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July 22, 2011 / Daniel

Adultery and Divorce (Matthew 5:31-32)

A couple of 14-carat gold wedding rings. Pictu...

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches on the better righteousness that he desires for his disciples.  He says,

It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.”  But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, forces her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

From the moment Jesus spoke these words, they have been controversial.  In fact,  this was the precise reason that the Pharisees even asked Jesus about divorce in the first place (Matt 19).

NT Wright points out the political ramifications surrounding this question.  King Herod had married a divorced woman (Matt 14:3)

Many Pharisees believed that the practice of ‘no-fault’ divorce was completely acceptable.  Rabbi Hillel taught that you could divorce your wife if she burnt your dinner.  Rabbi Akiba taught that you could divorce your wife if she wasn’t as beautiful as the girl next door.   If your wife did anything to displease you, then you were entitled to a divorce.  Just make sure that you fill out the right paperwork.   But Jesus teaches that this was paramount to adultery.  Divorce is never a part of God’s ideal plan for anyone’s life.  God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).

But what about Deuteronomy 24:1?  Didn’t Moses permit divorce? Jesus says that this was a concession due to the hardness of the human heart.  (By the way, this tells us that there is something very remarkable about Jesus and his future kingdom.  The kingdom and the new covenant have the power to change hard hearts.  We no longer need any concessions).   Jesus interprets Deuteronomy 24:1 in light of Genesis 2:24.  “The two shall become one flesh.”  “What God has joined together, let no man tear asunder.”

Jesus mentions an exception, sexual immorality (i.e. adultery).  If one’s spouse is unfaithful, then divorce may be a legitimate option.   So, in one way or another, the whole process of divorce is characterized by adultery.   Divorce for legitimate reasons is because of adultery.  Divorce for illegitimate reasons results in adultery.  Jesus says, “If you get a divorce, you force your spouse to commit adultery.  If you marry a divorced person, you commit adultery.”

What’s the solution?  Be faithful.  If you are Jesus’ disciple, he has challenged you to walk in his steps.   To imitate him.  “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).   God is faithful.  He always keeps his word.  He’s true to his promises.  Be faithful to your spouse, because God is faithful to you.



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  1. Paul / Feb 19 2012 2:39 am

    “And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”
    –Jesus Christ

    Barnes’ Notes on the Bible:

    And I say unto you – Emphasis should be laid here on the word “I.” This was the opinion of Jesus – this he proclaimed to be the law of his kingdom, the command of God ever afterward.
    This is the law of God; and by the same law, all marriages which take place after divorce, where fornication is not the cause of divorce, are adulterous.

    Legislatures have no right to say that people may put away their wives for any other cause; and where they do, and where there is marriage afterward, by the law of God such marriages are adulterous!

    People’s New Testament:

    “I say unto you,” we have here Christ’s law of divorce.
    He committeth adultery…because he is married still to his former wife, who is still his wife in spite of the divorce; so, too, if any man marries the divorced woman, he marries another man’s wife.

    Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:

    Causeth her to commit adultery; that is, as much as in him lies: should she commit it, he is the cause of it, by exposing her, through a rejection of her, to the sinful embraces of others; and, indeed, should she marry another man, whilst he is alive, which her divorce allows her to do, she must be guilty of adultery; since she is his proper wife, the bond of marriage not being dissolved by such a divorce: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, committeth adultery; because the divorced woman he marries, and takes to his bed; is legally the wife of another man; and it may be added, from Matthew 19:9 that her husband, who has put her away, upon any other account than fornication, should he marry another woman, would be guilty of the same crime.

    In Matthew 5:32 “causeth her to commit adultery also”, by being the occasion of marrying another man, when she is still his lawful wife.


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