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Question #93

More thorny issues on divorce and remarriage

QUESTION 1: What if a wife refuses to sign any divorce papers because she still loves her husband but the husband is determined to end the marriage simply because he says he doesn't love her anymore? Eventually the civil law grants him the divorce and eventually he is with another woman or even remarries and in the mean time the wife stays true to her vows of marriage. After the husband goes through with it is the wife to stay single or would she be considered set free by the husband’s actions and allowed to move on with her life?

QUESTION 2: Can a person, married scripturally, having a wife that commits adultery, and he not willing to put her away but follows her in this sin and commits adultery also with another woman, then claims that in his mind his marriage was over and thus divorce had occurred and therefore his sin was one of fornication and not adultery. They finally do legally divorce. He also says that this sin of fornication will be forgiven upon his baptism, and his upcoming marriage will not be adulterous because he retained his scriptural right to remarry. Can you Baptize such a one?

QUESTION 3: I am very strong in my faith. Without God I could not have overcome so many things already. But this one has got me so confused. Please answer this question as soon as you possibly can. I love my husband. He says he does not feel the same anymore and wants out. I told him I would not sign any divorce papers at all and I mean it unless there was adultry involved which he denys. I am not so sure but I have no proof. My gut says he has. I don't want the divorce. I have done everything in my power to be a good Christian wife and he still says his feelings are different. What I am getting at is, when he eventually files for divorce and I refuse because I don't beleive it is right, the courts will eventually grant him the divorce and eventually my husband will be with another woman if he is hasn't already. In God’s eyes are we still married until he takes another woman? If I stay true to my vows even though we would be legally divorced against my will, after he has committed adultry against me am I considered set free in God’s eyes?

QUESTION 4: If both parties in a marriage have committed adultery (fornication) and they reconciled, then one of the parties committed adultery after the reconciliation. Does that free the one who has not committed the act of adultery after the reconciliation, to divorce the one who committed adultery after the reconciliation and remarry? I need to know if reconciliation between husband and wife dissolves the adulterous act and gives them a clean slate as if it had never been committed. The reason I need to know this is because if I ask the once married individual who committed adultery, reconciled, and divorced for adultery, if they committed adultery during the marriage and they say yes, I need scripture saying it is alright for me to marry them. My thoughts are that rights are only extended to individuals as long as they are re-reconciled, such as the rights believers have in Christ. The rights are no longer extended to us the moment that we leave Christ. Please help with the aforementioned question in lieu of Matt 18:23-35.

The Answer:

While these questions contain some differences, they have certain common issues that tie them together. Each involves adultery and a desire by one or both of the parties to remarry. Questions 1 and 3 are basically the same – the first marriage was dissolved for reasons other than adultery, one spouse remarries first and the other wants to know if he/she can then marry. Question 2 involves a marriage where the wife committed adultery, after which the husband committed adultery. The question does not state whether there was reconciliation, but it does say that the husband was unwilling to put the wife away. The husband has an upcoming marriage and is justifying it on the basis that his marriage to wife one was dissolved when the wife committed adultery, thus his sin was not adultery (usually considered as occurring where one or both participants are married), but fornication (usually considered as occurring where both parties are single and neither has been married). The basis of his conclusion is not stated, i.e., whether the person with which he had relations was herself single and not divorced unscripturally. Clearly, the husband's thinking may be clouded by his desire to justify his upcoming marriage. Question 4 involves a situation where both spouses committed adultery, reconciled, after which one of the parties committed adultery a second time. The spouse who did not commit adultery the second time inquires about his/her right to remarry.

It is always easier to discuss general principles than it is to apply them to specific situations. Specific situations are always clouded by emotional considerations. It has led elders in the church to accept as not erroneous principles that they had earlier condemned as unscriptural. It has led preachers to teach error because of members of their family who have divorced and remarried contrary to their prior teaching on marriage and divorce. In truth and in fact, personal conduct does not determine Biblical principles; Biblical principles always govern personal conduct. Thus, we must first determine the Biblical principles that govern marriage and divorce.

  1. God’s plan has always been one man and one woman for life. Matthew 19:3-8.

  2. Jesus taught that the only basis upon which remarriage could occur following divorce was in the case of fornication on the part of one mate, leaving the innocent party free to remarry. Matthew 19:9; Mark 2:10-12.

  3. The “putting away” must be for fornication.

  4. Fornication and adultery do not follow our commonly understood distinctions. Fornication is from a Greek word meaning illicit sexual intercourse. Adultery is from a Greek word meaning to have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife. Thus, all adultery is fornication, but not all fornication is adultery.

  5. God permits divorce for causes other than fornication. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. In such cases, however, there can be no remarriage. They must remain unmarried or be reconciled. Thus the case is that divorce for whatever reason ends the marriage. If it did not Paul could not have said that those who divorced for causes other than fornication were to remain unmarried.

  6. The act of fornication does not end the marriage. If it did the putting away would occur automatically. The adultery occurs upon the remarriage. Who so puts away his wife and marries another, except it be for fornication, commits adultery. The one who marries the one put away for fornication commits adultery. Where there is a putting away, even for fornication, and no remarriage, there is no adultery. Moreover, does it not follow that if an illicit relation involving a married person ends a marriage that illicit relations between single persons constitutes marriage? If not, why not?

  7. That act of fornication does not require divorce; it permits it. The parties clearly may reconcile. Matthew 18:23-35 does not prevent divorce. The aggrieved spouse may forgive the guilty spouse but still be unable to live with him/her. Forgiveness does not require the continuation of the marriage; it permits it. We clearly understand this in other contexts where sin, though forgiven, has detrimental consequences. A criminal may be forgiven by a victim, but the forgiveness does not mean that incarceration is not justified.

  8. If the parties reconcile, i.e., forgive one another, they should not charge one another with that act again. Further, they may seek and obtain God’s forgiveness for their indiscretion. An important factor here is that there is no third party involved in the marriage. Unlike where there is an adulterous marriage (one who was not eligible to marry because of prior adultery had in fact remarried) repentance here does not require the putting away of a spouse (third party) thus ending an adulterous marriage.

  9. Where reconciliation has occurred, a divorce subsequent to the reconciliation cannot be for fornication unless it is for fornication that occurred subsequent to the reconciliation. If the divorce has been for incompatibility, e.g, “I don’t love you any more,” 1 Corinthians 7 applies – remain unmarried or be reconciled. This means that where there has been reconciliation, it is over between the parties to the marriage, but not necessarily over as between those parties and third parties with whom they may seek marriage. The fact that the guilt is no longer borne as to the spouse does not mean that what has once been forfeited, the right to marry another, has been regained. Once that right has been lost, it cannot be recovered any more than a young man or woman can regain virginity lost through indiscretion.

Given these principles, the Scripture teaches that none of the persons involved in these questions is eligible in the sight of God for remarriage. Surely this may be considered a harsh result, but harsh results often follow wrong decisions. Over the years, those who have supported the clear teaching of God’s word of marriage and divorce has always included many of those who have made poor marriage decisions. Like the rich man who ignored Lazarus, and in torment he pled with father Abraham to send Lazarus to his brethren that “they come not to this place,” divorced persons want to help others avoid their mistakes. Let us join together to restore marriage to its rightful place and train and assist our children to make wise decisions for their future married happiness.

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)