Summary: A biblical analysis of the issue of Divorce and a Remarriage in Church
Divorce- The Second Unforgivable Sin?
This message was written while I was at Theological College - Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, England.
I have been asked what a PCC is. The PCC is the parochial Church Council which is equivalent to the eldership of a church in a different denomination.
The question I had been posed for a PCC meeting is as follows:
DISCUSS THE ISSUES RELATING TO WHETHER OR NOT IT WOULD BE RIGHT TO ALLOW WEDDINGS IN THE PARISH CHURCH OF COUPLES IN WHICH, AT LEAST ONE PARTNER HAS A SURVIVING SPOUSE FROM A PREVIOUS MARRIAGE
We have to decide at the next PCC whether or not we will allow weddings to be conducted where one or both parties have been previously married (I will refer to these as second marriages).
I would stress that we are not proposing to perform “automatic” second marriages but only to perform second marriages after very careful consideration by the clergy of the reasons for failure of the first marriage – and indeed the attitude of the divorced person to that first marriage.
I think it is important that we consider what the Scripture has to say on the matter and the pastoral issues that follow. As these are quite complicated, I have decided to set out the major biblical texts and pastoral issues for you to consider before the meeting to help you to come to a reasoned opinion on the matter.
So far as divorce is concerned, there seem to me three differently held beliefs that genuine Evangelical Christians hold, so far as the Bible’s teaching on second marriage is concerned:
The first is that the Bible is unequivocal that divorce is forbidden and consequently a second marriage is out of the question.
The second is that, although God hates divorce, he has allowed divorce and re-marriage in certain circumstances (i.e. on the grounds of adultery and on the grounds of desertion)
The third is that as human beings are fallen creatures and although divorce is not in God’s plan, we can be forgiven from it if we repent and that the Christian Gospel is one of a fresh start. Accordingly, one can divorce.
If we, as a PCC, adopt either the second or third option, then there are two further considerations to the question of whether a second marriage in church is permissible. These are:
That although God allows divorce to terminate the marriage, a second marriage is not an option but the parties must reconcile or remain single or
Divorce terminates the marriage finally and the parties are free (after a reasonable period) to remarry. Some believe that this applies whether or not the divorced party was a committed Christian at the time of the first marriage and divorce. Others believe that the first marriage and divorce must occur before the divorced party was a committed Christian.
So to start with I want to consider whether Scripture taken as a whole sanctions (or at least does not expressis verbis forbid) divorce and if divorce is allowed whether or not second marriage is sanctioned or forbidden.
At the start, I do not want to be selective in considering only the passages of Scripture that support what I believe is correct. If I were to do so, I would run the risk of proof texting my own prejudice rather than allowing the Scriptures to inform.
1. The Biblical Issues
I would like to start looking at what the Bible has to say about divorce by first considering the key passages in the Old Testament and then by looking at what the New Testament has to say.
1.1 Key Old Testament passages
1.1.1 Deuteronomy 24:1-4
1 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house 2 And if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man 3and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house or if he dies4 the her first husband who divorced her is not allowed to marry her again after she has become defiled.
Here clearly divorce is allowed only however if the husband finds “something indecent about her”. I think we need to consider that the term “something indecent” (in Hebrew ervath dabhar) means. It is thought that it would primarily cover adultery, but it might also cover pre-marital sex but is unlikely to cover the case where he is simply wanted a younger or a more beautiful wife (cf Malachi 2:14)
You might ask, why did the Israelites have this system of a “bill of divorce”.