Churches Of Christ/scriptural divorce


My husband and I are both members of the Church of Christ. We have been married for 24 years. Most of those 24 years, he has been verbally and emotionally abusive. I also believe he is bi-polar. He goes berserk if I even look like I'm suggesting he needs help. I don't think he is now, but I do believe he has been unfaithful in the past. I need to know if I can get a scriptural divorce if I find out that he has cheated in the past, or does it have to be an ongoing affair? Is it considered cheating if there was no sex involved in their relationship? If I can get a divorce, can I remarry? Thank you.

I am so sorry about your families situation. Divorce is a very devastating choice to end a marriage. My prayer for you is that you can find a different way to work out your problems in your marriage. It seems to me that two Christians could find a way to resolve their disagreements. But I have no way to know the ins and out in your marriage. I can tell you what the Bible says. And then you can make your own decision base on your own situation and study. In 1 Cor 7 Paul said,

ver. 10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 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 see this, Not as a divorce but a separation between these Christians. And I believe Jesus taught the same in Matt. 19:9 Jesus is not talking about a man divorcing his wife. Jesus said whosoever, "puts away" this is not divorce but a separation. and if this Jewish man married another woman when he had separated from his other wife he committed "adultery against" her, why? Not because the Jewish man had two wives. (The Jews were allow to have more than one wife.) The reason the man committed adultery against her is because he simply "put away" his wife and did not give her the divorce paper she needed to go and be another man's wife. The exception was a fornicated marriage. Read Matthew 19:3: 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?
At the time when Jesus lived on the earth, a dispute had been raging for about a century between the schools of Shammai and Hillel over the proper interpretation of “something indecent” (Deut 24:1). This was but one of numerous attempts by the Pharisees to entrap Jesus. They evidently had two motives: to pit Jesus against Moses and thus charge him with teaching contrary to the Law; or 2) to cause Jesus to takes sides on the controversial divorce issue, which would cause him problems.
What was the answer the Pharisees were seeking in response to their question? Would they not have been satisfied if Jesus had answered “yes” or “no”? Indeed, they would have, but Jesus perceived their intentions and did not respond as they had hoped. Thus, they failed in their effort to cause Jesus to take sides on the issue that so divided the Jews. And so this would explain why at Jesus' trial no charge was made that He had taught contrary to Moses regarding the marriage law.
How did Jesus respond? The conclusion of some today is that Jesus took sides with the “Shammai” school, which would mean he fell for the Pharisees’ trap. Since nothing in this passage or scripture, or elsewhere in the Bible, gives any credence to the idea that the Pharisees or the Hillel school understood Jesus to have taken sides with the Shammai school, then it would seem imprudent to conclude and teach that Jesus sided with Shammai.
Many assert that Jesus not only took the Shammai position but also contradicted Moses in teaching new law, which meant that divorced persons could no longer marry. Again, we find no evidence that the Pharisees understood Jesus to have contradicted Moses. Since that was apparently one of the main things they were hoping Jesus would do it is prudent to conclude that their failure to note (even at his trial) that Jesus contradicted Moses means they did not understand Jesus to have contradicted Moses by teaching a new and different law.
Jesus said He Was Not Making New Law
Matthew 5:17-19: Let there be no thought that I have come to put an end to the law or the prophets. I have not come for destruction, but to make complete. Truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth come to an end, not the smallest letter or part of a letter will in any way be taken from the law, till all things are done. Whoever then goes against the smallest of these laws, teaching men to do the same, will be named least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who keeps the laws, teaching others to keep them, will be named great in the kingdom of heaven.
A Feeble Quibble:
Some preachers are now saying Jesus’ words were not applicable to the Jews, but were just teachings that would go into effect when his law went into effect after his death. In other words, a command was given to the hearers but they were not really expected to do anything. How does that theory harmonize with the following passage:
What thing soever I command you, that shall ye observe to do: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it. (Deut 12:32).
Asserting that what Jesus said to sinners under the Law was not applicable to them, that it did not apply to them, and that they could practice what He condemned is not only a dodge or quibble, it implies that Jesus spoke without authority and did not tell the truth.
On the other hand, if Jesus did change the Law many of the Jewish men would have had to violate the Law immediately ceasing to be faithful to their wives. Let me repeat that.  They would have had to violate the law in order to obey Jesus. Who can believe it? In addition, even if we were to accept that Jesus’ words did not apply before the cross, no New Testament scripture teaches by command, example, or necessary inference that the people taught on the day of Pentecost, or thereafter, were told their legal marriages were adulterous. The only examples we have are marriage was not legal (Mark 6:18, Lev 20:2, 1 Cor. 5:1) and that is in perfect harmony with what Jesus actually taught and which, hopefully, you will see before you complete this reading.
Which school was correct, Hillel, or Shammai?
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (ASV): When a man taketh a wife, and marrieth her, then it shall be, if she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some unseemly thing in her, that he shall write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. 2. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife. 3. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, who took her to be his wife; 4. her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before Jehovah: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which Jehovah thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
The text does not really give a specific reason at all for the divorce, and I draw this conclusion because of verse 3, which says, “And if the latter husband hate her….” Thus, it seems reasonable that the same criteria (he just did not love her) would have been applicable to the first husband who was commanded to write the “bill of divorce” (Mark 10:3) if he was intent on ending the marriage.
Neither the Hillel, nor Shammai Schools of Thought Were Correct
The Shammai school held that "something indecent" meant "marital unfaithfulness," which some today insist is the same thing as “except for adultery.” However, the Law required the death penalty for this offense, which means a divorce would not be needed.
The Hillel school held that the reason for divorce included anything that becomes displeasing to the man. This was certainly not what Moses intended to be understood as the reason for his command. Those of the Hillel school were looking at Moses’ command as being something that was for their benefit, which was not the case at all. They concluded that, being men, they had God’s approval to discard “put away” a wife with no more reason than they might have to discard a garment. Such was not the will of God as is evident from the following passage:
Malachi 2:16: 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.
Moses' aim was ‘to regulate and thus to mitigate an evil which he could not extirpate.’ The evident purpose was, as far as possible, to favor the wife, and to protect her against an unceremonious expulsion from her home and children (International Standard Encyclopedia).
Those who were not hardened in heart would be obedient to the command of God and “deal not treacherously” with their wife, which forbade putting them out of the house. The question of whether adultery was the reason for the command to give the “bill of divorce” is easily settled by noting the following:
Lev 20:10: And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
Deut 22:22: If a man be found lying with a woman married to a husband, then they shall both of them die, the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away the evil from Israel.
Again, since physical sexual adultery was punishable by death, we must rule out the possibility that “adultery” was given as a reason for one to divorce.
The true meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is ably explained by Mike Willis, a conservative preacher and long time editor of Truth Magazine:
A reading of this passage demonstrates that Moses was trying to legislate in such a way as to aid the woman because of the manner in which man was abusing her. According to what I can understand was happening in the days of Moses, a man would put away his wife without any concern for her future. She would not be free to go out and marry another man and yet she could not live with her husband. This left her in destitute circumstances quite frequently. Hence, what Moses was trying to legislate was something that would aid women who had been put away by their husbands.
The Mosaical legislation said that if a man was going to put away his wife, he had to give her a bill of divorcement that showed that she was free from him and had the opportunity to remarry. Hence, it was designed to protect the women from the harsh treatment husbands were giving to them." Mike Willis, Truth Magazine (Dayton, Ohio: April 3, 1980),  XXIV: 14, pp. 227-230.
That the Jews were doing as Mike Willis suggests is evident from the fact that the Jews are still practicing the same treachery against their wives. (See the chapter “Jewish Women in Chains” in this book.) Considering that the Mosaic text (Deut 24:1-4) was actually a command, rather than a privilege for the men (as is evident from the words of Jesus, Mark 10:3), and that the command to provide the “bill of divorcement” was not applicable in the case of marital unfaithful-ness, both the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai were wrong. Thus, Jesus did not take sides with either of them.
We have already discussed, to some degree, the idea that Jesus did not contradict Moses. As we begin to understand the text from Matthew, we will begin to see (if we have not seen already) that Jesus did not contradict Moses, which explains why the Pharisees did not make a charge against Jesus on that matter.
Matthew 19:4-5: And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
What the Law of Moses said was in contrast with what was from the beginning, because God gave no provision for divorce in the beginning. What Jesus said was in contrast with what was from the beginning because it agreed with the Law of Moses.
Matthew 19:7: They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
First, we see that the “writ of divorce” was a command. Jesus’ reply (Mark 10:3) “What did Moses command you?” is proof.
Second, the reason for the command was that men were dealing treacherously with their wives. This was evidently God’s way to give relief to the wives. If they could be legally free they could marry another. A man who deliberately refused to set his wife free, simply casting her out without a divorce decree, was dealing treacherously with her, or committing adultery “against her,” as Jesus put it (Mark 10:11).
Matthew 19:8: 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.
Moses “suffered”, that is, he exacted no penalty for what they were doing—it was just allowed to continue. God gave the command to give the “bill of divorcement,” but men continued to disobey. One of the reasons men would “put away” and not give the “bill of divorcement” was the fact that they would have had to return the dowry they received from the woman’s parents (see ISBE). Of course we know that men were allowed more than one wife under the Law. Thus, it was nothing for a man, if he should get tired of a woman, to simply put her away (“send out of the house”). Nevertheless, when it was done the man and woman were still married. This put the woman, who was not allowed to have multiple husbands, in a position of having no man to care for her and no legal/scriptural right to marry. She needed to be released according to the command of Moses (Deut. 24:1-4). This act of "putting away" was a treacherous deed by the husband, but the Law contained no provision to punish the men if they did not comply. Jesus did refer to such an act as committing adultery "against her" (Mark 10:11) but he said it was “suffered.” Even to this day it is suffered among the Jews. Women in the United States are not affected because they are allowed to divorce the men.
Matthew 19:9: And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
First, what Jesus said was not in contrast with the Law of Moses because it was identical to the Law of Moses. Certainly Jesus was not saying, “Moses said this, but I’m changing it to this.…” That would have resulted in an immediate uproar and stoning. Yet it was not even brought up at his trial.
Paraphrase of verse 9:
Whoever shall send his wife out of the house and marry another, commits adultery against her, unless he sent her away because of fornication, which is being committed because of the unlawful relationship.
The above must be the meaning because the Mosaic text (which was the basis for the discussion) was needed (and therefore written) because of the treacherous practice of Jewish men who were sending their wives away without completely freeing them from the marriage, which would enable them to marry another.
It appears that the Pharisees’ first question was about "putting away," with no implication of thoughts of ending a dead marriage in a legal and scriptural way. But, when Moses was mentioned they answered with both "put away" and "bill of divorcement." It seems plausible that Jesus went back to their original question about "putting away" without the “bill of divorcement” and that he made his succeeding comments with such in mind.
The Exception Clause
The exception clause, found in verse 9 of Matthew 19 and verse 32 of Matthew chapter 5 has been the root of more controversy than perhaps any other biblical text. I shall briefly try to explain how it relates to what we have already learned. Note the following passage:
Ezekiel 10:11: Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives.
God gave no command to divorce those “strange wives.” Why? They were not legal marriages. The relationships were not pleasing to God and simply needed to end. The translators of the New Jerusalem Bible were on the right track (except in rendering apoluo as divorce). They translated the passage as follows:
But I say this to you, everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of an illicit marriage, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Mt 5:32).
Matthew 19:10: His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.
First, it was not the Pharisees but the disciples who commented on Jesus’ teachings. Certainly, they were not intending to place doubt upon the wisdom of God in instituting marriage. They understood Jesus to be saying that if the marriage is not going to be legitimate, such as the case where the woman is a forbidden foreign wife, brother’s ex-wife, or other forbidden relatives, it is best not to marry that particular woman (Gen 24:37; Mt 14:4; Lev 20:17; 20:21).
Matthew 19:11: But he said unto them, Not all men can receive this saying, but they to whom it is given.
Those who could receive the saying would simply be the ones to whom it applied–those whose marriage was illegal/unscriptural and resulted in fornication.
Matthew 19:12: For there are eunuchs, that were so born from their mother's womb: and there are eunuchs, that were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs, that made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
To understand the above passage we must go back to verse ten. The disciples stated that it was not good to marry if the “case of the man be so with his wife.” What case? An illegal/unscriptural marriage. In the above passage, Jesus states that men who cannot find a woman, except one that is not lawful to marry, had best remain celibate. Those who are eunuchs, having not the capability to have sex, certainly would have no problem with not marrying. They would have no problem accepting the saying.
This exegesis is logical, scriptural, and hermeneutically sound and allows for God, Jesus, his apostles, and his disciples, to be seen as fair and just. All should be able to accept the teaching in this thesis because the original teaching of God on marriage is respected, no families need to bust up (if their marriage is legal) and legally divorced persons, innocent of sin or not, need not remain celibate. The practice of requiring celibacy is something that is contrary to the very reason given for marriage (1Cor 7:2).
Marriage is dissolvable (contrary to Catholic decree) if done legally, and those who have been through an unfortunate divorce are not still bound. This is evidently true because of the clear teaching of Paul and the lack of biblical or historical evidence to support the practice of breaking up legal marriages and imposing celibacy.
When a divorce takes place one or both parties may have been guilty of sin, but the sin(s) is forgivable. The last thing that should happen to one disheartened because of a divorce is that he/she be required to maintain a permanent position that makes the endeavor to live the Christian life even more difficult.

Divorce ends a marriage and when the marriage is ended both people are free from the marriage. Now one or both people maybe the cause for the divorce. But that does not effect the fact the divorce ended the marriage. There are sins committed that may cause a divorce. And these sins need to be repented of before the divorce or even after a divorce. I could never advise a person to get a divorce. I had a man that I respect very, very much tell me I was okay to get a divorce and be married again. I did get a divorce and then I married my wife now. I know God has forgiven me for my sins and my marriage today is blessed by God. I love my wife more than anything. But if I could go back in time before my divorce I would try much harder to make it work. I spent more time trying to understand divorce than I did trying to understand how to save my marriage. But that is a part of my past never to be relived. My divorce ended the marriage and that is what God designed divorce to do. In Deut, 24:1-4 you see the divorce law and you understand this is God's way to end a marriage.

Part of this reply was taken from an artcle written by Robert Waters. You can find alot more on his website  totalhealth. God Bless, and I pray you will find a way to make your marriage work. In Christ Dale

Churches Of Christ

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Dale Ferguson


I will answer any questions about MDR, church history, approved worship, church organization, baptism or any other Bible question relating to Christian living or worship.


I have studied these Bible subjects with many other men in the pulpits and with long hours of personal study. Most of the men I studied with are of the older schools of preachers. And my answers tend more to be from Bible scripture rather than Bible schools.

I do not belong to any earthly organizations. I am a member of the Body of the Lord, Jesus Christ. I am a Christian only.

As everyone, I believe the truth is to be found in the Bible and not in a man made institution. A mans ability to teach the God's truth does not belong exclusively to man's institutions of higher learning.

©2016 All rights reserved.