Breaking of the marriage covenant. An action contrary to the pattern of “one man, one woman, one lifetime” revealed by God in Gen. 1:27; 2:21-25. The root idea implied a cutting of the marriage bond. While ancient cultures different in details, most had a concept of marriage and a corresponding concept of divorce.
The OT has numerous references to divorce. The concept that divorce constituted sin appeared in Mal 2:14-16. First, Malachi stated that marriage represented a covenant between a man and a woman. Further, marriage provided companionship, brought oneness, and promoted a godly seed. The dissolution of marriage represented treacherous behavior before the Lord. God hated divorce, and He issued a warning to those who had not divorced.
Under certain conditions, divorce could occur under OT law (Deut 24:1-4). Though a wife might abandon her husband, only the husband could seek a divorce. If a husband found “some indecency in her’ (NASB), he was allowed, but not required, to write a “certificate of divorce” against his wife. The rejected with might marry again, but she could not remarry her original husband. Deuteronomy 24 has been interpreted to mean either that any displeasing thing allowed for divorce or that only sexual immorality allowed for divorce. The most scripturally consistent interpretation would seem to be that if upon marriage a husband found that his wife had been sexually active during the engagement period (or even before), then he could divorce her. This was an important safeguard since, under OT law, adultery (sexual immorality during marriage) was punishable by death (Lev 20:10). After the Babylonian captivity of Israel, Ezra (Ezra 10) led the Israelites to “put away all the wives and their children,” so as to remove idolatrous foreigners from Israel. Intermarriage with the idolatrous peoples around Israel had been forbidden in Deut 7:3. Since other foreigners such as Ruth had been accepted into Israel this may have indicated a refusal to worship the Lord as God on the part of the foreign wives.
Divorce regulations appear in other parts of the OT. Priests were not allowed to marry divorced women (Lev 21:14), indicating a higher standard for their actions. Also, the vow of a divorced woman was considered legally binding since she had no husband to affirm or to overrule her actions (Num 30:9). Finally, the Lord used divorce as a symbol of his displeasure with Israel (Jer 3:8), though He elsewhere indicated His future plans for Israel.
The NT also sheds light on the subject of divorce. The Lord Jesus stated that divorce, except in the case of sexual immorality, would cause complications for remarriage. An improper divorce would make the divorced wife and her future husband adulterers in their relationship (Matt 5:31-32). In Matt 19:3-12, Jesus stated that God did not in tend for divorce to occur. Further, He stated that the Mosaic law allowed for divorce only because of the hardness of Israelite hearts. Jesus’ disciples considered this a hard saying and said so; nevertheless, He affirmed His position on divorce (Matt 19:7-12; Mark 10:4-12).
The Apostle Paul twice dealt with divorce. In his discussion of the law in Rom 7:13, Paul used the illustration of marriage to show the authority of the law. He reaffirmed the principles of the sanctity of marriage, the wrongfulness of divorce, and the potential consequences of remarriage. In 1 Cor 7:10-16 Paul reiterated the need to preserve the marriage commitment.
Based on Rom 7:1-3 and 1 Cor 7:39, Paul believed that divorce was no longer an issue once one spouse had died. The remaining spouse was free to marry as long as the new marriage was “in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39). Therefore, marriage in Scripture represented a sacred bond between one man and one woman for one lifetime. The concept of marriage was ordained by God and applied to believers and nonbelievers alike. This had ramifications for the leadership qualifications for God’s other institution, the church (1 Tim 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). A breaking of the marriage covenant opposed the plan of God and divided the God-ordained institution of the family.