Books of Bible
Marriage, Divorce And Remarriage
By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs
The Bible is the foundation of morality and marriage.
Marriage is the support and stay of morality. Undermining marriage
sabotages Bible teaching and thwarts righteousness. The Christian
pattern for marriage is indissoluble unity. Marriage is to be
had in honor among all--saint and sinner--and the bed undefiled
"Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because Jehovah hath
been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom
thou hast dealt treacherously, though she is thy companion, and
the wife of thy covenant. And did he not make one, although he
had the residue of the Spirit? And wherefore one? He sought a
godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal
treacherously against the wife of his youth. For I hate putting
away, saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, and him that covereth
his garment with violence, saith Jehovah of hosts: therefore take
heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously" (Mal.
Malachi points out that God is witness between a
man and his wife. He says God made one man for one woman. Though
he had a residue of the Spirit from which to make other humans,
God did not do so because he sought a godly seed. The prophet
then declares that God is against divorce. He hates it! The teaching
of this Old Testament prophet is like the teaching of Jesus on
the subject of marriage and divorce. He warns against putting
away because it undermines the home and destroys morality. It
is strange that any teacher of religion would make allowance for
what God clearly disallows. The emphatic and indisputable statement
of divine revelation is that marriage is permanent and not temporary
and fleeting. This point must be featured and we must guard against
saying, especially in public pronouncements, anything that would
cloud what God made clear.
It is not uncommon for church leaders to make statements
that confuse people about what the Bible teaches on the home and
its importance. There has been a flurry of classes, lectures,
seminars and workshops discussing marriage recently. Much of this
creates doubt about the sanctity of the home and is designed to
console those who have violated God's marriage law. Some seem
to be hung up on trying to make people feel good about transgression
of divine precepts. The result is clutter in an area that should
In discussing the important matter of the home we
must talk about what makes a marriage according to the teaching
of God's word.
What Is Marriage?
Marriage is sacred. It is the appointment of the
living God. It is the coming together of two lives in the deepest
possible unity. It is the surrender of separate individuality
and the mingling of each in a common stream.
The following passages give us just about all the
Bible says on the subject of marriage and divorce:
"And Jehovah God said, It is not good that the
man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him"
(Gen. 2:18). "and the rib, which Jehovah God had taken from
the man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And the
man said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh:
she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore
shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave
unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Gen. 2:22-24).
"Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt
not commit adultery: but I say unto you, that every one that looketh
on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her
already in his heart" (Matt. 5:27-28).
"It was said also, Whosoever shall put away
his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say
unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for
the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever
shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery"
"And there came unto him Pharisees, trying him,
and saying, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every
cause? And he answered and said, Have ye not read, that he who
made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said,
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall
cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh? So that
they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined
together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why then
did Moses command to give a bill of divorcement, and to put her
away? He saith unto them, Moses for your hardness of heart suffered
you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it hath not
been so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife,
except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery:
and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery"
"And there came unto him Pharisees, and asked
him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? trying him.
And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you?
And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement,
and to put her away. But Jesus said unto them, For your hardness
of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning
of the creation, Male and female made he them. For this cause
shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his
wife; and the two shall become one flesh: so that they are no
more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together,
let not man put asunder. And in the house the disciples asked
him again of this matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall
put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against
her: and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry
another, she committeth adultery" (Mark 10:2-12).
"Every one that putteth away his wife, and marrieth
another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth one that is
put away from a husband committeth adultery" (Luke 16:18).
"For the woman that hath a husband is bound
by law to the husband while he liveth; but if the husband die,
she is discharged from the law of the husband. So then if, while
the husband liveth, she be joined to another man, she shall be
called an adulteress: but if the husband die, she is free from
the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be joined to
another man" (Rom. 7:2-3).
"But unto the married I give charge, yea not
I, but the Lord, That the wife depart not from her husband (but
should she depart, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled
to her husband); and that the husband leave not his wife"
(1 Cor. 7:10-11).
"A wife is bound for so long time as her husband
liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is free to be married
to whom she will; only in the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:39).
The Bible is emphatic in telling us that marriage
is a man and woman who have committed themselves to live together
as husband and wife and who therefore have been joined together
by Jehovah so as to be considered by their creator as a unit--as
one. They, of course, continue to have their separate identities.
The man has his physical body and the woman has hers. They are
two, but the two are one. Each is responsible for his or her conduct
and each of them will stand individually before God in the last
judgment. The woman is not guilty of the sins her husband may
commit, and the man cannot be credited for his wife's good character.
They are one in the sense that Jehovah has honored their decision
to be united in marriage. He sees and hears their pledge and they
are joined together in his mind. Jesus said, "What God hath
joined together, let not man put asunder." It is God who
joins the man and woman together. Man cannot undo what God has
The civil law is also a factor in marriage, but it
is not the determining factor. For the good of society God commands
us to obey civil rulers. God appoints that there shall be governments
among men, but he does not define the government or give the nature
of the public establishment. It does not matter what it is--republic,
monarchy, democracy, dictatorship--we must honor it because society
cannot endure in the absence of authority and rule keeping and
punishment of evil doers and praise of those who do well (Rom.
13:1-7). The Bible tells the Christian to be a good citizen and
pay his taxes.
Some governments exercise their God given right and
legislate rules for marriage and the home. Other governments may
have scant or no rules to control the home. Tribes in uncivilized
countries may have only their tribal customs to govern marriage,
and those customs may be vague.
The marriage custom of Jesus' day was not as structured
as American civil law governing the home is today. In the first
century in Judea there was no marriage license, country clerk,
recording process, or family law center. If a man and woman consented
to be married, they merely announced it to family and friends.
Usually there was a celebration in the form of a feast and flowers.
The groom's men and the bride's attendants sometimes brought the
couple together as a sort of unofficial beginning place for the
marriage. It was mostly a family and community arrangement. In
the case of Boaz and Ruth the ceremony consisted of one man handing
his shoe to another man in the presence of witnesses.
Regardless of what the civil rule for marriage is,
the critical thing is God joining the man and woman together.
Marriage is a fourcornered contract. It involves (1) the man and
(2) the woman and (3) the Lord God and (4) the social custom or
law of the land. Civil law is to be obeyed to the extent it does
not contradict divine law. Where there is a conflict in two laws,
the lower law is set aside at the point of disagreement. "Whether
it is right in the sight of God to hearken unto you rather than
unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we
saw and heard" (Acts 4:19-20).
No matter what the civil rule is God joins the couple
together. In every culture, clime, language and nation God is
involved in the marriage. Malachi reminded his brothers that "Jehovah
hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth"
If God does not join the two together when they conform
to the rules of their community, then it is no marriage and the
children that may be born are illegitimate. Paul makes the argument
that if God does not sanction the marriage the children are unclean,
but when God does approve the marriages, the children are holy
(1 Cor. 7:14).
God is involved in every marriage, joining the man
and woman together, or the marriage is unsanctioned and the children
are bastards. This consideration should forever settle the question
of whether the unsaved person who is not in a covenant relationship
with God is bound by the marriage laws of God. Even in a situation
where the people do not recognize the God of the Bible, but follow
Hinduism, Islam, tribal religion, or some other unbiblical system,
God is involved in the marriage and joins the couple together.
If not, their children are unclean. Those who say the marriage
law of God is not universal and does not apply to folks who are
not in a covenant relationship with God are stuck with the conclusion
that children born to such marriages are illegitimate. This disagrees
with Paul who says that such children are not unclean but holy.
If God joins together all who enter into a marriage--whether or
not they are in a covenant relationship with God--then it still
follows "What therefore God hath joined together, let not
man put asunder" (Matt. 19:6).
What Is Divorce?
The Greek word translated "divorced" in
our English Bibles is also translated dismiss, let depart, let
go, loose, put away, release, send away, set at liberty, and depart.
The Hebrew word translated "divorce" in our English
Bibles is also translated drive out, put away, be cast out, drive
away, expel, and thrust out. Vine says the Greek word means, "to
let loose from, to let go free." Thayer says it means, "to
dismiss from the house, to repudiate" and, in Mark 10:12
is used of a wife deserting her husband. In the Bible divorce
is a departure, a going away, or being driven out, or sent away,
a repudiation, or abandonment. It has nothing to do with family
law court, or a judge on the bench, or county records, or the
official declaration "divorce granted." In our Western
civilization we think of divorce as the action of a court of law
in pronouncing the end of a marriage under civil usage. The truth
is that a divorce happens when the man or the woman forsakes his
or her partner with the intention of ending the marriage.
A husband may go away from his wife for a period
of time to engage in business and it would not be a divorce in
the Bible sense of that word. A wife may go away from her husband
to visit her family, and it not be a Bible divorce. If either
the husband or the wife intends to abandon the marriage and departs,
that is divorce from a Bible viewpoint. This is made plain in
Paul's statement, "That the wife depart not from her husband
(but should she depart, let her remain unmarried..." (1 Cor.
7:10-11). If the wife departs she is unmarried. The departure
is the unmarriage--the divorce.
Our understanding of divorce is when a judge on the
bench grants a cancellation of the marriage contract under modern
day civil law. This procedure was unknown in New Testament times.
In the days of Christ and of Paul there were no county clerks,
county courthouses, family courts of law, marriage licenses or
certificates, divorce lawyers, or divorce petitions. If a man
threw his wife out, or if the wife departed from her husband without
intent of returning, that was the divorce.
In our modern world, people may no longer live together
as husband and wife because of the abandonment of the marriage
bed of either one or the other, and a divorce is requested and
awaited. We foolishly ask, Can we stop the divorce. Not from a
Bible perspective. The divorce occurred when the husband or wife
left without intending to return. It is a divorce when one or
the other partner to the marriage contract is repudiated.
Paul says if the wife departs she is to remain unmarried.
Her only marriage option is to be reconciled to her husband (1
Cor. 7:10-11). She is unmarried but she has a husband, an unmarried
woman with a husband. The reason she has a husband is that while
the civil, social, and community aspects of the marriage have
ended, the act of God in regarding the pair as a unit is not canceled.
In the mind of God they are still husband and wife. They are still
one. They may not be living together. Society may have declared
them divorced. Still, the divine tie continues and he is her husband
and she is his wife. _f a Christian man is married to an unbeliever,
it is a marriage. If the unbelieving husband has a wife--she is
his wife--he is her husband--"and she is content to dwell
with him, let him not leave her" (1 Cor. 7:12). If a Christian
woman is married to an unbelieving man, they are nevertheless
married. They are husband and wife. His unbelief does not violate
the marriage. If he is content to dwell with her, "let her
not leave her husband" (1 Cor. 7:13). He is her husband and
she is his wife even though he is an unbeliever. The religious
condition of either partner does not render the marriage invalid.
If it did, the children would be unclean - illegitimate -- unholy.
Paul says this is not the case and he argues therefore that the
marriage is intact.
"Yet if the unbelieving departeth, let him depart:
the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases:
but God hath called us in peace" (1 Cor. 7:15). If the unbeliever
departs without intending to return--divorces the believer--the
Christian is not under bondage. Is the saint, therefore, free
to marry another person under the rules for marriage given in
the Bible? The text gives no express information on whether Paul
allows the Christian partner in such a marriage to marry again.
The stringent rule Jesus gave for putting away one's marriage
partner and marrying another would make it mandatory for Paul
to express plainly and bluntly that abandonment on the part of
an unbeliever permits the saint to marry someone else without
sinning against God's marriage law. When Jesus gave the rule for
marriage, divorce, and remarriage his disciples were shocked and
concluded it is better not to marry than to be in an inescapable
contract (Matt. 19:3-12). If Paul now gives an exception other
than fornication it would seem necessary for him to clearly state
it. We must not make Paul contradict Christ. We know the marriage
rule is for a wife not to leave her husband and for a husband
not to leave his wife. If the weaker vessel in a marriage covenant
is under insupportable duress--abused verbally, physically, mentally
and spiritually--she may depart, but may not marry another man.
Her only option to living celibate is to be reconciled to her
mate (1 Cor. 7:10-11).
We know, therefore, that under circumstances Paul
would require a person to live without sexual intercourse. This
puts to silence all those "it is better to marry than to
burn" arguments designed to set one divine precept against
another hallowed principle. _f a husband is called away to the
service of his country and must be separated from his wife for
a long period of time it is required that both the man and the
woman abstain from sexual activity. Sickness and disability may
make it impossible for one partner to a marriage to perform sexually,
but that circumstance does not permit the healthy and able partner
to misbehave. We have put such a premium on sex in our society
that we discount the possibility and necessity of self-control.
It may not be easy but we can be eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's
Paul says that if two heathens are married and one
of them is converted to Christ and the other is not a believer,
and the unbeliever decides to quit the marriage, the child of
God is not "under bondage in such cases: but God hath called
us in peace" (1 Cor. 7:15). The heathen is obviously attempting
to put pressure on the believer to forsake the church and the
hope of heaven. The unbeliever is trying to enslave the believer
and force the saint to abandon the right way. The unbeliever is
creating strife, confusion, and disharmony. Paul simply says the
child of God does not have to put up with such tactics: God has
called us in peace. Let the unbeliever depart (divorce). You can't
do anything about it. You are not in bondage to the evil temper
of the unbeliever in such a case. Still, the apostle says nothing
about the believer's right to marry someone else.
It is interesting to note that the two heathens were
married while they were both heathens. God had joined them together
and they were one flesh. They were under the marriage rule of
God, which has been in effect since creation (Matt. 19:8). Jesus
restored it and it will continue while the earth lasts. One of
the two is converted, and the unconverted partner makes a problem
for the believer. Paul says, You don't have to put up with that.
If the unbeliever leaves, let it happen. You are not under bondage.
You have no obligation to attempt to live with someone who does
not want to live with you because of your faith.
There may be many reasons for putting away, but only
one reason for divorce and remarriage. If a brutal husband endangers
the lives of the children and threatens the mental stability of
his wife, she may depart (divorce), but she may not marry some
other man. She can be reconciled to her husband, but is not to
have another husband of a different kind. An unbeliever may make
life so miserable for the Christian mate that separation happens,
but the believer is not free to marry some other person. That
permission is not given and that license is not granted. You do
not have to be enslaved to someone who is trying to force you
to give up your hope of glory, but your alternative is to be single.
The marriage law of God is very strict. The rule
is one man for one woman for life, with fornication as the single
exception. We must stridently uphold the sanctity of marriage.
We must ardently obey the God-given rules for the home. The future
of the church and of the nation depend upon maintaining good,
solid family relationship. There may be exceptions, but let us
focus on the rule. Our children need to be taught by both example
and word the sacredness of the family. Let us cease trying to
find excuses for failing to walk by the rule to which we have
attained. "Hath Jehovah as great delight in burnt-offerings
and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Behold, to
obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of