Marrying Your First Husband Again

Many things can be said, and have been, about divorce and remarriage. I want to make just a few additional observations, using as a platform the odd legislation found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

In order to set the context, I hold the common view among evangelicals that divorce and remarriage is not permitted unless the other party has been guilty of sexual uncleanness (Matt. 19:9) or the other party is an unbeliever who has deserted the believer (1 Cor. 7:15).

That said, here is the passage from Deuteronomy.

“When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the Lord: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance” (Deut. 24:1-4).

So I want to briefly state what I think this is talking about, and then go on to make a series of observations that I think should be relevant to those who hold to the “no remarriage possible” point of view.

The first husband here divorces his wife for cause (“some uncleanness in her”). This means that he could divorce her without a financial penalty. In the ancient world husbands could divorce their wives at will, but if it was without cause, the wife would receive a financial settlement and/or her own dowry. So this first divorce meant that the divorcing husband profited financially from how the whole thing went down. She goes out without a settlement.

So his ex-wife marries again, but finds herself free from that marriage, either by a certain kind of divorce or because the second husband dies. Because of how she comes to be free from this second marriage, she has benefited financially. She either has the inheritance because her second husband died, or she has a financial settlement because he divorced her for subjective reasons (“hate her”) and not for cause.

This law is very particular about why and how these divorces occur. The first one is for cause and the second one isn’t.  Part of the reason we can tell the second one isn’t for cause is because it leaves the wife in an equivalent legal position to that of a widow.

Now I believe that this law is intended to prevent a husband from profiting off the same woman twice, and doing so by contradictory moves. He profits first by rejecting her, and then (after she has come into some money), he profits by accepting her.

Now having set this up, I wanted to point out a few curious things about all this. I don’t believe that this law can be lined up with an absolutist “no second marriage” position, for the following four reasons.

The background question behind all these reasons listed below is this. What is the difference between adultery proper, the kind a private detective could catch you in, and adultery in principle, the kind that God judges you for because it is tantamount in His sight to adultery. We all agree there is such a distinction if we don’t allow legal divorce on the grounds of fifteen seconds of lust for another woman.

I am arguing that when adultery occurs in and through marriage/divorce/remarriage, it is the kind of adultery that God judges, and that only God can sort out. This means that the adulterous second union (if it is adulterous) would have to be adultery in principle, the same way that unconsummated lust is adultery in principle (Matt. 5:28), and not adultery under any legal definition. Put another way, when it is judged as such, it is as a sin and not as a crime.

So here are the four reasons.

First, if the second marriage is adultery proper, then we would have to ask why the wife of the second man is called his wife, and ask further why a bill of divorce would be necessary for him to put her away. Wouldn’t there have to be some kind of qualification in the text, the way we do with scare quotes. If the second “husband” hates his “wife,” then he should give her a bill of “divorce.” But the text doesn’t do this. The woman is as much the wife of the second man as she is of the first.

Second, if the second marriage is adultery proper, then this would have to be because the first husband is still married to her “in God’s sight.” Now that is a troublesome phrase and it has caused a lot of trouble. For example, what is it when a divorced couple have sex with each other? If they are married in God’s sight, it should be okay. But if not, then why not? That said, we can still work with the phrase provisionally here.

The only way the second marriage could be adultery in any ongoing sense would be if the first marriage had continuing and ongoing validity. If the first marriage has continuing validity, then the second marriage is adulterous in an ongoing way. If the second marriage is adulterous, it is because the first marriage has a continuing claim. But then, actual contents of this law are inexplicable. When the second marriage ends (however it ends) if the law prohibits a reconciliation between the first husband and the wife, then this means that the first marriage does not have any continuing claim. What good is a claim that cannot be claimed? What reality does a claim have if no claim can be made on the basis of it?

Third, if the second marriage is adultery proper, then the first husband should simply be able to forgive her and take her back. David took Michal back after her marriage to Paltiel (2 Sam. 3:15), and it seems that in instances like this, the first marriage took precedence when there had been no lawful second marriage (for there had been no divorce).

Fourth, if the second marriage is adultery proper then the free statement — she may go and be another man’s wife — is curious. Jesus tells us that Moses permitted divorce because of hardness of heart, but it is interesting what happens to this woman in the context of Israel’s worship. This is a remarried woman in the commonwealth of Israel, and in none of the tabernacle restrictions (which are numerous and detailed) do we find any exclusion of women in this category.

All this, together with the other scriptural passages, leads me to conclude that adultery need not be present with all remarriages. But when it is — as the Lord’s teaching shows that it can be — it is adultery in the sight of God, and He will judge it.

There are other things that could be said about the issues that this passage raises, but that’ll do for the present.

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Jack
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Jack

“I am arguing that when adultery occurs in and through marriage/divorce/remarriage, it is the kind of adultery that God judges, and that only God can sort out. This means that the adulterous second union (if it is adulterous) would have to be adultery in principle, the same way that unconsummated lust is adultery in principle (Matt. 5:28), and not adultery under any legal definition. Put another way, when it is judged as such, it is as a sin and not as a crime.” If this type of adultery is only sin in principle, then why does Paul describe it in… Read more »

David Bennett
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David Bennett

  Doug:     While respecting you greatly as a friend, a dear brother, and my theological superior, I think there are some additional and very important points which need to be drawn out.     “In order to set the context,” I hold the view that was universal amongst our Early Church Fathers (save for Ambrosiaster), which also was the predominant view throughout the first 1500 years of the Church, to wit that remarriage following a civil divorce is contrary to biblical Christianity. This conviction’s recent fall from favor has been (predictably) accompanied by our now POMO redefinition(s) of… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

I can’t find any reference in the text to a profit element.  Could equally have been love or sympathy or lust.  Either way, he presumably gained something, I suppose.  Are we agreeing that her defiling was self-inflicted prior to, and led her husband to bring upon her her first divorce?   Whatever else this means, I hear that once God divorces me, I have no eternal hope of coming back.

Gianni
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Gianni

“When the second marriage ends (however it ends) if the law prohibits a reconciliation between the first husband and the wife, then this means that the first marriage does not have any continuing claim.”   “…does not have any continuing claim”, contrary to what the advocates of “married in God’s sight” would maintain, right? Good point.   “This means that the adulterous second union (if it is adulterous) would have to be adultery in principle, the same way that unconsummated lust is adultery in principle (Matt. 5:28), and not adultery under any legal definition. Put another way, when it is… Read more »

Gianni
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Gianni

Thanks! But . . . how did you do paragraph breaks? : )
 

Gianni
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Gianni

<p>test</p>
<p>test </p>
<p>test</p>

Rebecca
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Rebecca

And yet, during the Victorian Era, people generally “thought that in some very extreme and extraordinary cases a divorce was allowable…It certainly was not meant to be an anarchical position. But the Catholic Church, standing almost alone, declared that it would in fact lead to an anarchical position; and the Catholic Church was right. Any man with eyes in his head…who looks at the world as it is to-day, must know that the whole social substance of marriage has changed…the marble has turned to ice…The Church was right to refuse even the exception.” (from The Well and the Shallows, G.… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Baffled.  You are saying your understanding about the ancient near east’s alimony practices impinges on the God’s standard.  Please make clear that in the text itself there is NO mention of monetary obligations.

Zachary Skrip
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Just a quick question to those of the “no remarriage allowed” view: Do you believe Jesus was saying a man or woman should be allowed to remarry if their spouse cheats on them (a la Mat 19)? I have a Catholic friend whose husband cheated on her repeatedly and unrepentantly so she divorced him. She’s now all upset that she cannot have the eucharist because she is about to remarry. (I think there are other more important issues, but that’s where we’re at.) I showed her the passage out of Mat 19 and she started to cry with the freedom.… Read more »

Robert
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Robert

I have never seen a Bible verse that said In God’s sight. If divorce weren’t real and legal, then the Law require that the woman and second husband be executed for adultery

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Zach — our marriages & divorces are types.  Derivatives.  The well, the source, cometh down to us from up yonder.  So if THE BIG MAN can divorce and happily remarry, then your Catholic friend is in good company.

Zachary Skrip
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Eric, I am preaching Eph 5 every chance I get, but that still doesn’t help me understand Mat 19 or 1 Cor 7. Please, how do you deal with Mat 19?

Jack
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Jack

Zack, Here are a few thoughts on your questions. Matthew 19:9 can be understood in two ways within the permanence view of marriage. 1. The Patristics understood the exception to allow for divorce, but not remarriage. This understanding harmonizes all the verses in a way that doesn’t contradict other verses that say, “anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” 2. The exception clause is only found in Matthew, which was written for a Jewish audience, and is dealing with the betrothal period of marriage. This is similar to our engagement. Matthew also mentions Joseph’s plan to put Mary away.… Read more »

Davy
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Davy
Zachary Skrip
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Jack – Thanks for your comment. That helps me out. I’m not ready to speak further on 1 Cor 7 (been a few years since I prepped that passage), but I did recently do Mat 19. I understand your interpretation but I find it unconvincing. It seems to me that the exception clause, coming after “release” and before “marries another” would spend most of it’s rhetorical force on what precedes it, allowing for the following information to stay in effect. Thanks for helping me see that perspective. It’s something I’ll have to keep thinking about. I certainly see the benefit… Read more »

David Bennett
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David Bennett

  Zack:   It is always important to consider the logical ends towards which one’s theology points. When you consider the outworkings of what is the current, mainstream Christian belief about Matthew 19:9 (that is, allowing divorce/remarriage for adultery occurring within a marriage), it becomes evident that living out such an interpretation so violently deprecates marriage that it is inconsistent with any semblance of biblical marriage. I agree with Jack’s historic interpretation of the ‘exception clause’. Consider the modern alternative: if it were true that marital adultery really and totally terminated a marriage (or if such adultery gave warrant for… Read more »

David Bennett
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David Bennett

Oops/Correction:  The Ezekiel reference clearly demonstrating covenant permanence includes Ezekiel 17:11-21.

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Zach – forgive my cranial density.  What is troublesome in Matthew?  I divorce my wife for her infidelities.  Some dude who later fancies her and wants to connect with her is only encouraging her and reinforcing her adulterous behavior.

David
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David

Thanks for taking the time to write up this post, Doug. Here are some of my questions for and responses to what you argue. Why did you choose to respond to a matter in a post-ascension context with a case-situation dealt with somewhat differently in the pre-incarnation context? Shouldn’t we affirm progressive revelation here? As mentioned elsewhere in the comments, you didn’t address what Jesus said regarding why Moses gave that law in the first place. It had to do with their stubbornness, not with their desire to be holy, i.e. it isn’t normative in directing holiness in the commission… Read more »

jeff hildebrand
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jeff hildebrand

Hello
   If Joseph was going to put Mary away for uncleanness in the NT isn’t it safe to assume that the passages about puttin into the Old testament about putting away a wife means the same thing, the betrothed wife in a marriage that wasnt consummated yet ?
   After all, if uncleanness included adultery there would be a conflict with the passages that required stoning of adulterers in the OT. Uncleanness (porneia) I believe is only related to those who are betrothed…