Divorce – Matthew 5:31-32

Today’s study scripture from Matthew 5:31-32

Right after Jesus explained the difference between the Old Testament adultery and the New Testament lustful mind, Christ expounded the problem with divorce.

According to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, divorce – “breaking of the marriage covenant. An action contrary to the pattern of one man, one woman, one lifetime revealed by God in Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 2:21-25. The root idea implied a cutting of the marriage bond. While ancient cultures differed in details, most had a concept of marriage and a corresponding concept of divorce.”

Divorce in the Old Testament

Though the Old Testament has numerous references to divorce (note Deuteronomy 24:1; Ezra 10:3; Jeremiah 3:1), the concept that divorce constituted sin appeared in Malachi 2:14-16. Malachi either means “my messenger” or is an abbreviated form of “the messenger of the Lord”. The book of Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. After Malachi there were some 400 “silent years” before Jesus Christ came. In the time of Malachi the overall spiritual state of the people seems to have been in decline: divorce was widespread just as nowadays, mixed marriages were being contracted (note Malachi 2:10-12), and tithes had been neglected (note Malachi 3:8-10).

First, in verse 14 Malachi affirmed that marriage represented a covenant before God between a man and a woman:Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth“. Moses too, taught his people that they should not hold the vows given unto the Lord lightly and tentatively. Although vows were never commanded, once made they must be fulfilled, since God’s name had been involved (note Numbers 30:1-4).

Second, in verse 15 Malachi basically referred to Genesis 2:24 reminding that God intended marriage as companionship between a man and a woman, that brings unity and oneness, and promotes a godly seed. In fact, Malachi said in verse 16 that the Lord “hateth putting away” of one’s wife. Some of the Jews were abandoning their wives and taking foreign wives, thus risking the same lapse into paganism that had happened long time ago when Solomon married “strange wives.” By God’s directions, Nehemiah had sharply rebuked this practice, and required them to separate themselves again (note Nehemiah 13:23-30).

Third, the breakdown of marriage represented treacherous and unreliable behavior before God. The man who divorce “the wife of his youth“, thus commits a grievous offense: he violates the creation order, he breaks his covenantal relationship with his wife – and, in so doing, he deeply damages his character (“covereth violence with his garment“). But the impact of divorce is far beyond this. God is opposed and hates divorce and He issued a warning to those who are married and hold not to their vows (note Malachi 3:5).

In spite of God’s objection against divorce, it occurred in the Old Testament law (note Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Even though a wife can leave a marriage, only the husband could seek a divorce. If “she find no favour in his eyes“, husband was allowed, but not required, to “write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house“. Thereafter, a wife might marry again, but she could not remarry the original husband.

Although divorce and remarriage were allowed in the Mosaic laws, God stated it clear, that this is contrary to His creative will for His people, except under very special circumstances. First, the most consistent interpretation would seem to be that if upon marriage a husband found out that his wife had been sexually active during the engagement period (or even before), then her could divorce her. Under the Old Testament law, adultery was punished by death (note Leviticus 20:10). Second, the other option what allowed (even commanded) God’s people to divorce was the situation when intermarriage occurred with idolatrous, “strange wives“. The book of Ezra talks about separation of such “wives, and such as are born of them“. In order to stop the trespass of the God’s law it is suggested to separate (divorce) from the strange wives (note Ezra 10:10-12). Intermarriage with the idolatrous peoples around Israel had been forbidden in Deuteronomy 7:3. Finally, the Lord used divorce as a symbol of His displeasure with Israel (note Jeremiah 3:8), though He elsewhere indicated His future plans for Israel.

Divorce in the New Testament

The New Testament sheds the light on the Pharisaic legalism about the divorce. The rabbis took to much of liberty from what the scripture actually said. Referring to the Deuteronomy 24:1-4 the divorce became merely a question of a paper work for them. Thus, they wrongly concluded that man could divorce his wife for anything what displeased him, as long as he gave a certificate of divorce. But Moses commanded “to give a writing of divorcement … because of the hardness of your hearts” and to protect the woman who was divorced, not to justify or legalize divorce under any circumstances (note Matthew 19:7-9).

On the Sermon on the Mount Jesus stated clear, that divorce was allowed in the case of adultery only (note Matthew 5:31-32; Luke 16:18). And again, God allowed His people to divorce “because of the hardness of your hearts“, but this was not His intent from the  beginning of the creation (note Mark 10:4-12).

The Apostle Paul dealt with the problem of divorce in his Epistles twice. First, Paul believed that divorce was no longer an issue once one spouse had died. A widow/er was free to marry again as long as the new marriage was “in the Lord” (note Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7:39). Second, Paul reminded again about the commandment given in the Old Testament and repeated by Jesus in the New Testament “let not the wife depart from her husband“, “but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband“. Nevertheless, Paul believed that if one of the married couple was unbeliever then a) the couple should remain together as long as unbeliever “pleased to dwell with” believer. But if unbeliever decided to leave, b)let him[her] depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases“. Lastly, Paul warned Christians from thinking that they could evangelize the spouse by hanging on their marriage. Paul said, that there is no such assurance and it is better to divorce and be in peace if the unsaved partner wants to end the marriage (note 1 Corinthians 7:10-16).

Furthermore, In his letter to 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9, Paul gave instruction regarding the church. God’s standards for all believers are high, but the requirements for church leaders is to set the same standards and model it. The importance of God-ordained institution of the family is crucial element for the body of Christ in general and spiritual well-being of individual in particular.


As the image bearers of God and the follows of Christ we have to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Our style of life has to promote the following:

  1. Marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman
  2. Lord God is the only One who has rights to conduct, witness and nullify of the covenant between husband and wife
  3. Divorce was permitted by God because of corrupted heart of man/woman
  4. Divorce, except on the ground of adultery, is the immoral act and leads to another adultery
  5. Christ followers are to practice chastity before marriage and faithfulness in the marriage
References: The Henry Morris Study Bible – KJV; The ESV Study Bible; The Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible – KJV; The MacArthur Study Bible – ESV;
Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary – Michael R. Spradlin
Images taken from: FreeBibleimages, thank you!

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