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What Does the Bible Say About Divorce?


Note: This question came to me via the Question Box on our congregation’s web-page where I answer the questions.

The words divorce, divorced, or divorces appear appear in 31 verses of the NIV Bible. In addition to that, I have been able to locate another 8 verses that have an equivalent of divorce expressed in different words. Of these 39 verses, 19 are in the Old Testament and 20 are in the New Testament.

HERE IS WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT DIVORCE.

OLD TESTAMENT

The Torah

[Priests] must not marry women defiled by prostitution or divorced from their husbands, because priests are holy to their God. – Leviticus 21:7.

[The High Priest] must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his own people. – Leviticus 21:14

But if a priest’s daughter becomes a widow or is divorced, yet has no children, and she returns to live in her father’s house as in her youth, she may eat of her father’s food. No unauthorized person, however, may eat any of it. – Leviticus 22:13

Any vow or obligation taken by a widow or divorced woman will be binding on her. – Numbers 30:9

They shall fine [the man who falsely accuses his bride of not being a virgin] a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives. – Deuteronomy 22:19

[The man who rapes an unpledged virgin] shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. – Deuteronomy 22:29

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, [and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man,] and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. – Deuteronomy 24:1, [2], 3-4

The Former Prophets (History):

Sons were born to Shaharaim in Moab after he had divorced his wives Hushim and Baara. – 1 Chronicles 8:8

Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these [foreign] women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law….Now make confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives…. (They all gave their hands in pledge to put away their [foreign] wives, and for their guilt they each presented a ram from the flock as a guilt offering.) – Ezra 10:3, 11, 19.

The Later Prophets (Prophetic Writings)

If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again? Would not the land be completely defiled? But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers – would you now return to me? declares the LORD…. I [the LORD] gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. – Jeremiah 3:1, 8

[The priests] must not marry widows or divorced women; they may marry only virgins of Israelite descent or widows of priests. – Ezekiel 44:22

Rebuke your mother, rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts. – Hosea 2:2 [Note: in Hosea 1:2-3 God had told Hosea to marry Gomer, which he did. By 2:2, they are no longer married.]

“I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith. – Malachi 2:16

NEW TESTAMENT

The Gospels

Because Joseph [Mary’s] husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:19

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 5:31-32

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. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not 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 marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery. – Matthew 19:3, [4-5], 6-9

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” [“What did Moses command you?” he replied.] They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” [“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of Creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 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.] Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” [When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this.] He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” – Mark 10:2, [3], 4, [5-8], 9, [10], 11-12.

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. – Luke 16:18

The Epistles

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. 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….But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances. – 1 Corinthians 7:10-13, 15

Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. [But if you do marry, you have not sinned: and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.] – 1 Corinthians 7:27, [28]

The above is, as far as I have been able to locate the passages, all the Bible says directly about divorce.

Men have written much more than this, of course. Men have inferred much and extrapolated much. But, as far as I have been able to determine, this is all that the inspired Word of God has to say about the subject.

The words or verses in regular type and enclosed with [brackets] are words or verses not in the 39 verses that use the word divorce or equivalent expressions that mean divorce. Those 39 verses are all in italics. I have included connecting verses or words to provide context for the verses that do mention divorce.

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