What does the Bible Say about Divorce?

If you have a church background, you’ve probably heard that God hates divorce. Indeed, in Malachi 2:16, God says just that: “’I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel…” (NIV). The reason that God hates divorce is because marriage is designed by God to reflect the covenant relationship of God with man, and when divorce happens it not only hurts the people involved—it also reflects poorly on God’s never-ending covenant relationship with His people, specifically portrayed in the cross of Jesus.  We see a concrete picture of the faithfulness of God in committed, life-long marriages and divorce undermines that illustration (1 Corinthians 7:10Matthew 19:6). Scripture does allow for divorce in certain situations, however. All divorce is certainly caused by sin, but all divorce is not sinful. There are two specific biblical circumstances when divorce is permitted (though not commanded):

  1. Marital unfaithfulnessMatthew 5:32 and 19:9 specifically state that divorce can be permitted when there is sexual immorality—when one spouse is unfaithful to the other.
  2. Abandonment from an unbelieving spouse1 Corinthians 7:15 states another biblical reason for divorce—if an unbelieving spouse does not wish to be married anymore.

It’s important to note that divorce is allowed, but not required. Even marital unfaithfulness can be overcome by the grace of Jesus—He has forgiven us for so much that we can forgive great debts (Ephesians 4:32). Marriages can be reconciled and thrive even after horrific sins. Likewise, 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 encourages Christians married to non-believers to do everything possible to stay with their spouse, even if it is difficult. The exception only comes if the unbelieving partner leaves of their own accord.

Divorce is never the goal because God is a God of reconciliation. The gospel tells us that there is hope for the most broken marriages and we encourage marital reconciliation in every possible situation. However, although it is not the goal, in some circumstances it is a biblical option and some are left without another option when unrepentant spouses cheat, leave, or refuse to be reconciled.

What About Remarriage?

The above passages state that those divorced out of marital unfaithfulness or abandonment are free to remarry without further sin. However, for those divorced for other reasons, remarriage would be further sin, as Jesus explicitly calls it adultery in Matthew 19:9 (because the original marriage should still be in tact). In that situation, we encourage the spouse to do everything in their power to reconcile with their former spouse.

What About Other Extreme Issues?

What about when a spouse is alcoholic, abusive, financially irresponsible, etc.? These things are certainly sin issues and need to be confronted just like any other sin in the church. We encourage spouses to involve their LifeGroup (or community) in the confrontation of these issues and the protection of the family. If in physical danger, the spouse and children should immediately do everything possible to get out of danger, and the church community will do whatever is necessary to step in and ensure their safety. Of course, the details of these issues are varied and complex, and each situation has to be handled individually.

Hope For All Involved

The most important thing we can say about divorce is that just like any other sin issue or wound we encounter, the gospel of Jesus speaks hope to all who are involved or affected. Marital sin and divorce always cause pain for those affected by it, but the grace of Jesus covers all of our sin and brings redemption even to the wounds from other’s sin against us. Jesus is our righteousness, our healer, and our great High Priest. No matter where we’ve been or what we’ve been through, we can draw near to the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:14-16).