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Can Christians divorce?

The Bible is clear that any divorce is a tragedy. God intended marriage to be a life-long commitment between Man & Woman.

Marriage in the beginning

When God created marriage at the beginning of history he explained that when a man and woman are married, they become joined together as ‘one flesh’ (see Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6). This union is designed to be a permanent bond until death separates it (see also Matthew 19:6). It is worth noting that God created marriage long before he gave the Law to Moses. The strong bond of marriage goes beyond a legal contract.

Marriage and law

In the Old Testament, God prescribed strong punishments for the act of adultery; in Leviticus 20:10 we read that an adulterer is to be sentenced to death. In the Old Testament, any violation of the one-flesh relationship was cause to end the marriage by death. Even so, there are cases of forgiveness and reconciliation after adultery, in particular Hosea 3:1, where Hosea's life provides an amazing picture of God’s grace to His adulterous wife, Israel. In Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the practice of divorce is regulated by God. The Law does not promote divorce, but makes allowances for fallen humanity recognising that because of sin, divorce is inevitable in this world. This passage is primarily about how to deal with divorce when it occurs, not saying that divorce is acceptable to God.

Jesus' teaching on divorce

In Matthew 19:8, Jesus teaches that the Law gave divorce as a concession because of the hardness of heart of the Israelites. So divorce is one of the consequences of sin, and that is why Jesus is critical of the easy way in which the Pharisees divorced their wives for any and every reason Matthew 19:4 (NIV). Malachi 2:4 says that God hates divorce. Again speaking of the relationship between his people and himself, but also referring to human marriage.

So are Christians allowed to divorce?

In Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:3-12, Jesus says that it in the instance of marital unfaithfulness it is permissible for a married couple to divorce. There is one further grounds for divorce given in the New Testament and that is in the case of an unbelieving spouse wanting to leave a believer (see 1 Corinthians 7:15). However, in both of these situations it is worth noting that divorce is not a requirement but a concession (Matthew 19:8). If there has been an extra-marital affair or if an unbelieving spouse wants to leave, the preferred option is still for the married couple to forgive each other and be reconciled (see 1 Corinthians 7:11). This is the pattern of Christian life in all areas not just marriage (see Colossians 3:13), and it is a great testimony to the grace of God when a husband and wife are restored to a loving relationship.