Divorce for Any Reason at All?

The problem of divorce is one that is very obvious in our society. About half of all marriages end in divorce. Families are torn apart. Lives are ruined. We all know people who have been directly affected by this problem. As it has spread throughout our society, we have seen it more in the church as well.

However, this is not a new problem. In the days when Jesus walked on the earth, He was asked about this very topic. Some of the Pharisees asked him about the proper cause for putting away one’s mate. Of course, they asked him for the purpose of trapping Him in His answer. Their question was, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all” (Matthew 19:3)?

Jesus said there was but one cause for which God would allow one to lawfully put away his/her mate. That cause was fornication on the part of his/her mate (Matthew 19:9). God’s rule for marriage is one man and one woman for life (Matthew 19:4-6; Genesis 2:24). There is only one exception to the rule that one must not put away his/her mate – “except for fornication” (Matthew 19:9). If one’s mate does not commit adultery (fornication), there is no lawful grounds to put him/her away.

As usually happens though, men are not satisfied with the Lord’s teaching. It is too restrictive. It does not allow them to put away their mate for whatever reason they choose. Some will outright ignore Jesus’ law. They will do what they want to do regardless of His teaching. Others will feign respect for the teaching of Christ, but twist the Scriptures to create additional causes whereby one may lawfully put away his/her mate. Mike Willis, a man who is highly regarded by many of our brethren, has taught that there are multiple causes for divorce authorized in the New Testament. His causes include a mate who “runs up bills” or a couple that has become “alienated from each other” (irreconcilable differences?). No, brother Willis is wrong. Let us be content with the cause Jesus allowed for one to put away their mate: fornication (Matthew 19:9).

When the Pharisees asked Jesus this question, they were “testing Him” (Matthew 19:3) as they did on other occasions to have a reason to accuse Him. In those days, there were two schools of thought about lawful putting away cause. These are called for the Jewish religious leaders whose teachings were being followed by many. Those who followed the teachings of Hillel believed a man could put away his wife for any cause. Those of the school of Shammai believed that a man could only put away his wife in the case of adultery. They wanted to see which group Jesus would side with, presumably so they could turn the other group against Him.

In His answer, Jesus pointed them to the Scriptures: “Have you not read…” (Matthew 19:4). It did not matter what Hillel’s followers or Shammai’s followers believed. All that mattered was the truth. Jesus answered without fear of offending the followers of Hillel. This should be our attitude. When we are asked a question like this (or any other related to the Bible), we need to answer with the truth. It does not matter who might teach that one may put away their mate for any cause or multiple causes. We must answer: “Except it be for fornication” (Matthew 19:9). Truth always overrides even the most influential and powerful preachers among us. God allows only one cause for one to put away their mate – fornication.

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