Divorce and Remarriage

March 28, 2011

Here is the Westminster Confession of Faith on Divorce and Remarriage:

V. Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, gives just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract. In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.

VI. Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God has joined together in marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage: wherein, a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case.

Scripture Proof:

Matthew 5:31-32 ESV
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 19:9 ESV
9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

1 Corinthians 7:15 ESV
15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

Here is R.C. Sproul’s position:

“So I take the position that an innocent party in divorce is free to remarry. Now, when we say innocent or guilty, we recognize that everybody contributes to the breakdown of a marriage. By “guilty party” I mean the one who committed the sin serious enough to dissolve the marriage. But I would also say that even the guilty party can get remarried if there is authentic repentance.”

Link: R.C. Sproul’s Position on Divorce and Remarriage

Here is John Macarthur’s position:

“So God’s utter hatred of divorce is very clear in Scripture.
Nonetheless, there are two extraordinary cases in which Scripture teaches that God does permit divorced people to remarry.
First, note that Jesus Himself included this exception clause: “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery” (Matt. 19:9, King James Version, emphasis added). He allows an exception in this one case, only “because of the hardness of your hearts” (Matt. 19:8). Clearly, Jesus is treating divorce as a last resort, only to be sought in the case of hard-hearted adultery.
The apostle Paul allows one more reason for divorce: if an unbelieving spouse abandons a believer, the believer is under no obligation in such a case (1 Cor. 7:14). This would free the abandoned spouse to remarry.
But we must emphasize that apart from those two specific, exceptional cases, divorce is not sanctioned in Scripture.”

Link: John Macarthur’s Position on Divorce and Remarriage

Here is John Piper’s position:

“Conclusions and Applications

In the New Testament the question about remarriage after divorce is not determined by:
The guilt or innocence of either spouse,
Nor by whether either spouse is a believer or not,
Nor by whether the divorce happened before or after either spouse’s conversion,
Nor by the ease or difficulty of living as a single parent for the rest of life on earth,
Nor by whether there is adultery or desertion involved,
Nor by the on-going reality of the hardness of the human heart,
Nor by the cultural permissiveness of the surrounding society.
Rather it is determined by the fact that:
Marriage is a “one-flesh” relationship of divine establishment and extraordinary significance in the eyes of God (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:8),
Only God, not man, can end this one-flesh relationship (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9—this is why remarriage is called adultery by Jesus: he assumes that the first marriage is still binding, Matthew 5:32; Luke 16:18; Mark 10:11),
God ends the one-flesh relationship of marriage only through the death of one of the spouses (Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7:39),
The grace and power of God are promised and sufficient to enable a trusting, divorced Christian to be single all this earthly life if necessary (Matthew 19:10-12,26; 1 Corinthians 10:13),
Temporal frustrations and disadvantages are much to be preferred over the disobedience of remarriage, and will yield deep and lasting joy both in this life and the life to come (Matthew 5:29-30).
Those who are already remarried:
Should acknowledge that the choice to remarry and the act of entering a second marriage was sin, and confess it as such and seek forgiveness
Should not attempt to return to the first partner after entering a second union (see 8.2 above)
Should not separate and live as single people thinking that this would result in less sin because all their sexual relations are acts of adultery. The Bible does not give prescriptions for this particular case, but it does treat second marriages as having significant standing in God’s eyes. That is, there were promises made and there has been a union formed. It should not have been formed, but it was. It is not to be taken lightly. Promises are to be kept, and the union is to be sanctified to God. While not the ideal state, staying in a second marriage is God’s will for a couple and their ongoing relations should not be looked on as adulterous.”

Link: John Piper’s position on Divorce and Remarriage

Macarthur and Sproul agree with the Westminster confession. Piper’s position is a little different.

I agree with the Westminster Confession on this because scripture testifies to the same. However, I also agree with Piper that there should be repentance for all failed marriages.

There is always sin involved in causing the first marriage to fail, but once one is divorced and free of the contract is it then sin to remarry? Sproul and Macarthur say it is not sin to remarry and one is free to do so because the scriptures allow divorce (a total freeing of the bond) in those cases so one who is free is indeed as free as if they were never married.

Piper thinks that there is nothing that actually can separate the bond, so he sees scriptural divorce as simply allowed separation and not real divorce as the Sproul, Macarthur and the writers of the Westminster Confession interpreted. Piper’s view is very close to the Roman Catholic view. The real question he brings up is does one need to feel guilty for the “sin” of remarrying and thus repent and ask forgiveness of it even though they were scripturally divorced before it?

I agree with the WCF here and think the bible is clear that we are free after divorce for the reasons of adultery or abandonment, but I also agree with Piper that we should repent of the sins that caused our marriage to fail and then the sin of giving up on reconciliation with our separated spouse.

–David

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