Under What Circumstance Can a Spouse Get a Divorce?
Most churches teach that the only reason a spouse can get a divorce is if adultery has been committed. Before we discuss what the scriptures say about this let’s take a look at it from a common sense point of view. Let’s ask ourselves some questions and see how we would handle these situations. Here are some questions to think about:
1. What if you or your daughter were married to someone that comes home and beats you on a regular basis. Are you going to stay in that relationship? Are you going to tell your daughter that she has to stay married to that monster because no adultery has been committed? What do you think Jesus would want you to do?
2. What if your spouse gets caught robbing a bank and is sentenced to 20 years in prison. Do you still have to stay married to them?
3. What if your spouse is a drug addict or an alcoholic and you’ve done all you can to help them. They are always using their paycheck to buy drugs or alcohol so you and your children have no money for food and eventually lose your home. Do you still have to stay married to them?
This study is based on the translation of the original Hebrew and Greek words that was translated into either “put away” or “divorce”. You will notice that the KJV used the words “put away” instead of “divorce” in 10 of the 11 times it was used. To fully understand this it is very important to read below about the translation of these words.
Translation of the original Hebrew and Greek word.
We’re going to look at what the scriptures say but first to get a better understanding of what is being said let’s look at the translation of the original Hebrew and Greek word.
Old Testament Hebrew words:
1. Hebrew original word: Keriythuwth (pronounced ker-ee-thooth') - Strong's #H3748. This
word means “divorce” and occurs 4 times in the Old Testament.
2. Hebrew original word: Shalach (pronounced shaw-lakh') - Strong's #H7971. This word
means “put away” and occurs 848 times in the Old Testament.
New Testament Greek words:
1. Greek original word: Apostasion (pronounced ap-os-tas'-ee-on) - Strong's #G647. This
word means “divorce” and occurs 3 times in the New Testament.
2. Greek original word: Apoluo (pronounced ap-ol-oo'-o) - Strong's #G630. This word
means “put away” and occurs 69 times in the New Testament.
No one can make a synonym out of the Greek words Apoluo (put away) and Apostasion (divorce). It won't work. No matter what language you used. Same in the Hebrew. Not one person can make synonyms out of Shalach (put away) and Keriythuwth (divorced).
Let’s take a look at the different bible translations. I personally like to use either the NKJV or the NIV but when you read about the different bible translations then you will understand why this is based on the KJV and ASV.
Different Bible Translations
We find in the New Testament two separate and distinct words for putting away and divorce but some English Bible versions chose to translate the Greek word apoluo into the word, divorce. In the NT the Greek word apoluo means putting away and the Greek word for divorce is apostasion.
The American Standard Version always translated it "put away." The King James Version translated it "put away" ten out of the eleven times Jesus used it.
In that 11th instance the King James translators wrote "divorced" instead of "put away." In Matt. 5:32, they wrote, "and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."
The word used in this verse is "apoluo,"(put away) which is the same word used in the other ten versus and should have been translated the same way. The American Standard Version corrected the error in 1901 but it never became popular enough to make much difference. This translation had already been accepted in the churches. (The ASV is considered more accurate and word for word than the KJV)
How did we ever begin to read "whosoever divorces his wife" into those places where Jesus literally said "whosoever puts away, or abandons his wife"? It may be partly due to the fact that in Matt 5:32 apoluo was mistranslated "divorced" in 1611 which helped to spread the process into the English spoken word. Even though it was translated correct in 10 out of the 11 versus many pastors and teachers still substituted the word “divorce” in place of “put away”. The scriptures in the original Greek, use apoluo (putting away) 11 out of 11 times.
Here are the 11 scriptures in question about divorce from the KJV.
1. Mat 5:31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
2. Mat 5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. (see Mat 5:32 below)
3. Mat 19:3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
4. Mat 19:8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
5. Mat 19:9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
6. Mar 10:2 And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.
7. Mar 10:11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.
8. Mar 10:12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.
9. Luk 16:18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.
10. 1Co 7:11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
This is the scripture that was incorrectly translated in 1611 but notice that the ASV translated it correctly.
11.(KJV) Mat 5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
11. (ASV) Mat 5:32 but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.
Remember divorce and “put away” are not the same thing. The 11 verses mentioned above are much easier to understand when we know what the Hebrew and Greek translations really mean.
For example, apoluo is used 69 times in the New Testament. Some say that put away is the same as divorce however this is not the case. To show that apoluo never meant divorce, here are five random examples from the New Testament. The words in bold were translated from the word apoluo.
1. Mat 14:15 When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, "This is a deserted
place, nd the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go
into the villages and buy themselves food."
2. Luk 14:4 But they kept silent. And He took him and healed him, and let him go.
3. Joh 18:39 "But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover.
Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?"
4. Act 15:30 So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered
the multitude together, they delivered the letter.
5. Act 28:25 So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had
said one word: "The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to
As you can see, it would be impossible for apoluo to mean divorce. It wouldn’t even make
sense. Before we go any further let’s take a look in the Old Testament at Deu 24:1-4.
Deu 24:1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find
no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let
him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of
Deu 24:2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.
Deu 24:3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth
it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which
took her to be his wife;
Deu 24:4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife,
after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt
not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
Notice that in verse 2 it says: she may go and be another man's wife. This was after she was given a bill of divorcement. Notice in verse 4 that it says her former husband. She did not have a spouse because she was no longer married which means she was free to marry another. Remember in Mat 19:7 they asked Jesus: Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? Moses had to command them to give a writing of divorcement because they were putting their wives out of the house without a divorce just to be mean and cruel to them. If a woman was put away she would have a hard time surviving because she couldn’t get married without the divorce papers.
Let’s take a look at some scriptures in the 7th chapter of 1Cor:
1Co 7:8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide
even as I.
1Co 7:9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.
In verse 8 the unmarried are not those who have never been married but those who have been divorced because in verse 25 he is now talking to the virgins, the ones who have never been married.
1Co 7:10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart
from her husband:
1Co 7:11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband:
and let not the husband put away his wife.
This Scripture is NOT referring to a finalized legal divorce, but a “separation” only. The Greek word used for “depart” is chorizo, and it means “to place room between, to separate.” This is clearly seen because the husband and wife before the separation are still husband and wife after the separation. For the wife is to “...be reconciled to HER HUSBAND” (1Corinthians 7:11), not, “...HER FORMER HUSBAND who divorced her...” (Remember Deuteronomy 24:4). If she were divorced, she wouldn’t have a husband. But when you’re just separated, you still have a husband.
1Co 7:25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my
judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.
1Co 7:26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good
for a man so to be.
1Co 7:27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife?
Seek not a wife.
1Co 7:28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not
sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.
The proper understanding of these verses would read: "Are you bound (married) to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed (divorced). Are you loosed (divorced) from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry (after you have been divorced), you have not sinned."
1Co 7:39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be
dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
Let’s take a closer look at verse 39:
We’re taught that we have a spouse yet we’re unmarried. We have been incorrectly taught and blindly believe that once a person is divorced, they somehow still have a spouse. They cannot get married again. This lie is designed to keep people in bondage their entire lives. Remember what Deu 24:4 says. It says her former husband not her husband.
If you were divorced or your spouse was deceased, would you still have a mate? Of course not! Let’s ask the same question a different way. If you are a woman and your husband was divorced from you or deceased, would you have a husband? And if you are a man and your wife was divorced from you or deceased, would you have a wife?
We have been told that a person cannot get married once they have been divorced because their spouse is alive, even though after the divorce they don’t have a spouse; but once that spouse dies, they can then get married. In the case of a woman who has been divorced, it is NOT true that their HUSBAND is alive, but it IS true that their FORMER HUSBAND is alive. To put it another way, we were told that we were “bound” (married) to someone when we weren’t. We were quoted that “a wife is BOUND by law as long as her husband lives [that’s if she has one, but a divorced woman doesn’t have a husband]; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord”
This isolated Scripture was used as an illustration by the Apostle Paul to give an example of when a person dies; they are no longer under the law. Paul was NOT teaching about divorce.
How then can we accept that we have a spouse when we’re not married? When a person is divorced, they don’t have a husband or wife. This means they are not “bound” to someone. This Scripture is for the person who is MARRIED and wants to marry someone else while they are still married to another. You can’t be married to two people at the same time. If you’re divorced, you CAN get married again BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE A HUSBAND OR WIFE. Simply, you’re single or unmarried, if divorced.
Let’s take a look at two more scriptures from the Old Testament.
Isa 50:1 Thus saith the LORD, Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.
This short section is an address to the exiled Israelites who are slow to respond to the LORD’s calls because they have come to believe that the ties they had with the mother land had been irretrievably broken. The message assures them that they are redeemable (meaning that they still have a covenant relationship with the LORD).
Verse 1 asks a series of questions, each one of them expecting a negative answer. There was no bill of divorcement-they still belonged to the LORD; there was no bill of sale-they were never given up. In Israel, if there was a bill of divorcement given, the person was free to remarry; but the LORD gave no such bill to Israel, or to the preceding generation. The nation-that generation-was temporarily put away; but there was no divorce. So the image is an implied comparison between the idea of a divorce and the LORD’s disowning Israel. He sent the nation into exile to purge those who were not His people; but Israel still belonged to Him.
Likewise, if a man sold (into employment) children to help pay off a debt, they would be permanently lost to him. But God had no such debt; neither was He forced to sell Israel into the hands of a creditor . The nation was His possession; but He would bless only that generation of the nation that was faithful.
Rather, that wicked generation of Israelites sold themselves because of sin; and such sin the LORD could cancel by His grace. But the “nation” was not cast off forever. There would always be a remnant of God’s people, and with revival there would be a faithful generation.
Responding to the people’s complaint of utter abandonment by God, the prophet asserts that their sins were responsible for their banishment. Since there was no bill of divorce, the bond between the Lord and his people still exists and he has the power to deliver them.
Jer 3:8 And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.
Notice that in Isa 50:1 God had put them away but not given them a bill of divorcement. Notice that in Jer 3:8 that God had put them away and gave them a bill of divorcement.
Remember that “put away” and “divorce” are not the same thing.
"Put away" (Greek: apoluo) in scripture means to separate or separated in the sense that it is used today. A couple that is only separated are still married. The marriage contract still stands until it is broken by death or a written divorce document. Some say that put away is the same as divorce however this is not the case. One of the best examples is when Christ was with a crowd of people in Matthew 15:32, Mark 6:36 and Mark 8:3. When it came time to send the people away the Greek word apoluo is used. Christ did not divorce the crowd, but rather physical separation is what was discussed.
"Divorce" (Greek: apostation) in scripture means that a bill of divorcement has been written and that the couple is no longer married. They then separate as part of the divorce. The bill of divorcement ends the contractual ties. When someone is divorced they may remarry. When they become aware of the translation errors then they can understand the "once you're divorced you can't remarry" false doctrine. Mistranslations have also promoted the false doctrine that states that one can only divorce because of adultery.
If that were true then consider this scripture. Mat 5:28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Jesus said this person committed adultery in his heart. Does that mean that his wife can divorce him? Which is more of a reason for divorce, The spouse that got caught robbing a bank and is sentenced to 20 years in prison or the man that looked at the woman with lust?