Is Divorce allowed for Adultery by Jesus Christ?

Jesus when asked if divorce was allowed said that God's plan is strictly one man and woman for life meaning that divorcing and remarrying is adultery.  Only in the Matthew gospel does he say that unfaithfulness or porniea is a separate case, "except for unfaithfulness or porniea".  Some read too much into this and say divorce is permitted for adultery.

Some say except for unfaithfulness or porniea means that when a man marries a woman and it is found that she had been unchaste with other men before the wedding while claiming to be true to him and promising to be true to him forever the man could divorce her for there was no real marriage and she did not mean the vows.

This interpretation is the best for it fits the Bible better. Remember Jesus said to the Pharisees and Scribes that fornication was a separate case. It is a bit vague to us but it would not have been to them. He was speaking to them as one person who knew the law speaking to another who knew it well too. The Law permits a man to get rid of his wife and marry again if he finds she is not a virgin on the wedding night. She married him on the basis that she was a virgin and so the marriage was not real for based on a lie.

Some say that the unfaithfulness meant is not that of the woman before the marriage but after. It’s adultery. The man can repudiate the marriage contract if the woman commits adultery.

Jesus would not have dared to make divorce permissible over adultery because that would be encouraging people to commit adultery to escape from unhappy marriages. And battering the wife is worse than committing adultery and a better reason for divorce.

If Jesus regarded divorce for remarriage over adultery as lawful when adultery had taken place then this is no consolation to Christians.  He was talking to Jews about Jewish marriages. Nothing in the Bible says that a valid Christian marriage can be dissolved. The Bible says that true Christians have been changed by the power of God into holy people unlike the Jews and other outsiders. That is why the marriage rules for true Christians could and would be different and tougher for they are delivered from the sin nature.

Jesus said divorce was allowed by Moses because the people were so pig-headed. Some say the exception clause is like something that is in brackets. This makes Jesus say, “Divorce and remarriage are always wrong (adultery is another case) etc”. Adultery is another case could mean that he allows separation for adultery or divorce without remarriage which amounts to the same thing.

Matthew 5:32 gives light on this for it says that a man who puts his wife away except for adultery makes her commit adultery and that whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Divorce would mean separation as well as divorce for not all divorce was legal in whose days. The non-legal version would be separation and the legally permitted one would be divorce. The man can make his wife commit adultery by separating from her and whoever marries a separated woman commits adultery (Question 880, Radio Replies 3). Bible scholars agree that Matthew 5:32 implies that a marriage after divorce or separation is forbidden (page 397, Encyclopaedia of Bible Difficulties).

Radio Replies 3 says of Matthew 5:32,

Question 880, “According to Matthew V., 32, Christ said, “Whomsoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and marry another, maketh her commit adultery”.
 
Christ allowed permanent separation without remarriage, if adultery has been committed by one of the parties. What He meant was this: Whosoever shall put away his wife (I am not now speaking of mere separation without remarriage, for that is lawful in the case of infidelity,) but whosoever puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery himself and by his adulterous union forces his wife into adultery if she marries another. That is the only possible interpretation in the light of the context and parallel passages. If the man who marries the woman so put away commits adultery, she must still be the wife of the one who dismissed her; and if she is still his wife, he must still be her husband, and forbidden to take a new wife.”

The reasoning is perfectly right in so far that it is known that the verse does not allow divorce and remarriage in the case of adultery considering that all of the other teachings on marriage in the New Testament absolutely forbid divorce for remarriage and enjoin celibacy on all whose marriages have broken down. Incidentally, if a man is not making his wife commit adultery by dismissing her the dismissal must be a separation or just a living apart not a divorce. If a man puts away his wife because she committed adultery he would still be making her commit adultery by telling her to go away. If a man puts away his wife realising that the marriage was somehow invalid in the first place he would not be making her commit adultery for if she remarries the marriage will be real. Those who feel that we should take the word wife literally will have to go with the interpretation that Jesus is simply only allowing a man and wife to live apart without remarriage if adultery has taken place.

Page 54 of The Catholic Church has the Answer says that in Matthew 19:9 Jesus doesn't allow divorce in the case of adultery but he allows separation. It says that the fact that Mark 10:11,12 and Luke 16:18 have Jesus forbidding remarriage for those who are separated proves this. It is true that Jesus never ever said that remarriage was lawful. If he allowed divorce in the case of adultery or fornication, he still never said that the parties could marry other people.

All divorce would involve adultery for it is intending to commit it or make the partner commit it when the partner wishes. Jesus said that adultery in the heart was as morally bad as real adultery so the apostles knew that all divorce was adultery. Then, when the apostles said that it would be better not to marry at all when they heard Jesus’ teaching on divorce it proves that they knew that Jesus did not allow divorce and remarriage unless the first marriage was not real and not because of adultery.

When Mark and Luke forbade divorce absolutely it proves that Matthew was unlikely to allow it for the tradition was that divorce was wrong. Jesus condemned Moses’ permitting of divorce and was hardly likely to contradict himself later by permitting it for adultery. He opposed divorce and never said it was wrong only when intended for remarriage but wrong all the time.

Liberals ignore Jesus’ divorce ban for they say he was not saying that divorce is wrong all the time but saying that the ideal was life-long marriage. But he was asked a legal question and so he gave a legal answer and not an idealistic one.

It is possible that if Jesus meant divorce could only be possible if adultery had happened that the words except for porniea were an addition. It could be said that we can tell this from the context which does not fit the idea of any exceptions for a valid marriage and from Mark which absolutely bans divorce. And why do the same words pop up in both places where Jesus has a go at divorce?

Matthew 5:31, 32 has Jesus saying that whoever divorces his wife except for porniea makes her commit adultery because her and his marriage cannot be dissolved by divorce and she is contracting a new but fake marriage making her an adulteress. But if he divorces her he is not making her do that unless her second or new wedding has already been prepared for. Jesus could not have meant that he was making her commit adultery when he knows she will contract an illicit marriage. It’s not his fault if he does not know. It is her decision. In that case, she would already have been an adulteress so her husband could not make one of her. What Jesus might have meant by except for porniea or unchastity was that whoever divorces his wife makes an adulteress of her unless she already is one.  Awkward expression but people do things like that.

But except for porniea does not mean adultery here for what Jesus meant was that whoever divorces his wife except for the unchastity of an invalid marriage makes her commit adultery. That is the most straightforward interpretation. The reason he can’t make her commit adultery is because there never was a marriage.

Jesus did not allow divorce on the grounds of marital infidelity despite the loose and prejudiced translations you have in Bibles like the New International Version.

Conclusion

Matthew's gospel does not really say that if a couple are married and one commits adultery that they can remarry following divorce. Matthew fits the absolute ban on divorce in the rest of the New Testament.


WORKS CONSULTED
A Catechism of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Truth Society, Westminster, 1985
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Catholicism, Richard P McBrien, HarperSanFrancisco, New York, 1994
Divorce, John R Rice, Sword of the Lord, Murfreesboro, 1946
Encyclopaedia of Bible Difficulties, Gleason W Archer, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982
Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, Uta Ranke Heinmann, Penguin, London, 1991
Hard Sayings, Derek Kidner, Intervarsity Press, 1972
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Preparing for a Mixed Marriage, Irish Episcopal Conference, Veritas, Dublin, 1984
Radio Replies Volume 3, Dr Leslie Rumble MSC, Rev Charles Carty, Radio Replies Press, St Paul Minnesota, 1942
Rome has Spoken, A Guide to Forgotten Papal Statements and How They Have Changed Through the Centuries, Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben (Editors), Crossroad Publishing, New York, 1998
Shattered Vows, Exodus From the Priesthood, David Rice, Blackstaff Press, Belfast, 1990
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The Emancipation of a Freethinker, Herbert Ellsworth Cory, The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, 1947
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The WWW
How to Fight the Religious Right, Brian Elroy McKinley
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BIBLE VERSION USED
The Amplified Bible