What the Bible Says About Divorce

Introduction

About 41% of all first marriages will end in divorce in America. However, many men are forgoing marrying today because of the modern women’s mindset. The dynamics are also changing as more American men look overseas for wives.

Indeed, there are Christians who find themselves considering divorce or have divorced their spouses. Have they committed an unpardonable sin? Are they cursed? Should they marry someone else in pursuit of a better life? What does the Bible say about divorce? I will answer that question in this article.

My Approach To Finding An Answer

Of course, I will present Bible verses that deal specifically with divorce. However, I don’t consider the Bible a rulebook or recipe book where we can pick Scripture to answer specific questions. For example, you will not find a Scripture about using Ai generators or smoking. The Bible reveals God’s way to us so we can use His wisdom to govern our lives. We also have the Holy Spirit to guide us (if we let Him).

The Bible reveals God’s progressive revelation and involvement in human lives. Therefore, interpreting the Bible strictly on the text alone can easily lead to misinterpretation. We must consider the context, historical setting, and other passages to interpret the Scriptures more accurately, which I do in this study.

Scripture Lesson

The Bible addresses the topic of divorce in several passages, which are shown below.

Malachi 2:16 (NKJV) — 16 “For the Lord God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the Lord of hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.”

In this passage, God judged the Israelites through the prophet Malachi for how they treated their wives. They were divorcing them unjustly. God declared that he hates divorce. His intent was for the two (husband and wife) to become one so that they would produce godly offspring. Remember, one of the commandments God gave Adam was to be fruitful and multiply, i.e., have lots of children.

The primary takeaway here is that God hates divorce.

Genesis 2:23–24 (NKJV) —23 And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

This passage shows us that God intends for married couples to be one.

Deuteronomy 24:1–4 (NKJV) — 1 “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, 2 when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, 4 then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

Men could divorce their wives by giving them a divorce certificate and sending them away. The basis for divorcing her was him finding uncleanness in her, e.g., adultery. She could marry another man, go back to her father (if possible), or become destitute.

If the second husband divorces her, she cannot go back and remarry her first husband because she was defiled being with another man.

Notice that God allowed for divorce even though he hates it. Also, note in the passage that a woman who married twice could not return to her first husband. Her being married again and divorced defiled her in the eyes of God.

Matthew 19:3–9 (NKJV) — 3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” 4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” 8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

The Pharisees asked Jesus if a man could divorce his wife for any reason. Remember, he only needed to write a divorce certificate and send her away. Jesus reveals that God intended marriage to be permanent until one dies, and it was allowed because of the hardness of their hearts.

Jesus also revealed that sexual immorality was the only acceptable reason for divorce. See also Matthew 5:31-32, Luke 16:18, and Mark 10:1-12.

1 Corinthians 7:10–15 (NKJV) — 10 Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife. 12 But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.

Paul says that the husband and wife should not divorce each other. If they divorce, they should remain unmarried or be reconciled to each other. Note by this time, it appears that wives could divorce their husbands.

1 Corinthians 7:39 (NKJV) — 39 A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

Paul reiterates God’s intention for marriages to be permanent until death. See also Romans 7:2-3.

Deuteronomy 22:13–19 (NKJV) — 13 “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her, 14 and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings a bad name on her, and says, ‘I took this woman, and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,’ 15 then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 And the young woman’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man as wife, and he detests her. 17 Now he has charged her with shameful conduct, saying, “I found your daughter was not a virgin,” and yet these are the evidences of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. 18 Then the elders of that city shall take that man and punish him; 19 and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name on a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.

This passage of Scripture, along with verses twenty through twenty-one, deals with the case where a man accuses his new wife of not being a virgin. If she is found innocent of the charges, the man has to pay a fine to the wife’s father and can never divorce her. She is protected from lies by men who would treat their wives unjustly. However, if she were found not to be a virgin, then she would be put to death.

Matthew 1:19 (NKJV) — 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.

This passage highlights the point that sexual immorality was a justification for divorce. Note being espoused to a woman required a divorce to end the relationship. Mary would have been disgraced since she was found to be pregnant, indicating that she must not be a virgin (they didn’t know her conception was of the Holy Spirit).

1 Corinthians 7:15 (NKJV) — 15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.

There are cases where two unbelievers are married, and one becomes a believer later in their marriage. Paul wrote that if the unbelieving spouse is willing to live with the believing spouse, the believer should not divorce them. However, if the unbelieving spouse decides to leave, let them go.

That implies that if the unbeliever wants a divorce, then go through with it. The believing spouse is not bound to remain married if their unbelieving spouse divorces them.

Lessons Learned

What have we learned from the passages of Scripture above?

  • God hates divorce.
  • God intended marriage to be lifelong.
  • The only accepted reason for divorce is sexual immorality. There are several interpretations of what that means. Sexual immorality is any sexual act (or thought) that is outside marriage and God’s intention for it. Sexual immorality could be adultery, fornication (sex outside of marriage), pedophilia, homosexual acts, bestiality, masturbation (in some cases), and  pornography
  • Married couples should not divorce except for sexual immorality
  • If a couple divorces, they should remain unmarried or be reconciled.

Related Takeaways

We can gain some other things from what the Bible says about divorce.

  • Be diligent in selecting a spouse. You should not marry someone just because you fell in love with them, nor should you marry someone you just met (you don’t know much about them if anything). People put more effort into finding the right car or appliance than they do a spouse.
  • Be active in working on your marriage. Taking your marriage for granted is easy as life creeps in and forces you to change priorities. Always prioritize your relationship with your spouse. Learn about marriage, relationships, men’s and women’s mindsets, and more. Use what you learn to help your marriage grow.
  • Never speak of divorce. Divorce is not an option except in limited circumstances, such as abandonment or sexual immorality, as described previously.

Did God Put Them Together

Another aspect of marriage and divorce that I ponder to this day is from the following passage.

Matthew 19:6 (NKJV) —  So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

I thought of this many years ago when I observed the divorce of a church member. I wondered if God put those two together. What if we marry someone that we weren’t supposed to marry? What if God had someone else for us? What if God did not put the two together?

I know that opens a “can of worms.” Humans have a way of justifying the wrongs they do by any means possible. It is easy to see how someone might declare that they divorced someone because they believed God didn’t put them together. However, I think it is at least possible to end up in a marriage you probably should not have. Divorce becomes a way of hitting the reset button to get back on track.

I am not suggesting that people should get married haphazardly and divorce if things don’t work out. Remember, God intended for a couple to be together for life, and he hates divorce. However, there could be situations where divorce will undo the bad decision you made in marrying someone you probably should not have. I’ve thought about that for years and do not know how valid it is.

Grace and Forgiveness

What about people who divorced and even those who remarry? Are they living in sin? We must always leave room for grace and forgiveness. If a person divorces and remarries, the Bible says that they have committed adultery against their former spouse. However, we can go to God for forgiveness in those situations.

I am not suggesting that we divorce as frivolously as some decide to marry. In my opinion, the first step in marriage is to use wisdom in deciding who you will marry and not rely on feelings, e.g., being in love. Avoid divorce.

Even if there is sexual immorality, that doesn’t mean you must divorce. Perhaps things can be worked out. Perhaps what led to the infidelity could be dealt with to adultery-proof it. The first approach is to save the marriage and avoid divorce.

Conclusion

The Bible teaches us that divorce is not what God intended for marriages. As a matter of fact, he hates divorce. Therefore, we should not seek divorce. It is better to reconcile with our spouse than to seek to end the relationship. After all, how do you know you will do better with another wife or husband?

Two situations are identified as grounds for divorce: sexual immorality and being divorced by an unbelieving spouse. I’m sure there are other situations that you can think of that seem reasonable as grounds for divorce. For example, you might say that physical abuse is grounds for divorce.

Interestingly, the Bible does not identify physical abuse as grounds for divorce. However, that doesn’t mean that you should stay in a relationship where there is physical abuse. You would do well to separate yourself from your abusive spouse long-term or perhaps permanently if they do not seek professional help to eliminate the abusive behavior.

Divorce is not in God’s plan for marriage unless there is abandonment by an unbelieving spouse or sexual immorality. Marriage should be until death separates the two, not a legal proceeding.

Therefore, be diligent about who you marry, whether you are the pursuer or the one pursued. Consider very carefully if you want to spend the rest of your life with that person. Marriage is a serious decision that will affect you for the rest of your life. Also, consistently work at your marriage like you do many other things. It is incredible how people don’t work on their marriage and are surprised when it starts to fall apart.

I end with this.

“To call me a judge is something of a misnomer. I am really a sort of public mortician. In the past eleven years I have presided over the final obsequies of twenty-two thousand dead marriages. The trouble is this: I have buried a lot of live corpses. There was no sure way to discover and resuscitate the spark of life that surely remained in many of them.

—A Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, Toledo, Ohio”[1]

 

[1] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 346.

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