I’m Divorced and Remarried. Am I Living in Adultery? Part 3

By David Servant

In this final article that addresses “Divine Divorce Doctrine,” I want to respond to some of the common arguments and objections of those who advocate divorce for anyone who has been previously divorced and remarried, followed by remarriage to their original spouse if possible, or celibacy if not possible, until their original spouse is dead.

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

My hope is to rescue those who are coming under the influence of Divine Divorce Doctrine—before their marriages and families are also left as carnage in its foul wake.

My heart goes out to those who have already been deceived by Divine Divorce Doctrine and who have consequently divorced their spouses needlessly. Today I viewed a video testimony of such a woman (youtube.com/watch?v=5NNQ_wnBoYo). Incredibly, the “Marriage Permanence Community” artistically films many such testimonies, complete with touching background music, in order to persuade others to follow their perverse path. They portray those who have divorced their spouses and broken up their families as devoted, spiritual followers of Christ who have been willing to pay a great price for their faith.

The video I watched today features not only a woman who divorced her husband against his wishes, but their three beautiful children (approximate ages 8-17), all tragic victims of the deception of Divine Divorce Doctrine. The video ends with the woman saying, as her voice breaks, “And I just…pray…that my children…will just…see my repentance…as just…an example of radical obedience to the Scriptures.” She has good reason to be concerned, as it is no surprise that those “to whom the kingdom belongs” have a hard time understanding why God would want their parents to divorce. I would encourage the “Marriage Permanence Community” to take note of what such children do once they “leave the nest” themselves. I would be willing to bet that quite a few want nothing to do with Christianity after experiencing the bizarre and confusing world of Divine Divorce proponents.

If you have legally or functionally divorced your spouse because of Divine Divorce Doctrine, and you’ve had the courage to read my first and second articles, what follows can potentially set you free from those who have misled you by twisting the Bible. Those people are not your friends, as you will soon discover if you tell them you have changed your mind about Divine Divorce. They will ostracize you, as all cults do as a means of controlling their members. They will also tell you that you are going to hell. But God is for you. Your life, and perhaps even your marriage, can be restored to what He intended, because His mercy and grace are more than sufficient to restore all that Satan, through Divine Divorce Doctrine, has stolen from you. God is good, and His mercies are new every morning.

OK, let’s consider eight of the most common arguments of Divine Divorce proponents:

1.) Marriage, according to the Bible, is indissoluble as long as both married persons are alive. God said that the husband and wife become “one flesh.” Jesus said “they are no longer two, but one flesh,” and “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6). So just because two married people are legally divorced in the eyes of man, they are still married in the eyes of God until one of them dies. And just because a divorced person legally remarries in the eyes of man, they are not married in eyes of God.

Answer: The idea of the indissolubility of marriage is not only the foundation of Divine Divorce Doctrine, but of all very conservative viewpoints found along Christendom’s theological spectrum regarding divorce and remarriage. The most conservative believe that divorce and remarriage are never lawful under any circumstances, and that all divorces and remarriages that actually do occur are not recognized by God. They confuse God’s original ideal—a world without divorce and remarriage—with reality, which is a world that is full of both.

To them, there have been no actual divorces, only fantasy divorces. And since there have been no actual divorces, neither have there been any actual remarriages either, but only fantasy remarriages. To a large degree, wedding ceremonies, vows, marriage certificates, witnesses, court records, name changes, and long-standing human relationships and interaction don’t exist in this alternate reality. Millions of people are not actually married to people whom they think they are married to, people whom they live with and interact with every day as a husband or wife, often for decades and until death. Conversely, millions of people are actually married to people whom they think they are not married to, people whom they sometimes haven’t seen for decades and who live hundreds of miles away. On top of this, millions of people have children whom they think are legitimate, but who are actually illegitimate children, the offspring of adultery.

And most interestingly, folks who are living in this alternate reality think God sees the world just as they do. That smiling Christian couple driving with their four children on their way to “that other church”…they aren’t what they seem to be. No, they are actually “sexually filthy remarriage adulterers” (to borrow an expression of Divine Divorce proponents). They think they are going to heaven because they believe in Jesus and live their faith every day, but actually they are going to hell because they haven’t divorced each other.

And this alternate reality exists in part because, “The Bible says that husbands and wives are one flesh, joined together by God. And Jesus said that what God has joined, let no man separate. So we don’t separate what God has joined.”

May I first submit that something is indissoluble if it cannot be “dissolved, loosened, or disconnected.” The phrase “one flesh” carries no connotation of indissolubility. In fact, just the opposite is true. Husbands and wives are only “one flesh” during sexual intercourse. Only for a small part of their married lives are they “one flesh.”

God’s statement regarding husbands and wives becoming one flesh speaks of divinely-intended exclusivity of sex within marriage, not the indissolubility of marriage itself. Paul wrote that the man who joins himself to a prostitute, something forbidden by God, becomes “one flesh” with her (1 Cor. 6:16). Obviously, there is nothing indissoluble about the relationship of a man and a prostitute. In fact, all such relationships should be dissolved immediately.

And just because Jesus said, “What God has joined together, let no man separate,” that does not prove that separation is impossible. Rather, it proves that separation is possible, otherwise there would be no need for a warning against it.

God also said, “Do not commit adultery.” That certainly does not prove that adultery is impossible. Rather, the prohibition against adultery proves it is possible, albeit inappropriate.

Thus, Jesus’ words, “What God has joined together, let no man separate,” are not a declaration of the impossibility of divorce, but a warning against it, something the Pharisees and their followers certainly needed to hear, as they were divorcing “for any cause.” Every human conscience resonates with God’s ideal for lifetime marriage to one partner.

Marriage is of course dissolved by death, but not only by death. It is also dissolved by divorce. The definition of divorce is “the dissolution of marriage.” Divorced people are not married people, and this could not be more clear from God’s words in Deut. 24:1-4. There it speaks of a married woman whose husband divorced her, giving her a certificate of divorce. She was then unmarried. But she remarried, gaining a new husband, to whom she was a wife. But he subsequently divorced her. She was again unmarried. She was forbidden by law to remarry her first husband. But as a divorcedunmarried woman, she was free to remarry anyone else.

Obviously, Jesus, the author of the Law of Moses, did not believe that divorced people are still married in God’s eyes to their former spouses, and those who interpret His Four D&R Statements to make Him say otherwise impugn God’s immutability and Christ’s right to be called Messiah. Jesus would never contradict Himself, and thus He would never contradict the Law of Moses.

2.) “Paul wrote, ‘For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress’ (Rom. 7:2-3). So clearly, only death can end the marriage relationship, and anyone who marries another person while his former spouse is still alive is living in an adulterous relationship, just a Paul taught.”

Answer: Only if we ignore content and context could we come to such a conclusion.

First, the content: Note that the example Paul uses is that of a “married woman” (Greek: hupandros gunenot a divorced woman. Of course, if a married woman is “joined to another man,” she would be an adulteress. A divorced woman, however, is not a married woman, but an unmarried woman. Paul, a former Pharisee who was well-versed in the Law of Moses and who appealed to the Law in this very passage in order to make his point (7:1), knew that a divorced woman was not “married to her former husband in God’s eyes” under the Law of Moses. In fact, Paul knew that the Mosaic Law forbade her to remarry her former husband if her second husband divorced her or died (Deut. 24:1-4). So there is absolutely no way he could have thought God viewed the divorced and remarried woman as still married to her original husband.[1]

Second, the context: Rather than isolating a text in order to make it appear to support our doctrine, let’s consider the surrounding verses:

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Rom. 7:1-5).

Obviously, Paul was not teaching about the sole lawful means of dissolving a marriage. That was not his topic. Rather, he was simply using an illustration from marriage to teach how Jewish believers in Christ are no longer bound to the Law of Moses since they have died in Christ. To claim that Paul’s words in Romans 7:1-5 are teaching about the sole means of dissolving a marriage would be like claiming that his quotation of the old covenant law, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” in 1 Cor. 9:9 and 1 Tim. 5:18 was written to teach the Corinthians and Timothy about animal husbandry.

And to make the claim that death is the sole means of dissolving a marriage is to contradict Jesus, who clearly declared, in both the Law of Moses and in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, that marriage can be legitimately dissolved for immorality, not to mention that it can be illegitimately dissolved for just about any reason.

A similar passage that is twisted by Divine Divorce proponents to prove that marriage can only be dissolved by death is 1 Cor. 7:39: “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” Honest interpreters, however, will admit that one sentence is not the sum total of all that Paul, or the Bible, teaches in regard to the subject of marriage or its dissolution.

Clearly, Paul was not saying that only death dissolves a marriage, as seconds earlier he made it clear that a believer married to an unbeliever who wants to divorce is “not under bondage” in such cases and should let the unbeliever leave (1 Cor. 7:15). It would seem odd to claim that, in such cases, the deserted believer is still married to the deserter until death. It would seem absurd to claim that the phrase, “let the unbeliever leave” means only to allow the unbeliever to do what the believer has never had any power to stop him from doing. So to “let the unbeliever leave” means to not fight the unbeliever’s desire to divorce, and the context certainly supports that idea (1 Cor. 7:12-14). Of course, divorced people are not married people.

Moreover, Paul also allowed for those “released from a wife” to remarry (1 Cor. 7:27-28), which indicates again that Paul believed divorce dissolves marriage. On top of that, as I have already said, Jesus’ statement that “Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Mat. 5:32) indicates that whoever divorces his wife for immorality and remarries does not commit adultery. Clearly, Jesus believed that legitimate divorce annuls a marriage, thus again proving that death alone is not the only thing that can annul a marriage.[2]

At most, 1 Cor. 7:39 is a simple instruction for married women to remain faithful to their vows and to help widows understand that they are free to remarry.

3.) If a married homosexual couple became believers in Jesus, we would tell them to “divorce,” even if they shared adopted or surrogate children, because theirs is a sexually immoral relationship. So likewise, we should tell couples in adulterous marriages that they, too, should divorce, even if they have children, as theirs is a sexually immoral relationship.

Answer: This is an invalid comparison, because all homosexuality is always wrong whereas, indisputably, not all marriage is wrong.

Moreover, this argument once again falsely labels those divorced and remarried as living in an “adulterous marriage,” a phrase and concept that is unbiblical, and it is upon that false premise that this invalid comparison is made. Jesus did not say that he who divorces and remarries “lives in an adulterous marriage,” or “lives in a continual state of adultery,” or “commits adultery every time he/she has sex,” or “is still married to his/her former spouse in God’s eyes,” and it is obvious, as I explained in my previous two articles, that Jesus did not intend for His words to be so interpreted. Moreover, none of the New Testament authors interpreted His words in any of those ways.

Rather, Jesus said that whoever (1) illegitimately divorces and (2) remarries (3) commits adultery. All three can be considered singular events that occur in points of time, with the adultery occurring when the second marriage is consummated by sexual intercourse. That single adulterous act of sexual intercourse would not only give the original spouse the right of divorce (according to Jesus)—thus ending the marriage covenant—but it seals the legal divorce that has already taken place at the initiative of the offending spouse, and it makes reconciliation (that is, the restoration of the first marriage) unlawful from that point on (according to Jesus in Deut. 24:1-4). So that single act of “adultery” is the final deathblow to the former marriage. From then on, sex can no longer be considered adultery, as adultery requires that the adulterer be married to someone else.

Perhaps this could best be understood by a simple comparison of perspectives between God and the Pharisees’ regarding when and how the first marriage actually ends. The Pharisees assumed a marriage ended with a “lawful” divorce that was based on just about anything for which they could label their wives as “indecent.” But that kind of divorce is unlawful and thus invalid in God’s eyes. So when the second marriage is consummated, God sees it as adultery. Although the Pharisees thought their marriages ended through the act of a lawful divorce, God instead viewed their marriages ending by an unlawful act of adultery.

Again, adultery effectively ends a marriage, as the married person who has sex with someone other than his/her spouse breaks the most fundamental marriage vow and thus annuls the marriage covenant. This is illustrated by the standard reaction of all married persons who discover that their spouse has committed adultery. They are understandably enraged. They feel betrayed, and have no desire, or obligation, to relate to the adulterous person as their spouse on any level, especially sexually. The marriage is ruined. The covenant is broken. The only possible way to restore it is through confession and repentance—which would of course include a renewal of the original vow (albeit, now less believable)—and through the mercy and forgiveness of the offended spouse. Unless all of that happens, a functional divorce has occurred, even if the couple continues to live under one roof. And this is no doubt at least one reason why God permits divorce in cases of unrepentant adultery. He allows legal divorce when there is a functional divorce brought on by unrepentant adultery.

Keep in the mind that under the civil statutes of the Mosaic Law, adultery was a capital offense. Stoning was prescribed for adulterers. Adultery, followed by stoning, definitely ended one’s marriage and, obviously, the victim of adultery would have been free to lawfully remarry. Even Divine Divorce proponents can’t argue with that.

Just from a purely legal aspect, to claim that a marriage covenant is still binding after an act of adultery is like claiming that any other mutual promise is still in force after one party fails to keep their part of the contract. If I agree with a buyer to sell my car for a certain sum of money but the buyer never brings the money, I am under no obligation to give him the title to my car. If I agree with a buyer to sell my car for 12 monthly payments, but he stops making payments after 6 months, I am under no obligation to allow him to keep my car in his possession. And if I enter a mutual covenant with a member of the opposite sex that includes, among other things, exclusive sexual relations for life, and I later have sex with someone other than my spouse, I have no right to expect my spouse to honor her side of the covenant. She did not say in her vows, “For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in sexual faithfulness and adultery…”

Divine Divorce proponents sometimes appeal to Greek verb tenses to make the claim that Jesus’ words, “commits adultery” indicate He was referring to continual acts of adultery every time the remarried couple has sex. Again, above and in my previous articles, I showed why such a view cannot possibly be correct.

Although I certainly don’t agree with him on every point, let me quote the most conservative of the four contributing authors of Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views, J. Carl Laney, who believes there is never a valid reason to divorce or to remarry:

Is Adultery Once or Continual? It has been argued that the present tense of the verb moichao, “commits adultery,” indicates that divorce and remarriage involves acts of repeated adultery and that the only way to cease sinning and demonstrate genuine repentance is to end the “adulterous marriage.” While the present tense of moichao can be interpreted in this way, it is also possible that the present tense, “commits adultery,” may be used in an aoristic sense expressing the idea of a present fact without reference to progress. The aoristic present sets forth an event as now occurring. So interpreted, the adultery would involve one punctiliar action at the time of remarriage.

The content of the passage, which contains a succession of aorists, and the prohibition against returning to one’s former spouse after a second marriage (Deut 24:1-4) would point in the direction of the second view. It has been objected that this viewpoint may encourage a couple to remarry, commit adultery, confess it and go on their blissful way. But it should be noted that even one act of adultery is a serious sin in God’s sight (Heb 13:4; Prov 6:33). To presume on God’s grace by sinning willfully against the light of knowledge would be to provoke his wrath. True believers could not sin in such a manner without incurring God’s discipline (see Heb 12:6-11). [I would say, rather, “believers” who sin in such a manner prove that they are not true believers.]

Since the present tense, “commits adultery,” can be used to argue in favor of either view, it seems that the matter must be decided on the basis of other clear statements of Scripture. Should sexual intercourse between married partners cease? Not according to Paul (1 Cor. 7:5). Should marriage end in divorce? Not according to Jesus (Mk 10:9; Mt 19:6). [And I would add, not according to Paul either (1 Cor. 7:10-13).] It may be that confessing the sin, but continuing the marriage is the least culpable course of action for the divorced and remarried Christian.

Many people argue that God’s grace means that a divorced Christian gets a second chance at marriage. This smacks of license, not grace. It implies that God has a standard, but it really doesn’t matter if it is violated. [I disagree with this conclusion.] What grace means is that a divorced and remarried couple need not break up. Although entering their marriage wrongfully, they should remain in that marital state in which they find themselves (1 Cor 7:17-24).

As Laney points out, all the verb tenses in the relevant passages are present tense. And the present tense Jesus used is not proof that the adultery committed refers to repeated and ongoing acts any more than the present tense of “divorce” or “remarries” is proof the divorce or remarriage committed refer to repeated and ongoing acts of divorce and remarriage.

In fact, Jesus’ consistent use of the present tense in His statement could be evidence that He was referring to a singular sexual act as being adultery. Jesus did not say, “Whoever has divorced (past tense) illegitimately and has remarried (past tense) is (present tense) committing adultery.”  Had He said that, we might conclude that adultery was committed with every sexual act.

4.) You point out that there are no instructions—by either Jesus or the apostles who authored the New Testament epistles—for those who have been divorced and remarried to divorce again, nor are there any examples of anyone doing such a thing. But that is an argument from silence. Conversely, neither are there any instructions—by either Jesus or the apostles who authored the New Testament epistles—for those who have been divorced and remarried to remain married. So the opposite of your view can also be made from an argument of silence.

Answer: Imagine a defense attorney declaring to a jury, “As we have all seen, the plaintiff has not produced even a shred of evidence that my client, Jack, robbed First National Bank.” And then imagine the attorney for the bank standing to say, “Yes, that may be true, but neither is there evidence that Jack didn’t rob First National Bank!” The jury would think it was a comedy routine. The complete lack of evidence that Jack robbed the bank is all the evidence needed to prove that he didn’t rob the bank.

The burden of proof lies with Divine Divorce proponents, as it is quite reasonable to think that, if God requires all divorced and remarried people to divorce again as a requirement to “escape an adulterous marriage” and thus “escape hell” (as Divine Divorce proponents claim), there would be lots of information about that in the New Testament, as it would be a matter of great concern to both God and humanity. And if God does not require divorced and remarried people to divorce again as a requirement for salvation (as the large majority of Christians believe), then it is quite unreasonable to think there would be any information about it in the New Testament, as it would be information of no relevance for anyone.

If someone were advocating, based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:29, that we pluck out our right eye if we’ve ever lusted, it would be reasonable to ask them to show us examples of such a thing in the books of Acts along with supportive instructions in the New Testament epistles, as plucking out one’s eye is no small thing. But imagine an eye-plucking advocate, in defense of his doctrine, saying, “There may not be any examples of anyone plucking out their right eye in the book of Acts or instructions for the same in the New Testament epistles, but neither are there any examples of anyone not plucking out their right eye in the book or Acts, and neither are there any instructions in the New Testament epistles telling readers to not pluck out their right eye!” Would we not think such a person was grasping at straws to defend his bizarre doctrine?

5.) None of the church fathers who wrote after the apostolic age agree with you.

Answer: It is certainly true that the church fathers wrote at times about the subject of divorce and remarriage, and they of course quoted Jesus’ words about illegitimate divorce and remarriage being adultery. I have never claimed that they did not. Some forbade remarriage under any circumstances, erring on the side of caution in my humble opinion. But to date, no one has been able to show me where any early church father instructed divorced and remarried people to divorce again, or for that matter instructed anyone to divorce period, prior to something Jerome wrote in 394 AD counseling one remarried woman. So is someone who lived 360 years after Christ the ultimate authority? Jerome also defended the idea that Mary remained a virgin perpetually. Is that biblical?

One of the most amusing things is to hear people quote certain church fathers in order to support their particular theological beliefs, and then listen to their response when I ask them if there is anything those same church fathers wrote with which they disagree…

In any case, it is reasonable to think that, if any church father believed what Divine Divorce Proponents believe, they would have told divorced and remarried people to do the same things Divine Divorce proponents are telling them to do. They, just like Jesus and the apostles, did not.

6.) In the Old Testament book of Ezra, there is a story in chapters 9 and 10 about 113 Jewish men who had married foreign wives, a transgression of the Mosaic Law. Under either conviction or ecclesiastical pressure, those men divorced their foreign wives. This shows that the proper response to a marriage that is displeasing to God is to divorce. Thus, all those who are divorced and remarried should also divorce, as their adulterous marriages are displeasing to God.

Answer: To label certain second marriages as “adulterous” in the sense that they are continually adulterous is unwarranted and unbiblical, as I have repeatedly shown. Remarried people may have sinned when they divorced and remarried, but they aren’t “living in sin” because of their remarriage. On that basis, the story of the divorcing men in Ezra’s time has no real relevance at all to our topic. But, just for the sake of argument, let us pretend that it does.

While there is no doubt that 113 Jewish men transgressed the Mosaic Law by marrying foreign wives, there is no place in the book of Ezra where it is recorded that God instructed or expected them to divorce their foreign wives. It was the proposal of a man named “Shecaniah the son of Jehiel,” and he persuaded Ezra and the rest of the remnant that had recently returned from exile to adopt his proposal. Again, nothing in the book of Ezra indicates that God initiated or approved of the proposal.

Additionally, there is good reason to think that, even though the 113 Jewish men had transgressed the Mosaic Law by marrying foreign wives, God did not expect those men to then divorce them.

Why? Because God expected the people of Israel to keep their covenant vows, even when those vows went against His revealed will. A case in point is Israel’s covenant with the people of Gibeon, wicked Amorites whom God wanted Israel to annihilate during the conquest of Canaan led by Joshua. The Gibeonites, realizing they were doomed, shrewdly disguised themselves as distant foreigners, and requested a covenant of peace and protection with Israel, which they consequently gained, albeit deceptively. And when neighboring Amorite kings attacked the Gibeonites shortly after, the armies of Israel honored that covenant by coming to their defense, even though God originally wanted the Israelite army to annihilate them (Josh 9:2-10:11). Because of an imprudent covenant, God wanted Israel to defend the Gibeonites, whereas before the covenant, God wanted Israel to annihilate them.

Moreover, during the reign of King David more than four centuries later, Israel suffered God’s judgment in the form of a three-year famine, simply because David’s predecessor, King Saul, ignored Israel’s covenant of peace with the Gibeonites (1 Sam. 21:1). If there was ever an illustration of God expecting His people to keep their promises, the story of Israel’s covenant with the Gibeonites takes the prize. And so we have to wonder why God would not want 113 men in Israel who made vows to foreign women to keep their vows, even though it was not his will for them to make those vows in the first place.

As far as the story in Ezra relates to our subject, namely the alleged divine requirement of Christians to divorce their current spouses if they have been previously married and divorced, we must also question that idea for the same reasons that we question the propriety of 113 Israelite men divorcing their wives. Does not God expect us to keep our vows as well, even when there may have been good reason at one time to avoid making those vows? The servant of God, guided by his integrity, “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Ps 15:4). And did not God hold those 113 men accountable for the suffering they caused the women whom they divorced, as well as their common children “to whom the kingdom belongs” (something which Jesus incidentally proclaimed within seconds of one His Four D&R Statements; see Matt. 19:14).

Beyond those things, the fundamental reason why God forbade the Israelite men from marrying foreign wives, namely, the great risk posed by those pagan women of turning the hearts of their Israelite husbands from devotion to the Lord, has absolutely no application to modern Christians married to Christians, even when one of them at one time was previously married and divorced. It would seem patently absurd to make the claim, “Because 113 Israelite men once wrongly married pagan women and then tried to patch up their sin by the very questionable actions of breaking their vows and sending their wives and children away, so lovers of Jesus married to lovers of Jesus should divorce if either of them has been previously married and divorced.” And if we add to all of this Jesus’ and Paul’s almost unconditional prohibitions against divorce, including Paul’s prohibition for Christians to divorce unbelieving spouses, we have to question how anyone could advocate that some Christians should divorce their Christian (or non-Christian) spouses because of a story of 113 Israelite men divorcing pagan spouses.

7.) John the Baptist reprimanded Herod Antipas for his marriage to his half-brother’s wife, Herodias, calling him to divorce her. This serves as an example for all the Christians who are in adulterous marriages, who also should divorce.

Answer: This claim is built on several assumptions, one of which is the assumption, again, that Christian couples in which one or both were previously married are considered by God to be in “adulterous marriages” or “still married to their original spouses in God’s eyes,” which I have already shown is not the case if we consider all of Scripture.

But let’s consider the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias. First, it’s worth noting that Herodias was named after her grandfather, Herod the Great, who also happened to be Herod Antipas’ father. That not only explains why their names are so similar, but also tells us they were related. Herodias was Herod Antipas’ niece. Theirs was an incestuous marriage.

Both had previously been married, Herod Antipas to a woman named Phasaelis, daughter of King Aretas IV of Nabatea, and Herodias to Herod Antipas’ half-brother, Philip. But when Herod Antipas was once visiting Rome and staying with Philip, he and Herodias fell in love, or perhaps it might be better said that they fell in lust. They agreed to marry once Herod Antipas had divorced Phasaelis. When Phasaelis learned of their plans, she journeyed back home to her father, King Aretas IV, who subsequently declared war against Herod. Herod lost that war. But the main point is, in order to marry each other, Herodias divorced Philip and Herod Antipas divorced Phasaelis. It was a classic case of obvious adultery under the guise of marriage.[3]

Understanding that background, it is certainly easy to understand why John the Baptist reprimanded Herod for his marriage to Herodias. But wrongful marriage was not the only thing John found fault with in Herod. Luke tells us:

But when Herod the tetrarch was reprimanded by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the wicked things which Herod had done, Herod also added this to them all: he locked John up in prison (Luke 3:19-20, emphasis added).

So John reprimanded Herod for many “wicked things,” of which one was his marriage to his brother’s wife. Interestingly, Mark informs us that Herod respected John greatly, enjoyed listening to him, and even protected him for a time:

Herodias had a grudge against him [John the Baptist] and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him (Mark 6:19-20).

So we shouldn’t imagine John pointing his finger at Herod as he drove by in his chariot and shouting, “It is unlawful for you to have your brother’s wife!” Rather, we should imagine Herod inviting John to his palace, either before or during his incarceration, and asking him questions relevant to his own life (as did others; see Luke 3:10-14), and John pointing out to him all that he was doing that was grievous to God. We might also imagine Herod feeling convicted, but strangely enjoying hearing someone who fearlessly told him what his conscience had been telling him all his life.

Herodias finally got her wish for John’s execution via her dancing daughter at one of Herod’s parties. Offering her up to half his kingdom, she asked for John’s head on a platter at her mother’s request, and Herod capitulated. So it is difficult to find anything good to say about either Herod or Herodias.

So let us imagine God comparing their marriage to that of a long-term, devoted Christian couple, of which the wife, prior to her salvation, was in a difficult marriage that she tried for years to make work but that ended in divorce. Would God view that Christian couple’s marriage to be “just as evil” as the marriage of Herod and Herodias? Is it right and reasonable to claim that, because John called on Herod and Herodias to divorce, that God expects every married couple to divorce if one of the members has been previously married and divorced?

And did John actually call on Herod and Herodias to divorce as a remedy for their sin? If he did, Scripture doesn’t say, and so we should not make that assumption. We could just as rightly claim that John was calling for Herod and Herodias to be stoned, as that is what the Law of Moses prescribed for adulterers, and clearly, that is what they were guilty of.

But let us imagine that John was actually calling them to divorce. If he was holding them to the standards of the Mosaic Law regarding divorce and remarriage, neither would be permitted to return to their former spouse (according to Deut. 24:1-4). But both would be free to remarry anyone else, with the exception that Herodias would not be permitted to marry a priest (fairly unlikely). So what, exactly, would be the point of Herod Antipas and Herodias divorcing? Why would John call them to divorce if they could not return to their former spouses but could marry just about anyone else? What would be the point? And are we to imagine that John was calling Herod and Herodias to divorce and remain celibate until their original spouses died, the alleged new law of Christ?

In light of all these things, in my humble opinion, Divine Divorce proponents have no warrant to claim that John’s condemnation of Herod and Herodias’ marriage has any application to us other than the fact that it has always been wrong for anyone to divorce their spouse in order to marry someone else.

8.) The “exception clauses” in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 should not be interpreted as allowing for divorce if a man discovers that his wife has committed adultery. Rather, Jesus was speaking of the discovery, during the betrothal phase, of illicit sex during or before the betrothal phase. And for that offense it was lawful to break off one’s engagement. And this is the same thing Paul was writing about in 1 Cor. 7:27-28, another scripture that is mistakenly applied to married persons when it actually only applies to betrothed persons. So your claim that God allows divorce under certain circumstances, which thus makes allowance for remarriage in some cases, is wrong. Only death can dissolve a marriage. Thus there is no divorced person who is legitimately divorced, and there is no remarried person who is legitimately remarried. So all remarried people should divorce their current spouse to either return to their original spouse or live celibate lives until their original spouse is dead.

Answer: If one holds to the supposition that marriage is dissoluble only by death and not by legitimate divorce, then the “exception clauses” in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 (“except for immorality”), as well as Paul’s allowance for divorced people to remarry in 1 Cor. 7:27-28, are problematic. So we should not be surprised that Divine Divorce proponents and their conservative counterparts have come up with explanations that attempt to harmonize those problematic passages with their views. I addressed the “Betrothal View” in two footnotes in my first article, as it seems so obviously far-fetched that it isn’t worthy of actual discussion. However, the Betrothal View seems to be a cardinal doctrine of Divine Divorce proponents, so I will address it.

To put it bluntly, the Betrothal View makes Jesus look stupid.

Note that, in Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees recorded in Matthew 19:3-12, the Pharisee’s initial and follow-up questions, Jesus’ initial and second reply, as well as the scriptures referenced in their conversation (Gen. 2:24, Deut. 24:1-4), all refer only to married people and the lawfulness of divorce between them. The topic remains consistent throughout the conversation. But then, according to the Betrothal View, Jesus allegedly ends the conversation with a statement about lawful divorce that has absolutely no application to married people, but only to engaged people! And that makes Jesus look stupid. It also makes those who make Jesus look stupid look desperate to defend their doctrine. They are forcing a meaning that reflects their bias into a passage of Scripture.

In the other instance where we find the “exception clause,” in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Betrothal View makes Jesus look equally, if not more, stupid.

In that instance, Jesus first references the Pharisees’ twisted teaching, which they derived from Deut. 24:1-4, saying: “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give a certificate of divorce'” (Matt. 5:31). So the topic is “married men divorcing their wives.” But in the next sentence that completes everything Jesus has to say on the subject, Betrothal View proponents have Him strangely correcting the Pharisaic viewpoint with a declaration that has no application at all to married men, but only to betrothed men. They have Jesus saying, “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give a certificate of divorce.’ But I say, whoever breaks off his betrothal, except for immorality, makes his former fiancée commit adultery, and whoever marries her commits adultery.” Jesus appears to be an idiot.

Equally strange is the fact that, according to Betrothal View proponents, a man can allegedly lawfully “divorce” his fiancée during the engagement period if he discovers she has been sexually immoral. However, if she successfully keeps her pre-marital sexual immorality hidden from him, once the actual marriage has taken place, he is not permitted to divorce her. Worse, now that she is married, she can be as promiscuous as she wants, as the window for divorce is now closed permanently. She can become a prostitute, and still he cannot lawfully divorce her. Such a view is as bizarre as it is illogical. It places a higher value on faithfulness prior to marriage than after marriage (which is the exact opposite of Scripture’s valuation according to Ex. 22:16-17 and Deut. 22:22). And it rewards the promiscuous woman who can keep her promiscuity hidden from her fiancé.

But it gets worse. Betrothal View proponents always point out that the “exception clauses” found in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 include two Greek words, porneia and moicheo, respectively translated “fornication” and “adultery” in the King James Version. Matthew 19:9 reads, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for porneia, and marries another woman commits moicheo.” Betrothal View proponents claim that, because Jesus used two different words, He was making a distinction between the sexual sin committed by the immoral woman and the sexual sin committed by the man who divorces and marries another. The immoral woman did not commit moicheo, but rather porneia, so her sin was not adultery, but fornication, a sin that can only be committed by an unmarried person. Thus Jesus must have been speaking of pre-marital illicit sex discovered during the betrothal phase.

This explanation, however, is flawed, as the meaning of the Greek word porneia is not limited to sex between two unmarried persons, that is, fornication, which is probably why the NASB does not always translate porneia as “fornication,” but sometimes as “unchastity” and “immorality.” Greek lexicons show that porneia refers to illicit sex in general, which can include fornication, adultery and incest. Moreover, Thomas Edgar points out that in Hebrew culture “the use of the two different terms…(porneia for the woman) and…(moichao for the man) is exactly in accordance with expected usage. It is much less likely that the same term, rather than the two different terms, would be used, since it was contrary to the customary usage of the time…. The proclivity of that culture to describe an adulterous woman by the term porneia (or verb porneuo) and the adulterous man by the specific terms moichao or moicheuo is alone sufficient to explain the use of the two terms in Matthew 19:9.” (Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views, IVP, p. 164, H. Wayne House, editor)

The Betrothal View also raises the question of how those who have never been married can be said to commit adultery in any sense if they marry. Imagine an engaged couple under the banner of the Betrothal View. The man breaks the engagement (“divorces”) for an illegitimate reason (something other than his fiancée committing porneia). Jesus said that if he marries another woman, he commits adultery. But he has never been married. Moreover, should his former fiancée marry anyone else, according to Jesus, she commits adultery. But she has never been married either. So we see that the Betrothal View hangs itself. If the exception clause only applies to those who are betrothed and not to those who are married, then the consequences of an illegitimate “divorce” and the subsequent marriages cannot constitute adultery in any sense. Betrothal View proponents not only wrongly restrict porneia to mean “only fornication,” but they must also wrongly expand moichao to include fornication. All this being so, the “exception clauses” in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 only make sense if they apply to married persons, not engaged persons.

Finally, the Betrothal View makes Jesus contradict the Law of Moses, which allowed for a man to divorce his wife for sexual immorality regardless of when the immorality was committed or discovered. As I have already pointed out, the “indecency” of Deut. 24:1-4 is discovered by a man regarding a woman to whom he was married, which results in him divorcing her. The Mosaic Law also speaks of a man who, upon taking a wife and consummating his marriage, discovers that she is not a virgin as she had represented herself (Deut. 22:13-21). The penalty for her “playing the harlot in her father’s house” was death by stoning. There can be no denial that the “betrothal view” makes Jesus contradict the Mosaic Law, as the “betrothal view” makes no allowance for divorce after marriage, but only for breaking off an engagement. Again, Jesus would never contradict Himself, and thus He would never contradict the Law of Moses.

Betrothal View proponents similarly grasp at straws regarding Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 7:27-28:

Are you bound to a wife? [That is, are you married?] Do not seek to be released. [That is, don’t pursue a divorce, just as I have previously told you above in 7:10-13.] Are you released from a wife? [That is, are you divorced (or possibly widowed)?]. Do not seek a wife [That is, don’t seek to be remarried.] But if you marry, you have not sinned; [That is, if you remarry, you are not sinning, regardless of whether you are divorced or widowed] and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. [That is, the same is true for virgin women, and this special instruction addressed to virgin women confirms that the previous statement, “But if you marry, you have not sinned” does indeed apply to men who have been previously married and divorced.] Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you (1 Cor. 7:27-28).

Betrothal View proponents claim this passage is applicable only to currently- or previously-betrothed virgins, rather than currently- or previously-married people, claiming that context supports such a view because Paul addresses virgins beginning in 7:25. Here is how they interpret 1 Cor. 7:27-28:

Are you bound to a wife? [That is, are you, a virgin man, engaged to be married?] Do not seek to be released. [That is, do not seek to be released from your engagement.] Are you released from a wife? [That is, are you released from being engaged?]. Do not seek a wife [That is, do not seek to be engaged once again and married.] But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. [That is, if you do get engaged once again and marry, you have not sinned; and if a female virgin marries, she has not sinned.] Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you (1 Cor. 7:27-28).

This re-write by itself should be enough for any honest person to reject it. It raises so many questions that expose its dubiousness, including:

(1) How many engaged men could there possibly have been in the Corinthian church who needed to be advised to not “seek to be released” from their engagement because that is something they were actually considering?

(2) And where is mention of the fact that if they were to break their engagement for any reason besides the discovery of their fiancée’s immorality and ultimately marry another, they would be guilty of adultery, as is claimed by the Betrothal View interpretation of Matt. 5:32 and 19:9?

(3) How many previously-engaged men who had been “released” from an engagement could there possibly have been in the Corinthian church, and how many of those would have needed to be advised to not seek to be re-engaged again because that was something they were considering?

(4) And again, where is the warning that, if they broke off their previous engagement for any reason besides the discovery of their fiancée’s immorality, they would be committing adultery should they ever remarry any other woman, as is claimed by the Betrothal View interpretation of Matt. 5:32 and 19:9?

(5) Why did Paul tell these previously-engaged men they would not be sinning if they were to marry when in fact Jesus said they could well have been sinning, committing adultery, if the previous engagement breakup was illegitimate, as is claimed by the Betrothal View interpretation of Matt. 5:32 and 19:9?

These questions, and others that could be asked, show how far-fetched the Betrothal View is when it is applied to this passage.

The most natural interpretation of 1 Cor. 7:27-28 is that Paul was summarizing much of what he had previously written, namely that: “Married people, whether married to a believer or unbeliever, should not divorce. Divorced people, just like widows, are better off if they remain single during the present distress, but if they remarry, they are not sinning. And although I’ve also already advised those who have never been married that it would be best for them to remain single, if they do marry, they are not sinning.”

In Conclusion

As John Wesley was fond of saying after he preached to an unreceptive crowd, “I have delivered my soul.” That is, “I’ve done my best to tell the truth, and so God will not hold me responsible for those who heard me yet who continue down the wrong path.”

I’ve done my best and invested a lot of time writing three articles to help Divine Divorce proponents see what is intuitively obvious to the majority of Christians around the world.

God never intended that any married couple would divorce. He hates divorce because He loves people. However, because He loves people, He’s made some divorce legitimate, and He forgives illegitimate divorce when there is repentance. Remarried people do not live in a continual state of sin or adultery that can only be remedied by divorce. Sin is not repaired by more sin. Sin is repaired by mercy and grace, something of which God has an abundance. May His name be praised. — David

[1] And, of course, neither did Jesus, the author of Deut. 24:1-4, and the one who said to the woman at the well of Samaria, “You have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18). Jesus viewed her at the time as not having a husband, but as being unmarried, as I also pointed out in my first article. So unless Jesus contradicted Himself, His words about divorce + remarriage = adultery were not meant to be interpreted divorce + remarriage = still married to first spouse.

[2] I am aware that some Divine Divorce proponents claim that Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 7:27-28 only have application to those who have only been betrothed, and not to those who are already married, and that they make the same claim regarding the exception clauses in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. I do address that interpretation later in this teaching.

[3] Some question why John apparently expected Herod to keep the Law of Moses, since he certainly was not a professing Jew. But adultery is wrong for anyone and everyone, and it is a transgression of the Law of Conscience that God has placed in every person’s heart, as well as a violation of the Golden Rule.