In the gospels, Jesus says whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries her who has been divorced commits adultery.

Matthew 5:31-32:

It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

In many cases regarding divorce and remarriage, I've heard people who support remarriage after adultery say, "If your ex-husband marries another woman, he commits adultery and thus frees you up to be remarried biblically."

My question is, if this person who divorces his wife and marries another is committing adultery and thus frees the victim woman up to remarry, why does Jesus say that whoever marries this divorced woman also commits adultery?

  • 1
    Questions which attempt to discuss biblical topics but which do not quote and concentrate on a text are often closed as 'off-topic' on this, an hermeneutic site. It would be helpful to edit the question and to seek clarification of the particular words of Jesus (from a single text) than to quote the words of 'people'. You need also to consider Paul's words "the woman that hath an husband is bound to her husband as long as her husband liveth "(bearing in mind that scripture never censures a man for having more than one wife).
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 2:22
  • Does this answer your question? In what sense is divorce and remarriage "adultery" according to Jesus?
    – Michael16
    Commented May 26, 2023 at 9:33
  • Context is often key to such questions. Who was Jesus addressing with this commentary on Torah? Were they Judeans or were they Christians? Let me suggest that the Apostle Paul provides instructions to Christians in the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 7. However, if someone want to go back to keeping Torah, then they must keep ALL 613 laws of Torah. That's the only other choice. Torah is not like shopping at a supermarket.
    – Dieter
    Commented May 12 at 1:19

9 Answers 9


It is Matthew 5:31-32 which is being asked about, regarding the vexed question of whether adultery is committed in certain cases of marrying a divorced person. However, a problem with just sticking to two verses in Matthew's gospel is that there is vital, additional information in the parallel account of Mark. It is Mark's gospel that actually answers the question.

Chapter 10 verses 2 to 12 in Mark's gospel give more of Jesus' words on the subject than in Matthew's account. The answer can be worked out from this quote in the book below:

"The Pharisees come, not to hear his teaching, nor to enquire at his mouth, but to tempt him ...to contradict Moses, so that they could accuse him of antinomianism, that is, being against the law.

'Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?' He knew their guile, and, going to the heart of it, pre-empted them by asking 'What did Moses command you?' Answering question with question, Jesus' riposte anticipated the snare, had he given the answer they expected. But he had found them out. For Moses commanded nothing. He suffered them to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. No more. And Jesus said, for the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this precept. Hence, like all legalists they are discovered to be as full of guile as they were ignorant of Moses.

So hard were their hearts that, of old, they had cast out their wives without protection or provision. Nor were their wives any better when it pleased them to covet a new situation. The destitute and forsaken wife - or husband - originally had no recourse, being legally bound. But Moses, in compassion to the forsaken wife - or husband - suffered a bill of divorcement.

But it was not so from the beginning. It was a manifestation of subsequent depravity. Before the Fall, in the beginning, the man clave to his wife, and they twain were one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And what could the Pharisees reply to that?

... Whoso shall put away his wife, and marry another, comitteth adutery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery. Legal provision for a hard-hearted world therefore had no place in the house of God amongst little children." Mark, John Metcalfe, pp. 160-1 John Metcalfe Publishing Trust, 1996

The whole subject opens up once we realise that adultery is often committed by one of the marriage partners before divorce is sought. When it is sought by the adulterous person, who then marries another, adultery has been carried out twice by that guilty party. The innocent party (who is either divorced or who chooses to divorce the guilty partner) is then in the situation of being single through no fault of their own. With the death of the partner guilty of adultery, there is absolutely no risk of them being adulterous if they choose to then remarry. Death ends the marriage bond in God's eyes, but humans see things differently (as even Moses understood). According to the law of the land nowadays, any legally divorced person can remarry any other single person, no questions asked. And nowadays, lots of people dispense with marriage altogether, just living together till one or the other decides to up sticks and clear off. (Even Moses and the Pharisees would be shocked at that.)

This all serves to show how far humanity has wandered from God's purpose of marriage, in the beginning. "The two shall be one flesh", setting up their own distinct family unit (Genesis 2:23-25 quoted by Jesus in Mark 10:7-9), is foreign to most people today. So, when Jesus spoke of that, showing just how serious the marriage bond is, he upset those who used divorce as a 'convenience' for their own ends (as with today's "No fault divorce" - get a quickie certificate and move on, even if adultery is involved). Others, of course, were right to divorce an adulterous marriage mate, if they so chose (though the New Testament never says that is compulsory.) That 'exception to the rule' Jesus stated does have a significant bearing on future marriage, which is not ruled out, but the question of whether the death of the adulterous partner has to come first requires a fresh question.

EDIT in response to OPs Comment: Jesus repeated this matter in Matthew 19:3-12, adding a bit about celibacy. He also said that it was permissible to divorce a sexually unfaithful mate, implying that that would not result in committing adultery if the innocent party married another. But to marry a person who had been divorced for sexual immorality would result in the innocent party then committing adultery. However, some do not understand it that way, as the divorced (guiltless) wife no longer has a husband, once divorced, so they don’t see Jesus’ words about the wife with a husband being bound till death as applying.

The bit about celibacy is also significant, which he added after his astonished disciples said, "If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry (vs. 10). Jesus said some men can make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven's sake, but that that, and his saying about divorce, is not something that all men can receive "except they to whom it is given". That is, given from above, not given to them by other men.

It may be wise to ponder whether this matter of sexual purity in marriage, or in refraining from marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, tests our hearts before God to such an extent that many will not fully face up to it, for it has not been given to them by God to receive.

  • -1 This does not even answer the question. All it does is imply that a fresh question needs to be asked in order to provide an answer. In fact, Jesus' response to the question, with the expression "except it be for...", gives the proper answer to the question. That exception is grounds for both divorce and remarriage, just as the context of Jesus' statement indicates.
    – Biblasia
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 16:21
  • 2
    Thanks for your response and for your time! I appreciate your input. I do however, wonder why Jesus says that the person who marries the innocent divorced woman commits adultery, if she is indeed free to remarry due to adultery. Why would Jesus say that the new husband is committing adultery by marrying her, given the fact that her former husband has left her for someone else? Commented May 19, 2023 at 4:12
  • @Jesus_is_Lord777 Jesus was exposing the hypocrisy of religious legalists who wanted to accuse him of being against law. He compared what God requires of marriage, and what men do to get marriage to suit themselves. God's perfect standard here is very hard for people to maintain. Death ends the marriage union. But because Jesus repeated the matter of divorce in Matthew 19:3-12, which gives further insight, I will add an edit to my answer.
    – Anne
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 13:17
  • +1 @Anne, you might also consider whether a legalistic approach to Torah even applies today. See my comment to the OP.
    – Dieter
    Commented May 12 at 5:09

Matthew 5:31-32 is a summarised point taken from the detailed account in Matthew 19:3-9. There is a parallel account in Mart 10:2-12.

In this account, Jesus firmly declare divorce is forbidden

5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:5-6 NIV)

The Pharisees quoted Mosaic law did allow to divorce, for a reason which is found in Deuteronomy 24:1 NIV

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,

The argument is in the interpretation of this reason. It is generally considered 'adultery' was not included, as 'adultery' of a woman if found at that time was stoned to death (Deu 22:22). If the husband suspected his wife committed 'adultery', he should follow the law described in Num 5:11-31.

God forbid divorce, but the Pharisees found a loophole in Mosaic law that divorce could be done as long as they gave the woman a certificate of divorce, for a reason that suited the purpose. But Jesus knew, their actual intention was to marry another woman. As it was an illegitimate reason in God's eyes, the certificate was illegitimate and did not effective. The woman was actually not had been divorced, and a man who married a woman who still had a husband committed adultery, so was the woman.

Let me repeat the OP's question below;

My question is, if this person who divorces his wife and marries another is committing adultery and thus frees the victim woman up to remarry, why does Jesus say that whoever marries this divorced woman also commits adultery?

Regarding the husband who gave the divorce, Jesus said he committed adultery for his intention was to marry another woman, and the wife was a victim of his act.

10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. (Mark 10:10-11 NIV)

Regarding the wife, since the certificate of divorce was illegitimate in God's eyes, she committed adultery when remarried, so was her second husband.


For a discussion of the contemporary teachings of Christian churches, our sister site, Christianity Stack Exchange, is recommended.

This answer will examine the question in the context of the first century.

General context

Matthew records Jesus' teachings on divorce in two places:

  • In the Sermon on the Mount, as noted in the OP
  • In Matthew 19

Matthew 19 helpfully provides the context of the Rabbinic divorce debates which revolved around the interpretation of Deut. 24:1 -- the question the Pharisees ask Jesus, and the question being debated by Jewish rabbis (see Mishnah Gittin 9:10), is on what grounds a man can divorce his wife per Deut. 24:1 (the reasons for which a woman could divorce her husband, discussed in Exodus 21, are another matter and are not discussed in these passages).

For a more extensive treatment of the Rabbinic divorce debates and their relevance to the teachings on divorce in the Gospels, see my post here.


Specific answer

Under the Law of Moses, if a man divorced his wife on illegitimate grounds, and then remarried, would that constitute adultery, thereby providing the wife grounds to initiate a legitimate divorce? I propose the answer to this question is no, for 2 reasons:

  1. Deut. 24:1 provides a provision by which a man may divorce his wife if she is unfaithful; it does not provide a provision by which a woman my divorce her husband if he is unfaithful
  2. If a married man were to marry another, unmarried woman, that is polygamy, and the Torah does not treat polygamy as adultery. (The Hellenistic world is another matter, but it's the Torah that is the focus of the discussions Jesus has with the Pharisees)

On the other hand, if a married man were to marry another, already married woman, that is treated as adultery. So, to review the hypothetical posed in the OP:

  • Man A is married to Woman A
  • Man A tries to divorce Woman A on grounds not permitted by the Torah
  • Man A, considering himself divorced, marries Woman B
  • Woman A then marries Man B and lives with him
  • According to the Torah, Man A is now married to Woman A & Woman B (polygamy)
  • Man B is living with Woman A, who according to the Torah is another man's wife (adultery)

(However, if Man A were to marry another, already married woman, that would be adultery under the Torah. But Deut. 24:1 still is only a provision for divorce available to men)



It's important to keep in mind that in any of the circumstances above, if a woman's husband fails to provide her with food, raiment, and love (see Exodus 21:10-11), she is free to divorce him in full compliance with the Torah.

  • Jesus scathingly denounced men who divorced their wives in order to enact sexual fantasies with another woman.
  • There is no record that Jesus denounced women who divorced their husbands because of abuse/neglect which violated a husband's obligations per Exodus 21.
  • Thanks for the response! My question now becomes, if a man divorcing his wife and marrying another, even given the context, does not constitute adultery, why does Jesus say that if a man divorces his wife and marries another, he commits adultery? I don't mean that to sound snarky by the way. (And thank you for the link! I didn't know that website existed!) Commented May 19, 2023 at 4:19

In the gospels, Jesus says whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries her who has been divorced commits adultery.

No Man Can Part What God has Joined

First, it is important to understand that once a man and woman are married — that is, once God has joined the man and woman and the two become one flesh — they remain married and inseparable until one of them dies. There is no exception, because impotent man lacks the ability to part what the omnipotent God has joined.1

6 So that they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no man separate!

Ϛʹ ὥστε οὐκέτι εἰσὶν δύο ἀλλὰ σὰρξ μία· ὃ οὖν ὁ θεὸς συνέζευξεν ἄνθρωπος μὴ χωριζέτω

The Greek «ἄνθρωπος μὴ χωριζέτω» is a third-person imperative, expressing a negative command (prohibition), not a subjunctive, expressing a desire or wish. The impossibility originates not solely from the prohibition, but from the fact that it is impossible for man to oppose God’s will.2

Marriage is a covenant, and only upon the death of one of the parties of the covenant is the covenant abolished.

The apostle Paul wrote,3

2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he is alive; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then, if while her husband is alive she gives herself to another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress if she gives herself to another man. NASB, ©2020

The Exception Clause in the Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew contains the only occurrence of the so-called exception clause for divorce. It essentially states that whoever divorces his wife, “except for πορνείᾳ”, and marries another woman commits adultery. The reason why Matthew, unlike Mark or Luke,4 mentions the exception «εἰ μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ» is because only in the Gospel of Matthew does the very example of the exemption occur — which example the hearer or reader would have recalled.

In the first chapter of Matthew, the author relates how Joseph and Mary were espoused.5 This “betrothal” or ארוסין (erusin) is a Jewish norm in which the man and woman are legally considered married6 but have yet to cohabitate and consummate the marriage. While espoused, the woman still lives in her father’s home.7

While espoused, Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant.8 Assuming the child was not his and that Mary had intercourse with another man, Joseph intended to divorce Mary9 — for πορνείᾳ.10

The Greek Verb ἐκπορνεῦσαι

In Deut. 22, Moses describes how a man who espoused a woman goes to consummate his marriage with her, but when he does, he discovers that she is not a virgin, because the signs of her virginity are absent.

20 “But if the thing is true, and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house. So you shall put away the evil from among you. NKJV, ©1982

Κʹ ἐὰν δὲ ἐπ᾽ ἀληθείας γένηται ὁ λόγος οὗτος καὶ μὴ εὑρεθῇ παρθένια τῇ νεάνιδι ΚΑʹ καὶ ἐξάξουσιν τὴν νεᾶνιν ἐπὶ τὰς θύρας οἴκου πατρὸς αὐτῆς καὶ λιθοβολήσουσιν αὐτὴν οἱ ἄνδρες τῆς πόλεως αὐτῆς ἐν λίθοις καὶ ἀποθανεῖται ὅτι ἐποίησεν ἀφροσύνην ἐν υἱοῖς Ισραηλ ἐκπορνεῦσαι τὸν οἶκον τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῆς καὶ ἐξαρεῖς τὸν πονηρὸν ἐξ ὑμῶν αὐτῶν

This is the same scenario that [supposedly] occurred with Mary and Joseph. There was [supposed] evidence that the betrothed woman was not a virgin. Consequently, the man intended to divorce her while betrothed. There is a key relationship between the noun πορνείᾳ11 of Matt. 19:6 and the verb ἐκπορνεῦσαι12 of Deu. 22:21, as will be demonstrated below by Gen. 38:24.

Genesis 38:24

Another example of the relationship between πορνείᾳ and ἐκπορνεῦσαι occurs in Gen. 38:24. In the example of Tamar, she was accused of «ἐκπεπόρνευκεν» (like ἐκπορνεῦσαι, a conjugation of ἐκπορνεύω) and the child with which she was pregnant was said to be «ἐκ πορνείας» (like πορνείᾳ, a declension of πορνεία).

24 And it came to pass, about three months after, that Judah was told, saying, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; furthermore she is with child by harlotry.” So Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” NKJV, ©1982

ΚΔʹ ἐγένετο δὲ μετὰ τρίμηνον ἀπηγγέλη τῷ Ιουδα λέγοντες ἐκπεπόρνευκεν Θαμαρ ἡ νύμφη σου καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχει ἐκ πορνείας εἶπεν δὲ Ιουδας ἐξαγάγετε αὐτήν καὶ κατακαυθήτω

This demonstrates that πορνεία is a result of the action ἐκπορνεύω. With respect to Matt. 19:6, when the Lord Jesus Christ said that the man was not permitted to divorce the wife except for πορνείᾳ, this means that divorce was permitted when the the wife committed ἐκπορνεύω. As both Deut. 22:21 and Gen. 38:24 demonstrate, ἐκπορνεύω occurs when the espoused wife has sexual intercourse with someone other than her husband while they are espoused.

Joined — The Two Become One Flesh

Although they were legally married, Mary and Joseph had not yet cohabited and consummated the marriage. Therefore, they were not yet joined by God. That is, the two had not become one flesh.

The apostle Paul described that man and woman are joined by sexual intercourse, and consequently, the man and woman become one flesh.13

16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh”.

Although he uses the example of a man and a harlot, the same still applies to any man and woman. Sexual intercourse is the act by which the man and woman are joined in union, as is evident by the apostle Paul’s reference to Gen. 2:24.14 In the case of Mary and Joseph, they were not yet joined by sexual intercourse, therefore Joseph was permitted to divorce Mary because of her supposed infidelity while betrothed.

In summary, the exception clause in Matt. 19:6 pertains to divorce while espoused due to infidelity on the part of the espoused woman. After a man and woman consummate their marriage by sexual intercourse, they are joined by God, and divorce is impossible.

In many cases regarding divorce and remarriage, people who support remarriage after adultery tend to say, "If your ex husband marries another woman, he commits adultery and thus frees you up to be remarried biblically."

Actually, the Bible is quite clear: a married man cannot commit adultery unless he has sexual intercourse with another married man’s wife. If a married man has sexual intercourse with an unmarried woman, including marrying [another unmarried] woman, it is not adultery, as is clear in the case of Abraham, Jacob, David, and multitude of other biblical patriarchs who all had more than one wife and were not guilty of adultery. In the Bible — or at least the Tanakh — women can only have one husband; a man can have multiple wives.

1 Matt. 19:6; Mark 10:9
2 Isa: 14:24, 14:27
3 Rom. 7:2
4 Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18
5 Matt. 1:18
6 Deu. 22:23 mentions a נַעֲרָ בְתוּלָה מְאֹרָשָׂה לְאִישׁ — “a virgin maiden betrothed to a man” and in the very next verse refers to the same woman as אֵשֶׁת רֵעֵהוּ — “his neighbor’s wife”. This indicates that a betrothed woman was legally considered a man’s wife although the man and woman had not yet consummated their marriage.
7 Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 125–126. Also, Moshe ben Maimon, Mishneh Torah, Sefer Nashim, Hilkhot Ishut, Ch. 1, Halakha 3: “Once this process of acquisition has been formalized and a woman has become mekudeshet, she is considered to be married even though the marriage bond has not been consummated and she has not entered her husband's home”. (Translation Eliyahu Touger)
8 Matt. 1:18
9 Matt. 1:19
10 The narrative does not explicitly state Joseph intended to divorce her for πορνείᾳ, but the context demands such explanation.
11 lemma πορνεία
12 lemma ἐκπορνεύω
13 1 Cor. 6:16 cf. Gen. 2:2
14 cf. Moshe ben Maimon, Mishneh Torah, Sefer Nashim, Hilkhot Ishut, Ch. 3, Halakha 5: “If he married (sanctified) [the woman] by sexual intercourse...and when he finishes his sexual intercourse, she will be married (sanctified)”.
  • This is completely wrong. Mary was never guilty of fornication: she had no sexual partner before Joseph. Joseph, whom we know had sons already, was evidently free to remarry on account of the death of his first wife. To say God does not allow divorce is to ignore the places in the Bible where it is explicitly allowed, such as Isaiah 50. Divorce is not wrong. What is wrong is to remarry someone else without cause (adultery).
    – Biblasia
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 4:19
  • 1
    @Biblasia This answer did not say Mary was guilty of sexual sin before marriage adding that others 'supposed' she must have 'played the harlot' even while in her father's house. Given that she was visibly pregnant, Joseph would (understandably) think initially that Mary needed to be divorced before they came together. Then an angel told him the truth and Joseph no longer wrongly thought Mary had been sexually unfaithful. Nor does the scripture say he was a widower; that's tradition.
    – Anne
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 12:42
  • @Anne If Joseph had not been married prior, then Jesus' brothers would have been sons of Mary, and younger than him, which would have meant they should have respected him better than to try to tell him what to do, as scripture portrays. Further, they were not helping Mary at the cross, and Jesus assigned John to be "son" for Mary--because she had no other children to support her. The "tradition" you reference has solid basis in scripture.
    – Biblasia
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 16:12
  • 2
    @Anne—Thanks. I didn’t bother responding to his post as it was evident he didn’t entirely read what I wrote, or if he did read it entirely, he didn’t understand it entirely. Commented May 18, 2023 at 21:55
  • 1
    @Der Übermensch, I appreciate your footnotes for convenience and readability. Thank you. Michael16, I also appreciate the content in your other questions and answers. No offense intended, but it seems you're a little prickly though. :-)
    – Dieter
    Commented May 12 at 5:06

They may be applying 1 Corinthians 7:12-15

To the rest I say (not the Lord): if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she is willing to go on living with him, he should not divorce her; and if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he is willing to go on living with her, she should not divorce her husband. For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through the brother. Otherwise your children would be unclean, whereas in fact they are holy. If the unbeliever separates, however, let him separate. The brother or sister is not bound in such cases; God has called you to peace.

The question is, of course, whether they are doing so correctly. Paul clearly states that the believer is not bound if the unbelieving spouse separates. Perhaps these people are reasoning that the divorcing spouse has apostatized by divorcing and thus become an unbeliever.

This, however, would not appear to be what Paul is saying, since in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11

To the married, however, I give this instruction (not I, but the Lord): A wife should not separate from her husband—and if she does separate she must either remain single or become reconciled to her husband—and a husband should not divorce his wife.

Clearly if the wife apostatized by leaving her husband, there would be no point in directing her to not remarry. The Catholic Church, indeed, maintains that the Pauline privilege applies only to marriages where both the spouses were unbaptized at the point of marriage, and one subsequently converted.

The reasoning may be that whoever went to remarry first apostatized -- if a man divorced his wife and remarried, he was an adulterer and she was free, but if he merely divorced her, and she remarried, she was an adulteress, and he was free. However, Paul's prohibition on divorce without remarriage argues that interpretation is incorrect.


Your question is framed according to a modern, mainstream Christian perspective. Our understanding of marriage is one man, one woman. But first century Judaism was a chauvinistic, polygamist culture. Women were property and had virtually no rights, and men married as many women as they chose (Joseph. AJ 17.14, 20.259-267). The crime of adultery was for a man to take another man's wife, or for a wife to allow herself to be taken by a man other than her husband. In that era and that culture, there was no such thing as a man "cheating" on his wife. If he saw a new woman he wanted, and took her, he simply had an extra wife. If a woman cheated, it was adultery. If a man took a woman that belonged to another man, it was adultery.

So, to answer your question according to the actual history, culture, and context surrounding the statement, a man who is divorced can marry whomever he pleases without it being adultery, as long as it's not a divorced woman. A divorced woman, having been married already, is the property of the man to whom she was given in marriage. If another man marries her, he's marrying someone else's wife, which is adultery. Meanwhile, the divorced woman can't live without the support of a husband. So, for the sake of survival, she is forced to remarry. However, the same applies. She may have been divorced, but she's still the property of the man to whom she was married. Therefore, putting her away and divorcing her causes her to commit adultery, because she has no choice but to seek out a new marriage arrangement to live, and marrying another man when you still belong to the first man makes it adultery.

Jesus is essentially telling them that divorce is a farce. Once you're married, you're married. And although you can put away a wanton woman, you're still married. If someone else marries the woman you put away, they are committing adultery because they are marrying your spouse. If the woman remarries, she is committing adultery because she is marrying someone other than the husband to whom she has already been given. If the man marries another, he just has another wife.

The fact is, the culture of first century Judaism isn't compatible with our modern practice of marriage. Trying to establish doctrine around what Jesus said in this passage would be especially difficult, and a hard pill for most people to swallow, given the divorce statistics of our era. If we were to make everything equal, a true application of Jesus' teaching in this instance would be that, whether man or woman, you can only divorce your spouse for fornication (πορνείας in Greek, essentially meaning sexual immorality, which would include adultery, or wantonness; i.e. cheating). But in all cases, married is married. Being divorced doesn't make you not married according to this teaching. It just makes you physically separated. If you marry someone who is divorced, you are marrying the spouse of another, which is adultery.

Again, a hard pill to swallow in our modern day. It's hard to find someone above the age of 35 who hasn't been divorced nowadays. But the issue is far deeper than this passage and its parallels. There are answers to this situation, though they are not directly germane to your specific question.


It’s much more simple. Simply because a person is not free from the law until they die. Common sense. Romans 7:1 that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives

A certificate of divorce was necessary so that the man could not accuse another man of adultery with his former wife. The punishment of death was therefore laid upon the responsibility of God, the Law of Moses could not be used to condemn adulterers to death if there was a certification of divorce. If the man died of “natural causes” then another man was allowed to marry the divorced woman. This was somewhat true at some point in time. Jewish interpretation of the law changed throughout history so there’s literally not a consistent Biblical answer on this topic. Jesus did not give an answer to it other than what already had existed or been thought of before. That answer was basically “let’s not stone this person to death”

Also might want to consider that annulment or separated as legally defined today was probably back then understood as divorce.

Think about it. If you’re dead you can’t be held in trial. They can put your dead body on the witness stand but your defendant will raise the objection that you’re dead and cannot defend yourself at this moment.

  • Hello, Roamer . Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – agarza
    Commented May 12 at 2:42

If one's spouse has already committed adultery, the other spouse is free to remarry and does not commit adultery by doing so, because the spouse's adultery has given him or her liberty from that marriage.

But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. (Matthew 5:32, KJV)

And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. (Matthew 19:9, KJV)

That "fornication" includes all forms of sexual sin, not just adultery; yet "adultery" is part of it. So if one's spouse commits adultery, whether before or after divorce (divorce does not nullify the marriage in God's sight, it just provides for a separation), one is then legally, in God's sight, free to marry another.

  • 2
    This is absolutely wrong, but more importantly, it will prevent someone from entering the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9). For this reason, the Bible states, “Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (Jam. 3:1). Commented May 15, 2023 at 1:24
  • @DerÜbermensch You have not specified the part that you think is wrong, but most will interpret more liberally than this. This is a fairly conservative interpretation. It boils down to this: "Divorce" is defined differently between God's definition and man's/government's definition. God allows divorce as a separation only--it does not actually nullify one's marriage. If, however, a "divorced" man marries another, he commits adultery, and his divorced wife is now free to remarry in God's sight.
    – Biblasia
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 1:28

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks in language that is not meant to be taken literally, and this applies to "adultery" in this case as well. The message is directed to men who may divorce their wives, not to women or to men who marry divorced women. The woman does not literally commit adultery and is not to be blamed if she remarries, for her former husband has forced her to it. Literally speaking, only the man initiating the divorce is to be blamed. Everyone else is a victim of his act.

The OP asks: "....why does Jesus say that whoever marries this divorced woman also commits adultery?" He says the new husband "commits adultery" to emphasize the seriousness of the divorce, not to accuse its victims. Jesus is establishing a matrimonial ideal, not legal norms.

Conclusion: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached an absolute ideal which he hoped his disciples would live up to. He did not literally mean that one should pluck out his eye if it causes him to sin (5:29), or that a person will be sent to Hell if he calls someone a fool (5:22). Neither did Jesus mean that a divorced woman and her new husband literally commit adultery by marrying. Jesus' message here is that one must not divorce his wife in the first place. His saying that the wife or her future husband are committing adultery is not meant literally.

It may also be useful to consider a Catholic perspective here: A Catholic commentary in the NABRE deals with the issue by explaining that "sexual immorality" (porneias - πορνείας) means something other than the English term implies, namely a situation such as incest, in which the marriage was not legitimate in the first place:

This “exceptive clause,” as it is often called, occurs also in Mt 19:9, where the Greek is slightly different. There are other sayings of Jesus about divorce that prohibit it absolutely (see Mk 10:11–12; Lk 16:18; cf. 1 Cor 7:10, 11b), and most scholars agree that they represent the stand of Jesus... The unlawfulness that Matthew gives as a reason why a marriage must be broken refers to a situation peculiar to his community: the violation of Mosaic law forbidding marriage between persons of certain blood and/or legal relationship (Lv 18:6–18). Marriages of that sort were regarded as incest (porneia)... In this interpretation, the clause constitutes no exception to the absolute prohibition of divorce when the marriage is lawful.

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