What does the Bible tell us about divorce and separation?


God’s judgment on divorce is clearly shown in the following Scripture:

“‘For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,’ Says the LORD of hosts. ‘Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously’” (Malachi 2:16).

God makes this statement for the following reasons: Divorce does not really solve a problem that the persons may have and that brought the marriage to this condition. When there are children, they are the innocent victims of divorce, such as is the case in war. The impact of divorce can carry on for decades in children’s lives and be devastating for them.

Divorce plays into the hand of Satan, since he would love to see Christian couples split up because the Christian marriage, which is a binding contract between a man and a woman before God, is a representation of the relationship between God and His Church.

Marriage is the manner in which potential sons and daughters of God can enter into the world and become members of the God Family which, together with and under Christ as the husband, will replace Satan and his demons–the current god and rulers of this world (compare 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 6:12).

It is evident that Christ’s relationship with the nations of ancient Israel and Judah was one, symbolically, of husband and wife and because of Israel’s and Judah’s unfaithfulness in committing spiritual adultery by worshipping idols and not being loyal to keeping God’s commandments, Christ as the God of the Old Testament “divorced” His wife—Israel and Judah. We read in Jeremiah 3:6-14:

“The LORD said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: ‘Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. And I said, after she had done all these things, “Return to Me.” But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense,’ says the LORD.

“Then the LORD said to me, ‘Backsliding Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say: “Return, backsliding Israel,” says the LORD; “I will not cause My anger to fall on you. For I am merciful,” says the LORD; “I will not remain angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, That you have transgressed against the LORD your God, And have scattered your charms To alien deities under every green tree, And you have not obeyed My voice,” says the LORD.  “Return, O backsliding children,” says the LORD; “for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.”’”

They did not return to God and thus He divorced Israel and Judah. But as true Christians, we are today spiritual Israelites and Jews—regardless of our race or ethnic background. True Christians are today “betrothed” to Christ, when they became properly baptized. They are living today under the conditions of the New Covenant, which is also a marriage agreement. Their marriage with Christ will be consummated at Christ’s return (For a thorough explanation of these concepts, please read our free booklet, “And Lawlessness Will Abound”). And once Israel and Judah become converted, they will also enter into the conditions of the New Covenant.

Notice what it says in Revelation 21:9: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’”

The fact that Christ divorced Israel and Judah supports the biblical teaching that under certain circumstances, divorce is acceptable to God. The ideal is of course to work on the marriage relationship and not let it slide into a fragile and irreconcilable situation, either by neglect or outright sinful behavior, since the Christian marriage is intended for life, just as the marriage with Christ and the Church will last for all eternity.

Before continuing, we must clarify that we are addressing here marriages which have been “bound” or “joined together” by God. Not every marriage in this world is “bound” by God—in fact, most are not. This is not to say that married couples are not bound by the state and that they are guiltless if they break up their marriage for unbiblical reasons, because they promised to each other that they would be married for life (and broken promises constitute sin), but their marriage was not bound by God. For instance, God does not bind the marriage of two atheists who get married in front of a magistrate.

It is obvious that God binds a marriage between two converted Christians when they get married by a minister of the Church of God. But a marriage also becomes bound by God at the time when at least one spouse becomes converted. At that time, God accepts the Christian in the state in which he is (compare the principle in 1 Corinthians 7:20-24)—and if he is married, he is called by God as a married person—and he is not free before God to subsequently divorce his spouse, except for biblical reasons. (Compare our Q&A on Deuteronomy 24:1-4.)

We stated the following in our free booklet, “The Keys to Happy Marriages and Families”

“God wants our marriages to succeed. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). A couple that faces difficulties and looks at divorce as an easy ‘solution’ to their problems may make a serious, and even fatal mistake. Divorce is seldom a positive solution. Biblically, divorce with the freedom to subsequently marry someone else is permitted only under very limited circumstances. God created the marriage unit and He intended that it should flourish and endure (Matthew 19:4–6). Two truly converted married Christians (as long as both remain alive and converted throughout their marriage to each other) must never divorce and subsequently marry somebody else! Their marriage, which has been bound by God, is for life (1 Corinthians 7:10–11; Romans 7:1–3; Luke 16:18).”

However, under what circumstances is divorce permitted?

In Matthew 5:31-32, Christ tells us:

“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”

Christ is addressing here marriages which God has bound or joined together, as He clarifies in Matthew 19:6 “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

But Christ makes clear that even marriages which God has “bound” can end up in divorce, when for instance “sexual immorality” is involved. Sexual immorality [“porneia” in the Greek] includes adultery, incest, homosexuality and other types of deviant sexual behavior. 

But even then, the Bible is clear that once a person repents by ceasing from and changing his behavior which could lead to or justify a divorce, the other party is under a moral and spiritual obligation to forgive and move forward. Reconciliation is the pathway to take, rather than divorce.

If sins are repented of and maybe even confessed to a potential spouse before marriage, then these forgiven sins cannot be the basis for a later divorce. If fraud has been committed by one spouse at the time of the marriage (material facts were concealed from the spouse) and the other spouse finds out about it subsequently, then the innocent spouse could ask for an annulment. God, who knows everything, would not have bound that marriage at the time when the marriage vows were exchanged. But the request for annulment would have to be made right away upon discovery of the concealed facts. However, if the spouse decides to continue the marriage, then no more grounds for annulment exist, as then, God accepts the spouse’s decision and binds the marriage.

Problems in a marriage will arise, but they need to be coped with and managed. It is important to always bear in mind that Satan wants to destroy our marriages, and we should be aware of his devices and temptations.

If a “believing” spouse is married to an “unbeliever,” then Paul states the following in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16:

“But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”

If the unbelieving spouse is no longer pleased to dwell with the believing spouse and ends the marriage relationship, then the believing spouse is no longer bound by God, either. However, if the unbelieving spouse is willing to dwell with the believer, then no grounds for divorce exist.

On the other hand, an unbeliever may show by his conduct that he is no longer pleased to dwell with the believer, and that he has departed from the marriage relationship, even though both spouses might even live in the same house. For instance, when someone engages habitually in adulterous conduct, he has thereby manifested that he is an “unbeliever” who has denied the faith and has become worse than an “infidel”—he was never converted or has ceased to be converted (compare again Matthew 5:31-32 with 1 Corinthians 7:15).

But note again our comments in our free booklet, “The Keys to Happy Marriages and Families”

“What about a married couple where one mate is a true Christian, making every effort to apply God’s principles, and the other mate is not? Even in such a case, divorce and subsequent remarriage is not biblically permitted, unless the ‘unbelieving’ mate departs from the marriage, by not fulfilling his or her marriage duties, and the ‘unbeliever’ is no longer willing to live with the converted Christian mate (cp. 1 Corinthians 7:12–16). Such total departure from the marriage by the ‘unbeliever’ can be seen in serious continuous violations of his or her marriage duties and responsibilities, such as the sinful practice of ‘sexual immorality’ (Matthew 5:31–32; 19:9). But even then, counseling with one of God’s ministers is highly recommended, with the goal to restore, rather than to sever, the marriage.”

What does the Bible say about separation of a marriage relationship between two believing spouses?

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 states the following:

“… A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.”

Separation is not a solution and must not be looked upon in this manner. It should be looked upon as a temporary measure with the intent to have the marriage repaired and functional. We read Paul’s admonition in the previous verses: “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5).

We have been called to be in the God Family. Our relationship with Christ is one of husband and wife.  We made a commitment at baptism to be faithful to the end of our lives or when Christ returns.  We made a commitment at marriage to remain faithful till the death of one of the spouses (1 Corinthians 7:39; compare again Romans 7:2-3).

We should be committed to making our marriages work, since we know that God hates divorce (and by extension separation which could lead to divorce), while Satan loves divorce and he wants our marriages to fail.

Lead Writers: Rene Messier and Norbert Link

©2024 Church of the Eternal God