Divorce & Remarriage in the 1st & 21st Century

Rev Dr David Instone-Brewer (Grove Books, 2001)

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The New Testament teaching on divorce and remarriage appears to be impractical and unfair at first sight. The 'plain' meaning of the texts seems to allow divorce only for adultery or for desertion by an unbeliever, and does not allow remarriage until the death of one's former spouse. This means that someone suffering abuse cannot get divorced, and someone who is divorced from an adulterous partner cannot remarry unless that partner dies.

There are many different ways of understanding the text, whereby divorce is allowed for a wider range of grounds, which include physical and emotional abuse. These do not always take the text and the historical context seriously. By contrast, a few interpreters have argued that a believer is never allowed to divorce.



New insights into the Jewish and Graeco-Roman world of the 1st century now enable us to understand how the original recipients understood this New Testament teaching, and suggest the following conclusions:


Ch.1 How the Church Interpreted the Divorce Texts

Jesus' Teaching

Paul's Teaching

Traditional Interpretations

Modern Interpretations


Ch.2 How 1st Century Jews Would Have Understood Jesus 

1st Century Interpretation

Jesus on Marriage

Jesus on Divorce

The Shorter Accounts

Other Grounds for Divorce in 1st Century Judaism

God as a divorcee

Jesus' Silence on other Grounds for Divorce


Ch.3 How 1st Century Converts Would Have Understood Paul 

1st Century Graeco-Roman Culture

Paul on Marriage

Paul on Divorce

Paul on Remarriage

No remarriage till death occurs?

Husband of one wife?


Ch.4 Summary Of the 1st Century Interpretation 

Summary of Jesus' Teaching

Summary of Paul's Teaching

After Jesus and Paul


Ch.5 Applying the 1st Century to the 21st Century Church 

Marriage vows in Christian weddings

Pastoral Implications

Should the church teach against no-fault divorce, which is now the main type of divorce in the UK, USA, and other countries, and teach specific grounds for divorce?

Should the church teach the Old Testament grounds for divorce - unfaithfulness, material neglect or abuse and emotional neglect or abuse, which were affirmed by Jesus and Paul (according to this study)?

Should those who remarried after an invalid divorce get divorced again and remarry their original spouse?

Should the church allow remarriage of 'innocent' divorcees after divorce on a biblical ground?

Should the church allow remarriage of 'guilty' divorcees and those who used 'no-fault' divorces?

Conclusions & Further Reading

Index: A B C D E F G H I-K L M N O P Q-R S T U-Z