There are a number of issues involved in the above question. We shall notice them as follows: first of all the issue of what constitutes adultery. There are some today who teach that in Mt. 19:9 and 5:32 the adultery spoken of is not a sexual act, but merely “breaking wedlock.” Based on this assumption, they claim that when a divorce is secured for purposes other than fornication the individual who gets the divorce is guilty of adultery because they broke wedlock. John L. Edwards, one of the proponents of this theory, says in his book Marriage and Divorce that “it is the act of destroying the marriage that is adultery, according to Jesus.” Again “Adultery is committed if one divorces a faithful spouse (this action is adultery).” Another quote: “We conclude that adultery is the breaking of a covenant.” As a result of this new twist, one can divorce and remarry for any reason, as many times as they please, merely make a confession, and continue to live with that particular mate. There are, however, serious flaws with this teaching. In Mt. 19:9 Jesus says “Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” In this verse Jesus makes both divorce and remarriage necessary in order to commit adultery. The Bible does not say the very thing necessary in order for this theory to fly. In fact the Bible says the very opposite. In Mt. 5:32 Jesus said “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” The man who marries this divorced woman had no part in the break up of the marriage, yet he commits adultery. If adultery is covenant breaking, what covenant has this man broken? The theory just won’t work. Another thing wrong with this teaching is the fact that it contradicts what the Greek lexicons say about the meaning of the word translated adultery. Both J.H. Thayer and W. E. Vine, two outstanding lexicographers, define the word adultery in Mt. 19:9 and 5:32 to mean the sexual act. Thayer “to have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife, to commit adultery with.” While the word adultery may be used figuratively, there is no hint by either of these scholars that it is used figuratively in these passages. It is passing strange to me that some of our own brethren who for years have hung their hat on Thayer and Vine who both say that “cup” in Mt. 26:27 is literal, now want to deny them on the definition of adultery. What happens, then, when a man divorces his wife for reasons other than fornication and marries again. Jesus said they commit adultery. The adultery is committed when the second marriage takes place. If there are no illicit sexual relations, no second marriage, there is no adultery. The second issue that is involved in this teaching is that of repentance. What constitutes repentance when adultery is committed? It seems to me that the answer is both simple and obvious i.e. the very same thing that must be done when any sin is committed. One must, with godly sorrow in his heart, resolve to cease the action that is sinful. Once the action is ceased, the fruit of repentance is evident. “Let him that stole, steal no more” Eph. 4:28. The thief must cease stealing if he is to be forgiven. The drunkard must stop getting drunk, the liar must stop lying, the homosexual must stop his homosexual activity, the heterosexual must stop his fornicating, and idol worshipper must cease worshipping idols. Those who claim that such a position makes “adultery” an unforgivable sin, miss the point. Adultery can be forgiven just like any other sin, but the one committing adultery must stop it. Merely making a confession won’t get the job done. Making a confession is not repentance. Those who teach this false doctrine are on record as saying that one can divorce and remarry, for any reason, as many as one hundred times, and as long as they make a confession they can go right on living with spouse number one hundred. Who can believe it? The seriousness of this situation is seen when one considers that some sincere, but deluded, individuals are in marriage situations that will ultimately condemn them, it they do not repent. May God help us to take the right road, rather than the easy one. Souls hang in the balance.
Published in the OPA August, 2002