The Question of Divorce and Remarriage

by Paul O. Nichols

Originally published in
The Christian Informer
December, 1995

THE IDEA OF MARRIAGE and the home originated with God.  In the beginning of time God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, so He gave to Adam a helpmeet (Genesis 2:18-24).  At that time it was intended by the Lord that the man and woman would remain together from then on.  But in the sixth chapter of Genesis one can see the tendency of men toward women had degenerated because they did not keep God's will in their minds.  "And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.  And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:1,2,5).

If men and women had always honored God and respected His will, there would be no such thing as divorce -- there would be no need for legislation on it in the Bible.  But because of man's wickedness divorce is a reality, and it behooves us to know what God had to say about it.

There is one thing that all need to understand, and that is, God instituted marriage and He has the authority to give laws that regulate it.  He can tell man what constitutes a scriptural union and when a union is not right  He has the divine authority to tell us whether one can divorce a companion or not, and under what circumstances, if any.  The Lord also has the authority to permit remarriage or forbid it.  And no man on earth has the right to overrule or circumvent what He says.

Preconceived ideas and prejudice can blind a person and keep him from understanding the will of God.  We do ourselves no favor when we fail to study the word of God objectively.  Our only desire should be to learn and understand the truth.  After all, Jesus said, "The truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).  And remember what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess. 2:10-12).

Marriage is a divine instution because God, in His infinite wisdom, gave it to us.  The apostle Paul wrote, "Marriage is honorable in all and the bed undefiled..." (Hebrews 13:4).  It was given for the fulfillment of the emotional needs of men and women and to provide us with companionship, thus bringing about the greatest degree of happiness in life,as we serve God.  "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh" (Matthew 19:5).  But this beautiful institution has been trampled under foot by blind people who, either do not know, or simply ignore the rules of God and make light of marriage.  In this age it has been reduced to a farce or a joke by many.

Premarital sex (fornication) is at an all time high.  People in the world are copulating like animals.  It is no longer a disgrace in our society for girls and women to bear children out of wedlock.  Many people accept it and others openly admit it with no hint of shame or embarrassment.  Virginity is ridiculed, and millions of babies are destroyed through abortion every year.  These evil activities are not confined to heathens in barbarian nations, but are rampant among those who call themselves civilized.  Even in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ there are some who are guilty of these same evils.  We were shocked to learn recently that there were five girls in one congregation who were due to have babies out of wedlock, and one girl (raised by Christian parents) had had several abortions before giving birth to a baby and keeping it.  (But woe to the preacher who had genuine concern and enough backbone to preach against these abominable sins).

"Shacking up" is practiced on a wide scale.  Some deny there is anything wrong with an unmarried couple cohabiting.  If the relationship "doesn't work out" between this couple they will just find some others to try it with for a while.  They want the joys and benefits of marriage without the commitment.  But the Bible still teaches "But whoremongers and adulterers God will judge" (Heb. 14:3), and that fornicators "shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9).  And such practices are just as wrong now as they were when their sin was first revealed by inspiration.

Divorce is rampant!

It used to be a shame, but today it is accepted as a way of life.  And we are told that about one out of every two marriages end up in divorce.  This would be bad if it were confined to those out in the world, but shamefully, all too often unscriptural divorce is accepted in the church.  One reason is that many Christians do not know what the Bible teaches, and another reason is that some do not have enough courage to condemn that which is wrong.  And some times people who are having marital problems will ask for help from someone who knows little more than they do, if any, and the advice they receive is wrong, which leads them to violate the will of God.


The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, a preacher of the gospel, and encouraged him to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).  If one is to know the truth when it comes to the subject of marriage, he is certainly going to have to rightly divide (apply) the Scriptures.

The Old Testament and the New Testament do not teach the same thing.  Remember, in the beginning God intended for men and women who were married to remain together for the rest of their natural lives (Matthew 19:4-6,8).  But because of the conditions in the days of Moses God through His lawgiver, chosen by Him, gave laws regarding divorce and remarriage (Matt. 19:8).  The apostle John says, "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).  Moses spoke as the lawgiver of God to the children of Israel.  (See Deuteronomy 4:1,2,5,13,14,39,40; 5:1,2; 7:11,12; 13:18).  When Moses spoke and gave regulations to the Israelites, he did it by the authority of God.  When Moses was chosen by the Lord to lead His people, God promised "...I will be with thy mouth, and teach you what thou shalt say" (Exodus 4:12).

In Deut. 22:13-21 the law taught that if a man and woman were married and the man found, or even suspected, that his wife was not a virgin when he took her for his wife, he could accuse her of fornication, and if the accusation were found true, the men of her city were to stone her to death.  However, if the charge were proven to be untrue, her husband was required to keep her for his wife for the rest of his life.  She was not divorced for fornication, but killed for having committed this sin while she was still single.  There was no divorce available in this situation.

In Deut 24:1,2 we have a different situation, and in this case the man was to take a different action.  The man in this case marries a woman and he finds some "uncleanness" ("indecency," the marginal rendering; "nakedness," from the word "ervah" according to the Lexicons).  Because of her immodesty or indecency she finds no favor in his eyes.  Moses instructs the man in this case to "write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house."  If she were guilty of fornication as in the first case in Deut. 22, she would not be divorced, but executed.  This is not an "either, or" case; either stoned to death or divorced.  In the first case she was to be stoned "because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house; so shalt thou put evil ways from among you" (Deut. 22:21).  In the second case she is to be divorced.  Why?  Because the woman in the second is not guilty of the same sin as the woman in the first case.

Furthermore, the woman in case number two was given permission to marry again (Deut. 24:2).  She has a legal document in her hand given to her by her husband as directed by the commandment of God that proved that she could legally be married to another man.  If she had been guilty of fornication and was not fit to be the wife of the first man, why was she given permission to be the wife of a second man?  She would not have been given that permission, but stoned to death if she were guilty of fornication.  The law was strict enough that if she were divorced by the second man, or even if her husband died, she could never again be the wife of the first husband.  That was considered an abomination in the eyes of the Lord (24:24).  But apparently it was no sin or abomination in the sight of the Lord for her to be married to the second husband, for we are told, "She may go and be another man's wife."  For one to try to make the sin in the two cases the same is absurd.


Now let us consider Jesus' teaching on divorce and remarriage in Matthew 5:31,32.  But note first that, the teaching of Christ in Matthew chapters five, six and seven, in the sermon on the mount, is directed to his disciples.  Please notice what is recorded in chapter 5:1,2, "And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them..."  So what Jesus teaches in Matt. 5:31,32 is to his disciples.  What he has to say first has to do with the Old Testament.  He says, "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement" (v. 31).  The Scripture to which he refers is Deut. 24:1.  However, the conjunction to join verse 32 to 31 is the word "but", meaning "on the other hand", which indicates He is about to teach them something different.  He is not explaining verse 31 (the Old Law); He is showing something in contrast to that, something new, something different.  "But (on the other hand) I say unto you, 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."  If Jesus were explaining the law in Deut 24:1-4, as some would have us to believe, then what Moses told the people was that a woman who was divorced and told she could go and be another man's wife was actually being given permission to go and commit adultery, and that the man who married her was also given license to sin.  This would be contradicting commands because the law under which they lived specifically said, "Thou shalt not commit adultery."  This explanation cannot be true.  Therefore, to hold to such a position is wrong.