Is Marriage an Unconditional Covenant,
Since God Never Breaks His Promises?

About Me: My name is Gretchen Baskerville and I'm the author of "The Life-Saving Divorce": Hope for People Leaving Destructive Relationships. And I've been a Christian divorce recovery leader for more than 20 years. I have a degree in Bible from Wheaton College.


Today's question is: "Is marriage an unconditional covenant, because God never breaks his promises?" That's a great question because many people of faith feel called to a very high standard. When it comes to agreements, our "yes" is to be "yes," and our "no" is to be "no." And we've been taught that God's ideal is that marriage be lifelong, faithful, undefiled, and loving. (See video below.)


So does this mean we cannot divorce even when there's a pattern of adultery, sexual immorality, domestic violence, emotional abuse, severe addictions, or neglect? Is the marriage covenant unbreakable and unconditional?

If so, does that give your spouse carte blanch to kick you, beat you, humiliate you, incarcerate you, cheat on you, be miserly to you, lie to you, deceive you, and finally kill you? How is that a holy marriage? No, I don't think so. God is not mocked. Your children aren't fooled.


I'm grateful to Cambridge theologian and Old Testament scholar Dr. David Instone-Brewer for explaining that in the Bible there are two types of covenants: conditional covenants and unconditional covenants.

Conditional covenants are like today's business agreements. Each party agrees to do or provide something valuable to the other. If one party fails to do it, the contract is broken. The other party no longer has to perform their end of the agreement. And of course there may be penalties.
Think of an apartment rental agreement: the tenant vows to pay the rent and leave the place in good shape. The landlord vows to keep the dwelling at certain standards. No one would expect the landlord to provide shelter forever if the tenant refuses to pay. And if the tenant tears out the bathroom sink out of the wall, there are likely to be penalties. The penalty of breaking your side of the deal in marriage might be to lose your spouse through divorce.


In contrast unconditional covenants are agreements that are one-sided, and cannot be broken. In my opinion only God can enter an unconditional agreement because only God is capable of fulfilling such an agreement as only God cannot fail and cannot sin. In the Hebrew Scriptures, which many of us call the Old Testament, God made seven covenants. Five were unconditional. God was going to hold up his end his promises whether Israel cooperated or not. But God also made two conditional covenants. We find the first one in Genesis 17. It is the covenant God made with Abram, where God made a commitment of land to him, and Abram promised to keep the sign of the Covenant. The second conditional covenant is in Exodus 19- 24, where God promised to make Israel his people, but the condition was that the people were required to obey fully and keep the Covenant. We see later, in Jeremiah 3:8, that God divorced Israel for not keeping its side of the Covenant, and for following false gods. Can any of us blame God?

God's 2 Conditional and 5 Unconditional Covenants. From the book "Jesus' Family Tree," published by Rose Publishing
God's Conditional and Unconditional Covenants.

So what about marriage? Well marriage is a conditional covenant. it requires the promises in the form of vows. Now I realize that people today make all kinds of flowery homemade vows. But biblical vows are based on Exodus 21: And those three items are reiterated in Ephesians 5:28-29, which talks about the married person's obligation to nourish, care for, and love their spouse. The concept of faithfulness: "forsaking all others," was added by Jesus' words. And by the way it's important to notice that the vow for women to obey the husband is not a New Testament or Jewish vow. It is a Roman addition and it is not often used anymore. The marriage covenant can be ended if the vows are broken. The other party can choose to keep trying but they are permitted to declare that the covenant is ended. If you're in a marriage with a pattern of adultery, sexual immorality, domestic violence, emotional abuse, severe addictions, or neglect, your spouse has already broken the marriage covenant. And you're free to choose to remain, or to leave without anyone judging you. But I want you to know you can love God and get a divorce and God will still love you. Really.


1   I owe a debt of gratitude to the Rev. Dr. David Instone-Brewer for opening my eyes to this concept.


Are you going through a life-saving divorce? I’d like to invite you to my private Facebook group, "Life-Saving Divorce for Separated or Divorced Christians." Just click the link and ANSWER the 3 QUESTIONS. This is a group for women and men of faith who have walked this path, or are considering it. Supporters and people helpers are also welcome.  I’ve written a book about spiritual abuse and divorce for Christians. Also, sign up for my email list below.



Start Here

Does God Hate Divorce? He May Hate Divorce, But He Hates Abuse & Betrayal More!


Physical and Emotional Abuse & Infidelity


God Allows Divorce to Protect Victims


How to Find a Good Supportive Church


What If My Pastor Says It Would Be Wrong to Get Divorced for Abuse?


Divorce Saves Lives: The Surprising (Wonderful!) Truth About Divorce Nobody Told You

Will I Ever Find Love Again? Dating After Divorce: Good News

Finding Happiness and Health After Divorce


Thriving After Divorce: These Christians Tell their Stories

Self-Doubt, Second-Guessing Ourselves, and Gaslighting


Children and Divorce: Researchers Give Hope


High Conflict Divorce and Parenting


Recommended Reading List and Free Resources for Christians and Other People of Faith


Common Myths






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