Why Adulterous Marriages Must Be Terminated

Jesus said in Matt 19:9a “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery.”  So if a person divorces their spouse for any reason other than fornication and marries another, Jesus calls that second marriage adultery.

Passages like I Cor 6:9-10 say “adulterers” (among other type sinners) “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” – they won’t be saved.  But one can repent of adultery and be forgiven just like any other sin.  The question is – how does one repent of adultery in an unscriptural marriage?

Let’s start to answer that question by talking about what adultery is.  Vines Bible Dictionary defines “adulterer” as “one who has unlawful intercourse with the spouse of another”.”  So adultery involves sexual intercourse.  We see this also from:

  • John 8:4 “They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.” – the woman was not caught in a wedding ceremony but she was caught having sex with a man other than her husband
  • Heb 13:4 “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” – adultery is something committed in the bed
  • Matthew 5:28 “… whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” – not fantasizing about a wedding ceremony

Now if adultery involves sexual intercourse, then we can see why a couple who are married in violation of verses like Matt 19:9 can’t just say “I am sorry” and stay in their marriage.  Because every time they sleep together the sin is repeated; they commit adultery.  Repentance leads to quitting a sin.  We see this from Matt 21:28-29 where a son was asked to go work in his father’s vineyard.  At first he said “I will not:  but afterward he repented, and went.”  His repentance there was a change of mind that led to a change of action.  So repentance means those who steal must quit stealing (Eph 4:28); those who cuss must quit cussing (Eph 4:29); those who lie must quit lying (Rev 21:8); those in homosexual relationships must terminate those relationships (Rom 1:26-27); and those in adulterous marriages must quit committing adultery; they must terminate those marriages (Luke 16:18).  There are no ifs ands or buts about it.

We see this fact illustrated by a story that occurred while the Old Testament was still in effect.  We learn from secular history that Herod had divorced his wife and Herodias had divorced her husband.  Now notice what Mark 6:17-18 states about this marriage – “For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her.  For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.”  John the Baptist didn’t just say it was unlawful for Herod to have married Herodias; he said it was unlawful for Herod to have her.

Here in Alabama we have a law against smoking marijuana, a law against selling marijuana, and just in case someone claimed they were going to do neither with their marijuana, a law against possessing marijuana.  So if you live in Alabama and you possess some marijuana and you want to get back right within the law, what would you have to do with that marijuana?  You would have to throw it in the garbage or give it to the police, because it is not lawful to have it.  It is the same with an adulterous marriage.  If it is not lawful for you to have her, then you must get rid of her, that is, terminate the marriage, right?

Jesus went on to say in Matthew 19:9b “whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”  So when a divorce occurs, not only is it wrong for the one doing the divorcing to remarry; it is also wrong for the one who was put away to remarry.  Neither party may remarry.  Why?

I like to say Matt 19:9 states the facts of the case, the divorced commit adultery if they remarry, while Rom 7:2-3 states the reason.  Here’s how that passage reads – “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.  So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.”  So the reason it is wrong for divorced people to remarry is because they are bound (obligated) to one another for life.  Just because the state of Alabama says I have a right to remarry a second time, that doesn’t mean God gives me that right.  He expects me to stay with my wife till she dies, and so if I divorce her for a reason other than fornication and remarry, I am committing adultery (cheating) against her because I am still obligated to her; I am still supposed to be married to her.

Sometimes preachers try to justify staying in second marriages with excuses like “that’s too hard especially with kids.”  But Ezra 10:11,44 illustrates that having kids doesn’t change this iniquity problem.  There the Israelites who married women they weren’t supposed to marry were required to separate from those wives, and the fact that some had children by the forbidden marriage didn’t change that required course of action.

Some say you shouldn’t terminate an adulterous marriage because they say “two wrongs don’t make a right.”  I agree two wrongs never make a right, but in this case, terminating an unscriptural marriage is not a wrong; it is a correct course of action; it is a requirement.  What if I did wrong by taking on a second wife (polygamous)?  Would it be a second wrong to repent and break up with the second wife, and go back to being monogamous with the first?

A passage that illustrates having to leave a spouse because it is the right thing to do is Luke 18:29 which reads “And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.”  Why would anybody ever have to leave their wife for the kingdom of God’s sake?; I thought God wanted us to stay with our spouses?  Well, if we are married to a woman we have no right to after an unscriptural divorce, then Matt 19:9 calls that marriage adulterous, and so we would have to leave that wife for the kingdom of God’s sake.

Noting how clear these passages are on divorce and remarriage, a friend recently asked me why so many preachers don’t hold to the truth on the subject.  I submitted the following quotes to him to possibly explain why:

  • Some conservative groups believe that divorced people who marry another spouse are living in sin.  However, the number of divorces in the United States has led most denominations away from that teaching. – Anthony Dunnavant in the Orange County (California) Register
  • The (Presbyterian USA) church should “re-evaluate its definition of sin to reflect the changing mores of society. … We feel that marriage is not what legitimates sexual gratification.”  (Roll Over John Calvin, Time Magazine, 5-6-91, p.59)
  • … the Rev. Gene Robinson (first gay bishop in the Episcopal Church) … cited the examples of ordaining women priests and accepting divorce in the church as departures … “Just simply saying it departs from … Scripture does not necessarily make it wrong.” (Birmingham News, Aug 6, 2003)

So preachers and churches have not changed on this issue over the last several decades because of honest investigation of the scriptures.  Instead it is because they have lost respect for the scriptures as their source of religious authority.

Conclusion:  If one can see why a gay marriage must be terminated upon repentance (to be right with God), then apply the same logic to adulterous marriages.  It’s that simple.