How could a woman in an adulterous marriage have the right to remarry after a divorce?


I have read through your articles and thoroughly enjoyed them, and even taken a few sermons and re-worked them into sermons that I preached here. However, when I came across an answer to a question you made concerning divorce and remarriage, I was a bit taken aback because of you being "totally on" scripture when it comes to the topic. The question was about a woman who had the right to marry (never married before) marrying a man who had been divorced unscripturally. Obviously both were committing sin. She became a Christian, found out about the sin, and ended the relationship through a divorce. She however asked the question could she re-marry in which you answered yes. Now if I'm confusing your position I apologize, but are you saying that an unlawful marriage in God's eyes isn't marriage? If this is the case, I believe you are mistaken about what the scriptures say.

"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).

"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).

These verses, especially Matthew 5:32, would say that one can be married again -- Jesus said: "and marries another." Even though God calls the second marriage unlawful (except for fornication), it does not mean that it doesn't exist. Unlawful killing is still a killing (only the state as the right to kill criminals Romans 13:1-4). If the one that is committing the sin can be married again, then it is marriage for the other spouse also Matthew 19:4-6. Therefore regardless of whether the second spouse had the right to marry, they married unlawfully in this case, and are committing adultery. If they later became a Christian and divorced their spouse, it was not for the sin of adultery against them, it was because they were committing sin by remaining in the relationship. Since there are no other grounds for divorce and remarriage save fornication, this person (as sad as it is) cannot remarry scripturally. Nowhere in the scripture does it teach that there are marriages that God does not recognize exist (even though there are marriages that are sinful and therefore they are ones that he does not approve of). Love to hear your response on the matter, and again, if I misrepresented your position I apologize.


There are several things that you missed. First, let's go over the timeline of events:

  1. The woman was a Christian.
  2. She was married for thirteen years to a man who was divorced from his wife for reasons other than fornication. She understood that she was in adultery by being in this marriage.
  3. She divorced this man and was restored to the Lord.
  4. Two years later she married a second man. This was his first marriage.
  5. Six years later her second husband became a Christian.
  6. One year later her first husband died.
  7. Sometime later both she and her husband fell away again. He was restored a few years ago and she was recently restored.

I did not say that she wasn't married to her first husband. I stated that she wasn't properly married, or as you phrased it "not lawfully married." I tend to avoid using "lawful" in such cases because it introduces confusion as to whether we are talking about man's laws or God's laws. By her statement, her marriage was as John described Herod's marriage, "For John had said to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife'" (Mark 6:18). Herod was married, but he should not have been. It was a marriage made without the proper authorization; it was unlawful. The marriage created a situation where the law was being broken; those in the marriage were in sin -- adultery, to be specific. This woman was married, but she should not have been because it was adulterous and, thus, was not authorized by God.

I took it that she left her first marriage because she became convicted that she needed to live right before God, and she could not do so while remaining in adultery. Thus, her first marriage ended because of adultery. Her first husband was causing her to join in his adultery because he was still bound by the terms of his covenant to his first wife. It is a bit different from the way we usually think about fornication. We generally think of sexual sins being committed with a third party, but because of his state he brought adultery to this marriage -- he caused her to commit adultery. This doesn't lessen the fact that she committed adultery, but it does pinpoint the source.

When Jesus said, "except for fornication," the phrase is broader than "sex before marriage." Since it is being applied to married couples, it is sexual sins in general which would include adultery. She left him because of the adultery he brought to their relationship. Therefore, I conclude that the marriage ended under the exception clause. The woman's first husband still didn't have the authority from God to marry again because he remained bound under the covenant of his first marriage. He had also improperly entered a second covenant and one could argue that he is also bound by the terms of that covenant as well. I would be inclined to say that God wouldn't have joined them together because that joining was adulterous. But, still, God did allow improper marriages under the Old Law (polygamy). I can see someone arguing whether the second marriage covenant was enforceable or not. It really doesn't matter since it doesn't change this particular situation.

Since the woman's first marriage ended because of fornication, specifically adultery on her husband's part that involved her in adultery, I believe she had the right to the second marriage. The ending of her first marriage ended the cause of her adultery. With that, she was able to repent of her sins and gain the forgiveness of God (I John 1:9). The forgiveness did not give her the right to remarry, but the fact that the divorce was because of fornication did give her the right to remarry. Even if you state that she did not have the right to remarry, her first husband is dead. "For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man" (Romans 7:2-3). Therefore, her current marriage as it exists today is valid.

Another way to look at this is to realize that adultery does not keep a person from getting married. An unmarried man could commit adultery with a married woman and later still marry someone else. Flipping the coin, a married man could divorce his wife because she burnt his toast that morning but he cannot marry another woman even though he did not commit adultery (I Corinthians 7:10-11). The only cause of divorce that the Lord allowed a person to remarry after the divorce is when the spouse committed adultery.


Thanks for the response.  It seems that I did in fact misrepresent your position a little for which I apologize.  Thank you for clearing up the point that, in fact, you do believe that the second marriage was a marriage for both involved.  I now understand why you believe that the woman involved had the right to scripturally remarry: because she put her husband (for which she had no right to) away for fornication.  If this in fact was the case scripturally, then I agree that the woman would have the right to remarry.

Leaving aside the specific case, I would like to examine the argument you made concerning whether or not a person who was previously unmarried, but now in an adulterous marriage can in fact scripturally put their spouse for adultery that is present in their relationship with each other.  This might sound confusing, so let me diagram it:

1. Guy A divorces his wife for a cause other than adultery or is divorced for any cause (has no scriptural right to remarry)

2. Girl B (never married) marries Guy A: this is a marriage that is not acceptable in God's eyes but is, in fact, a marriage

3. Girl B becomes a Christian and realizes she is in an adulterous relationship, so she divorces Guy A (for the cause that we'll get to in a minute), receives forgiveness and wants to know whether the scriptures teach that she can re-marry.

In your response to me, you said that she could scripturally put away Guy A for fornication, (Matthew 19:9).  However, I do believe that this is a misapplication of the verse.  I know you know the context, but for the sake of those who don't I'd like to provide the context to this verse:

"The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. 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 19:3-9).

The Pharisees were testing Jesus with a question: "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for every cause?".  By pointing out God's original intentions of one man, one woman for life, Jesus unequivocally said no it is not lawful to divorce for every cause.  He gave here the only "scripturally lawful" reason for divorce which is fornication.  Only if this is the reason for divorce may the injured party re-marry.

Now, the fornication in Matthew 19:9, against whom did the person who committed fornication sin?  Well, first off they sinned against God. Genesis 39:7-9 says "And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?"

Second, they sinned against their own body.  I Corinthians 6:18 says:  "Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body."  All fornication is not adultery, but all adultery is fornication.

Finally, they sinned against their spouse.  Mark 10:11 says: "And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her."

No one else but these three are sinned against in Matthew 19:9 and no one else is ever sinned against in cases of adultery as far as I can find in the scriptures.  This does not mean that the other person involved does not have sin, for they do, but they weren't sinned against.  Therefore the injured party, in this case, has the right to divorce their spouse for fornication that was against them, not anybody else.

You might be asking why I took this little side trip, well here's the explanation.  Guy A and Girl B marry, both are committing adultery.  Matthew 5:32 says: 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 19:9 which was already quoted that whosoever shall put away his wife, save for fornication and marries another commits adultery.

So both people (Guy A and Girl B) in this marriage were committing adultery.  Against whom were they committing adultery?  Besides God and themselves, it was against the first wife.  The injured party (the first wife ) is the only one who has the right to divorce in this case, but this point is moot because, by inference, if Guy A was married again, a divorce has already taken place.  Girl B does not have the right to divorce on the grounds of fornication (even though she must divorce to end the adultery) because her husband was not sinning against her (Girl B), but against his first wife.  Likewise, Girl B was also involved in the same adultery against the first wife.  How can you say that the scriptures teach that Girl B could benefit (i.e. re-marry after committing adultery against the first wife) from this adultery?  Could Girl B be forgiven from her sins? With repentance absolutely.  Could Girl B live as a Christian the rest of her life?  Most definitely.  However, I believe the scriptures teach that Girl B could not have ended her marriage with Guy A for fornication unless the sin of adultery was committed against her (i.e. Guy A committed adultery against Girl B with yet another woman).  Hence because of this, I believe that the scriptures teach that Girl B cannot re-marry scripturally.


The core of your argument is that only the person sinned against can end a marriage in divorce for the cause of fornication and leaves that person with the right to marry again. Such is the common, simplified explanation of the verse. It is accurate as far as it goes, but don't confuse the explanation for what Jesus actually said. There is no labeling of an innocent, wronged, or injured party -- that was added to help clarify the situation. It appears that you took the explanation and decided that Jesus' statement only applies when the fornication involves a third party. The fact that the very marriage is a matter of fornication is ruled out -- not by what Jesus said, but because of how the verse is commonly explained.

When a divorce occurs that leaves a person without the right to remarry, Jesus stated that the one marrying such a person commits adultery.

  • "whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery" (Matthew 5:32).
  • "whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9).
  • "whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery" (Luke 16:18).

The marriage in these cases causes adultery to occur. Since it is adulterous, it would be sensible to argue that both the husband and wife of the second marriage are committing adultery against the spouse of the first marriage. Such marriages have no right to exist. They are unlawful as John pointed out to Herod (Mark 6:18).

Thus we find that the one who divorced for some other reason than fornication is also guilty of adultery when entering a second marriage.

  • "whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9).
  • "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery" (Mark 10:11-12).
  • "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery" (Luke 16:18).

The woman who wrote ended her marriage because she realized that it was causing her to commit adultery. The marriage was also causing her husband to be guilty of adultery as well. She ended it because of fornication. Such matches the exception clause as stated by Jesus, though I agree it isn't the first scenario most people would think about. But just because the verse isn't normally explained this way, it doesn't lead to the conclusion that it doesn't fit with what Jesus said.

There is some background to this that you would not be aware of: Many years ago, I had a couple approach me worried about their marriage. The situation was as followed: The wife had married a man who had been divorced twice before. He told her, and his family verified, that those divorces were because his former wives had committed adultery. Being the age of no-fault divorces, you can't look at the court records to see why a divorce occurred. After being married for a number of years and having children with this man, a chance comment by someone made her realize that he hadn't been honest about his situation. She tracked down his former wives and learned that he had lied to her. They each had divorced him because of his adultery. She divorced him and eventually married another man. I concluded that her first marriage was unlawful: it was based on fraud and it was adulterous. But to be sure I didn't overlook anything, I asked other preachers for their thoughts. I was shocked to get about a dozen unanimous conclusions (I was expecting a few to disagree, but none did): the woman had the right to remarry.

In her situation, she was committing adultery unknowingly. It was her husband's fault that she was brought into this sin. She divorced him for fornication, even though she was involved unknowingly in his sin. The difference between her situation and the woman we are discussing is that this woman knew the marriage was wrong at the outset, but because she had left the Lord, she didn't care. Since Jesus doesn't discuss innocence in the matter, I won't add to his words. Her situation matches what the Lord stated. It is the husband's status which made the union adulterous, not the woman's. The woman was committing adultery because the husband was committing adultery. If he had the right to remarry, their marriage would not have been adulterous. She ended the adulterous marriage. He remains bound by his covenant with his first wife. She was not bound because the divorce was because his adultery was making her be an adulteress -- it was for fornication.

But regardless of all the arguments, as I pointed out originally, it doesn't matter. The man had since died. Even if you insist on calling her an adulteress because she married again, she was no longer. "For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man" (Romans 7:2-3). The question was whether her marriage was legitimate and the answer is "yes," to which you agreed.

I generally don't like arguing hypotheticals. They rarely, if ever, match real-world situations. I hope this explanation of my reasoning gives you something to think about, or a least assure you that it wasn't made without consideration or reason.


Thank you for your response.  I certainly did not want to come across as saying that thought wasn't put into the studying of the scriptures of this issue on your part -- obviously a lot had.  Although I agree with 99% of your argument made from the Bible on divorce and remarriage, I respectfully disagree that the Bible affirms the position that a person in an adulterous marriage (who had the scriptural right to marry before) can end the marriage on the grounds of fornication and marry again.  I understand that a person's spouse can die and the circumstances therefore change, I have no problem with that, but barring that, I can find no scripture which necessarily affirms your position.  We can conclude what we will from the Scriptures, but unless they're necessary conclusions, that's all they are: our conclusions.  I have enjoyed discussing this issue with you as it has given me valuable things to study from the Scriptures.

Just in closing, I believe the hard work you put into answering questions on this site is a great tool for teaching the gospel to a lost world.  I enjoy reading your answers to questions and borrowing points from the many topics you preach in Nebraska.  May God continue to bless you and the congregation you work with that good may continue to be done in His name.

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