Divorce and the Bible

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: The Bible


Does God's word (The Bible) support a wife divorcing a current husband where there has been no adultery, no physical abuse or other abuse, or any reason for that matter -- the goal being to return to a single status or return to an earlier husband whom she also divorced without biblical cause?
D Oliver


Divorce is always a gut-wrenching, life-altering situation, and our hearts go out to anyone having to experience that. There are several words from God that relate to divorce. In Matthew 5:31, Jesus states: Anyone who divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. For a culture embracing a 50% divorce rate, these words are very difficult. It helps to know some background. For the Jewish people, there was such a thing as the Mosaic bill of divorce. It can be found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. It required that the man who wanted the divorce had to give his wife a document that allowed her to remarry. Its purpose was to prevent men from just walking away from their wives who were then damaged goods, who had no place in society, no stability, no security, no anything. This document allowed the women to remarry, to get into a new family, to have a place. It also prevented the first husband from exerting any further claims upon her, from having any influence upon that second marriage. That's what it was meant to do. Of course, you can imagine how often it was abused.

During the time of Jesus, there were basically two schools of thought on the subject of divorce. Their differences hinged upon the phrase, "some indecency" found in Deut 24. The school of Hillel focused on the word "some," claiming that any reason would suffice -- burnt toast, messy housekeeping, whatever. Anything could be grounds for divorce. The school of Shammai, however, was much more conservative and focused on the word, "indecency." The only acceptable reason for them was sexual infidelity. Jesus followed the more conservative position. Although this command is very short, he expanded his views further in Matt. 19:3-12. This concession in Deuteronomy, he maintains, stands over against the divine intent from Genesis. God's original will was for equal dignity and a permanent union of men and women in marriage. There is a passage in Malachi 2:13 where God says, "I hate divorce." It's a very short, succinct statement. The divine intent was for marriage to be inviolate.

Now Matthew does make an exception of sexual infidelity. In a sense, the divorce has already happened; the marriage has already been destroyed. The couple is now just making divorce legal. We need to remember, however, that Mark and Luke have no such exception. Furthermore, there is no sanction here for remarrying. Read it over carefully. It's not there. So what happens when people divorce and remarry?

These statements of Jesus come in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, a sermon that begins with several beatitudes. In the beatitudes, God gives to us completely, not because we have earned it, but simply because we exist. First He filled us up completely, and then He asked us to use what He had given to help others. There is nothing like a failed marriage to drive us right over to the beatitudes. There, standing before God "poor in spirit," we are given the kingdom of heaven. True repentance and amendment of life find forgiveness. That forgiveness has to be complete. It has to be the whole thing. But, such a concession made to human weakness does not represent the original or unconditional divine intent. Divorce can be wrong. It is wrong -- with deep, deep anguish and repentance for sins. [These two sentences don't make sense in this context.] But with such an attitude, there is forgiveness of sins and acceptance and an opportunity of a good life, and even a new marriage. It has to be that way. God may hate divorce, but He very much loves divorced people.

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