Bible Teaches Obedience to Law Regarding Marriage

Published December 10, 1987. One-third of those who marry each year have been previously married, research indicates. And many of those who do marry more than once have children they take into a second or third marital relationship. Step-families have become the fastest growing social phenomenon in America.

Not long ago I was talking to a woman who was divorced and had several children. She was dating a man about her own age who had never married. They had gone together for an extended period of time, and yet he was hesitant to make the commitment to marry her. Finally, one night he told her much of his hesitation was derived from a biblical verse. It was in Matthew 5:32 – “Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”

Somehow this man, and undoubtedly others, think that divorced women are somewhat tainted and less desirable for marriage partners than are never-married women. My friend and other divorced Christian women often suffer from a stigma derived from this one verse. She asked me what I thought of it.

I’m not a Bible scholar, but I shared my understanding of this biblical teaching. During the time the Bible was being written, it was common for husbands and wives simply to abandon those they had legally married. The term was “putting them away.” And this was done without any legal proceedings. According to Jewish law, the couple was still legally married even though he or she chose not to live with the other person.

Matthew 5:31 reads, “Whosoever shall put away his wife (or abandon her) let him give her a writing of divorcement.” The terms “writing of divorcement” or “bill of divorcement” described the legal aspects of divorce. In other words, if a husband chose not to live with his legal wife, he should go through the proceedings of legal divorce. Otherwise, if after being abandoned, the woman should marry another man, she would be guilty of not only bigamy (having two husbands) but also of adultery or fornication, which were against the law.

I tried to explain the two biblical verses another way. Suppose I chose not to live with my wife, and we simply separated. If either of us remarried without legal proceedings, we would be guilty of bigamy. If, however, we were legally divorced we could then marry again, legally. I explained to my friend that fornication and adultery were also not only illegal at the time of the Bible but are still illegal in most states, even though few people are prosecuted.

What I think is being taught in the Bible is that people should follow the laws of the land regarding marriage. They should marry, not just co-habit together without legal sanction. Also, if they choose to dissolve the marriage, they should do so legally and not just walk out on each other. By following legal proceedings, they protect each other from breaking additional laws of bigamy, and in many cases, adultery and fornication, should they marry again.

Divorced Christian men and women today should not be considered second-class prospects for marriage. If they abide by the laws of the land, they are not committing adultery if they marry again.

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