Does God allow divorce for adultery?

Does God allow divorce for adultery or does he want couples to stay together no matter what?

In my post “Why does God allow divorce?” I showed that the Bible allows divorce for multiple reasons. I even addressed Christ’s statements on divorce which seem to be comprehensive about divorce, but upon closer examination we see that they were not comprehensive.

Christ’s answer was a targeted response to a targeted question about divorce – “divorce for any cause”. Also the question asked him, as well as his answer was very gender specific, it was about divorce from the perspective of a man. Christ’s answer could be boiled down to “No, a man cannot divorce his wife for just any reason he wants, rather he can only divorce his wife for serious reasons that God allows for.”

Christ gives a reason that divorce is allowed

I talked in that previous post about how Christ used the words “fornication” and “adultery” in connection with divorce in Matthew 19:

“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.” – Matthew 19:9 (KJV)

The English word “fornication” is a translation of the Greek word “Porneia” which literally means “sexual immorality”. It encompasses premarital sex, sex with prostitutes, adultery, homosexuality, incest, bestiality and any sin that is sexually related. Some have mistakenly taught that fornication only refers to premarital sex and therefore Christ’s exception for fornication applies only to a woman betrothed and since the couple was technically married the man could give his wife a bill of divorce. But since we know that historically speaking fornication included adultery and all sexually related sinful activity this interpretation is far too narrow and cannot be correct.

Christ expands the definition of Adultery

In our modern English dictionary “adultery” is a gender neutral term, but in the Bible it is not. In the Bible – both in the Hebrew Old Testament and in the Greek New Testament Adultery always has at its center a married woman. In its most literal form the only way adultery occurs is when a married woman has sex with a man other than her husband, whether the man she has sex with is married or not is irrelevant.

If a man (married or single) had sex with a woman other than his wife, like a prostitute or some other unmarried woman, this was NOT considered adultery. It would have been Whoremongering, but not adultery.

But in the Gospels Christ expands the definition of adultery from its literal form, to a symbolic form. He says that a man commits adultery against his wife when he divorces her for any other reason than sexual immorality. This would have left all the men in his audience scratching their heads. They were thinking “Wait, only a woman can commit adultery against her husband, a man can’t commit adultery against his wife”.

So in other words Christ was saying “Men you think only your wives can commit adultery against you? But you commit adultery against your wives by divorcing them for any other reason EXCEPT sexual immorality. You further cause the man who marries your wrongly divorced wife to commit adultery because you are still married to her in God’s eyes”.

I believe it is clear from Christ’s statement that a man is allowed to divorce his wife for fornication (which includes adultery).

Does Gender matter in divorce?

But what about a woman divorcing her husband for fornication? Can we just switch the genders in these verses?

Can we take this passage….

“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.” – Matthew 19:9 (KJV)

And then switch it up like this…

“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away her husband, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth him which is put away doth commit adultery.” – Matthew 19:9 (KJV)

Many would say it is right to do this. I used to believe we could switch the genders but recently as I have been restudying all the Bible’s passages on marriage and divorce I have come to a conclusion that even at first I had a very hard time with.

When a Bible passage is not comparing and contrasting a man with a woman(like marriage passages do, and some passages on Church leadership do) then it is right to understand “man” as speaking to all mankind(women included). Most of the Bible is speaking equally to men and women. But there are some passages that speak in gender specific terms – I believe that these passages are gender specific.

If we cannot switch up the genders on passages that speak to marriage, then it would follow that we cannot switch up the genders when it comes to divorce (the dissolving of marriage).

So what is the conclusion?

In the Gospels God allows a MAN to divorce his WIFE for fornication. He is NOT allowing a woman to divorce her husband for fornication. I know how that sounds, I know how offensive that is to our modern culture.

I can just hear it now “So a man can run around with other women and his wife cannot divorce him, but he could divorce her for doing the same thing? That is wrong! That is unfair! That is unjust!” I know this because I used to think that way. Please don’t misunderstand me – I am not saying that God condones a man whoring around. But let’s face it – there are many sins a man can commit, but God only allows divorce for certain sins.

When you study the issue and think about it not from our cultural perspective, but from that of Biblical times it makes sense. A woman could ONLY be having sex with one man – her husband. She could only marry and have sex with another man either if she was divorced for reasons God allowed or if her husband died she was free to remarry.

But with a man he could marry more than one woman. So he could have multiple marriages to different women and be rightly having sex with each of them. Sometimes though a man might have sex with a single woman that was not a prostitute, but he had not officially taken her as a wife. In this case a woman would not be able to divorce her husband simply because he was sleeping with another woman without taking her as a wife. His sin Biblically speaking, was not against his wife, but against God and woman he was having sex with because he had not brought her under his protection and provision as his wife.

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11 thoughts on “Does God allow divorce for adultery?

  1. A wife can divorce her husband for infadelity. It’s inforced by many religions, including the stern RCC. My parent’s marriage was annuled by the RCC because of my father’s infedelity. It’s also a legal reason to do so for both males and females in the United States and neighboring counties. You tend to not know or ignore the fact that the law of the land is inforced by God.
    Romans 13:1-7
    Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. …
    This passage makes it abundantly clear that we are to obey the government God places over us. God created government to establish order, punish evil, and promote justice (Genesis 9:6; 1 Corinthians 14:33; Romans 12:8). We are to obey the government in everything—paying taxes, obeying rules and laws, and showing respect. If we do not, we are ultimately showing disrespect towards God, for He is the One who placed that government over us.

  2. Rosie,

    I agree that God teaches we are to obey the Government that God places over us – but you are incorrect in your statement “obey the government in everything”. God’s law always supersedes man’s law. That is why the Hebrew Midwives lied and hid babies from the Egyptians who would have murdered them. That is why Rahab was disloyal to her own people and side with God by hiding the Hebrew spies that went into Jericho. This is why Daniel, while loyally serving several kings – refused to eat meat he was not allowed to, and he refused to stop praying to God under penalty of death.

    This is why the Apostle Paul wrote in Acts 5:29 – “We ought to obey God rather than men.” There is no human authority that is unlimited, only God’s authority is unlimited. Each sphere of human authority – the Church, the Government and the Home all have their limits and boundaries.

    For instance the Government has the authority to tax, and set laws like speed limits, building codes, business laws, criminal laws(like murder, abuse and theft) and provide for military, police and punishment of law breakers. But the government has no right to go into the spheres of the marriage/home and the church.

    These spheres also have their limits – for instance if a husband abuses his wife or children the Church and civil government has the right to step in and condemn and punish that action(the church by excommunication and the government by incarceration).

    But God establishes what marriage is, and how marriage can be dissolved(divorce). Before the last century the government had no place in marriage – there were no marriage certificates issued by the government – everything regarding marriage went through the church. I would argue that contrary to RCC teachings, even the church does not have authority over marriage as we never see this authority granted to the Church. Marriage authority in Scripture is given to parents – who grant their children to married, so marriage falls within the sphere of home authority.

    But again – God’s authority is over all human spheres – Government, Church and home – and he only allows divorce for certain reasons. Even if our government says we can divorce for more reasons than God allows, it has no right to do so and we should not follow those laws which contradict God’s law.

  3. On a previous article that you posted, a woman wrote to you about her concern that her husband wanted to engage in polygamy. You told her, that “you don’t practice polygamy, nor would you ever consider it because your wife would leave you immediately.” Whether it’s polygamy or extra marital affairs, women don’t tolerate (my father had multiple extra marital affairs, throughout his entire marriage and even had a family with another woman, thinking that he would be saved by his virtuous wife.) So why did the RCC annul their marriage? It was because my father entered the marriage without having any intentions of commiting himself to his marriage; it was a deception. This is one reason there’s so many divorces today. It isn’t the innocent person’s fault for breaking up the marriage and family, it’s the person who breaks their marital vows and sins against God, who breaks up their marriage and family. This is why both husbands and wives should consider the fact, that there are very seriuos consequences to these acts.

  4. bgr, Aug. 16:

    “For instance the Government has the authority to tax…”

    How much?

    What is government’s source of its power to tax? Governments had been taxing for thousands of years before Paul wrote Romans 13.

    “The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

    Are all governments legitimate in the eyes of God?

    More toward the blog topic, do governments have authority from God to prohibit marriage? Reproduction?

  5. Rosie, Aug. 17:

    “So why did the RCC annul their marriage? It was because my father entered the marriage without having any intentions of commiting himself to his marriage; it was a deception.”

    Many if not all civil governments do not acknowledge RCC annulments as valid. The RCC has been disestablished everywhere, even in Italy.
    Even informal marriages require a civil divorce before governments will recognize the dissolution of a marriage.

    Sounds like an easy out. Anyone can claim that they didn’t regard marriage as permanent, “until death do you part,” and get an annulment. Or they can come up with something to prove fraud, but that requires timely action to obtain an annulment/divorce.

  6. Rosie, Aug. 17:

    “[bgr] told her, that ‘[bgr] you don’t practice polygamy, nor would you ever consider it because your wife would leave you immediately.’ Whether it’s polygamy or extra marital affairs, women don’t tolerate [their husbands having sex with other women].”

    But according to what you [bgr] have written, your wife would be wrong, sinning not only against you but against God, if she left you for taking an additional wife or obtaining a concubine. So, besides not being personally interested in additional wives, you don’t want to give occasion to your wife to sin?

    “All things are lawful, but not all are expedient.”

    That is, just because God doesn’t prohibit something doesn’t mean that, under present circumstances, it would be wise or profitable to do it.

  7. I get the biblical evidence that you’ve shown here regarding the wife not able to divorce a man due to his sexual infidelity. But I don’t know if it’s practical or even wise for a wife to do this. For example, for a man that is whoremongering, especially with several women, you’ve asserted that his wife cannot divorce him, and so by that extension, he is still her husband, so she is still expected to submit to him, including sexually. Would this not put him and subsequently his wife at risk of STDs? Also, consider the fact that a husband that is unrepentantly having sex with other women may not be as willing to heed to his wife’s request about getting himself checked. What is a wife to do in this situation? She doesn’t know for sure that he has an STD, should she just keep having sex with him and wait until she gets the STD herself so she can be sure that he does have it and then finally have the right to divorce him for the damage he has inflicted on her health?

  8. Darrian,

    Christ was not contradicting his own allowance for a man to have more than one wife in Exodus 21:10-11 because he is God and he gave Moses that moral law. He is not calling his own allowance adultery. What Christ is referring to in Matthew 19:9 is the Malachi 2:11-16 scenario. The scenario was Jewish men wanting to marry pagan wives and those wives did not want the Jewish wives in their homes so they would force their husbands to divorce their Jewish wives. This was men “treacherously” or wrongly divorcing their Jewish wives in order to marry their pagan wives. In fact, they were doubly sinning against God by marrying pagan wives and wrongly divorcing their Jewish wives.

    All throughout the Old Testament adultery had only been applied to two situations. In its original and most literal sense it refereed to “women that break wedlock” as the Hebrew word for adultery is translated in Ezekiel 16:38. But then God used adultery in Ezekiel 16:38 and other prophetic passages to refer to Israel’s spiritual adultery toward him as her husband in going after other Gods.

    In the Gospels Christ expands the usage of adultery and applies it to other scenarios. In Matthew 19:9 he says that if a man does what he condemned in Malachi 2 it is a form of adultery. He is wrongly “breaking wedlock” with his first wife in order to marry and appease a second wife.

  9. This article has given my great comfort. My husband is openly and unrepentantly committing adultery with a teenager in our town. It’s common knowledge that he has rented an apartment where he spends three nights a week with her.

    *Everyone* is telling me to leave him, even my pastor and my conservative Christian family, quoting Matthew to show that Jesus would approve. They claim by not imposing consequences I’m enabling his sin.

    This doesn’t seem right to me. I stood at the alter and promised to love honour and obey him in, sickness and in health, till death us do part. Well, open fornication with a teenager sure sounds like a sickness of the soul to me. I’m to do this not because his actions deserve it, but because he is my husband and I am to submit to his authority. It is painful. At times I feel absolutely crippled with jealousy. Especially grueling is submitting to him in the bedroom, knowing how he spent the previous night. I feel powerless, and ugly, and old, and saggy, and pathetic. But here’s the thing: in this state it’s hard enough to find the strength to be his helpmeet and mother to our three children — WITHOUT also suffering the condemnation of the entire community (much of it behind my back) for not separating. So thank you so much for the validation that I’m behaving in a godly manner.

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