What does the Bible say about divorce?
Did you know that the United States has the third-highest divorce rate in the world? Sadly, 43% of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. It worsens for divorced couples who marry again: 60% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages collapse.
As horrible as those statistics are, the good news is that the divorce rate is slowly decreasing. A key reason is couples are waiting until they’re more mature (late twenties) and have usually dated for two to five years before marrying. But in case you’re wondering – couples who live together before marriage are more likely to get divorced than those who don’t! Living together before marriage increases the likelihood of divorce.
Many couples choose to live together and even raise a family without marriage. What is the success rate of unmarried cohabiting couples? Dismal! Couples living together out of wedlock are more likely to separate than those who marry, and 80% of domestic violence cases are among cohabiting couples.
How has divorce affected Christian couples? Some statistics show that Christian couples are as likely to divorce as non-Christians. However, many people identify as Christians but are not active in church, regularly reading their Bibles or praying, and don’t seek to follow God’s Word in their daily lives. These nominal “Christians” have a higher divorce rate. Christians who actively practice their faith are far less likely to divorce than non-Christians and nominal Christians.
And yet, we all know active, committed Christians who have divorced – some more than once – even many pastors. This raises the question, what does the Bible say about divorce? What are Biblical grounds for divorce? What about remarriage? Does God want you to stay in an unhappy marriage? Let’s jump into God’s Word to see what He has to say!
Christian quotes about divorce
“Marriage is primarily the promise to persevere and to be present through any circumstance.”
“Divorce Myths: 1. When love has gone out a marriage, it is better to get divorced. 2. It is better for the children for the unhappy couple to divorce than to raise their children in the atmosphere of an unhappy marriage. 3. Divorce is the lesser of two evils. 4. You owe it to yourself. 5. Everyone’s entitled to one mistake. 6. God led me to this divorce.” R.C. Sproul
“When God stands as witness to the covenant promises of a marriage it becomes more than a merely human agreement. God is not a passive bystander at a wedding ceremony. In effect he says, I have seen this, I confirm it and I record it in heaven. And I bestow upon this covenant by My presence and My purpose the dignity of being an image of My own covenant with My wife, the church.” John Piper
“What makes divorce and remarriage so horrific in God’s eyes is not merely that it involves covenant-breaking to the spouse, but that it involves misrepresenting Christ and His covenant. Christ will never leave His wife. Ever. There may be times of painful distance and tragic backsliding on our part. But Christ keeps His covenant forever. Marriage is a display of that! That is the ultimate thing we can say about it. It puts the glory of Christ’s covenant-keeping love on display.” John Piper
“A marriage built on Christ is a marriage built to last.”
“Marriage is an ongoing, vivid illustration of what it costs to love an imperfect person unconditionally…the same way Christ has loved us.”
The covenant of marriage
The marriage covenant is a solemn promise made between the bride and groom before God. When you enter into a Christian marriage covenant, you are bringing God into the equation – you are drawing His presence and power over your relationship. As you make and keep your vows before God, you are inviting God to bless your marriage and make you strong against the devil’s attempts to derail your relationship.
The covenant is your pledge to stick with the marriage – even when you’re in conflict or when seemingly-insurmountable problems arise. You work hard to not only stay in the marriage but to thrive in the bond you have made. As you honor each other and your covenant, God will honor you.
The marriage covenant is all about commitment – which does not mean gritting your teeth and just hanging in there. It means you actively work to make your relationship more intimately connected. You choose to be patient, forgiving, and kind, and you make your marriage something worth protecting and cherishing.
“‘. . . a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:31-33)
The marriage covenant illustrates Christ and the church. Jesus is the head – He sacrificed Himself to make His bride holy and pure. As the family’s head, the husband needs to follow Jesus’ example of sacrificial love – when he loves his wife, he loves himself! The wife needs to respect, honor, and support her husband.
1. Ephesians 5:31-33 (NIV) “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
2. Matthew 19:6 (ESV) “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
3. Malachi 2:14 (KJV) “Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.”
4. Genesis 2:24 (NKJV) “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
5. Ephesians 5:21 “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
6. Ecclesiastes 5:4 “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.”
7. Proverbs 18:22 “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.”
8. John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
9. Proverbs 31:10 “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.”
10. Genesis 2:18 “The LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper like him ”
11. 1 Corinthians 7:39 “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.”
12. Titus 2:3-4 “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children.”
13. Hebrews 9:15 “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”
14. 1 Peter 3:7 “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
15. 2 Corinthians 11:2 (ESV) “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.”
16. Isaiah 54:5 “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.”
17. Revelation 19:7-9 “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.) 9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
God hates divorce
“You cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and sighing, because He no longer gives attention to the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’
Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your marriage companion and your wife by covenant. . . For I hate divorce, says the LORD.” (Malachi 2:13-16)
Why does God hate divorce? Because it’s separating what He has joined, and it’s breaking the picture of Christ and the church. It’s usually an act of betrayal and treachery on the part of one or both partners – especially if infidelity is involved, but even if not, it’s breaking a holy vow made to the spouse. It causes irreparable wounding to the spouse and especially the children. Divorce often happens when one or both partners have placed selfishness before selflessness.
God said that when one spouse has committed the treachery of divorce against their husband or wife, it blocks the sinning spouse’s relationship with God.
18. Malachi 2:16 (NASB) “For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with violence,” says the Lord of armies. “So be careful about your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
19. Malachi 2:14-16 “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. 15 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. 16 “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.”
20. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”
Does God forgive divorce?
Before answering this question, we must first emphasize that a person can be an innocent victim in a divorce. For instance, if you were working hard to save the marriage, but your spouse divorced you to marry someone else, you are not guilty of the sin of divorce. Even if you refuse to sign papers, your spouse can proceed with a contested divorce in most states.
Furthermore, you are not guilty if your divorce involved a Biblical reason. You do not need to be forgiven, except for any feelings of bitterness you may have against your ex-spouse.
Even if you are the guilty party in the divorce or divorced for non-Biblical reasons, God will forgive you if you repent. This means confessing your sins before God and determining not to commit that sin again. If your sins of adultery, unkindness, abandonment, violence, or any other sin caused the breakup, you need to confess those sins to God and turn away from them. You also need to confess and apologize to your ex-spouse (Matthew 5:24).
If you can make amends in some way (like paying back child support), you should certainly do so. You may also need to pursue professional Christian counseling or have a system of accountability with your pastor or another godly leader if you are a repeat adulterer, have anger-management issues, or are addicted to porn, alcohol, drugs, or gambling.
21. Ephesians 1:7 (NASB) “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our wrongdoings, according to the riches of His grace.”
22. 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
23. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
24. Isaiah 43:25 “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”
25. Ephesians 1:7-8 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding.”
Divorce in the Old Testament
We’ve already discussed the Malachi 2 passage about how God hates divorce. Let’s look at the law of Moses regarding divorce (echoed in Jeremiah 3:1):
“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens, if she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, that he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her away from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter husband turns against her, writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand, and sends her away from his house, or if the latter husband who took her to be his wife dies, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
First, what does “indecency” mean in this passage? It comes from the Hebrew word ervah, which can be translated as “nakedness, indecency, shame, uncleanness.” It seems to imply a sexual sin, but probably not adultery because in that case, the woman and her lover would receive the death sentence (Leviticus 20:10). But it clearly seems to be some sort of serious moral offense.
The point was that a husband could not divorce his wife for a trivial matter. The Israelites had just left Egypt, where sexual immorality and divorce were common and easy, but the Mosaic law required the husband to write a divorce certificate. According to the Mishna (Jewish oral traditions), this meant the wife could remarry so that she would have a means of support. This wasn’t so much condoning divorce as it was a concession for protecting the ex-wife.
Jesus commented on this in Matthew 19, saying that those whom God joined in marriage, let no one separate. But when the Pharisees pressed him about Moses’ law, Jesus said the man was permitted to divorce his wife because of the hardness of his heart. God’s intent was no divorce at all. He was not commanding or condoning divorce
The next question is, why couldn’t the first husband remarry his ex-wife if her second husband divorced her or died? Why was this an abomination? Rabbi Moses Nahmanides, 1194-1270 AD, suggested the law prevented wife-swapping. Some scholars think the intent was for the first husband to be careful about divorcing his wife – because it was a decisive action – he could never have her as his wife again – at least not if she remarried.
26. Jeremiah 3:1 “If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again? Would not the land be completely defiled? But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers— would you now return to me?” declares the Lord.”
27. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”
28. Isaiah 50:1 “This is what the LORD says: “Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce with which I sent her away? Or to which of my creditors did I sell you? Because of your sins you were sold; because of your transgressions your mother was sent away.”
29. Leviticus 22:13 (NLT) “But if she becomes a widow or is divorced and has no children to support her, and she returns to live in her father’s home as in her youth, she may eat her father’s food again. Otherwise, no one outside a priest’s family may eat the sacred offerings.”
30. Numbers 30:9 (NKJV) “Also any vow of a widow or a divorced woman, by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her.”
31. Ezekiel 44:22 “They must not marry widows or divorced women; they may marry only virgins of Israelite descent or widows of priests.”
32. Leviticus 21:7 “They must not marry women defiled by prostitution or divorced from their husbands, because priests are holy to their God.”
Divorce in the New Testament
Jesus clarified the Pharisees’ questions about Deuteronomy 24 in Matthew 19:9, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Jesus made it clear that if a husband divorces his wife to marry another woman, he is committing adultery against his first wife because, in God’s eyes, he is still married to his first wife. The same holds true for a wife who divorces her husband and marries another man. “If a woman divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:12)
In the eyes of God, the only thing that breaks that covenant is sexual immorality. “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Mark 10:9)
This binding covenant concept is repeated in 1 Corinthians 7:39: “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, as long as he belongs to the Lord.” Note that God wants Christians to marry Christians!
33. Mark 10:2-6 “Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied. 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.”
34. Matthew 19:9 “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
35. 1 Corinthians 7:39 “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”
36. Mark 10:12 “And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
What are Biblical grounds for divorce?
The first Biblical allowance for divorce is sexual immorality, as Jesus taught in Matthew 19:9 (see above). This includes adultery, homosexuality, and incest – all of which violate the intimate union of the marriage covenant.
Divorce isn’t mandated, even in adultery. The book of Hosea is about the prophet’s unfaithful wife Gomer, who he took back after her sin; this was an illustration of the unfaithfulness of Israel to God through idolatry. Sometimes, the innocent spouse chooses to remain in the marriage and exercise forgiveness – especially if it is a one-time failing and the unfaithful spouse seems genuinely repentant. Pastoral counseling is undoubtedly recommended – for healing and restoration – and accountability for the erring spouse.
The second Biblical allowance for divorce is if a non-believer desires a divorce from a Christian spouse. If the non-Christian spouse is willing to stay in the marriage, the Christian spouse should not seek a divorce, because the believer can have a positive spiritual influence on the other.
“But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if any woman has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not divorce her husband.
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one is leaving, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us in peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:12-16)
37. Matthew 5:32 (ESV) “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
38. 1 Corinthians 7:15 (ESV) “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.”
39. Matthew 19:9 “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Is abuse grounds for divorce in the Bible?
The Bible does not give abuse as grounds for divorce. However, if the wife and/or children are in a dangerous situation, they should move out. If the abusive spouse agrees to enter into pastoral counseling (or meet with a Christian therapist) and deal with root causes of abuse (anger, drug or alcohol addictions, etc.), there may be hope of restoration.
40. “But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife is not to leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband is not to divorce his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)
41. Proverbs 11:14 “A nation falls through a lack of guidance, but victory comes through the counsel of many.”
42. Exodus 18:14-15 “When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he asked, “What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?”
What does the Bible say about divorce and remarriage?
Jesus indicated that if adultery is the reason for the divorce, it is not a sin to remarry.
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)
What about if the divorce was because an unsaved spouse wanted out of the marriage? Paul said that the believing spouse is “not under bondage,” which might imply that remarriage is permitted, but isn’t explicitly stated.
43. “If the unbelieving one is leaving, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases.” (1 Corinthians 7:15)
Does God want me to stay in an unhappy marriage?
Many Christians have tried to justify a non-biblical divorce by saying, “I deserve to be happy.” But you can’t truly be happy unless you walk in obedience and fellowship with Christ. Maybe the question should be, “Does God want my marriage to remain unhappy?” The answer, of course, would be, “No!” Marriage reflects Christ and the church, which is the happiest union of all.
What God wants you to do – if your marriage is unhappy – is work on making it happy! Take a close look at your own actions: are you loving, affirming, forgiving, patient, kind, and unselfish? Have you sat down with your spouse and discussed what is making you unhappy? Have you sought counseling with your pastor?
45. 1 Peter 3:7 “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
46. 1 Peter 3:1 “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.”
47. Colossians 3:14 (NASB) “In addition to all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
48. Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
49. Mark 9:23 “If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
50. Psalm 46:10 “He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
51. 1 Peter 4:8 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
God can heal your marriage
You may think your marriage is irretrievably broken, but our God is a God of miracles! When you put God in the dead center of your own life and the center of your marriage, healing will come. When you are walking in step with the Holy Spirit, you are able to live graciously, lovingly, and in forgiveness. When the two of you are worshipping and praying together – in your home, regularly, as well as in church – you will be astounded by what happens to your relationship. God will breathe His grace over your marriage in unimaginable ways.
God will heal your marriage when you come in line with God’s definition of love, which means getting yourself out of the way and realizing the two of you are one. True love is not selfish, self-seeking, jealous, or easily offended. True love is patient, kind, enduring, and hopeful.
52. Proverbs 3:5 (NIV) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”
53. 1 Peter 5:10 “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
54. 2 Thessalonians 3:3 “But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”
55. Psalm 56:3 “But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.”
56. Romans 12:12 “Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer.”
Fight for your marriage
Remember, Satan hates marriage because it is an illustration of Christ and the church. He and his demons work overtime to destroy marriage. You need to be aware of this and on the alert for his attacks on your marriage. Refuse to allow him to drive a wedge in your relationship. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
When “self” or your sin nature is running the show, marital discord is inevitable. But when you’re operating in the Spirit, conflicts are quickly resolved, you’re less likely to offend or be offended, and you are quick to forgive.
Establish a daily “family altar” time where you read and discuss the Scripture, and worship, sing, and pray together. When you are spiritually intimate, everything else falls into place.
Practice successful conflict management. Learn to agreeably disagree. Learn to peacefully discuss your problems without exploding in anger, getting defensive, or turning it into a confrontation.
It’s okay to ask for help! Seek wise counselors – your pastor, a Christian marriage therapist, an older happily-married couple. They’ve probably worked through the same issues you’re facing and can give you helpful counsel.
57. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
58. Psalm 147:3 “The Lord heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
59. Ephesians 4:31-32 “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
60. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.”
61. James 4:7 “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
62. Ephesians 4:2-3 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
63. Hebrews 13:4 “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
The natural response to problems and conflict is to just call it quits and bail out of the marriage. Some couples stay together, but don’t deal with the problems – they remain married but sexually and emotionally distant. But God’s Word tells us to persevere. A happy marriage involves a lot of perseverance! We need to persevere in His Word, in prayer, in being loving and kind, in getting along peacefully, in supporting and encouraging each other, in keeping the spark of romance alive. As you persevere, God will heal and mature you. He will make you complete, not lacking anything.
“Let’s not become discouraged in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not become weary.” (Galatians 6:9)