Divorce is always a tragedy no matter how civilized the handling of it, always a confession of human failure, even when it is the sorry better of sorry alternatives.” Most of us will agree with this observation made in a Time magazine essay on divorce. But what shall we say about the unhappy marriage, sometimes called “holy deadlock”? Is it better than a happy divorce? Psychologists, marriage counselors, and judges are asking questions like this. Regrettably, the answers are not being supplied by articulate evangelicals. Most evangelicals say they oppose divorce under any circumstances. This is most unfortunate, because the Bible does not take an inflexible stance on the question.

Paul in his first Corinthian letter gives detailed instructions on how the problem should be handled in the church. In First Corinthians 7:10–16 Paul’s treatment of the divorce question depends upon who is involved. He discusses (1) the divorce of two believers (vv. 10, 11), (2) the divorce of a believer and an unbeliever where the unbeliever does not want a divorce (vv. 12–14), and (3) the divorce of a believer and an unbeliever where the unbeliever wants a divorce (v. 15). Paul does not deal with divorce involving unbelievers. God allows them divorce for the hardness of their hearts. But with Christians, the hardness of the heart has been remedied. What about them?

Divorce of two believers. Paul speaks first of divorce involving two believers: “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband” (1 Cor. 7:10). Paul mentions the command of the Lord, recalling for us what Jesus taught in the Gospels. Jesus was unalterably opposed to divorce for Christians.

Paul was aware, however, that a Christian husband ...

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