Please explain Luke 16:18. Is divorce and remarriage always wrong?
The verse reads, “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."
The first thing we need to note here is that Jesus is speaking to men, and is considering the question from the perspective of a man’s role in the divorce and remarriage.
He says in the first place, “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” Taken by itself, and at a glance, this passage seems to imply an absolute prohibition of remarriage in any and all circumstances of divorce. But I think it’s better to understand Jesus as implying a very specific motive for the divorce, a motive which does not meet biblical standards of justification. When he says, “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another,” he is addressing the issue of a man who has found another woman he would rather be married to, and so he divorces his first wife in order to marry her. The man has not found any lawful reason to divorce his wife; he’s just found someone else more to his liking. There were rabbis in Jesus’ time who said this sort of thing was permissible. Rabbi Hillel, for instance, said that a man may divorce his wife for something as simple as spoiling his food. Rabbi Akiva said that a man might divorce his wife “if he found another [woman] more beautiful than her.” But Jesus says that this is nothing less than adultery. The man is being unfaithful to his wife by unjustly divorcing her so that he can take someone else. He’s breaking covenant with her.
Likewise, when Jesus says, “and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery,” he is supposing a case in which a man gains the affections of a married woman, so that she divorces her husband in order to marry him (her seducer). He who marries her is guilty of adultery (not to mention the fact that she is also) (cf. Mk. 10:11-12). This was the situation that John the Baptist rebuked in Herod. Herod had married a woman named Herodias who had divorced her husband in order to marry him (Mk. 6:16-20).
But all this leaves open the question of whether or not divorce and remarriage are allowed in other circumstances. In Deuteronomy 24, it is recognized that someone could divorce his wife if he found some “indecency” in her. The rabbis debated how far to take this word. As we have seen, some understood it very broadly (a woman spoils her husband’s food, or she has lost her youthful form and no longer pleases him).
Jesus, however, interprets the passage much more narrowly. He says, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). The underlying Greek word for sexual immorality in this verse is the word porneia. It’s the word from which the words porn and pornography are derived. Porneia is a term that broadly indicates offenses of a sexual nature, meaning anything from full-blown adultery, on the one hand, to withholding herself from the marriage bed on the other (cf. 1 Cor. 7:15). A woman, likewise, may pursue a divorce from her husband for similar offenses; and in addition, as we learn from Exodus 21, she may divorce him for failing to provide for her, which is her right as a wife (Ex. 21:10-11).
The breakdown of a marriage is always sad when it happens, but we should understand that it is not the case that all divorces are equal, even in the same divorce. In the same divorce, one party may be all to blame, and the other party completely innocent. The innocent party does no wrong in remarrying, provided it is a marriage in the Lord.