Thursday, March 26, 2009

Grounds for Divorce

Despite what many folk say, according to Jesus Christ (also here, here, and here) there are no affirmative grounds for divorce. What Jesus said about marriage is that it is a lifelong covenant that no one should break. Some people will shatter the bond through abandonment and/or adultery, to their shame, but no one is given the grounds by which they can take the impetus to break it because they want it broken. Those that are the victims of a marriage broken by abandonment and/or adultery have some leeway to remarry, those who remarry apart from those exceptions commit adultery.

If a supposed Christian has abandoned a spouse, that one should be rebuked and commanded to return to the care his or her spouse. If that one will not return, he or she has proven not only his or her infidelity to a spouse, but to God. Their unwillingness to provide (what marriage is supposed to provide) for their spouse before God makes them worse than an infidel. According to the Word, the Christian abandoned by an infidel, or unbeliever, is free of the bond and can marry again as long as they do so with a believer. The effect of this allowance is an exception to the Lord's adultery clause (for any resultant remarriage by the abandoned) rather than a ground given for divorce.

If a supposed Christian has entered into a sexual relationship with someone in addition to his or her spouse, that one should be rebuked and commanded to cease the adultery. If he or she will not, that one should be excommunicated. The faithful spouse would have the ability to remarry and not be considered an adulterer, nor the cause of adultery. The wronged party, in effect, is given an exception to the adultery clause for divorce and remarriage rather than a positive ground for divorce.

If a Christian marriage is broken out of acrimony, or because of irreconcilable differences, or loss of interest, or anything other than abandonment and/or adultery, the parties do not have the right to remarry. To do so would be adultery. We are grown ups with God dwelling inside of us. If we're actually saved we should be able to find the means of getting along with someone else we're going to spend eternity with. Laying down our lives one for another is the stuff of the kingdom.

I live and am licensed to drive in Pennsylvania. Our traffic laws do not assign anyone the right of way on our roads. Instead, our laws are framed as to whom must yield right of way in any circumstance. So in a mishap, no one can claim they had the right of way; one can only be assigned blame for failure to yield such. I see the Bible approaching divorce in a similar fashion: it doesn't give anyone the right to divorce a spouse, it gives exception to the adultery clause for those for whom there was a failure by a spouse to yield to the marriage bond. So, although there may be grounds for remarriage, there really are no grounds for divorce.


Anonymous said...

i am divorced and remaired.
neither husband a believer in Christ as the Son of God.

my hope is in God's mercy through Jesus.
i do not know much about what the right thing to do in my case is.
but, it is not easy to have these different beliefs.

so i advise anyone with plans of marriage to have enough courage to talk plainly about faith and to take it as a serious matter.

SLW said...

I'll be talking more about this, of course, but the Apostle Paul said (1 Corinth 7:12-14) that if one is already married to an unbeliever, that one should stay married to the unbeliever as long as the unbeliever is willing to stay married and live with the believer believing.

Your advise is solid, and I would take it a step further and say that those contemplating marriage should be on the same page spiritually. Transparency is not enough, what is needed is agreement.

The best thing to remember about the water under the bridge we cannot go back and change is that God is kind and merciful, and capable of doing amazing things with the messes we bring him.

Anonymous said...

thank you for addressing my hope with more faith, hope, and love.

remaired ? i am glad you can comprehend my weird spelling.

Anonymous said...

Divorce is horrible. It wrecks families.

Jesus is merciful and forgives us, but the damage from divorce lasts and lasts and the hurts do not just go away...especially for the children.

Thanks be to God that we have a Savior!

SLW said...

As long as I know what you mean, no biggie.

You're absolutely correct. Hopefully, we can wake up from our slumber and strengthen the things that remain, before all is in shambles.

Sista Cala said...

thank you for these excellent posts on divorce. Together they make a compact answer that can be easily emailed/linked as resource material.

Thank you for your faithfulness to this ministry site.

SLW said...

Sista C,
It's great to hear from you again. Thanks for the nice comment, and it is gratifying to know what's done here is useful to someone far away.

todd helmkamp said...

A tough subject. I'm glad you have the courage to state plainly what our Lord and His Word command us.

SLW said...

Courage may be the wrong word! :-)

I wish things were as clear as I've made them. A reasonable debate could be made as to whether abandonment should be seen as the exception I've made it. It could be argued that the exception presumed adultery, hence Paul was not "overruling" Christ on the subject, just dealing with a different specific.

That would be a supposition based on silence, rather than a clear statement in the Word, combined with a (perhaps laudable) desire to harmonize two paradoxical statements of Spirit inspired scripture. The result, it seems to me, can't avoid the charge that it is a "best guess" of man rather than a clear and commandable teaching of scripture.

Even if Paul was envisioning a presumed adultery (who knows, that may just have been the practical reality of the situation), the exception did not require the abandoned to wait or investigate until that was proven, but to proceed free of the bond and at peace (presumably, with God). The only real question, it seems to me, is whether or not the abandoner was an unbeliever (hence the treatment in the post).

Of course there are Christian teachers who posit all kinds of grounds for divorce, or write off any need for them due to God's forgiving grace, but for me, I continue to search the NT fruitlessly to find any.

jul said...

Although I may disagree a bit on your stance regarding remarriage (and I fully agree that you have ample Scriptural support for your view), I definately agree with the main point! Ironically, I believe there is more 'grounds' for divorce under law than under grace, and we have already decided we would never recommend divorce (except where it may be necessary for legal protection,though we would seperation in certain situations) because in our understanding of grace we now know that what is impossible for man is not impossible for God! He can do amazing miracles in the most horrible of situations. But neither would be condemn anyone for making a decision we don't agree with...

Truth said...

So what is Jesus saying when He says "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness..."

Is He still not saying anything about divorce? I would've thought that the paraphrasing of that comment would be "divorce only because of marital unfaithfulness".

SLW said...

Hello Truth, welcome to the Sound.

He is speaking about divorce, but his intent is not to give grounds for it but to deal with its sinful (adulterous) consequences. Only in the passage in Matthew 19 does Jesus speak of remarriage in terms of an adultery exclusion if the divorce was due to adultery in the first place. In the other gospel passages, the principle of remarriage being adultery is not given an exclusion at all! There he merely says, that one cannot make an adulterer an adulterer by divorcing her (i.e. if she already is one, forcing her into a remarriage won't be what makes her so). We like to think, I think, that if our mate commits adultery, that's it, we have an excuse to divorce him or her. I don't think that is quite so simple.

SLW said...

I'm actually not unsympathetic to your view. In the case of physical abuse, there are several commands from scripture that can be invoked as a rebuke to the injuring party. If that one will repent, separation will likely be part of the restoration process for the safety and protection of the victim(s). The ultimate aim in that process would be restoring a family to togetherness in care and safety. If that one will not repent and work through process, in effect, forcing the injured spouse to flee for safety, the abuser has become worse than an infidel and the situation may best be viewed through the lens of abandonment.

God wants us to live in peace. If the church was told to flee to another town in the face of persecution, I think we can reasonably extrapolate that God does not sentence us to remain in harmful and threatening situations.

Truth said...

Hiya SLW,

Thanks for the welcome and thanks for your comment=)

When you say "There he merely says, that one cannot make an adulterer an adulterer by divorcing her", it is contrary to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:32 by stating that "But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress". So, please explain your statement, because to a lay-person like myself, it seems clear that Jesus says the husband causes his wife to become an adulteress when he divorces her other than for marital unfaithfulness.

Please understand that I'm not looking for a reason to leave my wife - she is my Queen from the Lord and I love her so=) It's just that I couldn't help but put up my initial post because of what I see in the word.

God bless you and you're doing a great job sir=)

SLW said...

You have it right, we're just addressing slightly different points in the full picture. :-)

What I was addressing with my response to you was the exclusion Jesus gave to divorce itself causing adultery (the divorced spouse is forced into adultery when her or she remarries). If one has cheated on his or her spouse thereby causing the divorce, then the cheating spouse is an adulterer already in his or her own right. The divorce which follows has nothing to do with making them such. So, Jesus said when someone divorces their spouse they force them into adultery, unless they already are an adulterer.

So between Matthew 19 (which says the divorcer becomes an adulterer when he remarries, unless the divorce was caused by the spouse's adultery) and the passages in Matthew 5, Luke 16 and Mark 10 (which say that the divorced party is forced to become an adulterer when she remarries, unless she is already an adulterer) Jesus never says you can get a divorce if...
What he says instead is that one can remarry after a divorce without becoming an adulterer, or without forcing the former spouse into adultery, only if the former spouse's adultery caused the divorce.

I hope that's clearer.

Truth said...


Many thanks for that - after reading your post about 10 times I started to understand what you were saying=)

So in actual fact, even though Jesus doesn't give grounds for divorce, He IS stating conditions that are permissible post divorce a la your post - or am I reading something that is completely off sir?

God bless you and keep up the great work=)

SLW said...

It sounds like we're marching to the same drummer now. ;-)

Truth said...


It's really interesting because I just feel that Jesus is giving grounds for divorce when he is saying "if not for marital unfaithfulness"...but alas, just as the word says, whoever adds to the word will be at fault - so rather than add what I think Jesus is saying, I'll let peace take this journey home, and to stop the plagues from being be added unto me;)

God bless you sir, and keep up the great work=)

Truth said...

Hi there SLW,

Just an off-subject question:
Where did you get your Biblical Training please sir?=)

God bless=)

SLW said...

I completed formal training at North Central Bible College ('85)in Minneapolis, and had some relevant course work at Penn State ('81). To tell you the truth, nothing instructional I ever pursued formally has ever matched the discovery attained by a dedicated pursuit of the truth done on my own. So, it is not really insolent to respond, "from the Bible."

Truth said...


Many thanks for that - it is definitely something to keep in mind regarding our need to find God for ourselves rather than relying on another man's word.

God bless you sir=)