Divorce, Remarriage and Adultery, According to the Bible – Is Matthew 19 Talking About Marriage or Betrothal? – Kerrigan Skelly


Divorce and remarriage is a very sensitive subject, for many different reasons.  It effects adults, it effects children, it could effect where you will spend eternity, it could effect what Church you are able to be a part of and it could effect friendships you have.  When it comes to different viewpoints on this subject from the Bible, there is one that seems to be “on the rise.”

The view that I am referring to, is the one that states the following:  If you have been divorced from your first spouse, you cannot remarry at all unless the first spouse has died.  And if you have already remarried someone else (with your first spouse still alive), then you must now divorce them or you are in perpetual adultery and on your way to Hell.  It doesn’t matter how long you were married to the first spouse or what reasons you had for divorcing him/her.  It doesn’t matter how many children you have or how long you have been married to the current spouse.  It doesn’t matter if your first spouse has remarried someone else or not.

It also doesn’t matter, according to this view, if you were a non-believer when you got divorced and have since become a believer who is now married to another believer.  It doesn’t even matter if your first spouse is still a non-Christian, according to this view.  You should still seek to be reconciled to them or remain single (after you get divorced from current spouse).

This view basically says that any other marriages while the first spouse is still alive are not legitimate marriages in God’s eyes. This view has been responsible for breaking up lots of Godly marriages through false doctrine and false guilt. Many people are now single and either waiting to be rejoined to their first spouse or waiting for that spouse to die.  Some of them are lonely and burning, but are told they would be in sin if the were to marry someone else.

Is this really the way God planned things to be?  Is this position really the Biblical position on divorce and remarriage?  I came really close to believing in it and close to “putting my stake down” on the position.  Fortunately, I continued to study things out and came to different conclusions.  Here’s the first video, where I was basically teaching the view that I have been describing above:

And here’s the second video, where I had changed my mind after studying it out much more thoroughly:

If you want to know what I believe and how it is backed up with Scriptures, the second video is the one you should watch.  My intention in writing this blog post is not to bring up all of the Scriptures in that video and try to prove my current position. Such is already done in the second video from above.  The point of this blog post is to address one of the many objections I have received, from the “no remarriage allowed unless the first spouse has died” group.

I plan on writing more than one blog post addressing objections to my view on this issue.  In this blog spot, I am only going to be addressing one objection from the “no remarriage” group.  It basically goes like this: “Matthew 19 is referring to two people who are betrothed [engaged], not two people who are married.  That is why the Greek word for fornication is used.”  I put quotation marks because that is basically how the argument goes, not because it is a direct quote from a specific individual.  So, let’s take a look at that argument and see if it works in Matthew 19.  Here’s what Matthew 19:1-10 says:

“Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.  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?’  And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,” 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”? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.’  They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’  He said to them, ‘Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 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.’  10 His disciples said to Him, ‘If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.'”

If we are to believe that Matthew 19 is referring to two betrothed people and not two ACTUAL married people, then the passage would make absolutely NO SENSE AT ALL.  Here are some reasons why:

  1. The first question that the Pharisees asked Jesus (in verse 3) would actually be more like this: “Is it lawful for a man to break up with a woman he is engaged to, for just any reason?”  The Law of Moses doesn’t even address this issue!  The only thing that comes close to this is when a man who isn’t married fornicates with a woman who isn’t married.  According to the Law of Moses, that man must marry that woman and he can NEVER divorce her. You can read about that in Deuteronomy 22:28-29.  The fact is that the Pharisees are talking about ACTUAL MARRIAGE, not a betrothal period.
  2. If the Pharisees were asking about a betrothal period, then Jesus must have misunderstood them since His answer (verses 4-6) shows he understood them to be talking about ACTUAL MARRIAGE, not a betrothal period.  Jesus appeals to Genesis 2:24, where the institution of marriage was started by God.  Are we to come to the conclusion that God was only talking about a betrothal period in Genesis 2:24?  We would have to come to that conclusion, unless we are going to say that Jesus was confused.  Plus, how can two people who are only betrothed be “joined together” in the marital union, before they are actually married?  Wouldn’t that be fornication?  And if Genesis 2:24 and/or Jesus are talking about the betrothal period, are we to believe that two betrothed people cannot be separated?  I don’t think so. Jesus wasn’t confused and God was talking about actual marriage in Genesis 2:24.
  3. The second question that the Pharisees asked, also would not make sense, if they were talking about the betrothal period and not ACTUAL MARRIAGE. Where does Moses command to give a certificate to break up two people who are betrothed?  Moses does speak of giving a certificate for two people are are actually married, though.  You can read more about that in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  Obviously, the Pharisees weren’t so confused, to think that Moses gave a command to issue a certificate to break up two people who were betrothed to each other.
  4. If the Pharisees and Jesus are talking about a betrothal period, then Jesus is now agreeing with the Pharisees (verse 8), that Moses DID permit the Israelites to break up a betrothal period with a certificate.  Surely, if anyone knows anything about the Law of Moses, it would be Jesus!  Shouldn’t He simply correct the Pharisees and tell them that there is no such thing as “permitting” two betrothed people to break up?  Why doesn’t He do this? Simply because both the Pharisees and Jesus are talking about ACTUAL MARRIAGE, not a betrothal period.
  5. Now we come to the most crucial verse – verse 9. If this whole passage is talking about a betrothal and not an actual marriage, then this is basically what Jesus said in verse 9, “Unless at least one of the people who is betrothed commits sexual immorality, the two betrothed people cannot break up.  If the two betrothed people break up for any other reason and become betrothed to someone else, they are committing adultery.  And whoever becomes betrothed to someone who broke up from another betrothal where there was no sexual immorality, then they are committing adultery as well.”  Are we really to believe that Jesus is saying this?  Come on, now! You can’t be serious!  If that is what Jesus is saying, then I am a “perpetual adulterer” since I was once engaged to someone else and ended up breaking up the engagement and marrying someone else.  I didn’t break off the engagement because of sexual immorality, but because God told me that she wasn’t the one for me.  Plus, just because the Greek word porneia is used, doesn’t mean that the two people being talked about can’t be married.  That Greek word doesn’t necessarily mean two people who are not married and who are engaging in intercourse.  It is simply a general term used to describe sexual immorality.  It can be used for two married people, two unmarried people, one married person and one unmarried person or anyone else for that matter.

Jesus and the Pharisees are speaking of ACTUAL MARRIAGE all throughout this passage.  And they don’t change what they are talking about in verse 9. In verse 9, Jesus is not just giving an exception for divorce, but for divorce and remarriage. He is agreeing with Moses (Deuteronomy 24) and isn’t changing a thing.  The only thing that Jesus is coming against in this passage, is the idea that a man can divorce his wife for “just any reason.”  That is something that neither God nor Moses ever said to the Israelites.  That is something the religious leaders made up!

Then, in verse 10, are we to believe that the disciples were basically saying, “If these things are true, it would be better for a man not to get engaged”?  I don’t think so.  They’re basically coming to the conclusion that the Pharisees have been lying and there really aren’t “many ways out” of marriage.  Marriage is a serious thing and divorce and remarriage shouldn’t be taken lightly.  It seems like they are now seeing how serious it is and that men shouldn’t take it for granted who they will marry or if they will even get married at all.

The real reason I believe that the “no remarriage while your first spouse is still alive” group says that this is talking about betrothal instead of marriage is because they don’t know what else to do with this passage.  It literally destroys their position.  Instead of changing their position, they hold to it and twist the Word of God.  What they should do, is allow the WHOLE WORD OF GOD to form their position, not just a few verses here and there.  If your position can’t incorporate what all of the Bible says about it, then your position isn’t Biblical.

Why do people twist this passage, when what it says is so obvious?  There could be many reasons why.  Here are some potential ones, in my opinion:

  1. People have broken up the marriages of others, through teaching their false doctrine on this issue.  It would be REALLY hard to go back and apologize for that, wouldn’t it?  It would take a lot of humility to do that.  Think of all the damage that could’ve already have taken place.
  2. People have broken up their own marriage over this false doctrine.  It probably has caused a big mess and who knows if the spouse they broke up with is remarried to someone else at this point or not.
  3. People may lose a lot of friends over this issue and even have to leave their Church.  The people who believe in this, are usually pretty pushy about it. They go around trying to convert people to their position like crazy.  To change their mind on this issue would mean losing lots of friends who consider this to be an “essential issue.”

Whatever the reason may be, there is no GOOD reason to twist God’s Word.  If you are holding onto this position because you are twisting Matthew 19:1-10, then I encourage you to repent.  Take the necessary steps to make restitution and then walk according to the truth of God’s Word.  It may not be easy, but it will all be worth it in the end.

4 thoughts on “Divorce, Remarriage and Adultery, According to the Bible – Is Matthew 19 Talking About Marriage or Betrothal? – Kerrigan Skelly

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