What Jesus Taught About Divorce
If you are a Christian who is divorced, is thinking about it, or know someone contemplating divorce, please read this blog.
The topic of divorce is not regularly preached or taught in many Christian churches and when it is taught there is often conflicting exegesis. So it was in Jesus’s day.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus began preaching on the topic of divorce by quoting the religious leaders of his time:
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce” (Matthew 5:31). The Pharisees tried to tempt Jesus by asking if it was lawful for a man to put away his wife for any and every reason (Matthew 19:3, NIV).
As usual, Jesus added depth and clarity to his answers to the Pharisees’ trick questions so that the great multitude listening would have the entire truth. Following is the entire conversation they had:
“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” (Matthew 19:4-9).
In addition to the above explanation of divorce, Jesus added another dimension to his teaching:
“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” (Matthew 5:32).
What Did Jesus Say?
- Monogamy was God’s original plan – God intended marriage to be monogamous, with no divorce, as long as they both live (Gen. 2:24, Mark 9:6-8, Romans 7:2-3).
- Husbands’ Hearts Hardened – However, Moses gave a husband (not the wife) the right to divorce his wife because the Jewish husbands’ hearts were hard. Additional Information: The husband could treat his wife in any manner he wanted and then desert her. If he left, she was called a “chained one” because she was a deserted wife who was denied any marital privileges, she could not divorce him, and she could not remarry. “Her only option was to then be taken back by her family, who would then provide for her. If she had no family, or if the family was unwilling, she would be left to provide for herself. In that culture, women usually had no means to provide for themselves. The only occupation available for a woman in that situation was prostitution. The certificate of divorce was the only way women in biblical times could be protected.” (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/divorce-in-the-bible/). Moses showed mercy to and protection for the wives by allowing divorce.
- Additional History – The husbands could divorce and remarry their wives as many times as they pleased. Deut. 24:1-4 is a law preventing this cruel practice that left her destitute between times.
- Divorce for Any and Every Reason – Jesus preached that if a husband divorces his wife for any reason other than “sexual immorality” he was guilty of the sin of adultery. (Matt. 19:4-9). And any man who married a divorced woman was of guilty of adultery (Matt. 5:32).
- Married to an Unbeliever – The Apostle Paul taught that if you were married to an unbeliever and they wanted to remain married, stay. But if they want a divorce, let them go (1Cor. 7:12-16).
- Death – “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” (1 Cor. 7:39). A widow must marry a Christian man.
NOTE: Neither Moses, Jesus, nor the Apostle Paul directly address the following 21st Century grounds for divorce, so we will leave them for future blogs.
- Abuse (physical, mental, or emotional).
- Criminal conviction and/or imprisonment.
- Drug or alcohol addiction.
- Mental illness.
- Irreconcilable differences.
- Sexual incompatibility.
If you are dealing with one of the above marital challenges not addressed in the focus scriptures today, please seek counsel from your pastor for a biblical solution which can bring healing and reconciliation to both spouses and glorify God.
No matter what the marital challenge is, the Bible does not command divorce, it just allows divorce in certain circumstances. Because you can does not mean you should.
Allow agape love (1 Cor. 13:4-8a), forgiveness (Matt. 6:14-15), and reconciliation to prevail. Try a period of fasting and prayer to seek God’s will for your unique situation.
Divorce in the church is a sensitive issue. What are your thoughts? Join the conversation.
Dr. Dorothy J. Haire
Author & Blogger
Both church planter and pastor of Bread of Life Christian Church for the last 18 years, Dr. Haire is a beloved mother and successful author. Empowered to deliver the word of God to His people, Dr. Haire uses her digital platform to educate and develop Christian communities that are rooted in the word of Christ.