Marriage & Divorce

what the bible says about marriage and divorce
There are few areas of life where more harm has been inflicted on hurting souls by ministers themselves than in the turbulent and delicate area of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. A sound, biblical discussion of this important area of life.
Right click here to download the pdf version of "Marriage and Divorce".

Marriage and Divorce

Chapter Two:

Married Believers

Separation and Divorce Among Believers

If divorce involves two believers, remarriage is forbidden except under special circumstances. Reconciliation is possible; two separated believers do not have to remain separated. But in general, remarriage to others is not permitted to believers who divorce. They must remain single until death, or be reconciled to one another.

An Old Testament commandment helps us understand the mind of Christ in this matter. Under the Law of Moses, God forbade a man to marry his wife’s sister while his wife was still living (Lev. 18:18). If he had married his wife’s sister while his wife was living, it would have been considered incest. In this New Testament, if a believing man divorces a believing woman and then marries another believing woman, he would be doing precisely what Moses forbade Israelites to do. He would be marrying his wife’s sister in Christ, thus causing unnecessary conflict in the family of God. Moreover, if you, as a believing man, divorce your believing wife and marry another believer, not only have you committed incest with your living wife’s sister in the Lord, you have committed adultery against your wife, thus giving her grounds upon which she may remarry.

The reconciliation of separated couples is permitted only if neither of them has married and divorced someone else during the separation (Deut. 24:1-4). God in no way endorses rotating marriage partners. The institution of marriage is a divinely ordained institution, and it should be entered into with all sincerity and commitment. Anything less than that is ungodly and unworthy of the blessing of Christ. In the world to come, marriage and reproduction will be forgotten experiences, “for in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage” (Mt. 22:30), but until then, marriage between believers is for life.

When Jesus spoke concerning marriage and divorce, he was referring only to marriage between two children of God. Jesus never spoke to the issue of a believer married to an unbeliever. Neither did he, nor Paul, nor any other biblical writer, ever give any instructions concerning marriage to sinners in the world at large. And even when Paul gave instructions for a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever, he never spoke to the unbeliever. His instructions were written to the believer alone. And his instructions for saints married to sinners differed from his instructions for saints married to other saints.

When Paul wrote concerning believers married to one another, his instructions were identical to Jesus’ instructions. In fact, Paul merely repeated the Master’s words (1Cor. 7:10 with Mt. 19:3-9). He said, as Jesus did, that believers who divorce may never remarry.

But what, one may wonder, if one of the married believers abandons faith in Christ as well as abandoning his believing spouse? This may be a controversial stance to take, but I have come to believe that remaining faithful to the marriage covenant entails more than simply refraining from the physical act of adultery.

No one is more practical than God. In a sense, no one is more “down to earth” than Jesus. The Lord knows that there will be cases when a believer “backslides” and departs from the faith, becoming in effect, an unbeliever again. Surely, God has made provision for the believer to divorce the fallen one and remarry. I cannot believe that the Lord requires any believer to endure endless abuse and degradation at the hands of a spouse who has cast off his faith and returned to the vomit of sin. If a believing husband sets his heart on the pleasures and possessions of this world and refuses to repent, his believing wife must be free to pursue eternal life alone or, if she desires, with another mate in Christ. Such a man is a reprobate, a reject of the kingdom of God (Tit. 3:10), and a faithful woman in Christ cannot be required to spend her life in loneliness because of her unfaithful husband’s apostasy.

This is not to suggest that if your spouse errs from the faith, you are given license to forsake him or her. The privilege, in certain extreme conditions, for you to remarry even if you are divorced from a believer should not be used as an excuse to give up on your spouse.

Divorce is not to be used as an escape from responsibility. The love of God forbids that. In all cases, as Paul noted, “God has called us to peace.” If your believing husband becomes slack in the faith, methods are given in the Scriptures for you to help the Lord win him again to the right way. Peter wrote to women who find themselves in such a case: “You wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, so that if any obey not the word, they may without the word be won by the conduct of the wives, while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear” (1Pet. 3:1-2).

Divorce is not the answer for a believing couple. Reconciliation, through patience and forgiveness, is. To both husbands and wives, and the whole Assembly of God, Peter continues by saying, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous, not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing – on the contrary, blessing – knowing that you are called to do that, so that you should inherit a blessing” (1Pet. 3:8-9). If we all do as Peter said to do, there will be no strife among us, and certainly no divorce.

So, if you are the spouse of a backslidden believer, you are required by the love of God to give the backslider time to see the error of his or her way. The only clearly stated exception to this rule is in cases of adultery. If your believing spouse commits adultery, you are at liberty to leave immediately if you choose to do so, and to remarry in the future, as you will.


Whoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery.

Mt. 19:9

Fornication is sexual immorality committed before marriage. Adultery is unfaithfulness to one’s marriage partner. Many ministers say that the Greek word used here for “fornication” (porneia) only refers to “fornication”, and so, adultery is not mentioned by Jesus as acceptable grounds for divorce. They interpret Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:9 to mean that if you discover, after you have married, that your spouse was sexually active before marriage (= fornication), then, and only then, are you free to divorce and marry someone else.

Some of these teachers say that whoever a sinner first commits fornication with is the person to whom that sinner is forever married. I have heard of believers who have been told by such teachers to go find their first partner in fornication and marry them. However, if that first partner in fornication is unwilling to marry the believer who returns to him, then the poor believer is forever bound to loneliness. That is utter nonsense; it is not godly counsel.

Now, I agree that if you marry, and then discover that your mate was not truthful with you concerning pre-nuptial fornication, you have every right to dissolve the marriage. In ancient Israel, God even commanded the death penalty for such deception (Deut. 22:13-21). But to suggest that the Greek word in Matthew 19:9 refers only to fornication and that adultery is no grounds for divorce, is wrong.

First of all, the Greek word translated “fornication” in both Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 (porneia) can refer to any manner of moral uncleanness. To quote from a world-renowned Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament, this word, porneia, refers to “every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse.”

Secondly, Jesus sent us the Spirit to guide us into all truth so that we would know better than to force a woman to stay with a man who is an adulterer. Have we no more common sense or knowledge of God than that? If one argues that the Scriptures are unclear at this point, let me argue that the Spirit is not.


Believers married to believers are permitted to separate and divorce, but if they divorce for any reasons other than infidelity to the marriage vows, they may not marry another (however, they may be reconciled to each other). The only possible exception to this rigid rule is if one of the believers in a marriage becomes unfaithful to Christ and stubbornly refuses, over a period of time, to turn from his or her wickedness. The suffering spouse will, at some point, be free to continue in the faith as he or she will, either alone or with another mate in Christ. There is no scripturally prescribed “time limit” for patience on the part of the suffering spouse; therefore, only by knowing the Spirit of God can you know when your wayward spouse has rejected God’s last call.

In cases of gross moral uncleanness, whether physical, emotional, or mental, an abused believer is free to divorce immediately, with liberty to remarry. He or she is also free to decide to forgive the repentant spouse and stay in the marriage. It is altogether the choice of the offended spouse.