Institution of Marriage
Dating and Choosing a Spouse
Remarriage After Death of a Spouse
Divorce and Remarriage
Biblical Grounds for Divorce
Lasting Damage of Divorce
Other Reasons for Divorce
What Is a Marriage?
Should I Be Married in a Church?
Can I Marry Someone of a Different Race?
I Had Sex with My Boyfriend/Girlfriend/Fiancé Before Marriage; Can We Still Get Married?
What Does the Bible Say About Polygamy or Bigamy - Having More Than One Wife or Husband?
Does the Bible Say a Wife Has to Obey and Be Submissive to Her Husband?
Is it Okay For a Couple to Be Separated but Still Legally Married?
Can I remarry my ex-spouse?
I Remarried After Divorce. Should I Divorce or Separate from My New Spouse? Should I Go Back to My First Spouse?
Can I Be Forgiven If I Divorced and Remarried?
Does the Bible Say I Cannot Receive Communion in Church If I Remarried After Divorce?
What does the Bible say about same-sex marriage (gay marriage)?
Various ceremonies and feasts accompanied the wedding day at different times in history, but the wedding was not performed, sanctioned or blessed by religious officials. As far as is known, there was no exchange of marriage vows, and our commonly used marriage vows do not come from the Bible. The marriage was neither a civil nor a religious matter, but numerous religious obligations came as a result.
The Israelites were prohibited from intermarrying with the pagan peoples who surrounded them (Deuteronomy 7:1-4), and the apostle Paul advised Christians to marry only other believers (1 Corinthians 7:39, 2 Corinthians 6:14). However, an already married Christian should not divorce a nonbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:12-16).
There is no indication in the Bible that we are predestined to marry a certain person or that there is one special person or "soul mate" that we should find and marry. Except for the preference to marry another Christian, we are free to marry whomever we wish (1 Corinthians 7:39).
Some Christians feel they should live according to the authoritarian Biblical-era model of marriage, but contemporary marriages are typically quite different. Regardless of how we divide the roles, responsibilities and decision making in our marriages, we must be sure the marriage fulfills its essential family functions and provides a loving environment for children to grow into responsible well-adjusted adults. For more information: What Does the Bible Say About Women's Rights?
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (TNIV, 1 Corinthians 13:4–7)
The husband should fulfill his wife's sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband's needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won't be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (NLT, 1 Corinthians 7:3-5)
The Bible does not give any rules for how sex should be practiced between husband and wife except for a prohibition against sex during menstruation - a woman's period of "uncleanness" (Leviticus 18:19). However, the Old Testament rules about unclean foods and practices are not binding on Christians (Mark 7:1-5, 7:14-23, Romans 14:13-14). Of course, the lack of specific rules does not imply that any abusive, exploitative or nonconsensual act would be allowable. Those things are prohibited by other Bible teachings.
Adultery is one of the most frequently and severely condemned sins in the Bible (Exodus 20:14, Matthew 19:16-19, Hebrews 13:4). Even lustful thoughts that may lead to adultery are prohibited (Matthew 5:27-28). Adultery frequently damages the marriage relationship in ways that can never be undone, and it often leads to divorce. For more information: What Does the Bible Say About Adultery?
The word translated in the passage above as "sexual immorality" was porneia in the original Greek Bible text. It means illicit sexual intercourse, including adultery, incest, etc. As quoted in Matthew, sexual immorality by one partner is sufficient reason for divorce, but it does not require divorce. In many cases the husband and wife can be reconciled even after adultery. As quoted in Mark and Luke (Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18), Jesus did not mention sexual immorality as grounds for divorce.
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." (TNIV, Matthew 19:3-9)
No other grounds for divorce are mentioned in the New Testament. The New Testament teaches strongly that marriage should be a lifelong commitment. Things such as lack of commitment, different values/beliefs, in-law problems, stress, incompatibility, lack of concern/consideration, sexual problems, growing apart, illness, incapacity, boredom, sexual desires, desire for happiness or other reasons are not Biblical grounds for divorce.
The Apostle Paul echoed Jesus' sentiment:
Now, for those who are married I have a command, not just a suggestion. And it is not a command from me, for this is what the Lord himself has said: A wife must not leave her husband. But if she is separated from him, let her remain single or else go back to him. And the husband must not divorce his wife. (TLB, 1 Corinthians 7:10-11)
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) says,
Parents should be alert to signs of distress in their child or children. Young children may react to divorce by becoming more aggressive and uncooperative or by withdrawing. Older children may feel deep sadness and loss. Their schoolwork may suffer and behavior problems are common. As teenagers and adults, children of divorce can have trouble with their own relationships and experience problems with self-esteem.6
We must make an effort each and every day to keep our marriages strong and not let them drift toward divorce. We must put aside our anger, forgive our spouse a million times over, always be faithful, subdue our pride and ego, and always let true Christian love guide our actions. Professional counseling may help resolve marital problems before the relationship deteriorates beyond repair.
However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (NIV, Ephesians 5:33)
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (NIV, 1 Timothy 5:8)
If an unbeliever abandons the marriage, the other partner is freed from the marriage bond (1 Corinthians 7:15).
The Bible does not have a specific teaching about other intolerable situations. But if one partner seriously violates the marriage contract, as by physical/emotional/sexual abuse, illegal activity, financial irresponsibility, etc., the marriage contract has been unilaterally broken. The other partner must take whatever actions are necessary to escape from the situation and to protect self and children. Reconciliation is preferable, but if that is not possible, different church denominations have different procedures for formally ending the marriage.
Levirate marriage was practiced in Old Testament times. If a man died leaving no male heir, his brother was expected to marry his widow and produce children (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). This, and other forms of polygamy, were acceptable in Biblical times, although only wealthy men could afford multiple wives. King Solomon was the most notable polygamist with his 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3-4).Most Christian churches have consistently opposed polygamy as a perversion of God's plan for marriage (Genesis 2:18-24, Matthew 19:4-6, 1 Corinthians 6:16). Polygamists were prohibited from holding church offices (1 Timothy 3:2, 3:12).
In Biblical times, couples were temporarily apart due to military service (2 Samuel 11:6-11) or family visits (Luke 1:39-40, 1:56). Jesus' apostles were likely away from their wives for at least part of the time they were serving Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:5, Mark 6:6-10). Similarly couples of today may have to be temporarily apart because of family situations, jobs or military service.
However, if a couple separates because of marital problems, they are no longer living according to the Biblical model of marriage (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6, 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, 7:10-11, Ephesians 5:33).
The New Testament does not have a specific teaching on this topic. However, if ex-spouses can be reconciled, remarriage seems to be in accordance with the spirit of New Testament teachings (Mark 10:2-12, 1 Corinthians 7:10-11), particularly if neither partner has remarried since the divorce.
To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 7:10–11)
However, Paul was writing about the case where a couple has separated but have not divorced and remarried. The additional sin of another divorce and the emotional pain caused to the current spouse and others involved would violate other Bible principles. In most cases, the first marriage could not be restored. When these factors are considered, intentionally breaking up a second marriage seems like an unworkable and unwise choice.
To the rest I say — I and not the Lord — that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 7:12-14)
Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.7
Related article: What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality?
Protestant churches have varying degrees of acceptance of divorce and remarriage. Many allow remarriage in the church under at least some circumstances. Most do not impose sanctions against their members who have divorced and remarried in civil ceremonies. Anyone contemplating divorce or remarriage should find out the policies of his or her own church.
The Roman Catholic Church does not recognize a remarriage after divorce as being valid unless the original marriage has been annulled by a Catholic Church tribunal. Persons who remarry without annulment are barred from receiving Communion in the Church. Frequent grounds for annulment include "lack of due discretion" in choosing a spouse, "defective consent," meaning fraud by one of the parties, "psychic incapacity" to fulfill the obligations of marriage, "defect of form," meaning the original wedding was not performed in the Catholic Church, and "prior bond," meaning one of the partners was married to someone else at the time of the wedding8.
Here is a sampling of official church positions from the three largest Christian denominations in the U.S.:
1660 The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature it is ordered to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of children. Christ the Lord raised marriage between the baptized to the dignity of a sacrament.
1663 Since marriage establishes the couple in a public state of life in the Church, it is fitting that its celebration be public, in the framework of a liturgical celebration, before the priest (or a witness authorized by the Church), the witnesses, and the assembly of the faithful.
1664 Unity, indissolubility, and openness to fertility are essential to marriage. Polygamy is incompatible with the unity of marriage; divorce separates what God has joined together; the refusal of fertility turns married life away from its "supreme gift," the child.
1665 The remarriage of persons divorced from a living, lawful spouse contravenes the plan and law of God as taught by Christ. They are not separated from the Church, but they cannot receive Eucharistic communion. They will lead Christian lives especially by educating their children in the faith.
From Catechism of the Catholic Church, (c) 1994, 1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc., http://www.usccb.org/catechism/text/pt2sect2chpt3art7.htm
XVIII. The Family. God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.
Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God's unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.
The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.
Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. Parents are to demonstrate to their children God's pattern for marriage. Parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and to lead them, through consistent lifestyle example and loving discipline, to make choices based on biblical truth. Children are to honor and obey their parents.
from The Baptist Faith and Message, © 1999-2004, Southern Baptist Convention, http://sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp#xviii
We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God's blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage.
When a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness. It is recommended that methods of mediation be used to minimize the adversarial nature and fault-finding that are often part of our current judicial processes.
Although divorce publicly declares that a marriage no longer exists, other covenantal relationships resulting from the marriage remain, such as the nurture and support of children and extended family ties. We urge respectful negotiations in deciding the custody of minor children and support the consideration of either or both parents for this responsibility in that custody not be reduced to financial support, control, or manipulation and retaliation. The welfare of each child is the most important consideration.
Divorce does not preclude a new marriage. We encourage an intentional commitment of the Church and society to minister compassionately to those in the process of divorce, as well as members of divorced and remarried families, in a community of faith where God's grace is shared by all.
From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2000. Copyright 2000 by The United Methodist Publishing House. http://www.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=1722, http://www.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=1723
What Does the Bible Say About Premarital Sex?
What Does the Bible Say About Interracial Marriage and Interracial Dating?
What Does the Bible Say About Adultery?
1 Michael R. Cosby, Sex in the Bible, Prentice-Hall,
2 Merrill F. Unger, "Marriage," The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Moody Press, 1988.
3 Herbert Lockyer, Sr., ed., "Marriage," Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.
4 Charles L. Bryner, Jr, MD, "Children of Divorce", The Journal of the American Board of Family Practice May–June 2001 Vol. 14 No. 3, http://www.jabfm.org/content/14/3/201.full.pdf
5 Paul R. Amato, Bruce Keith, "Parental Divorce and the Well-Being of Children: A Meta-Analysis," American Psychological Association, Psychological Bulletin 1991, Vol. 110, No. 1, 26-46
6 American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, "Children and Divorce ," Facts for Families© , http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/children_and_divorce , 2011.
7 Obergefell v. Hodges, Supreme Court of the United States, June 26, 2015.
8 John T. Catoir, J.C.D., "Understanding Annulments," St. Anthony Messenger, 1998. http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Sep1998/feature1.asp