I’ve recently had several people ask me about divorce. It’s a difficult subject, but the Bible does address it. Scripture teaches that divorce is permissible only when a spouse offends through sexual infidelity (Matt. 5: 31-32), or when an unbelieving spouse abandons their Christian partner (1 Cor. 7:12-16). Divorce is not required, and is discouraged if any hope of saving the marriage can be found. Forgiveness and love is expected in the Christian toward the offending spouse. Remarriage is permissible when the divorce is biblical (Matt. 5:31-32), when an unbelieving spouse abandons the marriage (1 Cor. 7:12-16), or if a spouse dies (1 Cor. 7:39). The believer must only marry another believer (1 Cor. 7:39). God does not recognize divorces for nonbiblical reasons; however, if a divorced partner remarries, forming a new covenant relationship, this frees the first spouse to remarry (Deut. 24:1-4).
God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16), yet, it is recorded in Scripture that God Himself issued a writ of divorce against His people, Israel, after they had repeatedly engaged in spiritual adultery, saying, “I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce” (Jer. 3:8a; cf. Isa. 50:1). The metaphor of divorce here speaks of God sending the Northern Kingdom of Israel away to their destruction under the Assyrians in 722 B.C.
Note in verse 8 [of Jeremiah 3] that God divorced Israel and that it was because of adultery. The Savior’s words in Matthew 19:9 are consistent with this. He taught that divorce is permissible for an innocent partner when the spouse has been guilty of immorality. When we read in Malachi 2:16 that God hates divorce, it must mean unscriptural divorce, not all divorce.
Marriage is a covenant relationship (Prov. 2:17; Ezek. 16:8; Mal. 2:14-15; Matt. 19:6). In Scripture, the word covenant (Heb. בְּרִית berith, Grk. διαθήκη diatheke) is used of a treaty, alliance, or contract. The strength of a covenant depends on the person, or persons, who enter into it. Some covenants are vertical between God and individuals or groups, and some are horizontal between people. Some of God’s covenants are unilateral, in which God acts alone and unconditionally promises to provide and bless another, either a person or group (e.g. Noahic covenant, Abrahamic covenant, Davidic covenant, New Covenant, etc.). In a unilateral covenant, God will always bless the recipients, and there is no fear of God doing otherwise, because the blessing is in no way conditioned on any action by those whom God assures blessing (e.g. Gen. 12:1-3; Jer. 31:31-34). Some of God’s covenants are bilateral, in which blessing or cursing is conditioned on obedience to stated laws (e.g. Adamic covenant and Mosaic covenant). In a bilateral covenant, God is faithful to bless and curse depending on compliance to the agreed upon conditions set forth (see Deuteronomy Chapter 28). God is always faithful to keep His promises in both unilateral and bilateral covenants. In the Bible there are examples of people who made bilateral covenants among themselves (Gen. 21:27; 31:44-54; Josh. 9:15; 1 Sam. 18:3; 2 Sam. 3:12-13). Covenants made by people are generally bilateral, depending on the faithfulness of each person to keep their promise.
In making covenants God was solemnly invoked as a witness (31:53), whence the expression “a covenant of the Lord” (1 Sam. 20:8; cf. Jer. 34:18–19; Ezek. 17:19), and an oath was sworn (Gen. 21:31). Accordingly, a breach of covenant was regarded as a heinous sin (Ezek. 17:12–20). The marriage contract is called “the covenant of … God” (Prov. 2:17).
The marriage covenant is a bilateral agreement in which both persons promise, before God and others, to love each other faithfully. It is regarded as a bilateral covenant—depending on the faithfulness of each person to each other—because God permits a way out of the relationship by divorce (Deut. 24:1-3; Matt. 5:32; 19:8-9). A unilateral covenant would make no stipulations on the relationship.
The marriage covenant glorifies God when the man and woman commit to love each other, to seek God’s best in each other, and to remain faithful to their promises. Typically, marriage vows are thoughtful, addressing the reality of good and bad circumstances, the influence of wealth or poverty, sickness and health. A vow is a promise, and a promise is only as strong as the person who makes it. Often we vow to be committed to each other and to endure all tests and trials until separated by death. We may not like the tests or trials that come our way, but it’s only in those situations that a person’s integrity becomes manifest.
Marriage ceremonies mentioned in the Bible varied depending on the people and culture. Sometimes we read about arranged marriages without any mention of a wedding ceremony at all (Gen. 21:21; 38:6; 1 Sam. 18:17). Other times we read of great feasting and celebration during the wedding (Gen. 29:22; Judg. 14:12; Matt. 22:1-12; Luke 14:8-11; John 2:1-10). The Bible does not prescribe a specific marriage ceremony, and each couple is free to follow whatever customs are particular to their culture so long as it conforms to the laws and customs of a nation (Rom. 13:1, 5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). (this article is an excerpt from my book: Making a Biblical Marriage)
Marriage is a divine institution originally designed to permanently unite a man and a woman (Gen. 2:18-25). It is not a human invention. The first couple was created in God’s image to live under His provision and authority, to walk in fellowship with Him, and to fulfill the specific purpose of ruling over His creation (Gen. 1:26-28). They were to complement each other. All three members of the Trinity were involved in the creation of Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:26-28). “God created man in His own image [Heb. צֶלֶם tselem], in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27). Adam and Eve were special, created with intelligence, volition, and purpose. They were created for a relationship; first with God, then with each other, then the animals and world around them. They were to fulfill the divine mandate to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Adam and Eve were created in a state of maturity as perfectly functioning adults and were gifted with brilliant minds that were able to correctly perceive their environment and to properly communicate with God and each other. They possessed a clear sense of purpose under the authority of God.
Genesis chapter one provides a snapshot of the creation of the first couple; however, in Genesis chapter two, we learn there was a short lapse of time between the creation of Adam and Eve (cf. 1 Tim. 2:13). Adam, by himself, was placed in the Garden of Eden with the positive command “to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). Adam was free to work and enjoy the beauty and fruit of the Garden. God blessed Adam and provided for him (Gen. 2:15-16), but also promised spiritual and physical death if he sinned (Gen. 2:17). Later, both Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:1-8), but Adam’s sin alone would bring judgment upon himself and the world, for which he was responsible. When Adam fell, the world under his care fell with him (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 5:12-14; 8:22-23; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).
Originally, Adam was created sinless, with the unhindered capacity to walk with God and serve Him. Though he was sinless, Adam was not complete. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper [Heb. עֵזֶר ezer] suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). Before God created the first woman, He took time to educate Adam about his relational incompleteness. God brought a multitude of animals before Adam (most likely in pairs of male and female), and after observing and naming them (Gen. 2:19), Adam realized “there was not found a helper [Heb. עֵזֶר ezer] suitable for him” (Gen 2:20). God corrected what Adam could not. The Lord caused Adam to fall asleep and “took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place” (Gen. 2:21). God then “fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:22). This was a divinely arranged marriage.
Woman was taken not from Adam’s head to dominate him, nor from his feet to be trodden down, but from under his arm to be protected, and from near his heart to be loved.
The wife was created to “help” her husband (Gen. 2:20). The word helper (עֵזֶר.Heb ezer) is an exalted term that is sometimes employed of God who helps the needy (Gen. 49:25; Ex. 18:4; 1 Sam. 7:12; Isa. 41:10; Ps. 10:14; 33:20). Just as God helps His people to do His will, so the wife is called to help her husband serve the Lord and bring Him glory. The wife is also to respect her husband (Eph. 5:33), both in private and in public.
Sin changed humanity and the world in which we live. Satan (a fallen angel) attacked the first marriage and tempted the man and woman to disobey God (Gen. 3:1-7). Adam and Eve listened to Satan and rejected God’s will (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-8), and sin was introduced into the human race and the whole world is now under a curse (Gen. 3:8-19; Rom. 5:12-19; 8:20-22). Eve was deceived by Satan, but Adam sinned with his eyes open (1 Tim. 2:14).
The institution of marriage continued after the historic fall of Adam and Eve and took on various ceremonies based on ever changing social customs. The Bible directs believers to marry believers (1 Cor. 7:39; cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-15), but does not prescribe a specific ceremony to follow, or vows to take, but leaves these matters for people to decide for themselves. Marriage is divinely illustrative of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel (Isa. 54:5), and Christ’s relationship with the church (2 Cor. 11:2). Marriage is to be holy, because God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16). Marriage is to be loving, because God is love (1 John 4:16-21).
God designed the husband to be the loving leader to guide the relationship into His will, and the wife is to walk in harmony with him (Gen. 2:18; 21-23; cf. Eph. 5:25-33). The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25). Biblically, this is called agape love.
Love [Grk. ἀγάπη agape] is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a)
Agape love brings God into every relationship, provides spiritual nourishment, conforms to God’s will, and seeks God’s glory. It stands the test of time and survives in the furnace of affliction. It is sacrificial (Eph. 5:25; cf. Matt. 20:28; John 13:34; 15:13; Rom. 5:8; 14:15; 15:3), understanding and honoring (1 Pet. 3:7), and greater than feelings (Col. 3:19). It is, in fact, God’s love, born in the heart of the believer who walks with God and desires His closeness.
God’s love comes from God, and only those who know God and walk with Him will manifest His love (1 John 4:10-21). There is a biblical love and there is a worldly love. Biblical love has its source in God who always seeks our best. Worldly love is deceptive, self-serving and destructive, just as Satan is deceptive, self-serving and destructive. We cannot give what we do not have, and only those who know and walk with God can manifest His love. Anyone who claims to love but does not know God or walk with Him is a deceiver, and this one leads others into sin. A successful marriage is built on Scripture and displays God’s love.
Where there is constant spiritual development in the life of a Christian couple, there will be the gradual manifestation of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23a). We manifest these qualities because we walk with God and desire to reflect His character. Walking with God means we become more and more like Him, gradually manifesting His attributes, such as righteousness (Ps. 11:7; 119:137), justice (Ps. 9:7-8; 50:6), holiness (Ps. 99:9), truthfulness (2 Sam. 7:28; John 17:17; 1 John 5:20), love (Jer. 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16), faithfulness (Deut. 7:9; Lam. 3:23; 2 Tim. 2:13), mercy (Ps. 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit. 3:5), and graciousness (Ps. 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet. 5:10). These attributes will strengthen the marriage, but they must be pursued intelligently and by choice.
 The three persons of the Godhead include God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14; 20:28), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). God is one in essence (Deut. 6:4), and three in Person (Matt. 28:19; 1 Pet. 1:2).
 William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 35.
The spiritual life advances in a unique direction when a husband and wife are growing together in the Lord. The spiritual marriage consists of two believers who consistently submit to God the Holy Spirit and permit Him to accomplish His will in their lives as a couple. When two believers, a man and a woman, unite together in Christian marriage and individually choose to love and live for Christ above each other, they will have a marriage marked by the highest Christian virtues that will sustain them throughout their marriage and they will know a joy that transcends the circumstances and trials of life.
In order to have a successful Christian marriage, it must be God centered, biblically based, and Spirit led. The growth of the marriage is directly proportional to the spiritual growth of each individual believer. As goes the spiritual walk of each believer, so goes the health of the marriage. To achieve growth within a marriage each believer must have a biblical understanding of what is foundationally necessary for spiritual success. The Bible is authoritative to speak to the Christian marriage and it must be studied, learned and lived.
For strength and unity to exist in a marriage, there must be a bond of commitment, and willingness to give of oneself for the wellbeing of the other. Believers must always guard themselves against the weakening instinct of selfishness and consciously choose to live and love sacrificially for the benefit of the marriage partner.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3-4)
The world often promotes a happy marriage, but God promotes a biblical marriage. There’s a difference. A biblical marriage is a healthy marriage, which conforms to God’s Word. I’ve seen happy marriages that were not biblical, as the husband and wife lived in blatant sin, defying God’s Word in every way. By worldly standards their marriage was a success, but biblically, it was a complete failure because God was given little or no place in their relationship. I’ve also seen biblical marriages where both Christians struggled against the pressures of the world, yet they had a peace and joy that transcended their circumstances, because they trusted in the Lord and looked to Him in everything (Phil. 4:6-7).
Christians are to marry only other Christians who are “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39). The Christian should never knowingly marry an unbeliever, for this would join someone who is spiritually alive with someone who is spiritually dead. The unbeliever cannot be spiritual or live in God’s will, for he resides in a perpetual state of spiritual death until he turns to Christ for salvation. The Christian who knowingly marries an unbeliever is openly disobeying Scripture and asking for all sorts of problems. It’s better to obey the Lord and marry a growing believer so blessing can come.
Dr. Steven R. Cook
 Some have sought to make Paul’s command “do not be bound together with unbelievers” apply to Christian marriage (2 Cor. 6:14). Within its context, Paul was not talking about Christian marriage, but was commanding Christians in the church not to be united with false teachers. However, one could argue that if one should not be bound together with an unbeliever in the church, how much more does that hold true in biblical marriage?!