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The Truth About Divorce and Remarriage Will SHOCK You!

Jamey Escamilla

Jamey Escamilla

What does the Bible say about divorce and remarriage?

 

What is the church’s most common view on divorce? It’s this:

Getting a divorce is a sin unless it’s because of adultery.

This belief has undoubtedly kept countless people in unhealthy marriages where other sins besides adultery occur. They simply stay in the marriage because they believe it would be a sin to file for a divorce.

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On the other hand, there are still plenty of believers that divorce for other reasons besides adultery.

 

While the standard view of divorce for “adultery only” is widely known, not everyone follows this rule.

It has been said that the divorce rate within the church is no different than it is outside of the church’s walls.

 

Because there is so much divorce in the church, Christians are beginning to think there’s not a problem with it at all.

Which is the correct view?

Two Things to Know Before We Begin

First, know that divorce is a complicated topic and requires deep study to understand it fully.

 

That’s why the divorce debate has been going on for thousands of years and why there are still so many questions about it in the church.

 

Much of the information out there about divorce still leaves believers with questions and doesn’t give them solid answers so they can explain their stance to others.

 

We should also know that every marriage has different problems and should be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

 

One thing I’ve learned from years of ministering is that it’s difficult to apply one set of rules to every situation when it comes to marriage.

 

Many conclusions we come to about divorce and remarriage should probably not be used as a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

 

The goal of this study is to give you a simplified, solid understanding of the Biblical view of divorce and remarriage. When you’re finished, you should be confident in your stance and be able to explain it to others.

 

Let’s jump right in!

 

Where Does the Common View About Divorce Come From?

 

Where does the church’s standard view about divorce and remarriage come from?

 

The central passage where the standard view on divorce comes from and the best place to begin is in Matthew:

 

Matthew 19:3-9

3 Some Pharisees approached him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?” 4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that he who created them in the beginning made them male and female, 5 and he also said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

7 “Why then,” they asked him, “did Moses command us to give divorce papers and to send her away?”

8 He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts, but it was not like that from the beginning. 9 I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”

 

The passage isn’t too difficult to understand. The Pharisees (the religious Jews) asked Jesus a ‘yes-or-no’ question about divorce.

Jesus talking about divorce

Jesus responds by explaining what God’s original intention for marriage was and almost seems to ignore their question.

 

The Pharisees seem to interpret his words to mean that it was not lawful or reasonable to get a divorce because they question his logic by presenting the law.

 

To paraphrase, they follow up and ask him, “If you’re saying it’s not lawful or good to get a divorce, why did Moses give us a commandment of divorce in the law?”

 

Jesus then says that Moses allowed them to divorce because of the “hardness of their hearts.”

 

He then states the rule that we all know too well: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”

 

Now, before we begin dissecting this passage, we have to get context and learn all we can about what was going on with divorce in their day.

 

Only then can the church better understand how to treat divorce in our day.

 

The Divorce Debate in Jesus’ Day

 

During the time of Jesus, there were two main views about divorce among the Jews. There was the school of Hillel (110 BC – 10 AD) and the school of Shammai (50 BC – 30 AD).

 

Hillel and Shammai were two Jewish men who explained the Mosaic Law to the people. Hillel was often more liberal in his approach to the Law, and Shammai was more conservative.

Hillel and Shammai

Source

These two schools vigorously debated various subjects and were critical in shaping the Mishnah.

 

The Mishnah was considered to be the “oral law” of Moses. It was a collection of writings that explained how they should interpret and understand the Torah (the written law of Moses).

 

These two schools were part of the cultural background of Jesus’ day. One of the main subjects that they argued about was divorce, and this is why the Pharisees specifically brought it up in Matthew 19.

 

They wanted to see what Jesus thought about it. Just as politics become a huge talking point in our culture around election time, divorce was a hot topic during the time of Jesus because of these two schools.

 

Something Indecent

 

The debate stemmed from a verse in Deuteronomy:

 

Deuteronomy 24:1

“If a man marries a woman, but she becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, he may write her a divorce certificate, hand it to her, and send her away from his house.

 

For centuries, the Israelites would use this verse as their go-to for divorce.

 

But during the time of Jesus, the debate between the schools of Hillel and Shammai was all about how to translate the phrase “something indecent” in this verse.

 

What qualifies something as being “indecent” done by the wife to where the marriage can end in divorce?

 

Shammai interpreted “something indecent” as meaning “forbidden sexual intercourse,” which would be adultery.

HillelAndShammai.png

The phrase in Hebrew is erwath dabar, which literally means “nakedness of a matter.”

 

“Dabar” means “matter” or “thing.” So, putting it all together, the phrase suggests a “shameful, indecent thing.”

 

Followers of Shammai believed that divorce was only acceptable for adultery.

 

But Hillel felt differently about this phrase.

 

The phrase erwath dabar is unusual, and they really didn’t know how to interpret it. According to their language, “matter” didn’t fit because it was a bit unnecessary.

 

It would be like saying, “I’m tired of my spouse because of their matters of indecency.”

 

In this sentence, “matters of” is unnecessary, and it’s strange to include it. You could just say, “I’m tired of my spouse because of their indecency.”

 

The Hillelites believed there was something hidden in this phrase that people were missing.

 

Often when the Jews in Jesus’ day would be studying their ancient Old Testament scriptures, they would come across phrases and words they didn’t understand.

 

The terms were worded oddly to them, almost to the point that the texts seemed miswritten.

 

They explained this by saying that the scripture does seem unclear, but there must be some divine, hidden message in it because God doesn’t make mistakes.

 

This is how the Hillelites looked at the phrase erwath dabar in Deuteronomy 24. They believed that there was a deeper meaning to it, and they concluded that the two words in the phrase erwath dabar were talking about two different reasons that you could get a divorce:

 

  • "Indecency"

  • “Any matter”

 

They might have agreed that “indecency” was about adultery or sexual sin, but they also said that “any matter” is stated in the text, as well.

 

And “any matter” includes all other grounds for a divorce.

 

“Any matter” literally means “anything.” To Hillel, this meant that the man could divorce his wife even for minor offenses, such as burning his meal or putting too much salt in it. (1)

 

Remember, the Jews were asking Jesus specifically about Deuteronomy 24:1, so it’s essential to learn as much about it as possible.

 

List of Explanations of Deuteronomy 24:1 in Jesus’ Day

 

Scholars offered a few explanations about Deuteronomy 24:1 and the meaning of erwath dabar (“something indecent”) in Jesus’ day.

 

  • The Mishnah View – Again, the Mishnah was a book written to explain and interpret the Mosaic Law. The Mishnah said that “something indecent” in Deuteronomy 24 should be interpreted as the wife breaking the commandments.

If a wife causes her husband to eat something meant for the tithe, if she converses with men to the extreme, if she has intercourse with the husband during her period, and other trespasses would be grounds for divorce. (2)

 

  • The Karaite View – Karaitism is a form of Judaism that rejects the Mishnah. The view says that God included everything they needed in the Torah (written Mosaic Law), and there was no need for the Mishnah.

 

It is a bit equivalent to the Solo Scriptura movement in Christianity, which says that everything we need is in the Bible, and more than likely, God does not speak outside of the written Word.

 

Mainstream Judaism in Jesus’ day held to the Mishnah, so this was a bit unique.

 

Karaitism held to the “literal” translation of the Torah, or what they called the peshat, meaning the straightforward, surface-reading, literal interpretation of the laws.

 

To them, there was no need to go super deep into the text and try to define what Moses said.

 

If you just read it and take it at face value, you can understand what the original Jews of that day thought of the text.

 

Karaitism allowed divorce only because of “offenses against modesty or good taste, a change of religion, serious bodily defects, and repulsive complaints.” (3)

 

Since they held to a more literal interpretation of the law, they probably felt that this was a more literal way to see Deuteronomy 24.

 

  • The Shammaite View – As you’ve already learned, they believed “something indecent” to be adultery or some vulgar sexual sin (incest or bestiality).

 

  • The Hillelite View – This view says that “something indecent” in Deuteronomy 24 is anything and everything the husband deems improper (even burning his food). This is how “any matter” divorces started in Israel.

 

  • The Akivite View – This view comes from Rabbi Akiva, who lived a few years after Shammai and Hillel. His idea was even more liberal because he believed a husband could divorce his wife even if he found someone prettier.

 

He states this because Deuteronomy 24:1 also says the wife “finds no favor” in her husband’s eyes.

 

He interpreted this to mean that the husband no longer finds the wife attractive and, therefore, can divorce and remarry someone prettier.

 

The Most Popular View?

The most popular and accepted view of divorce in Jesus’ day was the Hillelite view, mainly because the option for divorce on the grounds of “any matter” was appealing to men.

 

They wanted to be able to get a divorce for even the smallest of matters.

 

This is why they specifically asked Jesus: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?” (Matthew 19:3) They were asking him if Hillelite divorces were OK.

Karaite View

Well, What Does “Something Indecent” Mean in Deuteronomy 24:1?

 

The short answer is that no one knows precisely what “something indecent” means in Deuteronomy 24:1.

 

Scholars have tried to present their best solutions for centuries, but we don’t have a clear answer from scripture.

 

If I had to put money on one of these views, the Karaite View is close to being the correct answer, but there are still areas for improvement.

 

The biggest weakness of the Karaite view is that we still can’t be sure what “offenses against modesty or good taste” and “repulsive complaints” are.

 

It would simply be whatever the husband and society said it was. But here’s why I think this view is on to something:

 

ONE: "Something indecent” done by the wife has to be something less than adultery or sexual misconduct because the punishment for adultery was death in the Old Covenant.

 

If Deuteronomy 24:1 were talking about adultery, it would not have said to divorce but kill her.

 

TWO: In the previous chapter, the exact phrase, is used in a non-sexual manner:

 

Deuteronomy 23:12-14

12 “You shall have a place outside the camp, and you shall go out to it. 13 And you shall have a trowel with your tools, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it and turn back and cover up your excrement. 14 Because the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you. (ESV)

 

God tells the children of Israel to go to the bathroom outside their camp, dig a hole, and cover it up. Doing their business inside the camp would be indecent (erwath dabar).

 

We can see that “something indecent” didn’t necessarily have to mean a sexual sin since the Bible uses the phrase in just one chapter prior, and it did not refer to sexual immorality.

 

THREE: The definition of erwath dabar simply means something shameful or repulsive.

 

A literal translation would be “a naked matter.” This explains why we sometimes refer to our literal nakedness as our “shame,” deriving from the story of Adam and Eve.

Adam and Eve

Source

 

Indeed, we can’t be sure what the phrase meant to the Israelites, so it might be best to define it literally.

 

You might be asking, “Yes, but if we just leave it as a literal definition and say that it simply means “something shameful,” what qualifies as “something shameful”?

 

To which I would respond, “We don’t exactly know. It would be whatever the ancient Israelites deemed to be shameful enough to get a divorce.”

 

“The best assumption is that the indecency was any lewd, immoral behavior, sometimes including, but not restricted to, adultery—e.g. lesbianism or sexual misconduct that fell short of intercourse.” (4)

 

The Hate Divorce

 

 There’s more to Deuteronomy 24. Let’s reread verse 1:

 

Deuteronomy 24:1 ESV

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house,

 

We’ve already learned what “some indecency” is. But also notice how the man gives her a divorce certificate and sends her away.

 

This verse alone shows that God allowed divorce in the Old Testament. A formal certificate was given to the woman so that she could return to her family with proof that the marriage had ended.

 

In those days, marriage was a covenant that the man would love and care for the woman. If it ended in divorce, who would take care of the woman? What would she do?

When a divorce happened, this would usually be very difficult for the woman, who had to remarry to survive.

 

But with a certificate of divorce, she could return to her family for the time being, and she could rely on provisions from her parents in a legal way. The man was now released from his duties as a husband bound to provide for her.

 

But let’s read more in Deuteronomy 24 because we’ll need this knowledge later:

 

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 ESV

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man's wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

 

What do we see going on here?

 

  1. The husband divorces the wife with a certificate because he finds “some indecency” in her.

  2. She leaves and remarries another man.

  3. The new husband divorces her for a different reason – “hate.”

  4. The actual law is stated in verse 4 – the first husband cannot marry her again.

  5. Why can he not remarry her? Because she is “defiled,” it’s an “abomination,” and it brings “sin upon the land.”

 

The first thing we need to see here is that the Law states a scenario. It says that after the wife remarries another man, this man dies or divorces her. But the reason for this second divorce is “hate.”

 

Saying that the husband “hated her” and divorced her is odd. But it’s a keyword.

 

There are ancient Near Eastern texts that use the word “hate” interchangeably with “divorce” or use the word “hate” to describe the type of divorce.

 

During the days of Deuteronomy, this phrase meant that a man divorces his wife without any good reason.

 

There was a legal difference between divorces that happened because of genuine offenses such as “something indecent” and divorces with no explanation.

The "Hate Divorce" in Deuteronomy and Malachi

If a man didn’t give any reason for divorcing his wife, it was technically a “hate-divorce” and he would face a financial penalty.

 

In many ancient documents, such as the Codex Eshnunna, Codex Hammurabi, and Old Babylonian marriage contracts, the word “hate” is used frequently and usually connected to an “action” verb.

 

For example, someone might “hate” their master and flee (action) or “hate” their husband and divorce (action).

 

“Fleeing” and “divorcing” are innocent things to do. But in the Old Testament, if someone fled or divorced out of “hate,” this might make them wrong.

 

Let’s say you shot someone. As strange as it may sound, shooting someone could be blameless.

 

You could have shot someone who broke into your home, to prevent something terrible from happening, or to protect a loved one.

 

What matters is why you did it. If you shoot someone because you “hate” them, there will be consequences.

 

This is how the word “hate” was used during these times. It would essentially be attached to an action verb, sometimes even without the conjunction “and” in between them.

 

So, if we were to translate the words and thoughts into today’s English, it would be something like a “hate-divorce,” a “hate-fleeing,” or a “hate-shooting”.

 

The verb “hate” is used to show that the action arose from a subjective motive and without objective grounds to justify it – and for this reason is blameworthy.” (5)

 

If a man “hate-divorced” his wife, this was a divorce without justifiable grounds. The wife did nothing wrong; the man simply “hated” her and wanted out of the marriage.

 

In doing so, he would break his covenant with her, which was frowned upon in ancient Israel and surrounding cultures. The man would be financially penalized for it.

 

When the ancient Israelites would marry, the bride's family would usually pay the newlyweds a dowry. This money would help secure their future and be the funds the wife could rely on if the marriage ended.

 

However, if the husband could prove that the wife had committed something indecent enough, the court would grant a divorce, and the husband would keep the dowry. The wife was guilty, so she would lose the dowry money.

 

On the other hand, if the husband simply wanted to end the marriage because he “hated” his wife, he would be penalized. The wife would keep the entire dowry and sometimes be rewarded extra money. This would help discourage divorce in their culture. (6)

 

So, there is strong evidence that there are two types of divorces discussed in Deuteronomy 24:

 

1. Divorce caused by indecency (Verse 1) – A divorce permitted under the Law that happens because the man finds some indecency in his wife.

 

When this divorce happens, the man does not have to pay the wife or give her back a dowry because he proved that his wife was wrong.

 

The husband gives her a divorce certificate, and then she can return to her parents, get remarried, etc.

 

2. Divorce caused by “hate” (Verse 3) – A permittable divorce but frowned upon under Law. When this type of divorce happens, the man must give the wife the dowry and possibly pay more.

 

This word “hate” is a keyword in the text because it’s not just telling us that the man “hated” his wife in the manner we think of hating someone today. It’s telling us what kind of divorce this is.

 

A “hate-divorce” meant that the husband could not prove that the wife had done anything wrong but simply wanted a divorce.

 

If the courts found that the wife was blameless, they could still grant the husband a divorce, but he would have to pay the wife. This divorce is the husband's fault.

Malachi 2 – God Hates Divorce?

 

To get a better idea of the “hate-divorce”, we can simply read Malachi 2:16. Let’s read it from three different translations:

Malachi216.png

This is a famous scripture when discussing the topic of divorce. Many people use this verse to teach that God hates divorce; therefore, it is never OK.

 

Notice how these three translations read that God is the one who hates divorce. And if taken out of context, people can use them to teach that God doesn’t allow divorce.

 

But let’s read it in the translation we’ve been using throughout this study (CSB):

 

Malachi 2:16

“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.

 

This translation, along with others and the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament the disciples used), describes a man hating and divorcing his wife. This is different than saying that God simply hates all divorces. So, which one is it:

 

A) God hates divorce, or

B) A man hates his wife and divorces her?

 

The correct answer is B.

 

The Hebrew syntax in Malachi 2:16 is not in the first person singular, meaning it doesn’t say, “I, God, hate divorce.”

 

Instead, it’s in the third-person masculine singular, which means that it more accurately reads, “He [who] hates…” or “he hates divorce.” The “he” here seems to be talking about the man who hates his wife.

 

Malachi 2:16 deals with the “hate-divorce” and could be read as, “He who hates and divorces his wife…” or, “He who hates-divorces his wife…”

 

The last word, “unfaithful,” is the Hebrew word bagad. This word is used many times in the Old Testament in these ways:

 

  • To break a covenant

  • When a man doesn’t honor an agreement

  • To break the Mosaic covenant

  • To break a marriage covenant

 

The idea is that the men in Malachi 2 were not faithful to their marriage covenant and dishonored their wives.

 

This book explains it well:

Remarriage After Divorce in Today's Church Quote

The context of Malachi 2 was around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah when the Jews returned to their land after being in slavery for about 70 years.

 

Ezra 9-10 and Nehemiah 13 explain that one of the main sins the Israelites committed when they returned was marrying pagan wives, which was strictly forbidden.

 

What we know about the context of Malachi 2 is that the men were:

 

  • Divorcing the wives of their “youth” (Malachi 2:14)

  • Marrying pagan women

 

There’s efficient evidence the men were divorcing their wives due to “hate” to marry these pagan women. (8)

 

Malachi 2:16 could be paraphrased this way: “He who hate-divorces his wife (divorces her for no justifiable reason) to take a pagan wife does injustice to her. Be on your guard, and don’t be unfaithful.”

 

Conclusion About Malachi 2 and the Hate-Divorce

 

In context of Malachi 2, the men of Israel were committing two sins: Marrying foreign wives and divorcing their current wives because they “hated” them.

 

This kind of divorce meant they weren’t giving good reasons for wanting a divorce.

 

The text doesn’t clearly say that the men were divorcing their current wives because they wanted to marry foreign wives, but there is evidence that this was happening.

 

The same group of men committed the two sins, and the text seems to be saying that this is how the men were dealing treacherously with their wives – by divorcing them on the grounds of hatred and marrying foreign wives.

 

Even though I do believe that God does not ultimately want marriages to end, in all honesty, we cannot use Malachi 2 to teach that God is angry with anyone who divorces their spouse for an extreme circumstance.

 

The LORD was displeased with the type of divorce that was going on in Malachi 2 – the “hate divorce” to marry pagan women.

 

It would be wrong to apply this scripture to someone who divorces their spouse under extreme, unchangeable circumstances and tell them that they’re “filling up their garments with injustice” by doing so.

 

That’s not what Malachi 2 is about.

 

Pimping the Wife Out?

 

What does this all mean? At this time, let’s get back to Deuteronomy 24:1-3. Please reread it slowly.

 

Again, what do we see here?

Divorce Law of De. 24

After the law lays out this scenario, it finally states the actual rule in verse 4:

 

Deuteronomy 24:4 ESV

then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance

 

Why can the first husband not remarry her after she’s been divorced again due to “hate” from her second husband?

 

If her second husband died, why could she not return to her first husband?

 

Why is she now defiled, and why would it be an abomination for her to return to her first husband?

 

Remember, the parents gave a dowry to the newlyweds.

 

In the scenario of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, they would have given a dowry to the wife and her first husband, but she would have lost it after the divorce because of her “indecent matter” (De. 24:1). The first husband would have the dowry.

 

Now, she has remarried another man, and her family gives another dowry to this new couple.

 

However, this time, the husband “hate-divorces” her, or he dies (De. 24:2-3). The wife walks away with the dowry.

 

So, if she returns to her first husband (De. 24:4), how many dowries would the first husband have? At least two!

 

He would have the dowry from the first marriage and the new dowry from the second one because the wife would be taking this money into their marriage.

 

There is strong evidence that God gave this passage to state one law against one kind of scenario: A man getting wrongfully rich by:

 

  1. Divorcing his wife for indecency,

  2. Retaining her dowry,

  3. Taking her back after she has retained another dowry from her second divorced marriage,

  4. Now obtaining two dowries,

  5. And essentially saying that the indecency she committed in their first marriage doesn’t matter anymore (now that she has money)

 

One of the reasons this was such a bad thing to do is because it was essentially using your wife as a prostitute and pimping her out to get money.

 

Here’s What We’ve Learned from Deuteronomy 24

 

Deuteronomy 24 permitted the Israelites to divorce for “indecency.” No one knows precisely what counted as “indecency,” but it seems that neither the Hillelites nor the Shammaites had perfect interpretations.

 

All we can say is that “indecency” would be whatever the ancient Israelites considered “indecent” and “shameful.”

Divorce Scenario of De. 24

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is about one law that stops a man from remarrying his ex-wife after she had been “hate-divorced” by her second husband so he could not become unethically rich.

 

By the time we return to Jesus in Matthew 19, the Jews used this passage to teach that divorce could happen for literally anything.

 

Making Sense of Matthew 19

 

Now, back to our story in Matthew 19. The whole conversation Jesus and the Pharisees were having was based on the divorce statement in Deuteronomy 24.

 

Up to this point, the Jews were divorcing their wives for any reason or no reason, although there was a divide between those who said this was OK and those who said that divorce should only be because of adultery.

 

As in our day and age, the significance and permanence of marriage was fading.

 

How does Jesus address this issue? He begins by saying that marriage was supposed to be between one man and one woman, and it was supposed to last forever.

 

He then says that divorce was allowed in the law because of the hardness of people’s hearts.

 

He then seems to side mainly with the Shammaites on the issue:

 

Matthew 19:9

I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery.

 

The Greek word for “sexual immorality” is porneia, which includes many kinds of sexual immorality, including adultery.

Definition of Porneia in Matthew 19

And here is where the church becomes very divided on divorce and remarriage.

 

Did Jesus mean that there is absolutely no other reason why a couple should divorce?

 

I believe divorce can and should happen in extreme circumstances other than adultery. Please give me a chance to explain why in a moment.

 

But I first want to make some notable observations about this subject that are crucial to understanding divorce.

Crucial Observations About Divorce

 

Observation #1: There is a lot of confusion on this matter when we believe that adultery is the only reason a divorce can occur.

 

I’ve seen that most Christians who hold to the view that divorce is only permissible in cases of adultery don’t even acknowledge that there are some extreme cases out there because they simply don’t know how to advise in those cases other than to say, “The couple should separate for a time, but never divorce.”

 

But what if there is an extreme case where one spouse refuses to change? Should the couple just stay separated forever? Is the other spouse doomed to spend life alone?

 

What if one spouse is physically abusing the other and refuses to stop? What if one spouse becomes addicted to drugs and refuses to get help, leaving the family unsupported and in a dangerous position?

 

What if one spouse refuses to give love and acknowledge the other but doesn’t want to divorce? Should the other stay in the marriage, even after doing everything they can to reach the unloving spouse?

 

Again, these are extreme and rare cases. I think most divorces that happen today shouldn’t have happened.

 

Observation #2: Most of the time, both parties have some blame for the situation.

 

One spouse is usually determined to be correct, and the other is wrong. They see it this way because they only look at the “big, obvious sin” the other spouse has committed.

 

But they don’t look at the little things they’ve possibly done before that helped lead to the breakdown, even if that’s difficult for them to accept.

 

Of course, everyone is responsible for their actions, and the “big, obvious sin” is not excusable.

 

But as Song of Songs 2:15 says, “Catch the foxes for us— the little foxes that ruin the vineyards.” Couples should not ignore the little things. We should “catch them” before they do damage.

 

They also don’t look at how they respond to the situation after the other spouse commits the “big sin.” Our responses can be sinful, as well.

 

For example:

 

  • If a spouse is refusing to engage in physical relations (Big Sin)

 

  • But the other responds by not communicating their needs, not helping their spouse to overcome this mindset, not exploring why this could be happening, not being loving and patient, and simply immediately filing for divorce (Response)

 

  • Then they are both wrong (Outcome)

 

When I counsel spouses, it’s usually only one in an informal setting, so I know I will only get one side of the story.

 

But even though both parties are usually responsible for the breakdown, it could also be that one spouse simply doesn’t know that they’re doing wrong.

 

We only see through our own eyes, and that’s why it’s vital to obtain help from someone outside of the marriage who is unbiased. They should have nothing invested in the marriage.

 

If you genuinely want to see if you have some accountability, it’s best not to ask for help from a nonbeliever.

 

You also shouldn’t ask for help from close friends and family, even if they are believers, unless you know they’ll give you an honest opinion.

 

Observation #3: Divorce is never God’s plan for any marriage.

 

You might think, “Wait, didn’t you just contradict yourself? Didn’t you just say that there are some excuses for divorce?”

Divorce is not God's plan

Let me explain. Even in cases of consistent adultery and extreme circumstances, God would rather restore the marriage than end it.

 

I’ve heard that if one spouse abuses the other, God “wants” the marriage to end.

 

No, He doesn’t.

 

That might sound insensitive at first glance.

 

While I do think that the abused spouse should completely separate themselves from any dangerous situation like this and make the demand that physical abuse will never be allowed, there’s another question we need to ask.

 

Ask yourself, “What would God really want from this marriage in a horrible situation like this?"

 

"Would He want it to end, or would He want the abusive spouse to get help from the Holy Spirit, never do it again, and for the abused spouse to find forgiveness so they can save the marriage?”

 

I advise anyone to tread carefully and be safe. But the harsh reality is that most people do not have Godly wisdom in such scenarios. One of two events usually happens:

 

1. The abused spouse immediately files for a divorce after one incident of abuse, even if:

 

  • The abusive spouse has no prior incidents

  • The abused spouse has seen signs that physical abuse is imminent and has done nothing to help or prevent

  • The abusive spouse is repentant and heart-broken at their actions

  • The abusive spouse honestly wants to work on the marriage

  • The abusive spouse wants to learn to control their anger and never be abusive again

 

2. The abused spouse stays in the marriage, no one gets efficient help, and it worsens.

 

In both scenarios, the abused spouse is usually not yielding to the Holy Spirit's help, either.

 

Please know that every case is different. I’m only telling you what happens typically.

 

I understand that there could be a case where one abuse incident might be enough to end the marriage because of particular circumstances, such as extremity, mental illness, etc.

 

But if God can restore it, why should it end? Sadly, in situations like this, it’s rare that spouses yield to the Father, get professional help, and forgive each other.

 

And that is the simple reason why divorce happens. Restoration is possible, but one or both of the spouses refuse to yield to the Lord.

Why Marriages End

God hates divorce; whenever it happens, it’s missing the mark He has set for the marriage.

 

Observation #4: The blame for the divorce does not necessarily belong to the person who filed for it.

 

It’s not necessarily only the fault of the person who went to draw up the paperwork.

 

The sin of divorce has to do more with what happens during the marriage and not so much with the act of filing for divorce legally.

 

Let’s use some common sense and Holy Ghost judgment here.

 

If one spouse commits adultery or there’s an extreme case where a spouse refuses to change, no one should blame the other spouse for initiating the divorce if they’ve done everything they can to restore things.

 

In most cases, both parties have blame for contributing to a divorce. It ends with both people walking away and not truly seeking God for restoration.

 

Other times, Spouse #1 might decide to work on the marriage, yield to the Lord, behave appropriately, and find forgiveness.

 

But it takes two to tango. Spouse #2 might feel differently and continue in ungodliness.

 

If Spouse #1 sees that Spouse #2 refuses to change and work on the marriage, we should not consider Spouse #1 the “sinner” if they file for a divorce.

 

Their hands are clean. It’s Spouse #2 who is not meeting the terms of the marriage covenant.

 

This still doesn’t mean that God is in favor of this divorce. Ultimately, He would like to save the marriage

 

But he also doesn’t want any spouse to be mistreated and live in chaos; therefore, He understands why it happened and has already forgiven both parties for any sin.

 

Reasons Why Divorce Is Appropriate in Some Extreme Cases

 

It’s easy to read Jesus’ statement about divorce and walk away saying, “This is what it sounds like he meant, and he didn’t say anything else about the matter, so we have to stick to this rule without exploring it anymore.”

 

But I think we should explore it more, so here’s why I believe divorce is appropriate in some extreme cases other than adultery.

 

1. Everyone agreed that it was commonly acceptable to divorce for adultery OR extreme cases in Jesus’ day.

 

In Jesus’ day, there was a common understanding that marriages should include three things outlined in Exodus 21:10-11. Let’s read the scripture now:

 

Exodus 21:10-11

10 If he takes an additional wife, he must not reduce the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife. 11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she may leave free of charge, without any payment.

 

The passage explains that if a man has a wife but takes another wife later, he can’t start giving less to his first wife, as that would break their marriage contract.

 

Jewish courts outlined in the marriage agreement that the husband’s job was to provide for his wife.

 

Through the centuries, the Jews used this passage to teach that every marriage should contain these three things:

 

  • Food

  • Clothing

  • Marital rights

 

They then separated these rights into two categories:

 

  • Material – “Food and clothing”

  • Emotional – “Marital rights”

 

In the passage, the three rights were for the first wife, a concubine. A concubine was a mistress that would be in the house and resemble a wife but did not have full wife status.

Jewish Rights In Marriage

The Jews interpreted this passage to mean that if a mere concubine had these three rights, how much more should the actual wife have?

 

Therefore, they all agreed that if a husband did not give the wife her material and emotional rights, this was valid grounds for divorce.

 

There are records of Jewish divorces that happened because of this.

 

It could be that Jesus didn’t mention these grounds for divorce because they all already agreed on them.

 

For example, most Christians believe that homosexuality is a sin. However, some believe that because Jesus didn’t say anything about this topic, he must be OK with it.

 

But this is a wrong conclusion. First, we don’t know if Jesus said anything about it.

 

Just because the Bible doesn’t record Jesus’ thoughts about homosexuality doesn’t mean he didn’t speak on the issue.

 

As John said:

 

John 21:25

And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if every one of them were written down, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written.

 

There are things Jesus said and did that were not written down. So, the absence of any statements from Jesus about homosexuality in the Bible is insufficient proof that he was OK with it.

 

Second, other scriptures not spoken by Jesus in the Gospels indicate that homosexuality is missing the mark.

 

We should believe that Jesus would agree with what the Holy Spirit said in these scriptures.


Similarly, just because the Bible doesn’t record Jesus’ agreement with divorces in the Exodus 21 category doesn’t mean he didn’t believe this.

 

His discussion in Matthew 19 with the Pharisees brought to light his disagreements with what they were teaching about divorce – that they could divorce for any reason.

 

Debating matters they agreed on about divorce would not make sense.

 

It’s reasonable to believe that there are extreme cases other than adultery where divorces could happen.

 

If Jesus and the Jews agreed with this (I think they did), we should expect not to see it in the passage.

 

If someone says, “You can’t divorce your spouse unless adultery happens,” you can say:

 

  • “The Jews also believed that if a spouse was not giving material and emotional needs to the other, this was also grounds for divorce. It’s possible that Jesus didn’t bring this up because their conversation was more about their disagreements, which was that anyone could get a divorce for any reason. There would be no need to discuss what they agreed on.”

 

Questions to ask them:

 

  • “Do you agree that there might be some things Jesus said and believed that the Bible does not mention?”

 

  • “Nothing is written in the Bible about Jesus’ views on homosexuality. What should we think about that, and does this mean that he agreed or disagreed with it? In the same way, there is nothing written about Jesus’ views concerning extreme cases where divorce might be appropriate. What should we think about that, and does this mean that he agreed or disagreed with it?”

 

2. Some scholars see Jesus’ statement as a “general rule” for divorce other than a rigid, black-and-white statute.

 

I believe this, and evidence shows that people in Jesus’ day did, too.

 

It would have been implied that there are extreme cases where divorce is appropriate, so Jesus would not need to lay out every scenario where divorce could happen since they all agreed.

 

Take this scripture, for example:

 

Hebrews 10:25

not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

 

People use this famous scripture to rightfully teach that Christians should attend a gathering (most commonly, a church service).

 

However, when we read this scripture, our minds automatically attach some subtext, saying, “Surely, this scripture is not teaching that we must attend every service our church has. God understands if we miss a gathering in extreme cases, and we are still Christians if we do.”

 

And we are right to think this, even though the scripture doesn’t say that.

 

But we know the heart of the Father. We know his understanding and forgiveness.

 

We don’t use that as an excuse to disobey this scripture, but we recognize that it’s a “general rule” for attending church.

Valid Grounds for Divorce

Those who believe that adultery is the only cause for divorce also say that one case of adultery should not result in immediate divorce.

 

They teach: “Jesus meant people should divorce in matters of consistent adultery.”

 

So, they are reading into the text something that is not there. The verse simply says, “… except for adultery”.

 

It doesn’t say, “… except for adultery, but you shouldn’t get an immediate divorce for only one case of adultery.”

 

When we say that one case of adultery should not result in divorce, we’re doing two positive things that diligent studiers of the Word should do:

 

  • We’re considering other scriptures and evidence which teach that everyone should strive to make their marriage work no matter what.

 

  • We’re being open to what Jesus could have meant when he said, “adultery only.”

 

Jeremiah 3 explains that Israel committed adultery countless times against God by following other gods and sinning.

 

Only after many times God finally gave them a certificate of divorce:

Jeremiah 3 on Divorce

Therefore, we believe that a spouse should forgive and stay married if the other spouse commits only one act of adultery. But in the extreme case of numerous offenses, we can divorce.

 

But Jesus didn’t say that. He said, “… in the case of adultery”.

 

If we’re open to something that is not in the text (that you should continue the marriage if only one case of adultery were committed), why should we not also be open to another logical idea that is not in the text (that there could be other appropriate reasons for divorce)?

 

Why should we not consider other scriptures which teach that divorce is OK in other circumstances besides adultery?

 

Even though Jesus didn’t feel the need to specifically say that we should only divorce after more than one act of adultery, it’s implied in our minds.

 

Therefore, it should also be implied that there are indeed other grounds for divorce other than adultery because that, too, is logical and coincides with other scriptures.

 

The “general rule” is that people should stay married and divorce only for adultery. But there are exceptions.

 

If someone says, “You can’t divorce your spouse unless adultery happens,” you can say:

 

  • “Jesus said that adultery was the only reason for divorce. But many scholars and the Jews believed this was more of a general, ultimate, normal reason for divorce. It doesn’t mean there aren’t other extreme reasons why divorce isn’t appropriate.”

 

  • “The Bible says that we shouldn’t miss church, but this doesn’t mean that there is never any excuse why we can miss. This is a general rule, and we should recognize that there are exceptions. We should also take this approach with Jesus’ statements about ‘adultery-only.’”

 

Questions to ask them:

 

  • “If adultery was the only grounds for divorce, why didn’t God divorce Israel after the first time they committed adultery against Him?”

 

  • “Even though scripture teaches that we should not forsake the gathering of the saints in Hebrews 10:25, why do we still believe that it’s OK to miss a meeting under certain circumstances?”

 

3. Mark’s rule for divorce is even stricter – NO DIVORCE!

 

Here’s a scripture that proves some reasons for divorce other than adultery are acceptable:

 

Mark 10:11

He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.

 

One Gospel narrative might record the same story in another, but it sounds slightly different. That’s because the writers are telling the same story from their perspective.

 

This is known as a “parallel” in the Gospels.

 

This scripture in Mark is the parallel version of Matthew 19 on divorce. But as you can see, in Mark’s version, there is no excuse whatsoever for divorce, not even adultery.

 

Why did Mark not include that? Which version is correct? Can we divorce for adultery or not?

 

I find it humorous that most Christians favor Matthew’s divorce account over Mark’s. At least with Matthew’s, we have one reason that allows us to get out of the marriage.

 

Some scholars believe that Mark’s version is probably the most accurate and that Jesus did not give an exception for adultery.

No Exception of Adultery in Mark

But this doesn’t mean that adultery would not have been an exception for divorce, according to Mark.

 

It would simply mean that Jesus didn’t say it because everyone already understood that marriages could end because of adultery.

 

As a matter of fact, the community in Jesus’ day expected a couple to divorce if adultery happened.

 

In other words, according to Mark, Jesus might not have said that adultery was an exception because there was no need to – everyone already knew this.

 

Matthew could have added the exception of adultery in chapter 19 because he wanted to clarify this to his readers, who might not have been aware of the Hillel and Shammai debate of the day.

 

Matthew wasn’t trying to “soften” Jesus’ teaching about marriage, but he was showing natural, genuine grounds for divorce that even Jesus would have agreed with.

 

We know that Jesus would have agreed with divorce in the case of consistent, non-repentant adultery because God Himself gave a divorce to Israel for this exact reason.

 

This should make us curious: Would there then be other grounds for divorce that are acceptable but simply not written about in the Gospels?

 

If someone says, “You can’t divorce your spouse unless adultery happens,” you can say:

 

  • “Yes, Matthew said that divorce can take place if adultery happens. But Mark said that divorce cannot happen, period – not even for adultery.”

 

  • “Since Mark gives no exception for divorce, but Matthew does, this proves that there could be exceptions that were not written in the Bible.”

 

Questions to ask them:

 

  • “Why didn’t Mark mention the exception of adultery for divorce?”

 

4. Paul’s teaching on divorce agrees with Jesus that marriages should stay together at all costs, but also gives a different exception for divorce other than adultery.

 

Beginning with 1 Corinthians 7:1-9, the Corinthians previously wrote Paul and declared that it was good for a man not to have sex with a woman.

 

Paul responds by saying that he would like for everyone at present to be single as he is, but because there is so much sexual temptation and everyone has their calling, his advice is clear:

 

  • Let those who cannot control their urges have their spouse.

  • Don’t hold back on having sexual relations with them.

 

Then, we get into the instructions about divorce and remarriage:

 

1 Corinthians 7:10-11

10 To the married I give this command—not I, but the Lord—a wife is not to leave her husband. 11 But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband—and a husband is not to divorce his wife.

 

First, look at the two verbs “leave” and “divorce.”

 

The Greek word for “leave” is chorizo, which means to “separate oneself” or “depart.”

 

Chorizo has to do with a spouse separating themselves from the household.

 

This verb was mainly used for the spouse who was not the homeowner and “departing” the home. You can use the word “divorce,” and it would essentially mean the same thing.

 

Most of the time, the wife was not the homeowner, so Paul says that a wife should not “separate” from her husband accordingly.

 

The Greek word for “divorce” in this passage is aphiemi, which means to “put away,” which carries the stricter sense of the man divorcing his wife and sending her out of the house.

Chorizo and Aphiemi

This is why he uses “separate/leave” for the wife and “divorce” for the husband.

 

Paul refers to the Greco-Roman “separation divorce,” which is pretty much the same as the Jewish “any matter” divorce that Jesus rebuked in Matthew 19.

 

In Greek culture, easy divorces always happened for petty or no reasons. Paul shows that God was not pleased with this type of divorce (“I give this command – not I, but the Lord”).

 

He’s teaching the same thing Jesus taught: Ultimately, a married couple should not divorce. If it does happen, spouses should remain single and make themselves available for reconciliation.

 

You might ask, “But what if years have passed and we never reconciled? What if they still don’t want to change? What if they moved on and have another family already?”

 

Again, we should use common sense and wonder what Paul would say in cases like these or in an extreme case of consistent, non-repentant abuse.

 

The general rule is that non-valid divorces are unacceptable in God’s eyes, but there are cases where divorce and remarriage could happen, which we see if we keep reading the chapter.

 

1 Corinthians 7:12-13

12 But I (not the Lord) say to the rest: If any brother has an unbelieving wife and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 Also, if any woman has an unbelieving husband and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce her husband.

 

He then says that a divorce should also not happen simply because one spouse is an unbeliever.

 

1 Corinthians 7:15

But if the unbeliever leaves, let him leave. A brother or a sister is not bound in such cases. God has called you to live in peace.

 

Now, we have another ground for valid divorce: Desertion.

 

We should immediately recognize that there are, in fact, other reasons for divorce other than adultery.

 

This is more proof that Jesus’ statements about “adultery only” divorces were general, relating to the context of Hillel's “any matter” divorces.

 

Why would Jesus say “adultery only” if desertion was also valid grounds for divorce?

 

When an unbelieving spouse initiates a divorce, the believing spouse does not have to stay single, feel guilty for the divorce, or wait for them to return.

 

The phrase, “God has called you to live in peace,” is similar to that used in early Rabbinic writings.

 

It means that something could be done that might not adhere to the strict regulations of the Law or when something was not clear in the Law.

 

For example, mentally challenged people could not be tried for stealing, but to “keep the peace,” they would still have to return the stolen goods to the owner.

 

Non-Jews could not glean from the fields as poor Jews could, but they were still usually allowed to keep the peace.

For the Sake of Peace

Paul is saying that God would want you to stay with your unbelieving spouse, but if they want to leave, it’s better not to be married anymore “for the sake of peace.”

 

This isn’t technically what God would want, but what can you do? Just try to keep the peace.

 

If a husband deserted his wife in Greco-Roman culture, she could only remarry if she could persuade her husband to write her a divorce certificate.

 

But many times, out of spite, men would not give their wives a certificate. This still happens today in Jewish culture, and they call the women agunot, meaning “chained women.”

 

To break this cycle and bring peace, Paul declares that desertion by an unbelieving spouse who doesn’t yield to God’s help does not leave the other spouse “bound.” A divorce should happen, and they are free to remarry.

 

This solution of “keeping the peace” is powerful. Anyone who has been deserted and divorced against their will and can’t do anything about it should be seen as validly divorced and able to remarry.

 

If someone says, “You can’t divorce your spouse unless adultery happens,” you can say:

 

  • “In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul said we can divorce if our spouse deserts us. In context, he referred to people who would abandon their spouses and not give them a proper divorce certificate, leaving them “bound” in the marriage. So, there is another reason for divorce other than adultery.”

 

  • “Paul said we can divorce for desertion in this passage to “keep the peace.” This means that although God doesn’t want the marriage to end, He understands that it happens in certain circumstances for there to be peace.”

 

Questions to ask them:

 

  • “Do you see that Paul was giving another reason for divorce other than adultery?”

 

  • “If adultery was the absolute only reason for divorce, why would Paul give another reason?”

 

  • “Since desertion does qualify as another reason for divorce other than adultery, would you say that there may be reasons where divorce could be appropriate not mentioned by Jesus or the disciples?”

 

Conclusion About Matthew 19

 

Taking to account everything we know about divorce and remarriage from all perspectives, we should understand Matthew 19:9 as meaning:

 

“Adultery is the ultimate grounds for divorce, but you shouldn’t get an immediate divorce for one case, and there might be other extreme cases other than adultery that could be grounds for divorce.”

 

The ultimate standard for divorce seems to be constant adultery, as outlined in God’s marriage to Israel. But there are other circumstances where divorce could happen.

 

Conclusion

 

Remember that marriage is a serious covenant that God blesses. Ultimately, He does not want any marriage to end.

 

But for a marriage to work, both parties must yield to God. The Lord does not make anyone submit to Him; therefore, marriages sometimes end for wrong or good reasons.

 

Nevertheless, I think it’s time we stop making divorce out to be the unforgivable sin. Sure, divorce is something God never wants. But it’s a sin that is forgiven and workable like any other.

 

If you have gone through a divorce you did not want, yet you did everything right, there is no condemnation. The Bible teaches that you are free to move on and remarry if you wish, and I pray you find peace in the Lord.

 

If you have gone through a divorce that you did not want and you did not do everything right, there is still no condemnation. Perhaps, ultimately, God did not want your ex-spouse to go through with the divorce, but it happened. You are free to remarry or reconcile with your ex. Find peace in the Lord.

 

If you have divorced a spouse, did everything right, and believe you had no choice, there is no condemnation. You cannot change your ex-spouse’s heart. You are free to move on and remarry if you wish. Be at peace in the Lord.

 

If you have divorced a spouse and are beginning to see that you probably didn’t make the right choice, there is still no condemnation. If you can reconcile, great. If not, you can move on and remarry if you wish. Go in peace in the Lord.

 

In all of the scenarios above, there is never any condemnation. The Lord can turn any bad situation into a good one.

 

I realize this study doesn’t answer every divorce question. I encourage you to find your own answers. In everything, be guided by the Lord.

Bibliography

 

  1. Talmud, The William Davidson Edition, Gittin, Chapter 9, 90a. https://www.sefaria.org/Gittin.90a.3?lang=bi

  2. Mishna Ketubot 7 https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Ketubot.7.6?lang=biretrieved 10/25/22

  3. S. R. Driver, 3rd ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1902), p. 270.

  4. D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in , ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 413.

  5. Raymond Westbrook, “Prohibition of Restoration of Marriage in Deuteronomy 24.1-4,” in ed. S. Japhet, Scripta Hierosolymitana 31 (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1986), pp. 401-402.

  6. Wenham, Gordon J., Heth, William A., and Keener, Graig S. , pg. 64

  7. Wenham, Gordon J., Heth, William A., and Keener, Graig S. pg. 65

  8. Richard A. Taylor and E. Ray Clendenen, Haggai, Malachi, vol. 21A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2004), 360.

 

Also, this book helped me in much of my understanding of the topic:

 

David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002).

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LAST UPDATED: 8/17/23

Jamey Escamilla

About Pastor Jamey

Jamey is the co-pastor of New Covenant Church in El Campo, Texas. He has served in ministry for over 10 years, teaching and preaching the Gospel of grace. He is the author of How to Understand the Bible in 30 Days, a simple guide that helps Christians everywhere understand the bigger picture of the Bible, along with how to study it properly and foundational truths. He continues to serve as a pastor and run newcovenantway.com.

LEARN MORE ABOUT NEW COVENANT CHURCH

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