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Question #417

When a divorce occurs due to fornication, may the guilty party remarry?

The question pertains to divorce and remarriage. There are those who teach (in the church) that in a divorce due to fornication that both parties can remarry. Yes, that's right, that's what their teaching. I know it isn't correct but when they teach it, the way they present it, it makes sense and this is so awful because people (as you so eloquently put it) want to justify what they've done or what they want to do. Here's how they teach it, in a nut shell, because I'd have to write a book and I can't do that and you don't have time to read it if I did. Two people are married, one commits adultery, the innocent party "puts them away" and now they both are free to remarry, because when the innocent party remarries that marriage is seen by God as "the two are one" so if those two are "one" the one who committed adultery is no longer "one" with their former spouse so they are free to remarry. This is, of course, extremely simplified, but I need help teaching them that just because God allows the innocent party to remarry doesn't free the one who committed adultery to remarry. Their consequence, even though they have repented, is a life long one. But I don't know how to teach it or explain why this is so and why the one who committed adultery can never remarry. God doesn't say "why" they can't remarry in all of the passages pertaining to divorce. Please help me. I'm sure when you tell me I'm going to say, "That's it exactly," but I simply need help from those who are more knowledgeable than me.

The Answer:

The best place to start is to analyze the argument and break it down to its component parts. As I understand the argument described its component parts are:

  1. Two eligible people marry.

  2. One spouse commits adultery. (It is better to say that one committed “fornication,” i.e., has intercourse with one other than her/his spouse. That will become important later.)

  3. The “innocent” spouse, i.e. the one who did not commit fornication, put away or divorced the “guilty” party because of and based upon the fornication.

  4. Thereafter the “innocent” party remarries, becoming one with the new spouse.

  5. The conclusion reached is that the “guilty” party may now remarry without being guilty of adultery (or with the prior sin having been forgiven) because of and as a result of the “innocent” party’s having done what all in the discussion agree that scripture permits the “innocent” party to do.

That conclusion is both illogical and unscriptural for at least the following reasons.

  1. The scripture says, “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.” As promised above, the use of the term “adultery” becomes important. What the “guilty” party initially commits in to “adultery,” but “fornication.” That act permits divorce, but does not require it. The two may reconcile, continue married, and no adultery has occurred. Neither of them, being innocent can remarry without committing adultery. Notice that two steps are required to be guilty of adultery – putting away AND marrying another. Two eligible people have become ineligible. However, they are not required to remain unmarried. They have one other choice. “10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10–11).

  2. In the case at hand the putting away has been for fornication. Thus the “innocent” party is eligible to remarry; the “guilty” party is ineligible.

  3. Now under the hypothetical argument the “innocent” party remarries. Although not stated, presumably the “Innocent” party’s second marriage is to one who is also eligible. This leads the proponent’s to conclude that, because the second marriage makes the two as one in the sight of man and of God, the “guilty” party is now free to marry.

  4. There is absolutely no scripture to support this conclusion nor can there be. Should there be such a scripture it would contradict everything that the scripture says about marriage and divorce.

  5. The putting away must be done by the “innocent” party (put away his wife, except it be for fornication). Though expressed in the masculine it applies both ways. (This is not to suggest that the “innocent” party must always be the Complainant in the divorce proceeding.)

  6. The next step is that adultery follows upon remarriage “except” the putting away was caused by fornication. There is an exception to the law barring remarriage for the “innocent” party.

  7. Where in this passage or in any other is there an exception for the “guilty” party? The answer given is Matthew 19:5–6: “5 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? 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” In the context Christ is telling the Pharisees what God did and intended “in the beginning” – one man and one woman for life. In this hypothetical what God intended has already been breached. In vv. 8–9 Christ is answering a second question, explaining that what was done in Moses’ day was no longer valid. Christ invoked the original intent of the creation. (For a fuller discussion of this subject, see Class: Questions, Lesson 2, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage.)

  8. The original intent of God did not address divorce because it was not within his purpose. Christ did not change the original intent of creation; he stated what happened when God’s original purpose was not followed. In that statement Christ declared that God would not punish the innocent. Where in this entire discussion is there any declaration that God would not punish the guilty?

  9. If it is argued that God has punished the guilty because the guilty cannot remarry unless and until the innocent party remarries, still another question must be answered. Where under any circumstances does the scripture support to any degree the proposition that God will forgive the sin of the guilty of any sin upon the condition that the innocent exercise a God-given right? Such a concept can only make sense to those who are searching for a way to justify either their conduct or the conduct of family or friends.

  10. What the proponents really argue is that the cause of the divorce really makes no difference if the “guilty” party can just wait long enough. There need be no repentance. There need be no seeking forgiveness. There only needs to be the marriage of the innocent party. True, Romans 7 frees a wife from the law of the husband upon the husband’s death that she might be married to another. (Like Matthew 19, this applies both ways in the sense that after death the surviving spouse is free to marry another eligible person.) It is impossible to make the case on Romans 7 that a divorced “guilty” party can remarry after the death of an “innocent” spouse. Paul uses the feminine here because it is his purpose to illustrate the relationship of the Jews to the Law of Moses. Christ fulfilled it (Matt. 5:17) and nailed it to the tree (Col. 2:14), freeing them to be “married” to his law. No divorce was in view and neither here nor elsewhere does scripture even hint that an unfaithful fornicator is freed from God’s law of marriage, including its application to divorce, upon either the remarriage or death of an innocent spouse (see also 1 Cor. 7:39).

  11. One last question. What would happen if the “innocent” party remarried to an ineligible person in the same status as the “guilty” party? Under the logic of the proponents would the “guilty” spouse not be freed to remarry? If proponents’ argument is correct the answer has to be “Yes.” After all, the innocent’ party’s new spouse is recognized by God to be her husband and thus “one flesh.” We know this to be the case because Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that she had had “five husbands” and was then living with one not her husband (John 4:18). If God had not recognized the marriages Christ would not have called them “husbands”. Once again we are in a waiting contest. In this case the “guilty” party won the contest, is pardoned from his unfaithfulness and marriage restrictions and is entitled to remarry. He has become the innocent party while the innocent spouse has become guilty. Talk about reversals. The innocent has become the sinner and by that sin has freed the guilty. Who can believe it? Certainly not anyone who knows and believes the scripture and has the ability to think logically.

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)