Even under the old covenant, divorce was never permitted as of right. You couldn’t put away your wife for any and every cause. Very few grounds existed for which this could be acceptably done.
Suppose a man marries a wife and for some reasons hated her thereafter; then in order to find a tenable excuse, he accuses her of not being a virgin when he met her, the matter was tried by the elders of the city, and if it be found that he was only lying against her, apart from paying certain fines for the false accusation, he wasn’t permitted to divorce her all the days of his life. (Deut. 20:13-19).
Also, if a man rapes a virgin who was not betrothed, he was commanded to pay her dowry and must marry her and cannot divorce her all the days of his life, no matter how much he wishes to. (Deut. 20:28-29). This was God’s way of protecting an innocent woman from being taken advantaged of.
Despite these restrictions, due to the hardness of the heart of the people of Israel, a time came when they sought to put away their wives for any and every cause – even on the basis of the most flimsy grounds. This was the gravamen of the question the disciples of Jesus asked him in Mathew 19? Can we put away our wives for every cause?
If my wife was slim and cute when we married but has now become very fat and unattractive to me, can I put her away? If my wife cannot bear children, can I put her away? Even if the issue is as simple as that she farts too often and I can’t put up with it, shouldn’t that be sufficient reason to put her away?
Jesus was unequivocal; only on the grounds of adultery would divorce be permissible. Mathew 19:9, Mathew 5:32. (Read in all translations).
I know that we often pretend as though Jesus never recognized any permissible ground for divorce. He clearly did as shown in the scriptures above. If we don’t accept the authority of those scriptures, then we have no right to believe the rest of the entire gospel of Matthew, and that whole book ought to be expunged from the Bible. We obviously can’t choose which verses to believe and which one we wouldn’t. We either believe the authority of every single verse of that gospel or we believe none of the verses.
In our own thinking, we may feel adultery is not such a big issue but in God’s thinking, it is sufficient to annul the covenant between the couple; and we have no basis to question His thinking. Even under the old covenant, death was what God commanded as the penalty for adultery. (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22). Both participants must be put to death. If they are both put to death, doesn’t that automatically bring the marriage covenant with their surviving spouses to an end and make it possible for those surviving spouses to marry someone else? To that extent then, the position of Jesus in Mathew 19 doesn’t contradict God’s position in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
Some say Mathew 19:9 spoke of fornication which is only applicable to unmarried people. But unknown to them, the word fornication in the bible is used of adultery of married or single people. No wonder most other translations outside KJV either used adultery or sexual immorality or marital infidelity to translate the same word, “fornication”. More importantly, the context is clear – Jesus was responding to a question about married people. That settles it.
If we say a person can divorce on the ground of adultery, where is the spirit of forgiveness advocated in the preceding chapter, Mathew 18?
Admittedly, forgiveness is expected of any true child of God. Even if our married partners have broken faith and gone after another flesh, if we love them deeply, we ought to forgive as the scriptures enjoin us? But what of a Partner who doesn’t stop? Who continues to frolic with strange flesh in a present continuous sense? If their partners after several forgiveness(es) could no longer bear it and they divorce, they haven’t sinned. The same Jesus who enjoined us to forgive stated that adultery is sufficient to justify the partner on the receiving end to leave the marriage if s/he so desires. The two positions of Jesus cannot therefore contradict each other. Such people on the receiving end of their partner’s unfaithfulness will qualify as scriptural divorcees who can properly be remarried in the will of God. Such a person therefore will qualify for your prayerful consideration.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul responding to the questions of the Corinthian Church on this subject, reiterated the perfect will of God which no one can deny. It is clear that if it were possible, God doesn’t want any couple to seperate at all. So Paul restated to them God’s command: the man should not divorce his wife and vice versa, but if he does, he should remain unmarried. But what about the innocent woman/man who was left behind by an unfaithful man/woman? It wasn’t their fault. The departure of the man sometimes had nothing to do with her. She put up her best behavior, yet the man having been tempted by some strange flesh out there bolted away? So she should remain single for the rest of her life?
I have a very dear sister of mine whom I met through this platform. Such a devout sister who loves the Lord dearly. Very intelligent too. She married at 23 as a virgin. It was during the honeymoon that she realized for the first time that her husband was a drunkard. He hid it all the while and pretended to be a man of God. That was the genesis of the crisis. But she was determined to stay married nevertheless. Thirteen months after, one day after a little quarrel, her husband left the house and has not returned ever since. It’s already three years. She has pleaded and begged; reached out to him and his family endlessly to no avail. He told her never to reach out to him again. He still said that a few days ago when she messaged him. What should the sister do in the circumstance? She should remain unmarried for the rest of her life? She’s just 26. What of her emotional needs; sexual needs and the rest of that?
If you think she shouldn’t re-marry, then you want someone to be punished for another man’s sins? This violates the mind-set of God. This mindset is recorded in the book of Ezekiel Chapter 18:20: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” Mind you, this was a message directly from God to Ezekiel.
The above mindset of God to my mind is why Paul in 1 Cor 7:15 then created a further exception; if an unbelieving partner departs, the other person is free to remarry; especially after a reasonable time of seeking reconciliation without success. It contradicts God’s system of justice and love to keep you in suffering for another man’s sins.
If you then meet a brother or sister whose partner departed and has refused every entreaty after a reasonable time, such a one is a scriptural divorcee and is qualified for your prayerful consideration.
These are the two exceptions clearly mentioned in the new testament. But certainly, scenarios that may fit within these exceptions can be numerous. And so godly counsel from matured spiritual leaders is required to evaluate each peculiar case to check if it would fall under the permissible grounds. Your own concern as a child of God is not to ever be entangled with one who has divorced for reasons the bible doesn’t permit. You don’t want to partake in another man’s sin.
So think about a man for example who divorced his wife because she couldn’t bear children for him after many years. I handled one such case before. The woman briefed me. They cooked up all manner of lies in their petition to get rid of her. If that kind of man approaches you for marriage, he is not worth your prayers at all.
May you never fall into a wrong hand in Jesus name.
Peniela E. Akintujoye.
©️Peniela Eniayo, Akintujoye| firstname.lastname@example.org