“I’m Divorced and Remarried. Am I Living in Adultery?” Part 2

By David Servant

Last month’s e-teaching generated a lot of interest, receiving 4,700 views on our website so far. In that teaching, I did my best to show that God does not require of divorced and married Christians what “Divine Divorce Proponents” claim He requires, namely that they divorce again and remarry their first spouse, or live celibate lives until that person, to whom they are allegedly “still married in God’s eyes,” is dead. If you didn’t read that article, it would be best that you do before you read what follows.

Picture with text: I'm Divorced and Remarried. Am I Living in Adultery?

There is, of course, a diversity of opinion within the body of Christ regarding divorce and remarriage, but Divine Divorce Proponents (or the “Marriage Permanence Community” as they refer to themselves) are definitely on the fringes. Sadly, however, that doesn’t deter them. In fact, some consider their minority status to be additional proof that they are correct since “the large majority of professing Christians are so wrong about most things.” One Divine Divorce Proponent lamented on a Facebook thread, “I don’t know why the faithful [that is, the Divine Divorce Proponents] waste their time attempting to help sexually filthy remarriage adulterers see the light of gospel Truth.”

The narrow way is apparently much narrower than most of us have ever imagined. And hundreds of thousands of professing Christian married couples are going to be very surprised when God casts them into hell for keeping their marriage vows

During conversations with Divine Divorce Proponents, I’ve actually wondered if I’m on Candid Camera. The conversations seem unreal. I can hardly believe I’m having a discussion with professing Christians who advocate that hundreds of thousands of Christian couples should divorce. Here is what one of them recently wrote in response to my claim that God hates divorce (as God Himself said in Mal. 2:16):

God does not hate the divorce that is a repentance of adultery. God loves repentance. The angels rejoice. By not being on the right side, you are labelling what God loves (repentance), as what God hates, you make yourself an enemy of the cross. Christianity calls for self denial and loving the truth even when it hurts. There are many who have a ticket to hell because they have remarried into adultery. Their destiny will only change if the adultery by remarriage comes to an end. Abandoning such adultery is an act of repentance, which God loves, not hates.

So, they claim, God sometimes loves it when Christians divorce and families are divided. In fact, the angels rejoice when Christians—who have been previously divorced—divorce again. Those who don’t agree with this view are “enemies of the cross.” One zealous Divine Divorce Proponent believes that great revival would come to America if all the Christians who have been previously married and divorced would divorce again.

Divine Divorce Proponents actually believe that a person could be a believing, born-again, self-sacrificing, devoted, fruitful, unashamed follower of Jesus in every sense, even one who spends decades as a missionary to a remote region in an impoverished nation, but if that person dies in the state of being married a second time while his or her original spouse is still alive, that person will be cast into hell. Stranger still, if their original spouse dies one second before they die, they will go to heaven, as the death of their former spouse will release them from their “adulterous marriage.” If you are a divorced and remarried Christian, you not only need Jesus’ death to inherit eternal life. You also need the death of your original spouse at least one second before you die.

Please forgive me, but along those lines, I could not resist posting a satirical story on my Facebook page:

I learned from a Facebook Holiness preacher that, because I’ve been divorced and remarried, I’m living in adultery, but only as long as my former spouse is still alive. And if my former spouse is still alive when I die, I will go to hell as an adulterer. Not wanting to lose my salvation, I considered all the alternatives, including divorcing my Christian wife, the mother of our seven children, which is what the Facebook preacher said God required. But in the end, I did the only logical thing to do. I made sure that that I will out-live my ex-wife. Of course, I led her in the sinner’s prayer before I poisoned her. It feels so good to be holy.

My inference was that I could be forgiven by God for murder, but not “adultery” with my hypothetical second wife.

Life on the Fringes

Naturally, the churches and denominations that embrace Divine Divorce Doctrine do not admit into their membership anyone who has been previously divorced and remarried. Such folks who do seek membership are told that they must separate/divorce until their original spouse is dead. Obviously understanding what an awkward and dangerous thing it is to demand that people divorce to qualify for membership, it is interesting to read the attempts by Divine Divorce Churches to soften their official doctrinal positions. For example, the doctrinal positon of the Southeastern Mennonite Conference reads, “While the final decision to separate from an adulterous relationship [marriage] would be voluntary, God requires it for reconciliation to Him.” Translation: “Although it may seem that we require divorced and remarried people to separate in order to join us, in order to avoid lawsuits from people whom our new members divorce, here is our disclaimer: We don’t force anyone to separate; we only inform them that they will go to hell if they don’t.”

I recently read a book titled, Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (Intervarsity Press, 1990). Four scholarly contributors defend their views, which range from very conservative to somewhat liberal, summarized by the four chapter titles (1) No Divorce, No Remarriage, (2) Divorce, but No Remarriage, (3) Divorce & Remarriage for Adultery or Desertion, and (4) Divorce & Remarriage Under a Variety of Circumstances. Even among the diversity of opinion expressed by those four contributors on the subject of divorce and remarriage, not one suggests that God might expect someone to separate or divorce because they were previously married and divorced. In fact, the most conservative contributor, J. Carl Laney, a professor of biblical literature at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, who is persuaded there is never a valid reason to either divorce or remarry, does not believe that (1) those who have divorced and are remarried live in a continual state of adultery, (2) that they should abstain from sex, or (3) that they should divorce or separate, and all for very sound biblical reasons that he enumerates.

As you might imagine, Divine Divorce Doctrine is attractive to professing Christians who want out of their current, subsequent marriages. If they’ve been previously married and divorced, Divine Divorce Doctrine gives them the justification they need to, once again, break their marriage vows. Obviously, breaking one’s marriage vows makes one a liar, and one would think that Divine Divorce Proponents would be just as concerned that Scripture warns that all liars will end up in “the lake that burns with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 21:6) as they are that Scripture warns that no adulterer will inherit God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

Obviously, if after a “divine divorce,” a Divine Divorce Proponent were to remarry yet another time prior to the death of his original spouse, that would indicate that he no longer believes his doctrine (or perhaps really didn’t believe it in the first place, but only utilized it to escape his previous marriage). Interestingly, I was introduced to Divine Divorce Doctrine through a Facebook debate regarding a formerly-faithful Divine Divorce Proponent who recently remarried and is now being shunned by the faithful. I suspect their ranks are full of defectors who come to terms with the post-divorce discovery that God has not given them a gift of celibacy and that Paul’s words, “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:9) contain some relevancy.

The DDD Foundation

As I pointed out in my previous article, the foundation of Divine Divorce Doctrine rests in Jesus’ Four D&R Statements recorded in Matthew 5:32, 19:9, Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18, in which He equated divorce and remarriage to adultery. I did my best to point out that Jesus was ministering at a time when Israel’s spiritual leaders, the scribes and Pharisees, were teaching that a man could divorce his wife for any cause at all, an idea that was totally foreign to God’s original intent for marriage, and miles away from even the concession that God made in the Law of Moses for divorce due to the hardness of men’s hearts. Yet, at the same time, the scribes and Pharisees were condemning adulterers (like the woman they caught in adultery as recorded in John 8:3-11).

However, taking the strictest literal interpretation of Jesus’ Four D&R Statements, Divine Divorce Proponents conclude that anyone who divorces and remarries is living in an adulterous relationship, and thus the only remedy is yet another divorce, either functional or legal. I did my best to try to point out the biblical reasons why such an interpretation is wrong, including the fact that the apostles and early church clearly did not follow such an interpretation.

Perhaps an even deeper flaw of Divine Divorce Doctrine, one that is found in some more mainstream theologies regarding divorce and remarriage, is the belief that Jesus raised the standard found in the Law of Moses. I would contend, however, that in His Four D&R Statements, Jesus was only revealing, upholding and endorsing the Mosaic Law, as the standards of God’s original intent (one man and one woman for life) were and are unattainable by anyone who has already suffered through a divorce and remarriage, and those same standards are also unattainable now for anyone who is married to someone who is not submitted to God or committed to His original ideal for marriage.

In one sense, however, God’s original ideal is attainable, via a fresh start to those who have experienced His transforming grace, even if they failed in the past to attain to that original ideal. And that is why it is tragic that Divine Divorce Proponents are calling for people to attain to the original ideal by transgressing the very ideal they espouse. They attempt to fix by sin what can only be repaired by grace, and they unwittingly add to the carnage of destroyed marriages and ruined families. What a strange paradox indeed is a group that claims to stand for “marriage permanence” yet calls for millions of people to divorce or go to hell.

In this follow-up article, please allow me to attempt to (1) prove that, through His Four D&R Statements, Jesus was not raising the standard found in the Law of Moses, and (2) show the important ramifications of that fact. In my final article next month, I will address some common objections posed by Divine Divorce Proponents, such as those that revolve around the stories of the divorcing men of Ezra’s time, John the Baptist’s rebuke of Herod for marrying his brother’s wife, the idea that marriage is dissoluble only by death, the disagreement of the church fathers, the “argument of silence” accusation, the “homosexual marriage” comparison, and the Greek verb tenses claim.

What Was Moses’ Standard?

The idea that Jesus raised the standard is often based on a very low view of Moses’ standard. It is crystal clear, however, that the concession made in the Mosaic Law for divorce due to the hardness of men’s hearts was not a concession of “divorce for any reason.” We know that for at least two indisputable reasons.

First, because that is not what we find in the Law of Moses. Rather, we only find mention of divorce for an “indecency” in Deut. 24:1-4. As discussed in my previous article, there were two schools of thought in Jesus’ time among the Rabbis concerning what constituted an “indecency,” and Jesus clearly sided against the liberal view of “divorce for any reason” and sided with the conservative view that identified the indecency as sexual immorality. Jesus was ministering during the old covenant to people who were under the Law of Moses. All of this proves that the standard regarding lawful divorce under the Mosaic Law was not “divorce for any reason.” It was “divorce only for sexual immorality.” So that was the baseline. If Jesus was going to institute a higher standard, it had to be higher than that. And keep in mind that Jesus was the author of the Law of Moses. He certainly knew His own intent when He gave it.

Second, the standard to love one’s neighbor as oneself was an all-encompassing standard in the Mosaic Law (Lev. 19:18). It regulated all relationships, including marriage, of course. Husbands were expected to treat their wives as they themselves wanted to be treated. It goes without saying that “divorce for any cause” violates the Golden Rule and what Jesus called the second greatest commandment.

So if we are going to claim that Jesus raised the standard concerning divorce, we must claim that Jesus raised the standard so that it was higher than “divorce allowed for sexual immorality” as well as “divorce allowed that does not violate the commandment to love your wife as you love yourself.”

Now let’s consider the proof that Jesus did not raise those standards.

The First Proof

In all three instances when Jesus spoke about divorce and remarriage (Matthew 19 and Mark 10 record the same instance), the Mosaic Law was clearly in view. For example, if we read Luke 16:18 in its context we find Jesus said:

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail. Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery (Luke 16:16-18; emphasis added).

Clearly, Jesus’ words about divorce and remarriage in the third sentence of that passage serve as an example of His larger point found in the first two sentenes, namely, that every bit of the Law of Moses was still very relevant and binding, even though some folks apparently thought otherwise since John the Baptist started preaching that the kingdom of God was at hand.

To correct that misapprehension, Jesus declared that the Law and its standards were very much still in force. Specifically, and as an example, God’s view and commandments regarding divorce and remarriage hadn’t changed. Divorce and remarriage were akin to adultery, just as they had always been. Jesus was not introducing a new standard.

Divine Divorce Proponents (as well as others) effectively have Jesus saying in this passage:

Before John the Baptist, everyone was preaching from the Law and Prophets. Since John, everyone has been focusing on his announcement that the kingdom of God is at hand, and they seem to have forgotten about the Law and Prophets. Let me assure you, however, that the Law and Prophets have not passed away any more than heaven and earth have passed away. Nothing is any different. Oh, except regarding what the Law teaches about divorce and remarriage…I’m actually altering and upgrading that, so the Law’s words about divorce and remarriage are passing away right now as I speak these words. Under the Mosaic Law, divorce and remarriage were not akin to adultery, but from here on, they are. And although all that I just said may seem contradictory, it really isn’t.

The Second Proof

In the Matthew 19/Mark 10 instance when Jesus equated divorce and remarriage with adultery, the conversation begins with some Pharisees testing Jesus by asking Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” (Matt. 19:3). They were, of course, asking if it was lawful under the Law of Moses.

Their revealing question shows how far the Pharisees had strayed from a biblical understanding of marriage. Jesus responds by referencing what is obvious about God’s original intent regarding marriage in Genesis 2, and it certainly did not include divorce. The Pharisees object, appealing to the fact that the Mosaic Law allowed a man to divorce his wife for an “indecency,” a term term found in the Deuteronomy 24:1-4 passage that was the subject of debate during Jesus’ time.

Jesus explains that the Law of Moses made concession for the hardness of men’s hearts, but that divorce was never God’s original intent, much less “divorce for any reason” as the Pharisees believed and practiced. And then, to close the discussion about what is lawful under the Law of Moses, Jesus says, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). That is, the indecency of Deuteronomy 24 is immorality, and divorce for any other reason constitutes adultery under the Law of Moses.

To claim that Jesus introduced a new and higher standard is to say what Jesus did not say during a discussion regarding what the Law of Moses taught about the lawfulness of divorce. Also, if such a claim were true, we’d have to maintain that, for some unknown reason, divorce and remarriage were not akin to adultery under the Mosaic Law, but suddenly they were when Jesus spoke. That is not logical.

Divine Divorce Proponents (and others) have Jesus saying in this passage, “The Genesis account reveals a standard of one man and one woman for life, the Law of Moses alters that by making a concession for divorce due to the hardness of men’s hearts, and now, to answer a question about what is lawful under the Mosaic Law, I’ve come up with a new standard that undoes that Mosaic concession.”

The Third Proof

Jesus’ equating divorce and remarriage to adultery in the Sermon on the Mount could be the most obvious proof that He was not altering the standard found in the Mosaic Law, but simply helping His Jewish audience understand the already-existing standard.

Remember that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made reference a number of times to the Mosaic Law, starting with:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:17-20; emphasis added).

So we would expect the next thing Jesus would do is explain to His audience specifically how the scribes and Pharisees were falling short of obeying what the Law and Prophets required. That way His audience could make sure they “surpassed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.” And so Jesus did.

He begins by reciting the Mosaic Law’s prohibition of murder and then continues by expounding on what is actually implied in that prohibition.

We know that when God said, “Do not commit murder,” He did not mean it was OK to strangle someone up to the point of killing them just as long as you didn’t actually snuff out their life. And Jesus follows that line of reasoning all the way back to its logical beginning to show that God is not OK with any of the things that generally precede murder, such as anger, hatred and venomous words.

When Jesus, in effect, said, “You have heard, ‘You shall not commit murder,’ but I say to you don’t be angry and hateful,” He was not communicating that it was OK under the Mosaic Law to be angry and hateful but now was establishing a new standard. We can be sure of that because God said in the Mosaic Law:

You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:17-18).

So Jesus was indisputably not introducing a new standard. Rather, He was endorsing the old, actual, intended standard of the Mosaic Law.

Jesus next quotes the Mosaic Law regarding adultery. We know that when God forbade adultery in the Ten Commandments, He did not mean, “It is OK to be involved sexually with another man’s wife to just about any degree as long as you don’t actually have intercourse.” No, implied in the Mosaic Law’s prohibition of adultery is everything that leads up to adultery, and Jesus follows that logic all the way back to lust, where adultery always begins.

Surely no one would argue that lust was acceptable to God prior to the time of Jesus, or that Jesus upgraded the standard of the Mosaic Law, making lust, which was not a sin, to now be a sin. Lust was forbidden in the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.” And Job had that figured out (perhaps even before the Mosaic Law), as he declared, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1).

And then we come to Jesus’ words about divorce and remarriage, and they follow the same pattern that was established by the first two “You have heard… but I say” passages. Jesus said, “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'” (Matt. 5:31). That certainly describes the lax attitude regarding divorce that was taught by the scribes and Pharisees, all allegedly based on what was taught in the Law of Moses. It was divorce for any reason, and the only thing you needed to worry about was making sure you gave your wife a divorce certificate as you sent her packing.

But Jesus, just as He did regarding the Mosaic Law’s prohibition against murder and adultery, revealed the spirit and true intent of the Law and divulged the only actual “indecency” that actually makes divorce lawful, saying, “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matt. 5:31-32).

So, for the third time, one of Jesus’ D&R Statements was an endorsement of the original intent of the Mosaic Law. Divorce was permitted for unchastity, but other than that, the man who illegitimately divorces his wife “makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Divine Divorce Proponents (and others) have Jesus saying in this passage, “You have heard that the Mosaic Law teaches that the only thing to be concerned about when you divorce your wife is to make sure you give her a divorce certificate. And that is true. Previously, I was perfectly OK with you divorcing your wife for any reason, and that is what I revealed in the Mosaic Law. But now I’m raising the standard. From now on, unless your wife is sexually immoral, it is wrong to divorce her, and I will consider the man who divorces his wife illegitimately to be akin to the man who forces his wife to commit adultery, and I will also consider the man who marries her to be guilty of adultery as well. I did not feel this way when I inspired Moses to write the Mosaic Law, but over the centuries I’ve found myself reconsidering some things, and now I’m changing them.”

The Ramifications…

Hopefully I’ve proved to your satisfaction that, in His Four D&R Statements, Jesus was not upgrading the Mosaic Law regarding divorce and remarriage or setting a new standard, but rather was only expressing, using provocative terms, what the Law (including Genesis 2) revealed, in order to help His audience understand what had been God’s unchanging perspective from the very beginning.

This being so, we can say with certainty that God has always viewed divorce (except for the cause of immorality) and remarriage as akin to adultery, previous to and under the Mosaic Law. And how could He not, as His original intention was one man for one woman for life? Every divorce and every subsequent remarriage is a testimony that God’s perfect will has not been attained. Sin, on some level, has been committed and has destroyed what God intended.

Yet, God indisputably not only permitted some divorce under the Mosaic Law, but also remarriage. Divorce and remarriage were social institutions (Lev. 21:7, 14; 22:13; Num. 30:9; Deut. 22:19, 29; 24:1-4; Ezek. 44:21-22). A twice-divorced woman was permitted to remarry anyone other than her original husband (Deut. 24:1-4). Any man, except a priest, could marry a divorced woman (Lev. 21:7, 14).

And naturally, there is no mention in the Law of Moses that God expected divorced and remarried people, regardless of the background of their divorces and remarriages, to divorce again and remain celibate, just as there is no mention of such expectations or practices in the New Testament. These things Divine Divorce Proponents cannot deny.

Moreover, it is indisputable that, under the civil statutes of the Mosaic Law, adultery was punishable by death (Lev. 20:10). This provokes us to ask the question, “If, under the Mosaic Law, God viewed divorce (except for the cause of immorality) and remarriage as equivalent to adultery, why did He permit remarriage, and why didn’t He direct that all divorced and remarried people be executed under the civil statutes of the Mosaic Law?

And the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn is the same conclusion that I came to, yet for other reasons, in my previous article. God does not view divorce and remarriage as being exactly like adultery in every sense of the word. God did not view, and does not view, those who are divorced and remarried as “living in adulterous marriages,” or “living in a continual state of adultery,” or “committing adultery every time they have sex,” or “married to their original spouse in God’s eyes.” Otherwise, such “states of continual adultery” would have, under the the civil statutes of the Mosaic Law, required at least as severe punishment that was prescribed for classic adultery. So it is not in any of those senses that divorced and remarried people “commit adultery.”

Thus, if the adultery that Jesus said is committed by some divorce and remarriage is to be understood as literal, physical adultery, it can only occur a single time when the second marriage is consummated. And that does make some sense. By that “singular adulterous act of consummation,” an act that Jesus said is lawful grounds for divorce by an offended spouse (Matt. 5:32; 19:9), an act that seals the Mosaic Law’s prohibition of reconciliation with the former spouse (Deut. 24:4), the final deathblow falls on the former marriage, and from that point onward, a new marriage covenant is established upon vows that should not be broken. Everyone, including God (who made marriage for people, and not people for marriage, by the way), hopes this time it will be different and will attain to His original intent. God does not expect or require such people to divorce again to escape an “adulterous marriage.”

By pointing out how illegitimate divorce and remarriage is like adultery, Jesus was hoping to help his “divorce-for-any-reason” crowds see those things as God has always seen them, and His goal was to prevent future divorces and remarriages, not precipitate millions of more divorces as if He were a Divine Divorce Proponent.

Again, God never intended that there would be any divorce, and so of course He never intended that there would be any remarriage. But hard-hearted people yield to lust and commit adultery, two more things God never intended. And adultery is a terrible sin against a spouse. If there is no repentance, there can be no reconciliation, and God allows divorce and, naturally, subsequent remarriage, just as He did under the Mosaic Law.

Similarly, hard-hearted people sometimes decide for various reasons that they don’t want to be married to their spouse any longer. They might even decide they don’t want to be married because their spouse loves God so much. And so they walk out, a situation Paul described in 1 Corinthians 7:12-15. In such cases, God allows divorce and, naturally, subsequent remarriage, just as He did under the Mosaic Law.

A Few More Ramifications

Once we’ve arrived at a harmonious, coherent interpretation of how our unchanging, gracious and loving God views and has always viewed divorce and remarriage, there is much less of a need to engage in hair-splitting debates over Greek nuances, historical suppositions, technical analyses of similar texts, and strained theories about the indissolubility of marriage.

And we also don’t have to try to figure out who is guilty, because we know we are all guilty on some level of falling short of God’s ideal for marriage. Who am I, one who has not always loved my wife as Christ loves the church, or loved her “as myself” (Eph. 5:28), to condemn someone who has been divorced and remarried? That person might well be doing a better job at marriage now than I am. What preacher or theologian who has “committed adultery” by lust can condemn the man who has “committed adultery” by divorce and remarriage? We are all like the woman caught in the act of adultery, at least on some level (John 8:3-11).

With all this in mind, take a look at the following list of people who, according to Jesus, “commit adultery”:

1.) The man who divorces his wife illegitimately and marries another (Matt. 19:9)

2.) The woman who remarries after her husband illegitimately divorces her (Matt. 5:32)

3.) The man who marries a divorced woman (including the woman who has been divorced illegitimately) (Matt. 5:32; Luke 16:18)

4.) The man who divorces his wife, perhaps even legitimately, and remarries (Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18, where the “exception clause” is missing)

5.) The woman who divorces her husband, perhaps even legitimately, and remarries (Mark 10:12, where the “exception clause” is missing)

6.) The man who looks on a woman to lust for her (Matt. 5:28)

Does anything seem unfair about some of those characterizations? Although it is quite easy to see why Jesus would say a man “commits adultery” who divorces his wife to quickly marry the object of his lust, what about other cases listed, straight from the lips of Jesus?

What about the poor woman whose husband divorced her illegitimately, perhaps because of his lust for another woman? She is simply a victim of his sin and selfishness. How could she “commit adultery” when she remarries?

And what about the sincere man who a year later falls in love with that rejected woman who, through no fault of her own, lost her husband, just like a widow? How could it not be an honorable thing for him to marry her, just as it would be an honorable thing for him to marry a widow? How is it that he “commits adultery”?

What about the woman who divorces her philandering husband, what Jesus seemed to characterize as “legitimate divorce” in Matthew 5 and 19 but not in Mark 10:12? How could she possibly “commit adultery” when she remarries?

Perhaps I am wrong, but the only answer to all these questions that I can think of is that, from God’s standpoint, every divorce and subsequent remarriage, to a greater or lesser degree, involves adultery in some sense, because all reflect that God’s ideal of one man and one woman for life has not been realized. His amazing grace, however, allows a second chance, not just under the Law of Moses but also under the Law of Christ, for such people who “commit adultery” when they remarry, just like His grace allows a second chance for those who “commit adultery” through lust.

I know that some will object to the idea of any grace apart from repentance, but I wonder if any of us have any grasp of the amount of toleration and mercy we’ve each received from the Lord that has zero connection to any repentance on our part. God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” said Jesus.[1] If you want to see someone who has received a lot more mercy than he realizes, take a look in the mirror.

The millions of offenses committed every day around the world that God overlooks or patiently endures testify that He often permits and tolerates what He does not sanction. One very biblical example that comes to mind is the story of Israel’s request for a king (1 Sam. 8-9). God expressly declared that it wasn’t His will for them to have a king, but He made a concession, and He even handpicked their new leader. God makes concessions.

Of course, I am writing primarily to help those who have already been divorced and remarried and whom I fear might come under the influence of the Divine Divorce Doctrine. Don’t be deceived into divorcing again. You may have committed adultery in some sense when you consummated your current marriage, but you are not living in adultery now. Forget those things that lie behind (Phil. 3:13). Strive for a permanent, blessing-filled marriage through obedience to Jesus. Keep your marriage vows. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. — David

[1] By the way, the both sun and rain would have been considered blessings to Jesus’ original audience, and “rain” would not have carried the negative connotation that is often carries in among modern city dwellers.