Any discussion on divorce and remarriage must begin by affirming marriage’s desirability. Couples should not be quick to opt-out whenever problems arise. If at all possible, they should seek restoration via repentance, reconciliation, and rebuilding.
However, we exist in a post-fallen world, where some marriages are frankly beyond salvaging, even after many restorative efforts. In such cases, the Bible makes ‘concessions’ and allows divorce and the right to remarry. A concession is permitted because it’s better to regulate sin than to relinquish control over it altogether. All forms of abuse are sin.
One flesh bond
Matthew 19:4–6 describes the participants in a marriage as bonded together, drawing from the language of Genesis. The nature of this bond is contractual rather than mystical. The contract is bilateral — each participant must hold their end of the deal.
The contractual bond mustn’t break, but it can if either party repeatedly fails in fulfilling their end of the deal. An abuser is, by definition failing to hold their end of the deal.
The reality that marriages can break is implicit in Jesus words — ‘what God has joined together, let no man separate.’ This comment is unnecessary if its impossible for marriage to break.
Divorce and Remarriage
The Old Testament and Judaism allowed for remarriage after divorce. It’s best not to break away from this understanding without sufficient cause — an allowance to divorce is an allowance to remarry.
A wife left by her husband fending for four children doesn’t have to remain single all her life if she finds a suitable match in the future. To insist on divorce without remarriage is to compound the suffering inflicted by the wantaway husband.
Justifiable grounds for divorce
In Matt 19, Pharisees wanted to know when can you divorce — Is it for ‘any cause’ or specific grave offences within the marriage contract?
In this text, Jesus is referring to the debate between Shammaites and the Hillelites Pharisee groups. They wanted to know the correct interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1. The discussion centred on the word ‘some indecency”. Shammaites took this to mean ‘gross indecency, though not necessarily adultery; Hillel took it to mean any offence, including not cooking a delicious dinner.
Jesus straightened the matter by saying ‘whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.’ Jesus’ response means, while regrettable — concessions can be made for divorce.
How many concessions does the bible allow?
In Matthew 19:6, the only concession Jesus mentions is adultery. Did he intend this to be the only concession? Not at all. Jesus was responding to a particular context, the Shammai-Hillel debate. Blomberg, in his Matthew commentary, says
‘the specific historical background that informed this debate, the particular way in which the question is phrased, and the unscrupulous motives behind the Pharisees’ approach all warn us against the notion that Jesus was comprehensively addressing all relevant questions about marriage and divorce.’
The bible adds another concession in 1 Corinthians 7:15 — abandonment by a non-Christian. If Jesus had only one concession in mind, the bible has just contradicted itself.
Abuse is an allowable concession
Adultery and abandonment aren’t exhaustive — we must look more widely in the Bible for other concessions. Exodus 21:7–11 allows divorce for a wife denied her full rights to ‘food, clothing and sexual intimacy.’
Nowhere in the New Testament are we taught that if a spouse faces a similar scenario — we must deny them divorce if no repentance is forthcoming. Deuteronomy 21:10–14 is another passage that allows divorce due to abuse and neglect.
God doesn’t want women mistreated. He made provisions in the Mosaic law to deal with this injustice. It hasn’t changed with the coming of Christ. Divorce is still a legitimate way of protecting spouses from abusive partners.
While some will undoubtedly misuse the concession of abuse. That misuse mustn’t turn you away from what the Bible teaches. The same way you don’t turn away from the forgiveness of Jesus, because some use it as an excuse to sin. The Bible makes concessions for reasons of adultery, abandonment, and all forms of grievous abuse (physical and emotional).