To Divorce Or Not To Divorce…That is the Question.

Having come from a family where my parents were divorced, this question is particularly interesting to me. Under what circumstances can someone legitimately be divorced from a biblical perspective? Consider the following verses:

Mark 10:2-12 (New International Version)

2Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

3“What did Moses command you?” he replied.

4They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

5“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’[a] 7‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,[b] 8and the two will become one flesh.’[c] So they are no longer two, but one. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

10When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

1 Corinthians 7:10-15 (New International Version)

10To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

12To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

15But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.

Are there any cases in which either of these two commands would not apply. Could it be argued that there are instances which these two passages do not speak to? If so, what are they?


8 Responses to To Divorce Or Not To Divorce…That is the Question.

  1. Jason Dudley says:

    Hey Clint:

    I think a crucial issue here is remarriage. The passage from Matthew indicates that a man or woman who divorces *and* remarries another commits adultery. Seems to me the “sin” is wrapped up in remarriage. The 1 Cor. passage permits a separation between a believer and an unbeliever, but does not address the issue of remarriage, leading me back to the Matthew passage.

    I like Blomberg’s stance (and I agree) that God is always for reconciliation. I don’t know how that works out in every situation though.

  2. Ben Z says:

    Since it says that you can let an unbeliever go if they want, the command “what God has joined together, let man not separate” seems as if it might not apply to remarriage in this case. If you can let the unbeliever go, why can’t you get remarried and have kids that are “sanctified”?

  3. Jason Dudley says:

    I don’t see the connection between letting the unbeliever go and remarriage and having kids. Could you elaborate?

  4. Clint says:

    I just realized the irony of me posting this on Valentines day. Well, I guess it is more fitting for our culture anyways.

    Jason: Good point. I agree with Blomberg as well that God’s purpose is that marriage is always supposed to be for a lifetime.

    Ben: Paul does permit divorce when an unbelieving spouse wishes to leave. However, “if the separation or divorce has already occurred without any remarriage taking place, the estrange parties should either reconcile and get back together or remain unmarried [vv. 10-11] (Blomberg, FROM PENTECOST TO PATMOS, p.177). Blomberg here does not seem to indicate if remarriage is ok for the believer in this situation to someone other than the estranged spouse.

    While we should be careful not to force exceptions to the rule of “no divorce” onto passages…it seems clear that neither Jesus or Paul’s teaching is exhaustive (otherwise, Paul would not have felt the need to add to what Jesus said).

    Each instance should be taken on a case-by-case basis and handled very carefully. For those interested, I was talking to my mentor today, and one of his friends from the Tyndale House (David Instone-Brewer) wrote a book called DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE: THE SOCIAL AND LITERARY CONTEXT. Also, he has some articles and other resources at this site:

  5. Susan says:

    I believe this ‘hard saying’ of Jesus’ is the point of this matter. We ask the wrong question when we want to know under what circumstances it is “okay” to divorce.
    Jesus is telling us that there is something profoundly, metaphysically, and perhaps even eternally changed when a man and a woman consumate a marriage. This knowledge should give us great pause when entering into marriage, because it cannot be “gotten out of” in a sense. The disciples comment afterward [paraphrase] “Woah!!!! This is too hard!!! You mean my marriage makes me ONE FLESH with my spouse??? That sounds like its gonna hurt if we separate or divorce….” Ya, no kidding. Ask every divorced person how it felt to go through a divorce, what it did to the family, and so on. There is not such thing as a “pain free” or “easy” divorce. So Jesus tells them if they cannot accept the gravity of this situation, it’s better not to marry at all.

    I dont think the point of Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees was to answer their question (when did Jesus ever straightforwardly answer a Pharisees’ question? They always asked the wrong question, and for the wrong reason!) but to teach the deeper truth that marriage is a serious, metaphysically deep relationship that is not broken by a whim with divorce papers or severed without serious consequences to all involved, even under what people today in our culture would call “the best circumstances.”

  6. Mike says:

    These conversations are always interesting to watch… however, there’s another side to them that is often overlooked.

    Back in seminary we had the director of a women’s shelter come speak. One of her greatest disappointments, source of fear, and aggravations, was the influence of many area churches. She recounted story after story of women that had approached their church leaders for help and support, only to be encouraged to return home to the marriage and “try harder.” You know where this is going… the women walked back into abusive homes and suffered incredible pains – physical, emotional, and spiritual. As did their children.

    Their circumstances didn’t meet the litmus test for separation and/or divorce. These exegetical discussions have a place – a prominent place – in the life of the church. However, isolated passages cannot be used to understand the greater narrative of scripture.

  7. Clint says:


    Thanks for the comment. I think all of us would echoe your sentiment that “isolated passages cannot be used to understand the greater narrative of scripture.” However, it is of necessity that the “greater narrative” is constructed of smaller pieces (i.e. verses, and verses that speak to the subject ). Therefore, what we are trying to do here is to understand these two verses in their own context before moving onto collating them with others that might speak on the issue.

    There is no doubt that many pastors have often failed in knowing when and how to counsel biblically. It is for this reason that I think that such situations should be taken on a case-by-case basis. This will avoid “a litmus test.” However, in the end, it cannot be denied that scripture itself is not completely malleable to each particular situation. Further, scripture, of necessity, has an intended meaning which will limit some actions and allow for others…is this a litmus test?

    I am convinced that this is an issue that each and every pastor should have a solid understanding of (yet this seems to happen rarely). This issue affects nearly all of us and thus it is imperative that we are able to speak biblically to such situations.

  8. fragileswan says:

    The official Roman Catholic Doctrine states that in cases where spouses are more closely related by blood than would allow proper genetic distribution, producing a high incidence of children born with far below average intelligence, although with an occasional genius; divorce is not only allowed, but mandatory.

    Certain Polynesians, Hawaiians for one, marry their siblings, and these cultures kill the vast majority of infants, because civilization cannot survive populated with idiots, morons, and imbeciles.

    This is intolerable for Western Culture, and has urged legislators over the centuries to pass laws banning marriage between parents and children

    (This has been practiced in certain cultures, notably ancient Egypt. Physkon Euergetes married his daughter, and had children with her.) Abortion originated in cultures where siblings, and parents and children mated.

    The Roman Catholic Church put an end to these practices everywhere in The Western World. Mother Church also devised the social construction that couples marry for life, or, in the event of divorce, men be married to one woman at a time.

    Previous to this, men limited themselves to one wife for financial reasons, but with the advent of Roman Catholicism in the 300s A.D., the Western World’s standard of living rose so sharply and quickly, many men sought to marry more than one wife, especially if he had access to Caucasian virgins.

    Also, in cases of spousal abandonment, the innocent spouse is no longer bound by marriage. In Wales, the only way to get a divorce is to be an abandoned spouse, or to abandon a spouse, for two years or more.

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