“What God has yoked together, let no man put apart.”​—Mark 10:9  

[From ws 12/18 p.10 February 11 – February 17]

If someone or an Organization speaks or writes about a subject, then for any advice to be accepted they must have freeness of speech themselves on that subject.

Therefore, let us briefly examine whether the Organization shows honor to “what God has yoked together”. Now it goes without saying that they would claim that of course they do, and that this Watchtower study article proves that. But what do the facts show?

Let us just examine the following for a few moments.

Take the extra-biblical Judicial Committee process that has been created by the Organization.

Let us assume that the following scenario has come to the attention of the elders.

  • It has been reported to the elders that a wife has committed adultery or been seen smoking on several occasions by more than one witness.
  • The next step would be to convene a judicial committee.
  • Normal practice would be also to have the spouse, in this case the husband, present at the hearing.

The “Shepherd the Flock of God” elder’s handbook says the following on page 84:

 “Meeting With Marriage Mates

11. If the accused is a married sister, it is best to have her believing husband present for the hearing. He is her head, and his efforts to restore her and direct her can be very helpful. (1 Cor. 11:3) If unusual circumstances are involved or the elders feel it would be best not to invite the husband because of their concerns for the safety of the wife, the elders should call the branch office.”

Perfectly reasonable you will say. The husband should know what his wife has been approached about. They are one flesh after all. What hurts one partner hurts the other. The elders would also be showing honor for what God yoked together.

However, what if the situation was reversed? What happens in the following scenario?

  • It has been reported to the elders that a husband has committed adultery or been smoking on several occasions by more than one witness.
  • The next step would be to convene a judicial committee.
  • You would assume that normal practice would be to have the wife present at the hearing.

Notice however what the “Shepherd the Flock of God”[i] elder’s handbook says. Following on from the quote above, also on page 84 it says:

 “Meeting With Marriage Mates

12. If the accused is a married brother, his wife would normally not attend the hearing. (bold ours) However, if the husband wants his wife to be present, she may attend a portion of the hearing. (bold ours) The judicial committee should maintain confidentiality.

13. If the husband committed adultery, he has an obligation to inform his wife of the facts. The judicial committee should promptly inquire of the Christian wife as to what her husband has told her. If he refuses to inform her of his adultery, the elders should inform her that because of her husband’s conduct, it is up to her to decide whether to pursue a Scriptural divorce or not. Furthermore, they should inform the innocent mate that her resuming sexual relations with the guilty mate would negate any claim to Scriptural freedom. But they should not give her further details. On the other hand, the elders may find that while the husband did confess adultery to his wife, he did not tell her the full extent of his wrong conduct and left out important information that the wife should know. The elders should not provide this confidential information to the wife, but they can suggest that she speak with her husband again. Even if he does not tell her anything more, this will alert her to the fact that he is withholding information from her, and this may help her to determine whether to forgive or not.”

Are you not shocked to find that the wife would not have the same opportunities of learning what has happened as the husband has in the same scenario? Yes, the wife would not be allowed to attend by default, and if so, then only for part.

Therefore, in summary, under Organization rules the wife does not have a right to know everything her husband does, but the husband has the right to know everything his wife does. Is this how the Organization shows honor to the marriage arrangement? What happened to “They are one flesh. What hurts one partner hurts the other.”?

Potentially, by following the rules of the Organization, which also have no scriptural basis, the elders could be contributing to putting apart this couple. This would mean the elders acting in clear violation of Jesus word’s “let no man put apart”.

Paragraphs 7 and 8 discuss the laws Jehovah gave the Israelites on divorce. It shows that he gave a concession for divorce as we read in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. This was for indecent behaviour.[ii]  Perhaps on the wedding night the husband found the new wife was not a virgin as she claimed. It was not however, adultery committed during the marriage. How can we say this with certainty? Leviticus 20:10 provides the answer when it says

“‘Now a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife is one who commits adultery with the wife of his fellowman. He should be put to death without fail, the adulterer and the adulteress as well.”

According to this law both adulterer and adulteress were to be put to death. There would therefore be no need to divorce the offending wife or husband as they would be put to death. The other verses in Leviticus 20:11-21 deal with various types of incest such as intercourse with one’s offspring, parent, in-laws, aunts and uncles, siblings, etc. and all these also incurred the death penalty. This is an important point to remember later in this review.

However, in time, this provision of divorce in the Mosaic Law was abused, so that by the time of Jesus we see in Matthew 23:19 it was obvious that men were divorcing their wives on every sort of grounds and at any time of their marriage, rather than at the beginning.

It was this behaviour that triggered Jesus to make the statement that is the theme scripture of the article. In fact, Malachi 2:14-16 shows this permissive behaviour was rampant even before Jesus day.

Of the above quoted and cited scriptures, only Deuteronomy 24:1 and Malachi 2:14-16 are cited in the Watchtower article. This is hardly conducive to a rounded out understanding of the subject. It is after discussing this that the heading for the next section of the Watchtower article boldly proclaims:

ONLY ONE BASIS FOR DIVORCE (Par.9-13)

Disclaimer: The following examination of this important scriptural topic has been made without any prior agenda. The author has been happily married for many years and intends to remain that way. However, in view of several acquaintances who either have or are contemplating divorce, given the very strict stand of the Organization and the application of Organizational dictates by bodies of elders, it was deemed important to closely examine how correct their position is in relation to the scriptures. That does not mean this article should be taken as advice on what one can do or should do in a situation where there are severe difficulties in a marriage.

Any person sadly in the position of contemplating divorce is encouraged to read and meditate on the scriptures quoted or cited below and to make their own Bible based decision. No-one should make your decision for you as you are the one who must live with the consequences of your decision both now and in the future.

The following passages of scripture all deal with either Jesus or the Apostle Paul discussing divorce. We would encourage all readers to read these portions of scripture so as to be familiar with them before continuing on reading this Watchtower review article.

  1. Matthew 5:31-32
  2. Matthew 19:3-11
  3. Mark 10:2-12
  4. Luke 16:18
  5. 1 Corinthians 7:1-16, 32-40

The box “The only scriptural grounds” which follows paragraph 9 relates the meaning of “porneia” and refers us to a Question from Readers in July 15, 2006 Watchtower. Ask most Witnesses, what are the only scriptural grounds for divorce? and the vast majority will say “adultery”.  Indeed, the reviewer would have said the same if asked a few months back. But is that really what the Bible teaches?

The first scripture highlighted above in Matthew 5:31-32 is part of the record of the “Sermon on the Mount”. It is very succinct, saying

“Moreover it was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  However, I say to YOU that everyone divorcing his wife, except on account of fornication, makes her a subject for adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery”.

Firstly, we need to ask, was Jesus making a law? Or was he merely stating a principle? The Greek word translated “say[iii]” conveys the thought of bringing an argument to rest. What was the argument? What should be done when a man divorces his wife. The account of Malachi 2:14-16 recorded some 400 years before showed the problems that were occurring. The Jewish men were dealing treacherously with their wives, divorcing them after many years of marriage when they were both much older. (Malachi speaks about the wives of their youth, with the clear implication they were both now somewhat older, no longer in their youth. The likelihood of something indecent being found in them after many years of marriage was limited.) Interestingly verse 16 mentions that the men’s garments were covered with violence, indicating either physical or verbal bad treatment or both. The description shows that this behaviour was therefore clearly seen by others, and indicates it was the men who were the cause of the divorcing.

We can now understand the context in which Jesus stated those words on the Sermon on the Mount.

We have further confirmation in 1 Corinthians 7. Here Paul explained what Jesus meant when in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 he wrote:

“To the married people I give instructions, yet not I but the Lord, that a wife should not depart from her husband; but if she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband; and a husband should not leave his wife.”

Notice that if there were circumstances where the wife had to leave, then she was encouraged to remain unmarried or sort things out and return. The Greek word translated “separate” carries the meaning of “divide” or “put asunder” or “divorce”, not just separation. This contrasts with paragraph 19 which teaches that “Jesus provided comments about divorce, and the apostle Paul offered inspired advice about separation.”

Matthew 19:3-11 records the occasion where the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on every sort of ground?”.

How were they trying to trap him? They knew the Law of Moses. As a reminder, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 states that:

 “If a man marries a woman but she does not please him because he found something indecent about her, he must write out a certificate of divorce for her, hand it to her, and dismiss her from his house.”

We also highlighted above that according to Leviticus 24 it is highly unlikely that the cause of this divorce was referring to adultery. Additionally, as mentioned above, by the time of Jesus, men were using every sort of frivolous grounds for divorce.

If Jesus spoke in support of the Mosaic Law, then the hypocritical Pharisees were hoping he would upset his listeners who preferred the prevailing ultra-liberal interpretation. If Jesus showed support for the prevailing attitude, then the Pharisees would argue he was a sinner and did not obey or show respect for the Law of Moses.

Jesus reply to the Pharisees deserves a close examination. In Matthew 19:4-5 he reminded them that it was God who had instituted the marriage arrangement by quoting from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24. This argument was completed by the statement:

“Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart”.

In other words, no man or woman should be responsible for splitting a marriage, whether within that marriage or outside that marriage.

In an attempt not to lose the argument, the Pharisees then asked:

“Why, then, did Moses prescribe giving a certificate of dismissal and divorcing her?” (Matthew 19:7)

Jesus response was to explain why Moses was instructed to include the option to give a certificate and divorce a wife. It was a concession because of the hardheartedness of men (Matthew 19:8).

Therefore, Jesus’ replies emphasized it was an arrangement put in place by God and was not to viewed as something trivial that could be discarded on a whim. The import of Matthew 19:9 was that if a man decided to divorce his wife for something not serious instead of for fornication (which as discussed implies sexual relations before the marriage, rather than sexual relations outside marriage which is adultery), then he was in fact still married in the eyes of God and hence committing adultery if he married again.

  • Indecent sexual practices including sexual relations before marriage discovered at the time of marriage or soon after were the main grounds for divorce according to the context of the Mosaic Law.
  • A wife divorced in this way could remarry, as could the husband.
  • Adultery was not grounds for divorce – certainly initially under the Mosaic Law. Divorce would not be needed as the adulterer or adulteress would be put to death along with their fellow adulterer thereby bringing the marriage to an end by the death of the guilty partner.

These points are not made clear in the box in the article entitled “The Only Scriptural Grounds” and it’s referenced “Question from Readers” of July 15, 2006, Watchtower. The wording of this box is perhaps intentionally unclear so as be able to disguise the fact that there were more scriptural grounds for divorce than adultery. The box states:

On two occasions, Jesus indicated that the only grounds for a divorce that would free and innocent mate to remarry is porneia. What does that Greek term mean? Porneia applies to illicit sexual relations outside Scriptural marriage. It includes adultery, prostitution and sex relations between unmarried individuals as well as oral and anal sex and the sexual manipulation of the genitals of an individual to whom one is not married.”

Given the wording here, anyone can clearly see why most Witnesses would conclude that only adultery was grounds for divorce.

This discussion of the only grounds for divorce raises the question, was this a command from Jesus?

1 John 4:8 reminds us that “God is love.” Would a God of love insist that a spouse remain with the abusing spouse while undergoing serious mental and/or physical abuse, perhaps so bad that their life was in danger? That does not seem reasonable or compatible with a God of love. Likewise, in the situation where one spouse is molesting either their own children or other people’s children.

Furthermore, Jesus commonly used hyperbole as a way of teaching and emphasising the point he wanted to make. Hyperbole means to over emphasise the opposite or exaggerate, to make a point. E.g. Matthew 23:9 and Matthew 19:19; Matthew 5:29-30; In fact, if we applied Matthew 5:29-30 literally we would all be missing multiple body members! Indeed, no one in their right mind would understand that Jesus expected us to gouge out our eye, or cut off a hand, etc.

Therefore, would we not expect that, given the prevailing frivolous attitude to divorce at that time, Jesus would emphasise that the circumstances in which one could divorce should be rare. But would he give an exhaustive list of all the less common but still valid reasons? Of course not. He was establishing the principle that marriage was a serious arrangement, not to be undertaken frivolously nor ended frivolously.

Another question that naturally arises is, if Jesus words do not preclude divorce on other serious grounds, what about the question of remarriage?

While the conclusion may be upsetting to some, it appears that scripturally only the death of the other partner frees one to remarry. It might also be justifiable in principle to add adultery on the part of the other partner as also freeing one to remarry. As mentioned earlier, under the Mosaic Law the guilty partner would have been put to death and hence freed the innocent mate to remarry.

Discussing this question, the Apostle Paul wrote the following in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 which says:

“To the married people I give instructions, yet not I but the Lord, that a wife should not depart from her husband; but if she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband; and a husband should not leave his wife.”

The relevant point here is that it indicates that marriage partners divorced for other reasons should remain unmarried. He appears to confirm this understanding in 1 Corinthians 7:39-40 when he writes:

” A wife is bound during all the time her husband is alive. But if her husband should fall asleep [in death], she is free to be married to whom she wants, only in [the] Lord. But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my opinion. I certainly think I also have God’s spirit.”

  • The key point to be found here from these four verses is that the marriage bond appears to remain until the death of the other partner despite any divorce if it is not for the reason of serious sexual impropriety.

It all serves to highlight the seriousness of marriage and that marriage should not be undertaken lightly.

In summary then what did Jesus and the Apostle Paul teach?

  • Marriage is a serious undertaking
  • Not to divorce on frivolous grounds
  • Divorce allowing remarriage was possible for
    • marriage without knowledge of sexual impropriety on the part of the partner prior to marriage
    • adultery (as Jews could no longer carry out death sentence on adulterers)
    • serious sexual impropriety after marriage
  • Divorce and separation allowable for other serious reasons, but remarriage to wait until the death of the divorced partner.

Did Jesus or the Apostle Paul ever suggest divorce or separation was acceptable on the grounds of “spiritual endangerment”?

Nothing Jesus taught even hinted at such an option. Additionally, when we read the whole of 1 Corinthians 7, we are given the opposite encouragement. 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 discusses marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian. There, the instructions are that if the non-believer wants to leave, the Christian was not obligated to resist this (1 Corinthians 7:15). However, no such option was proffered to the Christian. In fact, just the opposite. 1 Corinthians 7:12-13, 16 says that if the unbeliever is agreeable to staying then the believer should not leave.

Is there any scriptural basis for “spiritual endangerment” at all then? Not according to Romans 8:35-39. According to this scripture, if we have faith and only believe truth from God’s Word then there is nothing an unbelieving mate could say “to separate us from God’s love that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The real problem, at least for the Organization, is that as it does not teach Bible truth, but its own version, a Witness spouse does not believe real Bible truth. As a result, the “unbelieving” mate can disprove cherished beliefs of the Witness spouse and entice their mate away from the Organization’s teachings. Hence the introduction of this fallacious, unscriptural grounds for separation.

It is therefore even more reprehensible that many Witnesses then use this excuse of “spiritual endangerment” to divorce spouses who have woken up to the untruths being taught by the Organization and then left the Organization. This is surely going against what Jesus said in the theme scripture “What God has yoked together, let no man put apart.”​ (Mark 10:9)

In conclusion, rather than pay heed to an Organization with its own welfare at heart rather than its members, let us each individually ensure that we adhere to what God’s word teaches and that we have proved for ourselves. Let us not be swayed to follow what other people or Organization’s teach. Additionally, let us not advise others either to divorce or not to divorce. The decision must be theirs. If others do ask our advice, we should merely share what the scriptures say, and ask other pertinent questions for them to consider and not offer an opinion on what to do. In this way we will be able to honour “what God has yoked together”.


[i] Only available to Elders, not to Witnesses in general.

[ii] The Hebrew word is “ervah” which literally means “naked”. It is therefore usually translated “nakedness”, or “indecent” or “shameful”. Leviticus 20 uses this word repeatedly to indicate indecent sexual relations with close family and relatives.