A (Christian) acquaintance of mine offered the opinion that the two valid grounds for divorce are adultery and criminality.

Matthew 5:32 says, "Everyone who divorces their spouse, except on grounds of adultery, makes them an adulteress/er." Apparently divorce is permitted for adultery.

Adultery is self explanatory. "Criminality" would probably refer to a felony such as robbery, assault, or murder. (Rape would also be a form adultery.) Maybe certain "nonviolent" crimes such as embezzlement, drug use, or even "shoplifting."

Are there any Christian denominations, doctrines, or faith traditions that would make a similar provision for criminality? Could there even be a "work around" whereby criminality is considered more serious than adultery, so making an adulteress/er by divorcing a spouse is less serious than the spouse's criminal behavior? (I don't know this acquaintance well enough to ask where he was coming from.)

  • Can you switch this around to ask about the doctrine and a faith tradition which you'd think might have something to say about it and not "does the NT have anything to say"?
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 1:14
  • I think the best way for this question to be asked is if you could provide a quote from some Christian authority saying this. Then it can just become a Biblical Basis question.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 5:06
  • Concealing such information prior to marriage could constitute grounds for an annulment in the Catholic Church. It is by sin of omission and thus loosely related to the Ten Commandments.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 11:44
  • This is a question of elementary logic, rather than theology proper. If even adultery is enough grounds for divorce, then something just as serious (or even more serious) constitutes equally valid (or even stronger) grounds for the same.
    – user46876
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 3:44

1 Answer 1


We spend a lot of time searching for holes in the fencing of our playground. Under what circumstances am I allowed to approach this or that forbidden thing. Divorce is certainly one of those things and, although in today's world it is comfortably assimilated into most cultures, it always has been.

The religious leaders tried to entrap Jesus on this very question. The oft quoted 'adultery exemption' is weightier in the whole context.

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” - Matthew 19:3-9

What Jesus outlines here is the difference between what God intends and what God allows because we are hard-hearted. Obstinate, unrepentant pursuit of sexual sin within a marriage is allowed by God as grounds for divorce but let's not deceive ourselves into thinking it pleases Him. Divorce is an act which tries to unmake a creation of God: "So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."

We err greatly in the matter when we hold that a secular court or an ecclesiastic body either enacts or dissolves a marriage. "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate". This is a divine, creative covenant established directly by God before the intrusion of sin into creation.

The book of Job weighs in here without direct reference. When Satan is given permission by God to oppress Job,

“Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” - Job 1:12

Satan is forbidden to touch Job himself. Satan destroys Job's propsperity and his posterity but, although Job's wife is never mentioned in the prohibition, Satan leaves her alone.

Again, when Satan is allowed a second time to afflict Job,

And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life. - Job 2:6

he obeys God's prohibition and does not take Job's life. Once again there is no mention of Job's wife in the prohibition but Satan leaves her alone.

It seems that in the heavenly realms it is understood as a matter of course needing no mention (not even to the devil himself) that a man and his wife are one and the same entity.

And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” - Malachi 2:13-16

Is marriage extremely difficult and painful at times? What part of a life of faith is not? 

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