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What does the Bible teach on the subject of divorce and remarriage?

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The Bible tells us that marriage is a covenant relationship, ordained of God to last a lifetime. Therefore, ministers of the United Church of God counsel our single members to approach marriage with that view in mind, and we encourage our married members to resolve differences and work through difficulties rather than to seek a divorce.

However, we also recognize that some marriages may well end in divorce. The most obvious of these is when one partner simply ceases to perform his or her responsibilities and duties of marriage, and subsequently withdraws from the relationship, whether or not he or she withdraws from the home or initiates divorce proceedings. We read of this type of marriage breakup in 1 Corinthians 7:15 1 Corinthians 7:15But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God has called us to peace.
American King James Version×
. Other problems that might lead to a divorce include criminal or immoral behavior that one does not repent of or is habitual in nature.

Regardless of the reason for a divorce, we want to emphasize that it always brings about additional problems. Sometimes, they are unavoidable.

Concerning remarriage, we approach this matter differently if both parties are members of the Church of God than we do if one or both are not. The apostle Paul makes that distinction in 1 Corinthians 7:10-15 1 Corinthians 7:10-15 10 And to the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. 12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother has a wife that believes not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which has an husband that believes not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God has called us to peace.
American King James Version×
. God here counsels the believer to remain in a marriage if his or her unbelieving spouse wishes to continue it. However, if the marriage breaks up because the unbeliever departs the marriage covenant (which he or she may do while still remaining in the home by refusing to fulfill the fundamental duties and responsibilities of marriage, a subject we elaborate on in counseling), the believer is free to remarry a fellow believer (1 Corinthians 7:39 1 Corinthians 7:39The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
American King James Version×

When a marriage between two believers ends in a divorce, they may or may not be free to remarry. Within the United Church of God, the ministry considers the circumstances that led to the failure of the marriage in order to make a determination in accordance with biblical guidelines (Matthew 5:31-32 Matthew 5:31-32 31 It has been said, Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorce: 32 But I say to you, That whoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery.
American King James Version×
; 19:3-9) whether the people can remarry.

Given your interest in this important topic, you may wish to read our article, “Divorce and Remarriage Within the Church,” which goes into more detail about the technical explanation of the pertinent scriptures than we have here.

For more information, please read our booklet Marriage and Family: The Missing Dimension .

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  • Kathy

    1 Corinthians 7:39 actually reads: A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives; but if he dies, she is then free to marry anyone she wishes but only in the Lord.

    1 Corinthians 7:10-11 reads: 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.

  • brotherobin

    Spot on Kathy. Re-marriage after divorce is adultery, if both parties to the original marriage are still alive.

  • KARS

    I actually did a long study on this and still need some
    clarification. I understand that except for fornication or adultery in a marriage one can divorce. What about one spouse leaving the faith and never wants to come back? They divorce the spouse that is still alive. Does that spouse now live their life for the church, thus remaining single? If they have children it’s going to be a tough road.

  • Kathy


    If both spouses of the covenant marriage are alive, then neither can remarry (without committing adultery). Yes, living for God while one remains single is what Paul says to do. Tough road alone? Possibly, but living according to God’s Word does have its rewards. Additionally, I imagine the grace God affords to those who patiently await the return of their covenant spouse. This is truly beautiful love-love the exists even when it is not reciprocated, love that is not conditional on how one feels. Imagine God’s love toward His wayward children and His joy upon their return home, to Him.

    On another note, there is really no exception clause, at least the way many use it. Matthew was written for a Jewish audience. You may have noticed the many OT prophetic references in Matthew and, in the case of Matthew 9, something having to do with Jewish betrothal custom. You might recall that even Joseph and Mary were called husband and wife before they had consummated the marriage-before the marriage ceremony but after “engagement”. During the betrothal period, the couple may divorce for reasons of fornication. Joseph considered divorcing Mary when he thought she had committed such an act. You see, in Jewish custom betrothal is pretty serious business. In fact, there are witnesses to the engagement and the only way out of the engagement is through divorce. Interesting-to me, at least.

    The other gospels (Mk 10; Lk 16:18), not written for the Jewish audience, do not acknowledge divorce during betrothal because such betrothal customs were not part of their culture. No where does God’s Word indicate that there is ever an “okay” to remarry while a spouse (or former spouse) lives. It is only after a spouse has died that one can remarry without committing adultery (Romans 7).

  • KARS

    Also her is another thing I found out in my study. That if the married couple divorces and his ex remarries someone else;
    if she divorces again she can’t come back to her 1st spouse. This is adultery to God our Father.

  • Kathy

    Are you basing that on Deut 24?

  • KARS

    OK. I just wanted to make sure I had it right. There is much to learn throughout ones life and some of it is hard to grasp at first.

  • brotherobin


    You have ‘not missed the mark’ with this latest comment either. I would go a bit further and say that living for God means remaining faithful to our covenant vows notwithstanding the recalcitrance of a spouse. For a husband at least, love to the point of death. It’s called ‘agape’. Christ died for us. A contrary partner is our “cross”. We must die to self if we truly love God.

    The whole Bible is a book on marriage. In Genesis it was the marriage of Adam and Eve, climaxing in Revelation being the ‘true’ believer’s marriage to Christ. Wise virgins.

    As born again Christians we must die to self when we are ‘baptised’ into Christ. ‘Thy will be done’. Presently we are ‘betrothed’ to Christ. When He calls us ‘home’, our marriage to Him will be consummated. The ‘foolish virgins’ are going to miss the wedding feast.

    At the close of the Old Testament, Malachi 2:16 tells us “… the God of Israel, saith that he hates putting away …” (KJV). Matthew 5:28 quotes Christ saying “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her in his heart.” I have since repented but I have committed this sin since I have been married. So some would say that my partner can ‘put me away’. But who is going to make that judgement? Where’s the proof? Who is going to test the evidence to enable my partner to “put me away”? What happened to the “forgive 70 x 7”? Didn’t our Lord say that?

    God’s Word, the Bible, is perfect. Some would have us believe there is no valid reason for the difference in what Matthew tells us Christ said when he was challenged by Pharises on this issue compared to what Mark & Luke tells us.

    As you say, Matthew is directed towards his countrymen. At 1:19 he tells us that notwithstanding Joseph being a just man, he was of a mind to put his (betrothed) wife away because she was with child and he knew that he had not ‘come together’ with her.

    Matthew is the only gospel that tells us of the virgin birth, so at 5:32 it is appropriate for him (Matthew) to ‘justify’ what he had previously said about Joseph being a ‘just’ man, but, being of a mind to put his wife away.

    Marriage is for life! What God hath joined together, let not man (or woman) put asunder. Did John the Baptist lose his head for nothing? Did the Son of God die on the Cross for nought?

    Praise be to to Our Heavenly Father for His Perfect Word.

  • KARS

    Hi Brotherobin & Kathy,
    I could give you all the scripture references from the New Testament. That is where I found the vast majority of what marriage is all about.

    Has for 7x70, yes we are to forgive all offenses including the ones that cut deep within the heart. Without forgiveness one can become ill both physically and spiritually.
    We all have spiritual sins of the mind. Hidden from view by the naked eye. Only God our Father can see these. That’s why we can’t run or hide. He reads the hearts and minds of all. Through our Savior we are granted repentance and forgiveness.

  • blessmenow

    Divorce; does God want us to stay in a ‘bad’ marriage?

    Dee writes:

    What do you think of Divorce? If a man and his wife are never on the same wavelength, why stay together? If they are always fighting, what’s the point, if “he doesn’t find favor in his eyes for her,” why stay together? Does it mean to be a Christian you have to stay together? Does God expect this ??


    Hello Dee, obviously you are in the midst of a predicament with your marriage. My opinion is unimportant, but what you could benefit from is some Scripture relating to marriage and divorce. Also Dee, I will cover many topics in this answer, so don’t think that I am directing any one thing towards you individually, I am simply answering the question generally for all who may read it.

    First of all, God hates divorce, but second of all, God is also Himself a divorcee having divorced Israel (in a spiritual sense of course). In the Bible, divorce is called “putting away”. And the term “covering of a woman with the skirt” means to marry her. You remember how Ruth had encouraged Boaz to marry her in [Ruth 3:9], she told him to place his skirt (coat, cloak, garment) over her. This is how they married back then. I don’t want to be too blunt, but what they did then was to go into the tent and he covered her with his coat (cloak, skirt, garment) and they consummated the marriage. And it was a binding marriage in the eyes of all, as well as in the eyes of the Lord. They didn’t need to pay some clergy in some church all kinds of money to be married, man added that as he adds many things.

    From the The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary: (click to review)

    SKIRT: Figurative. To raise the skirts of a woman’s garment is a symbol of insult and disgrace [Jer 13:22,26; & Nah 3:5], whereas to cover her with one’s skirt was a token of matrimony [Ruth 3:9].

    And in the below Scripture, we see that God indeed hates divorce:

    Mal 2:16

    16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously. (KJV)

    At the end of this answer study, we will cover the sixteenth chapter of the book of Ezekiel to document God’s marrying of, divorcing from, and promised remarriage to Israel in the eternity. Below is another scripture covering this so as to settle it

  • KARS

    I don’t know if this will help. I know of only 3 reasons for divorce. 1.Fornication, 2. Adultry, and 3. Religious indifference.
    I also found out while studying scripture by both partners consent they can seperate for a while to get their acts together. However, it is not to be for a lengthy time for temptation is just waiting around the corner.

    Here is an example: Prehaps someone needs rehab to strenghten out their life. Maybe they are in prison for making a mistake and would be released later. It could be anything and unless their offense falls in one of the 3 cateogories stated above; there should be no divorce. Otherwise, the spouse will cause his ex to commit adultery if she should marry again.

  • Kathy

    There is actually no Biblical reason to divorce. As Jesus even states from the beginning it wasn’t so; only Moses allowed it. Jesus then goes to show how wrong and not Godly it is by stating that if someone remarries and their prior spouse lives, they are committing adultery. By the way, Boaz and Ruth were not married the night she went and slept at the foot of his bed.

    According to Jewish custom the engagement period known as betrothal was/is quite serious and can truly only be gotten out of by divorce. This divorce occurs before the actual marriage ceremony and can occur due to sexual immorality. Notice that this was exampled in the Bible with Joseph and Mary.

    Again, Matthew, while not the first testament written, was put first in the gospels for a reason. It was written for a Jewish audience.

    If someone has remarried they are committing adultery, if two homosexuals they are committing sin as well-these people should divorce just as those told to do so in Ezra.

  • KARS

    @ Kathy: These are the words from our Savior Jesus Christ.

    Matthew 5:31-32;19:9 “Futhermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” Matt. 5:31-32 NKJV
    Here is what you mentioned Kathy: Mark 10:1-11 which goes along with Luke 16:18.
    I mentioned seperation for a short while; 1 Cor. 7:1-5 it’s not a commandment just advice from the Apostle Paul.

    In verses 10-15 Paul states it is a command from the Lord.
    v.39 “A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” In verse 40 he advices that it would be better to remain unmarried.

  • bornagain82

    I have a question for new believers in Christ. Before I was a Christian, I had a marriage that my spouse ended by filing an annulment. She re-married shortly afterwards. Now that I have accepted Christ, I don’t know where I stand as far as my ability to re-marry.

  • Kathy

    Kars, yes, the words of Jesus are our guide. The Matthew gospel was written to the Jews who practiced betrothal (serious engagement) from which a divorce is/was allowed because the marriage has not been consummated even though man and woman refer to each other as husband and wife during this time.

    To the Greeks, it is written in Mark 10:12 and Luke 16:18 that whosoever marries a divorced person commits adultery and whoseover divorces and marries another commits adultery.

    Bornagain82, to those who have divorced, well, do not remarry. Even in Corinthians to remain unmarried or be reconciled to your husband or wife.

  • KARS

    Greetings bornagain82!
    I have a few suggestions for you if you are truly seeking help. Take it or leave it; it’s your choice.

    1. Place your mouse over the top of the word “Publications” on the tool bar at the top of the page. Then click on “See All Booklets” there you will find a booklet titled, “Marriage and Family:The Missing Dimension”

    2.In the search box above type in “The 5 Love Languages”. This is a book review by Mr. Magee. Who by the way is a newlywed of about one month. He highly recommends this book.
    To find this book you can visit your local library and if you like it then purchase it at your local bookstore.

    Here are scriptures (which my suggestion is) to look up for yourself. My advice is to always look up all scripture references given because after all we are human and make typing mistakes. It is also good to read the Word of God for a solid foundation of beliefs. :o)

    1 Corinthians 7:10 & 15. Verse 11-14 can be used for future references.

    Have a nice day!

  • Kathy

    There are so many beautiful truths in God’s desire for our lives and how we are to serve Him.

    If I may suggest, read Hosea…and think of your wife. She doesn’t realize that she is commiting adutlery in her remarriage, but she is. As her husband, you get a most awesome opportunity to do something you only have the priviledge of doing-praying for her as her one flesh.

    Think on Romans 7 as well and all Jesus’s teaching on the subject. Read over the story of the prodigal son, Luke 15. Remember that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, and you too, will get to sacrifice for your wife during this time. And most likely, God will work on you, as well :-).

  • dmkb
    I challenge each of you to actually learn Gods Word, not what some man taught you or NIV . Go to original context of the bible. Read the concordance, then confront the teaching of false doctrine. For example: Greek #630 “apoluo” and means to send away, Greek #647 “apostasion” which means a bill of divorce; corresponding perfectly to the Hebrew word “keriythuwth.” MARK10:11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 10:12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery. When the term “put away” is used, it is a term that can mean either “illegal” or “legal” divorce. To make you see it for yourself, just look at the definition of “put away” in the greek and you will see it says to literally “send away”. A question for you: If I said to you, “I sent away my wife” would you assume I properly divorced her? So, here, Jesus is saying, just putting away a woman without a legitimate reason (such as “uncleaness”), would cause the woman to commit adultery, if she remarried. As this passage here, is a mirror of Matthew 5:32 Matthew 5:32But I say to you, That whoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery.
    American King James Version×
    (same instance in time). You can see it more clearly, if you put all of Mark chapter 10 in context. IN Mark 10:11-12 Mark 10:11-12 11 And he said to them, Whoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, commits adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she commits adultery.
    American King James Version×
    , the disciples are asking about what was discussed with the pharisees. Jesus did not say “Moses was wrong”. Rather, he said it was permitted or “suffered” because of “hardness of hearts”, which then led to his next statement about God’s original design before the Fall. So, Jesus never contradicts Moses. And, later, the disciples are asking about the discussion and he says, yes, if you divorce (without real cause), it is causing a violation. As remember, the pharisees, tempted him to answer their trick question of getting a divorce for ANY reason. And Jesus was clarifying to the disciples that you can not divorce for any reason. With all these divorce scriptures both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, it uses terms such as “putting away” or “sending away”, as can also be seen in Malachi 2:16 Malachi 2:16For the LORD, the God of Israel, said that he hates putting away: for one covers violence with his garment, said the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that you deal not treacherously.
    American King James Version×
    - “For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: “hates putting away” and shows how the people were dealing “treacherously” with their everlasting life. To sum everything up……The NIV has replaced “apoluo”;”putting away” with “DIVORCE”, which is the wrong translation in the previous scriptures.
  • Ivan Veller
    Re: “[O]ne [is to] remain single…paitently await[ing] the return of their covenant spouse…home… [T]here is really no exception clause…No[w]here does God’s Word indicate that there is ever an ‘okay’ to remarry while a…former spouse…lives… There is…no Biblical reason to divorce.” “God’s intent has always been that marriage is for life. Yet the New Testament does define two cases where divorce, and subsequent remarriage were acceptable without the result being declared sin (Matthew 19:9 Matthew 19:9And I say to you, Whoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery: and whoever marries her which is put away does commit adultery.
    American King James Version×
    ; 1 Corinthians 7:15 1 Corinthians 7:15But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God has called us to peace.
    American King James Version×
    ). These can be summarized as: 1. sexual immorality 2. an unbeliever who is not pleased to dwell with a believer… ‘[1.] Sexual Immorality ‘The first case deals with sexual immorality as stated in Mat[.] 19:9 [‘…whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery…’ (NKJV)]…Porneia means ‘fornication’ (sometimes involving adultery); figuratively it is a term for apostasy as unfaithfulness to God’” “‘include…unlawful marriage’” “unchastity”. ‘[2.] Believer and Unbeliever ‘The second case is found in 1 Cor[.] 7 and deals with an unbelieving mate divorcing a believer… ‘…But if the unbeliev[ing spouse] departs, let him depart; a brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases…(1 Cor[.] 7:14-15)…‘…If the unbeliever insisted on a divorce, he was not to be denied…Should this occur’” “‘the Christian was not bound to maintain the marriage but was free to marry again (cf. v. 39). Paul did not say, as he did in verse 11, that the Christian in this case should ‘remain unmarried’’… ‘In summary, we see that there are two biblical reasons for the dissolution of a marriage: porneia (sexual immorality) and an unbeliever who is not pleased to dwell. In each case the marriage union has” “been broken” “and a remarriage can result without the fear of committing adultery”: “If [a divorcee’s second husband] divorces her, the first husband may not take her again to be his wife” (Deut. 24:3a, ERV 2008).

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