Preface: Allow me to preface this study by stating that the goal of this blog, as a whole, is to direct others to a genuine relationship with Jesus by sharing biblical truths. Jesus did not condemn people; He only condemned sin – but brought great hope to the people of forgiveness and grace. Let me clarify, God does not promote divorce but he does not hate the divorced, nor does he condemn them. The Bible gives us standards to live by so that we may live in God’s Will and bring honor to his name. Sadly, when one points out such standards, they are often told that they are being “holier than thou”, or judging, condemning, and being legalistic. The great Revivalist, Leonard Ravenhill, once said, “When there is something in The Bible that churches don’t like, they call it legalism!” Let us not make that mistake. Let us make a clear distinction between judging and guiding – for there is a vast difference. The only intent of this blog is to guide others to Jesus and to expose any possibility of sin so that it may be repented of.
Note: Due to the length of this study, I have divided it into parts. This is Part 1 of 2. The next blog post (coming soon) will be in regards to adultery and remarriage. Please read this AND Part 2 in its entirety, since they tie together. Let us begin.
(Disclaimer: These statistics gathered from my various sources represent the beliefs of those who participated in my small, non-scientific study. These statistics may or may not fully represent scripture or what the majority of others believe.)
In regards to divorce, the vast majority of those I asked believed that divorce is allowable in the cases of physical abuse, adultery/sexual immorality, and that a Christian may consent to (but not initiate) a divorce if married to a non-Christian. The small minority of those I asked believed that divorce is not allowable under any circumstance. There were also a small minority that believed otherwise or was undecided.
Whether we agree or disagree with the statistics listed above, we must clarify what scripture teaches in regards to divorce. The word divorce is defined by the dictionary as, “a judicial declaration dissolving a marriage in whole or in part; total separation; disunion...” But, let’s also look at divorce from a biblical perspective.
Law and Grace:
First, I must lay some basic groundwork so that everything else will make sense. You see, the Bible is divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament for a reason. While this is an entire topic in and of itself, suffice it to say that the Old Testament was the old covenant which God gave to His ancient people.
Under the old covenant (Old Testament), God spoke to His servant, Moses, and gave 613 commandments under the Mosaic Law. However, when Christ came to earth, He was the first and only who fulfilled all the requirements of the (old) Law and opened the way for the New. You see, the Law acted as a moral guardian until Christ came (see Gal. 3:25). When Christ came and took our sins upon Himself, died, and resurrected – He opened the way for us to be under a new covenant of grace; thus, the New Testament. Under His grace, we are justified and forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ and not by our ability to keep the Mosaic (old) Law nor are we made clean by animal sacrifices, as in the old Law. “Indeed, under the Law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). You see, that’s why animal sacrifices are no longer needed since Jesus came as the spotless Lamb of God and shed His blood for all mankind.
Many sins under the old covenant were punishable by death moments after the sin had occurred; one of which was the sin of adultery. But, under grace (new covenant), we can be forgiven and justified through Christ to be cleansed from our sorrowful, wicked sin. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Jesus took our sin upon Himself and died in our place.
As Christians, we are also given the power and desire to do right. Scripture plainly states that we are not “made right” or in right standing with God by trying to keep the (old) Law (see Gal. 2:16). In his commentary, Gordon J. Wenham says, “The underlying principles of the Law [found in the Old Testament], not specific application, should bind the Christian [living under the New Testament].” In other words, there are still some basic, moral principles under the Law such as “love God” and “honor the old and the wise” which still apply principally – but many of the specific applications, punishments, sacrifices, etc. are not observed under the new covenant. With that said – let us proceed.
Old Testament Divorce:
Under the Old Testament Mosaic Law, there were several examples given in regards to sexual immorality and how to deal with it in order to purge the evil out of the land. But, the specific law for divorce was as follows:
“When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor 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. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. 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; 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…” (Deut. 24:1-4)
Please note that under this old covenant divorce, the man (husband) was permitted to divorce his wife for, practically, any cause of dislike and she was free to remarry. However, we find in the new covenant, things are different (which we will cover later). When the above-scripture mentions that he may divorce her because he has found some “uncleanness in her” – this is NOT referencing adultery or marital unfaithfulness; for that sin was punishable by death. In Gill’s Exposition, it states that the uncleanness could be anything disagreeable to him – from blemishes/warts on her to her voice being too noisy. Also note that divorce was not a command, but only a permission for that time. Many of the biblical patriarchs had difficult marriages, but they remained married.
In Wesley’s Notes on the Bible, he states: “This [divorce for anything disagreeable to the man] is not a command as some of the Jews understood it, nor an allowance and approbation, but merely a permission of that practice for prevention of greater mischiefs, and this only until the time of reformation, till the coming of the Messiah when things were to return to their first institution and purest condition.”
Why God Hates Divorce:
You see, God hates the act of divorce; not the divorced. We must remember this, lest we heap coals of guilt upon our heads (or others heads) that we ought not to. Most are familiar with the scripture where God “divorces” Israel – but before we proceed, let us clarify one thing. This type of divorce could also be looked at as a temporary separation, more or less; because if he had put her away for good, he would not have wooed her back. In other words, he did not eternally divorce her nor turn his back on her. Now, let’s briefly explore why God hates divorce.
While the exact application of the Old Testament Law may not apply to us under the New Testament, we discussed that there are still some very practical principles which we can attain from it and we can learn the heart of our God who never changes. Such a profound, wise scripture is found in Malachi 2:13-16. It says:
“Here is another thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. You cry out, ‘Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?’ I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. ‘For I hate divorce!’ says the Lord, the God of Israel. ‘To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,’ says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. ‘So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.’”
If you’ve been the victim of some sort of marital unfaithfulness that ended in divorce – you are not alone. You may be surprised to know this – but God underwent a similar thing with Israel (see Jer. 3:8). Perhaps that is one reason why he hates divorce/separation because he knows how hurtful it can be. As we already saw in Malachi 2:16, God says that divorcing a faithful wife is to “overwhelm her with cruelty.” God must have felt the same way – as a loving and faithful God, Israel overwhelmed him with cruelty by worshiping other so-called gods. Nonetheless, God’s love, mercy, and commitment was so deep that he was willing to forgive her and take her back. He says, “O Israel, my faithless people, come home to me again, for I am merciful. I will not be angry with you forever. Only acknowledge your guilt. Admit that you rebelled against the Lord your God and committed adultery against him by worshiping idols under every green tree. Confess that you refused to listen to my voice. I, the Lord, have spoken” (Jer. 3:12-13). God expected Israel to take ownership of the sins committed in order for reconciliation to be genuine and lasting. In the same way, this account of reconciliation is a good lesson which can be applied nowadays.
However, I would add – if any marriage results in us being in sin (such as polygamy, adulterous remarriage, homosexual “marriage”, etc.), I believe we should repent of it because we are to live above reproach and forsake sin. 1st Corinthians 6:9 says that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.
New Testament Standards:
Under the new covenant, we are given the Holy Spirit within to enable us to do what is right. Even though Christians are under God’s grace – that does not give us a license to sin (see Rom. 6:1-2). There are still guidelines that the Christian must adhere to in order to have a successful marriage. In the guidelines listed below, I am referencing one man and one woman as original spouses – since other variables will be covered in my next blog. Some basic guidelines for marriage are as follows:
»If you never marry and are able to live a life of abstinence (and also abstain from cohabitation with a boyfriend/girlfriend), giving yourself to God’s work, it is good. However, if you are married, likewise, it is good. One is not superior to the other. (see Rom. 13:13, 1st Cor. 7:1-2, 1st Cor. 7:32-38)
»A sinner and a Christian are not to enter into a marriage unless the sinner is genuinely converted first (see 2nd Cor. 6:14).
»If both parties entering the marriage are sinners, but later one spouse becomes a Christian after already married, the Christian and the sinner are to remain married if the sinner is pleased to dwell with the Christian. But if not, and the sinner initiates a divorce or separation, we are told to let him or her depart. (see 1st Cor. 7:15)
»To avoid divorce, the New Testament speaks about how both the husband and the wife should conduct themselves in a Christ-honoring marriage by treating one another with respect. (see Col. 3:18-19, 1st Cor. 7:3-5, Eph. 5:21-33)
»A divorced person is not to enter into a second marriage unless their original spouse has died. We will cover this in more detail in my next blog. However, if the original man and wife can reconcile – this is the best option. (see 1st Cor. 7:39-40)
There are many Christian couples who may say, “I know I am to respect my spouse – but they are not respectable.” Granted, there are times we may make bad decisions – even as a Christian; however, if dishonorable patterns of sin are commonplace in our life, we must go back to the cross of Jesus and ask ourselves some questions… Was I truly saved, heartbroken over my sin, and repentant at the time of conversion? Or did I simply repeat a prayer after somebody and just assume that I was saved? Am I living in the light of scripture and giving time daily to prayer and study – or do I just “get by” with the bare minimum church attendance? Pastor Tim Conway of Grace Community Church in Texas put it like this… “True Christianity follows a man home.” If both husband and wife are serving God with all their strength, divorce should not happen; it only has a chance of happening when one or both spouses drift from the Lord or never had a relationship with him. Both the husband and the wife must obey what scripture teaches. Many times, a concerted effort is made by the Christian to salvage the marriage – but if the unsaved spouse does not cooperate with these efforts, it will be very challenging. Sometimes, the unbelieving spouse demands a divorce. In cases like these, there is not much that can be done other than to continue to pray for your spouse’s soul.
Likewise, people argue, “There is just as much divorce in the church as in the world – so what’s the use?” However, in the TRUE church, this is not the case. All too often, we label a building where people assemble for service a “church” – but many so-called “churches” today are not living as the true church according to the Bible; thus, the members are not taught what it takes to keep peace in a marriage. Missionary Paul Washer once said, “Preachers will stand up in their churches and go on and on because the great majority of their membership is carnal. So they’ll seek with every power in their Bible to please the carnal majority so that they won’t lose them, while that one remnant that truly belongs to Christ – they let them languish and starve.“ Church leaders have a responsibility, as does the Christian, to adhere to scripture. I commend the pastors today who equip their congregation by teaching about all topics in scripture, including marriage, and the sanctity of it.
Christ Raises the Standard:
We see in the New Testament that Christ raises the standard. In the Old Testament, adultery was considered a physical act only. But in the New Testament it is considered a physical act as well as an act of the heart. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” Matt. 5:27-28. This is why we are to guard our hearts and minds. “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” Prov. 4:23. The Bible says that God searches our hearts and minds – therefore, let’s strive to keep them pure (see Rev. 2:23).
Another example we see of Christ raising the standard for marriage is found in the conversation between Christ and the Pharisees in Matthew 19:3-12 (my notes are inserted in brackets):
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” [referencing Deut. 24:1-4] He answered, “Have you not read [referencing Creation in Genesis] that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. [from the beginning, God never wanted divorce to happen] And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication, [this exception is given, not commanded, that one may divorce for the cause of fornication] and marries another, commits adultery.” The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” [by this, the disciples realized the permanence of marriage] But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs [those who do not have sexual relations of any type] who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
When Christ came, he explained why divorce was permitted by Moses – it was due to the people having “hard hearts.” But, when we are in Jesus we are made new (see 2nd Cor. 5:17); similar to the scripture in Ezekiel 36:26, when God told of renewing Israel by removing their stony, hard hearts and giving them a soft, tender heart. With this newness of heart, we are enabled to forgive and reconcile when disagreements occur in marriage. It is God’s highest wish that divorce never occurs; but if it does, we are urged to reconcile, if possible, or remain unmarried (see 1st Cor. 7:10-11 and Eph. 4:32).
In Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, it states: “Where the providence of God, or his own wrong choice in marriage, has allotted to a Christian a trial instead of a help meet; he will – from his heart – prefer bearing the cross, to such relief as tends to sin, confusion, and misery. Divine grace will sanctify this cross, support under it, and teach so to behave, as will gradually render it more tolerable.”
None of us know everything there is to know about God’s ways, since they are higher than ours. While living here, we are urged to walk in all the light that we know. Scripture says that now, we only see and understand in part (see 1st Cor. 13:12). With that said, I will advise to the best of my ability in the area of abuse – but if you are in an abusive marriage, you must seek God to be sure of what you are to do.
Abuse in a marriage could be anything from physical abuse to, perhaps, forced child marriages. Although I can find no direct commands – there are some strong indicators of which direction we should go in such cases.
God calls us to live in peace – not only with others but with our Maker (see Heb. 12:14). If others are abusive and not peaceable – they are obviously not following scripture. Colossians 3:19 tells the husbands not to be harsh with their wives. Likewise, the wives are to treat their husbands with honor. But, we must not forget that there are certain instances where the abuser is convicted by the Holy Spirit of their sin and they repent. If you are in an abusive situation, fast and pray for your spouse who is abusive. Unfortunately, not all will come to repentance. Although divorce/separation is not encouraged, I’ve never seen where the Bible condemns anybody to hell for divorcing/separating. However, I cannot give direct advice as to whether you should divorce/separate or stay with the abusive spouse. In addition to fasting and prayer, I would also advise you to seek Godly counsel.
I want to be sure to keep everything we’ve covered on this topic in balance. By that, I mean that we must never go into marriage with divorce on our minds. It has been said that marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. The way marriage is meant to be is one man, one woman, for life. We must be apt to forgive, because the Bible says that “love covers a multitude of sins” (see 1st Pet. 4:8). Scripture also says the following: “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven'” (Matt. 18:21-22). If you are divorced, you must still forgive as stated in Matthew 6:15… “But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” To forgive does not mean that you condone any sin or wrong actions, or even that your spouse will take you back – it simply means that you are choosing to obey God’s word by forgiving.
If you have wrongfully initiated or consented to a divorce in the past and are now sorry, God is willing and able to forgive you. If possible, reconcile the marriage (if it was both parties original marriage) and ask for your spouse’s forgiveness. God will graciously forgive; his love for you is not diminished.
“Whosoever finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor of the Lord.” ~Prov. 18:22
“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” ~Gen. 2:18
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” ~1st Pet. 3:1-2
“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” ~1st Pet. 3:7
“If you love me [the Lord], keep my commandments.” ~John 14:15