Divorce: Follow-up Questions and Concerns

You are currently viewing Divorce: Follow-up Questions and Concerns
This is a follow-up to the post on Divorce. Please read the posts on Marriage and Divorce as the questions and answers here are based on the foundational teachings examined in those posts.

Some or even all of these are very difficult questions. My answers reflect my current understanding after studying this material for years. This is a living document of sorts and I may change or add to my answers as my understanding changes. As with any biblical teaching, it is each person’s responsibility to study the scriptures and come to their own conclusions.

Nothing here should be considered to be advice. The scenarios presented are only teaching tools to understand the various difficult nuances that go with the nature of this topic.

The terms lawful and unlawful used herein refer to whether God permits divorce or not according to the Bible’s teachings.


1. What about the spouse who is the guilty offender, who commits adultery, and then his/her spouse lawfully divorces him/her because of it? Can the guilty spouse, after a lawful divorce, marry someone again without it being adultery? The innocent spouse can do so, but can the guilty one? The issue is whether the one-flesh union is in tact or not according to God. Because God retained the concession that divorce is permitted in this situation, he therefore ends the one-flesh union to release the innocent spouse, who is then free to marry again. The guilty spouse also is now no longer married or in a one-flesh union, and by default would be free to lawfully marry again without committing adultery, as long as his/her new spouse has not been divorced unlawfully.   

2. Does who initiates a divorce determine whether the divorce is lawful or unlawful? Yes, in some circumstances. When one spouse commits sexual immorality, if the guilty spouse then initiates a divorce because he/she no longer wants to be with his/her spouse, then the divorce is unlawful and neither can lawfully marry again, according to Jesus:

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 5:31-32)

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

But if the innocent spouse initiates a divorce upon his/her spouse’s sexual immorality, then the divorce is lawful, and the innocent spouse is free to marry again; and so is the guilty spouse by default (see #1 above).

(Jesus applied these teachings in a male dominated culture. In a culture where both men and women can divorce, the principle applies to both men and women.)

3. What about physical abuse? Can a spouse lawfully divorce his/her spouse who is physically abusive? The short answer is no. However, this does not mean the abused spouse is without remedy and must remain living with the guilty abusive spouse. One remedy for this situation would be for the abused spouse to move out in order to give the guilty spouse time and chance to repent. If there is repentance, then the two can be reconciled. If there is no repentance, then the abused spouse could choose to live in line with what Paul said in 1 Cor 7:10-11, divorcing and remaining unmarried and celibate. While the divorce would still not be lawful, it seems in the realm of possibility for Paul. This would apply to other extreme situations also that would cause one spouse to divorce as a potentially life-saving act. It should be noted that when it comes to divorce and a potential life-threatening situation, the ethical choice would be to choose the unlawful divorce if it means saving your life.

4. Is divorce always a sin? No. While it is painful and may go against God’s design for man and woman, divorce on lawful grounds is not a sin. It is an available remedy for the innocent spouse on the lawful grounds God has permitted. Divorce on unlawful grounds is a sin because it goes directly against Jesus’ answer on the issue: “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Should a man or woman take what God has joined together and separate it on unlawful grounds?

5. Is unlawful divorce an unforgivable sin? While it is a sin, it is not unforgivable. And while it is unlawful, in certain circumstances it may be a last resort option for self preservation. However, the cost of an unlawful divorce is a lifetime afterwards of celibacy, and that could only change if the ex-spouse commits adultery or dies, releasing the person from the one-flesh union.

6. Does culture determine what is a lawful divorce? No. The teachings on marriage and divorce are based on the foundation of marriage which exists regardless of culture. This goes back to when God created man and woman, as we have examined in the previous posts. However, the teachings are applied within a culture. This is why Jesus addresses questions on divorce from the male dominated perspective and why Paul addresses both men and women. The foundational principles are the same; the applications may vary though due to cultural influence. In a culture where both men and women can divorce, the principles apply to both men and women.

7. Why do the Old Testament and Jesus speak about divorce from a male dominated perspective? Why does Paul address both men and women? Jesus and Paul lived in different cultural contexts, and therefore their teachings when given were meant for application in their cultures and times. The foundational principles never change though. In Paul’s Greco-Roman culture and time, women and men could both initiate divorce. In Jesus’ Jewish culture and time, it was the man who had to sign the certificate of divorce and make the decision to end the marriage; a woman could not initiate this or decide on her own.

8. If someone gets an unlawful divorce, is he/she really completely finished for the rest of their life concerning lawful marriage and sex? Yes, unless they are reconciled to their ex-spouse. Because any such relations would be adultery, as the one-flesh union is still in existence and has not been separated by God. This is why Paul says if someone divorces for unlawful reasons, they should remain unmarried or be reconciled to their spouse (1 Cor 7:10-11). However, see question #9 below.

9. If someone gets an unlawful divorce and stays celibate, and their ex-spouse commits adultery, is he/she then able to be released from the one-flesh union, and then free to marry lawfully again? In an unlawful divorce, the two are still one flesh in God’s eyes, regardless of any legal maneuvers to divorce per the State/government. They are to live celibate lives as per 1 Cor 7:10-11. However, while in this state, if one spouse commits adultery, then the other spouse has the lawful right to appeal to God to have the one-flesh union dissolved. At this point he/she is free to lawfully marry again.

10. What exactly is happening on the spiritual level when God joins two in marriage to become one flesh? And how does God separate it in a lawful divorce? Unfortunately, the Bible is virtually silent on how God does this. I say virtually because there is one passage that hints at this mystery, but it is a passage that is an uncertain translation. Malachi 2:14-15; note the parts in bold between the ESV and the NASB translations:

14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?[f] And what was the one God[g] seeking?[h] Godly offspring. So guard yourselves[i] in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. (ESV)

14 Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your marriage companion and your wife by covenant. 15 [r]But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And [s]why the one? He was seeking a godly offspring. Be careful then about your spirit, and see that none of you deals treacherously against the wife of your youth. (NASB)

Per the ESV, God makes the two one with a portion of the Spirit in their union. The Spirit characteristically works on the level of the unseen spiritual dimension, for example, as in baptism (Tit 3:5). While it indeed may be true that God by the Spirit joins the two to become one, this passage cannot be relied upon as certain due to its nature. Regardless, how God would separate the one flesh union is he would disunite the two on the spiritual level in the reverse of how he united them. He would then not treat them anymore as a one-flesh functioning unit, but as separate individuals spiritually moving forward.

11. If someone divorces unlawfully and then remarries (unlawfully), is this sin of adultery a one time sin or is it a perpetual state of living in sin? It is a perpetual state of living in the sin of adultery because the person who divorced unlawfully is still married in God’s judgment, and to marry another after an unlawful divorce is to give oneself to the perpetual state of adultery as long as the person remains unlawfully married to the new spouse.

12. Why is it so difficult for many to accept the Bible’s teaching on divorce? For many the Bible’s teaching on divorce is very difficult to accept because it strictly prohibits future marriage and sexual relations apart from the lawful grounds for divorce. Further, many who are unlawfully divorced have unknowingly proceeded into new sexual relationships and marriages not understanding that they were and are unlawful before God, and are now adulterous and /or sexually immoral. What changes would they have to make if they accepted the Bible’s teaching? Many people are shocked or surprised that the Bible teaches what it does on this issue. And our culture and those who move it have left the Bible’s teaching behind and worked very hard to erode it, to the point when it is presented as life-saving direction and correction, we spurn it because its morality is so foreign to us. This is all part of what hinders acceptance.

13. What are the lawful grounds for divorce and/or remarriage? 1. One may divorce a spouse who has committed sexual immorality/adultery, and then remarry. 2. One may be divorced by an unbelieving spouse who initiates the divorce for any reason, and then remarry. 3. The death of a spouse frees the living spouse to remarry.


Leave a Reply