Who Must Marry, Divorce, and Remarry?

Married couple at train station

In the previous article, we asked the question: Who may marry, divorce, and remarry? That article focused on the divine permission. In this article, we are going to focus on the divine requirement: Who must marry, divorce, and remarry?

While we tend to focus a lot on what we are permitted to do, this question is just as important. Sometimes being a faithful follower of Christ requires us to make difficult choices in our personal lives.

Who Must Marry?

This may sound like an odd question. After all, no one has to get married. However, Paul talked about a certain circumstance that would mean a couple must get married. He told the Corinthians, “Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:1-2). Paul explained that marriage provided a means to deal with the temptation to commit fornication. He said that if people “do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9).

One of the reasons that God gave marriage was to provide a lawful way to fulfill sexual desires. Notice what Paul wrote: “The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). Sexual desires are not wrong in themselves. After all, God created us with these desires. However, He also instituted a way in which we could lawfully fulfill these sexual desires – marriage. Fulfilling sexual desires outside of marriage is wrong: “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).

The Lord has promised a “way of escape” when we are tempted (1 Corinthians 10:13) – including the temptation to engage in sexual immorality. Sometimes that “way of escape” is simply to flee (cf. Genesis 39:6-12). Other times, the “way of escape” may be to get married.

Who Must Divorce?

Again, this may sound like an odd question. We studied the exception clause to Jesus’ teaching against divorce in the previous article (Matthew 19:9). That was a permission, not a requirement. The general rule is that divorce is unlawful. We are told that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Knowing this, how could God require divorce?

First, we need to remember that God required certain divorces in the Old Testament. “Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, said to Ezra, ‘We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law’” (Ezra 10:2-3). Why did they need to put away their wives? They violated God’s law in entering into those marriages (Deuteronomy 7:3). Therefore, since entering into those marriages was a violation of God’s law, putting away their wives would be “done according to the law” (Ezra 10:3).

When we talk about those who must divorce, we are not talking about those whom God has bound together. Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). Instead, those who must divorce are those who are in an adulterous marriage – one that is a violation of God’s marriage law.

Paul explained that when a woman is bound in marriage and “while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress” (Romans 7:3). This adulterous relationship may be legally recognized as a marriage, but the marriage is not lawful. John the Baptist confronted Herod about this: “For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’” (Mark 6:17-18). Herod married Herodias legally, but lawfully – according to God’s marriage law – she was still bound to Philip. This was why John could call her Philip’s wife even though she was married to Herod. A marriage may be legal (civilly) but not lawful (according to God’s law). This would include same-sex “marriages” today – they may be legal, but they are not lawful.

Repentance requires a repudiation of sin. Once we repent and have “died to sin,” we are not to “continue in sin” (Romans 6:1-2). In the case of an adulterous marriage, repentance would require one to put away his/her mate.

Who Must Remarry?

In the previous article we talked about those who were permitted to marry a second mate – those whose spouse died and those who put away their mate for fornication. For these ones who have been “released” from their marriage bond (Romans 7:2), the same “requirement” would exist that we discussed at the beginning of this article – if they cannot exercise “self-control, let them marry” (1 Corinthians 7:9).

However, what about those who put away their mate for a cause other than fornication and their mate is still living? Paul addressed this question in his letter to Corinth: “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” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

Divorce for a cause other than fornication is condemned (Matthew 19:9). But what if someone has already left (1 Corinthians 7:11) or sent away (1 Corinthians 7:13) the spouse to whom he/she is bound? In this case, there must be reconciliation if the spouse consents: “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. But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away” (1 Corinthians 7:11-12).

In other words, if one’s spouse is willing to be reconciled, he/she must restore the relationship with his/her bound mate. This is not optional (Matthew 19:6). To refuse to do this is to be guilty of keeping separated what God joined together. However, if one’s spouse is unwilling to be reconciled, then he/she “must remain unmarried” (1 Corinthians 7:11).


Some of the Bible’s teachings on marriage, divorce, and remarriage are difficult to accept. This is because family relationships are involved (cf. Ezra 10:3). However, we must put our devotion to the Lord first, even before family. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. […] A man’s enemies will be the members of his household” (Matthew 10:34-36).

It may be difficult to choose the Lord over our closest relationships in life, but we will be rewarded if we choose to follow Him. Jesus went on to say, “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39). Let us determine to follow the Lord – including His teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage – regardless of the cost.

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  1. I deeply appreciate the article entitled: “Who Must Marry, Divorce, And Remarry.” Generally, brethren approach this subject from the aspect of Biblical authority in so far as authority permits. You did a very fine job of discussing this aspect from the perspective of what Biblical authority requires. Your publication has been a great blessing and encouragement to me as I am sure that it is to others as well.

  2. Wayne d. teel says

    You have dared to speak on an issue that is not touched on my most preachers today and one that is much abused by even Christians. You did a very good job on this article in stating the facts and what the Bible says. Thanks for doing this.

  3. Thanks so much gentlemen! I appreciate your encouraging comments.


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