Biblical Reasons for Divorce

by Stephen Davey

Explore the sanctity of marriage vows and the conditions under which divorce is biblically justified.  Learn what Jesus and Paul teach on this sensitive issue. Whether you're seeking guidance for your own marriage or looking to understand God's design for marital relationships, you'll gain profound insights and practical wisdom.


Marriage is a sacred covenant, a divine institution established by God. Traditional wedding vows encapsulate the essence of this commitment: "To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part, in obedience to God’s holy command." These vows signify a lifelong dedication to love and honor one another, reflecting the love of Christ for His church. However, the reality of marriage is that it involves two imperfect, sinful individuals, which can lead to significant challenges and, in some cases, the consideration of divorce.

The Reality of Sin in Marriage

Marriage unites two sinners, each with their own selfish desires and individualistic tendencies. This union often reveals the stark differences between spouses, leading to conflicts and misunderstandings. The story of a couple who, despite their differences, found themselves unknowingly seeking love online only to discover they were already married to each other, illustrates how easily couples can become blinded by their own selfishness.

The Biblical Perspective on Divorce

The question arises: Is divorce biblically justified, and if so, under what circumstances? Jesus addresses this issue in Luke 16:14-18, where He confronts the Pharisees' liberal interpretation of the Law regarding divorce. The Pharisees, who were lovers of money and self-justification, had distorted the Law to allow divorce for trivial reasons, such as a wife burning dinner or speaking too loudly.

Jesus' Teaching on Divorce

In Luke 16:18, Jesus states, "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery." This statement underscores the sanctity of marriage and the seriousness of divorce. Jesus provides a more detailed explanation in Matthew 19:9, where He introduces the "exception clause": "And I say to you; whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."

The Exception Clause: Sexual Immorality

The term "sexual immorality" (Greek: porneia) encompasses a broad range of sexual sins, including adultery, incest, homosexuality, and prostitution. Jesus clarifies that while divorce is not required in cases of sexual immorality, it is permitted. This allowance recognizes the severe breach of trust and defilement of the marriage bed caused by such actions.

The Apostle Paul's Contribution

The Apostle Paul expands on Jesus' teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:10-15. He emphasizes that marriage is a lifelong commitment and that divorce should not be pursued without serious consideration. However, Paul introduces another exception: abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. He states, "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" (1 Corinthians 7:15).

Additional Grounds for Divorce

Beyond sexual immorality and abandonment, other scenarios may justify a biblically permissible divorce. These include:

  1. Physical Abuse: Persistent physical abuse violates the marriage vow to love and cherish and poses a threat to the spouse's well-being.
  2. Verbal and Emotional Abuse: Continuous verbal cruelty and emotional manipulation can be equally destructive.
  3. Addictions: Unrepentant addictions to drugs, alcohol, or gambling that harm the family’s welfare.
  4. Sexual Immorality: Persistent engagement in pornography or other sexual sins.
  5. Threats of Harm: Verbal threats of physical harm or actual physical violence.

The Role of Repentance

The key issue in considering divorce is not merely the presence of sin but the lack of genuine repentance. Divorce acts as a severe form of discipline, akin to church discipline, which is enacted due to unrepentant sin. The goal is always reconciliation and restoration, but when a spouse remains unrepentant, divorce may become necessary to protect the innocent party.


Marriage is designed to be a lifelong covenant that reflects the love and commitment of Christ to His church. However, the Bible provides clear guidelines for when divorce is permissible, emphasizing the importance of repentance and the protection of the innocent spouse. As believers, we are called to uphold the sanctity of marriage, seek reconciliation where possible, and support those who are suffering in unrepentant and abusive relationships.

In the end, our commitment to our marriage vows should be unwavering, striving to honor God in our relationships and demonstrating to the world the beauty of a Christ-centered marriage.


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Stephen Davey founded The Shepherd’s Church in Cary, North Carolina, and pastored that congregation for four decades.

Wisdom International is his global teaching ministry. We produce biblically faithful resources for world-wide distribution in nine languages. Visit to access our extensive collection of biblically faithful resources.