charts, faith, marriage

What Does the Bible Say About Divorce and Separation? A Chart with References

More than once recently I have been asked: “What does the Bible say about divorce and separation?”  

The last time I was asked this, I’d just had dental work done, was still a little high on Novocaine, and was not altogether able to express myself well. This topic has been weighing heavily on my heart and mind because I know more than one lady facing this situation right now.

Charts always help me, so I made a chart hoping that it will help other women better understand their options. Marriage is hard –but it is especially hard if you have an unbelieving, backslidden, or abusive spouse. If you do not deal with these issues in your marriage, be thankful.

divorce and separation
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Download the chart in PDF

About abuse:

Scripture never addresses this the topic of physical abuse, but the purpose of marriage is to bring glory to God. God is not glorified when sin and abuse are allowed in our midst. Nowhere is scripture does it say that we are expected to stay in a marriage where our lives are being threatened. Additionally, we have a responsibility to protect our children from violence. I believe that God will hold a mother accountable for violence done against her children if she could have prevented it and did not. A wise person gets away from danger.

“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” Proverbs 22:3

In Bible times, the law did not allow a wife to leave and divorce her husband, but our laws do. If you can get away from abuse without breaking the law, do it!

About unfaithfulness:

Jesus allowed divorce over unfaithfulness.

“He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning, it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.’” Matthew 19:8-9

However, we know from the book of Hosea that God loves us even though we are unfaithful to him and calls us to love our spouses the same like Hosea loved his wife. That is how we are called to love and that is how we reflect God’s love to the world around us. That being said, Scripture does allow divorce for unfaithfulness, so this is a choice you will have to make for yourself. If you choose to not divorce but to try to reconcile, the love and grace required for that is indeed a reflection of God’s love.

“The Lord said to me, ‘Go. Show your love to your wife again. She is loved by another man. And she has committed adultery. But I want you to love her just as I love the people of Israel. They turn to other gods. And they love to offer raisin cakes to Baal and eat them. In spite of that, I love my people.'” Hosea 3:1

About separation:

The Bible is silent on the topic of separation. The absence of the topic in scripture does not mean that it is forbidden. It means that it is part of our Christian stewardship and that we are expected to act in wisdom.  Scripture does say that you shouldn’t deprive each other of intimacy, but that doesn’t specifically speak to separation if one person is an unbeliever –unless we stretch the verse which I won’t do. The command to not deprive each other was about believers as evidenced by the “devoting yourselves to prayer” part. That would obviously not be a priority for an unbelieving or backslidden spouse.

“Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” 1 Corinthians 7:2-5

If you are married to an unbeliever or a backslidden Christian, separation may be necessary for your protection or sanity.

About sin:

Make sure you are familiar with Christian Stewardship (see the links at the bottom of this post) and what is actually sin and what is not. Also, remember that your husband’s sin is not about you; it is about his relationship with God and his own struggles. All men –all people for that matter– struggle with sin. Sin alone is not a basis for a divorce. If it were, then all of us would end up divorce. There will be sin in your marriage, but like with any Christian brother, you are allowed to discuss it with him in hopes that he will change. There is a pattern put forth in scripture about how to address sin in believers.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 

Many men seem to forget that they are specifically commanded in Scripture to not be harsh and to be loving.

“Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” Colossians 3:19

Unloving and harsh is a common treatment of wives –even in Christian marriages, and I think wives should lovingly but firmly call their husbands on their sin. The command in scripture to correct a brother was not only given to men; you are not off the hook just because the man is your husband. In fact, who knows your husband better than you do?

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” Galatians 6:1

When in doubt, pray for him. Remember, God is not glorified by sin, and He never ever wants us to follow our husbands into sin.  

About marriage to an unbeliever:

When you are married to someone who is an unbeliever and that person is being hostile or has asked you to leave, sometimes separation is the only way to go. I believe that separation should be made with the intent to try to get back together. I mean if you made vows before God –even if the situation is not ideal– you should at least try to make it work, right? Because, well, you made vows before God. That’s not something to take lightly. But, if the unbelieving husband is uninterested in getting back together, scripture is clear that you are able to move on and get remarried.

“To the married, I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. 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. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 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. 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. 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.

About Christian stewardship:

Many times, husbands and wives disagree about what is right and what is wrong. Unless you as the wife can clearly cite chapter and verse in the New Testament that says that what your husband is doing is wrong, then you do not have a good defense of your position –what he is doing is not unbiblical– and you need to submit in this area. This sort of dispute is never a good reason for a separation or a divorce. There are many things which are not clearly lined out in scripture. These are part of our freedom in Christ –your Christian stewardship. When you are in doubt about what is the best choice, you need to make prayerful decisions. If everything was clearly written as black and white then God would have never told us to pray for wisdom.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5

I know of more than one marriage that ended because the wife would not listen to reason and give up her false beliefs about scripture, about things she erroneously believed were sins –like not having more babies or not wearing skirts. God is not honored by our marriages when we twist the Bible and use it to destroy our marriages. May we be good workmen, studying the Bible so that we will not be ashamed.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 


Sarah Forbes

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy these posts:

The Wide Gray Line: Christian Stewardship and Why It’s So Important

Stewardship: Understanding Christian Freedom

Does the Bible Command Us to Keep Having Babies? An Argument Against the Quiverfull Movement

When You Don’t See Eye to Eye: a series on Biblical Submission

Debunking False Teachings About Submission

The Myth of the Perfect Husband

• Respectfully Disagreeing: Interacting with Your Husband When You Don’t See Eye to Eye


4 thoughts on “What Does the Bible Say About Divorce and Separation? A Chart with References”

  1. This is a reasonable approach, though I think in today’s world people tend to take the easy way out to quickly at times. But the bigger question is remarriage after divorce. Maybe you have a chart for when remarriage is adultery?

    1. I am glad you found it helpful. I have not made a chart for remarriage yet. I might have to do that in the future. I usually make the charts after my husband and I have a thorough discussion about the topic and references to back up our position. 🙂

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