Free to Remarry

wedding band on open bibleFrankly, I don’t like the term remarryRemarry implies one is entering into marriage again with someone to whom they were previously married.

When Sherri and I married, although we had each been previously married, we had not previously been married to each other.  Therefore, we did not remarry…we married.

However, in our society, remarry is frequently used to refer to a marriage in which one or both parties has previously been married to someone else.  So, for this post, I’m using the term in this context (though under objection). 😉

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 is sometimes quoted by those who hold a position that a believer who has experienced divorce is forbidden to ever remarry (or permitted to remarry only within very narrow legalistic rules contingent on either the death or prescribed level of sin by someone with whom they are no longer in relationship).

But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

Lifted out of context, it is easy to see why some take this as an edict from the Apostle Paul that any believer who has experienced divorce is forbidden to ever remarry.  However, considered in context, it becomes clear that this is not the intended meaning at all.

To correctly understand this passage, first the entire chapter must be read in context, and second the contextual use of terms must be noted, throughout the passage.

Also, one must keep in mind that Paul was not married, and generally advised all unmarried people that it was better to remain unmarried, not as an edict, but as encouragement for those called to celibacy.

The word translated as unmarried (agamos) in verse 11 is the very same word used in verses 8-9:

But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

The term unmarried may be used to refer to anyone who is not currently married.  However, Paul used distinctly different terms, in this passage, for a widowed person (chera) or a never-married person (parthenos).  Therefore, it should be understood that in his use of the word unmarried (agamos), Paul is specifically including people who have divorced.  This is made especially clear by Paul’s use of the word unmarried (agamos) in verse 11, where he is speaking specifically of a woman who has left her husband.

So, then, verses 8-9 should be read as specifically including people who have previously divorced, and are now unmarried.  For these people who have previously divorced, as well as for people who have been widowed, Paul advises a life of celibacy if that be their calling.  However, he allows that marriage is not only permissible, but advisable, if they do not have a calling to celibacy.

Given Paul’s advice in verses 8-9, we must conclude that his admonition in verses 10-11 is dealing with the circumstances and motive of divorce, rather than a life-long edict following divorce.  Here, Paul is telling the church that a believer should never divorce for the specific purpose or intent of marrying someone else.

This position is in keeping with the words of Christ in Matthew 19:3-12, where Jesus equates such behavior to adultery.  I have discussed this passage in Matthew in a previous post as well as in my book on the topic of God’s heart toward believers who have experienced divorce.

This is clearly neither a prohibition against divorce, nor a prohibition against remarriage at some time subsequent to divorce.  Rather it is an encouragement to fully honor the marriage vows accompanied by a commandment against divorce for the specific purpose of marrying another.

Just in case anyone should have misunderstood his intent in verses 10-11 as a prohibition against remarriage at any time after divorce, Paul restates his position in verses 26-28(a):

I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.

The wording here is so clear as to leave little room for doubt of Paul’s intent.  Due to present distress (whatever that might have been at the time) Paul advised each person to remain as they are, whether married or single.  However, speaking specifically of a person who has experienced divorce (released from a wife), Paul said that if they do marry it is not sin.

Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you have not sinned…

Paul’s clear intent is to allow the freedom to marry, for anyone who is unmarried, whether previously-divorced, widowed, or never-married.  Paul treats all unmarried persons the same, regardless of circumstances.  For all unmarried persons, Paul advises caution in regard to marriage, but clearly states that marriage is not sin, and that marriage is preferable to undue lust or temptation.

Anyone who is married is under obligation to their marriage vows.  Anyone who is not married is not under obligation and is free to marry.

If you would like further reading on this topic, Divorce and Remarriage, A Redemptive Theology, by Rubel Shelly, is an excellent resource.

Your thoughts?

[Linked to God Bumps , Beholding Glory , Graceful , Seedlings , Wellspring ]


20 thoughts on “Free to Remarry

  1. Thanks for the post… excellent breakdown!

    Have you read “The Heart of Remarriage” Gary & Greg Smalley? also Ron Deal has some good material on Remarriage.

    Best Regards,

    • I don’t believe I’ve read that particular book, but have enjoyed several other of Gary Smalley’s books. He’s a very gifted counselor.

      Thanks, Michael, for the recommendation!

    • I’m so glad, David!

      Divorce, marriage, and blended families present enough opportunites for difficulty in themselves. There is no need to make them harder than necessary by adding a heap of biblically unsubstantiated guilt.

    • Loved your toe-ring post, Jennifer! A very powerful message about the need to allow flexibility for God’s plans to trump our plans.

  2. Twenty-eight years ago, the Lord told me to leave my husband. We had both been Christians and married 15 years and he had a variety of “danger” issues when it had to do with the kids, our financial survival, his variety of affairs, and his constant pressure and stress on me. A year later He gave me my sweetheart of a husband. Dave was single… had always been [was much younger than I]… and a godly, giving man with hearts for so many, and has been ever since. The funny part? He was already giving to single moms. He can’t do it as much now, b/c he married a single mom, but we do it when we can in one way or another.

    Churches see this concept re: divorce. Some accept it within reason, and some refuse, no matter what. I can only be who I am, go where I can, serve Him. Nothing else can count. When I was preparing to leave my husband, a lady at the church said to me, “If you were a better wife, your husband would be a better husband.” She [and none of the others] had ever come to our apt so they didn’t see or hear any of the intensely frightening events. Believe me, our poverty would have stuck out, if nothing else. And he only worked when he wanted to. It was up to me to keep us moving along — mostly b/c I was worried about my kids. IF you are ever interested, look on line at Don Francisco [singer, ’80s mostly] and how he came to perceive this as he was facing a divorce that he truly had not wanted to ever have occur. My husband has shared that with a number of people over these past few years. You might like his insight, too.

    I may be “re”married… but I’m mostly “bless”married. And it will be that way until one of us dies and goes to Heaven. Nothing else counts.

    • Re: “If you were a better wife, your husband would be a better husband.”

      Isn’t it amazing how people work so hard at trying to sound spiritual while being so clueless?

      It takes two people working hard to build a healthy relationship. It only takes one hardened heart to destroy a relationship.

      Rejoicing with you, Joanne, for the many blessings God has given you, and particularly, for the gift of a godly spouse!

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you, Shelly!

      I loved your post, “Why I’m done with being Good,” this morning, at Redemption’s Beauty!

  3. This is a great resource, Joe. I’ll have to have my hubby read your thoughts and interpretations here. He is very interested in this topic–having to deal with it as a pastor quite often. He’s actually Pastor of Pastoral Care and Recovery in our church, so he deals with couples facing this question very often.

    • That would be great, Beth!

      I pray this will be of useful to your husband in his ministry. I would love to hear back from him, either here or via e-mail at joe (dot) pote01 (at) gmail (dot) com.

      Thanks and God Bless!

  4. After almost 31 years after remarrying (used under objection!), I rejoice in reading your explanation of these verses for they have been used against us more than once in our 31 years. The worst example was a church we wanted to make our home was starting a “new members” class. The pastor came to visit us 2-3 days before the class was to begin on Sunday. He had never visited before, and so asked several questions about how we met, how long we’d been married, etc. Naturally, the word “divorce” came up as we’d both been married before. He took his leave soon after learning those facts, and he didn’t even offer a prayer of blessing on our home or time with him. Something we thought unusual. Sunday morning came and we settled in to hear his sermon. Imagine our surprise and embarrassment when he preached on the topic of adultery after divorce. I burst into tears, and we left. That evening he called to see why we weren’t in the class. My husband bluntly told him our reasons, and he never asked a single question. I suppose in retrospect God was showing us that our choice of a church home was not His choice for us. We’ve gotten over the sting of this experience, and we have been blessed in the church home we eventually chose. Just wanted to share our experience with you. And with others who may find themselves similarly treated.

    • Sherrey,

      How awful! You must have been mortified! Bad enough for the pastor to show so little grace and so little understanding of God’s heart of compassion…but to make the case publicly after passing on an opportunity to discuss privately? Wow! And then to be so clueless as to ask why you left…

      Unfortunately, those attitudes and perceptions are all too prevalent in today’s church, though not usually delivered with such a high level of insensitivity.

      I’ve known several godly couples with varying degrees of confusion and guilt in regard to their current marriage. I also know a number of couples who have simply stopped attending church, altogether, after encountering judgmental attitudes.

      My hope is to shed the light of God’s truth in regard to His heart of love and redemption for those who have suffered the tragedy of a failed marriage.

      Thank you, so much, for sharing your story!

      God bless you!

  5. So much pain wrapped up in this issue. Sherrey’s story breaks my heart. Bless you for ministering in these hard places, Joe.

    • Yes, much pain and much confusion!

      Although I did not understand it at the time, I am so glad God led me through the path of a divorce. There is so much I learned of His love and faithfulness that I would not have otherwise known.

      Thank you, Laura!

  6. Joe, your brother Jonathan sent me. I had a pastor who was divorced and he married (remarried?) a most beautiful, God fearing, loving woman. I never thought that my God, an all loving God, would condemn me for divorcing, especially the three i divorced. I love how you explain things and make them easier for me (ESPECIALLY ME) to be able to understand. What bothers me is how many of our men and women are living in total HELL, because of a misconception that divorce is wrong. I would not suggest divorce under most circumstances, but there have been friends who would “seek my counsel” (cry on my shoulder) and my first response was LEAVE. He/she hit you, he/she does not take care of his/her family responsibilities, he/she are cheating, leave, leave now, come to my house until you get things arranged where you can live on your own. I think a lot of people are just afraid to leave, for fear of living alone.

    I am just starting to read your blog, and I picked this one first to read. While divorce is hard, and even the three i divorced did horrid things, (as I told Jonathan, I am not great at picking out men), I hurt for a while, I cried buckets of tears, I was scared to death of lack of security, lack of companionship, fear of ‘will anyone ever love me again’. but after all is said and done, let’s just face facts, i was no picnic either, and I was happier without them. and still am.

    Oh, you may not remember me, but i was in Deborah’s class at WCHS, such a beauty, such a quiet, lovely lady, her spirit and her beauty followed her long after she was down the halls of that old school.

    Joe, thank you for this blog, I intend to read a “chapter” of your blog a day.


    • Hey, Linda! I’m so glad you stopped by!

      Yes, there are so many legalistic misconceptions about divorce, within today’s church…and most seem geared toward ensuring that anyone who has experienced divorce feels properly guilty for the rest of their lives.

      That is so far from God’s heart of love toward His children! Jesus doesn’t heap additional rules and loopholes on top of the Mosaic Law to burden us with guilt! Rather, He removes our guilt, freeing us to live a life of liberty in Him!

      Yes, our God is a covenant God, who expects His children to honor our covenant vows. However, God does not intend for us to remain enslaved in a covenant of abusive bondage. For His chidren trapped in a covenant of abusive bondage, Christ offers redemption from slavery!

      I might remember you if I browsed an old high-school year book. Although, I must admit, there are lots of folks from my own class that I have trouble remembering well, anymore.

      At any rate, I’m very pleased to meet you, and look forward to getting acquainted!

      God bless!

  7. you may be my sister’s age. Barbara Brown? she is still just as beautiful as she ever was, married for the second time, for the last 35 years. she is 2 years younger than i am, so that makes her, uh, let’s see, 27. lol sorry, that makes me older than dirt. she is 56. and still does cart wheels down the drive way with her grand children. she is an absolute wonderful lady, so kind, so beautiful, i call her ‘the best person i know’. besides being God fearing (i hate the word fearing) she lives the life of a christian, and is as good as any human can possibly be. i am the bohemian, while i still have my faith in God (Higher Power), i falter with life, and my sister seems to have it all together. she taught herself how to play the acoustic guitar and writes her own music and words and sings her songs in her church. such a lovely voice, and such a talent for the Lord. i hope you remember her, it would be absolutely great if you could see how she has changed for the better through the years. her struggles have been many and she has maintained her faith and her loyalty, and her strength is something to behold. i always tell her ‘when i grow up, i wanna be just like you’. one day i may grow up. but until then i just have faith, know that with God all things are possible and i go to my church, outside my apartment looking at my mountain is my church. nice to meet you too, Joe. the Pote family were always an amazing group of kids when i was growing up. God bless you all…

    • Barbara was probably in the same grade as my older brother, Samuel.

      I think there’s about a 20 year segment in Watson Chapel’s history, where alumni track their class by which Pote kid they were in class with, rather than by graduating year! 😉

      Overall, they’re a great bunch of folks, and I’m proud to call them family.

      It sounds to me like both you and Barbara have demonstrated amazing strength, resilience, and faith in the face of adversity. It also sounds like you’re pretty proud of your little sister!

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