The sanctity of marriage is nowhere more strongly expressed than in the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 5:31-32. He said, "Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” (NKN)
Can a person who puts away his (or her) spouse cause the divorced mate to commit adultery? Did Jesus place responsibility for the mate’s future adultery on the shoulders of a person who breaks his or her marriage covenant without just cause? The answer is clearly “yes.” But, this passage doesn't yet make it clear how such a marriage partner causes the adultery.
We should note that Jesus made a similar statement regarding causing sin in Matthew 18:6 (Mark 9:42): "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea."
People need to think seriously about both of these statements of Jesus before precipitously divorcing. Sinning against an innocent mate or an innocent little one brings the wrath of heaven down on the sinner.
Jesus’ statement can't logically be construed to mean that the spouse who remarries and thus commits adultery is exempted from accountability for that sin. Ezekiel 18 clearly teaches individual responsibility for sin. In the New Testament, Romans 14:10-12 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 also teach individual accountability.
Jesus was teaching that a husband who puts away his wife, without the cause of adultery, exposes her to the severe temptation to remarry and thus commit adultery. The words used here concerning adultery are in the passive voice, grammatically, and thus imply being led or seduced into the act of adultery. Remarriage seems, deceptively, to be the only answer for such a divorced person.
While Jesus' words remain true today, in the first century, the pressures on a divorced woman to remarry may have been dramatically greater than today. An innocent woman divorced by her husband today faces dealing with the deprivation of her emotional, social, sexual, and other needs. But a woman in the first century was usually faced with the options of prostitution or finding another husband just to survive economically or physically.
Jesus was clearly rejecting the idea of divorce for any cause and telling a man who puts away an innocent wife that if his actions make her feel compelled to remarry (and thus commit adultery), he won't be held guiltless in the matter. His actions caused her to be in that position of temptation.
It is not unlike a young woman who dresses provocatively and is raped. The rapist is not exonerated, but the young woman certainly isn't free of guilt. She will give account for her part in the sin. She can't say of the lust she provoked, "O, that's his problem."
As many think today, the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day also thought that if a man gave a woman divorce papers, both husband and wife could take new mates, and it wouldn't be adultery. Jesus emphatically denied this subterfuge for sin. He told the man who divorces his wife (even if he doesn't remarry) that he will bear guilt if she unlawfully remarries. And to further drive home the point that illicit divorce leads to adultery, the Lord pointed out that whoever marries this divorced woman also commits adultery.
So, come the judgment day, the implications of such a divorce will be gigantic. Breaking your marriage covenant opens you to partial responsibility for your ex-wife's adultery and for the adultery of the man who marries her.
While economic pressures to remarry are not as great today, Jesus' words also undoubtedly recognized the temptations presented by emotional and sexual deprivation. God created marriage to address those needs. When a spouse divorces his or her mate without Scriptural cause, he or she is responsible for the temptations that follow. Even when divorce is not an issue, Paul warned couples not to separate from one another for any significant amount of time so that they would avoid facilitating sexual temptation (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
The truth of what Jesus said is also seen in modem divorce statistics. The majority of people who divorce also remarry. Every remarriage, except where the prior marriage ended for the cause of adultery, is itself an act of adultery.
It is impossible to even imagine how many people will spend eternity in eternal torment for this reason. And this passage makes clear that there is sin in divorce and not just in the remarriage.
The man who divorces his wife may not remarry and thus never be guilty of adultery. But if he divorces her without Scriptural cause, he has sinned. Thus man-made doctrine that a man can divorce for any cause so long as he doesn't remarry is shown to be false.
I want to thank Brother Randy for accepting this assignment on this particular passage of Scripture. Sadly, many today, even those in our own brotherhood, seem to have difficulty understanding the simple teaching of this text.
Too many brethren make arguments, excuses, and justification for breaking the marriage covenant. God’s word is very clear on this issue, and emotional situations do not alter what the truth plainly teaches. What perplexes me are those among us who preach and teach “one man for one woman for life;” yet, at the same time want to open the door for cases that have absolutely no Scriptural basis for the conclusions being drawn. Since when did situation ethics become the standard for ending a marriage? Let us just speak clearly what the Bible says and stop adding our own commentary as if it is Bible-based.
So many are overlooking the fact that these things weaken instead of strengthen the marriage bond. We need to work out our marriage problems—not search for loopholes through which to jump! (KMG)