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“What does the Bible say about divorce?” Wayne Grudem

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
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January 30, 2023 4:15 am

“What does the Bible say about divorce?” Wayne Grudem

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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January 30, 2023 4:15 am

What does the Bible say about divorce? Does God truly say it's out of the question? Theologian Wayne Grudem articulates what changed his mind.

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Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

Hey, Shelby Abbott here. Before we get to today's show, if you've ever been blessed by Family Life Today, did you know it's because someone else gave? Yep, Family Life Today is listener supported.

And if you've given, let me just say thank you. Thank you for making gospel-centered conversations like the one we're about to hear today possible. And if you'd like to partner financially this week with Family Life to help reach more families, then we have two resources we want to give you.

As our thanks. The first is Family Life's online course called The Nearly Complete Guide to Better Married Sex. And the second is a new book called Secrets of Sex and Marriage, Eight Surprises That Make All the Difference. It's written by Shanti Feldhahn and Dr. Michael Seitzma. You'll get both of those when you give this week at or when you call 800-358-6329.

That's 800-358-6329. That's 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. Okay, now on with today's show. Society Today, we have on the one hand, a secular view, which is divorce is whenever you want to get a divorce and you're unhappy in your marriage and no sense of permanence of marriage. On the other hand, we have the historic teaching of the Catholic Church, which is divorce is never acceptable.

And in between those points, there are a variety of viewpoints. And so it is important for Christians to look closely at what the Bible says about divorce. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Ann Wilson.

And I'm Dave Wilson. And you can find us at or on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. So it isn't every day that you get to have an author of the Bible in the Family Life Today studio. I think that's God.

What do you mean? Well, I'm sort of kidding. But I mean, Dr. Wayne Grudem is with us today. And some would say that he actually wrote the Bible, but he didn't write it. He actually is an editor of the ESP Study Bible.

And I tell you what, I've never been asked to be on the committee to edit anything of the Bible. So that means we have somebody very intelligent and smart in the studio with us today. And it's not me. And it's not you.

It's not me. Yeah, we didn't go to Harvard. Ball State is not quite Harvard.

It's up there, but it's not all the way up to Harvard. But Dr. Wayne Grudem, welcome back to Family Life Today. Thank you, Dave. And you have your PhD from Cambridge.

Yes. I'm honored that you're with us today. Well, thank you. Thank you for being with us.

Thankful. Tell our listeners a little bit about what you're up to these days. Well, I teach at Phoenix Seminary in Scottsdale, Arizona. I've been there for 22 years. I've reduced my teaching load now, so I'm only teaching part-time and spending the rest of the time writing. Before that, I was at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois for 20 years, teaching New Testament and then teaching systematic theology and ethics.

And that's what I teach at Phoenix Seminary. And I have been married 53 years. 53 years. Yeah.

Wonderful. And three sons, sort of like we had. Three sons. Three sons, yep.

48, 45, and 42. All three married to wonderful daughters-in-law. And all have children. So we have four grandchildren.

And they're a great joy. That's really fun. And back in the day, you were actually on the Family Life Weekend to Remember marriage getaway speaker team for a few years, right? So you did conferences like Ann and I do.

We've been doing it for over 30 years. Right, Weekend to Remember conferences. Yeah. Yeah, it's a wonderful ministry. Yeah. We still do them. And, you know, marriages and legacies are transformed in that weekend.

Right. You know, they are as well listening to this broadcast. So we're really glad you're here.

Now, a lot of our listeners will know you. I'm sitting with a book you just handed to us. This might be the biggest, thickest book I've ever been handed. It's thicker than the Bible. Wayne Groome, Christian Ethics, An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning.

I just looked. There's 1300 pages in this book. Talk about why you decided to write on systematic theology. So I have two books, Dave.

One is that big, but it's a different topic. It's systematic theology, which is what do we believe about the Bible, about God and his nature, about the Trinity, about creation, about human beings made in the image of God, about sin, about the person of Christ, how he earned our salvation, and what different aspects belong to salvation. And then the doctrine of the church and what it is and how it should act and the doctrine of the future, what we should expect until and then after Christ returns. So that's systematic theology. Now, this book that I just gave you this morning is kind of a second attempt at writing a larger textbook. But this time it talks about what we should do, how we should act in life, lying and telling the truth, protecting human life, protecting marriage, use of money.

Those are ethical questions. And so systematic theology, the first book, tells us what we should believe. Christian ethics, the second book, tells us how we should act. It reminds me a little bit of the book of Ephesians. The first half is theology. Exactly. And then the second half is how we live that out.

The first three chapters and the last three chapters. You see what I married here, Wayne? She is a deep thinker. You know why I knew that? Because you've taught that for years. Yeah, I've taught that many times.

He's my pastor. You know, when I was preaching on the book of Ephesians, I love that breakdown, you know, doctrine, how do you live it out, the same thing you're doing with systematic theology and ethics. Right. But today we get to talk, because not only do you write big, thick doctrinal and ethical books, you've also written little books that take that theology and say, okay, how do we apply this to certain areas today?

Right. We're going to talk about divorce and remarriage. What does the Bible have to say about divorce and remarriage? One of the things I like about this little book is you don't start with divorce. You say, let's talk about the good news about marriage.

Can you talk a little bit about something I think a lot of us don't understand? We think, and I've even said this as a pastor, and I wish I had never said this, but I have said from the pulpit years ago that the divorce rate in the church is the same as the divorce rate outside the church. In other words, 50%. That has never been true. Right. And often we think it is, but marriage in the church is actually a much better state than we think. You start the book going through some of those stats. Can you help us understand that?

Right. Dave, perhaps you had the same kind of feeling. I would hear this statistic, the divorce rate in the church is as high as the divorce rate in the secular society, and 50% of marriages end in divorce. And I thought, that's not true in my experience. Margaret and I have known hundreds, maybe thousands of Christian couples during our lifetime. We've lived in several countries. We've been in eight or nine, ten different churches when we lived in different places. And the divorce rate is nothing like 50% among the people that we were acquainted with.

So, I thought something was wrong. But then I came across this book by Shanti Feldhahn, The Good News About Marriage. And she says, first of all, 72% of people who have ever been married are still in their first marriage in the United States. That leaves 28% who are not in their first marriage, but some of those are widows or widowers whose spouse has died. So, the percentage of divorces is probably 20 to 25%. And then she says, among practicing Christian couples who regularly attend church, the divorce rate is probably half that, maybe 10 to 12%. Now, that's more like what rings true to me from experience and personal knowledge of other people who have been divorced. But they're relatively few among the Christian couples that we know. And that really is encouraging.

You're right. Most marriages are successful. They're happy marriages. You've been married how many years? Forty-one. Forty-one.

And Margaret and I, 53. It just gets better. It does get better.

It does. And, you know, when I read the same stat from Shanti's book, I was shocked. I mean, I was like you.

I was like, that's sort of what I see, but I just assumed that, you know, the divorce rate's the same. And I had to go up, you know, at our church on stage and say, I need to apologize. I have quoted something that was wrong. This is good news. If you have Christ in your marriage, if you decide as a couple to say, I'm going to make weekly church attendance a part of our marriage, it's going to lower your divorce rate. You even put in there that one couple said that they found that couples that pray together regularly, they said there's only one divorce they knew in 1500.

And again, that's not a stat, but it's an observation that if you really take your faith and seriously apply it, not just go to church, but you're active and you're praying together in your home, it is going to have a great impact on your marriage, right? Right. And that's good news. That is really good news. That's really good news. And when you pick up a book, Divorce or Remarriage, you think all we're going to talk about is the bad news. No, that's really good news.

Really good. I'm really glad you started the book that way. And I'm glad Shanti wrote the book to help us understand, man, if I want a better marriage, go to church. Yeah, and pray together. Those things really impact our marriages. But I think as I've been in the church as a pastor's wife, as I've been a conference speaker, I have so many women come up to me asking about divorce. What does the Bible say about divorce? And so I think it's really great that you have incorporated this into this, not only your ethics book, but these little books, too, to give us an answer. What does the Bible say?

So here we are. There's no one better that I can think of in the world to come in and answer that question. You know, as you go to the Word of God, I think even as we go to our Family Life website and we look at the questions that come in, one of the top questions is, is there ever a legitimate reason for me to get a divorce as a Christian? How would you answer that question? Well, it's an important question because in society today we have, on the one hand, a secular view, which is divorce is whenever you want to get a divorce and you're unhappy in your marriage. And no sense of permanence of marriage among many people in society. On the other hand, we have the historic teaching of the Catholic Church, which is divorce is never acceptable. And that influences people's thinking, too.

And in between those points, there are a variety of viewpoints. And so, it is important for Christians to look closely at what the Bible says about divorce. And the first thing I think we should start out saying is the words of Jesus, what God has joined together, let not man separate. In Matthew 19, 6, where marriage is intended to be a permanent, lifelong union of one man and one woman. And they are to stay together for a lifetime. That's God's ideal. That's God's purpose.

And we should always seek to maintain that. Now, are there cases in which a marriage is so seriously damaged that it's no longer functioning as a marriage? So, one example is, a married couple and husband leaves his wife and goes and lives with someone else, another woman. Well, the wife who's been abandoned and the husband is committed adultery, she's no longer in a marriage.

In what sense is she? She doesn't have a husband with her. They aren't sharing life together. She may wish to have her husband back, but he's been unfaithful. And so, Jesus, while he upholds God's ideal of permanence in marriage, he then says, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. He says, except for sexual immorality. That's Matthew 19, 9. That means that Jesus is making a provision for the situation where a husband, or could be a wife as well, has irretrievably damaged the marriage, or at least potentially irretrievably.

And when he says, except for sexual immorality, he implies that if you divorce your wife and marry another because of sexual immorality, it's not committing adultery. The example would be, if I say to students, the term paper is due, well, let me make it a real example. The term paper is due at 1 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, next Wednesday in my ethics class at Phoenix Seminary. And if I say, everyone who hands in a paper after 1 p.m. on Wednesday will receive a reduction of one grade, one letter grade per day, except if you've been given permission by me ahead of time. Then some student comes and hands in a paper two days late and I say, all right, that's marked down two letter grades.

The student will say, wait a minute, you said except if you got permission ahead of time, and I got permission ahead of time. I'd have to say, oh, you're right, okay, that exception means that in that case, the rule doesn't count. And Jesus says, whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality and marries another commits adultery. That means if you divorce your wife because of sexual immorality and marry another, you're not committing adultery.

And yet even that is a little tricky because we have some really good friends and we know people. The spouse has cheated, and so you're saying they do have grounds because that spouse has been unfaithful. And yet I've seen those marriages, if the one that cheated said, I'm repentant, I'm sorry, will you stay with me? I've seen so many of those marriages restored. Sometimes they're even better, but you're saying, but that person, the wife, let's say if the husband cheated, would have grounds for divorce, however. See if the marriage can be reconciled first.

And thank you for pointing that out right at the beginning here, because that's important. God's original plan is lifelong permanent marriage. And if there can be forgiveness and reconciliation, Margaret and I have some friends where that has been the case. In many cases, I think the marriage has been damaged significantly. And yet they have come to a place of forgiveness and have restored the marriage, and that's wonderful if it can happen. So the wife in that case would have a legitimate reason for divorce, but if she can find it in her heart to forgive and welcome her husband back, and he's repentant, then the marriage can be saved. Yeah, I think, like Ann said, and you just said, there's exception clauses like immorality, but you should do, and we want to encourage couples listening, do everything you can to try and save that.

That's God's heart, that's Jesus' heart. Do everything you can. One of our best friends, marriage had an affair, the woman had an affair. And we've said this on the air before, but when we met with them after the affair, I got in the car after an hour or two meeting with them and said to Ann, I should have never said this, but I said, even God can't save this marriage. I just saw no hope.

There was no repentance. Of course, this was one day after she was caught, God saved that marriage. He saved that marriage. He did a miracle.

And they are better than they've ever been. They are in a beautiful place. They have five sons. They actually ended up telling their kids and ended up telling our church, and God is using their marriage even to bless others. So I would just remind a couple, man, God can do a miracle.

Hold on. But if there isn't repentance and there is a continued immorality, you are saying that Jesus said, the Bible says, that's an exception. That's one time it is okay to get a divorce. Still not the number one choice, but it is okay. But even what you said, I think this is interesting.

I've had people ask me this. You're saying if they remarry, if your spouse has cheated and now you have grounds for divorce, so if you remarry, that will not be considered adultery. Correct. Now, there are other people that don't have those grounds for divorce. They get remarried. Are you saying they're committing adultery?

I think yes. That's what Jesus says. Dr. Groome's not saying that. That's what Jesus said. That's what Jesus said, yeah. But I would say, Anne, that though the second marriage began with adultery, continuing in it is not continuing in adultery. Because Jesus said whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, that is a marriage.

And it would be further wrong to dissolve that and go back to a different situation. So, I would say to any listeners who have been wrongly divorced and then married someone else, God's purpose for you now is to make your present marriage a good one. Remain in that marriage and make it a good marriage. I think that people need to hear that, because when they are reading scripture and they say, wait, was that wrong that I got remarried? And I would say the same thing, and we say at the Weekend to Remember marriage conferences, the marriage you are in right now is the one that you need to focus on. Because I've had people say, should I divorce this person and go back to my original spouse? And we would say, no, this is the marriage where you're to put your great effort and hope in. And in some ways, it's freedom to say, put away the guilt, put away the shame, live free in Christ now and make this marriage the best marriage you can be.

Learn from the past and make the present and the future the best. Right. When I speak to groups about divorce and remarriage, I start out very near the beginning. I say, whatever your background, whatever history you come with, you are married now to the right person.

That's good. The person you're married to now is the right person. That's the person God wants you to stay married to. Yeah, I'm sure some people walk out free, because they've carried that for maybe decades. Now, here's another question. I know that there are other cases, and I'm familiar with your writing that even as you go to 1 Corinthians 7, 15, where Paul says, But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. And I've read that the phrase, in such cases, has some new meaning to you.

What other cases might be legitimate grounds? Right. Well, Dave, now this is original thinking that I don't think has ever been published anywhere before. Because modern computer word search abilities now lets us search on not just individual words that are making up a concordance, but on whole phrases in ancient Greek literature. And I got to thinking about this verse. Paul says, If the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so.

In such cases, in such cases, the believing brother or sister is not enslaved. 1 Corinthians 7, 15. Now, I began looking at that phrase, in such cases, and the Greek is entos toyotos, and it looks at a three-word phrase. And I thought, I wonder what that means.

And so, I was able to chase down about 50 examples of it. It doesn't occur elsewhere in the Greek New Testament or in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, but it does occur in other Greek literature outside the Bible. And I found that it can have a broad meaning, that we would translate it something like, If the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so.

Let him separate. In cases similar to this, the believing brother or sister is not enslaved. So, the question is, in cases like what? And I found a number of examples where the cases don't have to be exactly the same, they just have to be similar in some ways.

So now, I hope I can do this on a broadcast so it's clear. I'm going to quote Jewish writer Philo from writing around the time of the New Testament. He's telling the story of the plagues in Egypt when the last plague came on, the tenth plague came on the Egyptians. They woke up in the morning, and all their firstborn sons were dead.

And all the firstborn cattle were dead. And Philo says, as so often happens in such cases, they feared that further trouble was to come. As so often happens in such cases, what can you mean as so often happens when a nation wakes up and finds all its firstborn sons are dead? Well, that doesn't make any sense because that had never happened before in history. As so often happens in such cases, in such cases must mean in cases where sudden tragedy strikes.

Not just where your firstborn sons have died, but where a hurricane has destroyed your crops or a raiding party has come and destroyed your village or something like that. It's a case that's similar, but it's not exactly the same. And so Paul says, if an unbelieving spouse leaves, let him leave. In cases like this, the believing brother or sister is not enslaved. What do you mean in cases like this? Well, in cases where the marriage is so damaged that it isn't any longer functioning as a marriage. So that led me to say, what other cases are there that Paul would have in mind that would damage a marriage as much as desertion by a spouse or as much as adultery? And then I think we could think of some cases which are tragic situations where marriage is just horribly damaged and there seems to be no human hope for repair of the marriage.

Significant, serious physical abuse, repeated physical abuse would fall into that category. That was a help to me, Dave and Anne, because for years I had taught the general position of Protestant churches since the Reformation, and that is there are only two reasons for divorce. Adultery, physical act of adultery, and desertion by an unbeliever from 1 Corinthians 7, 15. And then I said, in cases of abuse, the church should do everything it can to stop the abuse, but it's not a ground for divorce. But now I'm willing to say, because of 1 Corinthians 7, 15, divorce in the case of physical abuse has continued over time and is threatening to continue into the future. In some cases anyway, it's a ground for divorce that's legitimate. It's in similar cases to the damage of marriage as much as desertion. Is that making sense?

Oh yeah. Totally makes sense, and you're right. I think that that's a relief to certain people, because as we think about it, like, how could God want me to stay in that marriage when this husband continues to beat me? And you're saying, of course, that kind of circumstance would be in such cases. It would fall in line with that.

Exactly. And I know as a preacher over 30 years, often I would visit the topic of forgiveness, and so I'd be preaching unforgiveness, and a spouse would come up after. You know, Wayne, I'm sure you've maybe had the same thing, and say, so you're saying I'm commanded by God to forgive. I'm in a marriage where my husband—and it could go the other way. I'm getting physically beat, and what I heard was, stay there and just forgive him.

And I'm like, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait. And so I learned early as a preacher, 30-some years ago, every time I talk about forgiveness, I always footnoted, hey, by the way, I am not saying if you're in a marriage where you're getting beat, you're supposed to just forgive this man. You are called to forgive him, but you're also called to get safe first. Yes, exactly. Basically, God can restore that marriage, but he might not be able to. You're actually saying in such cases means this may not be a marriage that can be sustained, especially if he or she will not repent and stop the abuse. You have grounds for divorce, right? Right. Yeah. Can I give one more example from ancient Greek literature?

Do it. Odysseus was a Greek orator, lived 459-380 BC approximately, but he tells about a man named Phrenicus. Phrenicus had to pay a fine to the treasury, but the writer here says, when Phrenicus had to pay a fine to the treasury, my father did not bring him his contribution of money. It is in such cases that we see the best proof of a man's friends. I think it means when you suddenly need money, not just when a friend has to pay a certain fine to the treasury.

That's too narrow. It's in cases like this where you'd have a sudden need of money to find out who your friends really are. So, in all the literature that we could find, all the commentaries on 1 Corinthians 7 that we could find in our seminary library. Which is an extensive library. My student research assistant and myself couldn't find anybody who had ever argued that from 1 Corinthians before. But it wasn't until the 1980s that the ability to search on whole phrases in Greek was made possible by a Greek language database of 50 million or 60 million words at the University of California, Irvine.

And you can get online access to that database now and search for phrases. And that gives me peace that I'm not being unfaithful to scripture and saying there are other situations that are similarly damaging to marriage that provide legitimate grounds for divorce. You're listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Wayne Grudem on Family Life Today. Wayne's book is called What the Bible Says About Divorce and Remarriage. You can get your copy at

Just click on today's resources or you can call 800-358-6329. That's 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. You might have heard this today and thought, well, what about me?

That doesn't apply to me. What would Wayne Grudem say in your situation? Start packing your bags now? Well, wait, because tomorrow on Family Life Today, Dave and Anne Wilson will be back in the studio with Wayne Grudem as he dives into multiple situations and gives insight into what might be best for you. That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of Dave and Anne Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-30 09:25:36 / 2023-01-30 09:37:01 / 11

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