Divorce, Remarriage and Ministry: What Did Jesus Say?

If anyone doubts that Jesus’ teaching on divorce was shocking and new, look at the response of the men who listened to him give it.  In Matthew 19:10, the disciples heard Jesus’ teaching and responded that if that is right, “it is better not to marry.”  The idea of entering a marriage in which they did not have the right to send away the wife if she stop pleasing him was inconceivable.  They were used to weddings in which the “for better” was the man’s vow echoes by the feminine voice saying, “for worse.”  If marriage was did not serve their own needs they were not sure it was a good idea after all.

Jesus’ radical teachings on marriage and divorce were constructed on the foundation of the passage we just studied, Deuteronomy 25:1-4.  But it also expands the intent of that teaching such that it shocked the disciples and made them despair of marriage.

Man-Centered, Man-Serving Marriage

Prior to the law, divorce was based on the whims and desires of the husband, unrestrained by any stricture.  The standard of divorce was subjective, based on the will of the man. If he did not like a meal his wife prepared, is she spoke disrespectfully to him, if she failed to please him sexually, if he saw another woman he preferred, he was free to send her away as he wished.  You can imagine the dynamic of such marriages.

There were few options available to a single woman in Hebrew cultures.  She could return to her father’s home in shame, she could find another husband or she could enter some form of prostitution.  She could not get a job and forge a life on her own.  So, a woman needed to keep her husband happy, serve him and please him.  The husband was required to do little or nothing.  This twisted God’s original intent for marriage as a blessed partnership.  Men could mistreat their wives with impunity knowing that they had no recourse.  When God’s intent of a man’s loving leadership in his home is twisted into capricious cruelty and self-centeredness, it become an ugly thing.

Deuteronomy limited a man’s self-centeredness.  He was required to find “something indecent” in his wife – some moral flaw that justified the divorce.  Divorce was still a matter of the husband’s will, as all he had to do was give his wife a writ and send her away, but now he was required to have some grounds for the action.

How was Jesus’ teaching different?  He took divorce out of the whimsical subjective control of the man and gave an absolute standard.  Christian men were only allowed to divorce a wife on the grounds of marital infidelity.  Adultery broke the bonds of marriage and was the only exception Jesus gave to the standard of marriage.

There are four passages in which Jesus refers to divorce, and all carry the same basic prohibition against divorce and remarriage. This is Jesus’ first radical teaching – he reestablished the original intent of marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and woman.  We will examine each passage, and then draw conclusions for our study.

Why the Differences? 

The first question to address is why only Matthew records the divorce exception.  In Matthew 5:31-32 (part of the Sermon on the Mount) Jesus lays down the standard that divorce is not permissible, except on the grounds of infidelity.  Then, in Matthew 19:1-12 we see a lengthy exchange between Jesus and some Pharisees in which they discuss the Deuteronomy passage.  Again, Jesus includes the adultery exception to the law of permanent marriage.  Mark 10:1-12 is a separate account of what is clearly the same discussion.  The two accounts are nearly identical, except that no divorce exception is granted, even on the grounds of adultery.  Luke 16:18 repeats the teaching of Mark 10:11-12 but does not include the context of the discussions, simply including the teaching in a series of statements that confront the Pharisees.  Our question is why there is an adultery exception only in Matthew.

Why is the Divorce Exception Only in Matthew?

We can dismiss some of the more common solutions, if we accept the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.  We cannot accept that either Matthew nor Mark or Luke got the teaching of Jesus wrong.  Any solution we must take seriously the truth of each passage.

One solution has been to say that the adultery exception was a textual error.  It was not part of the original text and was added later by a scribe to “clarify” the text.  The problem is that the textual evidence is pretty clear that Matthew did, in fact, include it in the original manuscript.  The evidence does not support a textually-based explanation.

The simplest explanation is probably the best one.  Matthew and Mark both recorded accurately the teaching of Jesus, but neither was attempting to give a full transcript of the message.  Jesus gave the adultery exception in his teachings.  Matthew recorded it.  Mark did not.  Mark was not trying to correct Matthew’s teaching.  Both texts are correct.  Jesus said the words recorded in both.  Matthew just records more what Jesus said.

The conclusion of all this is clear.  Jesus did, in fact, include the adultery exception as a part of his teaching on divorce.

The Words of Jesus

We now turn our attention to the four passages in which Jesus teaches about divorce.

Passage 1:  Matthew 5:31-32

This passage occurs in a series of illustrations showing how Jesus Christ has both fulfilled and surpassed the Law of Moses.  He raised the standard on murder and adultery.  The law prohibited murder; Jesus said hatred in the heart was just like murder, and just as sinful in God’s eyes.  The law prohibited adultery; Jesus prohibited lust in the heart.  He was raising a higher standard than the Mosaic Law had; a standard of the heart not just the outward behavior.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:31-32

In the passages that follow, Jesus deals with Old Testament and traditional Jewish teachings on making oaths and on retaliation.  He replaced the Lex Talionis (eye for eye) with the “turn the other cheek” and “go the second mile” standard.  He then gave the teaching on loving our enemies.  All of these are explicitly raising the bar on the teachings of the law.

That is precisely what Jesus has done in Matthew 5:31-32.  He has taken the teaching of Deuteronomy 24 and substantially raised the bar.  His ways are higher than the way Israel lived under the law.

He mentions the certificate of divorce; then promptly does away with it.  A follower of Christ could no longer just give his wife a piece of paper.  Unless the bond of marriage had been broken with infidelity, he must remain married to his wife.  Jesus did not outlaw divorce, but he severely limited it.

Passage 2:  Matthew 19:3-12

We will look in some depth at this passage in Matthew, and then briefly mention Mark 10:1-12.  They cover almost exactly the same ground and put forward the same teachings.  We will not give special attention to Luke, since it only repeats the teachings of Matthew and Mark and gives no new perspective on the discussion.  The most significant difference, as we have already established, it that Mark did not choose to include Jesus’ adultery exception as part of the teaching.

Jesus had left Galilee and gone down to the region of Judea, across the Jordan River.  Large crowds followed him and he healed many.  The Pharisees, always looking to undermine Jesus or trap him in some misspoken word, posed a question to him.  “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any reason?”  They were, essentially, asking him if the Shammai or Hillel schools were correct in their teachings.  Jesus responded much like the angel did when Joshua asked him whose side he was on.  The angel said, “I’m not on either side, I’m in charge.”  Jesus said that he was not on the side of either group, but was establishing a new teaching that would render the discussion pointless.  Rather than argue over what “some indecency” means in Deuteronomy 24, he established a new and clear standard.

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” Matthew 19:3-12

His first response was to take them back to Genesis 2:24 and reestablish the divine intent of marriage.  Divorce was not normal to God’s plan.  He intended a man and woman to join together and stay married as long as they both lived. God takes this man and woman and joins them together as one.  They are not two separate people anymore but one.  That is when Jesus lays down his fundamental, revolutionary, shocking teaching.  “Do not divide what God has joined together.”  God joins two people in marriage.  Men do not get to divide into two what God has made one at their own whims.  As a Christian I should not seek to or initiate the breaking of my marriage bond.  It should be sacred to me.  Again, this was a radical departure from anything that was being taught in any branch of Judaism.

The Pharisees responded by going back to Deuteronomy 24.  They realized that Jesus was teaching something very different from what they had interpreted Moses to say.  Look carefully at how they worded their question.  “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”  To them, this was a command of God, an expression of the way that things should be.  Jesus corrected that very quickly.  Moses gave that teaching “because of the hardness of your hearts.”  Moses did not “command” divorce, but “permitted” it in special circumstances because of the effect of sin on human life.

He then makes a very clear point.  “From the beginning it was not so.”  Moses and the law may have permitted a man some freedom in seeking a divorce, but that was not the original intent of God when He created us male and female and ordained marriage on this earth.  Divorce is always a variation from God’s original design, but is permitted in cases in which sin has destroyed a marriage covenant.  Sin causes divorce.

Then, Jesus lays out his radical new teaching.  If you divorce and remarry except on the grounds of adultery, you become an adulterer yourself.  Mark adds that if your wife remarries, she will become an adulterer as well.

It should be noted here that since Israel was no longer a sovereign nation, the Old Testament requirement of execution for adultery was no longer widely in place.  The Jews could not execute without the permission of the Romans.  I am not aware if honor killing, as is practiced in some Middle Eastern countries today, was a reality in that time, but the notoriously immoral Romans were not likely to sanction capital punishment for adultery.

The disciples understood what Jesus was saying, but they did not like it.  Jesus was saying that no matter how annoying, or undesirable, or nagging, or unattractive, or bossy a wife becomes, marriage is ended only by death, except in the case of adultery.  If a man married, it was a permanent decision and they did not much like that concept.

Jesus responds with a discussion of being a eunuch.  A eunuch, here, is one who chooses not to marry.  Jesus seems to be laying the groundwork for the teaching on marriage that Paul later laid down in full.  Marriage is blessed by God, but singleness has its advantages as well.  Jesus also makes it clear that this teaching is meant to be understood and applied by “those for whom it is intended” – the people of God, those who have the Holy Spirit’s power to make marriage work.

As mentioned earlier, Mark’s discussion is nearly identical to Matthew’s, though he leaves out a few details, most notably the adultery exception.  Luke uses the words of Jesus in Mark, but leaves out all the details.

What Constitutes “Adultery”? 

If Jesus permitted divorce only on the grounds of adultery, what constitutes adultery?  That is more difficult than it might seem at first.  Is an “emotional affair” adultery?  Is “making out” adultery?  What about some of the practices that are so common today but do not involve sexual intercourse?  Our nation was consumed in the later 1990’s about the question of whether the president had committed adultery with “that woman” or whether the things he did with her constituted sex.  Did he cheat on his wife?

The word in Matthew 19:9 is “porneia” and is a general and very broad word used to describe all illicit sexual activity.  Various attempts have been made to give this word a more specific meaning.  Some say it only refers to immorality during the formal betrothal period, or the discovery that the wife was too close a relative to continue the marriage.  The fact is that porneia is used in both those ways, but there is no evidence here to limit the meaning to a particular branch of illicit sex.  Porneia included premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, bestiality, incest; any immoral act beyond the boundaries of sex within marriage, the divinely ordained environment for sexual activity.

Porneia is used to describe a life of wanton immorality, prostitution and general moral impurity.  The sense here seems to be a continual lifestyle of infidelity, which breaks the marriage bond and covenant.  It is not that a single act of adultery is not a significant issue, but it may not reach the standard that is in view here.  A Christian couple can rebuild a marriage after an affair, and should certainly try.  Porneia would imply a lifestyle of immorality.  If one partner in a marriage refuses to be bound by the marriage covenant and engages in a lifestyle of immorality, the marriage covenant is effectively broken.

Marital fidelity requires much more than just abstaining from intercourse with others.  It involves a mind and heart of fidelity and commitment to the marriage.  Jesus pointed out clearly that lust in the heart was a sin of the same essence as adultery, so the command must encompass more than just a physical act.  When someone engages in an emotional affair, it is certainly a violation of the marriage covenant, though it may fall short of the standard for divorce.  The use of pornography is certainly a violation of the marriage covenant, but also probably does not justify divorce.  But acts of sexual expression other than intercourse would clearly classify as adulterous and immoral under this word.  A man is permitted to hold and kiss and touch only one woman, his wife, and she is bound by the same commitment.  Any form of sexual expression or fulfillment is forbidden with anyone except one’s spouse.  The continual and unrepentant lifestyle of immorality is the only biblical justification for divorce that Jesus gives.

Even if Jesus permitted divorce, the Christian must realize that the greatest expression of divine nature is to forgive sinners and restore what sin breaks.  If a spouse cheats, divorce may be permissible, but that does not make it always the best option.  It is best to forgive and let God rebuild the marriage, if that is possible.


1.  Jesus left no doubt that the original intent of God was marriage that lasted a lifetime.  One man, one woman; joined together by God for as long as life lasts.  Jesus left no doubt that while the Law permitted a man to divorce his wife with a certificate, that was what God permitted, but not what He intended.

2.  Immorality is the only grounds upon which Jesus permitted divorce.  Immorality implies a lifestyle of sexual immorality which effectively breaks the marriage covenant.  The innocent party is not bound to a covenant which the other party refuses to honor.

3.  If a divorce takes place on any grounds other than that of “porneia” it is not valid in the eyes of God.  If the parties of that invalid divorce remarry, their marriage is adulterous, because God sees them as still married to the previous spouse.

4.  Jesus made it clear that exceptions to divorce are permitted by God, but divorce is not something that brings pleasure to God.  Since our goal is to bring pleasure to God, not just to do what God permits, it is incumbent on the Christian to do whatever he or she possible can to preserve a marriage, to forgive sin and sinners and to make marriage permanent.  A Christian should only seek divorce, even in the event of immorality, as a last resort when every attempt at reconciliation has been rebuffed.

I have heard Christians say, “one time is all it would take.  If he tries it I will throw the bum out.”  That is an understandable human sentiment.  But God is not pleased with “one strike and you’re out” ethics.  Sin is sin and it is always serious.  Even a brief moment of infidelity breaks trust and works to destroy a marriage.  But redemption brings forgiveness and Christians work to rebuild what sin breaks, not to throw it away.

5. It is important to note that the teaching of Jesus limits the right of remarriage.  If divorce is not on biblical grounds, remarriage is prohibited.  On the other hand, if a divorce is granted on biblical grounds, the presumption is that remarriage is then permitted.  A divorce on biblical grounds is the ending of marriage covenant and implies the right of the innocent party to remarry.

Jesus’ teaching on divorce is shocking and revolutionary.  He held up the original intent of marriage clearly and uncompromisingly.  He also made a single exception to his rule of permanent marriage, adultery.  In that case, divorce was permissible in God’s eyes.

Previous Installments

Part 1 of this series “Divorce, Remarriage and Ministry: What Does the Bible Say?” introduces the topic and sets forth three different approaches to the topic.

Part 2 of the series, “Divorce, Remarriage and Ministry: The OT Foundation: Does God Hate All Divorce?”, examines several OT passages that set the foundation of the biblical teaching.  It especially examines the Malachi passage that has been interpreted as a general statement, “God hates divorce.”

Part 3 focuses specifically on Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the key OT passage on the subject.  “Divorce, Remarriage and Ministry: Deuteronomy 24:1-4 – Establishing Grounds for Divorce.


  1. says

    I know this is longer than most bloggers are willing to wade through, and I considered breaking it down into two posts. But I decided to put it all up as one – not a good breaking point there anywhere.

    But, knowing that the esteemed readers of this blog are among the most intelligent and knowledgeable (get your boots on folks), I know you can work your way through 3000 words without a problem.

  2. says

    Dave, I appreciate this series very much. Good stuff. One question: Are you intending to cover the issue related to desertion? By a “professing” Christian or an unbeliever?

  3. Bruce H. says


    I read it all again. I agree with everything totally but have some comments.

    First. Scripture tells us in Malachi 3:6 – “For I [am] the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.” Could it be that God has not changed from His original intent of marriage? I base that on Adam’s fall. If God did not promise the righteousness of God to be applied to the elect through the blood of Jesus Christ the world would have been destroyed already. The “permitting” may be based upon His promise of forgiveness, and that, from the foundation of the world to the end of the world. By permitting divorce and not forcing one to remain with an unbeliever or unfaithful there is room for forgiveness and/or release. God does forgive some, but others are left to themselves. I do not totally believe God simply permits without a reason and the reason has to be based upon the cross. This is just first thoughts from the reading.

    Second. My wife was divorced for both the “permitted” reasons. I was not and I was a Christian at the time. Item 5 above indicated that remarriage was not “permitted.” The only thing I cannot find is the verses that state that. I know we are saying that based upon what is permitted and nothing additional would be permitted, however, there will be those who do not follow the process besides me. Are they hung out to dry until death do us part? Can they never serve or blog? Does the church recognize those who were lost at the time and divorced for all the wrong reasons and were saved afterward to be justified to proceed as they are and serve? I am sincere in my questions. If I join a church and they know I am divorced, should they question me and refuse my membership?

    I truly enjoyed and agree with all of your statements. Thank you.

    • Dave Miller says

      I’m not completely sure what you are asking here, Bruce.

      But first, there is little question from Jesus’ words that God’s intent was for marriage to be permanent. Jesus is also clear that it was because of man’s hard-hearted sin that he allowed any exception at all.

      In other words, if one party will not be bound to a marriage covenant, God does not require the other to be blindly bound to it. If one partner adopts a lifestyle of immorality, he (or she) is breaking the marriage covenant and the other party is free.

      I will reflect in future posts about what happens to the guilty party here. Forgiveness is certainly possible in Christ. Is remarriage? Ministry? These are thornier issues in which forgiveness and God’s standards seem in some conflict. I will address these in future posts.

      • says


        I know that you will address the “thornier” issues of remarriage and Ministry in later posts, but it seems to me that we (i.e., certain Southern Baptists) have elevated divorce and remarriage to a sin that is in a different category and that can never — in at least some sense — be forgiven or forgotten (by God or man). I know that Jesus’ teachings on divorce are difficult, but it does not make much sense to think that someone — let’s say Jeffrey Dahmer — could have killed scores of people, subsequently repented and come to faith in Christ, and then be eligible to serve as a Deacon or Pastor in a church, but someone who was divorced prior to conservsion is forever barred from serving because the stigma of divorce still somehow attaches. I’m not sure how that reconciles with God’s grace and forgiveness. I look forward to reading your subsequent posts, especially as it relates to remarriage and Ministry. Thanks and God bless,


        • Dave Miller says

          Yeah, I think it is interesting that a murderer can be saved and become a Christian celebrity, but a man who was divorced 25 years ago is asked to sit on the sidelines.

          One of the fundamental oddities of the stricter position.

          Try this one on for size (borrowing from a future post). According to some, if a young man is pure until marriage, marries young, and then his wife leaves him for another man, he is excluded from service to God.

          On the other hand, if he beds a parade of women, lives with them outside of marriage, then gets right with God, he is eligible, because he never married any of the women he was with.

          Something odd about a system that ignores immorality but punishes one whose marriage disintegrates.

        • Frank L. says

          “”he is excluded from service to God.”” I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “service.” I think there is a difference between excluding someone from “leadership” and excluding someone from “service.”

          I also think a distinction should be made between divorce and murder. Of course, murder immediately conjures up more negative vibes, so of course murder is worse than divorce in most people’s minds. It is hard to defend against such a comparison.

          However, divorce is the breaking of a sacred oath. I think that is why it is addressed differently than some other sins. It is the “oath” part that complicates moving into leadership, not the comparative evil of the sin.

          It is definitely a vey thorny issue. However, if it is dealt with at a congregational level, like I believe it should be, then the Bible (in my opinion) leaves enough room for the local congregation to decide either way with integrity.

          When you add denominational life (which is foreign to the Bible) to the mix, then I don’t see anything but confusion and division arising from any discussion of divorce or remarriage.

          Again, the key issue for me is “integrity.” It is lost when the divorce breaks the oath, and it must be regained before any serious talk about leadership can be undertaken.

          • Bruce H. says


            My use of service meant minister. I knew I could not served as a deacon, elder or pastor. However, I still believe everyone should pursue the qualifications required of these service positions whether or not they are disqualified or not. They should learn to live forgiven. I live like I am forgiven and pursue to live my life the way I would as if I had never been disqualified. I have been asked to “serve” many times and decline. I can still serve tables, and do.

      • Bruce H. says


        Were you saying that you didn’t understand either of my points or was it mainly the first point? If I had to guess, it would be the first point and I will attempt to expand my thoughts if that is ok?

        The original relationship between man and God was pure. God could walk with man in the cool of the day and communicate with Adam without much filtration of His holiness. When man sinned, the relationship was severed. It had to be worse than a divorce because God could not even deal with man in the condition he was in and separation occurred. But it was nothing like a “permitted” divorce. If there was no way to reconcile the relationship with man, God could have either gone to the other side of the universe and started over or burned up earth and made another. That would have left the appearance of God making a mistake. Of course, we would have never known about it though but that would mean that God’s plan had a flaw. For God to provide a way of reconciliation meant He could “permit” the sin even though He hates sin. The saved would be the one’s He reconciled with (based upon Christ’s sacrifice) and the lost were divorced because of “Adams” original sin. If that is the case, He would be bound to also “permit” divorce from the one who was unfaithful or the one who was faithless. Then again we have Hosea’s situation. God had every right to “divorce” His people and used a prophet to display His love in lieu of divorce. Maybe the “permitting” is a test. As we mature we really should be to a point of determining whether our mate is a true believer or not. That may be what the challenge is all about; our ability to discern motives spiritually. We certainly have no option when it comes to forgiveness. So, it comes down to permitting non-reconciliation.

        I’m looking forward to your other post on this issue. Looks like I stand at a crossroad. I want to do the right thing and want you to convince me so I am not a hindrance to my class or others when I speak.

    • cb scott says

      Cousin Howell,

      Don’t be concerned with that. I have had one of both:

      I had a “conversion” by the grace of our Lord Jesus.

      I was acquitted of “conservsion” and other crimes due to the work of a good attorney prior to my conversion. 😉

  4. says

    My only real question surround Jesus’ statement about “adultery”. He named the results of divorcing a woman for any reason other than adultery. It does not appear to me that he gave “permission” to divorce one’s wife for that reason. It seems to me “Let not man put asunder” still applies.

    In the 1 Corinthians 7 passage, he seems to direct his statements to the spouse of an unbeliever, specifically stating that the believer is no longer bound to the spouse, should the unbeliever leave.

  5. John Wylie says

    Ironically this was the subject of my Sunday School class this past Sunday. I personally hold that Jesus did give an exception to the divorce prohibition being the cause of sexual immorality. I believe that involves both premarital activity that the spouse was not told about before agreeing to marry the person, and of course, adultery. As Bob mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 seems to permit divorce when an unbeliever chooses to leave a believer.

    The question has come up, if divorce in certain cases is permitted is remarriage permitted? I think that the answer is yes, because every time divorce is mentioned it is in relation to divorce and remarriage. The two passages that Dave cited in Matt. 5 and 19 are speaking of divorce and remarriage. It would make no sense for divorce to be permitted in that contect and remarriage not be permitted.

    • says

      I’m getting ahead of myself again, but there seems to be an assumption in biblical teachings that divorce will lead to remarriage. Whatever restrictions are out there are limits on this assumption of remarriage.

      A biblically-sanctioned divorce is the recognition that one party has broken the marriage covenant and the other is no longer bound to it. The marriage is over and the person is free to marry again, unless restricted.

  6. Christiane says

    With all of the scriptures and the various interpretations, and all of the decisions made in different denominations concerning marriage and divorce and remarriage,

    it is so very important for each case to be examined on its own merit . . . each situation is not a ‘statistic’ but involves real people who may have made mistakes or been foolish or been deceived . . . but only by examining each specific case in the light of Christ, can there be some resolution one way or the other that brings peace.

  7. says

    A random thought just occurred: this seems to focus on “who can serve God”. As if serving God is all our deal and we’re looking for all the rules that allow us to do this or that.

    Shouldn’t the real question be “Who can God use?” If we believe what we profess .. all victories belong to God, God gives the increase, etc etc .. why don’t we think in those terms?

    There may be somebody above this comment that said the same thing. If so, they had a good idea, I guess.

  8. Jake Barker says

    I want to throw something else into the mix here. It is something I have never seen addressed…..: Can an attorney who does divorce work and becomes a judge (granting many, many divorces for the sole reason of “incompatibility”) still with good conscience serve as deacon and sunday school teacher? Is he or she not as culpable as the parties seeking a divorce?

  9. says

    The stricter position on divorce and remarriage does seem to have its oddities, especially where it appears to allow forgiveness and restoration for seemingly more heinous sins without the same allowance of forgiveness for divorce and remarriage. Howell mentions a former murderer possibly being able to serve while someone who was divorced and remarried is barred from the same service. Frank mentions some of the strictness relating to the breaking of a sacred oath. I think this is correct. There is another issue to deal with, at least for some. It is the question of what is necessary for repentance and restoration.

    Let me illustrate it this way. If someone comes to your house and steals a bar of gold, what would it take for you to think he is repentant. If he kept the bar of gold he illegally obtained rather than returning it, would you think he was repentant and forgive him? Now it is not exactly parallel, but this is what a lot of us are trying to understand deal with in the matter of a marriage that is “illegal” according to God’s commandments. If a person is still enjoying the benefits of a spouse obtained illegally, where is the case for true repentance? The bar of gold is a straightforward case while divorce and remarriage is not, and that’s one thing that makes it such a difficult issue. Is there a way to make restitution — to make things right — or do you just have to be repentant at some point in your heart and then move forward and not look back?

    • Bruce H. says


      Was the murderer a saved murderer or a murderer that got saved? We may be able to accept the lost murderer that got saved easier than we can accept the saved murderer. We see someones sins completely removed at salvation and only limited removal thereafter. Is that how we are looking at this issue?

  10. says


    I think that is likely emotionally true regardless of our position on what effects of sin are undone in salvation. I vaguely remember a story a few years ago about a guy who had committed some crime in his youth (maybe murder). He got by with it (wasn’t caught), later got saved and lived a very good and godly live. Finally his conviction got the better of him and he turned himself in. IIRC, it was a case where there was no likelihood of him being caught, and was quite heart-wrenching for his family, church and friends.

    Anyway, re divorce, there are some comparisons that we can make with sins like murder and theft that are helpful, and yet divorce is different from both in ways that also makes the comparisons difficult. Murder is final and cannot be undone. Isn’t that somewhat the case with divorce after one has remarried and started another family? But in the case of murder, though the dead can’t be brought back, a repentant murderer could apologize to the family and there might be some ways that he could make some restitution. Perhaps financially to surviving children? Though that might not necessarily be appreciated. Just thinking out loud here.

    Yet remarriage after an unscriptural divorce is something like theft, taking something that doesn’t (or shouldn’t) belong to you. In cases of theft we expect either return or repayment as a sign of repentance. But how much can one “return and repay” after one has divorced and remarried? There should be at least some desire to fix what can be fixed. For example, if one lied and deceived to keep a spouse from getting visitation rights, shouldn’t a Christian experience afterward make one seek to right that wrong.

    Perhaps before seeking to “right” such details we as Christians need to get back to the basics of just viewing divorce as a wrong. It seems in our present society even Christians swap spouses with impunity and without remorse.