board” in verse 9. Yeshua was very obviously referring to a complete dissolution of the marriage bond in verse 9.

Yeshua Is Independent

Contrary to appearance, Yeshua was not taking sides with the school of Shammai. Hillel and Shammai had gone to opposite extremes. Hillel had taken an approach that was too relaxed while Shammai’s position was too austere. Yeshua did not embrace the teachings of either school, and he left the Mosaic permission unexplained to his immediate audience.

In citing the original plan for marriage and giving his own authoritative command, “And I say unto you...”, without giving an interpretation of the Mosaic permission, Yeshua again establishes God’s high ideal for marriage without having to implement a strict ethical rule. Each marriage is different; Yeshua did not want to bind people by a singular moral and ethical law for marriage. Let us examine the words of Yeshua and discover what he was saying and why.

The Marriage Idea

When the Pharisees tempted Yeshua in verse 3, he avoided taking sides by stating the original ideal for marriage. God’s original plan was for man and woman to love one another so deeply that they would leave their own father and mother to become husband and wife. The two were to become one flesh. God gave the man one wife and he gave the woman one husband. The two (not three or more) were to devote themselves to one another exclusively and live together as husband and wife, solely, their entire lives. Some believe that only believers are joined together by God, and that only believers are found in relationships that are genuinely “one flesh.” No doubt these same individuals are appalled the the sun shines just as brightly upon the sinner as it does upon the saint. I am often amazed (and ashamed) at how stingy the church is with God’s abundant grace. God’s ideal for marriage was given for all of humanity, not just to the church.

The next exchange between Yeshua and the Pharisees is quite revealing. After Yeshua masterfully sidestepped the calculated plot of the Pharisees by stating God’s ideal for marriage, the Pharisees counter with the question, “Why did Moses command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?”

Another Trap

In asking this question, the Pharisees bait another trap. Would Yeshua countermand Moses’ permission to divorce a wife? If so, all the Pharisees would be outraged; indeed, all of Israel. But, again, Yeshua stops them with his proficient insight on the matter:

“Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered (allowed) you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

Notice that the Pharisees said, “Moses commanded us...” But Yeshua corrected them by stating, Moses allowed you...” The Pharisees were, of course, citing Deuteronomy 24:1-4, but they said Moses commanded the woman to be divorced. Yeshua pointed out two things:

Moses allowed for divorce in this situation but did not command it.
Moses’ intention was to regulate the practice of divorce to prevent abuses.

A careful examination of Yeshua’s words will show that he neither approved nor condemned the Mosaic permission to divorce. He plainly stated that because of their hardness of heart Moses allowed them to give the bill of divorcement and divorce their wives. This indicates that they were divorcing their wives for reasons other than infidelity.

Yeshua would not have said that divorce was for hardness of heart if the woman had been immoral. This is proven by the clause, “but from the beginning it was not so.” From the beginning God called men and women to the highest level of holiness and commitment in marriage. From the beginning there was to be no divorce and no remarriage. And from the beginning men KILLED adulterous wives. Yeshua could hardly be referring to divorce for infidelity when the law called, not for divorce, but for death.

Hardness Of Heart

What does the Bible mean when it says hardness of heart? Though it is often quoted by those opposed to allowing divorce for any reason, Malachi 2:14-16 gives us a clear understanding of “hardness of heart.”

Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

God hates divorce; we should not try to erase or make light of that. But why does he hate divorce? Does he hate divorce because it opposes the divine ideal? Does he hate divorce because the husband and wife are no longer together? The answer to these two questions is, “NO!”

As I stated earlier, God is not as concerned about the divine ideal as he is about the people who enter the covenant of marriage. The husband and wife were not together when they were single and we do not see where God hates people being single. Though seldom recognized, there is a specific reason why God hates divorce.


The real reason God hates divorce is treachery. God is not speaking of men and women whose marriage has been shipwrecked by adultery or some other sexual misconduct. God hates the divorces that take place when men and women deal treacherously with their spouses. When a partner sues for divorce because the bread was burned, because the spouses breath was bad, because the husband or wife is not as young and attractive as they used to be; these are viewed by God as acts of treachery.

Most marriages are terminated because of treachery. The holiness and sanctity of marriage are abandoned for personal, selfish desires. Since there is no valid reason to terminate the marriage, treachery ensues. This is the reason God hates divorce.

I have been in ministry long enough to know that a man is going to do what he is going to do, period. No doubt there will be those few who read this work and decide that the only way out of their marriage is to go out and commit adultery. Still, my desire is that the God’s Spirit will move upon the hearts and minds of other readers who are not so selfish and prone to destruction. Those who would intentionally commit adultery to get out of a marriage relationship must be regarded as frauds of Christianity. While God tells us that he hates divorce, he does not go so far as to state that he hates ALL divorce. If God hated all divorce he could neither sanction nor allow divorce even for sexual sin; yet he does.

Let us consider further the last clause, “...but from the beginning it was not so.” Why did not Yeshua add, “And it shall not be so now either”? Because of the exception for fornication given in verse 9, I will give special consideration to the word except.


The Greek word for except in Matthew 5:32 is parektos logos, and it has the same meaning as ei me here in verse 9, i.e., “To take out; outside of; leave out; to exclude; to abort.”

The word except has the same meaning in English as it has in the Greek language. The following definitions for except should suffice.

To take or leave out of a number or a whole. (Webster’s New Third international Dictionary)
To take out from a number or an aggregate under consideration. (The New Century Dictionary)
The purpose of an exception is to exclude the operation of certain words that would otherwise be included in them... The word `except’ means to exclude from an enumeration, the scope of the statement or enactment... To leave out of account or consideration. (The Law Encyclopedia, Words And Phrases, a 101 volume set, Vol. 15A, p. 69)

If any doubt remains on whether or not that is what Yeshua meant here, I offer the following citations:

In doubtful questions of interpretation, the doubt goes in favor of the accused. (The Theory Of Justice, Rudolph Stammler, p. 408.)

The words of the exception are to be construed in favor of the grantee. (Pope Legal Definitions, p. 497, Callahan & Company, 1919.)

Yeshua gave an exception to the marriage ideal. This exception gives an individual the right both to divorce and to remarry. It also gives the guilty party the right to live. (See: A Grammar Of The Greek New Testament In The Light Of Historical Research, A.T. Robertson, M.A., D.D., LL.D., Litt.D., p. 417.)

It makes no difference where we place the clause, except it be for fornication.” The exception covers the entire sentence. Please observe:

Except it be for fornication, whosoever shall put away his wife, and shall marry another committeth adultery, and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

Whosoever shall put away his wife, and shall marry another committeth adultery, and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery, except it be for fornication.

As you can see, the meaning remains unchanged no matter where we place the exception clause. This demonstrates that the clause affects the entire sentence and would, necessarily, permit remarriage.


Yeshua asserts that only those who are so gifted may live a celibate life. Therefore, for Yeshua to allow divorce without allowing remarriage is non sequitur.

Paul has more to add to this topic later on.

LUKE 16:18

The Context Of The Passage

This entire chapter is devoted to one topic:

“Stewardship”. To ascribe any other purpose to this chapter is nothing short of deception. The chapter is neatly broken down into three parts:

Verses 1-13; Yeshua speaks to his disciples.
Verses 14-18; Yeshua speaks to the Pharisees concerning the taking away of their stewardship.
Verses 19-31; Yeshua speaks to the Pharisees on faithfulness. After the parable of the unjust steward, part one ends with Yeshua telling his disciples it is not possible to serve both God and money.

Part two begins with the declaration:

And the Pharisees also who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.

We now know that the Pharisees were covetous and they ridiculed Yeshua. Yeshua tells the Pharisees that their stewardship concerning the LAW is about to come to a close and they need to start pressing into new work (v. 16).

Law was God to the Jews. If a Jew left the law or did not keep it, he was called a fornicator (cf. John 8:41). They just learned that the law was until John, but Yeshua now preaches the gospel of the kingdom and every man has to press into the kingdom, not into the law.

Yeshua knew what the Pharisees would say after the verse: “To put away the law is to commit adultery.” But God knew that he could not just put away the law. Yeshua preached the true use of money in the kingdom of God. Yeshua was telling them that the law was going to be fulfilled.


Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

If you have ever wondered why Yeshua suddenly bursts into a mini sermon on divorce and remarriage here, I can answer that question for you now. Yeshua is not teaching on divorce and remarriage at all. He is still teaching on stewardship. Through the law, God was married to Israel. Yeshua is telling the Pharisees that God is freeing Israel, through the death of Yeshua (the perfect fulfillment of the law) to marry one who was raised from the dead (v. 31). God also freed Yeshua to marry Israel!

I hope it is now plain that Yeshua was not teaching on divorce at all. He simply used the original ideal of marriage to teach on stewardship.

MARK 10:2-10

The Original Law Of Marriage

The original law of marriage is stated here and also in Luke’s gospel. There are no exceptions for adultery, incest, sodomy, harlotry, sexual bestiality, necrophilia or any other sexual crimes in either account. The reason for the absence in Luke has been discussed above. The reason for the absence here is simple, though not necessarily apparent. The original law of marriage contained no exceptions for anything, not even bed and board separation. God’s original ideal for marriage, as previously stated, was for the couple to be a dominion team together for all of their days; not divorcing, not separating.

While the Pharisees insisted upon stressing the Mosaic permission, Yeshua insisted upon stressing the divine ideal for marriage. Rather than give people the false impression that divorce could be as easy as writing and delivering a letter, Yeshua emphasized the holiness and permanence of marriage. I think it is good to observe that the original law of death contained no provision (or exception) for new life.

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. Genesis 2:17

This does not make God’s provision for salvation anymore invalid than the original law of marriage makes the exceptions for sex crimes invalid. If the fornication exceptions are to be considered invalid because they modify the original decree of marriage, then all salvation scriptures must be considered invalid because they modify the original decree of death. Happily, Hebrews 7:22; 8:6 tell us we have, “...a better covenant” than the Mosaic covenant. Moses killed the adulterers and allowed the guiltless mate to remarry.

One exception disproves a hypothesis with just as much certainty as a thousand.


Does Paul teach that no one can remarry as long as a former spouse lives? Does he teach that celibacy is better than marriage? We will examine these and other problems in dealing with Paul’s writings.

ROMANS 7:1-3

This is the passage in which many believe Paul teaches that no one may remarry so long as a previous spouse still lives. However, the context of this passage will readily disclose the truth of Paul’s message.

These verses were written some 25 years after Matthew 5:32. It is unlikely that the church of Rome heard Yeshua speak again on divorce. It was not necessary for them to hear it again because his divorce statements were complete. Here, Paul is not speaking on divorce and remarriage. He is addressing the subjectivity of man to the law. But Paul does not negate the basic ideal of marriage that normally a man and woman are bound to each other as long as they are both alive; only death, automatically and permanently, ending the marriage. Paul does not say anything about divorce here, nor does he attempt to address a broken marriage.

Old Testament Example

In Numbers 5:20-22,31, the husband was guiltless in bringing his adulterous wife before the priest.

But if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband: Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell; And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen. Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.

Obviously the man was not motivated by hardness of heart. God did not require a Jew to “cleave to” and be “one flesh” with an adulterous wife. God’s own curse upon her caused her body to swell and rot. The innocent husband could divorce her and remarry and be guiltless while she still lived.


Once again, context is the key to proper understanding of the passage under consideration. Paul is answering specific questions that have been put to him. Because he is answering questions, and not giving a detailed account of all marital difficulties caused by infidelity, this passage must be supplemented by other passages dealing with divorce and remarriage. Most likely the questions Paul was responding to were:

is being single better than being married? (1-2; 6-9)
what are the spousal responsibilities? (3-5)
can a Christian divorce? (10-11)
how does a Christian behave toward an unbelieving spouse? (12-16)
how about people who are single? (25-38)
can a woman remarry after the death of her husband? (39-40)

Celibacy (1-2; 6-9)

We will consider Paul’s response to each of these questions. Celibacy is good, but good does not mean better. There are definite benefits to being single, but that does not mean that being single is better than being married. Marriage has many advantages over being single, but being married is not necessarily superior to being single. Paul says that being celibate is good. He is not speaking of being celibate in a marriage (cf. v. 5). The sexual relationship in marriage is mandatory.

Those who will choose to be celibate must be able to stand against the desire for sexual gratification. Yet, while celibacy is good, Paul cautions all would-be celibates that, in order to avoid fornication, men should take a wife and women should take a husband. He even goes so far as to say:

But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (v. 9 NIV)

By all means, marry if you can. Paul makes it a command in verse 9. Evidently Paul finds nothing to be accomplished in daily struggling against sexual passion. It is much more virtuous to be married than in constant turmoil. There are only three classes of people that can accept celibacy:

those who have renounced marriage so they may devote themselves completely to serving God.
those who cannot marry because they were born with a celibate nature.
those who cannot be married because they “were made so by men” indicating either surgery or accident.

Paul neither instructs that we should marry nor that we should remain celibate. This is not his concern. We must each decide what is best for himself. Each person is gifted by God to be either single or to be married. I, myself, have been single, and I have been married. For me being married is better.

Marriage Responsibilities (3-5)

Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.

“Due benevolence” is the mutual debt to one another. Each of the two spouses has certain responsibilities to the other. The husband is to fully satisfy the wife and the wife is to fully satisfy the husband. Failure to give this “due benevolence” constitutes fraud.

A Problem Of Ethics

The marriage covenant requires the surrender of sole control over one’s own body. It also requires that each partner seek to GIVE due benevolence, not to receive it.

Due benevolence can be anything from providing finances for the household to a loving word; from cleaning the house to buying those things the household has need of. The wife has the right to expect to live her life without being beaten or abused in any way. The husband has the right to expect his wife to be loving and sensitive to him and to be a good manager of the home.

In many areas of married life the individuals have no right to INSIST upon receiving due benevolence. But there are three areas where failure to give due benevolence constitutes marital fraud and may be viewed as porneia or fornication. I offer the following more as a warning than as dogmatic doctrine.

Sexual Misconduct

Too often sexual misconduct is viewed only as adultery or some other sexual crime. While these are definite aspects of sexual misconduct, there is an even more prevalent case of sexual misconduct among married couples. I am speaking about either withholding the sexual pleasure or insisting upon it. There is no place in the marriage relationship for such selfishness. To refuse copulation in order to punish or retaliate is to defraud your mate. This is as unspeakable as it is unthinkable.

The sexual act between a married couple goes far beyond the physical boundaries of flesh; there is a spiritual element that cannot be denied. For a husband and wife the sex act is the ultimate expression of surrender and submission to one’s partner. To lessen the beauty and intimacy of this, Paul says, is fraud.

Just as there is to be no withholding, there is, likewise, to be no insisting. Many times I have been approached by an offended mate (both sexes) who has been forced (or badgered) to engage in some type of sexual activity. We must not forget that husbands and wives have no more power over their own bodies. Sole rights over one’s own flesh is surrendered upon entering the marriage covenant.

A husband or wife who sexually abuses their spouse, either through deprivation or through coercion, is guilty of sexual misconduct. The reader may recall the definition of porneia from page 14.

Porneia is illicit sexual intercourse in general... all other interpretations of the term are to be rejected. Sexual intercourse between husband and wife is not to be a war of flesh or will. It is to be entered into with mutual consent and respect.


Physical abuse is an ethical problem. A husband or wife who physically or mentally abuses a spouse breaks the covenant of marriage with their spouse just as surely as if they had committed adultery. It is not possible to be one flesh with an abusive spouse. I did not say it was not possible to stay married—I said it was not possible to continue to be one flesh.

The abusive spouse lacks the necessary love, trust and respect that is requisite in a “one flesh” relationship. Likewise, the abused spouse will not be able to give the proper love, trust and respect. The abusive spouse has grievously sinned against his or her “one flesh” partner. Scripture tells us that fornication is the only sin that is committed against one’s own flesh:

Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:18

This scripture can be read along with Ephesians 5:28-29:

So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

Again, I offer these insights as a warning!


A husband or wife who deserts their spouse is guilty of defrauding their spouse in the following areas:

denial of the sexual privilege.
failure to cleave to their one flesh.
not rendering due benevolence.

I do not want the reader to confuse desertion with separation. Separation assumes continued communication between the parties is possible. By desertion I mean the complete abandonment of one spouse by the other—no communication possible.

Divorce and Remarriage (10-16; 39-40)

Paul reminds his readers that Yeshua has already spoken on this matter when he says:

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.

This is for couples who are both Christian. The edict is strong: a Christian couple should neither divorce nor separate. They should rely on God’s word to help reconcile. Still, if they cannot resolve their conflict, they may separate, but they should continue to attempt a reconciliation.

This would apply so long as the trouble in the marriage was not fornication or something extraordinarily despicable, in which case divorce and remarriage would apparently be allowable. If one of the partners is an unbeliever, the rule changes to accommodate the unbeliever, not the believer. No Christian is to leave or refuse to live with his or her spouse just because that spouse is an unbeliever. The marriage is still valid in the eyes of God.

But if the unbelieving spouse desires to leave, Paul says, “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.”

There is no merit in trying to force an unbeliever to remain. What does Paul mean by an unbeliever’s departure or separation? Any of the extremes cited above would constitute a departure by the unbeliever. In any of those situations, the unbeliever would be showing that he was not pleased to dwell with his Christian wife.

The Present Crisis (25-38)

When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, the church was looking at a time of persecution “for the present distress.”; v. 26. The advice Paul gives here is based upon the persecution that was about to come upon the church of Corinth.

Paul makes a strong point in verses 27-28 and uses language that is pertinent to the nature of his communication.

Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.

Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. NIV

The word “bound” in verse 27 is used in reference to the marriage bond as in Romans 7:2. The word loosed is used two times in the KJV (translated “divorce” and “unmarried” in the NIV). Because the word “unmarried” is used in the NIV one could get the mistaken idea that Paul is speaking of virgins—those who have never been married. But in verses 25 and 28, Paul uses the word “virgin(s)”, plainly differentiating between those who have never been married and those who have ceased to be married.

Those who are loosed (or unmarried) are loosed by divorce, not by death. Paul used the word for divorce both times in verse 27: “Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you divorced? Do not seek a wife. BUT IF YOU MARRY YOU HAVE NOT SINNED.”

Paul gives the advice to virgins not to marry and to the divorced not to remarry only because of the “present crisis”; the persecution facing them. We must not try to sweep Paul’s words, “But if you marry you have not sinned,” under the rug. We may assume that Paul has taken for granted that those divorced became so on lawful grounds.


By worst case I am referring to a situation in which a Christian husband or wife divorces a spouse for unlawful reasons and then remarries. My first advice is that if you are not the pastor of the individuals involved you should do nothing except love the two people involved in this extremely complex situation. If you are the pastor of one or both of the individuals—PRAY! The pastor involved in a situation like that is going to need as much of God’s wisdom and grace as he or she can get.


I believe there is one event found in the Old Testament that perfectly depicts how the Christian couple is now to walk and act. While I am confident that this is a valid truth I am equally confident that many will disagree with me. Still, I cannot keep silent just because I know that not all men will be able to hear me.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur means `day of covering over’ or `day of appeasement’ (The International Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 361.) In accordance with its name, Yom Kippur was instituted for atonement. The blood of sacrifices, suffering death in the place of sinful men, symbolized the propitiation of God’s wrath first of all against Aaron and his priestly family (Leviticus 16:6, 11); for even the high priest stood before God as a death-guilty sinner (v. 13). On this day, with the exception of the miter, he does not wear the insignia of his high-priestly office, but dons white garments, which in their simplicity represent the earnestness of the situation.

Even as salvation requires both God’s redemptive activity and man’s response of faith, so also the ritual of atonement remained ineffective unless accompanied by sincere repentance (cf. Numbers 15:30). As the Talmud later cautioned, there could be no forgiveness for a man who sinned, counting on Yom Kippur for atonement (Yoma viii-ix). In comparison, however, with the consciousness of sin that had been aroused, how great must God’s grace have appeared when once in each year a general remission of sins was vouchsafed!

Let us assume that a married man, on the day following the day of atonement, became engaged in sexual relations with someone other than his wife. Let us further assume that he was not caught by any man (God always knowing the dealings of men). By God’s own word and promise, the longest the man could be guilty of adultery would be 364 days because on the 365th day he would be cleansed, purified and forgiven of his sin on the next day of atonement. Therefore, if the man was genuinely sorry for what he had done, and was willing to turn from it, God would forgive him his sin.

Our Present Salvation

We no longer have to make a sacrifice for sin because Yeshua is the ONE sacrifice for ALL sin. We also do not have to suffer an entire year under the anger of God:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

But how do we reconcile the husband or wife who, without lawful grounds, divorces their spouse and marries another, forcing an adulterous situation. I will be quick to declare that I cannot answer that question because I do not know the situation of the people involved. However, I believe that our best course is to emulate God as closely as possible, responding with as much mercy and compassion as the situation will allow. If the offending party is truly sorry for being an offense to God (I do not see that he could be truly sorry for being an offense to his former wife else they would still be together), and is determined to give his love and faith to the advancement of his present marriage situation, we are left with no recourse but to forgive him and pronounce him clean.

There may be much that the individual must now endure, not suffering some form of divine retribution, but, rather, the trials that come to us through the normal course of life. Perhaps the new wife will become terminally ill or paralyzed, in which case he must now content himself with God’s grace for his second marriage or risk becoming “anathema”.

Both parties should be encouraged and built up by God’s word. Both should be guided into new levels of commitment both to God and to the church. Those who have been graced by God with a healthy faithful covenant of marriage have no business condemning those who have suffered in marital loss.

Finally, it is to be remembered that the only sin that is forever is the sin of unbelief. To die in unbelief is to live for eternity separated from the love and grace of God. No other sin will produce that result.


The Bible gives a general prohibition against divorce and remarriage.

Porneia tears so vehemently at the fabric of marriage that the Bible permits divorce on this ground.

Yeshua cited no other ground for divorce, but he allowed the Mosaic permission for hardness of heart to stand.

The direction of scripture is always toward saving the marriage.

Divorce is never to be made easy.

A Christian may divorce an unbeliever who wishes a divorce or if the Christian was defrauded by the unbelieving spouse.

The Bible only contains guidelines for marriage, divorce and remarriage, it does not give an exhaustive set of rules to regulate every problem. The only way we may come to a proper solution for each case is by prayer and sincerely attempting to bring the individuals in line with God’s will.

Where divorce is allowed, remarriage is also allowed.

The pastor who allows remarriage should be guided by the following:

The individuals seeking remarriage must have a genuine repentance of personal fault on the part of the husband and wife for the failure of the marriage.

The individuals seeking remarriage must have an understanding of the offense against the divine ideal for marriage that the divorce now signifies.

The individuals seeking remarriage must display an understanding of why the previous marriage failed.

The individuals seeking remarriage must show a readiness for Yeshua to become Lord over their new marriage.

The individuals seeking remarriage must understand how God views marriage, as well as an understanding of the husband’s role, the wife’s role and the Spirit’s role in the marriage.

The individuals seeking remarriage should demonstrate a willingness to accept their portion of trials in their Christian lives.

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