Sermon: Genesis 2:24-25: Marriage, Divorce, And Remarriage: Divorce

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 2:24–25

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:24–25, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Matthew 19:1-9

“Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:1–9, ESV)



Over the years I have preached many sermons. And there have been many times when after having preached a sermon I thought to myself, I could have preached that text or that topic much better than I did. I readily admit it, I have preached some poor sermons. But there was one sermon that I preached years ago that I wish I had never preached. That sermon was on the text of Matthew 19 and on the subject of divorce and remarriage. 

I actually dug up the outline to that sermon and found that it was dated August 22, 2010, about a year prior to the founding of Emmaus. In that sermon on Matthew 19 and on the topic of divorce and remarriage I presented something like what is called the “permanence view” of marriage. In essence the permanence view is that the one flesh union established by God in the marriage covenant is permanent, death being the only thing that can dissolve it. And so although divorce may be permitted under certain circumstances, remarriage never is, for the one flesh union remains intact until the death of one of the spouses. To divorce and remarry under any and all circumstances, therefore, is to commit adultery according to the permanence view. 

J. Carl Laney is a proponent of the permanence view. Listen to how he defines marriages in his book, “No Divorce and No Remarriage”. Marriage is “God’s act of joining a man and a woman in a permanent, covenanted, one-flesh relationship” (Laney, 20). In the same book he also says, “I believe Scripture teaches that marriage was designed by God to be permanent unto death, and that divorce and remarriage constitute the sin of adultery” (Laney, 16). John Piper is also a proponent of the permanence view of marriage. His view is that the “New Testament [prohibits]… all remarriage except in the case where a spouse has died” (Piper, Divorce and Remarriage: A Position Paper).

As I have said, I wish that I had never preached that sermon. Over the past eight years I have come to see that my knowlede of the subject was very limited and my study was rushed. If my memory is correct the one thing I did do in that sermon that brings me some comfort was to acknowledging that I was not sure of myself and could be wrong. I preached being open and honest about my uncertainty. Actually, I do not believe that a pastor should ever preach with uncertainty. If he is uncertain then it would be better for him to keep his mouth shut. But given that I failed to keep my mouth shut, I am at least glad that I was honest about my uncertainty. 

Emmaus was established in June of 2011. And as I started off in full time pastoral ministry I found that this topic of divorce and remarriage kept popping up. One situation after another would arise which had this issue of divorce and remarriage either at the center of it or in the background. Brothers and sisters, I do not like this subject, but I couldn’t get away from it. Those who know me best could tell you that over the years (and especially in the early years of Emmaus) I often had a book on the subject of divorce and remarriage out on my desk. I was constantly being driven back to this topic by the situations I was encountering as a pastor. 

Thankfully, I began to have strong doubts concerning the permanence view of marriage early on in Emmaus’ history. But it did take me some time to fully shed that view and to develop firm convictions of my own concerning this difficult subject. I have been settled in my view for a few years now. I’ve had discussions with some of you about my view on the subject. The elders of Emmaus have also considered the issue and are of the same mind. And now the time has come for me to publicly repent of the erroneous views that I presented back in 2010 and to present teaching on this subject that is faithful to scripture. 

Brothers and sisters, please forgive me for my careless handling of scriptures back in 2010 on this subject of divorce and remarriage. I know that it has caused some unnecessary angst for some of you, and I do seek your forgiveness.

The teaching that I present today and on the next Lord’s Day is the result of years of thought and study on this subject. I am happy to no longer feel uncertain about the teaching of scripture, but that does not mean that I no longer find the issue of divorce and remarriage very challenging. Understanding what the scriptures say on the subject is one thing. Applying the truth of scripture to the often complicated circumstances that arise within the lives of God’s people is another thing all together. This subject is a difficult one for pastors, and it always will be. We should proceed with great caution and with humility.  

Todays sermon is on the subject of divorce. The sermon next Sunday will be on the subject of remarriage. These two sermons really need to be considered together. 

I should also say that the elders have read Jim Newheiser’s book “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage” and agree with his handling of this very difficult subject. I will only be able to say so much in these two sermons. If you have questions about divorce and remarriage that are not addressed in these two sermons I would urge you schedule a meeting with me and/or to grab a copy of Newheiser’s book. He does address a number of difficult questions, and he does so in a clear and concise manner. 

So what does the Bible say about divorce? 


I. God’s Design For Marriage Is That It Last For Life

First of all, it must be stated that God’s design for marriage is that it last for life. There is a sense, therefore, in which me might say that God’s will for us is that we never divorce. 

This point has already been established in this sermon series, but it needs to be restated here. Remember that we have defined marriage as “a lifelong covenant of companionship between a man and a woman that has been established under God and before the community.”

Understanding this basic principle – that God’s design for marriage is that it last for life – will help us to understand much of what the scriptures have to say on the subject of divorce and remarriage. 

As a general rule, marriage is to last for life. As a general rule, it is “till death do us part”. This does not mean that there are no exceptions to this general rule (we will look at those exceptions momentarily), but the general rule must be established before the exceptions can be stated and understood. And so the scriptures time and time again establish the general rule that marriages are to last for life. 

Remember the words of Christ in Matthew 19. When answering the question of the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause? He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4–6, ESV)

What is God’s ideal for marriage? That it last for life. 

And take for example that famous text in Malachi 2:16 where we are told most bluntly that the “LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce…” (Malachi 2:16, NKJV). Is it true that God hates divorce? Well, yes it is true, for the scriptures clearly say that he does. But we must pay careful attention to the context lest we misunderstand what is being said here. 

In Malachi 2:13 we read,  “And this is the second thing you do: You cover the altar of the LORD with tears, With weeping and crying; So He does not regard the offering anymore, Nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the LORD has been witness Between you and the wife of your youth, With whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion And your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence, Says the LORD of hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.” (Malachi 2:13–16, NKJV)

Why does God hate divorce? Because it is a violation of his design for marriage – marriage being a life long covenant of companionship. Whenever there is divorce someone has violated the marriage covenant, either by committing the sin of adultery, or by divorcing without just cause. This is thing that God “hates”. This was the thing being addressed by Malachi the prophet – men were putting away their wives for no good reason. They were dealing “treacherously” with their wives, and as a result the alter of the LORD was being covered with tears – the tears of the wives and children presumably. 

There are many passages in the holy scriptures which speak strongly against divorce and forcefully in favor of marriage lasting for life. Why? Because this is the ideal. This is God’s revealed will. 


II. Under Some Circumstances Divorce Is Permitted

Secondly, we must recognize that under some circumstances divorce is permitted.

This point should be considered in two parts. One, divorce as it was permitted for those under the Old Covenant. And two, divorce as it is permitted for those under the New Covenant. 

First of all let us consider that divorce was permitted under the Old Covenant. In other words the people of Israel were permitted to divorce. The law of God given to them through Moses permitted divorce, and also regulated it.

It would be good for you to turn with me to Deuteronomy 24. There we read in verse 1, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 24:1–4, ESV)

A few things should be noticed about this passage. One, divorce was by no means commanded or encouraged under Moses. Two, divorce (and remarriage) was permitted under Moses. And three, divorce (and remarriage) was regulated under Moses. In fact that is what this Deuteronomy passage is most about – the regulation of the existing practice of divorce. If a man was going to divorce his wife, or a wife her husband, a certificate of divorce would need to be given. What would the purpose of that certificate be except to show that the marriage had in fact been dissolved, that the man or woman was not longer obligated to fulfill martial duties, and that the divorced person was free to remarry. And what is expressly forbidden in this passage? Notice that the law of Moses did not forbid divorce (or even remarriage after divorce), but a woman returning to her first husband after the divorce once she had married another. That is thing forbidden under Moses – a divorce, and new marriage, and then a returning back to the first spouse if the second marriage ended in either divorce or in the death of the second spouse. What we see here in Deuteronomy 24 is the regulation of the practice of divorce.

We know that in the days of Jesus there were questions about valid grounds for divorce. There were some who held the position that a man was free to divorce his wife for just about any reason, and there were others who believed that valid reasons for divorce were much more limited in number. It was that debate concerning valid grounds for divorce that gave the Pharisees of Matthew 19 the opportunity to put Jesus to the test by asking “is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause? (Matthew 19:3, ESV)”. The Jews in Jesus’ day debated over the law on this point. They wondered, how are we to understand Deuteronomy 24 and the words, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce… etc., etc.”(Deuteronomy 24:1, ESV). The Jews in Jesus’ day debated over what Moses meant when he said, “if then she finds no favor in his eyes”, and “because he has found some indecency in her.” What does that include? Can a man divorce his wife because she is a bad cook, for example? Or does the offence need to be more severe? What are the valid grounds for divorce according to the law? That was the question they debated over, and that was the question that they put to Jesus. Jesus, what is your understanding of the law of Moses on this point? They hoped to trip him up and entangle him in this messy debate. 

Jesus’ answer surprised the Pharisees. 

First of all, He refused to approach Deuteronomy 24 as if it answered their questions regarding divorce but went instead to Genesis 2:24-25. In other words the Pharisees were focused on Deuteronomy 24 thinking that that passage answered the question of valid grounds, but Jesus took them to another text – one that was earlier and more foundational. Jesus replied to the Pharisees saying, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4–6, ESV). Jesus presented God’s ideal for marriage established at creation by quoting Genesis 2:24-25. Jesus, when is it appropriate for a man to divorce his wife?, the Pharisees asked. And what was Jesus’ answer? God’s ideal is that they remain together forever. 

The Pharisees pressed him further saying,  “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” (Matthew 19:7, ESV). Clearly these man had Deuteronomy 24 in view. Their question is reasonable. It is as if they said, if it is true that marriage is to last for life then how are were to understand the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 24 which speak of divorce but do not forbid it outright? 

Jesus’ answer: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8, ESV). 

This is a very important verse in helping us to understand divorce as it was under the Old Mosaic Covenant. Jesus’ interpretation of the law was that marriage was to last for life, that divorce was permitted (or tolerated) under Moses due to the hardness of the people’s hearts, and that it was regulated by Moses. In other words, the Pharisees were laboring to understand the grounds for divorce from Deuteronomy 24 and Jesus essentially said, you will not find them there. Deuteronomy 24 has to do with the regulation of the practice of divorce which was tolerated under Moses due to the hardness of the people’s hearts, but God’s ideal is that marriage last for life.  “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” 

It should be remembered, brothers and sisters, that Old Covenant Israel was a mixed people. There were many – indeed, very many – within Israel who did not know the Lord. They were of Israel externally, but not inwardly. They were circumcised according to the flesh, but not of the heart. The law of Moses which was used to govern this mixed multitude included laws which regulated the practice of divorce, but did not forbid it altogether. This was due to the hardness of their hearts. Divorce was tolerated under the Old Covenant, but even then the ideal for the marriage relationship was that it be permanent.

One last thing that needs to be said before we move on to consider divorce under the New Covenant. We should not forget that under the Old Covenant the penalty for the sin of adultery was death.  The adulterer and the adulteress were to be put to death under Moses. Leviticus 20:10 says, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10, ESV). The sin of adultery is such a violation of God’s moral law and such a violation of the marriage covenant that under Moses the adulterer and the adulteress were to be put death. I was tempted here to go off on a tangent concerning the law of Moses and how we are to understand it now that we are under the New Covenant and in Christ, but that will have to wait for another time. For now, let this fact stand – under Moses the sin of adultery was to be punished by death.

Under the New Covenant two things happen that have a direct impact on this subject of divorce and remarriage.

First of all, with the transition from the Old Covenant to the New we find that civil laws that governed Israel no longer govern God’s people. To put it differently, under the Old Covenant church and state were united as one, but under the New Covenant church and state are distinct. No longer does God have a particular nation that is his own, but is calling his elect from all the peoples of the earth. His kingdom is expanding to the ends of the earth through the proclamation of the gospel. This is not accomplished through military conquest, but by the word and Spirit. The expansion of Christ’s kingdom has nothing to do with boarders, but souls rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of light. And under the New Covenant God’s people (the church) do not wield the sword – the state does. It is not the churches job to enforce civil law. It is not the churches job to try criminals and to punish. The state has the responsibility to do so, but not the church. Under the New Covenant God’s kingdom is not of this world. The weapons of his kingdom are not sword and spear, but word and Spirit. 

How does all of this apply to the subject of divorce (and remarriage)? Well, it is very important to recognize that the sin of adultery, which under the Old Covenant was punishable by death, is no longer punishable by death under the New. 

Let me put the matter this way. If under the Old Covenant the subject of divorce (and remarriage) was being discussed the question of the sin of adultery being a valid grounds for divorce and remarriage would not have arisen, for the penalty for adultery was death. But under the New Covenant this question does arise, for the New Covenant people of God are not governed by the civil laws of Old Covenant Israel. The Israel of God (the church) under the New Covenant is governed by the civil laws of the nations where God has placed them providentially. You have probably noticed that the civil laws under which we live do not have death as the penalty for adultery. In fact, in most States there is no penalty at all for the sin of adultery (I believe it is true that there are 20 States in our Union in which adultery is still a crime, but it is very rare for there to be any prosecutions). 

So under the New Covenant this question must be addressed. Is the sin of adultery a valid ground for divorce for the Christian? And the answer is yes.

Jesus says so most directly in the Matthew 19 passage that we have been considering. Verse 9: “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9, ESV).

Ordinarily, marriage is to last for life. To divorce and remarry is to commit adultery. The one exception given by Christ is in the case of the sin of adultery, or sexual immorality, committed by ones spouse. The sin of adultery so violates the marriage covenant that divorce (and as we will see, remarriage) is permitted. 

There is one other situation in which a Christian is free to divorce (and as we will see, remarry), and that is in the case of abandonment by a non-believing spouse.

Listen to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7 and starting in verse 8: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord [this means that this is something that Christ addressed in his ministry]): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife [this is the general rule – divorce is not an option for the believer, with the one stated exception being the sin of adultery]. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord [in other words, Jesus did not address this directly, but Paul is addressing it here) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:8–16, ESV)

Paul’s teaching agrees with Jesus’, as you would expect it to. But Paul is here applying the teaching of Christ to the difficult circumstances that arrise within the church. What does he add? Ordinarily, marriage is for life. If a believing husband and wife do separate they should not remarry but work towards reconciliation. And if a Christian is abandoned by his or her unbelieving spouse, “let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved.” I take this to mean that the brother our sister does not sin by going through with the divorce. It probably also means that the abandoned Christian is also free to remarry, though I would urge the Christian to proceed with caution here. It is likely that the non-believer who has abandoned the Christian will remarry. By remarrying he or she will commit adultery, leaving the abandoned spouse free to remarry, with no doubt.  



Brothers and sisters, this is such a complicated subject. I’ll admit that it is difficult to understand the teaching of scripture concerning divorce and remarriage. I struggled to understand it, as I said. But this subject is made exceedingly complicated by the difficult situations that people (even Christians) get themselves into because of their sin. In this sermon I have only presented the basic teaching of scripture concerning divorce. I understand that I have left many questions unanswered. You can probably think of dozens of hypothetical situations and ask, “what if…?” Please bring those questions to me so that we can work through them together. 

Let me close by making a few points of application. 

First of all, it must be said that although divorce without Biblical grounds is a sin, it is not an unforgivable sin. To the one who has sinfully divorced in the past I would say, acknowledge your sin, turn from it, do everything in your power to undo the dammage that has been done (which might involve reconciling with your previous spouse provided that neither of you have remarried)  and look to Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Christ is able to cleanse you and to restore you. Run to him. 

Secondly (and this point is going to sound very strange to you at first), it must me recognized that divorce is, under some circumstances, and in a certain sense, good. True, God hates divorce. True, divorce is always the result of some sin. True, divorce will always be accompanied by a great deal of sorrow. But with that said, there is a sense in which it is good. It is good in that it protects the innocent spose from being joined for life to a spouse that is unfaithful.   Here is that way that Jay Adams put it: “Even though all divorces are the result of sin, not all divorces are sinful” (Adams, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, 30). To put it more directly, if you have divorced with Biblical grounds – due to adultery or abandonment – you need not feel the least bit guilty about that. You will likely feel grief and sorrow over the divorce, but you need not feel guilt.   

Thirdly, it should be recognized that although divorce is permitted the case of adultery it is not required. A husband or wife who has been sinned against in this way may choose to remain in the marriage. Of course this would require repentance from the adulterer. This would require forgiveness from the one sinned against. And this would require a great deal of effort as the husband and wife would need to work to restore the marriage and to rebuild trust. Though this road may be difficult, it is not impossible, especially with Christ at work within the midst of it. 

Consider this. A Christian must forgive those who have sinned against them from the heart even if there is no repentance. If there is repentance, that forgiveness must be transacted – forgiveness must be extended. Extending forgiveness does not mean that everything goes back to how it used to be. In other words, a Christian is not obligated to take his or her adulterous spouse back just because they say the words “I’m sorry, please forgive me” – adultery is a valid grounds for divorce. But if the repentance is true the Christian spouse does have an opportunity to extend a grace to the one who has sinned and to keep the marriage in tact. In my opinion, this would be a very beautiful reflection of the love of Christ for his church. We have been so terribly unfaithful to our God, and yet takes us back time and time again in Christ Jesus. 

I will say one more thing about keeping a marriage intact after the sin of adultery. If a husband or wife chooses that rout (to continue on with the marriage despite the sin of unfaithfulness), then the threat of divorce needs to be set aside after that decision is made. Do you have grounds for divorce if your spouse has been unfaithful? Yes you do. Must you divorce? No, you may remain in the marriage if your spouse is repentant. But if you choose to stay married the sin of adultery needs to be forgiven and not held against your spouse any longer. In other words, at some point (and I’m not sure how long this will take) the one has been sinned against needs to say, “I forgive you, I’m staying, I no longer have grounds for divorce. Till death do us part.” It should not be difficult to understand why this would be important.  

Fourthly, if you are a Christian and a member of a church that takes the responsibility of exercising biblical church discipline seriously (every Christian should be), the church must be involved in the process of determining whether divorce is permissible. I feel for the Christian who attends a church without membership and without discipline when deep troubles within the marriage arise leading to divorce. Marriage is instituted publicly and before witness. The decision to divorce should also involve witnesses. If a Christian man or woman has committed adultery the church must be involved. If a Christian man or woman abandons his or her spouse the church must be involved. If a Christian is considering or going through a divorce the church must be involved to either oppose or support the decision.  

Fifthly, let us do everything in our power to protect our marriages, brothers and sisters. 


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