Unquestionably the most commonly held view on divorce in Christian circles states that our Lord offered adultery as the sole biblical grounds for divorce in what is called the exception clause (Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9). Our Lord was correcting the “divorce for any reason” doctrinal position of the Pharisees, but He was not providing a complete doctrine on divorce. The reader may find it interesting that the second most 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.
Logically, Matthew 5 & 19 cannot rightfully be used as our Lord having restricted 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 apparent 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.
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 committing 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 exact 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 on the topic of divorce. If any legal divorce would be had it was almost never going to be by the wife.