This article discusses the origin and purpose of marriage, and the place of divorce and remarriage.

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Matrimony is meant to be a permanent covenant relationship🔗

“I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel.... Malachi 2:16

Marriage is an exclusive relationship in which a man and a woman commit themselves to each other in covenant for life, and on the basis of this solemn vow become “one flesh” physically (Gen. 2:24; Mal. 2:14; Matt. 19:4-6).

“Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness [sexual license and immorality]” (Westminster Confession XXIV.2; Gen. 2:18; 1:28; 1 Cor. 7:2-9). God’s ideal for marriage is that the man and the woman should experience mutual completion (Gen. 2:23) and share in his creative work of making new people. Marriage is for all mankind, but it is God’s will that his own people should only marry fellow believers (1 Cor. 7:39; cf. 2 Cor. 6:14; Ezra 9-10; Neh. 13:23-27). Intimacy at its deepest is impossible when the partners are not united in faith.

By using Christ’s relationship to his church to illustrate what Christian marriage ought to be, Paul highlights the husband’s special responsibility as his wife’s leader and protector, and the wife’s calling to accept her husband in that role (Eph. 5:21-33). The distinction of roles does not, however, imply that the wife is an inferior person: as God’s image-bearers, the husband and the wife have equal dignity and value, and they are to fulfill their role relationship on the basis of a mutual respect that is rooted in recognition of this fact.

God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16), yet he provided a procedure for it that would protect the divorced wife (Deut. 24:1-4); this, said Jesus (Matt. 19:8), was “because your hearts were hard.” The natural way to understand his teaching in Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:8-9 is that marital unfaithfulness (the sin of adultery) destroys the marriage covenant and warrants divorce (though reconciliation would be preferable); but he who divorces his wife for any lesser reason becomes guilty of adultery when he remarries and drives her into adultery in her remarriage. In this Jesus is simply stating the principle that all cases of divorce and remarriage involve disruption of God’s idea for the sexual relationship. He answered the question, When is divorce lawful? by saying that divorce is always deplorable (Matt. 19:3-6), but he did not deny that hearts continue to be hard; so that divorce, though always in itself an evil, may sometimes be permitted on a lesser-evil basis.

Paul says that one who has become a Christian and then been deserted by an unbelieving partner is not “bound” (1 Cor. 7:15). This evidently means that he or she may regard the relationship as finished. Whether this should be held to confer right of remarriage has been disputed, and Reformed opinion has long been divided on the matter.

The Westminster Confession (XXIV.5-6) states with cautious wisdom what most Reformed Christians, reflecting on the Scriptures quoted above, have down the centuries found themselves agreed on regarding divorce:

In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out [secure] a divorce: and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.

Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage: wherein, a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case.

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