I’m in Chicago. Appreciate your prayers for my step-mom. She is lucid and we’re grateful for the time we have to say our goodbyes and love on her. On another note, Lord willing I will be doing a live webinar (from Chicago) Thursday at Noon ET and 7:30 PM ET, on Four Lies That Christian Women Believe That Keep Them Stuck And Afraid in Their Destructive Marriage. To attend, you must sign up. Here is the link.
Today’s Question: Are there any other acceptable biblical reasons for leaving a marriage except abandonment and adultery? What would be the scripture reference for those other than the above?
Answer: The answer depends on who you listen to and how you (or they) define abandonment and adultery. For example, is adultery biblically defined only by sexual intercourse with a person you are not married to? Or is Biblical adultery better described as a pattern of unrepentant unfaithfulness?
Adultery could be defined as sexual intercourse with someone who is not your spouse. But I believe it also could be expanded to include emotional affairs, oral sex, pornography use, and other sexual acting out outside of marriage. But the Bible also describes a generic unfaithfulness to Israel’s covenant relationship with God by using the term adultery. (see Jeremiah 3:8, Ezekiel 16 and Ezekiel 23), where God divorced Israel.
The same confusion revolves around interpreting the word abandonment. Traditionally, pastors have viewed abandonment in marriage as physically abandoning the marriage. For example, moving away. Not having contact. But in my opinion, that definition is too narrow.
What about a person who serves in the military? Or works overseas? He or (she) may not live at home, but usually, they are still connected. They have not abandoned their family emotionally or financially, even if they are not present physically. We wouldn’t describe their behavior as abandonment even if he or she was not present for long periods of time.
But what about a spouse who is present physically? A spouse who still lives at home, but in every other way has abandoned the marital covenant to cherish, love, and provide? Would that be considered Biblical abandonment? That is debatable in some churches but I believe it qualifies. Here’s a verse that would support this as God’s view of abandonment.
“If a man who has married a slave wife takes another wife for himself, he must not neglect the rights of the first wife to food, clothing, and sexual intimacy. If he fails in any of these three obligations, she may leave as a free woman without making payment.” Exodus 21:10,11. In this verse God cares and provides for the “least of these”. A slave wife. A woman who culturally had no rights in a patriarchal culture. Yet, God says she does have rights as a wife and if those rights are neglected (abandonment), she has a right to leave the marriage.
When people quote the passage in Malachi 2:16 about God hating divorce, an alternative translation of that text implies God hates when a man treacherously (or carelessly) divorces his wife. In other words, God does not condone divorce for reasons like “I don’t love you anymore” or “I found someone else” or “I’m tired of you.”
However, God is also realistic enough to know the hardness of some people’s hearts and their cruelty as well as unfaithfulness. He does not ask a wife or husband to stay married to someone who is repeatedly unfaithful to their vows, unrepentant, and unwilling to change.
Even God himself does not offer unconditional relationship with everyone. He tells us “Your sin separates me from you (Isaiah 59:2).” Jesus died to reconcile us with God but if we are not repentant and accept this gift from God’s unconditional love, we stay separated from him. (see John 3:36). When a spouse is unfaithful whether sexually or through abandoning his/her marital promises and is unrepentant or unwilling to change, a safe and trusting marriage is not possible. To pretend otherwise, does not give glory to God nor help someone come to his or her senses.
But here is where your own work comes in. Among conservative Christians, there is not full agreement on this topic. Therefore, whatever you decide, you will have those who disagree. I’d encourage you to read through the Scriptures on this topic, pray, ask God for wisdom and direction, and trust him to lead you to how you need to view your situation and your next right steps forward to follow God.
She is to be a God-centered woman, not a husband/marriage-centered woman. Follow God first. Do what he says to do and leave the outcome of your marriage in God’s sovereign hands.
Friend, how would you define adultery and abandonment, and have you seen other Biblical reasons for divorce?