The Question of Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage

What saith the Scriptures?

Pastor Chalan Hetherington

Marriage is a most solemn and sacred institution given by God to man before the fall of man. Godly marriage is one of the great bedrocks of morality and righteousness in a nation. Sadly, we live in a sinful world that increasingly seeks to redefine God's institution of marriage. The Word of God is the truth and the supreme authority in all matters. Therefore the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage must be handled with the greatest of care. What does the Word of God have to say about Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage? Are the latter two permitted by God in His Word?


Let us firstly consider the subject of Marriage. The Lord God of heaven instituted marriage as a sacred and blessed union between one man and one woman. The Scriptures unequivocally teach that marriage is only between one man and one woman. Genesis 2:24 “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh”

The Lord God of Heaven and earth and creator of all things has declared in Genesis 2:18 that "it is not good that the man should be alone’, therefore the Lord provided Adam a wife and she was called Eve" Marriage was instituted before the fall and is therefore a good, most blessed and sacred union. Secondly, it clear from the Word of God that it is the duty of Christians, meaning those who are born again by the Spirit of God, to marry ‘only in the Lord’ and not to marry otherwise.

1 Corinthians 7:39 “she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord”.

2 Corinthians 6 “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”

Thirdly, if any one of the two unbelieving spouses are later converted by God’s Sovereign Grace and brought to repentance and saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the husband and wife must remain married.  

1 Corinthians 7:12-13 “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him”.


Polygamy in Scripture is never sanctioned by God, and it is to be noted from the Scriptures that polygamy has been the cause of many lifelong family problems in the lives of the patriarchs. The patriarchs, with Abraham being the father and head came from a polygamous culture. Interestingly polygamists have an inconsistent view, in that only the male spouse may have multiple spouses. Again, polygamy is never authorised, sanctioned nor taught in the Word of God.

The modern advocates of polygamy strangely point to the various Laws given in Scripture where financial provision was to be made for those having more than one wife as legitimacy for polygamy. However, these Laws were by no means constituted to sanction polygamy, rather they were Laws given to protect and provide for the needy women, whose lustful husbands wanted another wife. The Laws set forth a polygamous man’s solemn responsibility to care for and provide for his natural offspring. The Laws demonstrate God's care for such unfairly treated women, rather than approve of the husband's lust and sinful heart.


Fifthly, incestuous marriages and relationships are clearly forbidden see [Leviticus 20:19-21. Mark 6:18 etc] 


Moses under Divine authority and direction declared the following Law of divorce.


Deuteronomy 24:1–4 “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. 2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. 3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; 4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance"

Important observations and strict criteria to be met for the above Law of God to be met.

1] Firstly - The man and woman are stated to be ‘married’ and are not ‘engaged’.

2] Secondly - There is suspected fornication or adultery (uncleaness) , however no witnesses are to be found. If so the death penalty for adultery would have been carried out.

3] The man may divorce and remarry, but once he has divorced his wife he may not remarry her again vs 4.

In the above Law we see clearly the:  

A. Protasis (describing conditions under which the law applies)

B. Apodosis (stating the legislation)

C. Motive (reason for the legislation)

All these three facts are set forth very clearly by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity in passages such as Matthew 5:31-33, Matthew 19:6-9 and Mark 10:1-12, Luke 16, and all these passages must be read together and not in isolation to each other.

Matthew 5:31-33  “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery”

Matthew 19:6 “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? 8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery”.

The Law which the Lord Jesus Christ was referring to is Deuteronomy 24:1-4


Some argue that the word the Lord Jesus Christ uses πορνεια Pornea translated “fornication” simply refers to ‘sexual infidelity before marriage’, but absolutely nowhere in the Scriptures are we given this definition. This is not only a mistranslation of the word πορνεια but if applied to all men and women it would forbid anyone Christian or non-Christian from entering into any marriage who has committed any personal sexual sin or has had a physical relationship with another person before marriage.

The Greek Word “Pornea” translated “fornication” can be referenced in Strong's concordance 4203; TDNT 6:579; nf  Transliterated: Porneia;  Pronounced: por-ni’-ah Trans. & freq. in the AV— fornication 26 times; 26 occurrences of Greek word in AV. 

Furthermore, it is stated by the Lord who was married to Israel, that He wrote Israel a 'Bill of Divorce' because of her “adultery”. See Jeremiah 3:8.

Jeremiah 3:8 “And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also”.

Judah was accused of fornication. Ezekiel 16: 26 “Thou hast also committed fornication with the Egyptians thy neighbours, great of flesh; and hast increased thy whoredoms, to provoke me to anger”

As to the meaning of Porneia (πορνεια) Porneia 'is a comprehensive word, including adultery, fornication and unnatural vice'. It includes every kind of 'unlawful sexual intercourse' and spiritual infidelity to the Lord.

Furthermore with reference to Matthew chapters 5 and 19, some suggest that; what the Lord Jesus Christ was doing was, ‘improving’ upon the Law in the Old Testament. Quite astonishingly, some go so far and suggest that Moses had made a mistake in issuing the precept and Law for Divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4  and that the Lord Jesus Christ was disapproving of that Law and was now rescinding it.

Such reasoning and argument is not only fraught with error, but worst of all it is heretical. For if the Lord was correcting Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which permits divorce in the case of infidelity. He would be conceding that the Holy Scriptures are in error, which of course they are not.  We could then justly question the validity and veracity of any part of the Word of God. The Scriptures however are ‘pure words as pure silver tried seven times’ Psalm 12:6.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was given by God and is without error, it is the infallible, inerrant and sacred Word of Almighty God, and thus what Moses declared, was God’s Holy Law. Furthermore, if Moses were in error, the Lord surely would not have allowed centuries to pass before making a correction. At the time of the Lord Jesus Christ's earthly ministry there were two followings amongst the Jewish Rabbis on the subject.

The smaller grouping was led by Rabbi Shamai, who was conservative, and he maintained the clear teaching of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Then there was the broad liberal school of thought, led by Rabbi Hillel who taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason that was found to ‘displease him’.

In the case of both Matthew 5 and Matthew 9 it must be plainly understood that the Lord Jesus Christ was not for a moment rescinding or overthrowing the Law on divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. He explicitly told His hearers that he was not abolishing the Law, and that Moses gave the Law in Deuteronomy 24 ‘because of the hardness of men’s hearts’.


The meaning and context and the Lord’s explanation that follows is plain. Many of these so-called religious men like the Scribes and Pharisees, did not love their wives, and so they were content to divorce their wives for any reason, and so fulfil their own adulterous hearts by divorcing and marrying another and in many cases to much younger wives. Leaving the older abandoned women to defend and provide for themselves and their impoverished children.

The Law in Deuteronomy 24 protected the woman who would be open to public scorn and shame. However if divorced by the husband she was sent away honourably, and with a dowry and she was also free to remarry. 


However if a guilty adulterer or adulteress had been caught in the act of adultery by two or three witnesses they would have been stoned to death [ Leviticus 20:10 ], but in this particular case Deuteronomy  24:1-4 the matter could not be proven and so the man or woman feeling that they are unable to continue in such a marriage which involves trust in an intimate physical  relationship with an adulterer is then free to divorce. Moreover they are not permitted to marry the same person again, (see vs 4).

Without any doubt the Lord Jesus Christ does not counter what Moses Commanded by God, but rather He highlights the fact that the reason this Law was given was because of the ‘hardness of men's hearts’.

The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 24 Paragraph 5 helpfully and most wisely states:-

“Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract. In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce: and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead”.

Matthew 5:31-33  “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery”