Does Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 permit divorce and remarriage?

by Matt Slick
2/22/2019

 

  • Matthew 5:32, "but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
  • Matthew 19:9, "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Some Christians say that anytime a person is divorced, for whatever reason, he or she cannot remarry. But is there an exception according to Jesus? Yes, there is, and it occurs in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 as listed above.  Jesus tells us that a person who divorces his wife (spouse) and marries another commits adultery - except for when the offender has committed sexual immorality.  In other words, a person would not be committing adultery by divorcing his spouse and marrying another person if the (ex) spouse had committed adultery.  That is the exception laid out by Jesus.  If it were not the case, he would not have said: "except for immorality."

But, if adultery is the reason, why does it say "immorality" and not adultery? 

Immorality or Adultery?

In both Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, the word for "unchastity" and "immorality" is the Greek πορνεία, porneia.  The word occurs a total of 25 times in the New Testament.  In the NASB it is rendered as follows.

  • Fornication (6) - Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21; John 8:41; Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25
  • Immorality (17) - Matt. 19:9; Gal. 5:19; Eph 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Cor 5:1; 6:13, 18; 7:2; 2 Cor 12:21; Rev 2:21; 9:21; 14:8; 17:2, 4; 18:3; 19:2
  • Sexual immorality (1) - 1 Thess. 4:3
  • Unchastity (1) - Matt. 5:32

So, the word carries the broad meaning of sexual impurity including sexual behavior that is outside the marriage covenant. It would not make sense to say that this sexual immorality consists of sexual relations within the bonds of marriage because that would not be immoral.  Therefore, it has to be adultery. Also, it is worth noting that the word for immoral is πόρνος, pornos.  The word occurs 10 times in the New Testament and is translated as immoral 8 times and fornicators 2 times.

  • Generic immorality (8) - 1 Cor. 5:9-11; Eph. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:10; Heb. 12:16; Rev. 21:8; 22:15
  • Fornicators (2) - 1 Cor. 6:9; Heb. 13:4

So, the word 'porneia' found in Matt. 5:32 and 19:9 has more of a connotation of sexual immorality, not just immorality, than does the word pornos - which is not used in either verse.

Matthew 5:32

In Matt. 5:32, the word for adultery is μοιχεύω, moicheuo (Strong's # 3431).  It occurs 15 times in 12 verses the New Testament: Matt. 5:27-28, 32; 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 16:18; 18:20; John 8:4; Rom 2:22; 13:9; James 2:11; Rev 2:22.  It means "to commit adultery.

In each case, it is speaking of the act of committing adultery and speaks of the sexual immorality that occurs by an individual who is married.  So, this is dealing with those who are married and are sexually immoral within that marriage covenant.

Matthew 19:9

To continue our analysis, in Matt. 19:9, the word for adultery is μοιχεία, moicheia (Strong's # 3429).  It occurs five times in four verses in the New Testament.

  • Matt. 5:32, "but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
    • Note:  It would seem that the phrase "commits adultery" in Matt. 5:32 would be from the Greek moicheia, but it is not.  Instead, it occurs as the word "marries."
  • Matt. 19:9, "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
  • Mark 10:11, And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her."
  • Mark 10:12, "and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”

So, we can see that Jesus is saying that any sexual immorality breaks the covenant of marriage.  Some people restrict their analysis to the two verses found in Mark 10:11-12 and ignore the exception given by Jesus in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9.  When deciding on what a doctrinal position is, we are to take all of the verses that relate to it, not just a few. So, in totality, in such cases where the marriage covenant has been broken by adultery, the offended spouse is free to remarry - because sexual immorality is the exception.

Wife or Betrothed?

Some say that the "wife" spoken of in Matt. 19:9 is someone who is betrothed, and that is why it is not adultery because it relates to a woman who was engaged but was sexually immoral. But that cannot work because a betrothal is not the same thing as marriage. If someone breaks off an engagement and marries another, he or she has not committed adultery since he was not married to the first woman.

Furthermore, if Jesus was intending to speak of the betrothed, then why did Jesus not say "betrothed"?  The word "to betroth" is μνηστεύω, mnesteuo.  It occurs 3 times in the New Testament

  • Matthew 1:18, "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit."
  • Luke 1:27, "to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary."
  • Luke 2:5, "in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child."

Wife

In Matthew 19:9, the word for "wife" is γυνή, gune.  It occurs 216 times in the New Testament.  In the NASB it is rendered as follows... (I did not list all Scripture references since there were so many)

  • Bride (1) - Rev. 19:7
  • had married her (2) - Mark 12:23; Luke 20:33
  • She (2) - Luke 20:33; John 4:11
  • Wife, wives (84) - Matt. 1:20; 19:9; 27:19; Mark 6:17; 12:19; Luke 1:13; 8:3; Acts 1:14; 5:7, 14; 21:5; 24:24; 1 Cor. 7:2, 10; 14:34 ; Eph. 5:23, 25; Col. 3:18; 1 Pet. 3:1; 1 Tim. 3:12, 5:9; Titus 1:6; Rev. 21:9
  • Woman, women (127) - Matt 5:28; 9:20; 26:7; Mark 5:25; 7:25; Luke 4:26; 7:44; 13:11; 15:8; 22:57;  John 2:4; 4:9, 25-28; 19:26; 20:15; Acts 16:1; 17:34; Rom 7:2; 1 Cor 7:13, 34; 11:3-15; Gal 4:4; 1 Tim 2:10-14; Heb. 11:35; 1 Pet. 3:5; Rev 2:20-26; 9:8; 12:13-17; 17:3-9.

So, according to the NASB, the word "bride" is used in .4% of all occurrences. The word "had married her" is used .8% of the time. The word "she" is also .8% of the time. Wife and wives are used 39% of the time. The word woman is used 59%. Now, statistics don't determine meaning; context does. But the vast majority of the usages do not refer to a bride, and the only one that does is about the marriage of the Lamb to the bride, the church (Rev. 19:7).

So, it does not make sense to say that Matt. 19:9 is referring to someone who is betrothed.

Related Verses

  • Matthew 19:9, "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality [porneia], and marries another woman commits adultery [moichao].”
  • Matthew 5:32, "but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity [porneia], makes her commit adultery [moichao]; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery [moichao]."
  • Mark 10:11–12, "And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery [moichao] against her; 12 and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery [moichao].'"
  • 1 Corinthians 7:15, "Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace."

 

Commentaries

Commentaries are often very helpful. We do not want to rely on them but they are valuable to help shed light on various teachings. Please consider the following quote.

  • "Except for fornication” is explained in 5:32. The wording is different, but the sense is quite the same. The claim that nothing can be determined from these words regarding the man who releases his fornicatious wife and then marries another, is unwarranted. The implication is too plain that if he marries again he is not rendered adulterous. Jesus spoke to Jews whose law gave the right of divorce only to the husband and not to the wife. When Mark in 10:11, 12, writes for former Gentiles he places husband and wife on the same level; for the sense of Jesus is that neither is to get rid of the other. Since fornication, by itself disrupting the marriage, forms the exception, this, like any exception, may or may not be added when the principle is stated; thus in 5:32 and in 19:9 it is added, while in Mark 10:11, 12 it is not."1
  • "God intended husbands and wives to live together permanently. Divorce was wrong except for marital unfaithfulness (cf. Matt. 5:32)."2

Conclusion

What can we conclude from our analysis of the verse of the Greek and how words are used throughout the New Testament? We can see that the marriage covenant is broken upon adultery and the offended party is free to remarry (should there be a divorce), and if he or she should marry another, he or she would not be committing adultery in that case.

 

 

 

 

  • 1. Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
  • 2. Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.