Having briefly listed the arguments allowing for divorce and remarriage, we proceed to an annotated summary of the arguments against divorce and remarriage. This post is longer because of the observations about the exception clause, but I’m trying to treat both sides fairly.
1. Christ does not divorce his bride (Eph. 5:31-32).
Proposition 1: Jesus will never divorce His bride.
Proposition 2: I must be like Jesus.
Conclusion: I must never divorce my bride.
According to this argument, divorce testifies against the gospel in a similar, but converse way to marriage’s support of the gospel.
2. Romans 7:2-3 builds its illustration on the premise that only death can break the marriage bond.
The point of the illustration loses its power if other reasons could validly release the woman from her covenant. Paul wants to say that only one thing can release us from the guilt of the law. The absolute ending of that guilt which happened through Christ on the cross. There are no other options for how to remove the law’s just condemnation.
As an illustration of the singular solution to this problem, Paul chooses marriage. Only the spouse’s death can give freedom to leave the marriage. And once freed, the wife may remarry. The theological reality that was supposed to be clearly communicated by this picture is that the believer has only one hope of release from the law’s grip. Since that is the theological point Paul is making, then we know that the illustration must support that. Marriage has no other valid outlets except death.
3. No man should separate a married couple (Matt. 19:6).
When a similar construction is found in John 10:28 (“No one will snatch them out of my hand”), it is clear that the “no one” includes the person himself. No one should try to take them out of God’s hand, and were someone to try, it would not be successful. The grammar in Matt. 19:6 communicates an ethical duty: it is wrong to attempt to separate a husband and wife (that which God has joined).
Commenting on this passage MacArthur says, “[N]o man—whoever he is or wherever he is or for whatever reason he may have—has the right to separate what God has joined together. … In the ultimate sense, every marriage is ordained of God and every divorce is not.” He goes on to argue for divorce in Matt. 19:9, but in his comments on 19:6 he explains the text as it stands on the surface.
4. God hates divorce which implies that He would not endorse exceptions for it (Mal. 2:16).
Something that God hates should surely be something we stay far away from. Is there any doubt? Is there any level of uncertainty? Then why get near to something God hates? The reasons must be overwhelming for a lover of God to choose to do something that the Master has expressly condemned as abhorrent to His holiness.
5. The exception clause of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is doubtful.
A. When asked by the Pharisees if a man may divorce his wife for every cause, Jesus’ first answer is phrased in such a way that the reader does not expect any exceptions (Matt. 19:1-6). The exception clause did not come immediately to his lips, but rather a firm denial of divorce.
B. After his first answer denying divorce, and after the exception clause answer, when clarifying with his surprised disciples in the house, he confirms no divorce and no remarriage without an exception (Mark 10:10-12).
C. The disciples were surprised by Jesus’ answer which means that he did not take either the liberal (divorce for any reason) or conservative (divorce for adultery) school.
D. Matthew 1:19 gives an example of divorce within the betrothal period. Matthew could have recorded the exception clause that Mark and Luke left out because he had already illustrated it for his readers in the first chapter. Joseph was righteous, but he was going to divorce a woman with whom he had never been intimate.
E. Deut. 22:23-29 shows that adultery during betrothal and before physical relations was a far more serious crime than fornication after. Adultery during betrothal could have deserved death. Whereas pre-marital relations could have deserved marriage. In the NT, a number of the death penalty offenses were changed, but the point here is that adultery during betrothal was a potential that had to be dealt with in the law. Jesus knew the law as well as human nature, so it would make sense that he deal with betrothal adultery here.
F. Mark and Luke were written to larger and Gentile audiences who would not have understood betrothal so it makes sense that they did not include the exception clause.
G. 1 Cor. 7 explains divorce using Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce (7:10) yet does not reference the exception clause which would be an obvious fit here.
H. Romans, 1 Corinthians, Mark, and Luke were written to groups of Christians before Matthew was written. They all treat divorce, and yet none of them allow for divorce on the grounds of fornication. It is difficult to understand why these other sources would not mention this major difference for the many believers that would never have access to Matthew’s gospel.
6. The alternative position seems to open a wide gate to divorce and remarriage for many reasons.
If divorce is possible for adultery and desertion, then what about pornography, flirtation, lust, fornication before marriage, adultery within marriage years before the divorce is requested, or adultery after an “unjust” divorce? Why couldn’t each of these be justifiable causes for divorce? And if they are, very few men would be in unhappy marriages without at least one of these difficulties. The result means that nearly any unhappy marriage can find a “legitimate” cause for divorce.
Desertion could be expanded to include financial desertion if the man does not provide and emotional desertion if he is abusive. The frequency of divorce in evangelical churches testifies that this is not hyper-sensitivity. This is not wild-eyed, “slippery slope” fear-mongering. The WCF allows for divorce for these “two” reasons reminding believers that they must not take advantage of these provisions, but it would seem that is exactly what has happened. Barna’s recent survey of about 4,000 evangelicals showed that 1 in 4 adults have been divorced.