Where is Divorce in the Bible?
As the old saying goes; ‘there’s nothing new under the sun.’ Just like in these modern times, our ancient ancestors struggled with marital difficulties that occasionally couldn’t be resolved and therefore ended in divorce. While not laissez-faire compared to today’s standards, antediluvian Jewish and Roman laws made some allowances for divorce.
You’re probably wondering how divorce proceedings were sorted out in biblical times. Stick around, because you’re about to learn some interesting facts.
Divorce in the Old Testament
Living under the Law of Moses meant having to follow a plethora of rules. Back in those rough and tumble times, life was harsh and short and the religion of the Israelites ruled every facet of your life.
The first book of the Old Testament we’re going to investigate is Deuteronomy. Being that family was seen as the bedrock of a stable society, Mosaic Law put great impediments in front of a man who wished to divorce his wife. A trial was a MUST.
To complicate matters worse, if you lived in these very religious times, you were required by law to consult a lawyer to write up a bill of divorcement. This bill was hand delivered to your ex, who was then kicked out of the house. There’s no getting around the fact that pre-Christian civilization was a man’s world.
As patriarchal as the social order was, women had some rights within the game of marriage and divorce. Your petition for divorce was denied if you had falsely accused your wife of sleeping with another man (Deuteronomy 22:13) or if you (you dirty rotten scoundrel) seduced a virgin. Such a transgression incurred a heavy financial penalty that you gave directly to the girl’s enraged father. (Deuteronomy 22:28). Ref http://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/divorce-in-the-old-testament.html.
In rare cases, a divorce could be applicable only to wives. According to Professor Israel Abrahams of Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, a wife could demand that her husband divorce her.’ This is taken from the text found in Deuteronomy Dt 22:19,29).
I was surprised to discover that when the Hebrews ruled, adultery was not the only grounds for divorce. Under Jewish law, polygamy and concubinage were recognized as legitimate. http://classic.net.bible.org/dictionary.php?word=Divorce%20In%20The%20Old%20Testament
We must take into account that this was very much a class – based society, with Hebrews at the top of the proverbial totem pole. Leviticus 19:20 explains that a Hebrew could have more than two wives or concubines. Even if married, it was acceptable for this man to have sexual relations with a slave. He would therefore not be guilty of adultery, a criminal act that incurred death by stoning.
Furthermore, according to Leviticus 20:10, for a charge of adultery to stick, you had to have violated the “free wife” of a Hebrew.
Divorce in the New Testament
The coming of Jesus Christ produced a different perspective to the concept of divorce as it pertained to the old Jewish Law.
Divorce first mentioned in the New Testament during the iconic Sermon on the Mount
According to the Rev. William F. Luck, Sr., a former professor of biblical and theological studies at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois (https://bible.org/seriespage/7-teaching-jesus-divorce-matthew-193-12-mark-102-12), while preaching the great Sermon on the Mount written about in Matthew 5, the Lord lambasted men who divorced their wives in order to marry other women. In addition to initiating a divorce without a good reason, you were also deemed to have committed adultery in the eyes of God if you partook in breaking up another couple’s marriage.
It is recorded in both Matthew 19 and Mark 10 that the Pharisees, among them the chief scribes (many of whom were unhappy with Jesus of Nazareth preaching to the masses and claiming to be King of the Jews), confronted him about his beliefs on the subject of divorce.
As is written in Matthew 19, in response to the question as to whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason, Jesus replied by saying that what God has joined together, let no one separate.
Sometimes we don’t get the answer we want to hear. The Pharisees, apparently holding liberal views (for the time, at least) on divorce, asked Jesus why Moses permitted wider grounds for the practice.
As stated later in the verse, Jesus explicitly affirmed that extreme marital unfaithfulness (i.e. sexual immorality) was the only reason for a married couple to divorce. Oh, and obviously, if your significant other passes away, you’re free to remarry, as quantified in 1 Corinthians 7:39.
Views on divorce and remarriage in Christian denominations today
Boy, how the times have changed. While not as high as the non-Christian, non-religious segment of society, Christian marriages account for at least 30 percent of all divorces in the United States (https://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-divorce-rate.html). What policies do the various denominations have with regards to divorce? Let’s take a look at a few of them.
Sorry, out of the question. If your marriage was of the valid sacramental variety and you wish to get unhitched while staying true to Catholic doctrine, you’re out of luck. http://www.aboutcatholics.com/beliefs/divorce-annulments-and-remarriage/. The next best thing the church offers is an annulment, which, if awarded, clears you to remarry legally.
The brainchild of a medieval English king who was not granted a divorce by the pope, the Anglican Church has a more open minded approach than its Roman Catholic ancestor. The Anglican Church legalized divorce in 1931 and allows civil divorce. This being said, views vary among priests and bishops with regards to what process people will have to go through as well as the remarriage of divorced persons. https://www.yourchurchwedding.org/article/marriage-after-divorce/.
Pentecostal churches differ in their doctrines and worship practices. The Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal church in the United States, takes a very literal biblical view toward divorce, meaning it’s only permitted in cases of adultery as well as abandonment.
Furthermore, if a Christian is married to a nonbeliever, divorce could be acceptable, but only if it was kicked off by the non-Christian party. http://classroom.synonym.com/pentecostal-beliefs-marriage-20759.html