Divorce and Remarriage

What is God's intent and expectation for the duration of Christian marriages?  The answer is simple and straightforward - Marriage is for life.  Genesis 2:24 "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."  Converted Christians - led by God's Holy Spirit - are held to the highest standard by God.  Each mate's spiritual responsibility, within the marriage relationship, is to help and enable their partner, all of their lives together, to grow in Godly character to the highest degree attainable.  Marriage among God's people must reflect the exact picture of Jesus Christ and His loving relationship with the Church.

Under no circumstances is a converted man married to a converted woman allowed to "put away his wife" - and re-marry.  It is totally out of the question according to God's law.  For converted brethren - that is the answer - marriage is for life (those who are converted are being judged now.)  "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God."  (1 Peter 4:17) This is where the Church of God differs from the world.  A God centered life is an absolute requirement in order for a Christian marriage to exist.  It is not possible for worldly marriages to reach the spiritual level of God plane marriages.

The reality of life is that people have human nature with which to contend.  The failure of one or both partners to live up to the expectation of their marriage vow can result in divorce.  What do the Scriptures say about divorce?

"For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away [divorce]."  (Malachi 2:16) God hates divorce.  God created marriage - it is, therefore, the natural state of man and woman.  Divorce destroys marriage - the primary building block of a Godly society.

Within the Church of God we have had difficulty in coming to grasp the full intent of the Scriptures with regard to marriage, separation, divorce and remarriage.  This subject demands more than the diligent study of words and their meanings.  There are a lot of questions to be addressed.  In order for us to know the mind of God on the subject of divorce and remarriage - much more is necessary.  There are many versions of divorce and remarriage extant today.  How can we know which is correct in God's eyes?  Is a divorce ever permissible by Jesus Christ?  Is remarriage ever an option for a true Christian who is divorced?  Who, if anybody decides if a new marriage can be undertaken after a divorce has occurred?

Our understanding within the Church of God matured after 1974 from a "letter of the law" interpretation to a better understanding of the "spirit of the law."  First, we came to understand that all worldly marriages were not bound by God, and subsequent divorces could be forgiven.  This first point - that judgment is now on us, the Church of God, and not the world - was key to further understanding.

Jesus Christ, Himself, gave us the knowledge that an exception exists with respect to putting away i.e., divorce.  Jesus said, "...  except for porneia."

Very near the end of his life, Herbert W Armstrong came, not only to understand, but also to apply a broader meaning of "Porneia."  For most of his life, he had believed porneia to pertain solely to pre-marital fraud.  He came to understand that porneia also comprised sexual transgression within marriage - including, but not narrowly limited to, adultery, sexual immorality, homosexuality, perversion, prostitution, incest, or any sexually deviant behavior.  He realized that continual sexual transgression as a pattern and way of life violated the marriage covenant, and was cause for Scriptural divorce.  It became clear to him that the actions of the transgressor showed that there was no intent to really be married or keep the marriage covenant.  This is exactly what Jesus meant when He gave us the rule for a marriage being loosed.  He said, "...  except for porneia."  Herbert W.  Armstrong intended to write a new book on "Divorce and Remarriage" - but he never did.

Marriage is for life.  Jesus, however, taught that there was an exception.  "And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, EXCEPT it be for porneia...  (Matt 5:32, 19:9)  Jesus did not expound further on the exception.  Those who hearken back to the earlier incomplete understanding on divorce and remarriage read conditions into Jesus' words that just are not there.  They reason that divorce / annulment is permissible only in the case of pre-marital fornication.  Scripture does not support this assessment to the exclusion of porneia within marriage.  That point of view is a hard judgment - without mercy or faith.  It is an incomplete understanding of the scriptures - as will be demonstrated.

Jesus told the woman taken in adultery, "I do not condemn you." (Jesus knew her attitude - that she was repentant.)  He did not call for the death penalty for her - which would have been the judgment according to the law.  He extended Godly mercy to her - He told her to be faithful - to "go and sin no more."

Mercy has to do with forgiveness.  God desires mercy.  Let us understand the Godly application of mercy.  In the Old Testament - when a person stole, it was to be paid back with the addition of a penalty.  However, (with mercy) in the New Testament we are told simply to "steal no more".  Think of it.  We robbed God of tithes for years before conversion - but we repent and begin to tithe - without being required by God to make up for missed tithing years.  God forgives and shows us mercy.  In the same way - if there were divorces before conversion, God forgives upon repentance, and grants His mercy.

We have Jesus' own example of His wife, Israel, breaking their covenant.  Israel left the agreement and vow - God gave Israel a divorce.  God said that Israel was "adulterous" - meaning Israel violated their covenant.  Marriage is a covenant - a sacred covenant.  It takes two to make a covenant.  It takes two to keep a covenant.  It only takes one sinner to break a covenant.  Abandonment of the marriage agreement by one of the parties destroys a covenant.

It is sometimes difficult for those who embrace the pre-1974 position on divorce and remarriage to come to the fuller understanding of God's intention.  That position appears, to them, to be safe and righteous - "upholding the institution of marriage".  Spiritually and Scripturally there is something missing in their approach.  Jesus Christ desires to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke.  We know that the Pharisees kept the law with a super-righteous perfection, yet, we also know that there was much missing in their grasp of the fundamental principles of Christ.  With a discernment of what God's mercy is, we can begin to incorporate the elements of God's teaching on the subject.  God intends for Christians who have been betrayed, frauded or deserted to be free to re-marry and go forward, having peaceful productive Christian lives - and not remain in a life-long bondage to a lawless mate.

"But if the unbelieving [mate] depart, let him depart.  A brother or a sister is not under bondage [enslaved] in such cases: but God hath called us to peace." (1 Corinthians 7:15)

Jesus Christ means for marriage to be for life.  "He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so." (Matthew 19:8) cp.  (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)  In the beginning, the Tree of Life, which would have imparted God's Holy Spirit was available.  In the beginning, it was God's intent that all men become converted.  It did not happen.  With the exception of a very few - including the prophets in Old Testament times, all the people were unconverted - that is what Jesus meant by "the hardness of your hearts."

Those Who Are Unconverted

Those in Moses' day, under the terms of the Old Marriage Covenant, were not able to live according to God's law because they did not have God's Holy Spirit.  People of the world break every one of God's Commandments.  On the other hand, we are to keep them and live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.  Paul wrote of the Marriage Covenants - old and new: "For finding fault with them [those who were unconverted i.e., lacking God's Spirit], he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:  Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant." (Hebrews 8:9)

For those in the world - the unconverted - they are NOT now able to live by the laws of God.  It takes God's Spirit to lead one into righteousness.  There will be a resurrection in which they, the unconverted, will receive God's Holy Spirit - and then be held responsible, just as converted Christians are held responsible - now.  "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh." (Joel 2:28)  That is the answer to the question for the unconverted - their judgment is not now.  They will be called later to receive God's Holy Spirit, and then be held fully accountable for the marriage covenant.


Two young people get married - then the marriage covenant and vow is broken by one or both.  It is wrong.  It is a sin, but not an unforgivable sin.  Later, one of these divorcees re-marries, and even later is called by God into His Church as a repentant sinner.  God forgives the sin of divorce.  Paul says that the repentant sinner / converted person must remain married to the present mate - when called.  "As the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk.  And so ordain I in all churches." (1 Corinthians 7:17)  That is not a double standard.  God forgives.  Just like God forgives murder (even Moses), He forgives adultery (even David), He forgives divorce of the unconverted.

Pleased To Dwell - Or Not Pleased To Dwell

When two people are married and God calls one of them into the Church, they have a covenant unto death.  "If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away." (1 Corinthians 7:12)  The converted person must do everything humanly and spiritually to build a Godly relationship within their covenant marriage.  If a converted person were to decide to divorce a non-believer who was pleased to dwell, that converted mate would not be free to remarry because the marriage would remain bound.

What about when the unconverted mate is not pleased to honor the marriage covenant - not pleased to dwell?  Paul clearly spells out that when a converted mate is abandoned by an unconverted (non-believer) - the believing mate may remarry (is not under bondage).  "And the woman which hath a husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him...  But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.  A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace." (1 Corinthians 7:13, 15)  (In the case of binding and loosening there is no in-between - one is either bound or free.)  The brother or sister (converted believer) is free to remarry because an unconverted mate does not, in effect, depart a marriage - and still continue to hold the converted Christian in bondage the rest of their life.  The brother or sister is loosed - not bound.  The scriptures are entirely clear on this point.  Jesus does not intend for true Christians to be held in bondage all of their lives by those who have broken the marriage vow.  That would be BONDAGE and not PEACE.

God hates divorce.  His intent is that two become one flesh in marriage.  Because of what it pictures - it is a sacred union.  It is the beautiful picture of Christ and the Church.  Beautiful - even considering that Christ's bride - all of us, the entire converted Church - were once filthy sinners before forgiveness.  Aren't we happy that Our Father and Jesus Christ extended their mercy, and did not demand perfection in us?

Paul expounded on the "putting-away" exception.  He classified types of marriages so that we could grasp the intent of God's instructions.  This is the area in which the most difficult determination must be made.  Difficult, because in one case the converted person may remarry - and on the other hand remarriage is forbidden because the marriage is still bound.

Those Who Are Converted

Marriage is for life.  Two converted people who are married have a covenant unto death.  Truly converted Christians are capable of sinning.  When a converted Christian divorces their mate, -- upon true repentance, God forgives that terrible sin - but that converted Christian can never remarry - except to their original mate - the very one that had been put away.  Paul wrote to converted believers: "And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:  But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband..."  (1 Corinthians 7:11)  Separation leaves the marriage covenant still binding - she is not free to marry a third party.  Christ's words establish her only two options - remain single or return to her husband:  "But I say unto you,...  and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." (Matthew 5:32)  A converted Christian is held to a higher standard of conduct and, when sin occurs, is subject to much more stringent consequences.  In the case where both parties are converted - remarriage is NOT an option.

Converted Christians are being judged now.  It does not matter if the original marriage took place by a Justice of the Peace, or in a major denomination church.  When God called both partners - they came into God's Church already married - their baptismal vows ratified their marriage vow - making them fully accountable to God at this present time.  They are "bound" to remain that way.  They have a marriage covenant unto death.

Mixed Converted / Unconverted Marriages

It is the case in which one mate is converted and the other is not that we must examine.  A converted person can only marry another converted person.  "The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord." (1 Corinthians  7:39).  God’s Word says that a converted person should not marry an unconverted person.  If they marry anyway, they sin.  The converted mate must ask God's forgiveness.  However, the converted mate has entered into a marriage covenant that is binding unto death.

In the case where the un-called mate leaves the marriage, i.e., breaks the covenant - the converted mate may remarry - he or she is not bound or "in bondage."  God does not intend that the innocent person's life be on permanent hold.  "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.  A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace." (1 Corinthians 7:15) God desires and makes it possible for the converted person to live a normal married life (only to a converted mate) - wherein they can grow in grace and knowledge and Godly character.

Here Is The Understanding

The Scriptures show that there is a difference between "believing" and "unbelieving” between converted and unconverted.  A converted person is being judged by God now - and is responsible to God now.  The unconverted person will be judged in the second resurrection.

A converted person is bound by God to keep a covenant -- with their mate and with God.  Paul clearly explained this.  In Corinth, people came into the Church who had had multiple marriages, extra-marital relationships, multiple wives, divorces, etc.  What was Paul's judgment?  Paul's judgment shows that God forgave ALL of their past sins at baptism (repentance).  The present status of their marriage covenant and vow was ratified by God.  At conversion, a Christian is accepted by God in the status in which they are called.  Paul's judgment was that they stay with the one to whom they are married - whether that mate is converted or unconverted.  "...As the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk.  And so ordain I in all churches...  Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called...  Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God." (1 Corinthians  7:17,20)

What happens in the case where premarital fraud did not exist, but there was ongoing abuse within the marriage?  Does a loving God require someone who is being mistreated either to stay in an abusive marriage, or leave the abusive relationship and be required to remain unmarried all the rest of his or her life?  Those who hold to the pre-1974 divorce and remarriage position would say that there can be no other marriage.  That ruling only brought more unmerciful victimization of the innocent party.

Realistic Example - A True Story

The man was a whoremonger - but he came home to his faithful, converted, Church wife a few times a week - for a meal, have his clothes washed, and to sleep with her.  His actions and life style showed that he was not a believer.  He would say that he was "pleased to dwell" with her when she would say that she could not take it any longer.  She was in bondage - slavery - because he said that he was "pleased to dwell" with her.

No! This is not what God intends! His actions dictated that he was not pleased to dwell.  This kind of situation takes Godly wisdom and judgment.  By his actions - he was living a life of "porneia." He had broken his covenant and vow of marriage.  He had departed from the marriage.  His life style proved he was not a "believer." He was not a converted man.  She is free to marry - but only in the Lord.  She can only marry a converted man.  Does the ministry have to be absolutely convinced that she is being frauded?  Absolutely not, because the children of this world [the unconverted] are wiser...  they can always fool a minister - but you can not fool God.

Who Makes The Decision?

This brings up a most important point.  Who makes the determination whether or not divorce and/or remarriage is Scripturally appropriate?  Counseling with true ministers of Jesus Christ is obviously important - in order to know what God's Word says - but a minister cannot make the decision.  Moses did NOT make the determination in divorce cases - neither does the ministry today.  "[Jesus] saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered YOU [the person seeking the divorce] to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so." (Mat 19:8) Moses did not make the decision.  Wise counsel is always prudent - but ultimately each converted person is responsible to God for his or her own actions.  The Scriptures do not say that the offended mate has to prove to a minister that their mate is unconverted.  Herbert W. Armstrong came to realize that it was ONLY the injured party who could be the one to make the decision whether or not divorce or remarriage would be Scripturally appropriate.

In our example, the injured party will stand before Jesus Christ and give an account* of herself, and she will say, " I fasted and prayed and did everything to serve and honor him.  For years, I tried with all my heart to win him over by my Christian conduct - even when he brought disease home to me.  I did not look for an opportunity to get out of my vow.  I patiently put my whole being into making our marriage work.  He was abusive, mean, unfaithful, sadistic, hurtful, unsupportive, unloving, brutish, cruel, an habitual commandment breaker - who was not led by God's Holy Spirit, nor was he pleased to dwell with me.  I am absolutely convinced, Lord, that he did not have a valid covenant relationship with me."

“We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10,12)

One Last Word

There is a movement by some to return to the Church's pre-1974 position on divorce and remarriage.  That position maintained that the only exception for a divorce was porneia defined as pre-marital fraud.  That position considered a person's spiritual development within marriage secondary to upholding the institution of marriage.  It was not taken into account that sexual immorality within marriage is much more detrimental to family and Godly character than fornication, which takes place outside of the institution of marriage.  Would Jesus allow divorce for the lesser infraction of fornication while prohibiting divorce for the greater sin of adultery?

The pre-1974 movement actually PROMOTES the divorce of converted Christians.  That understanding requires those seeking baptism to divorce their present mates (if there had been a previous marriage before being called by God into His Church), and return to their first marriage partner.  There is a strong tendency for those who only understand "the righteousness of the letter of the law" to find comfort in the "once married - never re-married," position.  They miss the Biblical point, and God's intent, when they disregard the fact that Spirit-led* Church members are being held accountable by God at this time.  Those who have no knowledge of God's truth are not being held ultimately accountable at this present time. 

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)

Those who call for a pre-1974 divorce and remarriage position would go so far as to demand the divorce of a present, well-established marriage (even with children) to fulfill what they perceive the law to say.  But, God hates divorce.  God does not require people to divorce the mate with whom they have been called to a knowledge of the truth, and go look for their worldly high-school sweetheart.  Unfortunately, some people use this as a measure of righteousness.  Our Christianity has to do with serving, caring, aiding, loving, helping people and living like Christians should.  Those who hold to the pre-1974 divorce and remarriage position will allow for divorce in some cases - but they disallow marriage in every case.

"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, ...  forbidding to marry."
(1 Timothy 4:1-3)


Sermon:  "Divorce and Remarriage"