What Does Jesus Say About Divorce and Remarriage?

What is the penalty Jesus advocates for adultery?

Lorraine Day, M.D.

Many Christians believe the only legitimate biblical reason for divorce is adultery.  Many also believe if an abandoned spouse is divorced and remarries, he or she is guilty of adultery.  In other words, if a husband decides he doesn’t want to be married to his wife anymore and walks out, abandons and divorces her and she cannot prove that he has committed adultery, is she prohibited by God’s Word from ever remarrying?  The wife (or husband, as the case may be) did not want a divorce, she wanted to forgive and forget.  But the husband is adamant about leaving.  He no longer wants to be married to the wife and divorces her.

Does the Bible demand that the wife must remain unmarried for the rest of her life?  If she does marry, has she committed adultery?

Let’s look at the way Jesus treated adulterous women.

a.  The woman taken in adultery

 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto Him a woman caught in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst they say unto Him, Master, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. . .

“Jesus said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.. . .

“And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last; and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

“When Jesus had raised himself up, and saw none but the woman, He said unto her, Woman where are your accusers?  Has no man condemned thee?

“She said, No man, Lord.  And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”  John 8:3-11 

Jesus did not condemn the adulterous woman.  Her own sin was enough condemnation.  She was reaping what she had sown and almost lost her life.  Sin has its own consequences.  God does not punish us.  We “punish” ourselves by reaping the consequences of our own sin. 

b.  Rahab the Prostitute 

“And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the Lord: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.”  Joshua 6:17,18 

Rahab was the mother of Boaz.  Boaz begat Obed of Ruth, and Obed begat Jesse, the father of David who became king of Israel.  Matthew 1:5,6

Therefore, the former prostitute Rahab was in the lineage of Christ. 

c.  Mary Magdalene, who had had seven demons. 

“Now when Jesus was risen early on the Sabbath, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.  And she went and told them (the disciples) that had been with Him, as they mourned and wept.  And they, when they had heard that He was alive, and had been seen of her, believed NOT!”  Mark 16:9-11  (Literal Translation.) 

d.  Woman at the well. 

“There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. (For His disciples were gone away unto the city to buy food.)  Then said the woman of Samaria unto Him, How is it that you, being a Judean, ask drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Judeans have no dealings with the Samaritans. 

“Jesus answered and said unto her, If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that says to you, Give me to drink; you would have asked of Him, and He would have given you living water. 

“The woman said unto Him, Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children and his cattle? 

“Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinks of this water shall thirst again.  But whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting (eonian) life. 

“The woman said unto Him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. 

“Jesus said unto her, Go, call your husband, and come hither. 

“The woman answered and said, I have no husband.  Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly. 

“The woman said unto Him, Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. . .  I know that the Messiah is coming, which is called Christ: when He is come, He will tell us all things. 

“Jesus said unto her, I that speak unto thee am He. 

“And upon this came his disciples, and marveled that He talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? Or, Why talkest thou with her?  

“The woman then left her water pot, and went her way into the city, and said to the men.  Come, see a Man, which told me all things that ever I did:  is not this the Christ?  Then they went out of the city, and came unto Him. 

“In the mean while His disciples urged Him, saying, Master, eat. 

“But He said unto them, I have food to eat that you know not of.  Therefore said the disciples one to another, Has any man brought Him something to eat?”  John 4:7-33 

At no time did Jesus condemn this woman who had had five husbands and was now living with a man to whom she was not married.  In fact, she was one of only two people who Jesus told directly that He was the Messiah.  (The other was the man born blind.) 

Jesus was thrilled to have talked with her and to have revealed His identity to her.  She responded by bringing the whole town to Jesus. 

Who did Jesus call to do His special work? 

a.  Abraham:  a liar and an adulterer who had three wives.  (Abraham had two wives – Sarah and, after Sarah died, Keturah, and one concubine, Hagar) 

b.  Moses:  a murderer 

c.  David:  a barbaric warrior, a murderer, an adulterer, a man who had many concubines and at least three wives, Micah, Abigail, and Bathsheba. 

So, does God inflict any penalty for divorce? 

God does not inflict a penalty for any mistake (sin).  The mistake (sin) has its own consequences built into it.  God does not inflict a penalty above and beyond what is “wrapped into” the mistake (sin) itself. 

God never wants two married people to divorce.  However, if they do, God does not inflict any punishment on either the husband or the wife.  The divorce is penalty enough.  It causes terrible trouble in the lives of both spouses as well as the children. 

God is, above all, just.  Does it make any sense for God to allow murderers to re-marry, child molesters to remarry, drugs addicts to remarry, and those who have committed any type of horrible atrocity to remarry?  However, if a man walks out on his wife and abandons her completely, or a wife walks out on her husband and abandons him completely, God says that person who was abandoned can never remarry, unless he or she can prove that his or her ex-spouse has committed adultery?  

That makes no sense at all.  In addition, it is not fair!  And God, above ALL things, is fair! 

The Bible does not uphold that teaching.  It is a “doctrine of man” used by the organized “church” to punish its members. 

Jesus did not “punish” the woman taken in adultery.  He just told her to “go and sin no more.” 

Jesus did not “punish” the woman at the well.  He did not approve of her lifestyle, but He assigned no “penalty” to her. 

In both of these cases, the lifestyle that these women were pursuing, with its ultimate societal, personal, and spiritual consequences, was penalty enough.  Any greater penalty would be vindictive on God’s part.  God is not vindictive.  But the organized “church,” a corporation organized by “man” and not God, is often vindictive in their doctrinal beliefs. 

God does not punish.  The word “punish” is not even in the Bible!  Look at the original Greek.  The word is “visit.”  The translators translate the word “visit” as the word “punish” whenever they decide they want to make God look harsh. 

In these Bible passages, when God “visits” someone, sometimes it is for a reward and sometimes it is for chastening.  The consequences are a result of the decision that the individual himself has made.  If the result is trouble, it is meant to turn the person back to right-doing, as a parent chastens a child – to turn him back to right-doing.  But God never punishes!  We do it to ourselves by our decisions and our actions.  We reap what we have sown. 

Chastening turns a person back to right-doing.  Punishment is vindictive.  The word “chastening” IS in the Bible.  The word “punishment” is NOT! 

Is adultery grounds for divorce? 

No, adultery is not necessarily grounds for divorce.  If the partner who has committed adultery is truly sorry and stops the adultery, the spouse should forgive and work to re-establish the marriage. 

The only real grounds for a divorce is if a husband or wife abandons his or her spouse and states that he or she does not want to be married anymore.  Then the spouse who is abandoning his or her partner must give the abandoned spouse a divorce.  

God does not penalize the abandoned spouse by denying them the right to remarry.  That would be vindictive and unjust on God’s part.  

In addition, that view is not biblical! 

Then why do many religious denominations favor the teaching that remarriage after divorce is adultery?  Some churches even expel members who remarry after divorce.  And other churches, though they allow the person to remain a member, refuse to allow him or her to hold leadership positions. 

The Bible passage that is used to support this teaching is Matthew 5:31,32 : 

“It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 

“But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery.”  (King James Version) 

However, there is one word in this passage that has been incorrectly translated, which changes the entire interpretation.  As so often is the case, one must dig deeper to find the true meaning.  One must go back to the original Greek Scriptures to understand God’s Word. 

The Interlinear Bible gives the original Greek with the English words below, allowing us to sort out this dilemma.  Here is the literal translation of these two texts: 

            “It was also said, Whoever puts away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce.

“But I say to you, Whoever puts away his wife, apart from a matter of fornication, causes her to commit adultery.  And whoever shall marry the one put away commits adultery.”  Matthew 5:31,32 

The specific issue here is the difference between the words “put away” and the word “divorce.” 

In the literal translation of these two texts, Matt 5:31,32, you will notice that there are three instances of the phrase “put away” as opposed to the two instances of “put away” in the King James Version (KJV).  In the KJV, the third phrase, “put away” is incorrectly translated “divorce.”   

Below is the interlinear translation, showing the Greek and English.  Directly above the Greek words are numbers that correspond to that particular word in Strong’s Concordance.  On the left side is the literal translation in English showing the three phrases, “put away.”  On the right hand side is the King James Version, showing only two phrases translated “put away.”  In the King James Version, the third phrase “put away” is incorrectly translated “divorce.”


The Greek words for “put away” and “divorce” are very different and cannot be used synonymously. 

The Greek word for “put away” is apoluo (#630 in Strong’s Concordance) and means to depart, dismiss, or separate.  But the word for divorce is apostasion (#647 in Strong’s Concordance).  Jesus is saying that if a husband wants to divorce his wife, he cannot just throw her out, he must give her a proper bill of divorcement.  If he does not give her a bill of divorcement, then, if she marries again – without being properly divorced – both she and her new husband will be guilty of adultery - because she is still legally married to her previous husband. 

The Christian church has erroneously accepted the incorrect translation found in the King James Version and most other modern translations of the Bible.  By changing the third phrase “put away” to “divorce” in the last sentence of verse 32, the “church” then can claim that a divorced person who remarries has committed adultery! 

This is just another instance of the translators changing the truth of the word of God by their erroneous translations.  This incorrect translation is so obvious that it could not have been done by mistake.  What is the motive of the translators?  Who knows for sure, but it certainly gives the “church” more control over its members!  In addition, it makes God appear punitive, when He is not. 

God does not punish us for sin.  He allows us to reap what we have sown, therefore our chastisement is remedial.  It is meant to turn us back to right-doing.  It is the church that wants more control, it is the church that wants the members punished for their sins, and it is the church that makes God appear harsh and vindictive – characteristics that belong to Satan - not to God. 

Code of Hammurabi 

At the time of Christ, the civil laws under which the people had been living since the time of Nimrod, who lived not long after the flood, were called the Code of Hammurabi.  Historians believe that Hammurabi was the biblical Nimrod.  (Nimrod was a son of Cush, who was a son of Ham, who was a son of Noah.  So Noah was Nimrod’s great grandfather – see Genesis, Chapter 10.)  According to Professor A. H. Sayce, Hammurabi was mentioned in Genesis 14:1 under the name of Amraphel, one of the kings who helped the king of Elam conquer Sodom and capture Lot.

 “And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel, king of Shinar (Babylon), Arioch king of Elasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations, that these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar.”  Genesis 14:1,2 

In his book, Monument of Facts and Higher Critical Fancies, page 60, he states 

“Khammu-rabi, like others of his dynasty, claimed divine honours, and was addressed by his subjects as a god.  In Babylonian ilu is “god,” the Hebrew el, and Ammu-rapi would be “Khammu-rabi the god.’  Now Ammu-rapi ilu is letter for letter the Amraphel of Genesis.” 

Nimrod (Hammurabi) is thought by most theologians to have been associated with the building of the Tower of Babel in the area that eventually became Babylon.  He is also the one who made the first known attempt at forming a One World Government. 

The oldest known law code from Mesopotamia is the Code of Hammurabi.  Historians date this king of Babylon between 2400 and 2100 B.C.  The book of Jasher 27:2 identifies him with Nimrod “the rebel” and dates him from 1908-2123 years from Adam, which is 1987-1772, B.C.  (The book of Jasher is an Apocryphal book that is mentioned in the Bible in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18, and is considered to be historically accurate, although it is not included in the Protestant Bible.) 

Under the Hammurabi Code, divorce was allowed, but the husband could divorce his wife with the words, “I put her away” and he could send her away empty-handed.  No bill of divorcement was necessary. 

God’s laws have been in existence since creation and obviously preceded the Hammurabi Code.  The Israelites had not only been slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years, but subsequent to that time they had wandered so far from God and His laws that Jesus was reminding them of the truth of His Word. 

Matthew, Chapter 5, contains the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus was discussing this particular subject of divorce and remarriage, among many other issues.  Jesus began this portion of His sermon by saying: 

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one title shall by no means pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”  Matt 5:17,18 

Jesus confirmed that He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it – to make the law clear by living it in His own life so people could see how it looked for a perfect human being, Jesus Christ, to keep the law in His every-day life.  Jesus came to fulfill the law by showing how it had to be kept in the heart rather than only for outward appearance.  That is why, in this Sermon on the Mount, He revealed that the laws of God were much farther-reaching than the doctrines the Pharisees had taught the people. 

In this sermon, Jesus repeatedly used the phrase, “You have heard it said . . .” meaning – “You have heard it said by the Pharisees,” who apparently subscribed to the Hammurabi Code.  Then Jesus followed with, “But I say unto you. . . “  And then He would show that the spiritual extent of each of God’s laws far exceeded what the Pharisees taught.  For example: 

“You have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not kill. . . but I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.”  Matt 5:21,22 

“You have heard it said, Thou shalt not commit adultery. . . But I say unto you, that whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.”  Matt 5:27,28 

“You have hear it said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  Matt 5:43,44 

These examples make clear that Jesus was not destroying the law.  On the contrary, He was upholding the law and magnifying the law, and revealing that the law begins in the heart – in the way one thinks – not just in the way one acts. 

God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden and Jesus said that His ideal is that every marriage should last a lifetime.  However, “because of the hardness of your heart” (Mark 10:5) Jesus allowed divorce.  It is the final solution to the problem when all else fails and when reconciliation is impossible. 

But the Bible explicitly states that after one is properly divorced, he or she can get married again – with God’s blessing. 

“When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some indecency in her, then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. 

“And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.”  Deut. 24:1,2 

We see from verse 1 that God recognizes there must be a cause of divorcement.  It is not specified in any detail, other than finding something unclean or indecent in her.  Some claim that means divorce is only lawful in case of adultery.  But the penalty for adultery was death – not divorce, according to both the Code of Hammurabi and the Law of Moses. 

Others believe that divorce is only lawful if the husband discovers that his wife has had illicit sexual affairs with someone else before they were married, but again, such a situation also calls for the death penalty, as shown in detail in Deut 22:13-21. 

Therefore, the grounds for divorce in Matthew, Chapter 24, must be something else.  Since Jesus does not mention the grounds specifically, He must have found no need for modifying what the Code of Hammurabi already stated.  The Code specifies cruelty, slander, waste of family assets, and running up needless debts as being grounds for a man to divorce his wife.  A wife could divorce her husband for the same offences, as well as lack of support (food, clothing, etc. See Exodus 21:10,11). 

It is reasonable to conclude that the grounds for divorce were similar in both law codes, since Jesus made no modification. 

“The primary difference between Hammurabi and Moses is that God takes an interest in the matters of the heart.  Hence, even if the outward grounds for divorce appear to exist, there may well be hidden motives and sinful attitudes are against the spirit of the divine law.  Such things, in the eyes of God, would make that divorce unlawful. 

“The divorce procedure differs in one very important area.  Whereas the Code of Hammurabi allows either the man or woman to divorce the spouse with a verbal statement, God’s law demands a written document, the ‘bill of divorcement.’  Hammurabi was careful to mandate that the marriage contract be written - but divorces were purely verbal. 

“This was bound to cause problems in some cases, so God solved the problem by making divorces written as well.  One could easily imagine a situation where a man divorced his wife verbally, whereupon she remarries – only to have her former spouse fly into a fit of jealous rage.  He might then deny his verbal divorce and accuse her and her new husband of adultery.  Since adultery called for the death penalty, this was a very serious charge. 

“Justice is safeguarded by the written bill of divorcement, which a divorced wife may produce to prove that her former husband no longer has any claim upon her.  It is her security and her license to remarry.  For this reason, Deut 24:2 follows on the heels of verse 1, stating that once she has those divorce papers, she is free to remarry.  

“There was never any question of the lawfulness of divorce.  The only problem was their abuse of the divorce law, and this was what Jesus addressed in Matthew 5. . . Divorce and remarriage was lawful, but if she were to remarry without those divorce papers, she would be committing adultery, as would her new husband.”  The Bible Says: Divorce and Remarriage is NOT Adultery, Stephen E. Jones, www.gods-kingdom-ministries.org/divorce.htm, p.6 

What is fornication? 

The Matthew 5:31,31 passage reads as follows: 

“But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is put away (separated without yet being legally divorced) commits adultery. 

We have discussed the difference between the phrase “put away” – meaning separated – and the word “divorced,” but let us now discuss the subject of “fornication.”

“According to Exodus 22:16, the most common type of fornication is prostitution, a man having sexual relations with an unmarried woman.  In Hebrews 12:16, Esau is called a fornicator but there is not record in Scripture of his paying for the services of a prostitute. But Genesis 26:34 does say that he married Hittite wives even though God had forbidden the Israelites from intermarrying with the heathen Canaanites.  Therefore, it can be classified as an unlawful marriage. 

“Again, in 1 Corinthians 5:1, the term “fornication” is used to describe another form of unlawful marriage or a forbidden sexual relationship, namely incest.  In Jude 7, we read of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah who had given themselves over to “fornication” and going after “strange flesh” in their practice of homosexuality or “sodomy” (Genesis 19:4-8). 

“In each of these examples of “fornication” the sexual relationships are unlawful and therefore there is no lawful marriage contract to bind the two parties together.  In other words, God does not recognize the ‘marriage’ in the first place.  It is void from the start.” Ibid. p 10 

Marriage is a “conditional contract.”  In God’s marriage to Israel at Mt. Sinai, Israel (the bride) agreed to submit to His authority and obey His laws (Ex 19:3-8).  God then agreed to give them the Kingdom and the blessings of the Birthright, including honor, protection, sustenance, and children (Gen 12:1-3).

But Israel violated the marriage contract by disobeying and “whoring after other gods” and refusing to repent.  Thus, her Husband, God Himself, divorced her and sent her out of His house. 

“And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.”  Jeremiah 3:8

“Note that God not only sent her away, but only did so after giving her a written bill of divorce.  This was in accordance with the law in Deuteronomy 24. . . Because God Himself is a divorcee, we can safely say that divorce itself is not necessarily a sin.  It can be a sin, of course, if the one demanding a divorce does so with evil motives that are not in the will of God.”  Ibid. 


1.     Marriage was meant to be for a lifetime.  God established the institution of marriage in the Garden of Eden.  It was meant to last for a lifetime. (Matthew 19:8) 

2.    Divorce is not a sin.  The best example is that of God Himself.  God admits that He is a divorcee.  He divorced Israel, His “bride” and made sure to give her a “bill of divorcement.” 

3.    Marriage is a conditional contract.  The husband and wife, by taking their marriage vows, both agree to do certain things.  Everyone knows it takes two to make a marriage work, and both must uphold their end of the bargain or the marriage breaks down.

4.    To “put away” is distinct from “divorce.”  To “put away” means to separate.  The divorce does not take place until the husband gives his wife divorce papers – a bill of divorcement – as God gave Israel. 

5.    “Fornication” has a specific meaning.  The word “fornication” in the Bible refers to a sexual relationship that cannot become – according to God - a legal or moral “marriage.”  Fornication includes prostitution, incest, and homosexuality – sexual relationships that are not condoned by God – and therefore cannot become a legal or moral marriage. 

6.    Remarriage after divorce is NOT adultery.  According to God’s Word, if a couple separates and then divorces properly and legally, obtaining a written divorce decree, then either party is allowed to remarry, and it is not considered adultery.  The Bible says: 

“When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes. . . then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. 

“And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.”  Deuteronomy 24:1,.