What is a divorce?
A divorce, in the legal sense, is the formal termination of a marital union. This of course leads to the cancellation of all marital duties in accordance with the laws in a particular area. Divorce is not to be confused with an annulment or with de facto separation (a process where the spouses informally stop cohabiting). See also: [Merriam-Webster] [The Law Dictionary] [Wiki]
A study of divorce and remarriage should begin with a significant study of marriage.
Since the morality of divorce and remarriage is affected by the nature of marriage, we can only appreciate that morality when we know what marriage itself entails. Scripture itself supports the reasonableness of this simple conclusion. When Jesus was questioned about divorce, he responded by directing the Pharisees’ attention to the earliest scriptural teaching on marriage, Genesis 2:24 (Matt. 19, Mark 10). In this first chapter, we will concentrate our effort on that verse, looking at each of its important words or phrases as they relate to the context. – William F. Luck “Divorce and Remarriage: Recovering the Biblical View”
What does it mean to be one flesh in a marriage?
Is divorce a problem for Christians?
Our research found conflicting stats: See: [The Christian Divorce Rate Myth] [Barna Group] [Research Challenges “50 Percent” Divorce Statistics for Christians] [Church Divorce Rate Way Lower than Anyone Thought]
Atheism and Divorce
“Very little else has produced as much euphoria in atheists than Christian researcher, George Barna’s announcement that Born Again and other Christians have a very high rate of divorce, while atheists have the lowest rate. Atheist web sites immediately announced the glorious news worldwide. The divorce rates they published were the following: Jews: 30%; Born Again Christians: 27%; other Christians: 24% — atheists only 21%.” – Michael Caputo “Atheism and Divorce”
Regardless of what we choose to believe regarding exact stats, there is no denying that divorce is a problem for Christians.
“Through the prophet Malachi, Jehovah God said to ancient Israel: “I hate divorce” (Mal 2:16, NASB). The Lord hates divorce because he loves people and divorce is devastating to humankind. Man did not live one day upon this earth apart from the environment of a home. In fact, the very foundation of society is the home. Marriage is that divine union between a man and a woman who love one another, and who have welded their lives together “so long as they both shall live.” It is the cement that holds society together.” (The Devastating Effects of Divorce – Wayne Jackson)
Now, we have thus far established what divorce is and that it’s a problem for Christians as well as any other group. The latter fact raises the next question. Since divorce is unbiblical, except in cases we’ll soon cover, why do so many Christians get divorced anyway? Evidently, many Christians today do not accept the assertion that divorce can be sinful.
So, is divorce a sin?
Conservative Bible students and scholars come to very different positions on the matter of divorce and remarriage. This naturally makes the matter even tougher, but this is the reality of what we face. On the one hand some believe there is no basis for divorce under any circumstances and to remarry is to live in adultery. On the other hand others believe God allows divorce and remarriage for three circumstances: (1) adultery, (2) desertion of a believing spouse by an unbelieving spouse, and (3) if a person becomes saved after they were divorced, etc. because they are beginning life anew. (Scripturally, what are grounds for the divorce of a believer? | Bible.org. (n.d.).)
Four positions held by Christians
1. Divorce is never recognized by God, therefore remarriage after divorce is adultery.
2. Divorce is valid under certain circumstances, but remarriage is not permitted.
3. Divorce is valid under certain circumstances and implies the freedom to remarry.
4. Divorce and remarriage should be governed by the principle of “damage control”
which means that many different principles must be taken into account. Divorce
should be recognized and remarriage is not a sin. See: [apttoteach.org for full article where this list was obatined]
The Old Testament on Divorce
- When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. (‘divorcement’ Heb. cutting off. Isa 50:1)
Mosaic law did indeed allow for divorce, but the Israelites were never encouraged to be nonchalant or glib about the matter. The fact that divorce was carefully regulated attested to this fact. No divorce, even one sufficiently justified, was considered the most desired or perfect path. Marriage joins a man and woman and thereby makes them one flesh. (Genesis 2:24) A divorce parts them and is considered to be on par with the actual dismemberment of a living body. See: BlueLetterBible.org commentary by David Guzik [here]
The New Testament on Divorce: Teachings of Christ and The Epistles of Paul
Matthew 5:31-32: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ (Mat 19:3,7; Deu 24:1-4; Jer 3:1; Mar 10:2-9) But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Mat 19:8,9; Mal 2:14-16; Mar 10:5-12; Luk 16:18; Rom 7:3; 1Co 7:4,10,11)
Many scribes and Pharisees taught that divorce was permissible for any reason, as long as a certificate of divorce was granted.
It is ironic that there should be so much controversy over the import of the teaching of Jesus on divorce/remarriage. In His great Sermon, Jesus explicitly sets about to rectify contemporary ethics, which He sees as debased by Pharasaical Scripture-twisting (Matt. 5:17 ff.) – William F. Luck See article: [The Teachings of Jesus on Divorce — (Matthew 5:31-32a)]
Jesus taught that divorce led to adultery, unless fornication was the cause of divorce
One of the most debated issues is over the exception to the ban on divorce, which the KJV translates as “saving for the cause of fornication.” The Koine Greek word in the exception is πορνείας/porneia, and it literally translates as sexual immorality (which some interpret to mean fornication). One view is that it should be more specifically translated as adultery or marital unfaithfulness. Instone-Brewer rejects this translation arguing that contemporary sources make clear porneia meant more than just adultery, he does not agree with the most liberal translations that have the word also refer to things such as spousal abuse. (Instone-Brewer, David. Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002. pg. 156)
The verse is important in that it gives a clear argument against divorce. At this time only a man could initiate a divorce. Jesus makes clear that while the divorce may not adversely affect him, it is forbidden because it forces his wife into sin. Some scholars believe that since in this era a woman had few legal rights, she was dependent on her husband for survival. It was thus assumed that a divorced woman would always remarry. Jesus makes clear that the sin of divorce is in the adulterous nature of a future remarriage, and thus in many jurisdictions where divorce was legal restrictions were still placed on remarriage. This verse does not say whether a second marriage for a divorced man would also be adulterous, but Matthew 19:9 makes clear that it is. (France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985. pg. 123)
Matthew 19:3-9 (cf. Mk 10:11-12; Lk 16:18) Jesus taught that the issuance of a divorce agreement did not automatically make said divorce valid as the Pharisees taught and practiced.
“These Pharisees Jesus is addressing, they were neither honest nor sincere and they were not seeking information. They had divorced for just about any reason and it was their aim and determination to entangle the Lord in serious difficulties, inconsistencies, and/or contradiction. Their question grew out of the current controversy between two schools of thought over what constituted proper grounds for divorce based on Deut. 24:1-2.” – Robert Notgrass [read more]
In the Epistles of Paul
Romans 7:1-4: Here, Paul teaches by comparing our former relationship to the law with marriage. He pointed out that, even the law teaches us that marriage binds us for life. He even goes on to mirror Jesus’ statements on remarriage in verse 3.
1 Cor. 7: How many of you are single? How many of you wish you were married? How many of you are married? How many of you wish you were single? Don’t raise your hands! Seriously, one of the biggest challenges in life is to be content in our stage of life. It has been well said, “Happiness is not having what you want. It is wanting what you have.”1 Nowhere is this truer than singleness and marriage. God’s desire and expectation is that you and I would be content in Christ, whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. – Keith Krell See: (Marriage Matters (1 Corinthians 7:6-24))
When it comes to divorce and remarriage, everyone appeals to Scripture but almost no one agrees on what scripture teaches us regarding special, extenuating circumstances. While some matters are clearly dealt with in more than one scripture, the paucity of instruction on other matters and scenarios is undeniable.
Closing questions to consider:
1.) Is remarriage after divorce always adultery?
2.) Is abuse an acceptable reason for divorce?
3.) Does the Bible say that abandonment is a valid reason for divorce and remarriage?
4.) What does the Bible say about remarriage if a divorce occurred before salvation?
5.) What does the Bible say about an unhappy marriage?
To say there are some enigmatic issues regarding this topic is putting it lightly. Yet there are some points regarding God’s intentions on marriage that are manifestly clear. God designed the institution of marriage to be a lifelong arrangement. That is, a married man and woman were intended to be bound for life and no longer live as two people, but as one flesh. God hates divorce and we are admonished to avoid such because, it is a violent and treacherous act in many instances.
Seldom does anyone have good reason to end a marriage God’s eyes. Those, who insist on using the legal system at hand to end a marriage in the eyes of man, aren’t necessarily released from the bonds of matrimony in God’s eyes. Finally, a divorce based on unjustifiable grounds may be forgiven, but may also render both parties to be bound to a life of celibacy. That is, remarriage for such persons will be considered adultery.
Do you and your mate have God’s Spirit? Then, “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” God is fair and justified in His judgment. Marriage is holy, the very reflection of Christ’s marriage to the Church (Ephesians:5:32). Just as the marriage between Christ and His Bride will never be broken, neither will the marriage between two believers who endure to the end. – Greg Sargent See:For Believers: Reconcile or Remain Unmarried. Why?