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Is Adultery the Certain End to a Marriage?

Short answer? No.

Now that I have infuriated a large group of readers, let me continue to explain.

No. Adultery is not a certain end to a marriage. In fact, I know several married couples who have walked through the fires of adultery and its horrific consequences on a relationship, and they remain married—and strongly so—today. That being said, adultery may be one of, if not the most hurtful and damaging acts against a marriage. It is a betrayal of trust and commitment; once those two elements are broken, there will be long-term scarring even if healed. Within the Christian realm, adultery as justification for divorce often becomes a major point of debate. Some argue that Jesus Himself gave allowance for the end of a marriage due to infidelity, while others would challenge that and say Jesus wasn’t issuing a get-out-of-marriage-free card to any victims of adultery.

Let’s expound a bit. When confronted with the question of an allowance for divorce, Jesus summarized his answer in Matthew 3 by saying: ‘And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” John Piper makes the argument that original Greek used in the Scripture helps define what Jesus actually meant when inserting what appears to be an “exception clause” to divorce on the basis of adultery. (On Divorce & Remarriage in the Event of Adultery | Desiring God)

Piper argues that the use of specific words in the original text does not exonerate a spouse to divorce and end the marriage with a clear conscience just because adultery was committed. Rather, he argues that the original Greek used in Matthew (porneia) is directly used for “fornication” versus “adultery.” The original Greek word used for “adultery” (moicheia) is not used by Matthew in this Scripture. So, what does “fornication” imply, and how is it different? Fornication is sexual immorality prior to marriage. In other words, a man or woman would have the grounds to break/divorce from a potential marriage partner due to the revealing that they were not sexually pure before the marriage vows took place.

Based on this argument, assuming the interpretation of original language has been liberal, Jesus remains consistent to His declarations where He despises and abhors divorce. He does this throughout Scripture and doesn’t include what appears to be an “except in the event of” clause. Therefore, divorce, or ending a marriage due to adultery, is not allowed by God and remains consistent with the declaration that divorce and remarriage are also to commit adultery or cause your ex-spouse to commit adultery.

This is not a popular consensus today, and admittedly, arguments have been put forth from both viewpoints with potential credibility to both. The question remains then, is adultery the certain end to marriage?

Consider these elements:

1. We know Scripture makes it clear God hates divorce.

2. We know Scripture makes it clear God hates adultery as stated in the Commandments.

In the end, both scenarios are equally despised by God. They are not a part of His plan or purpose for the marriage relationship, and both cause immense and irrefutable damage. Adultery coupled with divorce becomes a compounded problem. Instead of one sin with consequences, we have now doubled it with a second sin of divorce. Therefore, based on pure logic, divorce after adultery will only enhance and exaggerate the pain, problem, and ripple effects caused by infidelity. In other words, divorce as an option is not a clean break.

Does this mean then, if you were to take this stance, that a woman or a man must stand by a spouse who practices infidelity? Should a blind eye of acceptance be offered? Should there be no justice for the victim in the marriage relationship? Is pornography addiction the same as physical adultery? Is adultery not emotional and mental, if not a form of physical, abuse to the spouse? No Scripture states unequivocally that a spouse should stand by as their partner cheats with an attitude of humble acceptance and/or compliance. Let’s be reminded again; God hates adultery. So, there is no reason why the victimized spouse should not hate it as well. Separating from an unhealthy situation is not out of the question. There is a difference between separation and divorce. Separation is a parting without finality; divorce is a final breaking of a promise and marital vow. One may argue, so is adultery. One may also argue, so is not honoring your spouse. There are many ways to break a marriage vow—hence, they should be considered exceptionally seriously between a man and a woman before they make them. But divorce is the final sealing of a permanent break versus one that could be reconciled, repaired, and strengthened.

Based on what we do know of Scripture and of God’s ultimate opinion on adultery and divorce, a Believer should approach the end of the marriage with trepidation, intense prayer, Godly counsel, and without flippancy. Something God hates should not be celebrated or applauded. At the same time, a man or woman who chooses to separate from their spouse for personal safety or health reasons due to adultery should not be ostracized or judged harshly for actions they did not commit (adultery). Ideally, there should be a coming around the couple with the hope and intent of repentance on behalf of the wrongdoer, and forgiveness on behalf of the wronged, and Jesus’ restoration and healing which does, admittedly, often seem very difficult to comprehend until you have walked through it. A broken relationship needs restoration. The question becomes, can it be restored? Not is adultery a certain end. That depends on the heart condition of both spouses, both in repentance and the ability to forgive. Neither is easy, forgiveness feels insurmountable, and culture fully supports the abandonment of that which was broken through sexual alliances with someone outside of the sacredness of the marriage bond.

In the end, is there a one answer fits all scenario? I would not attempt to make a black and white, dogmatic argument that under no circumstances should a man or woman divorce. The argument I would make is that we consistently return to what we know for a certainty, and that is both adultery and divorce are heartbreaking and spoken against by God.

Consider a time of separation.

Consider a time of reparation.

Seek Godly counsel both together and separately.

Be wary of cultural justifications to a quick end versus long-term investment in attempting to salvage a marriage you have entered into.

By no means, if a Believer’s marriage is ending due to adultery, should we be celebrating the newfound “freedom” and glorifying in the person’s “single and carefree” opportunities. This isn’t a birthday party; this is a death of a marriage. It is something to be grieved over, as sin—even if at the fault of one party (though rarely is it 100% one person’s fault)—is not something to be glorified. Divorce parties are in poor taste when you consider God witnessing the breaking apart of His children who vowed before Him to remain faithful and committed. Even if you conclude that divorce is allowable due to infidelity, it is still a death. It is a cancerous tumor that was terminal. Divorce and the end of a marriage is a funeral of sorts, not a celebration.

Be cautious that it is considered seriously and a matter of grave importance, no matter what conviction you settle on.

Photo credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/AndreyPopov

Jaime Jo Wright is the winner of the Carol, Daphne du Maurier, and INSPY Awards. She's also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of three novellas. The Christy Award-Winning author of “The House on Foster Hill”, Jaime Jo Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing suspenseful mysteries stained with history's secrets. Jaime lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com!

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