Friends, today I’m going to do my absolute best to try to cover one of the toughest topics plaguing Christian relationships today. The material I am covering is highly controversial, but I believe everything I am about to share has a strong biblical foundation. So please explore with me what I believe to be a strong case for Christian divorce and remarriage.
The Response of Jesus to Moses
Let’s start out by taking a look at one of the most controversial scriptures in the Holy Bible on this topic:
Matt 19:8-9 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, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
Now it’s extremely important to understand what was going on here and why Jesus so adamantly addressed the topic at hand. Jesus was protecting the sanctity of marriage because men were putting away their wives for just any reason they felt like. Maybe their wife made them a turkey sandwich when they wanted PB&J. Men would use simple excuses to divorce their wives. So what Jesus was doing here was telling the Pharisees, that NO, a man can’t justifiably divorce his wife for any reason. It needs to be a matter of unfaithfulness.
Dividing Truth: Moicheia, Na’aph, and Porneia
This morning I did an intensive word study on moicheia, na’aph, and porneia. These are the three words commonly used to describe unfaithfulness in the Holy Bible. What I came to terms with is that there is a distinction made between adultery and fornication. It is also my sincere believeth that word “fornication” in Matt 19:8-9 is a metaphor for any form of unfaithfulness that genuinely compromises the sanctity of marriage. Think I’m off my rocker? Let’s look at least two scriptures that differentiate adultery from fornication.
Mark 7:21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries (moicheia), fornications (porneia), murders.
Gal 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery (moicheia), fornication (porneia), uncleanness, lasciviousness…
As you can see in both Mark and Galatians, adultery and fornication are both categorized as works of the flesh, but not considered to be the same thing. In addition, please notice that “porneia” is the word used here for fornication which is referring to general unfaithfulness, and coincidentally is the same word used in the controversial scripture in Matthew (Matt 19:8-9).
God’s Example with Israel
God is a loving God, and He certainly cares about our relationships. Unfortunately, sometimes relationships, even when we have the best intent with them, don’t work out. Someone may go out an have a sexual affair with another or they may be unfaithful in other ways, such as being abusive, or committing idolatry. When these situations occur, this is a form of fornication or unfaithfulness and I believe are grounds for divorce.
Let the truth be told, God is divorced as He did this by providing Israel with a bill of divorcement when the people were unfaithful.
Jeremiah 3:8 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.
Something amazing happens after this. God also provides Israel with the opportunity for restoration for their adultery and says that He will withdraw His anger against them.
Jeremiah 3:12 Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the LORD; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever.
We see the fulfillment of this in Romans 11:26, when He says He will save ALL Israel. So if we follow God’s example, we’ll also see that in certain circumstances restoration or grace is given to divorced individuals.
To continue my last statement about grace and restoration in certain circumstances, I would like to mention that I believe the first example of this is when the divorce is with an unbeliever. The Holy Bible is clear that a believer is NOT under bondage in such cases. If they are NOT under bondage, I see no reason why they can’t remarry and live a peaceful life with their spouse.
1 Cor 7:15 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.
A New Creation
There is a second circumstance in which I believe a person can be restored through God’s grace. This is when an unbeliever converts by accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
2 Cor 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
If ALL things have passed away and ALL things become new, I truly believe in my heart that God will justifiably allow that person to remarry. They have been given a new birth and a new start, and all their past mistakes, including divorce and adultery, have passed away.
Friends, it is not God’s desire for man to be alone (Gen 2:18). Sure, there are some circumstances in which people can disqualify themselves from remarriage, but there are also opportunities for grace and restoration for those who would present themselves righteously. In closing, I just want to give a reminder to honor God in your relationships, especially the one you have with Him. Thank you for reading and God bless.
Do you agree or disagree with this article? I want to hear from you!
If you would like to read part 2, then just click the link.
Wow! Never thot of God as divorced! Read that but it did not sink in! And that He gave opportunity for restoration. I have loved ones that are divorced and friends to share this with. Thanks!
Thanks for the great feedback. There are many people who are divorced and feel they are without hope. However, I wanted to try to gently address the topic and show that there are circumstances in which divorce and remarriage is possible without trespassing against our Lord. I hope your friends find this article helpful and that God may bless you all abundantly. God bless. 🙂
Yes, God will use it I am sure! Sent it to all divorced people I know that are Christians. Big smile!!
Joel, fantastic research. I love how you differentiated between the root words for adultery and fornication. However, it would be helpful to know what the direct definitions are for each word in the original text (“porneia” and “moicheia”).
Also, just to throw something out there :), I think it’s important to mention that the unbeliever may leave a marital relationship if he or she so chooses; but the believer is instructed not to. (See 1 Corinthians 7:12-14.) And while divorce is permittable in regards to marital unfaithfulness, we must remember that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Certainly there is an abundance of grace and forgiveness as you clearly and beautifully mentioned, and I don’t want to minimize that in the least, but I’m curious how you define “unfaithful.” You mention abuse and idolatry as permittable reasons for divorce. What makes you say that? Thanks for a really thought-provoking article!! 🙂 I was so intrigued, I read it twice!
I should also mention that I’ve always wanted someone to write on this topic, and I’m so glad I stumbled across your article. 🙂 You dealt with such a difficult topic with such compassion.
Thanks so much for your questions and feedback. First, thank you for pointing out Malachi 2:16. It was my sincere intent to include this in the article, but I omitted it by mistake and you are correct in that a believer is not supposed to leave their spouse for their unbelief.
Okay, now on to idolatry and domestic abuse. I feel it is important to reflect on God’s relationship and division with Israel. Part of Israel’s fornication was with worshiping idols. Let’s take a look at the book of Ezekiel in which God proclaims Israel’s “whoring” as idolatry. Please keep in mind that the scripture I’m about to share is prophecy against Israel (Eze 6:2-3).
Eze 6:8 And they that escape of you shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations.
Now with the matter of domestic violence. I’m going to make four points and provide at least one scripture that supports each of them. Please keep in mind, the bible repeats these things throughout.
1. God hates spousal abuse:
Psa 11:5 The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
Pro 10:11 The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked.
2. God says to flee from a man of wrath rather than let him off the hook:
Prov 19:19 A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again.
3. A man is not to betray his family. If he does, he is to be considered unfaithful:
1 Tim 5:8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
4. God promises to hear and provide justice to those who are oppressed:
Psa 10:17-18 LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear: To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.
As I close this, I want to clarify that this article wasn’t written to encourage divorce. It was to point out that marriage dissolution isn’t necessarily a dead end to the righteous. Reconciliation is wonderful thing and should be taken under the highest consideration when possible. Thanks for listening and God bless.
Well written piece. I believe though that “idolatry” is not grounds for divorce but abuse definitely. Interesting definition on the terms for “adultery” and “fornication.” I always thought “fornication” was when single men and women had sexual relations outside of marriage. “Adultery when two married people have sexual relations with others outside their marriages. Thanks for writing on such a “hot” topic.
Thanks for your feedback. What you mentioned is certainly something to think about. It’s obviously a very controversial topic and I would encourage people not to take it lightly. Thanks brother and God bless.
Welcome bro I just wanted to share my thoughts on what I thought “adultery” and “fornication” meant. I just believe that “idolatry” wasn’t a grounds for divorce. You did an outstanding job on a very controversial issue.Great Job bro! You were very gentle and you were very bold to write on such a sensitive issue in the church today. Certainly no one can say you were harsh or judgmental.
I agree with you, Greg. First, that Joel dealt with this “hot” topic in an outstanding manner. And second, I also feel idolatry is not grounds for divorce; however, I understand your point, Joel, regarding Israel. In that particular case, and generally speaking, I suppose idolatry is really the only way you can “cheat” on God. Since scripture often relates marriage to the relationship between Christ and the church, I feel idolatry would be to God like adultery would be to a marriage relationship.
In terms of spousal abuse, yes, certainly God hates abuse and neglect and mistreatment of any kind. However, can we draw the conclusion that divorce is then permittable? God hates sin. Abuse is just one form of sin. Now, I’m not saying a man or woman has to remain in the relationship and not seek shelter. I do believe that separation — not divorce — may be necessary. But to divorce and potentially remarry . . . that, I’m not sure. Since God only made provision for divorce due to marital unfaithfulness and does not say divorce is permittable for those two other reasons, I’m not sure we can make that conclusion.
In my concordance, porneia means “illicit sexual intercourse.” Examples include homosexuality, adultery, fornication, etc. It doesn’t appear to mean “general unfaithfulness.” However, it has been used as a “metaphor the worship of idols” (eating sacrifices offered to idols).
You’ve presented very interesting information, Joel! Thank you for putting yourself forward and dealing with a topic that’s sensitive to so many!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This is a very deep topic and certainly not something people should take lightly. Perhaps this is something that needs to be written on in another article sometime soon. I appreciate your feedback. God bless.