If a woman is divorced for some reason other than adultery, against her will, will that still make her an adulterer?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us,
. . . but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:32 (NASB)
Meaning of Matthew 5:32
Christ’s message is difficult for some to understand. The easiest way to understand His statement is to remove a key phrase and then understand the statement, without the phrase. Then we will add the phrase. Therefore, we will first remove the phrase “except for the reason of unchastity.” Then we are left with this statement from Christ,
. . . but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife . . . makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
The modified verse simply states that if a husband divorces his wife, then if she remarries she and her new husband will commit adultery. Adultery is committed because God still considers the woman to be married to her first husband. That is, the first marriage stills exists even though the first couple has divorced and thinks their marriage no longer exists.
Except For the Reason of Unchastity
Now how does the phrase “except for the reason of unchastity” change the meaning? The answer is that there is only one reason for which a divorce can occur that does not cause the wife to commit adultery when she remarries. That reason is that unchastity has occurred.
In Mark 10:11-12 we discover that Jesus made this statement later in his ministry,
And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.” Mark 10:11-12 (NASB)
That is, both a husband and wife can cause their spouse to commit adultery. The only exception is given by Jesus in Matthew 5:32. That reason is unchastity.
The Greek word for unchastity is porneia. This word includes a wide range of sexual sins: sex outside of marriage, incest, homosexuality and sex with animals. If one of the spouses committed porneia, then the other spouse is free to divorce the offending partner and remarry.
When Is Adultery Committed?
Consequently if porneia has not occurred, adultery will be committed when one of the original spouses remarries another person. It is important to understand that without porneia God considers the original marriage to still be in effect. This means that the couple does not have the biblical right to remarry since they are still married in God’s eyes.
Jesus said this in Matthew 19:6-9,
So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Matthew 19:6-9 (NASB)
Impact On the Non-Guilty Spouse?
This means that if porneia has not occurred and one spouse divorces the other, then the non-guilty spouse will commit adultery if he or she remarries. God has not provided any other options. The reader is encouraged to read the Q&A below as a guide as to how to proceed.
God provides a biblical divorce and a biblical right to remarry under only two conditions. The first condition is given in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:8-9. That condition is that one of the spouses commits porneia. The second condition is that one of the spouses is an unbeliever and no longer wants to live with the believing spouse.
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