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DIVORCE (The Nelson's View)


The legal dissolution of a marriage. The divine ideal for marriage is clearly a lifelong bond that unites husband and wife in a "one flesh" relationship (Matthew 19:5). The marriage union is a holy condition founded by God and is not to be dissolved at the will of man (Matthew 19:6). Separations of this bond displease God and pose a serious threat to the social order: "And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one's garments with violence" (Malachi 2:15-16).

Matthew 19:5-6
5 and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." NIV

Malachi 2:15-16

15 Has not [the LORD] made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.

16 "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the LORD Almighty. NIV


The Law of Moses allowed a man to divorce his wife when she found "no favor in his eyes, because he has found some uncleanness in her" (Deuteronomy 24:1). The primary purpose of this legislation was to prevent him from taking her again after she had married another man-"an abomination before the Lord" (Deuteronomy 24:4).

Deuteronomy 24:1-4

24:1 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. NIV


This law was intended to discourage, rather than encourage, divorce. A public document known as a "certificate of divorce" was granted the woman. This permitted her the right to remarry without civil or religious sanction. Divorce could not be done privately.

The Mosaic Law called for severe penalties for certain types of "uncleanness." Adultery carried the death penalty by stoning for the woman. If a man believed that his wife was not a virgin when he married her, he could have her judged by the elders of the city. If they found her guilty, she could be put to death (Deuteronomy 2:13-21). Although a man was allowed to divorce his wife, the wife was not allowed to divorce her husband for any reason. Legally the wife was bound to her husband as long as they both lived or until he divorced her (1 Corinthians 7:39).

Deuteronomy 2:13-21

13 And the LORD said, "Now get up and cross the Zered Valley." So we crossed the valley.

14 Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them. 15 The LORD's hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp.

16 Now when the last of these fighting men among the people had died, 17 the LORD said to me, 18 "Today you are to pass by the region of Moab at Ar. 19 When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot."

20(That too was considered a land of the Rephaites, who used to live there; but the Ammonites called them Zamzummites. 21 They were a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. The LORD destroyed them from before the Ammonites, who drove them out and settled in their place. NIV

1 Corinthians 7:39

39 A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. NIV


In Jesus' day, confusion prevailed about the grounds for divorce. Even the rabbis could not agree on what constituted the "uncleanness" of Deuteronomy 24:1. Followers of Rabbi Shammai felt adultery was the only grounds for divorce. Those who followed Rabbi Hillel accepted many reasons, including such things as poor cooking.

The gospels record four statements by Jesus concerning divorce. In two of these He allowed divorce in the case of adultery. In Matthew 5:32 Jesus commented on the situation of both the woman and her new husband: "Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery."

Matthew 5:32

32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. NIV


In another statement, Jesus described the position of the man who divorced his wife: "Whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9). While these two statements seem to allow divorce because of unfaithfulness, two other statements of Jesus appear to make no provision for divorce (Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18).

Matthew 19:9
9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." NIV

Mark 10:11-12

11 He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery." NIV

Luke 16:18

18 "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. NIV


Are Jesus' statements allowing divorce for infidelity in conflict with biblical statements that seem to forbid it entirely? Jesus' statements in Mark and Luke were made in conversations with Pharisees about the Mosaic Law, which they believed allowed divorce on grounds other than adultery (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Jesus' main point in these statements was that divorce is contrary to God's plan for marriage and should never be taken lightly. Even though Moses allowed divorce, this was an exception granted under the law because of their "hardness" of heart (Mark 10:5). Jesus desired to put "teeth" into the Law by declaring that, even if the divorced couple had not been sexually unfaithful to each other, they would commit adultery in God's sight if they now married other partners.

Mark 10:5

5 "It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. NIV


In allowing divorce for the single reason of "immorality," or illicit sexual intercourse, Jesus' thought is clearly that a person dissolves his marriage by creating a sexual union with someone other than the marriage partner. Such union violates the sacred "oneness" intended by God when he united Adam and Eve in the first marriage relationship (Genesis 2:18-25).

Genesis 2:18-25

18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said,

"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman,'
for she was taken out of man."

24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. NIV


In the case of sexual unfaithfulness, the decree of divorce simply reflects the fact that the marriage has already been broken. A man divorcing his wife for this cause does not "make her an adulteress," for she already is one. Thus, divorce on the grounds of unchastity usually frees the innocent partner to remarry without incurring the guilt of adultery (Matthew 19:9). However, this is sometimes questioned. Although Jesus allowed divorce for adultery, He did not require it. On the contrary, He insisted that divorce disrupts God's plan for marriage and left the way open for repentance and forgiveness.

Matthew 19:9

9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." NIV


Paul was essentially in agreement with Jesus' teachings on marriage and divorce. However, the apostle dealt with new situations involving the marital conflict between believers and between a believer and a non-believer.

In the case of two Christians Paul admonished them to follow the Lord's teachings and be reconciled. In any event, neither is to marry another (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). In 1 Corinthians 7:15, Paul says that a Christian whose mate has abandoned the marriage should be free to formalize the divorce: "If the unbeliever departs, let him depart, a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases." Many authorities hold that the phrase "not under bondage" means that a deserted Christian spouse may lawfully go from divorce to remarriage. But other scholars disagree with this interpretation. In any event, Paul encourages the believer to keep the marriage together in hopes that the unbelieving partner might be saved (1 Corinthians 7:16).

1 Corinthians 7:10-11

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

1 Corinthians 7:15

15 But 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. NIV

1 Corinthians 7:16
16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? NIV

(from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)






DIVORCE (The Easton's View)



- The dissolution of the marriage tie was regulated by the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). The Jews, after the Captivity, were reguired to dismiss the foreign women they had married contrary to the law (Ezra 10:11-19). Christ limited the permission of divorce to the single case of adultery. It seems that it was not uncommon for the Jews at that time to dissolve the union on very slight pretences (Matthew 5:31,32; 19:1-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18). These precepts given by Christ regulate the law of divorce in the Christian Church.
(from Easton's Bible Dictionary)

Deuteronomy 24:1-4