Is there such a thing as an “adulterous” marriage”?

Are there some marriages that God considers adulterous affairs and must be ended?  Do most second marriages need to be erased as if they never happened? Dr. Stephen Kim who runs the NYPastor blog believes that most second marriages are indeed adulterous affairs in the eyes of God and must be terminated if those who are involved wish to go to heaven.

While many Christian’s believe that adultery is the only reason that God allows for divorce few Christians take the position that Dr. Stephen Kim does in advocating for people to divorce their second spouse and either attempt to reconcile with their first spouse or remain celibate while their first spouse still lives.

Dr. Kim runs the NYPastor blog and his views on divorce and second marriages have caused a lot of confusion amongest believers.  I have had several friends contact me and ask me to review Dr. Kim’s teachings on this subject of divorce and remarriage.

In this post I will specifically be responding to Dr. Kim’s post “Divorce and Remarriage” which can be found here: https://nycpastor.com/2015/01/26/divorce-remarriage/

Dr. Kim is wrong in using Matthew 19:8-9 to cancel out all other Biblical teachings on divorce

Dr. Kim’s statement:

“The topic of divorce is, in my opinion, one of the clearest teachings of Christ in the entire New Testament.  Read the Scripture text above and you can quite easily see why I say that.  The text is very straightforward.  There’s not much ambiguity there.  There’s really not much to explain.  It is all quite self-evident.  For the sake of pedagogical efficiency , let’s just focus on Matthew 19’s teaching on this topic (other texts containing the same teaching include Luke 16:18, Matt 5:32, and Mark 10:12):

He said to them, “Moses, confronting the callousness of your heart, let you divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” But I say to you, “Whoever divorces his wife apart from adultery and will take another, commits adultery, and whoever will take her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:8-9)

Dr. Kim’s entire doctrine of divorce is wrong because he sees all statements on divorce through the lenses of Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:8-9.

The Gospel accounts of Christ’s words on divorce (Matt 5:32, Matt 19:9, Mark 10:12 and Luke 16:18) have been sorely misinterpreted by many Christian teachers over the years. Remember that we must always interpret Scripture with Scripture and we must remember that this is not the only place the Bible speaks on divorce. It is wrong to take any one passage of Scripture and make that the lenses through which we must see all the Scriptures – instead we must take the revelation of God as a whole to truly understand God’s law allowing for divorce and what situations he allows it under.

Some wrongly taken Mark 10:11-12 and use this as the way they see divorce throughout the entire Bible. But these same people neglect the exception clause in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. Dr. Kim in other posts he writes confronts those who try and use Mark 10:11-12 as their complete basis for the teachings of divorce in the Bible.

But Dr. Kim makes the same mistake with using Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 when he neglects the abandonment exception by Paul that we will see later in I Corinthians 7:15 and he goes to great lengths to explain that passage away in another post.

In another statement we will look at how Dr. Kim completely abandons the teachings of Exodus 21:10-11 and Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and wrongly believes Christ was setting these teachings aside in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9.

Dr. Kim is wrong in making “void the law” of Moses

Dr. Kim’s statement:

“Divorce and remarriage were permitted by the Law of Moses in the Old Testament (Deut 24:1-4). Hence, although divorce was not God’s original design from the beginning (i.e., “What God has joined together, let not man separate”), divorce and remarriage were permissible during the time of the Old Testament (which is why Jesus informs the Samaritan woman at the well that she indeed did have 5 husbands in the past (John 4:18)). However, by the time we get to Matthew 19, Jesus lays down His standard for all future believers: Marriage is for life and divorce (except for sexual immorality) is never permissible. (A woman may keep her distance–for the sake of safety–from an abusive husband, but she must not divorce him.) The man who remarries after his first marriage ended due to “irreconcilable differences,” is an adulterer (and the same goes for a woman).”

Dr. Kim in rejecting Exodus 21:10-11 and Deuteronomy 24:1-2 as still being authoritative on Biblical divorce does so based on an incorrect interpretation of Christ’s words when he said “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.”(Matthew 19:8).

The words Moses spoke on divorce were just as much the Word of God as Christ’s words on the subject in the Gospels.

God hates divorce. But he has regulated and allowed divorce because human beings are sinful. Sometimes a sin is so great that it allows for divorce. God tells us which sins allow for divorce. When Christ said “from the beginning it was not so” he meant divorce was never needed before sin entered the picture. If we were not fallen sinners no man would ever have to divorce his wife and no woman would ever have to be freed from or divorce her husband. But because we live in a world where men and women do gravely sin against their spouses we must allow for divorce and that is why God created a system for divorce.

Think about it – would we need a death penalty if there were not heinous crimes like murder? We would not. But God knew there would be murders and that is why he allowed for capital punishment for murder in his law and this is the same reason he allows for divorce in certain situations.

As New Testament believers we understand that God canceled out the civil laws, the ceremonial laws, sacrificial laws and cleanliness laws given to Israel as a theocracy.  But God did NOT cancel out his moral law.  Moses’s words on divorce are part of the moral law of God.

Paul told us that we as Christians are to uphold the moral that Moses taught:

Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” – Romans 3:31 (KJV)

The point is Christ did NOT cancel out Moses words on divorce.

To say that he did is to void the moral of God which we are not to do, rather we are to uphold the moral law.   Instead we understand that Christ CLARIFIED the commands that Moses received from God regarding divorce.

Moses was the first to give God’s law on Divorce.  Christ clarified Moses law on divorce. Later the Apostle Paul would further clarify Christ’s words on divorce. To have a proper understanding of God’s view of divorce we must look at Moses words, Christ’s words, Paul’s words and all the Scriptures on the subject.

Christ was not the first to teach that marriage was for life. Moses also taught that marriage was for life:

“Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.” – Leviticus 18:18 (KJV)

A man was forbidden from taking his wife’s sister as an additional wife (polygamy was permitted but did have some restrictions and this was one of them) during his wife’s “life time”.

Some Jews correctly understood Moses teachings that marriage was for life and only for the gravest of sins could a man divorce his wife. Other Jews believed they could divorce their wives for any reason (that marriage was not for life). The debate amongst these Jewish groups was over Moses words allowing for divorce “because he hath found some uncleanness in her” (Deuteronomy 24:1).

Some Jewish teachers taught this meant he could divorce his wife for any reason – even if it was just because she was a bad cook. This is why they asked Christ in Matthew 19:3 “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?”

Christ was settling that argument. He was saying “No you cannot divorce your wives for just any reason you want. It must be for a very serious reason. He told men except your wife commits fornication against you cannot divorce her. But again let’s remember he is clarifying for MEN what Moses meant if they found something unclean in their wife. He was not canceling out the reasons a woman could be freed from (divorced) from her husband in Exodus 21:10-11.

Yes God hates divorce. And yes God does not want men divorcing their wives or wives divorcing their husbands. That is God’s general rule of divorce that he does not want it to happen. But God allows exceptions to his rule and he has created exceptions when he does allow for divorce.

Dr. Kim is completely wrong in making “void the law” of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Exodus 21:10-11 where God speaks on divorce. Any discussion of God’s allowances for divorce must include these two pivotal passages.

Dr. Kim is wrong in his gender neutral application of the adultery exception

Dr. Kim’s statement:

“An exception is clearly given for the case of adultery. By saying “apart from adultery,” Jesus allows the victim of adultery to divorce and remarry. In that situation, the second marriage is not considered adultery, but rather, is a valid marriage. However, the spouse who committed adultery does not receive the right to remarry. He/she must repent and remain single for the rest of his/her life. Furthermore, although Jesus grants the victim the right to divorce and remarry, it is not mandatory. The victim could choose to forgive the sin and continue on in the marriage.”

Let’s get one thing out the way first. The correct word in the exception clause is “fornication”, not “adultery” as his translation reads. Fornication (from the Greek ‘porneia’) refers to all sin that violates God’s laws regarding sexuality which includes premarital sex, homosexuality, incest, origins, prostitution, rape, Beastiality and sexual defraudment.

Dr. Kim here actually takes the common gender neutral approach to divorce passages in Scripture. Any time the Bible speaks on marriage and divorce we must look for gender specifics in commands. There are places where God gives men and women equal ground as far as rules on divorce but in other places there are specific reasons men have for divorcing their wives and specific reasons women have for divorcing their husbands.

“But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.” – I Corinthians 7:15 (KJV)

Notice how in the abandonment exception Paul says “a brother or sister” meaning this the abandonment clause applies equally to men and women.

But in other places like Exodus we see rights in divorce that a woman has that a man does not have:

“10 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.

11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.” – Exodus 21:10-11 (KJV)

A woman could be justly freed (divorced) from her husband if he failed to provide her with food, clothing and sex. A man while having the right to divorce his wife for sexual defraudment, does not have the right to divorce his wife for her failing to provide for him because it is HIS job to provide for her.

So Dr. Kim’s unisex “he/she” approach to Christ’s words on divorce are wrong. We cannot ignore that Christ says “Whosoever shall put away HIS wife, except it be for fornication” – he means “his wife”, not “her husband”.

Also Dr. Kim is wrong in adding that the person (whom I would argue must be the woman) who has committed adultery must remain celibate for the rest of their life. If a woman is justly divorced from her husband even if for her own wrong behavior (such as adultery or sexual defraudment) nothing forbids her from remarrying.

In fact in Deuteronomy we are told:

“And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.” – Deuteronomy 24:2(KJV)

When a woman is divorced from her husband for reasons God allows (either because of his behavior or hers) she may go and be another man’s wife – remarriage is clearly allowed by God.

You see when we take the whole counsel of God (Exodus 21:10-11, Deuteronomy 24:1-2, Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:12, Luke 16:18, Romans 7:3 and I Corinthians 7:15) you get a very different picture of divorce then if you simply take one set of Gospel passages from Matthew as Dr. Kim does.

Are second marriages only allowed when divorce occurs because of adultery?

Dr. Kim’s statement:

“Whoever divorces his wife apart from adultery and will take another, commits adultery.” It is clear that any second marriage (outside of the exception) is not a valid marriage in the eyes of God because Jesus calls it, “adultery.” In the eyes of God, the first marriage is still valid and in full effect. By the way, let’s get this clear: Adultery is always adultery–the passage of time does not change the nature of the sin. The apostle Paul confirms the on-going status of “adulteress” for the woman who persists to live in a second marriage by stating, “Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress” (Rom 7:3).”

Dr. Kim maintains that the only way remarriage is allowed is if your spouse commits adultery against you. Then you may divorce your spouse but only you may remarry and your ex-spouse must remain celibate for life and as I said before there is no scriptural basis for this narrow view of divorce and remarriage.

Five Biblical principles regarding “re-marriage”

First we must establish the fact that the entire concept of “re-marriage” in all cases but one applies to women and not to men. This is because God allows polygyny (a man to have more than one wife).

“If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.” – Exodus 21:10 (KJV)

“And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.” – II Samuel 12:8 (KJV)

A man may take more than one wife but he must make sure that he continues to take care of the needs of his previous wives as well.  But there is one case of re-marriage with men.

God does NOT allow men to re-marry women they have divorced

“Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the Lord: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” – Deuteronomy 24:4 (KJV)

If a man divorces a woman he may not marry her if she ends up marrying another man.

God allows women who are divorced by their husbands to remarry

“And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.” – Deuteronomy 24:2 (KJV)

If a woman is put away by her husband then no matter if he divorces her for right reasons or wrong reasons she is free to remarry another man.

God allows women to divorce their husbands and thus remarry for failure to provide and sexual defraudment

“10 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.

11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.” – Exodus 21:10-11 (KJV)

If a woman seeks to be freed (divorced) from her husband then after she is freed she is free indeed to be remarried to another man.

God allows women to divorce and remarry if their husband abandons them

“But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.” – I Corinthians 7:15 (KJV)

Once again as in Exodus 21:10-11 the woman is freed from her husband and free to marry another if he abandons her. Actually if he departs from her he would in fact be failing to provide her with food, clothing and sex which are violations of Exodus 21:10-11. The husband is free from his obligation of husbandly duties to her.

God allows women to divorce and remarry if their husbands abuse them

“And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.” – Exodus 21:27 (KJV)

While this is talking about a man’s slaves this principle would also apply to a man’s wife as she had more rights than a slave. If a woman’s husband physically abuses and causes her any serious bodily harm she has the right to be freed from him and she is thus free to marry another man.

Did the Bible teach the concept of second marriages being “adulterous affairs”?

Now we will examine some key verses and phrases on divorce as it relates to this concept of marriages being considered “adulterous affairs”.

“whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”

“But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” – Matthew 5:32 (KJV)

The phrases “whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” (Matthew 5:32), “whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” (Matthew 19:9) and “whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” (Luke 16:18) should be understood by what Christ said in Mark 10:12 where he says “And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.”

Christ is referring to a woman that wrongly departs from (divorces) her husband and goes to marry another man. If a woman wrongly divorces her husband and marries another man then she commits adultery with another man (and he with her). This is the ONLY WAY that a second marriage can rightly be considered an “adulterous affair”.

Christ is not punishing the woman who has been wrongly divorced by her husband and relegating her to a life of celibacy.  He is saying her husband commits adultery against by unjustly divorcing her. The adultery a husband commits against his wife is NOT in him marrying another woman. He is allowed to marry a second wife, a third wife or a fourth wife by the decree of God. The adultery he commits against her is his act of unjustly divorcing her. This is a new type of adultery defined by Christ. Previous to this it was impossible for a man to commit adultery against his wife.

The phrase “causeth her to commit adultery” in Matthew 5:32 should be understood by what Christ said in Mark 10:11 that a husband who unjustly divorces his wife “committeth adultery against her”. This is not saying he causes her to commit adultery by her marrying another man. If she is divorced by her husband whether he does this for just or unjust reasons “she may go and be another man’s wife.” (Deuteronomy 24:2).

A wife who has been divorced by her husband whether for just or unjust reasons “may go and be another man’s wife.” (Deuteronomy 24:2). The sin is on his head in this situation, it is not on hers. She is no longer his wife and therefore cannot be called an “adulteress” because her husband “still lives” (Romans 7:3). The reason is that he is no longer her husband. Yes the man that was PREVIOUSLY her husband still lives, but he is no longer her husband. He has freed her even if he did it for wrong reasons. God will judge him for this – his wife is innocent in his sin of HIM wrongly divorcing her.

“marry another”

“And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.” – Mark 10:11

Does a husband commit adultery by marrying another woman? Some have tried to use this as a way to attack polygamy which is clearly allowed by God for men. But the situation Christ is describing is NOT that of a man marrying a second or third wife. This situation describes a man wrongly divorcing his first wife in order to please a potential second wife who wants to marry him but she wants him to get rid of his first wife.

This same situation was occurring in Israel when Malachi tells men they have “dealt treacherously” (Malachi 2:14-15) with the wife of their youth by putting her away without just cause.

“while her husband liveth”

“So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.” – Romans 7:3 (KJV)

“39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” – I Corinthians 7:39 (KJV)

Romans 7:3 and I Corinthians 7:39 are passages that have been wrongly used by many to forbid ANY second marriages by women while their first husband still lives. This is a faulty interpretation because it ignores Deuteronomy 24:2 which clearly states that a woman whose husband puts her away in divorce “may go and be another man’s wife.” (Deuteronomy 24:2).

Again we must look at the entire witness of Scripture and interpret Scripture with Scripture. So when we understand Romans 7:3 and I Corinthians 7:39 in light of the entire witness of Scripture then we understand that a woman can only be considered an adulterous if she unjustly divorces her husband and then marries another man. This the only case in which she could rightly be called and adulterous and the man she is with would be considered an adulterer.

“let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband”

“10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:

11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.” – I Corinthians 7:10-11 (KJV)

I Corinthians 7:10-11 refers to a situation where wife a divorces her husband for reasons that God does not allow. For instance when woman divorces her husband for “irreconcilable” differences she is NOT free to marry another man. She must remain celibate or be reconciled to her husband.

Conclusion

Biblically speaking when a man marries another woman this is NOT adultery. He is allowed by God to have more than one wife. The only way a man can commit adultery against his wife is by unjustly putting her away whether it is to marry another woman who wants to be his only wife or just to put her away so he can be on his own and have no obligations to provide for her and have sex with her.

The only way “re-marriage” applies to a man is when a man marries a woman he had previously divorced and she was married to another man and he tries to re-marry her. This is forbidden by God. All other marriages a man engages in cannot be considered remarriages – but simply additional marriages as he can have more than one wife.

Just because a man wrongly puts away(divorces) one his wives this does not preclude him from marrying other wives.  If a man can find a way to reconcile with this wrongly put away wife before she remarries(which she can do) he should try to do that.  But once she is remarried he CANNOT remarry her even if her second husband dies or divorces her.

The only marriage in Scripture that could be considered an ‘adulterous affair’ or ‘adulterous marriage’ is when a woman unjustly divorces her husband and then marries another man. In this case she would be considered an adulterous and the man who married her would be considered an adulterer.

The Bible also talks about incestuous marriages (where someone marries a relative or a relative’s wife). Only in the case of this one type of adulterous marriage or in the case of an incestuous marriage would God demand as John the Baptist did of Herod that the marriage be dissolved.

Again the reason that Dr. Kim has come to this flawed conclusion regarding divorce and adulterous marriages is because he has chosen to use two passages(Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9) to void or reinterpret all other passages on divorce in light of these two verses.

The only way we can truly understand God’s view of marriage and divorce is by examining his entire Word on the subject.