Photo of Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Kregel Publications, 1970; p.25.
By Dr. Stephen Kim
The aim of this paper is to biblically present, in a cogent manner, that:
- Remarriage, subsequent to a divorce that was not due to spousal sexual immorality, is adultery.
- Remarriage, subsequent to a divorce that was not due to spousal sexual immorality, continues to render the parties within the remarriage as adulterers for as long as the remarriage exists.
- Remarriage, subsequent to a divorce that was not due to spousal sexual immorality, must be dissolved.
- A return back to the person’s first marriage, after the dissolution of the remarriage, is not sin.
Note: Remarriage after the death of the spouse is not adultery; and is instead, a legitimate marriage (cf. Rom 7:3, 1 Cor 7:39). The term “remarriage” henceforth will be used to describe those remarriages that are subsequent to a divorce that was not due to spousal sexual immorality.
I plan to write this paper in a manner that is suitable for a lay person. It is not my goal to be exhaustive about the topic of divorce and remarriage for that would necessitate a fairly large book. Seeing that Jesus addressed this issue at least four times in three different Gospels, it is plain to me that he wanted all humans to understand and obey. It is this author’s understanding that both the institution of marriage and the laws governing it are divine gifts that are not amendable by mankind. Marriage, as a definition, is both universal in its scope and definitive in its allowances. Therefore, irrespective of a person’s personal religious background, marriage is only a marriage if it fits the parameters given by the Bible. There is only one true God. Hence, marriages officiated by civil government are only true marriages if they align to Holy Scripture. Gay marriages and adultery will never be true marriages for they contravene Holy Scripture. God’s law is higher than man’s law.
1. Remarriage, subsequent to a divorce that was not due to spousal sexual immorality, is adultery.
The title of this article actually comes directly from the mouth of Jesus Christ. In every single one of the Synoptic Gospels (Mt 5:32, Mt 19:9, Mk 10:11, and Lk 16:18) there is at least one account of Jesus directly instructing humanity that remarriage is adultery (note: Matthew’s Gospel has two accounts). The repetition of the commandment throughout New Testament writings, and the lucidity of the prohibition both serve as clear indications that the Lord expected people to never enter into remarriages after His declaration. Mark records Jesus saying, “And he said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery (Gk. μοιχᾶται) against her'”(Mk 10:11).
Hence, a direct and concise abbreviation of Jesus’ teaching is simply my title: Remarriage is adultery.
1.1. The word “adultery,” by its very definition, is an invalid relationship that must be immediately terminated. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14). Adultery is a term used to describe an unlawful union. Adultery is sin. Hence, when Jesus identified remarriage as adultery, it was His way of explicitly saying, “Break it up! This union is invalid and abominable in my sight, therefore, terminate it immediately! This is not a marriage. She is another man’s wife and it is unlawful for you to have (i.e., remain married to) your neighbor’s wife.”
Popular Christian website, gotquestions.org, tries to legitimatize remarriages by stating: “In the Old Testament Law, the punishment for adultery was death (Leviticus 20:10). At the same time, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 mentions remarriage after a divorce, does not call it adultery, and does not demand the death penalty for the remarried spouse. The Bible explicitly says that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), but nowhere explicitly states that God hates remarriage. The Bible nowhere commands a remarried couple to divorce.”
Of course, in that quote, they fail to mention that although divorce and remarriage were allowed by God in the Old Testament (cf. Deut 24:1-4; which is why, in John 4:18, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that she legitimately had five husbands in the past); they were subsequently banned by Jesus in the New Testament. There are three major problems with their argumentation: 1. Although the Old Testament does not identify remarriage as adultery; the New Testament, however, does identify it as adultery; 2. God never states that he hates remarriage, but he does state that he hates adultery (which is what a remarriage is in the New Testament era); and 3. A remarried couple is not told to divorce in the Old Testament; but in the New Testament, remarriage is identified as adultery, and adultery–as we all know–must end.
1.2. The word “adultery,” by its very definition, means: The sexual union of a married person with one who is not his or her spouse. Hence, when Jesus identifies remarriage as adultery, he is unequivocally declaring two things: 1. that the first marriage union is still valid (divorce did not terminate it), and 2. that the second marriage union is invalid. It is universally accepted that the word “adultery” encompasses both declarations.
1.3. All professing Christians agree that remarriage is adultery. Although they might disagree about whether or not to breakup the remarriage, yet all universally agree (because of the lucidity of Jesus’ words) that to remarry is to commit adultery. For example, although John Piper incorrectly instructs his congregation to stay in remarriages rather than dissolve them; he nevertheless, in his position paper, starts everything off in point 1.1 by correctly stating, “This verse [referring to Luke 16:18] shows that Jesus does not recognize divorce as terminating a marriage in God’s sight. The reason a second marriage is called adultery is because the first one is considered to still be valid.” Yes, Piper is correct there: Even after a court-ruled divorce, the first marriage is still valid in the eyes of God, and this is the reason why a remarriage is identified as adultery by Christ.
1.4. If the first marriage is still valid (by calling a remarriage “adultery,” Jesus taught that the first marriage is valid: see 1.3 above), and if men like John Piper call for individuals to remain in remarriages because those are also valid, then there now exits two valid marriages. (The first marriage, because God bonded the couple together (Mt 19:6), will always remain valid–even after a divorce [except for divorces due to spousal sexual infidelity].) Therefore, those who instruct individuals to remain in remarriages are proponents of polygamy.
Thankfully, Jesus invalidated remarriages by identifying them as “adultery” and by doing so, he also banned polygamy. The Christian who does not call for the dissolution of remarriages has no biblical ground for prohibiting polygamy. Prior to Christ’s prohibition of remarriages in the New Testament, God allowed both remarriage (Deut 24:1-4) and polygamy (Deut 21:15, 2 Sam 12:8, 2 Sam 12:24) in the Old Testament. In fact, some of the most godliest men in the Old Testament were polygamists. In the Christian era, polygamy is a sin because Jesus made remarriage a sin. The two are inextricable.
[Note: Earlier, I mentioned that Christian website, gotquestions.org, instructs individuals to remain in remarriages. Logically and consistently, they also believe that polygamy is still permissible in the New Testament era. On their website, they write: “How does God view polygamy today? Even while allowing polygamy, the Bible presents monogamy as the plan which conforms most closely to God’s ideal for marriage.”]
Let me be clear: Without calling for the dissolution of remarriages, Christians have no biblical basis for banning polygamy.
1.5. The main idea of Matthew’s text. The entire point of Matthew’s account in the 19th chapter of his gospel is this: “Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not [Gk. imperative/active/present tense] separate” (Mt 19:6). Jesus is teaching the earthly permanence of marriage. In other words, because God has joined the first marriage together, therefore no human court’s divorce decree is effective in breaking it up. As explained earlier, the reason why Jesus calls remarriage adultery is because the person is still effectively married to the first spouse.
Someone once tried to tell me that the main idea in Matthew 19 was that Jesus was trying to correct the incorrect belief held by Pharisees in Matthew 19:7 that divorce was a command from Moses. In this person’s view, the entire point of this passage was that Jesus was trying to teach that Moses didn’t command divorce, but instead, Moses allowed it (Mt 19:8). This could not be any further from the truth! Such a view might have been derived from the work of A. Philip Brown II, who wrote:
Two considerations argue that this interpretation is incorrect. First, Jesus asserted that Moses permitted divorce, implicitly contradicting the Pharisees’ claim that Moses commanded divorce (Matt. 19:7‐8). Therefore, this clause should not be read as a command. Second, the syntax of the clause most naturally reads either as a statement of permission (“then he may write her a bill of divorcement) or as a continued description of the case as in the NASB (“and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her away …”).
For a purported student of the Bible, Brown’s work is immensely careless. First of all, the main idea of the Matthean text is clearly the insolubility of something God Almighty has put together. Secondly and importantly, in Mark’s Gospel, the words are actually from reverse sources! In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus calls it a Mosaic command (Mk 10:5), and the Pharisees call it a Mosaic allowance (Mk 10:4)! My point (and evidently, Mark’s point) is simple: An allowance by God is a command by God. Let us not strain at a gnat! Let’s not try to see what’s really not there! The main idea of the text is unquestionably this: “What God has joined together, stays together forever.”
[Interestingly and additionally, in Mark’s account, Jesus ends his discussion with the Pharisees at, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mk. 10:9). Christ later gives the insight into that command (i.e., his teaching on divorce and remarriage) only privately, to his disciples, in a house (Mk 10:10). This is all proof that Jesus’ main point was to teach the fact that the first marriage is permanently valid in God’s sight for God was the One who put it together.]
1.6. Conclusions: Remarriage is adultery. Jesus clearly said that it was. Hence, remarriages are not real marriages. By its very definition, the word “adultery” is a reference to an unlawful union. Adultery is a sin that must be broken. By stating that a remarriage is “adultery,” Jesus is stating that the first marriage is still valid, and that the second marriage is invalid. Therefore, just like cases of bigamy, there is no real second marriage in existence. The allowance for couples to stay in remarriages logically leads to the allowance of polygamy. The only way to rationally accept remarriages as legitimate marriages is by saying that Jesus was wrong in stating that remarriage is adultery. However, if Jesus was wrong about remarriages, then one would also have to permit polygamy.
2. Remarriage, subsequent to a divorce that was not due to spousal sexual immorality, continues to render the parties within the remarriage as adulterers for as long as the remarriage exists.
2.1. Romans 7:3 states, “So then if, while her husband lives, she is married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband dies, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she is married to another man.” Therefore, no matter how “sorry” a person is for being in a remarriage, as long as she remains remarried, she also remains an adulteress. God’s Word is clear.
2.2. One source tried contradict Romans 7:3 by stating, “Rather the establishment of a second marriage covenant (not sexual union in the second marriage) breaks the first marriage covenant which is why Jesus calls it adultery. Thus sexual union within a second marriage is not adulterous.” Unsuspecting readers are fooled by this quick explanation and fail to pick up a key error made by A. Philip Brown II.
As opposed to Brown’s teaching however, the correct teaching is: The establishment of a second marriage covenant does not break the first marriage covenant which is why Jesus calls it adultery (see 1.3 above). Thus, any sexual union within a second marriage will always be adulterous.
Brown seems to have forgotten that adultery is a sin that always involves someone who is married. Jesus calls the remarriage “adultery” because in his eyes, the first marriage covenant is still valid. Otherwise, the usage of the word “adultery” would not make any sense! The forming of a new covenant is called adultery by Christ because the first covenant is unbroken and the second covenant is unlawful and invalid. As John Piper correctly observed above, the categorization of a remarriage as “adultery” can only take place if God still views the first marriage covenant as unbroken and in full effect. It is for this reason that any sexual union in a remarriage is always adulterous.
2.3. The apostle Paul certainly saw a divorced woman as still having a husband. In echoing Jesus’ command, the apostle Paul commands the Corinthians saying, “To the married I give this command–not I, but the Lord–a wife should not divorce a husband (but if she does, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband), and a husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Cor 7:10-11). Question: “How could a woman simultaneously be ‘unmarried’ and yet, have a ‘husband’ to reconcile to?” Answer: Although she was divorced in the sight of man (i.e., legal divorce); yet in God’s eyes, the first marriage covenant is still valid and therefore, she still has a husband with whom she could reconcile with. Question: “Why does Paul command the woman not to marry anyone else after the divorce? Doesn’t divorce terminate a marriage covenant?” Answer: Because Jesus stated that remarriage is adultery; and thus, a remarriage would be adultery. Jesus declared that divorce does not break the first marriage covenant.
2.4. Many try to make a big deal about the tense of the verbs in Jesus’ command. Here is one such example by A. Philip Brown II:
Some have claimed that remarriage constitutes on‐going adultery. In support of this position, it may be noted that there are three present tense verbs/verbals in Matthew 5:32: “divorces” (ἀπολύων), “makes” in “makes her commit adultery” (ποιεῖ), and “commits adultery” (μοιχᾶται). It is true that the Greek present tense often indicates on‐going action. It is not true, however, that the present tense always indicates on‐going action. Both lexical and contextual factors in Matthew 5:32 indicate that the present tense was used in order to make a statement that is timeless and universally true, and that it was not used to indicate that the actions involved were ongoing.
My rebuttal is quite simple: Verb tense does not matter. Rather, the key question ought to be, “Is it a valid marriage covenant?”
By identifying remarriage as adultery, Jesus was stating that the first marriage is still valid and that the second marriage is unlawful. Thus, any sexual union in the remarriage is always adulterous. The validity of the covenant is what determines the lawfulness of the sex within any union. Opponents usually argue that the remarriage covenant itself (i.e., the “act of remarriage”) is the “one time act of adultery.” If that is true, then they have conceded that the covenant itself is not valid; and as a result, any sexual intercourse that ensues within the remarriage is adulterous.
2.5. Conclusions: As long as a person remains remarried, the Bible identifies the person as an adulterer. According to Romans 7:3, one’s remarried status is what determines the subsequent adulterer status. Since Jesus identified the second marriage as adultery, the second covenant is an invalid one and thus, all sexual intercourse within the remarriage will always be adulterous. Because the act of “marrying another” is what is deemed as unlawful, the remarriage is essentially not a true marriage covenant. Therefore, every sexual encounter within a remarriage is adulterous. Instead of trying redefine the word “adultery,” Christians ought to simply obey the Word of God. Remarriage is adultery because Jesus said that it was.
3. Remarriage, subsequent to a divorce that was not due to spousal sexual immorality, must be dissolved.
3.1. By identifying remarriage as adultery, Jesus made his expectation clear: Terminate the remarriage. Stop the adultery.
3.2. Romans 7:3 states, “So then if, while her husband lives, she is married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband dies, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she is married to another man.”
According to Scripture, a person is an adulteress if she marries another man while her first marital covenant is still valid. By identifying remarriages as adultery, Jesus was declaring that the first marital covenant is still valid. Hence, the remarried woman is married to another man while her husband lives–as per Romans 7:3. Evidently, according to Romans 7:3, the only way to no longer be identified as an adulteress is to no longer be married to the second husband. In other words, the remarriage must be dissolved. As the Word states, she is to be called an adulteress as long as she is married to another man while her husband is alive.
3.3. Herod was commanded by John the Baptist to break up his unlawful marriage to Herodias. The biblical text states that Herod was indeed married (in the eyes of the world) to Herodias (Mk 6:17), and yet because the marriage was unlawful, John kept telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have [notice the present tense] your brother’s wife.” (Mk 6:18). In other words, “Terminate the marriage!” At the very least, this biblical account informs us that such a thing as an invalid marriage does exist. You can be “married” and yet not really be. In other words, your “marriage” is nothing but a mirage in the sight of God. Divorce of the remarriage, in cases of repentance, is a necessary legal procedure; but in God’s eyes, there really wasn’t even a real “marriage” to terminate. An annulment would have been fine. Yet, proper repentance of adultery must involve the dissolution of the remarriage. If two gay men should not remain in a gay marriage after conversion, neither should two adulterers be told to remain in a remarriage.
Some try to claim that the reason why Herod’s marriage to Herodias was unlawful because she was his brother’s ex-wife. But where in the Bible is it forbidden to marry your brother’s ex-wife? These individuals claim that the marriage was unlawful because it was a violation of Leviticus 18:16. Leviticus 16:18 states, “You must not have sexual intercourse with your brother’s wife; she is your brother’s nakedness.” That’s literally what it states. Personally, I do not see marriage in the Leviticus text. All that is seen is the prohibition of a man committing adultery with his brother’s wife. In fact, in a similar set-up, the prior verse commands the reader: “You must not have sexual intercourse with your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife. You must not have intercourse with her” (Lv 18:15). It is absurd to say that Leviticus 18:15 has marriage to a daughter-in-law in view. The Jews would have never allowed a person to marry his own daughter-in-law. Also, the text explicitly states that the woman is currently the wife of the man’s son. In other words, she was not free to be remarried to anyone. The woman was still married to the son (she was not married to the father-in-law).
Likewise, I do not believe that the very next verse, Leviticus 18:16, has anything to do with a prohibition against marrying a brother’s ex-wife. I believe that it is simply prohibiting having sexual intercourse with your brother’s wife. In other words, Leviticus 18:16 is the prohibition of adultery. Finally, one must remember that if a brother died (and thus, the marriage covenant was truly broken), the living brother was actually commanded by God to marry the widow of the deceased brother (Deut 25:5) in a levirate marriage. Hence, marriage to a brother’s ex-wife, in and of itself, was not a sin.
But even if Leviticus 18:16 is really prohibiting a man from marrying his brother’s ex-wife, that still doesn’t change the prescription within the Marcan text. If the Mosaic command really prohibits one from marrying a brother’s ex-wife, and a person did it anyway; then John’s prescription was quite simple and straight-forward: “Break it up! Analogous to gay marriage, any marriage in line with a prohibition from Leviticus 18 is forbidden.” Therefore, since God also prohibits adultery (which is what remarriage is identified as by Christ), then John would tell you to break up your remarriage because having your neighbor’s wife is also not a lawful marriage.
I, however, stand by the belief that divorce and remarriage (and not consanguinity) was the issue with John the Baptist for a number of reasons. First, John the Baptist positively identifies the woman as “your brother’s wife” (Mk 6:18). The text indicates that in John’s mind, Herodias still actually belonged to Herod’s brother. The problem, the inspired narrator clearly tells us, is that Herod “had married her” (Mk 6:17). Second, in Jewish law, women were prohibited from initiating a divorce (Rom 7:3). Third, as a result, even though a marriage had occurred between Herod and Herodias, John the Baptist still calls the whole thing “unlawful” (Mk 6:18) and informs Herod that it is sin for him to remain married to her. Finally, we have the text of Josephus which actually informs us explicitly of what the sin was:
Antiquities 18.5.3 136, (bold emphasis added):
Herodias was married to Herod, the son of Herod the Great by Mariamme the daughter of Simon the high priest. They had a daughter Salome, after whose birth Herodias, taking it into her head to flout the way of our fathers, married Herod the Tetrarch, her husband’s brother by the same father, who was tetrarch of Galilee; to do this she parted from a living husband.
[Notice that Josephus cites departure from a “living husband” (and not consanguinity) as the reason for the unlawful nature of Herodias’ second marriage. This, therefore, is a classic case study on divorce and remarriage.]
The text is at least clear on this point: John the Baptist’s prescription for a man who is in an unlawful marriage is to terminate it. Even if it is granted that consanguinity is the sin, the prescription is nevertheless, the same: if you cannot stay married to your brother’s ex-wife; then likewise, you cannot stay married to your neighbor’s wife. It is beyond preposterous to argue against consanguinity, but argue for adultery. Finally, it is also apparent that John had been continuously–for the duration of Herod’s remarriage–calling for a breakup of Herod’s remarriage. John did not say strange things like, “Remarriage is a one-time act of adultery, but it nevertheless, becomes a real and binding marriage after repentance.” No. Instead, John kept saying that it was unlawful to remain in the marriage–over and over again: “For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife'” (Mk 6:18). For John, repentance was shown through a break-up.
3.4. Jesus said that remarriage is adultery. Perhaps this is the most plain and obvious point, but it is worth reiterating. In stating that whoever “marries another commits adultery,” Jesus unambiguously informed us that the marriage covenant itself is null and void. Essentially, here’s the equation: Remarriage = Adultery. Therefore, as long as a remarriage exists, adultery exists. In mathematics, we can work backwards: Termination of adultery = Termination of remarriage.
3.5. Conclusions: By identifying remarriage as adultery, Jesus made his expectation clear: Terminate the remarriage. Stop the adultery. Romans 7:3 states that a person is an adulterer as long as a person is married to another person while the first spouse is alive. John the Baptist commanded Herod to break up his unlawful marriage. For the remarried person, in order to terminate adultery, he must terminate the remarriage.
4. A return back to the person’s first marriage, after the dissolution of the remarriage, is not sin.
4.1. Since remarriage is adultery, adultery can be repented of and the spouse can return back to his/her spouse after the termination of the remarriage. The apostle Paul states that the divorcee can reconcile to his/her first spouse after a divorce: “To the married I give this command–not I, but the Lord–a wife should not divorce a husband (but if she does, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband), and a husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Cor 7:10-11).
4.2. Opponents often use Deuteronomy 24:1-4 as a prohibition against returning to the first spouse after the dissolution of a remarriage. For example, in an article by John MacArthur’s Grace To You, author Phil Johnson argues:
As a matter of fact, in the same passage where Moses permitted husbands to issue a certificate of divorce, the law added this restriction: “When she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD” (Deuteronomy 24:2-4, emphasis added).
One verse takes down Johnson’s entire errant argument from Deuteronomy 24. Deuteronomy 24:2 is the verse that tears everything down because it plainly states: “And if she goes and becomes another man’s wife.” The Scripture text is clear: It is an abomination to return to your first spouse if you truly became the spouse of someone else. However, after Jesus declared remarriages to be adultery, the remarried woman never “becomes another man’s wife.” Because of Jesus’ declaration, the first marriage is still valid; and the second marriage is merely the sin of adultery. Therefore, the woman is really still the wife of her first husband. Hence, after terminating the remarriage, she can repent of her adultery (i.e., remarriage) and return to her husband (1 Cor 7:11). Again, according to Jesus, she never truly became another man’s wife and therefore, it is completely acceptable for her to return to her husband after the dissolution of her remarriage (i.e., adultery).
[Note: Jeremiah 3:1 corroborates the fact that the actual “becoming another man’s wife” is the reason for the Deuteronomic prohibition: “If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? (Jer 3:1, emphasis added).]
4.3. God commanded Abimelech to give Abraham’s wife back to Abraham or else Abimelech was “a dead man” (Gen 20:3). In the Gospel of Luke, we are told that, “he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” (Lk 16:18). Here is the reason why: Since God put a man and woman permanently together through marriage, a divorce does not break their marriage bond. Therefore, it is adultery to marry a divorced woman because the divorced woman is really still the wife of another man. Now, what is the biblical protocol for a man once he discovers that he has someone else’s wife? He must return her to her rightful husband!
But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife….Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” (Gen 20:3, 7; emphasis added)
4.4. God commanded Hosea to take an adulteress back: “Then the LORD said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes'” (Hos 3:1).
Opponents must remember that Jesus identified remarriage as adultery. Hence, they must stop looking for Old Testament examples of remarriages; and instead, they must look for biblical examples of what to do with a repentant adulteress.
My reasoning is simple: Hosea’s wife committed adultery. Yet, God commanded Hosea to forgive her and take her back. Therefore, it is not sin to remain married to a repentant adulterer. Now, continue following me: Remarriage is adultery. Therefore, upon termination of the remarriage the first spouse may forgive and take the repentant spouse back. Their marriage was never dissolved by divorce in the eyes of Almighty God.
4.5. Common sense. If we believe that remarriage is adultery (and all Christians do, lest they contravene Christ), then common sense ought to guide us to do the right thing: Stop the adultery and return the woman back to her husband. If my child admits to stealing a cookie from his brother, upon repentance and confession, I instruct the child to give the cookie back to his brother. Justice, in such cases, is quite rudimentary. I would say that it’s innate.
4.6. Conclusions: It is not a sin to dissolve a remarriage, repent of adultery, and subsequently return to one’s first spouse. The apostle Paul clearly gave the divorced woman the option of staying unwed (to any other man) or returning back to her husband. Deuteronomy 24:2 only proves that it is an abomination to return to your first spouse if you truly became someone else’s spouse. However, because of Christ’s declaration, remarriages no longer make a person the genuine spouse of another. In reality, according to Christ, the person still belongs to his/her first spouse and the remarriage is merely a sham. According to Jesus, remarriage is simply adultery. As Hosea shows, adultery can be stopped, repented of, and the offended spouse could choose to forgive and accept the adulterer back into the marriage. A return back to the spouse is not sin; rather, it is an act of reconciliation and forgiveness. God also told Abimelech that he was a dead man if he kept another man’s wife. Finally, common sense informs us that full restoration is the surest pathway to justice.
In closing, I wish to draw your attention to the words of an opponent:
“If divorce did not open the possibility of remarriage, we would expect Moses to prohibit it. If a remarriage to a third party does occur, the new marriage is not regarded as adulterous or the equivalent of adultery. From God’s point of view, it is a true marriage.” -A. Philip Brown II, in his analysis of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, emphasis added
Brown’s analysis of an Old Testament text, as written in the book of Deuteronomy, is correct: Moses did not prohibit remarriage, and the new marriage was not the equivalent of adultery. Therefore, from God’s point of view, the remarriage was a true marriage. However, in the New Testament, Jesus does make remarriage equivalent to adultery and thus, from God’s point of view, it is not a true marriage. Let us maintain consistent reasoning.
Perhaps nothing demonstrates the universal clarity of Jesus’ words than an admission by an opponent. Jeremy Pierre is the Dean of Students and Associate Professor of biblical counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. When asked whether or not a person should divorce a spouse from an unbiblical marriage, his response was that the person ought to remain in the remarriage. However, as he closes out his response, it seems as if he realized that he was contradicting the words of Christ. Pierre probably knew that people would ask, “If Christ identified remarriage as adultery, then why is Jeremy Pierre instructing people to remain in adultery?” Unfortunately, instead of plainly admitting disobedience to Christ, Pierre decides to call the apparent contradiction a “mystery.” Pierre writes in his closing paragraph: “Returning to the present situation you asked about, I want to acknowledge the mystery of all this—-that one can live repentantly in an unbiblical second marriage” (Source: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/you-asked-should-i-divorce-my-spouse-from-an-unbiblical-remarriage, emphasis added). Thus, Pierre makes the illogical (and sinful) declaration that one could actually be repentant of the sin of remarriage and still intentionally continuing to live in the sin of remarriage. If Jesus identified remarriages as adultery, then how is it a real marriage? “It’s a mystery,” says Pierre. Instead of calling it a “mystery,” I would urge Pierre to simply obey the straight-forward teaching of Christ. Namely, since remarriage is adultery, repent by terminating the remarriage. There is no “mystery” to any of this if one is willing to obey Scripture.
Finally, I wish to implore all to simply study the Scriptures. Take the words at face value with a desire to obey. Jesus once said, “Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (Jn 5:39). Nothing that I say ultimately matters for I am simply a man. Rather, go directly to the words of Christ: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery” (Lk 16:18). Jesus has spoken perspicuously: Remarriage is adultery. Will we believe and obey our Lord?
Note: The Church’s historic understanding of divorce and remarriage is easily seen by the following statements:
“Likewise, women who have left their husbands for no prior cause and have joined themselves with others, may not even at death receive communion.” -Council of Elvira, Canon 8 (c. 300, Elvira was a Church council held at the end of the third century and the beginning of the fourth in southeast Spain)
“You must not have wives whose former husbands are living; nor may you, women, have husbands whose former wives are living. Such marriages are adulterous, not by the law of the courts, but by the law of Heaven. Nor may a woman who by divorce has withdrawn from her husband become your wife while her husband lives.” -Augustine (Sermon 392, c. 2, emphasis added)
“Anyone saying that one is free to marry a wife that has been put away is not a Christian; he is a Jew.” -Ambrose (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 8)
“Because it not being lawful for her in her husband’s lifetime to contract a new marriage, sinful desire may gradually prevail against her. Suppose her to marry. The blame of the constraint she lay under is upon you: and what you account to be marriage is adultery. For what does it matter whether one commits that crime with open avowal of it, or as one who is an adulterer under the mask of a husband. Only that it is more grievous to have contrived a law to warrant crime than a secret perpetration of it.” -Ambrose, commentary on Luke 16:18, emphasis added