I didn’t really write this article to stand alone. I was writing another article about Jesus words on lust that got too long with the stuff below included. So I lopped this off and made it it’s own separate article.
With that disclaimer let’s tackle the topic of adultery and what it really means in the Bible.
The Definition of Adultery
Here is how we define adultery today, and I borrowed this definition of adultery from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary.
voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than that person’s current spouse
However, the way we define adultery today is not the same way they defined it in the Bible. Adultery is a specific sin with a specific definition.
The Biblical Definition of adultery
We’ll look at every place the Bible defines “adultery” to get a good definition for this sin. To do this, here is every word the Bible uses that’s translated “adultery.
Here are the words I looked up: (5 Greek, 3 Hebrew)
- “μοιχαλίς” (moichalis) meaning “adulteress” (female). The technical definition is: “(a) an adulteress (that is, a married woman who commits adultery), (b) Hebraistically: extended to those who worship any other than the true God“
- “μοιχάομαι” (moichaó) a verb meaning “to commit adultery”. The technical definition is: “to have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife, to commit adultery with“
- “μοιχεία” (moicheia) meaning “adultery”. The technical definition is also “adultery”, with nothing further given from the lexicon.
- “μοιχεύω” (moicheuó) a verb meaning “I commit adultery”. The technical definition is “to commit adultery with, have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife“
- “μοιχός” (moichos) meaning “adulterer” (male). The technical definition is: “an adulterer, that is, a man who is guilty with a married woman“
- “נָאַף” (naaph) a verb meaning “to commit adultery”. Technical Definition is: “literally commit adultery; usually of man, always with the wife of another; with accusative woman” (this is the word used in the Ten Commandments)
- “נִאֻפִים” (niuph) meaning “adulteries”. No Technical definition given, but related to “naaph” above, so sharing the same definition.
- “אֲפוּף” (naaphuph) meaning “adultery”. No Technical definition given, but related to “naaph” above, so sharing the same definition.
You may have noticed there’s a common thread among all of those definitions. Every single one of them referred to a man having sex with another man’s wife. If you click the links, you can look at every single place those words are used. You’ll find that same common thread in all of them.
Whenever the adultery is described (more than just “they committed adultery”) it always involves a married woman.
Every single time.
Now let’s look at the places the Bible defines adultery
This first one comes in the middle a bunch of regulations about sex, so it’s right on topic.
10 ‘If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
And that’s it for definitions in the Old Testament, though I admit it’s not technically speaking a definition. There is one additional passage that sheds some light.
“If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.
Again, the Old Testament is consistent with the use of the words meaning “adultery”. Adultery always involves a man having sex with another man’s wife. Every single time you get more than “they are adulterers” it’s a always a man having sex with another man’s wife.
Now the New Testament, starting with Romans:
2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.
3 So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.
I’d like to point out at this point that the Bible – including Paul in the New Testament – has been extremely consistent regarding the definition of adultery. The mean of all the words and all the passages point to a single definition:
Adultery is only committed when a man has sex with another man’s wife.
That’s the only definition that’s Biblically supported thus far. Adultery has a specific and technical definition. Further, it’s not the same definition that we modern Christians think it is.
If a husband has sex with an unmarried woman he does NOT commit adultery.
To be sure, he’s being sexual immoral, (specifically fornicating) but it’s not the specific sin of adultery. And just to be clear, Yes, The Bible CLEARLY Says Sex Outside of Marriage is Wrong. That includes both Adultery and fornication. (fornication = all sex outside of marriage; adultery is technically one type of fornication)
Both sins are serious.
However, they aren’t the same sin.
Murder and adultery are both serious sins, but they aren’t the same. Likewise adultery and “sexual immorality” (or fornication) aren’t the same sin, even though both are serious. However, that doesn’t change the fact that a man can only commit adultery if he has sex with another man’s wife.
I’m not the only one who’s come to this conclusion either. According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary:
conjugal infidelity. An adulterer was a man who had illicit intercourse with a married or a betrothed woman, and such a woman was an adulteress. Intercourse between a married man and an unmarried woman was fornication. Adultery was regarded as a great social wrong, as well as a great sin.
Remember, adultery is a technical term with a technical meaning that is 100% consistent throughout scripture.
It means it means a man having sex with another man’s wife. That’s it. No other sin falls under the definition of “adultery”. If a married man sleeps with a woman who isn’t his wife, that’s still a serious sin. However, it’s not the specific sin of “adultery” because it doesn’t fit the definition.
Please keep in mind that adultery ALWAYS means “a man having sex with another man’s wife“
(or you could say “a married woman having sex with a man who isn’t her husband.”; same meaning, different phrasing)
This is crucial: a man CANNOT commit adultery unless he sleeps with another man’s wife.
He can be a fornicator/”sexually immoral”, but not an adulterer. Please remember that because it will be important soon.
Now, we need to look at the Old Testament procedure for divorce
1 When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house,
The word translated “indecency” is the Hebrew word “עֶרְוַ֣ת” (ervah) and it means “nakedness”. Of the 54 times it’s used, 48 it’s translated that way and it has no other meaning. The nakedness for this word implies shameful or lewd exposure. It can’t refer to sex (adultery) because the punishment for that was death; not divorce. the actual meaning was – and is – hotly debated.
A legal divorce in the Old Testament required three things:
- The husband must have a certificate of divorce.
- The husband must give the certificate to his wife. In Rabbinic tradition, this had to be done with witnesses to make it official.
- The husband had to “put out” (“Send away“) the woman from his house so that they were separated.
However, some (wicked) men didn’t do it the proper way. These men would skip straight to the “putting out” stage without a bill of divorce, which was a great evil.
Putting out is altogether different than divorce in Jewish culture. A man would permanently kick his wife out, denying her the Jewish divorce certificate. This woman would still be legally married, but with no home. Her dowry and children would be retained by the husband. She would have already surrendered her virginity to him. She would be ineligible to remarry, since technically, she was still legally bound to her husband. Further, her culture would label her as an adulteress since she did not have a valid divorce certificate. And this lady couldn’t just rent an apartment and get a job teaching kindergarten — there was no place for a put out woman in Jewish culture of that day except prostitution. Since the marriages were most often arranged, this whole horrible chain of events would have been completely out of her control. The husband, however, was free to marry again and to do this as much as he liked. That is why Moses required a divorce certificate to be given…so that the marriage was legally, fairly, and religiously terminated and the woman would be free to remarry and go on with life.
(explanation from Religion Mythbusters: “Marriage and Divorce Myth #1 — Does God Hate Divorce?”)
Now, with this context in mind, let’s look at Matthew 5
31 “It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’;
32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
The word translated “divorced/divorces” in the passage above is the Greek word “ἀπολύων” (apoluó). It mean:
“I release, let go, send away,
The inclusion of the word “divorce” in the definition (which I lined out) is based almost entirely on the “divorce” passages in the Gospels. Here’s a few examples of how it’s used elsewhere:
Matthew 15:32 And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, “I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away (apoluó) hungry, for they might faint on the way.”
Matthew 15:39 And sending away (apoluó) the crowds, Jesus got into the boat and came to the region of Magadan.
Acts 13:3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away (apoluó).
Did Jesus divorce the crowds twice? Did the church at Antioch “divorce” Paul when they sent him away? I hope you see that this word simply means to “send away” (or in some case to “release away from you”). In either case, the idea is about the same.
So let’s look at Matthew again with this understanding of the word:
31 “It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS AWAY HIS WIFE, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’;
32 but I say to you that everyone who sends away his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a (merely) sent away woman commits adultery.
Notice what’s missing in verse 32?
Yes that’s right: a “certificate of divorce” is missing!
If the husband didn’t give a certificate of divorce to the wife and send her from his house, the woman was still married to him. No certificate of divorce = no divorce.
Remember the definition of biblical adultery? It’s “a man having sex with another man’s wife“, and that’s what would happen here. If a Jewish man “sent away” (or “put out”) his wife without giving her a proper bill of divorce, she was still legally married to him. Her only option in that culture was (often) prostitution because of the way society was setup.
So by “sending away” his wife without divorcing her, he essentially forced his wife into prostitution; he “makes her commit adultery”.
The woman couldn’t get married because she was still legally married. That’s why whoever married the “sent away” woman committed adultery, because he was sleeping with another man’s wife.
Now, let’s look at Matthew 19
Let’s move on to the other (longer) passage in Matthew. But before we do that, we need to pick up even more context. There was a great debate raging in Jesus’s day about what was sufficient cause to divorce your wife.
There were two schools of thought at the time of this writing: Rabbi Hillel’s and Rabbi Shammai’s. Rabbi Shammai said Deuteronomy 24:1 meant that the husband could not divorce his wife except for one cause and that one cause must be sexual immorality. The school of Hillel, however, held that the husband need not assign any reason whatever; that any act on her part which displeased her husband entitled him to give her a bill of divorce.
This was one of many great debates the Jewish people had in the day, so it’s not surprising that the Pharisees asked Jesus about it. However, remember the Pharisees were “testing” Jesus here; they were trying to lay a verbal trap to catch Him. They didn’t come to Jesus merely to get his opinion; they were trying to trap Him so they asked a trick question.
Remember, it’s a trick question.
3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to
divorcesend away his wife for any reason at all?”
4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE,
5 and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’?
6 “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Notice, the Pharisees didn’t ask about “divorce” (that’s a different Greek word which we’ll get to in a bit). They ask about divorce next, but haven’t yet. They specifically asked Him if a man could “send away” his wife for any reason.
Remember, this was a raging debate in Jesus’ day.
Jesus answered the question honestly and in a very straight forward manner supported by scripture. He said no, husband and wife shouldn’t “separate” as long as they are married. The Greek word translated “separate” is the word “χωριζέτω” (chórizó or xōrízō, depending on how you spell it).
5563 xōrízō (from 5561 /xṓra, “open, vacated space”) – properly, separate, divide (“put asunder”), i.e. depart, vacate; create “space“ (which can be very undesirable or unjustified).
Again, the issue here is not divorce (yet) but rather the “sending away” that some wicked husbands would do in that culture. Next, the Pharisees spring their trap by mentioning divorce.
7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?”
Notice the topic hasn’t changed.
As we just read in Deuteronomy, that was the procedure for divorce. You gave the wife a certificate and sent her away.
The Pharisees are still driving home this question about “sending away”. Remember the context. Jesus just said “you can’t send your wife away“, so the Pharisees replied “oh yeah, Moses said we could “send them away” if we got a bill of divorce”
Notice the Pharisees’ verbal trap.
- They asked if a man could send away his wife for “any reason“.
- Jesus said No, a married couple shouldn’t be separated.
- The Pharisees – in the form of a question – replied “you’re wrong, Moses said we could send away our wives if we got a divorce” (It’s part of Jewish culture to answer a question with another question; they do it to this day)
Notice, the topic is still “sending away”, not divorce.
Everyone knew you could divorce your wife. That wasn’t in dispute because it was in the Law. The procedure was clear, and all you had to do was follow it. The things that weren’t clear were:
- What constituted reasonable grounds for divorce?
- Could you send your wife away without giving her a bill of divorce?
Jesus answers both of those questions in his next statement. In fact, He turns up the heat by imputing sin on the husband.
8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to
divorcesend away your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.
(^because a married couple is supposed to live together, like Jesus just said in verse 6)
9 “And I say to you, whoever
divorcessends away his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Very important: Jesus does NOT say the woman in verse 9 has a certificate of divorce; she was merely “sent away” and therefore is still legally married.
Now, the Greek word translated “another woman” is very interesting here. It’s one word in Greek, which is “ἄλλος” (allos) and it means:
243 állos (a primitive word) – another of the same kind; another of a similar type.
It’s in the feminine form here, so “another woman” is a perfectly appropriate translation. Now consider, if the woman he marries is “another of the same kind“. If teh first woman is merely “sent away”, and the second woman is another “of the same kind”, then what kind of woman is the second woman?
Wouldn’t another woman “of the same kind” mean she’s merely “sent away” and not properly divorced?
Remember, a man can only commit adultery if he has sex with another man’s wife. That would certainly happen if he married “another woman of the same kind” who was merely “sent away”.
Now, let’s go to the parallel passage in Mark to get some further clarity.
The Passage in Mark
If you check the preceding verses, you’ll see this is the same event as Matthew 19.
10 In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again.
11 And He said to them, “Whoever
divorces[sends away] his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her;
12 and if she herself
divorcessends away her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”
First, the Greek word translated “another woman” in verse 11 is the exact same word as in Matthew 19.
Next, the Greek word translated “against” is the word “ἐπί” (epi). It can be translated “against”, but it primarily means “on” in various senses, both literal and metaphorical. One of those senses is “on account of”. Using epi to mean “against” is actually a fairly rare usage of the word. Not impossibly rare, but very uncommon. (Typically you’d use “κατά” (kata) if you wanted to say “against”.)
So he commits adultery “
against on account of her”.
The next question is: which woman does “her” refer to? The obvious answer is the woman closest to the pronoun “her” in the sentence, which is the second woman; the “another woman”. That is, the second woman who is “another of the same kind”, meaning a merely “sent away” woman. Since she was merely sent away and not properly divorced, she’s still married. Since she’s still married, he’s committing adultery because she’s still married.
Remember: it simply cannot be adultery unless a married woman is involved.
A man can’t commit adultery by having sex with an unmarried woman.
He can certainly sin grievously, and God promised that He would punish all sex outside of marriage in Hebrews 13:4. However, it’s not adultery if a married woman isn’t involved.
Thus, Mark makes it clear that the man’s adultery isn’t because of remarriage to an unmarried woman. It’s because of marriage to/sex with a merely “sent away” woman who is still married to another man. Thus, he’s actually having sex with another man’s wife.
But what about when she sends him away?
Again, a woman can only commit adultery if she’s married and has sex with a man who isn’t her husband. She could remarry if she was validly divorced. (Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 7, and says she “is not bound” if validly divorced). So if a Jewish woman kicked her husband out of the house to marry someone else – without a divorce certificate – she was committing adultery because she was still married.
I hope that clears things up.
The root of the misunderstanding is a mismatch between our English definition of adultery and the definition of the original Greek and Hebrew words.
Remember, by definition a man CANNOT be guilty of adultery unless he sleeps with another man’s wife.
You can’t force the meaning of our English words onto their Greek or Hebrew words.
You just can’t.
(Well, you can but then you’re sure to get an inaccurate translation)
This is doubly true when the whole of scripture defines adultery one single way with perfect, 100% consistency. You’ve already seen Easton’s Bible Dictionary has the same definition for adultery. If we change the meaning of Greek or Hebrew words to fit our modern ideas, we’ve added to the words of God to suit the traditions/language of men.
On Divorce & Remarriage
EDIT: I finally finished my full length article on divorce and remarriage: Biblical Reasons for Divorce, When Remarriage is Allowed, and How Adultery Figures In. It goes through every reason that Christians can get a divorce and when remarriage is allowed. It’s long, but extremely complete. If you plan to read it, you can skip to the conclusion of this article, since the rest of this article’s content is contained in the other article. (And in much more depth too.)
Since we are on the topic already, I thought I’d pop round to divorce and remarriage because it requires some of the same context.
The first thing most people do when the topic of divorce comes up is quote Malachi 2:16 and say that “God hates divorce“. However, that’s not quite what that verse is saying. For context, let’s look at God’s divorce. Yes, you read that correctly; God Himself got a divorce once from faithless Israel and Judah.
6 Then the LORD said to me in the days of Josiah the king, “Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there.
7 “I thought, ‘After she has done all these things she will return to Me’; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it.
8 “And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.
God’s proscription for divorce is to give the wife a writ/certificate of divorce and send her away. That’s exactly what God did. As we already saw, God allowed a man to divorce his wife if some (sexual) “indecency” was found in the wife. That is, if the wife was unfaithful.
Israel and Judah were repeatedly unfaithful to God over their long history. God followed His own rules and gave them a writ of divorce. If God Himself did it, that means that divorce isn’t always wrong. Further, the Church is the Bride of Christ, so clearly God is okay with remarriage.
Remember too that Jesus wasn’t condemning remarriage after divorce. We know this because Paul specifically allows for remarriage after divorces in 1 Corinthians. (but more on that in a minute)
Now, let’s talk about Malachi 2:16.
First, let’s get some context for the passage.
13 “This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.
14 “Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
15 “But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.
16 “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
The word translated “divorce” in verse 16 is the Hebrew word “שַׁלַּ֗ח” (shalach). It means:
to send, send away, let go, stretch out
I bet you know what I’m going to say next don’t you?
I suppose the word could mean divorce. It’s possible. However, of the 847 times it’s used, it’s only translated “divorce/divorces” four times. 4 times out of 847; that’s 0.4% of the time. Well over half the time it’s translated “sent/send”, often with the implication of “sending away”.
Notice the context though and the number of times God says they’re dealing treacherously with the “wife of their youth”. Divorcing is not “dealing treacherously” when done properly. There was a procedure in the Mosaic Law for how to divorce. God allowed for it and even got a divorce Himself.
However, sending away your wife…
Again, if you merely sent away your wife in that culture (without a writ of divorce) she would probably be forced into prostitution. Can you think of a more treacherous way to treat a wife? Jesus said that “what God has joined together let no man separate“. God intended for married couples to live together and certainly didn’t intend for husbands to force their wives into prostitution.
EDIT: I’ve finally finished my article on divorce and remarriage. While doing the research for it, I discovered that while the below is generally true, there are a couple exceptions. Please see my article on Divorce and remarriage for details.
In both the Old and New Testament, if you had a valid divorce you were allowed to get remarried. That’s really the only requirement for divorcées, except the person they marry must be a follower of God. (Jew in Old Testament, Christian in the New.)
I can see no difference between the “never married” and the “properly divorced” in terms of marriage. Assuming the divorce was proper and for the reasons God allowed. (I’m working on an article about the acceptable reasons for divorce, though it’ll probably be a while.)
If you can find a verse that says remarriage isn’t allowed, please leave a comment below or send me an email on the contact page.
Adultery only happens when a man has sex with another man’s wife. Any other sexual sin is still serious, but it’s not adultery.
The Hebrew divorce procedure requires that the husband gives his wife a divorce certificate and send her from his house. If the wife didn’t get a divorce certificate, she was still married. Some immoral men would send their wives away without giving them a divorce certificate, which in that culture often forced them into prostitution
In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus says the husband makes the wife commit adultery by sending her away without a divorce certificate. This is because she would often be forced into prostitution, even though she was still married.
In Matthew chapter 19, Jesus says that if a man sends away his wife (as in Matthew 5) and marries “another woman of the same kind” he commits adultery. The “same kind” means another woman who’s merely “sent away”, and thus not properly divorced. Since she’s not properly divorced, she’s still married to her original husband. Thus the man who marries her has sex with another man’s wife.
In Mark chapter 10, Jesus say much the same thing as Matthew 19 only using slightly different words. It’s even clearer that his adultery is “on account of” the “another woman” who wasn’t properly divorced.
Whew, ~4500 words to provide context for another article. That might be a record for most effort spent on context. 🙂 You might also be interested in my article: Biblical Reasons for Divorce, When Remarriage is Allowed, and How Adultery Figures In.
You are on to something here been researching this topic my self
good point on “sends away”
Fabulous article. Thankyou. I’m sure this will release many hearts thar have been mis-treated by church on this topic. It certainly helps me, a woman who divorced my husband. Neither of us had sexual relations with others outside our marriage, he made serious attempt to kill me, with intention. I’ve hated the uncertainty of how that left me with regards to finding a new husband (many Christian men believe they can’t marry me because of their misconception of Mattew 5
Thank you for the explanations. Helps broaden my understanding.
But I am saying to you, everyone who looks at a woman so as to lust for her, immediately commits adultery with her in his heart.
Please do the same research on “porneia” or fornication. From my research, it did not mean sexual immorality in Paul’s time as we would define it today, but rather the “selling of ourselves when we do not have the right to”. Thus, if we are Christ’s, we can not partake in idol worship, (for He bought us with a price) or in joining with a prostitute, (the 2 shall become one). These are the only specific uses, everywhere else the Bible does not define porneia.
The other side of the coin is that if “anything outside of marriage” is sexual immorality, then marriage must be defined using Biblical truth. This becomes very problematic as the nearest I can come is in Mark where Jesus says 2 shall become 1 flesh, let no one separate what God has put together. So is the Church “god”…a ceremony, or is the State “god”…a certificate? God binds together, not humans, however, I have talked to many who believe man must also be involved.
I do go into porneia in my article Yes, The Bible CLEARLY Says Sex Outside of Marriage is Wrong. Interesting point about us having been bought by Christ. I’m not sure I agree because fornication was wrong before Christ, but interesting… Hmm…
Interesting article and lots of truth spoken. After people learn that Jesus did not say what they think he said, about the divorced marrying, they need to learn what Paul said, and accept it. A lot about Paul’s teaching can be found on my website: [deleted by admin]
ADMIN EDIT: I don’t mind if people post links, including *relevant* links to their own content. That’s fine and please feel free to do it. However, trying to avoid the spam filters by breaking up links and linking to non-relevant content isn’t fine.
“Remember, by definition a man CANNOT be guilty of adultery unless he sleeps with another man’s wife.”
Hm, this a-priori confines Jesus to a particular definition. But if you don’t do this it becomes clear Jesus redefines adultery in the Gospels. Unless we wish to say he can’t redefine or broaden or heighten anything, even if it’s in the Old Testament? We also need to distinguish between definitions the OT creates and the definitions the OT uses but which it did not create. For example: did no one know what adultery was before the OT, and if they did, did the OT redefine it for them? Or did it use the definition of adultery everyone already had? Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems you’re presuming the OT defined adultery such that it could not/never be defined any other way. But unless I’m forgetting, there is no verse which says “this is what adultery is and it cannot be anything else, end of story.” The OT uses a definition of adultery, but it does not say the Lord of all the earth can’t broaden it.
Regarding the use of apolyo, “to send away”, instead of the actual word for divorce, apostasion: you’d have to demonstrate these words were never interchangeable, or that one term couldn’t refer to both. We actually have a word for this: synecdoche, which is where a part of something is used to refer to the whole thing. Using “wheels” to refer to a car, “red shirts” to refer to unfortunate Enterprise security men, “going to court” to refer to the process of a lawsuit, “head count” to refer to body count…or “sending away” to refer to divorce. Were the Jews incapable of using shorthand? Divorce was a two step process–the certificate & the sending away. Even as concepts they’re closely related–divorce always involves sending one partner away. If you look at the NT verses you cite it’s clear “sending away” meant divorce+sending away. They simply don’t make sense otherwise.
For instance, Jesus says, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to [send away] your wives”. If this refers only to sending away, without divorce, then Jesus is wrong, because that is not what Moses permitted. As you pointed out he required a divorce to be given first. Not only that, Jesus is wrong ~after just hearing the law recited to him~.
Moreover, let’s go with your argument and say Jesus is claiming it was apolyo which was granted due to hard hearts, rather than divorce. This means had God not surrendered and had instead only allowed divorce, men would officially divorce their wives and then…what? Not kick them out? Or are we saying God was fine granting divorce yet didn’t want the divorced wives leaving? Even though he no longer sees them as one flesh? But because the men ~really~ wanted their officially God-allowed ex-wives out of the house, God let husbands kick them out? Something is amiss. Jesus says what God joins together don’t let men separate. Not: what God puts together let men separate but make sure they still live together. Clearly, it’s the entire process of divorce–certificate + sending away–which Jesus refers to when saying God gave in to their hard hearts. His statement becomes unintelligible otherwise.
Regarding Hillel, Shammai & the Pharisees: if it was unlawful to send away your wife without a divorce, how can you lawfully discuss sending away your wife without a divorce? If this is what the Pharisees were after then why do they cite the law in Matthew 19, undermining themselves? “Moses commanded us to give a certificate of divorce and send her away”. This response to Jesus makes no sense if everyone is speaking only of sending her away. “Jesus, can you send away your wife without divorce?” “No.” “Then why did Moses say we couldn’t send her away without divorce?” See? It’s nonsensical.
So, Jesus and the Pharisees and Hillel and Shammai are discussing the entire process of divorce–the ending of a marriage–and whether this can be done for any reason at all. You said it yourself: the Hebrew word “ervah” was and is still is hotly contested, ~~the word which is given as the reason in Deuteronomy for starting the entire process of divorce~~. That’s what the debate is over and that’s what they ask Jesus about: for what reason can you divorce your wife. And Jesus’ answer is: none, except for unchastity.
From there, it becomes clear that Jesus is broadening the common view of adultery to include both the husband and the wife, because whenever he says “whoever sends away his wife and marries another commits adultery”, he’s speaking of the entire divorce process. He says this 3 times: in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 16:18. Technically 4, if you count Matthew 5, where he only comments on the wife. Also, saying that the word “another” refers to a sent-away-woman is, I think, an extreme stretch: it’s a feminine adjective in the greek functioning as a pronoun for the feminine word “wife/woman”, in all three gospels. It simply means another woman.
Therefore, yes, whoever divorces their spouse, except for possibly cheating, commits adultery by marrying someone else, and makes their partner commit adultery as well. A very high standard which humans will not always live up to. In part because it is sometimes necessary. However…we don’t say lying is no longer a sin just because we can do good by lying. Neither should we say divorce is no longer a sin just because we can do good with it (though I would argue the good it does is akin to the good of your cancer-ridden son or daughter finally passing and no longer suffering. It’s good in only a very cold and coarse sense. Most times it’s not even that).
A few other points:
“let no man separate”–you said the word separate (“chorizo”) refers to no longer living together. Hopefully I’ve shown this can’t be the case. Either way, divorce is also a separation. In fact it’s the deeper separation.
On Malachi: it could go either way here, there may or may not be synecdoche. It’s exceedingly possible to “deal treacherously” with your wife by divorcing her, however legally you do it. Even more so if we don’t presume divorce is a-okay morally. As Jesus said, the law allowed it because of their hard hearts, not because God preferred it that way. On the other hand, God may simply be angry here that his people were violating the law by sending away their wives without divorce. As you pointed out, this could really ruin their lives.
“If she was validly divorced she could remarry. (Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 7, and says she “is not bound” if validly divorced).
…This is not what Paul says. Instead he says 4 times husbands and wives should not separate (“send away”). He also says a wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. Are you referring to verse 15? But where does Paul mention “valid divorce” here? By your argument he doesn’t, since he never actually says the word for divorce, he only uses chorizo (this applies to the rest of the verses too, where he uses apolyo). Instead, if we once again allow apolyo to be a shorthand for divorce, then Paul is indeed speaking of ending a marriage here, and everywhere else in 1Cor7 too, ~where he tells people not to do it.~ In verse 15 he is speaking of believers who get left by unbelieving spouses, and that in this case they aren’t in bondage. Hardly an approval of divorce, I would say.
On Mark 10:11.
Friend, I don’t understand your argument here. What does it mean to “commit adultery against” someone while simultaneously “not committing adultery yourself”? “Against” is the greek word “epi”. It’s a preposition, which I’m sure I hardly need to say denotes relation or placement (“he sat ~on~ the bench”, “she gave it ~to~ him”). Saying “whoever sends away his wife and marries another commits adultery against/to/upon/on her” is not how you say “it’s the wife who commits adultery” or “he forces her to commit adultery”. It isn’t the wife who’s committing the adultery here. It’s the husband. If you want to say it’s the man who makes the wife do it, you can say it like Jesus does in Matthew 5:
“but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Now take Luke 16:18:
“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.”
See, Jesus is saying different things here. Also, notice there’s no preposition (“against”) in Luke. Mark 10 is clear, but Luke is even more clear, as is Matthew 19 which also lacks a preposition.
Friend, I believe you have to face the fact that in all these verses Jesus is ~redefining~ just what it means to commit adultery. He widens the common cultural standard to involve a husband. He does this, in my opinion, in order to tell us how binding the union of marriage truly is–to get across how much we really becomes one flesh with our spouse, and that this union can’t simply be broken apart willy nilly, if only because it’s a divine joining together (Jesus does say it’s God who does the joining). Adultery specifically as a concept I don’t think is really the point: the bond of marriage is. Whoever breaks it is sinning. I don’t think God would care what we call it, frankly. Had the Pharisees asked Jesus about fornication he might have used that as his spring board.
I read through both your comments (which were well thought out 🙂 ) and I’ll focus on the foundational issue first: the definition of adultery. My assumption is that Jesus isn’t redefining adultery, but rather making it clear that “aiding and abetting” (by forcing a wife into prostitution) makes the husband guilty of his wife’s adultery because he caused it. Your assumption is that Jesus is redefining adultery.
If we’re going to have a productive conversation, we should define our terms for both OT and NT to prevent misunderstandings. (which waste so much time) So for clarity’s sake, which of the following scenarios would you consider biblical adultery?
For both OT and NT, I would consider #3 and #4 to be biblical adultery, while #1 and #2 would be fornication. I don’t think the definition of adultery changed. Now, for both OT and NT which would you say are biblical adultery?
It’s always good to define terms! I’m happy to grant you the OT: that in it #1 & #2 are called fornication and #3 & #4 are called adultery (I can’t speak for myself without more research). For the NT, however, Jesus in the Gospels brings #2 into the fold of adultery (I understand this is the point we’re debating). He also brings in what I’ll call:
5. Previously married man + any woman
6. Previously married woman + any man
Technically 5 and 6 are what Jesus speaks about directly–talking of divorce–and #2 follows naturally from that (given the idea is a divorced man or woman is actually still married, barring Jesus’ one exception, so #5 essentially becomes #2, and #6 becomes 3 and 4, if that makes sense). Divorce seems Jesus’ primary target, but he does apply adultery to the husband in these verses. (I know you disagree Jesus is speaking of divorce, but hopefully I was able to justify why he is).
The rest of the NT doesn’t contradict Jesus, though it also doesn’t repeat his statements. The rest of the verses, as far as I can find, either make reference to #3 or #4, such as in Romans 7:3 (“So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress”), or they state the term without explanation, so that it could be interpreted both ways. Such as Peter 2:14 (“having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin”), where Peter is speaking of the ungodly, and not married men or women specifically. So when he says adultery he may mean only #3 & #4, or he may mean #2-#6, given he’s writing after Jesus’ statements. Making reference to only 3 and 4, like Romans 7, doesn’t contradict Jesus because he doesn’t remove 3 or 4 from adultery. A number of other instances are quotations of the ten commandments, which again don’t contradict Jesus.
So that’s how I would answer “what is biblical adultery?” The NT is #2,3 and 4 (and 5 and 6); it’s Jesus who adds #2,5 and 6, and the rest of the verses don’t contradict this, sometimes making reference to 3 and 4, while never disallowing #2,5 or 6 (…yeesh, is this math class? sorry lol). The only verse I can find which comes closest to doing so is Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” This verse seems consistent with your view; why mention fornication in the context of marriage if the umbrella of adultery now includes all defilings of the marriage bed? The verse seems to be working under the assumption #3 & #4 are adultery while #1 & #2 are fornication (not sure where to stick 5 and 6 here). Unfortunately it’s not 100% certain because the verse doesn’t come out and explicitly say so, but it’s certainly a safe interpretation. Jesus, on the other hand, does come out and explicitly say so (three times even). So my argument goes, anyway.
A long answer to a short question. 🙂
“My assumption is that Jesus isn’t redefining adultery, but rather making it clear that “aiding and abetting” (by forcing a wife into prostitution) makes the husband guilty of his wife’s adultery because he caused it.”
—Well, this is indeed closer to what Jesus says in Matthew 5 (the husband “makes his wife commit adultery”), but my contention is that the idea of aiding and abetting are clearly not his words in Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 16. Here he isn’t putting the guilt of the wife’s sin on the husband; he’s simply stating the husband commits his own sin. “Whoever sends away/divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” The same for the wife who divorces. Really, it seems whoever divorces is guilty of a double sin–their own adultery and their spouse’s, assuming the divorce was not mutually agreed upon.
In all of this I would say Jesus’ point is not to simply correct a definition as one corrects a dictionary; rather I think his point is that husband and wife commit the same sin when they perform the same action.
Anyway, I look forward to your response!
Okay, so we agree on half of them then. 🙂 That is, #1, #3 and #4. Also, good clarification by adding #5 and #6. I have two more questions, and they might seem obtuse but I assure you they are relevant and crucial:
Question #1: Would you agree that the Biblical (or at least the OT) penalty for adultery was death?
Question #2: in Exodus 22:16-17, a scenario is described where a man who seduces a virgin must marry her. In the OT (before Jesus), would you say this applies equally to a married man and an unmarried man? That is, are both a currently married man and an unmarried man both commanded to marry the (former) virgin? If not, why not? (and please ignore the father’s role, as it isn’t relevant)
And for clarity, here’s the list for easy reference:
1. Unmarried man + unmarried woman
2. Married man + unmarried woman
3. Unmarried man + Married woman
4. Married man + Married woman (not married to each other of course)
5. Previously married man + any woman
6. Previously married woman + any man
1) For the OT yes, I agree.
2) Hm, I’m afraid I don’t have an answer here. The hebrew word used for “man” in the verse can be translated as man or husband, though it seems it’s most often translated as simply man, which might refer to any man, married or not. And I’m unaware of how ancient custom interpreted it.
The answer to that question is rather crucial to the topic at hand, hopefully for obvious reasons. You are 100% correct that the Hebrew word there means any man, married or not. As such, why wouldn’t it apply to a man who was already/currently married?
If you’re still unsure, then please back up a chapter and read Exodus 21:10-11, and remember that the Jews were polygynous from Abraham to near a thousand years after Christ. (And if you really want to stretch your understanding of divorce, read verse 4 of that chapter too. I call it the “automatic divorce”… and God mandated it.)
Well, most likely the verse is indeed stating all men must marry the seduced virgin, irregardless of marital status. Without any further research, however, there’s roughly a 33% chance it isn’t (out of the three possible interpretations of the hebrew word: “husband”, “man” meaning single or married men, or “man” meaning only single men, two include husbands and one does not). On the suggestion that Jewish polygamy offers insight here, I’m doubtful: a husband who marries a second wife and then has sex with her, versus a husband who has sex with another woman he isn’t married to (the seduced virgin), may well be different beasts in God’s eyes, and so “man” may refer only to single men despite the allowed polygamy.
But as I said, most likely the verse is referring to all men, single or married. I’m guessing your argument then is that, under my interpretation of Jesus’ words, God would here be commanding husbands to commit adultery, an offense punishable by death, which would be rather problematic. Is that correct?
Yes exactly. It would be problematic indeed, wouldn’t it?
You must remember that adultery was always considered as a crime against the husband of the adulterous woman, not the woman herself. (as well as a sin against God) While this isn’t a common understanding these days, it is the understanding the Jews had and it’s very directly hinted at all over the bible. This article touches on this fact:
Notice, the fornication in the Exodus 22:16-17 passage constitutes a crime against the girl’s father, which is why restitution was paid to the father, not the girl. Notice, there was no obligation to marry or pay “damages” for a divorced or widowed woman, only a virgin.
If adultery is a crime against the woman’s husband, how can you have “adultery” when there isn’t a married woman involved?
Ah, but it isn’t problematic, actually. In Exodus 22, God isn’t commanding the husband to commit adultery, but rather commanding one who had ~already~ committed adultery (according to Jesus’ teaching) to marry the woman he seduced, instead of commanding him to be killed. God is choosing to forgo punishment of the husband (well, being forced to pay money or marry the girl was a kind of punishment). Why God did this I don’t profess to know, though I can theorize. But surely, what sins to punish and how to punish them are under His jurisdiction.
Also, the laws may deal with the crime against the husband, or the father, but they do not say God sees no crime against the wife, or the virgin. In fact Jesus confirms this when he says the husband commits adultery “against his wife”.
Would you say that what the law forbade or permitted and what’s ultimately morally right are always equivalent? What would you say it means for Jesus to reveal that Moses’ precept on divorce/sending-away was given because of men’s hard hearts? It makes me wonder what else falls under that category.
In Matthew 5 and 19, Jesus states the exception to “sending away”: fornication/unchastity. If, as you argue, Jesus is speaking of wrongfully sending away your wife without divorce, which God hates according to Malachi, then isn’t Jesus making an exception to that here? Saying it IS okay to send her away without divorce, if she cheats on you. Which is not what the law of Moses says, requiring a divorce certificate first. In which case, isn’t Jesus going beyond what the OT taught?
(apologies for the delay in response, Patriot. It’s been a busy week! 🙂 )
To your question, remember that death was the penalty for adultery, but Romans didn’t allow the Jews to execute anyone. (though they tried regularly). A wife who had sex with a man who wasn’t her husband should’ve be executed, but the Jews couldn’t. Thus divorce/sending away was an alternate remedy because it didn’t require Roman approval, and Rome wouldn’t approve the death penalty for adultery.
We know from Exodus 21:10-11 that a wife has absolutely no right whatsoever to expect that her husband will confine his sexual activities to her, because God commanded a husband to have sex with all his wives if he had more than one.
In Mark, the “against” in “against her” is by no means a certain translation. It could mean that, but that’s not the usual way to express it in Greek. Typically you’d use “kata” or maybe “pros”, not “epi”. While epi can mean “against”, it more primarily means “on” in various senses; including “on account of”. “on account of her” make perfect sense with my understanding and is much more natural Greek. (Man, I really need to update this article to include that. I’ve learned so much more Greek since writing it. So much to do, so little time…)
Mark also includes no exceptions. If you take Mark with your interpretation, remarriage after divorce is never possible for any man or woman. However, we know that isn’t the case because of 1 Cor 7:15, and also Matthew’s account which includes an exception.
Speaking of, doesn’t 1 Cor 7:15 alone prove that cases #5 and #6 can’t be adultery?
If I’m understanding you right, you’re suggesting Jesus instructed Jews to break one law in order to achieve the “next best thing” regarding another (making 2 broken laws instead of one, since the wife still avoids the death penalty). If he has the authority to do that, then he has the authority to expand the definition of adultery. You already have him going beyond what the OT taught (as I do too), so we can’t then confine him to a definition on the grounds he can’t go beyond the OT.
The question then is whether or not Jesus expanded the definition. And looking at his words, he did indeed. He also said divorce is fundamentally wrong (though he allowed an exception).
I already addressed epi/against in my original two comments actually, as well as 1 Cor 7:15. On Paul I’ll add that he says nothing about remarriage there, but if you want to argue that’s the obvious conclusion, then it simply becomes another exception, making two (very specific) exceptions total. So #5 & #6 still belong, since exceptions don’t disprove a rule.
Yeah, Mark doesn’t include the infidelity exception, and neither does Luke. I’m not sure what your point is here, though.
I had forgotten that you addressed epi and 1 Cor 7:15 in your original comment (it’s been a while). I disagree with your take though.
I’d remind you that God commanded Israel to divorce their foreign/pagan wives in Ezra 10:10–11, and I’d also cite the “automatic divorce” that God instituted in Exodus 21:2-4 to show that divorce isn’t fundamentally wrong, but I’m guessing you would say that Jesus redefined that here too. However, remember that God doesn’t tempt to sin, and thus it follows that He doesn’t command us to sin either. Therefore, divorce can’t be wrong in-and-of-itself, because God has commanded it before.
That said, if you are going to take this one teaching (different accounts of the same event) as God’s final word on divorce and ignore the other places where He addresses the topic, then we’ll have to agree to disagree. Remember that God wrote the whole book, not just the words in red.
But beyond simply saying you disagree, can you actually counter my argument regarding epi? Which, to simplify, is that whichever translation of epi you want to take (on/upon/on account of/against/etc), it has zero bearing on who is committing the adultery in the greek–which is the husband.
Why do you wish to keep discussing the OT when you wont discuss with me Jesus’ relation to it? I’ve tried several times, but you keep evading the topic. 😛
The matter isn’t that God wrote the whole book–we both acknowledge this. It’s whether we accept Jesus’ interpretation of the book, or reject his in favor of our own. In solving the multivariable equation that is scripture, if Jesus tells us x=6, we can’t then say “well no, actually it equals 4” can we?
Is that not what you are doing?
Jesus said that the man here is guilty of “μοιχεύω” (moicheuó), and moicheuó means “a man having sex with another man’s wife”. That is what the word means, and it’s all the word has ever meant (and what the Hebrew word meant too). Jesus is saying that X=6, and 6=”a man having sex with another man’s wife”. You are saying that x=4, and 4=”a married man having sex with an unmarried woman” and “a divorced man having sex with anyone” and “a divorced woman having sex with anyone“. You’ve literally quadrupled the number of possible meanings for “x”. Who then is really changing Jesus words?
Further, something else just occurred to me. Your interpretation would make God Himself guilty of (spiritual) adultery. In Jeremiah 3:6-8, God talks about His divorce from Israel. (quoted in the article). He divorced both of them, but the church is the bride of Christ. That means that God (pictorially/symbolically) “remarried” after divorce. You say that would be adultery.
I already answered your position on epi; scroll back up to see it. I’ll also add that understanding Mark’s account in the light of Matthew 5 makes “on account of” make SO much more sense.
“Is that not what you are doing?”
A fair question. Well, for any word that only has one definition, it’s certainly safe to assume whoever uses it does so with that definition. This is only an assumption, though, because we lend the right to everyone everyday to redefine the terms they’re using, either explicitly or within the context of their speech (this is partially how words acquire new meanings to begin with). That’s even setting aside Jesus’ special authority as God.
So if someone says “a man gave birth” and we know the definition of “man” is a biological male, and that giving birth is defined as only something done by biological females, we’re forced to conclude the speaker is either mistaken, joking, crazy, or he/she is operating under a different definition of man, birth, or both.
In Matthew 19 Jesus states, ““And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery”; in Mark 10, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery [epi] her”; in Luke 16, “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.”
Jesus is here stating men give birth. He is either unaware of the common meaning of adultery, or making an error, joking, mad, or…he is operating under a different meaning. I do not think he is any of the former. Therefore, by Jesus’ words, we conclude men can commit adultery in the eyes of God. He is telling us x=6 when everyone else thought it equaled 4, and not without cause, because of the OT. But as we’ve already established, Jesus has the authority to go above and beyond the OT. And as I wrote several comments back, the rest of the NT verses on adultery don’t contradict Jesus in this (Hebrews 13:4 sort of comes closest, but still doesn’t explicitly contradict him).
Going back to epi: what Jesus is saying then is if the husband divorces his wife, and he marries another woman, it’s the wife who has committed adultery, whether or not she ever touches another man again? Because Mark 10:11 is specifying the case when the man divorces and the man remarries (v12 specifies the case where it’s the wife who divorces and remarries). So if by the preposition epi Jesus is actually saying it’s the wife who commits adultery, the man is just guilty of it, then how does that make any sense? A man divorces his wife, marries another woman, his ex-wife does nothing, yet she committed adultery when he remarried?
How is that maintaining the original definition of adultery? A wife can now commit it without having sex, where beforehand it required sex. Now she can commit it through complete inaction.
Matthew 5 doesn’t help us here, either: it specifies the case where the man divorces, but ~the wife~ marries another person. This isn’t what Mark 10:11 says: here, the man divorces and the man remarries. Taken altogether, scripture seems to be telling us whoever initiates the divorce can be guilty of a double sin: their own adultery and that of their spouse, if both remarry.
All of this is why I argue epi doesn’t alter the core meaning of the verse, no matter how you translate it, though I also think “against” is the most logical translation given the rest of the sentence.
Regarding Jeremiah: Israel (and Judah) were unfaithful, which is the one exception Jesus makes. I wouldn’t classify his relation to the church as “remarriage,” but if you want to, then no, God’s not guilty of adultery.
Fair point about “God’s divorce”.
You ask “How is that maintaining the original definition of adultery?” It’s perfect. Consider the passages use “allos” in the feminine singular. As I already covered in the article, Allos means “another of the same kind/type”, meaning a “sent away woman”. Marrying another merely “sent away” woman would fit perfectly with the Biblical definition because she’s actually still married/not properly divorced.
Also, I was accidentally super unclear to the point of obfuscation in my previous comment at one point and I apologize about that. I’m not saying that Mark is the same as Matthew 5, I referenced Matthew 5 for word definition clarity like I did in the article. (super unclear as I didn’t say that) In Mark, it’s the same as Matthew 19. That is, the epi/on account of is the man’s sin in marrying a sent away woman. He is doing the sin in Mark, not by forcing her to sin (as in Matthew 5). Again, I apologize for being unclear and it was entirely my fault. He “commits adultery on account of her”; that is, on account of marrying a merely sent away woman who’s actually still married/not properly divorced.
Ahh. You mean that the “her” in “on account of her” is referring to the new woman he marries, and not the wife he divorced. I see now. Don’t apologize, nothing to apologize about–you might’ve been perfectly clear and I just missed it. I even completely forgot your argument with “allos”.
It’s possible “her” refers to the new woman instead of the wife; the verse mentions two women, so the pronoun could technically refer to either. But I very much doubt this since three words later Jesus uses the same pronoun again, autos, to refer to the wife (“and if she[autos] marries…”). However, now that I understand you it seems to me the real clincher is allos, since the translation, “whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery on account of the new woman” obviously wouldn’t help you if “another” meant any woman at all. That would still be expanding the concept of adultery. And of course allos occurs in Matthew 19 and Luke 16, whereas the phrase “epi autos” doesn’t.
Okay, so, does allos mean “another divorced woman”. Mark 10:12 says, “and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another[allos] she is committing adultery.” Does allos here mean “another divorced man”, or simply “another man”? If it’s the latter we’re not being consistent, if it’s the former then verse 12 violates the pre-assumed definition of adultery.
As I said in the article, it means “another of the same kind”. So in Mark 10:11, the “same kind” of the woman is one who’s merely “sent away” and thus not properly divorced. That’s biblical adultery since she’s still a married woman.
Verse 12 similar. That is, the woman merely “sends away” her husband (so she’s not properly divorced) and then remarries. That’s biblical adultery since she’s still a married woman. Either way, the marital status of the man is irrelevant to deciding if it’s biblical adultery.
I have no dog in the fight as I am not married, divorced or remarried.
But you left us with a cliffhanger at the end of this. Will a companion follow-up be on the way with a treatment of the reasons/grounds for divorce?
Can you address the situations of divorce and remarriage and covenant. If a marriage is supposed to be a covenant as many are saying the Bible teaches, how can divorce ever be ok? Isn’t it lifelong? I am with you on your article and what Jesus says. But I would love to see your article on this topic to address things like, people claiming that because we are in the new covenant, Deuteronomy 24 which forbids a person from taking back a wife who has married another after divorce and marrying her again, is no longer valid. I heard one pastor claim that because we are wearing mixed fabrics that means that the old testament is not valid. A lot of people are condemning remarriage and calling all second marriages adulterous. I even know one person who completely renounced her second marriage and got a divorce because of this teaching and it has turned out terribly for her. I felt so free after I read this article and it was like getting deliverance from a false deceiving spirit. So thank you. One example is that I divorced my first husband, he is remarried, and I am remarried as well, but had to do a “stand” for my second marriage. Because it’s my second marriage, though it is my husband’s first marriage, people don’t want to root for our marriage. And then there are people who want to help us get divorced because they don’t like what he has done, but isn’t a covenant meant to last forever? AT THE PAIN OF DEATH?
EDIT: I finally finished my article on divorce: Biblical Reasons for Divorce, When Remarriage is Allowed, and How Adultery Figures In
Most of those pastors don’t realize that God Himself got a divorce: read Jeremiah 3:6-9, especially verse 6. There’s also the “automatic divorce” that God Himself commanded in Exodus 21:2-4. Marriage isn’t always lifelong, and there are several specific reasons for which a marriage can end without death. I’m working an article about the Biblical reasons for divorce, but I won’t finish it for some time. Therefore, here are the cliff-notes:
A man can get a divorce if:
A wife can get a divorce if:
Notice that all of the wife’s reasons don’t require death to end a marriage. And again, God got a divorce and then remarried (He divorced Israel and the church is the bride of Christ).
If God can do it…
“What would you say it means for Jesus to reveal that Moses’ precept on divorce/sending-away was given because of men’s hard hearts? It makes me wonder what else falls under that category.”
I have been seeking the Lord’s face on this for some time and what He has revealed to me is this. Jesus brings the issue back to the beginning and uses the same phrasing that He used while giving the Sermon on the Mount because in that Sermon He was raising the bar. Raising the bar, in my humble opinion, to that in which only one who has been born again, given a new heart (the hard heart taken out of the way) and having been given His Spirit, which was soon to come, would abide by. That’s how we recognize them today, by their fruit (born again believers) He was teaching that in the old covenant divorce was allowed but only with a bill of divorce put into the wife’s hands, this was to ensure the wife could remarry and not be forced into prostitution. I would pose the thought that He made this provision because man and woman couldn’t seem to remain faithful and in His wisdom and mercy, made a way for them to stay in right standing and also, to protect the women of that time. The important part that I want to make that needs serious consideration is that Jesus was contrasting commands in the old covenant with new commands for the new covenant, the one promised in Ezekiel 36:25-28. He promised that HE would wash us of our filth and idols, that HE would remove our stony hearts and give us hearts of flesh (soft and tender hearts that love Him and have the will to obey and please) and lastly, give us of His Spirit. What this effectuates is a people who are able to walk in His statutes and keep them by the power of His Spirit and through the washing of His Word, whereas before, they never could because of the curse, which Jesus removes when we are reconciled to the Father. That’s why He took them back to the beginning and said, in the beginning it wasn’t so. What happens when we are born again? Are we not brought out from under the curse of sin and the power of it has over us? Jesus raises the bar because man and woman who are regenerated are able to remain as one. Not only physically but spiritually. To even look at another with a unrighteous thought brings such a conviction from the Holy Spirit that the sin of full blown unfaithfulness is the farthest thing from becoming a reality. One may have a fleeting moment of a thought but most assuredly, the Spirit will reveal the wickedness of this and have a husband or wife on their knees tearfully begging forgiveness for thinking such a thing. So in conclusion, Jesus is saying, those who are regenerated (those not drawn and brought into the new covenant, given the new heart and spirit of God as a “helper, comforter”) are allowed a provision for divorce, but once born again, it won’t be needed because when two are walking with God, no man can put assunder what God brings together. Notice that Paul never directly addresses the issue of what a previously married and divorced woman was to do if she was remarried after coming to Christ and being born again. One would think this would have been extremely common. Why is it? But he does address one saved yoked with an unsaved. How would that happen except that a woman was either already married to that man or was living with him at her conversion and married him so that she wouldn’t be living in fornication.
I do not contend that a married and born again woman cannot separate from an abusive marriage or husband for her safety and that of any children in the marriage or one in which the unsaved is forcing her to live in ways that are against God. Paul explains that she should separate but remain unmarried. If the husband commits adultery or seeks divorce to remarry at this point (and he likely will if he is unsaved/unregenerate), she will be no longer under bondage.
This article and the discussion is a lot of food for thought. They are very insightful comments and I thank you for sharing your interpretations as they all bear new light, deserving consideration. I have no scholarly knowledge of the bible and sometimes feel the churches and versions lose the meaning in their interpretation since they interpret which words to use. It was refreshing that you gave the multiple definitions that could apply while stating your interpretation. It is fantastic that you took this route as it adds more depth to the understanding.
A question regarding the covenant of marriage:
Would the act of adultery not break the covenant in the first place, therefore the divorce from a spouse is not really breaking the covenant as it has already been done with the act of adultery (or fornication) which is why divorcing under these circumstances is acceptable because marriage is to have no other or be faithful to your partner and doing otherwise breaks the original covenant?
The quote below is from Study.com about the twelve tribes which does show that men were not committing adultery in the OT. proven with the some births of the Twelve Tribes of Israel were birthed, according, to the bible by Jacob bedding his wives handmaids, or fornication, by the same act because the children were accepted as being the wives, so stays within the bounds of marriage because the wife offered it as such. God accepted this in his creation of the Twelve Tribes.
“The Twelve Tribes of Israel would forever be defined by the personalities of their founders, so we need to start by learning about Gad himself. Gad was a son of Zilpah, a handmaiden of Jacob’s wife, Leah. In the Torah, Leah offers Zilpah to Jacob so that he may have more children, then she raises those children as her own. Although Gad was not Leah’s biological son, he was accepted and known. Leah proclaimed Gad’s birth to be lucky or the result of good fortune, which is what the name Gad actually means. Asher was also a son of Zilpah and Jacob, and Gad’s only full brother.”
So, my question, would marriage, being divine or Godly joined, be attached to the birth of children being essential for the for the true divine union since creating life is in itself a divine act and the acceptance of children outside the marriage at the wife’s consent is actually in a sense justified in the OT not a sin since God accepted the union and did not have it condemned as fornication (or adultery on Abraham)? Is the acceptance of such change the implications for both husband and wife consent making the act acceptable? Marriage being that is the person you will have children with becoming truly divine because God bestowed children on the union, consenting to the union? And the wife accepting the children produced outside the ties of or consenting to this negates the act by such consent? I say this because a comment in the article itself hinted at the reason for no adultery or fornication was not to have children outside of marriage (or as I would take it, outside a joined family, so all children had the benefit of both parents). Further, I realize this is before the 10 Commandments, but if God’s definition changed, is it not likely the bible is refining all definitions gradually as God changes and learns more of man? In essence, God changed with man because man is constantly evolving. So is it not safe to say that interpretations in the NT the definition is expanding slightly since it does give reasons for a woman to divorce which were not present in the OT?
I am not trying to give knowledge of the bible just looking for opinion for clarity. I so not have a deep understanding of everything in the bible and some of the contradictions are confusing since, I have realized, you have to know the stories very well and metaphors, to decipher it because the answer is always in another book of the bible.
Jacob had four wives, so there was no fornication/sex outside of marriage. Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah were all wives of Jacob, which is clearly stated.
That word “maid” specifically refers to a female slave, and the same word is used of Hagar.
In this case, ‘consent’ isn’t the issue; it’s ownership. Rachel owned Bilhah and Leah owned Zilpah. Women didn’t chose their husbands; their father (if a free woman) or owner (if a slave) would choose the girl’s husband for her. Jesus talks about about marrying and “giving in marriage”; that’s what’s being referred to here. (See also Exodus 22:16-17) Laban apparently owned both Bilhah and Zilpah, and gave one each to his daughters as a wedding present to be a maid. (Gen 29:24, and 29:29). Bilhah and Zilpah thus belonged to Rachel and Leah respectively, and thus they had the right to “give them in marriage”, since they were the owners. It’s the same with Sarah and Hagar.
Now, the reason that Bilhah and Zilpah’s children belonged to Rachel and Leah is for the same reason: ownership. The children of a slave also belong to the owner.
Remember, a man cannot commit adultery unless he has sex with a married woman. Even if Jacob slept with Bilhah and Zilpah without being married to them, that would be fornication, not adultery.
As to marriage being a covenant, I’ll point you to my article on divorce because I do have a section talking about marriage covenants in that article.
Isn’t if unfair that a married man can have sex with an unmarried woman and not be killed, but a married woman who has sex with an unmarried man is to be killed? Does this not imply that a wife is her husband’s property? That’s too unfair. It this the REAL definition of adultery that God provided? Are we supposed to teach this today? How are women supposed to feel about this – they’re either their father’s or their husband’s property. Women can’t choose their husbands?? Doesn’t this legitimize polygamy? After all, if women are property, she has no right to object to him marrying multiple wives. She must be silent and submit to him in everything, right?
Yes exactly. It would be problematic indeed, wouldn’t it?
“You must remember that adultery was always considered as a crime against the husband of the adulterous woman, not the woman herself. (as well as a sin against God) While this isn’t a common understanding these days, it is the understanding the Jews had, and it’s very directly hinted at all over the bible. This article touches on this fact:
Indeed, legislative concerns about women’s sexual activity primarily have to do with relations between men. A man is executed for having intercourse with another’s wife (Leviticus 20:10), because he has committed a crime of theft against a man; but a man who seduces or rapes a virgin pays a bride price to her father and marries her (Deuteronomy 22:28). This is not a crime in the same sense at all, not because of a dissimilarity in what the man did, but because of the difference in who “owned” the right to the women’s sexuality.”
This law says the rape against a virgin is not a crime against the woman, but the father. HOW??? It doesn’t take into account the trauma she goes through. It is a crime against her. Who cares what the Jews believed? These Jewish men thank God for not being born a woman, and I can see why.
It’s just too much. There’s no comfort for any rape victims who read this. After all, they’re just products to be obtained and use.
You’re right that it’s unfair, but fairness isn’t a synonym for justice. Something can be unfair, but not unjust; and something can be “fair”, even though it’s unjust. Further a desire for fairness can lead to injustice. I spend rather a lot of time unpacking this in my article on biblical justice.
I suggest you read my article How Crucial are Women to a Biblical Household? Very!, and then read through my marriage series. I tackle the issue of polygamy, if wives are property, how the Old and new Testaments say a man should get a wife, among other issues.
As to comfort for a rape victim, how to comfort someone isn’t something that can be prescribed in a law. I’m sure the girl’s friends and family would provide what comfort they could, but laws don’t deal with comfort; they deal with crime and punishment.
I have more to say, but it’s more personal so I’ll say it in my reply to your email.
It seems like rape against a married woman would also result in her death.
No, it wouldn’t result in her death, and God was explicit about this:
Verse 24 clearly indicates that a betrothed woman (not engaged, but betrothed) was the man’s wife. So no, a raped woman wasn’t punished at all.
Thank you for your interesting article I too spent much time on this subject some yeas ago.
I found your paper whilst looking for a connection between Adultery and Idolatry, so I woud be interested to know if you have written anything on this subject?
Yours in Christ
I haven’t written anything on it, but here’s the connection as I understand it. Marriage is the picture of Christ and His church, and in the Old Testament God pictures Himself as a husband to Israel and Judah. When Israel and Judah rebelled, it was a serious crime/sin. To drive home how serious it was, God says that it’s like they committed adultery against Him. Of course the Biblical punishment for Adultery is death, and theoretically the men to whom the Bible was written to would understand the betrayal to drive the point home.
According to Jesus, it is NOT THE CASE THAT
“Adultery only happens when a man has sex with another man’s wife.”
Jesus said that Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has committed adultery in his heart.
And don’t think “in his heart” means it doesn’t count. We know from proverbs, that as a man thinks in his heart, so he IS.
So lusting after a woman means you ARE an adulterer.
Jesus did not say “only married men” or “only a married woman”. The LORD broadened the definition.
It should also be said that an engagement/betrothal carries the same weight as marriage and if you separate before the actual wedding takes place that also requires a “get” which is a bill of divorcement. Remember, that Mary, the mother of Yeshua was going to be “sent away” privately (divorced) from Joseph before the angel told him that the child in Mary is of the Holy Spirit.
Betrothal carries the same weight as marriage, but engagement doesn’t. In a betrothal, the groom-to-be pays a bride price to buy the bride from her father. When the money changes hands, that’s when the marriage is contracted, though not consummated. By contrast, an engagement is simply an agreement between a man and a woman to get married, and isn’t binding at all.
why did you not take into account the concubine wife of that time, no doubt adultery applied to the married wife however if a man wanted another woman that wasn’t his wife he could have easily just made her his concubine, a little research on this would tell you the reason a man could only have one wife ( designated ) to be the heir for the purpose of law, the whole reason a wife could not remarry had to do with childbearing and not creating a legal right to a man’s possessions or property, such as a half brother and sister or brother would be from a wife that gave birth to two different husbands, only a will could prevent this which not everyone did or could do, your understanding of fornication and adultery lacks some insight, the wisdom of this world is not where you should go to get it though, the word your looking for is whoredom, whoredom is the act of being unfaithful to whomever your with, married or not as God’s law applies to all, not just the married, also what you fail to recognize pertains to the different types of wives your reading about in Hebrew and Greek, the translators couldn’t identify them and used only what they could understand which is why the word woman and wife are so misused, the many variations of man and woman is obvious misused and without understanding and creates much confusion, the truth lies in being able to identify him and her and their relationship pertaining to the law, the words marry, married and marriage don’t all mean the same thing but are understood by most as meaning the same thing, not possible to explain this in here however but if your not held to customs and traditions you can figure it out, yuvalka, yuvalkl, yuvn, yuvalkoc, yuvalkac, yuval, and so on, no need to get into man, the main point is what KIND of man is it, what Kind of woman is it, way too much to discuss these things here and not offend everyone so I leave it alone, keep searching
The biblical definition of a concubine is a wife who’s also a slave. In Judges 19, a man takes a concubine, and in verses 4, 7, and 9, the concubine’s father is called the man’s father-in-law. They were definitely married. Further, Abraham takes Keturah as a wife in Genesis 25:1, yet Keturah is also called a concubine in 1 Chronicles 1:32. Biblical concubines are married, possibly unlike their secular counterparts.
You point about inheritance is also odd, given that the law addresses this exact topic in Deuteronomy 21:15-17. Remember that under certain conditions God required Israelites to take more than one wife, (more detail in my article on the topic) so it makes sense that he dealt with inheritance law.
I didn’t use the word “engagement” as a historical equivalent to betrothal. I used to engagement only as a word to help people unfamiliar with the word betrothal as many probably are not familiar with the word. Obviously, there was no such thing as engagements back then. I was just trying to make a simple point without the long explanation. It was good of you though to add the extra information I chose not to in my laziness.
From my understanding a concubine wasn’t always a slave, they COULD be but weren’t always. They could be freeborn, or slave. My understanding is that the difference between the 2, was that a legitimate wife required a marriage writ, and betrothal, whereas a concubine didn’t, and was considered a wife of lesser status (as far as any inheritance went for children etc), all that had to be for a woman to be your concubine, was to essentially be under your protection, in a sexual relationship with you, one where she is bound by the same laws of marriage, in that she cannot be unfaithful to you, and you have the same general responsibilities of a husband towards her in regard to provisioning etc. This is what the Jews understood a concubine to be, it’s detailed quite explicitly in their writings, although as with all things there’s some disagreement. Since kings were forbidden to marry foreign women on account of them potentially leading them astray (something solomon disregarded and paid for) it would be odd to think that all of david, and sauls concubines were slaves, since the TRUE slaves (not indentured servants who had to be released every 7 years) could only be foreign born, with the exception of one who committed himself for life, on account of wanting to stay with his wife and children, who he would otherwise potentially have to be separated from for up to 6-7 years depending on the time schedule, and next jubilee etc. There’s a high likelihood they were just israelite women that took the kings fancy, and he made them an offer of concubinage, (which i’d assume nearly every israelite woman would’ve gladly taken at the time). Out of curiousity, why do you think it was only ever slaves who were concubines? from recollection, i can’t recall anything in scripture that says they HAVE to be, also it seems that a man could elevate his concubine to “legitimate wife” status at his desire also, and legitimize the children at his whim. Look forward to your reply, and in general, i’d say we’re in agreement in regards to most biblical truths, which stand to be very evident, it’s a shame we live in a time when most who bare the name “Christian” would fancy the true commanmdents of God “immoral” and their own societies ideas “moral” by comparison regarding slavery, polygyny, authority etc. God bless and keep you, look forward to your reply.
I did the research that led me to believe that concubines were “slave wives” years ago, and my memory has failed me as to where I found the evidence for that. I remembered the conclusion, but unfortunately didn’t seem to save the source. As I think about it, I also don’t recall anywhere in scripture where it says they *must* be slave wives. Wives yes, but I can’t think where scripture states them must be slave wives.
Do you remember any of those sources offhand? I’d love to go digging since I obviously want to be able to source what I say.
It’s worth noting that female slaves/indentured servants didn’t go free as male slaves do according to Exodus 21:7. Once a woman was a slave, she was a slave unless she was “redeemed” (Exodus 21:8). I believe this was repeated elsewhere in the Torah; don’t remember where though.
BEST book explaining the culture and Biblical discussion is Dr Jay Adams book, “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible.” It is not long but totally logical. He is a great counselor.
Hey berean patriot, sorry for the late reply, there’s a pretty good article on it here https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/concubine and as with all things, as i said even within itself it’s clear that some jews thought A, while others believed B, no different to modern times, but the distinction doesn’t seem to have anything to do with slave status, more whether betrothal, dowry, and a proper ceremony were required, some say one and not the other, others say all weren’t required etc. But what we do obviously know is whether slave or free, they were of lesser status to any legitimate wives, the husband wasn’t obligated to give her sons an inheritance, it was solely at his discretion, the same with ever elevating her to equal wife status. Hope all’s well with you and yours, God bless and keep you. Steve.