Divorce in the Bible
Lately, the issue on divorce became the subject of most of the discussions and debates especially on social media after House Bill 100, otherwise known as the proposed “Absolute Divorce Act”, was approved by the House Committee on Population and Family Relations at the House of Representatives. HB 100 aims to ensure that proceedings for the grant of absolute divorce shall be affordable, efficient and inexpensive.
Albay Rep, Edcel Lagman, the author of the bill stated that divorce is an exception for irremediably broken and lost marriages, and the State has a continuing mandate to protect and preserve marriage as a social institution and foundation of the family.
In his sponsorship speech Lagman emphasized that “absolute divorce shall be judicially decreed after the fact of an irremediably broken marital union or a marriage vitiated from the start.” The state has the role of strengthening marriage and family life by undertaking “relevant pre-nuptial and post-matrimonial programs and activities.”
What does the Bible say about Divorce?
In the Old Testament, Moses provided laws to protect the interests of the disadvantaged sector of society, including women who were divorced by their husbands. God’s plan was for marriage to be a lifetime union between one man and one woman. However, in Moses’ time, marriage disorders had become so prevalent that he provided special laws designed to deal with the problem. The aim is to stop easy divorce and protect women from unjust treatment.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled.” (NIV)
A woman who had been divorced should be free from interference by her former husband. He had to respect the decency of marriage, he had no right to send her away and then take her back as he pleased.
In the New Testament, Jesus seemingly supported the idea that Moses gave permission to divorce due to the hardness of their hearts, that in the beginning it was not this way. “Haven’t you read,” he replied,”that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and he said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”…”Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning (Matthew 19:4-6, 8 NIV).
The apostle adds another dimension to the issue of divorce, “But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace (1 Corinthians 7:15, NIV). If the unbelieving spouse is unwilling to continue the marriage and leaves, the believing must let it be so and consider the marriage at an end. There is no point in forcing the unbelieving to continue the marriage in the hope of making the person a Christian if such action would result to quarrels. Marriage after all, is intended to bring peace and contentment.
Some people refer to it as “constructive desertion,” which means that “when the husband so brutalizes his wife that it is impossible to live with him any longer; or when a wife has so harassed, or brutalized her husband that it becomes impossible for him to stay with her.” Conducts as such as this makes it impossible to live with the spouse without endangering oneself. Thus, whether or not the spouse moves out, the situation is equivalent to desertion, and divorce is permissible.
A Question of Applicability
Since these passages are highly cultural and contextual, written centuries ago, the question of applicability should be put into consideration.
Deuteronomy 24: 1-4 is part of the law of Moses. The Old Testament law is a covenant – a covenant between God, the suzerain or overlord, and his vassal or servant, Israel. Therefore the Old Testament is not our covenant. The term ‘testament’ is another term for covenant, so the Old Testament represents an old covenant. A covenant we are no longer obligated to observe or keep unless an Old Testament law is restated or reinforced in the New Testament (Fee & Stuart).
This brings us to Jesus’ reinforcement of Moses’ law (Matthew 19:4-6) and Paul’s concept of divorce (1 Corinthians 7:14) as mentioned above. New Testament teachings like those of Jesus and Paul have cultural relativity in the 21st century Philippine society where 95% of Filipinos need to file a nullity of marriage or an annulment to legally terminate their marriage based on the study of N-IUSSP published online in July 10, 2017. However, New Testament concepts especially those of Jesus must be carefully examined.
Finally, as Rep. Lagman said, qouted above, the aim of HB 100 is in accordance with the teaching of the Bible – protect and preserve marriage as a social institution and to protect the interests of the disadvantaged especially the women.
Fee, Gordon D. and Stuart, Douglas. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1993.
MySword for Android. Riversoft Ministry, 2011-2019.