What the Bible says about....
Divorce and remarriage in the
Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament)
There are relatively few Bible verses which deal with divorce. They have been
interpreted by Jewish and Christian theologians down through the years as:
||Allowing men to divorce their wives for various reasons.
||Prohibiting divorce except for adultery, or desertion.
||Totally forbidding divorce.
In particular, the Christian Scriptures contain conflicting passages on divorce: some suggest that no divorce is allowed for any reasons; others allow it in the case of adultery. Some imply that only the husband can initiate a divorce; others that the wife can as well.
Some Christian theologians promote non-Biblical grounds for divorce, including
relationship breakdown as evidenced by separation for a defined period, or spousal violence. Others teach that the institution of marriage is more important than the people involved, and that divorce should not be permitted. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that a valid marriage is permanent. However, they offer grounds for anullment in which a valid marriage is determined to have never taken place.
Divorce in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament):
||Matthew 5:31-32: Adultery the only valid grounds for divorce: By
the first century CE, the law of divorce based on Deuteronomy 24:1 was being
interpreted in many ways: the Shammai school taught that a man could only
divorce his wife if she committed adultery; the Hillel school taught that
the man could divorce her if he found anything disagreeable in her. Jesus
here is making his views known; he agrees with the Shammai interpretation.
He says that a wife's adultery is the only valid grounds for divorce. If a
man divorces his wife for any other reason, then:
||He is forcing her to commit adultery with another man, presumably
because she would have to seek the protection of another man in order to survive.
||If she marries another man, he is committing adultery.
Jesus does not consider here whether an innocent party in a divorce is
allowed to remarry:
"It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give
her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving
for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry
her that is divorced committeth adultery."
|| Matthew 19:3-9: Adultery the only valid grounds for divorce: Jesus
returns to the question of grounds for divorce and confirms his stance in
Matthew 5. He says that God intended men and women to marry permanently;
divorce is not in God's plan. But Moses realized that, in their fallen
state, the ancient Israelites needed a temporary civil law which permitted
divorce on grounds of adultery. Some liberal theologians speculate that Jesus
originally taught that marriage was permanent, and divorce not permitted for
any reason. By the time that Matthew was written, the early church had found
this standard untenable and had added adultery as the only grounds for
divorce. The author of Matthew then put this message into Jesus' words:
"The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him,
Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which
made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and
shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God
hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of
divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts
suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be
for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery."
||Mark 10:2-12: There are no valid grounds for divorce, not even divorce: Jesus
here implies that all marriages are permanent; divorce is not allowed for
any reason. He also implies that either the husband or the wife can initiate
a divorce. This does not agree with the historical record; in 1st century CE Palestine, only a husband could end a marriage. Some liberal
theologians speculate that the gospel was written by a member of a Gentile
Christian church outside of Palestine in the Greco-Roman world where a woman
did have the right to divorce her husband. So, the author wrote from his own
experience in Pagan territory and put words into Jesus' mouth to reflect Pagan customs. When
Matthew later extracted this story from Mark, he modified the text to bring
it into accordance with Jewish practice.
"And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man
to put away his wife? tempting him...And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry
another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another,
she committeth adultery."
|| Luke 16:18: Remarriage is not permitted: Jesus here condemns remarriage
of either the husband or the wife. Both the wife's former and new husband are
committing adultery. This passage might be interpreted as allowing divorce
as long as neither couple remarries; i.e. it would allow marital separation.
"Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery."
|| 1 Corinthians 7:10-17: Remarriage is permitted, in some circumstances: Paul apparently wrote this passage in response to some
Christians who were married to other
Christians and were considering separating from their spouses and leading a
celibate life. Paul personally recommends that couples stay together. If
they separate, the woman should remain unmarried. Paul makes no ruling on whether the husband should
be allowed to remarry after a marital separation. Paul then deals with inter-faith
marriages, in which a Christian is married to a Pagan. The Christian
spouse should not initiate a separation or divorce;
however they should allow their non-Christian spouse to separate if they
they wish. and if the Christian is left, he or she is no longer
"under bondage." They are apparently free to remarry.
"And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the
wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife
that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving
husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister
is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? But as God hath
distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches."
The following information sources give additional information on the beliefs of religious leaders on divorce. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- J. Carl Laney, "The Divorce Myth," Bethany House, (1981). Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- H.W. House, Ed., "Divorce and remarriage: Four Christian
views," InterVarsity Press, (1990), Page 25. Read
reviews or order this book
- "Divorce in Moral Theology," New Advent, at: http://www.newadvent.org/
- J.B. Lightfoot, trans., "The Shepherd of Hermas," at: http://wesley.nnu.edu/
- "The Shepherd of Hermas," Monachos.net, at: http://www.monachos.net/
- "Christians Are More Likely to
Experience Divorce Than Are Non-Christians," Barna Research Ltd., at: http://www.barna.org/
Copyright © 1998 to 2011 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-MAY-30
Author: B.A. Robinson