Mindset Change: Default to Divorce Biblically

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. – Jeremiah 3:8, KJV

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. – Mathew 1:19, NIV


I quote these two verses to remind my readers that divorce is not always sin. In fact, the decision to divorce is attributed to a righteous man, Joseph, and God even divorces Israel, which proves theologically that divorce is not always ungodly. God divorces an adulterous partner.

Too often, I notice a bias in evangelical Christianity to coerce faithful spouses into remaining in marriages ravaged by adultery and deceit. The assumption is that a good Christian is expected to stay married to an adulterous spouse. Sometimes–if not often–this expectation is taken regardless of whether or not that spouse is repentant.

It is an entitlement mentality.

The passage in Matthew about Joesph deciding to divorce Mary ought to tell us about righteous expectations following a situation naturally created by sexual infidelity (obviously, God intervened in this case, but normally, it would take another man to impregnate a woman.)

It strikes me that the righteous default was divorce here. What is radical is staying in a marriage after adultery or sexual immorality is discovered. It certainly was not expected by faithful Jews. The opposite clearly was.

I think this is a healthy mentality change.

Assume the faithful spouse will divorce the adulterous spouse upon discovery of infidelity.

That is what God did (Jeremiah 3:8). He divorced over adultery.

This sort of assumption reminds us that it is an act of mercy and grace for a faithful spouse to remain such a marriage. It is not their God-directed duty as is so often communicated.

Faithful Spouse: “My husband committed adultery. I caught him red-handed, and he finally confessed. We are getting divorced. I refuse to tolerate such sin.”

Christian Leader: “That is a shame. Have you tried to save your marriage?” [Assuming marriage restoration/reconciliation is owed by a Christian to an adulterous spouse.]

This puts the onus on the faithful spouse to reconcile. Practically, it implies the faithful spouse is a deficient Christian for choosing divorce after adultery. I do not see that as Biblical as Jesus gives permission to divorce in such situations without shame (see Mt 5:32 and Mt. 19:9).

What might this exchange look like under the default to divorce mindset:

Faithful Spouse: “My husband committed adultery. I caught him red-handed, and he finally confessed. We are getting divorced. I refuse to tolerate such sin.”

Christian Leader: “That is a shame. But that is a consequence your husband ought to have considered before violating your marriage by choosing adultery and deceit over godliness. It makes sense that you would find such sinful behavior intolerable.”

Now, defaulting to divorce does not mean a faithful spouse could not decide to extend mercy. It just paints a clearer picture that such a choice is precisely that: MERCY. The adulterous spouse deserves to be divorced over his/her sin. In fact, God even declared such an offense a death penalty sin in the Old Testament (see Deut. 22:22). So, divorce is even merciful.

God’s heart is for reconciliation, true (2 Cor. 5:18). But this priority of reconciliation does not mean God ignores issues of holiness and righteousness. It does not mean tolerating sin.

And God’s heart for reconciliation does not obliterate the consequences of sin. In the story of King David, his son still died and his family was still ripped apart due to his adulterous sin with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah. God forgave David, but that only meant that David was not killed on the spot (see 2 Samuel 12:13).

It is past due as a Christian community we stop assuming faithful spouses owe their adulterous spouses reconciliation. They do not. While it is commendable for them to reconcile (provided the adulterous spouse has truly repented first!), the expectation–as I read Scripture–is not there.

It is a gift…not a duty.

4 thoughts on “Mindset Change: Default to Divorce Biblically”

  1. I was asked to counsel a man at a church I attended whose wife had committed adultery. After listening to him share his story I told him that despite his wife’s repentance, by common sense and by the examples in the bible he was free to divorce his wife without question. He looked stunned. I thought he might go home and tell his wife to leave. Instead they reconciled. I do not think he had been told that before. Having someone representing a church tell him he was free to divorce took a great weight off. The burden was not on him at all, it was on her.
    It has been a couple years and they seem to be doing well.

    1. Exactly. It is not that one HAS TO divorce. This mindset simply states the Biblically accurate reality that a faithful spouse is FREE to divorce irrespective of the cheating spouse’s response after adultery. It sets both in a better place. The decision to go–i.e. divorce–or stay is then a free choice as opposed to an outside law placed on the faithful spouse to stay. Plus, it reminds the cheater that they blew it and the onus is on him/her to rebuild if the faithful spouse gives him/her the GIFT of staying.

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