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The following question came to me via the Question Box on our church website, www.Plymouth-church.com. I believe it is of general interest, so I share my answer with you.

Is it Scriptural for a woman to divorce her husband if he is unfaithful and marry another man? I know that it is scriptural for a divorce if the reason is infidelity but I am wondering if it is biblical if the woman gets married to another man who is faithful while the unfaithful husband is living.

In the Old Testament, one purpose of a divorce was to permit the divorced person to marry again, whether this was the man or the woman. (Originally, women could not divorce their husbands; only men could initiate a divorce.) You can see this in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. After the divorce, either party could marry again without being guilty of adultery. The prohibition in Deuteronomy 24 is against the wife returning to her first husband if her second husband divorced her or died. Either of the divorced partners was free to marry again, even though the general law was that if a woman married a second man while her husband was alive, she would be called an adulteress (see Romans 7:1). This suggests to us that a divorced person was not considered “married,” but was “divorced” – much as in our legal system today.

In the New Testament, when Jesus spoke of divorce in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, he used a compound Greek word formed from the two words, apo (from) and luo (to loose). The literal meaning of this word, translated divorce, is to loose from or to be loosed from another. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul discussed several marital statuses: married (vv. 2-7), unmarried (vv. 8-9), believer & non-believer married (vv. 12-16), virgins (v. 25 & vv. 34-38), those loosed from a wife (vv. 27-28), and widows/widowers (vv. 39-40). For one to be loosed from a wife, he would have to have had a wife.

When he spoke of those “loosed from a wife,” he used the same two words Jesus used for divorce, except that he used two words while Jesus used a compound word. The only ways a man could be loosed from a wife would be to be a widower or a divorced man. Since (1) Paul used similar language as that Jesus used for divorce to describe this man and (2) since he went on to talk about widows later in the chapter, I believe the man “loosed from a wife” was a divorced man, not a widower.

In 1 Corinthians 7:28, Paul said that, while the man “loosed from a wife” should not seek a wife, he does not sin if he does marry. The reason for him not seeking a wife would be the same reason Paul gave for a single person of any kind (never married or widowed) being better off remaining as they were. That was, as he put it in v. 26, because of the present distress. In 1 Corinthians 7:2 & again in 7:9 he gave a strong reason some people should be married. Paul was not an enemy of marriage, as some maintain. He simply realized that marriage was not always right for every person at every time.

With these Biblical teachings in mind, let’s apply them to your question. “Is it o.k. for the faithful spouse to remarry while the unfaithful former spouse is still living?” The answer is that the divorce has broken the marriage (or more correctly, has formally ended the marriage that was already broken by unfaithfulness). The marriage does not exist any longer. Hence, the answer to your question is that it is permitted.

I realize that some churches teach that a divorced person may not remarry, regardless of the cause of the divorce or the guilt or innocence of the person. However, the teachings of the Scriptures are not nearly as harsh on the subject of divorce as many people are.

Few people realize that God Himself “divorced” Israel, His unfaithful “spouse” and married Israel’s sister, Judah (see Isaiah 50:1 & 62:4-5).

Isa 62:4 Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. (5) For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee. – KJV

This last passage describes the time when God would again be “married” to His people, and they would no longer be “Forsaken” and their land “Desolate.” Instead, God would delight in them as a young man delights in his bride, and “thy land shall be married.” The word for married here is the word used for Beulah earlier in verse 4.

God hates divorce (see Malachi 2:16) because it hurts everyone concerned: the couple themselves, their children, their families, and society in general. Yet, God makes gracious provision for those who are divorced through His grace and mercy. Certainly, divorce is no light thing. It violates God’s ideal for marriage, which should be a life-long commitment. Yet, even God suffered through a divorce. He has compassion on His children who suffer similarly.

I trust these few thoughts from the Word of God will help you with your question.

2 Responses

  1. I think you are right on with this answer.

    Bobby D

  2. Bobby,

    Thank you for your kind words. Usually, we assume that if a divorce is scriptural a later marriage is scriptural. This woman wanted to know if, even though her divorce was biblical, it would still be alright for her to marry again. For this reason, I was a little more thorough than the question appears to require.


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