What Does the Bible Teach About Divorce?

by Matt Slick

Divorce is a growing problem in America.  The casual attitude of divorce in the secular world is spilling over into the church, where the statistics are only slightly lower.  Consider the following statistics from the US Census Bureau:

In 1920, there was 1 divorce for every 7 marriages. That is 14%.
In 1940, there was 1 divorce for every 6 marriages. That is 17%.
In 1960, there was 1 divorce for every 4 marriages. That is 25%.
In 1972, there was 1 divorce for every 3 marriages. That is 33%.
In 1977, there was 1 divorce for every 2 marriages. That is 50%.1
Of course, the divorce rate has stayed around 50% since the 70's but has recently exceeded that.

Marriage was first instituted by God in the Garden of Eden.  It is a monogamous, physical and spiritual union between a man and a woman (Gen. 2:21-24), where adultery was forbidden (Exodus 20:14), and dissolution was not allowed.  But it didn't take long for the monogamous arrangement to become corrupted.  Polygamy became an accepted social custom (Gen. 16:1-2; Deut. 21:15). In fact, many of the Kings of Israel were polygamists.  The norm, however, was, and still is, monogamy.

People Got Divorced in the Bible.

As is evident in the statistics above, people get divorced.  Even in the Bible there was divorce.  In the OT, only men were able to divorce their wives (Deut. 24:1-4).  In the NT, women were also apparently able to initiate divorce (Mark 10:12; 1 Cor. 7:13).  But, what is a Christian to do if he or she has been divorced?  Can he remarry?  Should he stay single?  Is the Christian guilty of a perpetual sin if he or she divorces?

God wants the Christian to take marriage very seriously.  Jesus said, "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate," (Mark 10:9--see also 1 Cor. 7:10-11; Heb. 13:4.).2   But, because we live in an imperfect world, the Bible speaks about the circumstance of divorce.  Let's take a look.

The Biblical Reasons For Divorce

Adultery: Jesus said, "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." (Matt. 19:9). The word in Greek for immorality is porneia from which we get the word pornography. Sexual immorality, i.e., adultery, is a grounds for divorce according to Jesus.

Abandonment: In addressing the issue of husband and wife, Paul said, "Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace." (1 Cor. 7:15).

Some Questions Answered

I would like to say up front that the following answers are my opinions.  Also, part of the answers to questions on divorce must include grace.  God is not a Law Master who wants to bring His people forcefully into broken submission.  God is very forgiving and loving.  He wants His people to experience joy and fulfillment in their lives, and this can only be done in the grace of forgiveness.   Jesus bore all your sins--even the sins of divorce. They have been paid for.  He will not bring them up again on the Day of Judgment.  You are free in Christ.

However, there are some biblical guidelines that we need to be aware of regarding divorce.  I offer the following outline as a suggestion of options.

  1. What if a person was an unbeliever when he got divorced, and it was for an unbiblical reason and later became a Christian?  What should he do?
    1. If reconciliation is an option, seek it.
      1. However,
        1. If the ex-spouse is not a Christian, he should not remarry the spouse because a believer is not to marry an unbeliever (2 Cor. 6:14).
        2. If either spouse has gotten married, remarriage is not an option either (Deut. 24:3-4; Mark 10:11-12).
        3. If the ex-spouse will have nothing to do with any reconciliation or you are not able to contact this person, you are free to remarry.
    2. If the spouse has died, you are free to remarry.
  2. What if a person was a believer when he got divorced but the reason was not adultery or abandonment and wants to remarry someone different now, what should he do?
    1. If you initiated the divorce, then you should not remarry (Matt. 19:9), However . . .
      1. Reconciliation with the initial spouse should be sought with confession of sin and the request for forgiveness.
    2. If it was the spouse that left without a biblical reason, then you are free to remarry.
      1. Reconciliation should be sought with a confession of sin.
  3. What if a couple was divorced, married others, got divorced, and wants to become remarried to again?
    1. The Bible says that you cannot return to your first spouse after you remarried (Deut. 24:3-4; Jer. 3:1).
      1. If you have, nevertheless, already gotten married, continue in your marriage and seek the Lord's forgiveness.  He will give it.
  4. What if a person was a believer when he got divorced, but the reason was not adultery or abandonment and has already gotten married. Is he in sin?
    1. Depending on the circumstances, he may be.  But he should confess his sin to the lord and spouse and seek forgiveness from the original spouse, and then he should stay married and be the best husband (or wife) he can be.

I hope these brief answers help you understand some aspects of divorce and remarriage.  But, brothers and sisters in Christ, please seek the advice of your pastor in this area if you have further questions.

 

This article is also available in: Español

  • 1. Tan, Paul Lee, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations, (Garland, Texas: Bible Communications, Inc.), 1996.
  • 2. The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1977 - all quotes in this paper are from the NASB.

 

 

 

 
 
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