Author: Ron Graham
What God Says About Divorce
—Part 2, Paul’s Solution in 1Corinthians 6 and 7
Throughout the ages sexual immorality and a high rate of divorce has been a constant problem for mankind, causing much suffering and loss, and much offence to God. This was true in old testament times. It was true in the time of Jesus and his apostles. It remains true in Australian society today...
1 Paul’s Solution
Fortunately we have a passage from Paul that can show a way to deal with this mess. In this passage...
1Corinthians 6:9-20, 1Corinthians 7:1-16
- Paul condemns their previous fornication and adultery.
- He commends them to marriage in preference to celibacy.
- He counsels avoidance of fornication.
- He counsels all possible avoidance of divorce.
2 Fornication is the Problem
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he described the immoral way they used to live before becoming Christians...
- First he warned them, "Don't you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived." (1Corinthians 6:9).
- Then he describes unrighteous persons, including among them "fornicators" and "adulterers" (1Corinthians 6:9).
- Next he says, "And such were some of you." (1Corinthians 6:11). [Take note of that: some of the Christians in Corinth had been adulterers.]
Paul has a couple of significant things to say about sexual immorality...
- He teaches that, even outside of marriage, sexual intercourse between two persons causes them to "become one flesh" (1Corinthians 6:16). In other words there is no such thing as a “casual” sexual union.
- In view of this, Paul urges them to "flee fornication" (1Corinthians 6:18).
3 Marriage is the Answer
Paul now (in chapter 7) talks about celibacy, marriage, and divorce...
- Paul expresses respect for celibacy. "It is good for a man not to touch a woman" (1Corinthians 7:1). However he does not commend it as a solution to sexual immorality.
- He prescribes marriage as the solution. "Because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife and each woman her own husband" (1Corinthians 7:3).
- Within the marriage Paul commands that sexual intercourse should not be prohibited, and whilst abstinence is permitted it is not commanded or even recommended. "Do not deprive one another" (1Corinthians 7:3-6).
- Paul says that the unmarried should be permitted to marry, not forbidden to marry (1Corinthians 7:9, cf 1Timothy 4:2-3). We should note, however, that Paul applies this principle specifically to virgins and widows (1Corinthians 7:25,39). He does not apply it to divorced persons. That's because a divorced person is not in all cases regarded by the Lord as "unmarried".
- Paul says that the married should remain together, not be separated or divorced (1Corinthians 7:10). If separation is unavoidable, there should be neither divorce nor remarriage, but rather seeking for reconciliation (1Corinthians 7:10-14).
- If one’s partner willfully and wrongly breaks the marriage, one may have to to acknowledge with regret that the marriage is ended. However one should in no way encourage that result (1Corinthians 7:15-16).
You can see clearly, in this lengthy passage, how Paul’s teaching encourages marriage, doesn't recommend celibacy, and frowns upon divorce. His teaching matches what we quoted earlier in Hebrews, "Marriage is honourable among all and the bed undefiled". (Hebrews 4:13).
Are There “Scriptural Grounds for Divorce”?
In considering what God says about divorce, we perhaps should consider what God does not say. Much debate and division over marriage and divorce hinges on the notion of “a scriptural divorce”.
I've seen articles and sermons on divorce that start by deploring it, then go on to encourage it, and finish up demanding it. This is because of the belief that, in certain circumstances, there are “scriptural grounds for divorce”.
Jesus spoke to the Scribes and Pharisees (religious lawyers) who thought there were grounds for divorce. Jesus told them that the grounds on which Moses permitted divorce was "the hardness of your hearts" (Matthew 19:1-8).
They could invent "some indecency" (Deuteronomy 24:1-3) to justify themselves, but God saw only their hardness of heart, and he hated their divorces (Malachi 2:16).
What About Jesus’s Exception?
Some teachers argue that when Jesus said, "except for unchastity" (Matthew 19:8) he thereby gave “scriptural grounds for divorce”.
However, Jesus was simply indicating that a person who gets divorced will commit adultery in consummating a new marriage, except when adultery (unchastity in marriage) has preceded the divorce. In one case there is divorce followed by adultery. In the other case there is adultery followed by divorce. Jesus approves of neither.
Divorce and adultery are both wrong regardless of which comes first. No amount of reasoning can make out of Jesus’s statement a right to divorce and remarry.
Is Divorce Ever Right?
Jesus makes it plain that nobody has the right to break up a marriage. "What God has joined together let no man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6). Man can certainly put asunder a marriage, but "no man" has any approval from Jesus do it.
Circumstances can arise where you have no option but to go through a divorce. This doesn't mean that you have to like it or think it is right or believe there are “scriptural grounds” for it. You can hate it, you can think it is wrong, and you can believe it has no valid grounds.
Only God should separate those he has joined together. No man should. Yet many do. And what they do can't be undone. If you are a victim of this wrong, you have no choice but to deeply regret it; go though it with dignity; accept that your marriage was put asunder by man, leaving you now unmarried; and quietly get on with your life.