What is DIVORCE?

By Patrick Donahue

The Meaning

The Greek word translated "divorced" in Mt 5:32 (also translated "put away" in the KJV of many of the other marriage passages) is defined by Thayer as "to loose from, sever by loosening, undo .... used of divorce." Mt 5:32 therefore condemns divorce, even if no remarriage follows (note: a different Greek word translated "put asunder" in Mt 19:6 and "depart" in I Cor 7:10 is used in such a way to also condemn separation only). Divorce is the very opposite of marriage. It is to "undo" a marriage.

It appears that there was no ceremony or legal requirement to get married in the days of Isaac (Genesis 24:67), so evidently there was no legal requirement at that time to divorce either (if such were possible). Such may also be the case in some remote societies today. During the time of Moses, divorce did involved a legal process (Deut 24:1 "let him write her a bill of divorcement"). Evidently the same was also true during Jesus' day (Mt 5:31-32). It is certainly true today in the United States. Just as marriage requires doing whatever the standing society dictates a couple to do to be recognized as married, so does divorce require whatever the society dictates for divorce. In our society (U.S.), both marriage and divorce require a legal process.

Divorce Can Be Scriptural Or Unscriptural

Many Christians today act like it is impossible to get an unscriptural divorce. They reason that if a man unscripturally divorces (legally) his wife, that evidently a real divorce has not occured, since if the man commits adultery against that wife (before or after the legal divorce), then the wife can put him away (mentally, not legally) and remarry. But Luke 16:18 proves that this theory is not true. Among other things it teaches that if a man first divorces his wife and then commits adultery by remarrying, it is still adultery for another man to marry the first woman, even though her first husband is now cheating on her sexually.

An unscriptural divorce is a divorce, nonetheless. The problem comes when people try to equate the marriage with the bond, and likewise equate divorce with loosening that bond. Romans 7:2-3 shows that the marriage and the bond are not equivalent when it gives the case of a woman that is bound to her first husband, while married (but not bound) to a second husband. Divorce by itself (nor fornication by itself) does not necessarily loose the bond, only divorce for fornication does that (and only for the one getting the divorce at that, Mt 19:9).

Marrying and divorcing are things that man does. Binding and loosing are things that God does. God binds a couple together when they become scripturally married. God looses that couple when one of the parties dies (Rom 7:2-3). God also looses the "divorcing party" for remarriage, when a divorce for fornication occurs (Mt 19:9).

[Editor’s Note: Thanks to Pat Donahue for writing the article!
He may be reached at:
Pat.Donahue@MSFC.NASA.GOV, 4607 Old Railroad Bed Road, Harvest, AL 35749, (256) 721-0726.]

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