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Q: The New Testament seems to support divorce for a narrow range of reasons, but does it support remarriage?
—K.A.Miller, Wheaton, Illinois

A: There are three New Testament passages that bear most directly on the subject of divorce and remarriage. I suggest that when they are carefully considered, they prove to be both more demanding and less restrictive on the question of divorce and remarriage than evangelicals have often acknowledged.

Luke 16:18 is a very bold, straightforward saying that seems to settle the issue quickly: "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery" (all quotations from the NRSV). Both divorce and remarriage are just plain wrong—right?

Almost all New Testament scholars agree that this saying is an abbreviation of a saying of Jesus that appears in its fuller form in Matthew 5:31–32 in the Sermon on the Mount. After discussing his views contrasted with those in Judaism, Jesus remarks, "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

It is noteworthy that Jesus clearly sees some circumstances that legitimize divorce. A marriage continues to be valid until one party dissolves the marriage through unfaithfulness. This so-called exception clause appears here in Matthew 5 and again in Matthew 19 but does not occur in either Mark or Luke.

In a similar passage in Mark 10:11–12, Jesus widens the scope of the teaching to show that such dissolution may apply to the behavior of either the man or the woman ...

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In the Magazine

October 4, 1999

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