Anabaptist Group Dynamics
Commands of Jesus
Difference between Anabaptists and Evangelicals
Hutterite Sermon Prefaces
Marriage (Ulrich Stadler)
Living Word (Ulrich Stadler)
Modern views of Anabaptists
Mysteries of the Kingdom of God
April 14, 05
Dec 28, 05
Apr 16, 08
Apr 23, 08
Apr 30, 08
May 07, 08
May 14, 08
June 18, 08
Secret of the Strength
Sermons by Eli Hofer
The Writings of Ulrich Stadler
The Church and
the Narrow Path
To Vote or not to Vote
Way of the Lord
The Teaching of Jesus concerning Divorce and Remarriageby Don Murphy
Breaking the Sabbath When we consider the subject of
divorce and remarriage, we run into many strong opinions, just as Jesus did
concerning the subject of Sabbath keeping. Recall that keeping the Sabbath is
one of the Ten Commandments, yet Jesus often did not keep the Sabbath in the
eyes of the Pharisees, who had strong opinions on how it is to be observed.
Jesus had to tell them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the
Sabbath" (Mk 2:27). That is a good thing for us to remember when discussing
divorce and remarriage: marriage was made for man and not man for the marriage.
We also should remember that Jesus said, "If you had known what this means,
'I desire mercy and not sacrificeí, you would not have condemned the
guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath." (Mt 12:7-8)
What is a Marriage? A marriage is a covenant
relationship between two people that is recognized by the society in which they
live. There are three types of marriages:
(1) A marriage of a man and a woman, both believers and
followers of the Lord Jesus, that occurred in the Church in accordance with the
Word of God and is approved by God.
(2) A marriage of a man and a woman who were not
followers of the Lord Jesus at the time of the marriage but, being of sound mind
and free to marry, have, of their own free will, made vows of fidelity with each other.
Such a marriage may be recognized by God as a valid marriage in his
(3) A union of two people in circumstances other than
above. This could include marriages between close relatives, bigamous
marriages, homosexual marriages, forced marriages,
marriages involving an underage, or mentally ill or drugged person or marriages
involving a person who is not free to marry. Such a union is not
recognized by God as a marriage.
The Jews in the
Old Testament were
given a number of rules to determine a valid marriage, such as involving close relatives,
violated women, divorced wives and
marriages to slaves and foreign women. Note that divorce and bigamy was allowed. The New Testament
has a little to say about what constitutes a valid marriage, one is that a church leader must have been married only
All people, believers and unbelievers alike, are created by
God. Are only marriages between believers put together by God? No,
God loves all that he has created, he created the world and placed man in it
according to his plan, and his plan was and is that his will should be done on
earth as it is in heaven. As his will extends even to the smallest things,
it surely includes determining who should marry who. However, as we well
know, God has given man a choice to obey or disobey God and man's choice is all
too often not in accordance with God's will.
Are all marriages
that are recognized by society or the government also recognized by God? No, for there are
many situations where people marry, even homosexual marriages, that are legal in
the eyes of the government but obviously have not been put together by God. This
is a key point in understanding divorce and remarriage.
Four Points Concerning Divorce and Remarriage Let us
examine the following four points to see if they are supported in the Word of
(1) Godly marriages, marriages approved or recognized by God, are
considered to be put together by God and are permanent while both are still
living (Luke 20:34-36); therefore remarriage results in adultery (Mt 19:9).
(2) However, ungodly marriages, couples joined together
outside of the providence of God, are not marriages in his sight; therefore a
civil divorce and a new marriage that has been put together by God is allowed.
An ungodly marriage may be just two people living together in fornication, regardless of the
legal status given by the government or the society in which they live.
(3) The Church, guided by the Word of God as revealed by the Holy Spirit, is the final judge
of whether or not a marriage is of God; however, in gray areas of remarriage,
the Church must consider the belief of the couple as to whether their previous
marriage was of God or not. In many cases it will be obvious that the
marriage must have been put together by God.
(4) The Church, guided by the Word of God as revealed by the Holy Spirit,
has the power to declare a marriage godly, even
if one or both were involved in a previous ungodly marriage (Mt 18:18).
Matthew 19 Now let us see if we can support these four
points by considering the teaching of Jesus concerning divorce and remarriage in
Some Pharisees came to him, and to test
him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any
He answered, "Have you not read that the one who made
them at 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'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore
what God has joined together, let no one separate."
They said to him, "Why then did Moses command us to give
a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?"
He said to them, "It was because you were so
hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the
beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for
fornication [Greek porneia], and marries another commits adultery (Greek moicheia)."
His disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man
with his wife, it is better not to marry."
But he said to them, "Not everyone can accept this
teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have
been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others,
and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the
kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can." (Mt 19:3-12)
Godís Toleration What do we see here in this teaching
of the Lord Jesus concerning marriage and divorce? For one thing, we see that
God has tolerance for the weaknesses of mankind as he did allow divorce. Is
there any other area of human activity where God is so tolerant? Has his
tolerance ended? Consider that Jesus said, "Let anyone accept this who
Godly Marriage Another item to note is that Jesus
said, "What God has joined together, let no one separate." If all
couples were joined together by God, then he would not have need to say this,
but since he did, he is saying that only those that are joined together by God
should not be separated by man. This obviously implies that those couples that
are not joined together by God can be separated.
Ungodly Marriage What is an ungodly
marriage? Any marriage that has not been put together by God. Take, for example, homosexual
marriages, are they joined together by God? We would all say a loud NO. But now
there is an effort to make homosexual marriages legal in some states. If they
become legal in the eyes of the state, will they become legal in the eyes of
God, who is higher than the state? Of course not, we will loudly say. If a
homosexual legally married to another homosexual later divorces, repents of his
sin, and joins the Church, can he be married in the eyes of God? We would
obviously say yes as we did not recognize the homosexual marriage, even though
it may be valid in the eyes of the state, it was not valid in the eyes of God.
What about heterosexual unions that are questionable? Take
the case of a child bride, which is legal in some countries. Her parents marry
her off to an adult man in exchange for money or other advantages. The child
bride has no say in the matter and may be too young to really know what is going
on. Is that couple joined together by God and their marriage valid in Godís
eyes? We would probably say no, it is not.
Another example of an obviously ungodly marriage would be one
between close relatives, it would be considered incest.
The Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren, Volume I, page 289,
contains this writing from the 16th century about ungodly marriages:
"Christ said, 'What God has joined together, no man must separate.'
Here we must first consider whether a marriage was joined by God or according to
the ways of the world. Many couples come together as fornicators; even if
they later married by a priest (who is usually of the same stamp), does that
mean that they are joined together by God? More often than not they are
joined together by the evil one, who has power over such people. When people
marry for money and possessions, are they joined together by God? Greed for
money has brought them together."
Understanding the word "Fornication" The
Greek word translated as "fornication" in
Mt 19:9 is "porneia" and that word is used in the Bible to mean a
sexual union involving two persons, neither of whom is in a marriage put
together by God. It is also
used to mean marriages or unions that are not valid in the sight of God, as shown
in the following examples:
They said to him, "We are not born of fornication (Greek porneia)]; we have one father, God
himself." (John 8:41)
It is actually reported that there
is sexual immorality [Greek porneia] among you, and of a kind that is not
found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife. (I
Fornication is used to describe sexual
unions that are not valid in the eyes of God regardless if they are legally
married in the eyes of society. (It is also used to describe spiritual unions of
an unholy nature but that is outside our discussion here.)
If marriages put together by God can not be separated, then
fornication would not separate it; however, if the marriage was not put together
by God, then it is not a marriage in Godís sight. So we can see that Jesus
must have meant illicit marriages (marriages not put together by God) in Mt
19:9. Therefore, we can read Mt 19:9 as saying "Whoever divorces his wife,
except in a marriage that is not a valid marriage in Godís sight [it is really
just fornication], and marries another commits adultery."
Understanding the word "Adultery" The Greek
word translated as "adultery" in Mt 19:9 is "moicheia" and
that word is usually used in the Bible to mean a sexual union involving a person who is
in a marriage put together by God and another person who is not in that same
marriage. Look again at Mt 19:9 and consider how Jesus used the word
"fornication" in one place and the word "adultery" in
another place: "Whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication, and
marries another commits adultery."
We need to remember the difference between the word
"fornication" and "adultery". A person married in Godís
eyes can not commit fornication but can commit adultery. A person not married in
Godís eyes can not commit adultery but can commit fornication. And note that
"Thou shall not commit adultery" is one of the Ten Commandments while
fornication is not listed.
I Corinthians 7 Now how do we understand the apostle
Paulís teaching on divorce and remarriage in I Cor 7? He wrote: "A
wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is
free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord." (I Cor 7:39 NRSV) But
he also wrote: "If the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such
a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has
called you." (I Cor 7:15 NRSV)
In the one case the wife is bound but in the other case she
is not bound. From the context we can see that in one case he is referring to
ungodly marriages and in the other case to godly marriages. In a godly marriage,
a wife is bound to the marriage as long as her husband lives. In an ungodly
marriage, she is not bound as it was not a marriage in Godís eyes. Therefore
what the apostle Paul taught was in harmony with the teachings of Jesus, which
is what one would expect of his apostles.
Also note that in I Cor 7, the holy apostle Paul is
addressing three groups of people: those who are single or widowed (verse
8), those who are married (verse 10) and "to the rest" (verse 12)
which consists of believers with an unbelieving spouse, he does not consider
them to be married.
From Darkness into the Light When one is born again,
one comes out of darkness into the Light of Christ. All past sins are forgiven,
the person is a new creation in Godís sight. All previous sexual
relationships, whether or not recognized by the government or society as legal
marriages, are in the past and under the blood of Christ. A new creation is a
fresh start and the marriage that a person is in at the time is then subject to
the rule of Christ and his Church.
Assurance of Salvation It is very important that the
Church confirms or rejects the marriage situation of its new born members. The
devil, the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10), will do his best to cause the
new member to doubt his salvation. A person must be able to rest assured in
Christ and know that he is right with God. It is the duty of the Church to help
provide that assurance.
One aspect of water baptism is the public assurance by the
Church that the baptized person is now recognized as a member of the Church and
has the assurance of salvation if he endures to the end. In a similar way,
when the Church recognizes a marriage as being joined together by God, it is
giving that couple the assurance of approval by God.
Practical Applications How does this work out in
practical cases? Let us take the not uncommon case of a couple seeking to join
the Church and one was married previously. If the Church determines, and the
couple agrees, that the previous marriage was not of God, then the Church has
the power to declare the current marriage godly and accept them as members with
their current marriage intact. They do not have to separate, but now their
marriage is permanent and they can not remarry again as long as the current
spouse is still living.
There are many gray areas in remarriage situations which
require the Church to be guided by the Holy Spirit in order to determine Godís
will in each case.
What guidelines should the Church use to determine the
validity of a previous marriage? That is very similar to determining if a
person is a Christian. There are common sense guidelines, such as
and unfaithfulness, which can be applied but even so the Church must seek the
will of God in each situation.
Of special concern would be any young children
involved. To break up a happy home and leave children without their father
or mother would seem to be an abomination to the Lord.
An example would be the real life case of George. He
was a baptized member of his conservative Anabaptist church but he left to marry
a divorced woman. Later she divorced him and he returned to his
church. The church did not recognize his marriage to the divorced women so
is he then considered to have never been married and is now free to marry within
the church? Would his situation be any different if he had just lived with
the woman without the benefit of a marriage license? In the eyes of the
church it is the same therefore logic tells us that he should be free to
remarry. However, logic does not always prevail, the spirit of the
Pharisees often overrule it and the result is sacrifice instead of mercy.
How do we judge people outside the Church who are living in
an ungodly marriage? We don't! Not even to judge if their marriage
is ungodly or not. Judgement is in the hands of God. Jesus said,
"Judge not, less you be judged."
Let's take another example of a real life case that I am
aware of. The wife was married before, she was quite young, wild and living high
on drugs when she was led before a justice of the peace and married to another
drug addict while high on drugs. Later she came off of that life, but her legal
husband would not and so they separated and were divorced. She became born
again, surrendered her life to Christ and then remarried, had two children and
then they both came to join our assembly. Should she be rejected because of her
second marriage or be commanded to leave her husband, the father of her young
Yes, the Christian life is a narrow path. But one should have
mercy on people in a remarriage situation and not demand sacrifice. A remarried
person can choose to live a single life, but it should not be forced on them in
every case, for that is not showing mercy but rather you are demanding sacrifice
from someone else and not yourself.
This does not mean that the door to remarry is wide open,
that any divorced person joining the Church is free to remarry. No, based on my
knowledge of life today (I am 63 years old), I would say that only a small
percentage would be recognized by the Church as free to remarry. What I am
saying is that the Church must do its duty and determine when a remarriage is
approved and when it is not. It must be guided by the Word of God as revealed by
the Holy Spirit and not by
man-made rules that are contrary to the will of God.
Summary Previous marriages that were not put together
by God are not marriages at all in his sight and so should be considered by the
Church when considering a personís application for membership. Remember that
there are three kinds of marriages, as stated at the beginning of this article.
A person who is born again becomes a new creation, all past
sins are forgiven and he is made new in Christ. Past ungodly marriages are
under the blood of Christ and are forgiven and are as if they never were.
Such a person is now free to marry in the Lord, although to remain single is a higher calling.
People tend to see marriages from the view point of society
but they should try to see marriages from the view point of God, who created all of us and
has a plan, a detailed plan, for everyone which may or may not include marriage
and if it does, it specifies who that person is.
We must remember that marriage is only for this lifetime, it
is not for eternity. The marriage that lasts for eternity is our marriage
to Christ. That marriage is far more important than an earthly marriage
and must be considered when an earthly marriage is drawing a person away from
Christ. Then a separation may be necessary for the salvation of one's
Another problem is that people who have never been divorced
tend to be Pharisees and look down on those who have been, they demand sacrifice
instead of giving mercy.
It is easy to make rules such as no divorce and remarriage
whatsoever. This is simple and clear to everyone. However, that is a
man-made rule and goes beyond what Christ has said.
It is not so easy
to leave decisions on the validity of a past marriage up to the Church with
the expectation that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit in such
matters. Takes faith and courage to rely upon God for everything, but
isn't that what he wants?
May the Lord give us wisdom and free us from the leaven of
See also the
Mennonite Encyclopedia on divorce and remarriage
Return to the home page
This page was last updated on 01/10/2004