Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: Any Reason?

Watch this video on divorce and remarriage in the Bible and then we’ll discuss it.

Proverbs 18:1717 The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

Let’s provide some tests to determine a position on divorce and remarriage in the Bible.

Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: Is It Shocking?

Whatever Jesus and Paul taught about divorce and remarriage, it must be shocking. Matthew 5 has plenty of shock value.

divorce and remarriage in the Bible

Matthew 5:21–2221 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Anger deserves not just the penalty that murder deserves, but even more: everlasting fire. Here is more shocking teaching.

Matthew 5:28–2928 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

A lustful look deserves not just the penalty that adultery deserves, but even more: everlasting fire (vv.28-29). This is shocking!

The disciples are also shocked in the other passage in Matthew 19. After Jesus teaches no divorce and no remarriage except for hidden premarital intimacy…

Matthew 19:1010 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” They are shocked! “Who would want to get married then if there is no way out!” If adultery is grounds for divorce, the disciples would be saying “Who would want to get married if you can only divorce if your spouse cheats on you.” In other words, “I would want to divorce for other reasons also!” No, that’s not shocking enough. The Shammai and Hillel positions were well known. If Jesus took the conservative Shammai position (divorce only for adultery) then the disciples wouldn’t be that shocked.

Dr. Schreiner’s position isn’t shocking. It’s basically equivalent to the conservative Shammai position in 1st century Judaism, which many that day in Matthew 5 would be familiar with.

Dr. Schreiner must explain two things.

  1. Dr. Schreiner must explain why Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage is not in keeping with the context’s ‘shock value.’
  2. Dr. Schreiner must also explain why Jesus would say in Matthew 5:20 “your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees” but then go ahead and teach the conservative pharisaical position. Dr. Schreiner’s position doesn’t exceed the Pharisee’s position at all; it’s the same position.

Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: Why Does Jesus Use Two Different Terms for Sexual Sin?

Dr. Schreiner believes that porneia in Matthew 5:32; 19:9 refers to sexual sin after the wedding. Therefore, he must explain why Jesus in the same passage uses two different terms referring to sexual sin: porneia and moichao. They are different words. If porneia in this context means sexual sin after the wedding and moichao also means sexual sin after the wedding, why did Jesus use two different words?

Jesus simply didn’t say…

Matthew 19:99 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for adultery, and marries another, commits adultery.”

But Jesus could have said that. He could have used that term for adultery in the exception clause, but He didn’t. If meant what we mean by adultery, why didn’t He use the term for adultery? Why not, Dr. Schreiner?

Jesus did say…

Matthew 19:99 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for porneia, and marries another, commits moichao.”

Dr. Schreiner would have to argue that, in other contexts where both terms are used, the two terms mean exactly the same thing. This is not convincing. See 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Matthew 15:19 as examples.

1 Corinthians 6:9 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral (porneia), nor idolaters, nor adulterers (moichao), nor men who practice homosexuality,

Matthew 15:19 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery (moichao), sexual immorality (porneia), theft, false witness, slander.

In a list of sins, these do not largely overlap. A list of anything is meant to communicate a distinction, not similarity. Dr. Schreiner’s position is deficient in that it doesn’t explain why Jesus used two different terms.

Notice why this brief clip is funny.

We simply do not list words in a row with the intention to communicate similarities, but differences. Therefore, there is a difference between porneia and moichao. Jesus is making a distinction.

John 8:41 is clear that porneia refers to premarital intimacy.

John 8:4141 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality (porneia). We have one Father—even God.”

Clearly, the Pharisees are accusing Jesus of being conceived out of wedlock. Thus, porneia refers to premarital intimacy. Matthew himself gives the example of this in Matthew 1:18-20. And (contra Schreiner) just because the word porneia isn’t used, it’s clearly what Joseph is thinking. He’s definitely not thinking moichao!

Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: Would Jesus Create a Loophole?

Furthermore, Dr. Schreiner’s position has created a loophole. A spouse desiring a divorce may simply commit adultery (or wish, or even tempt the other to commit adultery), causing a divorce to happen, and then be free to remarry.

Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: Why Don’t Other NT Authors Mention the Exception Clause?

Dr. Schreiner mentioned that the exception clause isn’t found in Mark, Luke, or Paul. Noticing the fact is one thing. Explaining it is another. He mentioned that Matthew’s audience was primarily Jewish. This would allow for the Jewish law of Deuteronomy 22, which teaches that divorce in the case of concealed premarital intimacy.

Dr. Schreiner’s position contradicts itself. If you simply notice that the exception clause is absent in Mark, Luke, and Paul, you’re left with a contradiction between Matthew and these other writers. For Dr. Schreiner’s position to remain intact, he must argue convincingly why the exception clause isn’t found in the other NT writers and how this isn’t a contradiction. Are Mark, Luke, or Paul wrong and there is an exception? Because their writing is clear: there are no exceptions.

Mark 10:11–12 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Luke 16:18 18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

Romans 7:1–3 1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

1 Corinthians 7:10–11 10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

1 Corinthians 7:39 39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

A Gentile audience wouldn’t have had the OT laws of Deut. 22. Therefore, there is no need to provide an exception to Mark, Luke, and Paul’s largely Gentile audience. Marriage is permanent.

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