Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Where do I begin? I might as well start where it all started twenty-six years ago. The subject of divorce and remarriage. I want to remind you that none of these posts on various theological subjects will be a definitive statement of research, but rather, a narrative of my journey.

When I first began pastoring at age seventeen I had no idea of biblical Truth and Authority. That is particularly true of the subject of marriage. I thought I was suppose to marry anyone with a valid license. That may be an overwhelming reason to believe what scripture says about not "suffering a novice to teach" Of course I didn't know that reference either. It didn't take long for that to be corrected. I then went to the opposite extreme and came to believe no Christian should be divorced and, were they to be, there was no possibility of remarriage without living in adultery and grieving the Spirit for the rest of their life. The exception clause pertained to the engagement period in my newfound theology.

Enter 1980. I began to see the scripture as my sole authority and here is what I now know for sure about divorce and remarriage. I know no one should approach marriage casually. "What God has joined...no one puts asunder" is serious stuff in scripture. I also know that many opt out too quickly when trouble comes. Mary and I have discovered the forty-seven years we've stuck it out, and some of those years were unbelievablly difficult times, are now paying dividends. But it is often true that comes later not early on.

Having said that, I know it is true in scripture that divorce does not turn a person into a leper. In fact, in scripture, those hurting the most, and divorce hurts, are the ones Jesus gave the greatest attention to in expressing love and compassion. To see any action as invalidating the worth of an individual is certainly contrary to everything biblical.

So, while those things I know for sure here are some things I'm not so sure about yet I now hold to because of my understanding of the text of scripture. The Bible gives three reasons for a marriage to end. Death, divorce because of "porneia", [Matt.] and desertion. [1 Corth.] As I see it, the right to remarry is given because of the ending of the marriage covenant in each case. The marriage covenant is for life with these exceptions, but is not eternal as there is no marriage in heaven. I do not see in the text mentioned here a command to end the marriage covenant but the right to do so. I know God hates divorce but He did divorce Israel and established a New Covenant relationship. That choice may be made in these three cases it seems to me. I also believe that "porneia" is broader than adultery and really covers a host of sexual sins as a pattern. So, marriage is God's best, but divorce is permitted on certain grounds with remarriage is a viable option for the innocent party. Discernment and insight must be used to weigh what constitutes desertion obviously.

It is also obvious that each case must be examined individually, but always in a biblical fashion. Someone told me right after coming to this in the eighties that I was "cutting a hole in the fence of the marriage covenant and whose to say other chickens who shouldn't will go through." [Actual words.] My response was and is...we only teach what God says/allows as we see it and the guarding of the hole [so to speak] is in His capable hands.

The reason I say..."I'm not sure" on this is for two reasons. One is, I've held other views that I later had greater light on as I examined the text. While Revelation doesn't continue in my opinion, my enlightenment does. Also, good men stand on both sides of this issue so I always want to be careful of dogmatism when that's true. More light does come and I want to be teachable. But this is what I teach without rancor toward those who disagree or hold a different view.

Next time...divorced Deacons/Elders and Women in ministry. [It was my second call to reconsider my held views in those turbulent eighties.]



Kevin Bussey said...


This series is very timely for me and the church I'm in. I look forward to learning from your wisdom!

Anonymous said...

Christians need strong biblical truth in love with grace, just as your words are attempting to show. Thank you. Does the Samaritan woman at the well add anything to this discussion?

art rogers said...


Thanks for your genuine transparency.

I have a question for you. Would you catagorize physical, emotional or verbal abuse in any of these catagories?

I will own up and say that I do. I have known folks who say that a wife who is beaten should stay married and pray for help, if she is divorced she should seek reconciliation and/or she can never, under any circumstances, be remarried.

I have a hard time reconciling that with Scripture.

Divorce is a terrible thing. My parents are divorced - I know how bad it is, so I hope no one takes that out of context as me lobbying for divorce. I would never do that.

Thanks again.


Bob Cleveland said...


I believe the 1 Corinthians reference is to the unbelieving partner departing. I'm not aware of other references to desertion in that context.

The immorality reference, unless I'm mistaken, states that if you divorce for other reasons than that, and remarry, you commit adultery. I do not recall it says divorce is "ok" in those circumstances.

My personal position is that God hates divorce .. and that's a blanket statement .. and it doesn't say except for this or that.

BUT .. season that with this thought: something God hates and that Jesus said "let NO MAN..." of ... you'd think God would be really, really clear about that. But it's not, at least not as far as human minds seem to be able to perceive.

SO ... maybe it is that God really is interested in the heart, and Jesus grace really DOES exceed our comprehension. It's true that we'll have to stand there and explain it some day, but I suspect we'll all be pretty busy doing that, with or without divorce.

I'll settle for grace, and His promise that He will personally sustain my marriage and I ain't never, ever gonna give up on it.

Speaking of which: 47 years? Small world again. We hit 48 next March 13th. And yes, it was Friday the 13th!

Paul Burleson said...


Thanks. I think the next post will speak to your concerns if I've read your thoughtful comments on other blogs correctly.


Apart from the fact that her condition [multiple marriages and a present non-marriage] did not disqualify her from experiencing God's Grace and Compassion, it probably isn't germaine to this discussion since it was all before her conversion. That's a discussion within itself though isn't it.


There are those who catagorize unrepentent actions of physical/sexual and other abuses as evidence of an unbelieving heart. An unwillingness to repentent, remember, brings an "infidel" assumption. They say were the Church to deal honestly and confront correctly marriages that are in trouble there could be help in discerning where believers/unbelievers stood in regards to such behavior.

They may be right.


I'm not sure I understand your second paragraph. But, the Jesus passage in Matthew [Mark etc.] and the Pauline passage in 1 Corinthians were given as an "except for this or that". His hatred of it doesn't change but His permission for it and a right to remarry are seen to be different than the Moses passage of Deut.24. Sorry if I'm missing you meaning. I often have a foggy brain. :)


Bob Cleveland said...


My thought was that if it links divorce & remarriage with (subsequently) adultery, and the exception to the adultery is where the divorce was for "pornia", then that's all it says. It doesn't say it is ok to divorce in that case, or that God doesn't hate it.

In other words, even where there's adultery, I think the "let not man put asunder" still applies.

I also want to state that the best friend I have is divorced and remarried and he could not be a finer Christian. I have nothing against remarried folks; I just want to be solid, biblically.

Paul Burleson said...


Thanks for clarification. I do hold a slightly different view. I'll try to say it briefly.

I do believe "porneia" is a legitimate ground for divorce [though not a command to divorce] because of the Matt. passage. It seems to me Mark, who makes no mention of the exception, had a different purpose. He was showing the OT grounds listed in Deut. 24 did not fit God's original purpose for marriage. So he does not use the "porneia" clause because it was not germaine to his point. If this were all stated in the NT I would have to concur with you. But Matt comes into play.

Matt is showing to the Jewish audience that "porneia" IS the only legitimate grounds. If Mark had said "not even adultery [porneia]" there would be problems, but he didn't, so there is no contradiction between the two. Paul adds desertion later. So my view is that there are three ways a marital covenant can be ended. Death, divorce because of porneia, [right to not ought to] and desertion. [Meaning believer deserted by unbeliever] [Desertion has to be defined as well as unbeliever ie one who has never professed faith or one who has been judged to not be a believer because of lack of repentence.]

I'm open to more light because this one is not too clear is it.

Again, Thanks for your input and insight.

Paul B.

Bob Cleveland said...

Takes faith to walk in faith when it isn't clear. I think that's why God leaves so much stuff like this lying around.

That's SO like Him, IMO.

Lee said...

You said, "While revelation doesn't continue, IMHO, my enlightenment does."

Thanks for that reminder...

Bro. Robin said...

Bro. Paul

I agree with you on so many things in this post. I am in agreement about your clarification of breaking the marriage covenant with those three senarios. I also agree with your comment that pornia is not a get out of marriage free card. Each situation needs to be evaluated.

Looking forward to your next post.

God Bless

Bro. Robin

Anonymous said...

Paul, I'm becoming impatient for your next post!! :)

Paul Burleson said...

Bryan and Robin,

Thanks guys. With this being the busy time for my traveling, It's been tough to find the time it takes for these old fingers and this old brain to get the job done, but, you are an inspiration to me to get it on the way. It's coming soon. Thanks for your interest.

Paul B.