I believe that the Bible teaches remarriage after divorce is lawful and allowed by God, and that the parties in the new marriage are not to be viewed as adulterers or adulteresses. To view them as such is a SIN!
This article is an explanation of why this is a Biblical fact, understanding that there is a difference between “putting away” (Greek: apolyo, as seen in “put her away” in Matt. 1:19), and “a bill of divorce,” (Greek: “apostasion”).
I completely understand that God’s original sacred plan for marriage is that it is between one man and one woman, for life, and I heartily encourage that everyone – particularly Christians – strive to uphold and continue this plan. If your marriage is in trouble, humble yourselves before God, seek direction and counseling, and do whatever it takes to reconcile.
Toward those who have been divorced against their will, Christians must always treat each other with tenderness and sensitivity. Jesus spoke gently and with kindness to the Samaritan woman who had been married and divorced several times (John 14: 16-18). He did not accuse her of sin, he did not judge her, and he did not call her an adulteress. We must always speak on this topic with love for the parties involved.
What is the purpose of the law?
The law shows us the depth of our sin and our desperate need for salvation through Jesus Christ’s atoning death on our behalf. God, through the Mosaic Law, set up instructions for sinful man in order to keep us from making really bad choices with dangerous consequences. The laws don’t force us to make better choices, but they do provide true and essential guidance.
ALL laws are necessary because of our sinful nature. If we were still sinless, perfect creatures like Adam and Eve were before the Fall, there would be no divorce and no need for any laws, for the Ten Commandments, or even for Christ to have died in our place to redeem us from our sins.
However, the Fall DID occur. Sin is rampant and seems to continue to increase. Laws are very necessary.
An example of the need for laws after the Fall was that God instituted the death penalty for first-degree murder. From the beginning it was not so, for God created us to live together in harmony. But for the hardness of men’s hearts, it became a very necessary judgment to curb such violent crime.
In order to follow instructions and laws correctly and gain the most benefit from them, it is important to know exactly what the laws and instructions say. There are many, many resources and teachings out there that incorrectly interpret what the instructions say about a Christian remarrying after a divorce.
What is the difference between Divorce and Putting Away?
A common error arises when the word “divorce” is incorrectly used when the scripture actually states something different. Many times the word used is “putting away.” There is a significant difference between the two.
In the original Greek, the word “apostasion” means “a bill of divorce,” and refers to a legal document given to validate the divorce. It corresponds to the Hebrew phrase “sepher kerituth,” which is translated as “certificate of divorce.”
In the original Greek, the word “apolyo” means “to send away, dismiss, release, let go, depart, or get rid of”. This corresponds with the Hebrew word “shalach”, which is translated “send away.”
So “divorce” and “putting away” are two separate words for two separate actions.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia defines a “bill of divorcement” as:
“This expression, found in Deut 24:1, 24:3, Isaiah 50:1; Jeremiah 3:8 is the translation of the Hebrew sepher karithuth. The two words, literally rendered, signify a document or book of cutting off, i.e. a certificate of divorce given by a husband to a wife, so as to afford her the opportunity or privilege of marrying another man.”
The common law of the time was called the Hammurabi Code. Under the Code, when a man and woman got married, a written contract was required. However, a man could legally put away his wife by simply saying out loud three times that he repudiated her. That left the woman with no financial means of support, no protection, and only negative options for her future.
God established protections for the divorced women through the Mosaic law by requiring the man to give her a legal, written bill of divorcement instead of just verbally repudiating her and putting her away. This written bill of divorce allowed her to keep her dowry so as not to be destitute and also prevented her of being wrongly accused of adultery.
We must also keep in mind that from the beginning of the Mosaic law, the penalty for adultery was DEATH, not divorce. Under those circumstances, the innocent party would then be a widow or widower, and thus free to marry again.
And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. – Leviticus 20:10
What does the Old Testament say about divorce?
The Mosaic law first speaks to divorce in Chapter 24 of the book of Deuteronomy. The King James Version is below, with Hebrew translations added.
“When a man takes a wife and marries her and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce (sepher kerithuth), puts it in her hand, and sends her out (shalach) of his house, when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce (sepher kerithuth), puts it in her hand and sends her out (shalach) of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” – Deuteronomy 24: 1-4
This verse talks about a woman who is divorced from one husband and marries another. She is not forbidden to marry another man after her first husband divorces her. She is only forbidden to go back to her first husband if her second marriage ends in divorce.
If the woman is divorced on without being guilty of anything, isn’t it very unfair that she would then be sent away and considered an adulteress if she remarries? It brings to mind Abraham’s question to God in Chapter 18 of the book of Genesis when he was told the Lord was about to bring destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah.
And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt Thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt Thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from Thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? – Genesis 18: 23-25
God ultimately agreed to not destroy Sodom if ten righteous persons could be found there. Remarkably, when the angels of the Lord came to destroy Sodom, they rescued only Lot and his wife and two daughters. As they urged Lot to flee to the nearby city of Zoar, they told him that they could not destroy Sodom until he (one person) was spared.
Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do any thing till thou be come thither. – Genesis 19:22
Chapter 2 of the book of Malachi contains a verse that is often brought up by people who quote it as saying: “God hates divorce.” It actually says, in the King James Version (Another reason I use the Greek Textus Receptus New Testament for specific word studies):
“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.” – Malachi 2:16
There are several instances in the Old Testament in which God actually INSTRUCTS His people to put away their spouses, but in every one of those instances, it is because He does not recognize their current marriages to be legitimate. For example, in Ezra, when the Israelites had taken foreign wives from the pagan people of the land, they were not told to divorce those wives, but instead for them to put them away.
Is Marriage a Conditional Contract?
A conditional contract or covenant is one that specifies conditions that both parties agree to fulfill. If one party breaks the contract, the wronged party may sue at law for damages or annulment of the contract.
All marriage contracts involve vows made by two parties. By definition, marriage contracts are conditional contracts. Divorce is lawful when the contract is broken by one of the parties.
When God entered into marriage with Israel at Mt. Sinai, Israel (the bride) agreed to submit to His authority and obey His laws (Exodus 19:3-8). God, on the other hand, agreed to give them the Kingdom and the blessings of the Birthright. These included honor, protection, sustenance, and children (Genesis 12:1-3).
Israel violated this contract, being incapable of full obedience, and refused to repent; and thus, her Husband divorced her and sent her out of His house.
And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. – Jeremiah 3:8
Note that God not only sent her away, but only did so after giving her a written bill of divorce. This was in accordance with the law in Chapter 24 of the book of Deuteronomy. God’s divorce meant Israel was no longer God’s wife, and he stated so.
Plead with your mother [Israel], plead; for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband. – Hosea 2:2
The fact that God divorced Israel shows that lawful divorce is the result of sin, or violation of the contract. It is the final solution to the problem when all else fails, and when reconciliation is impossible. The contract is always conditional.
What did Jesus say about Divorce?
Jesus’ first recorded words about divorce are found in the sermon on the mount in Chapter 5 of the gook of Matthew.
It hath been said, ‘Whosoever shall put away (apolyo) his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement (apostasion).’ But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away (apolyo) his wife, saving for the cause of fornication (porneia), causeth her to commit adultery (moichao): and whosoever may marry her that is divorced put away (apolyo) committeth adultery (moichao).” – Matthew 5:31-32
Why would this “put away” woman be committing adultery if she married again? Because she is still lawfully married! Why would there be an exception to this for fornication? Because the covenant would be broken by the fornication of the wife, who under the Mosaic Law should have been put to death. Since she was considered as dead, the marriage would no longer be considered legitimate and no certificate of divorce was required to be issued.
Also note that the word for fornication is different than the word for adultery. That is a whole study in itself, which will not be covered here.
Some people think that in the sermon on the mount, Jesus was overturning the laws because He recited them and then said “but I say to you…”. Instead, He was showing that the thoughts and motives behind our actions are judged equally with our actions.
The sermon on the mount is for the most part a commentary on Bible law. In Chapter 5 of the book of Matthew, Jesus disclaimed the idea that He was trying to destroy or undermine the law. Further, He positively condemned those who would break the shortest commandment and teach others to do so. From this alone it should be clear that Jesus did not abolish God’s laws on divorce and remarriage.
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” – Matthew 5:17
In Chapter 19 of the book of Matthew (and also recorded in Chapter 10 of the book of Mark), the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus into answering a current question in order to find fault with his answer.
The Pharisees also came unto Him, tempting Him, and saying unto Him, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” And He answered and said unto them, “Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘for this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh?’ Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
They say unto Him, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?” He saith unto them, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, committeth adultery; and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” – Matthew 19:3-9
Jesus expressed the ideal of marriage for life, and was not overturning the Mosaic Law. The Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus into saying something contrary to the Law. Their reasoning was that it was commonly recognized that the Law was given by God to Moses. If Jesus said something contradictory to the Law, then He could not be the Messiah of God.
Jesus is also recorded speaking about the dangers of putting a wife away and not protecting her via a bill of divorcement in Chapter 16 of the book of Luke.
Whosoever putteth away (apolyo) his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her that is put away (apolyo) from her husband committeth adultery. – Luke 16:18
The Mosaic Law allowed for divorce because of hard hearts. Hearts are still hard today. Many people have hardened their hearts to God, and do not live up to God’s desire. God often allows us to do things that are not His direct will for our lives. Although the Mosaic Law allowed the writing of divorcement, it was always below God’s divine ideal.
The prescription for marriage to be a life-long, sacred commitment was given to Adam and Eve when they were sinless, before the Fall. That is still God’s expectation for Christian marriages.
However, since the Fall, God no longer expects us to be sinless, and He knows that many will be crushed by the consequences of sin, even if they are the consequences of someone ELSE’s sin, like when an innocent spouse is divorced by the spouse who is not willing to be reconciled.
Divorce should not be necessary among Christians. However, even Christians are often lawless and disobedient to the perfect will of God. For this reason, divorce provisions are necessary even for Christians. When a marriage contract has been broken, and especially if one or both parties refuse to repent and restore the lawful order, divorce may well be the only solution. God does not expect the innocent party to honor the contract when the guilty party refuses to do so.
What does the apostle Paul say about divorce?
Paul first addresses divorce in Chapter 7 of the book of Romans.
Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath a husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed form the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. – Romans 7:1-6
Paul is here explaining that through our death with Jesus at Calvary, we are dead to the law and delivered from its dominion over us as a principle of justification. He is simply using the commonly-understood illustration of a woman being bound in the contract of marriage to a man until his death. He is not answering any question here about the legitimacy of divorce and remarriage.
And if death is the only Biblical way to end a marriage, why does the Mosaic Law make provision for divorce?
In Chapter 7 of the book of 1st Corinthians, Paul addresses questions written to him from the Corinthian Christians. He has already dealt with their questions about the relative merits of being married or single, and if it is more spiritual to abstain from sex in a marriage relationship.
The Corinthian Christians wondered if it might be MORE spiritual to be single, and if they should break up existing marriages for the cause of greater holiness. Paul confirms that Christians should not break up their marriage in a misguided search for higher spirituality. He tells them that if one were to depart from their spouse, they must either remain unmarried or be reconciled.
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.”
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: “If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.” For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
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. – 1 Corinthians 7:10-15
Later in the same letter, Paul addresses the Corinthians’ question about whether or not they should even get married or stay married due to the “present distress” of the persecution that the early Christian church was experiencing.
Paul does not use the technical words for divorce and remarriage, but rather the descriptive terms “bound” and “loosed.” To be bound by law means to be married by contract; to be loosed means to be loosed from that contract (divorced or widowed).
I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art though 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. – 1 Corinthians 7:26-28
Few verses are plainer than these. If you are married, do not seek a divorce. If you are divorced or widowed, do not seek a wife because of the “present distress” mentioned in Verse 26. But if you do marry, YOU HAVE NOT SINNED. If a virgin marry, she has not sinned either. In other words, Paul says, remarriage after a divorce is NOT a sin. Thus, divorce and remarriage is NOT adultery.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that if you get a divorce and remarry that you are in continual adultery and you will die in your sins and the Blood of Jesus does not cover that.
Praise be to God that we are now free to live under the Law of Grace since Jesus Christ came and died in our place for the remission of our sins. We no longer stone adulterers and adulteresses to death, as required under the Mosaic Law. Because that is the case, Jesus re-defined how the innocent spouse should be viewed after they had been the victim of first adultery and then divorce by the guilty spouse.
God does not judge a person by the law once they have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. This is the wonderful news of the gospel: that Christians no longer stand before God as sinners under the law. We stand in Grace!
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:1
Biblical Word Studies is an ongoing topical series that examines individual words used in the Bible, in their original languages. By investigating the original languages, we glean a clearer picture of the depths of God’s direction and revelation to man, and also clear up apparent contradictions. Greek and Hebrew word studies can reveal new insights and hidden treasures. However, its most valuable resource is the enhanced clarity, practical interpretation, and rich meaning in understanding the original languages concerning a biblical passage that needs to be underlined. It is these gems of affirmation that can strengthen our faith. Our main focus is always on Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of the world, God incarnate, He alone deserves preeminence in God’s Word. God’s Word, the Holy Bible stands alone as our source of guidance and direction, and is our singular foundation for and of faith. Biblical Word Studies is an outreach ministry of Faith Video Ministries Inc. You may contact us at our e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org