Variety of Bible-based beliefs:
We are faced with a dilemma:
bullet Various Christian groups -- conservative Protestants, liberal Protestants and Roman Catholics have reached different beliefs about when, if ever, the Bible permits divorce and remarriage.
bullet Each of the authors and webmasters who has written on these topics appear to believe that their belief alone is the correct interpretation of the Bible.
The main positions are:
1. Neither divorce nor remarriage are allowed. (Conservative Protestant view)
2. Divorce is OK, but not remarriage. (Ditto)
3. Divorce is OK in cases of adultery or desertion; remarriage is OK. (Ditto)
4. Divorce is OK for many reasons; remarriage is OK. (Ditto)
5. Divorce is impossible unless the marriage can be proven to have never existed -- described below. (Roman Catholic)
6. Divorce is OK in cases of marriage breakdown; remarriage is OK. Religious liberal and secular view.
This essay describes the fifth position: the Roman Catholic believes that the Bible does not allow divorce on any grounds. Valid marriages are indissoluble. However, if it can be proven that a valid marriage had never taken place, then an annulment is obtained. Remarriage is often allowed after an annulment.
The position of the Roman Catholic church on divorce and remarriage can be summed up in a few sentences:
Divorce was allowed in Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) times. But the permanence of marriage was restored by Jesus in the first century CE.
Marriage is a sacrament that is indissoluble. Once a valid marriage has been consummated, It endures until one spouse dies.
The church does not issue divorces or recognize divorces issued by other institutions.
The church can issue an annulment. However, the couple must first prove to a church tribunal that the marriage was invalid.
Key passages from the Hebrew Scriptures:
The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) generally allowed divorce, with a few notable exceptions. The following passages discussed to divorce and remarriage:
bullet Deuteronomy 22:13-19 Divorce prohibited if the a husband accuses the wife of not being a virgin: "If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel's virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: And the damsel's father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her; And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter's virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him; And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days." If a man accuses his wife of not being a virgin when she married him, and she is able to prove that she was a virgin, then he had to pay her father 100 shekels of silver, and was prohibited from ever divorcing her. The passage continues, by saying that if she cannot prove her virginity, that she was stoned to death. Interestingly enough, this passage allows a husband to arrange the murder of his wife in certain circumstances, and thus obtain a divorce through her death.
bullet Deuteronomy 22:28-29 Divorce not allowed for seducers of virgins: "If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days." A man who engages in sexual intercourse with an unmarried virgin, and subsequently marries her, would never be permitted to divorce her.
bullet Deuteronomy 24:1-2 Permission to divorce, but only for ancient times: "When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife." This passage allowed a man to divorce his wife (or wives). However, it did not allow a woman to divorce her husband. It is unclear what the term "uncleanness" means. Presumably it does not mean that she had committed adultery, because then she would have been executed by stoning.
The passage does not approve of divorce. It merely accepts it as a practice that had been imported by the ancient Hebrews from adjacent Pagan cultures, where it was a universal custom. Author J. Carl Laney speculates that if God had generally prohibited divorce, that the ancient Hebrews would not have honored the law. So, God "chose to progressively reveal his displeasure with divorce and direct his people back to his standard." 1,2
bullet Deuteronomy 24:3-4 Divorced & remarried woman cannot remarry her first husband: "And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance." This covers a case where a woman was divorced by her husband, remarries, and is subsequently either divorced again or widowed. She may not remarry her first husband. To do so was viewed as a gross sin that violated the land itself.
bullet Ezra 9:1-2: Religious intolerance -- requiring couples in mixed-marriages to separate: "...The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.
2 For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass." Ezra was a scribe who had led a small group of Jews from exile in Babylon back to Jerusalem. He found that many Jews had entered into inter-faith marriages with women from nearby Pagan countries. He felt that the Jews would quickly lose their national identity and start to worship other Gods. The Mosaic Law prohibited such marriages. He decided that those Hebrews must "put away" their wives. The Hebrew text in this place uses the word "yasa" (to cause to go out) rather than the normal term "salah (to send away, to dismiss, to divorce). Similarly, in Ezra 10:11, he uses the word "badal" (to separate oneself from). It is probable that the scribe was recommending marital separation, not divorce. The end result is not clear. The separated individuals may have gone on to marry other spouses. Alternatively, they may have allowed their wives time to abandon the religion of their family of origin, adopt Judaism, and be reunited with their estranged husbands. Deuteronomy 21:10-14 allows such a practice for the case of foreign women who have been kidnapped and confined in captivity as a result of war.
bullet Malachi 2:10: Religious intolerance -- requiring couples in mixed-marriages to separate: "Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god." Malachi is faced with the same problem as Ezra, described above. Jewish males were marrying foreign women who followed different religions. "Daughter of a strange god" refers to a foreign woman who worshiped a Pagan deity or deities in place of Yahweh. In Verse 12, he predicted that God would "cut off" (that is, murder) any man who remained in a mixed marriage. Again, these marriages may have been considered illicit. Also, the husbands may have simply separated from their wives, and not divorced them.
bullet Malachi 2:14: Divorce is treacherous behavior: "... the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant." Malachi is condemning Hebrew men for abandoning their wives after many years of marriage and marrying a different woman. Here, marriage is referred to as a covenant between God, the husband and wife. One property of a covenant is that it is permanent. The contract between God and the ancient Hebrews at Sinai is one example of a covenant. See Numbers 30:2, Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, and Psalm 15:4.
bullet Malachi 2:16: God hates divorce: "For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away..." God hates a man "putting away" his wife. The Hebrew word in this passage is "salah," a word that often refers to divorce.
Key passages from the Christian Scriptures:
Although God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), he allowed it in ancient times with few restrictions. Jesus restored the prohibition against divorce that had been in place before the Mosaic Law was delivered.
The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) includes the following important passages relating to divorce and remarriage:
bullet Matthew 5:31-32: No divorce, except for fornication: "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." See Matthew 19:9 below.
bullet Matthew 19:4-9: No divorce allowed: "...Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
The Pharisees were challenging Jesus' beliefs about divorce. They asked him to interpret the passage in Deuteronomy 24:1-2 which allowed a husband to divorce his wife if he "found some uncleanness in her." Here, Jesus states that at the time of the world's creation, divorce was not allowed. However, God permitted the Hebrews in Moses' time (and later) to divorce their wives, perhaps because they could not have accepted a prohibition on divorce at that time.
Jesus restored the prohibition against divorce with the statement: "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
bullet Matthew 19:9: Separation, allowed, but not divorce: "And I say unto you, 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. This verse has raised the question whether "the putting-away of the wife and the dissolution of the marriage bond were not allowed on account of adultery." 3 If this were an accurate interpretation of Verse 9, (or of Matthew 5:31-32) then these passages would be in contradiction with other statements by Paul, and by the authors of Mark and Luke. The consensus of Catholic theologians is that such an analysis would violate "the infallibility of the Apostolic teaching and the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture." 3 Thus, an alternative interpretation is required. The consensus is that this verse is referring to a marital separation, not a divorce. That is, the marriage bond remains in place. Although the husband and wife live separately, they are not free to remarry.
bullet Mark 10:2-12: No divorce allowed: "And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery." This passage refers to the same incident as was described in Matthew 19. Jesus states that divorce is not permitted under any circumstances. In this passage, Jesus also condemns remarriage.
bullet Luke 16:18: No divorce, on any grounds: "Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery." This appears to be a third version of the same incident with the Pharisees. Here, Jesus does not specifically condemn marital separation or divorce. But he forbids remarriage.
bullet 1 Corinthians 7:10-12: No divorce, on any grounds: "And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. Paul wrote this passage in response to questions raised by the church at Corinth about divorce and remarriage. He says that God does not allow divorce. If a couple divorces against the will of God, then their only options are to remain single, or to reconcile and restore their marriage.
bullet 1 Corinthians 7:10-15: "But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace." This is a continuation of the above passage. It covers the situation where a believer is married to a non-Christian, and the non-Christian insists on a divorce. Some theologians interpret this as Paul exercising his "pastoral privilege" by changing the teachings of Jesus to allow divorce in this one case. However, it is unlikely that this is his intent because it would negate what Paul has just written in verses 10 to 12. It is more likely that Paul means that if the unbelieving spouse demands a divorce, that the Christian is not required to resort to legal means to preserve the marriage; he or she is to leave the unbeliever at peace, by not contesting the divorce. However, he is not free to remarry, since the original marriage is still binding.