Biblical Grounds for Divorce

A transcript from a Question and Answer Session at the Ligonier Ministries National Conference, Bought with a Price, tadalafil Orlando, 2006

Question: If we understand marriage correctly, what are the biblical grounds for divorce?

R.C. Sproul – One of the things that I think is very destructive in the Church are those Churches (and those people within the Church) who prohibit divorce on any grounds whatsoever because that just completely denies the clear and unambiguous exceptive clause that Jesus gave in the Gospel of Matthew when he dealt with the traditonal issue among the Rabbis (the Hillel School and the Shimei School) developing the controversy over the divorce laws of Deuteronomy.

Jesus made it very, very clear that Moses, because of the hardness of their heart, gave them the right for divorce on the basis of the “unclean thing,” which is not specifically adultery but its “unclean” and so the whole debate amongst the Jewish Rabbis was, “What constitutes the unclean thing?”

The Liberal (interpretation) says, “If she breaks a dish that he likes, that’s justification for divorce.”

No, Jesus said, unless its for porneia, which is sexual immorality, there is no basis. And now we have all kinds of examples where a husband or wife gets invovled in an immoral sexual relationship and then the Church says to the partner, “That’s not grounds for divorce. You can’t get out of that relationship.” That’s devastating. That’s not what the Bible teaches.

Also, the second grounds are given by the Apostle Paul – “separation from the non-believer” – if the non-believer chooses to leave the marriage, the believer’s free at that point.

Then, of course, where it really gets sticky is “What are the boundaries of sexual immorality?’ There I think the Church has to be very wise in dealing with those questions.

Ken Jones – Yes and in those cases, the person is not commanded to get a divorce.

R.C. – Right!

Ken Jones – That option is available to them but they are not commanded to get a divorce. In fact, Paul says, as it relates to those who are married to an unbeliever who has abandoned them, he admonishes them to, if at all possible, seek reconciliation. And if that person agrees to live with you in their state of unbelief, then by all means, do not pursue the divorce. But I agree with R C that I think sometimes we have seen in the Church, things that I believe are very clear by Christ, we have made those areas more grey than they actually are…

R C – What you hear all the time though is (people say), “Well yes, you may have biblical grounds but the “higher road” is to stay married – and you tell this poor woman who has been violated that now she is supposed to go back in there and be naked and unashamed? ITS NOT SAFE! You know, her soul’s been absolutely devastated, and God in His grace has given her the right to leave that situation.

Someone says, “but what if the guy repents?” You hear that all the time.. this can happen the other way of course, women and men – but most of the time its the man.. so I say, “Well suppose a guy really repents. What is the woman’s obligation now?

Her obligation is to forgive him and to regard him as a brother but she does not have to stay married to him.

(If a guy embezzles $50,000 from Ligonier Ministries in our accounting office and repents of it and even gives the $50,000 back, I don’t have to keep him on staff as our accounting guy. He can still be forgiven, but the context of that has changed, mightily, by that action.)

The covenant of marriage has been so radically violated that Jesus gives people that option.”

Ken Jones – “I want to throw in there something that combine those two reasons that are given in Scripture that has become more of an issue in our day and that is physical violence. I think that is a grounds for a Church, a pastor, an elder, to allow a woman in the Church (if she is under physical abuse from her husband) to be removed from that situation…

R.C. – I think that is an application of the “immorality” principle and the violation of the covenant. I agree with you. But again, that becomes an issue of prudence. It should be done with great care and never in a flippant manner.