Tag Archives: divorce

Does the Bible Permit Divorced Persons to Serve as Church Leaders?


I recall a man in a church who was known and respected by everyone. He volunteered to help when people were in need and provided wise counsel when people were struggling. At a congregational meeting, his name was put forward as candidate for elder. But an objection was raised: 20 years earlier he had been divorced after his wife left him for another man. Even though he’d been faithfully married to his current spouse for many years, some in the congregation wondered if his election as a church leader would violate the standard set by 1 Timothy 3:2 and 1 Timothy 3:12:

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach. (niv)

A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. (niv)

In Greek, the expression translated in most English Bible versions as “husband of one wife” actually reads “one-woman man.”

Some believe this passage implies that anyone who has ever been divorced and remarried is not permitted to serve as an elder or deacon. But this assumes that being a “one-woman man” means never being divorced. And that isn’t always the case.[1]

A number of other considerations must be taken into account in the context of Paul’s letter to Timothy and other New Testament passages. The “one-woman man” standard doesn’t stand alone; it is part of a larger group. First Timothy 3:2-7 seems to teach that a person’s suitability to serve as a church leader rests not only on one qualification, but many. An elder must be:


         blameless

         temperate

         self-controlled

         respectable

         hospitable

         an apt teacher (teachable)

         not given to drunkenness

         gentle

         not quarrelsome

         not greedy or covetous

         a good manager of his household and children

         a seasoned believer

         of good reputation with outsiders


A couple of additional thoughts:

First, the criteria for church leadership doesn’t seem to involve sins committed prior to conversion. The apostle Paul, for example, persecuted the church and participated in the murders of Christians prior to his conversion, yet he became one of the most influential church leaders of all time.

Second, a fair evaluation of an individual should take all circumstances into account. Are those who have struggled to preserve their marriage after being abandoned by an unfaithful spouse really in violation of the “one-woman man” principle?[2] Not likely.[3]

[1] Many scholars believe that this phrase is talking about current character rather than past performance. According to this line of thinking, a twice-divorced person who has been faithful to their spouse for 15 years may be more suitable to serve than a never-divorced person who habitually fosters inappropriate relationships with persons other than their spouse.

[2] Jesus himself acknowledged that sexual sin was legitimate grounds for divorce and remarriage (Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:11).

[3] If a person’s suitability on the basis of one qualification comes into question, his evaluation should continue based on all of the rest. If a local congregation knows that a man’s divorce had truly biblical grounds or occurred prior to his conversion so that he can be considered “blameless” (1 Timothy 3:2) and well-qualified upon the basis of all the other criteria, he can be considered a “one-woman man.”

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Are People Who Divorce and Remarry Without Biblical Grounds Living in a State of Adultery?

Are people who remarry after a divorce on grounds less than sexual infidelity or abandonment living in adultery? The answer seems to be no. The words of Christ— “Anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32)—are in the aorist tense, indicating action specific in time, completed when it occurs. A couple divorced on less than biblical grounds commit adultery when they remarry, but their new marriage is valid.

The New Testament never instructs divorced and remarried people who become Christians to break up their latest marriage, something we might expect if people who remarry after a divorce are considered to be living in a state of perpetual adultery. In fact, Paul definitely instructed married Christians to remain in their present state if at all possible (1 Corinthians 7:15-24). Jesus acknowledged that the Samaritan woman had lived with five husbands, recognizing each marriage contract as a bona fide union (John 4).

Christians commit the sin of adultery when they remarry after a divorce that’s not based on infidelity, but once a new marriage begins they do not live in a continuing state of adultery.

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What Is a Godly Response to Domestic Abuse for an Abused Wife?

Domestic abuse is a one-sided relationship where a spouse regularly seeks to control and punish his or her partner. The most common sort of spousal abuse is that of the husband toward the wife. The abuse can take many forms: verbal, physical, psychological, sexual, and financial. These are the primary methods a man uses to dominate his spouse.

Regardless of the form of abuse, there are no easy answers for a wife whose husband regularly abuses her. Financial concerns, intimidating threats, personal doubts, and a husband’s ability to hide the abuse or make her feel responsibile (when she most certainly is not) are just some of the factors that leave hurting and scared wives feeling cornered with few, if any, options.

As trapped as a wife may feel, she is always free to choose the option of love. Sadly, however, too many have been taught that showing love means that a wife should passively tolerate her husband’s abuse. Love is misunderstood as getting along and not upsetting one’s husband. But a weak, fearful, compliant response usually enables her husband in his abusive patterns. Meek compliance on her part is not best for either of them. Nor does it serve the larger good of a godly marriage. Therefore, it’s not loving.

The Bible says that showing genuine love is to “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” ( Romans 12:9 NIV). In other words, a loving reaction is both compassionate and strong. Although her husband may not see it this way, an abused wife can show that she cares for her husband by sending the strong and consistent message that she will give him consequences for his abusive words and behavior.

A consequence is something that a wife decides to do. It’s not something that she tries to make her husband do. Consequences vary depending on the seriousness of the situation. For instance, a verbally abusive episode (although still serious) often calls for her to simply end the conversation after informing her husband that she won’t continue to talk with him as long as he remains controlling or disrespectful. Situations involving physical abuse may require calling the police and pressing charges. In other cases where there is a longstanding and oppressive pattern of emotional/verbal abuse, legal separation and even divorce are legitimate options to consider, but only as a last resort.

An abused wife shouldn’t expect the situation to turn around quickly. Many abusive husbands apologize and act remorseful, but a wife shouldn’t be misled. An abusive husband’s quick remorse is often just another ploy to regain control. Other men don’t apologize at all and resist admitting the harm they are causing. They continue to minimize their sin and put the blame on others. It frequently requires an abusive husband to undergo an extended time of his own personal suffering before he will come to his senses and begin the long and difficult process of understanding and owning the damage he’s caused. Therefore, a wife committed to loving her husband should be prepared to stand her ground for a long period of time while her husband learns necessary lessons from the consequences he is suffering for his sinful behavior.

An abused wife shouldn’t try to give consequences without help. Confronting her husband without a plan or physical protection can be a grave mistake. It will likely cause her husband to feel threatened. He is used to being in control and giving him negative consequences takes that control away. Therefore, a wife should prepare for the possibility that her husband could resort to physical intimidation and violence to regain control. She needs a plan that would help ensure her safety For example, having several friends present at a point of confrontation, having an escape plan or an alternate place for her and her children to go stay, notifying the police, obtaining a restraining order.

A wife has no assurances that his suffering the consequences will wake up her husband, end the abuse, or resolve their marital problems. She can, however, begin to love as Christ loved as she gradually begins to rest in the fact that God desires what is best for her. It may take a fairly long time to really believe this, but God is there to empower her to show love, to comfort her with love, and enliven her with a purpose for her own life no matter what happens ( Psalm 23:4 ). Her heart can begin to gain a growing confidence and peace that says, “I’m not totally powerless. I’m free to love. And although it may not work out between my husband and me, I am confident that it will work out between God and me.”

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Are There Any Biblical Grounds for Divorce and Remarriage?

While the Scriptures take the marriage covenant very seriously, they permit divorce and remarriage in some situations. To learn exactly what these circumstances are, we’ll begin with the Old Testament regulations of divorce and remarriage. Then we’ll consider the words of Jesus on this subject. And finally, we’ll look at the instructions given by the apostle Paul.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 tells us that when a man finds “some uncleanness” in his wife, divorces her, and they both marry new mates, they cannot ever undo this new marriage to remarry each other.1

We know little about the rate of divorce in Israel between the time of Moses and the exile into Babylon over a thousand years later. However, at the beginning of the New Testament era, men were divorcing their wives for the most trivial reasons imaginable. In the rabbinical literature of that time, burning a husband’s food was listed as grounds for divorce! While the conservative school of Shammai taught that the provision of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 required a serious moral violation, most rabbis belonged to the far more lenient school of Hillel. In their view, any man who wanted a divorce should be able to obtain one easily. Even the rabbis who followed Shammai believed that it was violation of a man’s masculinity to live as a celibate. In practice, therefore, both schools advocated remarriage for any single male, no matter what the grounds for his divorce were. 2

Of course, while this may have been the rabbinical consensus, it certainly doesn’t reflect the biblical view of marriage! The rabbinical schools of Christ’s day were often wrong in their interpretation of the Old Testament. They made the Law into a works system for salvation and created loopholes by which clever people could get away with terrible wrongs. It appears that these Jewish scholars, all of whom prided themselves on their loyalty to Moses, were often out of tune with the deep spirituality of the Law.

In this cultural and religious context, the Lord’s statement that people who divorced on lesser grounds committed adultery when they remarried was shocking. It even amazed the disciples, as evidenced by their response 3 ( Matthew 19:10 ). Jesus’ teaching clearly ran contrary to the easy-going divorce and remarriage customs of His time. He declared that the only grounds for a valid divorce was porneia (sexual immorality—Matthew 5:32 ), a term that encompassed a broad range of sexual sins. Later, Paul added another legitimate reason for divorce—the willful desertion of a Christian by a non-Christian mate ( 1 Corinthians 7:15 ).

While the New Testament explicitly makes both sexual infidelity and desertion by an unbeliever grounds for a Christian’s divorce and remarriage, it doesn’t offer a detailed description of how a Christian should deal with an intolerable marital situation that doesn’t involve either of these circumstances. It appears that Paul had such situations in mind when he wrote:

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

To sum up, there is general agreement among evangelicals that apart from the death of a mate, the New Testament gives only two situations in which a marriage can be terminated with the right to remarry: illicit sexual activity, and abandonment by an unbelieving mate. There are no other rightful grounds. Although it may be necessary in some other situations for a Christian to separate from or divorce his or her mate, Scripture requires him or her to remain unmarried until reconciled. From the very beginning, God recognized the profound value of unconditional commitment between spouses in marriage. He mercifully provided a way out of relationships that have already been shattered by adultery and abandonment, but He never intended an “easy out.”

  1. This raises three questions:
    a. What is the “uncleanness” that apparently gave the husband grounds to divorce his wife?
    The meaning of the term “some uncleanness” is not clear. The expression is often translated “nakedness” or “something shameful.” Basically, we don’t know all that the term represented, but it must have been a serious matter short of adultery.b. What is the reason for the restriction that they could never remarry each other?
    No reason is given for the restriction forbidding the remarriage of two people once they had entered a new marriage. It certainly would prevent a man from divorcing his wife and marrying another woman as an experiment, thinking he could obtain a second divorce and return to his first mate if he chose to do.

    c. Why did the Law of Moses permit this disruption of a marriage?
    Jesus Himself stated that the Mosaic law allowed divorce “because of the hardness” of men’s hearts (Matthew 19:8). Because of the strongly patriarchal nature of ancient Israeli society, if a man disliked his wife for any reason, he had the power to make her life unbearable. He could marry other wives, treat them with respect and favoritism, and treat his first wife like a slave. If he did, she had no recourse other than to call upon the support of her family. Back To Article

  2. In Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament under the discussion of porneia, we are given evidence that even the strict school of Shammai believed it to be shameful for a divorced man to remain unmarried. Interestingly, according to Kittel, the school of Shammai taught that a sexual offense of some kind was the only grounds for divorce, but it advocated remarriage for all divorced men, even for those who obtained their divorce on trivial grounds. It appears that these Jewish scholars were convinced that almost all unmarried men would find sexual release somewhere, and that the best solution was a new marriage. Back To Article
  3. Since Jewish culture considered it shameful for a man to remain unmarried after either the death of a spouse or a divorce, divorced men of that time quickly married new mates, regardless of the circumstances of the divorce. Back To Article
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How Do I Cope with the Pain of My Divorce?

Divorce is never easy. It is a painful, heart-breaking experience for everyone involved. Families are torn apart, leaving confused, angry, and hurting children. No one “wins” in divorce.

When you first begin to go through a divorce, your main thought is survival. You want to “just get through” the excruciating pain and keep up with life. Your heart feels like it is being ripped out, but life goes on. You must go to work, pay your bills, clean your home, and continue to parent, which some days can seem like an impossible feat.

Divorce is such a shock that many try to survive it through denial. Denial is a way of shielding your heart from harsh feelings of rejection, despair, and betrayal, which can temporarily help you absorb the initial trauma. Consciously or unconsciously, you may be telling yourself, “This really isn’t happening.” You may convince yourself that your spouse is bluffing. You might even avoid telling anyone that your mate has left you or intends to.

As the painful truth begins to sink in, support from family and friends is vital. Be encouraged to tell trusted friends what you are thinking and feeling. You should not attempt to endure the pain of divorce without the emotional and spiritual provision of your friends and family.

Once you have faced the fact that a divorce is inevitable, you will have many overwhelming feelings. Anger, sadness, rejection, and feelings of betrayal invade you without warning. It is important to allow yourself to have those feelings. Don’t try to cover or numb your feelings with something like food, work, or another relationship. We all may be tempted to suppress our feelings on occasion. But allowing yourself to experience your feelings will promote healing, not thwart it. If you are more committed to avoiding your pain, chances are high that you will experience these painful feelings inappropriately later in life and in different relationships.

These times of emotion can be opportunities for you to know God in a more intimate way. Allow God to comfort you and bind and heal your wounds ( Psalm 30:2 .) You can allow Him to show you things that maybe you have overlooked for years. God wants to show you a better way of living your life. He wants to help you see and break patterns of relating to others that may have contributed to this devastating experience of divorce.

This may be a time of repentance for the way you have related to others in your life. Do you have a pattern of avoiding conflict in relationships? Have you allowed someone to disrespect you over time? Maybe you struggle with intimacy and communication. This part of the healing is difficult and can feel scary. You may be tempted to blame your spouse for everything wrong in the marriage. Blaming may feel more comfortable than facing the part you played in the breakdown of the marriage, but it doesn’t help you grow as a person.

But what if you have been the victim of horrible abuses and violations of trust? Don’t you have the right to put more of the responsibility for the divorce on your spouse? Isn’t your anger justified? You will have natural feelings of anger and bitterness at times. Certainly, it is right and appropriate to hold your spouse accountable for the way he or she hurt you. Scripture does not say that to be a loving person we must ignore the faults of others and allow them to continue in sin. Rather, in Romans 6:1-2 Paul said that if we love Christ and recognize the extent of His grace, we should not allow a loved one to continue in sin. Loving well means that you encourage another person’s growth towards Christlikeness by holding him or her accountable with the hope that it will bring the person to his or her senses.

While a certain amount of anger and bitterness is justified, it is not in anyone’s best interest to let your feelings grow into obsession and revenge, as this will inhibit a submissive heart for God ( Proverbs 20:22; 22:4; 1 Peter 5:5 ;James 4:6-7 ).

A submissive and loving heart for God will be nurtured through prayer and thankfulness. When you think about the betrayal in your marriage, it may be easy to fall into revengeful and hateful desires. Bitterness and depression can creep into the heart and destroy love and compassion. The best way to face these negative emotions is to immerse yourself in prayer and thanksgiving. Pray for yourself, your unmet longings, and your pain. Pray for your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Pray for God’s redemptive purpose to take place in your life. Pray for hope, that in the midst of your pain and anger, you may one day have a compassionate heart for your spouse. And be thankful. Remember the good and wonderful ways in which God has been there for you in the past. Be ready to see His blessings today. A thankful heart will bring you peace and guard your heart against hate ( Philippians 4:4-9 ).

You are beginning a long and lonely journey. Fear will surround you. Overwhelming feelings of loss, betrayal, and isolation will plague you. Some moments you will feel strong. The next moment, waves of emotion will suffocate you. The path to healing means that you accept these lonely times as a place where God wants to teach you things about yourself and Him that you haven’t yet learned. Cry out to God in your desolation. He will hear you and help you ( Psalm 34:17-18 ).

Divorce has the potential to produce bitterness, depression, and a lack of trust in people. It also has the potential to deepen your relationship with God, which brings with it great blessings ( Psalm 37:4-6,9,11,18-19 ; Matthew 5:3-10 ; Philippians 2:1-2 ).Trust that God will not leave you alone in your suffering. He will comfort you ( Matthew 5:4 ), and heal you ( Psalm 34:17-18 ). It won’t be an easy road, but you can find solace in knowing that He suffers with you in your loss. This is not what God intended for your life, but He can use suffering to pour love into your heart and produce deeper character in you ( Romans 5:1-5 ).

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