Bible Question:

I am confused by the answers given for staying in a second marriage. If the marriage causes the adultery, how does staying in that marriage make it no longer adultery? It seems like you are saying that the divorce was illegal, and the marrying another is illegal adultery; but somehow these two illegal actions become legal by saying you are sorry and continuing in illegal behavior. This makes no sense. It seems more likely that it is adultery because the second marriage is not recognized by God as a marriage at all, just an adulterous affair with two people who have a piece of paper that say it is a marriage.

Bible Answer:

Jesus gives us permission to divorce a spouse if our partner has committed adultery or is an unbeliever who wants out of the marriage. Jesus was referring to the physical act of adultery. Divorce for any other reason is always wrong! Therefore, it is wrong to divorce the first spouse when adultery has not occurred. It is also wrong to divorce the second spouse if adultery has not occurred. It is wrong to conclude that divorcing the second spouse in order to return to the first spouse is honorable and pleases God.

Let us clarify a few important principles. First, God’s priority is the continuation of any marriage and not its dissolution. In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus makes it clear that a couple is to remain married.

And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” Matthew 19:4-6 (NASB)

But under special circumstances, God allows divorce. Jesus tells when divorce is allowed in Matthew 5:31-32,

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)

In Matthew 19:8-9 Jesus repeats the message with additional information.

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 19:8-9

The Greek word, porneia, is translated as “unchastity” in Matthew 5:31-32 and it is the same Greek word that is translated as “immorality” in Matthew 19:8-9. This means the grounds for divorce is the same. Jesus did not change the grounds for divorce. So, if divorce occurs for any other reason it does not have God’s approval. The only exception is that given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:13-16. We will discuss that passage shortly.

Jesus does not make any comments about their previous marital status. It s clear from Matthew 19:4-6 that marriage must continue. One cannot justify ending a marriage to a second wife by divorce in order to remarry the first wife so that the first marriage can resume. In such a case, two divorces or two sins will have occurred. The second divorce is just as wrong as the first divorce. God is not trying to accommodate our lack of self-control and self-centeredness. In Matthew 19:6 Jesus gave us a principle that once a couple is married, that marriage should never be broken, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” That principle existed in the Old Testament also (Malachi 2:14). That is the primary principle in marriage.

Jesus indicated in Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:8-9 that divorce for any reason other than adultery results in an unbiblical divorce without the right to remarry. The Holy Spirit added one other reason for divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:13-16. That reason is when an unbelieving spouse wants out of the marriage. But if a couple marries when one of them does not have the right to remarry, should they divorce and remarry their first spouse(s) since they should not have divorced? Such action is wrong since 1) it violates Jesus’ principle that a marriage should continue and 2) it violates the prohibition against divorce, except for adultery (we are assuming for this discussion that adultery has not occurred in the second marriage) or if an unbeliever wants out of the marriage. Further, it is obvious that Jesus accepted Moses’ teaching as being applicable in matters of divorce and remarriage since He quotes Moses and then explains Moses’ statement. That is, Moses’ teaching was authoritative even in the New Testament era. If we read Moses’ teaching in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, he prohibited spouses from returning to their first spouse after marrying another. It is important to re-read the passage and realize that Jesus accepted Moses’ teaching as authoritative.

It is an error to conclude that every part of the Mosaic Law disappeared after Jesus’ death and resurrection. For even Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-19 that He did not come to abolish that law but to fulfill it. In verse 19 He warns us to not abolish one of the commandments. What disappeared was the ceremonial law, the sacrifices, feasts, priests and temple (Hebrews 8-10). Romans 7:1-13 teaches that Christians have died to the Law when they are forgiven their sins and declared to be righteous when they believe in Jesus Christ. Romans 7:14-25 makes it clear that Christians continue to sin even while they live in this world. For example, the apostle Paul continued to struggle with sin. But a true Christian fights to defeat sin, rather than find excuses to justify their sin (Romans 8:13-14).


In short, the idea of divorcing a second spouse because both the first divorce and the second marriage were wrong in order to remarry the first spouse again violates multiple biblical commands and principles. Such behavior results in even more sinful actions. Such action is not biblical and sinful. The correct question is shall the spouses commit more sins or glorify God by remaining committed to their current spouse? They should confess their sins, pledge commitment to their current spouse and demonstrate submission to God which gives Him glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). That is the higher standard. If it is true that the spouses from the first marriage are divorced and have not remarried, then they should remarry. Upon confession of the sin of adultery God forgives and forgets the sin. We can rejoice that God forgives and forgets.

Suggested Links:

If you get divorced and then get married again, aren't you committing adultery?
Biblical Divorce and Remarriage
A Biblical Divorce
Christians Are Not Under The Law
The Raging Battle With Sin, part 1
Our Raging Battle With Sin, part 2
Holy Spirit Gives Us Victory Over Sin
Porneia Definition — What is the meaning of the Greek word porneia in the Bible?