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Matthew 5:31-32

Adultery and Divorce

31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.


The popular views of marriage in Jerusalem during Jesus' days were every bit as misguided as they are in the United States today. There were primarily two schools of thought on the matter. The followers of Hillell believed that a man could divorce his wife for even the most frivolous of reasons, while the followers of Shammai believed that only adultery justified divorce. In either case the wife had no right of divorce.

These beliefs stemmed from the writing of Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which states that a woman could be divorced if she found no favour in her husbands eyes because of her uncleanness, i.e. sexual misconduct (v. 1), or if her husband hated her (v.3).

Jesus settled the argument with this brief teaching on divorce, but would elaborate in more detail later in His ministry. (See 19:3-12) In this sermon, however, He focused on the adultery factor in divorces.

Notice how He begins with a shortened form of His previous introductory statements: "It hath been said..." The reason for this is that He was not speaking of a commandment, because there was no commandment which permitted divorce for any reason. As He explains in 19:8, divorce is only permitted because of the "hardness" of the hearts of the people.

This hardness was found in their inability to forgive a wife who had done something sexually immoral, such as adultery. Jesus specifically used the Greek word "porneia" which can be applied to any sexual immorality. Such immorality violates the marriage contract and sets the husband free from his obligations there under. Since the wife had no such rights and, therefore, divorcing a husband was unheard of, Jesus did not approach the subject. There is no reason to believe, however, that the same standards would not be applied to a wife whose husband was sexually immoral.

Any other reason for divorce is unacceptable, because it forces a woman into a situation where she could not remarry without committing adultery. Likewise, if the husband remarried, he not only committed adultery, but also caused his new wife to commit adultery.

Of course, there is no legitimate excuse for adultery nor for causing someone to commit adultery and, therefore, Jesus clarifies that divorce is unacceptable, unless there has already been some act of sexual immorality which would nullify the marriage contract.

Marriage is more than a contract between two parties. It is a contract between husband, wife and God. God is the controlling party in that contract. He has controlling interest in all that is involved in that contract, including the spiritual life and well being of the family, the children, the relationships between the family members etc. When entering into marriage, we must understand the significance of entering into a contract with God. before contemplating divorce or the commission of adultery, our focus should be on the significance of breaking a contract with God.

Before The Throne:

If you are married, pray for your spouse and children. Ask God to secure a strong family bond for your family. Ask Him to keep both yourself and your spouse from the temptations of sexual immorality. If you are yet unmarried, pray for the spouse that God has selected for you. Pray that He would help you to remain sexually pure, so that you can enter into a legitimate marriage relationship sanctified by Him. Also pray for your church family and anyone whom you know that is struggling with marital problems. If you have been divorced, thank God that Jesus has also paid for that sin along with all the others.

For Further Study:

(v.31) ** whosoever. Matt 19:3, 7; Deut 24:1-4; Jer 3:1; Mark 10:2-9l

(v.32) ** I say. Luke 9:30, 35; whosoever. Matt 19:8-9; Mal 2:14-16; Mark 10:5-12; Luke 16:18; Rom 7:3; 1Cor 7:4, 10-11;

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