Accepting Jesus’s One Exception for Divorce and Remarriage

Society says that you can marry, divorce, and marry someone else as much as you want. This article is a plea to reconsider divorce and remarriage in the light of Jesus’ words. Note that Jesus said, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given“. Jesus taught that divorce and remarriage for any reason is a false teaching (Matt. 19:1-9), which is going to cost many people their marriages and even more so their souls (Gal. 5:19-21, 1 Cor. 6:9-10). This is a tough subject, but let us turn our beliefs over to Jesus Christ.

Many church leaders have been growing congregations by neglecting Jesus’ teaching about divorce and remarriage. These church leaders say that they seek to “reach out” and be “missional” to fulfill the Great Commission. Such church leaders simply neglect Christ’s teachings on divorce and remarriage, because it offends people. Though this is tolerant, it forsakes the words of Christ and profanes God’s institution of marriage. Should churches abandon a teaching of Christ to grow a congregation? Remember that fornication was used to lead away the men of Israel to worship false gods (Num. 25). Believers of Christ are being led away to fornication now. They are following the “progressive” teachings of the Pharisees (Matt. 19:3).

God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Many say that they agree, but their actions show something different. Then again, they may be thinking that Jesus’ words are incomplete and imperfect, and that He only partially addressed exceptions to divorce and remarriage. Yet, Christ was clear when He set the only exception for divorce and remarriage. Jesus taught against separating what God joined together.

Jesus referred back to the beginning of marriage before the Law of Moses. Jesus quoted Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 having stated,

“Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:4-6).

This is God’s beloved institution, and people have drifted from God and from His plan for the home. Christ revealed that divorce was not a part of God’s institution when Christ said, “from the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:8). Jesus further defined adultery and taught there is one exception for a divorce. He said,

“And I say to you that if someone divorced his woman, not upon extramarital sex, and married another, he is committing adultery, and whoever married the divorced is committing adultery.”

Sexual infidelity is the only reason for a divorce. There may be another reason for separation, but not for a divorce with the ability to marry another (1 Cor. 7:10-11). Note that divorcing and marrying another is committing adultery (Matt. 19:9, Mark 10:11-12). This adulterous marriage is fornication and permits remarriage for the innocent spouse (Matt. 19:9, cf. Rom. 7:3). A person may also divorce one’s spouse for fornication, which includes extramarital before marriage (Matt. 19:9, cf. Deut. 22). Extramarital sex is the only exception for a divorce and remarriage.

Jesus’ instructions about divorce and remarriage being adultery were not for only a Jewish audience, but for “whoever” – everyone. Christ’s instruction was from the beginning before the Law of Moses or the certificates of divorce. Jesus even said in the “Sermon on the Mount” that the one divorcing shared the guilt of the sin of adultery unless one gave a note of divorce for fornication, which extramarital sex (Matt. 5:32). Yes, Christ’s words apply to both men and women alike, who were both able to divorce and remarry in that culture (Mark 10:12). With emphasis, divorcing and marrying another is adultery (Luke 16:18). Some may say that, “No divorced person has the right to remarry”, but this is speculative and contradicts Matthew 5:32, 19:9, and Romans 7:2-3 .

Some false teachers have sought to redefine “fornication”, so that the exception for divorce and remarriage can include other conflicts in the marriage. This is a bold disregard for God’s institution of marriage and the definition of fornication, which is sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman (Heb. 13:4, Lev. 18, 20, Deut. 22). Fornication is neither defined as abuse, laziness, drug abuse, neglect, child abuse, nor lack of marital affection. Yet, these may permit a separation, but not divorce (1 Cor. 7:10ff).

The Pharisees sought divorce for any reason of “uncleanness” as they defined “uncleanness” for themselves to mean any reason rather than fornication in contrast to the cleanness of holy living (Deut. 24:1). Jesus clarified that God through Moses “permitted” divorce, because of the hardness of their hearts. In Deuteronomy 24, God was not encouraging divorce, but requiring a certificate of divorce. The passage is addressing the abominable practice of a man divorcing his wife and later taking her back after she had married another. Jesus is clear that there is only one reason for divorce, which is fornication. This is the “uncleanness” referred to by Moses.

Does not the Apostle Paul give another reason for divorce and remarriage? Some say, “If the unbeliever departs, let that one depart; a brother or a sister is not bound but released to marry another.” One is not permitted to marry another for the reason that a couple is separated. First Corinthians 7:11 says about the wife that, “she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband”. Misusing 1 Corinthians 7:11 is similar to how the Pharisees misused Deuteronomy 24. First Corinthians 7:15 does not speak of divorce or the freedom to remarry in 7:27, but rather that a spouse is not enslaved to an unbelieving spouse to not let one to leave, who abandons him or her. A Christian can let an unbelieving spouse leave without being enslaved to marital responsibilities to them. That is exactly what the verse says, “Yet if the unbelieving departs, let that one depart: the brother or the sister is not enslaved in such cases: but God has called us in peace” (1 Cor. 7:15, cf. ESV). In what cases are Christians not enslaved? They are not enslaved when the unbeliever departs. The believer can let the unbelieving spouse depart, but they are to remain unmarried or return to one another. The context teaches Christians to not depart from an unbelieving spouse, who is willing to live with him or her (1 Cor. 7:12-13). First Corinthians 7 is saying that one is not enslaved to live together, so “if the unbeliever departs, let him depart“.

Also note that 1 Corinthians 7:15 uses the Greek word doolo’o meaning “enslavement” unlike the Greek word deo meaning “bound” as with a cord, which refers to marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:27. Marriage is a bond, but it is not bond-service or enslavement as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7:15. Clearly, 1 Corinthians 7:15 is not referring to being released from marriage to be free to marry another. First Corinthians 7:11 is clear that a person is to remain unmarried or be restored to one’s spouse.

Jesus wants us to go to the beginning, restore the meaning of marriage. This is God’s institution, which remains the standard for Christians as seen by the Apostle Paul quoting from Genesis (Eph. 5:31).

Jesus Christ defined adultery to include divorce and remarriage (Matt. 5:32, 19:9, Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18). Only the person, whose spouse committed fornication, can divorce and remarry without also committing adultery. Let there be no compromising of Christ’s words. Mark 10:11 shows that marrying another is adultery against the previous spouse. Remarrying is not adultery when the previous spouse has died or married another (Rom. 7:2-3, Heb. 13:4). Therefore, the once adulterous and guilty spouse must repent.

Also, some have said that, “Adultery occurs at the point when one, who does not have a scriptural divorce, takes marriage vows in another marriage. That guilty person can repent while not returning to their previous spouse, stay married to another, and be saved.” Christ is clear in Matthew 19:9, “if one divorced his wife, not upon extramarital sex, and married another, he is committing adultery“. As in the Greek text of the New Testament, “married another” is aorist tense and the phrase “is committing adultery” in the present active tense showing that adultery was continual after the marriage vows and not just at the vows. This is true of Matthew 5:32 and Mark 10:11-12 too. This is not speculative or debatable. The person, who divorces and remarries, outside Jesus’ exception is practicing the sin of adultery against their previous unmarried spouse, and they must repent from this by ending the adulterous marriage and returning to one’s previous spouse. (This does not exclude them from being responsible for their children from fornication before marriage, a mistress, or an adulterous marriage. Those, who have children through adultery, are still responsible for their children.)

What must someone do to repent from an adulterous marriage to be baptized? When someone is committing adultery by another marriage, then the adultery must be repented before the believer will be forgiven by God in baptism (Acts 2:38, Col. 3:12-13, Matt. 18:22, Luke 17:3-4). No one can have their sins washed away at baptism without repenting (Acts 2:38, Rom. 6:3-8, Col. 2:12-13). What if a polygamist with children converted to Christ, should he have to divorce his wives and be faithfully married only to his first? Yes. He must repent by separating from all but his first wife. According to Jesus, the following marriages of polygamy would be adulterous marriages. If a homosexual is married to another of the same gender and comes to love Jesus, must he separate from that marriage? Yes. Calling a sexual union “marriage” does not justify any fornication including homosexuality, and a homosexual union is not Jesus’ definition of marriage (Matt. 10:6, 9).

Would it be breaking up a home when the relationship has produced children? No, it was adultery that broke up the first home. The adulterous marriage is a marriage to a mistress. It would be a blessing to reestablish the first home and to live up to their faith and convictions in Christ. Having children with a mistress in an adulterous marriage does not make a Christian home for Christian children to be raised. Starting another family does not justify leaving the first spouse behind, alone, and without children. Are adulterous marriages that produce children God’s fault? No. These are the faults of people. Remember what happened in Ezra 10 where men married foreign women, who they were not to marry. They had to separate from those women. This was not God’s fault.

There are 3 ways in which people are usually confused regarding divorce and remarriage. These 3 are confusion over civil law, abusive relationships, and divorces without knowledge what God’s Word teaches about marriage and divorce.

(1) Does civil law make divine law? No. Do not let civil law and legal divorces take more authority than God. Civil divorces do not justify a divorce and make another marriage right in God’s eyes. Civil divorces are not accepted by God, because the divorce is recognized by the governing authorities. Civil law is man’s law. Civil law does not make adultery acceptable to God. Civil law does not make evil good. For instance, if a married couple got a civil divorce for any other reason than fornication, then this couple is still married and must return to each other. Civil law cannot be followed over God’s law. Peter and the Apostles told the Jewish High Court and Senate in Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Yet, we must still be subject to governing authorities (Rom. 13:1ff).

Legal recognition of marriage is beneficial. Getting a legal divorce in place of a separation does not mean a person is excluded from getting a divorce according to God’s Word. When fornication does occur, be careful because legal divorces can easily consist a whole other set of sins. Also note that separation and legal divorces should not be used to push one’s spouse to commit adultery. A person is also committing adultery by pushing one’s spouse to marry another by legally divorcing without a Scriptural divorce (Matt. 5:31-32). Much confusion over divorce comes from not recognizing the difference between civil law and God’s law.

(2) What about abuse in the home? Those in the marriage have to determine the level of abuse. Having a spouse who is not a Christian is not abuse (1 Cor. 7:11-13). First Corinthian 7 says stay with the unbeliever. First Peter 3 tells wives that they may convert their unbelieving husband. If you are being abused, you may need to separate. If you and the life of your children are endangered, you must separate from that person. Remember that this person is only separated and not divorced, and that person must return to one’s spouse when able (1 Cor. 7:10-11). In many cases, the spouse, who is guilty of abuse, will seek another person for a relationship, commit fornication, and thus give a reason for divorce. Yet, this should not the be the objective of a separation, then the spouse promoting this adultery of the other spouse is also guilty according to Jesus (Matt. 5:31-32).

(3) What about those divorced without knowing what God’s Word says about marriage and divorce? Ignorance does not make void God’s instruction. Repent. Either way, ignorant believers and unbelievers must keep their marriage vows. There were no marriages in the New Testament that had to be reestablished when believers became Christians by baptism. Those vows did not cease because of their Christian faith. Vows carry over into our faith. As 1 Corinthians 7 presents that if two unbelievers married and one converts to Christ, then the believer must remain married to the unbeliever and keep the marriage vow.

To conclude, Jesus and the Church are an example to how spouses are to treat one another (Eph. 5:24-29). Christ’s relationship to the Church and the Church to Christ was shown by the institution of marriage (Eph. 5). Here, the beauty of God’s greatest institution of the Church reveals the ideal for God’s first institution of marriage and the home. What if Christ divorced members of the Church for any reason or members divorced Christ? This idea alone should motivate us to be fearful to cheat Christ, and this should disgust us that anyone from the Church would think of divorcing Jesus. Christ and His Church show the glory and divine unity of marriage. Let us apply that honor to our homes. Let us be careful who we marry.

If there is any confusion here, remember and understand Matthew 19:9. That is the core teaching of Christ about this matter and it is the core conviction of this author about divorce and remarriage. Note that Jesus said, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given“.

About Scott J Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]
This entry was posted in Christian, Church of Christ, Marriage and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Accepting Jesus’s One Exception for Divorce and Remarriage

  1. bigmec55 says:

    What would you say about a husband who divorced his wife, not because of fornication on her part, and then 10 years later she finds out her husband had been cheating on her during their marriage? Would she be able to remarry even though she was not sure her husband had been cheating on her when he divorced her?


    • To the first question, Jesus revealed that she can remarry. However, the second question confuses me. Did she remarry after the divorce on a hunch that he cheated sexually? Either way, I see Jesus’s words allowing her to give him a note of divorce now for fornication. Otherwise, she does need two or three witnesses to confirm his infidelity or his confession.


      • bigmec55 says:

        When her husband divorced her, she was not sure he was cheating on her. After they divorced, her now ex-husband confessed to a mutual friend that he had cheated on her during their marriage and then the mutual friend told her about the cheating. However, this was some time after the divorce was final. When the mutual friend told her about the cheating during the marriage, she believed she now had scriptural grounds to remarry.

        I’m asking you about this because another minister told me that she would have had to divorce him for fornication for her to have scriptural grounds to remarry, but once the divorce was final, it was too late for her to divorce him for fornication because he had already divorced her, and it was not because of fornication committed by her.


        • I see. Jesus was defining adultery to include divorce and remarriage for any reason other than fornication. I do not know what the other minister meant by scriptural grounds. However, the woman is not committing adultery for remarrying. She is free to marry. She can still give a note of divorce. I do not think we can make any other rules here for God.


  2. Mark says:

    What would you say about a husband who divorced his wife, not because of fornication on her part, and then 10 years later she finds out her husband had been cheating on her during their marriage? Would she be able to remarry even though she was not sure her husband had been cheating on her when he divorced her?


  3. Martin Rust says:

    Dear Precious Souls for Whom Christ Died,
    In order to communicate the truth concerning divorce and remarriage in a condensed form, I have prepared the following verse by verse explanation:
    Matt. 5:32 — A man who divorces his wife for any other cause than fornication does not free her from the
    marital obligation to him, but rather he causes her to commit adultery. His unfaithfulness to her may precipitate her unfaithfulness to him; nevertheless she is still bound to him by covenant. Therefore, “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery”, rather than establishing a true marriage.
    Matt. 19:9 — If a man divorces his wife for any other cause than fornication, he may not marry again because of the sin of leaving his wife without marital opportunity until he dies. If he had only married a second wife without divorcing the first, he would not have committed adultery, but would have been disqualified from church leadership. For emphatic emphasis, Jesus states again the exception less prohibition against marrying any divorced woman (KJV, NKJV).
    Mark 10:11 — When a man divorces a faithful wife and marries another, he commits adultery “against” his
    wife. This is uniquely stated as “against” his wife rather than the much more common description of “with”
    someone else, because of the restriction it places upon his violated and abandoned wife.
    Luke 16:14-18 — In order to accentuate God’s commitment to the immutability of His Eternal Word, Jesus declares to the Pharisees that not one jot or one title of His Word is going to pass away until all is fulfilled. Then to illustrate that point, Jesus refers to the principles of divorce and remarriage, no doubt because it was one of the areas where the Pharisees were most blatantly rebellious. He simply states that if a man initiates the destruction of His marriage by divorcing his wife, he will commit adultery by remarrying. Therefore any remarriage that is prohibited is not a marriage at all or it could not be labeled as adultery. No passage of time or having of children will change that fact. As this passage states we cannot force our way into the kingdom of heaven by broadening the narrow and straight path the leads home. For the third time Jesus warns soberly that anyone who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery. If your pastor prescribes something different, know that he has chosen forceful entry into the kingdom of heaven that is sure to fail.
    I Cor.7:8 — Paul here instructs the unmarried (agamos) and widows to remain single if they have the grace
    to do so, but to marry if passion is a problem. The question is who is Paul referring to when he uses the term unmarried. The Greek word that is used is “agamos” which is in the masculine gender. Only the context however can tell us who Paul is referring to. Because he refers to widows separately from the unmarried, it becomes apparent that he is referring only to unmarried men, because widows are a category of unmarried women and would have been included in a gender-neutral reference to unmarried persons. Also the epistles were generally written to the men of the congregation who then would pass the teaching on to their wives.
    I Cor.7:10, 11 — Allowance is made for a woman to leave her husband if the domestic environment becomes toxic, however even then she is not free to divorce and remarry. The husband however has no such limitation placed upon him because he may divorce for the unfaithfulness of his wife that allows for remarriage. Why the discrepancy between the sexes, you may ask. Although the answer to such a question need not be provided since God is not obligated to explain or justify Himself, I will offer a few observations which I trust are relevant: (1) Sex crimes are almost always perpetrated by men because of the stronger physiological urge for release created by the build up of semen. Hence remarriage for most men is strongly advisable.(2) The man represents Christ in the marriage and therefore can be joined to more than one, however the woman who represents the church can never be bound to more than one just as Christ is our only Savior. (3) Grace in the form of God taking the place of the absent husband is promised, but never in the place of the absent wife.
    I Cor.7:15 — Not under bondage (douloo) here refers only to freedom from guilt and condemnation associated with failing to bring the unbeliever to the Lord, and thus to preserve the marriage. What Paul is urging here is an undivided focus on Christ that delivers us from the enslavement (douloo) to guilt and condemnation associated with rejection. As in Gal. 5:1, the term “douloo” graphically describes the crushing and debilitating effect of failure. If Paul had been referring to the marriage covenant itself when he said the believer is not under bondage, he would have used the Greek word “deo” instead of “douloo”. “Deo” is used to refer to the marriage covenant, whereas “douloo” never is. Obviously this is because God never looks upon the marriage covenant as an enslaving relationship to be escaped from at the first opportunity. The peace he assures the believer of here is not the result of divorcing the departed spouse, but maintaining focus on the unfailing Prince of Peace.
    I Cor.7:27 — A loosed (luo) man may marry again, but no reference is made anywhere in the NT to a loosed woman. Loosed implies severing of a man’s obligation to his wife, but never vice versa. Paul is very careful to specify that widows and virgins can marry, but no third category of females is mentioned.
    I Cor.7:39 — A woman is bound (deo) to her husband as long as her husband lives!! He doesn’t say as long as he lives and remains faithful, or as long as he lives and remains with her, but only as long as he LIVES!! Also note that Paul does not say a person is bound to their spouse as long as their spouse lives. That would have restricted both genders from remarriage until the death of their spouse which is not found in the NT.
    CONCLUSION: The conclusion is that the church today is being ravaged by the tolerance for marital adultery. It must be purged from our midst as Ezra and Nehemiah purged Israel from marriages to foreign wives. It is no less devastating, and no less appalling to those in tune with the Holy Spirit. Let us act quickly while there is still time!!!
    Sincerely and Soberly,
    Pastor Marty Rust

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rob says:

    This is a hard truth for those in miserable marriages……I am a Christian and love the Lord with all my heart, but my marriage has me praying for death every day as a result of Christs admonition. Pray that I die soon so that my life will be a living sacrifice and I will no longer be under the curse of marriage.


    • Rob,

      I am sorry that you feel this way. I hope that you see some light. I have heard of brethren feeling hopeless in their marriage with a selfish spouse, and that I have heard of them changing their lives. Since you already desire death (Phil. 1:21), I urge you to give yourself as a living sacrifice rather than a dead one (Rom. 12:1). Rebel against your wife with love. Serve her and treat her as your sister in Christ or Adam. Give her all that you can. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). God is the avenger and by doing good to those who do evil, you heap coals of fire on their heads (Rom. 12:19-20).

      God bless you with strength and bless your marriage with hope.


    • Marshall says:

      Rob, there is a problem in the admix of “marriage” with what was (from Eden) more directly “wedding”, “becoming (one flesh)”, as this short video identifies:
      [video src="" /]
      Opportunity for us to tear down the ramshackle & poisoned framework of “marriage” while rebuilding within & together as every day becoming/wedding. Despite the gravity of this situation (“curse”) where so many now find themselves, returning to the way of God in Christ may also prove enjoyable & invigorating. :-)


  5. anonyymi says:

    Divorce and remarriage are becoming more and more common and accepted in the current society. Marriage can easily be seen only as an agreement that can be cancelled any time. People may think that if problems arise, “we can always get a divorce if this does not work out.” The doorway to getting a divorce can be held open all the time, so people do not take proper care of their marriage. People do not invest fully in their marriage because divorce is seen as an alternative.
    How can this be fixed? There is no other alternative than to start committing to the relationship. Do not take your spouse for granted, but reserve time for your spouse and give him/her the same attention you pay to other things; actually, your spouse should be the most important thing after God. If we have this kind of a right order of importance, the relationship will not fade completely.
    We must also note that marriage is really a lifelong relationship that will end when we die. If we do not understand this, our motivation to build up our marriage is not right:


  6. Pingback: That's disgusting!

  7. Sorry for my very late reply. I was referring prejudice not toward sex, but toward the exception so as to overlook the exception phrase beyond principle embedded within the discussion.

    I don’t understand your conclusion nor your premises for it. Maybe you could clarify your distinctions between the sexes.

    Fornication is a part of porneia as a word-study shows that it is not solely harlotry.

    Take care.


  8. Marshall says:

    Scott, would you be making a cross-gender application of the Matthew 5 & 18 “exception”, and is this based upon strict monogamy and/or gender equality (since the Matthew text is so specific in opening the exception to men/husbands)?

    Possibly you could address polygyny as a prequel to this article? The Bible mentions ~40 polygynists, including Abraham, Jacob, Esau, David… with Exodus 21:10 and Deuteronomy 21:15-17 recording restrictions.


    • First Corinthians 7:10-11 speaks of separation specifically for women without mentioning men while an agreement for separation could be made by both as mentioned in verse 5. Marriages also end by death but I don’t know one passage directed toward widowers remarrying, but rather widows (Rom. 7:1ff, 1 Cor. 7:39, Matt 22). Yet, this shouldn’t exclude widowers from remarrying. Yes the discussion in Matt 19 addresses men divorcing, but to speculate that the exception, which is not defined by gender, being only for men would be highly prejudice. In the context Matthew 19, Jesus is responding to men who are Pharisees regarding their perception of Deuteronomy 24, which addressed men who take back divorced wives who married another. Add to all of this that Mark 10:12 supplements Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 19 including divorce coming from either man or woman.

      You make a good point to bring up polygyny since this is what was happening then. I had an article up on polygamy, but again polygyny is the sin here of putting away wives and taking others. Jesus’ specifics of what constitutes a marriage is clear in verses 4-6 and this excludes polygamy and this adulterous form of polygyny. I will consider this for discussion. Thank you.


      • Marshall says:

        It is not for prejudice, but to the gender-specific language of Matthew 5 & 19 complimentary to Romans 7 and I Corinthians 7.

        So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but is her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man.Romans 7:3

        to the married I [Paul] give instructions; not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband. But if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband; and that the husband should not send his wife away.I Corinthians 7:10-11

        Joined [gameo] they are until death, not to depart, yet only the wife is told to [in any case] remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband; only the wife is warned [in any case] away from remarriage to another while her husband is still living, as this would be for her adultery.
        Moral argument notwithstanding, the “Matthew exception” dies by the weight of these texts unless it is as it reads: whoever divorces his wife, except for prostitution, and marries another commits adultery.


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