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Relationships & Community

Is God against Divorce? A biblical perspective


Divorce can be hard on families.

Marriage as a social institution is as old as time. It is the first institution created by God as part of His perfect design for mankind (Genesis 2:24-25). It’s a universal, cultural/religious event that bonds two people together for life (Matthew 19:6). Marriage is so fundamental to the human experience that there aren’t any known examples of a society that functions without it; with good reasons too, marriage promotes order and stability in a society as well as provides a way to build and maintain social relationships. Despite its universality and fundamental importance to society, sadly many marriages end in divorce. Did you know that as of May 2022, the divorce rates around the world was 4.08 per 1,000 married persons? That’s more than twice the rate of what it was over 50 years ago when divorce became statistically prevalent in the 1970s. 

Divorce can be an extremely painful experience for both parties involved. Some people that have been through divorce have described it as being worse than the death of a loved one. Not only can it be excruciating for those going through it, but it also has a deleterious effect on society. Divorce is the tearing apart of the foundation of all stable societies — the family. The family unit is the backbone of any society, so when it breaks down, society itself is affected. Suffice it to say, divorce was not part of God’s perfect design. 

What does the Bible say about Divorce?

Malachi 2:16 is perhaps one of the most referenced verses in the Bible on the issue of divorce; however, relying solely on a single verse instead of examining the whole counsel of God, can lead to many unfortunate lessons. The issue of divorce among believers is an extremely sensitive one. It’s also widely debated as to what grounds divorce may be permissible. However, there are two clear biblical reasons where divorce is allowed, although some argue for a third. The first exception is in the case of adultery/sexual immorality. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 is key to developing an understanding of this. 

Adultery/Sexual Immorality

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.

Matthew 19:3-9

The context of this verse is that at the time of Jesus, Jewish leaders had made it possible for men to divorce their wives for any number of  reasons including:  infertility, adultery, lack of obedience to her husband, neglect of her duties (which could mean that she wasn’t doing the housework or that she wasn’t caring for the children). The Jewish leaders had misinterpreted Moses’ teachings on divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) and had failed to comprehend the purpose of God’s law in regards to it. Therefore, Jesus reminded them of the true focus and context of Moses’ teachings. 

Sexual immorality can refer to fornication, prostitution, adultery, etc. (Leviticus 18:20-24; 20:10-21). Adultery is a deep breach of the marriage bond that causes untold pain and can strain the relationship. So serious is this issue that Jesus points it out as an exception to honouring the marriage covenant. Intimacy is an important part of a relationship  (Gen 2:24; Matthew 19:5; Ephesians 5:31). Hence, according to the bible, engaging in any sexual activities outside a marriage may be considered as a potential justification for divorce. 


The second reason that the Bible permits divorce is in the case of abandonment/dissertation due to spiritual incompatibility. 

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 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

In these verses Paul makes it clear that the spouse of an unbeliever who abandons the marriage is no longer bound to that person and is free to remarry. 


The Bible doesn’t explicitly discuss physical abuse as a valid reason for divorce, however, there are a few passages that provide valuable insights on how this issue might be handled (1 Timothy 6:11; 1 Peter 3:7; 1 Timothy 3:1–4). The Bible emphasises the importance of being gentle and understanding towards each other, especially between husbands and wives. This means that any kind of abuse—physical, emotional, verbal or sexual—is not acceptable for a Christian. Not only are all forms of abuse a sin but certain types of abuse such as physical or sexual are against the law and should be dealt with at that level. According to the bible, God gives the government the authority to punish wrongdoing and protect its citizens from harm (Romans 13:4). Therefore anyone who persistently violates the safety of their spouse has broken the law and has, in a sense abandoned their vows to love and cherish thereby deserting the marital relationship. 

Forgiveness and Trust

It is important to note that these are simply allowances for divorce and not requirements. Additionally, this is a very narrow list of exceptions that doesn’t cover a lot of the reasons that people have for getting divorced, therefore, to divorce for reasons other than these scriptural allowances is a sin against the vows a couple has made before God. As Christians, divorce should not be an option; instead, every avenue of help should be attempted and even if your situation qualifies scripturally for divorce, that doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. Forgiveness and trust are key principles that should never be overlooked in the life of a believer. If both parties are willing to work through a deep breach of the marriage covenant, there is a real possibility for healing and restoration by the grace of God. Sadly, the reality of this broken world we live in is that divorce is an unfortunate outcome for many couples, including believers. It’s important to note here that whether or not a couple’s divorce is scripturally permissible, they are still loved and valued by God.

Life After Divorce

There is a story recorded in the Gospel of John about Jesus’ encounter with a woman at a well. This story has  many powerful lessons for us today even with regard to life after divorce. According to John 4:4-42, Jesus was once travelling through Samaria and stopped at a well for some water. A Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water, and Jesus asked her for a drink. The woman was surprised, because Jews and Samaritans did not get along, and so she asked him why he, a Jew, was talking to her, a Samaritan. Jesus replied that if she only knew who he was, she would ask him for living water. The woman did not understand, so Jesus explained that the living water he offered would quench her thirst forever. She was still confused, so Jesus told her about her own life, including the fact that she had had five husbands and was currently living with a man who was not her husband. The woman was amazed and realised that Jesus was indeed a prophet. She went back to her village and told people about her encounter with Jesus and many believed because of her testimony. The people of her village asked Jesus to stay with them and he did for 2 days in which even more people came to believe.

A New Role

This is an incredible story that teaches us about compassion, love, and understanding among others. The Samaritan woman’s particular marital situation isn’t covered by the scriptures in this post, yet Jesus spends time with this woman, not with the goal of pointing the finger at the life that she had been living but bringing her to a place of thirst for more of God, a place of healing, repentance, forgiveness, strength, encouragement and a new life of wisdom. She had a role to play in the kingdom of God; it wasn’t over for her because she had a messed up relationship. God called her into a new role, into a new place in his kingdom and because of her encounter with Jesus, she had great influence on her community. 

Treasure in Jars of Clay

Paul makes this beautiful statement in 2 Corinthians:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 

2 Corinthians 4:6-7

We have these treasures, the verse says, in jars of clay; cracked, broken messed up jars of clay, just simple everyday vessels with no glory or merit on their own, but given the treasure of the personal and life-giving knowledge of Jesus Christ and the good news to proclaim to others. Perhaps this Samaritan woman found the treasure of resolve in her life to share the message of Jesus that can change relationships. Maybe you’re reading this and  you’re at that moment where you need a treasure. The power of God can give you the treasure of resolve to find grace, forgiveness and maybe even a miracle of reconciliation. You can find love and peace and a place of purpose in the family of God. All of these things are possible with God’s power. 

So, Is God Against Divorce?

The word of God is clear on the issue of divorce (Malachi 2:16, Matthew 19, 1 Corinthians 7:12–16). It does not command it but allows for divorce under certain circumstances while also regulating and limiting it. In other words, divorce is not seen as the ideal situation, but it is recognized as a fact of life in a fallen world (Matthew 19:8). The Bible also tells us that as believers our lives should be characterised by reconciliation and forgiveness (Luke 11:14; Ephesians 4:32). However, divorce does occur, even among God’s children. God recognizes this and offers forgiveness, healing, joy and even new life to those involved.


Lord, you are a God of healing, you are a God of hope, of restoration and there is peace in your presence. There is forgiveness for poor decisions and healing for broken relationships. In the same way you spent time with the Samaritan woman, Lord it is your desire to spend time with us. Speak words of healing and peace to us. Speak words of reconciliation, speak words of finding a new chapter in life, a place where we can live and be and have our being and know the new life of God in our lives. Lord I pray that you would bring healing today, more than that I pray your church would be a beacon of light to this world that has so many broken relationships, in the name of Jesus.