Bible Question:

Should a Christian encourage an adulterous, unbeliever to divorce?

Bible Answer:

The question we are concerned with is what should a Christian do if a non-Christian spouse commits adultery? Should the Christian motivate or encourage the non-Christian to file for divorce?

Should A Christian Encourage A Spouse To Divorce?

Christian Must Not Divorce A Non-Christian

1 Corinthians 7:12-13 provides guidance when Christians are married to non-Christians. It gives us an absolute principle.

But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 1 Corinthians 7:12 (NASB)

The absolute principle for a Christian married to a non-Christian is do not divorce your spouse. Seek to remain married, if possible. Verse 12 directs a believing husband to not divorce his unbelieving wife. Verse 13 directs a believing wife to not divorce her unbelieving husband. The command is clear and direct. There are no exceptions.

Reason God Gives This Command

For many Christians this seems to be arbitrary and insensitive. Why would God want a Christian to remain married to an adulterous non-Christian when they are fighting and love is missing? The reason is that there is something more important than your feelings and your need  to be loved by your spouse.

The Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, repeats this command in verses 13-14 and this time explains the reasons for the command.

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? 1 Corinthians 7:14-15 (NASB)

The first reason for the command is that a Christian sanctifies the non-Christian spouse. The Greek word for sanctifies is hagiazo and it means “to set apart or to make holy.” In this passage it tells us that the Christian in some sense is helping the non-Christian to become holy. This may be difficult to understand, but 1 Peter 3:1-2 helps us further.

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 1 Peter 3:1-2 (NASB)

Here we discover that a believing wife can convict an unbelieving husband of sin by her godly conduct. The same is true if the husband is a believer and the wife is an unbeliever. The conduct of a believer performs a convicting work and the goal of the believer in the relationship is to help bring the spouse to Christ. That is the message of 1 Corinthians 7:16.

For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? 1 Corinthians 7:16 (NASB)

But My Spouse Is Committing Sexual Sin

Since God hates divorce, the Christian should not divorce the unbelieving spouse, unless the situation becomes too unbearable (Matthew 19:8-9). Yet, Christ does give a Christian the right to divorce any spouse who is committing immoralities or porneia outside of the marriage bed (Matthew 5:31-32; Hebrews 13:4). Porneia includes a wide variety of sexual sins. In such a situation, the believing spouse is free to divorce the unbelieving spouse who is engaged in porneia.  But the higher goal of the Christian should be to remain in the marriage and seek the salvation of the unbelieving spouse. It is an opportunity to show unconditional love for the non-believer, just as Christ showed us unconditional love and died for us while we were still enemies (Romans 5:10).


The precious soul of an unbeliever must be more important than our personal comfort. The apostle Paul suffered so that he might win some for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19-24). Christ died for us while we still hated Him (Romans 5:10). In such a difficult situation, it is an opportunity to discover the true meaning of love,

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NASB)

This is only possible by learning to walk in the Spirit. We encourage you to discover how to be filled with the Spirit, also called walking in the Spirit, in order to show the love of God which has been poured out into your heart already (Romans 5:5). James 1:5 says that a believer can ask for wisdom so that he or she knows how to respond.

Suggested Links:

How To Be Filled With The Spirit
Walking in the Spirit
Will God use me to reach my unbelieving husband?
My husband has cheated on me. What is God’s will?
I am separated from my spouse who does not want me. What should I do?
Does Jesus allow divorce for every person?
Biblical Divorce and Remarriage
Is it a sin to divorce if you profess to be a Christian?
Can I still divorce my husband for a past adultery?
Porneia Definition — What is the meaning of the Greek word porneia in the Bible?