My View of the Bible's Teaching on Divorce

Charles Dailey
1. What is marriage?

Marriage is a legal and social contract established by God before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. Genesis 2:22- 24.

That marriage is a contract before the law is seen in Jesus' response to the Woman at the Well where He distinguished between legal husbands and a "live-in."

"16 He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back." 17 "I have no husband," she replied. Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true." (John 4 NIV)

Further evidence that marriage is a legal matter is seen in the Bible's very extensive use of mother-in-law, father-in-law, daughter-in-law and son-in-law. And of course, a legal marriage is terminated by a legal divorce.

That marriage is social is easily seen in John's record of the first miracle that Jesus performed:

"1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding." (John 2 NIV)

2. Are marriages made in heaven?

No. God ordained marriage as one man and one woman in a lifelong contract. Very early the ideal was ignored by Lamech in Genesis 4:19. He practiced polygamy, but the marriages were valid. Jacob (Israel) had multiple wives which violated the ideal of marriage, but again, the marriages were valid. Certainly they could not be described as “made in heaven.”

3. Are marriages vows to God?

There is no evidence of this in the Bible, either in the Old Testament or the New Testament. Vows to God are treated separately from marriage vows.

4. Was divorce allowed in Israel in the Old Testament?

Yes, the Law of Moses allowed divorce for "indecency" in Deuteronomy 24:1.

" If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house...." (Deuteronomy 24:1 NIV)

There was much disagreement among the Jewish scholars as to what was meant by "indecent."

5. Was the only cause for divorce adultery - sexual unfaithfulness to the marriage vows?

No. Adultery (or implied adultery by sleeping with a woman) was not a stated cause for divorce in the Old Testament because it was a crime against the society and its penalty was death. The widow or widower was naturally free to marry again.

" If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel." (Deuteronomy 22:22 NIV)

6. Does Jesus allow divorce now in New Testament times?

Yes. The one reason a Christian can get a divorce is because of immorality. Matthew 19:9. This reverses the liberal permission of Deuteronomy 24:1. (See point 4 above.)

" I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." (Matthew 19:9 NIV)

7. Does marital unfaithfulness or sexual immorality include homosexuality?

Yes. Jude makes this clear in speaking of Sodom, the great homosexual center.

" In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire." (Jude 7 NIV)

8. Why would Jesus allow any divorce?

It has never been God's will for the sexually faithful mate to be exposed to venereal disease (and now AIDS) or any other effect of sexual unfaithfulness. The Old Testament required death because Judaism was a state religion. The New Testament allows divorce for the same reason, because Christianity is not a state religion.

9. What did Jesus say about divorce in the Sermon on the Mount?

"31 It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery." (Matthew 5 NIV)

Several things were new to the listeners:

A. Only marital unfaithfulness could be grounds for getting a divorce.

B. Divorcing one's wife causes her to become an adulteress. How could this be? Isn't she free to make her own decisions based on her character and values? How does her husband cause her to become an adulteress?

The answer is probably found by asking "in what sense is she an adulteress?" In 1 John 1:10 there is a sentence of similar construction.

" If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives." (1 John 1:10 NIV)

Based on His character, God is not a liar, but we can make claims that make Him out to be one. Likewise, divorcing one's wife makes her out to be an adulteress since that is the only rightful grounds for divorce.

10. Can two Christians get a divorce?

Aside from the adultery, no. As Christianity went out to a pagan world, Paul speaks to the Christian couples and says that the wife is not to separate from her husband. If she does, she is to remain unmarried.

"10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife." (1 Corinthians 7 NIV)

(Notice that separate means divorce.) If she disobeys the no divorce rule, she is free to be remarried only to her husband.

11. Can a Christian divorce an unbelieving mate?

No. Paul makes it clear that the Christian is to remain with the unbeliever.

"To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her." (1 Corinthians 7:12 NIV)

Paul is not disclaiming inspiration here, but he says that he is not quoting directly from Jesus as he did in verse 10 as quoted above.

12. If the unbelieving mate divorces the Christian, is the Christian free to marry?

Yes. " But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace." (1 Corinthians 7:15 NIV)

13. Does the bound refer to the marriage contract?

Yes. The word is linguistically connected to bound as found in verses 27 and 39. Also, the only binding discussed in the context has been the marriage contract. (Also see Kittel, II, 279.)

14. What if I were married and divorced before I became a Christian?

Even if you violated God's will on this, you have been forgiven, as with every other sin. Where men were considering remarriage in 1 Corinthians 7:27-28 they were encouraged not to because of the coming distress (vs. 26), but Paul didn't forbid them because they were not eligible.

In Summary: Marriage is a legal and social contract that can be ended legally. The New Testament believer may not initiate a divorce except for immorality. If they receive a divorce, they are free to marry - but only "in the Lord." 1 Cor. 7:39.

The reader may be interested in the book by William
Nicholson that demonstrates that remarriage is possible.

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