Divorce when adultery


I forget where in the bible but there’s a spot where Jesus says (or sounds like he’s saying) that we can’t divorce except when adultery is involved. I know that we believe that adultery doesn’t automatically mean you’re free to divorce, so what’s the true meaning behind what he said. And can anyone explain in detail how what appears to be Jesus simply saying except for adultery is not so?


The teaching on divorce appears in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Only Matthew’s Gospel contains the qualifier about unchastity. Mark and Luke do not.

*But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32)

** He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so**. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:8-9)

And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11-12)

"Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. (Luke 16:18*

There was no divorce before Moses. Marriage was a covenant and it lasted until either the husband or wife died. This is the way it was “from the beginning”, which is an allusion to the way it was since Adam and Eve. God’s original plan was that marriage be forever.

Men would simply kill their wives or their wives would just disappear. Moses put a stop to this by allowing divorce temporarily. Divorce was a temporary fix for a bad situation, but it was never God’s plan.

Jesus returns marriage to the way it was “from the beginning”, a covenant that never ends.





ok the part in asking about is “except on the grounds of unchastity” (or in some bibles fornication). Protestants use this as a way to say that if my wife cheats on me I can divorce her. But I know that we believe that that’s not what he’s saying. Can you explain what he means and why we can’t just divorce if our spouse cheats on us?


If you are speaking to a friend about this, I think the story of Bob and Audrey Meisner will really speak to them. They are a married Protestant couple who have gone through the adultery of Audrey where she got pregnant with another race baby. It is an amazing story of how we can come to God in our pain and heart ache and experience his grace and healing.


God has made a way through Jesus Christ to be reconciled with Him, and He is there in our marriages if we turn to Him for help.


Thank you for linking that. It’s a clear, concise explanation.


great talk on marriage… fr, riccardo from Michigan… real world…handles misconceptions from popular Bible verses. Helps with your question too… perspective if nothing else…

Christ is the Answer – May 28, 2014: God’s Love Made Visible



I don’t know what Jesus meant by “unchastity.” Undoubtedly someone will respond with the actual Greek word used and the true meaning.

Scripture has to always be taken as a whole, and that in the context of Tradition and the Church. The four passages cited, along with all the other Scriptures on divorce and remarriage, Scriptures on how husband and wife are to love each other, the sacraments, the teachings of the Church - all are a unified whole. When I look at covenants in the Bible, I see that they never end, and marriage is a covenant.

Many would like to drive a truck through the “unchastity” passage instead of listening to the Church as the infallible interpreter of Scripture and her unwavering teaching over 2000 years.

Without getting into details, I personally struggled with these issues for many years.



The actual Greek word used is porneia. The traditional translation of this word into English has been “adultery”, “unchastity”, etc. - but the word apparently actually meant “incestuous”. In the NAB (the English edition approved for use in the US lectionary), the translation is “unlawful” (in this case, a much better translation). This is the reason why Paul chastises the Corinthians to excommunicate a man living in an incestuous relationship with his step-mother. As such, the exception is to incestuous “marriages”, which were not unheard of in Gentile countries, but were abhorrent to Jews.


The word is also used in the New Testament for sexual misconduct which could not in any way be described as an “incestuous marriage.”


When Jesus speaks of “porneia” he is talking about the relationship between the husband and the wife, that is their union is unlawful. It is not about either spouse committing adultery.


That is one interpretation. However, if one spouse commits adultery, [s]he is, by definition, committing porneia.


Was the institution of the “get” or Jewish divorce declaration current during the time of Jesus?


I think that the adultery exception clause was included in Matthew and not in the other Gospels because Matthew is the only Gospel that also mentions St Joseph’s intention to divorce his wife, the Virgin Mary, when he found out she was pregnant before they started living together. The adultery exception clause removes the apparent contradiction of St Joseph being a just man and his determination to divorce the Virgin Mary. So, as I see it, the adultery exception clause permits divorce and remarriage in the case of unconsummated marriages, which the Catholic Church also permits with the proper dispensation.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.