“Adultery” in Matthew 5:32

By Paul K. William

In Matthew 5:32 Jesus tells what happens when a man divorces his wife when she is not guilty of fornication, “but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whosoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (NASB)

“Adultery” is defined in The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as: “1. a. Violation of the marriage bed; sexual relation of a married person with one who is not his or her lawful spouse, whether unmarried (single adultery) or married to another (double adultery). In moral theology sometimes extended to irregular sexual intercourse gen.; in biblical use, idol-worship, idolatry (cg. Fornication).

It is easy to understand what Jesus was saying. J.W. McGarveys comments on this passage (Fourfold Gospel 242) clearly state what the ordinary Bi9ble student sees in this verse: “the mere fact of divorce did not make her an adulteress, but it brought her into a state of disgrace from which she invariably sought to fee herself by contracting another marriage, and this other marriage to which her humiliating situation drove her made her an adulteress.”

In his book Marriage & Divorce, John L. Edwards says that “adultery” in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 does not refer to sexual immorality. He says it means “the breaking of a covenant” (56). In my previous article “What Does Adultery Really Mean?” Guardian of Truth 28:208) I showed that Edwards was not being true to the meaning given in the Greek lexicons, and that he was not being true to the standard translation of the Bible. He has invented his own definition of the word and has had to retranslate the verses where the word is found.

In the next paragraph is Edwards translation of Matthew 5:32. Note that in his translation he does not use the meaning “breaks a covenant” to translate the words “commit adultery.” He had to find another word because to use “breaks covenant” would show that his definition cannot work. If we substitute Edwards definition (on p. 56 of his book) for the words in the Bible we get; “but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her break a covenant, and whoever marries a divorced woman breaks a covenant.” That comes dangerously close to meaning real, old-fashioned adultery, doesnt it? How can the woman be caused to break the covenant when the man is the one who broke the covenant by putter her away? How can the second man break the covenant when he had nothing to do with her divorce? The only way is if the breaking of the covenant is the sexual act of adultery! So Edwards avoids this translation.

Here is how Edwards translates Matthew 5:32: “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for fornication, makes her adulterated, and anyone who marries the divorce woman is adulterated” (123).

No Greek dictionary that I know of allows the use of “adulterate” to mean “commit adultery.” Edwards is just making up his own meaning. But read his translation again. It doesnt even make sense. If you figure out how the divorced woman and the man who marries her are “adulterated,” please let me know! Edwards talks about “defilement” without guilt. How can one be defiled and not have guilt? His explanation is full of double-talk.

The best he can do with English translations of the Bible is to quote two translations which were made before the King James Bible was translated. The Tyndales Bible says, “But I saye unto you: that whosoever doth put awaye his wife (except for fornicacion) causeth her to break matrimony. And whoever maryeth her that is divorsed, breaketh wedlock.” But that is quite clear to me. ” Break matrimony” and “breaketh wedlock” refer to breaking the marriage vow by sexual intercourse with one who is not ones spouse. It if a delicate way of saying “commits adultery.” The “Great Bible” says, “But I saye to you: that whosoever doth put awaye his wife (excepte it be for forycacyon) causeth her to break matrimony. And whosoever maryeth her that is divorsed committeth advoutrye.” This does not help Edwards cause at all!

When I asked brother Piet Joubert to define the word “adultery” in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 he answered, “it means to divorce for a cause other than fornication and marry another.” But that definition will not work in Matthew 5:32. Suppose the man who marries the divorced woman was never marred before. He has not divorced and is not marrying again. The definition will not work!

Those who contend for a sexless adultery in Matthew 5:32 are in a hard place. It is no wonder that in the Hicks-Smith debate Olan Hicks refused to define the word “adultery” in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. He talked all around the issue, saying what it did not mean but never gave the proper translation of the word. This clearly dishonesty and deception.

If someone teaches that adultery in these passages does not refer to sex, make that person define the word and then use the definition in both verses. He cant do it? The only definition that will work is the one given in all Greek dictionaries. Adultery is sexual intercourse of marred person with one to whom that person is not married.

The consequence of what Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:32 is that the person who is put away, whether for fornication or any other cause, commits adultery (sexual immorality) when he or she marries again, and the person who marries the divorced one is committing adultery (sexual immorality) in that marriage. It is because we do not like the consequence that the new definition of adultery is being preached. Be careful, brethren. Listen to Jesus, even when it means that we must live a life without marriage. Make sure that in the judgment day you will be among those who have been walking in the light.

Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 5 p. 5
March 2, 1995