Is every divorce that is not for fornication a sin?


"How it is possible for a requirement that if a woman divorces her husband, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband (a command by the Lord according to Paul) if the only allowed cause for divorce is fornication which gives by implication the non-fornicator the right to remarry?"

Paul is repeating the Lord's command not to divorce (Matthew 19:6) and is saying that if someone does commit sin by an unscriptural divorce they need to remain unmarried or else be reconciled. It's that simple. We have to be careful about human reasoning as in "the only logical explanation." No, the only scriptural explanation is that Paul is repeating the Lord's command in Matthew 19:6 not to divorce (that's exactly what he did in I Corinthians 7:10), but if one does depart (violate the Lord's command), there would need to be an effort to reconcile or if that fails to remain unmarried. Paul is thus also repeating the Lord's command in Matthew 19:9 not to remarry, and he is promoting reconciliation to correct the wrong done in the divorce.

I know that it would be nice for all of us if Paul had used the phrase "repent of your unscriptural divorce" in giving the instruction to remain unmarried or be reconciled, but just because he didn't say that doesn't mean that we are free to conclude that someone is without sin if they violate the command he just issued not to divorce. That is human reasoning, and it flies in the face of plain scriptural statements.

By the way, the "not-but" construction that you mentioned in our call is best understood in light of the statement in I John 2:1 not to sin, but if you do you have an advocate with the Father. Apply that proper construction to I Corinthians 7:10-11 and you will remain consistent with the teaching of the Scriptures that all divorce is a sin unless it is for the cause of fornication.

As for Matthew 19:9, you are right, divorce alone does not make one an adulterer. But that fact does nothing to change what the Lord said unequivically about divorce. It does nothing to state or even imply that there are other unnamed reasons for divorce. According to scripture, man is not to put asunder what the Lord joined together. The only exception that is given that would make a divorce lawful is fornication. That is what Matthew 19:9 teaches, and Paul is simply repeating what the Lord taught.

I will be eager to read your response to these arguments. If I am missing something in any of these scriptures please let me know.


"The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever" (Psalms 119:160).
I have difficulty with your position because you divide I Corinthians 7:11 from I Corinthians 7:10.
"Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.

But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her" (I Corinthians 7:10-12).

You stated that only the statement "A wife is not to depart from her husband" is from Jesus, but that is not what Paul stated. Paul stated that the Lord commanded: "A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife." All three statements are the Lord's commands, that is what Jesus taught while here on earth. Note that making them three separate statements is a translator's choice. They can be presented as a single command as is found in every translation but the NKJV. The NASB95 translates this as: "But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife." They are not divisible where the parenthetical phrase can be claimed to be not a part of the Lord's command. Starting in verse 12 are the commands that Paul is delivering from the Lord, but they are dealing with topics that Jesus did not address while here on earth.

Prior to these verses Paul had discussed what God has permitted and what Paul suggests. The topic raised in I Corinthians 7:10-11 are commands based on the Lord’s authority. He uses the “not ... but ellipses” that we discussed earlier. The shared verb is parangello, which means “charge” or “command.” Thus what Paul is stating is that not only does he give this command, but far more importantly this is a command of Jesus. This topic is what Jesus taught while he was here on earth.

You treat the second two statements as if they are Paul's commentary, but that isn't what Paul said. Though Paul recorded the command, it hold no less weight than Jesus words recorded in the gospels.  Besides, all that the apostles spoke is with the full authority of Jesus. "If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord" (I Corinthians 14:37). Therefore, what is stated in I Corinthians 7:11 is just as important as what is stated in I Corinthians 7:10 and it is a part of the command.

The real core of your question is: "Is divorce a sin?" The general rule given by Christ is shown in the first part of Matthew 19. "The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?" And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."" (Matthew 19:3-6). Jesus was asked if a man could divorce his wife for any reason. Jesus' response was "no." His proof was that marriage existed from the time of creation and was established by God. In marriage God makes two people into one unit. What God has put together, man should not seek to separate. This doesn't mean there aren't reasons for divorce. The point is that God regulates the marriage covenant, including its termination, not man. Later Jesus speaks of divorce because of fornication, but the field is not wide open for any divorce. Thus Paul's record of the statements "A wife is not to depart from her husband" and "A husband is not to divorce his wife" are not seen as absolutes forbidding all divorces. It does tell us that God doesn't like divorce, even when allowances are made by Him.

This matches what God had earlier stated through the prophet Malachi. "And this is the second thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, "For what reason?" Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. "For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one's garment with violence," says the LORD of hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously." (Malachi 2:13-16). God hates divorce because sin is involved. When a wife divorces a husband because he is committing adultery, God still hates the divorce. It resulted from sin and it generates situations where more sin (violence) can arise. A union is torn apart, temptation is increased, and children's lives are destroyed. 

Jesus said the same thing. "But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery" (Matthew 5:32). It is not a necessary implication that the act of divorce immediately causes adultery, but rather divorcing a spouse leads to adultery. Jesus said, "causes her to commit adultery." The reason is simple: few people remain unmarried after a divorce. When a woman marries another after a divorce, she is committing adultery against her former spouse. The one who marries such a person is not innocent either; he is involved in adultery as well. Paul stated that "But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband" was taught by the Lord while on earth. That statement is a direct derivation of what Jesus stated in Matthew 5:32.

There is an exception clause in Matthew 5:32. A man who divorces his wife because she was guilty of fornication (sexual immorality), does not cause her to commit adultery. Again the answer as to why is simple: she is already involved in adultery. Her husband's divorce of her will not cause her to later commit adultery -- she is already involved in that sin.

In Matthew 19:9 Jesus said, "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery." Jesus gives two conditions that causes the sin of adultery to be committed: 1) a divorce not for the reason of fornication, and 2) marrying another person. This statement is not in contradiction to Matthew 5:32, but gives greater detail. [Just as some verses note that faith saves and other verses mention that both faith and baptism save. Both are true, but the latter gives additional details.] In Matthew 19:9 the adultery is not mentioned as a possible future outcome as it was in Matthew 5:32, but as a immediate fact. Hence, a divorce can lead to adultery, but marrying someone else is adultery. The one exception is: if the divorce is for fornication, the wording implies that the non-fornicator can marry another without committing adultery.

Jesus, in Matthew 19:9, does not state what happens if a person divorces and does not marry again. The wording is similar to Mark 16:16. Two conditions lead to a result (in this case salvation). A lack of one condition (faith) leads to destruction. But we aren't told what the lack of the other condition (baptism) causes, though we can determine it from other verses. In Matthew 19, we are told is that divorce cannot be for any reason dreamed up by men (Matthew 19:3-6) and that a divorce leads to the possibility of adultery (Matthew 5:32). But we are not told if fornication is the exclusive reason for a divorce. Matthew 19:9 does not state what results if a person divorces and does not remarry, though this can be determined from other verses.

Divorce is also mentioned in I Corinthians 7. "Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife" (I Corinthians 7:10-11). Paul refers to a statement that is similar to Matthew 19:6 that a married couple is to remain married. Paul then gives the implication of this command as presented by Christ. Even if a wife chooses to leave her husband despite the command not to divorce, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. Once again, the reasoning is simple: if she left and married someone else, she would be committing adultery. Hence, she must remain unmarried so that if the problems that caused her to leave are resolved, she is free to return her husband. One does not fix a problem by adding additiona problems to it. From this I would conclude that while a wife might divorce her husband though she should not, because she must remain unmarried, God still holds her to her marriage covenant.

This position matches what God taught the Israelites in Deuteronomy 24:1-4: "When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man's wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance." Moses' law doesn't clearly specify the reason for the divorce, but it clearly forbids a woman from returning to her first husband after she married a second. Paul also does not give a reason for divorce, but he emphasizes the same point. A wife who leaves her husband cannot leave to marry another man. The exception clause is not mentioned because it is not critical to the point Paul is working to get across. Mentioning it would have added complications and left the overall point unclear.

So is Paul allowing divorces for any reason? The answer remains the same as the Lord's in Matthew 19, divorce for any reason is not allowed. Marriage is and always has been intended to be for life. "For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man" (Romans 7:2-3).

Some concepts in the Scriptures are taught against, but also are dealt with when they occur. For example, in general it is wrong to be angry. "But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth" (Colossians 3:8). Yet we know from other passages that all anger is not ruled out. Anger is bad because it often leads to sin. ""Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil" (Ephesians 4:26-27). Holding on to anger gives Satan opportunities to tempt us with sin; hence, if we must get angry, it is to be of short duration. "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20). Similarly, because of the danger of anger leading to sin, we must only become angry reluctantly. Knowing this, it is wrong to declare all anger sinful; yet, we can speak generally that anger is wrong.

You tried to draw a parallel between divorce and the discussion of sin in I John 2:1. It is a bad comparison because all divorce is not sinful, since divorce due to fornication is specifically mentioned; yet all sin is by definition sinful. There are no exceptions.

Divorce appears to be similar to anger, wrath, and hatred. It is not good for men. It is something that God does not like. It comes about because one or more people are sinning. Yet, sometimes people divorce despite the warning. Jesus states that fornication can be a just cause for divorce, but his statement also leaves it clear that a person doesn't have to divorce because his spouse has committed fornication. It is a choice that God doesn't like but allows. Paul too speaks of divorce as something that might happen. But the divorce Paul speaks of is different from the one that Matthew covers.

Matthew's account implies that the one divorcing a spouse because of fornication can marry another without committing adultery. Paul states that one who divorces (with no particular cause mentioned) is not allowed to marry another person; their only option is to reconcile with their spouse. Matthew and Paul's accounts do not contradict each other; hence, the causes for a divorce that Paul quotes Jesus discussing are different from the one cause that Jesus gave in Matthew. You have two different rules for what happens after divorce. The inescapable conclusion is that there are two different sets of causes for divorce.

Like anger, divorce is harmful and should be avoided. But if it happens, despite all the warnings, then it is regulated by the command not to marry another. Hence, divorce can be clearly a sin, such as leaving because "I just don't love you anymore." It can be clearly permitted when one's spouse is committing fornication. Yet, if it happens despite God's commands to not divorce, it is regulated with the hope that it will only be temporary.

Some desire to label all divorce for reasons other than fornication sinful even if the person remains unmarried. Later in I Corinthians 7, Paul talks about an unbelieving spouse leaving. The believer who was left behind was not necessarily in sin just because a divorce took place. I don't know if I can come up with a situation where a divorce could not be avoided, but let's not lose sight of the fact that divorce is always due to people sinning. It is the sin that needs to be dealt with. I'm sure that in the vast majority of the divorces that take place in the world, the one demanding the divorce is in sin. However, there might be rare times when it is the sin of the partner that makes a person conclude they cannot remain in the marriage while the partner remains in their sin. Rather than make a blanket statement, I would rather that such events be examined on a case-by-case basis.

Let me again emphasize that I Corinthians 7:10-11 does not open the gates for divorce for any reason. All divorce, even those for the cause of fornication, is hated by God because at its root is sin by one or both parties in the marriage. But I don't think brethren are able to declare all non-fornication divorces as sinful without due consideration of the reasons.

I teach strongly against all divorce. Marriage should be approached with the idea that divorce is not an option. Even when fornication is involved, I urge couples to resolve the problems. If, despite the teaching, someone insists on divorcing, I tell the person that if it is fornication by the other spouse, they do have the right to remarry while the one guilty of fornication must remain unmarried. From this I conclude that the guilty party is still bound by the marriage covenant he or she freely made even though a divorce ended the marriage.

If they insist on getting a divorce and it is not for fornication, I tell them that they both must remain unmarried or reconciled with their spouse. In this latter case, I conclude that the marriage covenant is still in place and that both parties, despite the divorce, are still accountable to God to uphold their covenant even while unmarried. Whoever is involved in sin, which might be both parties, should be dealt with as any other sinner. The divorce is likely just one more aspect of the sins going on, but regardless, it is the sins which need addressing so that these people can reach heaven and, if at all possible, that their marriage while they remain on earth might be repaired.