Who Can Marry Lawfully?

By Don Miller

Several years ago a young woman came to me to ask if she had the right to remarry. After discussing why her first marriage broke up, we studied what Christ had to say in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. After reading these passages she tearfully came to the conclusion that she was now living in adultery. She remained married to her new husband. Not long ago she came to visit me and informed me that she had found a “church of Christ preacher” who said that she was lawfully entitled to be married to her husband. Sadly, that didn’t surprise me. You can find someone to agree with you on almost any position you wish to believe. The important thing, however, is what does the Bible say concerning who can marry lawfully?

From a scriptural standpoint there are four situations in which a person can marry lawfully: (1) A single person who is marrying for the first time has the right to marry. Jesus said in Matthew 19:5 (and referring to Gen. 2:24) that a man leaving his father and mother can cleave to his wife; (2) A widow or widower has the right to remarry. The Bible says in Romans 7:2, 3 that a woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives, but if he dies she is free to marry another man; (3) A person who has put away his spouse for the cause of fornication has the right to re-marry (Matt. 19:9; 5:32). The Lord was asked on this occasion if a man could divorce his wife for any reason (Matt. 19:3); three times the answer was an emphatic no (verses 4-6, 7-8, 9). The Lord was very clear on this subject because the disciples said in verse 10 that if that was so it would be better not to marry. I fear that many people today are living in adultery by either abusing or refusing what the Lord taught in this passage. (4) I once thought I would never have to point out the fourth category of people who have the right to marry. In every passage that deals with marrying that we have looked at, it specifies that a male and female, man and woman, or husband and wife are to be married. Only people of the opposite sex can marry lawfully. That rules out any homosexual or “same sex” marriages.

Some try to put additional conditions on who you can marry lawfully. For example, 1 Corinthians 7:39 mentions that a woman who has lost her husband is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. Does that mean she can only marry a Christian? If so, then that same phrase is found in Ephesians 6:1 telling children to obey their parents in the Lord. Does that mean that children are to obey their parents only if they are Christians? Or does it mean that children are to obey as long as what their parents teach is in harmony with God’s will, and that a widow can re-marry as long as the person she is marrying has a right to remarry?

Some also teach that a Christian must marry a Christian the first time. While God lawfully recognizes marriages between Christians and non-Christians (1 Cor. 7:12-15, 39), let me quickly point out the danger of such. God’s people of old were led down the path of destruction by marrying people who served other gods (1 Kings 11:4; Neh. 13:23-27). To-day, when a Christian marries an unbeliever or a person of another faith, it usually leads to the weakening of the Christian’s faith and subsequent departure from the Lord. A survey was done by a congregation several years ago and it revealed that less than 20 percent of Christians marrying non-Christians remained faithful, yet almost 90 percent of Christians marrying other Christians remained faithful. While it may be lawful to marry someone not a Christian, it almost always is spiritually fatal. What good is it if it is lawful, but you still lose your soul?

Guardian of Truth XLI: 21 p. 5
November 6, 1997