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Matthew 19:9 on Divorce & Remarriage

And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, commiteth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery (Matt. 19:9).

A reader asks, "May a divorced Christian marry another Christian again?" The questioner asks about Christians and not people in general, although what is true for Christians in this regard is true for all men. If Christians may divorce their spouses and remarry, unbelievers may too. The opposite is also true. If an unbeliever may divorce his or her spouse and remarry, a Christian may do the same. What applies to one, applies to all.

That this rule of God is equally applicable to believer and unbeliever is true because in discussing divorce and remarriage, Scripture is discussing a creation ordinance. Jesus makes this very clear in Matthew 19:4-6 in answer to the Pharisees’ question concerning divorce and remarriage: "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." Marriage was instituted by God at creation and He laid down ordinances which apply to the whole human race created in Adam.

The argument concerning divorce and remarriage (some favouring it and others opposing it) hinges on the interpretation of the verse quoted above, Matthew 19:9. The specific question is: Does the clause "except it be for fornication" modify what precedes it ("Whosoever shall put away his wife") or does it modify what follows ("and shall marry another").

If the clause "except it be for fornication" modifies "and shall marry another," then, if the original ground of divorce is fornication, it is permissible to remarry. If, however, the clause "except it be for fornication" modifies the preceding clause, then remarriage is wrong, even after divorce.

To put the argument as precisely as possible: If a husband and wife are divorced because one party or the other has committed fornication, then the question is: May the innocent party remarry? (In passing, it is well to note that nobody asks concerning the guilty party: May the guilty party remarry?)

The remarriage of the innocent party is a position held by many and adopted by the Westminster Assembly. I am convinced, however, that it is a wrong position. I am convinced that, while the words of Jesus clearly permit divorce on the grounds of fornication, any remarriage, whether by the innocent or the guilty party, is forbidden (Matt. 5:32).

While Matthew 19:9 may be ambiguous, other passages in Scripture are so clear on the matter that Matthew 19:9 must be interpreted in their light. I cannot quote these passages here, but I would ask the reader to look up and prayerfully consider Matthew 5:32Mark 10:11-12Luke 16:18Romans 7:1-3Malachi 2:16, and I Corinthians 7:10-11.

When instituting marriage and marrying Adam and Eve, God described marriage as two becoming "one flesh." It is not possible to separate two parts of one flesh without killing the one divided. Husband and wife are one flesh and cannot be separated. Not only may they not be separated; they cannot be separated.

We must note therefore that divorce on the grounds of fornication is not a destruction or dissolution of the marriage; the two divorced continue to be one flesh. But it is a separation from living together because of the unfaithfulness of one partner, who, through fornication, becomes "one body" with someone else (I Cor. 6:16). Because the marriage remains, remarriage is adultery, and even polygamy or polyandry, and is condemned by God (Matt. 5:32).

If one of the partners in a marriage divorces and remarries, the way to reconciliation through repentance is closed. Yet, within the relationships between Christians one must always leave the door open to repentance and reconciliation in all estrangements and above all in marriage.

Marriage between Christians is, according to Paul in Ephesians 5:22-33, a picture of the relation between Christ and His church. This relation between Christ and His church is so intimate that Christ and His people become one flesh. They cannot be torn asunder. The marriage is eternal and forever.

It is true that we, who are so frequently unfaithful, commit grave sins of spiritual fornication that would, in themselves, dissolve the marriage bond between Christ and His people—if it were capable of being dissolved. James calls the people to whom he writes his epistle "adulterers and adulteresses" (4:4). But, thanks be to God, Christ never divorces His people. He maintains the marriage bond and will never let that bond be dissolved, no, not even by all our sins.

Ezekiel 16 paints a most graphic picture of this. After describing Judah’s adulteries, God says, "Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant" (60).

Marriages between Christians are to represent that heavenly relationship between God and His people in Christ. Thank God that He will never divorce us, for the bond of the covenant He establishes is an everlasting bond and He is faithful. Let us then also be faithful in our marriages. If the tragedy of divorce overtake us because of the unfaithfulness of our spouse, let us preserve, insofar as we are able, the permanency of marriage, for we must not remarry. Prof. Hanko

Last modified on 27 March 2013
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Additional Info

  • Volume: 10
  • Issue: 12
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001


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