Since Paul said that divorce is forbidden, and Paul's letters are to be taken as word of God, why do some Protestant churches (Church of England for example) permit divorce?

  • This official position of the Church of England is that it has no control over divorce. It allows clergy the freedom not to marry divorcees. There is no annulment process within the Church of England, but it also allows the freedom to accept that marriages may come to an end. May 27, 2015 at 20:03

3 Answers 3


I think there are two basic answers to your question. The first, and simple answer is:

  • Many Protestant churches do not allow divorce. Some congregations deny membership rights to people who are divorced.

The more direct, and also more complex, answer to your question is:

  • Many protestant churches permit divorce because there is simply nothing they can do about it.

    Divorce is a legal right in most places, regardless of whether the church allows it. Many Catholics get divorced, too. Although in the eyes of the Catholic church, such a divorce (and possible remarriage) is not recognized.

    The consequences of divorce within the church are usually rather minimal. A divorced person cannot remarry in a Catholic ceremony, for instance. Many protestant churches and pastors will have similar restrictions, refusing to allow a ceremony of a divorced couple in their facilities, or refusing to officiate the ceremony for a divorced person.

    However, beyond refusing to allow or officiate marriages, and possibly refusing membership rights to divorcees, there's very little any church can do to prevent divorce.

    The same is true of practically any practice that is considered sinful in the eyes of the church. A church can only do so much in "discipline."

    A second issue, beside the fact that churches are essentially powerless, is the concept of forgiveness.

    Many churches are willing to forgive pass transgressions such as divorce, especially if they happened prior to conversion.

  • 1
    +1 for differentiating between the church's recognition of the spiritual effect of marriage and the legal rights that accompany it.
    – asfallows
    Jul 9, 2012 at 20:29
  • Needs to be edited per recent edit to the question.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 10, 2012 at 7:45
  • Forgiveness is an important element. Adultery/divorce is not an unforgivable sin. Requiring the person to make a credible confession of faith would quite reasonably include a credible repentance from past transgressions which may require receiving special counseling as well as attempting some reconciliation--not necessarily a return to marriage as remarriage might have occurred--; but barring from membership would seem to be declaring the sin unforgivable.
    – user3331
    Nov 27, 2012 at 20:33
  • @PaulA.Clayton: Perhaps. It's all subject to interpretation. But that's really beside the point--some churches have such rules (including Catholic churches--which doesn't really relate to the question).
    – Flimzy
    Nov 28, 2012 at 7:31

As Matthew 19:18 states,

Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.

Jesus is clearly pointing out that divorce is, in fact, legal. It is bad, but it is permissible. To turn it into an iron-clad law is then much like laws concerning the Sabbath - Jesus values the individual over the institution, even an institution as great as marriage.

(Note: Not advocating, just explaining the rationale!)

  • 1
    Not bad. +1 for a very accurate answer from Scripture.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 10, 2012 at 7:44

I think that the biggest issue is the exception in Matthew 5:32:

But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

The Catholic Church takes that phrase to mean, "except in the case of unlawfulness" (which is why there is an annulment process), but many take it as an "out." Regardless of the merit of such an interpretation, it seems that that "escape clause" has been used a bit more than it should be.

  • 2
    This is sufficient to explain why some denominations allow divorce in the case of adultery, but would you be able to add information about why some churches allow divorce in other cases, if any do?
    – asfallows
    Jul 9, 2012 at 20:27
  • Nevertheless, it is impossible to infer that "fornication" means "adultery" for these are two different sins and this information is explicit all over the New Testament. Adultery means cheating. Fornication means having sex with someone without the consent of God. The protestant interpretation is simple out of question, unless you are deliberately trying to bend the scriptures to mean something totally diferent than intended.
    – user3517
    Nov 27, 2012 at 18:35
  • It would be worth asking on hermeneutics.SE about historical context, I've read that it's more complicated than just a plain reason for divorce.
    – Pavel
    Nov 27, 2012 at 19:16
  • 1 Cor. 7:15 speaks of not being bound to an unbeliever who leaves. If a person rejects church discipline for reconciliation, that person might be considered outside of the church and so abandonment might permit divorce even if the person never has sexual relations again. Of course, this can be trivialized such that a person leaves the church just to divorce and remarry--not much (if any) better than committing adultery so that divorce would be acceptable.
    – user3331
    Nov 27, 2012 at 20:10
  • @All "saving for the cause of fornication", does it appear in the earliest manuscripts? Feb 27, 2014 at 17:06

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