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What does the Bible REALLY say about divorce?

We know that Moses allowed for divorce in the Old Testament, but we also know that Jesus said that people are not to divorce except for when it is related to issues of sexual immorality (Matthew 5:31-32). Jesus elaborates on this in Matthew 19:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

So we see that God never intended for marriage to be a temporary commitment. God intends for couples to work out their problems, but divorce was originally allowed in the Hebrew culture because people had hard hearts and were not willing to work out their problems. We can argue that the same is true in our culture. Some people only want to commit while it is convenient or easy. Others are too selfish to make the necessary compromises that allow two people to grow together. Some just don’t want to give up the single life (those people are living in extended adolescence which is a topic for another post). But many people do live together, grow together, and work through conflicts. So what is Jesus really getting at?

Is it only appropriate to divorce when someone is sexually unfaithful? And what all does that entail? Does sexual unfaithfulness only mean literally having an affair? Does it mean kissing another person? Does it mean flirting with another person? Does it have to do with physical aggression? Is abusing a spouses body by means of domestic abuse an act of sexual unfaithfulness?

I think what Jesus is saying is that “any cause” is not an appropriate means for divorce. Unfaithfulness is the only legitimate reason for divorce. Unfaithfulness does not mean coming home 15 minutes late or disagreeing with a spouse on what movie to go see. Unfaithfulness is an act that breaks the trust of the other person and breaks the sacred bonds of the marriage. If a couple finds themselves in a situation where one or both members have been unfaithful, but they are willing to work it out, they should. If they are unable to resolve the issue (even with help from a counselor or others), then divorce is acceptable. Concerning issues of abuse, I believe that is the kind of behavior that also qualifies as the type of unfaithfulness Jesus is getting at. I would never recommend anyone to remain in an abusive relationship, unless the abuser is trying to change. Even then, I think a time of physical separation while the abuser seeks clinical help is appropriate.

What are your thoughts?

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