According to Webster’s dictionary, here is the definition of adultery: 1. Violation of the marriage bed; a crime, or a civil injury, which introduces, or may introduce, into a family, a spurious offspring; 2. In a scriptural sense, all manner of lewdness or unchastity, as in the seventh commandment.
According to Jesus
Jesus quoted the seventh commandment, which forbids adultery. He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery." (Mat 5:27). There were people who had come to think of themselves as if they were not adulterers, because they had never physically committed that act. However, the Lord went on to teach us the way God sees adultery.
He said, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery (Gr., moicheuo) with her in his heart.” (Mat 5:28). The Greek word “moicheuo” is a verb meaning “commit adultery.” Jesus did not limit this sin to married people or say that one of the two people had to be married for it to be considered adultery. Therefore, it is inappropriate for us to apply a narrow definition of the word for adultery (“moicheuo”) in such a way that always limits its usage to only married persons. Having said that, let’s now look at another verse in that same chapter containing the word “moicheuo”.
Jesus said, “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity (Gr., porneia), makes her commit adultery (Gr., moicheuo); and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Gr., moicheuo).” (Mat 5:32)
The Greek word “porneia” is a noun meaning “harlotry (including adultery and incest); figuratively idolatry: - fornication.” This term carries a broader meaning than just the act of sexual immorality between two unmarried persons. It means any kind of harlotry, including adultery or incest, and that is the way I will use the word “unchastity” from here forth.
The reason the word “porneia” is used in Mt 5:32 is not because it only refers to premarital sexual immorality, but because it is the appropriate noun for sexual immorality. The reason “moicheuo” is used in this same verse is because it is the appropriate verb. It would not make sense grammatically for the Lord to use “moicheuo” instead of porneia here. In that case the sentence would read, “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason to commit adultery, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” That would change the sentence to mean that if a man divorces his wife, in order that he may commit adultery, he makes his wife commit adultery. But that is not what the Lord said.
Moreover, the word in Mt 5:32 for “except for the reason of” is “logos” which means “something said (including the thought); by implication a topic (subject of discourse), also reasoning (the mental faculty) or motive; by extension a computation; account, cause, communication, concerning, doctrine, fame, have to do, intent, matter, mouth, preaching, question, reason, reckon, remove, say (-ing), shew, speaker, speech, talk, thing, tidings, treatise, utterance, work.” Therefore, the following are different ways to phrase Mt 5:32, which still carry the same basic meaning:
“… except on account of unchastity....”, “… except for the cause of unchastity....”, “… except concerning unchastity....”, “… except in the case of unchastity....”, “… except in the matter of unchastity....”, “… except for tidings of unchastity....”, “… except for talk of unchastity....”, “… except for communication of unchastity....”, “… except for the thing of unchastity....”, “… except for an act of unchastity....”.
When an exception is made to anything, then whatever is normally true or applicable is not so in the exceptional case. If a school principal says that all students must be seated in the classroom at 8:00 AM, except for those who are out sick, and that those who are late will be noted as tardy, he has made an exception. This means that those who are out sick will not be noted as tardy, since they have a valid reason for not being in the classroom on time. Likewise in the exception Jesus made for divorce, He meant that the sins committed when a divorce occurs do not apply in the exception, since such a person has a valid reason. Therefore, the person who is in the exception case, in which his or her spouse has committed unchastity, is not guilty of the sins of adultery the Lord described in this teaching.
Jesus made the same exception again in Mt 19:9, without the use of “logos” when He said, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for (Gr., me) immorality (Gr., porneia), and marries another woman commits adultery." (Mat 19:9).
While he once again made the same exception for immorality in Mt 19:9, using the same word “porneia” for it, this time he used the Greek word “me” (pronounced “may”) in Mt 19:9, rather than “logos” as in Mt 5:32. The word “me” is “a primary particle of qualified negation, (adverbially) not, (conjugationally) lest; also (as interrogative implying a negative answer; whether: - any, but, (that), forbear, God forbid, lack, lest, neither, never, no, none, nor, nothing, that not, without.” The Greek phrase “me porneia” literally means “no immorality” or “without immorality.” Therefore, the following are different ways to phrase Mt 19:9, which still carry the same basic meaning:
“…whoever divorces his wife, without (existing) immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery,” “…whoever divorces his wife, (if there’s) not any (existing) immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery,” “…whoever divorces his wife, in the absence of immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery,” “…whoever divorces his wife, lacking any (existing) immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Thus the Lord taught how God views divorces that do not meet the criteria for the exception He made in cases of immorality. While the Lord worded it two different ways in Mt 5:32 and Mt 19:9, He meant the same thing, except that in Mt 19:9 he said the man who gets such a “no immorality” divorce and marries another woman commits adultery, whereas in Mt 5:32 He said the man who does so would cause his wife to commit adultery if he divorced her without immorality.
Divorce of God from Israel
Even God Himself initiated a divorce from Israel. He was a husband to His people Israel (Is 54:5), but it became necessary for Him to divorce her. In Brenton’s English translation of the Greek Septuagint, the Scripture says, “Thus saith the Lord, Of what kind is your mother's bill of divorcement, by which I put her away? or to which debtor have I sold you? Behold, ye are sold for your sins, and for your iniquities have I put your mother away." (Isa 50:1, BES)
While Moses permitted divorce among the Jews due to the hardness of men’s hearts (Dt 24; Mt 19:8), in order to do so he required that they give their wife a written certificate of divorce, which would need to be signed by witnesses. This would keep them from making such a decision in haste, passion, or out of emotion in the heat of an argument, as would be the case if they could divorce their wives merely by a verbal pronouncement. But they eventually took this permission as a license from God to divorce their wives for any and every reason (Mt 19:3), although that was never God’s intention. Therefore, men wrote many kinds of divorce certificates in order to put away their spouses, depending on the reason they wanted a divorce. The Lord is here asking what kind of divorce certificate He gave to Israel. He is proving to them that it was a just divorce, because it was on account of their own spiritual adultery – their idolatries – that the Lord put away her mother, and that would be written clearly on the certificate of divorce He gave to her. It was their own fault.
Matthew Henry, a seventeenth century, English holiness preacher wrote in his commentary on this verse, “It is for your transgressions that your mother is put away, for her whoredoms and adulteries,’ which were always allowed to be a just cause of divorce. The Jews were sent into Babylon for their idolatry, a sin which broke the marriage covenant, and were at last rejected for crucifying the Lord of glory; these were the iniquities for which they were sold and put away.” Adultery was always allowed to be a just cause for divorce, since it is a sin that breaks the marriage covenant.
Again the Lord repeats the fact that He divorced faithless Israel for all her adulteries. He said, “And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.” (Jer 3:8)
Regarding this passage, Matthew Henry said, “…they had persisted in their idolatries: But she returned not, and God saw it; he took notice of it, and was much displeased with it, Jer_3:7, Jer_3:8. Note, God keeps account, whether we do or no, how often he has called to us to turn to him and we have refused. 4. That he had therefore cast them off, and given them up into the hands of their enemies (Jer_3:8): When I saw (so it may be read) that for all the actions wherein she had committed adultery I must dismiss her, I gave her a bill of divorce. God divorced them when he threw them out of his protection and left them an easy prey to any that would lay hands on them, when he scattered all their synagogues and the schools of the prophets and excluded them from laying any further claim to the covenant made with their fathers. Note, Those will justly be divorced from God that join themselves to such as are rivals with him. For proof of this go and see what God did to Israel.”
According to Scripture, sexual immorality within marriage is a just case for divorce. If God, who is holy, divorced Israel for adultery, then we know this is definitely a valid reason for divorce in the sight of God. It is a sin, which breaks the marriage covenant. It defiles the marriage bed. And the Lord Jesus in his teaching on divorce also gave this exception as well. When a person divorces their spouse for this sin, they are justly separating themselves from sin, refusing to be an accomplice to it (Ps 26:4-5). They are fleeing from immorality, refusing to make the members of Christ the members of a prostitute.
The apostle Paul wrote, "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, "THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH." But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." (1Co 6:15-20).
He also wrote, "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, 'I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,' says the Lord. 'And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,' Says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2Co 6:14-18; 7:1).
When one marriage spouse is involved in adultery, they have essentially become a prostitute* or harlot in the sight of God. The other spouse who is joined to them by marriage is then joined to a whore. As Paul said, may it never be. What fellowship has light with darkness? We must come out from their midst and be separate, cleansing ourselves from the defilement of flesh and spirit. Therefore, if the adulterous spouse refuses to repent, then divorce would be a just course of action.
Putting it All Together
In conclusion, the Lord taught in Mt 19:9 that a man who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, except in cases when he divorces his wife due to her own unchastity (i.e., defilement of the marriage bed). The fact that Jesus made an exception for sexual immorality means that in this case, the husband would not be committing adultery by divorcing her and getting married to another woman, since his wife had already committed adultery herself. She has violated the marriage bed. This means that a divorce may be appropriate in such cases where a wife has defiled the marriage bed, especially when there is no repentance and/or the sin is repetitive. According to Jesus, a man in such cases would not be committing adultery if he marries another woman.
The Lord also taught in Mt 5:32 that a man who divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery, except in cases when he divorces his wife due to her own unchastity (i.e., defilement of the marriage bed). Based on Mt 5:28, this means a man may cause his wife to commit adultery by divorcing her, even if it is within her heart that she commits it after he divorces her, except when he divorces her for her own sexual immorality. He also taught that anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. The fact that Jesus made an exception for unchastity means that in this case, the husband would not be causing his wife to commit adultery by divorcing her, since she had already committed adultery herself. She has violated the one-flesh union, and there are now at least three instead of two. This means that a divorce may be appropriate in such cases where a wife has defiled the marriage bed, especially when there is no repentance and/or the sin is repetitive.
The woman in such a case where her husband divorces her, although she is not guilty of unchastity, would indeed be committing adultery when she remarries, according to Jesus. He said that her husband causes her to do so, which implies that He realized a woman so divorced might either remarry or commit adultery in her heart. He placed the blame for this on her husband, yet He did not justify her sin or give her a license for it.
Moreover, if such a woman’s husband, who gives her a “no immorality” divorce, marries another woman, then he himself has committed adultery. In this case, the woman would be considered within the exception that Jesus gave for divorce, which is immorality. Since her husband has committed adultery by marrying another woman, that would be reason for the exceptional case of divorce, even if she were still married to him. In other words, if he had committed adultery while they were still married, Jesus made an exception for that, so the same exception would seem to apply if her husband committed adultery after divorcing her. It would seem from the Lord’s exception that she would not be guilty of adultery if she married another man in that case. For she would be legally divorced from her first husband, and the case would be the one exception Jesus made, thus allowing her to marry another man.
The Lord also taught in Mt 5:28 that anyone, whether married or unmarried, could commit adultery in one’s heart by simply looking at another person with lust in one’s heart. This means that a person could be married to one wife all his life and yet he may have committed adultery one or more times during their marriage. He is just as guilty of adultery as the man who gets a “no immorality” divorce from his wife and marries another woman, except that he is still married to his original wife and the other man is not. The only solution in either case is repentance, except that some teach the second man must not only repent but also make restitution by divorcing his second wife and remarrying his first wife.
Such a definition of restitution would seem to cause the man to commit the sin of divorce a second time, and cause his second wife to commit adultery as well (either in her heart or physically). The proponents of this teaching would probably defend it by saying that his second divorce is not a “no immorality” divorce, since he himself committed adultery by entering into the second marriage, and he must sever it. I suppose they would also believe that in doing so he does not cause his second wife to commit adultery, since they would say she was inappropriately married to him in the first place, and that God never recognized the marriage. But that would defy the definition of one flesh in Scripture, which says, “And the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mar 10:8; cf., Mat 19:6a). “Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, ‘The two shall become one flesh.’" (1Co 6:16).
If God does not recognize a second marriage then what is it that makes it sinful and detestable for a divorced and remarried man to divorce his second spouse and remarry his original wife? God clearly says in Deut 24:2-4 and Jer 3:1 that this practice is sinful and detestable, and completely pollutes the land. That is because it is considered harlotry, wife swapping, immorality, and adultery according to Jesus.
Footnote: *According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, a prostitute is "a) a woman who engages in promiscuous sexual intercourse, especially for money: whore; b) a male who engages in sexual and especially homosexual practices for money." Receiving payment is not required in order for one to be a prostitute or whore by definition, even though payment is usually involved. Likewise, one can be considered a prostitute in the sight of God without even receiving payment for their services. In fact, God still considers you a prostitute even if you pay others or give them gifts for illicit favors (see Ezek 16:15,30,32-35).
DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this article shall be construed as advising anyone to get a divorce or to remarry after divorce. This article was written to the best of my ability based on the Word of God with much thought and prayer. However, we only know in part, and prophesy in part, so my humble opinions, where stated, could be wrong or incomplete. Therefore, the Holy Scriptures must take precedence over anything I have written, where there appears to be any apparent contradiction.
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB, except where otherwise noted.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like When Marriage Doesn't Work Out, A Warning for Married Christian Couples, The Forgotten Sin of Worldliness, Ezekiel Moses Testimony of Heaven and Hell, Is Obedience Optional?, Holy Living in a Perverted World, Is Contraception a Sin? -- a Divine Revelation, Avoid Becoming a Corrupted Christian, Sins That Will Keep You From Heaven, Restored Truth, Testing the Spirits of False Prophets, A Warning to the Nay Sayers, The Ways of Life, and the other posts on the home page. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org