Tag Archives: Adultery

Divorce: Yeah, But…

Nobody goes through divorce without getting hurt.  If you have been hurt that way, it is understandable if you feel judged by Jesus’ blunt teaching about divorce (See: Handle with Care).  If you want to argue with Him, if you want to say, “Yeah, but…” you are not alone.

““Why then,” they [the Pharisees] asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”” (Matthew 19:7-9)

Moses didn’t command people to divorce, but permitted it as an accommodation to their hardheartedness.  And, once again, Jesus points us back to the original design of God for marriage: a lifelong oneness between a man and woman, formed by God, and protected by a mutual covenant of faithfulness.

Right after “You shall not murder,” the seventh commandment is “You shall not commit adultery.”  Although we tend to equate adultery with a sexual act, adultery, at its root, is any act that violates the marriage covenant of faithfulness.  Adultery goes against this solemn command:

“…Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”” (Matthew 19:6b)

Divorce is an act of adultery, Jesus taught, because it breaks the covenant of faithfulness, that is, unless it has already been broken.  Jesus wasn’t being judgmental.  He was teaching an important truth to help people stop hurting themselves.  He showed the same attitude when He spoke to the woman who had been caught in adultery:

“Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”” (John 8:10-11)

Think of marriage as a fertilized egg.  The shell is part of the egg, the part that protects the living and growing part and holds it together.  If you break the shell, you destroy the egg and it stops growing.  The mutual covenant of faithfulness pertains to much more than sexual behavior.  And faithfulness, like the shell of the egg, protects the living and growing part of a marriage.  If you break faithfulness, you damage and likely destroy the marriage.  Divorce certainly breaks it.

In effect, Jesus said, “Don’t do that to yourself; don’t break faithfulness with your spouse.”  I am convinced Jesus understands why people choose divorce.  He certainly knows the pain of betrayal.  But He does not back away from advocating the importance of living by God’s original design in marriage.  He knows it’s better.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.


“I did not have sex with that woman!”  Bill Clinton’s approach to morality was the ordinary one: Draw a line that defines what is going too far, and then you can tiptoe up to the line, as long as you do not step over it.  Sex, in his mind, was defined by the act of intercourse; as long as he did not cross that line, in his mind, he was not guilty.

Jesus’ view of morality is extraordinary.  Doing the right thing is not about staying on the good side of some arbitrary line; it’s about pursuing the heartbeat of God with all your heart.  It’s. about devoting oneself to the greater purpose behind a line or a law.

Jesus knew that a central component in God’s design for humanity was a covenant marriage relationship between a man and woman, established and maintained by faithfulness.  Not faithfulness as defined by Bill Clinton but faithfulness of the heart.  So He said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”. (Matthew 5:27-28)

Jesus taught that God’s intent was not to prevent adultery, as narrowly defined by a sexual act, but to foster marriage, as defined by a heart oneness between the husband and wife.  Any act that breaks that oneness, even an unfulfilled lustful longing of the heart, is an act of adultery, since it damages the oneness of marriage.  If that seems extreme to you, think about how damaging even the suspicion of unfaithfulness is to the harmony of a marriage. 

That teaching was so radically different from the commonly held Bill Clinton approach, that Jesus shook them up with this:

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  (Matthew 5:29 – Jesus continues this thought in verse 30)

Jesus was not advocating self-mutilation.  As you know, the eye only follows instructions from the heart…   Jesus was startling people with hyperbole in order to underlline how seriously flawed their understanding of morality in marriage was. 

2000 years later, human attitudes toward faithfulness and marriage have not improved.  But Jesus wasn’t joking and God’s design for how things work hasn’t changed.