WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT DIVORCE?
So many people look throughout the Bible for an escape clause. Instead of escape, we should look through the Bible to seek God’s design, His plan and His purpose. What would our marriages be like if we did? What would our church look like?
Before we look at scripture, let’s look at the four Gospels, why they were written, and who the audience was. You see, each of the Gospels, were written for a different audience with a different purpose. So as you examine each Gospel and what was said, you have to look at what was meant at the time.
Jews would only listen to prophesies and teaching by one of their own. Matthew a Jew, wrote specifically to them, to people who were very familiar with the Old Testament. It talks about Jesus’ genealogy and how He fulfills the promises God made. (Jesus the King)
Mark’s target audience was the Romans, people who knew nothing, or very little of scripture. He begins with Jesus’ ministry and speaks about a ministry of action, how God could meet their deepest needs. Mark speaks more of Jesus’ miracles than the other Gospels. (Jesus the Servant)
Luke was a Greek who spoke to the Greeks. It is a book of literary art. In the New Testament, Luke actually writes more words than any other author, Paul wrote more books, but Luke wrote more words, showing the humanity of Jesus. It shows Jesus as the perfect man, which was important to the Greeks. (Jesus the Man)
John wrote to all who needed to hear the truth of Jesus. In John, Jesus is revealed as God in flesh. John states that Jesus did more than what he has recorded. So he chose to specifically show us certain things to prove Jesus as the Son of God. (Jesus as God)
So what does the Bible say about divorce?
Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness (translated “wickedness”) of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” [His] disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” He answered, “Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted.” Matthew 19:3-11 (NABRE)
“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” Mark 10:7-12
“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Luke 16:18
This word “fornication” or “adultery” causes a dilemma in many Christian circles. Had this verse not been written in Matthew and we only read from Mark 10 or Luke 16, there would be no discussion whatsoever about the permanence of marriage, “therefore what God joined together, let no man separate.” Divorce is disobedience to God according to both Mark and Luke, and as we see in Matthew as well.
Now what did Jesus also say about adultery? Remember, we have to take the Bible in whole, not in part. We must also look at the book written, the context of the book and who it was written to.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28
So basically, if you lust after someone you have committed adultery. So did Jesus say that if your spouse lustfully looks at someone you can divorce them? Who could live up to that standard? Where is forgiveness, redemption, unconditional love that is taught throughout the whole Bible?
Jesus makes the point that “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness (translated “wickedness”) of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” So in essence, what is said here is, the law of Moses is nullified (Deuteronomy 24). It was allowed by Moses because of the wickedness of your hearts, but in the beginning this was not the case. I have already told you that what God has joined together, let no man separate. Then Jesus goes on to say, “ And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except (besides) for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” At this point Jesus has already said that the Law of Moses is nullified, so if any man leaves his wife, besides for sexual immorality, commits adultery. Here any man who divorces, commits adultery. The law of Moses, which the Jews clearly understood (remember this is in Matthew), and the question the Pharisees were asking, specifically pointed to sexual immorality, so Jesus already addressed that issue and nullified it. Verse 9 clearly is covering all other bases for divorce.
Jesus was being tested to force him into a contradiction of Deuteronomy 24, which he addressed even deeper saying that divorce was created and allowed by Moses (Not God) due to the hardness, or wickedness, of their hearts. Deuteronomy already addressed fornication, the Jews understood this. Jesus nullified this. He then states that a marriage should never be separated; divorce was never intended by God.
As Jesus explains a deeper view of marriage, giving the command to not separate, the disciples, and even the Pharisees, knew what Jesus was saying, and even questioned him again. Even the disciples stated, wow, “if one cannot get out of marriage it is better not to marry.”
For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man. Romans 7:2-3
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
So the question is, does the Matthew exception conform to the absoluteness of Mark and Luke? Does it conform to what Paul wrote about divorce? Remember, during this time, adultery was punishable by death. Which means if you were married and committed adultery there would be no divorce, because you were stoned to death.
So Matthew does not contradict the other Gospels, nor does he contradict Paul’s teachings. It promotes the truth of Jesus’s absolute command to not separate what God has joined together.
David in Virginia
Unless otherwise noted, scripture quoted are from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2010 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.