Does Scripture Permit Me to Remarry After Divorce by Desertion from an Unbeliever?

Question from a reader:

After 16 years of cruel, emotional, mental, and illegal abuse ending in divorce by desertion from an unbeliever, may I (the victim) ever remarry? First Corinthians 7:15 says that I am no longer under bondage, but does it mean I may remarry? I am so burdened about this. Please will you give me some insight?

Answer from Chelsea Weber:

First, let me say how incredibly sorry I am to hear how difficult your first marriage was. God sees all that pain and hardship and grieves with you. I hope you can find comfort and healing in Him.

Randy recommends listening to this sermon by Kevin DeYoung, and says: “I agree with Kevin that the wording of 1 Corinthians 7 (that the believer is not bound/under bondage when deserted or abandoned by an unbeliever) means they are free to remarry.”

In addition, here is an excerpt from an article that relates:

What was a Christian supposed to do when her or his unbelieving spouse left the marriage? We believe a right to remarriage exists in the statement, “A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases” (1 Cor. 7:15).

The terms in this verse may require clarification: “But if the unbeliever departs [Gk. chorizo], let him depart [chorizo]; a brother or sister is not under bondage [Gk. douloo] in such cases.” The word chorizo can also be translated “leaves” (NIV) or “separates” (RSV), and is translated “put asunder” in the well-known command against divorce, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6 KJV). Though an unbeliever should not break up (put asunder) a marriage, the apostolic advice is (in effect): If the unbeliever divorces, let him divorce.

By this terminology, we have established New Testament sanction for divorce; and if the terms of a divorce are biblically valid, then a right to remarriage exists.

Furthermore, the Greek word translated “is not under bondage” is stronger than the word used for the marriage vows (“bound to a wife” in 7:27). According to William F. Luck, “douloo [in 7:15, ”under bondage“] is a harsher term than deo [in 7:27, ”bound“], the former stressing forced bondage . . . and the latter stressing chosen servanthood.” In other words, the partner of a departing unbeliever “is not enslaved” to remain with their divorcing spouse. This again indicates that they are free to leave, and thus to remarry. And on this note, observe that the circumstance of abandonment is recognized by the apostle as an acceptable condition for divorce, in addition to porneia.

Our final evidence that Jesus allows remarriage after divorce appears in 1 Corinthians 7:27-28a. At the time the letter was composed, Paul discouraged remarriage, divorce, and even marriage because of the persecution Christians were then suffering under Nero.

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you should marry, you have not sinned. (NASB)

Of this passage, Jay Adams notes that the word translated “released” (NASB) or “loosed” (NKJV) appears twice, and in both cases is the Greek word luo. “To be released from a wife in the second instance [i.e., ”Are you released from a wife?“] must mean what it does in the first [i.e., ”Do not seek to be released“] or the intended contrast that is set up would be lost.” In other words, a married man ought not to seek divorce, and a divorced man ought not to remarry. But he ends by saying that those who do marry or biblically remarry do not sin.

From Cornerstone magazine, 1996, exact author and issue uncertain (let us know if you find it).

I hope this is helpful. Do you have a home church? I would highly suggest getting together with your pastor and talking through this. I think it would be really helpful for you to walk through this process with someone who loves and cares about you and knows God and His word.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction…” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Chelsea Weber works at Eternal Perspective Ministries as Randy Alcorn's Executive Assistant.