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Can a Divorced Christian Remarry?

"What would happen if two confess to be Christians and one would fall from God and causes one to divorce. What would the Bible have to say?"

It's generally a dangerous thing to try and outguess God about what would be in the Bible, but isn't there now. What would God say about guns, or cigarettes, or gambling, or any of a wide variety of topics? And yet, we can usually apply the principles of scripture to guide us in our choices. Still, the words of Thomas Campbell, one of the founders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), remind us that oft' times "Where the scriptures speak, we speak; where the scriptures are silent, we are silent."

However, before we can apply any principles of scripture to our question about divorce, we need to see what the Bible actually says about it.

In the Old Testament women were treated as chattel, that is, they were property to be bought, sold, traded, and had few rights. Indeed, the rights that women did have in the Old Testament were generally related to their status as property-the husband or father received any fines levied against those who abused the "rights" of the woman (cf., Deuteronomy 22.18-19). In any event, divorce was allowed for any reason that the husband desired (Deuteronomy 24.1).

By the time we get to the New Testament times, women's rights have been on the increase, at least to an extent. The customs hadn't much changed, but attitudes about women were gradually improving. Jesus reflected some of those attitudes, and some would speculate he might even have initiated some of those sentiments. In any event, Jesus was asked about his views on divorce and he replied, "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (Matthew 5.31-32). In other words, in an ideal world, whomever you marry, you stay married to. And the only out is this: if you think you'll be better off unmarried, then get unmarried, but then stay that way.

Later, Paul would suggest that a believe and an unbeliever ought not be married (2 Corinthians 6.14), but he also said that if they married anyway, the two should not get divorced. But then Paul adds this comment, "But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you" (1 Corinthians 7.15). The question is, no longer "bound" to what? In the fuller context it would seem that the believer isn't bound to stay unmarried. Thus, Paul adds a second loophole to the divorce clause-in an ideal world then, divorce and remarriage is permitted if your partner is unfaithful, or if your unbelieving spouse separates from you.

Which leaves our writer in a quandary. If both partners confess to be Christians and one walks out, is the one who has been spurned permitted to remarry?

The problem with the whole question is this: What is the ideal, what is the reality, and how do we reconcile the two. The ideal, of course, is you marry for keeps. Period. Those of Gen-X seem to be taking this more seriously than most of their parents. Statistics show they're marrying later in life and though it's too early to take seriously their divorce rates, preliminary data indicates the rate is down. But there's still the Boomers who tend to practice serial monogamy-one spouse after another. No one has to tell us this isn't the ideal. We know that all too well. Is it right? Is it good? Is it the ideal? No. Does God still love us, accept us, and call us his children? Yes.

So, what of the spurned spouse? I would hearken back to Paul's words of advice about marriage: "I wish all were as I myself am [celibate]. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion" (1 Corinthians 7.7a, 8-9).

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