John’s Command to Divorce Remarriages

Understanding that we live in a high divorce rate society, this article merely scratches the surface on a potentially life-altering topic for many. If time permits, please listen to a fuller and more comprehensive 30 minute audio lecture of Dr. Kim detailing this topic by clicking HERE.

by Dr. Stephen Kim

For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Mark 6:18)

As a pastor, I am aware of my culture’s current social milieu regarding marriage. Yet, if the greatest of all prophets was willing to lose his head over this issue, then I think I can risk losing some church members. After all, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:10).

Marriages are permanent for as long as either spouse is alive. Hence, Scripture plainly teaches us that all unlawful marriages must be promptly divorced. Repentance should not wait another day. Just because a person said a vow at the remarriage altar does not mean that the vow and the remarriage are accepted by God (remember, homosexuals say vows at their marriages as well). According to Christ, a remarriage following a divorce constitutes an unlawful marriage. More pointedly, Jesus identified such a remarriage as adultery (e.g., Mt 19:9). Adultery, as we all know, is absolutely prohibited in the seventh commandment found in Exodus 20:14.

Presently, pastors in Bible-believing churches will not officiate gay marriages. Most ministers will also not officiate remarriages. Since the Bible plainly instructs its readers (multiple times) that homosexuality is a sin (e.g., 1 Cor 6:9); therefore, no Christian pastor will ever officiate a gay marriage. And since Jesus plainly instructs us that remarriage after a divorce is adultery; therefore, no Christian pastor will ever officiate a remarriage (cf. Mt 5:32, Mt 19:9, Mk 10:11, and Lk 16:18). [A man or woman is free to remarry only after the death of his or her spouse (1 Cor 7:39).]

According to Scripture, gay marriage is the sin of sodomy; and remarriage is the sin of adultery. Those who continue to practice either of the two sins shall not enter into heaven (1 Cor 6:9-10). Let no one deceive you. Yes, we are saved by faith alone, but true saving faith produces genuine repentance. Christians have always lovingly, but firmly, called for the divorce of all unlawful marriages (e.g., remarriages, gay marriages). We love you, so we want you to stop hurting yourself by continuing to live in sin. As Augustine once so aptly put it:

You must not have wives whose former husbands are living; nor may you, women, have husbands whose former wives are living. Such marriages are adulterous, not by the law of the courts, but by the law of Heaven. Nor may a woman who by divorce has withdrawn from her husband become your wife while her husband lives. Only because of fornication may one dismiss an adulterous wife; but in her lifetime you may not marry another. Neither to you, O women, is it granted to find husbands in those men whose wives have quitted them by divorce: such are adulterous, not marriages. (Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. Sermon 392, c. 2.)

THE PASTOR’S CALL FOR DIVORCE

Christians currently live in an America where divine law clashes with earthly law. Today, both homosexual marriages and remarriages are permitted in our nation. Thus, in the course of gospel ministry, pastors might encounter a recently converted Christian man who is either remarried or is in a gay marriage. In such cases, the pastor rightfully instructs the man to divorce his illegitimate marriage. When the Bible states that God hates divorce (Mal 2:16), it is referring to the fact that God hates the divorce of any true marriage. Both gay marriage and remarriage are not true marriages in the sight of God. To not divorce the illegitimate marriage is to remain either a sodomite or an adulterer–neither will inherit the kingdom of God (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-10).

GOD’S CALL FOR DIVORCE

Yes, God wants gay men to divorce their gay marriages. God also wants adulterers to divorce their remarriages. (Remember, such marriages are not true marriages in the first place!) God would never instruct a new believer who is in a gay marriage to “remain as he is” by maintaining the gay marriage. Instead, God would expect the immediate termination of all unlawful marriages. Whether a man marries his mother, a beast, a man, or another man’s wife (which, according to Christ, is what a remarriage truly is)–all unlawful marriages must be divorced as soon as possible.

A pastor could easily (and rightfully) state that Exodus 20:14 calls for the divorce of remarriages, and that Romans 1:27 calls for the divorce of gay marriages. Yet, in this article, I wish to simply point you to John the Baptist. Mark 6:18 is a standalone verse which powerfully prescribes the divorce of all unlawful marriages. 

Herodias left her husband in order to remarry Herod. The Bible (in Mark 6:17) definitively states that a remarriage between Herod and Herodias had occurred. However, the remarriage was an unlawful marriage in the sight of God because it either violated Leviticus 20:21, or Leviticus 20:10.

Since Herodias was certainly remarried to Herod (Mk 6:17); therefore, John the Baptist was certainly calling for the divorce of Herod’s remarriage when he said, “It is not lawful for you to have [notice the present tense] your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). In light of Mark 6:17, there is no other way to read Mark 6:18. In other words, John was saying, “Herod, get a divorce from Herodias! It is a sin for you to remain married to her!” Here is the biblical text:

For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Mark 6:17-18)

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE

My point in this article is quite straight-forward: If John demanded the termination of Herodias’s remarriage, then God demands the divorce of all unlawful marriages. Whether it’s gay marriage or remarriage, as Christians, we must do what is right before God. We must not tell gay men to divorce their gay marriages while simultaneously instructing remarried divorcees to stay in their remarriages. We must not call for the cessation of sodomy but allow for the continuation of adultery.

John’s willingness to die for this issue demonstrates to all of us that the sanctity of marriage is a first-tier “Gospel” issue. May we all have such courage to stand up for marital righteousness. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10).

Postscript: Extra-biblical history confirms the biblical account of Herodias’s remarriage to Herod:

Herodias was married to Herod, the son of Herod the Great by Mariamme the daughter of Simon the high priest. They had a daughter Salome, after whose birth Herodias, taking it into her head to flout the way of our fathers, married Herod the Tetrarch, her husband’s brother by the same father, who was tetrarch of Galilee; to do this she parted from a living husband. (Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.3 136)

A More Comprehensive Article: Remarriage is Adultery

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About Dr. Stephen Kim

Dr. Stephen Kim is the senior pastor of Mustard Seed Church in New York City. He has also served as Associate Director of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, NYC Extension Center. Pastor Stephen is the happy husband of one beautiful woman and the joyous father of four beautiful children. As a pastor and writer, he is passionate about accurately feeding Christians the Word of God: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?" (Matthew 24:45).
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5 Responses to John’s Command to Divorce Remarriages

  1. jackshannon7 says:

    Excellent post, Dr. Kim! Absolutely agree.

    Like

    • Dr. Stephen Kim says:

      Thank you, Jack. All the glory goes to God. I am truly praying for Church-wide repentance on this most vital issue. Christian teachers have deviated too far and for too long.

      Like

      • jackshannon7 says:

        I have been praying for Church-wide repentance, too. I believe we are starting to see the beginning of stages of it. The fact that I’m reading blogs like yours attests to this, I believe.

        I wrote a book on this issue and its wider ecclesiastical and cultural implications. Perhaps you would be interested in reading it, or at least encouraged that there are others out there on the same page generally.

        Keep up the good and God bless!

        Like

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Dr. Kim,

    I have a question for you. Some churches advocate that an unconsummated marriage can be annulled rather than going through a divorce. What do you take of the case where a woman marries an impotent man who knows that he is unable to consummate the marriage and hides it from his partner until after the ceremony is complete? Does the fact that the two cannot become “one flesh” raise concerns about the legitimacy of the marriage? Does an impotent man qualify as a eunuch whom Jesus said cannot be given in marriage (i.e. their marriage is never truly valid in the first place)? What would you advise for such a couple in that situation?

    I am not trying to make up a purposely difficult situation to try to trick you; this situation happened to someone in my life and I am curious as to what the correct Biblical response is.

    Thanks for your time,
    Chris

    Like

    • Dr. Stephen Kim says:

      Thanks for writing, Chris.

      As for your question:
      A marriage without sex is is still a marriage. While sex is normally an important part of married life, it [sex] is not what legitimatizes a marriage. Once a marriage covenant has been made at the wedding, a marriage has occurred. [The exception, of course, is an unlawful marriage (e.g., gay marriage, incestual marriage, or remarriage). In such wedding ceremonies, a genuine marriage covenant does not occur in the sight of God. At a remarriage wedding, a promise is made, but the promise is to commit adultery. Such promises (or vows) must NOT be kept.]


      Listen to Scripture teach on this issue:

      “When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus” (Matt 1:24-25). Scripture states that Mary was married to Joseph–even when Joseph had no sexual relations with her.

      Additionally, let’s look quickly at Romans 7:3:

      “So then if, while her husband lives, she is married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband dies, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she is married to another man.”
      Point: According to Paul, even if a remarried couple REFRAINS from sexual contact, the couple are adulterers as long as they remain MARRIED to one another. The “adulteress” label is a divinely legal declaration. Hence, a divorce of the remarriage is necessary in order for the persons to no longer be adulterers in the sight of God. True repentance will always seek to terminate the remarriage (because Jesus identified remarriage as adultery).

      Bengel’s Gnomen put it this way:
      (Χρηματίσει) viz. εἁυτὴν, she will come under the appellation of an adulteress, and that too by the power of the law. She shall bring upon herself the name of an adulteress.

      Like

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