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THEOLOGY > Man > Marriage: Two Become One > Question of Divorce 


Divorce is not part of God’s plan for marriage; on this point both Testaments agree: “For YHWH God of Israel says that He hates divorce” (Mal. 2:16), and Jesus says that the allowance of divorce on the part of Moses was made “because of the hardness of your hearts” but that “from the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:8). When God made Adam and Eve and place them together, He made no provision for their separation.

There was debate at the time of Christ regarding divorce, with the debate focusing on the  proper interpretation of Deut. 24:1. The school of Hillel allowed divorce for almost any reason, such as a wife burning a meal; but the school of Shammai believed that only gross immorality was proper grounds for divorce.

Just as it was then, so it is now; answers to the question of divorce cover the gamut, from no condition for divorce to divorce for almost any reason. In spite of the multiple opinions expressed  by the Church and by the culture, it seems that the Scriptures are relatively clear when it comes to this topic: divorce is allowed for two reasons.

Divorce is permissible because of sexual impurity.

Furthermore it has been said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce." But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality (porneia), causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery (Matt. 5:31-32);

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (porneia), and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery (Matt. 19:9).
“Sexual immorality” translates porneia, a word that speaks of general immorality (“fortification” in the KJV and “marital unfaithfulness” in the NIV) and appears around twenty-five time in the New Testament; the word appears in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 but it is not in Mark’s account (10:11). From porneia we have the words, “pornography,” “pornographic,” “pornographer,” and “porn”; so it is obvious the connotation conveyed by the word.

In Scripture porneia is used in the following ways:

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications (porneia), murders (Mk. 7:21; see Matt. 15:19);

but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality (porneia), from things strangled and from blood (Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25);

God gave them over to a debased mind . . . being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality (porneia), wickedness, covetousness . . . (Rom. 1:28-29);

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality (porneia) among you, and such sexual immorality (porneia) as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife (I Cor. 5:1);

Flee sexual immorality (porneia). Every sin a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality (porneia) sins against his own body (I Cor. 6:18);

And another angel followed, saying, "Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fortification (porneia)” (Rev. 14:8; 17:2, 4);

For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fortification (porneia), the kings of the earth have committed fornication (porneia) with her” (Rev. 18:3; 19:2).

From these verses the diversity that is conveyed by the word is seen. It can refer to immorality within marriage, to sexual practices associated with idol worship, to incest, and is used generally of sexually deviant practices, even metaphorically of Babylon, the whore, and her debauchery, idolatry, and opposition to God. And it also seems that porneia generally refers to lifestyle or a general practice that is prolonged, rather than a single incident.

If a partner is guilty of porneia, then according to the Lord, divorce is permissible.

Divorce is permissible because of desertion.

If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him . . . But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases (I Cor. 7:12-13, 15).

Though it is not explicitly stated, the text suggests that if an unbelieving partner leaves or deserts the marriage relationship, then the believing partner, the one who is left is free to remarry. In the words of Paul, the partner who is left is “not under bondage.”

The word, “permissible” in both of the conditions discussed above in this article (Divorce is “permissible” because of immorality, and Divorce is “permissible” because of desertion) coveys the fact that divorce is never required; it is merely permissible. And just because it is allowable does not indicate that it is required.

For those facing valid justification for divorce, there is always the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation. For some, for whatever ever reason, this may not be a possibility; but for others, this may be the best path for them to follow—the example and teaching of Hosea applies. 

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