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What Does the Bible Say About Divorce?

What Does the Old Testament Teach on Divorce?

The Old Testament, the first part of the Christian Bible provides insight into the ancient Hebrew perspective on divorce. The topic of divorce is addressed in several books of the Old Testament, offering a nuanced understanding of the attitudes towards marital dissolution in ancient Israelite society. In this article, we will explore what the Old Testament says about divorce, examining key passages and themes related to this topic. The Old Testament contains various references to divorce, primarily in the books of Deuteronomy, Malachi, and Leviticus. In Deuteronomy 24:1-4, it is written, "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." This passage from Deuteronomy outlines the conditions under which a man could divorce his wife according to Mosaic law. It suggests that divorce was permissible in cases where a husband found "something indecent" about his wife, although the exact meaning of this phrase has been a subject of debate among biblical scholars. Understanding the larger scope of the Bible we can know with confidence that this “indecency” is nothing petty. Nevertheless, it is evident that divorce was regulated and not outright prohibited in ancient Israelite society. Furthermore, the book of Malachi addresses the issue of divorce, condemning the practice in certain circumstances. Malachi 2:16 states, "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." This passage reflects a divine disapproval of divorce and emphasizes the sanctity of marriage, portraying it as a covenant meant to be upheld. In addition to these specific passages, the Old Testament also provides broader principles regarding marriage and divorce. For instance, the creation account in Genesis 2 describes the establishment of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, emphasizing their unity and the permanence of the bond: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). The Old Testament portrays marriage as a sacred institution designed by God, and divorce is presented as a departure from the ideal of marital unity. While it acknowledges the reality of divorce within the social context of ancient Israel, it also communicates a vision of marital fidelity and commitment. It is important to note that the Old Testament's teachings on divorce are situated within the historical and cultural context of ancient Israel, and these teachings were later interpreted and expanded upon in the New Testament. Jesus, for example, engaged with the topic of divorce in his teachings, emphasizing the significance of marital faithfulness and challenging the permissiveness of divorce prevalent in his time. The Old Testament offers a complex perspective on divorce, recognizing its existence within ancient Israelite society while also upholding the sanctity of marriage as a divine institution.

What Does the New Testament Teach on Divorce?

The New Testament, the second part of the Christian Bible, sheds light on the teachings of Jesus and the early Christian community regarding the topic of divorce. In this part of the Bible, several passages address marriage, divorce, and the ethical implications. Through the words of Jesus and the writings of the apostles, the New Testament provides guidance and principles concerning divorce, offering a distinct perspective on this issue. In this article, we will explore what the New Testament says about divorce, examining key passages and themes related to this topic. One of the most prominent and comprehensive teachings on divorce in the New Testament is found in the Gospels, where Jesus addresses the subject in response to questions posed by the Pharisees. In the Gospel of Matthew 19:3-9, it is recorded that the Pharisees asked Jesus, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" In his response, Jesus referred back to the creation account in Genesis and emphasized the original intention for marriage: "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" (Matthew 19:4-6). This passage highlights Jesus' affirmation of the sacredness and permanence of marriage, echoing the Old Testament's depiction of marriage as a divine institution. This is showing that in the Old and New Testament do not take marriage lightly. Moreover, Jesus continued by stating, "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9). Here, Jesus introduced a more stringent standard for divorce, indicating that divorce and remarriage could be permissible in cases of sexual immorality, or marital unfaithfulness, but that divorce for any other reason would lead to adultery. Some may argue and debate the specific requirements for divorce suggesting more than sexual immorality or unfaithfulness can be a reason for divorce. This will not be discussed here but some of them make very good arguments that are in line with scripture and I encourage you to check them out for more insight. The Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke also contain teachings by Jesus on divorce, which convey similar principles and ethical standards. These teachings collectively emphasize the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage, while allowing for the possibility of divorce in cases of infidelity. In addition to the teachings of Jesus, the apostle Paul, in his letters to the early Christian communities, offered guidance on marriage and divorce. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul addressed the issue of divorce and remarriage, stating, "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 Corinthians 7:10-11). Paul's instruction reflects the view that divorce should be avoided whenever possible, and if separation does occur, reconciliation is preferred over remarriage or further dissolution of the marriage bond. Divorce is not ideal but we live in a sinful world where it’s destined to happen to someone. In the case it does happen the couple should restore the bond when possible. It is essential to recognize that the teachings on divorce in the New Testament reflect a particular cultural and historical context, and they were shaped by the prevalent attitudes and practices of the time. Furthermore, these teachings were intended to guide the ethical conduct of the early Christian communities and to uphold the moral and spiritual values of the Christian faith.

How Should Christians View Divorce?

Christians should approach the topic of divorce with a combination of reverence for the sanctity of marriage and compassion for those who have experienced marital breakdown. The Christian perspective on divorce needs to be informed by biblical teachings, historical church tradition, and contemporary interpretations of scripture. While recognizing the gravity of divorce, Christians are also called to respond to individuals in broken marriages with empathy and support. At the core of Christian teaching on divorce is the belief in the sacredness of marriage as a covenant established by God. The New Testament, particularly the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, emphasizes the permanence and unity of marriage, with divorce permitted only in cases of infidelity or marital unfaithfulness. This understanding shapes the Christian view of divorce, leading to a general preference for marital reconciliation and the preservation of the marriage bond. Scripture encourages couples to approach marriage with a deep commitment to mutual love, respect, and fidelity. The emphasis on self-sacrificial love, as exemplified by Jesus, underlines the Christian approach to relationships, including marriage. Christians are called to cultivate healthy, loving, and enduring marriages, characterized by forgiveness, grace, and a willingness to work through challenges. However, when divorce becomes unavoidable, Christians are urged to respond with compassion and understanding. The recognition of the complexities and hardships that often lead to divorce prompts Christians to offer support, care, and practical assistance to individuals and families navigating the aftermath of marital dissolution. Although divorce is wrong life is very very complex and relationships are not always cut and dry. The church is called to be a place of refuge and healing for those affected by divorce, providing spiritual guidance, counseling, and a supportive community for individuals and families in transition. Additionally, Christians are encouraged to uphold the well-being of children and vulnerable individuals impacted by divorce. The protection and nurturing of children, as well as the provision of emotional and practical support for those navigating the aftermath of divorce, are central to the Christian response to marital breakdown. In contemporary Christian thought, there is a growing emphasis on addressing the root causes of marital discord and providing resources for premarital counseling, marriage enrichment, and support for couples facing challenges in their relationships. This proactive approach seeks to strengthen marriages and reduce the incidence of divorce through education, support networks, and pastoral care. Ultimately, the Christian view of divorce encompasses a commitment to upholding the sanctity of marriage, promoting the well-being of individuals and families affected by divorce, and fostering a culture of grace, healing, and restoration within the context of the church community. This holistic approach reflects the Christian understanding of marriage as a sacred institution and the compassionate response to the complexities of human relationships. For insight on the topic feel free to check out Dr. Bar's, "Christian and Divorced: What the Bible REALLY Says About Divorce & Remarriage."

What if Someone has Already Divorced?

Scripture provides guidance for individuals who have experienced divorce, offering principles and encouragement for moving forward and finding hope and healing. While divorce is acknowledged as a painful and complex experience, the biblical message emphasizes God's love, grace, and the potential for new beginnings for those who have gone through this hardship. First and foremost, scripture encourages individuals who have experienced divorce to seek comfort and strength in their relationship with God. The Bible reassures believers of God's presence and faithfulness even in times of distress. In the book of Psalms, there are numerous passages that express the psalmist's plea for God's help and his trust in God's steadfast love. For example, Psalm 34:18 states, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." This verse reminds individuals who have gone through divorce that God is near to them, offering solace and restoration. Furthermore, scripture encourages those who have experienced divorce to seek community and support. The New Testament emphasizes the importance of the church as a place of fellowship, encouragement, and care. In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul writes, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). This verse underscores the value of community and mutual support within the body of believers. It encourages individuals who have gone through divorce to seek out caring, understanding fellow believers who can walk alongside them in their journey toward healing and restoration. Scripture also emphasizes the importance of forgiveness, both of oneself and of others. In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches his followers to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). This passage underscores the transformative power of forgiveness and the freedom that comes from releasing bitterness and resentment. Individuals who have experienced divorce are encouraged to seek and extend forgiveness, recognizing that this process is essential for emotional and spiritual healing. Moreover, scripture encourages individuals who have experienced divorce to seek God's guidance for the future. While scripture encourages reconciliation where possible some are in new marriages and beyond that. In this situations while guidance with a pastor may be sought out, those individuals need to forgive their previous spouse, but press on in their current marriage. You shouldn’t not, I don’t think, abandon your current marriage to fix your past one. In a new commitment you need to be committed to your spouse for that is your new partner that has been announced before God and your community as you two now become one. Scripture offers comfort, guidance, and hope for individuals who have experienced divorce. It encourages them to seek solace in their relationship with God, to find support within the community of believers, to embrace forgiveness, and to trust in God's plan for their future. Through these biblical principles, individuals who have gone through divorce can find strength, healing, and a sense of purpose as they press on in their journey of faith.

Please understand this is a humble attempt to explain a concept filled with many emotions, consequences, a situation that is not entirely black and white in nature. If counseling is needed, please seek counseling and do whatever is in your power to ensure your marriage is healthy.

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