If we treated divorce like we do killing there would be far less occurrences of it. But on the other hand, if we treated divorce like we do killing we would be far more understanding of legitimate reasons when it is justified.
The Left and Right Ditches on the Issue of Divorce
Often times on moral issues the truth of God’s Word lies in the middle of two extreme camps and there is certainly no exception to this principle on the morality of divorce. On the left side we have Christians who teach and believe that a Christian couple may divorce for any reason. If they have simply “fallen out love” or don’t have anything in common anymore they are told they can divorce. But on the right side we have those Christians who condemn all cases of divorce as a sin against God no matter how grave the circumstances may be.
But if both sides of this debate were to treat divorce as they do killing I believe they would both realize the truth of what the Bible says about divorce falls in the middle of these two extremes. Both sides are wrong.
Three Things That Divorce and Killing Have in Common
The first thing that divorce and killing have in common is that they both end something. Killing ends a human life and divorce ends the one flesh relationship that is marriage between a man and a woman.
The second thing divorce and killing both have in common is that God allows both under certain circumstances because of the entrance of sin into his creation. In this way we can rightly say that there is such a thing as justified killing and justified divorce.
Biblical allowances for divorce simultaneously allow for divorce while placing restrictions on when it may occur.
Interestingly those who fall into the left and right ditches on the issue of divorce both have a common fatal flaw in their positions in that they BOTH ignore the Biblical allowances for divorce. On the left side of the ditch we Christians saying the allowances in the Bible for divorce are not restrictive but simply examples of reasons. On the right side of the ditch we have Christians feverishly trying to explain away any allowances for divorce so as to condemn all cases of divorce.
The third thing that divorce and killing have in common is that in the Bible both are spoken of using general statements with no exceptions and then exceptions are given in other passages.
General Statements on Divorce and Killing
The Bible makes both absolute and general statements about various moral issues.
An example of an absolute moral statement is found here:
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”
1 Timothy 2:5 (KJV)
There is no exception to the fact that there is one God and one mediator between God and man – the man Christ Jesus. Muhammad was not another mediator between God and man and neither was Buddha – only Christ is.
But then we have general statements of moral truth in regard to killing and divorce.
A lot of people think that the 6th commandment “Thou shalt not kill” in Exodus 20:13 is a general or absolute condemnation of all killing. Christian pacifists have generally viewed it as an absolute command while most other Christians have seen it as a general condemnation of killing.
But actually again on this passage both sides are wrong and unfortunately this is one of the few places where the KJV actually gets this translation wrong as well. The Hebrew word in Exodus 20:13 that is translated as “kill” is the word “Ratsach”. “Ratsach” specifically refers to a wrongful killing. In most cases it refers to murders, but in some cases it refers to man slayers. In either case though – the death was not justified whether it was intentional or un-intentional.
So the newer translations today like the NASB and others are correct in translating the 6th commandment as “You shall not murder.”
But the Bible uses another word for that is for killing in general and this encompasses all killing whether justified or unjustified this is the word “Nakah”. Below is a general statement condemning “Nakah”:
“And he that killeth[Nakah] any man shall surely be put to death.”
Leviticus 24:17 (KJV)
So while it is absolutely true that the 6th commandment only condemns wrongfully killing someone, God’s command Leviticus 24:17 is a more general condemnation of killing and does not place any qualifications on the type of killing it is condemning.
This then brings us to a critical point that many Christian scholars and teachers and even laypersons have made on the moral issue of divorce. There have been over the centuries and there still are many Christians today who say that Christ’s statement on divorce below was absolute statement regarding divorce and not a general statement:
“Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”
Luke 16:18 (KJV)
John Piper is an example of a popular evangelical teacher who teaches that Luke 16:18 was an absolute statement by Christ on divorce rather than a general statement condemning divorce. In his article entitled “Divorce & Remarriage: A Position Paper” Piper writes:
“All of my adult life, until I was faced with the necessity of dealing with divorce and remarriage in the pastoral context, I held the prevailing Protestant view that remarriage after divorce was Biblically sanctioned in cases where divorce had resulted from desertion or persistent adultery. Only when I was compelled, some years ago, in teaching through the gospel of Luke, to deal with Jesus’ absolute statement in Luke 16:18 did I begin to question that inherited position…
Luke 16:18 calls all remarriage after divorce adultery… This verse shows that Jesus does not recognize divorce as terminating a marriage in God’s sight.”
But Piper and all other Christians who regard Luke 16:18 as an absolute condemnation of divorce and/or remarriage are inconsistent when we know in 95% percent of cases they would regard Leviticus 24:17 as only a general condemnation of killing even though it lacks any qualifiers.
In other words – if you are going to say the based on Luke 16:18 that Christ is condemning all instances of divorce and remarriage then you must rightly say Leviticus 24:17 is condemning all instances of killing. The fact is it just as absurd to say that all instance of divorce and remarriage are condemned by God as it is to say that all instances of killing are condemned by God. The Bible clearly shows allowances for both divorce and remarriage as well as killing.
First let us quickly look at God’s allowance justified killing:
“2 If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten[Nakah] that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. 3 If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.”
Exodus 22:2-3 (KJV)
In the passage above we see that a man rightly justified in defending himself and his family. This passage has been almost universally recognized by Jewish and Christian scholars as a Biblical right to self-defense even to the point of killing another person.
“Now go and smite[Nakah] Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”
1 Samuel 15:3 (KJV)
The passage above was God’s command to King Saul through the Prophet Samuel. This is a very difficult passage that many Christian Pastors and teachers run from today because it offends our modern western sense of morality – specifically the killing of women and children. It is absolutely clear that God order the genocide of the Amalekite people.
But these were evil and wicked nations and God wanted the evil wiped from land. That is why he commanded even the animals to be killed. He wanted nothing left of the Amalekites.
There was another reason that God ordered genocide in many cases. The reason is rebellion. If the Israelites were to leave alive even children of the Amalekites they may one day grow up to find out that their parents and people were the original owners of that land and they may form new Amalekite ethnic groups that would one day rebel against Israel from within their own borders.
So while it might seem like the nice thing to do to allow an Amalekite child to live, it would not seem so nice when that child became a man and had a knife to your throat.
It is interesting to note that because King Saul allowed some of the Amalekites to live one of their descendants, a man named Haman in the book of Esther, would later plot the genocide of the Jewish people through tricking King Xerxes into ordering their death.
But the topic of justified genocide (and there is such a topic) is a larger and more complicated one that we will leave for another article. Even if most people have a problem with justified genocide, most Christians do not have a problem with justified self-defense either of an individual or of a nation. In other words Christians recognize that Leviticus 24:17 was only a general condemnation of killing and not an absolute condemnation of killing.
So for the same reasons that we as Christians recognize killing is only generally condemned in the Scriptures and not absolutely condemned in the Scriptures we must also recognize that divorce and remarriage are only generally condemned in the Scriptures and not absolutely condemned.
In other words there is such a thing as just and righteous killing and there is such a thing as just and righteous divorce and remarriage.
Did Christ Reject Moses’s Commands on Divorce?
The foundational flaw of those who believe there is no allowance for divorce or remarriage is that they take Christ’s words on divorce and then utterly throw out Moses words on divorce and then they explain away Paul’s words on the subject after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension.
In other words they see what looks to be allowances for divorce in Moses’s law and also in the writings of the Apostle Paul but since they have decided that Christ wiped out all allowances for divorce they must set out to cancel out these “supposed allowances”.
In the following two statements from John Piper he actually contends that Jesus Christ nullified the moral law of God given through Moses on divorce.
In his article “Tragically Widening the Grounds of Legitimate Divorce” Piper writes:
“…Jesus did in fact reject, for his disciples, what Moses commanded (Mark 10:5) or permitted (Matthew 19:8) in Deuteronomy 24:1.”
And again in his article “Divorce & Remarriage: A Position Paper” Piper writes:
“In both Matthew and Mark the Pharisees come to Jesus and test him by asking him whether it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. They evidently have in mind the passage in Deuteronomy 24:1 which simply describes divorce as a fact rather than giving any legislation in favor of it. They wonder how Jesus will take a position with regard to this passage.”
Jesus rejected what Moses commanded? Such an assertion is an affront to the entire concept of Biblical inerrancy which I know Piper states he believes in on multiple occasions. The Bible tells us that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). This means the commands Moses wrote were given to him directly by God – by Jesus Christ himself.
Christ could no more reject Moses moral law than he could reject his own teachings.
It is true that God can change his laws and set aside certain laws as he did in the New Testament era. We know that God set aside the ceremonial and civil laws he gave to Israel as a theocracy because he had divorced Israel and put an end to the theocracy of Israel (Hebrews 7:12, Hebrews 8:13, Hebrews 9:1-15). But God’s moral law given to Moses is upheld for the Church and parts of it are restated several times in the New Testament.
Christ gave a warning that should send chills up the spine of Christian teachers like John Piper who say Jesus rejected Moses moral law on divorce:
“17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:17-19 (KJV)
What “law” was Jesus speaking to? He was speaking to the moral laws found in the Old Testament (including but not limited to Moses’s moral laws).
And notice something else that John Piper snuck in when he said “Deuteronomy 24:1 which simply describes divorce as a fact rather than giving any legislation in favor of it”. No Pastor Piper, Deuteronomy 24:1 is not simply a recognition of the reality of divorce occurring, but it is in fact commands from God regulating the process of divorce. Jesus himself called Moses words on divorce a “command” and “precept” (law).
So modern translations that attempt to translate Deuteronomy 24:1 as simply a recognition of the fact of divorce rather than commands on divorce have utterly ignored Christ’s divine commentary on Deuteronomy 24:1 which unequivocally calls it a command regarding divorce.
My point in this section of “How to find out for what reasons God allows divorce” is that in looking at the subject of divorce we cannot throw out the Old Testament and only look at the New. To do so is to be in direct violation of Christ’s warning in Matthew 5:17-19 against setting aside the moral laws of the Old Testament.
With this principle in mind, we will look at what the entire Bible has to say on the subject of divorce. We will look at what Christ said through his prophets before his incarnation, what he said during his earthly time here, and what Christ said through his Apostles after his ascension.
The Progressive Revelation of God on the Subject of Divorce
When we talk about the “progressive revelation” of the Scriptures we mean that God slowly over many centuries revealed his truths and his plans for mankind. In modern times we are privileged to have the final and complete revelation of God as found in the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament.
There are many subjects in the Bible where God progressively revealed his truths. Often times when we think of progressive revelation we think of prophesies concerning the coming of the Messiah or the sacrifices which pictured Christ’s death, burial and resurrection to pay for the sins of mankind.
But another area of progressive revelation in the Scriptures that I often talk about on this blog is in the doctrine of Biblical gender roles. In Genesis chapters 1 and 2 we see parts of the reasons that God created male and female human beings but later through the Old Testament and especially into the New Testament we see the full purposes for which God designed man, woman and marriage.
I have written on divorce several times before and at the end of this article I will supply references to my earlier writings on the topic. In this article I want take a different approach. I am going to approach this using a “commentary” method where I will simply list the Biblical reference and then comment on the key teachings about divorce that are found in it.
However, for those who have already read my other articles on divorce there will be some new material here that I have not previously talked about in other divorce articles I have written.
So with that being said below is a table with Biblical references in the order in which they are given in the Bible. Alongside each reference I note key teachings on divorce as it progressively unfolds in the Bible.
|Scripture Passage||Progressive Truth of God that is Taught Regarding Divorce|
|Exodus 21:10-11||The first allowance for divorce in the Bible.
It is specifically given to women. A man could take a second wife but he still had to provide his first wife with food, clothing and sex. If he failed to provide these three things she was allowed to be divorced from him (freed from him).
|Leviticus 21:10-13||High Priests are forbidden from marrying divorced women.|
|Leviticus 22:13||Divorced women are allowed back into their father’s house and to be provided for by their father.|
|Numbers 30:9||The vows of divorced women our binding on them. No man can cancel them out (as is the case with young women still living with their fathers or women who had husbands).|
|Deuteronomy 22:13-19||First mention of a prohibition of divorce in the Bible.
A man who falsely accuses his new wife of not having been a virgin on their wedding day is forbidden from ever divorcing her.
|Deuteronomy 22:28-29||Second prohibition of divorce in the Bible.
A man who rapes a woman is required to pay her father the bride price for her and marry her and he may not divorce her for the remainder of her days. When we understand this passage in light of Exodus 22:17 we can see that the father has the right to take the bride price and yet utterly refuse to give his daughter to the man that wrongfully takes her.
While it may seem cruel to our modern sensibilities to even entertain the idea that a woman could be forced to marry her rapist if her father consents the fact is she would be ruined for all other men. She would never have children unless she married this man and for most women that thought alone would be worse than marrying their rapist.
|Deuteronomy 24:1||The first allowance and regulation regarding men divorcing their wives.
This passage first alludes to the fact of a husband taking and marrying a woman. The word for “married” in the Hebrew literally means “to own” so he becomes her owner by marrying her. It says that if he as her owner finds some uncleanliness (literally indecent behavior) in her he may write her a letter of divorce and send her out of his house.
|Deuteronomy 24:2||This verse allows for a divorced woman sent out of her husband’s house to go and be another man’s wife. Some of have tried to say this is just a statement of fact and not an allowance for a divorced woman to remarry. But the fact is neither in this passage nor in any part of the Law of Moses do we find a prohibition toward men marrying divorced woman(except for the High Priest) so Moses’s mentioning of it without a hint of condemnation is an allowance for the remarriage of women sent away by their former husbands in divorce.|
|Deuteronomy 24:3-4||Once his divorced wife has remarried another man – the former husband may never again take his divorced wife to be his wife again. It is interesting to note that in the Hebrew it is literally rendered as “her first owner” or “her former owner”. This means he was no longer her owner. This also confirms that when a man divorces his wife he relinquishes all ownership over her thus terminating their marriage in the eyes of God.
Some have tried to take the word “defiled” to mean that the divorced woman did something wrong in remarrying. But the word “defiled” in this context simply means once she remarries she is “off limits” to her former husband. Again there is absolutely no indication here from Moses’s words that either the divorced woman sinned or the man that married her sinned by their marriage to one another.
|Isaiah 50:1||The Prophet Isaiah says that God divorced Israel for her “transgressions” against him.|
|Jeremiah 3:8||The Prophet Jeremiah says God divorced Israel for her adultery against their marriage thus specifying the “transgressions” formerly alluded to by Isaiah.|
|Jeremiah 3:20||The first condemnation of wrongful separation of a wife from her husband.
Under Biblical law and by Jewish custom women could not initiate divorce with their husbands. While in Exodus 21:10-11 God allowed women to be free from husbands who failed to provide them with food, clothing and sex some women even though they could not have lawful divorce would leave their husbands for reasons other than what God allows.
|Hosea 2:2||Through the Prophet Hosea, God again references the adultery that Israel had committed against him for which he divorced her but here he says after his divorce of Israel that he is no longer her husband nor is she is wife. This passage deals a fatal blow to the false teaching that if a man divorces his wife she is still married to him in the eyes of God.|
|Hosea 2:19-20||God will betroth Israel again one day and that marriage will be an everlasting one that will never end. Again this indicates that when a husband sends his wife away in divorce the marriage is in fact terminated in the eyes of God. The only way it can be restored is for the husband to once against enter into a new covenant of marriage with his wife whom he formerly divorced.|
|Malachi 2:11-16||The first condemnation of husbands divorcing their wives in the Bible.
God says he hates divorce. But if you look in the verses before he says he hates divorce he speaks to what kind of divorce he hates. He describes Israelite men who so desired to marry pagan women that they “treacherously” divorced their first Jewish wives in order to take their new pagan wives.
Since we know that previously in Exodus 21:10-11 as well other Old Testament passages that God allowed men to take more than one wife we know that these men did not have to divorce their first wives to take a second wife. They could have taken a second Jewish wife while still providing for their first wife and there would have been no sin. Their sins were twofold. Number one they were taking pagan wives which was forbidden. Secondly they were compounding their sin of taking pagan wives by divorcing their Jewish wives to make their pagan wives happy.
|Matthew 5:31-32||First mention of divorce in the New Testament.
Christ applies the designation of adultery to situations that it had never previously been applied to. In the Old Testament adultery had only been spoken of in one of two ways. The first and most literal sense of adultery in the Old Testament referred to married women having sex with men not their husbands. Ezekiel 16:38 uses the most literal translation of the Hebrew word for adultery with the phrase “women that break wedlock”. Ezekiel 16:38 is also a good example of the second use of adultery in the Old Testament referring to Israel’s spiritual adultery against God by worshiping false gods.
How does a man cause his wife to commit adultery by wrongly divorcing her?
“he causeth her to commit adultery” – Christ is building on Malachi chapter 2’s discussion of men treacherously divorcing their wives. He is saying when a man wrongly divorces his wife in order to make a second wife happy he causes his first to break her wedlock with him when she should not have had to. She has not sinned – he is the one that send her away but regardless her wedlock with him is now broken.
How does a man commit adultery by marrying a divorced woman?
“whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” – Christ builds on Jeremiah 3:20. The divorced woman here is not the same woman that has been wrongly divorced by her husband in the first part of verse 32. Under Roman law and custom women could divorce their husbands so Christ expands Jeremiah’s condemnation of treacherous separation by a woman from her husband to treacherous divorce by a woman from her husband.
We know that a wife who departs from (or divorces her husband) is called “unmarried” later in I Corinthians 7:10-11. So the man who marries the woman who has wrongly divorced her husband is not committing adultery with her because she is still married to her first husband but rather he is committing adultery with her because God has placed her off limits to all men but her former husband.
So at this point in the Scriptures we see adultery used to describe several situations:
1. Ezekiel 16:32 – When a woman takes strangers instead of her husband this is a form of adultery and it is the most literal and original meaning of the word.
2. Ezekiel 16:32 – Also applies adultery to Israel in the spiritual sense of her idolatry. So adultery is given an even wider definition of unfaithfulness.
3. Mathew 5:32a – Applies adultery to a situation where a husband wrongly divorces his wife forcing his innocent wife to break wedlock with him.
4. Mathew 5:32b – Applies adultery to a situation where a man marries a woman that has treacherously(Jeremiah 3:20) divorced her husband. While she is no longer married to her first husband, she is declared off limits to all other men but him because she wrongly left him.
In a way this putting a wife who has divorced her husband wrongly off limits to all men but him is similar to the concept of Deuteronomy 24:2-4 placing a wife sent away in divorce off limits to her first husband if she remarries.
These two situations are the only two types of remarriage forbidden in the Bible.
What does the the exception clause mean?
The exception clause refers to this phrase “saving for the cause of fornication”. Fornication refers to all forms of sexual immorality including premarital sex, prostitution and adultery and sexual defrauding of one’s spouse. So God was saying if a man’s wife committed a sexual sin against him most likely in the form of adultery or sexual defraudment he could justly divorce her. This is a gender specific command as most commands in marriage are and it only applies to men. He was not allowing women to divorce their husbands for fornication.
In conclusion Christ is simply amplifying the teachings of Jeremiah and Malachi on the topic of treacherous divorce. Nowhere in his wording does he set aside the law he gave through Moses allowing divorce by both men and women for certain reasons.
|Matthew 19:3-9||The largest discussion of divorce by Christ.
The key to understanding the enter passage is found in question by the Pharisees that started it – “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?”
Here Christ is being asked to answer the question of what is uncleanliness from Deuteronomy 24:1. Some Jews thought it meant “for every cause” while others thought it was only for serious sexually related sins. Christ settles the argument in verse 9 where he says “except it be for fornication”. So Christ was opposing “every cause” divorce for men. He was saying a wife had to commit some type of sexual immorality for her husband to lawfully divorce her.
Again nowhere in this passage does Christ set aside or nullify the commands he gave Moses regarding divorce but rather he clarifies why God allowed divorce through Moses and that was because of the sinful hardness of hearts that are in both men and women.
An interesting difference between this passage and Christ’s previous statement on divorce from Matthew 5:31-32 is that this time he says the man commits adultery by divorcing his wife and marrying another woman.
In my note on Matthew 5:31-32 I described 4 different scenarios that are described as adultery. Matthew 19:9’s declaration that the husband who wrongly divorces his wife is committing adultery is the 5th definition of adultery.
As we previously explained this was not an absolute condemnation of all divorce and remarriage by men toward their wives but was simply addressing the Malachi 2 scenario of men treacherously divorcing their wives. When a man does this he commits the new form of adultery Christ first mention in Matthew 5 and which is to wrongly break wedlock.
Again we see the reference to the man marrying the divorced woman committing adultery. See my discussion of what that is referring to back in my notes on Matthew 5:31-32.
|Mark 10:2-12||Pretty much a smaller rehash of Matthew 19:3-9.
It leaves out details that Matthew gives for the most part but adds a few he does not. Matthew calls Moses’s law on divorce an allowance while Mark calls it a “command” and “precept”. None of these are contradictory because Moses’s words on divorce are in fact all these things – a command, a precept (law) and an allowance by God.
Another interesting part is it refers directly to a woman divorcing her husband. Again this is not a condemnation of all divorce for women because Exodus 21:10-11 clearly allows women to be divorced from husbands who fail to provide them food, clothing and sex. Instead it is pointing back to Jeremiah 3:20’s condemnation of women who treacherously depart from their husbands. It is talking about wrongful divorce and remarriage for women – not all divorce and remarriage for women.
|Luke 16:18||The shortest statement by Christ in all the Gospels on the subject of divorce.
Surprisingly this shortest statement is the one that John Piper and many Christian teachers have built their entire theology of divorce on. Then they have to cram in or explain away the rest of the Bible that does not fit with their beliefs based on this passage.
Luke 16:18 is no more an absolute statement on divorce than Leviticus 24:17 is an absolute statement on killing.
Instead based on the entirety of the Scriptures, we understand Luke 16:18 is a general statement on divorce and remarriage in the same way that Leviticus 24:17 is a general statement on the subject of killing. We know from looking at the entirety of the Bible that not all killing is sinful and in the same way we know from looking at the entirety of the Bible that not all divorce and remarriage is sinful either.
|Romans 7:2-3||A general statement of truth regarding the fact that under normal circumstances a wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives and she can only marry another man after he dies. If she treacherously departs from him (Jeremiah 3:20) and marries another man she is rightly called an adulteress.
But some wrongly take this statement to cancel out Exodus 21:10-11 which frees a woman from a man who fails to provide for her. They also ignore the fact that passages like Deuteronomy 24:2-4, Hosea 2:2 and I Corinthians 7:10-11 show that divorce does in fact terminate a marriage in God’s eyes whether it was done for lawful or unlawful reasons.
This means in the case of divorce a woman is no longer consider in the eyes of God to be her former husbands wife. Remarriage for her is only considered adultery if she treacherously(unlawfully) departed from her first husband.
|I Corinthians 7:10-11||Paul begins by building on what Christ said in the Gospels on divorce but he states it in a slight different way adding some detail that Christ did not. Contrary to what many have thought of this passage it is NOT speaking of separation. It is speaking of divorce.
The way we know this is by Paul’s use of the word “unmarried” in referring to the woman who departs from her husband. This literally is the same word used for single women and it literally means “unmarried” in the original language of the New Testament.
The term “unmarried” here is also another fatal blow to those who hold the position that wrongly divorced persons are still married to their previous spouses. The Biblical witness directly contradicts this false teaching.
We know from Exodus 21:10-11 that this is not an absolute restriction on wives’ divorcing their husbands but only a general statement. Only if a wife treacherously divorces her husband for reasons God does not all then she must remain unmarried and she is off limits to every other man except her former husband and she may reconcile to him if he will have her back.
|I Corinthians 7:12-15||This section starts off with a very important statement that has been twisted and maligned by some and totally misunderstood by others. Paul says “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord”. Was he saying everything that came after this was his opinion? Of course not. His only opinion in this entire chapter was his opinion that celibacy was better than marriage if one had the gift of celibacy. Nothing else in this chapter was his opinion but it was in fact the divine word of God. But even his opinion on celibacy was allowed and authorized by God to be in the Bible.
What is also important about Paul’s introductory statement in verse 12 is that he entering into progressive revelation. He is revealing more truths from God on marriage and divorce that neither the prophets nor Christ before him spoke on.
This is why our understanding of divorce will be incomplete if we think Christ had the final word on the subject when he walked this earth. Christ did have the final word on the subject but through his servant Paul after his ascension.This passage tells us that if we become a Christian and our unbelieving spouse wants to stay then we should stay with them and not divorce them simply because they are not a believer. We should try to win them to Christ if they want to stay. But if they want to depart then let them depart and the Christian man or woman are not bound to their unbelieving spouse who has left them. The marriage can justly be terminated under such circumstances.
It is interesting to note that the English word “depart” which occurs twice in I Corinthians 7:15 is a translation of the Greek word Chorizo which is the same word that Christ uses as a synonym for divorce when he says “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder[Chorizo]”(Matthew 19:6). This word in most cases does literally mean “to depart” and is used that way in other Biblical passages. But it can be speaking to divorce as well.
Also there is no Biblical reason to believe this does not apply to all marriage situations where one spouse leaves the other even if both are professing Christians.
So in summary the Apostle Paul is saying under the divine inspiration of God that if your spouse abandons and or divorces you then you are not bound to them anymore. Whether they have divorced you, or you divorce them for abandonment you are no longer bound to them in marriage. And this is one area that equally applies to both men and women in marriage.
|1 Timothy 3:2||Pastors must be the husband of one wife – this is a reference to divorce and not polygamy. It literally can be rendered “the husband of his first wife”. See note on I Timothy 5:9 that proves this.|
|1 Timothy 3:12||Deacons must also not be divorced (see note on I Timothy 3:2 and I Timothy 5:9).|
|1 Timothy 5:9||In the same way that Pastor was to be “the husband of one wife” in I Timothy 3:2, as widows who is comes into the service and provision of the church must have been “the wife of one man”.|
|Titus 1:6||A restatement of I Timothy 3:2 on Pastors not being divorced.|
Summary of Biblical Reasons for Divorce
Based on all the passages Scripture passages listed above we can see that God does not allow divorce form just any reason and that he places specific restrictions on divorce. These restrictions are in fact gender specific – something that is often overlooked. Below are the specific reasons that a man and then a woman can get divorced under God’s law.
God allows a man to divorce his wife for these reasons
If she claims to be a virgin before marriage and he finds out she has in fact had sex with other men before marriage (she has engaged in pre-marital sex with other men).
If she has sex with other men after they are married (adultery)
If she refuses to have regular sexual relations with her husband (sexual defraudment).
If she abandons him.
God allows a woman to divorce her husband for these reasons
If he fails to provide her with food and clothing (shelter is implied with clothing).
If he refuses to have regular sexual relations with her (sexual defraudment).
If he abandons her.
Are All Remarriages Forbidden According to the Bible?
God gives us this very important command:
“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”
Deuteronomy 4:2 (KJV)
Those on the far left side of the divorce issue are diminishing or taking away the restrictions God places on divorce in teaching they can divorce “for every cause” as some of the Jewish leaders taught. But those on the far right side of divorce either add to God’s word by saying all remarriage is forbidden or some restrict all remarriage only for women.
Contrary to the teachings of John Piper and others Biblical divorce is not just a permanent form of separation where the couple remain married in God’s eyes for the remainder of their lives and they are forbidden from remarriage.
Exodus 21:10-11 simultaneously proves two important points. First it proves that the concept of “remarriage” does not apply to men (except in one instance) because men are allowed to marry additional wives.
Remarriage primarily applies to women because as Deuteronomy 24:1 states when a man takes a woman and marries her he owns her. Marriage in the Hebrew was a man taking ownership of a woman as his wife. So whether her husband divorces her or he dies the next marriage she enters into is a “remarriage” because she was formerly owned by another man.
Deuteronomy 24:2 says of a divorced woman that “she may go and be another man’s wife”. Moses could have taken this opportunity to condemn this action but he did not. Instead he gave regulations working with this situation if the divorced woman did indeed choose to be another man’s wife.
But even without Deuteronomy 24:2, the burden is not on us to prove that God allows remarriage. The burden is to prove that God does NOT allow remarriage.
The Bible is clear from Deuteronomy 24:4, Hosea 2:2 and I Corinthians 7:10-11 that divorce does in fact terminate a marriage in God’s eyes whether it was done for lawful or unlawful reasons.
There are only two types of “remarriage” that are forbidden in the Bible. The first is found in Deuteronomy 24:3-4 where God forbids men from remarrying their wives whom they have divorced if they marry another man. The second type of remarriage that is forbidden is if a woman treacherously departs from her husband (leaves or divorces him for reasons other than Exodus 21:10-11 allows) she is forbidden from remarriage to any other man except her former husband whom she wrongly left.
She is off limits to all other men even though she is unmarried and if another man marries this unmarried woman who wrongly left her first husband then he is guilty of another form of adultery Christ describes in the Gospels.
The False “Innocent Spouse” Doctrine of Divorce
The entire teaching of an “innocent spouse” being confined to a life of celibacy because of the sin of their former spouse finds no basis whatsoever in the teachings of the Bible.
This false teaching is based on a failure to understand that the Bible teaches divorce DOES in fact terminate marriage in God’s eyes (whether it is for just reasons or sinful reasons) and it is also a failure to understand that Christ gave us another definition of adultery when it is used in the context of divorce and remarriage which is the wrongful breaking of wedlock either by a husband or a wife. He equated adultery to the treacherous act of a man divorcing his wife for unjust reasons to marry another wife and a wife divorcing her husband for unjust reasons to marry another man.
Confining a person who has justly divorced their spouse or who has been wrongly divorced by their spouse to a life a celibacy is like throwing someone in prison because they killed someone in self-defense.
What About Divorce for Physical Abuse?
While the Bible does not speak specifically to the issue of divorce for physical abuse I cannot imagine that God views a woman who has had her jaw broken and teeth knocked out by her husband and divorces him as a wife who “treacherously departeth from her husband”(Jeremiah 3:20).
But the truth is the Bible does not speak specifically to every issue of life – sometimes we must look to broader principles of the Scriptures when the Bible is silent on a specific case. I believe this passage below gives us such a principle that could relate to physical abuse in marriage:
“26 And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. 27 And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.”
Exodus 21:26-27 (KJV)
If a man was required to free his slave or indentured servant if he caused serious physical harm by knocking out their tooth how can we think that a wife had less rights than a slave or indentured servant? The fact is in the Scriptures basic human rights are demonstrated in the rights of slaves and indentured servants. All of these rights bubble up to those who had more rights like wives and free men.
So I don’t think it is a stretch or adding to the Scriptures to say a woman could divorce her husband for causing her great physical bodily harm.
Generally speaking most occurrences of divorce and killing are done for sinful reasons that God does not allow and these are the divorces and killings that God hates. But we can see when we examine the Scriptures as a whole understanding the principle of progressive revelation that God no more condemns all divorce than he condemns all killing.
God does not hate it when a man justly divorces his wife for adultery any more than he hates it when a man kills to defend his family. He hates that they were put in those positions to have to do those things – but he holds no ill will against the victims in these cases.
God only condemns two types of remarriage – the first is that a man may not remarry his wife whom he divorced if she marries another man. The second is a woman who unjustly divorces her husband for reasons God does not allow is forbidden from remarriage to any other man but the husband she wrongly left.
Finally, the teaching that those who have been the innocent victims of wrongful divorce by their spouse or have been forced to divorce their spouse for just cause are relegated to a life of celibacy by God finds no basis in the Word of God.
Below are previous articles I wrote on divorce.
Why Does God Allow Divorce?
Does God Allow Divorce for Adultery?
Does God Allow a Woman to Divorce Her Husband for Failure to Provide?
Does God Allow Divorce for Abuse?
Does God allow divorce for spousal abandonment?
Martin Luther on Divorce for Sexual Denial
8 steps to confront your wife’s sexual refusal
4 Steps to confronting your husband’s sexual refusal
15 thoughts on “If We Treated Divorce Like Killing”
Jesus asks the Pharisees “What did Moses command you?” Jesus points out that divorce is legal, but it is necessary only because man is sinful. He says that God created men and women to be joined for life.
The frame in which this discussion has to happen therefore is two-fold.
Q1. What should be legal for the ordering of a society of sinful men and women?
Q2. What is God’s ideal that Christians should aspire to and follow?
If we do not distinguish between these two problems, the issue becomes very confused.
A1. Hearts are still hard. What Moses legally allowed should still be allowed.
A2. Christians understand that God joins together and man cannot break that.
Paul says “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband” 1 Cor 7:10-11
Legally, she may be “unmarried” – separated or divorced – the reasons are not specified. But the Lord says she still has a husband and she should be reconciled to him.
Paul says “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” 1 Cor 7:39
These two statements of Paul bookend his treatise. He deals with the reality of separation and legal divorce. But makes it clear that a divorced Christian woman still has a husband, and that only his death frees her.
I agree with you that part of the frame of Christ’s discussion on divorce is to show what God’s ideal for marriage was when he created it before sin and the reality that because of sin he had to allow for divorce just as he had to allow for killing.
However there is a larger “frame” in mind here. We must remember that what Mose’s allowed Christ allowed because he gave those words and the words of every prophet after Moses to them. We must look at the entire discussion of divorce throughout the entire Bible to understand Christ’s comments in the middle of a larger Biblical discussion. He was discussing “treacherous” divorce which was referenced in Jeremiah 3:20 and Malachi 2:11-16. He was tackling wrongful divorce.
This is why we must read I Corinthians 7:10-11 which as you admit does not give the reasons the woman divorced her husband through the lenses of the entire Bible. This means we see it through the lenses of Jeremiah 3:20 and we understand he is talking about a woman wrongly divorcing her husband. If she divorces him for just causes given in Exodus 21:10-11 she is in fact free to remarry. I Corinthians 7:39 just like Romans 7:2-3 is a general statement of truth regarding a woman’s position to her husband. But it certainly is not absolute when we take into account Exodus 21:10-11, Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Hosea 2:2 and I Corinthians 7:12-15 which clearly show a woman DOES cease to be her husband’s wife after divorce.
How can you say I Corinthians 7:39 is absolute in saying a woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives when just before that Paul has given you an exception to that general rule in I Corinthians 7:15 when he says a brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases but you say she still is? The word depart there is the same word Christ uses as synonym for divorce and it can be used to speak of abandonment and divorce.
So it is Biblically correct to say that Paul tells us that if a woman’s husband divorces her or abandons her she is in fact no longer bound to him anymore. There is no middle ground.
You cannot parse between legal and spiritual as ALL these passages are speaking to the spiritual aspect of marriage. Now since Israel was a theocracy they instituted spiritual and moral principles given by God into their civil laws as well. But make no mistake all the passages in the Bible I reference are to the spiritual aspect of marriage.
To use a play on your words – if we fail to distinguish between absolute and general statements and if we miss qualifications to those statements in the Scriptures issues will be become confused.
BGR, thanks for putting this list together. It makes things more clear to see it all listed together.
I’m not following your logic on how you derive sexual defraudment from “fornicaction” or the Greek word “porneia.”
According to HELPS word-studies, porneia means:
“properly, a selling off (surrendering) of sexual purity; promiscuity of any (every) type.”
In other words, Christ seems to be saying, “unless your wife is whoring, you have no right to divorce her.”
Don’t get me wrong, I think sexual defraudment is a major problem in Christian marriages. It’s a major theme of my blog.
But I can’t find any Scriptural justification for a man to divorce a woman for defraudment. Only for a woman to leave a man for defraudment.
It seems that the solution provided for a man being defrauded is to take another wife. If his first wife freaks out and leaves him (unlawfully) then so be it.
Unless you have a clear line of logic to include “defraudment” as cause for divorce, it seems shaky ground to extend the definition of “porneia” to justify something as serious as divorce.
Curious to hear your response.
Since the beginning of this blog and even before I started it I have always believed that porneia includes sexual defraudment.
Respectfully I do not think I am on shaking ground in doing so. Bible dictionaries are great – but their definitions are not always all inclusive. In its original sense Porneia was speaking about people seeing prostitutes. But in the Bible the word takes on a much broader meaning emcompassing all sexual sins. That is why porneia also includes sins like incest, adultery, homosexuality, premarital sex and bestiality to name some other sins. To defraud one’s spouse is a sexual sin.
The Scriptures show that there are two sides of the sexual faithfulness coin for a wife toward her husband:
On one side she is not take any other men sexually besides her husband. On the other side she is to give herself to her husband sexually. If a woman refuses her husband sexually that is a form of adultery which is also a form of fornication(porneia) according to God.
While I do not oppose polygamy as Exodus 21:10-11 clearly grants – the Scriptures never tell us the only answer to sexual denial for a man is to take another wife. He may in fact divorce his wife for fornication which does include all sexual sins – including sexual defraudment.
Yes I agree that sexual defraudment is a sin. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cause for divorce. Your wife could steal or lie, but that doesn’t mean the husband can divorce her.
Unless I’m missing something, your counter-argument is as follows:
1. Bible dictionaries don’t include all possible definitions of the word
2. A wife sexually defrauding her husband is a sin
3. Porneia refers to a sexual sin
4. Therefore, porneia also refers to sexual defraudment
That just doesn’t compute for me. Can you provide a more sound argument?
I think it’s more of a case of being inferred rather than outright explicitly saying it, that defrauding a man of sex in marriage is akin to adultery….based on Ezekiel 16:32
A wife is supposed to be available sexually for her husband when HE NEEDS her, not when she thinks it’s needed, so when she gives her self to other lovers while depriving her husband of sex, in God’s eyes she is committing adultery against him
OK. For the sake of argument, I’ll grant that Ezekiel 16:32 is equating a wife’s sexual defraudment with adultery.
But that still doesn’t resolve the problem.
BGR needs to defend his uncommon use of the word porneia (i.e. “fornication”). According to both the dictionary and what I can tell from scriptural context, porneia always refers to prostitution or promiscuous sex… as graphically illustrated in Ezekiel 23:
“Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled.”
Adultery and “porneia” are two distinct concepts (though “porneia” could include adultery in some cases.)
Correct me if I’m wrong, but the lawful consequence of adultery is not divorce, but death.
But we know from the New Testament that the “law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious.”
A righteous woman will NOT commit adultery. But an unrighteous woman might need fear of potential death to motivate her to do right.
But even in regards to the woman caught in adultery, we know that “judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy” but “mercy triumphs over judgment.”
If we don’t clarify our terminology around sexual sins and allow the words to mean whatever suits our argument, we run into the same danger that led to the false doctrine of “lust” (which BGR has excellently pointed out.)
Again, all BGR has to do is point out a case in where “porneia” is used to refer to a sexual act other than prostitution and he will have a more plausible case.
There is a case where porneia refers to a sexual act other than prostitution. …in Jude, fornication is defined as the act of Sodomy
I don’t know if that helps clarify your question?
You are spot on with how BGR is 1 of the very rare teachers who knows what the true definition of lust is….suffice it to say, that 99% of preachers don’t know what they’re talking about on this subject
I agree with you that not every sin is cause for divorce, in fact most sins are not a valid cause for divorce. I talk about this often when men and women email me and I have said this on this blog many times. Husbands can’t divorce their wives because they are contentious, or loud mouths. They can’t divorce their wives for shaming them in various ways. They can’t divorce their wives for lying to them about money or other issues. They can’t deny their wives because the won’t do special things in the bedroom. The list could go on but you get my point.
Men can only divorce their wives for reasons which God allows. So the debate comes down to what does “fornication” mean in the exception clause in the Gospel of Matthew(chapters 5 and 19)?
Let me try to clarify my argument for the fact that fornication in the exception clause also includes sexual defraudment.
1. Bible dictionaries do not include the full definition of the word porneia(which the KJV translates as “fornication” and modern translations translate as “sexual immorality”.)
2. A wife sexually defrauding her husband is not just A sin, it is a SEXUAL sin(I Corinthians 7:3-5). This sexual sin is fraud which goes to the very heart of marriage. James translates the same Greek word Apostereo as “kept back by fraud” in James 5:4 in regard to people hiring laborers and not paying them what they agreed to. What is at the heart of the employer, employee relationship? It is that the employer pays the wages he as agreed to pay to the laborer. An employer may do many wrong things toward his employee but if he fails to pay him this is grounds for termination of that relationship. In the same way – what is a defining foundational part of marriage? It is sexual relations between a husband and wife. This is why the Bible allows both a man and a woman to divorce their spouse for the fraud of holding back sexual relations although it uses different language with men than it does women.
3. Porneia includes ALL sexual sins. Is premarital sex a sexual sin? Yes. Therefore it is Porneia. Is adultery a sexual sin? Yes. Therefore it is Porneia. Is homosexual behavior a sexual sin? Yes therefore it is Porneia. Is sexual defraudment a sexual sin? Yes. Therefore it is Porneia.
4. God indicates in Ezekiel 16:32 that adultery includes a woman taking strangers INSTEAD of her husband. There are two problems here. One is the woman is NOT taking her husband and the second is she is taking strangers. What this shows is faithfulness of a woman to her husband is not simply her not having sex with other men, but it is also her having sex with her husband. How can we say with a straight face that Israel would have been considered faithful to God as her husband if she did not worship other gods but also did not worship God? I don’t think we can.
So I am sorry if this is not enough for you – but is more than enough for me. It makes no sense to me how we can say that a woman who denies her husband the very act of marriage itself and commits fraud against her marriage covenant by doing so is not committing fornication.
This is crux of our disagreement. You think marital faithfulness is only one side in that in means a woman simply can’t have sex with men other than other husband. I am saying marital faithfulness is a two sided coin – on one side she cannot give herself to strangers, but on the other side she must give herself to her husband. If she gives herself to strangers or defrauds her husband refusing to give herself to him she has committed marital unfaithfulness – adultery which is form of fornication.
So based on the concept of marital unfaithfulness that God presents in the Old Testament in comparing Israel’s idolatry to a woman committing adultery against her husband and the fact that I Corinthians 7:3-5 confirms that that woman has no right to withhold her body and to do so
“You think marital faithfulness is only one side in that in means a woman simply can’t have sex with men other than other husband. I am saying marital faithfulness is a two sided coin – on one side she cannot give herself to strangers, but on the other side she must give herself to her husband. If she gives herself to strangers or defrauds her husband refusing to give herself to him she has committed marital unfaithfulness – adultery which is form of fornication”
Here are three instances where Porneia(or its root word Porneuo) does refers to sexual sins other than prostitution(or harlotry as it is sometimes called):
Porneia is used to speak of incest in I Corinthians 5:1(incest was not always with a blood relative – but was also if a man had sex with one of his father’s wives that was not his mother).
Porneuo (which is the root word Porneia is based on) is used to speak of the orgy the Israelites had with the daughters of Moab.
Ekporneuo(whose root is Porneuo) also speaks to sexual debauchery which occurred in Sodom including homosexuality and different types of sexual perversion.
These three passages prove that fornication(translating porneia and other forms of the word) is more than just speaking to prostitution. It also used to refer to other types of sexual sins as well including incest, orgies and homosexual behavior.
Let me also return to very important connection that is made by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 5. We already mentioned that he refers to incest as a form of porneia and then he spends this chapter scolding the church for allowing this man who was committing incest with his father’s wife to remain in the Church. He goes on to say this toward the end of this chapter:
So Paul is saying those who commit Porneia(in this case speaking of incest) are rightly called “pornos” or what is often translated as whoremongers or fornicators in the KJV.
This is a VERY important connection he makes here. Because I have seen many Christians online falsely teach that “pornos” only refers to men prostituting themselves out for sex or men visiting prostitutes themselves but we can see here that the Apostle Paul is saying in God’s Word porneia and pornos has a MUCH broader meaning covering all sexual immorality.
Fair enough. I’ll look into it for myself.
Another question if you don’t mind me asking:
Under Matthew 5 on your table you state:
“We know that a wife who departs from (or divorces her husband) is called “unmarried” later in I Corinthians 7:10-11. So the man who marries the woman who has wrongly divorced her husband is not committing adultery with her because she is still married to her husband as has been wrongly taught by many Christian teachers.”
Could you clarify what you mean here? Are you saying the man who marries a woman who wrongly divorced her husband is not committing adultery? Or are you saying he is committing adultery but not because she is still married to her husband? Or something else? The grammar is not entirely clear.
I can see how you might be confused by my wording there but you have to have the followup statement to get what I was saying:
I am not denying that Christ said the man who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. That is clear from his words. What I am arguing is that the kind of adultery he is talking about is not the classic form of adultery where a man has sex with a married woman. According to I Corinthians 7:10-11 – the woman who divorces her husband (whom I argue using Jeremiah 3:20 is doing so for unlawful reasons) does become “unmarried” so she is no longer his wife after her unlawful divorce. But she is forbidden because of her unlawful departure from her former husband from remarriage to any other man but him.
Therefore the woman who unlawfully divorces her husband, although she is no longer his wife(called unmarried) is off limits to all other men. If another man tries to marry her he commits adultery, not because she is still married to her first husband as in the classic sense of adultery, but because God has placed her off limits to all men but her former husband whom she wrongfully divorced.
But just so someone can’t take me out context of I have reworded that statement to guard from that misunderstanding happening again.
Here is the new wording:
BGR, thenks for the post, it got me thinking about the parallels.
Christ made these two statements that are identical in structure. First, you know the civil law. Second, I give you a higher standard. Your righteousness must be that of the heart, exceeding that which merely obeys outward law.
Civil Law: Thou shalt not kill
Christian Excellence: Do not be angry without cause. Do not curse or slander your brother.
Civil Law: Give her a writing of divorcement.
Christian Excellence: Do not put away without cause (fornication). Do not marry your brother’s ex.
I divorced my husband because he was addicted to pornography and he refused to have sex because of his addiction. He also refused to seek help. After reading your post, I’m happy to know I did the right thing.