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The Bible, Marriage, and Divorce

by Thomas M. Strouse, Prof. of Theology
717 N. Whitehurst Landing Road, Virginia Beach, Virginia 23464


The major social unit of society, the family, is being devastated by social aberrations such as divorce. God has a clear plan for families as set forth in the Bible. For the American society to be strengthened, Christians need to know and need to obey the Bible teaching with regard to marriage and divorce. This essay will show what the Bible says about marriage, what Christ says about divorce and what Paul says about divorce and remarriage. 

The Bible and Marriage

God instituted marriage with the first man and woman, Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:20-24). The Bible formula for marriage is "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (v.24). There are three factors delineated for a marriage union. The "leaving" delineates the social factor, the "cleaving" delineates the spiritual factor, and the "weaving" delineates the sexual factor. All three factors are necessary to constitute a Biblical marriage. The social factor involves a public awareness that the couple is married. This awareness is usually conveyed by a public ceremony or document. The spiritual factor involves a unity of mind and heart on the major matters of life. The sexual factor involves an intimate relationship which is monogamous and permanent. These factors are foundational and prerequisite for strong family units for any society. It is true that some Bible characters violated God's plan for marriage and were polygamous, but God's plan is nevertheless binding for all who desire the Lord's blessing for strong families. In the New Testament, Christ reaffirmed this marriage formula for His audience (Mt. 19:4-6).

Christ and Divorce

When questioned by the major religious leaders of His day concerning the popular plan for divorce, the Lord Jesus Christ reaffirmed the Bible plan for marriage by citing Gen. 2:24 (Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:11, 12; Lk. 16:18). The Pharisees attempted to force Christ to choose between the two popular plans for divorce, the Hillel position which was very liberal (divorce for anything) and Shammai position which was very conservative (divorce for infidelity). Christ did not concede to either position, but rather He cited the teaching given to Adam and Eve and declared "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (literally this verse means "stop severing what God has permanently put together") in Mt. 19:16. Furthermore, the Lord said "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" (Mt. 19:9). 

This verse has already been interpreted by Matthew in his first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew (Mt. 1:18-25). The Jews had the custom of betrothal for approximately one year before the wedding. This meant that the Jewish man and woman entered into a betrothal covenant (Mal. 2:14) which could only be broken by divorce for unfaithfulness. The classic example of this is Joseph and Mary; Joseph thought Mary had committed fornication and had become pregnant and consequently he was going to divorce her ("put her away privily") during the betrothal period and before Joseph and Mary had become married through physical consummation. Although Joseph and Mary knew by divine revelation that Jesus was the virgin born Son of God, the Lord Jesus lived with the stigma of being a child of fornication (Jn. 8:41). 

Christ's answer to the Pharisees was two-fold: marriage was for life and divorce was only for the betrothal period (cf. Lk. 16:18). The Bible allows for divorce only before physical consummation and not after physical consummation (i.e., not after marriage). 

Paul and Divorce and Remarriage

The Corinthian church wrote the Apostle Paul about some questions they had about the married state. Paul's answers include what Christ said about marriage and additional apostolic teaching as well (I Cor. 7:1-40). Paul's clearest statement is "but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife" (v. 11). In this context, the Apostle allows for temporary separation and no remarriage. Furthermore, the goal of all marital conflicts is reconciliation, and divorce is never an option for Christians. Paul makes it clear that remarriage is only possible when the marriage union is dissolved by death: "The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth: but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord" (v.40).

Some misunderstand Paul, thinking that he is allowing for divorce when he states "art thou loosed from a wife" (v. 28). The "loosed" is a perfect verb and refers to the permanent state of bachelorhood. All Paul is stating is that in a time of persecution ("present distress," v.26) bachelors should remain unmarried.


The Bible is God's guide for mankind in general and especially for Christians. The Bible teaches that marriage is permanent and monogamous. The Bible teaches that divorce is only for the betrothal period prior to physical consummation. The Bible teaches that reconciliation, not divorce is the solution to marital difficulties, and that remarriage is only allowable when the marriage union has been broken by death. May Christians and mankind follow the Bible's guidance for strong family units by realizing marriage is for life and that the Lord God of Israel hates divorce (Mal. 2:16).

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