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Question #80

What is the status of adulterer in unscriptural marriage after first spouse dies?

I read your answer relative to marriage, divorce and remarriage. If your teachings are correct, in that the only reason the bible authorizes divorce is in the case of physical fornication, then what is the state of a baptized Christian who divorces and remarries another when one of them dies, and what is the state of a spouse that remains alive? Can the spouse that remains repent or are they still in a state adultery?

The Answer:

First, let me say that I make every effort to be certain that the answers provided are the teaching of scripture – not my teaching. If I provide a personal opinion I try to label it as such. My opinion is binding on no one, though it may be followed by those who agree with it. Christ’s opinion is binding on all, whether they agree with it or not. My opinion may be disregarded with impunity; the Lord’s opinion is disregarded at one’s eternal peril.

This question poses a hypothetical circumstance that is not directly addressed in scripture. Most hypotheticals are surmised by those who are seeking to justify their circumstance even if it is not exactly the same as the hypothetical. They feel, unjustifiably so, that if they can come up with some circumstance in the same general area where they fall short of God’s will, then God would surely not be dissatisfied with their condition. Fortunately, God does give us some principles by which we may address this situation.

Rom. 7:1 ff. teaches that, upon the husband’s death, the wife is freed from the law of the husband. It also clearly teaches that the only justification for divorce and remarriage is fornication. (See the previous answers in this section of to which reference is made in the question.) In the hypothetical two persons divorce for a cause other than fornication and both remarry. Both are thus in adulterous unions. Ultimately one of the two dies. Is the surviving spouse free to remarry and, if so, is the surviving spouse free to continue in a union that all agree was adulterous at its inception? A variant of the question inquires whether, the first spouse having died, the surviving spouse can end the adulterous union and then marry a third person.

To respond to these inquiries there is yet another question that must be answered – did God recognize the second marriage even though it was adulterous? The answer to this question is “Yes.” “9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery” (emphasis added). The Lord clearly calls the second union a marriage. This being the case, the surviving spouse was married, though adulterous. The second union may cease by divorce, but there is no justification for remarriage.

But after the first spouse dies cannot the surviving spouse repent and remain in the second marriage? First, the sincerity of a repentance that comes only after the first spouse dies is questionable. Obviously, man cannot know the heart, but God can. But surely questions can be raised when one has willfully violated God’s law by entering to and staying in the second union, and repenting only after a fortuitous circumstance occurs that enables the surviving spouse to lawfully retain that which was unlawfully obtained. Additionally, nothing was hypothesized concerning the person whom the surviving spouse married. That person would also be in adultery for marrying the surviving spouse. Did that person also divorce for a cause other than adultery? Is that person’s first spouse still alive?

Finally, some suggest that 1 Corinthians 7:39 teaches that a Christian widow (and by implication a widower) may only marry a Christian. While I do not believe that is necessarily what the passage teaches, it is certainly the safe path to follow because that path is right and cannot be wrong.

Given the above, the scripture teaches that the surviving spouse in the hypothetical should leave the second marriage and remain unmarried. It would seem that if the repentance is true this would be the inevitable result. One truly penitent would seek the way that will most certainly lead to life everlasting and not gamble with the soul.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)