There are three biblical views of marriage that most churches hold to. These views are:
Permanence: Divorce and remarriage are never lawful.
Semi-Permanence: Divorce is permitted but remarriage is not*
Permissive: Divorce and remarriage is lawful*
*note: Within the permission of scripture and only under the conditions of adultery and sometimes when an unbelieving spouse leaves a believer.
What must be stated from the beginning is that most everyone who holds to these positions do so with the understanding that these sins are forgivable and are not perpetual. Meaning, if you have been divorced and remarried, you are able to repent and live continually in a blessed covenant.
There are a few things we have to understand before we can address the topic of divorce and remarriage. The first thing is that the marriage covenant is a type of relationship that not only glorifies God but shows us his nature in relation to us. (Ephesians 5:25-27, John 3:29). Marriage is given by God to us and is never meant to be separated or torn apart. (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6). God esteems marriage and deals with marriages differently than He does with those who aren’t married. (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6)
I will submit to you that if we considered marriage to be permanent and divorce/remarriage as out of the question, people would take much more care and concern before considering whom and when to marry. In Matthew 5 we see how serious God takes our vows and oaths before Him and each other. Even today we see an oath included in our marriage vows and typically included “in sickness and in health”, “for richer or poorer” and “to death do us part”.
There are several verses in the Old and New Testaments that discuss divorce and remarriage. The laws that discuss divorce are what we would call “Civil Law”, meaning that after the Lord had given Moses the Commandments, the civil, moral and ceremonial laws were then established. They were ways for the people to understand and mitigate day to day life issues such as what to wear, how to live etc…
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord.”
During Jesus’ time on Earth there were two Jewish trains of thought regarding divorce. One in which divorce was only permissible in the case of adultery and the other was for any reason at all. If the husband were dissatisfied with his wife, he could divorce her for no cause. This was an ongoing debate even in the Pharisee’s as we see when they approached Jesus to challenge what Jesus knew of the Jewish law concerning divorce as seen in Matthew 19:3-9:
“And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
It must be noted that the book of Matthew was written to the Jewish people to understand the life and ministry of Jesus. We know this by many reasons but specifically that this book uses the genealogy of Jesus when the other gospels do not. The Israelite people would understand the genealogy as they would understand Mosaic law better than the gentiles. That is why only the Gospel of Matthew mentions what we would call the “exception clause” in Jesus’ statement on divorce in remarriage.
Because those who hold to the position of semi-permanence and permissive use this verse in Matthew as justification for divorce and sometimes remarriage we need to break down the verse to read it through exegesis.
The Pharisee’s first ask Jesus, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” Understanding the common debate of the day, they wanted to know where Jesus stood on the issues and hoped to trap Him with their question. His answer to them was incredibly simple:
“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
From this verse alone one can gather the significance of what marriage means to God. Not only is it incredibly significant that the two become one flesh, but that no man can separate what God has put together. If marriage is to be the vehicle in which God describes His relationship to His church i.e., us and Christ, then there is great emphasis put on the idea of marriage being permanent and forever.
The Pharisee’s then asked a second question. “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”. They are now asking specifically that if God had created marriage and it was never meant to be separated, why did Moses command them to give a letter. We must be careful to understand that Moses never commanded this of the people, Moses allowed for divorce but it was Moses and not God that allowed this. This is the same idea as when Paul says “this is of the Lord” or “this is my command”. Jesus even clarifies this for us by saying “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”
We see that God had permitted Moses to make decisions in the instances of civil and moral law based on the Commandments but they were never God’s perfect intention. Jesus then continues on addressing what Moses had allowed by saying “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Pay close attention to the words in bold. The word here used for sexual immorality is the Greek word Porneia which is not a word that is used by Jesus any other time when addressing adultery or fornication. Jesus was not addressing a new understanding of the law of divorce, he was addressing Jewish Betrothal law. Betrothal law was almost as significant as marriage during this time. The Jews understood this in that Joseph could have left Mary when she became pregnant because she had broken the Betrothal law and he would have been justified in doing so according to Mosaic law. Which is why Matthew makes mention in Matthew 1 of what Joseph’s options were when faced with what would have been considered a violation of Mosaic law.
We must also be careful to notice that no other time in discussing divorce in the New Testament do we ever see the “exception clause”. Even in the other gospel accounts it is no where to be found. The exception clause which allowed for divorce was temporary under Mosaic law and that is clear by Jesus’ own words in that divorce was not how “it should be”. In fact, in Mark 2:11-12 He states, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery”. Why leave this out of Matthews account? Because it was already implied that Jesus did not support divorce or find it to be allowable.
Paul understood this later in Romans 7:2-3 when he said “for example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.
And later in 1 Corinthians 7:10-12:
“To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.”
Now, I must end this article with a reiteration of the fact that the act of adultery in these passages referring to the one who is divorced and remarried is just that, a singular act and can be repented of. I don’t say this that you may have the excuse to go and marry and divorce as you please because you can repent of it later, but to say that there is no scriptural interpretation that makes the adulterous sin perpetual.
For my last example through scripture in John 4:16-18 Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well who has had many husbands. He spoke to her saying “Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
Our Lord does not admonish her for living in adultery, but refers to each husband in the past tense. He even states that she was not with her husband, referring not to the man she was currently with, but her first husband. If this had been an issue for Christ He would have said “you have 5 husbands” (polyandry). Instead He said, you have had 5.
I pray this blesses you as I have taken a lot of time to put it together. Also know that I do not look down upon those who hold to different divorce beliefs, but this is the reason that I hold to a Permanence view of marriage.