Biblical Principles for Divorce and Remarriage

by Jan 25, 2024Adversity

I never imagined I’d be here! I hear these words from friends facing divorce—far too often—and it breaks my heart. I bet you come across these same situations, don’t you? As believers, we are called to love God and to love our neighbor. Dealing with troubled marriages and faithfully dealing with divorce and remarriage all comes with the territory.

How are we then to respond? There’s a tension. We want to be loving but we also want to be faithful to God’s Word and his design for marriage. It’s not an easy road to take but an important one. 

Here at Providence, we love our marriages and want to do all we can to protect and help restore every marriage. We know, ultimately, it’s God who does the restoring, but we want to be his instruments in helping to make this happen. As we seek to disciple and care for those around us, it’s important for us to know what Scripture says not only about marriage, but also about divorce and remarriage

Here are a couple of key principles to keep in mind as you shepherd marriages in crisis.

Permanence 

God’s design for marriage is that it be permanent (Matthew 19:4-8). Life-long…till death do us part…one flesh…let man not separate—all these words remind us that marriage is designed to last a lifetime. God, from the very beginning, created marriage to unify a man and woman in a mysterious way—two individuals who now become “one” (Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31). This union ends only in death. Such a beautiful picture. Marriage is wonderful gift of God.

It’s important for us to keep permanence in mind as we deal with marriages. We must be careful not to lower our expectation and, instead, to remain hope-filled that every marriage will meet this standard. As we face the brokenness of our day, God’s redemptive work (1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14) remains in every marriage. Rather than recommending divorce, we should encourage that a path of forgiveness (Col. 3:13), reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19), and restoration (2 Cor. 13:11) be sought in every marriage we seek to help (1 Cor. 7:10). God can resurrect any marriage. Should divorce be chosen, may it be only as the last resort.

Permission

When divorce does occur, Scripture gives two permissions: 1) adultery (Matt. 5:32; 19:9) and 2) abandonment (1 Cor. 7:15). With adultery, sexual immorality is an “exception” that gives biblical permission for divorce. Abandonment involves an unbelieving spouse who is done with the marriage, not wanting it to continue and not willing to work on it. When this occurs, the believing spouse is no longer “enslaved”, meaning they’re not obligated to keep the marriage going and, therefore, are permitted to divorce. 

Be sure to notice these are permissions for divorce and not requirements. So once again, forgiveness and reconciliation are always the better path, should it be possible. 

So, how should we understand verses that say not to divorce, with no exception given? For example, in Luke 16:18, Jesus says, “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” How do we reconcile absolute statement with verses that contain an exception? John MacArthur answers this way, “God has to say a thing only once for it to be true…. God doesn’t say everything on a subject every time He brings it up.”1 God’s overall standard for marriage is permanence—not to divorce and remarry—as stated in Luke 16:18 and other verses (1 Cor. 7:10-11, 39) However, this doesn’t preclude the named exceptions of adultery and abandonment being permitted grounds for divorce. 

A phrase common to dealing with divorce and remarriage is “what’s good for the divorce is good for the remarriage”. The meaning here is if it is a biblical divorce (resulting from adultery or abandonment) then remarriage is permitted. If the divorce was unbiblical, then remarriage is not permitted and would be considered adultery. 

It’s fair to say all of us will likely have opportunities to minister to friends and family concerning divorce and remarriage. Have the Bible guide you, not your emotions or logic. Marriage is permanent, yet there are exceptions allowed. Anything beyond these biblical principles should be carefully evaluated, with apprehension and caution, so as not to defy and rob God of his intended design for marriage. Be faithful, press on, and to God be the glory in all our marriages! 

Recommended Resource for Further Learning:

  • Newheiser, Jim. Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2017). (See Selected Bibliography, pp. 295-296.)
  • ESV Study Bible, pp. 2545-2547.

1 MacArthur, John. The Divorce Dilemma, p. 23.

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