Larry Fain
Larry H. Fain

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Associate Editorial

Is It Adultery, Or Isn't It?


Recently I was asked about some remarks I had made characterizing false teaching on divorce as promoting adultery. The querist had known some of the men who had done the false teaching and reported that they had never heard someone actually promote adultery. I am sure that such is true. It is not wise, nor is it sound to come out blatantly and promote sin. Preachers usually cannot hold a job if they go about promoting adultery. Alas, however, it is being done all the time.

"The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?'" (Matthew 19:3).  The question, we all realize, is a simple one. It is the answer over which we have such a debate. “Is it lawful?” Even those Pharisees who asked the question with impure motives recognized that the law had to do with reason. What is the reason behind taking such radical action as the putting away or divorcing a mate?  "'For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one's garment with violence,' Says the LORD of hosts. 'Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously'"  (Malachi 2:16).  God hates divorce. Enough said. Men are still asking the question, “Can we not do it anyway?” If we are going to do what God hates, we had better have a pretty good reason before we do it.

The answer Jesus gave the Pharisees was a peculiar one in that he said no, but still offered an exception to his denial of the right to do what God hates.  "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9). The people asking the question did not ask for a definition of adultery. They knew what adultery is. They just wanted to know if they could lawfully divorce their wives. Jesus answers, though, by saying if you do that thing which God hates, in this case divorce your spouse, you are committing adultery in every case except for one, “except for sexual immorality.” And he says not only is it not lawful, but in fact it is adultery for one to marry another person after a divorce for any reason except immorality. Jesus said it was adultery.

When Moses descended Mt. Sinai with the stones upon which God had written the ten commandments, one of those commandments was, simply stated,  “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).  Was there any confusion on the part of the Israelite nation as to what God meant when he uttered that command? I contend there was none. Everybody there knew that God was regulating the behavior of His people in their sexual acts. “You shall not commit adultery.” No explanation needed. Everybody knew what God said and what God meant.

Do people really have a problem understanding what Jesus meant? I doubt it. But, as in most cases when people want to do what they want to do and not what God wants them to do, the problem is in the application. Easy to understand, difficult to apply. Difficult only in the sense that, as Jesus said to Saul on the Damascus road, “...It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5).  We kick against that which we know is right.

What is it when we add another exception which the Lord did not allow? Is it lawful? NO! It is adultery. We can kick against that fact all day if we like, but that will not change anything. It is adultery. Jesus said so. Clean, pure and simple, it is adultery. May the guilty party in a divorce for immorality marry another? Did he divorce his mate for that sin? NO! If he marries another, it is adultery. Anyone who says the guilty party can remarry and be pleasing to God is promoting adultery. May those who erroneously say that Matthew 19:9 does not apply to “whoever”, even though Jesus said it, the conclusion being that God’s law on divorce only applies to Christians, be accused of anything short of promoting adultery among non-Christians? They do not see themselves as promoting adultery, but if you divorce your mate for another reason and marry another, is it not adultery? Jesus said it was. So, if you teach that you may divorce and remarry at will before you are baptized and keep that mate after baptism, you are promoting adultery. Did Homer Hailey and the myriad who have followed after him in this doctrine of advocating fellowship with those who teach such a doctrine think that the end result was the promotion of adultery? Absolutely not. But what is it when one marries and divorces not for sexual immorality and marries another? Jesus said it was adultery. I did not say it. Jesus did.

Most people do not like bottom line preaching. When you get to the bottom line, there are only two choices given to all people: the narrow way that leads to life and the broad way that leads to destruction. That is the bottom line. There is no tolerance on the bottom line for “what if’s?” or maybes. We either teach the truth or we are promoting adultery. There are only two choices. Which one will you make?

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