A Divorce and Remarriage FAQ
Throughout this issue, we have attempted to answer some of the more pertinent questions which arise in a Biblical discussion of marriage, divorce and remarriage. It should be obvious to all that we cannot deal with every question involving every difficult situation in which people may find themselves. However, we realize there may be other questions needing answers. In the format the Internet has popularized (FAQ standing for "Frequently Asked Questions") a few such questions follow.
Must the innocent party divorce the spouse guilty of fornication?
Certainly not. Fornication does not dissolve marriage, but instead gives the innocent party the right to dissolve the marriage. They are not obligated to do so. In fact, it could be a great lesson in forgiveness if they choose not to divorce.
Must a Christian take back a mate guilty of fornication in order to forgive?
The question arises from a misunderstanding of the difference between sin and the consequences of sin. For instance, it is true that a murderer may be forgiven of his dreadful act, even by the family of the murder victim. It is also true that the murderer may still have to spend time in prison or even face death by capital punishment, and that sentence may be due to testimony given by those who have forgiven him. Forgiveness of sin does not absolve one of the consequences of that sin. Likewise, the innocent party may forgive a mate of fornication, but because of the mental anguish caused by such a betrayal, may not be able to receive them back as a mate. Divorce is still the right of the innocent party and may be the consequences the fornicator pays for sin.
If the marriage bond is broken by God in a scriptural divorce, can the guilty party remarry, since they are no longer bound?
Again, this is a misunderstanding. God allows the innocent party to dissolve the marriage, and frees them (the innocent) from their bond. The bond remains for the guilty. The guilty party who remarries is then guilty of adultery (Matt. 19:9).
Does Matthew 19 really give anyone the right to remarry, or does it just give the innocent the right to divorce?
Matthew 19 discusses remarriage as much as divorce. Where there is no remarriage, there is no resulting adultery for the guilty. Therefore, when Jesus says, "Whoever divorces . . . except for fornication, and marries another . . . commits adultery," it is implicit in the statement that one who divorces for fornication and marries another does not commit adultery.
Since all the passages dealing with this problem are addressed to men divorcing women, can a woman divorce her mate if he is guilty of fornication?
Clearly, this is just a question of semantics. Mark 10:10-12 addresses the woman who divorces and remarries without proper cause (fornication) and puts her actions in the dissolving of a marriage equal with that of the man. Granted, Mark 10 does not mention the exception, but Jesus' teaching on this matter must be gathered from all sources (thus Matthew as well). In addition, there are other passages in the New Testament addressed to "men" which are really addressed to all (see Gal. 6:1; Matt. 5:27-28). Therefore, we must conclude a woman whose husband commits fornication has scriptural right to divorce him and marry another.
What about the one who is innocent, but a sinful mate "puts them away?"
Jesus gives the right to remarry only to those who "put away" their mate for fornication. If one is "put away" and then remarries, they commit adultery. Therefore, if an innocent party is "put away" for incompatibility, they commit adultery if they remarry.
Why is this issue so much debated recently?
It is clear that we have let worldly ideas about marriage and divorce influence our lives as Christians. Many people seek for "ways out" for loved ones and friends who find themselves divorced without proper cause. As Christians, it is important to stand for what is right and true, even when "the truth hurts." We do not wish for anyone to have to suffer the lonely life of a "eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven," but we recognize that this is far better than being lost. Our desire to stand on the scripture compels us to continue to debate this vital issue with those who would distort His word.