Divorce and Remarriage

Are Unbelievers Under Christ’s Marriage Laws?


There are many positions concerning God’s legislation on divorce and remarriage. One of the popular positions today that continues to gain more followers is that the law of Christ on marriage, given in Matthew 19:9, only applies to two Christians. The position further states that the law of Christ concerning marriage does not apply to mixed marriages (a believer who marries an unbeliever) nor does the law apply between two non-Christians. The fancy statement of this position is that non-Christians are not amenable or responsible to the law of Christ. Since Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7 do not apply to non-Christians, the position contends that an unbeliever can divorce and remarry repeatedly without committing adultery. Further, when that unbeliever comes to Christ, it is at that time that the unbeliever, who is now a believer, becomes amenable to Christ’s marriage laws and therefore can keep their current spouse (regardless of past marriages or circumstances) once they are a Christian. From then point on, they are not allowed to divorce and remarry except for sexual immorality. This position has been made popular by E.C. Fuqua, James Bales, and Homer Hailey.

Allow me a moment to explain the logic behind this position. In the days of the Old Testament we see in the scriptures that there were two laws given. The obvious law that we know of is the law of Moses. The law of Moses was only given to the Jews (Deuteronomy 5:1-3). The Gentiles were also under law but not under the law of Moses. We know that there was law to the Gentiles because without law there is no sin (Romans 5:13). It is clear from Romans 1 that they had transgressed law because they are condemned in sin by Paul, showing their need for a Savior from their sins. This law has been called various things throughout time. Some have called this law to the Gentiles the “Adamic law” (Romans 5:14). From Romans 8:2 this law to the Gentiles has also been called “the law of sin and death.” In most cases, this law to the Gentiles has been called “universal moral law.” Up to this point, there is no reason for argument, for we must accept that Gentiles are under law (whatever name one chooses to call it) and the Jews were under the law of Moses.

The question comes down to this: When Christ came and brought His new covenant, did Christ’s covenant remove both the law of Moses and the law of sin and death, or only the law of Moses? If Christ’s law only removed the law of Moses, then the universal moral law is still in place against those who are unbelievers. If Christ removed both laws, then both believers and unbelievers are amenable to the law of Christ, and therefore must obey Christ’s marriage laws. This is the issue presented before us.

As we go into this study, I want to be honest with you and tell you that I am not sure which scenario is correct. There are extremely good arguments on both sides as to whether unbelievers are under the law of Christ or not. But I do want to positively declare to you that the answer is not needed to know what law unbelievers are under concerning marriage. I have argued before that the laws of marriage have always been the same since Genesis 2 and have not changed to this very day. I intend to prove this by showing that the unbeliever is under the same marriage law whether under Christ’s law or under the law of sin and death.

Unbelievers Are Under the Law of Christ

Christ’s teaching on marriage

In Matthew 19:9 it is very clearly taught by Christ that there is only one lawful reason for a divorce and remarriage, and that is for the cause of fornication. All other acts of divorce and remarriage are condemned as adultery. Therefore, if we can prove that unbelievers are under the law of Christ, then it is easy to show that unbelievers can only divorce and remarry for the cause of fornication. The following points are arguments presented to show that unbelievers are under the law of Christ.

Amenable to one part of the law is amenability to all the law

This is probably one of the strongest arguments in proving that unbelievers are under the law of Christ. In Galatians 5:3 Paul says, “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.” James argues the same point in James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” What can be understood by these passages is that if you are obligated to keep one law, then you are obligated to keep all the laws. What law can we show that unbelievers are to keep that is of the law of Christ? The most obvious law is the command to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. This is a law that was issued by Christ and it is under His covenant that this salvation is offered. Therefore, if unbelievers are accountable to this law given by Christ, they are also accountable for all the other laws given by Christ. Therefore, if baptism is to be obeyed by unbelievers, the marriage laws as well as the laws against murder, stealing, and drunkenness are also to be observed by unbelievers. Unbelievers are obligated to keep the whole law of Christ.

Jesus applied His law to everyone, not to Christians

Furthering the power of this argument, let us turn our attention to Matthew 19:9. Was Jesus speaking to Christians when He gave these laws of marriage? No, Jesus was speaking to Jews, those under the old covenant. Therefore, we cannot simply say that the laws of Jesus were only given to Christians, because these laws were actually a clarification of Moses’ law concerning marriage. Be that as it may, in Matthew 19:9, who does Jesus apply this law to? Notice how the command begins, “whoever.” Jesus brought in everyone under this law. If you are a “whoever,” then this law applies to you. “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery.” This is a law given to Christians, to Jews, to Gentiles, to all people. Therefore, many argue that not only the law of Moses, but also the law of sin and death, were taken away at the cross and the law of Christ is to rule all people. Since the law of Christ rules all people, then all people are under His marriage laws and Matthew 19:9 applies to all.

Law of Sin and Death (Universal Moral Law) Contains Marriage Laws

Considering the alternative

However, let us consider the possibility that the law of sin and death is still in effect against those who are unbelievers. Homer Hailey for the first three-quarters of his book makes very persuasive arguments to show that the law of sin and death is still in effect to unbelievers. I will let you spend your own time in studying whether the law of sin and death is still in effect. But allow me to show you a couple of passages which seem to suggest such. In Romans 8:2 we read, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” This seems to teach that one is under the curse and condemnation of the law of sin and death. But when one becomes obedient to Christ, they are made free from that law and are now under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Verse 3 of this passage continues that it is this law that condemns us, but it is the law of Christ that gives us life and frees us. Romans 5 also argues such a point. In Romans 5:19 we see that we are all under the same condemnation of law because we have all disobeyed the law of sin and death just as Adam did. While not trying to necessarily prove this to be the truth, I want us to recognize that the option is very viable, logical, and scriptural and it is not an argument from left field.

If this be the case, the proponents of this position believe they have us on the matter of divorce and remarriage. If the law of sin and death is still in effect for the unbelievers, the proponents of this position show the necessity of realizing that unbelievers are not under the law of Christ concerning marriage. Instead, unbelievers are under the law of sin and death concerning marriage. Proponents further teach that there is no condemnation of adultery in the law of sin and death. The question we must ask ourselves is this: does the law of sin and death, or universal moral law, contain laws concerning marriage? I believe that the law of sin and death contains the same marriage laws and I will spend the rest of this lessons proving this point.

Laws condemning violating marriage covenant

There are many places in the scriptures where we learn about the Gentiles violating law. Since the Gentiles were violating law and they were not under the law of Moses, we must assume they violated the law of sin and death. If we know the violations of the law, then we can know what were commands contained in that body of law.

In Romans 1:20-32 Paul describes the violations of the Gentiles. In verse 25 we see that idolatry was forbidden under universal moral law. In verses 26-28 we learn that homosexuality was forbidden. Consider all of the other laws that were given by God to the Gentiles as revealed in verses 29-32. The Gentiles were commanded to not covet, not be malicious, not envy, not murder, not be deceitful, not to be backbiters, not to be proud or violent, not to be disobedient, and to be trusting, loving, forgiving, and merciful. Do these laws sound similar to the law of Christ? I hope we see that these are the same laws. Further, Romans 1:29 identifies sexual immorality as a sin of the Gentiles. The word Greek work for sexual immorality is porneia, which means unlawful sexual relations, including adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, and bestiality. All sexual laws are covered in this word “sexual immorality.” From this we can see that the law of sin and death, or universal moral law, contained the same marriage laws because the same condemnation of adultery and fornication is given.

This point is more clearly seen in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Paul says that fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, sodomites, and so on will not inherit the kingdom of God. Notice carefully verse 11, “and such were some of you.” How could the Gentiles of Corinth have previously been adulterers if there was no law against adultery given to them? How could they be fornicators if there was no law in the universal moral law calling this a sin? It is clear that these were laws against the Gentiles and therefore contained in universal moral law so that the Corinthians needed to be washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Corinthians 6:11). The same laws for violating the marriage covenant were given to the Gentiles.

From the beginning, marriage law has been given to all

This point is also the thrust of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19. In Matthew 19 what law does Jesus refer to as the marriage law to all men? Jesus does not teach the law of Moses so that it could be argued that this law was only to the Jews. Instead, Jesus goes to the marriage law given at the beginning in Genesis 2 and shows that Moses’ law is the same as the law given in the beginning. Moses’ law, Christ’s law, and even the things taught by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 all fit together as the same law given by God in Genesis 2. This is one marriage covenant that has never changed.

The laws of marriage were given in the very beginning and have not be altered or amended. Jesus teaches that marriage is from the beginning. Were Adam and Eve Jews? No, the promise of the nation did not come until Abraham. Were Adam and Eve Christians? No, since Christ had not come yet. In a very general sense, Adam and Eve were Gentiles. Adam and Eve stand before the law of Moses and before the law of Christ. Jesus teaches that the marriage law given to them is universal in nature and applies to everyone. Marriage is not Jewish law or Christian law, but divine law given to all mankind, regardless of the covenant relationship they are in.

God’s law in Genesis 2, though not explicitly stated, had the same effects as the explicit teaching of Christ. When God said He made them male and female and the two become one flesh, He implicitly prohibited divorce, adultery, homosexuality, and polygamy. Jesus explicitly taught this in Matthew 19 as well as Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. God’s marriage law of Genesis 2 applies to all men, in the covenant and outside the covenants of God.

John the Baptist condemnation of Herod based upon the law of sin and death

I would like us to make another consideration concerning what was contained in the law of sin and death, or the universal moral law. In Mark 6:17-18 we find that Herod had married Philip’s wife, Herodias. John the Baptist preached against this to Herod, “it is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herod was clearly a Gentile, in fact the lineage of the Herods came from Idumea, which were Edomites. With Herod being a Gentile, not being under the law of Moses and Christ’s law not being established yet since Christ had not died, what law was Herod under? It seems clear by now that Herod was under the law of sin and death, or universal moral law. How could John say to Herod that it was not lawful for Herod to have his brother’s wife?

The only answer is that the law Herod was under, the law of sin and death, contained marriage laws that prohibited the actions he took. Once we admit that there are marriage laws governing the Gentiles, it takes but a moment to realize that the marriage law they are under is the same as the marriage laws given by Christ that believers are under. Why couldn’t Herod have Herodias as a wife? Herod could not have Herodias because Herodias was still the wife of Philip and was still bound to him.

The point that I hope we are all realizing is that simply because one is an unbeliever does not mean that one can divorce and remarry without committing adultery. To suggest that unbelievers are not under marriage laws or that unbelievers cannot commit adultery is to completely ignore the scriptures. The scriptures repeatedly condemn the Gentiles for adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and other sexual sins. Therefore they are also under the marriage laws of God and have violated those laws.

Let us also consider a logical point as well. If the laws of marriage were not given to the Gentiles, are not contained in the law of sin and death, and do not apply to unbelievers, then unbelievers have no authority for marriage. If unbelievers are not under God’s marriage laws, then they have no authority for marriage and therefore sin when they do marry. To act without authority is sin, as John tells us that sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). Lawlessness is to act where there is no law or authority. How do we know that unbelievers have the right to marriage? They have the right to marriage because all people are given the right to marriage in Genesis 2, and therefore all people are under God’s marriage law. Therefore, all men and women are commanded and expected to obey God’s marriage law.


The point I want to us to realize is whether unbelievers are under the law of Christ or under the law of sin and death is really of no consequence in regards to the issue of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. In either case, unbelievers are under the same marriage laws as believers. Unbelievers are either under the law of Christ, in which it clear that they are to obey Christ’s marriage laws, or unbelievers are under the law of sin and death, which we have shown also contains the same marriage laws. Therefore, unbelievers can commit adultery and violate God’s marriage laws. When that is done, they are to repent of those sins along with their other sins when they come to Christ. An unbeliever is not allowed to remain in a sinful situation by keeping a spouse that is not lawful to have according to the law of God. Unbelievers cannot divorce and remarry as much as they choose and then come to Christ and keep their latest spouse. They have violated the marriage covenant and Jesus and Paul said that if one divorces and remarries other than for the cause of sexual immorality, they commit adultery. They are not to be married because it is not lawful for them to be joined. If a spouse divorces for any reason other than sexual immorality,
that spouse must remain unmarried or be reconciled (1
Corinthians 7:10-11).

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