Transcript of Saddleback Church Teaching on Divorce

For comparison purposes, I have also transcribed the audio clip from Saddleback Church’s website regarding the question, #30. Is divorce ever right?

To read and compare, you may also want to see Transcript of Saddleback Church Teaching on Abuse and Transcript of Saddleback Church Teaching on “Miserable Marriage.”

Again, the speaker is teaching pastor Tom Holladay.


Somebody asked here — and then I’ll go out there for another question — a question about divorce. “If my husband is having an affair and still lives in our home, is it OK for me to file for a divorce if he won’t?” The Bible says, “yes.” Jesus said, when He talked about divorce, that, obviously, divorce hurts the heart of God, deeply hurts the heart of God, God says He hates divorce because He knows how much it hurts His children. You hate anything that hurts your children don’t you? God hates divorce because He knows how much it hurts His children.

When Jesus talked about divorce He said, don’t do it, He said, except for the cause of unfaithfulness. It’s almost as if He’s saying, well if the person is not married to you anymore, if they’re deciding to live with somebody else, to have sex with somebody else, they’ve already made their decision. You can’t force another person to unmake that decision.

And this idea that somehow the husband has to file for divorce if he’s having an affair, there’s nothing in the Bible about that. If your husband is having an affair, and I would say, refuses to talk about it, to go to counseling, to try to work through the marriage, then the Bible says that you have the Biblical right to file for a divorce.

Now a Biblical right doesn’t always need to be taken. I don’t know the situation and I don’t know the circumstance, and I hope that you’ve been to our lay counseling if this is about your life or that you’ve encouraged your friend to go to lay counseling if this is about their life, so they can sit down and talk about the specific situation.

Because the truth of the matter is, I know many, many people who have survived an affair. It was a great hurt to their marriage, but they realized through that what their marriage had become; just two people living in the same house. They also realized what their faith in Christ had become; empty, because obviously there’s a selfishness there, that’s apart from faith in Christ. And so they came back together and recommitted to Christ and recommitted to one another. That can happen. It’s not easy. It’s not easy, but that can happen.

And obviously, God is a God of grace. That would be, I believe, His preference for that to happen but you can’t force another person to change their mind. And if they’ve decided “I’m going to be with this other person and yet I’m still going to be married to you,” – First of all, I wouldn’t be in the same house. I’d ask for a separation immediately in that situation because they are in essence using you in that situation. And you need to say immediately, “I’m standing up because I want this marriage to work.” But then I would also say to you that you need to work towards what is going to happen next.

Now if you asked a lot of other questions the answer wouldn’t be so easy. If you said, for instance, if my husband never paid me any attention, the Bible talks about sacrificial love, he’s a Christian, but he’s – and you’re not saying this with bitterness, you’re just saying this honestly – he hasn’t done a sacrificial thing for me in the past 20 years that I can think of. He wants me to serve him, he wants me to respect him, but he never sacrifices for me. Are you able to get divorced in that case? No. Not Biblically. You can; I mean, you can make that choice. But there’s no Biblical reason for divorce in that case.

I’ve learned to be real careful with my words when I talk about this. Even when somebody writes, “My husband’s having an affair.” I don’t know what that means. That’s why I said you have to get together… Sometimes somebody… When you’re giving somebody advice, and they say, “My husband’s having an affair,” ask “What does that mean?” Because sometimes they mean, “Well, he goes out to lunch with his secretary.” I’ve seen that happen. “He’s having an affair of the heart.” That’s what they mean. But they couch it in terms so that they’ll get the answer they want from you as a spiritual leader. And then they’ll say, “Well, my small group leader said it was an OK thing.” They didn’t tell you really what was going on. They couched it in different terms.

And so if you’re talking about someone being involved physically with someone else, Jesus said, “They’ve sinned in such a way that they don’t want to be married to you anymore.” And you can’t force another person to change their mind.

That’s one of the Biblical reasons for divorce. The other is in I Cor. 7 where Paul says if they abandon you, if they leave – not emotionally abandon you – but if they pick up and leave and they’re not living in the house anymore and they won’t file for divorce and they say, “I don’t want to be married to you but I’m not doing anything about a divorce,” Jesus says, “They’ve abandoned you.” You can’t force another person to change their mind.

This is a painful subject. It really is a painful subject. I don’t know all the ins and outs of that question which is why I encourage you to get with somebody individually, because I’ve found that when it comes to this issue of marriage and divorce the only way to really get to good advice is to get with the person who’s going through it, look them in the eye and give them some answers. I can give you the Biblical reasons but I can’t give you Biblical wisdom without sitting down and talking about it. So find somebody or help your friend to find somebody to sit down and talk with.

7 Responses

  1. The question he was fielding was on divorce for adutlery.
    He spoke 800 words on divorce being allowed for adultery (623 + 177);
    118 words on divorce not allowed ‘when your husband ignores you’;
    83 words on divorce allowed for abandonment;
    and zero words on divorce for domestic abuse.

    This ratio is very typical of teachings on divorce (and I’ve read heaps).
    Okay, he was asked about adultery and he answers that question, well and good, but he wasn’t asked about neglect or abandonment, yet he throws in teaching on them anyway. However, he doesn’t throw in teaching about abuse. I know there is another audio clip where he teaches on domestic abuse, but the omission of it here, where he mentions other grounds that he hadn’t been asked about (in what sounds like a live seminar) is telling.

    This kind of think is hurtful to victims of domestic abuse. Why are we the ‘poor relations’? Why do we get the least mention, on no mention, when general teaching is being given about divorce? Why are we invisible? This HURTS.

    I wonder how many clergy know what proportion of the divorced adults in their congregation are divorced for domestic abuse. I heard one AOG pastor say that they had a large single / divorced adults group in their church and they’d never thought to survey the divorced ones about why they were divorced. When they did a survey, 90% stated that domestic abuse was a feature in the marriage breakdown.

  2. The first (of several) things that jumped out at me here, was that he said 4 times “you can’t force someone else to change their mind.” When the subject is adultery, there is fairly simple acceptance of the offending spouse’s decision and allowance of the offended spouse’s volitional decision to proactively get a divorce. Obviously, in any case, we should attempt to see if the offending spouse will repent – but there is no belaboring the point for years and years here with adultery.

    Yet, when the subject is domestic abuse, which is far more egregious – and has the same spiritual root – there is no acceptance of the offending spouse’s decision and no acceptance of the offended spouse’s options.

    — Danni

  3. Another telling point, is like you said – the complete absence of abuse in this discussion of divorce.

    This reveals a glaring fact. There is a preconception here – which is coloring the entire discourse and interpretation of the Word on this issue.

    Adultery and abandonment are viewed as the allowed reasons for divorce. All Scripture is interpreted to factor those in and everything else out.

    Notice what I’m saying here – what is happening is that the church is reasoning backwards from the pre-understanding that adultery and abandonment are acceptable reasons for divorce and everything else is not.

    This is a preconception based far back in church tradition; so far back it is no longer even questioned and no one realizes they are doing it.

    However, it sets up the analysis of the Word regarding the issue of abuse against the possibility of ever drawing the conclusion that abuse is defined within the same parameters as adultery and abandonment.

    Because of the preconception of two-only-and-bar-the-door reasons for divorce, the issue of abuse is up against an absolute prejudice before it ever hits the table.

    The reality is, there is no rational, logical, scholarly analysis of the Word involved in the exclusion of abuse. At the bottom line, it is simply a defense of church tradition without serious consideration. It doesn’t hold up to even the basic “reasoning” used in these transcripts.

    — Danni

  4. I agree Danni that there is a very large amount of prejudice and ‘bar the door’ mentality when one tries to get domestic abuse on the table as a biblical ground for divorce.
    It is circular reasoning.
    People go to seminary and get taught about the dangers of circular reasoning when interpreting scripture.
    Yet they just don’t see they are doing it here.
    Many rely just on the opinions of others, rather than try to figure it out for themselves from the Scriptures alone. It is very very hard to approach the biblical texts without preconceptions, when we have all, every one of us, been soaked in the ‘received’ teaching.
    That’s why it took me at least three years to write my book. It was hard going, reading so many preconceptions and hand-me-down arguments passed from one eminent scholar to another, which were often believed and accepted as ‘givens’ rather than examined objectively.
    And those who have tried to figure out something new about divorce and domestic abuse for themselves have often got caught in quagmires like:
    “What is the meaning of ‘porneia’ in Matthew 19?
    (You could probably spend a lifetime reading what had been written on that question, and never read it all…).

  5. Yet, when the subject is domestic abuse, which is far more egregious – and has the same spiritual root – there is no acceptance of the offending spouse’s decision and no acceptance of the offended spouse’s options.

    OK, I’m stumped.
    What is “the same spiritual root” that adultery, abandonment, and abuse have in common?

    • “Putting asunder” – violation of the marriage covenant by utterly severing the one-flesh/one-spirit bond.

      This is one of the “illogics” I see in this piece. The speaker gives permission for a wife to proactively divorce her adulterous husband though he remains under the same roof with her and refuses to get a divorce. This is exactly the same as an abuser.

      The violence to the one-flesh/one-spirit relationship is sexual with another person in a sexually adulterous relationship. The violence to the one-flesh/one-spirit relationship is geographic with abandonment. The violence to the one-flesh/one-spirit relationship uses a literal spirit of murder (expressed through rage, etc. – not necessarily inclusive of actual murderous actions) to kill the spirit and body of the spouse (in violation of multiple Scriptures) and also demands an idolatrous relationship, which is a direct violation of the Word.

      The Word makes the very clear connection that the reason sexual adultery is grounds for divorce is because human marriage is a picture of our relationship with God, with the marital one-flesh relationship being a picture of our worship and one-ness with God. Adultery is equivalent to idolatry — that is why it is grounds for divorce. This is THE reason it matters.

      When two are married they become ONE – this is not just a sexual thing. They are ONE unified whole. This is why abandonment has the same root. Two cannot be one if one has abandoned the other. The reason abandonment is grounds for a divorce is not because the Bible says “here is an exception to the rule.” It is because abandonment is the same sin as adultery.

      And this is also true of abuse. It is the same root of “putting asunder” committed by the abusive spouse, who has utterly violated the one-flesh/one-spirit relationship, though s/he continues to reside under the same roof and professes a desire to remain married. The spouse of an abuser – even a verbal and emotional abuser – is literally in far more physical danger than the spouse of a sexual adulterer! And this danger, which extends to the levels of spiritual authority, persist even beyond the boundaries of a marital separation. But the church is oblivious to this fact.

      I thought many times that I wish my husband would have an affair. That would have been far less painful, far less damaging to the children, far less ruinous to all of us for the rest of our lives! AND the church would have blessed the dissolution of our marriage. It is a conundrum.

      — Danni

  6. Is this the spiritual root you meant?

    God does not say He hates “divorce” = He is saying He hates “putting away.” Which may perhaps be splitting hairs – but there is an issue of the heart.

    The only reason I’m making that distinction is to put the fault where it belongs – God hates the action of putting away – putting the responsibility on the shoulders of the one who does the putting away. That is the person who violates the covenant, not necessarily on the one who gets a legal document publically acknowledging the fact which has existed in reality for some time.
    (quoting Danni from another comment)

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