Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Going Back to a First Spouse After Remarriage: What Scripture Actually Says About It

I have seen a growing trend among certain groups of Christians to claim that those who are divorced and remarried are living in perpetual adultery and should divorce their second spouse and return to the first spouse. This is a very dangerous and unbiblical teaching.

It's somewhat understandable that people might believe this. We live in a time and place where divorce and remarriage are frequent and even the church has largely accepted it. In reaction against the common view that marriage is easily cast aside for any and every reason, some have tried very hard to go to the opposite extreme and consider marriage completely indissoluble. Yet rather than react, we must search the scriptures to find the right view.

Here are some Bible passages that show that second marriages are legitimate marriages and that divorce from a second spouse or a return to a first spouse is not permitted.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 "When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance."

Notice that the woman's second marriage here is obviously considered a valid marriage and the scripture specifically says that she must not go back and marry her first husband again. Her second marriage was an act of adultery (according to Jesus), but it also broke the tie between her and her first husband such that it would be a sin if she ever went back to the first husband - even if her second husband were to die. That's very powerful proof that remarriage does produce a valid marriage.

Jeremiah 3:1 says much the same thing: "They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man's, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD."

Again, a second marriage makes it impossible to ever go back to the first spouse. This is clearly spelled out in scripture.

So while Scripture does intend for divorced people to reconcile with their spouse (I Cor. 7:11), that is only the case if they have not married anyone else. If a second marriage has occurred, going back to the first marriage would be a sin.

I Cor. 7:12-13 "But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him."

Notice that, in this passage, even things which would normally be a sin to do (i.e. marry an unbeliever), once they are done, should not cause a divorce. One is supposed to carry on and not divorce, but live right from this time onward.

Some point out Jesus' statement that remarriage after divorce is adultery, and that is certainly true. It is a sin to remarry after divorce. However, the question is, if someone does remarry, whether the new marriage commits adultery as a one time thing or whether the new marriage is adulterous every day for the rest of their lives, which requires a second divorce in order to stop sinning. Jesus' statement, by itself, doesn't say which it is.

Some people assume, without proof, that the second possibility is the case without considering anything else. What we should do is use scripture to clarify that uncertainty rather than make assumptions. When we do that (as I did above), we see that the Bible teaches that a second marriage breaks the ties of the first marriage and forms a valid marriage, not continuous adultery, and thus that the first interpretation of Jesus' statement is the correct one. Remarriage is a one-time act of adultery, not on-going adultery, and the correct course of action is to remain faithful to the new marriage vows.

Another thing to consider, in addition to the Biblical case I already made, is God's purpose for marriage. God intends for marriage to be a stable, loving environment for the raising of children and also a picture of the love between Christ and the church. The idea that a person must divorce a second spouse is not only opposed to clear Scripture passages, but it runs counter to the plan God has for marriage. If a person has remarried, and especially if they have children in that new marriage, divorce only causes further harm to the people in the second marriage and any children they have. It is this damage that God hates. In fact, this kind of damage is the reason divorce is so harmful in the first place. Advocating further divorce to go back to a first spouse is telling people to cause more harm that God hates.

What it comes down to is that Scripture is clear that a second marriage breaks the tie of the first and the Bible never advocates more divorce. God hates divorce. He never tells anyone to divorce. What should happen when a divorced person comes to repentance is that they carry on, in whatever marital state they are in, and do their best to live for God going forward. If they can be reconciled to their first spouse, they should do so, but if they have married again, they should stay in that marriage and be faithful.


  1. Jesus never stated that marrying again is a adultery nor a sin of any kind. What he do say is that if no divorce has taken place, then marrying again is adultery, cause one then is still married to the first husband and thus bound to him.

    This article elaborates a bit more on that: http://www.missiontoisrael.org/m-d-remar.php

    1. That's not what the text says.

      Mark 10:11-12  And He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery." 

      It specifically says that remarrying after divorce is adultery. It breaks the vow of faithfulness for a lifetime that was made to the first spouse.

    2. No, it specifically says that divorcing someone in order to marry someone else is adultery. It says nothing about the person who has had the divorce initiated against them remarrying. The ban on divorce after marriage very clearly applies only to the adulterous spouse: the one who initiated the divorce. I don't know why Christians refuse to take a literal reading of this, or of Paul's clear statement that every Christian should have a spouse .... even those who have been left by a pagan.

    3. Why don't you say what the Bible says: Remarrying after a divorce is adultery FOR THE PERSON WHO LEFT THEIR SPOUSE, except in cases of sexual immorality.

  2. This is just a bad translation, the underlying Greek text used by most modern translations uses another word than divorce. If you read the article you will find out that "The Greek word for “put away” is apoluo, whereas the Greek word for “divorce” is apostasion".

    Its quite simple if the woman is not divorced she would commit adultery by being married to another man. If she is divorced, then she can marry another.

    The man is causing the adultery if he is not divorcing his wife.

  3. Lindsay is correct in her article. Read for yourself what the Strong's says about the word in Matthew 10:11-12:

    ἀπολύω (apolyō)

    Strong: G630

    GK: G668

    pr. to loose; to release from a tie or burden, Mt. 18:27; to divorce, Mt. 1:19; to remit, forgive, Lk. 6:37; to liberate, discharge, Mt. 27:15; to dismiss, Mt. 15:23; Acts 19:40; to allow to depart, to send away, Mt. 14:15; to permit, or, signal departure from life, Lk. 2:29; mid. to depart, Acts 28:25; pass. to be rid, Lk. 13:12

    Looking at multiple translations, they regularly translate the word DIVORCE.
    Jesus would not necessarily try to prove that a person NOT divorced is committing adultery if they marry someone else. That was common knowledge. What He was teaching was something that contradicted contemporary understanding. IF you divorce your spouse, and you remarry, it is being disloyal to your marriage and you are committing adultery. You may not like that idea but Jesus was definitely teaching that.

  4. apostasion
    Means the legal process or bill of divorce.
    Apostasion is in the noun form and Apoluo is in the verb form.
    Joseph was going to Apoluo Mary privately so as not to make a public spectacle of her.
    That means Divorce.