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Resources > Position Papers > Divorce




The Scriptures recognize and regulate divorce [1]  and address the topic in various contexts. For example, while the Bible does associate divorce with disobedience, it also speaks of divorce in the context of obedient and expedient actions (I Corinthians 7:15).


Although the text contains some translational problems, Malachi 2:16 is generally understood to speak of God’s hatred of divorce. There is undoubtedly a clear sense that God does not favor divorce, [2]  especially when the man hates his wife; the husband is compared to putting on violence as clothing. In Malachi, God’s hatred of divorce is particularized and not intended as universally applying to all divorces. Yahweh himself saw Israel’s many adulteries and gave her a certificate of divorce (Jeremiah 3:8). Thus, there are circumstances when divorce is not the object of hatred but of justice.


Divorce is not the unpardonable sin (Mk. 3:28-29), and it is not even referenced among the lists of egregious sins in St. Paul’s writings (I Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 22:15; Gal. 5:19-21). Murder and homosexuality appear, but not once is unlawful divorce mentioned. [3]  Yet, while divorce—lawful or unlawful—is pardonable, we should not overlook the social consequences on children, [4]  family and the parties involved.


The dynamic of households has changed dramatically in our country. “In 1970, 84 percent of children lived with their married biologic parents, whereas by 2009, only 60 percent did so.” [5]  Further, studies show that children in divorced homes may lose emotional and economic security, experience decreased social and psychological maturation, change his or her outlook on sexual behavior, lose their religious faith and academic stimulation, be less healthy and a host of other damaging impacts on their social and spiritual well-being. [6]


One example of regulated divorce is found in Deuteronomy 24 where Yahweh prescribes the conditions for divorce in particular circumstances. These considerations serve to avoid hastiness and minimize the consequences both behaviorally and spiritually to the well-being of the parties and children. [7] But even

in such circumstances, “every legitimate effort, therefore, ought to be made to help persons contemplating divorce to reconsider the alternatives. [8]


Such efforts would include providing extensive counseling, offering alternative separation arrangements while matters are discussed, warning of the effects of divorce on children and others, providing biblical concerns on unrighteous causes for divorce, and urging them to treat their ecclesiastical and wedding vows with soberness. In cases where divorce is near because of the severity of sin and abandonment, the Session should take caution to proceed with wisdom and discernment.


Indeed, there are times when staying married is a better alternative to divorce, even when legitimate grounds are present. For example, arrangements can be made between parents to stay together to provide children with greater security and emotional well-being. While these scenarios are far from ideal, we recognize the sinfulness of man and the pastoral necessity to offer realistic alternatives rather than ideal ones. In such cases, while a man and a woman remain married in the law, they will likely consent to sexual privation because of their sin

(I Cor. 7:5). [9] These situations are undesirable, but they are often preferable to the alternative.


The Reformed Confession adopted by Providence Church is The Westminster Confession of Faith, which notes in chapter 24.6, that adultery and willful desertion as no way can be remedied by the church constitutes a legal case for divorce. [10]  While adultery—sexual sin with someone other than the one with whom one ought to have sexual relations [11] --is straightforward in its application, the idea of “willful desertion” has been debated. [12]


While desertion can speak clearly to a willful abandonment of sexual, financial, and marital responsibilities (I Timothy 5:8), other implications are also invested in this language. For instance, spousal physical abuse constitutes a form of desertion or abandonment [13] , and lengthy periods of emotional abuse can also be considered a form of desertion. While physical abuse is evident, others may disregard emotional abuse as a lesser form of abuse unworthy to be considered legitimate grounds for divorce. Emotional abuse is repetitive actions or words that degrade and diminish a spouse’s purpose or identity. Indeed, many assert that emotional abuse can be more traumatic than physical abuse. [14]  When a husband fails to show consideration and proceeds with unending acts of disrespect towards his wife (I Peter 3:7), he proves to forsake his covenantal responsibilities and, therefore, despises and abandons his marriage. [15]  Whether such disregard for a spouse for a certain amount of time is sufficient for divorce depends upon the case

under consideration.


Nevertheless, while cases of emotional abuse or forms of long-term negligence require counsel, wisdom, and discernment, in cases of physical abuse, the Session should act speedily to aid the abused. Once the Session becomes aware of physical abuse, it should proceed with zero tolerance by encouraging and facilitating the removal of the spouse from the abusive environment and providing security and protection for the abused spouse and children in the home.


In sum, while we deeply desire to see marriages redeemed and restored according to God’s holy ordinances, we also affirm that in some cases, such scenarios are not possible. Thus, we act circumspectly and discerningly, considering all perspectives and seeking the well-being of all those involved.



[1]  Jay Adams, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible, 23.

[2]  Some translations use “hate” and others, like the ESV, do not contain the word:

“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God

of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard

yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

[3]  Adams, 25.

[4]  Douglas Wilson, Reforming Marriage, 129. “Divorce squanders the opportunity

that parents have to train up godly children before the Lord.”

[5]  Jane Anderson, The impact of family structure on the health of children:

Effects of divorce* November, 2014; 81(4):


[6]  Jane Anderson, The impact of family structure on the health of children: Effects

of divorce* November, 2014; 81(4):


[7]  Adams, 31.

[8]  Adams, 31

[9]  Of course, we pray for a full reconciliation where sexual faithfulness and

exclusivity are resumed and faithful marriage is restored.

[10]  John Murray concurs with the Confession and notes that divorce and remarriage

are biblical when the partner commits adultery or when a partner deserts willfully

and irremediably. See John Murray, Divorce (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and

Reformed Pub. Co., 1961).

[11]  Adams, 67.

[12]  OPC Presbytery of Ohio concluded: “Wilful desertion” constitutes forsaking or

leaving the state of living in conjugal (= marital) association with one’s spouse, by

one’s own free will, without external compulsion or reasonable



[13]  Incidentally, spousal abuse accounts for 25% of suicides among women in the

U.S. Leslie Vernick, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, 165.

[14]  Leslie Vernick, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, 11. “That’s why an

emotionally destructive marriage is not usually diagnosed by looking at a single

episode of sinful behavior (which we’re all capable of), but rather repetitive

attitudes and behaviors that result in tearing someone down or inhibiting their

growth. This behavior is usually accompanied by a lack of awareness, a lack of

responsibility, and a lack of change.”

[15]  Leslie Vernick concludes, “Divorce is the last resort when efforts to reconcile

and bring true peace in the marriage have repeatedly failed." The Emotionally

Destructive Marriage, 176.

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