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Unraveling the Tangle of Divorce

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Ralph Sorter

            Divorce is painful.  It’s painful to experience rejection from the one who once told you, “I love you” over and over again.  It tears apart those original commitment bonds.  It separates families, and the extended family puts up barriers towards the one they once embraced.  Divorce wasn’t in the original design of God.  Scripture even says He hates it (Mal. 2:16).  But because it’s so rampant, I thought I would write this short lesson on clarifying what the Bible has to say about the topic.

v     Matt. 19:5-9  Jesus teaches that divorce is an accommodation to man’s sin and is a violation of God’s purpose for the intimate unity of the marriage bond (Gen. 2:24).  Divorce happens because of the hardness of our hearts, but it is permitted for the protection of the innocent party, but it is not part of God’s original plan for marriage.

v     Matt. 5:32; 19:9; 1 Cor. 5:1; 7:12-15; Mk. 10:11-12  The only biblical grounds for divorce are adultery or a nonbelieving partner who initiates the divorce due to incompatibility with a Christian.

v     Matt. 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:15  Remarriage is permitted for the innocent party when the divorce was on biblical grounds.

v     1 Cor. 7:10-11  In cases where the divorce was not for fornication nor a departing nonbeliever, the believer is exhorted to seek reconciliation or remain unmarried.

v     Mk. 10:12  If the divorce was not on biblical grounds, the person who marries a divorcee is considered an adulterer.

v     Matt. 5:32; Mk. 10:11  When one marries a divorcee which was on nonbiblical grounds, that person has committed adultery because God did not recognize the validity of the divorce.

v     1 Cor. 7:15  If one partner remarries after a divorce, the other partner is released from the first marriage bonds and is now free to remarry.

v     This next issue has no clarity from Scripture, but it is how I understand it.  If one remarries after a nonbiblical divorce, is the first intimacy adulterous, or every one thereafter?  I believe it to be the initial act.  Adultery isn’t just the sexual act itself, but the introduction of a third party into the union.  This introduction of the third party is not repeated nor can it be nullified any more than abstinence can restore virginity.  If it were every one thereafter, then they should be counseled to divorce that relationship.  But that is an abomination to God according to Deut. 24:1-4.  Once married, they should confess their sin to God and not divorce, but go on from there with a renewed commitment to the current marriage.

v     1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14  Salvation means that a person begins a new life.  The believer is now responsible to live up to what God has revealed about marriage and divorce from the point of their salvation.  If one is saved while divorced, they are free to remarry, but only to a believer.

v     Deut. 24:1-4; 1 Cor. 7:39; Rom. 7:2  If the innocent party in a divorce is seeking a remarriage, it is preferable that they wait until the other spouse has either remarried (therefore eliminating the possibility of remarriage) or wait until their spouse dies. 

v     1 Cor. 7:12 “But to the rest I say, not the Lord.”  Paul was simply saying that Jesus did not talk about this exception (letting an unbelieving partner depart).  But that does not mean Jesus would not agree with Paul’s conclusion (1 Cor. 7:40)  Paul was a apostle of Jesus (1 Cor. 1:1); he was taught by Jesus through revelation (Ga. 1:12).  Therefore it would be against Paul’s nature to cancel or go beyond what Jesus taught.  Why didn’t Jesus talk of the exception?  Because there were no Christians yet in His audience; no Christian/non-Christian marriages as of yet.

v     1 Cor. 7:14  “Unbelieving mate is sanctified through their believing mate.”  The unbeliever’s commitment to the marriage is enhanced by the believer’s conduct.  The marriage can remain a legitimate marriage in the eyes of God.

v     Rom. 7:4; 1 Cor. 7:15  If one is not bound to the law, he is totally freed from it to belong to another law (Romans); and thus if a person is not bound to an unbeliever who leaves (1 Cor.), that person is free to belong to another.  Rom. 7:27-28  Two ways one is released: death of a spouse, an unbelieving mate who initiates the release.

v     The exception clause implies that there are cases for which remarriage is all right in God’s eyes.  If no one has a right to remarry, why did He state an exception to His rule that remarriage after divorce constitutes adultery? 

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