Is it Lawful to Remarry When There Was Biblical Grounds for Divorce?

Hi Sam! Matthew 5:32, which says, “anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Luke 16:18 also says “the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultry.” Im not understanding this. The woman is permitted to remarry when her husband divorces her but anyone who remarries her is an adulterer? That cant be right. It doesnt make sense that it would be lawful for her to remarry but not equally lawful for anyone to marry her. Especially if she is the one who has biblical grounds for divorce in the first place.

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Thanks @Shari for asking this question. I am not sure if I can give a satisfactory response here, but I’ll try.

Typically we think of marriage as a contractual relationship, involving the husband, wife and the state. If marriage is just a contractual relationship then a breach of contract, a failure to fulfil/carry out one’s responsibilities is good grounds for dissolution of that relationship.

Biblically, marriage is a covenantal relationship involving the husband, wife and God. In marriage a new entity comes into existence. The Bible gives us very limited grounds for the dissolution of this covenantal relationship. Only when there is a breach of covenant in ways specified in Scripture such as unfaithfulness/adultery is there legitimate grounds for divorce.

When there is a breach of contract such as when someone fails to fulfill his responsibility to the other, legally there is grounds for divorce and the marriage can be legally nullified, at which point the couple is no longer a single family unit in the eyes of the state. However, in the eyes of God the marriage is not nullified unless there is biblical grounds for it.

Now when a man engages in sexual relationship with a divorcee, then the man commits adultery if the divorce was illegitimate, i.e. there was no biblical grounds for the divorce. We think of adultery as a sexual act against one’s spouse. Most of us consider adultery to be an act only a married person can commit, but when Jesus speaks of adultery in Matthew 5:27-28, He equivocates adultery with a man looking lustfully at a woman. Thus adultery is a sin not only committed against the other person, but primarily as an act of sin against God. Marital relationships not only have an interpersonal dynamic but also a spiritual dynamic.

In marriage the two become one flesh and there is a telos, a purpose to this new formed entity. A man who unites himself with a woman who is illegitimately divorced is violating that telos.

In the verses you referred to Jesus is speaking of an illegitimate divorce. And He says if any man engages in a sexual relationship with her then he commits adultery with her.

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