A Guide to What the Bible Really Says about Divorce
- Contributing Writers Edited by Liz Auld
- 2021 20 May
- “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘does violence to the one he should protect,’ says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.” (NIV)
- “‘For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.’" (ESV)
- “‘If he hates and divorces [his wife],’ says the Lord God of Israel, ‘he covers his garment with injustice,’ says the Lord of Hosts. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously.” (CSB)
- “‘For I hate divorce," says the LORD, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with wrong,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.’" (NASB)
- “For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.” (KJV)
We are probably most familiar with the NASB translation and have heard the phrase “God hates divorce.” Strong language is used in Malachi to show that the marriage covenant is not to be taken lightly. The NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible comments on the verse phrase ‘The man who hates,’
“The clause is difficult and may be understood in reference to God as the one who hates divorce (e.g., ‘I hate divorce’ in other translations like NRSV or NASB), or in reference to the man who hates and divorces his wife. Regardless, God hates a broken covenant (cf. 1:3; Hos 9:15).”
The notes continue and point out that divorce is a type of social crime as it breaks the marital covenant and takes protection away from the woman who was afforded it legally in the marriage. Divorce not only puts the one being divorced in a difficult position, but it also causes much suffering for all involved, including the children in the family.
The ESV Study Bible agrees that this is one of the most difficult Old Testament passages to translate. Because of this the ESV has a footnote for verse 16 that says “1 Hebrew who hates and divorces 2 Probably meaning (compare Septuagint and Deuteronomy 24:1-4); or ‘The LORD, the God of Israel, says that he hates divorce, and him who covers.’” This translation that God hates divorce puts the focus of the passage on God’s hatred of the practice of divorce vs. the hatred of the man doing the divorcing. Whichever way the verse is translated (God’s hatred toward the practice, or the hatred of the man committing divorce), God is opposed to this type of divorce (faithless husbands sending away their wives) in Mal. 2:13-15. And Malachi is clear that marriage is indeed a covenant derived from the creation account. Marriage involves an oath taken before God, therefore, when it is broken it is broken before God. The Bible has more to say about divorce below.
Where Does the Bible Talk about Divorce?
The Old Testament:
In addition to Malachi, here are two other passages.
“If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.”
“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, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 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, 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. If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.”
The New Testament:
“‘It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’”
“When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’ ‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 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’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ ‘Why then,’ they asked, ‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’ Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’ The disciples said to him, ‘If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.’ Jesus replied, ‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’”
“Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them. Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ ‘What did Moses command you?’ he replied. They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.’ ‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied. ‘But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.’”
“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
1 Corinthians 7:10-11,
“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”
1 Cor. 7:39,
“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.”
Related: This Is the Reason God Actually Hates Divorce by Laura Petherbridge on Crosswalk.com.
What the Bible Actually Says about Divorce
[David] Instone-Brewer [author of Divorce and Remarriage in the Church] argues that Jesus not only defended the true meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1 but also accepted what the rest of the Old Testament taught on divorce. Exodus taught that everyone had three rights within marriage – the rights to food, clothing, and love. (We see these even in Christian marriage vows to “love, honor, and keep.”) Paul taught the same thing: married couples owe each other love (1 Cor. 7:3-5) and material support (1 Cor. 7:33-34). If these rights were neglected, the wronged spouse had the right to seek a divorce. Abuse, an extreme form of neglect, also was grounds for divorce. There was debate on whether or not abandonment was grounds for divorce, so Paul dealt with it. He wrote that believers may not abandon their partners and, if they have done so, they should return (1 Cor. 7:10-11). If someone is abandoned by an unbeliever, or a spouse who will not obey the command to return, then the abandoned person is "no longer bound."
The Old Testament allows for, and the New Testament affirms, the following grounds for divorce:
- Adultery (in Deuteronomy 24:1, affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19)
- Emotional and physical neglect (in Exodus 21:10-11, affirmed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7)
- Abandonment and abuse (included in neglect, as affirmed in 1 Corinthians 7)
Of course, having grounds for divorce does not mean that one should divorce. God hates divorce, and for good reason. It can be devastating for all involved, and the negative effects can last for years. Divorce always should be a last resort. But God does allow for divorce (and subsequent remarriage) in some cases when marriage vows are broken.
-’What the Bible Actually Says about Divorce’ section excerpted from What the Bible Says about Divorce: A Guide for Men by Chris Bolinger on Crosswalk.com.
3 Truths Every Christian Needs to Know about Divorce
1. God Hates Divorce
Oh, I know you cringe when you hear that! It’s thrown in your face as if divorce is the unpardonable sin. But let’s be honest: God does hate divorce…and so do you…and so do I. As I began to look more deeply into Malachi 2:16, I found the context interesting. You see, the context is of the unfaithful spouse, the one who hurts his/her spouse deeply. It’s about being cruel to your spouse, the one that we should love and protect more than any other. God hates the actions that often lead to divorce as we know it. Since we are throwing around things that God hates, let’s take a look at another passage:
There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community (Proverbs 6:16-19).
Ouch! That stings! Let me just say that anyone who is throwing Malachi 2:16 at you needs to stop and take a look at Proverbs 6. We, as Christians, need to remember that there is none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10). We need to remember that Christ died for our pride and our lies just as much as he died for our divorces. And, it’s often the sins of Proverbs 6 that lead to divorce. Since walking through my own divorce, I have come to the conclusion that God hates divorce because of the immense pain and suffering that it causes his children. It is far less about sin and far more about his father’s heart for us.
2. To Remarry... Or Not?
I am sure you have heard the arguments that you cannot remarry unless you want to live in adultery and risk your eternal soul. I, personally, have a real problem with that. Let’s start with interpretation of scripture. I am neither a Greek nor Hebrew scholar. There are enough of those around that I can turn to them to gain from their years of education and experience. However, not one of us was around to have full knowledge of what God intended when he gave the Holy Spirit inspired scripture to the authors. There are scholars who say remarriage is never an option. There are scholars who say remarriage is only an option in the case of adultery. And there are scholars who say remarriage is always allowed because of God’s grace.
No matter what, any interpretation is exactly that: a human interpretation. Only the scripture itself is a divinely inspired Word of God. We have to be very cautious about taking a human interpretation and forcing it on others, lest we become like the Pharisees. Ultimately, your decision to remarry is between you and God. It is a decision that should be made in prayer and consultation with trusted biblical advisors. And, it is a decision that should only be made when you (and your future spouse) have taken plenty of time to heal from your past hurts and to become as much like Christ as possible.
Here’s a quick thought for you: the lineage of Christ recorded in Matthew 1 lists a prostitute (Rahab, who eventually married Salmon), an adulterous couple (David, who married Bathsheba after having her husband murdered), and a widow (who married her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz). I find it very interesting that there are three women who were remarried in the direct lineage of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Can we say grace?
3. God is the Redeemer of All Things
Throughout scripture, we are given so many promises to show us that there is always hope! Romans 8:28 tells us that all things work together for the good of those who love God. Zechariah 9:12 tells us that God will repay two blessings for each of our troubles. In John 11, Jesus proclaims that he is the resurrection and the life; he will take you from the death of divorce and breathe new life into you. And 1 Peter 5:10 says that the suffering won’t last forever but one day he will have you put together and on your feet again.
When this journey began for me nearly six years ago, I wasn’t sure I believed those promises. God had failed me, or so I thought. I had dedicated my life to him, and the “blessing” I received was a husband who was unrepentant of his adultery. I was finished with God. But he wasn’t finished with me. He pursued me relentlessly and called me to get my security from him. He gently reminded me that he has been with me all the days of my life and that he wasn’t going to leave me now. He reminded me that he has great plans for me. I was a broken, rejected mess. But God reminded me that he loves me, that I am his chosen child, his treasured possession. He told me that I am the apple of his eye (Psalm 17:8). He reminded me that I am his masterpiece, created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). I was once called, and can never be disqualified because his call is irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
-’3 Truths Every Christian Needs to Know about Divorce’ excerpted from 3 Beautiful Truths Every Divorced Christian Needs to Know by Dena Johnson on Crosswalk.com.
What Should You Do When Your Spouse Wants Out?
Do Be Patient
Patience buys time. No matter how difficult, take life one day at a time. Make decisions one by one. Overcome obstacles separately. Start with matters you can do something about. Patiently work out how to deal with situations or problems that seem overwhelming. Take time to seek wise counsel.
Do Ask a Trusted Third Party
Do you know someone that your departing spouse holds in high esteem? If so, ask that person to intervene in your marriage. It may be a pastor, a friend, her parent, or even one or more of your children (if mature). Ask the person(s) to spend time with your mate, to listen to her, and to do everything possible to influence her to agree to marriage counseling or our intensive marriage weekend workshop. Our experience is that often a spouse who absolutely refuses counseling or a workshop when asked by a spouse will agree, if reluctantly, when urged by a third party that they deeply care for.
Do Provide a Perk
If you want to try marriage counseling or attend a marriage intensive workshop such as our Marriage Helper 911, you may be able to convince your reluctant spouse to attend by offering something if she does. Many times in our workshop, for example, people have told me that the only reason they came was that their spouse offered some concession in their pending divorce in return for their coming. Almost universally, I hear that from a person who during the workshop concluded that he wanted to stay in his marriage. “I didn’t want to be here. She said if I came, she’d agree to _____ when we divorced. I’m glad I came. I see how we can work this out.”
Do Prove You Have Changed
Rather than focusing only on the faults of your spouse, admit your own weaknesses. When you begin working on improving yourself in those areas, you benefit yourself. You also make strides toward salvaging your marriage.
It takes strength to work at saving a marriage when your spouse wants to leave. Stay strong. Find a support system of people who will encourage you and who will be optimistic about the possibility of reconciliation. Focus on taking care of yourself. Exercise. Eat as you should. Start a new hobby to keep your mind from obsessing on your troubles. Get involved in your church. Get individual counseling. Whether your marriage makes it or not, you need to provide for yourself spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Actually, as you do, you also do the things that have the strongest likelihood of causing your spouse to realize what he will lose if the marriage ends.
-’What Should You Do When Your Spouse Wants Out’ excerpted from What to Do When Your Spouse Wants Out by Joe Beam on Crosswalk.com.
7 Thoughts If You’re Considering Divorce
1. Trust the Lord, don’t trust yourself. Relationships can cause hurt, and hurt people find it hard to think straight. God knows all, sees all, and works everything together for your good. Trust in the Lord and what He says in his Word.
2. Realize that the answer to suffering is not always to move away from it. God sometimes calls us to follow Him by walking into or remaining under suffering. (I am not talking about remaining under abuse, but the many other conflicts and sufferings of life that married people face in a fallen world.)
3. Contemplate that God is accomplishing a purpose in your sufferings.
4. Wait on the Lord. Don’t act hastily. Keep doors open. Only close the doors that you are certain God says you should close.
5. Don’t just trust that God can change someone else’s heart. Trust that He can change and renew your heart.
6. Meditate on Scripture related to the issue of marriage, separation, and divorce.
7. Whatever actions you consider taking, ask whether you can take that action for the glory of God.
-’7 Thoughts If You’re Considering Divorce’ excerpted from 11 Important Thoughts for Those Considering Divorce by Randy Alcorn on Crosswalk.com
5 Positive Things to Do after Divorce
1. Manage Conflict with Peace
Jesus is a great example for how to conduct ourselves in the face of conflict. He kept himself calm by knowing God was still in control even as His enemies were attacking. He spoke out to His disciples sharing that He knew they were going to betray Him but He left the consequences of these actions in God’s hands. You cannot control how your spouse behaves during or after the divorce, but you can control how you act and treat other people. Treat them with the respect they deserve as the parent of your child, or at least as a fellow human being – even if they’re acting like some sort of alien from outer space.
2. Embrace the Circumstances God Has You In
I am reminded of the story of Jesus and His disciples in the boat (Matthew 8:23-27). A huge storm began raging around them while Jesus slept peacefully. The disciples were afraid that these circumstances would ruin them and their boat. But Jesus knew who was in control. Then Jesus calmed the storm and showed the disciples God’s power over all situations. Most divorcing people are very scared during the divorce journey. We don’t know how we’re going to survive. But as we embrace these unwanted circumstances, we realize that God was with us through the storm and through the pain. He is never going to leave or let you drown. During my divorce, I knew He wasn’t going to stop the storm immediately. Actually it still hasn’t really stopped, but He is always working things out even if I can’t yet see it. I only need to have faith in His promises.
3. Challenge the Lonely Feelings with Benevolence While Single and Healing
Feeling lonely after divorce is a real concern of many of the women I speak to. It seems to be the biggest struggle that Christian women (and I’m sure men too) face while working on healing. When the divorce wasn’t wanted in the first place, feeling lonely seems to be an added consequence to an already mounting list. But we learn in the Bible that singleness is a gift from God. It may be hard to see it as such when you’re feeling so much pain and loss. But it’s often an invitation to seek a relationship with the One who knows how to cure the pain and fill the void.
4. Reclaim Your Life and Your Finances After Divorce
Another big struggle I hear from divorced people is the loss of their old life and the lifestyle they were used to living. This is huge loss that also needs to be mourned. It is difficult knowing that you worked so hard to help your spouse achieve a career and financial success, yet now you have to start your life over at what feels like the very beginning, without his or her help (or only temporary help). I was a stay-at-home mom, homeschooling my two youngest children, when I faced my divorce. I had not worked outside of the home since before my 10-year-old was born. I had only done a little bit of freelance writing and social media work for bloggers, and I hadn’t finished my college education. I’m not saying it has been easy, but each year gets more exciting as I listen to God’s leading and direction for my life. I can see where things I did before my divorce, and even before my marriage, have become useful to me today.
5. Be Cautious with Future Relationships as to Not Repeat Divorce
Most of the articles I’ve read about the consequences of divorce talk about the high divorce rate of second and third marriages. Knowing these statistics kept me trapped in my adulterous marriage thinking I would only face another divorce in the future. I can still see where this is very relevant to the conversation, but when we work through our emotional healing and get rid of any excess baggage, we all can go on to live an emotionally healthy life (with or without another marriage). Sometimes we’re preyed upon by an evil-hearted person (who fools and traps us) but other times we choose an unhealthy mate because we don’t think we deserve any better. Often this is subconscious until we see the pattern of harmful relationships, realizing we have a broken “relationship picker.”
As someone on the other side of all the divorce baggage and healing, I can say it’s worth it to do the hard work before moving on to dating and remarriage after divorce. Whether I remarry or not I know that I won’t fall for the same tricks that worked on me 20 years ago. I’ve learned a lot from my divorce and the healing afterwards. I hope you will do the same as well.
-’5 Positive Things to Do after Divorce’ excerpted from 5 Positive Things You Can Do after Divorce by Jen Grice on iBelieve.com.
What Parents Need to Know about Children of Divorce
Kids and divorce is a complex subject and there are no easy answers. However, it’s imperative for parents to learn that they play a pivotal role in minimizing the trauma kids experience when their parents separate or divorce. Here are a few tips that might help:
- Most kids will initially go into a form of denial when their parents separate. They believe, “this is temporary, my parents will get back together.” Even years later many kids still dream about their parents reuniting, which is one reason why they resist a parent’s remarriage.
- Allow the child time to grieve. Children are unable to communicate grief in the same manner as adults. Therefore, they may be sad, angry, frustrated or depressed but can not express it.
- Do not lie. In an age appropriate manner, and without gory details, tell the truth. The number one reason kids blame themselves for their parent’s divorce is because they were not told the truth.
- When a parent belittles, bashes, or criticizes the other parent it can emotionally destroy a child’s self worth. “If dad is a no-good loser, I must be one too.” “If mom is a tramp, that’s what I’ll become.”
- The children who do the best after a divorce are those who have a strong relationship with both biological parents. Therefore, do not withhold visitation unless the child is being neglected or in danger.
Divorce is a death. With time to grieve, the proper help, and Jesus Christ, children from divorced homes can eventually become whole again. What they need is a godly, stable single parent who is willing to slow down, listen to instruction, and take the steps necessary to heal.
-’What Parents Need to Know about Children of Divorce’ excerpted from What You Need to Know about Kids of Divorce by Laura Petherbridge on Crosswalk.com.
- 10 Hidden Consequences of Divorce (Especially if You Have Children) by Sue Schlesman on Crosswalk.com.
- The Powerful Effects of Divorce on Children by Rhonda Stoppe (this Crosswalk article covers short-term and long-term effects and spiritual implications for children).
- 3 Important Things to Tell Children When There Is a Divorce by Pam Kanaly on Crosswalk.com.
Resource for Women:
Resource for Men:
Prayers for Divorce:
- 7 Prayers That Changed My Heart for My Husband
- A Prayer for the Newly Divorced
- 4 Powerful Prayers to Protect Your Marriage from Divorce
- A Prayer for Those Walking through Divorce
- 3 Prayers That Will Change Your Marriage
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/LiountmilaKorelidou
Liz Auld is the managing editor for Salem Web Network; she edits and writes content across the editorial sites (Crosswalk.com, Biblestudytools.com, iBelieve.com, Christianity.com). She has a B.A. in Religious Studies and has taken post-graduate classes in Theology and Global Studies. She enjoys reading books from a variety of genres, trying new recipes, and visiting family.