Home > Brandenburg, Divorce/Remarriage > What God Hath Put Together: The Bible on Divorce and Remarriage (part two)

What God Hath Put Together: The Bible on Divorce and Remarriage (part two)

May 16, 2007

What About Exceptions?

The standard of marriage is God’s original intention for marriage, that is, none of us should try to undo the “one flesh” relationship which God has united. The Lord Jesus Christ rejected the Pharisees’ use of Deuteronomy 24:1. But should that be qualified by the exception clause (“except for fornication”) in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9? The exception clause in those two locations should be understood in the light of the absolute statement in Matthew 19:6, especially since the exception clause is not found in Mark 10 or Luke 16. In Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, the exception clause uses the word “fornication,” which is not the word for “adultery.” The proponents for a post-marriage exception often say that Matthew uses porneia (“fornication”) because it is a general word for all forms of sexual perversion. But is that how we see that it is used in the New Testament and especially how it is used in Matthew? Besides Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, the only other place Matthew uses the word porneia is in 15:19 where it is used alongside of moicheia (“adultery”). In other words, Matthew differentiates between porneia and moicheia. The most important contextual evidence for the meaning of porneia comes from the book itself, and in the book of Matthew, porneia excludes moicheia. The normal sense of porneia in the whole New Testament is fornication or incest (1 Cor. 5:1). Pre-Christian Jewish literature maintained a very strict distinction between porneia and moicheia. In the lexicon, porneia may reflect various kinds of forbidden carnal relations, but we can find no outright examples of the use of this word to denote a wife’s adultery. With these circumstances—Matthew, the New Testament, and Pre-Christian Jewish literature—we should not think that “fornication” even refers to “adultery.” We should think that it does not mean “adultery,” especially since Matthew distinguishes between the two terms. Fornication is not adultery.

Early in Matthew (1:19), Joseph resolves to “put away” (the same word for divorce as Matt. 5:32 and 19:9) Mary, thinking that she had committed fornication. Joseph and Mary are clearly not married, but betrothed, even though engagement was much more serious back then than it is in this culture. In John 8:41 Jewish leaders indirectly accuse Jesus of being born of porneia; in other words, since they didn’t accept the virgin birth, they assumed that Mary had committed fornication and Jesus was the result of that act. So then why were the exception clauses included in the Matthew account (and not Mark and Luke)? Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience familiar with the betrothal issue. As Matthew was penning his gospel, he found himself in chapter five and then later in chapter nineteen needing to prohibit all remarriage after divorce (as taught by Jesus) and yet to allow for a divorce like the one Joseph envisioned with his future wife, whom he thought guilty of fornication (porneia). As a result, Matthew includes the exception clause in particular to acquit Joseph, but also in general to show that the kind of divorce that one might pursue in a betrothal period on account of fornication is not included in Jesus’ absolute prohibition.

This interpretation of the exception clause conforms to Jesus’ practice of never once siding with the Pharisees on occasions when He refers them to God’s Word by asking “Have ye not read?” It agrees with the Lord’s endorsement of the original design of marriage. It is in fitting with the Lord’s unequivocal statement, “What God hath put together, let no man put asunder.” It concurs with the meaning of porneia (“fornication.”). It also corresponds to God’s plainly stated hatred of divorce (Malachi 2:16).

Jesus prohibited divorce (Matthew 19:6) and then all remarriage after divorce (19:9). To the Lord’s disciples this seemed like an intolerable prohibition (19:10), essentially closing off every possibility of remarriage, making marriage so risky that it would be better not to, since they would be obligated to live as a single person the rest of their lives or interminably stuck in a bad marriage. The Lord does not deny that this task would be difficult, but in the subsequent verses He promises that God could enable it’s fulfillment (19:11, 12). Their reaction to Jesus’ teaching along with His commentary concerning it, in addition to all the other considerations above, harmonize with the Lord’s prohibition of divorce and remarriage.

The Apostle Paul agrees completely with the teaching of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 7:39 and Romans 7:2 say explicitly that a woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives.

1 Corinthians 7:39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

Romans 7:2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.

No exceptions are mentioned that would suggest she could be free from her husband to remarry on any other basis. The point is, of course, that only God, not man, can end a marriage relationship [by death] (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9). This is why remarriage is called adultery by Jesus: He assumes that the first marriage is still binding (Matthew 5:32; Luke 16:18; Mark 10:11).

Is Adultery the Same Thing as Divorce?

A common argument from those who allow divorce and remarriage is that adultery is essentially the same thing as divorce. They believe that adultery is included in the “fornication” in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. That isn’t the understanding one gets from a study of Scripture, but that is what they believe. Then they go on to explain that the party who commits adultery has already divorced his spouse by doing so. How? He violates the one flesh relationship by becoming one flesh with someone else. They mainly take this idea from 1 Corinthians 6:16, “What? Know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? For two, saith he, shall be one flesh.” Their conclusion is that the first one flesh relationship is ended by the second. Is this true? No. The main problem with this teaching is that it isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. It is extrapolated from a verse like 1 Corinthians 6:16, which doesn’t say anything about divorce in it. Fornication isn’t marriage.

Second, a major message of this view is that anyone who wants free from his present marriage need only commit adultery. If a man wants a divorce from his wife, his wife could say, “I can’t divorce you, unless you commit adultery.” Since he has already committed adultery, it won’t make any difference if he does it again. The wife, on the other hand, can’t remarry without committing adultery. This position elevates the physical act to the decisive element in marital union and disunion. However, a man and a woman do not become married sheerly through a physical relationship. Marriage requires more than that. If a man and a woman avoid fornication, they won’t have the physical aspect until after marriage. The term “marry” (ba’al) in the Hebrew includes the realm of possession, which is a legal requirement. A transfer must be made between one family to another, when the man takes possession of his bride. This possessing is also seen in Ephesians 5, where Genesis 2:24 is quoted (Eph. 5:31), and it is more than something physical, but spiritual, emotional, and intellectual as well.

If man can’t put asunder what God has brought together, then he can’t put asunder his wife through adultery either. Man might allow divorce because of the hardness of his heart, but this doesn’t mean that God does. Even when someone commits adultery, God still sees that person as married.

  1. May 16, 2007 at 6:28 am

    Brother Kent,

    I think the thing about your posts that bothers me the most is this: They make me think & re-think. I still don’t necessarily agree, but wow, Brother, that was a good post.

  2. Pastor Travis Burke
    May 16, 2007 at 8:45 am

    Tremendous post Brother Kent. God’s intent is one man, one woman, one life time. Christ, laying the foundations for marriage in Genesis 1 & 2, created male and female; not male and females (in case the first one didn’t work and they were not compatible). The problem is not adultery, it is not divorce, it is not compatibility…those are results of the problem…people finding and chosing their God ordained mate incorrectly. If that were done correctly, these debates, escape clauses, and exceptions would be obsolete. But that is an entire other post worthy cause. Thanks for the opportunity to contribute.

  3. May 16, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Thanks Brother Dunham and Brother Burke. The obtaining of a life’s partner is a good subject too, I agree.

  4. May 17, 2007 at 5:47 am

    Better yet – courting or dating?

  5. Juan Carlos Asmat
    May 17, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    Pastor, which marriage “counts” or is “Biblical” the legal marriage or the religious marriage, in a church building?
    I have enjoyed reading about this topic during my free time that I’m able to go to the library and use the computer. This is a very interesting topic.

  6. May 17, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    From what I read here, Pastor B is arguing that Matthew is saying (in 5:32 and 19:9) that those who divorce in a betrothal period and marry another woman are guilty of adultery, except if it be for fornication (to which he has given the wooden definition of “premarital sex”).

    Can it be? So then, fornication is always pre-marital, while adultery is post-marital?

    But then, how could pre-marital divorce be adultery, which is post-marital?

  7. Kirk Brandenburg
    May 17, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    This, I believe, is why you must make the right decision the first time (don’t make the decision off of emotion), as Pastor Burke said.

    1) Would it be wrong (is there, perhaps, a Biblical basis) for a married man and women to separate without divorce, or is that the same thing?

    2) If the obtaining of a life’s partner is done right (the Godly way), will there be a need for a divorce?

  8. May 17, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    Pastor Mallinak,

    I don’t have TV, but I’ve seen the commercials by the Geico caveman, and the lady expert says, “We live in a society where individual ego is at the forefront.” The host points at the Caveman, “Response?” The caveman responds, “Yeah, I have a response…uh…What?” That was sort of my immediate reaction here, “uh….What?” Let me give it a shot though.

    You write, “From what I read here, Pastor B is arguing that Matthew is saying (in 5:32 and 19:9) that those who divorce in a betrothal period and marry another woman are guilty of adultery, except if it be for fornication (to which he has given the wooden definition of “premarital sex”).” First, I don’t ever say that someone who divorces in a betrothal period and marries another is committing adultery (but I think you know that and have some point coming), because people in a betrothal period are not married. The Bible never says that betrothal is marriage. That is why the exception clause falls after “put away his wife,” instead of somewhere else in the sentence. The exception clause is about the “putting away.” Second, regarding my “wooden definition,” it is actually called studying the usage of the word in its context, which is part of a grammatical-historical intepretation. This is how we understand words, by how they were used, and we know what Matthew meant by those words by how we see him using them. Reading into words on the other hand, which certainly is more flexible than wood (sort of elastic), is how eisegesis occurs. If we want to make words mean whatever we want them to mean, we will have a difficult time with interpretation.

    Then you write, “Can it be? So then, fornication is always pre-marital, while adultery is post-marital?” Porneia in the NT is only clearly pre-marital, and moicheia is post-marital. Yes.

    Lastly you write, “But then, how could pre-marital divorce be adultery, which is post-marital?” You would have to read into the text to get that pre-marital divorce is adultery.  It isn’t what I say or the text says. If someone marries another, he commits adultery. “Another” is heteros, that is, another of a different kind, someone other than someone who is his wife. I have clearly explained the exception clause in my post.

  9. May 17, 2007 at 10:02 pm


    1) No. The Bible never teaches to separate. It does say that husband and wife could defraud one another, but only with mutual consent for the sole purpose of fasting and prayer (1 Cor. 7:5).  Hypothetically, you may be thinking about spousal abuse, when a man is beating up his wife.  I think that involvement of law enforcement and jail time could result in separation.  The confusion on this issue essentially relates to the problem of sin and injustice in society.  Let’s say that hypothetically the husband has AIDS and he doesn’t mind killing his wife by passing along that disease.  I think she should attempt to escape being murdered.

    2) There is never actually a need for a divorce. We are never to divorce. However, I think what you are asking is: “Will divorce become an issue if we marry correctly?” I don’t think so; however, Satan is a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  A whole lot of hypotheticals enter in when people marry wrong.  If someone marries wrong and then is converted, or is saved but marries wrong, she might still suffer for marrying wrong.  I compare it to someone jumping off of a cliff and asking for forgiveness on the way down—the person might be forgiven, but the person will still hit the ground.

  10. keeping the faith
    February 27, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    This coming March 15th I would have been married for one year in the catholic church. My husband indicated to me as well as the Deacon, Priest , as well as the church, that he wanted to have children. We have been having some ugly arguments. We agreed to talk to a catholic nun who also deos counseling. During our first visit she appeared hopeful that we could still remedy our marriage. We had gone one other time together, and my husband was putting me down the entire session. I began to feel as though the nun was forming an opinion about me based on what he had said. For instance , he mentioned that my parents had been divorced and that my mother had left the home. The nun appeared to label me and insinuate that I had abandonment issues. After that session he had gone back to see the nun , andimpliedthat she believed that all our problems came from me. My current husband is very controlling , and manipulative, but he is still my husband and the reason why I went for counseling , was to help us communicate in a more constructive manner. After about a month , I went to see her again, kept asking me questions about my childhood and previous relationships. She kept trying to get me to admit that I may have a problem with trust and such. As I mentioned earlier seeked out the counseling to save the marriage. During that session, the nun also told me that she felt as thoiugh my husband looked sick , and that he had lost weight.I felt as though she were implying that I was the cause.I placed in a situation where I feel like no matter what I try to say to the nun , she has already analyzed me and determined , that I am the cause of all the problems in this marriage. Anyway she also mentioned tha fact that she thought a separation might be beneficial . Am I losing my marbles, is it true that marriage is alfetime commitment. Despite the fact that my husband, has belittled, me by calling me a loser, half-breed, irresponsible,and even when as far as insulting my father who I just lost in June 29, 2008. I didnt go to counseling to appear like a martyr, nor did I go there to be humiliate deven further. Well I am very sad and confused, because, I thought marriage was for life and that both people had to work together to build upon all the positive aspect of their marriage. If you have any comments or suggestions please feel free to post them. I keep reading marriage quotes from the bible, and yet I feel as though I have been made to feel like a fool that I am trying to live by them. I have my faults, my I am a loyal, caring wife and I love my husband very much, I dont want to get separated. H e has told me that he has no feeling and that he feels a separation would be a good idea. Please help me with some suggestions or prayers. Thanks

  11. February 28, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Keeping the faith,

    Thanks for writing. I’m sorry about the marriage situation. I want you to know that we are not Roman Catholic here at this blog. We believe that salvation comes by grace through faith alone, not by works. That is what is more important than anything for you. It will help more than anything for your marriage.

    Here is a link that will be of great help with an article in pdf.


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