The View that Jesus Singled Out Adultery as the Sole Biblical Grounds for Divorce Is Wrong

Among the more commonly held perspectives concerning the doctrine on marital divorce in Christian circles is that the Lord Jesus Christ offered adultery as the sole biblical ground for divorce in what is called the “exception clause” (Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9).  Our Lord was speaking to the “divorce for any reason” doctrinal position of the Pharisees and had no intention to provide a complete doctrine on divorce or even a complete doctrine on Biblical grounds for a marital divorce, yet these passages have been used to make this argument.  Taking what the  Lord Jesus says in conjunction with what the rest of Scripture has to say on the doctrine of marital divorce is the only sure way to discern God’s revelation on this important issue.  It is generally dangerous to build a doctrinal view from one Biblical passage unless the passage itself lends itself to such an understanding.

The reader may find it interesting that another very common view on divorce is that two biblical grounds for divorce exist.  First, adultery from Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees, and second, Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian churches in 1 Corinthians 7.  So then, the two most popular views on the Biblical view on divorce are contradictory of one another.  To make matters worse, many Biblical pastors and teachers will strangely hold both views at the same time–holding the position that adultery is the only Biblical ground for divorce, but also believing that if an unbelieving spouse abandons a believer, then the believer is not bound in such cases.  Apparently these scholars do not hold themselves to the standard of eminent reason and logic.

Logically, Matthew chapters 5 & 19 cannot rightfully be used as our Lord restricting divorce solely for those whose spouse committed adultery if Paul’s teaching on divorce is as clear as it would seem.  The Biblical ground for divorce found in 1 Corinthians 7 is traditionally called abandonment, which is unfortunate as Biblical expounders have understood Paul’s conclusion well enough, but they misapprehended the cause.  Paul says, “Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15).  It seems rather obvious that Paul’s instructions do not introduce the concept of abandonment, but Paul is, in fact, providing another biblical ground for divorce.  Many bible students refuse to acknowledge Paul’s clear portrayal of another biblical ground for divorce because doing so would logically mean that our Lord did not intend his “correction against permissiveness” recorded in Matthew’s gospel to limit the sole just cause for divorce to adultery, which is what the church has erred in doing with our Lord’s teaching.

In Paul’s teaching (1 Corinthians 7:12-16) to the churches at Corinth, he introduces a new doctrine regarding marital divorce for believers who find themselves married to unbelievers.  He is very careful to point out that he did not receive this doctrine from the Lord or from any other Scriptural passage.  It was, at that time, a new doctrine for the Christian Church.  Paul’s new teaching, though unprecedented, is consistent with the rest of the Biblical doctrine concerning unequally yoked marriage and divorce.  As Paul introduces his new teaching many mistakenly concluded it to be “abandonment”.  In so doing, church leaders demonstrated a complete failure to understand the divine inspiration and therefore the brilliance of Paul’s unequally yoked treatise for the church era.  Abandonment is not exclusively a failure that is committed by unbelieving spouses, who are the people Paul was discussing.  Paul did not add that if the believing spouse left that the unbelieving spouse was not bound.  Yet believing spouses abandoning their unbelieving spouse is not only a possible outcome, but is an outcome that has no doubt happened tens of thousands of times since Paul penned the new doctrine.  If his new teaching was on abandonment, then it was poorly constructed and insufficient, which is not at all like the great apostle.  No, Paul was not introducing a new rule governing abandonment.

If not abandonment, then what was the nature of Paul’s novel treatise?  The apostle is explaining a treacherous action committed by an unbelieving spouse that would cause the believing spouse to be free from the marital bond?  It had to be something that only the unbelieving spouse could commit because Paul did not flip the equation so that the unbelieving spouse was no longer bound if the believer was guilty.  Why?  It is not possible for the believer to be guilty of what Paul is introducing.  Unlike all other Biblical teaching on divorce both husbands and wives would no longer be bound due to this treacherous action or behavior.  Up until this Biblical passage only husbands had the option of divorce.  In fact, in the 21st Century, Jewish women still cannot get a divorce in Israel if their husband refuses to sign a certificate of divorce.  This has been Jewish law for millennia.

Paul’s Novel Treatise Article: https://wordpress.com/post/biblicalviewondivorce.com/612

Nevertheless, since God’s word unmistakably teaches at least one additional legal ground for divorce, then it is not logically correct to continue teaching adultery as the sole biblical ground for divorce.  Obviously, Jesus was saying that the Pharisees’ “divorce for any reason” doctrine was 180 degrees off.  In Jesus’ use of the Greek word ‘pornia’ he was elucidating that it would take very serious violations of the marriage covenant’s conditions such as adultery to justify dissolving the marriage.  Jesus was arguing that dissolving a marriage takes serious violations by one or both of the marriage partners.  Once covenant conditions have been broken, then dissolution of the marriage is justifiable, but without such treachery a divorce action is illegitimate and the married partners are in danger of committing adultery if they seek a partner outside of the one with whom they are still married.   In such cases, the marriage covenant has not been broken, which is to say it is still a valid and legitimate covenant between the husband and wife.

A divorce action, particularly between two believers, without just cause is not permitted and the marriage partner(s) who remarry will be guilty of adultery.  However, that very adultery provides biblical grounds for the innocent spouse to divorce.  So much of the church would deny this, but what does the Lord say?  “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).  At the very least, Jesus is saying that “unchastity” is biblical grounds for divorce, so when these Pharisees illegitimately “divorced” their wives and joined themselves to another woman, Jesus’ very words exclaim that their wives have biblical grounds for divorce and are now free to remarry in the Lord.  How has this obvious logic been overlooked?  Through an oppression that is always with us where those in power use it to their advantage and to the disadvantage of the weak.  Throughout most centuries women have been powerless when it comes to the doctrine of divorce.  If any legal divorce would be had it was almost never going to be by the wife.  Paul’s teaching corrects this wrong and, at the same time, shows the spuriousness of the argument claiming that our Lord Jesus allows only a single Biblical ground for marital divorce.

About Josiah Portermaine

By the abundant lovingkindness and grace of God I have been in Christ for over 45 years. I live to love and serve God in whatever capacity He has in mind. And can do no other but to follow my conscience as scripture and reason guide me threw the shadow lands. I raised 5 children one of whom now sees clearly as he walks on streets of gold. I have a Masters of Divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. I own a business in Nebraska, but I live to serve God. I have preached in three different churches for a period of 10 years. I love preaching God's word. Because of my divorce I am not currently serving in any official capacity, but I know that the Lord has a ministry for me. My goal is to write a book on the topic of divorce when unequally yoked, and this blog is a step in that direction. No brother or sister in Christ should divorce their spouse solely upon the advice they find here or anywhere else for that matter. Immerse yourself in God's word, and go before the Lord--wait upon Him and He will make it clear when the time comes that you are called to repent of your unequally yoked marriage. Christ's continued blessings, Joe View all posts by Josiah Portermaine

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