What Does the Bible Teach about Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage?
The Beginning of Marriage. In the Garden of Eden, the LORD God “formed man of the dust of ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). After making man, the LORD God determined that “it was not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) and created woman from the rib of man (Genesis 2:22). The LORD God brought the woman to the man so that she would be a “helper” (עֵזֶר) suitable for him (Genesis 2:18). Therefore, from the beginning, God joined man and woman together so that they would become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Jesus taught that “what God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6).
Christian Marriage. God designed marriage for men and women ready to leave their parents and establish a new life together in Christ (Genesis 2:24; cf. Genesis 24:58). Because marriage joins together two separate creatures into “one flesh,” a Christian should never marry a non-Christian (2 Corinthians 6:14). In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, God explains the reasons for this union of a male Christian and female Christian in marriage.
First, God explains the lack of partnership (“μετοχὴ“) between believers and unbelievers. Righteousness indwells the believer while lawlessness rules the unbeliever. God ordained a partnership of two righteous believers, but by nature the righteous cannot be joined to the lawless (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Second, just as believers and unbelievers cannot have partnership, so also they cannot have fellowship (“κοινωνία“) together. God extends His fellowship to believers, and then allows believers to have fellowship with each other through Him (1 John 1:1-4). Fellowship exists in the light of God, and the darkness cannot comprehend it (1 John 1:5-7; John 1:4-5). Unbelievers dwell in darkness, and light cannot have fellowship with darkness. Therefore, the believer, a child of light, cannot have fellowship with an unbeliever, a child of darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14). The believer has been transferred out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 1:13). God instituted marriage to be a source of closest fellowship. An unbeliever can never know the fellowship with God enjoyed by every believer and shared among believers.
Third, unbelievers cannot live in harmony (“συμφώνησις“) with believers just as Christ cannot have harmony with Belial (Satan). Harmony here may be pictured as a melodious blending of two distinct voices, joining together to make one beautiful song. The believer has been born again in Christ (John 3:5-8; Romans 8:9) and claims God as Father (Romans 8:14), while unbelievers descend from their father the Devil (John 8: 44). Unbelievers do the works of the Devil, while believers do the works of Christ (Ephesians 2:10).
Fourth, believers have nothing in common (“μερὶς“) with unbelievers. Even as Christ forms the ground of partnership, fellowship, and harmony, so also He provides unity in marriage. God draws upon the thought that Christians form one cohesive whole in marriage by drawing together two parts into one whole. In contrast, an unbeliever has no part in Christ. Without Christ, the unbeliever has nothing in common with the believer (2 Corinthians 6:15) and everything in common with Satan.
Fifth, believers are the temple of the living God. God lives in the believer, and dwells in them and walks with them (2 Corinthians 6: 16). God explicitly commands His people to live separately from unbelievers, and never touch anything unclean (2 Corinthians 6:17). Then, God will welcome them as Father, and they will be sons and daughters to Him (2 Corinthians 6:18). God concludes His warning against marrying unbelievers with a direct command to live separated to God, as His child, looking to Him as Father.
Divorce. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Jesus taught that no one should separate a man and a woman God has joined together in marriage (Matthew 19:4-6). Jesus explained that Moses permitted divorce for the hard of heart. Make no mistake: according to Jesus, only the hard-hearted person divorces a believing spouse. Hardness of heart is always sinful. Therefore, let no one tell you that you can divorce your believing spouse and not sin. Jesus elaborated on the basic teaching by adding that divorce leads to adultery when a party remarries, with one exception. Keep in mind divorce always represents sinful activity brought on by a hardened heart. Now, if you divorce and remarry, then you add another sin to your hard heart sin. If you divorce a believer for any reason other than immorality, then you add the sin of immorality to hardness of heart when you remarry. In this passage, the term “immorality” (“πορνείᾳ“) includes all sexual acts with anyone other than your spouse, such as prostitution, homosexuality, fornication, and intercourse. Jesus never intended every believer to divorce a spouse guilty of immorality, but rather told the hard of heart they were not adding the sin of adultery to their sin of hardness of heart, if they divorced because of immorality and then remarried. They were still sinful because of their hard heart. They would just avoid the further sin of adultery if they remarried after divorcing over immorality. Please recall that Jesus set the bar very high when He described adultery. He told His disciples that every man who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).
Desertion. God has also provided guidance for believers married to unbelievers. While God never intends a believer to marry an unbeliever, many people come to Christ after they marry. If an unbelieving spouse desires to continue the marriage to the believer, then the believer should stay married, even under those less than ideal conditions (1 Corinthians 7:12). God tells believers that they sanctify their spouse, and the children of the marriage are holy. If the unbeliever decides to leave the believer, then the believer should let them leave, because God has called the believer to peace (2 Corinthians 7:15). The believer, deserted by the unbelieving spouse, is not under bondage, but may remarry (2 Corinthians 7:15). Remember, though, as long as the unbeliever stays, the believing spouse may see the unbelieving spouse come to Christ (2 Corinthians 7:16).
Separation. God prohibits a wife from leaving her husband, and likewise the husband should not divorce his wife (2 Corinthians 7:10-11). A woman, however, may separate from her husband, but must remain unmarried (2 Corinthians 7:11). She may also seek reconciliation with her husband. Separation may be the best remedy in cases of spousal abuse, sexual immorality, or other egregious sin posing a danger to the innocent spouse. God does not command separation, but permits it.
Interlocking. These distinct passages connect to each other. For example, when a believer separates from an abusive spouse, the spouse may commit adultery during the separation. Then, if the innocent spouse has a hard, sinful heart, then if the innocent spouse divorces and remarries, the innocent spouse has not added the sin of adultery to the sins of divorce and hardness of heart. Jesus describes all divorce as sinful because it flows from a hard heart. Likewise, the sanctifying work on spouses and children continues even during miserable marriages. When a husband disobeys the Word of God, the wife should remain submissive, and win him without a word, testifying to the husband through her chaste and submissive behavior (1 Peter 3:1-2). Husbands, for their part, must love their wives as Christ loved the church, and nourish and cherish their wives (Ephesians 5:25-30).