A Brief Comment on Divorce and the Bible

by Sierra

Therefore take heed to your spirit,
and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.
For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away.
(Malachi 2:15-16)

When was the last time you looked at this verse? It’s used all the time, in the Message and in evangelical culture, to justify opposition to no-fault divorce and the rising trend of multiple marriages. “God hates divorce” is the mantra of many Christian conservatives. But have you ever thought about what this verse actually means?

How did a verse that so obviously tells men to be kind to their wives and not to leave them destitute become a verse that tells women they have no right to leave an abusive marriage? (Isn’t promising to love, protect and provide for someone and then throwing them out on the curb the very definition of “dealing treacherously”? Divorced women were in dire straits in that era.) Branham taught that men could divorce women for adultery, but women could never divorce their husbands, under any circumstances. Branham taught that wives could win their husbands to Christ and change them from abusers to saints by living the example of the Holy Spirit before them. That is not what this verse is about. This verse, if anything, looks like it’s about God caring for the afflictions of spurned women and commanding men to treat their wives better.

The “stay until he changes” dogma is a fiction created by cobbling together piles of fractured Scriptures into a Frankenstein that bears no resemblance to the words above. God hates divorce, indeed, but not because it ends a marriage. He hates it because it hurts women.

Discuss this post on the NLQ forum. Comments are also open below.

Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a “Message of the Hour” congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog The Unspoken Words: A Non-Prophet Message.

Read all posts by Sierra!

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  • madame

    “How did a verse that so obviously tells men to be kind to their wives and not to leave them destitute become a verse that tells women they have no right to leave an abusive marriage?”

    Good question… I guess it did so the same way that a verse (passage) directly commanding men to LOVE their wives became a passage commonly used to support male leadership in marriage.
    The same way a verse commanding men to respect and honor their wives has become further reinforcement of the man’s authority and boss-ship over his wife.

    It’s sooooo twisted!!!!

  • Anna

    thankyou thankyou for tackling such a misused verse. I hope this part of a series on why divorce is sometimes the best option. Abusers hardly ever change and they certainly don’t if they keep getting what they want.

  • Well said! I recently listened to a sermon in our new church and was amazed to hear the words “Men and women are equal in Christ.”

  • I am not a Christian, nor indeed a theist, and am of course supportive of the right to divorce. So this question is not out of any motive but curiosity.

    I seem to recall that there are a lot of other quotes against divorce in the Bible — Jesus speaking against them in the gospels, and so forth. Is the argument really that those verses are solely about divorce which leaves a woman destitute? Or is there not good grounds for making a Christian argument that God disapproves of all divorce regardless of reason? If you believe the former, how do you interpret the other anti-divorce passages besides this one?

  • Crooked Bird

    Stephen, as a Christian who did not come from the kinds of repressive backgrounds most people on this site came from, I’ll try and venture to answer your question, though maybe I shouldn’t because it wasn’t really me you asked. Still. No one else did.

    It’s been traditionally considered for a long time by many people that Christianity forbids divorce, as you probably know. Probably the clearest passage on this (I’m lousy at remembering verse references, so none of those, sorry) is the place where Jesus quotes from the Creation story in Genesis, “A man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and the two become one flesh,” and adds, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate.” (I think that might be the one where he then gets into a discussion with his disciples, who are shocked and think that maybe it’s not worth getting married in that case, and who add that Moses allowed men to divorce their wives as long as they could write out a certificate stating a reason. Jesus basically says, “He only did that because he knew you people are so hard-hearted.” Please note that this entire discussion is about men divorcing their wives! The reverse was practically unheard of–not to mention forbidden in almost all cases by Mosaic law.)

    However, it’s not possible to make a case that God forbids divorce “regardless of reason,” because there’s another quote from Jesus stating what people have long considered the major exception: adultery. What he actually said was roughly this: “Anyone who divorces his wife–unless he does it because she’s committed adultery–makes her commit adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” I find this a really, really interesting thing for him to say. For one thing, again with the assumption that divorcees are women, which it seems they were in that time and place. And then the whole “makes her commit adultery” thing, which seems odd. The best interpretation I’ve read for why he put it exactly this way is that women, economically, HAD to be married–so a divorced woman had no option but to remarry. The same commentator claims, and I don’t find it hard to believe, that a divorced woman would have been considered damaged goods and likely ended up with a man with no respect for her–and if she couldn’t find a husband she might be forced to turn to prostitution. It seems clear that Jesus thinks of going from one sexual relationship to another as adultery even if a marriage has been legally dissolved–but also that he really hates to see a woman forced into this.

    So actually, here we have another passage where God hates divorce because it hurts women.

    So basically–yes, there is a case to be made that God disapproves of divorce generally, though not quite regardless of reason. But there’s also a case to be made that one of the strongest (and most often stated) of the reasons why is that it disproportionately (at least in Bible times–but I’ve seen statistics that suggest this is still true) hurts women, and badly. Putting these things together, you get the reason why many Christians feel it makes sense to respect a woman’s decision to divorce an abusive husband–and why, unfortunately, legalistic Christians will say “Oh, but not if he hasn’t cheated.” Well, and some legalistic Christians like the nutjob quoted in the article will say “No, not for any reason if you’re a woman,” but really, they’ve got *no* support.

  • Crooked Bird: Thanks for the answer, very informative.

    Incidentally, I followed a link here & didn’t know anything about the site beyond this article. My apologies if I said anything hurtful or broke any local conventions.

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