Bible Question:

When adultery occurs by remarriage, is the adultery an ongoing sin?

Bible Answer:

The question we are concerned with is, “If adultery occurs by remarriage, is the adultery an ongoing sin?” That is, when someone divorces his or her spouse for non-biblical reasons and then marries another person, they commit adultery; but will they be continually committing adultery while married to their new spouse?

Is The Sin of Adultery Ongoing?

Jesus’ Teaching About Divorce

In Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus said,

It was said, “WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE”; 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 5:31-32 (NASB)

First, we will ignore the exception clause and assume that sexual sin has not occurred by either the husband or the wife. Then we discover that if a man divorces his wife for some reason other than sexual sin, that his wife commits adultery if she marries another man. Matthew 19:9 states that if that husband then marries another woman he commits adultery too!

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. Matthew 19:9 (NASB)

In addition, Luke 16:18 adds that anyone who marries a man or woman who was divorced commits adultery, if sexual sin was not the grounds for the divorce.

Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery. Luke 16:18 (NASB)

That is, if sexual sin did not occur during the marriage but divorce occurred, then adultery will be committed if either the husband or wife marries someone else. Mark 10:11-12 teaches us that the same principle applies if the wife initiates the divorce.

We have been discussing unbiblical divorces. Now we will consider a biblical divorce. A biblical divorce can only occur if the exception clause “except for the reason of unchastity” applies. That is, if one of the spouses has committed immorality or porneia and divorce follows, then adultery does not occur when the innocent party chooses to marries someone else.

Adultery Is A One Time Act

Some claim that when porneia has not occurred in the first marriage, a second marriage is not recognized by God. However, one cannot find such a statement in Scripture. What is clear is that God does recognize the second marriage since Matthew 5:32 records that Jesus said, “and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” That is, God does recognize that the second marriage did occur. That is why Jesus said adultery occurs. Since the second marriage has occurred, it is a contractual agreement (Malachi 2:14). In Matthew 19:6 Jesus tells us that every marriage is to be permanent.

So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” Matthew 19:6 (NASB)

The second marriage is recognized by God as the new permanent relationship, even if the sin of adultery was committed in the process. If adultery occurred, it was a sin. That sin will be forgiven when the adulterer repents. (1 John 1:9).

The Greek word “commits adultery” is the verb moicheuo. It is in the aorist tense. This tense refers to a completed action. That is, the adultery occurred, but it is not a continuous sinful condition. It may be helpful to know that if Jesus had used the perfect tense that would imply the sin had occurred and was ongoing. But Jesus used the aorist tense which refers to completed action. If an individual then divorces his or her second spouse for non-biblical reasons, just as he or she did with the first spouse, he or she will commit the sin of adultery again.

While it is true that the verb moicheuo occurs again in Matthew 5:32 in the present tense, it is clear that the present tense is not a perfect participle. The present tense refers to an action that occurs in the present; but the perfect participle is the tense that indicates a ongoing, continuing effect. Adultery is not a continuing sin. If someone robs a bank once, they are called a thief and are guilty of robbery. But they are not guilty of repeated acts of robbery because they did it one time. Yet, they are not forgiven until they honestly and sincerely confess their sin to God from their heart.

The Sin of Adultery Can Be Forgiven

When some individuals understand they committed adultery by remarrying, they want to dissolve their second marriage. Even though they sincerely confess their sin to God, they believe they must divorce their new spouse in order to end the sin of adultery. There are two reasons why this would just be another sinful act. The first reason as we have already learned above is that the sin of adultery was a one time event. God’s forgiveness occurs when the sin of adultery is honestly and sincerely confessed from the heart (1 John 1:9). God does not forgive unrepentant hearts.

The second reason is that Jesus has told us that no marriage should be dissolved (Matthew 19:6). The new marriage must remain permanent. If a man or woman dissolves his or her second marriage for any reason except for sexual immorality or because an unbeliever divorces them and remarries, then they will commit adultery again.

How can a man or woman obtain forgiveness and blessing after committing the sin of adultery? The answer is to sincerely confess the sin of adultery. A person confesses a sin to God when they name the sin and admit that they sinned. Confession must come from the heart and be sincere. Then God will forgive the sin of adultery. That is the message of 1 John 1:9.

 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:9 (NASB)

Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 1:18; 38:17; Jeremiah 31:34 and Micah 7:19 are God’s promises of forgiveness.

As far as the East is from the West,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12 (NASB)

Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool. Isaiah 1:18 (NASB)

You have cast all my sins behind Your back. Isaiah 38:17 (NASB)

I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. Jeremiah 31:34 (NASB)

He will again have compassion on us;
He will tread our iniquities under foot.
Yes, You will cast all their sins
Into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:19 (NASB)


Our God forgives when we sincerely grieve our sins and seriously seek His forgiveness.  Psalm 32:5 is a wonderful promise,

I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”;
And You forgave the guilt of my sin.
Psalm 32:5 (NASB)

Suggested Links:

Biblical Divorce and Remarriage
Porneia Definition — What is the meaning of the Greek word porneia in the Bible?
If you are divorced and remarry, are you living in adultery?
What does God say about a person marrying someone who has been divorced?
Is it a sin to divorce if you profess to be a Christian?
Does Matthew 5:31-32 say that even the non-adulterer is guilty of adultery?
Why does one have the “right to remarry” after a “Biblical Divorce”?