Did Jesus really say this?


Divorce is acceptable if the spouse has committed adultery.


No, not really.

Mark 5:32 says, “But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Protestant Bibles tend to translate the exception as “except in the case of adultery.”

What’s particularly odd about that translation is that the word ‘adultery’ appears twice in this verse – but the word that Catholic Bibles translate as ‘unlawful’ is a different word. It almost makes one wonder whether the translation was based on existing doctrine (permitting divorce), rather than developing doctrine based on Scripture. :shrug:


It’s actually* Matthew *5:32. But you are right: the sentence in Greek runs like this:

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality porneias], makes her the victim of adultery moichatai], and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery moichatai]. (NIV)

Another interesting thing is that, while no Protestant translation actually renders *porneias *as “adultery” that is typically how some Protestants *interpret *it to mean.


Thanks for the correction! I was thinking ‘Matthew’; I have no idea why I wrote ‘Mark’.

Another interesting thing is that, while no Protestant translation actually renders *porneias *as “adultery” that is typically how some Protestants *interpret *it to mean.

Well… ‘fornication’ or ‘unfaithfulness’ – but in this context, the meaning they’re reaching for is clearly ‘adultery’:

New Living Translation
But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.

King James Bible
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.

Young’s Literal Translation
but I – I say to you, that whoever may put away his wife, save for the matter of whoredom, doth make her to commit adultery; and whoever may marry her who hath been put away doth commit adultery.


I’ve heard it said both ways. I’m not really sure anyone one is clear on it, yet, as Catholics we are to go by and trust in Catholic teaching, and unless you are granted an annulment , then you are not permitted to divorce.

If you take things on a spiritual level, if someone you made the marriage contract with goes behind your back and commits adultery, that spiritual marriage is already severed due to the major indiscretion. Its already a divorce, which God’s word says He “hates”… Malachi 2:16 (I take that to mean in a more broad sense than just marriage, that as the Father of us all, He hates it when all people are divorced from Him or from each other… all meanings of separation in the sense someone has turned away from charity.)

The book of Hosea is a good book to read if questioning this passage. It might give you more insight into what Jesus meant when he said that.

Some info on it… en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Hosea


This is how I understand it. The marriage would have to be invalid from the start for divorce to be permitted. This “Quick Question” from catholic.com explains it better then I can.


To be clearer…divorce is permitted in severe circumstances…to protect the wife and children; but, re-marriage is not permitted unless a decree of nullity is granted.


The New American Bible (Catholic) appears to be the only translation which renders “porneia” as “unlawful”. The Douay-Rheims, RSV Catholic Edition, and NRSV Catholic Edition all translate porneia in Matthew 5:32 and elsewhere* as fornication, which would be its closest English equivalent; porneia’s root word has to do with “selling off” (one’s sexuality) while fornication also originally had to do with prostitution. The word porneia came to refer to sexual immorality in general.

'Moicheia" is a more specific word which just refers to adultery; it’s not as broad a term as porneia.

  • Porneia is used many times in the NT, and everywhere else in all Bibles it’s translated as fornication, sexual immorality, unchastity, uncleaness, adultery. I haven’t seen a single place in any Bible where porneia is translated as “unlawful” other then by the NAB in Matthew. For example here’s the Douay Rheims version of Matthew 15:19: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication (porneia), thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies.”


Suffice to say, in the context of this verse, the Greek word porneia was not intended by Matthew to mean simply “adultery” or he would have used *moicheia *in all three instances. Whatever Jesus meant by this, he was not saying that adultery (one spouse being unfaithful to another) is an exception that allows divorce.


That’s true. Porneia covers a wider array of sexual sin than does moicheia. Most Bible translations–Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox–other than the NAB translate porneia here in this verse with its more direct meaning of fornication/sexual immorality.


No, that is incorrect. First, Divorce is not the problem most of the time. Divorce and remarriage is never allowed unless it is determined that the first marriage was illicit (porneia). As has been pointed out above, The Greek word porneia was not intended by Matthew to mean adultery.


Ignatius and others: Thank you although I do understand that divorce and remarriage is not permitted unless it is determined that the first marriage was illicit. That is not what I am questioning.

I should have been more specific in my original post about the conversation I had last night with my protestant friend who told me that Jesus said it is ok to divorce a cheating husband/wife. I said he never said that but could not find my source to prove my point.

She went on to say that us Catholics need to read our Bibles so we know what is said by Jesus. Since I have known her for 40 yrs and love her dearly i did not want hard feeling if things got heated. So I ended the discussion but she does insist Jesus said it is ok to divorce a cheating spouse. So that is my question. Did he say this and are we permitted to divorce a cheating spouse.


With the disclaimer that I’m not Catholic, IIRC correctly from the Wiki entry on this verse, St. Augustine’s and Erasmus’ position was that this did allow divorce for adultery, and Orthodox churches allow divorce for adultery—adultery being one type of porneia; a marriage that was illicit by reason of consanguinity might be another type of porneia, etc. I would hazard a guess that for Catholics a marriage with a cheating spouse might sometimes be annulled for reason of bad intentions on the part of the cheater towards keeping vows?


Again, no! As I pointed out above, The word porneia is the word used in Matthew, it does not mean adultery, as the King James translates it, it means illicit.


I believe your last sentence is correct,…if soon after marriage a spouse shows that they become unfaithful time and again, that shows their intentions were not rightly ordered.

However, if one partner was unfaithful many years down the road, that alone is not considered grounds for a decree of nullity.

If I am not understanding and saying that correctly, then hopefully someone who knows better can explain.


Ignatius, porneia means sexual immorality, which can include both adultery, unlawfulness by reason of consanguinity, and other forms of sexual immorality. As I noted above, the Douay Rheims, RSV Catholic Edition and NRSV Catholic Edition all translate porneia, not as unlawful or illicit, but as fornication, whoredom, and the like—it’s a word that specifically has to do with sexual sin.


" Did he not make them one, with flesh and spirit?

And what does the One require? Godly offspring!

You should be on guard, then, for your life,

and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.

1For I hate divorce,

says the LORD, the God of Israel,



The NAB you quoted is the only translation I found to use “unlawful”. The interlinear gives the original Greek as “porneas”, and the concordance shows the word is generally translated as “fornication” or “sexual immorality”.

The Douay-Rheims uses “fornication”, and all 21 bibles here use “fornication” or similar.


Yes I found that porneia seems to be used to mean prostitution often in the non-biblical Greek literature of the time.


More accurately, one of the meanings of ‘porneia’ was ‘prostitution’; others were ‘sexual immorality’, etc, etc. None of these mean that ‘unlawful marriage’ – one example of which is the situation which Paul discusses in 1 Cor 5 – is an unreasonable interpretation of ‘porneia’ as found in Mt 5:32. Do we need to get into a discussion of whom, exactly, has the charism of accurate interpretation of God’s Word? :wink:

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