What does the Bible say about divorce? You would be surprised at how often this question comes up in churches, in Christian counseling sessions and on Christian radio programs across the United States. There are millions of Christians in the U.S. alone who have either been through a divorce or who are in failing marriages where divorce is being looked at as an option. Sadly, the divorce rate in most Christian denominations is about the same as it is in the rest of society. In today’s world, divorce is often viewed as an easy way to get out of a bad situation. But is it appropriate for Christians to divorce? If so, under what circumstances? What does the Bible have to say?
Well, the truth is that the Scriptures are very clear about how God feels about divorce. In fact, in Malachi 2:16 God tells us that He hates divorce….
“I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel
But God also knows that man is sinful and that this is an imperfect world. He knows that husbands and wives are going to cheat. In Matthew 19:3-9, Jesus explained to the Pharisees why some divorces were allowed under the Law of Moses and under what circumstances divorces are permissible for Christians….
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
In the above passage we see that Jesus does allow for divorce in the case of marital unfaithfulness. If a husband or a wife commits adultery with someone else, then the other partner can opt for divorce. We also see this principle reflected in what Jesus had to say in Matthew 5:32….
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.
So are there any other circumstances in which Christians can get divorced without sinning? Well, in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 the apostle Paul instructs believers that if they have a non-Christian husband or wife, they must stay with that husband or wife if they wish to stay. However, if that non-Christian husband or wife wants to leave, the Christian spouse is supposed to allow the non-Christian spouse to leave….
If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
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. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
Please note that the passage above gives the non-Christian spouse the option of whether or not to leave. The Christian spouse must stay married to the non-Christian spouse if the non-Christian spouse wishes to stay.
While the rules for divorce that the Bible sets forth may seem harsh to some, the truth is that God considers a married couple to be “one flesh”. He never intends for them to split up. The way that many couples divorce and remarry so casually today is an abomination to God.
But it is important to note that at times it may be appropriate for Christian couples to separate (though not divorce) if the circumstances call for it so that problems can be worked out at a safe distance. In extreme circumstances a separation may need to extend over a long period of time. However, Christians should not get divorced unless they are in a marriage which fits the specific situations discussed above.
While this may come as extremely disappointing news to those stuck in incredibly unhappy marriages, the truth is that God’s ways are higher than our ways. He knows what is best. He wants us to work our marriages out.
The United States is filled with millions of men, women and children who have had their lives devastated by “easy” divorces. The institution of the family is being destroyed in modern society and it seems like families are generally less happy than they used to be.
If people would just obey God’s laws and follow His design for marriage and the family things would work out so much better for them. God knows what is best, and when we follow His plan we will truly have the best chance to be blessed.