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Bible Dictionaries

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

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God’s plan for marriage was that it be a permanent union between one man and one woman – a union broken only by death. Divorce was something God hated (Genesis 2:24; Malachi 2:16; Matthew 19:3-6; Romans 7:2-4). From earliest times, however, people on the whole rejected God, and polygamy and divorce became common practices (Genesis 6:1-8; Romans 1:20-27; see MARRIAGE).

Examples from Bible times

Among the Israelites of Moses’ time, marriage disorders had become so widespread that Moses set out special laws designed to deal with the problem. In particular he wanted to stop easy divorce and protect women from unjust treatment.

For instance, if a man tried to find an excuse for divorcing his wife by accusing her (falsely) of sexual immorality before marriage, he was fined for his cruel accusation and prevented from divorcing her (Deuteronomy 22:13-19). He could divorce her only if there was a valid reason, and only if he gave her divorce documents that protected her rights should she want to marry someone else. He could not take her back if he later changed his mind, and she could not go back to him if her second marriage came to an end (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

Moses’ decision to permit divorce in certain circumstances was not because he approved of divorce. Rather he was trying to reduce divorce and restore some moral order to society. When Jews of later times quoted Moses’ law as approval for divorce, Jesus referred them back to God’s original standard. According to that standard, to divorce and remarry was adultery (Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11). The only exception that Jesus allowed was the case where a person’s adultery was already destroying the marriage (Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:3-9; see ADULTERY; FORNICATION).

A difficult situation arose in New Testament times when one partner in a non-Christian marriage later became a Christian. The Christian was not to divorce the non-Christian partner, but was to do everything possible to make the marriage work harmoniously. If the non-Christian partner was not willing to continue the marriage and departed, the Christian partner had to let it be so and consider the marriage at an end. The statement that in such cases the Christian partner was ‘no longer bound’ seems to mean that he or she was free to remarry (1 Corinthians 7:12-15).

A universal problem

In any society where there is a widespread breakdown of marriage, the result will be an increasing number of social and family problems. The Creator knows what is best for his creatures, and where people reject the plan he has laid down, they will have troubles (cf. Deuteronomy 10:13).

There is often no clear-cut solution to the complications that arise because of divorce and remarriage. In some cases, no matter what is done, some ideal will be broken. Moses accepted less than the best because of the people’s ‘hardness of heart’, which suggests that the right course of action may at times mean choosing the lesser of two evils (Matthew 19:8).

Repentant sinners can receive God’s merciful forgiveness for divorce and adultery as they can for other sins (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalms 51; Psalms 145:14; Isaiah 43:25). Whatever people might have been guilty of previously, when God forgives them the church must also forgive them (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; cf. Matthew 6:14-15). Although Christians must, like Jesus, uphold God’s standards when others want to destroy them (Matthew 19:3-9), they must also, like Jesus, give help to those who, having broken God’s law, are later repentant (Luke 7:36-50; John 8:1-11; cf. Hosea 14:4).

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Divorce'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​bbd/​d/divorce.html. 2004.
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