Serious Questions about Divorce, Remarriage, and Adultery

Serious Questions

about Divorce, Remarriage, and Adultery

  • What does the Bible say about Divorce?
  • What does it say about the sin of Adultery?
  • How serious are these sins to God?


We know that a subject of this nature can be quite difficult to understand since it requires examining many different Scriptures and determining the relationship of one to the other. The subject can also be difficult to read without emotional involvement. Generally one reads about divorce and remarriage when he or she is in a second marriage. Or perhaps one has a loved one who is entangled in a second marriage.

Further, many extenuating circumstances seem to make the subject complex—or nearly impossible. Is there really anyone who is innocent or guilty? If so, how innocent and how guilty? What about a person who marries for the first time but he or she marries someone who has been married before? Then there is the tragedy of children. Ideally, children are meant to bring joy and meaning to life, but when a second—and forbidden—marriage brings a child into the world, what is to be done?

We also know that the question of whether a person was a Christian at the time of a divorce or a remarriage enters into the discussion. Does God not only forgive one’s illegitimate and sinful divorce but does He somehow “wipe out” the second marriage—and does He in some way make an adulterous relationship into a pure one?

Finally, we know that there are serious economic consequences to this matter. Being a single father or mother, after divorce, can bring severe financial hardship. Child support on the part of one of the divorced partners can be a grievous burden. And what if a remarried partner seeks to escape an adulterous remarriage—think of the financial consequences of such a move.

We have discussed some of this in Preliminary Studies on Divorce and Remarriage  and The Amazing Truth about Divorce and Remarriage. In this present study, we simply offer a brief introduction to the subject with some of the leading Biblical references. May God bless you in your personal study on a complex and troubling topic—one with lifelong and even eternity-long implications.

Serious Questions about Divorce,

Remarriage, and Adultery

Are you a divorced person?  Do you have a divorced friend or family member?  Or could it be that you are remarried after a previous divorce.  Maybe you know someone who has been or is presently involved in an “affair”—a relationship in which one of the parties is married.  Perhaps you, yourself, are tempted to pursue an affair!  A discussion on this topic probably would not have been needed a century ago, however at this time of history the topics of divorce, remarriage, and adultery must be addressed directly and clearly.  Very few people sought divorce after marriage in the past, but increasingly men and women take the divorce option when marital troubles arise.

As in every other situation of life, God speaks clearly on the subject of marriage.  Since God created men and women and was responsible for the marriage relationship (Genesis 2:18-24), we must ask what God thinks about divorce or the breaking of the marriage relationship.  The Creator of marriage has the right to speak about marriage that He has designed!  The Lord Jesus gives this brief summary: “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, 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” (Mark 10:6-9).  Since God has spoken, we must be willing to listen!

Many different issues relate to divorce and remarriage, therefore we cannot hope to explore all of them or discuss them adequately.  We’ve written a long book on the subject, entitled The Amazing Truth about Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage.  In this present treatment, we’ll discuss in brief form a few of the important facts we should consider.  We do know that divorce is a tragedy that ends a beautiful dream that two people probably had for a lifelong marriage.  In divorce, at least one person—and maybe both—may find life crumbling with a sense of anguish, betrayal, confusion, and hopelessness.  As we discuss this important topic, we must remember that you, as a reader, may have personally suffered the trauma of divorce and even now your heart may be in deep pain.  At the same time, we must clearly express the full will of God on this matter for the blessing of those who read (cf. Acts 20:20, 26-27).  God urges us to speak clearly on even difficult and troublesome topics (Ezek. 3:16-21; 18:20-32).

Basic Scriptures

As we have seen, when God created the woman for the man in the beginning (cf. 1 Cor. 11:8-9), He established certain basic principles that would last through earth history.  We noticed that Jesus said in marriage two people “are no longer two, but one flesh,” and what “God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mark 10:8-9).  Our Lord then explains and warns, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery” (vv. 11-12).  This means that if John divorces his wife, Sue, and marries Jane (another woman), he commits adultery.  On the other hand, if Sue divorces her husband, John, and marries Bob (another man), she commits adultery.

Another question we may have pertains not to the one who initiates the divorce but the one who is divorced by her husband.  Jesus speaks to this situation as well: “Everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery” (Matthew 5:32).  In this case, a woman who is divorced by her unfaithful husband commits adultery—presumably because she does not remain unmarried but marries another man.  A further question we may have relates to one who marries a woman who has been divorced by her husband.  Jesus addresses this situation in this way: “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery” (Luke 16:18).  “Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matt. 5:32).

As a summary, one who divorces his spouse and remarries commits adultery; one who is divorced by her husband and remarries commits adultery; and one who marries a woman who has been divorced also commits adultery.  One further passage may be of interest to us: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9).  Our Lord added one exception to this instance of divorce—that of sexual immorality on the part of the one divorced—but this phrase has been interpreted in a number of ways and we’ll not discuss all of these interpretations at this time.  We simply cite this to be more complete in our brief treatment here.

How Important is Adultery?

We have seen that adultery is committed when our Lord’s instructions on marriage and divorce are violated.  The Bible says, “The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; he who would destroy himself does it” (Prov. 6:32; cf. vv. 33-35; 7:1-27).  Actually, there are two kinds or two forms of adultery—the one that people assume and the other that they tend to overlook.  Consider the first form.  If two people are rightfully married (if they have a marriage approved by God), and one of the parties has an “affair” of sexual immorality with someone not the spouse, then that affair is adulterous.  It is adultery.  “Adultery” is “sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his or her lawful spouse.”  Generally, society condemns this unfaithfulness to the marriage relationship.  A surprisingly large number of people today are adulterers or adulteresses!

However, people today often overlook the second or other form of adultery that Jesus mentions.  We have already seen that adultery is also committed when a married person divorces his wife and marries another woman.  If the woman, in turn, remarries, she commits adultery.  And the person who marries either the original husband or wife likewise commits adultery.  Either of these two forms of adultery is serious for Scripture plainly says that God forbids both of them.  Jesus declared that adultery comes from the heart and “defiles” a person (Matt. 15:18-20).  Paul says that one who loves will observe God’s command, “You shall not commit adultery” (Rom. 13:9; cf. James 2:8-11).

We may give an illustration of the sin of adultery in Paul’s words: “The married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.  So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man” (Romans 7:2-3).  Paul gives general principles here, showing that a woman who is joined to a man other than her husband commits adultery—but if the original husband dies, she is permitted to marry another man (cf. 1 Cor. 7:10-11, 39).

The Seriousness of Adultery

Now that we have noticed common forms of adultery today, we may wonder how serious this sin is.  Although all sin is serious and brings spiritual death (Rom.6:22-23), let’s focus on the sin of adultery at this time.  The Hebrew writer tells us: “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (13:4).  At this time, we are particularly concerned about “adultery”—sexual immorality in which at least one party is married or joined to another person.  The Bible here says that God will judge or condemn the “adulterer”—the one guilty of adultery.

Notice another clear passage: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers . . . will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10).  Here we see that both fornicators and adulterers will be forbidden to enter the kingdom of God!  Do we want to enter God’s wonderful future Kingdom of love, joy, and blessedness?  Then we must not live a life of fornication or adultery!

Since adultery is a form of “sexual immorality,” from the Greek porneia, we may notice how serious this immorality is.  This term generally refers to all kinds of sexual sin—such as sexual relations between unmarried people, homosexuality, lesbianism, adultery, as well as any other form of sex sin.  Obviously, sexual immorality is a serious sin committed by vast numbers of people today!  Think of the number who commit fornication, who “live together” apart from marriage, who “shack up” in immorality, who have “one night stands.”  Since adultery is generally (but not always) viewed in Scripture as a form of “immorality,” let’s see what the Bible says about this sin.

God’s Word says that we are to “abstain from immorality” since we have been called for purity (1 Thess. 4:3, 7).  Jesus says that all sin, including both adultery and sexual immorality, “proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23).  Those guilty of immorality will be “judged” by or condemned by God (Heb. 13:4).  The wrath (anger) of God will come on those guilty of immorality (Col. 3:5-6); they will be kept from entering God’s kingdom (Eph. 5:5-6; Gal. 5:19-21); and they will not be allowed to enter the City of God (Rev. 22:15).  The sexual immoral will even be consigned to the burning lake of fire (Rev. 21:8).  In all of these places, it is clear that we must totally avoid all forms of sexual sin, including all forms of adultery!

Is There Any Hope?

As you have read all of these Scriptural truths, you may be confused, perplexed, or dismayed.  We don’t know your past, but perhaps you have committed one of the two forms of adultery—either unfaithfulness to the marriage covenant while still married to your first spouse or unfaithfulness after a wrongful remarriage.  In fact, you may presently be living in an adulterous relationship, as millions of other people are in our day.

If this describes you, perhaps you are wondering whether you can be forgiven.  Some even ask, “Have I committed the unpardonable sin?”  The good news is that God loves you and Christ Jesus died for your sins—including the sin of adultery—when He hung on the cross!  The Bible says that Jesus “gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4).  He “bore our sins in His body” when He died on the cross (1 Peter 2:24)!  “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (3:18).  You can be forgiven of adultery and every other sin through the Lord Jesus Christ!  Even if you have made this serious offence in the past, you may be completely forgiven by a loving God!

The key in coming to Christ is your willingness to turn from your sins.  “He who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Prov. 28:13).  Peter said, “Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:18).  This means that we must have a changed attitude toward sexual immorality—including adultery and every other sin.  We must be willing to turn from those sins and determine not to commit adultery again.  We must leave our adulterous relationships behind and begin to live a pure life before God.  We must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized into His death, denying ourselves and calling on Him as Lord, completely submitting ourselves to the will of God (John 3:14-18, 36; Mark 8:34-37; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:3-11).

Is there really forgiveness for you?  Yes, there can be—if you repent and turn from your adultery and every other sin against God.  Some of the Corinthians had been guilty of adultery, homosexuality, fornication, and other sins, but they had been willing to repent and turn from this lifestyle.  Paul writes, “Such [sinners] were some of you; but you were washed [cleansed from adultery], but you were sanctified [separated from sin], but you were justified [accepted as righteous] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).  When we are forgiven of sexual immorality, we must be determined to escape from it at all times.  Paul writes, “Flee immorality!” (1 Cor. 6:18).  “Flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace” (2 Tim. 2:22).

Jesus said that some people must totally forsake all romantic relationships to escape the trap of immorality or adultery.  God sometimes requires that we sacrifice what we passionately desire in order to have an eternal relationship with Him (cf. Phil. 3:7-11).  We must even put Christ before all human relationships (cf. Matt. 10:34-38; Luke 14:26-27).  You may need to give up your “affair.”  You may need to give up a spouse who rightfully doesn’t belong to you.  You may need to live in perpetual celibacy, renouncing all sexual expression—until your former mate dies, after which you would be permitted to enter a second marriage apart from adultery, if you desire (Matt. 19:12; Rom. 7:3; 1 Cor. 7:39).

It is true that you may need to take extreme measures to avoid wrongful sexual expression, since our sexuality is a natural part of our lives and since we are living in such a sexually-saturated society.  Jesus said that we must even avoid lustful or sexual looking at another person—which, in God’s sight, is the same as the act of adultery (Matt. 5:27-31).  Some people have “eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14).  We must avoid pictures, books, movies, music, the internet, and every other factor that stimulates inner passions and results in “mental adultery” that will condemn us.  If we renounce all forms of adultery and other sins, God is willing to forgive us and give us the power to overcome this pervasive sin.  You will have the strength and ability to live for God even in an immoral world (cf. Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:24-25; Eph. 3:16).  But it will be worth it in the end!  We will receive eternal life, enter the city of God, and enter His wonderful Kingdom one day—if we endure to the end (Mark 13:13; Rev. 2:10-11; 21:1-8).

Richard Hollerman


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