Divorce. The word often feels like a slap. The church doesn't like to talk about it, and those who have experienced divorce within Christian communities don't often know who to go to for comfort.
The church also seems divided on what qualifies a divorce, when a Christian couple can divorce, and what the next steps look like when a couple reaches the point of a divorce.
So how do we handle this difficult topic? How do we love those who have experienced divorce within the church, and what do we do ourselves when we have a decision to make about divorce.
But our biggest question today is—What does the Bible say about divorce?
The Cause of Divorce
The Bible tells us since the fall of mankind when Adam and Eve chose to believe and obey the serpent rather than God, we have all inherited a nature to sin. Any newlywed couple can confirm that sinful nature—in the life of their spouse. But what about in your nature and in mine?
“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:10-12 NASB).
What God Has Joined Together, Let No Man Separate
In the beginning of the Book of Genesis, we see God made us male and female. He gave this first couple, and then all mankind, the instruction to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. But in Genesis 6, man openly rebelled against God. Genesis 6:7 tells us God said, “I am sorry that I have made them.”
There are four words listed in The New Strong’s Expanded Concordance of the Bible that mean dissolution of the marriage vows. The word in the book of Mark is Strong’s #647, the Greek word apostasion. It is defined as “Separative. A defection. A standing off. Writing a bill of divorcement.”
Jesus quotes the Old Testament in the Book of Mark and adds further clarification:
“But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; consequently, they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mark 10:6-9 NASB).
What Does the Old Testament Tell Us About Divorce?
In the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, we find statements from the law regarding divorce. Those words there are: Strong’s #1644, the Hebrew word garash, which means “To drive out from a possession. To cast out a woman. Put away from her husband,” and #3748, the Hebrew word kriythuwth, which means “To cut, destroy or consume. To sever something from something else by cutting with a blade. In the case of a cut off person…not killed but driven out of the family and removed from the blessing of the covenant.”
In that time, a bill of divorcement was written. In the Old Testament, a man could do this if the wife failed to please him or if he found uncleanness in her. Then she was sent away. However, there were warnings and severe consequences if any of the parties lied. It is to be noted that God established the husband/wife and consequential family unit before He established the nation of Israel or the Church. He is a God of order, righteousness, and holiness.
“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 indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since 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 gives you as an inheritance” (Deuteronomy 24:1-4 NASB).
Marriage is a Covenant Between a Man and a Woman with God as the Witness
The prophet Malachi spoke of the marriage contract as a covenant—a binding agreement—with God as the witness. This prophet tells the people that they have wearied God with their words, and like most people today, they replied, “How have we wearied Him?” The Israelites had returned from captivity in Babylon, rebuilt the temple, and the people were dismayed…God had not come to the new temple like He did to Solomon’s temple, so the people turned their backs on Him.
They began saying and believing: “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them…” (Malachi 2:17). Sounds like the lies and distortions of truth coming from many pulpits in our day . . . right?
“’This is another thing you do; you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant…Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘and him who covers his garment with wrong,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously’” (Malachi 2:13-16 NASB).
What Did Jesus Say about Divorce?
Jesus said many times that He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. But like some people today, the Pharisees looked back at their history and either added to or misunderstood what Moses said about divorce. In Matthew 19:7, the Pharisees asked Jesus “Why then did Moses command to give her a Certificate of Divorce and send her away?” Through the ages, the Rabbis and Pharisees watered down or misinterpreted the law. Moses did not actually command a certificate of divorce. Jesus quickly rebukes them:
“He said to them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery’” (Matthew 19:8-9 NASB).
God does not change, nor does His Word. Even though we slice, dice, and split hairs, God doesn’t. These two final passages purge any doubt and sharpen the focus of all who desire to hear and heed what Jesus the Son and God the Father have to say about divorce.
“And it was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery’” (Matthew 5:31-32 NASB).
“What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mark 10:9 NASB).
If you are considering divorce, we recommend consulting some of the resources below for guidance on this difficult season of life. We know that no aspect of divorce is easy.
Wife, mother, and Mimi, freelance artist and photographer, DiAne Gates writes for children, young adults, and non-fiction for adults through her blogs, http://dianegates.wordpress.com/ and www.floridagirlturnedtexan.wordpress.com. She also facilitates a GriefShare support group. DiAne’s award winning, ROPED, first in her western adventure series released July of 2015, and the second book, TWISTED, released by Pelican Book Group July 14, 2017. Third book in this series, UNTIED, is her WIP. You can find DiAne on Facebook.
Editor's Note: This article is a general overview of what the Bible says about divorce; the article does not presume to give advice for specific relationships resulting in divorce. If you are in an abusive relationship or would like to read more articles on divorce please see our suggestions below:
- 12 Traits of an Abusive Relationship
- What You Should Say to a Woman in an Abusive Marriage
- The Truth about Emotional Abuse
- 10 Habits that Can Lead to Divorce
- 10 Hidden Consequences of Divorce
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/grinvalds