Greek: apoluo \ap-ol-oo'-o\ aphiemi \af-ee'-ay-mee\
Hebrew: shalach \shaw-lakh'\
1.The action or an instance of legally dissolving a marriage. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/divorce
translated: “divorce” (NIV; NLT; NCV; NKJV; NASB; THE MESSAGE; GNT); “send away” (NASB); “put away” (KJV); In other contexts: “release”, “set free”, “dismiss."
The original intent
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Gen 2:24
It is God’s design that a man and a woman join in the covenant of marriage so that they may be bound together as one for as long as they both shall live (Gen 2:24; Mt 19:6; Eph 5:31). By plan and preference, it was originally God’s intent that a divorce should never occur (Mt 19:8). To show the strength of God’s view of divorce, the Scriptures actually state that God hates divorce.
"For I hate divorce," says the LORD, the God of Israel. (Mal 2:16)
If God dislikes divorce so much, why then does he allow married couples to divorce at all? Jesus actually reveals the answer to that question when he tells the religious leaders of his day it was only due to the hardness of man’s heart that God allowed divorce to happen in the first place; and then, only under certain circumstances (Mt 19:8). It seems that God understands our (sinful) hearts, and resulting (sinful) actions so well, that he graciously, mercifully, and regretfully allows a couple release from their covenant and contract of marriage – given that they meet the strict and prescribed biblical grounds for a divorce.
A brief history lesson
What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate. Mt 19:6
On January 1, 1970, in the state of California, no-fault divorce became legal. By 1985, flaming like a raging wildfire to every state and the District of Columbia, no-fault divorce quickly spread to become the law of the entire land. Under no-fault divorce, neither spouse is required to prove "fault" or marital misconduct on the part of the other. To obtain a divorce a spouse must merely assert incompatibility or irreconcilable differences, meaning the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
While obtaining a no-fault divorce is the norm in the United States, it is not, nor ever has been, the biblical mandate. Under the Old Testament Mosaic Law, a man could divorce his wife if he had “found some indecency in her” by writing her a certificate of divorce and sending her out of his house (Dt 24:1). Alas, Moses was never given the detailed criteria for what “an indecency” was. As it turns out centuries later, Jesus explained the definition of that term.
Jesus put a radical spin on the law of divorce when he preached his Sermon on the Mount. He emphatically declared the only grounds for a legitimate biblical divorce was when a spouse commits adultery. He further emphasized this new take on the law when he responded to the Pharisees who came to test him by repeating that the only acceptable “indecency” for a divorce was adultery.
You shall not commit adultery. Ex 20:14
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Mt 5:31-32
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Mt 19:3-9 (Mk 10:2-12)
With one exception…
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Rom 12:18
There are some of us who are always looking for the exception to the rule. Well, in the case of what constitutes legitimate grounds for a biblical divorce, believe it or not, there actually is an exception. The caveat is that it does not pertain to all marriages, but rather exclusively and quite narrowly to those involving a believer and an unbeliever. Here’s an explanation of the exception:
If there is a married couple consisting of one believing spouse and one unbelieving spouse (no matter how that came about), and the unbelieving spouse wants a divorce, the believing spouse should allow the divorce. However, the reverse is not true: If a believer is married to an unbeliever, and the unbeliever wants to live with the believer, then the believing spouse should not seek a divorce.
To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 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 because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 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. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? 1 Cor 7:12-16
“What if I’m just not happy?”
Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. 1 Cor 7:27
The reality is that not all marriages are happy ones all the time. There can be seasons of time when needs go unfilled and expectations are not met. There can also be stretches of time when a spouse feels and/or actually is physically, emotionally, or mentally neglected or even abused. Feelings of being controlled, minimized or devalued arise more often then we would care to admit or acknowledge. Abandonment, whether physical or emotional, can and does take place. Simply and sadly put, there are a great number of things that can happen between a husband and a wife that would cause one or both of them to struggle so much that one or both of them eventually decides to seek a divorce. Which begs the question, “Should a Christian couple seek a divorce for anything except the grounds of adultery?”
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. 1 Cor 7:10-11
In the above passage, the Apostle Paul acts as a marriage counselor by sharing the will of the Lord to potentially disgruntled, unhappy, or disenchanted married couples. He points out that though it is not the best option, rather than get a divorce (and only if absolutely necessary), a married couple should remain married but be separated for a time. To be clear, the goal of a separation is not to allow time for pre-divorce discussions or proceedings but rather to allow a space of time to intentionally and pro-actively seek reconciliation, restoration and ultimately, a reuniting. Please note that he also flat out cautions them not to seek a divorce. Further, keep in mind that Jesus allowed for divorce but did not demand it if a spouse committed adultery (Mt 5:31-32).
And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. Mt 19:9 (Mk 10:11-12; Lk 16:18)
If you feel that your marriage is on the rocks (or heading in that direction) and thoughts of seeking a divorce are weighing heavily upon your mind, I ask that you strongly consider speaking to a pastor and/or a Christian counselor to receive biblical counseling. Remember, the institution of marriage is God’s design and he gives plenty of instruction in his Word on how to rebuild, restore, refresh and reenergize your marriage. With God, there is always hope!