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When is Divorce OK in the Bible?

Reviewed by Karis A. Williams, MSMHC, LPC

When two spiritual people get married, they definitely know they will have some bad times mixed in with the good.  They take their vows to each other and God as seriously as people can.  And they believe with their whole hearts that they will do whatever they can to make the marriage the best they can this side of Heaven.

The problem is, nobody ever expects to be abused and cheated on.  And over time, the marriage that they started out totally committed to now seems impossible to live with anymore.  Now the struggle becomes how to live in an impossible situation when as a Christian you feel like you need to keep your vow to stay married, but you also can’t live this way anymore.  You have to ask, when is divorce ok in the Bible?

The Bible has a lot to say about just about everything in life.  And it talks about impossible marriage and divorce.  There are two specific cases where the Bible gives grounds for divorce:  adultery and desertion (or abandonment).  But there are clearly other reasons for divorce that are Biblically sound even though not mentioned.  Some examples are physical and other forms of abuse, attempted murder, or crimes committed by the other spouse.  While the Bible doesn’t specifically say anything about these, maybe it was because Jesus didn’t think He had to state the obvious.

So, with that answer in mind, let me share the full story.

Marriage Cannot Just be Undone

Before we talk about the reasons why the Bible find some divorces not only acceptable, but advisable, I would like to talk about the permanence of marriage, just so we can get a good picture of how the Bible views marriage.  Here are some reasons why marriage cannot just be undone:

  1.  When a couple consummates the marriage, the physical bond cannot be broken.  You can’t erase it.  You can’t pretend it didn’t happen.  Well, you can, but it still doesn’t make it no longer exist.  Even if you part ways, you cannot ever change the fact that you had the most intimate bond known to people in relationship.  God made marriage for this relationship.  Once you have bonded with someone else in this way, you cannot undo it.
  2. Marriage is a special partnership, a companionship.  When you marry someone, they are your person.  Your once and only.  Your spouse.  When you walk away from that relationship, you will never forget that you related to them in that way.  It is forever impressed upon your life.
  3. In Genesis, God says that the two that are married become one.  We cannot just undo that.  It is like kneading play-dough together.  Once you combine those two colors and knead them for about 5 minutes, they are melded together.  You cannot separate them.  Marriage is the same.  We can divorce, but we will never truly be separated from the life we shared with each other.
  4. In our wedding, we enter into a lifelong covenant.  This is not a business agreement which will most likely end at some point in the future.  Marriage is meant to be “til death do us part.”  Our marriage vows (and Mark 10:9) also say that what God has brought together, let man not put asunder.

A couple in a forest clearing, dressed in beautiful clothes (man in suit, woman in flowing light pink dress), arm in arm with her head on his shoulder. This article represents when people choose to love each other and stay married. The name of the article is "When is Divorce Okay in the Bible."

When is Divorce Okay in the Bible?

So, if we have so many reasons why our marriages should be forever, when is divorce okay in the Bible?  There are a couple of circumstances mentioned in the Bible.  As I mentioned above, they are adultery and abandonment.  Besides those, we can assume that attempted murder, physical assault, a severe or longtime pattern of all different kinds of abuse, or criminal activity are also included since someone cannot be married to a partner of this type.  And while these are not specifically mentioned in Scripture, they are understood as items Jesus really didn’t need to list.

Divorce is Okay in the Bible for Abandonment

First, let’s take a look at when divorce is okay in the Bible and specifically described.   We will start with 1 Corinthians 7:10-16.  It says, “10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. 12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 

13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:10–16)

This passage is actually two-sided in it’s message.  On the one hand, it is saying that if someone is willing to stay with you and make good on their marriage vows, then you should stay with them.  It is speaking about when you are married to an unbeliever.

On the other hand, it says if the other person, an unbeliever, is not willing to stay with you to work things out, then you have God’s blessing to walk away without consequences.  You cannot force someone to stay married to you if they don’t want to be.  And God certainly won’t hold you responsible if that person abandons you.

While the passage here talks about an unbeliever who leaves their spouse, if a professing Christian leaves their spouse with no Biblical reason to do so, that is absolutely abandonment or desertion.  And God sees you in that terrible situation.  I believe that it says unbeliever because what believer who truly loves the Lord and serves him would do this to their spouse?  Regardless of what their words say, their actions do not seem to be those of a believer.

Divorce is Okay in the Bible for Adultery

The second reason specifically mentioned where divorce is okay is in the case of adultery.  Let’s take a look at some of those verses.

Proverbs 6:32 says, “He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself.”

Mark 10:11 says, “And he said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her,'”

Matthew 19:3-9 says, ”  Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

This passage in particular speaks to the fact that remarriage is permissible in the case of adultery.  If a man divorces his wife for any other reason than adultery, he actually commits adultery by marrying another after putting away a wife who had not committed adultery against him.

When Divorce is Okay in the Bible but not Specifically Mentioned

There are several instances where the Bible didn’t specifically say a couple should divorce, but the context of the Bible as a whole will endorse it.  Those instances are based on the fact that the Bible speaks about what to do when people mistreat, abuse, or otherwise cause misery to others.  We are not to be doormats to those people.

Ultimately, the Bible says to walk away from those people and do not relate to them.  (An example is 2 Timothy 3:1-7 says,  But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Some of those unmentioned but valid reasons for divorce would be:

  • Physical, mental, emotional, financial, spiritual, or other forms of abuse
  • Criminal activity that puts the family at risk
  • Attempted murder

Just like in the Scripture above from 2 Timothy, if your spouse treats you this badly, God’s advice to you is to “have nothing to do with this person.”  You cannot stay married to someone that you have nothing to do with.

What Scriptures Say You Can Remarry?

There are a couple of places in the Bible that say it is okay to remarry. Let’s take a quick look at those.

Matthew 19:9 says, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

1 Corinthians 7:39 says, “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.”  I think this is such a beautiful passage.  It tells the woman who feels worthless because the man who should have treasured her threw her away really does have value.  And He will show her.

As I was going through my divorce, God brought so many people into my life who had also been through a divorce and then found a new spouse that showed them true godly love and a beautiful marriage.

God will redeem our stories of divorce if we will step back and let Him have the reins.

The partial picture of a woman sitting with her arms resting on a table. She is taking off her ring, signifying the title of the article, "When is Divorce Okay in the Bible?"


Now we have seen three cases when divorce is okay in the Bible:  adultery, abandonment, abuse, attempted murder, and turning away from God.

If you are going through this, I know how heavy your heart may be at the moment.  But know that brighter days are ahead, and not that far away!

In my divorce care support group, I start with a new group of people every 4 months.  I teach three rounds a year.  And most people repeat at least once or twice as they move through the process.

When they begin, most are devastated, confused, shell-shocked.  But by the second  round, they have gotten back some of their energy and will to truly live again.  And often, those who go through a third round are actually beginning to thrive as they emerge out of the divorce process.

I would never wish divorce on anyone.  But I would tell anyone who is going through it to lean heavily into God because even though he hates divorce, he loves you and knows that it wasn’t the divorce that caused this, but the broken covenant that came before the divorce.

Take a deep breath.  And know that you are not alone.

Are you going through a divorce?  Do you feel like God is so far away that He can’t possibly reach down and hold you gently?  I felt that too!  But in spite of what I felt, He actually was there, holding me in His strong but gentle arms.

I would love to hear your story.  And I know other readers would too so they can feel the support that only you can offer as someone who has walked where they now are.  Please feel free to share how God helped you, even if you are still in the process!  You can share in the comments section below.  Scroll to the bottom!  It’s all the way down!

In the meantime, hugs, love, and prayers to you. (I put everyone who reaches out on my prayer list, where you remain for as long as I am praying on this Earth.)


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Hi! I am the founder of Navigating Religious Narcissism after being raised under a narcissistic mother and married to a narcissistic man for 31 years. It is my prayer that I can be as valuable on your journey to healing and peace as were so many who crossed my path of healing.

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