This page provides a range of contemporary resources in relation to the ethics of divorce and marriage after divorce during the lifetime of a former spouse. They are best used alongside the resources on the theology and ethics of marriage. Most, but not all, of these are available online (some though requiring a subscription to be accessed).
There is an enormous amount of literature on this area and most books on marriage and sexual ethics generally will have a chapter or more discussing it.Last Updated on 3 March, 2021 by Andrew Goddard
Dictionary Articles & Readers
A quick overview can be gained from dictionaries:
- IVP New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology – “Divorce” (pp. 315-6) by Gordon Wenham.
- SCM New Dictionary of Christian Ethics – “Divorce” (pp. 160-2) by Helen Oppenheimer.
- Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics – “Marriage and Divorce” (pp.508-12) by Allen Verhey.
In relation to the biblical texts (which need to read and considered carefully, especially Deut 24:1-4, Mt 19:1-12 and Mk 10:1-12, Mt 5.31-32, Lk 16.18, and 1 Cor 7), in addition to commentaries on these texts, the following are helpful guides:
- Richard M. Davidson – “Divorce and Remarriage in the Old Testament”
- Richard M. Davidson – “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: Old Testament Foundations and New Testament Implications”
- Richard Hays – The Moral Vision of the New Testament, Chpt 15.
- John Stott – “The Biblical Teaching on Divorce”, Churchman 85/3 (1971)
- Marital Imagery in the Bible: An Exploration of Genesis 2:24 and its Significance for the Understanding of New Testament Divorce and Remarriage Teaching by Colin Hamer was published in 2015. A sense of his argument can be gained from this excerpt from his book or from his original thesis. A more popular book is his 2017 God’s Divorce: Understanding New Testament Divorce and Remarriage Teaching.
Contemporary Christian Discussions on Divorce & Remarriage
The best overall guide to the debate (especially in relation to Scripture and the different evangelical views) is the discussion between Gordon J. Wenham, William A. Heth, and Craig S. Keener in Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: 3 Views (Zondervan, 2006). Other helpful contributions from these writers that give you an orientation to their views are:
- Gordon Wenham – “Does the New Testament Approve Remarriage after Divorce?” in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 6/1 (Spring 2002)
- Gordon Wenham – “May Divorced Christians Remarry?” in Churchman, 95/2 (1981) is a critical review of David Atkinson’s important 1979 study To Have and To Hold to which Atkinson responds here.
- William Heth (who originally took Wenham’s more conservative line and wrote a book with him defending it) explains his own changing position in “ Jesus on Divorce: How My Mind Has Changed” also in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 6/1 (Spring 2002)
- Craig Keener – “Why did Jesus warn about divorce? Mark 10.1-12” and “When would Jesus permit divorce?”. A helpful short 7 minute video on divorce and remarriage sums up his arguments.
Major contributions arguing for a more open position on remarriage after divorce have come from David Instone-Brewer in a number of works and on his website devoted to the subject:
- Divorce and Remarriage: In the 1st and 21st Century. (Grove Books, 2001).
- Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. (Eerdmans, 2002) is the detailed scholarly studyof the texts in light of Jewish tradition and 1st century practice and including survey of later Christian writers and thinking.
- Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities. (Paternoster Press, 2003) is more accessible and practical summary.
- Shorter summaries from him can be found in “What God Has Joined Together” (Center for Christian Ethics, 2006) and “Divorce for ‘Any Cause’” (2003).
- An earlier classic statement of a more accommodating stance is David Atkinson’s To Have and To Hold which has helpful summaries at end of each chapter and see in particular pp. 25-30 (the context of different views), 171-4 and 189-96.
The main works arguing (from an evangelical perspective) for a more restrictive position are:
- Andrew Cornes, Divorce & Remarriage. His argument is popularised in Questions about Divorce & Remarriage where pp. 33-48, 92-102 are most relevant.
- William E. Heth & Gordon Wenham, Jesus & Divorce.
- John Piper’s Divorce and Remarriage: A Position Paper
Although old, these guides to the ethical debates (especially among Anglicans) about the nature of the marriage and bond and marriage’s permanence are still helpful:
- Oliver O’Donovan’s Grove booklet, Marriage and Permanence and also his chapter on “Marriage and the Family” in Bruce Kaye (ed), Obeying Christ in a Changing World Vol 3 (esp pp. 106-10).
- “Frustration and Forgiveness” by JR Lucas in Theology 1971 (needs SAGE access)
- Articles by Lucas, Oppenheimer, MacQuarrie and Dunsant in Theology May 1975 (again needs SAGE access)
For the Church of England position:
- “Marriage in Church After Divorce” report from 2000 which led to change in formal policy. An online web version of it (poorly presented) is available here. See especially chapters 1-3 and 8-9. The report from the House of Bishops following it is here.
- The earlier 1999 Marriage: A Teaching Document has an appendix answering “What does the Church have to say to someone whose marriage has broken down?”
- The eight pages of formal guidance for clergy are here.
- A helpful guide to the debates at this time is Greg Forster, “The Changing Face of Marriage and Divorce” in Anvil 17.3 (2000): 167-178. See also, especially for pastoral outworking his Healing Love’s Wounds (Zondervan, 1995).
- I have offered a short 6-page survey of main changes in CofE practice in terms of pastoral accommodation – “Divorce and Remarriage”
- For a broader discussion of the traditional Anglican approach to the broader question of formulating policy and stating principles see Stephen Holmgren, Ethics After Easter, pp. 127-47.
For Roman Catholic teaching:
- The formal teaching is summarised in Catechism of Catholic Church, 1601-1666, 2382-2386
- The recent papal teaching in Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) has led to major controversy in the Roman Catholic Church concerning whether or not those in further marriages with a surviving spouse can now receive communion and whether the teaching on indissolubility has changed. See for example the articles in Homiletic and Pastoral Review on “Does the Text of Amoris Laetitia Allow Communion for the Divorced and Remarried?” (Part 1 and Part 2) and this interview with leading more liberal sexual ethicist Margaret Farley.
- On the teaching on indissolubility a recent study by Matthew Levering is able to be read online at Amazon (the whole book except for bibliography appears under “Look Inside” and can be downloaded as the sample on Kindle) and there is also a lecture giving an overview of his argument and a podcast where he answers various questions.
- A major UK Catholic scholar in this area is Timothy Buckley who wrote What Binds Marriage: Roman Catholic Theology in Practice. He has contributed to recent debates about Amoris Laetitia and some of his perspective can be gained from his earlier articles in The Way: “Second Marriage: An Opportunity for Spiritual Growth?” and “Second Marriage: Complications in the Catholic Church”.