A little of my backstory on this topic - I was raised by my mother. My parents divorced when I was only two. Divorce is tragic, no matter the situation. But for some, the shame of divorce hangs over them like a dark cloud for years, even decades. Perhaps something I say will bring some relief or comfort to some.
I am going to do this discussion in four parts. The first three installments will essentially be a word study. I want to get a lay of the land of the biblical data. Plus, I think it will reveal how confusing (misleading?) the English translations can be on this issue. The last installment will draw some conclusions and answer common questions. So be patient. Don't be too hasty in thinking you know where I'm going with this. I am not going to allow comments until the final post. You are encouraged to be a Berean and do your own study and test what I am saying. See if it is true.
Deut. 22:13–19 (NIV) – God makes a provision to protect virgins who are rejected by their husbands after marriage.
If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” then the young woman’s father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof that she was a virgin. Her father will say to the elders, “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. Now he has slandered her and said, ‘I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.’ But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.” Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, and the elders shall take the man and punish him. They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the young woman’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce (lit. “send her away”) her as long as he lives.
Deut. 22:28–29 (NIV) – God provides protection for young rape victims: marriage (which would include physical provision and protection) for the rest of her life.
If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce (lit. “send her away”) her as long as he lives.
Leviticus 21:7-8, 13–14 (NIV; see also Ezek. 44:22) – Priests were not allowed to marry women who had been “driven out” by their husbands (in other words, not officially divorced).
[Priests] must not marry women defiled by prostitution or divorced (lit. “wives driven out” or “wives who have been driven away”) from their husbands, because priests are holy to their God. Regard them as holy, because they offer up the food of your God. Consider them holy, because I the LORD am holy—I who make you holy.
The woman [the high priest] marries must be a virgin. He must not marry a widow, a divorced woman (lit. “wives driven out” or “wives who have been driven away”), or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his own people.
Mal. 2:15–16 (NASB)
But not one has (done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce (lit. “send her away”),” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
Mal. 2:15–16 (ESV)
Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. "For the man who does not love his wife but divorces (lit. “send her away”) her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless."
Matt 5:31 (NIV)
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife (απολυω; lit. “sends his wife away”) must give her a certificate of divorce (αποστασιον; lit. legal divorce).’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife (απολυω; lit. “sends his wife away”), except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman (απολυω; lit. “one who was sent away by her husband”; not technically divorced) commits adultery.
Mark 10:2–12 (NIV)
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife (απολυω; lit. “send his wife away”)?”
“What did Moses command you?” he replied.
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce (αποστασιον; lit. legal divorce) and send her away.”
“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (χωριζω; lit. “to separate; to divide”).”
When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife (απολυω; lit. “send his wife away”) and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband (απολυω; lit. “send her husband away”) and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
1 Cor. 7:10–15 (NIV)
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate (αφιημι; lit. “to send away; leave alone”) from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce (αφιημι; lit. “to send away; leave alone”) his wife.
To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce (αφιημι; lit. “to send away; leave alone”) her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce (αφιημι; lit. “to send away; leave alone”) him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
But if the unbeliever leaves (χωριζω; lit. “to separate; to divide”), let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.
What can we learn from this?
PRINCIPLE #1: God forbids husbands and wives from sending their spouse away or separating themselves from them.
PRINCIPLE #2: There is a difference between "sending a spouse away" and a certificate of divorce. A spouse who is only separated and not legally divorced is not a candidate for remarriage. To do so is to commit adultery.