Isn’t divorce for any reason other than fornication a sin?


Where is the Scripture that God allows divorce for any reason other than fornication, such as drug addiction, or abuse? I Corinthians 7:10 is not giving permission to divorce. It is a command not to.  If disobeyed, however, I Corinthians 7:11 says she must remain unmarried. There is only one scriptural cause for divorce -- fornication. You said there may be times when a divorce may be necessary even when fornication is not the cause.  Divorce for any other reason is sin.


Divorce for any reason is the result of sin and typically leads to additional sins. "'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 2:16).

"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).

In verse 10 Paul refers back to the teachings of Jesus while he was on earth. In general, there is to be no divorce:

"So He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery"" (Mark 10:11-12).

"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery" (Luke 16:18).

Jesus gave one exception to this general rule:

"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" (Matthew 19:9).

There are two conditions given:

  1. Divorce for some reason other than fornication, and
  2. Marrying again

Both conditions have to be met for adultery to take place. Marrying again without a divorce is adultery. "So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress" (Romans 7:3). Divorcing for some reason other than fornication and marrying again is adultery. Only in the case where the divorce was for fornication and the person married again is it not considered adultery. Even in this exception, the wording of Jesus' exception only allows the innocent party to marry again; the one who committed fornication will be guilty of adultery regardless of the reason for divorce.

Notice that Jesus did not insist that divorce must take place if fornication occurs. It was something God allowed when the sin of fornication continues. Nor is there a commandment that the person who divorces because his spouse committed fornication must remarry. The allowance is implied because this situation did not bring a charge of adultery. In addition, the fact that Jesus gave an exception does not imply that he contradicted himself when he stated earlier that people are not to divorce, nor is he implying that divorce is preferable.

Paul tells us in I Corinthians 7:10-11 that there is something else implied in Jesus' teaching which might not be readily apparent. If a woman does leave her husband despite the command not to divorce, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. Since Jesus said that remarriage was allowed if the divorce is due to fornication, the necessary implication is that the leaving mentioned by Paul is leaving for reasons other than fornication. Paul makes it very clear that ought not to be done, but if it happens there is a way to handle the situation by the Lord's command. One does not fix a problem by adding on additional problems.

What is interesting is that Paul did not state that the woman who leaves her husband and remains unmarried is in sin. You claim it is a sin, but it doesn't say this in this passage. Sin might have taken place when she divorced and she has since repented. This would be a case where a woman is divorced, but not currently in sin. There might be cases, though I would be hard-pressed to think of one, where a woman might be pressed into divorce because of her husband's continual sin. Since the possibility exists, I rather that such cases be examined individually rather than make a blanket statement that anyone divorced for non-fornication reason is assumed sinful. The implication is that divorce, in and of itself, while not good because it comes about due to sin on people's part, isn't necessarily sinful -- though again, far too often it is a sinful action. Too often brethren get so focused on the divorce that they forget about the sins leading up to the divorce. Those sins need to be dealt with and when they are, the problem of the divorce will naturally be resolved. What is absolute is that a remarriage when the cause of the divorce was not fornication does result in adultery. The fact that Paul explicitly mentions an exception does not imply that he is contradicting his earlier statement that divorce is not to take place, nor is he indicating that divorce is preferable, nor is he saying that a woman can divorce for any reason so long as she remains unmarried.

There is a danger that a divorce can lead to further sin. A person is likely to be tempted to remarry even though they have no right to another marriage. Jesus mentioned this: "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). If a person divorces his spouse for a reason other than fornication, it will likely lead to that person committing adultery and the implication is that the person who did the divorcing will be held accountable for bringing this situation about. Yet in the case of fornication, the other spouse will still be charged with adultery if they marry again. So why isn't the charge of causing her to commit adultery brought about in this case? Fornication during a marriage is adultery. The spouse who divorces because of fornication didn't cause the adultery, the fornicator did so.

Notice that the divorce itself is not called sin. If it was, Jesus would have said the one who divorces his wife for any reason except fornication sinned. But Jesus said the one who divorces causes his spouse to sin. What sin? Adultery. When does adultery take place? When a person marries someone they have no right to marry or has sex with someone who is not their spouse. If a man divorces his wife, she is not an adulteress simply because she was divorced. This is especially true in our recent culture when one spouse can win a divorce without the other spouse's consent.

Similar cases are mentioned in I Corinthians 7:12-16. There may be times when an unbeliever chooses to leave a marriage. While the general rule remains that there should be no divorce, the unbeliever doesn't necessarily submit to the laws of God as he should. If he chooses to leave, the Christian has committed no sin. The divorce does not leave the Christian in a sinful state. That divorce doesn't give the Christian the right to remarry (back to I Corinthians 7:10-11), but it does mean the Christian doesn't have to force the marriage to continue.

God doesn't like divorce because it comes from sin. He tells His people not to divorce. If they do divorce, He commands them not to marry someone else. The only exception He gives is when a person divorces his spouse because of fornication on the spouse's part. Only in that one limited case is the person allowed to remarry without being charged with adultery. Anything else results in adultery when another marriage takes place.

So, yes, the New Testament does mention that divorces might happen for reasons other than fornication. Divorce is never necessary, it is not the best circumstance, and it might encourage the divorced person to commit adultery. Still, the possibility exists and God has told us how to manage circumstances which are less than what they should be. Divorce can be and most often is a sinful action, but the reasons for the divorce should be considered before such a judgment is made.

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