Just One Just Cause for Divorce

But I say unto you, that everyone that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away commiteth adultery (Matt. 5:32).

Having just taught concerning lust and adultery in the heart (Matt. 5:27-30), Jesus now turns His attention to a practice common among the Jews of the first century: divorce for any cause and remarriage to another. For the most part the Jews had taken a law (Deut. 24:1-4) that was originally given by God to discourage and regulate the arbitrary dismissal of wives by their husbands, and used it as license to put away their wives for any cause. Most of the Jews overlooked the cause of some unseemly thing, choosing instead to reason that any cause could force a man’s wife to find no favor in his eyes. Then in an attempt to justify their action as lawful they emphasized the proper civil procedure of writing her a bill of divorcement. Consequently, regardless of the cause, as long as the husband had given his wife a proper bill of divorcement prior to her dismissal, he had followed the law and was free to marry another.

It’s important that we understand and learn that the cause of fornication is the only legitimate and divinely sanctioned ground for which a man may put away his wife. Nevertheless, the weight of the statement of Jesus in Matthew 5:32 does not fall upon the exception, rather it is the one exception that gives prominence to the illegitimacy of any other reason.

Jesus shows the woman innocent of fornication who is unjustly dismissed by her husband to be the victim of her husband’s sin, for he maketh her an adulteress (causeth her to commit adultery, KJV). It’s clear that when no fornication has been committed by either party and the wife is unjustly dismissed, whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery. There can be only one reason that God regards her remarriage as adultery: she is still bound by God to her marital covenant. Even though dismissed by her husband and released from her marital contract under civil law, she remains bound by that marital covenant yoked by God (Matt. 19:6).

Both the personal and civil action taken by the husband that dismisses a wife innocent of fornication are without sanction of divine law, and therefore, are without force in the accomplishment of their desired intent. Consequently, she remains the wife of the man who unjustly dismissed her with all the obligations and restrictions imposed by that divinely joined covenant still in tact. Since neither party committed fornication, neither party is free to marry another. Such was the case with Herod and Herodias. Although Herodias had apparently divorced her husband Philip and married his brother Herod, this action was unlawful so far as God was concerned and she remained Herod’s brother’s wife (Mark 6:16-18).

Regardless of what human civil law sanctions or permits, when a divorce takes place and no fornication has been committed, any marital relations or any exercise of the privileges and rights of the marital relationship by either party cornstitutes adultery. There is but one just cause for divorce and remarriage: fornication, and only the innocent party has the authority to remarry without committing adultery. Whatever the laws of men may pronounce, this is the law of Christ and to it we must conform.