Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage – Nana Yaw Aidoo

Nana Yaw Aidoo

What is Marriage?

Marriage is a union between a scripturally eligible man and a scripturally eligible woman, who have bound themselves under God’s law, to live together in holy matrimony as husband and wife, until death parts them (Gen. 2:18-15; Rom. 7: 2-3). For marriage to be constituted there must be mutual agreement to marry and a compliance with the laws of the society where the marriage is formed. Thus, any “marriage” that falls short of God’s own definition of marriage is sin. Examples of sinful marriages include same-sex marriages, incestuous marriages, polygamous marriages, child marriages and cohabitation or “shacking up.”

When Does a Marriage Begin?

A marriage begins when the couple comply with the mores of the society where the union is formed, which in almost all cases includes or culminates in a ceremony. Some cultures organize a ceremony whereby the man pays the bride price of the woman. Others also organize a ceremony whereby the man and woman exchange vows and register their marriage under ordinance. Today, most Africans do both of the above. Notwithstanding, when the ceremony is over, the marriage has begun.

Some have suggested that marriage does not begin until the man and the woman have engaged in sexual intercourse. The text relied on to teach this idea is 1 Corinthians 6:16. While we shall deal with this text later, we deny that this position is correct because first, it flies against many passages of Scripture. Consider the following;

  1. God’s order is leaving, joining and then consummation (Gen. 2:24) not leaving, consummation and joining.

  2. Ruth became Boaz’s wife before any sexual union (Ruth 4:10, 13)

  3. Joseph and Mary were husband and wife before they engaged in any sexual activity (Matt. 1:24-25). Some say this was a betrothal. Mary and Joseph were betrothed before Joseph encountered the angel in his dream (Matt. 1:18). In the dream, Joseph was encouraged to make Mary his wife (Matt. 1:20). After the dream, Joseph “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife” (Matt. 1:24). At this point, they were no longer betrothed but were husband and wife. Yet, even though they were married, Joseph “knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn Son” (Matt. 1:25). Was Jesus born to a man and a woman who were “shacking up” or cohabiting?

Second, not only does the theory under review fly against Scripture, it flies against logic. What do we say about unmarried people having sexual intercourse? We say they are fornicators. Yet, why do we not call the man and the woman who have gone through a marriage ceremony fornicators when they have sexual intercourse, if it is true that they were not married prior to the sexual act? Friends, if they were still unmarried when the ceremony was over, then they committed fornication when they had sex because sex between unmarried people is fornication. However, if they did not commit fornication when they had sex, then they were married prior to the sexual act (Heb. 13:4). Our position is set forth in this syllogism;

Premise 1: Sexual intercourse between unmarried people is fornication.

Premise 2: Sexual intercourse between a man and woman who have gone through a marriage ceremony is not fornication.

Conclusion: Therefore, the man and the woman who have undergone a marriage ceremony are joined together in marriage before the sexual act.

Sexual intercourse is a privilege of marriage. It is not that which constitutes a marriage. Why do we not call those who have cohabited for years and have brought forth children as a result, a married couple, if sex is what makes a marriage? Why do we tell them to go get married?

What About 1 Corinthians 6:16?

Some contend that 1 Corinthians 6:16 proves that God joins a couple through sex. This is an unfortunate interpretation of the text. If 1 Corinthians 6:16 teaches that God joins a man and a woman in marriage via sexual intercourse, then it has to follow that based on the exact same text, when a man has sex with a prostitute, then God joins or has joined them in marriage. Look carefully at 1 Corinthians 6:16 and you would see that whereas the apostle does not speak about a man and a woman with the intention to marry, he speaks about a man and a prostitute. Does God join a man and a prostitute in marriage when they have sex? Ridiculous. No one would so argue. This proves that the joining of 1 Corinthians 6:16 is not a joining that is done by God. Therefore, we do not and cannot learn how God joins a man and a woman who have agreed to marry from 1 Corinthians 6:16 because the joining that is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:16 is not a joining that is done by God. To teach that God joins a couple in marriage via sex because of 1 Corinthians 6:16 is to teach that God joins a man and a prostitute in marriage when they have sex. God does not join the man and the prostitute and thus the joining of 1 Corinthians 6:16 is not a joining that God does.

Paul does not teach that the Christian man who commits fornication with a harlot is one body, in the sense of being married to the harlot, but rather that he has brought his body which is a member of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit into a union with the harlot’s body which desecrates his body and makes it unfit to be used by Christ and unfit as a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. The body of the woman of Samaria was “one body” with the man with whom she was living, yet Jesus said he was not her husband. So being “one body” with a harlot does not constitute marriage with that harlot. It is unthinkable that such an unholy act as fornication can form such a holy union as marriage, or that God would join two in holy marriage who had no love for each other and had no intention of forming a union which would fulfill the purposes of God, but rather would only fulfill their unholy lust for gratification of unholy desires. (Lanier, 1972).

Who May Marry?

Based on the Sacred Writings only three groups of people are eligible to marry.

  1. One who has never before been married (1 Cor. 7:36, 38).

  2. One whose spouse is dead (Rom. 7:2-3).

  3. The innocent party in a divorce (Matt. 19:9).

A scripturally eligible person can only marry another who is him scripturally eligible to marry.

What Does the Bible Teach About Divorce and Remarriage?

The Bible teaches that God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). This however does not mean that God hates all divorce. God who is the joiner of people in marriage reserves the right to put them asunder (Matt. 19:6). No man has the right to bind where God has not bound and to loose where God has bound (Rev. 22:18-19). In the law of Christ, we see God’s law on divorce and remarriage. “And He saith unto them, whosoever shall put away (divorces—NKJV) his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). By combining the entirety of God’s Word on this issue (Psa. 119:160 Asv), we learn that the only exception to this rule is fornication as seen in Matthew 19:9. Divorce and remarriage for any cause save the scriptural one is a sin. The one who does that lives and continues to live in adultery. And more, since “whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matt. 19:9), the fornicator or the guilty party has no more right to re-marry than a lazy man has the right to an industrious person’s riches. Eminent Greek scholar A.T. Robertson wrote this about Matthew 19:9; “Jesus by implication, as in Matt. 5:31, does allow remarriage of the innocent party, but not of the guilty one.”

Those who contend that the innocent cannot remarry because Mark and Luke’s accounts supposedly “contradict” Matthew’s account, interestingly, do not make this same argument when talking about the accounts of these same writers on the Great Commission. They know that we must combine the entirety of the accounts of the Great Commission in order to know the totality of what Christ said on the issue. Yet, they feign ignorance of this principle when it comes to the issue of marriage, divorce and remarriage. Denominational preachers have long taught error on what a person must do to be saved simply because they do to God’s Word what some brethren do, when it comes to the issue of marriage, divorce and remarriage. They formulate doctrines based on isolated texts, rather than use the correct hermeneutical principle of induction and deduction, which involves combining the entirety of God’s Word on the issue of salvation, and drawing such conclusions as are warranted by the evidence. Whiles we personally believe that the innocent should remain with the guilty if he/she can, we hold that those who forbid the remarriage of the innocent party are forbidding what God has allowed and are therefore teaching a doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:1, 3).

Is God’s Law on Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage

in the Gospel Accounts an Old Testament law?

Some teach that the law of Christ on marriage, divorce and remarriage in the Gospel accounts is Old Testament teaching and as such has been nailed to the cross. Two reasons have been given for this position. First, the fact that the death of Christ nailed the law to the cross. (Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:14) “So” say they “since Christ was born and bred under the law (Gal. 4:4) then everything of His, including all of His teachings, was nailed to the cross.” Second, the fact that a testament or a will takes effect when the testator is dead (Heb. 9:16-17). The argument therefore is that, Christ’s teachings in the Gospel accounts are Old Testament teachings since he taught them prior to His death.

This position is false for three reasons. First, “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1) is not Old Testament teaching. Second, the fact that our Lord taught things that were not meant for the old dispensation, such as His teaching on acceptable worship (John 4:21-24). Third, our Lord’s repeated use of the phrase, “but/and I say unto you.” Take for example the discourse in Matthew 19:1-12. Some teach that when Christ said, and I say unto you (v.9), He was simply explaining or clarifying the Law of Moses. This cannot be since under the Law, the penalty for fornication was not a divorce but death (see Lev.20:10). Thus, if in Matthew 19:9, the penalty for fornication was no longer death but a divorce, then does this not clearly prove that Jesus Christ, by His use of but/and I say unto you, changed the law? I submit that this is the case. Every single time our Lord used the phrase but/and I say unto you, He was teaching His own law (Gal. 6:2) that would take effect in His kingdom.

Dub McClish (1997) has aptly noted;

If Matthew 19:9 is merely a clarification of Moses’ law, it is exceedingly strange that the law existed for fifteen centuries without such clarification and that the clarification was given only a matter of months before it was annulled with the rest of the law. Jesus was not teaching Old Testament law, but His own doctrine that would prevail in the Christian age, soon to begin.

Whiles it is true that a will/testament takes effect after death, Hebrew 9:16-17 in no way means that a will must be or is written after death. Unless dead people can write wills or testaments, a testament must necessarily be written whiles the testator is alive. Thus, Jesus Christ wrote His will (not all – see John 14-16) whiles He was alive, with this will or testament taking effect at His death. Indeed Christ was born and bred under the Old Testament. However, His teaching, will or testament was not meant for that dispensation of time.

To Whom does God’s New Testament Law on

Marriage Divorce and Remarriage Apply?

Does the word “whosoever” (Matt. 5:32, 19:9; Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18) mean “regardless of who” like the Oxford dictionary says it does? Then God’s New Testament law on marriage, divorce and remarriage applies to every accountable person on earth. The apostle told unbelievers to repent because Christ will judge all men, which of course included them (Acts 17:30-31). Since Christ will judge all men living today by one universal standard, His Word (John 12:48), it follows then that “all men everywhere” and “whosoever,” are amenable to God’s law on marriage, divorce and remarriage. Thus, people who divorced without cause and re-married before becoming Christians can no more remain in the sinful relationship than a homosexual can remain in his “same-sex marriage” after becoming a Christian. If it was not lawful for Herod, a gentile, to have his brother’s wife, even though he had married her according to Roman law (Mark 6:16-18), then God’s law on marriage, divorce and remarriage applies equally to every person living in this dispensation of time.

Not Under Bondage

There are yet some who posit that the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:15 gives a Christian with an unbelieving spouse the privilege to remarry, even if the divorce was not for the scriptural cause. Before any discussion of this text, we need to understand that first, the apostle says nothing about a divorce in the text. Rather he says “if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.” Second, even if we grant that the word depart means a divorce (it does not), the apostle doesn’t say the believer can remarry. Rather he says the believer “is not under bondage in such cases.”

The view that the believer can remarry when the unbelieving spouse divorces him/her is based on the word “bondage.” Though it might not seem apparent, this word in no way refers to the marriage bond. The word translated bondage in this text literally means abject slavery and is used eight times in the New Testament including this place in 1 Corinthians 7:15. What is interesting is that in none of these usages is the marriage bond intimated, unless 1 Corinthians 7:15 is the exception (cf. Acts 7:6; Gal. 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:19). Moreover, in this very chapter, when the apostle wanted to speak about the marriage bond, he used a different word, which was not translated bondage but “bound” (see 1 Cor. 7:27, 39). In fact, the only other time this word is used in the New Testament is Romans 7:2. Friends, both these words—bondage and bound in the Greek—are not the same and this fact is significant in arriving at the correct interpretation of the text.

When Paul used bondage in 1 Corinthians 7:15, he evidently meant that for the Christian to go after the departed spouse in hopes that he/she saves the marriage (especially when he/she must compromise his/her Christianity to achieve this end), would mean slavery of the most abject kind. A kind that God has not called the Christian to. Besides, there is no guarantee that the believer would save his/her marriage anyway (1 Cor. 7:16). Thus, the Christian “…is at liberty to live separate, and should regard it as proper so to do” (Barnes). Friends this is the meaning of the text. To put remarriage in there, when the apostle did no such thing and in view of his teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 and the Lord’s in Matthew 19:9, is to wrest and wrongfully handle the scriptures.

I think we are forced to the conclusion that he would not be (free to marry Aidoo) except when fornication is committed on the part of the unbeliever. This view, unlike many others that are advanced, offers absolute harmony between Jesus and Paul, and one who believes in the inspiration of every Scripture has no choice but to harmonize the two. If there is lack of harmony, it is in our theories and explanations, not in what Jesus and Paul said. Thus, I reject the concept that Paul permitted a second cause (the so-called Pauline privilege), desertion, for divorce and remarriage. Jesus permitted only one (Mt. 5:32; 19:9). If Paul allowed another, he allowed more than Christ Himself. Thus, I believe that any interpretation of this v. that permits a second cause for divorce and remarriage is a misinterpretation. (Winters, 1987, pg. 89).

Conclusion

We do not agree with those who say the Lord’s new covenant teaching on marriage, divorce and remarriage cannot be understood. There is nothing written but what we can read and understand (2 Cor. 1:13 NKJV). Rather, our problems are borne out of the desire of men to bind where the Lord has not bound and to loose where the Lord has bound. When men on one hand look for “loopholes” in the Bible in order to easily divorce their spouses and remarry and when on the other hand they desire to be stricter than God, it is no wonder we do not speak the same things on this issue. If we would combine the entirety of God’s Word on this issue in order to ascertain all what the Bible teaches about it and then say it as it is (1 Pet. 4:11), we would surely be united on this issue. That we all strive for unity of belief and teaching on this very important subject is our humble prayer.

Works Cited

Barnes, A. Albert Barnes’ NT Commentary. Power Bible CD 5.1.

Lanier, Roy H. (1972). What Is Marriage? In T.B. Warren (Ed.), Problem Areas in Marriage (Spiritual Sword, V.3 N.3., pg. 3). Memphis, Tennessee: Getwell Church of Christ 1511 Getwell Road.

McClish, D. (1997). Is Matthew 19:9 A Part Of The Law Of Christ? In A.E. Highers (Ed.), What Do The Scriptures Say About Divorce And Remarriage? (Spiritual Sword, V.28 N.4., pg. 36). Memphis, Tennessee: Getwell Church of Christ 1511 Getwell Road.

Robertson, A.T. Robertson’s NT Word Pictures. Power Bible CD 5.1.

Winters, H. (1987). Commentary of First Corinthians. United States of America: Carolina Christian.

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