Did Jesus say Adultery is the only Grounds for Divorce?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said this about divorce and remarriage:

It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.” But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matt. 5:31-32)

The words of Jesus are meant to impart life, but a misreading of this passage can bring condemnation and despair.

Women have even been beaten and killed on account of this passage. They’ve been told, “You cannot leave your violent and abusive husband unless he’s been unfaithful.” If your spouse is intimate with another person, you can walk away. But if they beat you, you have to stay there and take it.


Was Jesus saying that infidelity is the only legitimate grounds for divorce? Was he deaf to the cries of those suffering domestic violence?

Something doesn’t add up.

Jesus came to defend women against all forms of violence and abuse. In the first century, Jewish women suffered abuse in the form of quickie divorces and abandonment. This was the issue Jesus was addressing in the Sermon on the Mount.

“It has been said.” Jesus is referring to the Law of Moses:

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house… (Deut. 24:1)

If she burns your steak, she’s out!

What makes a wife indecent or unclean to her husband? Schools of Jewish thought were divided on this issue.

The House of Shammai said uncleanness meant unfaithfulness. It was only lawful to divorce your wife if she had committed adultery.

However, the House of Hillel, a rival school, said you could divorce your wife if she did anything displeasing, such as putting too much salt on your dinner.

It may seem a frivolous debate to us, but this issue divided the Pharisees. This is why they asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (Matt. 19:3).

Jesus’ response was we shouldn’t be getting divorced at all. But when pressed to interpret Moses’ law, he came down squarely on the side of Shammai (see Matt. 19:4-9). In other words, you can’t divorce your wife over a burnt or salty meal, but if he or she has taken another partner, your marriage may be over.

But what if your spouse is abusive? What then?

Domestic violence – the secret shame of the church

Research shows that the prevalence of abuse among churchgoers is higher than expected, and that pastors don’t talk about it and wouldn’t know what to say if they did.

What would Jesus say about domestic violence?

The Lord’s heart was to protect the weak and downtrodden. He would have told abuse victims to run, not walk, to safety. There is never any excuse for abuse. Homes ought to be safe places, especially for women and children.

Now we come to the second part of the Sermon on the Mount passage. “Anyone who divorces his wife, makes her the victim of adultery.” Which seems a strange thing to say. How does adultery come into it?

Look at the Law above and you will see two verbs. A man who divorces his wife gives her a certificate and sends her from his house.

The problem was some men were doing one thing but not the other. They were sending their wives away without giving them divorce certificates. Those same men were then remarrying making their first wives “the victims of adultery.” Jesus is using the law to chide men who had abandoned their wives.

This brings us to the last part of the passage. “Anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Let’s set the scene. The dumped wife has been sent from the house. Her bum of a husband has remarried and moved on. What is she to do?

Because she has been raised in a patriarchal world, she has no education and few opportunities. She needs another husband to provide for her. Another man comes along and marries her. However, since she was not properly divorced and is still technically married to her first husband, he becomes an adulterer. He may not be an adulterer in his heart – he’s trying to do the right thing. But in the eyes of the law, he has transgressed.

Jesus covers a lot of ground in two verses and it’s easy to come to all sorts of muddled conclusions. But the short version is he was defending women against an evil practice. Notice how Jesus never calls the dumped woman an adulterer, even when she remarries. Any transgression is laid squarely on the men who dump their wives and the men who marry them. The abandoned wife is a victim.

Remarriage and adultery

Which makes us wonder, what is wrong with marrying such a woman? Surely loving her and saving her from destitution is a good thing. The second man is a hero. So why does Jesus call him an adulterer? Because the woman is still technically married.

To the men marrying abandoned women, Jesus is saying, “If you really love her, go and find her first husband – the one who dumped her – and compel him to do what he should’ve done in the first place. Make the divorce legal. Get that certificate. Then she will be free and you can marry her without committing adultery.”

Incidentally, Jesus was equally interested in protecting husbands from unfaithful wives. A woman who dumped her husband for another man was just as much an adulterer as a husband who dumped his wife (Mark 10:12).

To reiterate, Jesus was opposed to divorce. “What God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matt. 19:6).

But he never condemned those who were the victims of abuse and unfaithful behavior. Nor did he say that such people were adulterers if they remarried.

If you are the victim of abuse or infidelity, religion may shame you. It may condemn you to remain in the confines of a dangerous situation.

But your heavenly Father does not condemn you. He loves you and cares for you! He wants you to be safe and be blessed.

Your life is not over. The best is yet to come.

To learn more about Jesus’ views on divorce, check out The Silent Queen: Why the Church Needs Women to Find their Voice.

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108 Comments on Did Jesus say Adultery is the only Grounds for Divorce?

  1. a marriage should not be a ticket to death and bodily harm.

    please if your spouse is violent… leave that man/woman alone….divorce that person….

    Jesus is your true husband at the end of the day…all these things on earth are fleeting moments

    God has called you to peace

  2. Sexual immorality is clearly the ONLY reason given in Scripture for a believer to get divorced and remarried. In my own personal view, I would say that this is especially true if the it is the offender is unrepentant.
    Abuse of all kinds do not permit Christians to divorce and remarry. That does not mean they should stay in that situation. Also, these sins of abuse can be repented of and restoration can be brought to marriages wherein abuse has taken place.
    Now if a person abuses his or her spouse and there is no remorse or repentance, that is an indication of an unregenerate state. And that would allow for the victim to let the “unbelieving” spouse leave (or to leave the unbelieving spouse IMO). But if there is repentance and steps are made to put to death those deeds, I don’t see where scripture allows for divorce in such cases.
    Also, the scripture quoted, “cases her to be a victim of adultery” actually reads “causes her to commit adultery”. These are two very different meanings because the latter meaning means that divorce and remarriage except in the case of sexual immorality equals adultery.
    This is an important issue because divorce and remarriage for unbiblical reasons is rampant in the church and there are many professing Christians living in adultery.

    • You seem aware of the high instances of divorce in the church. I wonder if you are familiar with instances of domestic violence in Christian marriages? Probably not, because it is seldom discussed. But one thing I know is that victims of abuse are sometimes told they must remain in abusive situations because of what Jesus said in Matthew 5. Do we want the abuse to end? Of course. But sometimes it doesn’t. I think you would agree that under such circumstances, the victim would be wise to remove themselves from the violent situation. Regarding the translation – only the NIV has the word victim in Matt 5:32. I didn’t realize this until you pointed it out, so thanks. It’s an additional word, but I think it is appropriate. How can a victim of adultery be called an adulterer? That’s like calling a homicide victim a murderer. I appreciate that you admitted you are sharing “your own personal view”. I hope you understand that marriage is such an important topic that we need to submit our personal views to what scripture says, and Jesus never condemns victims of any sort.

    • Luke – your interpretation is very legalistic. Do you really believe that God commands abused women to stay married to their abusers simply because Jesus didn’t specifically address that scenario? That doesn’t sound like something my loving Father would advocate for.

      • Tim Ayles // May 7, 2020 at 5:25 pm //

        Separation and restoration is always an option. Divorce should not be allowed in any circumstance biblically.

      • Tim, I’m a little surprised that you inserted this comment?
        Legalistic application of this ‘no divorce’ option has made a virtual prison for many innocent spouses, and has provided a refuge for monsters


    • Everything you have said here is (IMO). Although I am appreciative that you have one, the only real answer to this situation is the biblical answer, which Paul Ellis addresses. Unfortunately it’s those opinions of man that have people and families stuck in loveless, abusive and unfaithful marriages. Although anything is capable of restoration, there also has to be a willingness to be restored. God doesn’t force anyone to do what they don’t want to do. Realistically, if people “changed their behavior” and were open to restoration, this topic wouldn’t even be a conversation. God bless!

    • Brandon Petrowski // May 7, 2020 at 4:38 pm // Reply

      Luke, you are taking a lot out of context and basing your perspective on English interpretation of the texts. If you study this issue with an understanding of original language and historical and cultural context (and an open mind), you might reconsider how you have misunderstood this topic.

      David Instone-Brewer wrote a very good book on the subject breaking it down, “Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible”.

  3. Hi! Under the area where you say Jesus came to defend women you put “were suffered” instead of suffering. Paul, what do you think of the traditional marriage vows of love, honor and obey? Also, early in the Bible there doesn’t seem to be any official wedding, like in the case of Isaac. Though accepting the dowry and agreeing to go with the servant implies some sort of arrangement has been made. Thoughts?

    • Typo fixed. Thanks. I love the traditional marriage vows, but you need to read them through a lens of Biblical partnership rather than patriarchy. In my book I have quite a lot to say on the subject of submission. It’s a beautiful word made ugly by sin.

  4. I am looking forward to your book Paul. I can’t wait.

  5. Paul, I love your articles. We were just learning this very explanation of this topic and passage in a study at church. Thank you for posting TRUTH. God bless! Btw, I assume if I’m on your mailing list, I’ll be notified when your book The Silent Queen comes out? Definitely want that one.

    • Thank you, Karen. The Silent Queen ebook is available now on Patreon (click the pic above). It will not come out elsewhere as it is extracted from the larger book I am working on. That book will come out maybe next year and yes, E2R subscribers will be notified.

  6. alltimeismine@aol.com // May 7, 2020 at 5:17 am // Reply

    EXCELLENT clarification that’s MUCH-NEEDED by believers!  It’s sure to save MANY lives — thanks!

  7. I think there is a big difference between saying that a woman can leave an abusive husband, and between making up new rules for divorce that don’t clearly appear in Scripture. In the present, there is a difference between leaving and divorcing. Thankfully, in this day and age, a woman has the ability to legally separate without having to file for divorce. Women today have a lot more options than women throughout most of history, who were property and who were at the mercy of their husbands, for better or worse. This interpretation is interesting, but I would be much more interested in a more scholarly approach to and exposition of this subject. The rationale here seems a bit weak, and seems to be reaching and underdeveloped. This post doesn’t give a complete picture. On a subject as serious as this, it would be important to have a more rigorous and scholarly exposition of all relevant passages of Scripture. Also, let’s be real: God has made it clear that He hates divorce. Let’s treat this subject with the thoroughness it deserves. Full disclosure: I am speaking as someone who mended a marriage in which there was infidelity. It’s not an easy or quick process, to be sure, but you’d be amazed at what can be achieved (what God can achieve) when two people are fully committed to healing. God bless.

    • You will appreciate there’s only so much I can cover in an 800-word article. If you would like supporting references and a more thorough treatment of the subject, I encourage you to read the book. Yes, divorce is a serious subject. So is domestic violence. God hates both. Research shows that the numbers for domestic violence among churchgoers are horrifically high precisely for the reasons listed above, namely, abuse victims are told to stay in abusive situations because of what Jesus said.

    • Star Saiyan // May 7, 2020 at 1:41 pm // Reply

      I definitely like how Janey pointed out how “a woman has the ability to legally separate without having to file for divorce”. We’ve seen over and over again that it’s possible to “stay together” without being in the same room (i.e.: Zoom meetings). Thus, the victim doesn’t have to divorce in order to be free from physical abuses.

      Granted, abusive relationships can still be a problem. However, we also know that abuse is definitely a sin (as seen in every Bible verse that talks about gentleness), and Jesus talks about plenty of ways to deal with other church members’ sin (as seen in Matthew 18:15-17). Either way we slice it, the Bible does not support churches forcing victims to stay victims.

      • Kathy F. // June 23, 2020 at 8:44 am //

        Emotional abuse is just as deadly as physical abuse. Please do NOT assume that not being in the same room with an abuser means that there is no abuse occurring. Do your research before you ASSUME that physical abuse is the only kind a woman should be protected from.

      • You absolutely correct. Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. That part in that chapter, husbands do not get, why, because of there need they see and are told not to do. So when Wife says no, Husband, does not get rid of the drive and so goes to ___________________ Husbands are to submit to wives too, out of respect how she feels. But we as people do not do that, being born selfish to our own needs

        And this does go both ways, on abuse. Communicating is the not so easy part. I have now been married over 35 years and was not the first one, before being revealed to have consideration and compassion for my Spouse

        Anyway, mankind just abuses in many ways, Thank God for his Grace to learn from and be new in his Love, by seeing he will not give up on anyone as mankind does
        God does not. Woe, woe as in Isaiah 6:1-6

      • Good point on the emotional abuse, Kathy F.! Emotional abuse has a wide scope ranging from mild selfishness to threats. It is also obviously a sin (as seen in every Bible verse that talks about gentleness) and something that should be held accountable (as seen in Matthew 18:15-17).

        Safer Resource Australia goes a lot more into detail on emotional abuse, recognizing types, and action steps to create accountability.

  8. has not the New Covenant removed this legalistic issue”?. doesn’t sound like “resting in Grace” to me.

    • Star Saiyan // May 7, 2020 at 10:52 am // Reply

      Good point, and yes, it does. The only point of Biblical rules is to remind us that we need Jesus for forgiveness (as seen in Romans 1-3) and to make sure we don’t screw ourselves — NOT to get approval for God or to maintain our salvation. Unfortunately, various churches tend to focus on the legalism (because it can be hard not to).

  9. Can’t wait for this book! As I understand it, Paul loads ‘hupotasso’ (submit) with lots of ‘uplift’ imagery around it, to underscore that it’s about mutual empowerment, rather than subjugation. Keep up the great work, Paul!

  10. No, he never said it was or it is grounds for divorce, he said Moses allowed it because of the heart of mankind a heart of stone, and they used it to their supposed benefit(s) As is done still to this day
    If man would get the new heart offered them, then they would not mistreat others again Ez. 36:26, this be offered in the risen Christ, not the dead one, that people scurry around to be good enough, when no other can
    Time to finalize and ask for the new heart I think how about anyone else?

    • Many battered spouses have been told to remain in abusive situations and pray for their abusive partner to see the light. In the meantime, the abuse continues.

      • Oh yes there are many, and I stand in trust to God to do as I think Father knows best in what is allowed. For free choice would not be true, if he just swooped in and said you done. He could have done that before the crucifixion, stated by Jesus to Peter. After Peter cut off the ear of Malchus yet he did not allow that to be, and restored Malchus’s ear. Amazing as he said, you think I can’t call the Angels to fight. He could have, as I know after life’s abuse to just trust no matter what.

  11. I love your work Paul – a grace champion for sure. Divorce is a horrible experience. I appreciate you confronting the issue. The plight of men is frequently overlooked. 80% of divorces are filed by woman. The proportion of domestic abuse is shared equally between the sexes. Inconvenient truths. The family court system unfairly favours woman – with men frequently losing their children and most of their assets. Many christian men are divorced by their wives and there was no abuse and no infidelity in the marriage – their wives were simply unhappy and exercised their right to terminate the marriage. For woman from strongly religious families, they are often compelled to make false accusations in order to justify their actions. Their husbands are left stigmatised and neutralised in the church setting but they did nothing wrong.

    • Thanks Craig. The unjust treatment of fathers comes up on talkback radio, but is less discussed within the church. Depriving an innocent man of access to his children must be one of the most pernicious forms of abuse around.

  12. Neavei Isaac // May 7, 2020 at 12:15 pm // Reply

    Jeremiah 3:8 shows us that divorce is a suitable response to adultery. And the sermon on the mount also confirms that. However, when we then take the leap to think adultery is the only sufficient reason for divorce we go far beyond what scripture tells us.
    Proponents of this view point to the three gospels that seem at first glance to support their view, but closer examination reveals that there are mistranslations involved here which may yet be found to have been deliberate redactions. In passing I note that apparent contradictions in the Bible seem to be either mistranslations or redactions.
    In this case the Pharisees are reported as asking, “Is it permitted for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”
    The word used here( and in two other Gospel accounts) translated as ‘divorce’ is everywhere else in the Bible, included in nearby verses, as ‘ put aside, or seperate from’. However, the word translated as divorce in Jesus’ reply is everywhere else in the Bible translated as divorce; as is the case in Jer. 3:8.
    It seems that the the Pharisees were asking, ” May we seperate from our wives and take others to wife?” Jesus corrects them , in fact tells them they must first give the wife a certificate of divorce, then they will be free to take another wife..

    • Yes, what the Pharisees are asking, directly translated, was “is it ok for a man to PUT AWAY his wife” which meant sending her away without the proper divorce. In the OT, men were not ever reprimanded for having more that one wife, and this was essentially still OT, since the new covenant was not yet in place. So only the woman was in danger of committing adultery since men could have more than one wife.
      What about keeping your vows? That point is a bit moot, isn’t it, when we are instructed not to make a vow! someone here correctly pointed out that Jewish people didn’t make vows at the marriage. So we are adopting the customs of our day in direct opposition to bible, and putting ourselves under law to keep them!
      As for physical violence being the only acceptable reason for leaving, what about mental abuse? I realize that anything can now be called mental abuse, but at what point is it too much? I left several times and came back over the course of 40 years because I wanted to do the “right thing” – I thought I could just get better at “submission” and now realize I was never going to be good enough to make a man happy who did not have happiness as a goal. He was verbally mean, but he was only physicalLy mean towards me about 3 times in that 40 years. My kids now deal with the trauma of all the conflict and negativity that I was too Religious and dumb take them out of.

      Oh one more thing, God Hates divorce. But he apparently said that he divorced Israel.

  13. Luke, you have contradicted your first sentence, if you believe what you wrote afterwards?
    If you look at the OT laws regarding violence, it is clear that domestic violence is a GROSS breach of the marriage covenant. Marriage is supposed to be a nurturing, life giving institution. If it no longer is providing these elements, then ultimately, the law exists to serve people, not people serve the law.
    I sought a divorce on health grounds, my doctor and psychologist advised me to get out to save myself. There was no sexual infidelity, and my wife flatly and consistently refused to get counselling or cooperate with me on addressing the core issues.
    When I suggested that we may need to consider divorce, she was fully onboard, no tears, no protestations after 28 years of marriage (shows that something was fundamentally wrong).
    I have been divorced for two years now, I am single and my health is much better. I absolutely love God and He has never indicated in anyway that He is displeased about the situation. Black and white application of law brings death. Love makes space for the grey.

    Great article, thanks Paul

  14. Star Saiyan // May 7, 2020 at 1:27 pm // Reply

    I really like how this article raises some very good points. The marriage/divorce passages seem simple at first glance but are actually complicated when analyzed deeper.

    From Jesus’s comment on not separating in Matthew 19:6, during times of domestic violence, the victim filing divorce from an abusive relationship ISN’T the only one doing the separation — the oppressor is also doing the separation because abuse makes being together difficult. Kinda like when two people are holding on to a rope when one person yanks on it, causing the other person to let go. Although the person technically “let go” of the rope, the person yanking also played a part of making it extremely difficult to continue holding on to the rope. Additionally, I start to see divorce similar to how Jesus sees sickness (as seen in John 9). Sickness is also not God’s optimal plan, but Jesus officially says that sickness is not sin. So divorce can also be a side effect of oppressor’s sin. Finally, as Jesus talked about the sexually immorality exception clause as grounds for divorce, technically, sexual abuses are part of the definition in the exception clause.

    Safer Resource Australia (a really good site) went in way more detail on domestic violence and the Bible, and they noted how even Christians have differing views on which divorce (if any) is okay.

    • Thanks for that, better to live in the corner of an attic, than in a house full of strife
      We are called to be in peace, even in the midst of trouble(s), if can’t, then to me it is time to get out you think
      Whatever turn to God of the risen Son, that raised him from the dead to hear truth over much error in this world

      • Star Saiyan // May 8, 2020 at 6:02 pm //

        Fortunately, there are ways to deal with domestic violence other than divorce. For instance, calling the police (domestic violence is against the law in many areas) or all sorts of hotlines.

        That’s where the balancing question comes in. On one hand, most instances of divorce are not good (the exception clause are where the debates go in). On the other hand, God heavily disapproves of domestic abuse (as it goes against every Bible command regarding love). Then there’s also heart detecting. Divorce isn’t meant to be a mandated or even the first option for escaping abusive solutions. If the oppressor later ends up reconciling (especially with supervision and guidance from various accountability groups), there’s no need for divorce.

      • Brandon Petrowski // May 8, 2020 at 9:15 pm //

        I don’t think anybody here is advocating divorce as a first option. When my abusive and unfaithful ex-wife wronged me repeatedly, I sought Biblical counseling. We went through 5 counselors because she didn’t like their approach, or she didn’t like what their input was, or she didn’t think they were helping. It became clear after repeated abuse, dishonesty, unfaithfulness, threats and manipulation that she had no recognition of a need for change, not a desire to do so. After enduring that for years, I finally made the hardest decision of my life in divorcing her. I agonized over it, and when I finally did it, I had peace. It wasn’t joyous, just relief and escape from a harmful situation. Sometimes the way forward is a simple one, but simple is not always easy. I definitely didn’t take the easy way out. My heart is right with God.

      • Because of the hard Hearts, there is. That is why Moses wrote about it. Yet Jesus clarified it, and said that, yet you correct it was never meant to be that.

  15. Brandon Petrowski // May 7, 2020 at 4:27 pm // Reply

    Very well written. Thank you for sharing Paul. This fits with how I have understood these verses as well.

    David Instone-Brewer has written a very good book on this subject which is pretty in depth both from OT and NT perspective. There are two variations of the book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible and Divorce and Remarriage in the Church. One is written for a more academic approach, and the other is an easier read.

    I once had someone tell me I wasn’t saved because my unfaithful ex-wife divorced me to pursue another man, like I had any control over her decision. I didn’t let the condemnation get the better of me and knew it was ridiculous, but it saddened me thinking about others who have experienced similar judgement.

  16. Tim Ayles // May 7, 2020 at 5:20 pm // Reply

    Couple things to consider. The exception clause ‘except for porneia’ in the Greek, is only found in this Gospel. You will not find this ‘out’ clause in Mark or Luke. If divorce truly was an option, you would imagine this ‘out’ clause is an important point that the readers of Mark and Luke would have benefited from also knowing. Which begs the question, why did the hearers of Matthew’s writing get this ‘out’?

    The reason is that Matthew was written to a Jewish reader, and their form of marriage is quite different than we understand. In the Jewish marriage, there is a betrothal period as most marriages were business contracts. This would allows a family to ‘sell’ their virgin daughter and a period of time could pass as evidence she was a virgin. If she was found to not be a virgin, the man could ‘divorce’ her during this betrothal period. That is why Joseph was said to divorce Mary in Matt 1:18 when she was found to be with child.

    Adultery is having sex with someone not your spouse AFTER you are married. The greek word used for this is ‘moicheuo’. Matthew uses this word in 5:27, but then uses sexual immorality as the ‘out’ clause for marriage a few verses later in 5:32. If Matthew had ‘sexual intercourse with someone not your spouse after being married’ in mind, he would have used the word he just used to describe adultery, but doesn’t. He clearly had porneia in mind, as Joseph though Mary had committed.

    In case you don’t buy this argument, Hebrews 13:4 makes this distinguishment:

    Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer (moichos) and all the sexually immoral (pornos)

    Bottom line….. I don’t think biblically anyone has an out from their marriage for any reason.

    • Brandon Petrowski // May 8, 2020 at 3:41 am // Reply

      Your interpretation is not complete. You are not taking all of Scripture into context, nor are you examining the historical and cultural context fully as one is supposed to do when using hermeneutics. The betrothal period was not for determining virginity which was not difficult to determine and why they had a special garment laid out for the marriage bed the night of the wedding. The Jews understood unfaithfulness as pertaining to the marriage vows with 3 specific components, sexual infidelity, abuse, and abandonment. All of this fell under the umbrella of sexual immorality because the element of intimacy in a marriage was not simply intercourse which we have come to know as “love, honor, and cherish”. There is more to it, but that is the short version.

      • Tim Ayles // May 8, 2020 at 10:12 am //

        For sake of it being late, I didn’t write more but could have. We have the perfect example of what is meant in Matthew when we look to Deut 22:13-19… So in the Jewish marriage context, a man has consummated the marriage with his wife, figures he doesn’t like her, so tries to use the ‘porneia’ argument to get out of the marriage.The parents bring forth the proof though, and he is required to not divorce her as long as he lives.

        There is no out in this situation, other than her having been found to be sexually immoral during the betrothal period.

        I would like to hear more why you, in my opinion, add to the scripture by allowing divorce for abuse and abandonment as well. You run down a slipper slope when the reasons for divorce are not limited, such as in my argument. Pretty soon we can justify divorce for anything…. such as: Matt 5:27-28 “If you look at a woman with list, you have committed adultery with her in your heart” If women are allowed to divorce for adultery, then you can’t tell me she can’t leave if her husband looked at porn, or worse, gave the googly eyes to her sister and lusted. Slippery slope…..

      • Brandon Petrowski // May 8, 2020 at 9:04 pm //

        There are limits, and there is no slippery slope. Grace is not slippery. You approach the issue with an eye toward the sinfulness of man, but we are called to focus on the righteousness of Christ, not our own efforts. You preach law, where Jesus preached forgiveness. The woman about to be stoned for adultery comes to mind.. neither do I condemn you.. and before you refer to Jesus telling her to go and sin no more, he was empowering her, not threatening her. Nobody here is justifying divorce. We are simply saying there are grounds when it was permitted. God hates divorce, not because divorce in itself was a sin, but because it hurts His children. The reality is that sin and suffering still exists in the world, and He made allowance for those who have been crushed by hurt and betrayal. Some are able to bear up under it, and some are not. However, God does not condemn those who seek to be free from the burden of those who broke covenant. When the marriage “contract” has been broken, that covenant is not binding on the victim. If they choose to stay, that is their choice, not a burden imposed on them. You should study the cultural and historical context of covenant keeping. God himself divorced Israel when they continued to abuse Him and continue breaking their covenant. God does not sin, and His word says He divorced His people. Divorce in and of itself, when done properly is not a sin. God’s divorce is also what paved the way for a new covenant of grace, that not only included Israel but all those who would accept Jesus as savior.

      • Yes, Yes, Yes
        Thank you for seeing the truth and not talking it for granted

      • Tim Ayles // May 9, 2020 at 1:29 am //


        I do not preach law nor focus on our own efforts. I actually often get ‘in trouble’ for ‘preaching’ too much grace. The slippery slope I refer to is the fact that you added to the ability for one to leave based on infidelity, abuse and abandonment. My point was that the slippery slope will allow you to keep going and the logical conclusion is one can divorce for ‘anything’ – otherwise it is law you preach if you limit the ability to divorce to only 3 man defined options. I counsel a couple now where the wife wants to leave because she caught the husband looking at porn, and she appeals to all that you are appealing to. We need to be careful to never let the determining factor for divorce be the whims of those who want out of a marriage. A husband playing video games is not a reason to allow a woman to divorce for abandonment (which I have also dealt with in counseling.) That is the slippery slope I refer to, and that is why the standard of ‘no divorce for anything’ is truly the goal. Otherwise, til death do us part and for better or worse (I place affairs in this category) mean nothing. It’s only lip service. Ephesians 5 tells us marriage is a picture of the church’s relationship to God. If we whore ourselves out with the world daily, and He never leaves of forsakes us, then the most missional picture of what this relationship looks like is the one I preach. Nothing we do will separate us from God’s love, even adultery with the world. That is true grace.

        I have studied the context of covenant keeping. I think you are confused when you call marriage a covenant (which it is) and then argue that when the marriage ‘contract’ is broken, the covenant is not binding. Covenants and contracts are 2 completely different things, and you mix them up. With a covenant, both parties agree to hold up their ends REGARDLESS of whether the other party keeps their part of the agreement. If one party fails, the other party is still responsible to hold up their end of the covenant.When a contract is broken by one party, the contract is null and void. Marriage is not a contract.

        I’ll send another post with answers to your point about God divorcing Israel.

      • Brandon Petrowski // May 9, 2020 at 11:25 am //

        You lost me at calling abuse and abandonment a whim. Those are hardly arbitrary causes for divorce that lead to some slippery slope, and “I” didn’t add them. You should read David Instone-Brewer’s book “Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible”. I am not saying just because somebody committed one of those offenses that the spouse “should” leave. I am saying if it is an ongoing problem that the offender is not repentant of, the victim has grounds to leave. I am also not preaching law. I didn’t say those who leave for some other reason stand condemned. There are plenty of natural consequences that follow when somebody’s heart is not in the right place.

        As far as covenants go, your definition is different than the dictionary, so I am not sure it is me who is confused. Your definition also does not fit with the Biblical and Jewish depiction of covenant. A convenant is simply an agreement, often legally binding. The terms of the covenant are what determines how it is fulfilled or broken and what does or does not break it.

      • Tim Ayles // May 9, 2020 at 1:41 am //

        If you are referring to Jer 3 regarding God divorcing Israel, look at what God says at the end of the passage AFTER he has divorced his wife for adultery. He indicates that even though she has committed adultery and even though He has obtained a legal divorce from her, He still acknowledges that “I am your husband.” You see, despite her adultery and her being given a certificate of divorce, in God’s eyes she was still his wife. He even says….Return.

        How does this correlate today? Even though you might obtain a certificate of divorce from the state, in God’s eyes, you are still married to the one you became one flesh with through covenant. THIS is the reason why if you remarry you are an adulterer……because even though you got a divorce certificate…… God sees you as still married!

        Under the Law of Moses adultery is never given as a reason for divorcing and remarrying. And this fact, coupled with how God reacts to his adulterous wife, is very strong evidence that God does not view adultery as having actually dissolved the marriage. By His own admission, His legally divorced and adulterous wife was still His wife AFTER the divorce.

        This is where grace is so sweet though. Many have divorced and remarried. There is no guilt though, so when they realize what they have done, they can appreciate all the more the fact they are clean and forgiven, even though they are adulterers for remarriage. Deuteronomy also instructs Israelites that leaving their new spouse to return to their old (maybe they thought they should after realizing their error) is an abomination. God’s mercies are new every morning, and a fresh start with the new spouse can happen after the fact!

      • Brandon Petrowski // May 9, 2020 at 11:28 am //

        Yeah and Hosea left his wife and took her back too. Just because God offered mercy and was there waiting for Israel to return, does not mean there was restoration. That is also why we have a new covenant open to Gentiles. The point is still that divorce was a recourse for a broken “marriage”.

      • Tim Ayles // May 9, 2020 at 12:03 pm //


        ‘You lost me at calling abuse and abandonment a whim.’ You shouldn’t be lost as I am just taking your thought out to its logical conclusion. Can you define the degree of abandonment that must take place for divorce to be okay? I can promise you it will be a personal preference and not rooted in scripture. How do I know? Because when I ask the next person what they feel is abandonment worthy of divorce, it will be to a much differing degree than you. Where you might feel divorce is okay for physical abuse, another might think it is okay for abuse with words. A woman divorced her husband at my old church because she got tired of him marginalizing her ideas and claimed the emotional abuse card. Would you tell her she is wrong? If everyone gets to determine what constitutes abuse and abandonment, then everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes.

        Who is right?

        Another statement you made that I believe is up for interpretation or a whim:

        “if it is an ongoing problem that the offender is not repentant of, the victim has grounds to leave”

        Really? What is the time limit? Is it arbitrarily 2 year? 5 years? What if you say 7 years and someone gives up after 5? Did they not try? What if someone argues that if the spouse is not repentant after the 1st offense, I have grounds for divorce. Do you see the problem here? It can’t be arbitrary like this or anyone can make the bible say what they want it to say at any time.

        Slippery slope…..

      • Brandon Petrowski // May 9, 2020 at 1:09 pm //

        There isn’t any time limit, nor is there a slippery slope. There aren’t degrees and formulas, and as I already explained, what may be right or wrong for one person might not be the case for another. We are equally loved in the eyes of God, but He does not deal with us equally. You talk about how you champion grace, but you package it in chains.

        Whatever my failings and mistakes, God can do with me as He sees fit, but He isn’t relating to me on the basis of my performance or measuring up to some standard so that I avoid the slippery slope. If I am near a slippery slope, it is the Holy Spirit who nudges me. In my past, I have ignored those nudgings at times and have suffered for it, but that wasn’t God punishing me. That was me reaping what I had sown, natural consequences. Every time, God has welcomed me back with open arms, and His unconditional love and grace has humbled me and drawn me into a deeper walk with Him.

        Those who genuinely desire to do the right thing and pray for God’s guidance are not disappointed, and it is the Holy Spirit who steers them. That might come through Scripture or the wisdom of another human being, but often times it is simply a peace in their spirit about what to do. You seem to be afraid to let people be guided by the Holy Spirit, as if that somehow diminishes the Bible or your place as their counselor?

        I will leave you with this quote from “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning, and then I am done responding.

        “Disgruntled and disgusted, The Prince of Darkness slinks up to the chalet of bummed-out disciples who have made their home in Jesus and nails a legal document to the door: … EVICTION NOTICE! You are hereby banisheed from the House of Fear forever. With malice aforethought, you have flagrantly withheld the monthly rent of guilt, anxiety, fear, shame and self-condemnation. You have adamantly refused to worry about your salvation. Already I overheard one dismal tenant say, ‘There goes the neighborhood!’ Your freedom from fear is not only dangerous but contagious. Real estate values have plummeted; gullible investors are hard to find. Why? Your callous and carefree rejection of slavery! A pox on you and all deluded lovers of liberty! ~The Prince”

      • it is clear in scripture that all who follow the Lord are expected to be very tolerant and forgiving to others, and in particular to our spouse. We are expected to walk the extra miles required to make things workout.
        Having said that, there are and must be limits to tolerance, just as there are very real limits to God’s Amazing Grace. This being the case we must continue to do our best to heal and prosper our marriage, but if the spouse continues in adulterous behaviour there does come a day when one must acknowledge that thhe relationship is dead, and will not be revived.
        This brings me to two points I want to make:
        Firstly, I remind readers that Yeshua said that even thinking to indulge in adulterous intimacy is equivalent to pysical adultery.It seems clear that both Physical and Emotional abuse are equivalent to physical adulterous intimacy. Many of you will reject this insight.
        Secondly, Only God knows when a particular marriage is irretrievably dead.
        That being so the abused spouse must hear words from God that the relationship is finished. This may be after many years of accepting abuse, and one must be very clear that “hearing from God” is not just wishful thinking.
        In my own case the words I “heard” were,
        “You are now released from this relationship.”

    • Hi Tim, you raise some interesting points about Jewish marriage. Some points in reply: (1) You argue that Jesus was talking about betrothal and not marriage when discussing “outs”. However, this argument fails the Joseph test. If Joseph put away his betrothed as he was planning to, and then he married another, he would be judged an adulterer by the standards of Matt 5:32, 19:9 and Mark 10:11. Which is hardly fair. As you say, adultery can only be committed by the married. Clearly, Jesus was talking about actual marriage in those passages and not betrothals.

      (2) I’m not sure what relevance Heb. 13:4 has to the present article. No one here is encouraging adultery. I write for the victims of adultery and abuse.

      (3) That said, adultery happens. People make mistakes. If you condemn adulterers, you must be consistent and condemn liars and cowards as well. If you have ever told a lie, you are just as sinful as an adulterer in the eyes of the law. Adultery is destructive but Jesus heals and restores. Instead of preaching the law that condemns, I choose to preach the grace that heals and empowers us to say no to ungodliness.

      • Tim Ayles // May 8, 2020 at 11:01 am //

        Hi Paul,

        The ‘certificate’ you reference (certificate of divorce (apostasion) is just the document that legalized the intent/action of divorce (apolyo) in the Jewish context. The way it worked was a there was a business contract between two families, and the betrothal period would need to be legally ended, even though the marriage has not yet been consummated. The maiden becomes the young man’s lawful wife. Study the KETUBAH (a legal binding contract signed at the betrothal ceremony, causing the husband and wife to wait 1 year for the wedding, consummation, and cohabitations.) The contract cannot be broken except for fornication (porneia). He can legally divorce her immediately after the wedding night if he could prove she committed fornication. Although married by law. DIVORCE was allowed if this was the case. That is what the young man in Deut 22 tried to do when he slept with his wife and then decided he didn’t like her anymore.

        The key question is, if divorce were allowed after marriage/adultery, then would Mark and Luke keep that key piece of information OUT of their Gospel? That would have been a really important part of the equation for the hearers of Mark and Luke to know since they most likely didn’t have the Gospel of Matthew hanging around for reference. Those poor souls lived thinking there was no ‘out’ from a marriage.

        Which is why I believe Matthew’s Jewish hearers would have understood what Matthew was talking about when he introduced ‘porneia’ as the only reason for divorce AFTER just having used the word ‘ adultery’. They would have immediately understood that to be a woman having been found to be promiscuous before the marriage was consummated, as Joseph planned to do.

      • Tim Ayles // May 8, 2020 at 11:10 am //

        One other point in regards to your position that my point fails the Joseph test as you call Mary his fiance….. The bible called him her husband (aner) in Matt 1:19….. which is true under the Jewish marriage customs. Because her legal husband, in the betrothal period, having not yet consummated the marriage, he would be required to divorce her to end the betrothal. That is the KETUBAH

      • Hi again Tim. You are correct in noting that ancient Jewish marriages consisted of two parts: a betrothal (erusin) followed some time later by a wedding ceremony (nisuin). Documents were signed at each ceremony. At the betrothal, the promise was formalized with the signing of something that came to be known as the Tena’im or “conditions.” At the subsequent wedding ceremony, the witnesses signed the Ketubah. You seem to have confused these documents.

        One of the purposes of the Ketubah is it made provisions for the wife in the event of divorce. And this was true in ancient times. Yes, Jewish people get divorced, just like anybody. And this is why the Ketubah exists – to make divorce harder. But divorce happens, and when it does another document is involved, the Get. Under Judaism, divorce is not only lawful but specific reasons for it are recognized.

        I trimmed your comment because I don’t normally publish comments >250 words, and because you essentially repeated much of what you said the first time.

      • Tim Ayles // May 9, 2020 at 2:16 am //


        You are correct in that I am getting Ketubah mixed up….it’s been over a decade since I have debated this topic, so going off memory is not wise for a mid 40’s dad of 4! So many parts to the ancient Jewish wedding….. To annul this betrothal contract, the couple would need a religious divorce (gett), which had to be initiated by the husband. For legal purposes, a betrothed couple is regarded as husband and wife. Similarly, the union can only be ended by the same divorce process as for married couples.

        This is what Matthew had in mind when he permitted divorce for his audience. Unfortunately, many today have taken that to mean we can get divorced for adultery, or abandonment, or abuse, or neglect, or on and on and on. The standard needs to be higher as marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship to His church. People should be able to look at marriage and see God’s committment to us.

        We mess up and fail…. and those who have been divorced and committed adultery through remarriage have the ability to appreciate His grace and forgiveness even more once they understand what they have done. If we think we had the right to sin through divorce and remarriage because of XYZ reason, and we justify our actions in our own mind, we don’t experience the grace we have been given even though we acted against God’s standard for marriage, because we think we didn’t do anything wrong.

      • Hi Tim,
        You are correct in saying a Jewish betrothal could end in divorce, but I don’t know why you dismiss the fact of Jewish divorce after the wedding. Judaism never forbade divorce. The rabbis discouraged it, but they also listed grounds for which it could happen (eg: failure to produce children). In fact, the rabbis even taught that a husband could be compelled to divorce his wife if he neglects his duties. Some of these “duties” include activities that could only happen after the marriage was consummated, we can see that post wedding divorce happens.

        Your insistence that Matthew was talking about divorce pre-wedding doesn’t fit the culture or the text. Look at Christ’s words: “Everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (NASB this time). How can this apply to a betrothed woman who has done nothing wrong? It can only apply to a woman who has consummated her marriage.

      • Tim Ayles // May 9, 2020 at 10:01 am //

        Hi Paul,

        I am trying to make the argument that, just because Jewish laws allowed for divorce after marriage, it doesn’t mean that God does. Just because Judaism ‘didn’t forbid’ divorce doesn’t mean God also allows it. You seem to be working from the paradigm that because divorce was practiced by Jews, it must be okay and therefore we make the bible fit the customs of the times. I am working from the paradigm that divorce is not allowed by God, and figuring out therefore why Matthew allows an ‘out’ while Mark and Luke do not. Proper hermenuetics lead to this conclusion that Matthews was writing to a Jewish audience and they would have understood what he meant, whereas we western thinkers don’t quite get it. If a man thought he was getting a virgin, and is later been found to have been duped, he is allowed to divorce her.

        The ‘out’ clause that God allows in the Bible is only for those Jews, like Joseph, who find that their betrothed wife was sexually immoral pre-nuptial. Again, this is key for understanding why the ‘out clause’ is not in the other gospels. If a woman was found to have committed immoraltiy before consummating the marriage, using Jewish law, the penalty was death, and this is the only reason a man could divorce his wife (before consummating the marriage.) Ability to divorce is VERY limited in scope, as it should be. It seems your interpretation opens up a broad allowance for divorce (abandonment from the husband who idolizes video games and ignores his wife for example), which I don’t think is the heart of what God desires. If you were stuck on an island with just Mark and Luke, you would not come to the same conclusion for allowance for divorce. That should form the basis for questioning what is going on in Matthew and why it is different in focus.

        Let’s look at your verse: ‘Everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery’

        Did her unchastity (which many incorrectly interpret as adultery) cause her to be an adulteress? Or did her husband divorcing her after she committed ‘supposed’ adultery make her an adulteress? Cheating on her husband would make her an adulteress, not her husband divorcing her.

        To answer your other question, the reason a woman becomes an adulteress if her husband divorces her, and if she did nothing wrong, is because in God’s eyes, she is still married, regardless of the certificate of divorce. She can be divorced prior to consummating the marriage. After that event, all bets are off, regardless of what she does. This is the most accurate picture of the gospel….. is it not?

      • If a person has never been married or consummated a marriage, I fail to see how he or she can ever be accused of adultery. It doesn’t make sense even allowing for Jewish betrothal. The issue is Jewish men were ditching their wives without consequence. They could do this because Jewish divorce laws were interpreted inconsistently. Whatever your view, you could find a rabbi to support it.

        The Pharisees asked Jesus to weigh in and rather than get entangled in intractable debates about divorce, he pulled out the seventh commandment. “Whosoever puts away his wife (without a divorce certificate), and marries another, commits adultery” (Luke 16:18). This was a brilliant move. Jewish men weren’t fussed about divorce, but they were terrified of being labeled adulterers. By law, an adulterer could be put to death.

        You misunderstood the point I was trying to make in Matthew 5. You miss the word except. Hopefully the point is more clearly made in Luke 16:18 where no mention of the woman is made. In both instances, Jesus is talking about married men who put away their wives without issuing divorce certificates. In effect, they were robbing their wives by failing to pay whatever alimony had been specified in their ketubahs. He is not talking about betrothed women.

      • Tim Ayles // May 9, 2020 at 10:18 am //


        One more clarification of why I think your interpretation is dangerous. (Not saying you are dangerous. This interpretation is. I love your stuff and own most of your books, having been swayed to Grace from your work.) You leave it up to man to figure out what is divorce approved. Let me give you an example.

        My old church, where I was an elder, had to define divorce-able adultery as penetration. We had a case where a wife did pretty much everything else but that with another man who was not her husband. I would argue what she did was adultery since Jesus said looking at a woman with lust is adultery. Based on your interpretation, we should have let her husband divorce. As you can see though, it is now left up to man to decide what is and what isn’t allowed for divorce. When we get liberal with divorce, one can justify divorce for just about anything. This is why saying divorce is allowed for abandonment or abuse is a slippery slope. What is NOT abandonment to you, might be to someone else. A husband who is a workaholic can now be divorce-able to some for abandonment, but not to others. In fact, pretty much any reason can be justified and argued that it is biblical if you interpret the divorce passages in the way that you do.

        I believe my interpretation gets to the heart of what God’s standard is. Of course we will fail, and grace meets us where we screw up. But when we tell people there is NO out biblically, we are better able to understand how hard it all is and why grace is needed. This is why hating your brother is murder. It seems extreme, but that is the standard and it helps us appreciate grace and forgiveness all the more when we divorce for the wrong reasons.

      • Your point illustrates the very thing Jesus was opposing: whatever law you may have, men will interpret it anyway they like. They will find loopholes that enable them to do what they want and the result is that people get hurt. It speaks volumes that you are more concerned with God’s standards than battered wives, and that you don’t see the danger that your own interpretation presents. Men can kill with the law just as easily as without it.

      • Tim Ayles // May 9, 2020 at 11:16 am //

        ‘If a person has never been married or consummated a marriage, I fail to see how he or she can ever be accused of adultery’ This has been my point, and maybe I too am now mixing the words. Porneia is not adultery…

        Anywho, I digress. This will be an endless debate. Maybe we could do a live podcast sometime. 🙂 I still feel your view allows for divorce for any interpretation of man. I know this because I live it in the trenches with biblical counseling. People get divorced for all types of reasons, and they are justified in their minds biblically because of interpretations such as yours. You can’t honestly tell the wife who wants to divorce her husband because his video gaming is emotional abandonment that she is wrong. Logically play it out and you will realize the reality of Judges 21:25 ……. everyone did as they saw fit.

      • Both Matthew 5 and Luke 16:18 say adultery. Jesus said the men who ditched their wives were guilty of adultery, not fornication, and it was adultery because they were married. Yes, people get divorced for all sorts of reasons. You seem to think the remedy is tougher standards. If tough laws worked, the Jews would never have run after idols, or murder or commit adultery.

        My conviction is that no law can fully restrain sin in the heart of man. But tough unforgiving law can and does lead to situation where the innocent are violently abused. It is fascinating to me that your image of a bad husband is someone who plays video games (!), while Jesus was speaking of men who put their wives in impossible situations, where starvation was a real possibility.

      • Brandon Petrowski // May 9, 2020 at 11:40 am //

        There are boundaries defined in the Bible, not by us. People just have to dig deeper than what a single verse not in context allows on the surface. Regardless, it comes down to where their heart is at. There is Scripture that clearly says there are areas of freedom for some that are not okay for others. I am not advocating a whatever feels right approach either, just saying that the issue is not as simple as you wish to make it. Nobody here is advocating divorce on a whim for any reason. When an offender continually betrays their marital vows, God simply allows the victim to respect the choice of the unrepentant spouse. Reconciliation could still happen, after the divorce as well, as God made available in Jeremiah. However, there is nowhere in the Bible that says divorce is a sin.

      • Thought I was done, then I read this. Not sure what you are inferring here:

        ‘It speaks volumes that you are more concerned with God’s standards than battered wives, and that you don’t see the danger that your own interpretation presents.’

        There is a mighty difference between God’s standard as the goal and leaving it up to man to do what they want because of grace. If anyone should know this, it is you. I believe we are saints who sometimes screw up and our natural default is to do the will of God. Thus, even for a believing woman who has a husband cheat on her, she will naturally look to reconcile and forgive and vice versa. That is the Spirit of who lives in us. You seem to be taking the side of the ‘powerless’ identity who can give in to the what the world says is the easy way out and divorce. Maybe that broken person might be able to stick it out, but that takes a real hero to do that is what seems to be your argument.

        I am not at all minimizing battered wives as you infer, and in fact often counsel abused wives to leave the home and file legal separation as well as restraining orders. But, I also counsel them that God is a God who restores brokenness and there is blessing in waiting upon God to deal with the husband. Imagine if he turns from his brutal ways, and you are still around….whether that is 2 months or 20 years. What an amazing testimony that will be is the hope I give her. Her hope needs to be in God changing the man, not in the man changing.

        1 Cor 7:10 – A wife must not separate (chorizo: divorce) from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.

        So I believe Paul gives clear instructions for the battered wife and how she is to respond. The ‘if she does’ is not the allowance for divorce as Paul just got done COMMANDING her not to divorce. He knows that many will though, so her instruction is to remain single and look to be restored to her husband. This clearly goes against your point that the woman who is battered is now free to divorce and to remarry. I counsel get away for safety, and wait on the Lord for restoration.

      • What I am inferring, let me stake plainly: the ministry of the law brings condemnation. The law does not heal or restore or do any of the things you hope for. Only the supernatural grace of God does that. If a woman or man is an abusive relationship, hitting them with the immutable law will do nothing to mend the hurt.

        Your approach – to preach law to the victim while leaving the unfaithful husband in the hands of God – is back to front. And useless. If you must preach law, preach it to the unfaithful husband and give grace to the hurting. Like Jesus did.

        My thoughts on 1 Cor. 7:10-11 are here.

      • Tim Ayles // May 9, 2020 at 11:50 am //

        ‘It is fascinating to me that your image of a bad husband is someone who plays video games’ Don’t be fascinated. As a biblical counselor, I have seen the worst you can imagine, so I know what a bad husband is. I only brought this example up to prove that your view is dangerous because it leaves the reason for divorce up to the one wanting a divorce. You seem to be the one coming up with the rules here. Not me. How do I know this? Because you can easily come up with a list of things that one can get a divorce for. Hitting? Yelling? Neglect? Forcing her to get a job? Mocking?

        Tell me….. what are divorce-able offenses? My guess is your list will be different than XYZ Jones and ABC Smith. And that is my point. If divorce is not an option no matter what….. it is pretty easy to explain. If someone gets divorced, then there is forgiveness and grace to be found. The way you seem to teach it, divorce is could potentially NEVER be a sin if always filtered through the abuse, neglect category, depending on the interpreter of the abuse, and therefore there is no need for grace. If I did not sin in my divorce, I do not need grace. But where sin abounds (such as in divorce) grace abounds.

      • “Tell me….. what are divorce-able offenses?” You are asking for my offenses or rules because you suspect they are different from your rules and your rules are better or more “Biblical”. As we can see from this thread, you are prepared to argue for your rules, or God’s standards, as you call them. You have spent hours defending your rules.

        Don’t you find it strange that we have engaged for so long and you still have no idea what my divorce rules are? What if I told you I don’t have any rules. I don’t divide people into rule-breakers and rule-keepers. I don’t view divorced people as sinners. Or offenders. They are simply people who, like me, need to know the unconditional love of God.

        Why have I continued dialoging with you when it is apparent we will not agree? I am writing for all the silent readers who have had rules shoved down their throats by people who have never known the pain they know. I am writing for abused wives and people like BP, to let them know that God is for them and not against them. I write for those who have been condemned by a church more in love with the rules than the Jesus who died for all of us. Peace.

      • Brandon Petrowski // May 9, 2020 at 12:51 pm //

        I love you Paul. 🙂

      • Right back at you! 🙂

      • Tim Ayles // May 9, 2020 at 1:15 pm //

        Any reason my last 3 posts in response to you and BP were not permitted?

      • I think you have made your points. Time to move on. Thanks for commenting.

    • Tim Ayles,
      I’ve read through the lengthy exchange you’ve had here in this thread that extends well below this reply. If I may, I’d like to interject a few thoughts relevant to the topic. Hats off to you for stepping into the role of counseling others. I really mean it. That must be very challenging and as you’ve said, I’m sure you’ve seen it all.

      I’ve heard it said that there are 2 types of counselors. Those who’s primary purpose is to help people to live right and those who’s primary purpose is to help people experience healing. I wonder which one you would say makes the better counselor… and which one you would say most describes you.

      Another thought is isn’t it obvious that God has gifted marriage to us to enhance our human experience? In other words, isn’t marriage something that is their FOR us rather than humans being here in service or slavery to the concept of marriage?

      I think we all have blind spots in our minds. Meaning something is literally right there, but we can’t see it. Thankfully, God is working on us and helping us come to our senses. For me, my core blindness was to my union with Christ. I couldn’t see that God had joined himself to me in my fallen, ugly, sinful, and rebellious state. Even with an understanding of forgiveness and grace, I still tended to see him at a distance waiting for me to clean up my act and move closer to him before real fellowship with God could be enjoyed. What blindness! I think if a person is married, divorced, thinking about divorce, being abused, or even the one doing the abusing, the counsel would be the same – to help them step further into a participative relationship with the Father and Son, drinking from the Father and Son’s eternal union, joy, fellowship, and dance of life that overflows through the Spirit. To bask in and walk in the adoption that Christ has accomplished without our asking him to. As we heal from our brokenness and become whole from discovering real relationship with our heavenly Father, then we can start to relate to each other with that same overflow. Personally, I think anything else doesn’t have the right to call itself “Biblical counseling”.

  17. Has anyone ripped their eye out or cut their hand of yet?


    So why is there so much jugdment when it comes to marriage and divorcing?

  18. Steve Douglas // May 8, 2020 at 4:17 pm // Reply

    during 1st divorce asked God to show me if He was real–He did. Married 2nd time at 39 instead of obeying God to develop one-on-one fellowship with Him–disobeyed from fear. 3rd marriage crisis last spring, God asked me: Do you want to change or stay the same? I feebly said yes. God’s fellowship with me is soaring while marriage is stuck at square 1. Learning obedience in ways most folks would run away from–bragging on Papa–not me.

  19. Paul, thanks for the info on the Silent Queen ebook. I also want to thank you for all your responses to the comments… So helpful. Thank you also Brandon Petrowski for your comments. God bless.

  20. You said, “They were sending their wives away without giving them divorce certificates.” How did you come to the conclusion that Jesus talks about people who didn’t give the paper? I didn’t understand that part. It isnt said in the bible text.

    • It is in the text but I understand why you can’t see it. I didn’t see it for the longest time, but both Moses and Jesus talk about it. In the law, Moses spoke of a man (1) writing his wife a certificate of divorce, and (2) sending her from his house (Deu. 24:1). Two words, two things: writing, sending.

      In the New Testament the Greek word for sending is apoluō and the certificate of divorce is apostasion. Two words, two things. But some English Bibles confuse these two things. Look at how Mark 10:11 is appears in two versions:

      ASV: Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her
      NIV: Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.

      The ASV is correctly talking about the first thing (sending); the NIV is incorrectly talking about the second thing (writing a certificate of divorce). The NIV translators wrongly assumed the sending and divorcing were the same thing. But as any Jew can tell you, being sent away without the bill of divorcement (it’s called a get) is serious problem. They even have a name for such women. They are called agunot, literally, “chained wives.” They’ve been sent out but they are not free to remarry because they lack the get. This creates conditions for adultery, as Jesus described.

      Sending wives away without the husband signing a get is an ancient Jewish problem. Believe it or not, but it was only recently resolved with a law change in Israel in 2012.

  21. Hi Paul,
    I think the silence of the church does add to the difficulty in every situation of sin. Jesus described the process of a sinning brother of sister in Matthew 18. In the context of the christian marriage, adultery should be confronted according to Matthew 18 and so should domestic violence. If the sinning party does not confess and seek to be restored, the sinning party should be excommunicated from the church. These both are terribly sinful issues that the church according to Matthew 18 should have a say so. Domestic violence is also a criminal offence. SO I believe the church needs to be actively practicing Matthew 18. In general does the church do this? NO! Because the church does not actively voice itself in these matters and the church does not generally follow through the Matthew 18 prescription, then people are left to figure it out.

    I think also in the Scripture we need to see if divorce has any precedent. SO the reference to Deuteronmy 24, there gives a precedent. Remember the law has already judged on this, by and large adultery is judged by a death sentence. So this is an easier sentence, the husband chooses to divorce her giving her a certificate of divorcement. He could have had her stoned, right?

  22. In Ezra 10, there is massive divorce of Israeli men who had married foreign wives and some had children. This is such an interesting exception to the no divorce concept. This is not even the adultery clause as far as we know. Israelite men married foreign women of Idolatrous nations. Guess what, they were permitted and pretty much commanded to divorce them. There was a massive divorce by these men. It was publicly acknowledged. And a sacrifice was given. This was the judgement of Ezra as he sought wisdom.

    So what can be drawn as a conclusion of this massive divorce here. The greater danger was the tendency for the Israelis to follow the idolatrous practices of the foreign women and stop true worship of Jehovah. The sin of intermarrying with idolatrous people is from Deuteronomy 7:3. HERE, DIVORCE IS THE LESSER EVIL, if we can say it in these terms. So, yes, God hates divorce. But there are exceptions in the Scripture for the concept of “one man and one woman until death do us part.”

    • Thanks for your interesting examples, Steve.

    • Ezra might relate to Solomon in Ecclesiastes
      There is time for everything under the Sun
      And there is Matthew 10:16-20 to be wise as a serpent, yet remain harmless as a dove

      Thank you for the enlightenment of Ezra
      As I need and have much to learn, so as Paul, I am putting behind me, what is behind me. and just moving forward in learning from all, turned to God to hear truth over error all in all

  23. Paul, I’m with you on your article’s message – abuse abounds, even in the Church, and our misreading of Biblical texts facilitates it. I think this situation highlights humanities unhealthy relationship with the Bible in general. That is to say we miss its point. Which is what you’ve been writing about for years.
    Just to add to the conversation, my thoughts upon reading the question used for the title of this article: Did Jesus say adultery is the only grounds for divorce?… Anytime we slip into constructing an understanding of God and the landscape of our existence in a legal framework, we will come to conclusions that satisfy our intellect but fail to reflect the true nature of our relationship with God, one another, and creation itself. God’s eternal purpose is for us to draw from and join in the life, fellowship, joy and harmony of the abundant overflow between the Father and Son in the anointing of the Spirit. There, the deciphering of allowable terms for divorce is simply an irrelevant conversation because where love reigns, fear (and all its rotten fruit) has no leg to stand on. Jesus didn’t come to help us manage our fallen existence but to totally rescue us from it. In our lack of belief, lack of awareness, and lack of participation with the life of the Father within us we erect systems of duties, obligations, and codes to live according to. Again, these systems bring satisfaction to our intellect, but not our hearts. Our souls continue to long for something real and meaningful – something we recognize as living water, something we know is bearing fruit in and through our lives – the eternal life Jesus has brought about and made known. This living water within us will flow knowledge of ‘what to do’ in each situation to our intellect… the leading of the Spirit. Our addiction to these systems of religion and the illusion of Godliness they produce, keep us, for all practical purposes, cut off from Christ as the true source of life. And we will defend these limited and lifeless perspectives until the cows come home not knowing that our loyalty and commitment to them is the very thing veiling our minds from our union with Christ. I guess my point is I’m hesitant toward any question that sounds like “What are the rules according to Jesus”? We’ll end up like the Pharisees, wondering if our rules are the ones that Jesus is in support of. And Jesus is trying to wean us off the rule roller coaster altogether.

    • I hear you, Jason. Over the past few days I’ve experienced some of the frustration Jesus must have felt when the Pharisees pressed him for his rules of divorce. They were trying to engage him in a game he wasn’t playing. It’s fascinating to me, though, that Jesus essentially acquiesced. He directly answered their question (Shammei, not Hillel) then segued onto a separate issue that no one was talking about (dumped wives) before pulling out one of the most terrifying laws (adultery) to highlight the seriousness of their sin. Jewish men thought nothing of sending their wives away without a divorce certificate. (It was so common they even had a name for such women: agunot, or chained wives.) But they were stone cold terror stricken at the prospect of being branded adulterers. Jesus linked the heavy law with the neglected one to champion the rights of abandoned women.

      • Now, that just brought it all into context for me, Thank You much Paul

      • jason b // May 11, 2020 at 1:09 pm //

        Thank you for your response. I get what you are saying. Jesus is the master redeemer. He comes to where we are, meets us in our fallen mindset, joins us in the conversation at the level we can comprehend (speaks our language, if you will) for the purpose of leading us out of the darkness. Like a Judo master allowing the attacks and blows of the aggressor to come into their space and using the momentum of the punch or kick against the aggressor. Jesus was constantly flipping the attempts of the legal minded Pharisees to expose Jesus around on them to actually expose them.

      • God bless you Paul for your grace in responding to the comments. A friend’s husband beat & raped her regularly & would not go for counseling. She finally divorced & the church told her she was under judgment. I printed this blog and your comments to share with her.

      • I am sorry to hear about your friend, Karen. The church has a lot to answer for when it comes to the treatment of battered wives and divorcees. I pray that she comes into a revelation of God’s grace and that she will know his love and healing.

      • Brandon Petrowski // May 13, 2020 at 11:23 am //

        My heart goes out to your friend. She is not under judgement or condemnation, except by ignorant people. Tell her to come read Paul’s stuff. Also, a good book she may find encouraging is “Divorce and Remarriage in the Church” by David Instone-Brewer.

      • Thank you so much for your words & prayers,Paul and Brandon… Paul, I am definitely sharing your blog with my friend, she is struggling from the trauma she endured from both husband & the church. God bless you both.

      • Brandon Petrowski // May 14, 2020 at 7:59 am //

        You are very welcome.
        I had to do a double take at first because my middle name is Paul, lol.

      • And Brandon, thank you very much for the book recommendation Divorce and Remarriage in the Church. I will share that with her too. God bless.

  24. I would like to thanks Paul and Brandon as well, I feel that your interpretations on the topic were guided by love, an essential indicator of truth in my opinion! A couple of technical points for Tim (who I appreciate has used up his ‘responding’ rights) should he happen to follow these comments. There was an OT law that if a couple had sexual relations prior to marriage, they were forbidden from ever divorcing (I can imagine that law creating problems?) – inference? Obviously, couples who only had sexual relations after marriage COULD potentially divorce. Also, when Paul (the apostle) said that (if abandoned by an unbelieving spouse) the believing spouse was “not bound to futility”, he surely was implying that they could seek a divorce?

    In my first marriage, my ex emptied my bank account and was living with another man. (At God’s direction) I waited and prayed for her to return to me. After 16 months separation, I rang her and was roundly abused and told point blank never to contact her again. God then released me from the marriage and I sought and obtained a divorce. If a counsellor ever told me that I was an adulterer for divorcing my first wife and then remarrying, I would be sorely tempted to punch him in the nose. God is always more interested in the well being of His people, rather than strengthening rigid interpretations of scripture to satisfy legalists.

    • Neavei Isaac // May 17, 2020 at 12:15 pm // Reply

      I too heard from God in like manner. After walking many extra miles in effort to regain my failed narriage, I was once more trying to have my seperated wife try to understand that our best hope was to restart the marriage with Jesus in the centre of it. She manifested yelling abuse at me there in the restuarant. People must have thought I was behaving badly. Anyway, it was then that I heard God say, You are now released from this relationship. I did get a divorce.

  25. You make a good point Isaac. We are all kings and priests with our God. Jesus is our brother, and we have a common Father. We know what He is doing as a fruit of sonship. If God gives direction to leave a broken marriage, no one, but NO ONE has the right to question the decision. A wise child of God leaves space for the deep things of God. This article has brought healing to me, and I am grateful for that.

  26. Abuse happens to men as well. The analogy is always used in the context of abused women. But men are physically and emotionally abused maybe equally as women are. Many times these reports are not made public because of shame men feel saying that they were physically punched or emotionally abused by their wives. A woman can punch a man and a man can call the police and nothing will happen but if the same thing happens where a man hits a woman the man will lose everything and spend the night in jail or more. Men often stay in abusive relationship because they are expected to be stronger or stay because they know the law will give his children to the abusive wife. I want all men to know it’s ok to walk or run away from an abusive spouse. Do it for yourself and for your children. Jesus loves you more than anything and more than you know.

    • I totally agree. I will also add that men who are victims of abuse sometimes go on to become victims of prejudicial courts. It is a terrible double-whammy. Thanks for your comment.

      • Brandon Petrowski // July 10, 2020 at 5:12 pm //

        That happened to me. At one point she threatened to call the police and say that I hit her, which I never laid a hand on her. As my eyes began to water, I told her if she was comfortable with that lie, to go ahead. She backed down, thankfully, but that was tough to endure. This was after she took a swing at me while she was driving, all because I had set aside some cash for potential emergency situation (which came in handy later). That was only one of many incidents before I couldn’t take any more.

      • Unfortunately your experience is a template for what happens to a lot of men. Men are often victims of abuse just as women are but alot of it goes unreported or men feel shame in reporting they have been emotionally, verbally and physically abused. My advise is get out before the tables get flipped on you, your emotional and spiritual well being supersedes staying in a toxic relationship. Jesus loves you!

  27. “Over the past few days I’ve experienced some of the frustration Jesus must have felt when the Pharisees pressed him for his rules of divorce. They were trying to engage him in a game he wasn’t playing.”

    Thank you Paul for your patience.

    I normally don’t read threads where people are deliberately engaging in ways that aren’t helpful to the subject, but this time I did and I’m glad. I’m thankful for the sensitive and factual way that you have addressed the topic because I’ve learned so much I didn’t know about Jewish law.

    I just wanted you to know that I appreciate all you do for your readers and everyone affected by these difficult issues.

    Keep up the good work Paul. Thank you for loving us 🙂

  28. Staying in an abusive situation is enabling sin. You are the victim but you have a choice to leave. Get safe. When you choose to stay, you are participating in the sin. Get help. It is out there. If your church does not make your safety the number one priority, please find a different church. The is help for you to protect yourself and learn to stay out of abusive situations.

  29. It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.” But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32, NIV)

    Jesus is talking about the man in this verse, in a patriarchal society, where they had all, or most of the power, and women had little or none. Jesus says that A MAN doesn’t have any justification other than spousal infidelity to divorce his wife, knowing that men are stronger physically, and aren’t going to be the victims of physical abuse, at least not in the sense that they don’t have the power to defend themselves. This verse says nothing about a woman being abused by her husband, or whether its acceptable or not for her to divorce.

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