Divorce -Is It Lawful?
By B. White
The question of divorce and its lawfulness is of long standing. The law-makers of our day have tried to answer
the question. In many countries of the world it is said, "Yes, divorce is lawful." Yet after the government has
granted permission and many have obtained divorce by suits at law, the question still remains, Is divorce
In Mark 10:2-12 this question was put to Jesus, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?" The Pharisees
brought the question in an atmosphere of test, but it reveals an attitude of conscience that prevailed. Is divorce
all right, or is there something about it that may not be right? The Pharisees tried to build a case against Jesus.
At the same time they revealed a consciousness that divorce is wrong. The principles of right instilled in man by
God are not easily set aside. Not only in divorce is this true but also in other areas of life. Consider, for
example, the taking of human life. To take the life of another person is instinctively recognized as being against
the law of God. So it is with divorce. The instinct of fidelity in one man and one woman brings the question, Is it
lawful for a man to put away his wife?
To bring these Pharisees to the truth, Jesus took them to their own laws and to their own acclaimed leader and
lawgiver, Moses. He questioned them, "What did Moses command you?" They were well acquainted with the Law of Moses.
They knew the many grievances that had been taken to Moses. He had heard such complaints as, "I took a wife, but I
hate her" (Deuteronomy 22:13); "I took a wife, but she had some uncleanness" (Deuteronomy 24:1 ) . They were "suing
for divorce." Malachi also in his day wrote of treachery against the wife of one's youth. The people were "suing
All this the Pharisees knew. And they themselves were also guilty of similar treachery. At one time they brought
a woman to Jesus, accusing her of adultery. "She was taken in the very act," they said. But they did not bring the
man who was just as guilty. They would have stoned her, but would have let the man go free. Jesus reproved them by
answering and saying, "He that is without [this] sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (John 8:1-4).
Their own consciences witnessed against them of their own sin, and they left one by one, realizing full well that
they were all guilty of this same sin in their hearts perhaps many times in the past.
"What did Moses command you?" They answered, "Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her
away." Why then the question? They still wanted to trap Jesus, while at the same time they instinctively knew that
there was something wrong with divorce. Now the indictment became clear. Jesus pointed to the hardness of their
hearts. The Pharisees' hearts were hard. The people in Malachi's day had hardness of heart. The complainers in
Moses' day were hard of heart. Jesus said, "For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept." All who seek
divorce have hard, unbelieving hearts.
Then out of the concern of Jesus' heart for the Pharisees and all who should live after, Jesus gave the
principle that God had established from the beginning: "But from the beginning of the creation God made them male
and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be
one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put
asunder" (Mark 10:6-9). He said that in marriage God had formed a relationship that cannot be broken by man without
violating this principle. God made one flesh of the twain, that is, of the male and the female in marriage.
In order to pursue the original question, we need to consider the various situations and possibilities that are
producing confusion about the legality of divorce today. It is true that man can reason his way to justify whatever
he desires. However, we must reckon with God and His Word to find the right answer. The Bible gives us answers that
need to be applied and lived by.
Sometimes the exception clause in Matthew 5:32 is used to support divorce in cases of unfaithfulness. But such
reasoning cannot be reconciled with the other New Testament passages on divorce and remarriage, which are very
clear in their statement. The hardness of heart would grasp for a loophole here and fail to reckon faithfully with
the clear statement of God's Word in a number of other passages. This is hardly a safe approach to the Word.
The question is often raised, What about the innocent one? The Bible does not teach of an innocent one. Anyone
(a third person) who marries one that is put away (even a so- called innocent one) is guilty of adultery also. "And
whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery" (Matthew 5:32) If the divorce made the first
marriage void, they would not be guilty of sin. However, the Bible states the guilt. Notice the word committeth,
which would mean "a continued action." It does not say "has committed."
What do we say about those who divorce and remarry in sin and then want to come to Christ without separating?
Repentance includes a forsaking of sin. How shall we continue in sin and be saved? If a deed such as divorce and
remarriage is sin outside of Christ, what merit would there be in coming to Christ and still continuing in sin?
Christ came to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. How could individuals continue in sin
and claim Christ's atoning work?
In John 8:11 we have the gracious words of Jesus, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." There is
pardon for all sinners who repent, but individuals cannot continue in the same sin of which they have repented.
Repentance is "a turning from sin, and sorrow for past sin."
Sometimes the responsibility of the first marriage is excused on the basis that the marriage was not in the Lord
as 1 Corinthians 7:39 states. It must be recognized that God instituted marriage for the entire race. He gave
authority to the civil government to control and perform marriage ceremonies. Therefore He honors the ceremonies
performed by them. A vivid example of this is found in Matthew 14:4, where John the Baptist condemned King Herod
for having Herodias, his brother's wife, as his wife. Herod was subject to God's law on marriage even though he was
definitely not in the Lord.
The writings of Paul the apostle have been used to teach his tolerance of divorce and remarriage. If Romans
7:1-3 is examined along with other references, we see Paul upholding the sacredness of marriage. The example is a
marriage of one man and one woman, and the obligation is upon them as long as both are living. This lifelong
obligation is compared to the responsibility to the Law until the Law was fulfilled in Christ. It is very clear
that marriage is binding until the death of the husband or wife.
We have the Lord's commandments in 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11: "Let not the wife depart from her husband: . . . and
let not the husband put away his wife." If the woman does depart, she shall remain unmarried or be reconciled to
her husband. In the New Testament remarriage is not allowed as long as a partner is living.
1 Corinthians 7:17 gives direction to those who were married as unbelievers. When one becomes a believer, the
believer is not to depart from the unbeliever. Verse 17 is applied to the previous verses, 12 to 16. Verse 20
applies to verses 18 and 19 on circumcision Verse 24 is direction to servants and freemen spoken of in verses 21 to
23. Would the apostle contradict the Lord's commandment given in verses 10 and 11 with verse 17, 20, and 24? No !
Notice again the lifelong emphasis given in verse 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."
In Ephesians 5, marriage is compared to the relationship between Christ and His church. We are admonished to
love within the marriage bond as enduringly as Christ loves the church. Of Jesus it is said, "Having loved his own
which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." Certainly no divorcement will terminate the union of Christ
and His church. Therefore we should not institute one in the earthly union that symbolizes it. Also, submission to
each other should be as lasting in the earthly relation as our submission to Christ is in the spiritual relation.
No divorce is allowed for those who profess to serve the Lord Jesus.
Since divorce is a damnable sin, it behooves all those who are married and those who contemplate marriage to
consider well the importance of the marriage vows. These vows are based on the Scriptures and involve both parties
as long as they shall live. Jesus said, "Let not man put [the married ones] asunder." The Apostle Paul said that
the married ones are bound as long as they live. God, who joins the twain in one alone may break the bond. He who
gives life alone has the authority to take life. Otherwise he who takes the life of another is a murderer, "and ye
know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15). Likewise divorce comes under God's
The unbeliever breaks the marriage relation to his own hurt. Infidelity and divorce can be forgiven by God's
grace, "but the way of transgressors is hard." There is much sorrow and disappointment that will be reaped. But God
gives abundant grace to the penitent who in faith obey Him.
The Bible says, "Adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). We can offer no hope of heaven to a divorced and
remarried person regardless of church membership, unless, there is repentance and forsaking of sin.
Those finding themselves entangled in the divorce evil must forsake it to experience the mercy of God. Humanly
speaking, anyone would shrink from it and say the cost is too high. But would it not be utterly foolish and also
disastrous to allow and overlook divorce and remarriage when God clearly tells us that He will not overlook it?
Since we know that this issue involves eternity, present life takes on a different perspective. The way or choice
of obedience to God is well rewarded in an eternity with Him in glory. On the other hand, refusing to recognize and
act on God's Word brings eternal condemnation.
Beware of those who pretend to know God but refuse to take God at His Word. Human reasoning must be abandoned,
and God must be allowed to have the final word; because finally, in judgment, God is the one who judges all men
according to the Bible.
We must accept what God has decreed. Then we can enjoy the good things that God has in store. "Husbands, love
your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own
husbands, as unto the Lord." God would have us nourish and cherish each other, for each is a member of the other.
Keep the symbolism before you and never, never let divorce be once named among you and thereby spoil the symbol.
Live joyfully with the wife of your youth; let her loving presence satisfy you at all times. Why would you be
ravished with a strange woman? God is watching, and He ponders your way. To err is to be held with the cords of sin
"He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray." See Proverbs 5:18-23.
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