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 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.