Matthew 19:9 and a cheating spouse

Hi. So apparently the Catholic teaching on marriage is that it cannot be dissolved if it is valid, as demonstrated in this CA tract:

Now the hardest part of this to accept from me is that if your spouse leaves you or cheats on you, even say openly and to your face, or even say has another child by another person, according to the Catholic Church, you cannot ever remarry while the spouse is still alive.

This cuts you off from any of the benefits of marriage such as intimacy, love, affection, or sex, even though you remained faithful to the marriage. Luckily I haven’t experienced this kind of betrayal but I can imagine the psychological damage would be very great.

Now couple this Roman Catholic teaching with Jesus words (the actual words of our lord and savior, not what fallible men such as Jerome and Augustine said) about marriage in Matthew 19, from the NRSV, the most up to date and scholarly translation of the bible:

“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.” - Matthew 19:9

But apparently the Catholic church doesn’t put much stock in the words of Jesus here:

It seems to me that the Catholic teaching has deviated from the intention of our lord and savior. Here Jesus clearly grants the right to divorce your wife on the basis of unchastity. The fact that I’m not a Jew, as the above article insinuates, does not forbid me from taking Jesus at his word, his actual word from his disciple Matthew.

Now of course what the Catholics might say in return is that “Maybe you can get an annulment, because maybe the marriage wasn’t valid”. Now ignoring the oddity of how one can believe oneself to be married while the opposite is true, let’s suppose that the spouse just changed right out of the blue after having children with you and that you wouldn’t get an annulment. Say the ecclesiastic court found the marriage to be valid and you were actually married all along just like you thought you were. Say you had to be stuck in grinding celibacy against your wishes for the rest of your life because the Roman Catholic Church says so.

And just to be sure, these aren’t just implausible hypotheticals I’m talking about here, these are actual events that men in my life have had dealt to them by cheating wives on several occasions. These are the numerous stories I have read on Catholic Answers from supposedly good Catholic husbands and wives up and betraying and leaving their spouse. Given the prevalence of divorce and adultery these days, I don’t see why young Catholics hoping to have the benefits of marriage for a long time should be all that hopeful about finding any kind of happiness with the Roman Catholic church’s stance here.

The Roman Catholic church says to these heartbroken people that their spouse who betrayed them is still their spouse, that they have to remain celibate even though they got married and would like to have the benefits of marriage and stayed faithful to their marriage vows.

Now no other Christian church seems to take this view on divorce. But the Catholic will then claim that this is what Jesus intended, as Jesus founded the Catholic church. But even the Orthodox Church which can make a similarly strong claim to being the Church that Jesus founded, allows for remarriage. Why can’t we do it like them?

Can someone explain to me how the Catholic teaching on divorce is 1. acceptable to good sense 2. in line with the actual words of our lord and savior in Matthew 19:9 that allows for divorce in the case of unchastity?

I would be greatly appreciative as this is a real sticking point for me.

This is not exactly Catholic teaching, but in Jeremiah 3 8 we see that God gave Israel a bill of divorce because of her spiritual adultery. According to the Law of Moses, a person that commits adultery is to be stoned to death (no sin offering is available for this sin). God made an exception with King David and Bathsheba. I would suggest that, using the history of Israel as a guide (along with the Law), it seems clear that we should forgive a cheating spouse, but if it continues and there is no repentance on the part of the cheating spouse, divorce is optional (of course, stoning the offending party to death would also release the faithful spouse from the wedding vows, leaving them free to remarry if they so choose). Since stoning to death is not an option in this day and age (at least in this part of the world), divorce is an acceptable (and Scriptural) alternative.

Of course, the church feels differently about it.

I agree this is a difficult teaching. Its also a teaching that sets the Catholic Church apart from everyone else.
When taking into accounts of what Jesus actually sai d.
He makes the case both in Mark, Luke, as well as Matthew that marriage is a special thing and Moses granted divorce because of the Jews failure to live up to the word of God.
Only in Matthew’d Gospel is this disclaimer referenced.

In the Greek two very different words are used in the same sentence which you are interping as adultry.
Why would he use to different words to describe the same thing?
. The fathers in the West chose to define that exception as marriages entered into that shouldn’t have been like incest. The West takes Jesus’s word in the whole context of his message. Everyone else is taking the Moses route. Your interpretation takes the context of Jesus message on the God inspired origins of marriages and reduces it to sn escape cause that’s effect destroys his message.

Based on what is happening with increase divorce rates I think the Western Church got it right.

Actually, in this case, the NAB translation has a more accurate translation of this verse:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, unless the marriage is unlawful, commits adultery.”

The phrase in question is based on the Greek word porneia, which actually indicates not adultery, but incest. Incestuous marriages were forbidden by the Torah, but many pagans entered into incestuous marriages. As such, Jesus’s aside is actually not against marriages where adultery happened (by the way, the punishment for adultery in the Jewish law was death by stoning), but against incestuous marriages.

But who indeed are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Will what is made say to its maker,“Why have you created me so?” Romans 9:20

I hate to ask this, but did you read the links you posted? Both of them explain the issue. I don’t know where you get the opinion that Jesus clearly grants the right of divorce in cases of unchastity. If it were clear, there wouldn’t be a debate about it. Being a Catholic means obeying the will of God as interpreted to us through those Christ Jesus left the keys to Heaven with.

I understand you’re angry, distressed, upset; this is why you’ve chosen to say such things as that the Church doesn’t put much stock in Jesus’ words. Of course the Church puts stock in Jesus’ words.

No one said life was easy, or that trusting in the Church and the Word of God is easy. When you think someone’s suffering unduly under the stresses of what it takes to really love God and his Word, think on the suffering martyrs, or think on the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows.

I’m sorry you’re having difficulty, but we all have difficulty. Or who was the Bible talking about when it said “there is a way that seems good to a man, but it’s end is the way of death” or “rest not on your own understanding” or “there was no king in Israel in those days; each man did what was right in his own eyes.” Was it not talking about us?

The Church will not simply adopt the easy way just to please. We do not forsake Truth for Comfort.

It is a hard teaching; just like the admonition to eat His body and drink His blood. Many walked no more with him. I know of some very good people who have been put in this situation and have been divorced through no fault of their own and cannot take communion.
A mate of mine suggested that they should kill them; you only get six years in jail and you get to keep the house. However, we all know that this is not a solution no matter how attractive it is. But seriously, we have to follow our conscience and as Catholics, the teaching of the Church no matter how hard. I pray that your personal situation improves and you find some peace in spite of so many questions.
I believe that Jesus will be very merciful towards sexual sins as it is such a natural urge within us. Never judge other people who cannot live chastely after being so cruelly betrayed by their spouse. God’s mercy will find them.

this is not entirely correct, you can take communion if you are divorced. divorce is not really the issue, it’s remarriage


“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, unless the marriage is unlawful, commits adultery.”


“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”


Luke 7:47-50, “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.

Matthew 18:21-22
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

It was a sticking point to me too during the time I fell away from the church. My son is divorced and remarried–from a cheating spouse who deserted him and their FIVE kids for another man. I used to wonder how I could ever be in communion with a faith that said my son was going to hell. The correct answer however, is that this is NOT what the Catholic church says or practices AT ALL!! The church simply teaches what Jesus did–that 3 “people” enter into a Catholic valid marriage–the couple (2) and God! For a couple to enter into a “valid” marriage, BOTH have to be on the same page. A number of things can put said couple on different pages entirely. Many of these are not necessarily obvious when a couple marries. One–but not all by far-- of these things is a firm desire to spend the rest of your life FAITHFULLY with one person and only one person in service to them. A second one is openness to new life. A third involves mental stability of both parties–as shown in many ways such as not being a spousal abuser. There are other requirements but I tend to get wordy, so I list only the above. Frankly, in the scenario you described of the cheating spouse, I would bet a dime to a dollar that the marriage would be annulled by the church and the first party could remarry within the Catholic church. The person who wants the marriage annulled, simply has to be willing to take the trouble to apply to the Catholic church for an annulment and then be willing to take the steps to do so. Is it a fast process? No it isn’t. Is it expensive? There’s no charge unless you consider gasoline in driving to and from the church or postage if asked to provide material you don’t already have readily available. What if you were married, say 20 years and have 3 kids? The marriage can still be annulled. Look at the Kennedy guy who got his 1st marriage annulled–I think they had at least two kids and the kids weren’t all that young. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News is another example—his wife cheated on him with another cop–she’s a cop herself–and O’Reilly filed for civil divorce. In addition, he’s in the process of having that first marriage annulled by the church. It does take several months however, so it’s certainly not as “quick and easy” as a civil divorce is now days–but then it should it be?

It’s actually good that the Catholic church will grant an annulment but that the annulment process is a little time-intensive. Catholic pre-wedding instruction–required prior to a Catholic marrying in the church— takes at least 3 months to finish and no priest will marry you without proof of completing it. Thus getting into a marriage in the first place is time intensive for a Catholic as well!! The Catholic church requires a person who chooses to annul a marriage to THINK–and THINK AGAIN. I think it’s safe to say, that while a couple may jump into a marriage, in the Catholic church, nobody jumps out of one because of a bad fight or a few harsh words with their spouse. The church is not Las Vegas and their are no “quickie” divorces. You take a VOW before God when you marry. Wouldn’t you think that to abdicate that vow shouldn’t be as simple as blowing your nose? If there were any chance that a marriage was salvageable–and particularly if children are involved—wouldn’t you think that it should be attempted? Along with many other break downs in our society today, isn’t the ease with which people enter into marriage and just as quickly opt out a true blight? Think of Elizabeth Taylor and frankly, most celebrities today. If their marriages last a year people consider it to be a successful marriage! In all honesty–whether or not you think the church is right to discourage divorce—do you think most of these celebrities have the slightest clue what a true marriage is?

I have never known anyone who applied to the church for an annulment–other than Henry VIII in history (and c’mon, do you think his heart was in the right place)–but was denied! Now, I’m sure that someone on this forum will come up with a person they know who was denied an annulment. HOWEVER, I dare say that it’s far more likely that the church will grant an annulment than deny it. The church isn’t trying to make any person live in a living hell for 50 or 60 years–nor do they enjoy seeing someone unable to receive the Sacraments just for the joy of making a point. The church doesn’t make rules simply because the hierarchy are old, fat white guys on a power trip. The church DOES want couples to realize that it isn’t just the other person, or even the Catholic church, that a couple makes a promise to when they marry. It’s GOD!! Wouldn’t you say that a promise to God is reasonably serious? If nothing else, don’t you think that if you had to go through all the steps and hassles to meet the criteria for a Catholic annulment the first time, that you’d be really thinking things through thoroughly before you married a second time? And isn’t that a good idea?:shrug:

It occurred to me to think of this, as well.

You claim it’s unfair that the spouse subjected to the cheating spouse will never be able to know tenderness, love, affection from a partner again. You claim you must grind against celibacy even though you don’t want to.

Have you ever considered how the gay faithful community feels? You just described them. It’s an immense cross to bear.

Next, let’s go ahead and think in terms of the reverse with regards to whether porneia is translated “incest (i.e. invalid)” or “adultery”.

If it is translated as adultery:
You can only divorce if you have an adulterous marriage. Therefore, if you are coerced into marrying someone you don’t want to marry, you can never divorce them so long as they don’t commit adultery. Or if you found out you married your long lost sister, stay married to her. If you marry someone already married, stay married to them. If you married against your real knowledge, at the age of 10, well, enjoy your spouse, because you’re stuck.

How does any of that make sense? Yet that’s the reality you’re faced with when you choose the “other” way of interpreting Christ’s words. Explain to me how that makes sense.

Wow. Those two translations are completely different in meaning.
Sure hope people are not following erroneous or questionable translations in many other parts of the bible, too.

To the OP, yeah, I see your point. If that translation you quote is correct, then it would seem that Jesus was saying that if your spouse cheats on you, that is grounds for divorce.


Bottom line: the Catholic church can and does determine if a marriage is valid or invalid–lay people do not. If someone is coerced into a marriage or marries a partner who obviously has no intention of living up to the vow they took at marriage (to live as one) by having affairs and even a child with an adulterous partner, I would almost bet the innocent partner would be granted an annulment if they so desired. They do have to ASK for an annulment though , and then provide the church with whatever information the Bishop requires of them. It’s happened before rather frequently, and it’s incorrect and harsh to assume that any man or woman would basically be excommunicated for divorcing a spouse who broke their vows at every turn. The gentleman–if serious–should present the matter to his priest, and if he wants an annulment I will just bet you that he can get one. People always assume that the Catholic church expects a person in a marriage to suffer through any horrible and painful behavior on the part of a spouse under threat of simply having to live the rest of their life alone or be separated from the sacraments. There are certainly situations where a marriage can not be annulled. Having said that, there are many, many situations where an annulment can be granted and a once married person can remarry with the Church’s blessing if they so choose. I think he should speak to his priest. If he just makes a blanket assumption that he’s out of luck, it’s a self fulfilling prophecy and he will be out of luck.:thumbsup:



I just wanted to say I love that phrase!

Maybe others are too easy on the subject of divorce. They gave in to pressure concerning birth control, too.

The Catholic Church has been holding the line on both despite the fact that its positions are not popular.

Indeed, there is much diversion from Christ’s intent. What’s key is His use of “unchastity”, meaning “guilty of unlawful sexual intercourse”. Forgiveness is key.

On an aside, do people who want to remarry still have to pay and request an approval from the pope? (My close friends’ Mom did this in that late '80’s) If so, then are they still required to stand at the back of the church? Or has that practice for divorced people stopped?

WHAT? You don’t ‘pay’ to ‘remarry’, you don’t ‘request approval from the pope’, and you don’t ‘stand at the back of the church’.

How could something STOP that never EXISTED IN THE FIRST PLACE???

Tantrum, I was told by this lady’s kids, whom are as close as brothers & sisters to me -and she I consider my 2nd Mom, who grew up in a RCC family, that she paid a fee and requested official approval from the pope to remarry. I didn’t make it up. When they invited me to go to church with them back in the day, I asked why she wasn’t sittng with us & was standing in the back of the church, and was told that since she was divorced (even though her husband cheated on her, left the family & emptied theirs & the 3 kids’ college funds) she had to stand back there. When she remarried, she then was able to sit in the pew.

A similar story appears in several other Gospels where no exception is articulated (e.g., Luke 16:18) but, oddly, no one seems to think those are problematic for the “Jesus OK’d divorce!” interpretation that conflicts with them.


Either they or you misinterpreted the situation and turned it into something negative. A spin on words.

You don’t pay money to have your marriage cancelled out and get a new one.
You can undergo a process to investigate witnesses and your own past to see whether or not the Church believes your marriage was, in the first place, a valid one. There is a fee associated with this process which normally does not cover the expenses, as far as I’m aware, to have done the investigation (this is similar to how things work in a court of law, only in a secular court you pay a lot more and you more than cover the costs of the investigation).

If your marriage, after this investigation, was found to be invalid, you were never in a valid marriage in the first place, and so you can go on to marry (hopefully validly) if you so choose.

Additionally I have no idea what she meant about sitting in the back. There is no penal law like that in the Church. Either someone who was ignorant told her to do that, she did it of her own accord based on her feelings of guilt, or something similar. No doubt it could have been confused in the translation to you, as well.

When asked why Moses allowed divorce, Jesus reminds the pharisees how “from the beginning it was not so.”

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. (Matthew 19:7-8)

The words “from the beginning” would have reminded the Pharisees of the opening lines of the Torah, the first lines of the Book of Genesis. The fact is that there was no divorce before Moses. From the time of Adam “in the beginning” to the time of Moses there was no such thing as divorce.

Jesus came to take us back to the way things were “In the beginning”, before sin entered the world. Christ came to restore us to that perfect state before sin entered the world when there was no need for divorce.


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