The question, what is a biblical divorce, can best be answered by searching the Holy Scriptures. While Malachi 2:15 states that God hates putting away, or divorce, Old and New Testament scriptures cite uncleanness and fornication as justifiable causes. In the early history of mankind, marriage, a holy institution ordained by God, was held sacred. When a man and a woman entered into matrimony, the consummation of wedlock through sexual intercourse was intended more for procreation than pleasure. Marriage is not only a sacred act but a union of two distinctly different individuals into one flesh. Husbands and wives are united in a lifelong mutually satisfying relationship for the purpose of bearing children. What is a biblical divorce was never a part of God's original plan. "The Pharisees also came unto Him, tempting Him, and saying unto Him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And He answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning, made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:3-6).
To commit adultery or fornication, tantamount to violently tearing asunder the one-flesh union, disannuls the holy covenant. The Bible calls fornication "dealing treacherously," an act worthy of what is a biblical divorce. "Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant...Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously ((Malachi 2:14-15).
In Deuteronomy 24:1-3, Old Testament law gave husbands the right to divorce wives found to be unclean. The Hebrew word for uncleanness, tumah, means impurity or filthiness, and indicates an issue of the flesh or a physical deformity that might defile an individual or transmit disease. One can only surmise that such a filthy issue or discharge would make a spouse less desirable and therefore, prohibit intimacy for fear of contracting disease. The Bible does not specify the type of uncleanness that would warrant what is a biblical divorce. "When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife" (Deuteronomy 24:1-2). According to scripture, a divorced woman found to have some uncleanness was free to remarry but prohibited from returning to the first husband; her "land" or body having become defiled.
Several New Testament scriptures also cite fornication and adultery, or engaging in sex outside of marriage, to be just cause for putting away, or what is a biblical divorce. Those who commit adultery also fall under the righteous judgment of God because they dare to destroy the sanctity of the one-flesh union. If the same standards of holiness found in the Bible were applied to twenty-first century marriages, a great many couples would be guilty of fornication and what is biblical divorce would be warranted. But Bible-believing Christians and non-believers who value the marital bond can make a difference by remaining true to their mates. The holy institution of matrimony between a man and a woman must be protected by those who understand its importance in society, for the perpetuation of the human race, and the furtherance of the plan of God. "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4).
In Matthew, Chapter 19, Jesus reiterates justifiable causes for what is a biblical divorce: "They say unto Him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?" He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for the cause of fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" (Matthew 19:8-9).
Sadly, modern society does not hold traditional marriage between a man and a woman in high regard; and nearly 50 percent of most first-time unions will end in divorce. Most people fail to understand the severity of the sin of adultery. But what is a biblical divorce gives ample reasons to avoid dealing treacherously. Couples are not married just for the sake of saying, "I do;" but they form an entirely new single social unit, called a family. The very act of sexual intercourse that joins husband and wife in a one-flesh bond was originally intended to exist "until death do us part." If couples would realize the importance of that one-flesh, lifelong monogamous union, there might be less of a temptation to engage in acts which warrant what is a biblical divorce. When young couples contemplating marriage understand fully that in giving themselves bodily to their mates a melding of the mind, body and soul is created, some might think twice about violating the sanctity of marriage through adultery.
What Is A Christian DivorceTo define what is a Christian divorce is somewhat anomalous, particularly because God hates putting away. Believers who choose to separate or dissolve marriages, except for certain reasons, therefore operate under God's permissive and not perfect will. The only biblical justifications for divorce are moral uncleanness; fornication, having sex with someone other than a spouse; or abandonment by an unsaved loved one. Recent studies indicate that the statistics for Christian marital dissolution has almost kept pace with those of non-believers. In the last two decades, high profile evangelicals from every denomination have succumbed to marital failure; and little known believers are following suit. A growing acceptance of what is a Christian divorce is evidence that professing believers no longer readily adhere to godly dictates, choosing rather to go the way of the secular world. Bible-believing men and women are marrying and giving in marriage; and repeatedly marrying and giving in marriage, at an alarming rate. If trends continue, the sanctity of a lifelong monogamous bond between one man and one woman will cease to exist.
Although there are only a limited number of biblical grounds for dissolving a marriage, what is a Christian divorce would be best defined as the cessation of a relationship between two believers, or the end of a union between a Christian and a non-Christian. In any case, the involvement of a man or woman who professes a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ puts the relationship in an entirely different category because the believer must be held accountable to God. When an individual becomes born again, they are no longer at liberty to govern their own lives. Accepting Jesus Christ as Lord means exactly that: allowing Him to lead, by way of the Holy Spirit, into a new existence as a new creation. Believers are not to follow the ways of the world, especially when it comes to ending a marriage, or what is a Christian divorce. "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;" (II Corinthians 5:14-18).
The Word of God makes provisions to dissolve a relationship IF the vow has been broken by adultery or abandonment. In such cases, Christian husbands and wives may have little recourse than to file for what is a Christian divorce and end the marriage. But even the decision to put an end to the relationship must be Spirit-led and every effort for reconciliation exhausted. Even when infidelity is suspected, the act must first be proven or confessed by the guilty party. Couples may need professional counseling to resolve the anger, resentment and hurt that accompanies adultery. Taking the time to visit with a secular or spiritual counselor could help husbands and wives come to a point of reconciliation or at the very least, prolong the time before dissolving the marriage. For any act of transgression, including infidelity, the Bible admonishes the offended spouse to forgive. That may be difficult, but a true follower of Jesus Christ should have Christ-like attributes. Longsuffering, gentleness, and the ability to forgive are some characteristics that can make the difference between a marriage irretrievably broken, or what is a Christian divorce, and one that survives infidelity.
In the case of marriage between a Christian and a non-believer who chooses to abandon the believer for reasons other than fornication, what is a Christian divorce takes on a whole new perspective. The Bible specifically states that the believer is "no longer under bondage," and is free to dissolve the union if the non-believing spouse has willingly vacated a shared dwelling. Whether the abandoned spouse is free to remarry falls under the sovereign will of God. However, Paul warned that a woman whose first husband left would not be free to remarry unless he died. "And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife" (I Corinthians 7:10-11).
Regardless of how people view divorce for believers, God ultimately has the last word. He is the judge of every circumstance and every situation. While optimally, two believers should be able to resolve marital conflict and reconcile differences, especially in light of the solemn vow taken before God and witnesses at the wedding, Christians do separate and dissolve what should be a lifelong relationship. But seemingly insurmountable challenges, like infidelity and abandonment, are not easily rectified nor are they easily forgiven. If Bible-believing couples cannot reconcile, even with professional and spiritual counsel, marital dissolution may be inevitable. Believers married to non-believers likewise have an opportunity to display the attributes of Jesus Christ in forgiving their mates every transgression. To answer the question, "What is a Christian divorce?" one can only seek God for guidance and direction; search the Holy Scriptures for instruction in righteousness; and be governed by the Holy Spirit in dealing with the devastation of marital dissolution.