DIVORCE and REMARRIAGE
Recognizing that the Bible is the very Word of the Living God to man, and
understanding the priority of knowing and obeying its truths, the elders at
Grace Community Church are deeply committed to study and teach with
diligence and authority.
Thus, the central ministry of Grace Church is the continuous imparting of
the Scripture to the people of God that they may know God and serve Him in
worship and ministry.
Through their years of study, training and teaching, the elders have come to
convictions regarding the major theological truths of the Bible. this
little booklet presents one of these truths which reflect the heart of the
teaching here at Grace.
John MacArthur, Jr.
1. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Divorce in the Scripture is permitted
as an accommodation to man’s sin for the protection of the innocent
party. Since divorce is only a concession to man’s sin and is not a part
of God’s original plan for marriage, all believers considering divorce
should have the same attitude toward divorce as does God.
Notice that in Matthew 19:5-9, Christ teaches that divorce is an
accommodation to man’s sin and is in violation of God’s purpose for the
intimate unity of the marriage bond (cf. Gen. 2:24).
It was a concession for the “innocent party” due to the insensitivity of
the other partner to God. This is defined biblically as the “hardness of
heart” (Matt. 19:8). Dissolution meant that the innocent party no longer
had to remain in a hopeless and intolerable situation (Matt. 5:32, 19:9;
I Cor. 7:12-15). It is to be expected that a believer will have the same
attitude toward divorce as does God and will see it as a violation of
God’s expressed purpose for marriage.
2. The only biblical grounds for divorce are (1) fornication (any sinful
sexual activity, including adultery–unfaithfulness of a marriage
partner), or (2) a nonbelieving partner who initiates the divorce due to
incompatibility with a Christian.
The first is fornication, which seems to cover a wide area of sexual
activity such as adultery, homosexuality, bestiality and incest (Matt.
5:32; Mk. 19:9; I Cor. 5:1). Adultery will take place even after the
“official” dissolution of the marriage if the divorce is on nonbiblical
grounds (Matt. 5:32; Mk. 10:11,12).
The second reason for permitting a divorce is in cases where a
nonbelieving mate refuses to live with his or her believing spouse,
especially because of his or her Christian testimony (1 Cor. 7:12-15).
It is essential to keep in mind that the Bible merely permits divorce in
these limited circumstances but never commands divorce. (This is clearly
indicated in Hosea 1-3, where the adulterous wife is forgiven and
3. Remarriage is permitted for the innocent party when the divorce was on
biblical grounds. In cases where a divorce was obtained between
believers on nonbiblical grounds, the person who remarries first commits
“adultery” (Matt. 19:9) and the person who marries a person who was
divorced on nonbiblical grounds also commits adultery (Lk. 16:18).
According to the Old Testament pattern, remarriage was allowed after the
divorce (the exception is found in Deut. 24:1-4). The New Testament
allows for remarriage when the divorce was based upon biblical grounds (I
Cor. 7:15). In cases where the divorce was not for the two reasons
stated above, the believer is exhorted to (1) seek for reconciliation, or
else (2) remain unmarried (I Cor. 7:10-11).
When one party remarries after a divorce which was on nonbiblical
grounds, that person has committed adultery because God did not recognize
the validity of the divorce (Matt. 5:32; Mk. 10:11). Since the remarried
partner has “committed adultery,” the marriage bond is now broken and the
remaining partner is free to remarry.
The Bible gives a word of caution to anyone who is considering marriage
to a divorcee. If the divorce was not on biblical grounds, the person
who marries the divorcee is considered an adulterer (Mark 10:12).
4. Believers who pursue divorce on nonbiblical grounds are subject to church
discipline because they openly reject the Word of God. The one who
obtains a divorce on nonbiblical grounds and remarries is living in a
state of “adultery” since God did not recognize the validity of the
original divorce (Matt. 5:32, Mk. 10:11-12). That person is subject to
the steps of church discipline as outlined in Matt. 18:15-17 and as
illustrated in I Cor. 5:1-13.
5. Salvation means that a person begins a new life. The believer is
responsible to live up to what God has revealed about marriage and
divorce from the point of his or her salvation.
According to 2 Cor. 5:17, the believer has become a “new creature” when
he or she accepts Christ as personal Savior. This does not mean that
Christ immediately erases painful memories, bad habits or the underlying
causes for past marital problems, but that He begins a process of
transformation through the Holy Spirit and the Word. A sign of saving
faith will be a receptivity and a willingness to obey what Christ has
revealed about marriage and divorce through the Word.
The apostle Paul’s counsel in I Cor. 7:20, 27 is that a believer is to
see every circumstance that they are in when they became a believer as
from God. If they were called while married, they are not to seek a
divorce (except on the grounds given in Matt. 5:32, 19:9; I Cor. 7:12-
16). If they were called while divorced, they are free to be remarried
to another believer (2 Cor. 6:14).
6. In cases where divorce took place on nonbiblical grounds and where the
guilty party repents, the grace of God is operative at the point of
repentance. It is assumed that the repentant party will endeavor to
restore the marriage whenever possible as a sign of true repentance.
In other words, where two believers were divorce on nonbiblical grounds,
the grace of God becomes operative at the point of repentance and
confession, and they can once again experience the joy of their
relationship with Christ and their mate.
A true sign of repentance will be a desire to implement I Cor. 7:11.
This involves a willingness to remain unmarried or else to be reconciled
to their mate.
In cases where a believer obtained a divorce on nonbiblical grounds and
remarried, the second marriage union is recognized as living in
“adultery” (Mk. 10:11-12). If repentance takes place, it is recognized
that to obtain a second divorce would disobey Scripture (Deut. 24:1-4).
hence, they are to remain in the second marriage.
7. The church has a responsibility to uphold the biblical ideal of marriage,
especially as exemplified by its leadership. In cases where there has
been a divorce in a person’s past, the church has an obligation to
restrict, for a period of time, the person’s involvement in leadership
until it can be proven that the present marriage exemplifies Christ’s
relationship to His church. I Timothy 3:2, 12 sets the marital
qualification for leadership within the church. The phrase “the husband
of one wife” does not mean that a person cannot have had a divorce in his
past since none of the other qualifications listed refer to specific acts
in the past (prior to salvation or subsequent to salvation) but rather to
qualities which currently characterize a man’s life.
It is especially important, in cases where there has been a divorce in a
man’s past, that there be a period of careful observation to see that his
present marriage is characterized by devotion and sacrificial love.
8. If the innocent party in a divorce is seeking remarriage, it is
preferable that he/she wait until the spouse has remarried in order to
not preclude any possibility of reconciliation. However, the situation
will depend upon a number of factors, i.e., purity of life, time, etc.
Note: This file was written by John MacArthur Jr., of Grace Community
Church, Sun Valley, California. It originally was presented as non-
copyrighted material in a booklet titled, “The Biblical Position on Divorce
and Remarriage.” Bible Bulletin Board is deeply grateful for the ministry
of Grace Community Church and the truth which it has presented over the
years. My own Christian walk has been greatly helped by John MacArthur and
the Word of Grace Ministry. For information about the radio and tape
ministries of Grace Community Church and John MacArthur, write:
WORD OF GRACE COMMUNICATIONS
P.O. Box 4000
Panorama City, CA 91412
Bible Bulletin Board
Galveston, IN 46972
March 1, 1987