BIBLICAL DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE: REACTION PAPER TWO
Presented to Professor Ann Kerlin
Luther Rice Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Course
CO 620: BIBLICAL COUNSELING IN MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
Justin Z. DuBose
The topic of divorce and remarriage has been a subject which has never had, and never will have, full agreement within Christendom. Given the relatively little biblical definitiveness on the subject, there is a great deal of “wiggle room” within the pages of Scripture for interpreters. As a result, you have the full spectrum of interpretations regarding this biblical doctrine. One aspect of the doctrine that is not debated is where the debate itself actually should begin. Rev. Joseph Tracy puts it best when he says that “our Saviour’s instructions on this subject have application to us, as imperative as they had to those who first heard them. He laid down certain moral principles, which are as old as marriage itself, and which must be in force so long as men and women inhabit the earth; principles which no man can violate without doing wrong, whatever the law of the land may put in his power; principles, too, which legislatures cannot disregard without a violation of duty. Let us inquire what they are, and what is their just application to us.” 
With this principle in mind, let us go to the pages of Scripture and the words of our Savior for the proper foundation. The most exhaustive treatment of divorce in the Old Testament is found in Deuteronomy specifically chapter twenty-four. The bottom line from this passage is that there are certain instances in which divorce is permitted. There are certain “trigger words” that are the cause of debate. For example, the NIV translates “indecency” as a cause for divorce in verse one of chapter twenty-four. The New Testament expands upon the subject. Christ Himself addresses the topic within the pages of the Gospels. The most interesting is the address Jesus gives to the Pharisees in Mark 10. In this passage, Jesus declares that divorce was not an intention of the Father when He created man and woman and the institution of marriage in creation. However, divorce was a necessity due to the fallen nature of man. Professor Gordon Wenham addresses this when he says, “sometimes the church may with a heavy heart have to sanction divorce among its own members, and exceptionally as some bishops in Origen’s day did, even tolerate remarriage ‘to avoid worse evils.’ But like Origen we should not fail to point out that it is contrary to our Lord’s teaching.” 
If divorce is to be permitted for man, even if not intended, then what are the grounds for divorce? Matthew 5:32 records Jesus as implying that adultery within marriage is the only grounds for divorce, and this could easily line up with “indecency” found in Deuteronomy 24:1. This is reiterated in Matthew 19:9, as is the declaration from Christ that divorce was not intended in original creation. The only other possible reason for divorce is found in 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul says that if an unbelieving spouse leaves, then the believing spouse is not necessarily expected to remain married. However, even with a fairly liberal interpretation of Scripture, these are the only permissible cases for divorce. No other reason is scripturally permitted for divorce among believers.
What then of remarriage? If divorce is permitted in certain cases, one would think that remarriage would be. The most basic starting point for this discussion is Romans 7, which addresses remarriage from what I will call the “common sense” standpoint. We read that if a woman’s husband is no longer alive, then she is free to remarry. There is little dispute about this passage. The Bible is very clear that an individual who divorces their wife as a result of anything other than infidelity, and remarries, becomes equal with committing adultery. Jesus Himself says this in the Matthew 19 passage. To conclude this section about divorce and remarriage, P.H. Wiebe says of the topic that, “nothing like a completely worked-out position on divorce and remarriage is found in Scripture.” He goes on to say, however, that it is “also evident that Jesus and at least one apostle thought there were exceptions to the general rule.”  I agree with his estimation on the following grounds: after an examination of the tenets of Scripture, it seems to me that the only grounds for remarriage occur when the biblical grounds for divorce are met by both parties. In other words, if both spouses were previously married are no more, the only biblical grounds for remarriage are met if both spouses either had a spouse who died, an unbelieving spouse who abandoned them, or a spouse who committed adultery.
Still, the question of grace remains. The grounds for divorce mentioned above are not mandatory reasons for divorce, but rather are simply permissible reasons for divorce. So, the questions that follow is this: is divorce is permissible, is it advisable? Or, as Christians, do we have a higher calling of reconciliation, forgiveness, and grace that have been shown to us by Christ? The Apostle Paul says of grace, in general, that our “old self” has been crucified with Christ, and that our “new man” is focused on sanctification, reconciliation, and grace. If one undertakes a general examination of Christ with those to whom He ministered, one finds an abundance of grace. Even in circumstances where Christ had every legal right to condemn an individual, the extension of grace was often the catalyst for change in the person’s life. As Christians, our focus should always be on reconciliation and grace, if at all possible. It is often the detriment of Christians and the church that judgment is passed before grace is extended, or even considered. David J. Macleod addresses this when he says that “the important thing is that the church be bold in grace! Let the divorced and remarried be fully accepted in the redeemed community. For too long we have hurt people by following the party line on divorce and remarriage, better described as the hard line.” 
So, then, the larger question remains: because something is permissible, is it advisable? With a topic such as divorce and remarriage, subjectivity is pervasive and many situations ought to be considered on a case-by-case basis. However, a few things have been established through our examination of Scripture that need to be revisited before we delve into the subject of grace. Marriage was intended, from the beginning, to be between one man and one woman as a lifelong, monogamous commitment. This is established as early as the second chapter of Genesis. However, due to the fallen nature of man, divorce, something that was never intended, becomes a necessary concession for the fallen creatures. Even still, there are only two possible biblical grounds for divorce found in Scripture. The first is infidelity by a spouse and the second is abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. One should remember this fact, though: if believers enter into marriage, divorce should not be the outcome, under the biblical grounds for divorce. Why do I say this? It is because both grounds for divorce fall outside of the conduct and actions of sanctified, redeemed Christ followers. Believers certainly should never be guilty of committing adultery or abandonment. However, again, due to our fallen nature, these things continue and will continue to happen. However, these grounds are not requirements for divorce, but rather simply “back doors”, so to speak, for the believer, should they choose to go exit through them.
As Christians, the grace of God ought to permeate every aspect of our lives, including and especially in our marriage. When one considers the life of Christ, examples abound. Jesus was denied by Peter, and yet loved him like a brother after His resurrection. This act of grace would lead to a powerful ministry for Peter after Christ’s ascension. Paul the Apostle persecuted the church with a passion, and yet Christ met Him in Acts 9 with grace, and this grace, one could argue, was the catalyst for change in the life of Paul. In John 8, Jesus extends grace to a woman whom the authorities were ready to stone. “Go and sin no more” were likely the most profound words this woman ever heard after witnessing such grace. We, as Christians, are called to pursue this same holiness. 1 Peter 1:16 says that we are to “be holy” as Christ Himself is holy. The extension of grace in a case where one has every reason not to extend grace often results in the greatest influence in the life of others. When believers have grounds for divorce from their spouse, and yet extend grace, transformation can easily occur as a result. Perhaps, for the believer, a self-examination is necessary to discover whether or not one has a gracious, forgiving, reconciling heart like Christ or not. In counseling couples, this would be my advice. If the believing spouse is simply seeking permission to divorce, even if they have every right to do so, they need to perform just as much “soul searching” as does the other spouse, to see just how much they actually look and think like Christ. Ultimately, each case will need to be examined individually and each spouse will need to seek the Lord for themselves. However, the bottom line is this: divorce is a concession for man that ought to be a last option, at best. However, there are biblical grounds for divorce, none of which should even be an issue for two believing spouses in a marital relationship. Through it all, grace should abound. Grace is the source of our hope as believers. Without the grace of the Lord extended toward us, we would be condemned by our own sins. In the same sense, we ought to extend grace toward those who may be “undeserving”, as we may see it, as it can be the very reason for transformation. The leading of the Holy Spirit ought to be sought above all else, and we should constantly seek the Lord for sanctification in our own lives. In doing so, should we find ourselves in these unfortunate circumstances, we will certainly be more prepared to seek the will of the Lord as to what we should do.
MacLeod, David J. “The Problem of Divorce” Emmaus Journal 01:2 (Summer 1992)
Tracy, Joseph. “The Biblical Doctrine of Divorce” Bibliotheca Sacra 023:91 (July 1866)
Wenham, Gordon. “Does the New Testament Approve Remarriage after Divorce?” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 06:1 (Spring 2002)
Wiebe, P.H. “The New Testament On Divorce And Remarriage: Some Logical Implications” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 24:2 (June 1981)
 Tracy, Joseph. “The Biblical Doctrine of Divorce” Bibliotheca Sacra 023:91 (July 1866), 386.
 Wenham, Gordon. “Does the New Testament Approve Remarriage after Divorce?” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 06:1 (Spring 2002), 43.
 Wiebe, P.H. “The New Testament On Divorce And Remarriage: Some Logical Implications” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 24:2 (June 1981), 138
 MacLeod, David J. “The Problem of Divorce” Emmaus Journal 01:2 (Summer 1992), 156.
NG, LR, NCU, USAR
My collection of personal papers written over the years