A Biblical View of Divorce (Part 3): Common Objections

In the previous posts within this series I have established that I believe the Bible allows for divorce in three cases: neglect of material support (food and clothing), neglect of physical affection (conjugal rights), and adultery. These were the covenant vows communicated at the wedding ceremony, and they are the grounds for divorce articulated in Old Testament. These grounds are neither denied nor undermined by the New Testament teaching, and in fact both Jesus and Paul support them. There are many, however, who do not agree with this interpretation and view on divorce. They have some common, even legitimate criticism. In this post I want to take a moment to clarify my position in light of these criticisms and provide Biblically faithful answers to these critiques.

But God Hates Divorce

Whenever the subject of divorce comes up it is common for Christians to reference, even if without exact knowledge, Malachi 2:16, “For I hate divorce,” says the Lord. Frequently, then, people will state “God hates divorce.” The actual text of Malachi 2:16 is probably best translated, as “the man who hates and divorces his wife,” [1] which points towards sinful divorce. It is this man who “covers his garment with violence.” Because he is ending a marriage, tearing apart what God has joined together, he is a man of violence. This is distinctly different from the gracious relief God gives to the victims of broken covenant vows. God offers relief to those whose marriage is already broken, but this text has something else in mind.

Furthermore, even while God “hates” divorce He still permits it. Divorce is the recognition of the end of a marriage, which is always bad. Divorce is not the way it’s supposed to be. Yet, God permits this, because while He hates divorce He also hates betrayal, abuse, and the breaking of vows. It is not the way it is supposed to be, and yet in a broken world God allows for escape from the violation of a marriage covenant.

But We Should Forgive

Forgiveness is what marks the Christian as different from all others. We believe that as God in Christ forgave us, so we are also called to forgive others (Eph. 4:32). Within the union of marriage there is much forgiveness that must transpire. We recognize that when two sinners say “I do” they do not suddenly become a perfect union. Sin will occur within marriage and we must regularly ask for forgiveness, give forgiveness, and let love cover a “multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). This, however, does not mean that divorce is never allowed.

It’s important to note that forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. We may forgive someone, or be in a spirit of forgiveness towards them, but the Bible regularly emphasizes the importance of repentance. Jesus teaches us:

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. (Luke 17:3; see also Matt. 18:15)

“If he repents,” Jesus says, then “forgive him.” Forgiveness is not just sweeping things under the rug. It does not entitle someone in a marital relationship to become a victim, a doormat, or an object of abuse. They must be ready to forgive, but forgiveness is not extended apart from genuine repentance.

On that same note, repentance is not merely words, but is demonstrated in “fruit consistent with repentance” (Matt. 3:8). A spouse in repeated patterns of covenant violation, or unrepentant after such violation is not repentant and a partner is allowed the option to divorce them. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing; repentance is the key to bridging that gap.

Summary: God does not allow for all divorce, but his disapproval of some kinds of divorce does not mean all divorce is unacceptable. Rather, God allows divorce for victims of a broken marriage. Malachi 2:16 deals with those who hate their spouses and seek a divorce not approved by God. God also calls us to forgive, but forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing and therefore forgiveness does not mean divorce is never allowed.


[1] This is actually the more traditional interpretation, with the now common “I hate divorce” as a more recent departure from that tradition. This is a very difficult text within the Hebrew to translate, but the ESV translation seems to do the best justice to the context. For more on this see C. John Collins, “Malachi 2:16 Again.”


  1. What do you think of Pastor’s who divorce their wives and remarry a younger woman from their church? Does that disqualify them from ministry?

  2. Most definitely yes…pastors and leaders are to be above reproach. How does such a pastor speak from the pulpit about divorce under such circumstances…this would not glorify the Lord!

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