It seems that Jesus talks out against divorce. But in other places, divorce is allowed. How does this all play out and where does the bible really stand on this? Is it a sin or is it just part of the culture?

I'm seeking the exegesis of mainstream Protestant denominations, since I believe that these will all be similar (if not identical). If differences of interpretation exist between the different denominations, please let me know and I'll refine my scope a bit.

  • Didn't think my response here was worth creating a whole post, but a well educated contemporary teacher in the Reformed tradition by the name of John Piper has an uncommon, and very interesting perspective on divorce. YT videos w/ explanations here, here, and here. Jul 22, 2012 at 23:35

5 Answers 5


I think Jonathon started with a great passage for this question, but stopped short of an interpretation that carries the full weight of the passage.

The passage has two different parts. One part addresses marriages between believers, the other mixed marriages.

First, let's take the part between believers:

1st Corinthians 7:10-11 (ESV)
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

This is a clear mandate that believers should NOT divorce. There are no conditions given, no ifs, ands or buts. Now if we move on in the passage the group being addressed changes:

1st Corinthians 7:12-15 (ESV)
To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

Here relationships between a believer and a non-believer are address. Still the charge is to stay together. If there is a divorce it is ONLY to be allowed at the insistence of the non-believer, the believer does not have the option of requesting a divorce, but neither does he have the authority to forbid the other party from leaving. The most peaceful thing to do if you can't convince them to stay is let them have their way.

This should also be balanced with the warning in the next book about not marrying an unbeliever in the first place. It's a situation that should NEVER be entered into:

2nd Corinthians 6:14-15 (ESV)
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?

This leaves the passage in 1st Corinthians making an allowance for marriages where one partner came to faith after the marriage AND the non-believing party is insisting on a divorce.

Lastly I would like to point out that as a God ordained sacrament, all marriage is involves a covenant and God hates covenant breakers. I started out pointing out how the 1st Corinthians passage forbid divorce between believers, but one could also clearly show from Scripture that God hates ALL divorce. For example see Malachi 2:10-16.

TL;DR Based on these and other passages I would say that the literal answer to your question is that the Bible does not support divorce under ANY circumstances.

  • 3
    We have to take everything into account about divorce. Keep in mind that God Himself wrote Israel a certificate of divorce, because Israel was being unfaithful to Him. God does not prefer divorce, however, marriage is not a prison either. Jan 8, 2013 at 21:56
  • @Caleb - so what about abandonment/infidelity on the part of one? Is the other free to remarry if their unfaithful partner does not repent?
    – SSumner
    Apr 15, 2013 at 1:40

This is a difficult question of Christian practice. How do you deal with marriages that fail?

It's easy to be consistent. It's very easy to point to scriptural sayings and say "Jesus disapproves" and consider that the end of the matter. It's easy to say something is sinful and should be forbidden. It's even easy to ostracise those who are divorced, because they are sinners and have failed in their marriage.

But reality is rather more complicated than that, and the reality is pastoral as much as it is biblical. Pastoral experience should be relevant both to theology and to Christian ethics.

Imagine this situation. A couple married in their early twenties. Twenty years later, they have fallen on hard times. He hits her. She has been to hospital several times with increasingly bad injuries. She is so terrified that she can no longer be in the same room as him.

Are you going to tell her that to divorce him is forbidden?

Or this situation. A couple have been married five years when, after a period of agonising, the man comes out as a homosexual. The basis for the marriage is undermined. A sexual relationship is out of the question.

Are you going to tell them that divorce is forbidden?

Of course every divorce is a tragedy. It is is the result of living broken, sinful lives in a broken, sinful world. But the fact is that divorce can be a necessary reality, and Christians should deal with that in a loving, sympathetic way. They must not collude in the sin (for instance, a marriage between a couple where the couple's relationship was previously adulterous should not take place in a church), but they must acknowledge that sometimes divorce is a tragic pastoral necessity.

  • 6
    Can you add citations to your answer? the OP does ask for what the bible says :)
    – warren
    Sep 19, 2011 at 4:55
  • 7
    Sorry, I don't think this is a good answer, because it doesn't have biblical citations. I think sexual immorality and abuse are legitimate reasons, but you approach it like "surely we don't expect people to stay in those marriages, right?" instead of attempting to draw on scripture.
    – Chance
    Sep 20, 2011 at 14:45

Taking a look at what Jesus said:

They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

At that time, the Jews were practicing divorce, on the basis that if the woman had committed adultery, and this is from Moses' law. But Jesus, although it admits that such a law exists, and therefore divorce is legally right, He shows his disapproval. As Jesus said "but from the beginning it was not so." Marriage was meant to be for life, and it was God's intention from the very beginning.

So, for the Jews, at the time, it was legally correct, according to Moses' Law. However, as Christians, Moses' Law no longer applies to us. What does apply to us? Jesus own words:

5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh.

This is really important. This just states the magnitude of the importance and sacredness of marriage. The two become one. That's what marriage was meant to be, the union of two people, to serve God better. The next statement, provides the rule, by which, I believe, Christians are bound:

What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Therefore, for Christians, I would say, no, Divorce is Wrong.

  • 2
    It's interesting that you quote that chapter, but not include the part about "except fornication".
    – Chance
    Sep 19, 2011 at 18:16

My original answer was very ignorant and short. But these days I'm on a kick to fully understand Divorce from a biblical standpoint. This is a massively argued topic and nearly every sect has a different point of view. This answer will use logic to try and understand divorce more.

1. Divorce is permitted

Albeit, a blatant declaration, but nonetheless we must accept this as a true premise. We will dive deeper into the specifics, but we first need to understand that we can even entertain this notion.

Matthew 19:8 New International Version (NIV) Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But > it was not this way from the beginning.

We let Jesus interpret this premise for us. Clearly, it was Moses who permitted men to divorce their wives. So this beg's the question, is divorce a sin in every instance because it was not God permitting us, but Moses?

The answer is no, Divorce is not a sin. You would be right to expound upon my generalization and state that there are exceptions, and I would agree, but we'll get to that next.

Jeremiah 3:8 New International Version (NIV) I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.

You see, if Divorce was a sin in every instance, then God himself would NOT have done it, for God does not sin. For those of you who like to distinguish between "sending her away" and "divorce", notice that God has done both to Israel in His statement.

We also see that God vehemently state's what He has done and that it has enuled the marriage.

Hosea 2:2 New International Version (NIV) Israel Punished and Restored

2 “Rebuke your mother, rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.

So, if Divorce is permitted, is it permitted under every circumstance? Well, before we can even begin to define a premise for this one, we should start with the reasoning for God divorcing Israel.

Ezekiel 23:37-38 New International Version (NIV) 37 for they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands. They committed adultery with their idols; they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me, as food for them. 38 They have also done this to me: At that same time they defiled my sanctuary and desecrated my Sabbaths.

Did Israel physically have sexual relations with another God? No.

Did Israel ask God for a divorce? No.

God recognized that Israel was unfaithful to the marriage. Israel had no intention of being obedient, faithful, or loving to God. Israel committed adultery, idolatry, murder and defiled God's sanctuary.

I feel that we have enough information to form a generalized premise based off of this event.

2. Divorce must be for a "Just-Cause"

It's important that we categorize the divorce between God and Israel as a "Just-Cause". For God is a Just and Righteous God. God has basically explained to us that Israel has broken nearly all of the Commandments and committed sin against Him.

3. The purpose to life is to learn how to Love.

I am going to throw out this third premise, because it will give us rejuvenation in our marriages, so that we may understand that we should strive to have unconditional love and an infinite amount of forgiveness. Remember the prayer? "Please forgive me of my sins as I forgive the sins of others?" Yea, we're judged by our own standards.

4. If it causes you to sin, cut it off

Matthew 18:8 New International Version (NIV) 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.

5. If a man leave his wife and children for God, he will receive a thousand fold.

Matthew 19:29 New International Version (NIV) 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[a] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

Concluding way to early

There's so much more to talk about. But I wanted to give you a few premises that will help you make your decision.

You see God did divorce Israel for a just-cause. God also tells us to not sin against Him, but to be obedient to Him in everything that we do. So I will conclude with this logical statement.

If your spouse is causing you to be disobedient to God, or has a wicked nature that gives rise to a Just-Cause, and you feel that you have done everything that you can do to correct it, then it may be beneficial for you to Divorce your wife.

Keep in mind however, that this is one logical conclusion, but may in no way be the correct answer. Your soul depends on you doing more research.

  • 4
    I think you picked a good passage but read a really weak message into it. Why did you not address the specific "if" statements in the passage? I would be interested in hearing your comments on my take on this passage.
    – Caleb
    Aug 28, 2011 at 7:17
  • I figured the passsage would do all of the talking ;) Aug 28, 2011 at 8:27
  • 2
    Except I would argue you didn't. In order to answer this question, one must (as you have done here) take several steps in the hermeneutical process of interpreting the passage on behalf of the person asking as well as other readers. It's not the verse, but your interpretation that I find weak.
    – Caleb
    Jan 3, 2013 at 21:36

Jesus seems to indicate that sexual immorality is a valid reason for divorce.

9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.

Looking in the footnotes, immorality can be translated fornication.

The Bible also mentions abandonment as a reason for divorce, which @Jonathon covers, in 1 Corinthians 7.

That being said, some scholars believe that valid reasons for divorce also include neglect, which would including withholding of "food, clothing, and love."

Although the church forgot the other cause for divorce, every Jew in Jesus' day knew about Exodus 21:10-11, which allowed divorce for neglect. Before rabbis introduced the "any cause" divorce, this was probably the most common type. Exodus says that everyone, even a slave wife, had three rights within marriage—the rights to food, clothing, and love. If these were neglected, the wronged spouse had the right to seek freedom from that marriage.

Exodus 21:10-11 states

If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her [j]food, her clothing, or (F)her conjugal rights. 11 If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

Many believe that abuse is included in this allowance in Exodus.

  • 1
    A better interpretation of the first passage is that the reason divorce does not cause a person to commit adultery in cases of immorality is that the adultery has already occurred. It's not permission, but an acknowledgement of what is already there. Sep 19, 2011 at 18:30
  • @Joel, I agree.
    – Chance
    Sep 20, 2011 at 2:55
  • So if a woman in an abusive marriage where the husband beats her and all, if she leaves him she would be committing adultery by marrying another?
    – Paddington
    Oct 24, 2012 at 6:31
  • @Paddington, I think those who subscribe to the latter view mentioned in this answer (neglect, abuse, etc...), would believe that, no, she would not be committing adultery.
    – Chance
    Oct 25, 2012 at 17:09
  • The sections you quote are explicitly for men divorcing women. What provisions are provided for women divorcing men?
    – Kaz Dragon
    Jan 15, 2013 at 8:12

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