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June 10, 2007 / Daniel

The kingdom and divorce

I grew up in a pretty conservative Baptist church that taught that divorce is never an option.  They held that divorce in all circumstances is a sin.  This view might seem harsh to some people.    However, the Bible does teach God intends for marriage to last ’til death due us part.    The Bible also teaches that divorce is never what God really desires for a marriage.  And on one occasion, God told Israel that He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).  Since marriage is a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the church, the permanence of marriage is not a small issue.  That becomes clear when we read Jesus’ words on marriage in the Sermon on the Mount.        

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”

Like on other issues, the Pharisees interpreted the Torah in a way that it only dealt with the externals–that way it was easier to keep.  The Pharisees interpreted the Torah to allow for no-fault divorce.  You can get a divorce under pretty much any circumstances just as long as you get the proper paperwork.  

Jesus interpreted the Torah in such a way that it goes straight to the heart of the issue.  That means that divorce shouldn’t work like that.  He even says that in some way relationships with someone divorced without a proper reason is adulterous.  Strong words.  

Jesus does make some room for divorce.  The only exception that He gives here is “marital unfaithfulness” (porneia).  This word is a highly-debated.  There are a lot of different opinions of what this word means.  The pastor of the church that I grew up in thought that meant only sexually activity before the marriage actually began.  I tend to think that means sexual activity outside of marriage after it happens.  This leaves me with a lot of questions.  For instance, since Jesus just compared lust to adultery, does that mean that porn addiction would be a justified reason for divorce?  I would love to hear your thoughts on the text.      


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  1. Dennis / Jun 10 2007 4:28 am

    Hey Daniel,

    Great thoughts.

    I guess my thoughts are that porn addiction is not a justified reason for divorce.

    As I had mentioned before, I believe that the marriage between man and woman is supposed to be reflective of Christ and His Church (per Ephesians 5). As that union is inseparable, the union between man and woman is inseparable as well.

    In a proper Christian marriage, there is more than just a man and a woman. God is at the center of the marriage and as God is at the center, it cannot be broken by man (Mark 10:9). If a person could argue that God was never at the center of the relationship (e.g. an immature understanding of marriage or perhaps there was some problem that didn’t allow full consent into the union–like a drug problem) then it can be argued that the marriage never existed–i.e. an annulment. However, if that cannot be shown then the marriage should be considered valid.

    In regards to porneia, the way that I learned it, Christ is saying that divorce is permissible only if the marriage is “unlawful” (porneia). Examples of unlawful marriages would be incestuous marriages (per Leviticus 18/1 Corinthians 5:1) or marriages where the spouse is too young, etc.

    As for sexual activity, the way that I’ve been taught is that human sexuality is a gift from God. It’s a gift that we should receive fully with joy and love and it’s an act that is also mentioned in Ephesians 5.

    As a wife receives her husband (sexually) in joy and love and is filled with him so that she produces with him new life in oneness, so do we as members of His Church receive Christ in joy and love and are filled with Him so that we produce new life and bear fruit in oneness with Christ.

    From my understanding of Genesis and Ephesians 5, Sexual union is a gift from God and is only proper within marriage.

    If we take this wonderful gift from God and distort it outside of marriage (either before or during) or if we take this gift and reject a part of it–in essence saying, “Thanks for the gift, God, but we’ll only take the ‘pleasurable’ part of it as having kids isn’t part of our plan right now.” or if we submit to our sexual temptations on line or otherwise, then we are taking a gift…a present from God and distorting it for our own purposes. And that would be a sin.

  2. Micky / Jun 10 2007 2:26 pm

    About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

    Peace Be With You

  3. Jon Petersen / Jun 10 2007 4:32 pm

    I guess I might read this a little differently. It makes sense to me that the passage about divorce is actually tied closely to the previous verses about adultery, in which case Matthew is still concerned with Jesus’ view of adultery. Jesus just set some parameters around what adultery is and I think those parameters are to include divorcing your wife. When you attempt to separate what God has joined together, it really isn’t ever separated. This results in forcing your wife to commit adultery. Therefore I think Jesus is presenting the idea, if you look at a woman outside of marital bounds with lustful eyes then you commit adultery and here are the bounds of marriage.
    When he comes to the aspect of forcing your wife to commit adultery, I’ve thought in the past that he is saying:

    ’when you divorce because of ”porneia” you haven’t forced your wife to become an adulteress because she has already done so on her own.’
    This interpretation works quite well in the NIV, because it uses the phrase ”causes her to become an adulteress” as opposed to ”causes her to commit adultery” as it is stated in the KJV and NAS. But as I’ve spent some time today studying different translations and going through with the Strong’s I’m not as solid on it as I thought I was (probably a good thing). The Strong’s makes it quite clear that the phrase should include ”commits adultery” instead of ”becoming an adulteress.” In one case it is used to represent a single act, but in the other it represents a characteristic.
    Maybe I’m putting too much emphasis on whether it could mean a single act or a characteristic. Nevertheless it makes sense to me and I think it follows the argument if rather than offering an allowance for divorce, Jesus is simply laying out parameters for when you commit adultery.
    In this sense I think that engaging in pornography is definitely the same as adultery as Christ puts it in v. 28., yet I don’t think that Matthew is using Christ’s sermon to define when we are allowed to divorce. I think his truer motive would be to tell us Christ’s view of adultery and therefore help us change our hearts.
    Jesus talks about divorce another time in Matthew chapter 19 when some Pharisees ask him if divorce is permitted. His response is first ”what God has joined together, let man not separate.” They question him about the divorce certificate, the very thing he spoke of in his own sermon, and he tells them this:
    “Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.””
    This passage sounds more convincing that there is an allowance for divorce. It seems to push for that allowance by suggesting that if a man divorces his wife for any other reason than ”porneia” (illicit sexual intercourse), he will commit adultery if he marries another. Yet the movement of the conversation doesn’t lean toward any allowances. Rather, the disciples respond by saying:
    “”If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.””
    And perhaps this is simply the culture of that day speaking, but it seems that what Jesus is telling them about divorce is unbelievably hard for them to grasp. Telling them they couldn’t divorce unless their spouse cheated on them doesn’t seem that unbelievable to me, yet I live in a totally separate generation and culture.

  4. Matthew C / Jun 11 2007 7:13 am

    I am inclined to think that porneia is unlawful marriage.

  5. dawn / Jun 16 2007 12:00 pm

    I tend to believe that pornography is adultery and that it is a biblical grounds for divorce. Though, I do believe that the couple should try to stay together if at all possible. That is, if there is true repentance, they should give the marriage another chance. To me, the offense of pornography vs. phyiscal adultery would be more forgiveable.

  6. Howard MacKinnon / Dec 16 2007 1:02 am

    Great article, and Blog! I found you doing some research and looking for some very good blogs that are dealing with relationships and marriage, but especially all the aspects of divorce… Because, I believe that it has and will always be a factor of communication that is the key to any good relationship and that the lack of it, is where the trouble starts for every marriage… Whether it be money, alcohol and drugs, adutlery, pornography or and abuse in every form of mental, spiritual, and yes physical will all lead back to one thing, and that is no real communication… Keep up the good work on all of our behalf’s. Thank you, Howard M.

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