“Are Adultery and Divorce Scriptural?”

Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor


Sometimes we can make the Bible say anything we want it to. For example, “adultery” and “divorce” ARE in the Bible. But are they right? Do they please God? Did the Lord Jesus say anything about these vital, yet often divisive, subjects?

Read these words of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 5:27-32:

”27 “You have heard that it was said [a]to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 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.

As strange as it sounds, this is a true story! In the early 1900’s in churches throughout the United States, preachers were concerned with a new fad among woman: the “top knot”. No, they were NOT [not “knot” – no pun intended!] the “man buns” of today. But the preachers were concerned that the world’s fashion was creeping rapidly into the church. One Sunday, one famous preacher took it upon himself to give the ultimate Biblical proof that the ideals of the world were not meant for the fundamental child of God. “The woman is not to be wearing the styles of the world, “ he boldly proclaimed. “Why, it says so right in the Bible, Matthew 24:17: “Let him which is on the houseTOP (K)NOT COME DOWN to take any thing out of his house.” Hmmm. I wonder if in 2021 he would have used that passage for the current “man bun” phase!

But to answer the lesson title, YES! Adultery and Divorce ARE in the Bible! But are they right? Are they scriptural? Do they please our Heavenly Father? Amazingly, it was important to our Savior to include in the Sermon on the Mount His insights on these most potentially divisive subjects. In our text, the Lord Jesus covers this topic giving several amazing and insightful points.

FIRST, SIN IS NOT AN ACTION BUT A NATURE (verse 27). For the Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day, adultery was an outward act. Therefore they could proudly say of themselves – even before the Lord – “I’m not an adulterer. Therefore, I don’t sin.” But for the Lord Jesus, adultery is an outward sign of an inward heart, a human nature which is hungry TO sin! It is not so much that I DO a thing. Rather, it is what makes me do it, what urges me to do it, that matters.

The Bible makes several distinctions about sin. The unsaved – those who have never trusted the Lord Jesus as Savior – are sinners by nature and by choice. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…”. Further, Romans 6:23 adds, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The saved have been freed from the penalty of sin, but they still have a nature which is in a battle between the Lordship of Christ and the dominion of that sin.

The Apostle Paul tells pointedly of his own spiritual struggles, as recorded in Romans 7:13: “Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.” Will this battle always be victorious for the enemy, or is the Savior strong enough [how dare I write so!] to overcome the enemy? Paul concludes, in verses 23-25a, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

In Galatians 5:19, where the Apostle Paul lists what he has called the “sins of the flesh”, note the first one on the list: “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery…”. Paul sees adultery as a work of the flesh which is in opposition to the operation of the Holy Spirit! Thankfully, the battle has a Victor in our Savior. Even John the Baptist wrote of Him in John 1:29, “…“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Indeed, SIN IS A NATURE, and the Savior and the power of His death and shed blood “take away the sin of the world” for all who trust Him as Savior and Lord of their lives.

Is He YOUR trust? If you love Him as your Savior, do you trust Him as LORD of your life?

SECOND, SIN IS TREATED, NOT BY THE ACTIONS, BUT AT THE ROOTS (verses 28-30). In Matthew 15, the Lord Jesus has a confrontation once again with the religious leaders of His day. They were concerned that His disciples were not obeying not only the law but also one of the many 613 RULES that they had added to the law! In verse 8, He quotes from Isaiah 29:13, “‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” Quoting from a prophet that the Pharisees and other leaders respected, the Lord Jesus put them in their place. The Pharisees were condemning the disciples’ actions. Jesus’ – using their own Scriptures – condemned the root of their religiosity.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior uses the illustration of the eye and the hand. They were created for good! They were designed by their Creator to be used to bring glory to Him. With His words – “pluck it out”, “cut it off”, “cast it from you” – He was not encouraging a gruesome self-surgical procedure. Rather, He was showing a phrase which Paul would use often through His epistles: “mortify”, “put to death”. An unknown author once wrote, “That which God has created for good must be placed on His altar.”

Paul wrote in Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

One of his most famous verses is Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” And in Galatians 5:24, Paul goes on to say, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

The outward battle is won by destroying the inward roots!

THIRD, HOLINESS IS NOT IDEALS BUT STANDARDS (verses 31-32). The same theme here is found in Mark 10:1-9. Once again, while the Savior is teaching, the Pharisees – who were SUPPOSED to be the religious leaders and thus God’s representatives of their day – questioned Jesus’ teaching. They tried to trap Him, asking Him, “is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”. The Savior did not go to any one of the Pharisees 613 EXTRA RULES. Rather, He went to creation! Verses 5-9 pointedly say:

“Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6 But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

God had given an allowance in the Old Testament, an allowance for the hardness of man’s heart. However, in the Old as well as New Testament times, God’s hunger is for marriage. That is His standard.

OUR CONCLUSION today is wrapped around the heart of our amazing Savior: ALL SIN FINDS ITS HOPE IN THE FINISHED WORK OF CHRIST! Here’s a tough question: are divorce and adultery forgivable? A situation is vividly described in the confrontation of the scribes, the Pharisees, the people, the Lord Jesus, and an helpless woman “caught in adultery” (John 8:1-12). The Pharisees wondered what the Lord was going to do to this one so “caught”. He wrote on the ground. What did He write?”, one would wisely ask. It is implied that He wrote with His finger! Why is that important? In Exodus 31:18, it is said of God, that He wrote the 10 Commandments on stone with His finger! Don’t you wonder if those watching Him understood the implication: what they were accusing this girl of, of that and more they all were guilty!

So ARE DIVORCE AND ADULTERY FORGIVEABLE? All sin finds its forgiveness in the shed blood of the Lord Jesus.

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

The invitation is available to all.

The hope is available to all!

9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Romans 10:9-10

Is the Lord Jesus YOUR trust?

If you love Him as your Savior, do you trust Him as LORD of your life?