Annulment of a Marriage And the Bible

 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!”

– Genesis 12:18-19, NIV


Until The Village Church Scandal broke with Karen Hinkley obtaining a marriage annulment, I had not spent much time thinking Biblically about annulment. It is sort of a related category to divorce but is very different. They are not the same thing as a divorce acknowledges a valid marriage existed whereas an annulment says it was never a marriage.

Now, I have discussed the Roman Catholic practice of annulment that deals with sacrament validity. Many Catholics may be aware of this process since it is required for a Catholic to undergo in order to remarry in the Catholic Church following a divorce. I am not talking about that complex process here.

I am talking about the garden-variety civil annulment of a marriage. This is the type where someone is withholding important information in order to get married, for example.

Does the Bible support such an annulment or official recognition of an invalid marriage?

While the Bible does not tackle this issue using that exact term, I think it does say something about the matter through the life of the Patriarchs. In particular, I think the Bible gives us a clear picture from the life of Abraham who notoriously pushed his wife Sarah into fraudulent “marriages.”

To be clear: I am firmly in the camp of “Yes, the Bible supports marriage annulments.” 

The verses quoted above form some of my Biblical support for this position (also see Genesis 20). Clearly, God does not view a “marriage” as valid when one party is already married as in the case of Sarah. This ought to be commonsense. But some have made it less than commonsense as in the case of Karen’s situation (see post here on how her situation qualifies). From Abraham’s poor example, I see a teaching here where fraudulent circumstances make ruling the marriage invalid acceptable for followers of Christ.

Now some pastoral thoughts:

Fighting for these “marriages” makes as much sense as saying that God ought to have insisted Sarah stay with Pharaoh (or Abimelech in the Genesis 20 story). This is an absurd stance to take. Furthermore, it is reality denying–e.g. Sarah’s marriage to Pharaoh never existed to begin with. She was ineligible to marry and Pharaoh (plus Abimelech) reportedly would have never attempted to marry her if they had known she was wed to Abraham.

Marriage annulment situations can demonstrate divorce prejudice bleed. In the effort to discourage divorce, pastors sometimes conflate categories by teaching annulment as the same thing as divorce. They end up defending a position God never intended them to defend–i.e. fighting for non-existent marriages. Focusing on divorce as the problem as opposed to the sin around marriage dissolution, it is easy to see how that pastoral laziness can result in such further errors as that.



5 thoughts on “Annulment of a Marriage And the Bible”

  1. Never really thought about spiritual/scriptural distinctions between divorce and annulment. While I understand the weight of his offense, I do now wonder why KH chose one over the other. I think many people enter marriage with soul ties, secret sin, lingering emotions from former relationships, all of which plant the seeds for adultery and other sexual sin. Arguably, all offended spouses could claim fraud.

    1. How would you feel about a woman, lying to her boyfriend about her sexual past, including how her child was created, in order to enter a marriage under false pretenses.

      The truth is, it wouldn’t have mattered, as long as there was transparency, but it took 21 years for the lie to “slip out”. Now I’m being told that, it’s not a big deal, I should get over it, why are you making me relive the past when it’s forgiven and over.

      Its not like I could change what happened prior to our meeting, but I think I would have walked away 21 years ago…prior to marriage, and prior to our 3 kids. Theres a huge difference from “rape” and being “consenting”. She led me to believe she had been raped, broke up with him, he shot himself, her family forced her to stay with him, he raped her again, baby happened (she was almost 17 when she was born) I’ve lost so many nights sleep, crying for her…and murdering him in my mind! Thousands of times!!!

      If I struggle with it, or maybe say a cuss word, or whatever reason, she will remind me that I’m not perfect and have watched porn, and she has every biblical validity to divorce me over that…if I blow that off, or there’s not the desired effect she wants, she will tell me she should leave me because I use marijuana…at this point, I’m ready to file an annulment, but I don’t want to. I’m so tired of being the bad guy, and now I’ve found out she’s been lying to me for 21 years, it’s like any love I had for her is slipping away and any pastor I talk too tells me the same dumb thing…”what are you doing, do you know what you’re going to lose”

      I’m ok living the rest of my life miserable as long as I don’t jeopardize my soul, or my wife’s by divorcing or filling annulment, if that is not of God.

      I know neither of us is perfect, and she’s probablly right, but it doesn’t change how I feel, but it certainly changes how I will trust and interact with every single human I will encounter for the rest of my life…I mean if the best person on the earth could do this, what will everyone else do to me?

      What’s ever worse, is I struggle looking at my own children, because I think of her and it makes me sick 😢😢😢

  2. Please can a woman who has been deceived into marrying a married man who lied to her that he was not married remarry?

    1. FD,

      I see this as pretty straight forward: YES, you can remarry. It is very much like the situation where God did not recognize the “marriages” to Sarah by men other than Abraham. Hope that helps!

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