Divorce and Remarriage
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015
The prevalence of divorce and remarriage in our society has not left the church untouched. Most congregations include members or constituents whose families have undergone restructuring. Nevertheless, some Christians condemn all divorce and remarriage, appealing to Jesus’ statements, such as the one in Mark’s gospel:1
Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. (Mark 10:11)However attractive it may be to have a clear delineation of right and wrong, few issues lend themselves to either-or categories, and any treatment of marital relationships must include other passages in the biblical text that argue for a more nuanced position or that offer more information.2 The parallel account in Matthew, for example, has a more complete transcript of Jesus’ words:3
Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery. (Matt 19:9)In light of the limited information these few passages offer, therefore, it is necessary to conduct a broader survey to understand God’s perspective on the issues of divorce and remarriage.
A. According to MosesWhen God instituted marriage, His intention was that it be permanent. Some Pharisees question Jesus on this matter, and he refers them to Genesis:4
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ [Gen 1:27] and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ [Gen 2:24]? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matt 19:4-6)They press him further, and Jesus indicates that God allowed divorce as a concession to man’s sinful nature:5
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” (Matt 19:7-8)Jesus acknowledges that sin has altered the edenic model of marriage and that the original permanence of the union is subject to revision. The contrast here is between God’s perfect will and His permissive will, between what He approves and what He allows (so also Davies 1997:14).6 On the one hand, God states, “I hate divorce” (Mal 2:16), but, on the other hand, He speaks about divorcing Israel for the nation’s unfaithfulness.7 God recognizes that a marriage might fail because one or both parties undermine it.8 So as not to make a bad situation worse, He provides for the formal dissolution of a marriage contract through the issuing of a “certificate of divorce,” called a get:9