Biblical View on Divorce: What Does the Bible Say?

Biblical View on divorce

Recently, I was listening to a podcast episode featuring a Christian woman who had just gotten a divorce. It was then that I got a glimpse of the emotional and spiritual turmoil that follows such a decision. Studies have proven that infidelity, lack of intimacy, and financial problems are some of the leading causes of divorce. But what does the Bible say about this? What is the biblical view on divorce? In this post, I will be providing answers to these questions. And I hope that whether you are seeking understanding or solace, this will bring you clarity, comfort, and peace.

Biblical View on Marriage

We will take a look at the biblical view on divorce in this post but to do that, it’s important that we first understand God’s view on marriage. We can trace God’s original intent for marriage back to the garden of Eden, before the fall of man in Genesis 3. Genesis 2 shows us that Adam and Eve were the first married couple. And it was God who recognized the need for this union and also established it.

‭Genesis 2:18 says,

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
(NKJV)

This verse shows us that there is an innate need and desire in every human being to have deep relationships with others, even if we don’t know it yet ourselves. God himself put this desire in us. He is a relational being. And since He created us in His image, we are also relational beings.

God decided that just as He wanted to enjoy fellowship with Adam, Adam also needed a companion. So, he gave him a wife. Therefore, we see that marriage wasn’t originally man’s idea. It was God’s idea, instituted by God Himself.

Marriage is a Divine Covenant

Additionally, marriage is not just a legal contract between a man and his wife. Marriage is a divine covenant before God. Let us look at the following verses from Genesis again:

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.
So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.
And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
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.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.‭

Genesis 2:18-24 NKJV‬

We can also tell that marriage is a good thing. This is because God created it and everything God created, he said, was good! God designed marriage for man to enjoy companionship and partnership. Marriage is about two individuals coming together to support and complement each other. In a Christian marriage, both the husband and his wife work hand in hand to fulfill God’s purpose in their lives.

A Biblical View on Marriage from the New Testament

Another scripture that gives us insight into the mind of God concerning marriage is in one of Apostle Paul’s letters:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.
Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,
That He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,
That He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. ‭

Ephesians 5:22-29 NKJV

In his letter to the Ephesian church, Apostle Paul gives us a description of what a Christian marriage should look like, as well as the role of both partners. He likens marriage to the union between Christ and his bride, the church.

Marriage as a symbol of the union between Christ and the church

Just like the church is submitted to Jesus Christ, the woman is to be submitted to her husband. Likewise, the man also has his part to play. He is to be the head of the woman, not in a domineering way as in patriarchy, but as Christ is the head of the church. This is so instructive to us because, as Christians, Christ is our example in all things and we are to follow in his steps. So, who better to learn from about marriage than our Lord Jesus Christ?

The picture that Apostle Paul paints in Ephesians 5 shows us that there is unity in diversity. The man and woman are of different genders and have different responsibilities in marriage. But by fulfilling their roles, they are able to walk in God’s plan for them and their marriage.

Some married couples do not have a good grasp of what a Christian marriage should look like and this could lead to potential problems in the marriage. For instance, as a woman, you might find it difficult to submit to your husband if you do not understand that God instructs you to do so in His word. In the same vein, the husband might also struggle with loving his bride as Christ loves the church. Following these instructions may not come easily to us because of our flesh. Hence, we must pray to God and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit in fulfilling our marital responsibilities.

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10 Verses on Divorce in the Bible

Here are 10 verses from both the old testament and new testament that give us a biblical view on divorce:

1. ‭Matthew 5:31-32 NKJV

“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

2. ‭Matthew 19:6-9 NKJV‬

So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” 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.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.”

3. ‭Mark 10:11-12 NKJV‬

So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

4. ‭Luke 16:18 NKJV‬

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.

5. ‭Romans 7:2-3 NKJV‬

For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.

6. ‭I Corinthians 7:10-13 NKJV‬

Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 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. 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. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him.

7. ‭I Corinthians 7:39 NKJV‬

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.

8. ‭Deuteronomy 24:1-4 NKJV‬

“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, when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, 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, 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.

9. ‭Deuteronomy 22:19 NKJV‬

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.

10. ‭Malachi 2:16 NKJV‬

“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.”

What is the Biblical View on Divorce?

As we have seen earlier, the subject of divorce is well-discussed in the Bible. The words of the Prophet in Malachi chapter 2 is one key passage that clearly shows us that God hates divorce:

“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.”‭

Malachi 2:16 NKJV

Similarly, Jesus’ response to the Pharisees when asked about divorce confirms the words of Malachi:

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?”
And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’
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’?
So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
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.
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.”‭

Matthew 19:3-9 NKJV

The original plan of God for marriage is that two will become one and they will work together to fulfill his purpose for their lives. In the text we just read, Jesus emphasizes that marriage was designed by God to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman. He refers to the creation story where God made male and female to become one flesh, showing the deep and lasting bond that God intended for marriage to be.

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The separation of any married couple is not God’s desire. He clearly communicated this in the Bible, as we have seen in the books of Malachi and Matthew. But does this mean that God totally frowns against divorce? If not, on what grounds is divorce acceptable according to the word of God?

Biblical Grounds for Divorce

The issue of divorce is a rather sensitive one, especially within the Christian community and this is understandable. The Bible is very clear on the sanctity of marriage. According to God’s plan, and in an ideal world, marriage should be the union of two becoming one and remaining so forever. However, we can see that there are specific grounds where divorce is allowed by looking closely at the Bible. The Bible clearly states two grounds for divorce and they are sexual immorality (or adultery) and abandonment (or desertion). Let’s talk about sexual immorality first.

Sexual Immorality

In one of the sermons on the Mount, Jesus teaches on the subject of divorce and it is here that he speaks on the first ground for divorce, sexual immorality:

“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. ‭

Matthew 5:31-32 NKJV

Right from the Old Testament, the sin of adultery has always been a great offense in the eyes of God. The fact that it made it to the Ten Commandments just goes to show you how abominable it is. As a matter of fact, it was an offense that was punishable by death in those days. It is no surprise that people considered it abominable even in Jesus’ day.

Adultery can ruin a marriage and cause deep emotional and spiritual pain. In such cases where one of the spouses has sexual relations with someone else, the Bible permits divorce. Nevertheless, I would still encourage Christian couples to seek forgiveness and reconciliation if possible. Marriage is definitely where your capacity to forgive will be tested. Asking God for help to forgive what seems impossible to forgive is a good way to repair the situation. Also, it is important to seek the counsel of your church leadership for spiritual guidance. You may also choose to see a Christian counselor for therapy. I believe this would be very helpful for your healing as long as you have both decided to work at saving your marriage.

Abandonment

The second acceptable ground for divorce, according to the word of God, is abandonment.

Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband.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.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.
And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. 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.
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. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

‭I Corinthians 7:10-16 NKJV

It is certainly obvious that God’s desire is for married couples to stay married. However, some cases might warrant a divorce, one of which is abandonment.

Apostle Paul wrote this letter to a Gentile church. That means many of them were unbelievers before becoming Christians. While Christians are advised to be equally yoked and marry from the Christian faith, some people only come to know the Lord after marriage. This was the situation with some married couples in the Corinthian church. In response to this, Apostle Paul states in his letter that such ones who are married to an unbelieving husband or wife may be allowed to divorce.

Abuse

Finally, we see another instance where divorce may be allowed even in a Christian marriage: abuse. Although the Bible does not explicitly mention this, I believe it is a valid ground for divorce. Interestingly, many Christians avoid discussing abuse, and some have even discouraged others from getting a divorce despite being in abusive relationships. It makes me wonder why we would encourage anyone to remain in such a relationship when God himself speaks against violence.

Many people read Malachi 2:16 and conclude that God hates divorce but hurry away without getting the full message from that verse. Malachi tells us here that not only does the Lord hate divorce, but he also hates violence done to one’s wife!

“I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel. “I hate it when one of you does such a cruel thing to his wife. Make sure that you do not break your promise to be faithful to your wife.” ‭

Malachi 2:16 (GNT‬)

I once heard someone say, “Yes, God hates divorce. But he also loves you and doesn’t want you to die.” Remaining in an abusive relationship because we do not want to file a divorce does not please God in any way. Whether it is physical abuse or emotional abuse, the fact remains that it is contrary to the biblical principles of love, respect, and mutual submission that should be present in a Christian marriage. In cases of abuse, please ensure you speak up and seek counsel, preferably from your church leadership. If your partner refuses to repent and continues to harm you, then for your safety, it might be best to prioritize your safety and get a divorce.

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How Should a Christian View Divorce and Marriage?

biblical view on divorce
Credit: Freepix

There is some stigma that is attached to divorce and divorcees, even when it is done biblically. As Christians, we should strive to understand and support fellow believers facing marital challenges. Rather than casting judgment, let us show empathy, and compassion, and pray for such people.

If you’re currently experiencing challenges in your marriage, please be encouraged and put your absolute trust in God. And also pray that the Lord will do a work in you that enables you to forgive your partner and work together to restore your marriage.

The Bible teaches us that marriage is a divine covenant, and it is only the Holy Spirit that can guide us in nurturing this relationship. Hence, seeking the Holy Spirit’s help in our marriage is very crucial. And we should do this at all times.

You should also seek wise counsel from your church leadership, allowing them to guide and support you in this journey.

Marriage is a journey that requires commitment, patience, and love. By leaning on God’s wisdom and grace, we can find the strength to go through difficulties and come out of them stronger.

Finally, as Christians, let us be a community that lifts each other, prays fervently for one another, and always encourages reconciliation according to the word of God. However, in extreme circumstances like sexual sin, desertion, abuse, an unbelieving spouse, or no sign of true repentance, the couple may be allowed to go their separate ways.

What Does the Bible Say about Remarriage?

We have looked through God’s word to see the biblical view on divorce. We have seen that God intends for the bond between a man and his wife to remain unbroken. However, we have also seen that there are exceptions where divorce is allowed. This then raises the question: if marriage bonds can be severed, does that mean remarriage is possible and allowed? Let us look into God’s word for answers again!

Apostle Paul does not specifically address the issue of remarriage in 1 Corinthians 7. But based on the sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus Christ gives us insight into this matter:

But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

Matthew 5:32 NKJV

Jesus is saying here that remarriage in cases that didn’t involve adultery is synonymous with sexual immorality. In summary, this text implies that remarriage is only permitted if the divorce is due to immorality. Remember that sexual immorality is one of the grounds for divorce that we saw earlier. Hence, any divorce that is not founded on any of those biblical grounds is not allowed. In a situation where a man or woman goes on to marry another person after an unbiblical divorce, such a person is considered an adulterer and this is not pleasing to God.

Churches may hold different beliefs about remarriage

However, it is important to mention here that different churches have differing interpretations of these scriptures. Some churches still might not permit remarriage even if the divorce was on biblical grounds. While some others might permit divorce in such cases. To prevent any problems, I would advise that you seek the counsel of your church leadership if you are considering remarriage. I would also like to encourage you to engage deeply in prayer and seek God’s wisdom and direction concerning the matter. It is a decision you do not want to hurry into. And you also want to be certain that you are doing what the Lord requires of you according to the high standards of his word.

In summary, based on Jesus’ teachings, we can safely conclude that remarriage is not allowed following an unbiblical divorce. But in the case of a biblical divorce, it can be allowed. In the eyes of God, the bond of marriage is still ongoing if an unbiblical divorce has taken place. Anyone who attempts to remarry in this case would have committed adultery because he is believed to have defiled his first marriage.

Conclusion

When making a decision on whether to divorce your spouse or not, you must do so prayerfully. However, in a situation where your spouse is the one asking for a divorce, there’s little you can do. But you can suggest a legal separation so that both of you can try to sort things out. This would involve getting counseling, attending marriage workshops, reading helpful books, spending quality time together, and also making personal changes. Remember that even in the most challenging situations, restoration is still possible with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Sources:

1. Seattle Christian Counseling

2. Focus on the family

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