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Did Jesus Allow Divorce?

One of the most common topics apologists at Catholic Answers are asked about concerns the Catholic understanding of marriage, divorce, and annulments. Some people question whether the Church’s teaching in this area can be supported scripturally. The fact is that Catholic teaching may be best understood by tracing the history of marriage through the Bible.

Shortly after God created humanity, he instituted marriage. This is evidenced in the second chapter of the Bible: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). From the beginning God intended marriage to be a lifelong commitment, and his displeasure with divorce was made clear: “For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel” (Mal. 2:16).

Even so, the Mosaic law allowed divorce and remarriage among the Israelites. The Israelites saw divorce as a way to dissolve a marriage and enable the spouses to remarry others. But, as we will see, Jesus taught that this is not what God intended.

The Pharisees questioned Jesus when he taught on the permanence of marriage:

Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matt. 19:3–8; cf. Mark 10:2–9; Luke 16:18)
Thus, Jesus re-established the permanence of marriage among his followers. He raised Christian marriage to the level of a sacrament and taught that sacramental marriages cannot be dissolved through divorce. This was part of Jesus’ fulfillment (or perfection) of the Old Law of which he said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17).

An Exception to the Rule?

Some Christians hold that Jesus made an exception to the rule of permanence of marriage when he said that “whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9, emphasis added; cf. Matt. 5:31–32.) The word translated as “unchastity” here is the Greek word porneia (from which the word pornography is derived) and its literal meaning is debated among Scripture scholars. Full treatment of this topic is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say here that Jesus’ and Paul’s constant and forceful teaching about the permanence of sacramental marriage as recorded elsewhere in Scripture makes it clear that Jesus was not making an exception in the case of valid, sacramental marriages. The constant teaching of the Catholic Church attests to this as well.

It is important to note that in Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce, his concern was with the presumption that divorce actually ends a sacramental marriage and enables the spouses to remarry. He said to his disciples, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11–12). But divorce that does not presume to end a sacramental marriage (e.g., divorce intended only to legally separate the spouses) is not necessarily evil.

Paul’s teaching agrees with this: “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband)—and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10–11). Paul understood that divorce is a terrible thing, yet it is sometimes a reality. Even so, divorce does not end a sacramental marriage.

The Catholic Church still today understands that separation and even civil divorce that does not presume to end a sacramental marriage is sometimes necessary (e.g., in the case of an abusive spouse). But such actions simply cannot dissolve the marital bond or free the spouses to marry others. TheCatechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law. If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense. (CCC 2383)
That being said, the Church clearly teaches that divorce does not—indeed cannot—end sacramental marriage. “A ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death” (Code of Canon Law 1141). Only death dissolves a sacramental marriage.

Paul’s writings agree:

Do you not know, brethren—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during his life? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. (Rom. 7:1–3)
A Marriage Not Made in Heaven

Thus far our discussion of the permanence of marriage has concerned sacramental marriages—marriages between baptized Christians. What about marriages between two non-Christians or between a Christian and a non-Christian (also called “natural marriages”)?

Paul taught that divorce of a natural marriage is not desirable (1 Cor. 7:12–14), but he went on to teach that natural marriages may be dissolved in certain circumstances: “If the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace” (1 Cor. 7:15).

Accordingly, Church law provides for the dissolution of natural marriages in certain circumstances as well:

A marriage entered into by two non-baptized persons is dissolved by means of the Pauline privilege in favor of the faith of the party who has received baptism by the very fact that a new marriage is contracted by the same party, provided that the non-baptized party departs. (CIC 1143)
Marriages not yet ratified through consummation are treated similarly:

For a just cause, the Roman pontiff can dissolve a non-consummated marriage between baptized persons or between a baptized party and a non-baptized party at the request of both parties or of one of them, even if the other party is unwilling. (CIC 1142)
Catholic Divorce

Annulments are sometimes mistakenly called “Catholic divorces.” In reality, annulments do not presume to end marriages at all but simply recognize and declare, after sufficient investigation, that a marriage never existed in the first place. If a marriage never really existed, then there is nothing to dissolve. Such situations can come about for one (or more) of three reasons: lack of sufficient capacity, failure to adequately consent, or violation of canonical form.

Capacity involves a party’s ability to contract marriage. For example, a person who is currently married is incapable of attempting another marriage. Consent involves a party’s commitment to the marriage as the Church understands it. Form is the actual process of entering into marriage (i.e., the wedding).

Non-Catholics usually understand the capacity and consent requirements for a marriage to come into being, but they often do not understand what violation of canonical form is. Simply put, Catholics are bound to observe the form of marriage prescribed by the Church. Failure to observe this form (or to be dispensed from this obligation) invalidates a marriage:

Only those marriages are valid that are contracted before the local ordinary, pastor, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and before two witnesses. (CIC 1108)
Why are Catholics bound to observe such form? For one thing, the Catholic form of marriage ensures that God is not left out of the picture. The Church has the authority to bind Catholics in this way by virtue of Jesus’ conferral to it of the power to bind and to loose: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).

Is Divorce Allowable?

Do we see annulments occurring in the Bible? Some apologists argue that the exception clause cited above (Matt. 19:9) exemplifies annulments. If “unchastity” refers to illicit relations between the spouses themselves, then divorce is not only acceptable but preferable. But such divorce would not end a marriage, for a true marriage could not have existed in the first place under such circumstances.

It is clear that Catholic teaching remains faithful to scriptural teaching on marriage, divorce, and annulments as Jesus intended. The author of the letter to the Hebrews summed it all up when he wrote, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous” (Heb. 13:4).
More like this
The Permanence of Matrimony
God Made It. We Can’t Change It.
“Should I Attend the Wedding or Not?”
When a Catholic wishes to marry a non-Catholic, does the couple need to promise to raise their children Catholic in order to be married in the Church?
If a baptized Catholic marries a non-baptized person, is that a valid marriage? Are there any special requirements

By Jim Blackburn

 










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37 comments

  1. Joy Reply

    I divorced my husband, he was a Presbyterian but we were married in a Catholic Church. We were married for 31 years total.. had 2 boys. However throughout the marriage he drank a lot and would use profanity and porn to his own use. He also would threaten me with keeping child or kids and I could always go home. After all the verbal abuse (I felt) and a total of 28 years I could no longer take anymore! I filed for divorce and it took 2 years to get it finished~ I feel like a person without purpose. but I could no longer be married to such a person. Why oh why would God make me stay married to him for life! I have not dated since I have been divorced, I feel that the church would not accept this but I feel so alone! How could all this be so? I pray all the time. My dad (which I was close to) passed Sept 15 2004 and my divorce was final Sept 30, 2004. I just can not understand the churches stance on I should do… Thanks for listening!

    1. sabin Reply

      Jesus did it on purpose… U should've continued prayer and suffering…

      1. jah Reply

        @sabin – JESUS was not the one who did it, He only allowed such things to happen for His glory to be shown in many unexpected ways in the long run.

        @Joy, sister there are a lot of things in this world that is not for us to understand. You just have to believe that in the long run, God will take all of those burdens from you. This world is really cruel and so unfair, anyway were just here temporarily – our real home will be hereafter. Keep up the faith sister. God bless you and your children

      2. Joy Reply

        It was not just for myself! It had destroyed my SON!! He was only 16 at the time… he lay on the concrete garage floor and cried that he was not any good, not one love it him, he was worthless!! ETC… You would stay in a marriage that did this to your child?? You are a very sick sick person if so! I has taken over 14 years a several years with counseling, and he is just now starting to come out of his deadly ordeal. Do you have any idea what this does to kids??? It ruins their lives forever! I believe that Jesus make me see the light that I needed to get out of that relationship! You need to stop being so naive!!

    2. jah Reply

      @Joy, sister there are a lot of things in this world that is not for us to understand. You just have to believe that in the long run, God will take all of those burdens from you. This world is really cruel and so unfair, anyway were just here temporarily – our real home will be hereafter. Keep up the faith sister. God bless you and your children

      1. Joy Reply

        Thank you for your comment! I do agree with you! Have a Blessed Day!

    3. selvasingh Reply

      Only jesus can forgive our sins and only he can be the only judge on all matters… but when it comes to our life..We need to treat humans in 2 different ways one is free humans and another evil possgessed human…All laws of our Lord Christ is to live as human and for the human. ..The same law is not applicable for evil possessed one as that is in hands of our Lord. …so better not to live with an evil and to lead a life without evil…god bless u sister….pray u can defeat the evil amen

    4. Mairead Conroy Reply

      if we can endure hardship for His sake, it becomes very valuable in the war against evil and is a wonderful resource and comfort to the Lord.If we prefer hardship than offending Him it shows how sincere our love is….

    5. Cpq Reply

      Joy, Jesus didn’t promise a safe journey, He promised a safe landing. I, too, was in a marriage such as yours and we separated. I would have loved to have a happy marriage and live as we were supposed to do. I will not divorce and remarry – I find companionship with my children and friends and God. I just offer it up – I will not jeopardize my eternal salvation for a short time here on earth – I will err on the side of caution. I don’t know if this helps, but my hope is in the Lord and joining Him in heaven.

    6. Anne Reply

      Why wouldnt you talk to church about annulment?

  2. stephen marango Reply

    I was married after 2years i separated frm my wife to give her time to figure what she wants…. She moved in with another man they hav lived together she has a child am alone i still receive my sacrament… dont have any child with her.what should i do

    1. jah Reply

      go on with your life brother. Life doesnt have to end there. Some people were just passerby’s who gives us experiences that will mold us to a new better and stronger person. Have faith that God will give your queen in no time. Be always good and God bless you

  3. Larry Reply

    Wishing you peace, Joy! Sorry that your marriage didn't work out, but that sometimes happens. I would suggest that you go talk to your priest, and he should be able to answer your questions , at length. (The problems start when people remarry again or start to cohabitate.) Or if you prefer to get an answer online, make sure that it is a reputable Catholic website because many misconceptions come from other sources. I know of many divorced women who still attend church regularly. Seek out some of them in your parish. They may be a support for you when you feel alone, beacuse they have been in your shoes. God bless you!

    1. Joy Reply

      Thank you so much Larry! I do not want to cohabit-ate with anyone! Heck I am not even sure if I even want to date! lol!! The world today is so messed up that it really makes me Shrek~ I do agree with your statement! Thank you again! If I get up the courage to talk with a Priest I know that is the right thing. It troubles me that they really have no idea what marriage is like after this time frame. My ex almost destroyed my youngest son with his abuse! It has taken me over 10 years to get him to come out of his shell and try and become alive again! Short story: He told him~ You will never be of any good, You will never amount to anything. You are worthless and I don't want anything more to do with you! There is lots more to the story but this is only 1 example! Therapy with Positive Changes has helped him overcome so much!! I believe this was the main reason I started proceedings of divorce! No one attacks my son like this!

  4. Treasure Reply

    my marriage with my husband was based on lies n deceit.He was a drug addict which i didn't know because his parents were in a hurry for the marriage to be consumated before i could find out.He doesn't do any work n beats me at every slightest provocation.I hv a son 4yrs now for him.I am out of the marriage and want to go to the catholic for dissolution of the marriage so dt i can marry again.Pls i really need ur advice

  5. Cecilia Reply

    I encourage all of you to visit w your parish priest. They should be able to counsel you on the annulment process and whether or not your (former) marriage meets the requirements. It is a healing process which allows you to recognize your own areas of weakness and fault in the demise of your marriage. No one is 100% w out blame. Nor is a marriage 100% bad, or good, for that matter. I could go on and on…. I pray you will feel comfort knowing the the Holy Church loves you and feels for you. I will keep you in my prayers…. Pray to our Blessed Mother and saints for intercession on your behalf. Have faith and courage.

    1. Michelle Tavakoli Reply

      I disagree with Cecilia in Treasure”s and Joy”s case, thise men and the parents of treasures husband, were 100% at fault. They would both would, more than likely ,be granted an annulment. Because there was no true marriage bond in first place. The deceit carried out beforehand on part of husbands parents and fiance and his drug use, would be ruled out as a true marriage from start. But yes talk to your pastors or nearest priest. Mental illness hidden from fiance, or undiagnosed tilll afterward, or family of a minor hidding a major problem of the minor (under 18),(physical,mental, emotional deficiency) or one of the prospective spouses having/and or hiding existence of these defiencies cause for annulment.

  6. Francis O. Reply

    Good day,sir/ma. I have a lady that i want to marry. But,i have been thinking over this issue,- She had a boy for a man who is also cohabiting with another woman,without the knowledge of this lady that i want to marry now. According to her,she told me that she had a boy of 6years old for the man and they were not married yet. And with time,when she find out that the man has another woman in another country she quit her cohabiting relationship with the man. So i want to know can i still go on and marry her? I am single and not yet married! Thanks.

    1. Joy Reply

      My suggestion would to be to call / or speak with a priest. They will have the right answer for you! God Bless you and make sure this is what you really want! Sometimes Love is very blind! So take your time and think it out so that things become clear for you!

  7. Jill Reply

    Please do not be afraid to speak with a priest. They have been trained to assist us in our times of troubles. Do not be embarrassed either. We have a wonderful priest whose advise we seek when needed. He has helped my family in many ways. A good priest has God’s help in dealing with problems of all kinds. I will pray for all of you who have expressed some pain. I ask that you pray for me, too.

    1. Joy Reply

      Prayers always ready and being said you and those in need!! God Bless You! and Thank you I do know your right!

  8. Doris Reply

    I am a widow and have been for the past 8 years. My husband died when I was 39. Since then life has been very difficult for me and my two kids as I wasn't working. I feel very lonely most times. I have fallen in love with a guy who is married and have grown to love him very much. He takes care of me and the kids very well. My catholic up bringing tells me that this relationship is wrong but I just cannot bring myself to stop. I pray to God everyday for forgivenss. I really want to get married again as I get very lonely. Please help me.

    1. simon peter Reply

      doris you are human and our lord forgives all sins ,that is fact ,so your sin is forgiven don’t get bogged down with heartache and worry.
      I feel if this man wants you he will have to do his part and move from his current life ,which could be a problem .
      I am sure there are many men looking for caring women like you who are not married ,you need to show strength and follow your desires and understand married men may not be the correct option…

  9. Joe Smith Reply

    We divorced civilly in 1995 after 11 years of marriage. We had two children together. Since then I have remarried by the Magistrate. I have resisted getting the first marriage annulled because I didn’t believe that I should due to her infidelity. I felt that I was being victimized again. However, praise be to God, I am submitting my annulment documents tomorrow. I have come full circle because I realize that this is necessary sacrementally. I am submitting myself to the Church and God and taking a leap of faith. Jesus I trust in you. May God bless and give His Peace to all people who face having to get an annullment and God bless you all.

    1. Joy Reply

      I pray you find that right someone this time! I have put off getting an annulment, but I really am not sure way! I guess God has bigger and better things for each of us in each of our futures!! God Bless you!! and Good Luck with your Annulment!!

    2. Michelle Tavakoli Reply

      Good job joe, your doing th ed right thing. By sound of it, she was at fault . But it soes need annulment process.

  10. Doris Murphy Reply

    Do you believe that God wanted us to live our lives alone? My husband left me after 17 years of marriage and 4 children. He left for another woman and I did not know about her until he came home and told me he was leaving. I raised my children by myself with visits with their father for a few hours on the weekend. After 12 years I remarried and now I am not allowed to be in God’s graces. I really don’t think that our loving God will abandon me because of something I could not control.

    1. Joy Reply

      Thank you Doris! I have been trying to decide what is best and Praying! I am in peace with my life at the moment… No arguing, No fighting, No alcoholic to deal with, the smell, the words, the verbal mentality. Since trying to stay married for the church, I could no longer do it. I am truly afraid to look for that right person! But you have given me great thought to ponder! I will see what my heart wants! Thank you Again! I needed your words! God Bless You!!

  11. Aaron Milavec Reply

    Doris and Joy,

    After 12 years I remarried and now I am not allowed to be in God’s graces. I really don’t think that our loving God will abandon me because of something I could not control. –

    Your sense of God’s judgment is very dear to the Lord. Stand with it. Let’s face it–sometimes the ministers of God fail to notice that Jesus moderated justice with mercy at every turn. In every case, however, the RCC not only allows but insists that you are free to follow you conscience when the Church creates impossible burdens.

    The article above fails to notice that Jesus opposed MEN WHO SOUGHT TO DIVORCE THEIR WIVES for small slights (burning a meal, gaining weight, etc.). He did this because he saw wives suffering from the lax attitudes of men toward the sanctity of marriage. Jesus NEVER wanted to impose upon women (like Doris and Joy) an impossible burden that brought unbearable sufferings. . . .

    For further details, see http://www.churchonfire.net/?page_id=224

    Dr. Aaron Milavec, RCC theologian

    1. Joy Reply

      Thank you for your input! I see what you say and it was really helpful! I have fought with this divorce for many years, yet I tried hard to stay for my religious beliefs! However, after what I felt as an absolute impossible situation I had to put it to a stop before anything worse happened! I will read further into the web site you have given! I so appreciate your help. I have been quiet for all these years, but for some reason I felt my voice had to be heard, or rather I just had to voice it! There is so much more to tell…. and Thank you!

  12. edith Reply

    I fell in love with a divorced man, should i go on with the marriage or let hom go because he is divorced? My spirit is really at peace with him

  13. Anu Reply

    I have been divorced or separated for last 4 years . I am still struggling to get an answer if my catholic faith allows me to get married.

  14. Imran Reply

    I am baloch .we have respect for woman and divorce mean we kill one woman when we divorce her jesus dont like divorse

  15. Gil Tulipas Reply

    “…the Church clearly teaches that “civil divorce” does not—indeed cannot—end Sacramental Marriage. “A ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power/civil laws or for any reason other than death” (Code of Canon Law 1141). Only death dissolves a sacramental marriage” as i quote on the above-mentioned explanation. This is it.

    However, for those couple having problems on their marriage status, better seek spiritual advises to your spiritual director. It’s hard to compromise the status of our soul/spirit after this mundane life. We need to prioritize to safeguard individual salvation. After all there is no repentance after this life, it is only during this time while a person is alive to correct, redress and eventually can repent whatsoever as human being. When person dies, everything is final and no redressing and repenting. Judgement is laid upon and the person’s soul/spirit is being dispatched. . . either to Hell or Purgatory. Heaven is a state of place where souls/spirit triumphantly served penitent souls in the church in purgatory and been purged or cleaned (that’s why we say prayers to our dearly departed beloved love ones because they have no power of their own spirit/soul to purge, they only rely on prayers from their living love ones who are still here on earth praying for their beloved departed souls). Just for enlightenment only. Human freedom still prevails, which one to abide by your conscience or Merciful guidance and saving power of God!!! . . . . . Godbless. FR. JG

  16. Amyth Reply

    I am separated for almost 5yrs now. We are not married in a church only in civil . I was 19 and he was 17 when we got married i don’t even consider it as a real marriage for it was just like we where only forced to do it for the sake that i was pregnant. Now i’m planning to have an annulment but i don’t have plans to remarry for now. Until now i’m still confused and struggling if i still have the rights to remarry in the future or not. Did i commit adultery because of this? Will God allow me to do so? Will i offend God if i will remarry again in the future? For right now i have a relationship with a man and i want to be with him for the rest of my life and i want to make all things rightfully and if ever i will get marry again i will be marrying in a catholic church. So please help me out and give me answers to all my questions.

    1. P@ssw0rd Reply

      An Annulment seeks to prove whether a marriage was sacremental or not. A civil marriage would not. But from what I’ve read the Tribunal would still want to rule on on whether it was or not but that shouldn’t take long at all. Best thing to do is speak to your pastor about. He will be your best advisor at this point.

  17. Mike Gregory Reply

    Understand the divorce epidemic is due to jewish created feminism. The highest divorce in the world. When a spouse (75% of the time the woman) end a marriage and their are kids, it destroys the family and anyone having experienced it knows it is a hardcore mortal sin. If both spouses work together, pray together, live truly Catholic lives, any issues can be overcome. That’s a big IF, though in this day and age.

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