May I Marry Again?

by Dudley Ross Spears

October 05, 2004

   With the rise of marital dissension that is causing more and more divorce, the question forming the title of this piece is asked more and more frequently. The New Testament teaches that only the cause of sexual sin (Matt. 5:32; 19:9) or death of oneís mate (Rom. 7:2-4; 1 Cor. 7:39-40) frees the innocent party or the surviving mate to marry again.

   Marriage, sanctioned by the Almighty, is a relationship that binds one man and one woman together as "one flesh." God designed it to last as long as both live. Only God makes this special bond in a sacred human relationship. It necessarily follows that only God can dissolve it (put it asunder, (Matt. 19:6). None but God should ever attempt to put asunder what he joins.

The Prohibition Against Divorce

   God expressed his disposition toward divorce through the prophet Malachi. "Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously" (Mal. 2:14-16).

   The New Testament condemns divorce. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband" (1 Cor 7:10b). Further, he forbade the husband from leaving or departing from his wife. "And a husband must not divorce his wife" (1 Cor. 7:10b). The use of the verb "let" is equal to a direct order. "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mark 10:9).

Marital Problems Leading to Divorce

   God never intended those whom he binds together as one flesh to ever end or destroy their loving and holy relationship. Where there has been no breach of marriage vows a marriage keeps love alive between a man and a woman. It may be just a play on words, but it has been said, "Love keeps the marriage going." More accurately, it should be said, "Marriage keeps the love going." Two people who love each other enough to pledge their troth to each other before God commit to remaining married throughout their lives. Such a commitment keeps love strong and active.

   Such a pleasant marital relationship does not always obtain. Marital problems rise at times to the extent that the relationship breaks up in a divorce or legal separation. Christian partners in marriage should be well able to resolve any marital disorder. There should be no "irreconcilable differences" that keep a Christian husband and his Christian wife apart. Unfortunately, however, that doesnít always happen.

Enter Marriage Counselors

   Marriage counseling is a very prominent occupation. Couples with personal problems other than sexual infidelity flock to these counselors for help. Such counselors deal with problems such as family violence, addictions, substance abuse or mental health problems. Money problems are high on the list of things that cause marital problems.

   Other factors that frequently disrupt a harmonious marriage are financial loss through the loss of a job, children and how to raise them, and finally, a loss of intimacy. These, and other problems, generally lead one, or the other, or both to find forbidden intimate companionship with some other partner. Commitment to marriage becomes all-important. People who learn to love someone enough to commit to be married for life who lose "that loving feeling," can re-learn to love. Sadly, too frequently, they do not try.

Resolving All Marital Issues

   Marital problems can be resolved. All divorces and "legal" separations can be stopped. Things that bring a couple toward divorce do not need to inevitably end in divorce. More than likely, counseling should take place before the marriage is entered. Any who plan to enter marriage ought to seek out good elders, faithful teachers, solid Christians, and sit with them in a study of the nature and obligations marriage entails.

   Counseling after the fact may be too late for even the best advice and encouragement designed to prevent the total destruction of a marriage. When problems mount so high that the marriage is falling apart, the issue is what to do to stop it. When there are reconcilable differences that either one or both partners in marriage refuse to resolve, there is another option.

   In the unfortunate event that a wife finds it impossible to remain with her husband and departs, Paul said to the wife, "But unto the married I give charge, yea not I, but the Lord, That the wife depart not from her husband, (but should she depart, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband); and that the husband leave not his wife" (1 Cor. 7:11). Remaining unmarried is a choice, but not the best choice. Remaining unmarried is not a sinful choice. Who can think the Lord would allow a wife who is departed from her husband to remain in a sinful condition?

   The departure of the wife in this text is the result of a situation that requires reconciliation. Something happened to disturb the peaceful marriage. Something that the wife felt forced her to depart from her husband. When that happens, and it happens all to often, she must seek reconciliation. He must not leave his wife. Both of them must work toward reconciliation. It is proper to seek all the help they can find from others to solve their "reconcilable" differences.


   W.E. Vine defines reconciliation as a change, or exchange. It was used by the Greeks to describe exchanging money, but in this passage it is exchanging enmity for peace. Paul used the word in Romans 5:10 to describe a condition of becoming enemies to God, but shows that enmity was exchanged for peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ -- thus reconciliation. Reconciliation has the word peace inherent in it. To conciliate in English is to overcome the hostility of another. It is to secure the friendship of another, to appease, placate, or propitiate. This is not impossible even in the severest of marital difficulties.

   Reconciliation removes whatever enmity came between a husband and his wife. What may have brought about the wifeís conviction that she must leave her husband? The passage doesnít say. It should not be something trivial. Was the problem a conflict that hindered her ability to serve God acceptably? Was her personal safety or that of her children in jeopardy? Paul doesnít say. He simple shows that enmity was involved and adds if she chose to leave she must not marry anyone else. She is still divinely bound to her husband.

   Since this applies to the situation described in verse 11, it equally applies to verse 15. The departure of the unbelieving husband doesnít free either him or his mate to marry. The same restrictions given in verse 11 apply in verse 15 -- remain unmarried or be reconciled. Above all other options, reconciliation should be sought by both the husband and his wife. When either refuses to be reconciled, the only option left is to "remain unmarried."

Remarriage After the Death of a Mate

   May I remarry another after my mate no longer lives? The answer to this is an incontrovertible yes. To show one is bound to the Law of Moses as the law is active and in force, Paul wrote, "By law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man" (Rom. 7:2-3).

   To the Corinthians, Paul wrote, "The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:39). This was a general rule. Paul added his own counsel and advice, "But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God" (verse 40).

   Generally, the marriage of a widow (or widower) was neither encouraged nor forbidden. Under some circumstances a widow was encouraged to marry again (1 Tim. 5:9, 11, 14). On the whole, Paul, believing he had the Spirit of God, advised remaining single. She could remain unmarried, and Paul thought that best. However, if she remarried she was to marry "only in the Lord." James Macknight commented, "That is, she must marry a Christian. So the phrase signifies. . . ."

   The venerable Henry Augustus Wilhelm Meyer commented on the phrase, "only in the Lord." He noted, "Only in the Lord, not apart from Christ, as the specific determining element of the new union; only in a Christian way, i.e., only to a Christian." Paulís judgment stands as the best possible advice, especially in light of the fact that he was convinced he possessed the Spirit of Christ. What he calls his judgment, is inspired judgment.

   Does this phrase "in the Lord" mean that the remarriage has to be "in harmony with the Lordís will?" It is difficult to explain Paulís addition of "only" to the phrase "in the Lord." Furthermore, grammatically, the passive verb "be married" can modify the man, the "whom she will," and not the verb "be married." It may also be a restriction based on whatever the "present distress" (verse 26) was at the time Paul answered the Corinthianís questions. At any rate, death of oneís spouse, under some circumstances, allows the surviving one the right of remarriage.

Remarriage Where Fornication is A Factor

   May I remarry if my marriage "falls apart" due to my mateís sexual infidelity? In the event a husband or wife is sexually unfaithful to his/her mate by committing a sexual sin (porneia), Jesus gives the faithful mate the undeniable right to divorce that mate and marry again. "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (Matt 19:9, NKJV) said Jesus.

   To "except" something is the same as saying "aside from that." Aside from any sexual infidelity in a marriage, all second marriages involve one or both parties in the soul-damning and disastrous sin of adultery (Luke 16:18). Sexual sin by either marital partner against his/her mate is an exception to this general statement (Mark 10:11-12).

   Consider this parallel. "Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law" (Rom. 13:8). Normally a debt is not to go unpaid but there is an exception -- the debt of love can never be fully paid. Normally a second marriage results in adultery, but not when sexual sin has been committed. The only aside from the general rule of divorce and remarriage, while both partners in the marriage live, is sexual infidelity in the marriage.

Concluding Thoughts

   Marriage that is based on mutual love and deep respect will, even during times of extreme stress, stay together. A committed wife will honor her husband (1 Pet. 3:5) and committed husbands will dwell with their wives according to the knowledge of Godís will. There will be a harmonious and unhindered prayer life when such as this prevails (verse 7). The effectual fervent prayers of a loving husband and wife will avail as much as the prayer of Elijah (James 5:16-17). It may be an old cliché, but it is true, "The family that prays together, stays together."

by Dudley Ross Spears

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