Divorce for an Unlawful Marriage
“It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”
“Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.
And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.”
When shall a man put away his wife? When shall a woman put away her
husband? The Pharisees came to Jesus asking him if there was any cause for a man to
put away (i.e., divorce) his wife, and Jesus answered according to the law, by the Spirit
of God. There is no cause for a woman to divorce her husband; while there is only one
cause for a man to divorce his wife, and that is for the cause of fornication (not
adultery!). However, when the Pharisees asked Jesus about the matter of divorce, it
was concerning a lawful marriage between a man and a woman.
There are two kinds of marriages; there is a lawful marriage and an unlawful
marriage. A lawful marriage is one which God has instituted between a man and a
woman, in which a man may take to himself an unmarried woman and be joined unto
her, and become one flesh (Genesis 2:21-24, Matthew 19:4-6). In contrast, an unlawful
marriage is when a man takes to himself a woman who is already married to another,
and joins himself with her. In an unlawful marriage, both the man and the woman are
guilty of adultery, even as the Lord Jesus declared.
An unlawful marriage? Yea, a man can unlawfully marry a woman whom he
ought not to marry. John the Baptist reproved Herod the tetrarch for marrying Herodias,
who was his brother Phillip’s wife, and said to him that it was not lawful for him to have
her; and for this he was thrown in prison (Mark 6:16-19). When a man marries a
woman, they enter into a marriage covenant, and they become husband and wife. If the
woman is already married to another, then the man who marries her does so unlawfully;
and though they be husband and wife, the man is not her lawful husband, neither is she
his lawful wife; for she belongs to another man and is bound to him so long as he liveth
(Romans 7:2-3). We see an example of this with Michal, Saul’s daughter, who though she
was given to David to wife, yet when she was given to Phaltiel the son of Laish to wife
(after David had fled due to Saul seeking his life), he was referred to as her husband (2
Samuel 3:15-16). Why? Because Phaltiel had married her; and in marrying her, he
became her husband. However, he was not her lawful husband, neither was she his
lawful wife, and they were both in adultery; for Michal belonged to David, whom she
married first, and he was her lawful husband.
Why is this important? Why is it necessary for us to know that there is a lawful
and an unlawful marriage? This is important to know because Jesus said that he who
marries her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery, and she that putteth
away her husband and marrieth another committeth adultery. There are unfortunately
many in these last days who are in an unlawful marriage, and thus are committing
adultery; and while some may come to this realization, yet they do not fully understand
the extent of their adultery and how it is that they stop committing it. Therefore, it is
important to lay bare the totality of an unlawful marriage, so that those who are in one
may understand how they can truly end their unlawful marriage.
Isaiah the prophet wrote of the Son of God that he would magnify the law and
make it honorable (Isaiah 42:21), and this Jesus did when he was sent to the Jews
(Matthew 5:21-48); and as he said, he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it
(Matthew 5:17). In the law, it is written:
“And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth
adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to
For most, adultery, in a carnal sense, is mainly perceived as when a man lies
carnally with a married woman. This certainly is one instance of adultery, which is not
only mentioned in the law (Leviticus 18:20), but is also exemplified with the woman
whom the Pharisees brought to Jesus, who was caught in the very act of adultery (John
8:3-4). Lying with another man’s wife is an act of adultery, and this is usually done in
secret; but then Jesus came and said that a man who marries a married woman, both
he and her commit adultery. In saying this, Jesus magnified the law and brought a
deeper understanding of the scope of adultery, which does not simply deal with a man
lying carnally with another man’s wife (which is usually done in the dark), but to a
greater degree, it extends to when a man marries a married woman, whom he ought not
to (which is done in the open).
When a man marries a woman unlawfully, they still enter into a marriage (albeit,
since it is an unlawful marriage, the man does not have a blood covenant with the
married woman – thus the marriage can be and must be put asunder; while as with a
lawful marriage, the man does have a blood covenant with the unmarried woman –
which may not be put asunder, for God hath joined it (Matthew 19:6, Mark 10:9)). In a
marriage, the man takes the woman unto himself, and she becomes part of his house.
The husband now provides for his wife her food, raiment, shelter, and her duty of
marriage – which is to be intimate with her and to love her (Exodus 21:10, 1 Corinthians
7:3-5, 33); and the wife is to serve her husband and be a suitable help meet for him
(Genesis 2:18, 20-24, Colossians 3:18). Whether the marriage is lawful or not, these
things are observed, for they are the fruits of being in a marriage. Therefore, when a
man marries a woman who is another man’s wife, he and her not only commit adultery
by lying with each other carnally, they also commit adultery by playing the role of
husband and wife, and partaking in the fruits of what a marriage provides, which ought
to only be experienced between a man and a woman who are lawfully married to each
other. Thus, when a man or a woman, or both, come to the realization that they are in
an adulterous relationship, they must understand the full scope of their adultery, which
is not just that they were lying carnally with each other, but more so that they were
fulfilling the role of husband and wife to each other unlawfully.
So then, what must be done to end this unlawful marriage? The unlawful
marriage must end in a divorce. How is this done? If the man and the woman are legally
married, then the first step is to file for a divorce with the government. Though the
government does not have the power to marry a man and a woman, neither to end a
marriage, yet there is the legal contract that the man and the woman set up with the
government, which declares them to be husband and wife, with the government as the
third party. Therefore, the contract must be annulled, and the declaration of their
marriage made void, which makes it known to the government that the man and the
woman are no longer legally married.
What is the next step? Either the man puts away the married woman, or the
married woman puts away her unlawful husband and departs from him, and returns to
her lawful husband (even as was the case with Michal, whom David demanded be
returned to him – 2 Samuel 3:12-16). They may no longer play the role of husband and
wife. Even if they stop being intimate with each other, if the married woman continues to
abide under the man’s house, serving him as she would her lawful husband, and the
man continues to play the role of a husband toward her, they are still guilty of adultery,
being in an unlawful marriage (for a marriage is more than the intimacy between a
husband and a wife – though that is a large part of it). Therefore, the married woman must
depart from the man’s house, and they must cease to be husband and wife, ending the
marriage in its entirety.
In the law, it is written:
“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.”
Though this exception for divorce pertains to a lawful marriage between a man and a
woman (which may ONLY be exercised within the betrothal period), yet it still
serves as a template as to how a divorce is carried out. In a divorce, the man sends the
woman out of his house. Why? Because she is no longer his wife, and he will no longer
provide for her the things that a marriage calls for (her food, raiment, shelter, and duty of
marriage), and these things that he would have provided her if he were her husband, now
the unmarried woman must seek another man to provide her these things.
What if the man and the woman, who are in an unlawful marriage, have children?
Should they not abide together under the same roof to raise the children? Nay, even in
that instance they must separate. Firstly, for their sakes, that they obey the Lord God in
separating from each other and ending their adulterous marriage; and for the sake of
their children, that they be not confused on what marriage is and how God has instituted
it to be observed by man. Will it be difficult for the man and woman to raise their
children while they live apart from each other? It certainly will not be easy, but it is
“And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not
forsaken them that seek thee.”
When we obey the LORD and desire to do his will, he will make a way for us to
overcome any difficulty we face. This is certainly the case for those who find themselves
in the situation of having to raise their children while being separate from each other. If
they trust in the LORD with all their heart, being in complete obedience to him, he will
not forsake them, but will provide for them the things that they have need of.
Throughout the scriptures, the sin of adultery is not only mentioned in a carnal
sense between a man and a woman, but it is also mentioned in a spiritual sense, when
a man worships an idol instead of the LORD God. When the LORD spoke of the
treachery of Israel, he said that they committed adultery with stones and with rocks
(Jeremiah 3:6-11). How did the children of Israel commit adultery with stones and with
rocks? By worshipping idols and graven images, which were made of stones, rocks,
wood, gold, and silver (Ezekiel 8:4-18, Jeremiah 5:6-7, Revelation 9:20). And the LORD
called unto the children of Israel not only to acknowledge their sins, but also to depart
from them (Jeremiah 3:13-14). Would God have been pleased with the children of Israel
if they acknowledged with their words that they were committing idolatry, but their idols
and graven images still remained in their houses, and in their hearts? If a man says that
he will only serve the LORD, should he not cast away any idol and graven image he
may possess? Should he not repent and turn away from setting up an idol in his heart?
It is written:
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
Therefore, a man who is unlawfully married to a woman, for him and her to be seen in the
eyes of God as being truly repentant of their adultery, they must depart from each other.
The adulterous marriage began with the man taking the married woman unto himself to
serve as his wife under his roof, therefore it must end with the woman departing from
the unlawful husband. And if her lawful husband does not desire to be reconciled unto
her, then let her remain unmarried – let her not seek a man to marry to fulfill the role of a
husband to her (1 Corinthians 7:10-11), and instead let her seek the LORD God for her
food, raiment, and shelter, who is able to provide her these things (Matthew 6:24-34,
Is there any thing too hard for the LORD?
(Genesis 18:14, Jeremiah 32:27).
Nay, there is not.