Below is table with every verse in the Bible that contains divorce, or putting away as the Bible calls it in order. Some verses do not contain either divorce or putting away but they relate to reasons God allows for divorce so they are included as well. Along side of each verse is an explanation of how this verse fits into the progressive revelation of God on the subject of Divorce. At the end of this table we will give summaries of why God made divorce and why he allows for it.
|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 break her wedlock with him when she should not have. 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.
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.
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.
Along with many other things, if sin did not exist in this world then one human being would never have to kill another and also no person would have to end their marriage. But sin has brought death to this world not to just to human lives but also to the greatest human relationship God ever designed which is marriage.
It is because of sin, grave sin, that some marriages are allowed to be ended by God just as he allows us under certain grave circumstances to take the life of another human being.
But in the same way that we would not react in anger or judgement, but rather we would comfort someone who had to kill someone to save others or themselves so too we as the body of Christ must comfort those who have had just cause for bringing about the death of their marriage through divorce.
However, on the other side of this we as Christians should regard unjustified divorce with the same anger we would if someone killed an innocent person. God hates the treacherous putting away(divorce) and so should we.