Her that Is Divorced

Christ teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount that marriage is sacred. If a man pursues a married woman with the intent to defile her current marriage then he’s as good as done it: wrongful intent is equivalent to wrongful action. (Mt 5:27:28) It’s about the heart, not just the action.

In the process, Jesus teaches us something else about marriage: when God’s Law permits divorce (31), the spirit of the marriage relationship implies the grounds for divorce are quite strict. Note carefully the qualifying exception: sexual impurity or infidelity (32a); it’s when a husband has come to hate, resent or mistrust his wife in a manner comparable to what’s expected if she’s become sexually impure, that we should consider the relationship properly irreconcilable. (Mt 1:18-19)

This can easily be seen in the Torah itself: it’s when a wife finds no favor in her husband’s eyes that he’s to divorce her. (De 24:1) If his heart has become so hard towards his wife that he finds no mercy or compassion for her, no love or concern or care for her, the spirit of the marriage is already broken so deeply that it’s better for the woman to be released of the marriage bond. Divorce isn’t God’s original intent for marriage; it’s how Love deals with hardness of heart. (Mt 19:8)

The implication is that reasonable men don’t become so hardened toward their wives, such that they cannot possibly live with them in peace. So, as long as people are minimally reasonable, there should be no divorce … as long as wives aren’t adulterous.

However, the Pharisees had evidently turned this provision for divorce under exceptional circumstances into a sort of wife-swapping, putting away their wives for trivial reasons and deeply violating the spirit of the marriage covenant. (Mt 19:3) In these cases, where the marital relationship isn’t so deeply broken, marrying a divorced woman permanently breaks the marriage covenant in much the same way adultery does (Mt 5:32a), because this step prevents her from being reconciled to her former husband according to God’s Law. (De 24:3-4)

We should keep this context in mind when Christ adds: “and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.(32b) This is significant since in Torah, when a woman is divorced by her husband, she is free to remarry. (De 24:2) Is Christ saying Torah permits a certain kind of adultery? Is He changing the moral standard?

Paul doesn’t seem to think so: he says if an unbelieving man departs his marriage, implying he abandons or divorces his wife, she’s no longer bound to her marriage covenant, implying she’s free to remarry (1Co 7:15), just as Torah says. Paul wouldn’t allow this if remarriage was inappropriate in a properly irreconcilable context, if it constituted adultery under a newer, higher standard set by Christ.

It seems much more reasonable to interpret Christ, not as correcting Torah or creating a higher standard, but focusing on the spirit of marriage. Re-marrying a divorced woman under less severe circumstances, unless all reasonable hope of the prior marriage being reconciled has expired, expresses an irreverence for the marriage covenant.

Divorce is acceptable only under the most extreme relational circumstances, and the divorcing husband should consider his action permanent. If a divorced woman believes her former husband may eventually change his mind, and wants to wait and leave the door open for reconciliation, that’s up to her; it isn’t necessarily wrong for her to move on, but if she does she’s effectively permanently sealing the termination of that marriage, as her former husband has decreed it.

articles  ♦   blog

11 thoughts on “Her that Is Divorced”

  1. Why don’t we consider a woman divorcing her husband?

    This is simple: because there’s no provision for this in scripture; God is clear that a woman is bound by His law to her husband as long as he lives (Ro 7:2-3), and there’s nothing she can do to change that.

    When a woman leaves her husband she should either remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. (1Co 7:10-11) If she violates this principle she’s in adultery, along with anyone who participates with her in this.

    We may not like this … but that’s an altogether different matter.

  2. Tim,

    Quick comment on a prickly subject in biblical Christendom. There is a letter of the law and the spirit of the law. I find it difficult to perceive a marriage where a husband commits multiple adulteries with both men and women and a wife would not be permitted to divorce him. Your thoughts. I took an extreme example to give a simpler focus on the issue.


  3. PS — my assumption is that there is a difference between what God HATH joined together and what the State of Florida of Delaware may join together as it relates to marriage. Not all “marriages” recognized by the State of Texas or Florida are real — for if HE did not join them together it can only be a piece of paper.


    1. Great challenge!

      Sarah would be a good example of a godly woman who submitted to a husband while he was very active sexually outside his marriage; Abraham had multiple concubines. (Ge 25:6) It seems God’s design is to require a woman to submit to her husband as long as he is treating her with some minimal care, providing for her and not directly physically or emotionally torturing her. Ideally, she should not concern herself with her husband’s sexual activity with others and leave that between him and God.

      However, since things are seldom ideal, Paul gives a woman freedom to depart from her husband so long as she remains unmarried; she may take shelter as she has opportunity if she is unable to bear up under her husband’s behavior. Evidently, this is better for the collective whole than giving women liberty to divorce their husbands. The damage done to children and the institution of marriage under such a constant threat is evidently much worse than the inconvenience/harm done to the wife by staying in a difficult marriage. Her ability to break the marriage changes its dynamic in a fundamental way.

      We shouldn’t, as a rule, I think, try to justify breaking God’s law for human convenience; we do so at our own peril. His laws are perfectly designed to promote the highest good in every conceivable circumstance.

      Further, I agree that the State has nothing to do with making or breaking a marriage. Neither does the church. God set this institution up such that marriage is created as a contract which two people make with each other by committing to it. In the ideal setting, this doesn’t involve the woman at all, but her father and the would-be husband. Once this relationship is formed, it is recognized by God until the husband terminates it by formally putting away his wife, by maiming her (Ex 21:26-27), or the equivalent. God seems consistent with this throughout the Word. (De 24:1, Ro 7:1-3, 1Co 7:37)

  4. Tim,

    I will ponder this more. You do sound like an orthodox rabbi I talked to on the subject of gossip. He had been liberal Jewish, then born-again Christian, then charismatic, then he became Orthodox Jewish. Interesting conversation. Me: so if I know a woman has aids or a man has aids, and the women’s husband has been seeing them sexually should not I warn the wife. The orthodox rabbi said that would be gossip. The letter of the law killeth, the Spirit giveth LIFE.

    I just have a hard time Tim, visualizing JESUS telling a women, yes your husband is sleeping with other men and other women, but you should stay with him anyway for the children’s sake. Since the woman is considered the weaker vessel — that sure is putting a lot on the weaker vessel 🙂

    Perhaps: wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. — perhaps there is some light there.

    I have a degree of comprehension of what you share, and admire you for sharing it — as you are true to an understanding of Scripture regardless of “pupularity”.

    Question: How do we recognize if someone is actually married in a what hath GOD JOINED together sense? I think of the women at the well where Jesus conversed with the woman:

    16 Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.

    17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:

    18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly

    Jesus did NOT recognize her current “partner” as a husband. Neither did the woman. He did recognize the previous five.

    Is there a difference between a man and a woman being one sexually and a man and a woman who are married? I Cor 6:16 he that is joined to an harlot is one body? for two saith he shall be one flesh.

    Tough subject. What woman in her right mind would marry a man who told her I can have sex with anyone I want, but you must remain pure to me, and you can never divorce me? I can see Ms. Bobbit saying well if your hand cause you to sin cut it off — and she cuts off his sexual member “out of love” 🙂



    1. Great challenge, again.

      I disagree with the Rabbi, that informing the woman of her danger would be gossip. Scripture doesn’t define gossip this way. Love speaks truthfully about others doing wrong as it is necessary, either for an example not to follow, or to warn others who are in danger. We see many examples of both kinds of speech approved in scripture.

      But your larger question remains: What constitutes a divorceable offence for a husband? As I indicated earlier, I believe Ex 21:26-27 indicates that maiming a wife is a divorceable offence, so anything more severe than this, such as routinely and deliberately putting the woman’s life at risk (exposing her to aids), torturing her physically or emotionally, etc., falls into this category. So, I do think God protects women in this way, but I think God’s standard puts the welfare of all involved in proper context and perspective, not just the woman’s happiness. I still think, if the husband is willing to contain his sexual relationships to women who are committed to being with only him, and verifies they are not diseased, this kind of unfaithfulness would not be a divorceable offense. What I think matters very little however: God will judge us all according to our works, and as to how we handle His Word. Are we willing to disrespect God’s law in order to convenience ourselves or others? Or do we make unreasonably harsh applications of His law without considering the whole context and intent of the law? Or do we look to be true to God’s principles and apply them in wisdom and love? God will decide; we should each be doing our very best.

      As to what actually constitutes a valid marriage before God, I think the scripture is clear that sexual intimacy does not define a marriage. It is defined by a contract formed between two people who are authorized (by Torah) to make such a contract. This is typically a man/suitor and a father, or a woman who is living independently of her father and supporting herself, where the woman is not already in such a contract with another man/husband. The very definition of adultery (derived from Torah 24:1-2) is a married woman having sex with a man who is not her husband.

  5. Tim,

    I’ve always appreciated that you are a stickler for the Word so to speak.

    My concern with women not being able to remove herself from a contract gone demonic re the male — is that it seems to coincide with Islamic understanding — you might be surprised at the number of “honor” killings done deemed “acceptable”.

    I look at the male as the responsible party. He is the head. Different than just being bossy — rather — he is the accountable party if things go wrong — being the head. ie … did the male diligently pray and fast for his wife or just get “tired” of her ways, then say a few prayers?

    Do you see scripture where a woman whose children are being abused by the male — where she can initiate a divorce — or does she need to subject herself to him?

    Is there any place for forgiveness at the Cross and starting new? Or is this an area that can not be taken to the Cross? I’ve heard Catholic priests tell someone, you can be forgiven if you kill your wife, but you can’t marry another if she is alive? I think I understand some of the sentiment, but wonder if a camel is being swallowed for a gnat.

    You mention Torah, are gentile believers held to that standard:

    Acts 15:28:29 etc.

    If this seems to be wrangling to you, simply remove this post and my previous posts.


    ps — the rabbi reference was to illustrate the letter of the law killeth 🙂

    1. I love the challenging questions! Thanks for engaging.

      First, let’s be clear that if a woman would rather live apart from her husband due to his abusive nature, and the believing community is aligned with it and will support her in doing so, I think she is responsible to protect herself and the children from severe abuse. This seems consistent with Ex 21 and I would be comfortable encouraging her to do this before God. I think this is within the spirit of Torah and aligned with both love and common sense.

      However, I would be careful to say that I don’t think this gives her the right to divorce him or remarry, unless he abandons her (refuses to provide for her and the children’s necessities during this separation and is able to do so). I think the proper thing to do here is for her and the church to be praying for the husband until God steps in and corrects the situation, giving him repentance (such that he is willing to subject himself to the church for monitoring and accountability, etc.) or he departs the marriage, effectively freeing the wife of their covenant. (1Co 6:15)

      I think the questions you raise about grace and Torah are going in the wrong direction. Grace doesn’t provide freedom to break the law (Ro 3:31), but rather the strength to keep it; and Acts 15 isn’t about Gentiles keeping Torah (note that the 4 apostolic guidelines aren’t in Torah), but about requiring Gentiles to convert to Judaism and subjecting them to Jewish tradition (Oral Torah).

      Also, to keep suffering in perspective (lest we void the Law of God through sentimentality and emotion), consider Mabel’s Story in my last post if you haven’t seen it. I think you will see a connection here.

      Shalom! Thoughts?

  6. Tim,

    Finally an understanding I comprehend a bit better: From your last posting:

    However, I would be careful to say that I don’t think this gives her the right to divorce him or remarry, unless he abandons her (refuses to provide for her and the children’s necessities during this separation and is able to do so). I think the proper thing to do here is for her and the church to be praying for the husband until God steps in and corrects the situation, giving him repentance (such that he is willing to subject himself to the church for monitoring and accountability, etc.) or he departs the marriage, effectively freeing the wife of their covenant. (1Co 6:15)

    So, when a husband “abandons” the wife — divorce is OK? At some point, the just shall live by faith. Jesus: you marry a divorced woman you are committing adultery. I had a friend, since gone on to be with the Lord in a new way, who referred to the first baptist church as the first church of adultery. At some point, doesn’t the Cross come into our reality?

    I ask the question — I point men to an interesting blog:

    Which basically encourages men to be better men.

    Question for Tim, have you ever been in a church fellowship setting where this was practiced?:

    I think the proper thing to do here is for her and the church to be praying for the husband until God steps in and corrects the situation, giving him repentance (such that he is willing to subject himself to the church for monitoring and accountability, etc.) or he departs the marriage, effectively freeing the wife of their covenant. (1Co 6:15)


  7. Looks like I neglected to answer your last question: Yes, I have been in churches with a body of praying believers that hold these types of circumstances up in prayer. It is a privilege to be in communion with such people and bear one another’s burdens.

  8. Consider how Christ is also answering the scenario where a man pursues a married woman to win her heart and alienate her from her husband, such that her husband divorces her, freeing her to marry her tempter. Technically, according to the letter of the Law, this is legal; it is not adultery since the man did not actually sleep with a married woman. However, the spirit of adultery permeates the motivation and God judges according to the heart: the tempter and the woman are both adulterers in this case.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.