Divorce & Remarriage (Bible Study) – Part 1

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
When I moved from my home town of Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania to Nashville, Tennessee to attend Belmont University in the fall of 1990, I experienced unanticipated culture shock as my life in the land of nominal Christianity gave way to life in the Bible Belt. Thrilled to be among other Christians my age, I immersed myself in conservative Protestant doctrine and lifestyle, and I learned the verses upon which they were based. One of those verses was, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery [Luke 16:18].”
As a young man looking for a wife, these verses convinced me that marrying a divorced woman was the worst thing I could do, because every time I made love to her, adultery would result. I feared that marrying a divorced woman would force me to live in sin for the rest of my life and risk eternal hellfire.
Nonetheless, most conservative Protestant churches allowed remarriage of the divorced. Their only defense of this practice was to say that mercy allowed those who committed the sin of divorce to remarry. Like many Bible-believing Christians, I disagreed with them, because Luke 16:18 didn’t label the divorce as sin, but the remarriage. So I believed that churches intentionally sinned by performing second marriages in the name of grace, because Romans 6:1 says, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?”
This thinking dominated my pursuit of women for many years and forced me to leave divorced women to their loneliness. But thanks to my study of this issue by applying the Every-Verse Method to it, the Bible has since changed my beliefs.

Leviticus 21:7, “They [priests] shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled; neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband. For they are holy to their God…”
Leviticus 21:13-14, “He [the priest] shall marry only a woman who is a virgin. A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, a prostitute, these he shall not marry. He shall marry a virgin of his own kin.”
Context: Chapter 21 contains various laws that apply only to priests.
Analysis: These commands only apply to priests. They do not apply to Protestant Christians, because Jesus is our eternal high priest. Priests had the job of seeking atonement for the sins of their people, and Jesus now does that for us. None of us are seen as priests in God’s eyes—saints maybe, but not priests.
We could look at these verses and argue that the holiest marriage is to a virgin, and we Christians need to strive for that, because the New Testament tells Christians to be holy. But to be holy is to obey the law (in Leviticus 19:2, God presents the law to the Israelites with the reasoning, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”) And no statement in the law declares that it’s a sin for any non-priest (that would be all of us) to marry someone who is divorced, widowed, or defiled by prostitution.
The difference between God’s laws for the priests and His laws for the common people demonstrates that God sees a difference between sin and imperfection. A sin occurs any time we break God’s laws. Sins invoke God’s wrath, and the wages of sin is death. Imperfections, on the other hand, fall short of God’s original design. They are not sins, and there exists no punishment for them. By these verses, we can determine that it’s God’s design for everyone to be virgins until married, but that it’s okay to marry anyone who is divorced, widowed, or defiled by prostitution.
Some Christians might oppose this point by quoting Matthew 5:48, which says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.” However, if we apply the Every-Verse Method to this argument, we find that no other verse in the Bible tells us to be perfect as God is, but that many tell us to avoid sin. Since being as perfect as God is impossible, we must conclude that Jesus made this statement to convince His listeners that they could not hope to please God through their own efforts; their only hope for justification was the grace that would ultimately come through Jesus.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4, “Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her [‘indecency’ in the NASB], and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who marries her dies); her first husband who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord…”
Context: Chapter 24 is another collection of miscellaneous laws.
Analysis: This passage is the one that Jesus’ opponents reference in Matthew 19:7. Jesus’ response of, “whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery,” is consistent with this verse referring to a man divorcing his wife “because he finds something objectionable about her [‘indecency’ in the NASB].” This verse allows a man to divorce his wife only if she has done something indecent, not for any reason whatsoever.
This verse does, however, allow for remarriage of women who have been divorced. If remarriage were a sin, a severe punishment would be required for it (for example, adultery was punishable by death), but that is not the case here. What is a sin, according to this verse, is when a twice-divorced woman returns to her original husband for re-marriage. It’s uncertain why this is a sin. Perhaps it’s because going from one man to another and back again is similar to a woman committing adultery and returning to her husband.

Ezra 10:10-11, “Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, ‘You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.’”
Context: The princes of Israel approached Ezra, informing him of how so many of the Israelites had been sinning by marrying non-Israelites.
Analysis: The princes’ concern was “that the holy race had intermingled with the people of the lands.” While we cannot find any verses in which God opposes inter-marrying due to racial objectives, we do know that He opposed inter-marrying with other faiths.
Surprisingly, people were told to separate from their wives—the equivalent of divorce. We cannot be sure, however, whether or not God was speaking through Ezra at this point in time. We know that Ezra was His prophet, but we cannot assume that every word proceeding from Ezra’s mouth was God’s word. Ezra didn’t say that God gave this command.

Jeremiah 3:1, “‘If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not such a land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?’ says the Lord.”
Context: Through the prophet Jeremiah, God compares the unfaithful Israelites to a woman who leaves her husband, marries another man, and then returns to her first husband. This verse is not intended to be about an individual’s sexual conduct, but is one of many prophetic verses comparing the unfaithfulness of the Israelites to the sexual unfaithfulness of an individual.
Analysis: This quote lends support to Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

Malachi 2:14-16, “Because the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves; and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, say the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.”
Context: God’s explains why He looks upon the sacrifices of the Jews with disfavor.
Analysis: Even though this is the first verse of the Bible in which God says that He hates divorce, that doesn’t mean He didn’t hate it all along. He only allowed it in Deuteronomy when the wife did something indecent. God never allowed no-fault divorce.