Some Quesions about Divorce and Remarriage

By Wayne Jackson

The following questions deal with the general theme of marriage and divorce.

Question: Recently the view has been advanced that when two single people commit fornication, by that act they become “married” and must remain together for life. Would you respond to this?

Answer: This idea is so absurd that one can only wonder how it ever saw the light of day. How perverse can one be to confuse “marriage” with “fornication”?

The quickest, briefest response to this question would be an appeal to 1 Corinthians 7:1ff. This passage was written to relatively new Christians in a Greek church in ancient Corinth. This city was very “loose” morally speaking. Sexual promiscuity was common.

Doubtless these Christians, some of whom had very immoral histories (cf. 6:9-11), had been taught that they now must remain sexually pure. But what could they to do to prevent yielding to their desires, and committing fornication? Paul’s answer is this: “Let a person marry.”

If fornication is the equivalent of marriage, logically Paul’s statement would have to read, “to prevent marriage, let a man marry,” which, of course, makes no sense.

Or what of this? If two homosexuals engaged in fornication, would they be married? If a man became unfaithful to his wife by committing fornication, would he then have two wives? This theory is utterly void of merit!

This perverse idea doubtless had its origin with Paul’s statement that the man who joins himself to a harlot becomes “one body” with her (1 Corinthians 6:16). But what the advocates of this position fail to realize, is that words can mean different things in varying contexts.

For example, God and Christ are said to be “one” (John 10:30); also, a man and his wife are “one” (Ephesians 5:31). But these two “ones” assuredly are not used in the same sense.

A husband and wife become “one flesh” through the sexual union, by virtue of the covenant relationship into which they have entered (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:6; cf. Ezekiel 16:8). There is no covenant relationship in raw fornication.

The term “one” is employed in 1 Corinthians 6:16 in a very limited sense. In the sex act of fornication, two bodies are joined and so become “one” in sin—not one in marriage. The fornicator is “one” in character with the harlot he engages. There is no moral distinction between the two sinners.

Question: My husband has left me. I discovered on his computer more than 800 pornographic pictures, and solicitations to women (and men as well) for sex, with meeting dates/times. He has acted in a lewd way before our daughters on several occasions. I have great reason to believe he has been unfaithful, but I cannot prove it. Some say I have no right to a divorce unless I catch him in the very act. Can you help me with this?

Answer: The Bible teaches there is but a single cause for divorce and remarriage — that of fornication by a spouse against an innocent victim (Matthew 5:32; 19:9). No reasonable person would contend that a wife would have to see the actual “act” before she could have sufficient evidence to file for a scriptural divorce. In fact, it probably would be rare that a husband or wife would be able to apprehend the adulterer “in the very act.”

The offended party ought to have a strong enough case, however, to be satisfied in his/her own mind, so that such a one does not linger in doubt for the remainder of his/her life—should he/she decide to remarry.

I must say that in this case there appears to be considerable “circumstantial” evidence of sexual activity on the part of this man with other people. I think it would be extremely unlikely that his illicit activity has been confined to computer images. But this is a judgment the violated spouse would have to make. Our hearts go out to anyone who has been a victim of such abuse.

Question: I have always been taught that there is only one cause for a divorce, with the privilege of remarrying, and that is when a person’s mate commits fornication. But our preacher says that “fornication” is any kind of “unfaithfulness.” So if your husband is unfaithful (like quitting the church), you are free to divorce and remarry.

Answer: Unfortunately your preacher appears to be one of the many who has become adept at twisting the scriptures (2 Peter 3:16), in order to justify a novel and compromising view of divorce/remarriage.

“Fornication” and “unfaithfulness” are not synonymous terms. All fornication is unfaithfulness, but not all unfaithfulness is fornication. Ultimately, any sin is an act of unfaithfulness. Certainly “sin”—any sin, one or many—never can be viewed as “faithfulness.” All sin is serious.

However, if the “fornication” mentioned in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is a reference to unfaithfulness in general, then any husband or wife could divorce a mate at any time for any sin, e.g., lying, losing one’s temper, forsaking the assembly, failing to give as prospered on the Lord’s day, etc. But since all people are sinners (1 John 1:8), that would suggest that the “unfaithful” has a right to divorce the “unfaithful,” and then marry a new “unfaithful” spouse.

It is true that sometimes the term “adultery” is used figuratively in the Bible to depict worldliness (cf. James 4:4), or lust (2 Peter 2:14). Be that as it is, the real question is this: How is the term “fornication” used in Matthew 19:9?

Quite obviously it is employed in its literal sense; such is evident from the fact that the disciples (who were accustomed to the relaxed divorce policy of the Mosaic regime – Matthew 19:8) expressed the view that the law of Christ was too rigorous. Jesus informed them that some might find it too demanding—in which case they could live as “eunuchs.” This obviously defines the nature of “fornication” in this context.

Question: Since the New Testament teaches that the only justifiable cause for a divorce is fornication on the part of one’s mate, what is a woman to do whose husband drinks, hits her on occasion, and verbally abuses her constantly?

Answer: No one is obligated to suffer abuse at the hand of an insensitive bully. A woman has the right to safety and security—both physically and emotionally. If her well-being is in jeopardy (by physical abuse), or her emotional stability is ravaged by constant verbal assault, she has a perfect right to find a haven of refuge and peace. Paul deals with a circumstance somewhat similar to this in 1 Corinthians.

Let us suppose this case. A pagan woman becomes a Christian, but her husband has no interest in Christianity. What should she do?

The apostle says that if her spouse is “content to dwell with her,” she should not leave him, but she is to abide in the relationship with a view of converting him to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:13-14).

But what if the unbeliever is not content in the relationship (as certainly would be reflected by abusive conduct)? Paul suggests that under dire circumstances she might need to leave the “under-the-same-roof” dwelling arrangement. But in such a case (no fornication having been involved), “should she depart, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband” (7:11). A further word of caution, however, should be kept in mind. A wife should be very confident that she had not contributed overtly to her mate’s discontent. Should that be the case, her leaving would be quite unjustified.

The apostle sees the possibility of separation (in a marriage undefiled by fornication), and potential reconciliation, but offers no license for divorce and remarriage under these conditions alone.

If a husband abandons his wife (or vice versa), she is not required to be “enslaved” [see “bondage” v. 15] to this thoughtless person who has forsaken his/her marital responsibilities. Marriage is not designed to be an institution comparable to slavery! If a departing mate should become sexually unfaithful, the betrayed mate could take advantage of the Matthew 19:9 provision. Otherwise, the bond remains intact.

Abuse per se does not break the wedlock (cf. Ezekiel 16:38). Only sexual infidelity can do that. The conscientious Christian will navigate carefully through the troubled waters of domestic discord, and search his own soul for possible culpability.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.