With every marriage covenant made between a man and a woman, there is also a Christian divorce option. If fact, the twenty-first century has taken divorce to a new level. This "modern" attitude is a far cry from the teachings of divorce found in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. For the Christian in a monogamous marriage, divorce should not even be a question to consider, however it has certainly become one.
By definition, divorce is "a legal dissolution of the marriage relation." Yet to the modern marriage, Christian divorce can be simply defined as a convenience.
In 1948, Harvard sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin noticed a change and even a disintegration of the American Society. Of his findings he wrote:
An illiterate society can survive, but a thoroughly antisocial society cannot. Until recently the family was the principle school of socialization for the newborn human animals, rendering them fit for social life. At present this vital mission is performed less and less by the family.
Sorokin's concern was triggered by what he thought was an alarming change in the divorce rate within America. He had seen the divorce rate rise from 1 in 10 in 1910 to 1 in 4 in 1948.
The divorce rate had risen from 10 percent to 25 percent in just thirty eight years. That is an increase of 150 percent. It would be nice to assume that the divorce rate has leveled off, but that is not the case.
By 1970, 2 out of 5, or 40 percent of marriages ended in divorce. In 1973 the number of marriages ending in divorce had grown to 50 percent. In the 63 years since 1910 to 1973, divorce has seen an increase of 400 percent. Now in the twenty-first century, marriage breakups are an epidemic. Few people, including the children involved, are untouched by the lasting scars of divorce.
Divorce is so much common place in society today that even the laws of the land provide a variety of grounds for a legal divorce. Suffering physical and mental cruelty and adultery are all legal reasons for divorce. In fact, it is not uncommon in our nation to be granted a divorce for no reason at all. Adopted by society is the no-fault grounds for divorce in which the spouse no longer must prove that the other has committed a marital wrong.
Unlike the North American society, the Bible has taken a clear stance on Christian divorce. The divine ideal for marriage in scripture is clearly a lifelong bond which unites husband and wife in a "one flesh" relationship (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5).
The marriage union is a holy condition founded by God and is not to be dissolved at the will of human beings (Matt. 19:6). In fact, separations of the marriage bond displease God. The prophet Malachi expressed this when he wrote, "And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one's garments with violence" (Mal. 2:15-16).
The Law of Moses seemed to allow a man to divorce his wife when she found "no favor in his eyes, because he has found some uncleanness in her" (Deut. 24:1). The main purpose of this law was to prevent the husband from taking her again after she had married another man, "an abomination before the Lord" (Deut. 24:4). This law was not intended to encourage divorce, rather it was meant to discourage it. A public document known as a "certificate of divorce" was granted the woman. This permitted her the right to remarry without civil or religious sanction. For the Jew in the Old Testament, divorce could not be done privately.
The Mosaic Law called for severe penalties for certain types of "uncleanness." Adultery carried the death penalty by stoning for the woman. A man who believed that his wife was not a virgin when he married her could have her judged by the elders of the city. If they found her guilty, she could be put to death (Deut. 22:13-21).
Even though a man was allowed to divorce his wife, the wife was not allowed to divorce her husband for any reason. Legally the wife was bound to her husband as long as they both lived or until he divorced her (1 Cor. 7:39).
In Jesus' day, there was much confusion about the grounds for divorce. Even the rabbis, Shammai and Hillel, could not agree on what constituted the "uncleanness" of Deuteronomy 24:1.7
Followers of Rabbi Shammai felt adultery, or any moral delinquency in the woman, was the only grounds for divorce. Those who followed Rabbi Hillel were more liberal and accepted many reasons, including such things as poor cooking.
The gospels record four statements by Jesus concerning Christian divorce. In two of these statements Jesus allowed divorce in the case of adultery. Jesus comments on the situation of both the woman and her new husband in Matthew 5:32. He said, "Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery."
In another statement, Jesus describes the position of the man who divorced his wife. Jesus states that, "Whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (Matt. 19:9).
While these two statements seem to allow Christian divorce because of unfaithfulness, two other statements made by Jesus seem to make no stipulation for divorce (Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18).
In light of these two differing statements by Jesus, there is reason to wonder what was the intent of Jesus concerning divorce and moreover, Christian Divorce. Jesus' statements in Mark and Luke were made in conversations with Pharisees about the Mosaic Law.
The Pharisees believed divorce was allowed on grounds other than adultery (Deut. 24:1-4). Jesus' main point in these statements was that divorce is contrary to God's plan for marriage and should never be taken lightly. Even though Moses allowed divorce, this was an exception granted under the law because of their "hardness" of heart (Mark 10:5).9 Even if the divorced couple had not been sexually unfaithful to each other, they would commit adultery in God's sight if they married other partners.
By allowing divorce for the reason of "immorality," or illicit sexual intercourse, Jesus' perception is that a person dissolves his marriage by creating a sexual union with someone other than the marriage partner. Adultery violates the sacred "oneness" intended by God when he united Adam and Eve in the first marriage relationship (Gen. 2:18-25).
Christian Divorce on the grounds of adultery may seem to free the innocent partner to remarry without guilt (Matt. 19:9). However, this is sometimes questioned. Even though Jesus allowed divorce for adultery, He did not require it. Instead Jesus insisted that divorce disrupts God's plan for marriage and left the way open for repentance and forgiveness.
Paul was essentially in agreement with Jesus' teachings on marriage and Christian divorce. Paul, however, was forced to deal with new situations involving divorce between two believers and between a believer and an unbeliever. For the two believers, Paul exhorts them to follow the Lord's teachings and be reconciled. Under no circumstances is either allowed to marry again (1 Cor. 7:10-11).
In 1 Corinthians 7:15, Paul says that a Christian whose mate has abandoned the marriage should be free to go through with the divorce. Paul says that, "If the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases." Many scholars hold that the phrase "not under bondage" means that a deserted Christian spouse may go from divorce to remarriage. However, other scholars disagree with this interpretation. Which ever the case may be, Paul still encourages the believer to keep the marriage together in hopes that the unbelieving partner might be saved (1 Cor. 7:16).
Since the time of Paul, Christian divorce has become as much of a "disease" as it is for those who chose to live an ungodly life. In fact, within Christian circles there is an attitude in which believers rationalize divorce by saying they "married the wrong person" and are therefore out of God's will. This type of thinking not only limits God, it also ignores the clear teachings of scripture in regards to the marriage covenant.
God does not make mistakes. When a believer says that they married the wrong person, it is limiting God. God could, and is willing to, turn a bad marriage into a healthy one. The Bible clearly stresses in clear terms the sanctity of marriage.
This principle is clear throughout the entire Bible. From Genesis (2:24) through to the teachings of Jesus (Matt. 19:4-6) and Paul (Eph. 5:31), a committed and monogamous marriage is emphasized. The marriage commitment is a covenant that must not be broken while both members live, even if they think they may have made a mistake.
Marriage was instituted by God when He declared, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him" (Gen. 2:18). For this reason God fashioned a woman and brought her to Adam. On seeing the woman, Adam exclaimed, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man" (Gen. 2:23). This passage emphasizes the truth that "a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). It is God's desire for a man to be the husband of one wife and for the marriage to be permanent.
In the twenty-first century, Christian divorce has become a convenient way to dissolve a marriage. If fact, the trend has grown to new heights in the modern society. This "loose" attitude is a far cry from the teachings of divorce found in scripture.
Jesus pointed stated that Christian divorce is contrary to God's plan for marriage and should never be taken lightly. The legal dissolution of a marriage goes against the divine ideal for marriage. The ideal of a lifelong bond that unites husband and wife in a "one flesh" relationship.