The orthodox Christian theology of Hadley Robinson

Biblical advice for Christians on a second marriage

by Hadley Robinson

This is a difficult and painful subject to address.  The hearts of so many true Christians, especially women, have been broken in two, all earthly joys extinguished, and hopes destroyed by the selfish actions of a spouse.  Faithful and loving pastors have battled with this horror since the Church was established.  Here is a small attempt to garner what the Scriptures teach and I hope that I have captured a part of the spirit the Scriptures give on this subject.  Jesus repeatedly told us that we must bear our crosses and die to the world.  I myself cannot do such a thing, but with His help I can.

What is Adultery?

It is linked to all second and later marriages while the first spouse still lives.  Proscribed in the 5th Commandment and elsewhere, adultery is having sexual relations with anyone who is joined to another, unless the spouse of the latter is dead.

The legal fiction in the Westminster Confession (24:5) that an adulterer is as good as dead (and so releases one party from the marriage per Rom. 7:2) is just as much a fiction as the notion that the State can either make or dissolve a marriage.

What creates a marriage is what God has done and the corresponding obedience of the couple – not the hubris of any man, especially a representative of the State.  Furthermore, the marriage is irrespective of the religious opinions of the parties involved just as loyalty, for example, would be irrelevant to anyone's opinion of it.  It is what it is. Marriage is marriage and loyalty is loyalty.


The points made in this essay would, if they are widely implemented in evangelical churches, empty them of about one half of the people because of the presence of those who claim to be genuine Christians but have been adulterous and are unrepentant of it.

Adultery is widespread and well accepted among the heathen.  To our shame, this practice has infiltrated the churches, including church leadership.  It took hundreds of years to get to where we are and I cannot see any peaceful remedy other than a direct intervention by God in the hearts of the people.

Here, hopefully, is some godly help, hope, and direction to those who have, in one way or another, put away their spouse and have remarried another.  Many have gone this route with the blessings of the church so the sin of the resultant adultery is also shared by leadership in the Church.

[The priests] feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness. – Hosea 4:8

How does one untie a marriage or undo adultery?  The answer is that it is not possible1, despite the convoluted exegesis and reasoning by most modern Evangelical Protestants.

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. – Heb. 13:4

In the United States, the marriage bed has become a merry-go-round at a playground where everyone and everything jumps off and on for the thrill of it.  We have become a defiled people.

Adultery is so vile that even if the Church does nothing to rightly judge and punish (1 Cor. 5) the adulterer, God will take the matter into His own Hands and judge him.  Scripture does not precisely say what God will do to him2, whether he is repentant or not.

It has been my observation over the decades that all adulterers, regardless if they repent, experience a sort of spiritual death of some degree, much like what happens to a stroke victim.  The stroke victim becomes unaware of what has happened.  How frightening it is to die – even partially – in a spiritual manner.  Such is the sentence laid upon the adulterer.

Adultery is not a "one shot" event like, thievery.  A thief steals the goods.  Sometime later, he repents.  He must apologize to whomever he stole the goods from, make restitution, and then place himself in the hands of the magistrate.  If this is done, that is the end of the matter.

Adultery is different.  The consequences, even when full repentance is done, are so harmful to so many.

But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself.  Blows and disgrace are his lot, and his shame will never be wiped away. – Prov. 6:32-33

There is nothing on earth that can give a spouse such a sense of betrayal and raw pain as the adulterer.

No amount of time can erase its memory and effects, especially what it does to children.  No amount of apologizing, no extent of gifts can satisfy the man whose wife has been defiled by another.  Men who lure away other men's wives have been murdered by the offended husband.  Charles Hodge, one of the greatest theologians the Protestant Church has had in the last 200 years remarked in his systematic theology that, at the end of the 19th century, there was no a jury in America that would convict a jealous husband who had murdered his wife's lover.   It is one of the most selfish thing a parent can do to his children of the marriage, if there were any.

This begs the question: what should a couple do if they are in an adulterous relationship?  Every time a man goes in and has sexual relations with the wife of another man, is he committing adultery against her and her husband?  It is likely this is the case.  The decrees of the State that a marriage has been dissolved have no authority in God's eyes as marriage (not its accidents) is the prerogative of God alone.  Only death, as the Scriptures teach, ends a marriage (Rom. 7).

Both the woman caught in adultery (John 8) and Herod (Matt. 14) were commanded to cease their adulterous relationships.  Does this apply to the couple mentioned in the previously?  Is this command for those in subsequent marriages or those who have affairs with others?  It is not entirely clear except in Herod's case.  The woman at the well was given no specific command to leave her current man by Jesus.  What did she do?  We do not know for sure but we can assume she did as she was repentant in attitude.

It is complicated.  What is the godly thing to do?  Regardless if there are children by the second union, the couple still must demonstrate true repentance and acknowledge the sin they committed against God and the betrayed and abandoned spouses.

But should they cease to have conjugal relations with one another, as John the Baptist commanded Herod?  They took marriage vows and now live together.  Deut. 24 is clear that they cannot return to their previous spouses.  John Piper and others suggest that the ensuing chaos and hardship if they were to separate and/or attempt to restore previous relationships is worse than continuing to live together and make the best of things.

Piper's long and vast experience as a pastor and his view of this matter has convinced me that he is correct in understanding what our LORD Jesus would command.  It would be best if people never got into this situation in the first place and is just another reason why the Church must teach and encourage at all times a healthy relationship among married people under their charge.  This includes teaching in the strongest terms that marriage is a permanent relationship ended only by death.

Prostitution and so-called "one night stands", both sins, are different from adultery because neither involves vows.  This needs to be clearly taught in the churches rather than all lumped into one category.  And that offended spouses must forgive the other party -- something generally lost in the Church today where adultery is the "unforgiveable sin".

We live in an ocean of immorality, tossed back and forth by gigantic waves, swept onto rocky coasts where families are dashed to pieces.  Morally speaking, we are drowning as a nation.

The fact that supposed Christians in the Church must have sex and companionship regardless of what God commands proves that these people are, at the heart, false or misled Christians and have fallen into idolatry.  When it comes to obedience to Christ in hard matters, they give way because they do not have, nor listen to, the Holy Spirit to encourage and guide them through the deep waters, as Jesus promised in Matthew 19.

Church leadership has much more often than not conveniently accommodated the adulterers by engaging in exegetical gymnastics to demonstrate that there is no clear teaching in Scripture concerning the permanence of marriage.  Jesus' teaching is hopelessly ambiguous, they claim.  Paul's teaching, likewise, is fuzzy and "... what did he know, anyway, being a single man?"

Should the adulterer return to his first wife?  This is a difficult question because she may be in the arms of another man, she may not want to, or she cannot.  Deut. 24 states that such a person is defiled and cannot.  The universal attitude is, "God forbid if I must commit myself to a life of celibacy!"  But this is the test if God is God or sex is god.  For most, sex is their god and, we can say, nothing has changed for eons.

Deut. 24 teaches that a "once married and then divorced woman" who finds a new husband cannot return to the first husband, even if he dies.  In Hosea, the adulterous wife, like Israel, must return to her husband.  Is there a conflict here?  It is not likely because Hosea's adulterous wife did not marry another.  To be safe, all parties can live celibately but such a thing may not be possible.

How can the unregenerate be victorious over the Baal's of our time without the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit?  The answer is that they cannot.  Only those who are converted by and filled with the Holy Spirit are able to please Him and abide in His commands, especially in the most dire circumstances.  The wonderful gracious Savior whose blood cleansed us from our sins and saved us for Heaven can empower us, in some way, to do impossible things.  Did He not part the Red Sea for the Jews to walk across on dry land?  Did He not raise Lazarus and the young man from the dead?  Did He not heal the blind and deaf?

Everyone has a cross they must bear but He has promised that such a burden is light and His yoke of obedience is easy -- if we just trust in Him, even unto death.  Amen.

Suffice it to say, there are numerous commands to the Jews of the OT that are not directly related to the moral law and which no Christian has ever practiced, such as the command to marry the childless widow of a dead brother (Deut. 25).

For this reason, Jesus' words must always trump interpretations of commands found in the Old Testament, such as in Deut. 25.  Living celibately seems an impossible task but godly Christians can be assured that they will have the help to do anything He commands -- but it is rarely obvious.

Adulterers who later repent should have thought of the consequences before committing such sin.  The same goes for soldiers who abandon their posts, for murderers, and for traitors.  The enduring havoc all of these people create for themselves and others is incalculable.

Before things get impossible in your marriage, strive to be a good spouse.  Begin with "please" and "thank you".  Discover the amazing power of "I'm sorry."  I have had to learn this, a sinful man who, as John Piper muses, lives in a state of sacred schizophrenia: the battle of the indwelling Holy Spirit and that awful flesh we have which dogs us day and night until we leave this body behind.

The heart is exceedingly evil and will concoct any sort of scheme to shift blame to another, as Adam our father did (the Eve Syndrome).  I know a young woman who did this to her husband – hating him and denying him his godly conjugal rights.  The poor man could not stand it – and left.  She was the one who drove him away, regardless of outward appearances.

Is there any grace for those who have committed adultery?  Is the blood of Christ sufficient to cleanse from this sin? Certainly.

They must rely on the mercy and grace of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The blood of Christ can cleanse from any sin, including adultery but there are always consequences for adulterous unions.  The Bible teaches that they are lifelong and will be bitter and difficult.  Children are always devastated when their parents cease to love one another.  This is why the disciples said it is better not to marry in the first place (Matt. 19:10) rather than remain faithful to an adulteress.

What has happened today?

There have been periods in the Church Age where the pure faith once delivered to the saints was altered and a majority promoted and believed a falsehood.  An example of this was during the 4th century A.D. when Arianism reigned within Christendom.3  Nonetheless, there were isolated holdouts including Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria.  He bravely stood his ground for many years, even suffering banishment by the Emperor.  In the end, the men who promoted this heresy either died or lost favor and power in the Roman Empire.  Orthodoxy once again was established (or, rather, imposed) among the churches.

We live in a similar period in the Church today.  In particular, the gospel that is preached from most pulpits is fundamentally different from that preached by the Apostles, the Early Church, and taught in the Bible.  It is a gospel empty of repentance and obedience – a humanistic gospel that centers around the notion that Jesus came to serve, commune with, and help us attain our goals in life, especially happiness. I have frequently heard people say, "Jesus just wants me to be happy."

That no obedience is required of the Christian is a perversion of the godly doctrine that we are saved by grace and not by any works.  Obedience becomes confused with works and, as such, obedience is condemned.  As the Christian theologian, Francis Schaeffer, repeatedly warned the Protestant church in America, "We cannot have love without holiness nor holiness without love."

Consequently, we should not be surprised by the widespread teaching that marriage is a conditional covenant along with most of the other moral law.  Popular Protestant authors on the subject reinforce this myth.  Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage writes of the so-called exceptions that make marriage conditional – a sort of spiritual irony considering the book's title.  On the cover, he asks, "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?"  Catchy rhetorical comments like this from the people who brought us The Purpose Driven Life should warn us:  distortions and misuse of Scripture are about to follow.

The Purpose of Marriage

Suffice it to say, the purpose of marriage (or, in Biblical terms, for a man to take lordship over a woman) is to provide the Creator with godly offspring and for the woman to give companionship and critical help to her man.  Woman was created expressly for the well being of the man – not so she could follow some independent course on her own.

...the woman is the glory of man.  For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.  1Cor. 11:7-9

Contrary to the opinions of most of the Protestant Church, the truth stated above is not some remnant of cultural bias from the 1st century but was established at the Creation of the world (Genesis).

The notion of the overall equality in function, role, and design of the sexes is also known as egalitarianism and is another perversion of the godly doctrine that all men must be saved the same way.  So now not only is the human race saved in the exact same manner (correct) but the sexes are identical in role, design, and function (false).  Like all heresies, notions like these begin with truth and then mix it with some worldly philosophy (Mal. 2:15; Genesis 2:18; Gal. 3:28).

Careful Biblical exegesis is the last thing a Christian can expect these days.  Leadership has an attitude that is something like this.

Why make the whole world angry with screed from the Bible when we can jumble it all up and make it palatable to the worldly-minded and sensual Christian?  Why enrage the feminists, the adulterous, and the unrepentant immoral who help finance the operations of the church, including pay my salary?

In any case, only the blood of Jesus Christ applied to the heart of the sinner makes him holy.

But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.  Col. 1:22

Gary Thomas writes that marriage can be a trial for us, which it often is.  But he is mistaken in asserting that it can make us holy, something only the Holy Spirit can do.  Instead, it makes us mature. (James 1:2ff.)  On the other hand, the Scriptures call us to behave in a holy manner.  Perhaps this is what Mr. Thomas is thinking?

Godly Christians know from the Holy Spirit that putting away a spouse is a great evil, but pastors often ignore or downplay Biblical teaching on it.  As a result, the flock may not be entirely to blame for their permissive attitudes on the matter.

What is worse is that a pastor may callously dump his wife and family for his new honey, resign in disgrace, but then just move on and become pastor of another church.   Dwight Edwards, former pastor of Grace Bible Church in College Station, TX did this.  He is now pastoring a different church in another community with his new honey.  I wonder if he ever teaches on holiness for the Christian or on the evils of putting a wife away?  Not likely...

The current Evangelical teaching4

 It goes something like this,

As long as my spouse is not adulterous, does not abandon me, and we get along, I will stick with the marriage.  Otherwise, not only am I out of the marriage, but I can go and marry another – and another – and another.

As this writer has observed on multiple occasions, supposedly Christian women find some fault with their husbands, e.g., "he had adulterous thoughts which is the same as physical adultery, etc."

Few Protestant churches in America recognize the orthodox, Biblical doctrine that marriage, like Christ's covenant with the Church, is permanent and does not depend on the performance of the other party.  Is God's Covenant with Abraham conditional?  What about God's Covenant with David?

...if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.  2Tim. 2:13

It is a rough go.

Modern Bible translations ignore the established, Biblical teaching of the first six centuries of the Church.  The Church Fathers were virtually unanimous on this matter – teachings by men whose first language was the Greek of the New Testament and who often paid for their Christian faith with their own blood.  Only a few modern pastors hold to the historic Christian position on the permanency of marriage, John Piper among them.

We are not alone in representing the truth of marriage.  Not only does the Holy Spirit confirm in us what He has taught from the foundation of the world but there is an international organization based in Canada that has become a clearing house and source of encouragement for any Christian who has bravely stood his ground for the heart of God in this matter.

Modern English translations follow the Authorized Version in translating just three Greek words in Matt. 19:9 to mean "except for immorality".  Then they build a colossal theological structure concerning divorce from it that permeates throughout the rest of their theology.

The NIV, which is otherwise this writer's favorite English translation, goes even farther in distancing itself from historic Christian teaching on this matter by incorrectly translating the Greek word porneia in Matt. 19:9 as "marital unfaithfulness" instead of "sexual misconduct".  "Marital unfaithfulness" is a euphemism for adultery but the Greek word for it is not used here.  The phrase is better translated, "...sexual misconduct not withstanding."  For a detailed discussion of this and how the Reformers altered the Greek text to align with their flawed views, go here.

For example, those who hold to egalitarianism (men and women are equal in every way) drill down on just one verse (Gal. 3:28) and then interpret every other verse of Scripture with that one verse in mind.

The established teaching of the Early Church was that nothing dissolves a marriage but death.  Remarriage of the surviving partner is not adulterous.  The godly, like the widow in 1Tim. 5 and Anna the Prophetess in Luke 2:36, are better off remaining single.  Paul allows young widows with children to remarry rather than unsuccessfully battle the flesh and its cravings.

Sacrifice and obedience out of gratitude and love for the Savior was a common paradigm, as it was for such men as Paul and Stephen and the 3rd century martyr, Perpetua. This largely changed during the Reformation when new and invisible idols were created.  This is not to say that there were not many martyrs whose obedience required great suffering during this period but, unlike earlier times, they did not suffer at the hands of outsiders but from within the Church herself – a great tragedy that was experienced by all sides.

Many pastors are too happy to please carnal Christians when it comes to trading in the old spouse for new.  Many churchgoers, as a result, have committed adultery en masse.  Most do not care.  Some, however, are troubled by the statistics that, both in and out of the Church, most marriages fail.  We should take note that Israel was violently thrown out of Jerusalem in the 6th century B.C. for physical and spiritual adultery.  Most were killed and a small remnant was sent into exile. To defend the permanence of marriage in the Church today is akin to when Athanasius defended orthodoxy against the Arians – it will bring grief, scorn, and wrath from most of the Church.

Was the church in Constantinople destroyed by the Creator because of her adulteries? Idolatries?  We probably will never know but the debacle of A.D. 1453 should still be a warning of what can happen to a faithless and rebellious church.

Nonetheless, there is a great difference between separation (not divorce) of a couple as a result of violence, for example, with the notion that anything can actually dissolve a marriage other than the death of a partner.  This is what the Scriptures teach and the Church believed and practiced for centuries.

It is neither prudent, godly, nor safe for a woman to stay in a relationship that threatens the health or safety of her or her children.  The difference today compared to most of Church history is that then the woman remained separated and in the care and protection of the Church.  Today, she is encouraged to marry again even though her first husband may still be alive.

What Now?

You have remarried and then, presumably, became a Christian.  Or – more likely – you have followed the false teachings of this age and remarried as a believer.  What should you do?

1. Confession

 You must acknowledge before God and the Church that what you have done is a grievous sin (Psalm 51).  In theocratic Israel, the LORD ordered that adulterers, homosexuals, idolaters, and witches be put to death.  Christians today falsely believe that God's character and hatred of such things has somehow changed.  This is more falsehood.  Some of the last words of Jesus (Rev. 22) pronounce severe judgment on the sexually immoral.  It is not some dead and gone hangover from Israel's past.  However badly the State fails to procure justice, it still has a God-ordained monopoly on administering civil justice.  That is, if the State fails to put to death the witch, the adulterer, and the homosexual, the Church has no responsibility or authority whatsoever to take matters into her hands as a result of the State's failure to do its duty.  The State will judged by its Maker soon enough.

The ancients of Abraham's day considered adultery worse than murder.  Even King David, in the throes of sin, knew that Uriah must be put to death for he could not take Bathsheba if her husband remained alive.

Thankfully, the Blood of Christ is sufficient to cleanse from any sin (Psalm 51; Gen. 20:2 ff.; 1Cor. 6:9-11).  As Paul mentions in 1Cor. 6:11, that is what some godly Christians once were.  As sinners, we are ashamed.  As the objects of Divine mercy and love, we are filled with hope and joy.  But this does not mitigate the consequences for sin which can include being put to death.  If you are a repentant adulterer or homosexual, be thankful that you do not live under Islam.

2. Consequences

If you are a man, you cannot assume any teaching or mentoring office in the Church.  (However, a divorced and celibate man can still be a one-woman man and can serve.  He is not an adulterer.)

John the Baptist understood that the state could not dissolve a marriage and suffered accordingly at the hands of King Herod.  Defy the unrepentant adulterous and one risks being put to death.  The heathen of our time, including most in the visible church, have a false notion that the divorced are no longer married.  In the Creator's eyes, they still are.  This makes these men polygamists and are forbidden to hold offices in the Church per 1Tim. 3.

An adulterer in the Kingdom of God is like a traitor among the kingdoms of men for he has denied the permanency of Christ's covenant with His Bride, the Church of which the marriage of a man and a woman is a picture.  None of this was unknown to the Early Church and they taught it among the flock.  Those who refused were excommunicated.  Now, everything is turned upside down.  It is the godly who are excommunicated and scorned.

Christians must be careful as there is nothing like adultery to invite Divine Judgment and God's wrath on His disobedient people. (Prov. 6:32-33; 1Tim. 3; Gen. 2:21ff; 9:5-6; Deut. 24:1ff.; Matt. 14:3; 2Sam. 12:14; Rom. 13; Rev 2-3)

3. Purity of the Marriage Bed

The new union is adulterous, now matter how long it has endured.  Both sinned and the blame lies equally on the man and the woman.  Guilt must be confessed to the church and to God by them both or, at least, by the Christian man or woman.  (We cannot require the outsider to be repentant – they must be a Christian first.)

The new union should be preserved in all holiness and purity.  The LORD demands nothing more – no self-beatings in the closet.  His Blood is sufficient to completely cleanse from the punishment each should receive at God's Hands.  There must not be any self-justification or self-pity.  They must be able to say with a whole heart,

Yes, LORD, you hate divorce.  I have put away the mate of my youth, been adulterous, and deserve your wrath.  Have mercy on me. In Jesus' name. Amen.

He will give a new heart and the strength for them to do what is right.

The sad truth is that second marriages usually fail, which is another reason why they should be avoided in the first place.  This to say nothing of the trauma that is caused to any children.  What do they think when mom's picture goes down and another woman's goes up over the family mantle?  What's wrong with my mom/dad?  It is hurtful to any children and why re-marriage should never occur.

It is not godly for parents to put their physical needs above the spiritual and emotional health of their children.  (Consider, even, the mess created by the widower-father in the fairy tale, Cinderella.)  This is to say nothing of putting such needs above obedience to God – the essence of idolatry.  Even many heathen psychologists suggest that the biological parents stick together – however imperfectly – until their children are gone from the home.

The Church has failed in our land on this front and continues to give her blessing to adulterous unions.  The Holy Spirit commands us in the Church to keep the marriage bed pure and undefiled. Most pastors do the opposite.  Those who perform such second marriages have helped the church culture continue its slide into irrelevancy and towards judgment by the Creator.  They may be more interested in being public relations agents for the sin nature than in being His faithful shepherds (Heb. 13:4; 1Cor. 7:5; 3John).

Yet we can always pray and hope that all of us will have the courage, calmness, and love for God to be brave in the face of those who are destroying the Church.  Do we wish to see a second Constantinople in our time?  I hope not -- there is still time for us to repent of our sin and receive the grace of Christ.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. – Ephesians 5:3

God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his, "and, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness." – 2Tim 2:19