- Divorce - Insight, Volume 1
What is the only Scriptural basis for divorce among Christians?
Jesus Christ, in his Sermon on the Mount, stated: “Moreover it was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ However, I say to you that everyone divorcing his wife, except on account of fornication, makes her a subject for adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Mt 5:31, 32) Also, after telling the Pharisees that the Mosaic concession of divorcing their wives was not the arrangement that had prevailed “from the beginning,” Jesus said: “I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.” (Mt 19:8, 9) Today, generally, distinction is made between “fornicators” and “adulterers.” According to modern usage, those guilty of fornication are unmarried persons who willingly have sexual relations with someone of the opposite sex. Adulterers are married persons who willingly have sexual relations with a member of the opposite sex who is not their legal marriage mate. As shown in the article FORNICATION, however, the term “fornication” is a rendering of the Greek word por·neiʹa and includes all forms of illicit sexual relations outside of Scriptural marriage. Hence, Jesus’ words at Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 mean that the only divorce ground that actually severs the marriage bond is por·neiʹa on the part of one’s marriage mate. The follower of Christ may avail himself of that divorce provision if that is his desire, and such a divorce would free him to marry an eligible Christian.
Sexually immoral acts committed by a married person with someone of the same sex (homosexuality) are filthy and disgusting. Unrepentant persons of this type will not inherit God’s Kingdom. And, of course, bestiality is Scripturally condemned. (Le 18:22, 23; Ro 1:24-27; 1Co 6:9, 10) These grossly filthy acts come under the broad designation por·neiʹa. It is also noteworthy that, under the Mosaic Law, homosexuality and bestiality carried the death penalty, freeing the innocent mate for remarriage.
—Le 20:13, 15, 16.
Jesus Christ pointed out that “everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt 5:28) But Jesus did not say that what was in the heart, but not carried into action, furnished a basis for divorce. Christ’s words show that the heart should be kept clean and one should not entertain improper thoughts and desires.
—Php 4:8; Jas 1:14, 15.
The Jews’ rabbinic law laid emphasis on the married person’s duty to perform the marital act and allowed a husband to divorce his wife if she was unable to produce children. However, the Scriptures do not give Christians the right to divorce their mates for such a reason. Barrenness for many years did not cause Abraham to divorce Sarah, Isaac to divorce Rebekah, Jacob to divorce Rachel, or the priest Zechariah to divorce Elizabeth.
—Ge 11:30; 17:17; 25:19-26; 29:31; 30:1, 2, 22-25; Lu 1:5-7, 18, 24, 57.
Nothing is said in the Scriptures that would permit a Christian to divorce a marriage partner because that one was physically unable to perform the marital act, or had gone insane or contracted an incurable or loathsome disease. The love that Christians are to show would call, not for divorce, but for merciful treatment of such a mate. (Eph 5:28-31) Nor does the Bible grant Christians the right to divorce their marriage mates because of difference in religion; it shows instead that by remaining with an unbelieving mate the Christian may win that individual over to the true faith.
—1Co 7:12-16; 1Pe 3:1-7.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that “everyone divorcing his wife, except on account of fornication, makes her a subject for adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Mt 5:32) By this, Christ showed that if a husband divorces his wife for reasons other than her “fornication” (por·neiʹa), he exposes her to adultery in the future. That is so because the unadulterous wife is not properly disunited from her husband by such a divorce and is not free to marry another man and have sexual relations with another husband. When Christ said that whoever “marries a divorced woman commits adultery,” he was referring to a woman divorced on grounds other than “on account of fornication” (por·neiʹa). Such a woman, though divorced legally, would not be divorced Scripturally.
- Divorce - Insight, Volume 1
However, Jesus’ words as recorded by Mark and Luke must be understood in the light of the more complete statement recorded by Matthew. He includes the phrase “except on the ground of fornication” (Mt 19:9; see also Mt 5:32), showing that what Mark and Luke wrote in quoting Jesus on divorce applies if the ground for procuring the divorce is anything other than “fornication” (por·neiʹa) committed by the unfaithful marriage partner.