Q. Is Deuteronomy 24:1-4 still applicable today, prohibiting a divorced wife, who married a second husband, to return to her first husband?


A. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 reads, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

We need to understand several principles when dealing with questions such as these, relating to divorce and remarriage.

(1) Marriage between two truly converted Christian partners

Quoting from our booklet, “The Keys to Happy Marriages and Families,” page 2, “God wants our marriages to succeed. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16)… Two truly converted married Christians (as long as both remain alive and converted throughout their marriage to each other) must never divorce and subsequently marry somebody else! Their marriage, which has been bound by God, is for life (1 Corinthians 7:10-11; Romans 7:1-3; Luke 16:18).”

From this it follows that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 would not be applicable today, IF the (first) “divorce” occurred, while both parties were and remained to be converted. The converted husband cannot unbind today a valid marriage to a converted wife by writing her a certificate of divorce (compare Matthew 19:7-9). In God’s eyes, such a “divorce” is not accepted, and husband and wife are still “bound” or married to each other (compare, again, 1 Corinthians 7:10-11). They can separate, but they cannot marry someone else. They either have to remain “single,” or they have to unite again and continue their marriage relationship.

(2) Marriage between a truly converted Christian and an “Unbeliever”

What about a situation, however, when the mate becomes or is an “unbeliever”? We continue quoting from our booklet:

“Even in such a case, divorce and subsequent remarriage is not Biblically permitted, unless the ‘unbelieving mate’ departs from the marriage, by not fulfilling his or her marriage duties, and the ‘unbeliever’ is no longer willing to live with the converted mate (cp. 1 Corinthians 7:12-16). Such total departure from the marriage by the ‘unbeliever’ can be seen in serious continuous violations of his or her marriage duties and responsibilities, such as the sinful practice of ‘sexual immorality’ (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:9). But even then, counseling with one of God’s ministers is highly recommended, with the goal to restore, rather than to sever, the marriage.”

Applying this principle to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, if husband and wife divorced because the wife is or became an unbeliever and departed from the marriage (which might be indicated, in principle, by the fact that the husband found “some uncleanness in her”), then the husband is free to remarry (The same would apply, of course, to a wife, that is, the wife would be free to remarry if the husband is an unbeliever and departs from the marriage.) It needs to be emphasized that this would only be the case, however, if the unbelieving mate is no longer pleased to dwell with the believer and departs from the marriage relationship. As long as the unbeliever is pleased to dwell with the believer, the believer cannot sever the marriage. (The only exception would be “fraud at the time of the marriage” — that is, when one partner conceals essential facts about him-or herself from his or her future mate. In such a case, God would not bind a marriage to begin with, and the deceived mate, upon discovery of the fraud, would be free to leave such a relationship. Such departure, though, has to occur immediately upon discovery of the fraud).

Further, the converted mate would only be free to remarry “in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39), that is, to a “believer” (compare Ezrah 10:10-11 — that is, to someone who has truly repented of his or her sins of transgressing God’s Ten Commandments; who has believed in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as payment for his or her sins; and who has become baptized as an outward sign of inner repentance). Unless the divorced wife, whose subsequent marriage has also ended (see under #4), comes to or returns to the faith as a true believer, the first husband could not remarry her.

(3) Marriage between two unconverted partners

But let us suppose that the divorce took place while both parties were still unconverted. As we came to understand in 1975, God looks at the status of the person when he or she is called into the truth. If a “divorced” person is called by God in that state of his or her divorce, he or she is not required to return to the former mate (who may not be converted and who may be remarried) –compare the principles described in 1 Corinthians 7:20-24. Rather, such a person, upon conversion, is free to marry a converted partner.

(4) Can the converted mate re-marry the (now) converted mate?

The question arises, however, in light of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, whether the converted husband is free to remarry the (now) converted wife (or vice versa), if the wife had been married in the meantime to another partner. Several Biblical principles suggest that he could remarry his first wife, if she is also free to marry, and that therefore, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 would not be applicable today in such cases:

The main principle is that God wants a marriage restored, rather than broken up. Using a spiritual parallel to this example, although God makes it clear that He, as a converted husband, would not receive back His first unconverted wife Israel, as long as she remains unconverted, “playing the harlot” (Jeremiah 3:1-5), He WILL marry her upon her repentance and conversion (since Christ will marry spiritual Israel upon His return). Some have suggested that Christ was only free to remarry His former wife, because He died — thereby bringing the marriage relationship to an end. However, Christ did state that He gave His first wife a bill of divorce. In addition, we need to understand that the concept of Christ, being married to ancient Israel, and going to marry spiritual Israel, is an analogy. One cannot carry an analogy too far, of course, since Christ made clear that in the resurrection, we will not marry or be given in marriage — literally. Also, not only Christ died, but we too, upon our conversion, “died” in a spiritual sense, and although we are already “betrothed” to Christ right now, Christ will only consummate our marriage with Him, when we are fully Spirit, like He is.

Still, the analogy shows us certain principles. Christ, Who is the same yesterday, today and forever, is willing to take back His unconverted wife and “marry” her again, upon her conversion, even though she married other men and played the harlot in the meantime. This would show, then, that a converted husband is free to remarry his converted wife, even though his wife was married to another man in the meantime, as long as the wife is also free to remarry her first husband (or vice versa).

(a) This is clearly the case when the second husband dies (Deuteronomy 24:3).
(b) This is also the case when the unconverted wife divorces from her second unconverted husband prior to her conversion (see under #3).
(c) This would NOT be the case, however, if the wife becomes converted, while married to her second unconverted husband (see under #3). With her conversion, God accepts her in the state in which she is, that is, as a woman married to her second husband. Unless the second husband dies or is an unbeliever who is not any longer pleased to dwell with his wife (see under #2), the wife would not be free to sever that
(second) marriage relationship to return to her first husband. This would be the case where Deuteronomy 24:1-4 would still apply today, in principle.

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