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Should I Divorce My Second Wife to Remarry My First Wife?
Copyright © 2005 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

To make full and best use of the following article, it is recommended to first read the online book: Split Asunder--Divorce and Remarriage Scripturally Explained. Then return here for a more in depth discussion of whether it is proper to remain married to a second spouse.


This article will be split into two distinct sections. Section One is intended to study the doctrines behind that looming question: Is it biblically acceptable to remain in a "remarried" state? Among those who have raised this question are surely those who are just academically curious. Also asking such questions are those Christians who may have been remarried and have come to understand that in most cases Jesus called the act of getting remarried the "sin of adultery," and now these Christians would like to know what to do to adequately repent and return to full favor with God. Section One is dedicated to providing a sound doctrinal answer to that question.

Section Two of the article focuses on addressing some of the issues and objections that have arisen from a few Christians who feel that the best "repentance" for remarried Christians is always to divorce their present spouse and return to remarry the first spouse. While it is commendable that the first marriage is held in such high esteem by these Christians, there are many assumptions and errors of biblical interpretation that drive such a philosophy. The emphasis within Section Two is the evaluation of the arguments, issues, and objections utilized by those who advocate divorce so as to be able to reconcile with an original spouse.

As always, read with discernment, calling upon the Lord for understanding.

Section One


What should a person do when they come to understand that divorce is a sin, and that remarriage to someone "new" after divorcing the original spouse is most often called "adultery" by the Word? Should they seek to end the new marriage and reconcile with the original spouse? Is instigating a second divorce the answer to undoing the damage created by the first divorce along with the subsequent second marriage?

This article will attempt to address from a Scriptural perspective the doctrine of remaining married to a second spouse. However, for those who have had to go through divorce and perhaps now find themselves in a situation similar to that being discussed, they may find this being handled in an all too academic manner. Such people may find great support and personal assistance by seeking out private counselors--preferably those familiar with the biblical Nouthetic Counseling approach.

Much of Section One of this short article will be dedicated to exploring the biblical basis for whether one should remain married to a second spouse gained by way of a remarriage. In Section Two some investigation will also be undertaken examining the arguments employed by those who feel that the only proper thing to do is divorce the second spouse and reconcile with the original spouse.

Recapping the Basics - Creating a Marriage

Marriage is a covenant between two people. This marriage covenant, like any other formal agreement, is a single contract mutually forged by two people, a man and a woman, who have come to a common understanding.

Marriage is defined as:

Once the couple approves this marriage contract (covenant), usually during a “wedding ceremony,” they are bound to each other in matrimony for life, from that moment forward. Even should they change their minds as they walk down the steps to leave the church building, it matters not one bit, for they are married for life. Their marriage knot was tied and the time for “backing out” has passed them by. They must abide by the terms of the marriage commitment they forged on that afternoon until one of them dies, or, they exercise the option of getting an adulterous divorce.

Becoming married is a one-time act. Becoming husband and wife is based solely on the willing and mutual agreement between a man and a woman to become “married”. Marriage happens at a specific moment in time; that moment in time is the instant when both the man and the wife say, “Yes, I agree to be bound by this marriage covenant starting now”--most often during the wedding ceremony itself.

As Adam told Eve during their wedding ceremony, “you are now flesh of my flesh”. The two individuals have symbolically become one, united in marriage. This is a single-time joining which is never supposed to occur again for either the man or the woman, unless one should happen to die before the other.

Note: sexual intercourse is not a requirement needed to ratify the marriage contract. Joseph and Mary ended their betrothal period by becoming fully and actually married as husband and wife without the benefit of sexual intercourse to “ratify” the marriage (Joseph took Mary as his wife but kept her a virgin until the birth of Jesus--Matthew 1:24,25). Eventually Joseph and Mary did have intercourse, but that was long after they had “become married” as husband and wife. Sex does not initiate or legitimize a marriage union. Sex becomes a benefit and even an ever-present obligation of a marriage, but only after the marriage knot has been tied. If sex were required to make a marriage “real” then the Scriptures do mislead us when they say that Joseph awoke from his vision and “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son.”

Recurring Obligations of a Marriage Covenant

After a couple has been married, the terms, conditions, and obligations of the wedding covenant are applicable. In fact, a most interesting thing about the covenant’s obligations are that, unlike the one-time act of becoming married, the obligations of the covenant are ongoing for a lifetime. The obligations are never satisfied, they are not a “let’s just do this one-time event and we have fulfilled our commitment,” they are recurring obligations for the duration of the marriage.

Enclosed in the ongoing and recurring obligations of the marriage contract are the following Scripturally required elements to which the man and woman agreed:

Marriages Formed Outside the Church are Still Marriages in God’s Sight

Marriages are formed when two people (a man and a woman) make an agreement or contract with each other, mutually and willingly consenting to be bound by the obligations of the agreement for life. They do so in the sight of God, whether they believe in Him or not. Marriages between unbelievers are still considered marriages by God whether they were made by common law intent, by proclamation of civil servants, via an unbelieving or even pagan religious ceremony, or in a church by a pastor dedicated to serving God. The agreement to live until death as husband and wife is the binding rope of the marriage. Once the agreement is made, it is immediately effective and compelling for the couple.

Sex Does Not Create nor Start a Marriage

Simply having sex does not imply that a marriage union has taken place. Having sex always makes a man "one flesh" with his partner, but such a merging was intended by God to only occur between one man and one woman in the form of a life long covenant relationship (Matthew 19:5). However, in spiritual terms, sex with prostitutes makes a man "one flesh" with the prostitute, but this does not make him married to her (I Corinthians 6:13-18).

Marriages do not happen as a matter of course when two people fornicate (have sex outside of marriage). Marriages only happen as a matter of contractual intent--two people agreeing together to make this bond for life.

Sex does not begin the clock for a marriage, nor does it make the man into a husband; only the marriage agreement accomplishes this at the moment it is formally made. Were that not true, premarital sex between an engaged man and woman would not only automatically start the anticipated marriage (thus making unnecessary the wedding ceremony at which the formal agreement was to be made in front of the church) but the sex act itself would be lawful sex for it initiated a marriage. The expressions "premarital sex" and fornication would have no useful meaning.

It is not the first occurrence of the sex act that "initializes" the marriage. Rather, it is the invocation of the marriage agreement itself which starts the marriage. If sex were experienced prior to the invocation of the marriage contract (wedding ceremony) the act of sex would be immoral and unlawful. The fact that the agreement has been made first is what legitimizes the acts of sex which follow--sex does not legitimize nor initiate anything.

Consider the Samaritan woman whom Jesus met by the well. Jesus told her something about her marital status, the woman herself did not say this, but it was Jesus who said she had had five different husbands, and the man she was living with at the moment was not her husband at all (John 4:18). From this we know that simply living with someone and having sex with them does not make them a spouse, for marriage requires a binding contract. We also know that Jesus considered each one of her previous marriages to have been real marriages, for He called each of her five previous covenant partners "husbands" even while recognizing that the last lover was not a "husband."

As a symbol of Israel’s faithlessness toward God, Hosea was required by God to find a prostitute, propose to her a covenant of marriage, and then to have children by this professional harlot after they married (Hosea 1:2). All the paying customers who had previously been with Gomer (Hosea’s new bride) in her old life were not her "husbands." Sex, becoming one flesh, even with a prostitute, does not make someone married--marriage requires a covenant. Hosea was now Gomer’s husband because they had a covenant, an agreement of mutual intent. Their sexual relations as man and wife were therefore lawful. (Note: for those who are less familiar with the story, Gomer eventually abandoned Hosea, sold herself into slavery and prostitution, though the two never did get divorced. God then required Hosea to find Gomer [who was now publicly known to the community as an adulteress along with being a prostitute], to redeem her from her owner with money, and to treat her with all the love and kindness normally due a faithful wife by a husband--symbolically showing how God had mercy on adulterous Israel. Hosea did not divorce Gomer, nor did she marry another husband, though she clearly did have other adulterous lovers, including her slave master. Hosea remained faithful to his marriage covenant.)

Finally, we should be negligent if we do not also state that sexual intercourse is not a requirement to ratify the marriage contract. Joseph and Mary ended their engagement / betrothal period by becoming fully married (Joseph took Mary as his wife but kept her a virgin until the birth of Jesus--Matthew 1:24,25) without the benefit of sexual intercourse. Sexual relations simply do not initiate a marriage nor do they ratify a marriage contract.

Consider for a moment that some Christians become paraplegic and even quadriplegic in their youth due to such activities as skiing, diving, or car accidents. Their inability to engage in sex does not prevent them from establishing genuine marriage covenants with a loving wife or husband. If physical sexual intercourse were an obligatory step in establishing a marital relationship, such people would not be lawfully married after all. Yet, if such a disabled man were to lose his wife to a divorce, and if she remarried a new husband, would she not still be called an adulteress (Luke 16:18)? Marriage is final and binding (the permanent knot is tied) before sex is even initiated, assuming sex ever is initiated.

All marriages require a covenant of intent between the man and the woman. Simply living with someone and having sex with them does not qualify as a marriage. In truth, it is fornication, but it is not marriage.

Similarly, marriage requires nothing else to make it valid except the willing agreement from a man and a woman to establish this relationship for as long as they live. Sex does not ratify the covenant--the covenant is ratified, made permanent, and is binding on the couple before sex is even a permitted activity.

All Mutually Contracted Marriages are True Marriages

God recognizes all mutual covenants between a man and a woman as true marriages. The marriage partners may not recognize God or believe in Him, but when they create a marriage contract between themselves, God acknowledges their intent as a genuine marriage, as does most of the populated world. This truth is found throughout the Bible, from Abraham’s misdeeds in Egypt before there even was something called the Mosaic Law which regulated marriage and divorce, to the woman at the well, through most of Revelation.

Once ratified by the man and the woman, the marriage contract forms a true marriage. This marriage is a true marriage whether it occurs between pagans, between believers, or between an unbeliever and a believer (more on this later). If these were not "true marriages" but rather were invalid non-marriages, then divorces would not be necessary to terminate them. Also, if such were non-marriages then the man would not be called a husband and the woman would not be called a wife--yet we find the use of "husband" and "wife" and the use of "divorce" to be universal.

God recognizes all mutual covenants between a man and a woman as true marriages.

Homosexual Unions and Blood Relation Unions are not Marriages

Marriages, when understood as covenants of lifelong union between a man and a woman, are binding. Two forms of union are simply not marriage by simple definition. Homosexual unions are not marriages. God defines marriage as being between one man and one woman for life (Genesis 2:24). Similarly, some specific blood relation unions are not marriages and are expressly forbidden by Leviticus 18:6-22.

And He answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, 'FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH'?. (Matthew 19:4,5)

Homosexual unions are not marriages by any biblical definition. Therefore, no divorce is needed for no marriage was ever established. In fact, every act of homosexuality is considered by God to be a sin (1 Timothy 1:10). No homosexual partner was ever called a "wife" or a "husband" in the Bible since marriage is exclusive of homosexual unions. Homosexuality is simply the practice of unlawful sex that must be ended by the participant.

Given that a civil union between two people of the same sex is not a marriage, when a person becomes saved and leaves a lifestyle of homosexuality, even a same-sex civil union, they are free to marry, but only a member of the opposite sex, and only someone else who is in Christ. Homosexual civil unions are not marriages and do not bind a person under a marriage covenant, for the civil union between homosexuals is a mutual agreement to continue to practice a form of sexual contact (same gender sex) which God simply has forbidden under all circumstances. Since a civil union between two people of the same sex is never a marriage, there is no divorce, and therefore a future marriage is not a “remarriage.”

In Matthew 14 we read that Herod was living with, and having sex with, the ex-wife of his living brother, Philip. The woman's name, coincidentally, was Herodias. In fact, Mark 6:17 states Herod had married Herodias. This marriage and its ongoing sexusal relations violated the clear prohibition of Leviticus 18:16 (which forbade sexual unions between living blood relatives--see verses 5-6--and the ex-wife of a living brother is considered to be a blood relative), so John the Baptist pointed out this public disgrace, Herod's incest, to whomever would listen during his public sermons; eventually John's outrage cost him his very life.

To be certain, it was not the fact that Herod and Herodias were having incestuous sex which caused their union to be called a marriage; rather, they had been formally married in the usual sense such that Mark acknowledged they were actually married. Interestingly, this case proves that sex alone cannot create a de facto marriage, for the incestuous sex act (between the ex-wife of a living brother and the other brother) is considered an invalid "lewdness" between blood relatives. Illicit and lewd sex alone could never be the de facto basis for creating a valid marriage.

Herod's union is one of the few instances in all of Scripture where the marriage itself was invalid according to the Mosaic Law (similar to a gay marriage being invalid even if a secular ceremony is performed). They had not committed adultery, they were engaged in continuous incest. The ongoing sex was invalid because of the lewdness of incestuous sexual unions with living blood relatives, but the couple was still called "married" by Mark because that was their public intent. In this utterly unique case, the marriage was never recognized by the Mosaic Law as valid, its ongoing sex was explicitly called a lewdness, and the couple should have parted ways since they were not in a marriage in the sense recognized or defined by the Mosaic Law.

Divorce Terminates True Marriages

Divorce, then, is the only regulated and intentional means to achieve a premature termination of that covenant (death is the normal, default, and natural means of terminating the marriage contract). Just as marriages are not accidental (as marriages might be if they were formed every time two teenagers gave in to the temptation to have sex), divorces are not automatic when adultery occurs nor when sex is experienced outside of the marriage. Divorce must be deliberate and intentional, just as much as was the original marriage contract both deliberate and intentional.

A divorce is the official severing of the marriage covenant established between two people. As to the reputation of this official action, God hates divorce.

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 companion and your wife by covenant. "For I hate divorce," says the LORD, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with wrong," says the LORD of hosts. "So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously." (excerpts from Malachi 2:13-16)

God hates sin. God hates divorce. Divorce is the sin of dealing treacherously with the covenantal wife of one's youth, a sin which God hates. Why is it considered by God to be dealing treacherously with one's wife? Every divorce is an intentional breaking of a marriage commitment, and that means every divorce is an intentional decision by a Christian to break his word that he would stay with a person for a lifetime. Lying, deceptiveness, and telling falsehoods are sins, and sins in which one's treachery is entirely unleashed at one's spouse. God hates the treacherous sin of divorce.

Surely the word “treachery” is too strong a term to apply to a broken promise, is it not? Each divorce is a way of saying, “You know what, my dearest? I lied. I am not going to live with you, care for you, obey you, or support you beginning now. I lied to you during the wedding ceremony, I lied before God, and I lied to you in front of your family, and I just don’t care. I will do nothing to assist you emotionally on a day-by-day basis, and like a coward, I am running away from you, because you are my problem--all things which I told you I would never do. And need I even mention that you can’t get remarried to someone better than me, because that would be the sin of adultery. Well, now that I have messed up your life permanently, good luck.” Treachery.

O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend; In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD; He swears to his own hurt and does not change... (Psalm 15:1-4)

Still, divorce is defined and regulated by the Scriptures. Divorce is real. When God, through Moses, gave regulations that explained what divorce was and how men could divorce their wives, and how wives could divorce their husbands, it was seen by men as a form of permission to get divorced. It should be pointed out that since divorce is a sin which God hates, this was not some form of permission for men to do something sinful without it being called a hated sin. However, it was a permission to commit the sin without being executed under the criminal Law of adultery (Deuteronomy 22:22). In God’s mercy, He revoked the criminal penalty of death which normally applied to the crime of adultery, but He continued to call it a sin which He hates. (Note: for a more detailed explanation of this "permission" please read Chapter 4: Did Not Moses Give "Permission" to Divorce? from the online book Split Asunder.)

When a divorce (an intentional premature cancellation of the marriage contract) is instigated by one or both partners in the contract, the process of divorce is regulated by the Word and these "terms of dissolution" governing divorces become effective. Whether formally discussed prior to marriage and written into the couples’ marriage covenant or not, the following terms of dissolution are imposed by the regulations of Scriptures and apply to every divorce.

A divorce, while it ends all the privileges of marriage (like companionship and sexual relations) does not end all the obligations that came as a result of getting married. A divorced person is not in the same status as someone who never did get married. As just discussed in the bulleted list above, certain biblical obligations will continue to apply, possibly for life.

Scripture regulates, defines, and acknowledges the status of divorce. For that reason, when a divorced man ignores his marriage contract to his first wife and divorces her, and subsequently creates a second marriage contract, then according to Scripture he is truly divorced from the first wife and the joint covenant of marriage is ended. However, since he ignored the obligation to remain single following his divorce (1 Corinthians 7:10,11, Luke 16:18, Matthew 5:31,32) he has committed adultery through the act of becoming remarried.

The Other Nature of Adultery and Defilement

Adultery need not be a physical act of sex at all. The crime of adultery can be as simple as a mere thought.

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27,28)

As all students of the Bible know, the word "adultery" applies not merely to sex or thoughts of sex, but also to being disloyal to a relationship. God and men do not have sex. Yet, when Israel frequently went off looking for other gods ("lovers") she was quite often labeled in Scriptures as an adulteress (Ezekiel 6:9). "Adulterous heart" is not a reference to sexual adultery, it is a violation of the covenant relationship, and is for that one reason called an "adultery."

From the very first marriage between Adam and Eve, God meant for marriage to be a mysterious and symbolic example on Earth of His relationship with mankind.

For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31,32)

God does not actually have physical relations (become "one flesh") with His chosen ones, yet He states that they commit "adultery" when they behave faithlessly or sinfully. From this we know that God has as one of His definitions for adultery a meaning which has nothing at all to do with actual sex. In some cases God defines adultery as "being disloyal to a covenantal relationship or agreement."

"You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? (James 4:3-5)

God is the Lord of the our covenantal relationship; He is the single focus to Whom we are dedicated for life, in fact, to Whom we have dedicated our very lives. When we push aside God as our focus, push Him out of first place in the relationship and let our focus be something or someone else, we commit adultery against Him. Covenantal relationship adultery.

Since our covenantal relationship with God has nothing whatsoever to do with sex, we know that the word "adultery" can also be appropriately applied metaphorically and it confirms for us that adultery can mean "disloyal to a covenantal relationship or an agreement." Such a relationship has been adulterated.

In a human relationship, sex outside the boundaries of the covenant does, of course, violate the sanctity of the marriage covenant--though sex alone does not terminate it. Being disloyal to a spouse, such as abandoning one’s spouse and moving alone to an unknown address, or spending four hours a day chatting to a new-found "soulmate" on the internet while your spouse sits in the next room fuming, also violates the covenant of the relationship (if you do not immediately believe this, ask your spouse their opinion of such an act). Even filing for a divorce (though no sinful sex has taken place) violates the covenant of the relationship.

When Jesus said, "I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery" (Matthew 5:32a), He meant just precisely what He said. The act of divorce inflicts, makes the other spouse commit, adultery. Note what the words actually say, it is the act of divorce that makes the other spouse bring adultery into the relationship. Divorce always violates a marriage covenant, it causes the other spouse to commit adultery. The one initiating the divorce is not blameless.

Remarriage to a Third Person

If the injunction (to remain single after a divorce--1 Corinthians 7:10,11) is ignored, and either the woman or the man marries someone new, the act of making the new marriage covenant with this third person is called the act of adultery by Jesus.

"Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery." (Luke 16:18)

So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress (Romans 7:3a)

This new marriage to a third person is a true marriage though it was born in adultery. There is a new marriage covenant in force, a new husband, and a new wife. Did not Jesus say that the woman at the well had five husbands? Does not Jesus call the taking of a second wife the act of "marrying" in Luke 16:18? Do not both 1 Timothy 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6 require that men have only one wife, implying that a second living wife was also a potentially real, albeit disqualifying, marital status in which to find someone?

From a certain mindset, it may seem wrong that a marriage begun under the pall of sin could still be a real marriage. Nonetheless, the biblical evidence is quite compelling.

Example 1 – Believer Marries Unbeliever

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God…Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate," says the Lord. "And do not touch what is unclean, and I will welcome you. (excerpts from 2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

Some Christians marry unbelievers willingly, knowing they are breaking this command of the Lord. Such a marriage has begun in spite of it being a violation of God’s Law. Every day they remain married to an unbeliever they are bound to darkness, agreeing with idols, tied to unrighteousness. What should the Christian do to repent of this sinful marriage? Should he stay married to the unbeliever or should he initiate a divorce and remain single for the rest of his life hoping that the spouse eventually gets saved?

if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. (1 Corinthians 7:12b-13)

Even though this marriage started out in sin, and appears to remain sinful so long as the spouse is an unbeliever, the marriage is real and the Christian must remain married and living with the unbeliever. The Christian does not even have the choice or option to divorce the unbeliever.

Consistent throughout the Bible is this message and principle of the permanence and legitimacy of marriage to the current spouse, even if the initial creation of the marriage union was an act of sin which violated Scripture. And it is the current marriage that is to be kept in tact, even if keeping the current marriage together gives an appearance to others that the partners are unequally yoked on a day-to-day basis.

Example 2 – Teenage Girl Marries in Disobedience to Parental Rules

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Ephesians 6:1)

Imagine that a child is told by her father, "You may not get married until you are 21 years old, and no matter how old you get you may never marry that manipulative, deceitful, and angry boy named Shaun you have been dating behind my back." Further imagine that at age 18 the girl elopes with Shaun anyway, sinfully disobeying her father’s direct rules. She then calls home that night, tells her father, and says she is moving to the next town to start her new household with Shaun. The father is so shocked and hurt, he says nothing and quietly hangs up. Then, a week later she comes home and states that she wishes for her father to undo the marriage for her.

Is the girl married? Yes, according to all we know from Scripture they are, because even in the Old Testament a minor child may bind themselves for life to a vow (such as a marriage vow) even if it is done rashly (Numbers 30:3-5).

Even though this marriage was conceived in sinful disobedience, if this girl follows through on her desire to get her divorce, she will commit adultery. And if Shaun should go and be remarried, he too would be committing adultery.

Example 3 – Deuteronomy 21 Imposes Inheritance Laws for Remarried Men

If a man has two wives, the one loved [his current wife] and the other unloved [his ex-wife], and both the loved and the unloved have borne him sons, if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then it shall be in the day he wills what he has to his sons, he cannot make the son of the loved the firstborn before the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn. But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn. (Deuteronomy 21:15-17)

A man has two living wives, having divorced the unloved one and remaining with the loved one. The fact that this situation is regulated at all by the Law of Moses indicates that the Law recognized that remarriages were "real", and that second wives were genuinely "wives." Is it not odd that Moses did not write "if a man has two wives, he must divorce his second wife and return to his first wife"? Instead, Moses simply indicates that the man actually has two living wives. Though the second marriage was begun with a sinful marriage covenant, it is still a "real" marriage, and the wife is a "real" wife.

What is difficult for some to understand is that the divorce is real, though sinful, and the second marriage covenant is real, though the act of getting married to a third person was sinful. Nonetheless, once married, a person is truly married. The covenant is made, the bonds to the first marriage are untied, and the bonds to the second marriage are firmly knotted.

As a true marriage, though improperly made, sex within the bounds of a remarriage is sanctified by that marriage contract. Healthy sexual relations inside a remarriage are nowhere called sins. Sex within a marriage is a biblical right and a biblical obligation (1 Corinthians 7:3-5) and should not be discontinued nor labeled as sinful (Hebrews 13:4).

Sex within the Second Marriage--Sin or Obligation?

And He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery." (Mark 10:11,12)

At the instant a divorced person says, "I do" to a new marriage covenant with a new spouse, they have "adulterated" their first marriage contract. They have changed its terms, disregarded its legality, and torn away the rope that bound that relationship. At that instant, they have made the previous contract null, void, and irreparable. And even the one who married the divorced person shares in that act of adultery since they helped destroy the original covenant by making a new one--they were part of adulterating the original marriage covenant.

Later, when that same couple (who forged the new and adulterous marriage covenant) seek to have marital relations between themselves, they are not committing yet another act of adultery. Why? Because the marriage covenant they established grants them permission to have sex, but only with each other. When they engage in sexual intercourse, they are in fact being faithful to the only contract that now binds them.

To argue that the old covenant should continue to bind the former spouse ignores some basic principles established by God. God said that if a person were to become divorced, and then become remarried to a new spouse, even if the second marriage ended because the new spouse dies, the original couple are never free to resume a marriage relationship (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

"When a man takes a wife and marries her,

and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her,
and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house,
and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife,
and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house,

or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife,

then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance." (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)

After a divorce is followed by a remarriage, the old covenant is more than just obsolete, it is so thoroughly dissolved that it is improper for it to ever be reconstructed again.

Why? Why cannot the original couple ever be remarried? Is this just some obscure law that Moses invented which is mired in incomprehensible customs and cultures of that day? No, for the Bible says that a rejoining of the original couple "is an abomination before the Lord" (Deuteronomy 24:4).

Why is the rejoining of the original couple an abomination to the Lord? Because the creation of a second marriage "defiled" the spouse. That is, the spouse became permanently unclean, not in the sense that he/she could no longer enter the temple or be invited to dinner, but in the sense that their ability to covenant a marriage with the original spouse, or anyone else, has been adulterated, spoiled, and ruined. That person’s word or loyalty is unclean and cannot be trusted. A marriage covenant is supposed to be with one person for life, not one person at a time, but just one person for a lifetime.

Stated briefly, a remarried person is defiled by the second marriage. Not defiled by sex, because a large number of Jews (like Gomer and Rahab) and even Christians were tainted by illicit sex before they ever got married. Sex, like all sins, can be forgiven and the believer can go on to conduct a perfectly faithful life, get married, and have children. Sex simply does not defile a person for life.

So if it is not sex that permanently "defiled" the person, what did? It was the adulterating of the original marriage covenant itself. Not from the divorce, for the couple could merely have rescinded the divorce decree and resumed their marriage had they chosen to do so before any remarriages took place--in such a case the relationship, though briefly interrupted was never truly severed. So neither sex defiled the spouse, nor did divorce defile the spouse.

However, what happened during the remarriage ceremony? Each partner pledged to leave behind all previous family dependencies. They pledged to put away loneliness for the other person for the rest of their lives. They pledged emotional and physical loyalty to each other. They pledged to forsake all others. Forsake all other suitors or lovers. They promised to permanently forsake all previous marriage promises. This remarriage covenant directly contradicts, overrides, supercedes, and irreparably ends the first agreement. The first contract is adulterated, defiled, and rendered useless. As a useless covenant, it also renders impotent the relationship that it governed.

When the original couple sued for divorce, they were released from most of their marriage covenant’s day-to-day obligations toward one another, though it is wise to hasten to say that the obligations imposed by God to remain unmarried for life were still in operation. Once that original contract was repudiated by the second marriage contract, it no longer had any authority, and the new covenant was enacted through that self-same act of adultery (covenantal disloyalty). Nonetheless, the new marriage became a genuine marriage. This adultery-by-remarriage is a one-time action, just as an actual wedding ceremony is a one-time action. Even as the wedding vows were being uttered, the remarriage cut off all access to the original spouse and to the original marriage covenant--the act of adultery was completed, the original marriage fully dissolved and became literally unsalvageable.

As a real marriage, the couple within a remarriage is obligated to perform all the duties any other married couple are bound to fulfill. This includes sexual relations.

The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)

Can the Second Marriage be Undone and Therefore Negate the Adultery?

When the promises of the marriage covenant were made between a previously married person to someone entirely new, that was the very act of adultery which Jesus described and condemned in Luke 16:18. The actual remarriage, or to be more precise, the promises of lifelong loyalty exchanged during the remarriage ceremony, which violated and contradicted the same promises from the first marriage, are what Jesus called adultery. Sexual relations had nothing to do with it being labeled as "adultery" and sexual relations are not even mentioned in Luke 16:18 as being the cause of the adultery, while “remarriage” is said to the be cause. Similarly, ongoing marital relations do not add to the sin of remarriage and thus they do not make it any more adulterous.

Once the adultery of remarriage had occurred, at that very moment, the original marriage contract between the first husband and wife was forever cancelled and permanently voided, never to be renewed. God forbade the original divorced couple from ever reconciling and remarrying, even if the third spouse died (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Jeremiah 3:1 reemphasizes this principle of "irreconcilability following divorce and remarriage" by calling such a reconciliation "pollution to the land".

God says, "If a husband divorces his wife And she goes from him And belongs to another man, Will he still return to her? Will not that land be completely polluted?" (Jeremiah 3:1a)

Worse, if a couple did divorce, remarry other "new" spouses, and then decided to reconcile back as original spouses, they would be forced to legally divorce their "new" spouses. Jesus said that this too causes the divorce of the second spouses to become yet another set of adulteries (Matthew 5:32). So instead of correcting one adultery, it merely creates an entirely new set of adulteries while at the same time violating God’s written laws against this form of reconciliation.

Every marriage is a true marriage. Even the marriage between an unsaved person and a believer is a true marriage in spite of the fact that we are told in 2 Corinthians 6:14 that Christians must not become bound (married) to unbelievers. Paul says, when you find yourself in the situation where you are saved and are married to an unsaved spouse you are obligated to remain married, or, if the unbeliever chooses to leave you, you must remain single in hopes they will return and be won to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:11-16). All marriages are true marriages, even if that marriage was improperly initiated, sinfully originated, or ill advised at the start.

This may be of small comfort to the divorced believer who now realizes he or she committed the sin of adultery the day they married a new spouse, however, it was the one-time act of getting remarried that was the adultery; the adultery was not, and is not, linked to remaining in the state of marriage ever since that day. Happily, like every other sin in the Scriptures, the Lord forgives us our sins if we but confess them.

An example may be of some assistance. We are commanded not to lie. However, it may happen one day that a stranger stops you as you wait your turn to board the city bus, and through wine-flavored breaths says to you, "do you have an extra five dollars you can loan me for my laundry?" Startled, you disappoint yourself by stuttering out, "no I don’t" and rapidly board the bus keeping your five dollar bill in your pocket. With the cityscape growing distant you come to your senses and realize you lied. You cannot take back the words, they are said. You are a liar, and this cannot be undone. All that remains is to confess the sin and pray that you will have better control of your tongue during future encounters. Similarly, those who are remarried must pray for forgiveness because they sinned by violating their first marriage contract when they vowed to live according to a new marriage contract with a different spouse. That same sinner must purpose to themselves that they will never again commit to yet any further remarriages. Once confessed, the sin of adultery-by-remarriage is forgiven, just as is the sin of uttering a lie. In fact, adultery-by-remarriage is the sin of lying against one's first marriage covenant.

In the case of a person who divorced their first spouse and remarried a different spouse, that act of adultery was a one time sin that occurred on the day of the remarriage. Repenting consists of confessing the wrong that one has done and accepting that Christ forgives all of us our past sins, no matter how wretched we were.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Does this seem too easy? Does it feel like the one who has committed adultery by remarriage should have to divorce their current spouse and return to the original to obtain true forgiveness? It may feel that way, yet, if we look closely at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 we see that such a thing is not needed for Christ to wash, sanctify, and justify the adulterer. In fact, there is no such precedent in all the Bible. None. Nowhere does the Word command us or urge us to divorce our current spouse so that we can return to our previous spouse, and most assuredly it nowhere makes forgiveness dependent on such a work. Indeed, the very act of attempting to return to an original spouse after remarrying someone new is explicitly forbidden by Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Jeremiah 3:1 where it is called "polluting the land".

"When a man takes a wife and marries her,

and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her,
and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house,
and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife,
and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house,

or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife,

then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance." (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)

Divorcing one’s current spouse to attempt to reconcile to a previous spouse is forbidden by God’s Word and simply creates a new set of adulteries against the new spouse. A new set of adulteries against the new spouse? Yes, when the divorce with the most recent spouse occurs, and one goes off to create a new covenant with a previous spouse, they now commit adultery against their most recent spouse (the one with which they have just initiated a divorce). After all, they promised their most recent spouse that they would remain with them for life, and now, they abandon them for a former spouse--adultery has been committed against the most recently divorced spouse.

Biblically, the only remedy for one who has been divorced and remarried to a new spouse is to confess the one-time sin (adultery) that was incurred on the day of the remarriage. Praise God He has forgiven adultery (washed, sanctified, justified adulterers -- 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). The remarried (adulterer) must now work hard to preserve the current marriage, live up to his most recent promises to love and protect the current spouse until death, and to make the relationship one that can honor the Lord.

Choosing Which Covenant to Honor

Once someone has broken or violated their marriage promise by getting married to someone new, they break the promise from their first marriage that says they will be loyal to just one person until death; after that, nothing can restore the integrity of that broken promise. Nothing.

Even if they could find some creative means of restoring their marriage to the original spouse, they would now be guilty of breaking the same promise with the second spouse. When such a person got married for the second time to someone new, they made the same promise to the new person as they had made to the first--to be loyal to just one person until death. Not "one person at a time", but just one person. No matter which spouse this individual is with, they will be unable to live up to the promise they made to the other one left behind.

So which marriage covenant is the best one to honor? God tells us that bluntly. We are never again permitted to return to the original spouse to renew those promises (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) so we must honor the last marriage promise made. Our remarried state is the one on which we must focus and live up to our contractual commitments and our Scriptural responsibilities.

To be certain such a person will always carry within them the knowledge that they once committed adultery. However, they will also carry the knowledge that they have forsaken the practice of adultery and have been forgiven by God. Surely the only thing worse for such a person who once committed adultery-by-remarriage is to cause more adulteries by initiating another divorce and making more promises of remarriage.

Conclusion to Section One

Marriage is a mutual covenant made only between a man and a woman. Having sex and living together do not create a marriage bond; only a marriage agreement can do that. Pre-marital sex, fornication, or even prostitution (all of which make a person “one flesh” outside the bonds of marriage) do not disqualify a Christian from getting married. All marriages are true marriages, and can only be broken by death or by a divorce.

God hates divorce; He calls it treachery. Divorce makes liars and promise-breakers out of all who gave their word to remain married for a lifetime to one person. Remarriage makes one into an adulterer on the day they marry. This type of adultery is a one-time sin related to the creation of a new marriage covenant.

Those who became adulterers by means of remarriage to a "new" spouse after divorcing their first spouse can be forgiven by confessing their sin to God, and He will forgive. Once a person is an adulterer by means of having remarried someone "new", they are forbidden by Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Jeremiah 3:1 to return and reconcile with their original spouse.

There is no biblical example of anyone ever leaving a second marriage so that they might return to their original spouse (probably because this was expressly forbidden by the Law of Moses). Nor is there any command or advice on any page in the Scriptures instructing a person to initiate a divorce so that they can go back to a previous spouse.

Remain in the state in which you find yourself (1 Corinthians 7:20). Live for God with all your heart, mind, and strength, knowing He is able and willing to forgive all our sins, even adultery.

Section Two


There have been a few inquiries from Christians who have come to believe that the best way to "repent" from the sin of remarriage (adultery) is to require that the remarried believer divorce their current spouse and reconcile (remarry) their original spouse. While it is commendable that some hold the first marriage in such high esteem, there are many assumptions and errors of biblical interpretation that drive such a philosophical approach. For convenience, during the rest of this article, that philosophy will be referenced as "divorce-in-order-to-reconcile". Though more recently some who hold this position indicated it might be more accurate to call it “divorce-in-order-to-repent.” Please feel free to think of it in the manner that best suits your intent.

In this section of the article, we will look at the logic and the Scriptures used by proponents of the divorce-in-order-to-reconcile philosophy. Then we will examine whether the Scriptures are being properly interpreted and applied.

The Logic Behind Divorce-in-Order-to-Reconcile

Surely there are as many viewpoints and nuances on this philosophy as there are proponents. Therefore, it is likely that the following synopsis of the philosophy will reflect no one particular person’s unique perspective, however, it is desired that it reflect adequately the general concept.

Synopsis of, and assumptions behind, the divorce-in-order-to-reconcile philosophy:

Only Virgin Marriages are Valid

This assumption lies at the heart of the divorce-in-order-to-reconcile philosophy. Behind this assumption are other assumptions, such as "sex is required to initiate a valid marriage". However, as was demonstrated in Section One, sex is not the key to understanding marriage. Similarly, the "divorce-in-order-to-reconcile" assumption that pre-marital fornication or post-marital adultery makes a woman "unfit" for marriage or "too impure" for God to sanction marital relations with any man is a false and improper assumption. Sex is revered far too highly in the divorce-in-order-to-reconcile philosophy and is given priority in ways that are out-of-proportion to known biblical precedent.

Through the Word we learn that sex is enabled by marriage, sex is a right of marriage, but sex does not initiate, ratify, or validate a marriage. Joseph and Mary were legally married following their betrothal period, even though they did not have sexual intercourse until after Jesus was born (Matthew 1:24,25). Similarly, the fact that Gomer was not a virgin (she was a known harlot) did not invalidate her marriage to Hosea. In fact, Hosea had children with Gomer. Not only was this not considered a sin for Gomer or Hosea, but God Himself ordained it. Rahab the harlot also married into the nation of Israel and her own children became part of the blood line of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).

From these simple biblical examples we see that marriages of non-virgins are as valid as marriages of virgins. We see that sex is not a requirement to initiate a valid marriage. And finally we learn that a non-virgin woman is not so unfit and unclean that a man will not / cannot have healthy marital sexual relations with her, as Rahab’s offspring testify to us from the pages of Scripture.

Therefore, the assertion by the "divorce-in-order-to-reconcile" philosophy that sex can only be done wholesomely by the first man that ever had relations with a given woman is an unfounded and biblically disproved fallacy. Sex is pure when the two people engaging in the act are themselves married to each other.

Invalid Marriages Should be Terminated Via Divorce

There is no biblical phrase calling a marriage "invalid" or "illegitimate". This attribution is an invention of the "divorce-in-order-to-reconcile" philosophy, and the phrases "illegitimate marriage" and "invalid marriage" shed no helpful light on the proper interpretation of Scripture. Such phrases, in fact, can have the general effect of generating unfounded biases, which can then influence how one reads a passage. Therefore, we will forgo the use of the terms invalid and illegitimate when referring to marriages, since the Bible does not make use of such phrases.

There is no biblical command in the New Testament requiring a remarried believer to divorce any spouse. There is no biblical command in the Old Testament law requiring a remarried believer to divorce any spouse.

In fact, Jesus calls all spouses who initiate a divorce "sinners" for purposely inflicting adultery onto their spouse.

"And it was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." (Matthew 5:31,32)

In only one passage in all the Bible is a divorce implied to be a righteous act. The book of Ezra records that the Persian king, at the prompting of the Lord, decreed that Jerusalem could be rebuilt and reinhabited by the surviving Israelites. In exile many of the surviving Israelite remnant took unconverted spouses from pagan nations. While the Mosaic Law allows taking spouses from certain pagan nations, even from among enslaved races, the future spouses must first agree to abandon paganism and convert to Judaism. If they do not convert, the marriage is not permitted to take place under the Law.

Ezra, Chapters Nine and Ten, discuss how the Israelites repented of marrying unconverted and unbelieving spouses. As a scribe (having studied the Law during the exile--Ezra 7:6), Ezra accepted the people's proposal to officially divorce their pagan spouses, the legalities of which took many days. The account in Ezra nowhere indicates that these men were ever again permitted to remarry new wives. Just as importantly, nowhere does the Bible record that the men went back to reconcile with their spouses after the divorce.

As this is the only instance in all the Bible in which a divorce was advocated by a religious official we must ask if this is relevant as instruction for us today. Ezra’s advice was for the believing Jewish remnant to divorce their unbelieving pagan spouses. Is this applicable to Christians today?

God tells us not to marry unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14), therefore, to do so is a sin. However, we also know that Paul says if we did get married to an unbeliever we must stay married and we are not permitted to initiate a divorce against them (1 Corinthians 7:12). So even the one obscure instance in the Old Testament where a divorce was advised by a religious leader in order to separate believers from their unbelieving spouses, that one instance is countermanded by the New Testament statute that a believer "must not divorce" an unbeliever.

Even more to the point is the obvious and glaring lack. Ezra’s account does not describe a man divorcing from out of a remarriage in order to return to a marriage with a previous spouse. Ezra’s advice to the Israelite remnant to divorce their unbelieving spouses is simply no longer applicable advice to Christians today and it in no way endorses the "divorce-in-order-to-reconcile" philosophy.

There is simply no biblical requirement, no biblical command, no biblical advice, no biblical example, nor any biblical precedent by which a person today is permitted or encouraged to obtain a divorce (though the Matthew exception clauses stand alone in this regard). All divorces are improper and hated by God (Malachi 2:13-16). All divorces lead to further adultery (Matthew 5:31,32).

True Repentance Requires Divorcing the Current Spouse and Remarrying the Original Spouse

This single tenet of the divorce-in-order-to-reconcile philosophy is the most confounding and contradictory of all. Adherence to this tenet virtually requires the re-writing of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Jeremiah 3:1, and virtually all that Jesus said about divorces being a sinister cause of even further adultery.

At the root of this tenet of the divorce-in-order-to-reconcile philosophy are these two incorrect assumptions:

As was pointed out earlier, in Section One of this article, remarriages are genuine marriages, though they may have started as sinful acts. Once remarried, the woman is called a "wife" by Jesus, and the man is still called a "husband." This is true of the woman at the well and her five husbands, it was true of those who wanted to be elders and deacons (husbands of only one wife), and it was true of the adulterers that Jesus discussed in the gospels. Though it may offend our sensibilities, a remarried man is a true husband, the woman is a true wife, and the marriage is real covenant which supercedes the original.

If remarriages were not marriages at all then divorce would be unnecessary, as in the case of homosexual relationships. For example, if a person appears to be a police officer but it turns out he is simply imitating a real police officer, that man is a fraud, an invalid and illegitimate policeman--therefore I need not obey him, and if he gives me a ticket, I need not pay it. So it is with testing the validity of a marriage. If a remarriage were illegitimate the woman is not a "wife", the man is not a "husband", and the termination of the remarriage does not require a divorce. Living-together-in-sin is such an example of an illegitimate or "non-marriage" arrangement requiring no divorce to cause its end. By this we know that remarriages are true marriages, because the Scriptures require that a divorce be used to regulate the dissolution of every marriage and every remarriage.

The second of the assumptions indicates that every time a man and wife have sex they commit adultery anew if for one of them this is a remarriage. Again, this assumption is false. Jesus makes it very clear that it is only the remarriage covenant that invokes the guilt of adultery following a divorce. Again, an example may be of benefit--assume you got married but never had sex with your bride because you became ill following the wedding. Then you divorced your virgin bride and got remarried, to her virgin sister, though you have not yet had sex with her either. Would the second marriage be permissible merely because you did not have sex during the first marriage? No, Jesus calls the second marriage the act of adultery, sex is not the essence of a marriage but rather, the point of the marriage is the promise of lifelong companionship and loyalty.

Neither the first nor the second assumptions pass the test of biblical accuracy nor common sense. True repentance is not dependent on abandoning your current spouse and remarrying your previous spouse. All marriages are true marriages and must be treated with all the solemnity, dignity, and permanence which Scripture demands for the state of matrimony.

Sex within the bonds of a marriage is never called adultery anywhere in the Bible. Therefore whether a remarried couple has sex, or abstains from sex, will not make that couple more guilty of adultery or less guilty of adultery over time. Sex within a marriage is protected by God’s Laws.

Jesus’ Exception Clauses Only Refer to Virgin Betrothals (Engagements)

Why does the "divorce-in-order-to-reconcile" philosophy require the elimination of the exception clauses which Jesus articulated? Within that problematic philosophical framework is the all-important principle that only a first marriage between two virgins is truly "legitimate". All other marriages are illegitimate and should be terminated via divorces.

If the Bible were to allow a divorce, and also to allow a remarriage, and all because a marriage partner had strayed and become a sexual “cheater”, then every premise of the "divorce-in-order-to-reconcile" philosophy collapses. Remarriages to new spouses become “valid” and “legitimate”, in other words, real marriages. Because remarriages have become “real” marriages, it becomes sinful to recommend that someone divorce from a remarriage, or worse, to suggest that sex inside a remarriage is “adulterous.” If it is therefore lawful to maintain a remarriage, and unlawful to divorce from out of one, then the "divorce-in-order-to-reconcile" philosophy becomes impossible to contemplate or to endorse.

There are a myriad of semantic and other obstacles to overcome to claim that Jesus was only referring to engaged virgins when He delivered His famous exception clauses. The majority of those fine points and objections will be relegated to a later forum. At this time let us concentrate on a single fact: Paul tells us in plain words that Jesus did not include engaged virgins in the scope of His decrees when Jesus delivered to us the exception clauses.

Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (1 Corinthians 7:25-28)

Paul says, "Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord." Paul explains that the Lord Jesus never gave commands to anyone while He was on Earth regarding virgins and whether virgins can become divorced from their betrothals. Therefore, Paul renders his own "opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy" to give such an opinion.

Paul’s rules were quite simple, virgins could stay engaged to their wives and become married if they so chose, and it was lawful. Virgins could break their engagements with their husbands if they so chose, and it too was lawful.

If the exception clauses which Jesus delivered were targeted at engaged virgins, then Paul was mistaken when he claimed that Jesus never gave any instructions about virgin engagements. Therefore, whatever else we know, or think we know, about the exception clauses, they were not meant to be taken as instructions concerning engaged virgins.

Since the exception clauses found in Matthew which Jesus Himself delivered are not in reference to engagements or to virgins, they almost certainly are instructions about how to pursue lawful divorces and lawful remarriages. As such, the last tenet of the divorce-in-order-to-reconcile philosophy fails to stand to the test of Scripture.

Conclusion to Section Two

This philosophy we have dubbed "divorce-in-order-to-reconcile" is not grounded in proper exegesis of the Scriptures. Though apparently driven by a sincere desire to reunite divorced couples, the philosophy lacks a consistent approach to understanding how Scripture fits together as an integrated whole.

Behind the philosophy is an entire set of assumptions with the appearance of doctrine, though they lack the ability to connect to actual passages of Scripture. Sadly, instead of those assumptions being built from an abundance of Scripture, it is an abundance of Scripture which disprove each assumption.

By examination of the Scriptures we found that:


Conclusion of the Article

Should a Christian who divorced a first spouse and remarried a new spouse demonstrate true repentance by divorcing the second spouse and reconciling with the original spouse? As this short article demonstrated repeatedly, the answer is "No." Biblically, the current marriage is the true marriage and the believer must use his energy to serve God in his present marital state.

God established barricades in His Law for the express purpose of keeping remarried divorced couples from reuniting. In this way, He encourages marriages to be viewed with solemnity and permanence. The option of return is all but destroyed when a marriage is discarded into the waste can of divorce and is followed by a remarriage to a new spouse. No one should leave their spouse lightly, for what is lost may never be recovered.

Nowhere in the Bible is the command or even the option offered for a person to leave an existing spouse so as to be able to return to a previous spouse. With absolutely no direct biblical permission, and given the glaring fact that the Law forbids remarried couples from ever reuniting in remarriage, the doctrine of the lawfulness of and the need for permanence in second marriages virtually writes itself from the very text in the pages of Scripture.

Are you married, or remarried, to a believer? Stay that way. Are you married, or remarried, to an unbeliever who wishes to stay married to you? Stay that way. There is no sin in remaining lawfully married. Rest in the assurance that the Lord knows our hearts and forgives our confessed sins. God’s Word contains all that we need to live lives of holiness and godliness, it is a light that shows us the proper path, and it does not lead us astray.

Appendix - Miscellaneous Observations Regarding "divorce-in-order-to-reconcile"

Many other passages are cited for use by the "divorce-in-order-to-reconcile" philosophy, though for the better part those passages are used improperly. Additionally, it should make little difference to the final outcome of one’s personal study of the subject because the more weighty tenets of the philosophy are notable for their inconsistency in correctly reflecting the biblical texts.

In this appendix are:

Table of Major Doctrinal Failures of the Divorce-In-Order-to-Reconcile Philosophy

Philosophical Tenet

Conflict with the Bible

Remarried couples should become legally divorced from their second spouses and seek reconciliation and remarriage with their first spouses.

  • God forbids an original couple to reconcile (marry each other again) once they obtained a divorce and remarried other spouses.
  • Not one passage in all of the Bible, Old Testament or New Testament, encourages, permits, or advises a person to divorce their second spouse and then to remarry their first spouse.
  • No example is presented in the Bible, Old Testament or New Testament, where a patriarch actually divorced their second spouse and remarried the first spouse from which they had previously obtained a legal divorce.

Some marriages are invalid or illegitimate and that is the basis for obligatory divorces.

Scriptures do not use the phrase or expression "invalid marriage" or "illegitimate marriage" to categorize a marriage relationship between a man and a wife. All marriages in the Bible are viewed as true marriage covenants in which the man is called a husband and the woman is called a wife.

Sex between a couple who has been remarried is always illicit and causes the couple to be guilty of adultery each time they have marital relations.

Sex within the confines of a marriage covenant is always regarded as wholesome and undefiled in the Bible.

Divorce for the cause of allowing a remarried person to return to a "first spouse" is not subject to Jesus’ pronouncement that all divorces and all remarriages are equivalent to the sin of adultery.

Jesus pronounced that all divorces and all remarriages are equivalent to the sin of adultery, except in one case where one partner was unfaithful to the current marriage covenant.

The exception clauses Jesus presented in Matthew were instructions only to engaged (betrothed) virgins.

Paul says Jesus never gave instructions to engaged (betrothed) virgins.

Five Passages Used Improperly in an Attempt to Discredit Deuteronomy 24:1-4

It has been proposed that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Jeremiah 3:1 are not prohibitions against a twice married woman returning to her first husband. Those who argue against these two passages, asserting they do not say what they do plainly say, generally neglect to provide substantive counter-translations. Instead, they rely on a tactic of dismissal-by-example. Dismissal-by-example is a debating tactic where a good-faith understanding or fact is merely dismissed in its entirety because of some alleged example in the "real world" that disproves it.

Since the prohibitions against reconciliation of first spouses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Jeremiah 3:1 are quite explicit and are somewhat "bullet proof," not having loopholes in the text or lending themselves easily to alternative translations, the only means for shoving them out of the way is to dismiss them with examples. That is a hard and dangerous task for those who dislike Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Jeremiah 3:1, for there are no examples in the Bible of men violating these passages.

Since there are no actual examples of men violating the law that prohibits reconciliation to original spouses following a remarriage, it is necessary for the critics to invent some. Five passages have been used, though improperly, to attempt to dismiss-by-example the law prohibiting reconciliation.

The Law itself reads:

"When a man takes a wife and marries her,

and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her,
and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house,
and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife,
and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house,

or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife,

then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance." (Deuteronomy 24:1-4, NASB)

What someone must do to undermine or dismiss this law of the twice married divorced woman is demonstrate that somewhere in Scripture a man divorces his wife, she marries a new husband, she leaves the new husband (or he dies), and then she returns to marry again her original husband and all the while have the Scriptures pronounce this a righteous act. In modern days this type of activity happens frequently enough (though God does not pronounce it righteous since He has prohibited it in His law), but there is no such similar occurrence in the Bible to demonstrate God’s approval.

Since there is no legitimate example, some have used the following passages to allege it happened. We will cite the passages and provide a summary explanation to demonstrate that no persons in biblical history violated this blanket prohibition.

Genesis 12:14-19 - Abram defrauds Pharaoh

Abram lies to Pharaoh by denying that Sarai is his wife and gives her to Pharaoh to be his bride. Defrauded, Pharaoh marries Sarai. Pharaoh is hit with judgmental plagues from God, figures out the fraud, and demands that Abram take his wife and leave his country.

This instance fails to be an example which dismisses the prohibition because:

It should be pointed out that Sarai was now a deflowered polygamist, however, Abram did not spurn her.

Note: this all transpired before the Law of Moses was written. This is the time period of which the Word says, "sin was in the world but not imputed until there was a law" (paraphrase from Romans 5:13).

Genesis 20 - Abraham defrauds King Abimelech

Abraham, having gotten rich from his previous defrauding of Pharaoh, attempts the same defrauding of King Abimelech. Abraham tells the king that Sarah is not his wife, and the king seeks to marry Sarah. Abimelech, being a God worshipper, is warned by God that Sarah "is married" already and that the king should go no further. Abimelech demands Abraham take back his wife.

This instance fails to be an example which dismisses the prohibition because:

Note: this all transpired before the Law of Moses was written. This is the time period of which the Word says, "sin was in the world but not imputed until there was a law" (paraphrase from Romans 5:13).

2 Samuel 3:12-16 - David recovers his wife, Michal

This story begins back in 1 Samuel. David marries Michal, King Saul’s daughter. When Saul chases David into exile, David commits polygamy by simultaneously marrying Ahinoam and Abigail though all the while remaining married to Michal. Michal, being the loving and loyal wife sacrifices her freedom to save David from capture and likely death. Saul, as both father and king, then gives the captive Michal to another man in marriage without so much as a divorce from David. David, still on the run, continues to marry many other women. In 2 Samuel 3, David is in a position of superiority and demands "Give me my wife Michal" (2 Samuel 3:14). He takes her by threat of force from her second husband, and they continue with their legal marriage.

This instance fails to be an example which dismisses the prohibition because:

Note: David was acutely guilty of polygamy and adultery long before he encountered Bathsheba. David, like Solomon, are not good role models of self control, marital fidelity, and sexual faithfulness. Even so, David is not guilty of violating Deuteronomy 24:1-4 nor Jeremiah 3:1.

Jeremiah 3:1-14 - God divorces Israel

This famous passage is where God calls Israel His "wife" and because she worships idols, she is called an adulteress. God gives her a writ of divorce in the form of hardships so that He might scare her into repentance, forsaking her idol worship. Eventually Israel does just that and returns to God.

This instance fails to be an example which dismisses the prohibition because:

Though Israel flirted with ultimate disaster and came close to being forever cutoff from God and the land forever polluted by idolatry, instead of marrying herself off (devoting herself for life to a foreign god and becoming that god’s nation forever) she repents of her harlotry and returns to her husband, God. God used the divorce in the same manner that believers use "church discipline" today, to shame the sinner to repent and return to fellowship. God would certainly have been justified had He chosen to stay divorced from Israel (due to her harlotries) and claim a different nation as His new bride, but He did not.

Far from being an example of a violation of the prohibition in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, this event in Jeremiah 3:1 is an example of God actually upholding and emphasizing that if Israel "marries" another husband during the divorce (by covenanting as a nation to take a foreign god as their national god) He would disown Israel forever, just as the Law of Moses demands. This passage highlights and upholds the meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and calls attention to the seriousness of divorce and remarriage.


Hosea Chapters 1-3 - Hosea marries the Harlot, Gomer

Hosea is commanded by God to marry a harlot, Gomer. He is to have children by this harlot. Gomer abandons Hosea without benefit of a divorce and sells herself into slavery. Hosea redeems Gomer from her slave master/lover and brings her back to his house to live out her life as his wife. At no time does the couple divorce, though Gomer is exceptionally unfaithful. It must be noted that this was to be expected since Hosea was required to marry a prostitute as an example of Israel’s faithlessness toward God.

This instance fails to be an example which dismisses the prohibition because:

Summary of Examples

While it may be fun to speculate as to the nature of marriage in instances such as these, it must be acknowledged that none of these is an example of a violation of either Deuteronomy 24:1-4 or Jeremiah 3:1. The law, the Bible, holds consistent and true and it is decidedly a futile errand to attempt to locate contradictions.

Woman Caught in the Act of Adultery

John 8:1-11 is cited by the "divorce-in-order-to-reconcile" philosophy as an example, the only example it might be noted, where a woman was supposedly caught as having been remarried to a second husband, and was therefore brought to Jesus as a test, to see if He would follow the Law of Moses and stone her for "adultery", or, whether He would release Her and invalidate the Law of Moses.

Errors using this passage in this manner are numerous. Of first note: all reputable scholars acknowledge that John 7:53 through 8:11 was never part of the original manuscript known as The Gospel of John. Building doctrines from a passage that was not part of the original inspired manuscript is improper and a violation of scholarly principle.

Even had this passage been part of the original manuscript of John, the passage does not say the woman was remarried, only that she was caught having sex with someone other than her own husband. It does not say she was married, or even remarried, in any language, not in English nor in the Greek. The text does not indicate whether the woman was ever married, for she may have been committing adultery as a single woman by engaging in sex with some other woman's husband.

Our New Testament (Matthew through Revelation) was originally written in Greek. In the New Testament there are two Greek root words most often used to describe adultery and fornication. Adultery usually means "sexual relations outside the marriage covenant by a married person." The most typical Greek root word for adultery is the noun form: moichos. Fornication means any sexual sin, including such things as: adultery, prostitution, and premarital sex. The most typical Greek root word for fornication is the noun form porne.

At times, in the Greek language generally, and in the way the Greek language is used in the New Testament, the two roots (moichos and porne) can cross over and exchange meanings, assuming each other’s definition. For example, in 1 Corinthians 5:1 a stepson is having sex with his father’s wife. This is obviously the sin of adultery, though it is labeled porneia (root porne).

Similarly, in Matthew 5:28, Jesus tells us that any man (married or single) who lusts after a woman (married or single) commits adultery in his heart. Here the word used is moicheuo (root moichos) even though what is being discussed is not necessarily adultery but is actually fornication.

The point is, there is little advantage in attempting to establish a doctrine based solely on which Greek root word is used to describe the sexual sin being decried. Word definitions in the Greek are often driven not by their etymology but by their context (D.A. Carson has written a wonderful treatise on this exact principle in his acclaimed book: Exegetical Fallacies). It is a common mistake, a common exegetical fallacy, to announce that some word, or some word form, "always means this one thing" and then to translate it always as that one thing everywhere it is found; the problem is compounded when a doctrine is then built on that improper translation. Greek word translations are often driven more by their immediate contexts than by the word’s etymology.

So it is with moicheuo. Some have improperly generated an etymology for moicheuo and have concluded that it always means "to commit adultery by means of remarriage." But as we pointed out, even if the etymology itself were not suspect (and it is), moicheuo can refer to any type of sexual sin, such as when it is used in Matthew 5:28 to mean any man lusting after any woman, showing that moicheuo does not necessarily even mean adultery, much less the narrower meaning of "adultery by remarriage."

Next we must understand the expression, "in the very act of adultery". In the Greek the meaning is unambiguous. This woman was caught in the act of committing the crime ("in the act of committing the crime" is the Greek meaning behind the expression "in the very act"). The crime she was committing was that of becoming an adulteress. Such an expression can only mean "caught in the act of having sex with someone not her husband".

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?"

They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him {be the} first to throw a stone at her." Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.

Straightening up, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more." (John 7:3-11)

This woman was caught in the very act of becoming an adulteress. This woman was not caught in the act of getting married to a second husband, as some have improperly alleged. There is truly only one known meaning for the expression "caught in the very act of adultery" and that is "caught in the act of having sex with someone with whom you are not currently married." In truth, many of the scribes, Pharisees, elders, and common persons were married, divorced, and remarried and few thought it was a sin at all, much less one worthy of death. The Pharisees had interpreted the Law of Moses to mean that divorce for almost any reason at all was acceptable, and therefore, so was remarriage--the only catch was that no two divorced persons could ever again remarry each other (Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Jeremiah 3:1); and even that was not a crime punishable by death.

Here is this woman, caught in the act of violating her marriage covenant by having sex with a man who is not her current husband. The trap was then set for Jesus. What was the trap? The Law of Moses states clearly that such adulteresses should be executed, always.

If there is a man who commits adultery with another man's wife, one who commits adultery with his friend's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)

If Jesus had said "Yes, you are correct, this is exactly what the Law requires, she must be stoned to death," we might be tempted to ask, "What was wrong with that answer, how is that a trap?"

Israel was under Roman occupation and rule; Roman law dictated that no person could be executed except by the Roman government (even Jesus had to be executed by the Romans). The Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus into either breaking the Roman law should He advocate stoning the adulteress, or, if He said, "No, do not stone her," they would accuse Jesus of breaking the Law of Moses. He did neither, of course. He told them to obey the Law of Moses and stone her, if they themselves could do so without also sinning. They could not, since it would have violated the Roman law, and as we know, believers are to obey their civil governors.

When Jesus said He did not condemn the woman, He meant that literally. He was not going to pass a death sentence and condemn her. However, He did judge her actions, having been caught having adulterous sex, she was acting sinfully. It is for this reason He admonishes her to stop sinning.

Jesus told the woman, "Go. From now on sin no more." Again, some have wrongly attempted to interpret this phrase to say, "Go now, and leave your life of sin." Using this faulty interpretation they wish to imply that Jesus was telling the woman to "leave your second husband because you started living in an adulterous relationship when you got married a second time." However, the Greek does not support such an imaginative interpretation.

In fact, the English translation is fairly good and faithful to the Greek when it reads, "Go. From now on sin no more." However, it could better and more precisely be rendered as: "Go. From now on wage a vigorous war against sin."

There is no implication whatsoever in the wording, or anywhere in this passage, that the woman was ever married, was ever divorced, or was ever remarried. Simply stated, the woman was an adulteress who would have been properly stoned to death under the Law of Moses had it not been for the Roman occupation.

Now, all of that said, it must be finally understood that John 7:53 through 8:11 is not even from the original manuscript of the Gospel of John. What a tragic mistake it would be if someone were to feel emboldened to get divorced from their current wife so as to remarry a previous wife on the basis of mistakenly believing that John 8:1-11 was part of the original manuscript of John, or that the Greek implied that the woman’s crime was that of being remarried. What a tragic mistake indeed.

Adultery and the Exception Clauses

The one and only exception to Jesus’ General Rule of Remarriage is found in Matthew, Chapters 5 and 19.

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

"And it was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." (Matthew 5:31,32)

As discussed earlier, these exceptions are not aimed at engaged couples, they are meant to be applied to married husbands and married wives. How do we know this for a certainty? Paul tells us this.

Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (1 Corinthians 7:25-28)

Paul says, "Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord." Paul explains that the Lord Jesus never gave commands to anyone while He was on Earth regarding virgins and whether virgins can become divorced from their betrothals. Therefore, Paul renders his own "opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy" to give such an opinion.

How can it be that Paul claims that Jesus never gave instructions regarding the marriage and divorce of engaged virgins if the exception clauses in Matthew 5 and 19 are in truth instructions to virgins? Answer: Matthew 5 and 19 are not instructions to virgins because Paul is correct, Jesus never addressed that topic.

This means that Matthew 5 and 19 are exception clauses to the General Rule of Remarriage. The General Rule of Remarriage is: divorcing your first spouse and remarrying anyone else is equivalent to the sin of adultery. The exceptions that Jesus provides are only for those married spouses who have an unfaithful spouse. (For a more full explanation of the exception clauses, please read Chapter 7: Paul Allows Divorce, Doesn't He? of the online book, Split Asunder).

Conclusion of Appendix

While this article could indeed go on much longer addressing the array of more minor errors in the use of Scripture by the "divorce-in-order-to-reconcile" philosophy, there would be very little additional understanding gained. Neither the main tenets of the philosophy are found in the Law, nor are these philosophical tenets based on actual quotations from the Scriptures. Therefore, focusing on the minor elements of the philosophy becomes a merely academic exercise.

Let the reader be aware that had God genuinely intended for men to divorce their second wives so that they might return to their first wives, He would have plainly said so instead of writing Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Jeremiah 3:1.

May God grant us all discernment, love, and peace between ourselves and with Him.

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