Divorce has become a disease of modern day society. In many places it has become as easy to break the marital bond as it is to create that bond in the first place. Modern cultural acceptance has lost the stigma of divorce in most places; in fact, people are often heard stating that they don't want to get married because they don't want to go through a divorce -- people actually expect it anymore!
What does the Bible say regarding marriage and divorce?
God has plainly stated that He hates divorce (Malachi 2:13-16). His Son, Jesus Christ, taught us that divorce is permitted only when one spouse has been sexually unfaithful to the other (Matthew 5:32). Divorce for any other reason causes both spouses to be adulterers in God's eyes if they re-marry anyone else (Matthew 19:9, Romans 7:3). And those who commit adultery and do not repent are barred from the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9).
Sexual infidelity is among the top reasons that couples divorce. Christ's exact words regarding divorce and sexual infidelity are recorded at Matthew 5:32, which states:
Some argue that in today's world a cheating spouse is not a valid Biblical reason for divorce because the original wording that Jesus used specified the word "fornication" ("porneia"), instead of the word "adultery" ("moicheuo"); therefore, in their eyes the “divorce” could happen only during the engagement period. They support this with the passage in which Joseph began considering a divorce”from Mary during their betrothal period at Matthew 1:18-19.
Are they correct in their assessment of the situation?
I believe they are missing three key points. Consider the following:
(2) Fornication, however, does always involve sexual contact with someone whom you aren't married to (1 Corinthians 6:13, 18, Jude 1:7).
(3) The original word used, "porneia" is defined in Strong's Greek Lexicon as:
In other words, "fornication" is immoral sexual contact whether you are single, betrothed, or married. "Adultery", on the other hand, can be something as simple as secretly lusting for others outside of your marriage. Plainly, a spouse can commit adultery without having sexual contact; however that same spouse must have sexual contact with a lover in order to commit fornication.
And this is why Jesus used the word "fornication" instead of adultery; it limits the cause for divorce to only physical sexual contact outside of one's marriage. Remember, He was already pointing out that people were divorcing for any whim (Matthew 19:8); divorce on the grounds of "adultery" would only serve to perpetuate that problem further: The grounds of adultery could allow people to divorce for things as simple as looking too long at an attractive person, fantasizing about a famous celebrity, masturbating to a magazine, or even having a sexual dream while sleeping, as each of these falls under the umbrella of adultery if the offender is married.
Because of the potential for abuse Jesus made sure to specify that it is only physical, sexual activity -- fornication -- that breaks the marriage bond, not just adultery . Since marriage is designed to allow a couple to become "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24), fornication is a Biblical reason for divorce because it breaks the "one-flesh" bond with one's spouse and forges another "one flesh" bond with a lover (1 Corinthians 6:16).
Therefore, if a married person has a spouse who has been sexually involved with a lover, the innocent spouse can claim fornication as valid Biblical grounds and seek a divorce. Of course, this doesn't mean the innocent spouse is obligated to seek the divorce, as the spouse may want to choose to be forgiving instead. Just at God was forgiving of Israel's unfaithfulness on many occasions (Jeremiah 3:1), an innocent spouse has the right to be equally forgiving. In fact, Jesus Christ Himself taught that we should extend forgiveness to all who ask for it (Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 18:21-22). However, if an unrepentant spouse continues to commit fornication against the other spouse, the innocent spouse retains the right to seek a divorce (Jeremiah 3:7-8). Of course, if this is the case, the innocent spouse is obligated to seek a peaceful divorce, not a vindictive one (Romans 14:19, Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 3:11), as vengeance belongs only to God (Romans 12:19).
SPIRITUALLY MIXED MARRIAGES
The Bible instructs believers to marry only other believers (1 Corinthians 7:39) as a Christian should not be “unequally yoked” with a non-believer (2 Corinthians 6:14). However, it happens on occasion that one of the spouses in a non-believing couple becomes a believer later on. In such a spiritually mixed marriage, if the non-believer leaves the believer let that one depart, the believer is no longer in servitude (1 Corinthians 7:15). However, this isn't a license to divorce, as this verse says nothing about seeking a divorce. Remember, Scriptures say that the only acceptable divorce is one due to fornication as stated previously (Mark 10:11-12, Romans 7:2-3).
So, then, what does it mean to "let that one depart"? Scripture shows that when a spouse "departs", it is with the view of remaining unmarried to anyone else while attempting to reconcile with the spouse (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
Therefore, if your non-believing mate leaves you, you are not held automatically at fault. However, you still cannot divorce the leaving mate unless that one has committed fornication with someone else, plain and simple.
In many cases a marriage has gone sour because a spouse continues to display extreme, sinful behaviours: Drunkenness, illicit drug use, physical or mental abuse, or even child abuse. Maybe the spouse is just plain lazy and refuses to work for a living. Maybe there isn't anything “wrong”, you've just simply fallen out of love with each other.
As much as such spouses in these situations don't want to hear it, the Biblical rules apply across the board, for the Bible gives no other indication: Divorce is only permitted in cases of physical infidelity. Keep in mind, though, that in case that do not include infidelity it may be necessary to seek a marital separation with the view of reconciliation (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). This can work if both spouses are willing to work together for reconciliation. However, in many cases only one spouse is willing. If that is your situation, though you are separated, you are still not free to divorce and remarry unless your spouse commits fornication against you (Matthew 5:27-28, Romans 7:2-3, Luke 16:18). Even though separated, you are still very married in God's eyes. This is a very difficult situation for many people, and there is no easy fix to it. This is where much prayer and reliance on God comes in to help you through it. He does see your situation, He will not abandon you (1 Corinthians 10:13, Hebrews 13:4-6).
As difficult as it sounds, divorce is not acceptable to God unless fornication is involved. Though the Bible instructs people to be forgiving, God understands if an unfaithful spouse forces the innocent one to seek a divorce. As for all other marital issues, the Bible gives room only for separation with a view to reconciliation. Anyone who teaches anything beyond these Biblical parameters are going beyond God's written word.