A Question I Was Asked

'What about Divorce and Remarriage?'

The Question:

"...What about divorce and remarriage? What does the Bible teach? Please keep the answer simple."

My Reply:

Okay, I will try to keep this as clear and succinct as I can. Does the Bible allow divorce (and remarriage)? Yes - in quite specific contexts only.

Certainly, remarriage is allowed following the death of a spouse. See 1 Corinthians 7:39, 1 Timothy 5:14, and Romans 7:32.

Divorce and remarriage is also allowed after adultery. My friend Patrick Holding has given this some detailed consideration here.

Divorce and remarriage are also allowed after an unbelieving partner leaves. Paul's comments about an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15) and about a believer no longer being in bondage make the most sense if he is saying that they are free to remarry, rather than that they are free to remain separate. So divorce because of desertion is valid. According to Greco-Roman law which Paul was familar with, the mere act of leaving amounted to a legal divorce. Of course, if a wife has a 'tiff' with her husband and "leaves him" for 3 days to go see her mother this would hardly be valid grounds - let us be sensible about this!! I refer here to long-term desertion in which a working marriage is effectively ended. If a wife has not seen her husband for 3 years and does not even know where he is, that marriage has already been effectively ended.

Divorce might also be allowable because of emotional or physical neglect, but this is a much more difficult and less defined area. I understand that the Rabbis of Jesus' day - in both Hillel and Shammai's school - agreed that neglect was grounds for divorce. They debated over what constituted "neglect," and while material neglect led to divorce, emotional neglect was treated first with attempts at conciliation and fines before divorce was granted. This is a much more difficult area and, in the western world, it is hard to see how a wife would ever suffer 'material neglect.' In ancient societies, of course, the problem was very real and if a husband did not adequately provide for his wife she might literally starve if her own family were not near.

I hope this helps.

Robin A. Brace, 2007.