Category Archives: Adultery


The early “Church Fathers” were a group of Christians who lived after the time of the apostles. Before considering the early “Church Fathers” conclusion on any subject, one must understand that their writings are not scripturally authoritative. It needs to be observed that the early “Church Fathers” had no more advantage to interpretation than we do today. None of their teachings were in direct association with Jesus or the disciples.

It is also important to note that none of these “fathers” were Jewish. Their ignorance of the Jewish context could certainly explain their misunderstanding on different subjects. A common teaching in the early church had to do with the way these “Church Fathers” understood Hebrews 6:4-8 and 10:26-21. Many took these passages to mean that “one could only repent once and any sin committed after baptism would be unforgivable” (Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, p. 241). It would also be fair to say that some of their views were tainted through their Roman and Gentile upbringing and philosophies. Justin Martyr was a philosopher before he converted to Christianity and it can be easily understood how the positions of these “fathers” were tainted by Greek philosophical beliefs (such as Plato’s Symposium, etc.).

It regards to marriage during the first century, one needs to keep in mind that there was already a strong movement against any marriage (1 Tim. 4:3; Keener, C. S. 1997. Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments. R. Martin, P. Davids, eds. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity). These non-Jewish writers were heavily influenced by their Roman and Greek philosophies. They held to very strong views of asceticism. Some of the “fathers” even opposed the remarriage of widows and widowers (1 Tim. 5:14; Tertullian, Monogamy, Chap. 9.). Abstinence, even within marriage, was encouraged (Neander, Augustus. 1880. History of Planting and Training of the Christian Church. London, England: Bell & Sons).

We also have to be careful when saying what the early church did or didn’t believe, especially when we have limited texts on many subjects. One of the reasons so many texts of the early “Church Fathers” are debated is because it can be difficult and a bit subjective when trying to ascertain the exact meaning. Many of these writings could be argued either way because of the lack of context and clarity. When writing about the “Church Fathers” conclusions, Ferguson points out the following.

“The gathering of many texts with limited comments may leave a false impression of homogeneity. Sometimes even when texts seem to agree, the different contexts from which they come may show a diversity in doctrinal viewpoint” (Early Christians Speak, Ferguson. p. 10).

There are several texts from early church history that would favor that some in the early church believed that remarriage was possible and permissible after a divorce. The Epitome of the Divine Institutes taught that marriage is dissolved by unfaithfulness.

“But as a woman is bound by the bonds of chastity not to desire any other man, so let the husband be bound by the same law, since God has joined together the husband and wife in the union of one body. On this account, He has commanded that the wife shall not be put away unless convicted of adultery, and that the bond of conjugal compact shall never be dissolved, unless unfaithfulness have broken it” (Epitome of the Divine Institutes, 250-325 AD.).

Clement of Alexandra implied that not all have the gift to remain unmarried after divorce.

“After his words about divorce some asked him whether, if that is the position in relation to women, it is better not to marry; and it was then that the Lord said; ‘Not all can receive this saying, but those to whom it is granted.’ What the questioners wanted to know was whether, when a man’s wife has been condemned for fornication, it is allowable for him to marry another” (Stromata, iii. 6.60; Clement of Alexandria 150-215 AD.).

Origen taught that marriages could be dissolved through fornication. The implication would be that if a marriage is dissolved, then a remarriage could take place.

“The Savior does not at all permit the dissolution of marriages for any other sin than fornication alone” (Roberts and Donaldson 1995, 9:511; Origen, 245 AD.).

From the writings of Origen, we learn that he believed that marriage can be dissolved in the case of fornication. We also learn that there were those during this time who permitted divorce and remarriage for reasons other than fornication. There were enough churches and church leaders teaching multiple reasons for divorce to warrant Origen’s addressing of the situation. In his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Origen states the following.

“But now contrary to what was written, some even of the rulers of the church have permitted a woman to marry, even where her husband was living, doing contrary to what was written, where it is said, ‘A wife is bound for so long time as her husband lives’ and ‘So then if while her husband lives, she shall be joined to another man she shall be called and adulteress.’ Not indeed altogether without reason, for it is probable this concession was permitted in comparison with worse things, contrary to what was from the beginning ordained by law, and written” (Commentary on Matthew, Origen, 14, 23).

Origen is basing his conclusion based upon a misunderstanding of Paul’s writings, but the information here is important because it shows that church leaders were allowing divorce and remarriage for causes other than fornication. He speculates that perhaps it was permitted in comparison with “worse things.”

 “The references in patristic writings to divorce can be classified according to the attitude presented in them toward the doctrine of divorce and remarriage as reflected in the New Testament. Some passages would seem to indicate that divorce is impossible; others mention the exception clause found in Matthew’s Gospel; other statements make no mention of the exception clause and are not clear about the possibility of divorce and remarriage; and finally, one category seems to indicate that divorce and remarriage are possible on grounds other than the “adultery” of the exception clause (Divorce and Remarriage in the Early Church, Pat E. Harrell, p. 174).

Even though the early church held to some very radical and unbiblical views of marriage and divorce, there is zero evidence that they ever demanded divorce as a means of repentance if one was remarried after a divorce. Consider the following from the Synod of Elvira (around the beginning of the 4th century):

“Women who without any precedent cause have left their husbands and joined themselves to others, may not have communion even at the last” (Canon 8 of Synod of Elvira).

“A Christian woman who has left an adulterous Christian husband and married another, must be forbidden to do so; but if she has married, she may not receive communion till he whom she has left be dead; unless some mortal sickness compels one to give it to her” (Canon 8 of Synod of Elvira).

“If a woman who has been divorced by a catechumen has been married to another husband, she may nevertheless be admitted to baptism. The same rule is to be followed as regards female catechumens” (ibid, Canon 10).

At best (or worst), the punishment was not being able to take communion. Nothing is said about divorcing. It is interesting to note that only the woman was not allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper (nothing is said about the man). Also, they were not forbidden baptism. This is why Professor William Luck says the following.

The early traditions of the Church are not ‘nearly unanimous’ against all remarriage after divorce as some claim. It is more correct to present the evidence as a nearly unanimous prohibition of the remarriage of wives and guilty male spouses” (, William Luck).

When looking to early church history, it can hardly be argued that there was universal agreement on doctrine pertaining to marriage and divorce. In fact, one could almost argue that no two early “Church Fathers” completely agreed on every aspect of marriage and divorce based upon the writings we have from them. Based solely on the texts we have from the early “Church Fathers,” we could summarize the marital and divorce beliefs of the early church as follows: (1) Some were opposed to all marriage. (2) Some were opposed to the remarriage of wives and guilty male spouses. (3) Some believed fornication was a reason to dissolve marriage. (4) Some believed reasons in addition to fornication could dissolve marriage. (4) No writings indicate that anyone believed that one had to divorce their subsequent spouse in order to repent.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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There are some who believe that if someone is in a subsequent marriage after a divorce, they must divorce again in order to repent. As we will see in this article, this belief is contrary to the Bible. If someone wants to affirm that repentance for subsequent marriages after unlawful divorces would necessitate another divorce, then they would be obligated to prove such.

There is no biblical evidence that a divorce was ever required in order to repent of a marriage entered into after an unlawful divorce. The fact that there is no instruction under the New Law for anyone to ever divorce in order to repent on the basis of being in a subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce becomes even stronger when considering the context.

Divorce (for any reason) and remarriage were extremely common during the first century and the surrounding centuries. In fact, it can be proven that many, if not the majority, of the Jews and Romans were divorcing and remarrying. Many Jewish and Roman males and females would have been unlawfully divorced by Jesus’ standards and remarried at least once (if not multiple times). This is not a debatable point, but a biblical and historical fact.

If indeed a subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce required further divorce, why is there no evidence of such? David Instone-Brewer, a Rabbinics scholar at Tyndale House in Cambridge, put it this way:

There is nothing to suggest that Jesus asked anyone to separate from the second husband or wife if one remarried after an invalid divorce” (Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Marriage in the Bible, pg. 152, 183). “…remarriage after divorce was a fundamental right in the first-century world, and it was often regarded as an obligation. Thus, the New Testament writers knew that they would have to enunciate their teaching extremely clearly and unambiguously if they wanted to teach the opposite of this universally held view” (ibid., p, 299).

There is not a single time that we read of anyone under the New Law being told to get out of their current marriage in order to repent on the basis of being in a subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce. This is absent from the Scriptures, absent from any Jewish writings, absent from any Roman writings, absent from any antagonistic writings and absent from any early church writings. Due to the cultural and societal circumstances, certainly there would be something written about this if the Christian movement was causing a score of divorces (or if they were teaching others that they had to divorce in order to repent). Yet, there is no evidence.

Aside from there being no evidence, several fundamental questions could be raised. For example, if it was the case that one had to divorce in order to repent of a subsequent marriage, would that mean that those who had remarried after an unlawful divorce under the Old Law have to divorce their spouse as soon as Jesus began correctly teaching on marriage and divorce? Could one, who had remarried before Jesus began teaching on marriage remain remarried when the New Covenant was established? Would every Jew on Pentecost in Acts 2 who had remarried after an unlawful divorce under the Old Law, have to divorce their spouse they had remarried in order to repent? The fact of the matter is that there is no historical or biblical evidence of anyone being told to leave their subsequent marriage in order to repent.

The reason Jesus gave the command on marriage and divorce was to put a stop to divorce, not propagate it. If repentance demanded further divorce in the case of a subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce, then this understanding has Jesus’ teaching resulting in the very opposite of what it was meant to do in the first place.

We should always look at Scripture as a whole. What did Paul tell those who were married? He told them not to divorce (1 Cor. 7:10). He didn’t say, “to those who are in their first marriage…” Keep in mind, Paul was writing to the epicenter of immorality. Both Paul and Jesus admonished and commanded that the married stay married and not divorce. The number of marriages one had at that time didn’t negate or null the fact that their current marriage was still a real marriage (e.g., Jn. 4:18).

God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). Telling individuals that God wants them to divorce in order to repent of their divorce is like telling a murderer to murder more in order to repent of their murder or telling a man to steal in order to repent of stealing.

You don’t repent of doing something by doing more of it. You repent by ceasing the action. Jesus was trying to put a stop to divorce, not propagate further divorce in subsequent marriages.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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In the Greek language, the phrase “commits adultery” is present indicative in Matthew 19:9. In the Greek, the present indicative usually carries with it the force of continuation. Some have made the argument based upon the Greek language that one is continuing in adultery as long as they continue in a subsequent marriage after their divorce. In this article, I am going to explain why such is not the case.

First, the present indicative doesn’t necessitate continued action and can refer to a completed action. Professor Osburn states it this way:

“…Greek syntax requires that each occurrence of the present indicative be understood in terms of its context to determine whether continuity is involved. The context of Matt. 19:3-12 involves a discussion of general truth, as a ‘gnomic present’ in which continuity is not under consideration…” (Carroll Osburn, The Present Indicative in Matt. 19:9. Restoration Quarterly Corporation, Abilene, Taxes, Vol. 24, No. 4, 1981. p. 193; See also: Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 517; Robertson, The Grammar of the Greek New Testament In Light of Historical Research, Nashville, Tenn,; Broadman Press, 1934, p. 864-865).

Therefore, it is erroneous to assume that an action must be continual just because it is in the present indicative.

Second, continuous action is not even the chief usage of the present indicative in the gospel of Matthew. Brother Clinton Hicks studied through every occurrence of the present indicative found in the gospel of Matthew. Here were his results:

  • Of the 719 occurrences of the present indicative in Matthew, 448 were in the “Not Under Consideration Category.” In other words, these examples didn’t have a bearing either way.
  • 226 occurrences were in the “Definitely Not Continuous Action Category.”
  • Only 45 were in the “Must Be Continuous Action Category” (Clinton Hicks, The Abuse of the Present Indicative, A guide research paper presented to professor Richard Oster, Harding Graduate School of Religion, Memphis, Tennessee, Harding School of Religion Library, p. 33-34).

This means that the dominant usage of the present indicative in the gospel of Matthew is used for completed action, not continual action. In fact, it is used as completed action five times more than continual action.  Therefore, if someone wanted to strictly argue from the use of the present indicative in the gospel of Matthew, it would favor a past, completed action and not an ongoing action due to its usage in the gospel of Matthew.

Third, Matthew 19:9 is dealing with hypothetical time. When one accepts the concept of hypothetical time in writing, then any argument pertaining to tense when hypothetical time is involved becomes frivolous. This explains the vast difference of mixed tenses in the marital teachings of Jesus throughout the gospel accounts. The tenses found in the marital teachings of Jesus are anything but uniform. Let me explain.

For example, in Matthew 5:32a, the divorcing is present tense and the adultery committed is aorist. In Matthew 5:32b, the divorcing is in the perfect tense, the remarrying is aorist, and the adultery is in the present. In Luke 16:18, the first saying of Jesus has the divorcing, the remarrying and the adultery in the present tense. But in saying two, the divorcing is in the perfect tense, while the remarrying and adultery are in the present tense. In Mark 10:11-12, the divorcing and marrying are in the perfect, while the adultery is in the present. In Matthew 19:9, the first saying has the divorcing and remarrying in the perfect and the adultery in the present. But the second saying has the divorce in the perfect, the remarrying in the aorist and the adultery in the present. Below I have broken it down by action:

  • Divorce(Present: Mt. 5:32a; Lk. 16:18a; Perfect: Mt. 5:32b; Lk. 16:18b; Mk. 10:10-12; Mt. 19:9a; Mt. 19:9b).
  • Marries Another(Aorist:  5:32b; Mt. 19:9b; Present: Lk. 16:18a; Lk. 16:18b; Perfect: Mk. 10:10-12; Mt. 19:9a).
  • Commits Adultery (Aorist: Mt. 5:32a; Present: Mt. 5:32b; Lk. 16:18a; Lk. 16:18b; Mk. 10:10-12; Mt. 19:9a; Mt. 19:9b).

As we can see, when we compare the narratives, there is little uniformity among the tenses in the marital teachings. According to Bible Historian William Luck and Hebrew Scholar Dr. John Walton, the reason behind this mixed bag of tenses is because hypothetical time is not a constant (Kevin Pendergrass, Dr. Luck, E-mail Correspondence, April 29-May 1st, 2015). A hypothetical situation deals with time that may have already happened, is currently happening or may happen in the future (or a combination of mixed time). Therefore, it is faulty to make an argument on the Greek tense when hypothetical time is involved.

If one wants to reason that the adultery is an ongoing state in Matthew 19:9 simply on the basis of the present indicative, then one would also have to reason that the divorce attained unlawfully is an ongoing state of sin as well since it is in the present indicative in Matthew 5:32 and Luke 16:18. When one divorces (or was divorced) unlawfully, even if they remain single, they are in a constant state of separating what God has joined together (Mt. 19:6) regardless if they remarry. Yet, this doesn’t mean one can’t remain single after an unlawful divorce just because it is in the present indicative any more than it would mean one can’t remain in their new marriage after an unlawful divorce just because it is in the present indicative.

In other words, if one wants to base their argument solely upon this faulty understanding of the present tense, then remaining single after obtaining an unlawful divorce is just as sinful as remarrying after obtaining an unlawful divorce since both actions (divorce and adultery) are seen in the present indicative in the marital teachings of Jesus. Obviously, this conclusion is nonsensical and demonstrates why one should abstain from making Greek tense arguments when dealing with hypothetical time.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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What sin was Jesus condemning in His marital teachings in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9? Was He teaching against divorce? Was He teaching against remarriage after divorce? Was He teaching against both divorce and remarriage after divorce? In order to answer these questions, we have to look at the word “adultery” and see how Jesus was using this word in the context. Whatever conclusion we arrive at, it must be backed by the proper evidence and it must be consistent with the rest of the biblical teaching on this subject. Consider the true story below.

There was a woman at a church who had obtained a divorce unlawfully when she was younger. Years had gone by and she was in her upper 70′s. She and a male member at her church began talking and becoming close friends. She found out that he also had been divorced unlawfully many years ago. In fact, he had an affair 30 years ago that caused the divorce with his former wife. After years of talking, this man and woman ended up forming a close relationship and they desired to get married.

She told the preacher that they, by mutual consent, were not going to be involved in any sexual relations with one another. She explained to the preacher that because of their older age, their desire was companionship and not sexual relations. In fact, due to physicality, the man was not able to be involved in sexual relations. She continued telling her preacher, “I understand that years ago I obtained my divorce unlawfully per Matthew 19:9, but I have asked God to forgive me. He has asked God to forgive him. Can we marry? Or, would we be guilty of committing adultery even if no sexual relations take place?”

What does adultery mean in the marital teachings of Jesus? How did He use the word “adultery” and how should it be understood in this context? We are going to examine the different possibilities in following articles and see which position(s) makes the most logical sense and which position(s) should be rejected.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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Below are several other possible meanings of adultery in the marital teachings of Jesus.


Hyperbole is a common utilized type of speech found in the Bible when emphasizing deliberate exaggeration. This view states that Jesus was using the word adultery here for deliberate exaggeration.

The evidence for this view finds itself in the context on the Sermon on the Mount. In this context, Jesus figuratively equates lust with adultery and hate with murder (Mt. 5:21-30). He then proceeds to speak about plucking one’s eye out and cutting one’s hand off if it causes them to sin (Mt. 5:29-30). It is within these contexts that Jesus speaks about unlawful divorce and marriages attained unlawfully as being adultery. Therefore, the conclusion must be that Jesus is using the same kind of hyperbole when it comes to marriage and divorce.

  • Hate= Murder (figurative hyperbole)
  • Lust= Adultery (figurative hyperbole)
  • Sin= Cutting out eye and cutting off hand (figurative hyperbole)
  • Unlawful divorce/marriage= Adultery (figurative hyperbole)

The argument is that since Jesus used hyperbole here, it would follow suit that the other marital teachings of Jesus must also be viewed through hyperbole.


This view teaches that Jesus was using the word adultery to teach that the actions of unlawful divorce and remarriages attained unlawfully are acts of unfaithfulness.

In the Old Testament, adultery was primarily used to figuratively describe the unfaithfulness of the Jews (e.g., Jer. 3:6-9; 5:7; 13:25-27; Ezek. 6:9; 23:36; Hosea 1:1).

In the New Testament, Jesus used the word adultery to speak of unfaithful actions:

But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Mt. 12:39)

A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away (Mt. 16:4)

Jesus was not accusing that whole generation of sexual sin but of tempting God and being unfaithful.

It was also not at all uncommon for the Apostolic Church Fathers to understand adultery as general unfaithfulness. For example, 2 Clement 4:3 says:

“Whoever acts as the heathen do, commits adultery.”

The Shepherd of Hermas says:

“Now they commit adultery, not only who pollute their flesh, but who also make an image. If therefore a woman perseveres in anything of this kind, and repents not, depart from her, otherwise thou also shalt be partaker of her sin” (Commands 4:9).

These two quotes show that the word adultery in the early church could reference general unfaithfulness.


This view states that Jesus was using the word “adultery” to describe an invalid divorce & remarriage. That is, it shouldn’t have happened, but it did.

Since the divorce and remarriage was invalid according to the law, then it would have been considered “adulterous.” As Instone-Brewer states:

Jesus said that a person who remarried after an invalid divorce was technically committing adultery. Jesus was merely stating the logical outcome of remarriage after an invalid divorce, in order to show how serious it was. Therefore, although divorce without valid grounds is wrong, it still marks the end of a marriage. You were wrong to divorce and remarry if you didn’t have real grounds for a divorce, but God forgives those who repent. It would be an additional wrong to do the same thing again.

In conclusion, the above information is provided to show you some different beliefs and the reasons behind them when it comes to determining how Jesus was using the word adultery in His marital teachings.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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In the marital teachings of Jesus, how is Jesus using the term adultery? In this article, we will be examining the view that states Jesus was condemning the act of covenant breaking. This view teaches that Jesus was condemning the practice of unlawfully breaking wedlock. Therefore, when Jesus uses the word adultery in His marital teachings, He is using this word to condemn the act of covenant breaking. There is quite a bit of evidence which proves that the word adultery in Matthew 19:9 can mean someone who breaks their marriage or their covenant.


When one appeals to the lexicons, they will find a scarce amount of etymology for the word adultery. The reason is because the original meaning of the Greek “moich” words (3428 through 3432) has apparently been lost. Popular references (such as Thayer and Vine) give no etymology for the “moich words,” but briefly translate them “adultery.” This means lexicons will do us little to no good in determining the actual meaning(s) of adultery. Instead, we must reply upon context and history to determine the possible meanings for the word adultery.

The Septuagint, Mainstream English Translations & Dictionaries

The same word for adultery in Matthew 19:9 is used in the LXX in Ezekiel 16:38. This word is translated as “break wedlock” in Ezekiel 16:38 by the following versions: KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV, BRG and the Amplified Version. Ezekiel 16:38 says:

“And I will judge thee, as women that break wedlock (commit adultery) and shed blood are judged; and I will give thee blood in fury and jealousy.”

One of the definitions in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible defines this Hebrew term adultery to mean “woman that breaketh wedlock.

W.E. Vine states:

“…in Israel the breach of their relationship with God through their idolatry, was described as ‘adultery’ or ‘harlotry…’

In describing James 4:4 and the word adultery, Guy N. Woods makes the following observation:

“…The American Standard Translators regard (moichalides) “adulteresses” to be figuratively used in this instance is evident from the marginal reading, ‘That is, who break your marriage vows to God” (Guy N. Wood, A Commentary On The Book Of James, Gospel Advocate, Co., Nashville, Tennessee).

Early English Translations

Pre-King James translations use the word “avowteria” or the phrase “break marriage” to translate moichaomai. “Avowteria” is not listed in current dictionaries, but seems to mean “vow-breaking.” The earliest English Bible translators understood this word adultery to mean “break wedlock” in the marital teachings of Jesus. In 1525, William Tyndale translated the word “adultery” as “break wedlock” several times in His translation. In his translation, Matthew 5:32 reads:

“It is said, whosoever put away his wife, let him give her a testimonial of her divorcement. But I say unto you: whosoever put away his wife, (except it be for fornication) causeth her to break matrimony. And whosoever marrieth her that is divorced, breaketh wedlock.”

The Great Bible (1539-1540) is another early English translation that translates “adultery” as “break wedlock/matrimony” several times as well.

An interesting side note is that the German translations of Mt.19.9 do not use a word akin to our English understanding of “adultery,” but translate moichaomai as “bricht die Ehe,” which literally means “breaks the marriage.”


When examining the terms “adultery” and “treachery,” one will find that the words are closely related in the Old Testament. In his in-depth study on how the terms adultery and treachery are used together, Professor Luck comments on the idea of treachery. He states:

“What we have seen from our long trip through the Old Testament is that the term treachery, which Malachi uses to speak metaphorically of a situation which was adulterous, is also used of men divorcing their wives. Treachery is a strong term which speaks of breaking covenant. That is the primary meaning of the word throughout its long history of use.”(Luck, On the Possibility of Nonsexual Adultery).

The Immediate Context

The immediate context within Jesus’ marital teaching during the Sermon on the Mount involves keeping vows and not breaking your covenant (Mt. 5:33-37):

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”

What we can know with certainty is that many American Christians have relied too heavily upon the English word adultery in trying to determine the actual Greek meaning and its use in the marital contexts of Jesus’ teaching. Based upon the context and the aforementioned information in this article, I lean towards the belief that Jesus is using the word “adultery” to reference the sin of covenant breaking.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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To put it plainly, the most popular Americanized understanding of adultery is:

“voluntary sexual intercourse between a married man and someone other than his wife or between a married woman and someone other than her husband” (Merriam-Webster)

This is also one of the biblical definitions of adultery as well (see: Lev. 20:10; Jn. 8:40). Hebrews 13:4 says:

“let the bed be undefiled: for fornicators and adulterers God will judge”

Defiling the wedding bed clearly has a sexual connotation attached to it here in Hebrews 13:4 (See also: Gen. 49:4; 25:22; Rev.2:22; etc.). So, when Jesus used the word adultery in the contexts of His marital teachings, was He using it to condemn sexual relations in future marriages which take place after a divorce?

Summary of this View:

This view teaches that, even after a divorce, a couple is still married “in the eyes of God.” Therefore, if a divorce takes place and a subsequent marriage is formed, then the new couple is “committing adultery” against their original spouse every time they have sex with their new marriage partner. The only exception to this rule would be if the divorce takes place for fornication (Mt. 5:32; 19:9). If that happens, then the “innocent” party can remarry, but the “guilty” cannot remarry. If the guilty party does remarry, then they are guilty of adultery every time they have sex with their new spouse. The new spouse is also guilty of adultery because they are having sex with someone who was unlawfully divorced.

Critique of this View:

First, this belief is based upon the assumption that a couple is still married according to God even when a divorce takes place. This simply is not true. The Bible nowhere teaches this. On the contrary, divorce always has and always will dissolve marriages according to the Bible. Historically and biblically, a divorce intrinsically dissolved the marriage and granted the right to a remarriage.

Second, if in these contexts Jesus is only condemning sex in subsequent marriages after an unlawful divorce, then a remarriage is perfectly acceptable after an unlawful divorce. It would only be the future sex which would be sinful. Therefore, this position would imply that one can divorce and remarry as much as they want while being free of adultery as long as no sex takes place in those relationships. Granted, while marriage certainly implies sexual relations (Heb. 13:4; 1 Cor. 7:1-5), it doesn’t necessitate it.

Sexless marriage is not uncommon for the elderly and individuals who, based upon physicality, cannot have sexual relations but still desire to marry. Joseph and Mary didn’t have sexual relations until after Jesus was born (Mt. 1:24-25). The act of marrying is not a sexual act. If Jesus was only assuming a sex act here, that would exempt any couples from committing adultery as long as they don’t have sex. According to this logic, those incapable of sex (or those who choose not to have sex in marriage) can never be guilty of violating Matthew 19:9 as long as they don’t have sex.

On the other hand, if advocates of this position claim that Jesus was just using accommodative language and the adultery happens before the sex act (or at different times other than the sex act) in a subsequent marriage, then they have given up their view that says adultery must be a sex act in these contexts.

Third, consider another inconsistency with this view. This view says that if a man divorces his wife because of her fornication, the marriage has been dissolved and he can remarry, but she can’t remarry. But why? Why can’t she remarry? The common answer is, “because she will be committing adultery if she does.” But if the marriage has been dissolved, who would she be committing adultery against and how could she be committing adultery if she no longer has a husband?

If a man divorces his wife lawfully and he marries another, he is in a new marriage. But what about his “guilty” ex-wife? If she remarried, who would she be committing adultery against? To whom is she still married? She no longer has a husband, so how can she be committing adultery against a husband she doesn’t even have?

If one can be guilty of adultery in these contexts without committing a sex act and if one can be guilty of adultery in these contexts without still being married to their original spouse, then the “sexual intercourse with a future spouse” view must be dismissed. While the word “adultery” can be used to describe a married person who has sexual relations with someone other than their spouse, it is not being used in that sense in the marital teachings of Jesus for the aforementioned reasons.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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