Thank you for your column here first of all. In Mark 10:11-12 Jesus says, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery." I am a Christian who believes in our Lord and Savior but I am divorced from my first wife and have remarried. Can you explain what Jesus meant? Thanks for your help and God Bless.
Jesus set out in Mark’s gospel a rather clear-cut teaching about divorce: Divorce and subsequent remarriage is adultery. I think He meant exactly what He said. It is not surprising that He set such a high standard. He simply was reiterating God’s divine intention that marriage is a partnership of one man and one woman for one lifetime (Genesis 2:18 and 2:22-24). In God’s eyes marriage is never to be broken. Therefore, when a marriage fails, to remarry is to commit adultery.
However, Paul, there is much more to this story. We will better understand the issue if we look at the context which led to Jesus’ statement in Mark 10:2-12:
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
"What did Moses command you?" he replied.
They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."
"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."
Jesus acknowledged that His Father allowed Moses to lessen the Godly standard. A “certificate of divorce” from husband to wife could end a marriage. Two rival interpretations were put forth in Jesus’ day to explain when a divorce certificate could be granted. The school of Hillel took the liberal approach and said that divorce could be granted for “any and every reason”—or without any reason whatsoever! The school of Shammai took a more conservative approach and said that adultery was the only grounds for divorce.
Let me share a few more thoughts on the matter and then get personal with your own situation.
In sorting out Jesus’ teaching on divorce, remarriage, and adultery Matthew also recorded this teaching from Jesus—but he recorded that Jesus gave one exception to the rule: “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 19:8-9). Matthew quoted Jesus as allowing adultery as a ground for divorce. This is often called, “the exception clause.” Some deal with this exception for adultery by declaring that Jesus never said these words at all. They postulate that the clause, “except for marital unfaithfulness,” was inserted by a scribe when he copied Matthew’s gospel for distribution to others. Frankly, I have never read a satisfactory explanation that reconciles the difference between the two passages.
The word translated “adultery” is the Greek word, “pornea.” This is the root word for the English word “pornography.” “Pornea” is in no way limited to adultery. It includes any sort of illicit sexual behaviors from reading pornographic materials to bestiality and everything in between.
Paul laid down the rules for divorce in the Christian community. I wonder, if while believing one man and one woman for one lifetime, he also yielded to the “hardness of hearts” in outlining divorce and remarriage rules for Christians (1 Corinthians Seven). Let me refer you to my previous Ask Roger answer, “How Do We Handle Divorce and Remarriage Issues in Our Church?” for a more detailed discussion of the “rules” for divorce and remarriage.
Let me give you a quick summary of Paul’s teachings.
First, “pornea” is always grounds for divorce. However, just because one partner is guilty of “pornea” does not automatically mean a divorce should proceed. Paul advised that the marriage may well be salvaged through counseling, prayer and a short separation to allow heated emotions to subside.
Second, a Christian whose partner commits sexual improprieties is free to remarry. Unfortunately, the guilty party seems left in a “limbo state” where remarriage would be considered adultery.
Third, Christians married to non-Christians are to remain married as long as the unbeliever wants to stay. If the unbeliever wants a divorce then the divorce proceeds and the Christian is free to remarry.
Fourth, Biblical grounds for divorce always include the right to remarry.
Paul, let’s get personal for a moment. I don’t know the circumstances of your situation; but, if your first marriage partner was guilty of “pornea” then you unquestionably have grounds for divorce; don’t worry that you are committing adultery. Enjoy your remarriage.
On the other hand, if you were the guilty party—or, if neither of you committed “pornea” and the marriage failed for other reasons, then look to John 8 for guidance. Jesus acknowledged the sin of the woman caught in adultery, forgave her, restored her, and told her not to commit adultery any more.
A state of adultery need not go on forever. Confess to God your part in the marriage failure and receive His forgiveness. Then, pick up the pieces, go on with your life, and don’t worry about it again.
I hope this answer is helpful. Have a great remarriage and may you live happily ever after in Christ.