The Scripture Doctrine of Divorce

Selie Visa

1. Introduction: Marriage was instituted by God in Paradise before the Fall. The union of Adam and Eve was the first marriage. Here we have its original charter, which was confirmed by our Lord, as the basis on which all regulations are to be framed. Matthew 19:3-12 contain the doctrine for divorce. The New Testament doctrine of divorce stated by Christ Himself is: "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."  

2. Jesus ended the Mosaic legislation: We are not called upon to treat divorce in the Mosaic legislation (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) because Jesus ruled out of existence in His system of religion. After Jesus had spoken those words, the Mosaic permission of divorce became a dead letter. So such Old Testament divorce is now a mere matter of antiquarian curiosity. What Jesus said will dominate the New. In fact, Jesus is the only author in the New Testament who has treated of divorce. It has been thought that Paul had the subject in hand. But on closer examination he did not. We need then look nowhere but to Matthew 19 for the Scripture doctrine of divorce.  

Attention must be called to the fact that, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27-32) Jesus treated of divorce, and that in every essential particular it agrees with the elaboration in Matthew 19. Jesus put Moses' permission of divorce under absolute ban.  

3. The only exception: It is very widely maintained in the Christian church that there should be no divorce for any cause whatever. This position is in plain contradiction to Christ's teaching. One of the grounds adduced for this denial of divorce in case a partner is guilty of adultery is that Luke and Mark do not record the exception. Neither Luke nor Mark were personal disciples of the Lord. They wrote second hand. Matthew was a personal disciple of Christ and has twice recorded the exception.  

4. Why is there an exception? Why, then, will reason stand by this exception? Because adultery is per se destructive of monogamic family life. Whoever, married, is guilty of adultery has taken another person into family relation. Children may be born to that relation--are born to it. Not to allow divorce in such case is to force an innocent party in marriage to live in a polygamous state. It is the hand of an unerring Master that has made fornication a ground for divorce from the bond of matrimony and limited divorce to that single cause. Whichever way we depart from strict practice under the Saviour's direction we land in polygamy. The society that allows by its statutes divorce for any other cause than the one that breaks the monogamic bond, is simply acting in aid of polygamy.  

5. Can divorce have other exceptions? Consider these things as possible reasons for divorce.  

A. We don’t have enough money.  

B. I don’t feel like I’m getting all the emotional support I need.  

C. He’s not helping with the kids enough.  

D. She’s not building me up like I want to be built up.  

E. She’s not attractive as she once was.  

F. He is never home. He goes out too much with his friends.  

G. She spends too much money.  

H. I want to move to a bigger house, he doesn’t.  

I. I want more kids, she doesn’t.  

J. He doesn’t get along well with my side of the family.  

K. She spends too much time gossiping with her friends on the phone.  

L. The house is never clean.  

M. I don't love him anymore.  

N. It is for the good of both of us.  

O. Marriage is harder than I thought it would be.  

P. I want to be free again.  

Q. I think I might be in love with somebody else.  

R. I think it is the will of God. These things do not qualify as reasons for a divorce. These things are called life. These are the very things that Scriptures promised us among the trials we would have when we choose to get married. Marriage is a choice to accept an unspecified number of troubles in exchange for the opportunity to build a loving and lasting relationship. It does not come with guarantees, but it does come with a number of rules and disciplines, sacrifices and compromises for it to be successful. We can find joy by accepting the rules God has given us to experience each of the situations in the way he intended. Jesus can make a difference if we let Him.  

6. Effects on children: Children of divorce may face lasting effects in every aspect of their lives. The impact of father or mother loss is not likely to be diminished by the introduction of stepparents. No one can replace Mom or Dad. And no one can take away the pain that a child feels when a parent decides to withdraw from their lives. Children whose parents have divorced are increasingly the victims of abuse and neglect. They exhibit more health problems, as well as behavioral and emotional problems. They tend to be involved more frequently in crimes and have higher rates of suicide. Children of divorced parents more frequently demonstrate a diminished learning capacity, performing more poorly in reading, spelling, and math. They have higher drop-out rates and lower rates of college graduation. Children of divorce demonstrate an earlier loss of virginity, higher divorce rates later in life, and less desire to have children.  

7. Some quotes on divorce: A. Many times I’ve heard people in my Divorce Care groups say, “If I had known before I divorced how bad it would be, I would have worked harder at saving my marriage. I would have spent the money I spent on lawyers on a marriage counselor.”  

B. Once a couple starts having problems, their friends, family and even their own pastor may think the only solution is divorce. It seems that we are afraid we will be prying if we try to find a way to help them save their marriage. My own pastor told me that because my husband had committed adultery, I couldn’t live with him anymore and I might as well get a divorce so I’d be free to remarry. I saw no alternative except to get a divorce. (Stop the Divorce Train Before the Wreck)  

C. Adultery is ground for divorce-- but not necessarily a reason for divorce. People can forgive just as God in Christ forgave us.  

D. “My experience is that divorce is almost always unilateral. It’s not a democracy. One person gets to decide the fate of not only the marriage but the family." (Michelle Weiner Davis, author of The Divorce Remedy).  

E. People get divorced for one reason and one reason only: One or both of them get selfish. (Pastor Mark Gungor, New Beginnings Church)  

F. It’s said that, “A self-centered life will have a tendency to confuse its selfish desire with God’s will.” Think about those words for a moment, in how it applies to marriage. So often we’ll see what we want to see. And unless we’re on the alert, we can easily slide into a self-centered way of thinking. We’ll justify and rearrange our thoughts and actions to fit the best conception of our actions that we can. (Cindy Wright)  

8. Legal implications for divorce: The machinery of legislation and law can always be open for removal or relief of troubles in marriage without proceeding to its annulment. If a father is cruel to his children, we do not abolish the parental relation, but punish the father for his cruelty. If he deserts his children, we need not assist him to rear other children whom he can desert in turn, but we can punish him for his desertion. What can be done by law in case of parent and child can be done in case of husband and wife. By putting in absolute divorce (frequently for guilty and innocent alike) we invite the very evils we seek to cure. We make it the interest of a dissatisfied party to create a situation that a court will regard as intolerable, and so he or she may go free. Then by affording an easy way out of the troubles of married life we are inviting carelessness about entering marriage. We say by divorce statutes to a young woman: "If your husband deserts you, you may have another. If he is cruel, you may have another. If he fails to support you, you may have another. If he is drunken, you may have another. If he is incompatible or makes you unhappy, you may have another"--and yet others beyond these. When an easy road is thus made out of marriage, will there be proper caution about entering into marriage? By just as much as a crevice for relief of the miseries of married life is opened by divorce, by so much the flood gates are opened into those miseries.  

9. The havocs caused by divorce: Divorce rips a severe wound not only in our own life, but also in the lives of countless others (children, family, friends, and many others for generations to come). Everyone within the sphere of our influence hurts from the effects of divorce. Divorce has been linked with an increased risk of breast cancer, diabetes, anxiety disorders and depression and accelerates the biological processes leading to cardiovascular disease.  

10. A spiritual stumbling block: We also cause damage to our future influence and testimony of the transforming love of Christ. We also damage the Lord’s witness to the world, because marriage is a “visible picture” that models the love of Christ for His church. When the door of marriage does not swing outward but inward the more blessing will it find in the institution ordained by God.