What Did Jesus Teach About Divorce and Remarriage?
Among Christians, divorce and remarriage tend to be viewed through a strict lens of biblical interpretation. It’s widely believed that Jesus taught that if a woman who has been divorced remarries—she is guilty of committing adultery. If you asked 100 seminary grads today how Jesus viewed divorce and remarriage most of them would tell you that this is the position He took.
But is this really what He said?
You would probably arrive at this conclusion yourself if you read most modern Bible translations. The King James is the most common translation used in Bible colleges and seminaries—particularly those with a fundamentalist perspective. No Bible translation is without problems. And although the King James is a respected translation, it is notorious for its improper translation of key words. And sadly, many of these mistranslations have found their way into other translations. Worse, is the fact that these translational errors aren’t usually discussed in Bible colleges and seminaries. So leaders are taught what positions they ought to take, without knowing that their views may be based on a faulty translation.
For the sake of clarity, I’d like to focus on one passage concerning divorce and remarriage. It’s a representative passage that clearly shows how Jesus viewed the subjects of marital separation, divorce and remarriage. If you compare similar passages, you’ll find the same teaching. The first place in the scriptures where Jesus taught on this subject is found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter five. They key here is that we need to look closely at the words He used for two terms: “divorce” and “put away.”
In verses 31 and 32 of Matthew chapter five, Jesus corrected a common practice of the Jews:
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. (Mat 5:31-32)
At first glance, the meaning of this passage seems pretty straightforward. Jesus was talking about two different things related to marriage. First he mentioned a practice called “putting away.” He said that there was only one condition for which a man could put away his wife. He went on to say that if a wife were put away for any other reason, the man who did so was guilty of causing her to commit adultery. In mid-sentence he changed subjects and said that if anyone married a woman who was divorced they would be guilty of adultery.
Or did He?
To know with certainty what He actually said, there are a couple of words we need to look at in the Greek text. The first is the word ἀποστάσιον (apostasion) which is nearly always translated “divorce.” This is the last word found in verse 31, but in verse 32 it is conspicuously absent. Instead, the Greek word ἀπολύω (apolyō) is used twice. This word is nearly always translated “separated,” or “put away.” Except for the second time it appears in this verse. And in that case it is translated divorce.
It’s odd that the translators would choose to translate the first instance of this word “put away” and the second one “divorce,” since the words have completely different meanings. Stranger still is the fact that when you look at the context of the passage it doesn’t make sense to translate it this way. The way it’s been translated, Jesus was apparently addressing the subject of wives being put away, but then shifted the conversation to the subject of divorce. If you translate the second instance of the word apolyō to match the first, the passage makes more sense and it takes on an entirely different meaning. Here is how it would be rendered:
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery.
Do you see the difference?
If we translate the second instance of the word apolyō the way it would normally be translated, the passage flows more naturally. And we can see that Jesus wasn’t addressing divorce at all in this discussion. He was addressing the practice the Jews had of “putting away” their wives, and nothing else. A little background information on that practice might be helpful:
Under the practice of “putting away” their wives, Jewish men would kick their wives out of the home if they were unhappy with them. No particular reason was necessary and no certificate of divorce was given to them. The wives were still legally married to their husbands, though they were no longer allowed to live with them. In modern culture, it would be like a marital separation. And because the wives were not given a certificate of divorce, they could not legally remarry, although their husbands would usually find new wives. Jesus intended to correct this erroneous practice.
First, He placed a condition on the practice of putting away a wife. He said that it was only for the cause of fornication that a wife could be put away. No other reason was justified. Second, He pointed out that if a man put his wife away without giving her a certificate of divorce, she could not remarry without committing adultery, because she would be married to two men at the same time. Rather than forbidding a woman to remarry after she was put away, He demanded the Jews give their wives a certificate of divorce so they could remarry legally if they chose to. Being a man filled with compassion for those whose marriages had been destroyed, He provided a path to remarriage after divorce.
There is another passage where Jesus taught on this subject and it needs to be considered. In Matthew chapter 19, the Pharisees questioned Jesus about their practice of putting away their wives. (Matthew noted that they did this to trap Him.) In verse 9 of that chapter, the Lord gave them the same instructions found in this chapter. He even used the same words.
I’m not alone in my view about the best way in which to translate this passage. The American Standard Version (ASV) and Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) both translate this passage the way I’ve described.
I hope this explanation has helped you. If you’ve been condemned for remarrying after a divorce, maybe this will give you comfort. It may take a while for church leaders to see this issue differently. Traditions can be difficult to change. But if the opportunity arises, you might point out the mistranslation and start the ball rolling. Who knows where the conversation will end up.
G’day, I have been divorced now for three years, & never wanted that to happen but well, I didn’t seem to get a choice. So he divorced me, & I took the children away, with his knowledge, & am now settled. So I have often thought, what would happen if I met someone else….but had that feeling, it’d be wrong. Glad to read this! 🙂
1 corinthians 7 also shows some thoughts on this subject from Paul. If one is married to an unbelieving spouse they are not bound.
Well, not exactly. Paus writes, that if you are married to an unbelieving spouse AND THEY SEPERATE from you, then you are not bound any longer (1.Cor.7:15). Why? Because in ancient greece they didn’t even have something like the divorce certificate. So this kind of seperation equals divorce.
Well done PM…..well done.
Well written Medic. But honestly I feel Jesus left the whole thing incomplete for people in the modern world. Under what conditions , (in the modern world) , would Jesus permit a woman to divorce her husband ? Or is that not an option for her ? Also , your article does not take into account Jesus’ words in Mark 10:9. “What God as put together , let no man separate”. My own opinion is that the guidelines or instructions which gave 2000 years ago , can’t be transplanted to today’s culture and society. One needs practical ,realistic and workable solutions. Furthur , divorce if you ask me is widely prevalent in cultures which follow Anglican and Evangelical theology , where it is acceptable to be divorced ,…..not so in most other cultures , where couple stay together till death do them apart.
WOW! it’s so clear now…thanks for doing all the work researching…i will be sharing this with many others to help them get a better understanding and free their hearts from so much condemnation that’s been put on them for so long!
thanks for the enlightenment!
Thank you for your research and insight into this scripture. Could you elaborate on the husbands who “put away” their wives and give them a writing of divorcement when there was no justified reason ( fornication)….. The OT calls it an act of treachery when a man puts away a wife and the NT calls it an act of treachery when a wife leaves her husband….
Thanks for dropping by Carolyn. This article might be helpful:
Well explained. Since Moses wrote the original law allowing for divorce obviously divorce is not a modern idea, It existed before Anglicans or Protestants or Catholics and there were no evangelicals yet either 😉 . One would assume if God actually joined or created a union it would work not fail. Far too often people join people and each other not God. A distinction I think often missed. They are in a hurry to create their own fates rather than waiting on the ofttimes frustrating patience of God and His timing. I believe more often than not this is the source of divorce, that man presumes to follow his own will rather than Gods.
It would indeed follow that Jesus was looking at that from a God point of view and allowed for mankind to repent and divorce rather than keeping another bound to a mistake and to the danger of binding them to a sin by not divorcing and freeing the other from these mistakes. Remarrying while separated would indeed be adultery while a legal dissolution would free both to pursue Gods destiny for them again. That of course is merely my slant on the idea and others results may vary 😉 Good write very good. Be Blessed 🙂
I have a question… And before I ask it, let me clarify, I still agree with a gracious conclusion on this subject. However, on the phrase, “Rather than forbidding a woman to remarry after she was put away, He demanded the Jews give their wives a certificate of divorce so they could remarry legally if they chose to. Being a man filled with compassion for those whose marriages had been destroyed, He provided a path to remarriage after divorce.” When Jesus said you have heard it said if a man puts away his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce, but I say to you… Wasn’t he saying in the whole context that giving a certificate of divorce doesn’t justify separation? Maybe they did have a bad practice of putting away and not taking care of it legally. But that’s why divorce was even included in the Mosaic law, because of the hardness of people’s hearts, to make a legal way for separation but not that God wanted it. Here, as in all of his “but I say to you” statements, Jesus was saying that even the legal route doesn’t justifying divorce for any reason but fornication. Yes, there’s a translation error. Yes, it is clearer when we straighten that out. But the conclusion isn’t Jesus justifying divorce legally. Jesus didn’t justify anything legally. He only set a higher bar legally. THEN he fulfilled it. So although divorce isn’t ok with God, grace covers it, like everything else we can’t get right legally, not a certificate. The whole statement was that a certificate of divorce is NOT sufficient, just because it’s legally permissible.
I meant that in all of his but I say to you statements, he raised the bar, not lowered to a legal one.
Thank you! It is always great to sort out what things mean in the Bible. Because as Christians we want to be obedient to God but the message gets crossed. Then judgement comes in, where we have no authority. God’s understanding is so far above our own, but He is always good. Thank you for letting God use you to give clarity on this.
For years I struggled in my decision to leave a relationship that was abusive, and then came upon a book that changed my life. It is called Divorce: God’s Will? by Stephen Gola. It is the most thorough study on the subject I have ever found. It liberated me at a time I was filled with much turmoil and guilt. The premise is that when a manmade institution is damaging our walk with God that God cares more for the well-being of individuals within the institution than the institution itself. God references divorcing Israel many times because of their unfaithfulness. He withdrew for their own good, not his own. This can be true in abuse, or when mental illness or addiction is destroying the partner as it was to me.
The Church typically supports the marriage over the well-being of the partner, especially in cases of domestic violence. Many women (and some men) are left without help from the local church. In my case I experienced this for twenty years. Pastoral counseling focused on my failure as a husband though I was the victim of narcissistic lies and manipulation that caused me to lose friends, and even the trust of my brother, who was a pastor. He finally realized what had happened, yet not until our broken relationship had caused us both deep pain.
Marriage is a precious blessing, yet is greatly misunderstood for what it was created to be. Christians divorce for many reasons, some valid, but in the end the lack of understanding of marriage as a joint covenant to love God more deeply is what causes the suffering of so many men and women.
Jeffrey, well said. you have raise some good points
God is merciful. I appreciate your thoughts on the matter and the work you did to present it to us. I never want to lose sight of mercy, but God is also calling us to higher ways than our ways. I wish that I could find words that provoked christians to fight for their marriages together. I don’t want to condemn anyone who has already made their decision (or those whose spouse made the decision for them), but I sure wish more people would seek to find a better path than divorce to find peace in marriage! When you married, you said in good times and bad, but to live that out means to deny your selfish nature in order to find a solution for the common good. That said, thank you for presenting the mercy aspect of God,
I certainly appreciate what you have said on this subject. I truly believe God’s Word is plain and I believe it means what is says. My husband and I just celebrated our 70th wedding anniversary. It has not always been easy, but God has guided us through some rough times and we also believe the vows we made “through sickness and in health, ’til death do us part.”
Very good explanation..Unfortunately my wife after 24yrs just walked out without grounds and felt better that outside alone was better than working on the Love Walk together. Of course I also believe she had help…Christians after divorce are also highly persecuted by other Christians in their own body of Christ and abandoned even it they were not the one guilty if you will for the divorce or cause..But Believers chew up and spit out their own worse than the secular people..instead of doing what Rich Joyner and Bill Johnson did with Todd Bentley and take them in and restore them both emotionally and spiritually. That is Love unconditional which most marriages don’t walk in..Usually it is Selfishness and Money issues..or both..lol. again thx.
the brilliancy of this act is that it provides a REMEDY …. divorce is simply a ‘remedy’ … it is a certificate that remedies the malady of the deficiencies of the relationship and the, perhaps, stubbornness of one’s heart/beliefs that prohibit them from being merciful, gracious, forgiving one anothers sins as Creator has forgiven them … is divorce Papa’s heart? Hell2theNO! however, it has been grossly mis-interpreted for years and has been something used to abuse people and justify them being second-class citizens in the Kingdom for far too long ….
That was encouraging to read
wow, I just read that passage this week and thought…well God isn’t treating women very fairly, they loose all the way around. Being a divorced woman doesn’t help that much either. My husband divorced me, he made a concise effort to do it that way and I couldn’t figure out why. I’ve been single for 13 years and thought I would be in sin if I remarried, I don’t date either. Even if I don’t I’m glad you cleared that up for me. I grew up in fun. Baptist, even thought I left that church and attend a interdenominational church that gas always stuck with me. Guilt…thanks for the freeing information
Thank you for that understanding, I have been in conversations with people who feel so guilty for re-marrying. I have always stood on what the word states “God looks at the heart and man the outward appearance”. God knows your heart and as long as your good to go with God thats all that matters!! My simplified version of spending every day walking and talking with my PaPa Lol Great Article!!
I’ve remarried after divorce. I always felt guilty. Reading this really lifts a burden off my shoulders. Thank you.
Thank you, Lord for your liberty. There ARE answers to every facet of life in God’s Word. We humans are so ready to condemn when God already supplied the forgiveness and remedies. His sacrifice on the cross obliterated our sins COMPLETELY!. I have never understood “righteous” Church attendees so quickly judging and pointin g fingers when they are OFTEN offenders of the same things. The church is so quick to shoot its own wounded! This reminds me when The woman was caught in adultery and the MEN wanted to stone her. What about the man she was with? And the other accusers walked away. YES MY God is gracious and forgiving and always provides a way to Escape ! Thank you for these invaluable clarifications. The greek is a very detailed and specific language which is so beautiful and helpful. In this case, not condemning but forgiving and providing a workable remedy. If couples cannot get along, its is irresponsible to fight and stay together, ESPECIALLY if there are kids. They model and are troubled by rela
tionships filled with strife. Thank you Lord. And thank you PrayerMedic for being astute and diligent in researching this. This will free many and take the weight of the world off of many a shoulder!
…Also as mentioned in the clarification, MANY stories and accounts are addressed by Jesus or those with the authority of Jesus, are speaking of the practices and syntax of the day.
I didn’t write an excellent paper, but I did arrive at the same conclusion by study. Thank-you for publishing and sharing!
Excellent! Very nice job at “setting the captives” free 😀
Good thoughts! So good to know people are asking for themselves! Strict interpretation is not always the spirit of the text! Thanks for digging!
A good article. Thank you. I just wanted to add, and most people don’t want to ‘go here’, but Christian marriage in western countries is polluted as soon as the man & woman sign the government marriage certificate, which is a civil contract with the government being a 4th party. The certificate is not just a record, it’s a contract – that’s how a judge can claim jurisdiction in a court case involving marriage. True Christian marriage is a 3 party EXCLUSIVE covenant (covenant is not the same as a contract). As soon as the pastor pronounces you man & wife, after you have made your vows to each other and God, and under God, and in the witness of those attending, you are then man & wife in God’s eyes – nothing more is needed in God’s eyes, except maybe write your vows in your bible and both sign below. Anyhow, I just wanted to add this, not to complicate this article, but to take it maybe a bit further if anyone is interested. My wife and I no longer recognise our so called marriage certificate ie. civil contract with the government, and I’m sure God has blessed us over this.
Yarraman 3 part Vrs 4 part explanation was very good. thanks for posting it.
Thank you for sharing and giving this insight, now I can pass on this knowledge especially to women as I always believed that Christians could remarry.
I would like to point out another scripture where Paul says “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Paul in this scripture is not only taking to those who are engaged but also talking to the divorced people. I find that many women take the scripture litterally without knowing the culture of the day and believe that they cannot remarry if divorced.
This is by far one of the hottest topics in the Christian arena.
The words and meanings are of great importance. So is the practice and actual ‘way of behavior’ of the first courageous followers of the ‘Way of Life’. The elders who wrote in the first 300 years before Constantine were practically all people who were tortured and killed for their choice to be in an ‘illegal religion’ in many areas. These martyred writers and recorders of ‘lifestyle and practice’ are a very important resource in these things.
God fairly ‘crashed in’ on my erudite intellectual life. AFTER i was divorced (both of us with tears of sadness… remaining friends, but having been separated for 2 years, she got a proposal of marriage while she and i were ….uh… still ‘legally married’. When i went to church leaders with SERIOUS CONCERN looking for advice, their answer made a churning in my guts. “When you get baptized thats all washed away. You become like a virgin again”
I HAD TO DO THE SERIOUS RESEARCH. That was 1994. No internet. No cellphone ..not for me, yet.. not for 6 or 7 more years…
“What the Early Christians Belived about Divorce and Re-marriage” was SO helpful. So were the difficult passages about ‘wrong marriages being dissolved’ especially in Ezra. So was David demanding Michal’s return, splitting her from her second husband. Consider.
Consider that the REASON why John the Baptist was despised, was a woman, who felt “I’ve done nothing wrong”, Just like Eve and Jezebel.. He was challenging this marriage of Herod. Now i hated christianity for the ‘right reasons’ and stayed away from it for over 25 years. But i am quite convinced after FASCINATED research, and broken hearted prayer, that this is a ‘primary area’ of human heart-challenge. A sober assessment with an ‘eternally confident’ perspective is quite needed.
Thank you for approaching this topic! Shalom Alechem. May WHOLENESS-PEACE be yours, you courageous messenger of ‘The Most High’..
The missing ‘Ministry of Widows and Virgins’…. (the exaltation of single peoples walking like Jesus did) This missing ‘joy of singleness power’ was removed from our gatherings by the dark side years ago. Justin the Philosoper(Justin Martyr) Writes “There are those among us in their 80’s who from their youth have never known ‘the marriage bed’, but rather have been inspired to walk as Jesus did from childhood” -this picture shows that the teaching of ‘our church’ starting at the earliest youth should include singleness as a REFRESHNIG option. Not strict ‘monks and nuns’ stuff, but the ‘favorite aunties and uncles’ ..
these topics are so close to my soul.
The one who KNOWS God is fully eager to know and embrace all of the ‘higher callings’ of our tiny life-in-Christ, which OPENS into eternity..!
Below find the link for the ‘Early Christian’ (pre Constantine) comments on Divorce and Re-Marriage from the FIRST PEOPLES to get Jesus’ teaching… Bless you.
I have always wondered where I truly stand in relation to remarriage as my ex husband had several affairs and so after finally admitting to the last one, I asked for a divorce which was granted 11years ago. I have always been wary of remarrying in case it was against Gods will, but maybe now I will be more open to considering another relationship 🙂 thanks
Which Greek text are you using? Do you read Greek?
In performing a thorough study of scripture we see that the only way the NT text in question could be interpreted as it is today is to make Jesus contradict the law. Deut. 24:1-2 specifically states that marriage after a divorce is permitted. In teaching our contemporary doctrine of divorce and marriage, we also invalidate Matt 5:18 as well.
That doesn’t answer my question
You’re correct: my response did not answer your question because I’m not going to answer for PM. Your question is, however, directed towards the author, not the argument. That’s called ad hominem.
Any good reference (such as Strong’s) will reveal what words are being translated and how they’re used throughout the NT. There are interlinear Bibles online where one can decipher the variations between different versions, and hence what words were being used. So, if you have a doubt, look it up. 🙂
Not so. An ad hominem attack on an argument is, by definition, made by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, rather than attacking the argument directly. I have and am doing nothing of the sort. I in no means intended to attack the character of the author, or infer that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. My questions were asked simply for the purpose of understanding exactly where he was coming from. If I gave any other impression, that was not my intent. Please forgive me if I did.
D Means, my understanding of Mat 19:7-8 (english only) Jesus states why Moses permitted Divorce (Deut. 24:1-2). Yes I understand Mat 5:18, that this Law remains, but my perception of Jesus response in Mat 19:7-8 was only included because we people have hard hearts.
I think Marriage is symbol of what our relationship with Jesus should be. That’s my take.
PS for the record, I’ve been married 27 years, however my spouse walked out 9 months ago, leaving me with the Kids.
I hope to sort things out but it looks highly unlikely given the time frame & my personal experiences in this.
Another thought to add to this topic is Jesus earthly Genealogy.
There are re marriages, Adultery (look at King David).
Ruth the Widow, re married Boaz & came into the Ancestral line of Jesus.
My memory fails me but, was the Harlot that helped the spies part of the Ancestral line of Jesus?
So although God has a intended marriage for the foundation of society and family, he can still work with out mistakes.
We are still highly valued by God.
You make some interesting points and have caused me to re-examine my thoughts on these passages. However I do take issue with this article.Most of what you said was conjecture. For example, you make these claims, “No Bible translation is without problems. And although the King James is a respected translation, it is notorious for its improper translation of key words. And sadly, many of these mistranslations have found their way into other translations. Worse, is the fact that these translational errors aren’t usually discussed in Bible colleges and seminaries. So leaders are taught what positions they ought to take, without knowing that their views may be based on a faulty translation.”
Most Bible colleges and Seminaries I know of discuss this topic heavily. Plus you did not back any of this up with any sort of evidence,Sorry but am I supposed to just take your word for it? This also applies to your use of Greek (your only evidence). This is also problematic especially when it comes to culture. You try to separate the two terms divorce and put away (separation). I agree with you that if you read it in that way it could be possibly interpreted in the way you suggested in your article. However it always comes back to proof and authority. I don’t know your credentials. I don’t know what references you are using. Also you put forth something that looks and feels scholarly but has it been peer reviewed by any sort of respected theological or biblical studies journal or organization? I don’t take issue of the content but I do take issue in how you presented it.
I had the same concerns as yourself. But I always have those concerns. Over the years I’ve learned a few of things about Bible study:
1) text without context is a pretext (eisegesis)
2) let scripture interpret scripture
3) all translations have biases
#1 may or may not apply: that’s what we’re attempting to discover. But both #2 and #3 certainly do apply, so what we need to do is see how the Greek words are used elsewhere in scripture, and how divorce is handled in the Law.
The Strong’s number for ‘put away’ is G630, apoluō. According to E-Sword, it’s used 69 times in 63 verses in the KJB NT, but it’s translated as ‘divorce’ only twice. The word for divorce is apostasies, Strong’s G647. It’s use only 3 times in the NT, all being a form of divorce. Given how apoluō is used elsewhere and given that you can’t just swap apostasies and apoluō in every other context, then what you have is a red-flag: so you have to consider #3 (bias) as a possibility.
What put the nail in the coffin for me was Deut. 24 (KJB): write a bill of divorce, put it in her hand, send her out; then she may re-marry. Sending out is a tertiary action to the prior requirements. In other words, writing a divorce and giving it to her must have already occurred before sending her out. Since putting away (sending out) is not writing a bill of divorce, we have to view them as different activities, although related. A question then, might be this: did Jewish men put away their wives without divorcing them? I’ll leave that to you to research.
But the clincher is far more subtle.
If Jesus was actually taught that sending out a wife was the same as writing a bill of divorce, and that remarriage after a legitimate divorce caused adultery, then He would have contradicted the Law: Deuteronomy 24:2 – And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.
But we need to remember that “to catch him in His words” (Mk 12:13) was a goal of the Pharisees. However, scripture is clear: in failing to do that, they eventually left Him alone (Mk: 12:34). So, either the Pharisees didn’t notice that Jesus was breaking the Law, or they understood that putting away a wife was different from divorcing one.
IMO, this scripture was translated with bias in the KJB. The traditional interpretation causes us to put on blinders and make excuses for Jesus and/or scripture. This interpretation, on the other hand, coalesces with scripture and adds cohesion between both Testaments, while insuring that Jesus kept and fulfilled the law.
At first I really liked this.. but heres the thing.. jesus said “but I say unto you…”which meant he WASN’T agreeing with the fact that all they needed to do was give the wife a letter of divorcement and it would be all good… It seems like he wasn’t agreeing with the practice of putting away at all in any form.. Pls give me your thoughts i am even more confused now… The Seeker..