Special Studies


Attempts to Justify Unlawful Remarriages
Joe R. Price


      “And I say unto you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery;  and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”  (Matthew 19:9)


With these words Jesus teaches us His will regarding allowable divorce and remarriage.  They are not difficult to understand.  We can readily see that Jesus gave only one just cause which allows for divorce and remarriage, namely, fornication.  And, we may just as readily see that this allow­ance has been given only to one party – the one who divorces his or her mate because that mate has committed sexual immorality.  Jesus said that when one divorces his or her spouse for a cause other than fornication, and then remarries, he or she commits adultery.  We properly conclude that the person who is divorced (put away) may not remarry without committ­ing adultery, since Jesus said the person who marries a divorced (put away) person commits adultery.


This straightforward statement of our Lord is not without its detractors today.  When forty percent of American marriages are ending in divorce it is not difficult to see that marriage is not being held in proper honor (Heb. 13:4).  Unfortunately, many of the subsequent remarriages, according to Jesus’ teaching, are adultery.


Christians are not immune from attempts to nullify the force of Jesus’ teaching.  I received a bulletin which chronicled commonly heard attempts to ease the force of Matthew 19:9 and allow remarriages where divorces have occurred for reasons other than the cause of fornication.  I want to share them with you.  Please understand, these reasons are being offered by some Christians to justify remarriages which are unlawful according to Matthew 19:9.  They are used to claim that the violators of Matthew 19:9 are nevertheless in a right condition with God.  We must be aware of and resist these subtle efforts which deny our Master’s teaching (Jude 3-4).


Attempt # 1: When one is loosed (free to remarry), the other is also free to remarry. This view of remarriage rights fails to acknowledge the individual nature, responsibility and consequences of the freely-accepted obligation of marriage’s lifelong status (Matt 19:4-6, 9). Some contend the guilty party is not found in Matthew 19:9, therefore, forbidding remarriage of the guilty party is a manmade rather than a God-revealed restriction. Yet, Matthew 19:9 does indeed necessarily infer the remarriage of the guilty party is adultery as well  as the remarriage of those who divorce not for the cause of fornication. Christ gives one party the right of remarriage, the innocent person who divorces his or her mate because of her or his fornication. Only one person is given the freedom of remarriage in Matthew 19:9. While the innocent in this situation is freed from the lifelong obligation by the Lord, the guilty person is not. When divorce without the cause of fornication occurs, the Lord’s will is that each “remain unmarried or be reconciled” (1 Cor 7:10-11).


Attempt # 2:  David was not told to give up Bathsheba.  That is true.  At this time, Bathsheba had no living husband (2 Sam 11:14-21).  Romans 7:2 says, “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives.  But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband.”  David’s adultery and murderous act is not exonerated by the fact that he retained Bathsheba as his wife. David was rebuked for his sins, and being convicted in heart, he repented (2 Sam 12:7-13; Psa 32:5).  That David continued to care for and be married to this woman after the death of her husband in no way comforts adulterous remarriages today.


Attempt # 3:  You cannot make restitution in all cases.  It is true that one cannot undo some things he has done.  But when he can, he should (cf. Exo 22:1; Lev 6:1-7; Num 5:5-10; Ezek 33:15).  Is not this part of the fruit of repentance taught by John (Lk. 3:8-15) and Paul (Acts 26:20)?  Surely we do not believe that when one repents of an adulterous remarriage that he may then continue to live in that sinful relationship?  What sort of repentance is that?  Remember, where there is genuine repentance there will be a cessation of the sin (Rev 9:20-21). Where reconciliation of the God-approved marriage is not possible, one must “remain unmarried” to please God (1 Cor 7:11; Matt 19:12).


Attempt # 4:  One cannot live in adultery.  This view is set forth to say that adultery is an act, not something in which one lives or “walks.”  Sin can be “lived in”:  “What shall we say then?  Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?  Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom 6:1-2) Jesus used the present tense “commits” when describing the adultery of the one who remarries after a divorce for a cause other than fornica­tion (Matt 19:9).  The Greek present tense indicates the present state of the remarried person.  Colos­sians 3:5-9 teaches it is possible to live in adultery. There, fornication is among the sins which one is to “put to death” (v. 5).  (Fornication is the general term for sexual immorality which includes adultery.)   In speaking of these sins, Paul said “in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them” (v. 7).  There is no doubt that one can live in adultery. The adultery of an unscriptural remarriage is an ongoing sinful condition.


Attempt # 5:  When one repents, baptism will wash away an unscriptural marriage.  No, baptism washes away sin, not wives. It does not change a sinful action into a godly one. It does not change a sinful relationship into a holy one. The thief is forgiven of his theft when he repents, but baptism does not make theft a righteous act; he must stop stealing. Likewise, when a homosexual repents his forbidden relationship is not automatically approved.  He cannot continue in a homosexual relationship with God’s blessing. Neither can the adulterer continue in an adulterous remarriage after baptism and have God’s favor.  Baptism does not change the nature of sin – it washes away the sinner’s past sin.  The sinner must “come out and be separate” or else he commits more sin (Rom 6:1-2; 2 Cor 6:17-18).


The wisdom of men cannot compare to nor withstand the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:18-25).  We will certainly lose if we argue and fight against God and His word (Acts 5:39). Instead, let us be content with what God has revealed and strengthened by the incomparable truth of Almighty God.