Reasons For Divorce in the Bible

Reasons For Divorce in the Bible

Marriage is a sacred union that is meant to be cherished and nurtured. It is a covenant between two individuals, founded on love, trust, and commitment. However, the reality is that marriages can face immense challenges, often resulting in painful decisions like divorce. While divorce is a deeply personal and sensitive matter, it is crucial to seek guidance and understanding from the Bible, which offers wisdom and insights into this complex issue.

In the scriptures, various passages touch upon the subject of divorce, providing guidance and addressing the reasons that may lead to the dissolution of a marriage. Understanding these biblical perspectives on divorce can help individuals navigate their own circumstances with compassion, grace, and an appreciation for the values upheld within the sacred union of marriage.

What the Bible Says About Divorce

Let’s initially consider the biblical perspective. Deuteronomy is the sole Old Testament book containing a law on divorce. In this context, the Israelites receive a regulation permitting divorce, allowing a man to issue a “document of divorce” if his wife “does not please him” and “she is free to marry another man” (Deuteronomy 24:1-2). Views vary on whether this law aims to justify divorce and/or remarriage, but a consensus among most theologians is that it was indeed given as a means to offer protection to individuals navigating situations involving divorce and/or remarriage.

In the New Testament, Jesus initially provides a more nuanced perspective on this question. In Matthew, the Pharisees inquire of Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (Matthew 19:3). Preceding this verse is the observation that the Pharisees came with the intention of trapping Jesus, seeking a definitive answer to ascertain His stance on the law concerning divorce, as outlined by Moses in Deuteronomy.

Jesus, perceiving their hardened hearts and ulterior motives, does not directly address their query. Instead, he references Genesis and concludes, Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” In response to further questioning from the Pharisees, Jesus seizes the opportunity to elaborate on Moses’ law, explaining that divorce deviates from God’s original intention.


Jesus affirms, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. Whoever divorces and marries someone else commits adultery.” According to Jesus, God’s standard surpasses the legal prescription, emphasizing that God’s intent is for no one to experience divorce.

Reasons For Divorce in the Bible

1. Adultery

Adultery involves breaking the marital covenant by engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage. Jesus allows divorce in cases of adultery, recognizing the severe breach of trust.

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Matthew 5:32

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (NIV)

In the previous verse, Jesus described the standard teaching on divorce from the Jewish religious leaders. They allowed a man to give his wife a certificate of divorce for little or no reason, according to their interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1–4. This “interpretation,” as it turns out, left out not only much of the original wording but almost all the original purpose.

Once again, Jesus illustrates God’s genuine and initial purpose. In this instance, God’s intention is for marriages to be lifelong commitments. Instead of endorsing the idea that marriages can or should be terminated for trivial reasons, Christ asserts that divorces driven by motives less grave than sexual immorality are considered invalid. This doesn’t imply that sexual immorality is the sole justification for divorce. The key emphasis is that a man cannot rightfully divorce his wife unless she breaches the marriage covenant through adultery or some other form of sexual immorality.

2. Abandonment by an unbelieving spouse

If an unbelieving spouse chooses to leave a believer, the abandoned believer is not bound to continue the marriage.


1 Corinthians 7:15

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. (ESV)

Paul has taught the Corinthians that Christians must not divorce their unbelieving spouses. What if their Jewish or pagan spouses are the ones who want to divorce? What if the unbelieving partner insists on separation? What should a Christian do in that case?

In alignment with his counsel on disputes among Christians in the context of legal matters (1 Corinthians 6:7), Paul encourages a stance of submission. In contemporary language, Paul advises, “Don’t resist it. Allow them to depart.” If the Christian spouse did not initiate the separation, they will not be left in a state of “enslavement.”


3. Physical abuse

Physical abuse violates the principles of love and care within marriage. God values the well-being and safety of individuals.

Exodus 21:26-27

When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.  (ESV)

While the Bible generally discourages divorce, it recognizes the sanctity and well-being of individuals. In cases where a spouse inflicts serious harm on their partner, the principles in Exodus 21:26–27 could be used to argue that the injured party may be released from the marital covenant, mirroring the concept of release from servitude in the ancient context.


4. Emotional neglect

Neglecting emotional needs, as well as a lack of mutual respect and understanding, can lead to a breakdown in the marital relationship.

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1 Peter 3:7

In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered. (NLT)

Peter instructs Christian ladies in verses 1 through 6 on how to pursue true beauty and how to submit to their own husbands. Wives should naturally follow the commands given to all believers, which state that we should voluntarily submit to all human authority for the glory of the Lord. Peter, however, pauses before continuing to give a little lesson to husbands on how to coexist with their spouses.

The verse’s main idea is that husbands ought to appreciate and honor their spouses. Remember, in Peter’s day, this would have been a novel concept. Women in this era were routinely mistreated, devalued, and repressed, especially when compared to modern culture.


It would have been regular to see women submit to their husbands in various forms. Christianity would have been unique in that it prioritized “submission” to God over the husband. But it was revolutionary to educate men to honor their spouses as equal co-heirs of God’s favor through trust in Christ.

5. Failure to provide for the family

A spouse’s failure to provide for the family is considered a form of abandonment and can be grounds for divorce.

1 Timothy 5:8

But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers.(NLT)

Here, he turns more directly to individuals, particularly men. Those who can provide for their families are obligated to do so. Paul repeats the theme he used in verse 4, beginning with a conditional statement.


More specifically, Paul directed his command in verse 4 toward people caring for members of ‘their own household.” While it may not be possible for one person to care for every relative, even unbelievers in Paul’s day understood that a child’s responsibility is to care for their widowed mother.

6. Incompatibility

Marriages require unity and agreement. In cases of irreconcilable differences, divorce might be allowed to prevent ongoing conflict.

Amos 3:3

Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so? (NIV)

Unless they meet together and appoint time and place, when and where they shall set out, what road they will take, and whither they will go; without such consultation and agreement, it cannot be thought they should walk together; and not amicably, unless united in friendship, and are of the same affection to each other and of the same sentiments one with another; or it is much if they do not fall out, by the way.


The design of these words is to show that without friendship there is no fellowship and without concord no communion; as this is the case between man and man, so between God and man; and that Israel could not expect that God should walk with them, show himself friendly to them, and continue his favours with them when they walked contrary to him; when they were so disagreeable to him in their sentiments of religion, in their worship and the rites of it, and in the whole of their conduct and behaviour.

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7. Infertility

In certain circumstances, the inability to conceive may lead to marital strain. However, this should be approached with sensitivity and compassion.

Genesis 16:1-3

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. (NKJV)

Sarah offered her maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham as a wife because she wanted to see Abraham’s promise from God to have descendants fulfilled. After Hagar and Abraham became parents, there was strife and disagreement in the family.


This verse teaches us the value of patience, faith, and depending on God for direction in marriage. When faced with difficulties in their marriage, spouses should seek God’s wisdom and direction rather than turning to extreme means or manipulating circumstances. Divorce and needless conflict can be avoided by putting your faith in God’s faithfulness and timing.

Genesis 16:1-3, in the context of divorce, shows what happens when someone decides to handle things on their own instead of putting their faith in God’s timing and purpose. In an effort to address her infertility on her own terms, Sarah chose to propose Hagar to Abraham as a wife. But the family was now divided and faced more difficulties as a result of this behavior.


Divorce is undeniably a painful and complex topic within the realm of marriage. While the Bible provides insights into this matter, it is essential to approach it with sensitivity, compassion, and a deep desire for understanding. The reasons for divorce in the Bible are not meant to be taken lightly or used as a strict set of rules, but rather as guiding principles to help navigate the difficult terrain that marital struggles and challenges can present.

The biblical perspective on divorce emphasizes the importance of commitment, reconciliation, forgiveness, and mutual respect within the bond of marriage. It encourages couples to seek help, work through issues, and prioritize the preservation and healing of the marital relationship. However, it also acknowledges that certain circumstances, such as adultery or abandonment, can irreparably damage the marriage, making divorce a regrettable but sometimes necessary option.

Ultimately, the biblical stance on divorce calls for a balanced and holistic approach, grounded in love, humility, and prayer. It recognizes the complexities and pain involved in the dissolution of a marriage while also upholding the values of fidelity, forgiveness, and the pursuit of reconciliation whenever possible. As we navigate these sensitive waters, it is crucial to seek support, guidance, and compassion for both ourselves and others, allowing the teachings of the Bible to inform our actions and decisions, ultimately leading to healing, restoration, and growth.

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