Q: Can a Christian man or woman who is divorced marry again? Doesn’t Matthew 5:32 forbid this?”
A: Many translations of this particular verse do not distinguish between the “committing of adultery” on the part of the perpetrator of the divorce and the one who is wrongfully served with the divorce by the erring spouse. For example, the King James Version states, “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.” Here the man who divorces his wife other than for the Scripturally allowed reason of his wife having committed adultery certainly commits adultery himself with such a decree, while at the same time the innocent woman who is on the receiving end is said to have committed adultery as well. The same would apply to another man who marries the woman unjustly divorced. But this is not a precise rendering of the Greek in Matthew 5:32.
A more accurate rendition of the latter portion of this verse is: “. . . causes her to be looked upon as an adulteress, and whoever marries a divorced woman is looked upon as an adulterer” (God’s Word to the Nations). The passive verb form is better reflected by the expression “looked upon as an adulteress(er),” for the literal meaning is “to be made the victim of adultery” or “to be stigmatized as an adulteress(er).” This understanding of the term clarifies the thrust of the verse. Even the innocent party in such an unscriptural divorce situation is made to appear in the eyes of the public as having committed adultery, because the public cannot know all the facts of the case.
Surely for a woman or man on the receiving end of this kind of divorce there is no prohibition to remarry. In fact, the status for the Christian man or woman so described would be analogous to the “malicious desertion” circumstance described by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 7:15. There, too, one cannot find the apostle putting probationary limits of any kind on the innocent party desiring remarriage.
In the case of a spouse who has instigated an unscriptural divorce and later repents, it is a foregone conclusion that – when possible – sincere efforts will be made at reconciliation. “First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:24). When this is not possible, such as when the other spouse already has married another; and when the repentance nevertheless has been shown to be genuine, the “guilty party” should not be compelled to remain in an unmarried state. It may be advisable to remain unmarried. It may also be advisable not to marry again too quickly. But let us remember that the sin of divorce is not an unforgivable sin. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1 :7). The one who has wrongfully obtained a divorce and later on repents of his/her action ought not be treated any differently than other believers in Christ’s atoning grace.