MDR: Can the Guilty Person Remarry?


This is from my book “Just As I Am: Married, Divorced and Remarried”

But the question is: Can a man (and the same would be true of a woman) who has been guilty of “sexual immorality” (Matt. 19:9, NKJV) or “fornication” (KJV) and who has already been “put away” (divorced) be forgiven of that sin? Can he later marry someone else without sinning? In other words, can a man who has been divorced by a mate because he has been guilty of adultery then later marry someone else without being guilty of sin when he does so? Does he have a right to be married to another person? Does God recognize/approve/sanction the marriage to the other person? Will he be married in “God’s sight” to his new wife?

3. The Bible answer to all of these questions is: YES! Of course he can be forgiven if he repents and seeks forgiveness. And yes he can marry again. According to Jesus, when a person is “put away” because of fornication (KJV) or sexual immorality (NKJV) or marital unfaithfulness (NIV), he is “put away” (Matthew 19:9). He is not “partly” put away, or “nearly” put away, or “somewhat” put away, or “almost” put away—He is “put away.” He is divorced and the marriage is formally terminated, totally and completely. That means that he is not still married to her in any sense. He is not married in man’s sight. He is not married in God’s sight. And he is not married in anybody’s sight that can see things as they are! Most all agree that the wife who put him away is free to marry someone else because she put him away because of his fornication. But if she is free from that marriage and, therefore, no longer married to him, then he is no longer married to her. Both are unmarriedafter the divorce. The idea that the “guilty party” is somehow still bound to the woman who divorced him, or that he is bound by some “mystical magnet” or “invisible clamp” or to some (unknown) “law of God demanding his celibacy,” is not only wrong and unscriptural, it is downright ludicrous. One mate cannot be free from a marriage and the other mate still be bound by that marriage. The idea that “she” is not married to “him,” but he is somehow still “married to her” in some sense, makes absolutely no sense! In fact, it is nonsense! There is no “invisible clamp” that God places on a “marriage covenant” that cannot be broken if they divorce. If they are divorced then they are both “unmarried.”

4. The question then is: Can a person who has been “loosed from” or “released from” (divorced from) a wife marry someone else without sinning? Read the answer from the Bible for yourself. It is in 1 Corinthians 7:27-28:

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.

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 marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (New American Standard Bible)

5. Notice carefully that the Bible clearly says if you have been “loosed” or “released” (divorced), and are therefore unmarried and do not have a wife, then “if you do marry, you have not sinned.” Why is that the case with the one who is guilty of unfaithfulness in a divorce for fornication or adultery? It is because he no longer has a wife. He has been “put away” and is, therefore, “unmarried.” The marriage to his first wife is as though it never happened. His former wife is totally free from that marriage because she “put him away,” and he is totally free from that marriage relationship because he has been “put away.” It would be impossible for him to still be married to her, but her to not be married to him. If she is free from the marriage, then he is as free as she is. There is no possible way that he can “commit adultery against her” (Mark 10:11) when he remarries, because she is not his wife and he is not her husband. He has been “put way.”

6. Another thing that needs to be pointed out is that Jesus did not contradict Moses on this subject. He did not change what Moses said about it (Matthew 5:1-20). In fact, He upheld what Moses taught. In Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Moses wrote:

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,…..

7. Observe that Moses taught that the one guilty of “uncleanness” could go out and marry and when she does she “becomes another man’s wife.” Even though she was “guilty” of “uncleanness,” she was nevertheless free to remarry because she had been properly and formally divorced.

8. Jesus taught the same thing but He used the words “sexual immorality” instead of “uncleanness.” (Matt. 19:9). In doing so, He was actually explaining what kind of “uncleanness” to which Moses was referring.

9. Jesus said in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 that in a case where the marriage ends because of fornication, the “one flesh” relationship is over—totally and completely. Therefore, both parties (the innocent and the one guilty of fornication) in a divorce because of fornication (or adultery) are free to remarry someone else without sinning when they do.

10. God “hates divorce” in such cases (Malachi 2:13-16). But these things happen. Those who sin in ending marriages in an unscriptural way should repent and seek forgiveness. But there is nothing they can do about the past. What’s done is done! A person who has believed and been baptized is forgiven of all sin (Mk. 16:16), including marital unfaithfulness. A Christian, who has repented and confessed, has been forgiven of all sin, including marital unfaithfulness (1 John 1:9).

11. David was forgiven of this very sin (2 Samuel 11, 12; Psalm 52, 32). Those today that deliberately violate God’s marriage law can also be forgiven just as David was when they repent and seek God’s forgiveness. Acceptance of those who have committed this sin is not an approval of the sin that they have committed. God certainly did not approve of David’s sin with Bathsheba and David suffered for it, but He forgave David and blessed him in his subsequent marriage to her.

12. Paul committed many sins, including murder, which most of us have not done. But he said that he was “forgetting those things that are behind” (past mistakes, sins, and bad decisions), and “reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Phil. 3:6-13). Paul refused to live in the past and so should the rest of us. In First Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul said that some in the church in Corinth had been very sinful. Some of them had been “fornicators” and “adulterers” in the past but, having been forgiven, they were “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified” by the power (in the name) of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God. This is what knowing Jesus and the salvation that He freely gives us is all about!

13. Forgiveness is for those who have failed, not for those who are faultless.


Numerous leaders in the Church of Christ in the past believed (at least at some point in their studies) that the guilty party who is put away for fornication can remarry. Among those are:

1. Gus Nichols: “May the guilty party marry again? I see no way in the world for it to be true that the ‘innocent party’ may PUT AWAY the ‘guilty’ party and the ‘guilty party’ not really be put away. I see no way for the ‘innocent party’ to have a right to another marriage, but the ‘guilty have no such right. If the ‘guilty’ is REALLY “put away’, he is no longer married to the ‘innocent party’. How could the ‘innocent party’ be loosed from the bonds of wedlock, and the ‘guilty person’ still be tied to the ‘innocent’?…It seems to me impossible for the innocent to have the right to another marriage, and the guilty person have no such right.” (Words of Truth,” July 27, 1973, p. 2).

2. J.W. McGarvey: “Whether it would be adultery to marry a woman who had been put away on account of fornication, is neither affirmed or denied. No doubt such a woman is at liberty to marry again if she can, seeing that the bond which bound her to her husband is broken” (emphasis added). (Commentary on Matthew and Mark, p. 165).

3. Bobby Duncan: “Is he (a brother) an enemy to the church because he believes that the Bible allows the guilty party in divorce action to remarry under certain circumstances (emphasis added) (“Words of Truth,” April 13, 1979; It is common knowledge among many of us that Brother Duncan believed that the “guilty party” could remarry in certain circumstances.)

4. Foy E. Wallace, Jr wrote, concerning the permission to divorce in cases involving fornication: “The treatment of the permissibility of divorce, not a mere separation, but a separation so complete that the marriage tie, or bond of union, is null and void, leaving both parties free to marry again” (emphasis added)(The Sermon on the Mount and the Civil State, p. 42).

5. G. C. Brewer, one of the most influential preachers from the early to mid-1900s, wrote: “If the ‘innocent party’ can marry again, can the ‘guilty party’ be forgiven of this guilt? If he is forgiven, can he marry again? If not, is he forgiven? How is he forgiven if he is punished for life for his sin?” (The Truth About Divorce and Remarriage, Weldon Langfield, p. 58).

6. Homer Hailey: The contention that Genesis 2:18-24 was recognized as law which demanded that the person who takes the wife of another must give her up as demanded by repentance is disputed in the case of David…..Surely no one would deny that David repented, yet he was permitted to keep the woman as his wife. Repentance did not demand that she be put away or that the two live apart for the remainder of their lives, for she bore him four sons (1 Chron. 3:5). Will not the same God of loving-kindness and tender mercies forgive and blot out sins under a system of grace? Even then it was an act of grace. Would anyone argue that God was more merciful under law than He is under grace? Surely not! . (The Divorced and Remarried Who Would Come to God, pp. 72, 73).

Hope this helps! Thank God for Jesus! (2 Cor. 9:15).

Wayne Dunaway

One thought on “MDR: Can the Guilty Person Remarry?

  1. Interesting. I never noticed that Matt. 19:9 did not forbid marriage to the so called, “Guilty Party” Seems to say if the marriage ended for fornication either party is loosed and is free to marry.


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