In “Tough Passages,” we’re looking at the difficult verses in the Bible that are often brought up by secular people as reasons the Bible doesn’t make sense, and discovering how they actually reveal the character, love, and glory of God in a beautiful way. Last month, we looked at Leviticus 19:17-18 and “Love your neighbor;” for February, we’re taking a hard look at Luke 16:18.
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
The Secular Response
According to this passage, all members of the congregation that have been divorced and/or remarried would be sinners and should be kicked out of the church. With a 50%* divorce rate in America, it’s safe to say that people are selectively ignoring this rule, yet somehow still seeing themselves as “pious.”
On one level this is a very simple passage. It’s short, direct, and to the point. There are no parables or metaphors. And it’s even spoken by Jesus, so you can’t dismiss it as some rogue interpretation of one of the Apostles.
But its context is kind of confusing. Jesus has just rebuked the Pharisees about their love of money, and he’s about to tell a parable about the torment of a rich man who ignored a poor man’s need. Nothing else in the passage seems to suggest the topic of marriage and divorce. We need more help here, and Luke doesn’t offer it.
Matthew does, however. In the parallel passage in Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew recounts a longer version of the conversation that Luke truncates. In it, Jesus is telling a crowd what it means to be a child of God: the Beatitudes begin the chapter (“Blessed are those…”), and He continues by entreating them to be set apart and holy, in some fairly extreme ways: a child of God doesn’t get angry, because anger is the heart equivalent of murder. A child of God doesn’t lust after someone, because lust is the heart equivalent of cheating on your wife. A child of God is true to their word. A child of God loves even their enemies. And amid these things, he says that a child of God doesn’t get a divorce.
But in verse 48, Jesus sums up his entire sermon when he drops a massive command: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Does Jesus really expect us to be perfect? Yes (I’ll get to that in a second), but it’s more than that. Throughout this chapter, Jesus isn’t just telling the people what a child of God looks like, He’s also telling them what God looks like. He’s telling them that a child of God should act like God; in the same way parents rebuke a child by telling them “we don’t do that sort of thing in this family,” Jesus here is telling His people what God’s family values are. We don’t fly off the handle in this family. We don’t lust or hate or lie in this family. And we don’t get divorced in this family.
Ephesians 5:32 reminds us that human marriages are intended to be a reflection of God’s love for His people, as first described in Ezekiel 16 – a very graphic passage about God seeing a broken, defeated people, loving them deeply and restoring their fortunes, and remaining faithful to them despite their betrayal and unfaithfulness. God hates human divorce because He wants our marriages be reflections of that perfect love.
But we can’t be perfect. We’re humans, a word which is practically synonymous with falling short. The phrase “I’m only human” literally means “I’m imperfect.” And that’s why, just as quickly as Jesus commanded us to be perfect, He died on the cross to cleanse us of our imperfections and make us perfect in the future.
(Incidentally, that’s why we don’t kick sinners out of the church. Piety and church attendance is another thing that secular and Christian people alike get wrong a lot, and we’ll deal with that a little bit more in “Appendix A” this Friday.)
So where does this leave the divorcee?
Well, to be sure, God doesn’t want you to get a divorce. If your marriage is in trouble, please try everything you can before resorting to divorce.
But if you’ve been divorced, please rest assured: Christ died for all of your sins, even your divorce. And He welcomes you to the church with open, waiting, hopeful, joyful arms.
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Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture! Next month in Tough Passages, we’re going to look at lust through Matthew 5:28. In the meantime, there will be lots of great content coming out every week!
Want to write for Redeeming Culture? We would love to have you!
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*Statistics are difficult. The 50% stat Ivana quotes in her listicle is misleading; the actual statistic is that approximately twice as many marriages happen every year as divorces. This number is skewed badly by second and third marriages, doesn’t take remarriage into account, and is an extrapolation based on survey data, not a hard data point. The idea that 50% of people will go through a divorce in their lives is certainly no longer true, and may never have been in the first place.
You addressed the sin of divorce, but you didn’t address the remarriage adulteries. A single sinful act may be forgiven, but how can one repent if living in a lifestyle of sin? How can one repent and remain married to a second wife if Christ calls it adultury? The blood can only save you if you truly repent. Correct? Is it necessary, as the bible reads, that you remain single or be reconciled to your first wife? I mean it’s reiterated multiple times: Matthew 5:32,Mark 10:12,Luke 16:18,1 Corinthians 7:10.
Charles, when building our teaching (doctrine), we have to look at every scripture that would pertain to the subject at hand. In this case it is divorce and remarriage.
There are some cases when the divorce is justified as in Matt 5:32. This passage says that in the case of fornication the divorce is justified. This scripture along with 1 Cor 7:15, shows that in certain cases divorce and a subsequent remarriage may not always be a continuing sin issue. I would argue that most marriages that wind up in divorce have at least one of these two issues at play. This would definitely allow for remarriage for at least one of the partners if they were a faithful believing spouse.
We must understand that it’s not quite as easy to say that everyone who is divorced and remarried is living in adultery. AND in most cases unless we are the responsible minister of the couple, then we probably don’t know or even need to know the details of most marriage problems. I like to think of it like this; since God has not made me the divorce police and if I am not the minister presiding over a marriage problem then God will not hold me accountable nor responsible as long as it is not MY marriage.
let me help you……..a person is not allowed to remarry if they have been divorced. why are you afraid to tell the truth.
Agreed. The words of Jesus are clear AND so are the words of Paul; some people are made to be single, but some people are made to be married. What then?
Matt 5:32 saving for the cause of fornication is referring to premarital immorality while in a Jewish Betrothal period NOT marriage.
Divorce is never allowed once the marriage is consumated. Luke 16:18 Romans 7:2
It is the will of God that we submit to authority. The state of Indiana has allowed my wife to divorce me for unscriptural reasons. They are the authority and they sanction it. So my wife has divorced me without a reason that is biblically sound but the apostle Paul says some people are made to be single, and some people are made to be married. God has made me to be married. What am I to do?
Agreed. And throughout the Scriptures, the concept of fleeing temptation is reiterated, so if you are divorced, but God has made you to be married, and you’re able to be faithful in marriage, then trying to remain single only opens the door for temptation to fornication, lust, covetousness and other sins because of a persons sexual drive. If your marriage ended in divorce because of a worldly or fleshly or satanic problem, then with The guidance of the Holy Spirit, the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, and the love and will of The Father you need to fix that worldly or fleshly or devilish problem so that your next marriage doesn’t have the same issue.
I appreciate your response, Jeremy. I have never been married so I am not looking for a loophole in which to self-justify but I am looking at how to read all the scripture, searching the entire Bible for the context of what Jesus taught about adultery and remarriage. There is a lot of wisdom and truth in your response. Thank you.
Amen. Please continue to share the truth of God word. Regardless of what the world is doing, that doesn’t make it acceptable. People try to shrink God’s word to fit their lives. Only Death breaks the Covenant. Thanks for sharing.
JEREMY Keep Sharing the truth of God word. So many people don’t know that remarriage after a first Covenant marriage is Adultery.
Matthew 5:32 is NOT an out to leave marriage. Fornication in the KJV version is referring to premarital sexuality NOT marital adultery. It is the way out of the Jewish bethrothal engagement.
Luke 16:18 addresses marital adultery; there is no divorce; and there is no remarriage. There is no such thing as remarriage; all of it is adultery and that will put you right in hell.
God did not ordain any means of dissolving a marriage covenant. You are NOT to leave your covenants at ALL.
I’m sorry but there is no yay I can now leave my wife of 15 years and two young daughters. Not only would my wife think I’ve lost the plot but also my children would be scarred mentally & spiritually. Besides that there is also no way my wife could even succeed in trying to get back with her first husband because I’m sure he would not want to leave the wife he has now. If losing ones salvation is the result from not correcting any of this then I may as well accept it and look forward to eternity in hell, regardless that Jesus died for me and shed His blood to cleanse me from all sin, and also He that I have followed and trusted in for 30 years. Anyone got any silly comments??
Paul, (and whoever disagrees with my translation), correct me if you think I’m wrong, but this is what I think it means:
A man who divorces his wife to purposely marry or be with someone else is committing adultery. A man who marries a woman who also divorced her husband with the same purpose (who left her marriage so that she could be with another, or in this case him) is also committing adultery.
In the first part of the verse, the adultery is evident. In the second part of the verse, you have to dig a bit deeper because in the second verse, the man (or woman), is the homewrecker. In the second verse, this person knows why the other left marriage, and condones the adulterer’s actions.
With this being said and done, when you receive Christ as the your Lord and Savior, he washes away all your sins and you are that much closer to having an intimate relationship with the being that went through torture and even physical death for us. Once we accept him, all that matters is moving forward, nothing we did before we came to him matters anymore. So long as we continue to seek an intimate relationship with Him(and as a result of that change our lives for the better), we will be saved and have more than a good chance at eternal life.
When you do decide to awaken (and I hope you do), you will be the same physical man reborn. You’ll still have your wife and family, and if she chooses to awaken, she will too. When you (or both of you) move forward, you’ll only have to prioritize keeping Him at the center of your household so he can keep you together and happy. In the event she doesn’t awaken and you do, don’t be sad or try to divorce her. Having you next to her will give her a much bigger shot at salvation than if neither of you did
I have no silly comments for you because I think your reasoning is sound. I am single, never married but have lived long enough to know that our God is a God of justice and grace and we live in a fallen world. God bless you and your family.
Kinda ducked out on answering the question
You can’t be forgiven of the sin of divorce unless you attempt to reconcile the abandoned covenant. You can’t divorce and ask forgiveness without Godly sorrow which leads to repenting which is going back and reconciling the marriage.
If you have initiated a divorce; you have unrepentant sin; you got a problem right now; and you better deal with it.
Its great to see the mercy of God in these comments from fellow born again Christians ?.Its sad at times how humans can be so unforgiving, uneducated in the word of God and just like to talk out loud to sound important.Best is when someone has heard scriptures from many people or pastors over the years they have the question answered before its even asked.Its clear that all that are commenting are Pastors ,Elders and been given great Revelation from God or they wouldn’t be speaking correct? .I believe this isn’t the case and will pray for people that can’t work out there own salvation without judging others.Jesus was confronted when the adulteress women was caught in the act.(First question were was the man?)Jesus said he that is without sin cast the first stone and we know what happened after.The bible is black and white and brothers and sisters step back and read the bible from Genesis to Revelations to understand Gods direction and pattern before we become so quick to judge.Also study what the meaning of one flesh means as per marriage then open your mine to see truly what God was saying from the beginning.Good words and comments that have some truth just not exactly correct from what the bible says from all scriptures and glad because we would be all doomed if not.God is is a wonderful God and we need to be holy always and be kind to our neighbour’s / brothers and sisters in Christ.If we start by living first from Philippian 2:12(Work out OUR OWN salvation with fear and trembling) then get deep in the bible to see our true fruit that is needed to enter the kingdom of heaven .I will end and say God is good always and ALL sins(comment above you can’t be forgiven of the sin of divorce.Be very careful on what you say we all have to stand before God.Its not in the bible and false teaching is still happening today) are forgiven and that’s in the bible also not just one scripture that humans do often then can’t open there mines to where God wants us to be.Very sensitive subject and God has the final say amen. Be good to your wife’s and husbands and yes until death do us part is the goal and should be preached with compassion and understand of the whole bible not just one or two scriptures.Be safe ,holy on fire for Jesus daily not just on Sunday Church and God will be happy amen.
There are a lot of difficult responses to the question of divorce above. I stayed in an abusing marriage for 20 years. The only “out” l found was in suicide, a worse sin as it would have been against my own body. Malichi 2:16 talks about not clothing your wife with violence. Nothing is said about how a wife is to survive and her children flourish in the circumstances beyond their control. I know that God has forgiven me leaving and my children have flourished. My ex-husband went on to repeat his behaviour and lose another wife. I was alone for 15 years whilst God healed my brokenness. I have remarried and believe that God works in our lives fully. Are we forgetting about the grace Jesus died for? Are we forgetting how much time Jesus spent with women? He understood their powerlessness and giving nature’s.
The Weight of Biblical Evidence Lands on Affirming No Divorce and No Remarriage.
Genesis 2:24 teaches that in marriage, two people become “one flesh.” It is an indissoluble blood relationship in which two people are “joined.” It is a firm permanent attachment (“to bind like glue”).
A divorce does not abolish the permanent one-flesh blood relationship that results upon marriage.
Several New Testament passages teach that divorce does not terminate this bond, nor does it give someone the right to remarry while both spouses are alive.
Mark 10:11–12 and Luke 16:18. Here both Mark and Luke record no exception to Jesus’ instruction on marriage’s permanence.
If one spouse divorces the other, there is no permission for remarriage. If you remarry, God says your new sexual relationship is adultery. Why? Because the original “one-flesh” relationship still exists.
Romans 7:2–3 and 1 Corinthians 7:39. According to these passages, the death of a spouse is the only thing that terminates a marriage and permits the surviving spouse to marry another person. The living spouse is not guilty of adultery if he or she remarries, because the original one-flesh bond of marriage is broken upon death.
These passages clearly teach that only death, gives liberty for remarriage.
The Christian Idea of Marriage is based on Christ’s Words that a Man and His Wife are to be regarded as a Single Organism.
That is what the words ‘one flesh’ means.
When Jesus said this, He was not expressing a sentiment but stating a fact that they actually become one person.
He sees them as one person until He separates the couple by death.
Paperwork by the government (divorce) has no effect whatsoever to make this one flesh couple back into two separate people.
God said all other sexual relationships outside of this couple are to be considered adultery, before or after a divorce, because a divorce does not end the marriage, per Jesus’ Words.
Remarriage is not an option until God takes either the husband or wife in death. That is when the marriage ends.
God takes marriage very serious because it represents The Gospel.
Ellie, I think you’ve said it all. Wow. Thank you.
I see in the comments where real life situations are being lived out in God’s grace and truth. Here is another real life situation I experienced regarding remarriage. A couple comes to church and the man wants to renew his faith and church attendance. He is divorced and his estranged wife lives her own life for many years. He has been living with his girlfriend (who also wants to come to Christ) and their baby. The Reverend decided that the best, most holy and biblical sound approach to this situation was to allow the couple to be married in the church. The man could not remarry his ex-wife nor was it at all wise to leave the girlfriend after a fathering a baby with her and have them fend for themselves all their lives instead of becoming the family they were both ready to commit to.