Divorce is Sin…Says Who?

wedding band placed over definition of divorceThis is a repost (with minor editing) of my article previously posted on Crying Out for Justice on April 4, 2012.

“Divorce is sin…  God hates divorce…”  Most of us have heard this mantra so many times, that we’ve come to simply accept it as truth, without further scrutiny.

I have read the statement, “Divorce is sin,” in many books, by well-known Christian authors, written specifically for people who have experienced divorce.

Says who?  Who says that divorce is sin?

The Bible never labels divorce as sin, nor does it contain any commandments prohibiting a just divorce.

On the contrary, the law given to Moses not only makes specific provision for divorce, but also ensures that the divorce is to be handled in a manner that is just, that neither party remains under obligation to the other, and each is free to marry another (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

Where, in all of scripture, has God ever said that sin is permissible?  If God said that divorce is permissible, and even gave instruction on how to go about it in a godly manner, then it is not sin!  Why then, under Grace, would we presume to impose legalistic rules that are more restrictive than the Old Testament Law?

Many people claim that Jesus, in Matthew 19:3-9, denounced divorce, thereby over-riding the law given to Moses.

On the contrary, not once in this passage did Jesus say that divorce is sin, nor that the law given to Moses was erroneous in permitting divorce.  Jesus, in fact, defended the law given to Moses, stating that it was necessary to make provision for divorce because of hardened hearts…the heart of one partner being hardened against their spouse in unrepentant violation of their marriage vows.  In fact, Jesus included a specific example (immorality) when divorce is not only acceptable but expected.

Then Jesus addressed the heart of the question presented, by explaining that if a man chooses to commit adultery against his wife, he cannot escape guilt for his transgression by using divorce as a legalistic loophole.  If a man divorces his wife for the specific purpose of marrying another woman, that is still a betrayal of the marriage vows.

The message is very clear.  Adultery is sin.  Treachery is sin (Malachi 2:13-16).  Intentional repeated violation of sacred covenant vows to love, honor, cherish, protect and provide for is sin.  If these violations of covenant vows do not include divorce, they are still sin.  If these violations of covenant vows do include divorce, they are still sin.

Sin against a covenant partner is sin, whether or not it includes divorce.  The sin is not the divorce, but rather the violation of sacred covenant vows.

So, when I say that just divorce is not sin, am I saying it is okay to not take covenant vows very seriously?  That it is okay to just get a divorce for any frivolous reason?

Not at all!  On the contrary, sacred covenant vows should be taken very seriously!  In fact, part of the problem is that we don’t take the covenant vows seriously enough.

Our preoccupation with divorce (as a result of erroneously labeling divorce as sin) rather than elevating the sacredness of the covenant vows, actually diminishes them, by incorrectly placing the scrutiny on the longevity of the covenant, rather than on how well the covenant vows are lived out.  The question, in searching our hearts for sin, should not be, “Have I divorced?” but rather, “How well have I honored my covenant vows?”

This erroneous labeling of divorce as sin leads to all sorts of theological error.  Since the Bible very clearly makes allowance for divorce, adherents to the myth that “divorce is sin” are forced to then state, “Divorce is only permissible when…”  While the rules for the “exception clause” vary widely, without some sort of “exception clause” one cannot claim that “divorce is sin” without directly contradicting both the words of Christ and the Old Testament Law.

Now think about how contradictory these two statements are.  “Divorce is sin.”  “Divorce is only permissible when…”

Folks, sin is NEVER permissible.  We cannot have it both ways.  Either divorce is inherently sinful, or it is not inherently sinful.  If divorce is not inherently sinful, then the sin is not in the divorce, but rather in either the cause of divorce or the manner in which the divorce is carried out.

Again, we see that the sin is not the divorce, but rather the intentional violation of sacred covenant vows.

Now, let’s look at another theological error related to this biblically unsubstantiated myth that “divorce is sin.”  The concept of redemption is fundamental to the Christian faith.  All Christians agree that Jesus Christ came to redeem us from the kingdom of darkness.

Yet, because of our erroneous view of divorce as inherently sinful, we seem to have forgotten what redemption is.  What exactly do we think Jesus did when He redeemed us?  He brought about the just dissolution of Adam’s covenant of bondage to the kingdom of darkness.

Jesus brought about our just divorce from the kingdom of darkness, and He calls it Redemption!

We see this clearly illustrated in God’s redemption of Israel from Egypt.  In Exodus 6:1, “the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land’” (Exodus 6:1).

When Pharaoh chose to “drive them out of his land” Israel was released from their covenant obligation to Pharaoh. At that moment, Israel was divorced from Egypt. The covenant was dissolved, and Israel was free to proceed to the Promised Land with no obligation of allegiance to Egypt.

In fact, the Hebrew words translated here as the phrases let them go (shalach) and drive them out (garash) are both translated elsewhere as divorce (Malachi 2:16, Leviticus 21:14).

God brought about the just divorce of Israel from Egypt, and He calls it Redemption.

Redemption is just divorce from a covenant of abusive bondage!

Thank God, He is still in the business of redeeming His children from covenants of abusive bondage!

Your thoughts?

[Linked to God Bumps , Scribing , WIP , Beholding Glory , Graceful , Seedlings , Wellspring ]


28 thoughts on “Divorce is Sin…Says Who?

  1. I like your take on this, Joe. I’ve just heard the mantras you mentioned, but you’ve shed some good light on the subject. I like this application: Redemption is just divorce from a covenant of abusive bondage.

    I’d never thought of it that way!

    • Thank you, Susan! I appreciate your comments and input.

      God used a divorce to lead me to look past the mantras and dig deeper into what the Bible has to say about God’s heart toward His children who have experienced divorce, or who are trapped in a covenant of abusive bondage.

      • Joe,

        God did the same for me…shunned from my church..not allowed to be a part of my children’s school that is a part of that church and yet knowing that God had set me free from the marriage where covenant vows had been shattered. I am trying to put the pieces back together..my strength comes from the Lord. I studied the scriptures and found the same things that you so eloquently wrote in your book…a total confirmation for me that God was showing me He had set me free. I have never grown so much in my Christian life to understand the amazing grace of God that SAVED a wretch like me!

        • Isn’t God amazing?

          The very things we fear the most, He uses to free us to a richer life in Him!

          I am smiling with you, Christie, at the wonder of His amazing grace!

          Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you, Jennifer for the encouragement!

      I really enjoyed your post, yesterday, on having more questions than answers.

      Praying for Lydia, this morning, that all will go well in both surgery and recovery.

  2. I’m in complete agreement with you, Joe. As a fellow divorcee that was thrust into a situation beyond my control, I think it’s quite insensitive and callous for other Christians to judge me based on the fact that I’ve divorced. Should it be better that a one-year old child be put in danger? I’d say that those who judge others based on their record of divorce maybe committing the sin rather than those who divorced. However, I also agree that divorce should only be completed under certain, usually extreme, conditions.

    • “Should it be better that a one-year old child be put in danger?”

      These are the sorts of questions that legalistic cliche`s and mantras can never adequately address, aren’t they?

      We must learn to see past the legalistic view of rules, exceptions and loopholes, to see the heart of God in specific situations.

      And God’s heart is always to protect the innocent and to assist the downtrodden!

      I love your heart, Dan! And pray for you and your daughter.

  3. You always get me thinking here:) I like how you make the distinction that adultery and failing to honor the covenant is what is sin, not the divorce, which is more the consequence of sin. I agree that not enough emphasis is put on the covenant relationship and it’s quality. Great post as usual!

    • “You always get me thinking here.”

      You warm this blogger’s heart, Christina!

      If my words can help someone see a different perspective on a topic…to catch a fresh glimpse of God’s heart…then I’ve accomplished my goal in writing a post.

      I love fresh glimpses! 🙂

    • Thank you, Peter, for stopping by and joining the discussion!

      Yes, there are many things we assume the Bible says, simply because we’ve heard it so many times.

      And there are many more things that are stated in the Bible, but that are so often quoted out of context that we’ve completely missed the intent of the writer…

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with all of your points, Joe. But, wow! I’ve never really thought of it in this way. I just always feel so bad for the one who experiences a divorce, especially if they have not chosen that divorce–their divorcing spouse has. I guess, I never stopped to think of it in these terms. But you are absolutely right. And I love the idea of redemption here too. I’ve never quite thought of it as synonymous with divorce, but I certainly believe that’s true with our Great Redeeming God!

    • God used the experience of a failed marriage that ended in divorce, combined with the ministry of the Holy Spirit in searching His word, to change my perspective of God’s heart in this area.

      He truly is a wondrous God, and I am so thankful for His faithfulness, His redemption, and His grace.

      Our Great Redeeming God, indeed!

      Thank you, Beth!

  5. I really like how you say this, Joe:

    Our preoccupation with divorce (as a result of erroneously labeling divorce as sin) rather than elevating the sacredness of the covenant vows, actually diminishes them, by incorrectly placing the scrutiny on the longevity of the covenant, rather than on how well the covenant vows are lived out.  The question, in searching our hearts for sin, should not be, “Have I divorced?” but rather, “How well have I honored my covenant vows?”

    Such a better way to look at things.

    • We have such a tendency to try to define sin and righteousness in rigid legalistic terms. Yet Christ always points back to the heart condition, doesn’t He?

      Thank you, Laura!

  6. I have a friend in an abusive relationship who subsequently divorced her husband. As a result, her church denied her communion. Just what Jesus would have done! This was one broken woman. Just who Jesus longs to welcome with open arms and heal.
    Good article Joe.

    • Debra, that is a horrible injustice for your friend to have suffered!

      Unfortunately, it happens all too often.

      On the topic of divorce, the Christian church has developed a system of biblically unsubstantiated myths that encourage legalistic attitudes toward believers who have experienced divorce.

      Believing these myths to be true, too often church members behave as good self-righteous Pharisees, firm in their knowledge of legalistic rules, exceptions, and loopholes. Like Saul (who later became Paul) in their zeal, they openly persecute God’s children.

      Yet the heart of God is one of love and redemption, especially toward those who are trapped in covenants of abusive bondage.

      Jesus said that He came, “…to proclaim release to the captives…to set free those who are oppressed…” (Luke 4:18)

      He was speaking of release from our covenant of bondage to the kingdom of darkness. But what better physical realization of that promise than release from an abusive marriage…or an abusive church?

      Christ calls us to liberty in Him!

      Blessings to you, Debra, and to your dear friend! I’m praying for both of you, this morning.

  7. This is such a hard and difficult issue. I don’t know that I can agree with you on all points, but I do agree that sin enters the picture when we fail to uphold our covenant vows whether the marriage remains intact or not. I actually have a post coming out in a few weeks on a contributor site about focusing on your spouse rather than your marriage. And certainly there is room for grace and redemption no matter what sin has entered the picture. For some reason, our church culture has decided to latch onto divorce as the “terrible awful”and forget there is grace there, too. Thanks for linking with WIP, Joe!

    • No problem, Mary Beth!

      Agreement on all points is neither required, nor expected.

      If we all saw things exactly the same way, there would be no need for discussion and no room for growth. I have not always held the same perspective on this topic, myself, as I do now.

      I appreciate your finding points of common ground, and for seeing people through eyes of grace.

      Thanks for stopping by and joining the discussion!

  8. Pingback: Very few thoughts for today, so instead a few links… | Life Inspired Thoughts

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