Divorce & Re-marriage

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by G.W. Peters

© 1970 by the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago

Moody Acorn Edition, 1972

Reprinted by permission of MBI


Foreword

What should the Christian’s position be concerning divorce and the remarriage of divorced persons? Respected authorities differ in their interpretations of what the Scriptures teach.

Although the objective and scholarly study which follows does not agree in every point with the position held by the Moody Bible Institute, it is presented to stimulate readers to evaluate the biblical grounds of their own conclusions in this important matter.

The study first appeared in two parts, in the May and June, 1970, issues of Moody Monthly, and has been revised for this Acorn version.

The author is professor of world missions at Dallas Theological Seminary and is a widely known missionary leader. For many years he was a teacher at the Bethany Bible Institute in Hepburn, Saskatchewan, Canada, and at the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California.


Foreword to this website edition

The NTMU’s position is by-and-large the same as that of the author, G.W. Peters. It is not mere theological studies that have led us to such conclusions. Experience, especially in Latin American lands through more than a century, has taught us that matrimonial tangles are often such that only divine wisdom can show the way forward. They have to be dealt with on a regular basis, not with “society” in general, but with most of those who are leaving the ways of that society behind them, as they surrender to the love and the claims of Christ.

To give an idea of that “Christian” society, as it has been through the centuries, we share this quote from a missionary’s report in 1908, taken from our magazine:

“Priests’ sons and daughters abound everywhere, and no stigma attaches to them or to their fathers and mothers. In fact, it is scarcely considered immorality, for as the priests are forbidden to marry, it is expected that they will have illegitimate relations with one or more women. Like priests like people. The immorality of the priests is doubtless one reason for the looseness of the family tie in all parts of South America. While divorces are not allowed for any cause, separations and illegal alliances are very easy and very common.”

We are glad that the Spanish translation of the present article is now available. You will find it on this website in the Spanish section. But that is not to say that Spanish speakers need it more than English speakers. With the official divorce statistics running at around 50% in the West, being very high also among all shades of Christians, a thorough study of what the Bible really does say on the subject (and does not say) is bound to be of great, practical help and blessing to many.

Your comments and questions may be sent to:      presson@telefonica.net


divorce

The Bible deals not only with divine ideals for men and society, but with those stark human and sinful realities of life which operate on a subideal level. The ideals are reinforced by promises and commands while the subideal realities are tolerated in silence or curbed by legislation in order to keep man’s sinful pas­sions and practices within bounds. Therefore we must carefully study the silence and the negative legislation in matters of subideal behavior.

The divine ideal for marriage includes at least the following factors authoritatively taught in Genesis 2:18-25; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; and 1 Corinthians 7:39. (Ro 7:1-14 must be applied carefully. It is used allegorically and is not a doctrinal statement.)

Monogamous marriage (one man and one woman). Note the words of Christ expounding the original ideal: “For this cause shall a man (singular) leave…and shall cleave to his wife (singular): and they twain shall be one flesh” (Mt 19:5; Mk 10:7-8).

The permanency of marriage. Christ’s command is to “leave…and cleave to…”

The intimacy of marriage. Marriage is for intimate fellowship and relationship in which personality finds its satisfaction and fulfillment – “they…shall be one flesh.”

The mutuality of marriage. Marriage is for mutual supplementation and complementation, as expressed in the words “help meet” (Gen 2:18).

Man, in his sinfulness and wickedness, can disrupt and shatter the divine ideal. Sinful man can and does live on a subideal level. Thus polygamy, divorce, and remarriage were all permitted to take place in Old Testament times under specific legal restrictions. These practices are never commanded or divinely endorsed. They are tolerated but are not according to the blessed will and wise counsel of God. They always will be accompanied by deep scars, untold inward sufferings, and outward disruptions, regardless of cause or circumstance.

Christ indicated that the divine ideal can be completely disrupted, when He said, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mt 19:6). Although He did not use the word for divorce, it is clearly implied. The two expressions “joined together” and “put asunder” are in direct antithesis; whatever the one means, the other reverses.

The Bible lists two specific causes which disrupt the marriage union: (1) the grave sin of fornication (Mt 5:32 and 19:9) and (2) willful desertion (1 Co 7:15). But in neither case is divorce commanded nor is it automatic. The ideal is that it should not take place. Thus no specific directions are given in case divorce does not occur.

The Bible admits that the marriage union may be disrupted for other reasons, but it does not spell them out nor does it deal with them specifically (Mk 10:9; 1 Co 7:10-11). Never­theless they are real.

Let us first establish the sad fact of the actual disruption of the marriage union by fornication — a disruption which makes divorce legitimate to the degree that it is not divinely condemned. For this we turn to Matthew 5:32; 19:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 7:1-16.

In loyalty to the manuscripts, I must reject the suggestion that the exception clause in either Matthew 5:32 or 19:9 may have been inserted. There is no justification for such a position. Some textual question may exist regarding the last part of Matthew 19:9, “and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery”; but since the same words are found in Matthew 5:32, the teaching conveyed still stands.

I also decisively reject the interpretation that Christ’s words are applicable to only the Jews as a true interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4.1 If such a position were to be taken, we would be forced to relegate the whole Sermon on the Mount to the Jews.

A third rejection revolves around the words fornication (porneia) and adultery (mokeia). It is claimed that fornication refers to sexual sin before marriage and that adultery describes unfaithfulness subsequent to marriage.

While there are passages in which such distinction may be clear and others in which both words are mentioned as separate sins (e.g., Mt 15:19 and Gal 5:19), to be dogmatic and distinguish sharply between the two terms— applying one only to prenuptial and the other only to postnuptial illicit sexual behavior—cannot be justified biblically.

In most cases in the Old Testament the word adultery clearly indicates unlawful intercourse with the wife of another man, but the distinction is not always absolute (e.g., Jer 23:14 and Ho 4:2). Fornication is used generally in reference to wantonness and harlotry (and figuratively of idolatry), and does not exclude married persons.

The New Testament also uses adultery to denote unlawful intercourse with the spouse of another but has many instances where no definite indication is given whether married persons are involved (Lk 18:11; Jn 8:3; Heb 13:4). Neither are unmarried persons specified in the many uses of fornication (e.g., Jn 8:41; Ac 15:20, 29; 21:25; and Eph 5:3). In 1 Corinthians 5:1 and 7:2-5 married persons are referred to in regard to fornication.

However, the following distinction seems to be justifiable. Adultery apparently refers to more specific postnuptial acts; and fornication is (1) a general term describing all manner of illicit sexual behavior, including adultery2, and (2) a reference to a life given over to practices such as lechery and prostitution.

While the context of Matthew 19:9 differs from 5:32, a word study of this passage would not cast additional light on the legitimacy of divorce because of fornication.

From these passages I am compelled to draw the conclusion that the sin of fornication is of such devastating nature that it disrupts (in nature, but not necessarily legally) the most sacred and deepest human relationship and shatters the marriage bond. To say less is to regard this abominable sin more lightly than Christ did.

The passage in 1 Corinthians 7 is the major position document in Paul’s writings relating to this subject and deserves careful consideration. The church of Corinth had questioned Paul on matters relating to marriage. In chapter 7 Paul outlines four guiding principles.

First, under prevailing circumstances the un­married state may have its advantages, but it is surrounded by grievous dangers. Marriage is not the lesser of two evils but a safeguard against evil. There is no implication here that the celibate state is holier than the married. It is a more precarious position, however (7:1-9).

Second, the ideal of God is that husband and wife be not separated. If separation does take place, two courses of action are open (7:10-11):

(1) separation without remarriage—”let her re­main unmarried”—and (2) reconciliation—”let her…be reconciled to her husband.”

Third, the believer (husband or wife) has no right to divorce the unbeliever on religious grounds. The marriage bond concluded before conversion must not be disturbed by the Christian after conversion because of being unequally yoked together (7:12-14). The Christian may not initiate separation on the basis of faith or unfaith.

Fourth, if the unbelieving marriage partner insists on separation, “let him depart” is Paul’s permissive imperative. A brother or sister is “not under bondage” in such cases.

The first three principles present little difficulty as far as interpretation is concerned. Not so with principle four. Serious differences exist in the interpretation of verse 15. This section constitutes an apostolic verdict. Its authority, content, and result must be clarified.

Its authority. The change from “not I, but the Lord” (v. 10) to “I, not the Lord” (v. 12) is most significant though frequently overlooked. This is the only time this form is found in all of Paul’s writings. It points out that the problem stated in verses 10 and 11 is authoritatively dealt with by the Lord. No doubt the apostle is referring to Christ’s teaching on divorce as found in the tradition of the church at that time and later recorded in the gospels.

However, the problem in verses 12 to 15 has not been dealt with before. Here Paul hands down an authoritative apostolic verdict in relation not to legal divorce (putting away) but irresponsible desertion (going away) due to religious antagonism and intolerance. He speaks it as a command of the Lord (v. 25).

Its content. “Let him depart” is the apostolic verdict. If the unbelieving marriage partner separates himself from the believing partner, the believer has neither a right to force the unbelieving partner to stay nor an obligation to hinder him in proceedings of separation. The phrase “let him depart” is rather emphatic, as we shall note later.

Its results. The believer who encounters such separation is said to be “not under bondage.” Does the apostle mean by this that willful desertion constitutes severance of marriage bonds so completely that the marriage vows are cancelled and the innocent partner is constituted a single, unmarried individual, free from marriage commitments and responsibilities? Does willful desertion equal divorce in results? Contextually this seems to be the meaning.

But two objections are often raised against such a conclusion.

The first objection is that such a statement by the apostle would contradict the plain teach­ing of Christ. However, Paul was fully con­scious of the fact that he was going beyond but not contrary to his Master. Because of this, he does not fall back upon the words and teaching of Christ, but upon his own apostolic authority (cf. vv. 10, 12). Paul is most careful in delineating authority in this chapter. He speaks on the basis of “I command, yet not I, but the Lord,” thus specifically referring to the teaching ministry and authority of Christ. Again, he speaks in his own apostolic authority, knowing that he has a command of the Lord. This includes our passage. Finally he speaks as “my judgment” or opinion, as divinely illumined prudence teaches him. Paul thus is aware when he is within tradition (the teaching of Christ), revelation (which certainly is progressive though never in conflict), and illumination.

While the first two are absolute, the latter is conditioned by time and culture.

In the teaching of Christ, He dealt with the question of putting away. Paul, on the other hand, speaks about willful desertion on the part of an unbeliever. There is a great difference between putting away and irresponsible going away.

Also there is a difference in the tone and mood Paul uses in verses 10 and 11, where he deals with the marriage relationship of believers, and the decisive injunctions of verse 15 where willful desertion is considered. In verses 10 and 11 it is an apostolic charge, “Let not the wife depart:…let not the husband put away” with the imperative in between, “let her remain unmarried or be reconciled.” In verse 15 it is the permissive imperative, “let him depart [let him be gone]….not under bondage in such cases.”

Paul is not contradicting his Master, he is declaring a principle, as he had to do in many other instances, to regulate unprecedented cases in the life of the church among the Gentiles.

The second objection may be raised on the basis of toning down the real meaning of “let him depart” or “not under bondage.” Fisher-Hunter makes a sharp distinction in the biblical usage of the words bondage (v. 15) and bound (vv. 27, 39). He admits that the two words are closely related etymologically and socially, but he points out that the word bound is used at least three times in relation to the permanency of the marriage relationships (Ro 7:2; 1 Co 7:27, 39), whereas bondage is not used anywhere in regard to the bond of marriage. According to his interpretation, it expresses more the idea of enslavement to sin or of a bondservant of God. Thus he reaches the conclusion that though separation has come and with it a certain freedom to the believer, this does not dissolve the marriage union and relationships.3

EIlicott, Lenski, Robertson and Plummer, and many other Bible commentators come to the opposite conclusion; and I am inclined to agree with them for the following reasons:

1. The gravity of the sin of desertion. In the case of the husband it is an act of unfaithfulness toward his wife and irresponsibility toward his house. Such a man is worse than an infidel, Paul tells us in I Timothy 5:8. In the case of the wife, desertion constitutes an act of rebel­lion against the order of God and man.

2. The emphatic “let him [her] depart.” Let us look at the meaning of this statement (which is but one word in the Greek). It is used in this form twelve times in the New Tes­tament (Mt 19:6; Mk 10:9; Ac 1:4; 18:1, 2; Ro 8:35, 39: 1 Co 7:10, 11, 15; Phile 15; Heb 7:26). Six times it refers to the marriage union. Twice our Lord employs it; and in these uses it is rendered “put asunder” and forms the clear antithesis to “joined together” (bound together). Paul uses it four times in 1 Corinthians 7. He enjoins the believers on the basis of the words of the Lord not to “put asunder” or not to be separated (1 Co 7:10, 11). Should they, however, insist on “putting asunder,” such separation can be accomplished; but they are transgressing Christ’s law and are put under bondage not to remarry (7:11). The woman must remain unmarried. Though she is not bound by a husband, she is bound by a command.

The force of the Greek here must not be minimized. Ellicott points out that the Greek word for “let him depart” is the judicious name for malicious desertion and must be taken in all seriousness, being put in the permissive imperative.4 Robertson and Plummer add, “If therefore the heathen partner seeks divorce, the Christian partner may consent.” Again, “but if the one who remains a heathen demands divorce, the Christian is not bound to oppose divorce.”5 Lenski writes, “What disrupts and destroys the marriage is the fact that he keeps himself separated. Paul uses a condition of reality and thus thinks of an actual case. The two verbs are durative: If he keeps himself separate, let him keep himself separate.’…Short and done with….The marriage is ended; let it remain thus….Desertion is actually like adultery in its effect. Both disrupt the marriage tie.”6

We dare not tone down the depth of the words let him depart. They speak of the seriousness of the situation. What Christ anticipated and forbade, becomes experience and reality here. Man in his sinfulness, not only by a life of fornication but by an act of will, can and does put asunder what God has joined together.

There may be a deeper meaning to such passages as Matthew 10:34-37 and Luke 14:26 than we are prepared to admit or to experience. Faith and unfaith may separate as completely as any other cause.

3. The words of Paul, “not under bondage.” I grant that here as well as in the previous para­graph there is room for difference. Admittedly the study of the word translated bondage does not shed conclusive light on the meaning of the concept. It clearly declares freedom for the believer. In this, most commentators agree. But the nature, breadth, and depth of this liberty is not defined. Nor will a study of the usage of the word in the Bible as a whole help us much. It is a word used in a rather broad sense. Therefore, we must look elsewhere for help. I believe 1 Corinthians 7 does give some guidance.

Paul has specific instructions for the relation­ship of husband and wife (7:1-5). He has a plain word for the unmarried and widows (vv. 7-9). He has a clear and decisive word for believing husbands and wives (vv. 10-11). He has a definite command for believing husbands in relation to unbelieving wives and vice versa (vv. 12-14). And I believe he has a clear word for the deserted believer—he/she is not under bondage, but is free.

Free from what? Free for what? Here Paul is silent and we do well to remain silent. We cannot grant permission to remarry, nor can we set up decisive legislation to hinder it. While there may be advice, there can be no absolute and binding decision. Each individual must decide according to his conscience and the conscience of his church and community.

Commentators are fairly well agreed that the two words bondage (1 Co 7:15) and bound (vv. 27, 39) have a common root (deo) and thus are etymologically related. Therefore, it would seem natural to believe that “not bound” in verse 15 is the opposite from that which is “bound” in verses 27 and 39. As the one is bound (in marriage) so the other is unbound (in marriage), thus indicating the dissolution of the marriage bond.

Consider the contrast between verses 10 and 11. Here we have a specific command: “Let not the wife depart.” But if she violates this command, the second command applies, with the specific instruction: “Let her remain unmarried.” In contrast, Paul instructs, “Let him [her] depart,” with the consequence, “a brother or sister is not under bondage in such a case.”

This contrast is rather significant and seems to me to imply the total liberty of the deserted believer from the marriage bond.

On the basis of the above, I am inclined to conclude that willful desertion on the part of the unbelieving partner equals divorce in consequence. It dissolves the marriage bond and sets the believer free from former marriage relationships.

Our study of New Testament teaching concerning divorce has yielded the following facts:

1. The possibility exists that the marriage ideal of God can be modified and/or shattered by sinful man.

2. The Bible suffers divorce and the dissolution of the marriage relationships.

3. Fornication and willful desertion constitute scripturally legitimate causes for the dissolution of the marriage relationship.

It must be emphasized, however, that such dissolution is not according to the perfect will and benevolent purpose of God, but is one of the evils of sin operating like a cancer within the causes of disruption mankind. Forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration come closer to the ideal of God, no matter what may have been. The latter principle is clearly taught in the experience of Hosea, even though it is not specifically commanded.


remarriage

To consider the remarriage of divorced people in the light of the New Testament is even more difficult than to study about divorce. The New Testament speaks to the divorce problem but is silent about the remarriage of divorced people. This is not surprising, because the Bible does not command or legislate subideal behavior. It regulates, forbids, and judges such life. Thus we should not expect to find commands and permission for remarriage. The God who promulgates the highest and noblest ideals cannot legislate lower and lesser ideals, though He may permit man to live and to operate on a subideal level.

The Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God gives commands, not advice. God says, “Thou shalt do this” than rather “It is better to do this.” His perfection demands something absolute.

We must therefore expect divine silence and/or look for prohibitions and regulations to guide us in the matter of remarriage of divorced people.

Remarriage according to the New Testament must be carefully examined on the basis of the classification of those involved.

Widows and widowers. For such persons remarriage is neither commanded nor forbidden. It is accepted as a human prerogative and is a matter of human wisdom and convenience (Ro 7:1-14; 1 Co 7:6-9).

Persons divorced because of fornication or irresponsible desertion. Here the Bible is silent. Remarriage is neither commanded nor for­bidden, as a careful study of the passages will show. It thus becomes a matter of personal conscience before God and society. Spirit-enlightened personal wisdom and convenience remain the guide. For the church to legislate against it is to go beyond the Scriptures.

There is nothing in the words of Christ in Matthew 5:32 and 19:1-9 that forbids remarriage of people divorced because of fornication. Christ does not even reflect negatively upon remarriage in such cases. Neither is there legislation in the writings of the apostles (specifically, Paul in 1 Co 7:15) that would make remarriage of a deserted believer sinful.

For a church to make it sinful is to assume divine, authoritative legislative powers outside of revelation. We concede that a church anxious to express the highest ideals of God rather than to meet realities of life, one that seeks the preservation of its own purity rather than serving as an agency of God in the redemption of sinful man, has a reason to legislate against remarriage of individuals divorced because of fornication or because of desertion. Such legislation may, under the circumstances, be wise and wholesome. However, the church must not claim revelational authority, for there is none. Rather, it must reason from scriptural silence and social prudence.

Neither does the Bible authorize us to distinguish between the innocent and guilty parties according to Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 in the matter of remarriage. If this seems too permissive, we must not forget that it is Christ who speaks or does not speak. His silence here is difficult to interpret. Yet He is the all-wise One. We must not make His silence into positive permission nor turn it into negative legis­lation.

To deny the legitimacy and the prerogative of remarriage after divorce because of fornica­tion or because of the dissolution of the mar­riage union due to desertion is to read our sentiments and judgments into the silence of Christ and Paul. It may even contradict the sound advice of the apostle as stated in 1 Corin­thians 7:1-9 (especially vv. 8 and 9) and place our judgment and wisdom above the wisdom of the Creator who said, “It is not good that man should be alone: I will make an help meet for him” (Gen 2:18).

Again we emphasize that forgiveness, recon­ciliation, and restoration are preferable and far more ideal. However, if these are not possible, divorce and remarriage cannot be forbidden on the basis of the words of Christ or Paul.

Those divorced for causes other than forni­cation and desertion. Decisions concerning this group present a complicated practical problem, but a problem which is less difficult to evaluate and judge biblically.

Two facts stand out in Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:2-9; Luke 16:18 and 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11:

1. Divorce does take place for reasons other than fornication or desertion. This is clearly implied by the words of Christ. Divorce violates the creation order of God (Mk 10:6-9). It constitutes a definite transgression of a basic law of God, disrupts a divine institution, and shatters a divine ideal. Then, too, it readily becomes the cause of adultery as Christ so plainly teaches (Mt 5:32b). The same attitude and verdict is expressed by Paul in 1 Corin­thians 7:10-11. Let no one minimize the sin of divorce with all its evil consequences and judgments when it takes place for reasons other than those stated in Matthew 5:32; 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:15.

However, to conclude that divorce does not truly take place except for fornication or desertion suggests that the Scriptures have not been fully read. The “joining together” becomes an actual “putting asunder” if man so wills. The married woman becomes an “unmarried wom­an” (1 Co 7:11), the same word as translated unmarried (v. 8). There is no bond which man, when yielded to sin, cannot disrupt. This is the awfulness of man’s ability and responsibility.

2. Remarriage of those divorced for causes other than fornication and desertion constitutes adultery. This is the uniform verdict of all four passages in the gospels recording the words of Christ (Mt 5:32; 19:9; Lk 16:18; Mk 10:11-12). Paul expresses his verdict in four imperatives:

“Let not the wife depart:…let her remain unmarried,… [let her] be reconciled:…let not the husband put away his wife” (1 Co 7:10-11). This is a most solemn and sobering biblical fact which allows for no debate, modification, or exception. Thus a double sin hangs over them: they transgress a basic law of God, and they commit adultery. And most surely, the way of the transgressor is hard.

The reason why remarriage in this case constitutes adultery is not stated. Our logical conclusion usually is that God has not recognized such putting asunder and thus still considers them one flesh. However, this is human reasoning, not divine revelation. On the contrary, Paul recognizes the separated wife as an unmarried woman, and Christ reckons with the fact of actual divorce. Without referring to fornication He says: “What … God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:9). While the possibility of human sundering exists, it is considered transgression and here remarriage constitutes adultery.

We draw attention, however, to the fact that the remarriage of illegitimately divorced people is called “adultery,” not “fornication.” This needs to be kept in mind. While remarriage involves the partners in the grievous act of adultery, this sin can be repented of and forgiven without disrupting married life. Remarriage does not involve them in a debauching life of fornication which must be forsaken before forgiveness and restoration can take place. The Scriptures speak in no uncertain terms about the sin of remarriage after illegitimate divorce; but it does not place those involved in such remarriage outside of forgiveness if repentance takes place, nor does it demand dissolution of the marriage.

REMARRIAGE  AND  CHURCH  MEMBERSHIP

Should people who have been divorced and remarried be accepted into the church as members? My answer is an unequivocal yes, for several reasons.

My first reason is based upon the preceding principle that people who have repented of this sin and have appropriated divine forgiveness are actually forgiven without disruption of the second marriage. As forgiven sinners, they are biblically entitled to church membership and fellowship. They arc members of God’s house­hold and members of His royal priesthood.

Second, the Bible does not legislate against it. In the light of prevailing conditions during apostolic times, numerous cases of marriage irregularities undoubtedly existed among the converts. Since no specific regulations covering their admission into the church can be found, they must have been at least tolerated church members. Spirit-filled prudence may direct us to the contrary in specific cases and under specific circumstances.

The third reason is based upon the practice of Paul. Consider church membership as it developed in Corinth and in Ephesus (1 Co 6:9-11; Eph 2:1 ff.; 5:1 ff.). It was a rather humiliating company. But the life in times past, if forgiven, did not prevent church membership. While the church is a militant church, it may need also to become a salvation army, a home, a nursery, a hospital, a mending insti­tute. Let us make room in our churches for every repentant and forgiven sinner regardless of his past. There was room in the churches Paul founded.

Fourth, in 1 Corinthians 7:16-24, converts are exhorted to continue in the civil and hu­man relationships in which the grace of God found them. The drive of this whole chapter is against disruption of human relationships where at all possible. If God forgives without disrupting, why should the church demand disruption? Let us be careful in our demands. Let us practice the mind of Christ and follow the example of Paul.

REMARRIAGE  AND  SERVICE

But what about service in the church? Here operates a scriptural principal which is too often overlooked. While forgiveness and church fellowship are minimal prerequisites for such positions, they are not the only requirements. Church assignments are made on the basis of spiritual maturity, gifts, and moral and social idealism. This must be kept in mind.

Therefore, while we wholeheartedly welcome into church fellowship those who for various reasons have fallen short of the ideal of unbroken marriage, we should humbly decline such persons every type of church office, public ministry, and representation. We must not give way to sentimentalism. There are scars that cannot be transformed into beauty; they remain scars. We must not think only of the welfare of the particular individual; we must keep in mind also that the church must function as a conscience in making known both the grace and the severity of God.

Notice the words office, public ministry and representation. There seems to be no moral or biblical objection to assigning “family” ministries—services which deal only with the internal relationships of the church—to those divorced and remarried. But to assign such persons to positions where they represent the church to the public in an official capacity is another matter.

It may be argued that this is not complete forgiveness and restoration. I beg to take exception to such reasoning. The Bible is clear and emphatic in teaching that forgiveness is free and bounteous to the repenting and believing sinner. This we must carefully guard, emphatically teach, and radically practice. The Bible is also specific in teaching that forgiven believers should be completely restored. Nothing must be permitted to stand in the way of full fellowship (1 Co 1:9).

The Scriptures, however, are equally emphatic about spiritual, moral, and social requirements for specific service assignments. This is evident from such passages as Acts 1:21-22; 6:3-5; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 4:12-13; and Titus 1:5-9. Other passages also could be cited.

The two sides of this issue must not be con­fused. Salvation is of grace. It is free and pardon is abundant. Service, however, is not thus appropriated or apportioned. It is a grace God commits unto each believer according to His sovereign will, righteous demands, and holy ideals. Thus service, unlike salvation, will bring rewards; and there will be differences before God. Not all will reap the same reward nor hold the same positions in the presence of Christ. Some will shine as the stars; some will wear a crown; some will rule over more cities. Let us not become sentimental in the distribution of God’s offices and responsibilities.

Scripturally, salvation and fellowship on the one hand and service on the other are distinguished and distinguishable. The one is received on the basis of faith; the other is granted by the Lord who sets His own moral and spiritual qualifications. These must not be ignored. In this we humbly bow before a righteous Judge as well as a gracious Savior.

Above all, let love and humility guide and dominate us. People who have gone through the disruption of divorce and then into remarriage need our spiritual support to thrive once more for their Lord. They are still a part of the garden of God—in shadow, but blooming as they ought.


1.     W. Fisher-Hunter, The Divorce Problem (Waynesboro, Pa.: MacNeish, 1952), pp. 85-87; see also Hillel and Shammai’s dispute on divorce, Jewish Encyclopedia (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1903), 4:624-25.

2.     W.E. Vine further comments on Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 that fornication stands for, or includes, adultery (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words [London: Oliphants, 1940], 2:125).

3.     Fisher-Hunter, pp. 108-11.

4.     Charles J. Ellicott, A Critical and Grammatical Commentary on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (Andover: W.F. Drayser, 1889), pp. 135-36.

5.     Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, The International Critical Commentary (New York: Scribner, 1911), p. 143.

6.     Richard C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians. (Columbus, Ohio: Wartburg Press, 1946), pp. 294-95.