The Bible and Divorce



The Bible makes an emphasis on marriages lasting. That is what God would like to see for everyone. Jesus made that very clear in Matthew 19:3-6, “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?[4] And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,[5] And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?[6] Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Obviously, Jesus is referring to Adam and Eve: the first married couple. Already, we see an important principle: God brought Eve to the man. God brought the two of them together. It was God’s will that these two be married the one to the other for the rest of their lives. They did not get divorced. Most of what I have to say applies to those who believe in Jesus. The Bible is God’s instruction book to believers: may God have mercy on those who do not have Jesus as Savior. The way to have God’s will in the person that you marry and to have that marriage last for a lifetime requires two things: 1. Choose wisely, and 2. Treat kindly. Concerning choosing wisely, I will summarize some of the Biblical principles:


1. Be surrendered to God’s will and to seeking God to help you make the choice of whom you should marry.

2. Pray. God answers prayer. Whom you marry will be one of the most important decisions of your life. Do not make it on your own.

3. Wait for God’s time. If you are really seeking God’s will, He might have you wait a while until He brings that right one into your life.

4. Remember the Biblical principle of separation from unbelievers. If you love Jesus, look for a soul-mate who also loves Jesus. It is not enough that they say they are a Christian or go to church. They must truly demonstrate that they love the Lord, or else cross them off your list of potential mates. You need to end up with a soul-mate, and not just a spouse.

5. Before you get married listen carefully to sound advice from your parents, grandparents, or others who care about you. In our culture that does not mean that you must do what they say no matter what, because they might be wrong, but at least respectfully consider what they say about this other person before you take you future spouse.


(Please see my teaching about these principles using the example of Isaac and Rebekah from Genesis chapter 24.)


If everyone followed these Biblical steps carefully before they got married, and then also both spouses treated each other properly, most marriages would last “until death do us part.” But the reality of life is that some people make mistakes. Some people make the wrong decision when they are young. And some people make the wrong decision when they are not so young. Some people marry the wrong person at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. Does the Bible teach that such people are doomed to spend the rest of their lives in a terrible situation of unhappiness? Actually, in the day in which we live, many people have been divorced, and many of these are Christians. Are these Christians who have been divorced forever doomed to be second-class Christians, a rank lower than those who have not been divorced? The way to answer these questions is to ask one more question: What does the Bible say about divorce? And in order to answer that question properly, we must look at all the passages in the Bible about divorce, and not just some of them. Some people make a mistake by trying to teach about divorce and only using one passage of scripture on the subject. They miss the true meaning by not taking all of the passages and combining them all to come to final conclusions.        


The word “divorce” means to cut off the marriage or to break the marriage bond, and the word comes literally from a word that means “to cut off.” When two people are married, they are tied together by the marriage bond, and thus to cut the marriage bond sets loose the bond and ends the marriage. All marriages are temporary for one of two reasons. Every marriage either ends in death or divorce. Jesus said that there is no marriage in heaven. Marriage is only for this life, which means that all marriages are temporary. You will not be married to anyone in heaven. Instead you will be friends and brothers or sisters to everyone who is there. Jesus said in Matthew 22:24-30, “Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.[25] Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother:[26] Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh.[27] And last of all the woman died also.[28] Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.[29] Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.[30] For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.”


The New Testament uses the term being “loosed” from the marriage bond, which happens at death and at divorce. This “loosing” of the bond means to be set free from the bond and from the obligations of that marriage when the bond is loosed at death. Divorce has the exact same effect: it totally loosens the marriage bond, and it sets the couple free from the bond of marriage. About this loosing of the marriage bond, it says in Romans 7:1-4, “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?[2] For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.[3] So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.[4] Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” Notice Romans 7:3. If she was still married to her husband and then married a second man, she would be committing adultery. Of course, if she was divorced from her first husband, then she would not be committing adultery because her first husband would no longer be her husband. In both cases (death or divorce) she would be loosed from the marriage bond. She would be single when she married another man, and thus would not be committing adultery.  


Jesus talked about divorce in Mark 10:2-12, “And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.[3] And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you?[4] And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.[5] And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.[6] But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.[7] For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;[8] And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.[9] What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.[10] And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter.[11] And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.[12] And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.” If this is the only passage that you ever use about divorce, then you would conclude that there are no exceptions whatsoever. You would say that no one could ever be divorced. This passage gives no exceptions whatsoever to the bond of marriage. If you are married and then marry a second person while still married to the first, Jesus says that you committed adultery, if you base your understanding only on this passage in Mark. If you only look at this passage and consider no other teaching by Jesus or anyone else in the Bible, then you must conclude that all divorce is wrong, and that no one should ever get divorced for any reason. Once married, every person should stay married until death. But Jesus spoke about divorce in two other passages in Matthew which show that He did give an exception (adultery) to the rule that He spelled out in Mark chapter 10. How can we account for this? One thing to remember is that God does want all marriages to work out, if possible. If people are having marital difficulties, the Lord wants them to find a solution so that they can have a mutually submissive and loving relationship “until death do us part.” God prefers that there would be no divorces, but the reality is that some people will destroy their marriages and those marriages will end in divorce. It takes two people to make a marriage work, but only one person to destroy the marriage. Before we look at what Jesus said in Matthew about divorce, let’s read the passage in Deuteronomy that Jesus was talking about in Matthew.   


It says in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.[2] And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.[3] And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;[4] Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” And so we see that this passage from the law of Moses does allow for divorce. This passage is addressed to men, and in this passage men are given one reason to divorce their wives: adultery. That is why Jesus brings up the subject of divorce in Matthew from this passage in Deuteronomy: to clarify what Moses was saying. Jesus is not giving all the teachings on marriage and divorce, but Jesus is only explaining Deuteronomy 24:1-4. There is another passage in the law of Moses from Exodus chapter 21 that also speaks of divorce from a woman’s perspective. I write about the passage in Exodus chapter 21 further down in this article. Jesus does not mention the passage from Exodus chapter 21 in His teaching in Matthew, and thus we can conclude that Jesus did not put aside the teaching from Exodus chapter 21. Jesus let the teaching from Exodus chapter 21 stand. Evidently Jesus agreed with what Exodus chapter 21 says about a woman’s right to divorce because Jesus did not refute it.


Jesus spoke on the subject of divorce more than once. The most complete teaching that He gave is found in Matthew 19:3-9, “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?[4] And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,[5] And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?[6] Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.[7] They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?[8] He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.[9] And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” In this passage a direct reference is made to the passage in Deuteronomy that we quoted above. Jesus gave an exception to divorce, citing one instance where divorce is permissible: “except it be for fornication.” Jesus gave a similar exception in Matthew 5:31-32, “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:[32] But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”


Looking at a couple of other passages in the Bible that mention divorce, we must point out that God has been divorced. That is exactly what He says about Himself in Isaiah 50:1 and Jeremiah 3:8. It says in Isaiah 50:1, “Thus saith the LORD, Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.” It says in Jeremiah 3:8, “And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.” God was married to Israel, and then He decided to divorce Israel. If being divorced had such a stigma to it, would the holy God say that He had been divorced from Israel? Israel was His wife (in a spiritual sense), but God divorced her. God divorced Israel because of her false religion. In other words God divorced His wife for spiritual reasons: a reason for divorce that we see expressed in First Corinthians chapter 7. God also has prepared to be remarried. After He divorced Israel, God designated the church as the bride of Christ. It says in Revelation 21:2, “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” And it also says in Revelation 21:9, “And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife.”


This next passage from First Corinthians chapter 7 is addressing a situation in marriage where one person knows the Lord Jesus as Savior, and the other person does not. It says in First Corinthians 7:10-15, “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:[11] But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.[12] But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.[13] And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.[14] For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.[15] But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.” Notice carefully verse 15. It says, “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.” That is divorce. “Not under bondage” means to no longer be under the marriage bond. It is divorce caused by the spiritual difference between the husband and the wife. This verse also allows for divorce when there is an absence of “peace” in the marriage. Obviously, violence in the marriage would fit this definition. Please note that while this passage permits divorce, it also is an emphasis on trying to keep the marriage together if at all possible even when there are spiritual differences between husband and wife. This one thing seems to always be true about the Bible talking about divorce: do everything you can to create a good marriage and to make it last. God wants every marriage to be like the marriage of Adam and Eve (the first marriage): God brought them together and their marriage did not end in divorce. But all marriages do not and will not last for reasons we have already stated.  


The Bible says in Exodus 21:10-11, “If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.[11] And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.” The phrase “then shall she go out free” is divorce. What is she free from? She is free from servitude in the instance in Exodus, but she is also free from the marriage bond. This passage addresses itself to the rights of the wife when a man takes a second wife. I would contend that if a woman has such rights when there is a second wife which the Old Testament permitted, then a woman has such rights also when there is not a second wife. There are two reasons given to the woman for divorce in this passage: one is very specific and the other is very general. The first reason given is when the husband does not adequately supply the wife’s material needs (food and clothing are listed.) A man has a supreme responsibility to provide for his wife. This was especially the case in other centuries when there were so few opportunities for women, and when it really was in many ways “a man’s world.” Without a man to provide for her, a woman would easily be totally destitute. This obligation to provide for the wife is still a part of the marriage requirement. Even though women have more opportunities now, the man is not released from this obligation. Of course, the husband and wife could come to a mutual understanding that she will be the bread-winner, but without such an agreement, the man has violated this principle of marriage if he does not adequately provide for his wife. The second reason for divorce given in this passage in Exodus chapter 21 is called “her duty of marriage.” This refers to anything that makes up the conjugal responsibilities that the man owes the wife, and thus it is called “her duty” because it is the duty that he owes her: it is everything that the man should provide the wife in a physical or emotional way to keep the marriage bond viable. The New Testament makes a similar general emphasis on the man’s responsibility when it says in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” Therefore, the Bible gives tremendous power to the wife to decide when the man has made the marriage unsustainable, and when the wife is justified to end the marriage bond: that is, when she decides that a divorce is necessary. The scripture definitely puts the responsibility on the man to not only win the wife’s hand in marriage at the start of the marriage, but to also keep his wife by treating her properly. Beware husbands: treat your wife properly in all the responsibilities of marriage if you want to keep her. That is what the Bible says.


Some people effectively teach the following error because they do not allow for divorce: they teach that effectively no matter how you treat the wife, she is obligated to stay in the marriage. I disagree because of the above passages from the Bible and because of common sense. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that everything I wrote above is wrong. Let’s look at the contrary opinion and take the extreme and say that all divorce is sin, and that no one should ever get divorced “until death do us part.” Where does that leave us? That still leaves us with millions of people who have been divorced. Now we must say that they all sinned when they divorced. So every one of them can add one more sin to the thousands and thousands of sins that each has done in their lifetime. If they know Jesus as Savior, all sins are forgiven. In God’s eyes, that means they are the same as if they had not sinned, and thus the same as if they had not divorced. On the other hand, if I am correct in what I wrote in this article explaining somewhat the passages of the Bible concerning divorce, then many of these people did not sin when they got divorced, but each of them still had thousands of other sins over the course of their lifetime. If they know Jesus as Savior, all sins are forgiven, except the divorce or divorces, because there was nothing to forgive in regards to the divorce. If their sins are forgiven, there is no spiritual difference between a person who has been divorced and a person who has not  been divorced, even if you denounce all divorce as sin.


These are reasons for divorce that the Bible allows as we have just explained:


1.     Adultery. See Deuteronomy chapter 24:1-4 and Matthew chapter 19:3-9.

2.    Desertion. First Corinthians 7: 15, “if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.

3.    Lack of “peace” in the marriage or the household. This would cover anything from quarreling, to ill-will, and to violence. First Corinthians 7:15, “God hath called us to peace.” According to this verse, as important as the marriage bond is, living in peace is more important.

4.    Spiritual differences between husband and wife. First Corinthians 7: 15, “if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.

5.    Failure to meet one’s material responsibilities in the marriage. The passage in the scripture given is about the man who does not provide the proper food and clothing for the wife. Exodus 21:10.

6.    Failure to meet one’s conjugal responsibilities in the marriage. This would refer to failing to meet the physical or emotional needs of the spouse. The passage in the scripture given speaks of the man’s responsibility in such a matter. Exodus 21:10.


Of course, these six reasons do not require divorce. They only allow it. The emphasis of scripture is to try and fix the marriage so that it will endure “until death do us part.” As Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 19:8, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives. If you get saved at an early age by faith in Christ, and find the spouse He has for you, and then you both treat each other according to God’s will, you will have the best marriage that is possible for you in this life, and your marriage will endure “until death do us part.” That is a lot of “ifs.” But God does not want you to live in misery for the rest of your life either. If your marriage cannot be fixed (and only you can decide that,) you are “free.” Do not allow anyone to condemn you, and do not condemn yourself if you have been divorced. God gives second chances, and third chances, and fourth chances, etc. God understands.    


Just to give a word of testimony about my own life:


When I was a young man, I had the grace of God to have been able to follow the five principles given at the start of this article on how to find the wife that God had for me. It did cause me to wait six years: six years of praying every night. And then after I got married forty years ago, helping to keep my marriage going as a loving and meaningful relationship “until death do us part” has always been one of the top priorities of my life, coming right after following Jesus my Savior. Effort and desire are important. I do not consider divorce an option for myself, but I sympathize with those who have not been as fortunate as I have been. I also know that many things have been taught as being “from the Bible,” but not all the passages of the Bible on the subject have been considered carefully enough. The people who condemn others on the subject of divorce make many mistakes in what they teach and in what they say to people.      



Copyright; 2015 by Charles F. (Rick) Creech
All Rights Reserved