A reader wrote in telling of a friend with a personal situation of some difficulty, asking of this person would be permitted, Biblically, to remarry after a divorce is pursued. Since this is probably a common question, we've decided to do a broad article on the subject.
Our source is Instone-Brewer's Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, the most recent and comprehensive treatment of the subject. We'll keep the presentation simple by categorizing under the two basic questions:
- When is remarriage not allowed?
- When a divorce was invalid. Instone-Brewer argues that such invalid divorce is what is referred to in Jesus' command about divorce [147-52], on the grounds that "commits adultery" is used in the LXX and other literature to refer to "illegal sexual activity with a person who is married to someone else." If the divorce was valid, Jesus would have said it was fornication, not adultery, and under this rubric Jesus did not regard Hillelite "all matter" divorces as valid.
Thus there is a need for a valid divorce (or separation), which leads to the question:
- When is remarriage allowed?
- After death of a spouse. This one is easily based on 1 Cor. 7:39, 1 Tim. 5:14, and Rom. 7:32.
- After adultery. This we have discussed extensively here.
- After an unbelieving partner leaves. Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians about an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:15) and about a believer no longer being in bondage make the most sense if he is saying that they are free to remarry, rather than that they are free to remain separate . This makes divorce because of desertion a valid practice today, for according to Greco-Roman law within which Paul spoke, the mere act of leaving amounted to a legal divorce.
- Because of emotional or physical neglect. Rabbis of Jesus' day -- in both Hillel and Shammai's school -- agreed that neglect was grounds for divorce. They debated over what constituted "neglect" [99ff], and while material neglect led to divorce, emotional neglect was treated first with attempts at conciliation and fines before divorce was granted. We do not have direct Biblical counsel for this area, but of course one may practice a form of neglect that amounts to #2 above.
And that's the conditions in a nutshell. What can be concluded? Grounds for divorce is not as restrictive as we may think, and remarriage is certainly approved when the grounds for divorce is sufficient. We'll leave it to readers to decide whether their situations, or the ones they know, fit the bill.