Divorce (Part 2): Is Divorce Permissible If There Is No Remarriage?
Under Jesus' law, marriage is to be permanent. He plainly declared, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matt. 19:6), thus prohibiting divorce. He proceeded to condemn as adulterous the second marriages of divorced people (Matt. 19:9). The New Testament teaches that those who marry are bound to each other for as long as they both live (Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:39). Jesus made only one exception to that rule.
Some brethren have not really grasped the Lord's teaching on the subject. They understand that one who divorces his spouse cannot remarry (unless it is a case in which the one exception applies); but they have the notion that divorce is perfectly permissible as long as there is no remarriage. They think the only sin is in remarrying. Such thinking is of the devil.
In the first place, the marriage partners made vows to each other; they entered into a covenant to be true and faithful to each other. When a divorce occurs, those vows are not kept. The same is true if one deserts his spouse or if they agree to separate indefinitely, even if no divorce occurs. It might be observed that if an abusive mate forced his mate to flee for safety, he has no right to complain that this mate is failing to keep the vows; for he is to blame for his mate's being in a position that makes it impossible to keep the vows.
In the second place, Jesus quite clearly commanded, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matt. 19:6). Divorce, therefore, is contrary to Jesus' clear order, whether remarriage occurs or not; and whoever is responsible for the divorce is guilty of sin. Remarriage only adds further sin to the already existing sin of divorce.
Thirdly, in Matthew 5:32 it is not said that the one who put away his spouse remarried; nevertheless, he is not considered to be innocent. Jesus said that he is guilty of causing his spouse to commit adultery. He causes her to commit adultery by putting her into a position in which she would be more strongly tempted. One cannot put his spouse into that position and be free of guilt.
Finally, Paul explicitly condemned leaving one's spouse in 1 Corinthians 7. In verses 2-4, he taught the obligation of husband and wife to satisfy each other's physical needs, affirming that each has the right to the body of the other. One who leaves his mate is sinfully failing this obligation and depriving that mate of that to which the mate has a God-given right. Paul therefore instructed husbands and wives not to separate except it be by mutual consent, and then for only a short time (v. 5). Then in verse 10, he issued the explicit pronouncement: "Let not the wife depart from her husband." What could be plainer? Anyone who can understand Acts 2:38 can understand that. Then the last part of verse 11 says, "Let not the husband put away his wife"; this would be sinful, whether remarriage occurred or not.
After ordering the woman not to depart from her husband, Paul gives the proper course to take if one does commit that sin, giving her the option of either remaining unmarried or being reconciled to her husband. Some think that when Paul prescribed the proper course for those who violate the command, he thereby nullified the command. Of course not. Departing violates the clear command of verse 10, hence is sinful; but those who disobey this command, and then decide they want to straighten up their lives, need to know what to do; so Paul gave them their options. A parallel can be seen in 1 John 2:1. John said, "These things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father." The words "if she depart" in 1 Corinthians 7 do not give her the right to depart, any more than the words "if any man sin" in 1 John 2 give a man the right to sin.
I do not contend that the departing which Paul forbids has reference to fleeing for safety from an abusive mate. When Paul spoke of departing, it is doubtful that he had reference to being driven out. I do contend that the severance of a marriage is wrong and the party or parties responsible will be held accountable. An abusive mate who drives his spouse away is surely guilty of producing the breakup of the marriage.
Marriage is a serious matter. God intends it to be permanent, and anyone who is responsible for severing the marriage relationship is guilty of sin. Moreover, once a person marries, even if a divorce occurs, he will never be free to marry anyone else as long as his first mate lives. There is only one exception to this rule. The exception will be discussed in a future article.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 1, p. 16