What about divorce and remarriage

Question: “When does God permit a divorce and when is remarriage permitted?”

Bible Answers

In the beginning, it was God who instituted marriage. The Lord said, It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him (Genesis 2:18). God intended marriage to be a life time union. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

For Christians, marriage is entered into as a solemn, binding agreement between the man, the woman, and God. It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth (Malachi 2:14). What then does God say to those who want to break this agreement?

Some Pharisees came to Jesus to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:3-9).

Divorce is an act against the will of God.  Clearly, God considers marriage a lifetime commitment to a relationship that should never be severed by human action.  God's desire is to preserve marriages, the foundation of society. Marriage is meant to be a permanent commitment. God clearly stated, I hate divorce (Malachi 2:16).

And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery (Mark 10:12).

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Luke 16:18). A person considering marriage may need to first consider this verse.

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:39). An adulterous divorced person is released from the restriction of adultery if their spouse dies after a divorce.

Is divorce ever permitted

God has given two clear grounds for divorce: sexual immorality (Matthew 5:32) and abandonment, when an unbeliever permanently leaves (1 Corinthians 7:15).

Sexual immorality

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery, and I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery (Matthew 5:32). (Click what is sexual immorality).

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery (Mathew 19:9). They are committing adultery because in God’s eyes they are still married to the first spouse.

These verses tell us clearly that it is wrong for Christians to divorce except for sexual immorality such as adultery and leaving/abandonment.  In the case of sexual immorality, the innocent party may remarry. The innocent Christian may only remarry a Christian who is not guilty of sexual immorality in a previous marriage. To do otherwise is to commit adultery. It does not say that the sexually immoral person may remarry. If the sexually immoral person is willing to repent, it is God’s desire that they are forgiven and the marriage healed. However, when a spouse is unrepentant and continues in sexual immorality, they have broken the marriage and the innocent party has the right to divorce.

God also has divorced. I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries (Jeremiah 3:8).

Can a person whose spouse has left/abandoned them divorce

Paul says, But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace (1 Corinthians 7:15). The left spouse is free to remarry. However this verse does not apply if the unbeliever wants to stay.

1 Corinthians 7:15 is referring to an unbelieving spouse, but what about a believing spouse that leaves?  It would appear that a Christian couple should reconcile with their mate or remain unmarried. To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

Now some may claim that their spouse claimed to be a Christian when they got married or was a Christian but no longer is a Christian.  But we are not capable of determining a person’s position with the Lord or even determining their position by their fruit.  Those with good fruit may not be sincere but just acting the part.  The best indicator for determining a person’s walk with the Lord is if the Holy Spirit is convicting them for sin and if the person is willing to repent of their sins. A person who has sinned and is walking with the Lord will be convicted by the Holy Spirit and will desire to receiving God’s forgiveness through their repentance. If a person is not convicted of their sins or is not willing to repent of their sins, then it does indicate that the person may not be a believer. However, while this may be the best indicator, our capacity of determination is often very questionable.

Can a wife or husband divorce an abusive spouse

Determining the will of God always requires searching the Word of God.  In the case of sexual immorality and divorce, God clearly states His will, but in the case of abuse, the Word of God does not provide direct instructions.  As such, we need to go to plan B and search scripture for indirect indication of what may be the will of God.

We find, And you husbands must love your wives and never treat them harshly (Colossians 3:19). That The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence (Psalm 11:5). And God says in 1 Corinthians 7:15, God has called us to live in peace.

Some believe that 1 Corinthians 7:15 also indicates that an abusive spouse that repeatedly and severely tortures his spouse with abuse has already left/abandoned/deserted the marriage and may be divorced, be it an unbeliever or a person who claims to be a believer.

The thinking is that a true Christina would have a tender heart, not a stony heart, would be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s conviction of their sin toward their spouse and would willingly repent and cease to behave so wickedly. While they, like most of us, may slip at times, they would also sincerely repent.

When a spouse is repeatedly being abusive, we should, Do what is good and run from evil so that you may live (Amos 5:14). Abuse is against the law in America and contrary to what the Bible declares. When there is continuous physical violence in the home, clearly the abused spouse must immediately removes themselves from that home and relocate to a safe place. The abused person should also contact the police and report the crime as we are commanded to l obey the law of the land (Romans 13:1).

In 1 Corinthians 5:11, Paul tells the Corinthian church to put out, separate from, anyone who is sinning and not willing to repent.  In the same way a person who is being abused should separate themselves from the abuser. If repentance and willingness to seek help is not possible, then divorce may be the only alternative. Remember that repentance is not merely words, but needs to be demonstrated in thoroughly changed attitudes and behavior.

Dependant on the accepted definition, a person can still be living in their home but otherwise have completely abandoned their spouse and family and become dangerous to the family. However, claiming abuse can be easily misused. The problem with claiming abuse as grounds for divorce is that there is no clear dividing line between a frivolous claim and a capital claim. It should not be applied to annoyances or small cases of abusive behavior, but only in cases where the spouse’s actions are severely endangering the spouse or children physically and or mentally, and in an ongoing manner. This applies to both those claiming to be a believer and unbelievers.

Where the abuse is of a lesser nature, being not extreme, on going, or dangerous, then Christian counseling should be applied.

Reconciliation with an abuser

The issues surrounding domestic violence are often complex for both the abused and the abuser. However, the abused person should be aware that the abuser may never fully change, and, if that is the case, it is important that the abused person remain separated from the abuser. If real change is observed in the abuser by qualified persons, reconciliation may be possible, but only if both the abuser and the abused are willing to commit their lives to Christ and make God the head of their household. Healing, forgiveness, and change is possible in Christ.

As much as possible, God prefers repentance and reconciliation.  

But they do not love me anymore

The following, and similar attitudes absolutely are not grounds for divorce.

“I fell out of love,” “They no longer love me,” “We have nothing in common anymore,” “This marriage cannot be God’s will,” “We are incompatible,” “They do so many annoying things,” “They lied to me before we got married,” “They would be happier without me,” and “I would be happier without them.”

What of those who have remarried and are adulterers

When one or both members of a marriage have preciously had an improper divorce, are unsaved, and then accept Jesus as their Lord, does God require them to get a divorce in an attempt to make it right?  No. Committing a second wrong does not correct the first. Like all sins, we bring it to the Lord, in repentance, asking Him to cleanse and forgive us. Remember that the blood of Jesus can clean away all sins as long as we come with sincere repentance. However, a person who is not being sincerity should question if they will be forgiven, if they say to themselves, “I know it is wrong, but I will marry this person and then ask the Lord to forgive me.” This is being dishonest and God does not honor dishonesty.

What about no-fault divorces

Many states in the US now permit no-fault divorces. Either party can get a divorce without the other’s consent or agreement. Being bound by the laws of the land, a divorce can be granted, and the marriage is ended. Now the question is can the innocent party remarry.  I do not find scriptural guidance on this issue, but believe that the different factors discussed in this article still apply to no-fault divorces.  


For many, the characteristics that attracted them to their last mate are the same characteristics that will attract them to their next mate. Rather than jumping into another relationship, take your time and ask God to guide you to the person He has selected. And after you have found the one that you are sure is the right mate for you, keep praying until you are sure the Lord has said yes. When praying, it is so important to put your emotions and desires aside and seek God’s will.

However, for Christians who have divorced (after being born again) for reasons other than adultery or desertion, I believe they should either be reconciled to their Christian mates or remain unmarried (Pat Robertson - CBN).

The Lord commands for Christians, To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  Beyond adultery or desertion.

When a Christian remarries, they must only marry a Christian.  Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14).

Flow Chart of Divorce and Remarriage

                    Is Spouse Alive       

                             l_________ No - Can Remarry




                     l                                       l

          Are they Guilty of                Did they Leave/

          Sexual  Immorality              Abandoned   

          ______l____                       ______l______

          l                   l                     l                       l

         No                Yes                 No                  Yes

 No Divorce or    Can Divorce    No Divorce or   Unbeliever,  Remarriage       & Remarry      Remarriage      Can Divorce

                                                                    & Remarry

                                                 On Going Abuse


l                       l

                                        No                    Yes

                                     Remain         Can Divorce and                                      Married         Remarry if Severe

                                                         Abuse is On Going

Wise People Ask God First

It’s all to common for Christians to marry in haste, thinking that divorce can be their “out” if they’ve made a mistake. But wise people want to know God's perfect plan for their lives up front - in order to avoid the unnecessary pain and hardship of "tearing asunder, what God has joined together."


God hates divorce and normally there is no excuse for a Christian couple to get a divorce.  As Christians, they both should be seeking God’s help and guidance for reconciliation, possibly with a Christian counselor, such as a pastor. Rather than ask if I have grounds for divorce, ask if I have grounds for forgiveness and restoration.

It must also be recognized that one or both may not be following the Lord and may refuse all efforts except divorce. In all of our problems, we must turn to God for His holy guidance and directions. Likewise, if the above does not clearly answer your situation, seek the Lord with all your heart, and He will guide you. God can turn what the devil meant for bad into good. God can do all things for those who believe. And God can forgive all sins of those who sincerely repent.

What is sexual immorality

Next Section - How can marriages be improved?

Marriage and what is required in a marriage

Marriage Section

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