Fornication And Adultery

By┬áT. G. O’Neal

An older preacher friend told me several years ago that fornication was the most often committed sin. I am inclined to agree. An article I read in the Nashville Banner, Sept. 9, 1973, page 11, said the Playboy Foundation commissioned The Research Guild, Inc. to make a survey, the results of which were published in Playboy, October, 1973. Those surveyed were 2,026 in number over seventeen years of age; 982 were men, 1,044 were women. Seventy-five percent of the single women surveyed said they had sexual relations before they were 25; 32% of the married men under 25 said they had sexual relations since married with someone besides their wife, and 24% of married women said the same thing. Current statistics if available would not show an improvement.

Added to the practice of sin, now there are some preachers who are giving their voice to the sanction of fornication and adultery. While they would deny that they favor adultery or fornication, their voice or pen says otherwise. Concerning the. exception of Matt. 19:9, Leroy Garrett said Matthew “inserted that exception on his own, and that Jesus never said it” (Restoration Review, November, 1978, quoted by Mike Willis in Truth Magazine, Vol. 23, page 93).

Some brethren on the West Coast have started a paper called “The Bible Forum” which they say is “dedicated to the open discussion of Bible subjects.” It either had a short life or is way behind schedule for I only have received three copies, the last being November, 1977. All three copies are devoted to a discussion of marriage and”the truth J.T. Smith and H.E. Phillips have taught. The “editorial staff” consisted of Bob Melear, Kenneth Cheatham and Glen Lovelady. Glen Lovelady in his debate with J.T. Smith charged that the exception of Matt. 19:9 is “an addition” to the word of God, and is “what the copiest added” (Smith-Lovelady Debate, pp. 176-177). Also, in this debate Lovelady raised the question of whether “the latter part of Matthew 19:9 is considered by the translators to be an interpolation of copyist” (page 23). By his implication, he cast doubt upon the genuineness of the text. This is what nearly all of us who have debated Baptist preachers have run into with them on Mk. 16:9-20. True, some manuscripts do not contain the latter part of Matt. 19:9, but then there are probably just as many that do. The translators believed there was sufficient evidence to include it. The whole point of this is to get away from what Jesus said.

Olan Hicks has recently come out with a book called What The Bible Says About Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, which should be called “What Hicks Says About Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage” for it does not teach what the Scriptures says. Hicks charges brethren who teach the truth on Matt. 19:9 with a “need to remove the glasses which have been provided for us by the Catholic Church” (p.26), that the truth we teach “comes from the Vatican, not from the apostles” (p.29). He charges brethren with teaching “tradition” and not the Bible.

Whether they are willing to admit it or not, these men are giving comfort to the idea that the put-away fornicator can remarry without committing sin.


What is fornication? Vine defines it as “illicit sexual intercourse” and that “it stands for, or includes adultery” (Vol. 2, p. 125). Thayer says “of illicit sexual intercourse in general . . . used of adultery” (p. 532).

What is adultery? Vine defines it as “denotes one who has unlawful intercourse with the spouse of another” (Vol. 1, pp. 32-33). Thayer defines it as “to have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife, to commit adultery with” (p. 417).

Webster defines “illicit” as “not permitted; improper, unlawful” (p. 413). For a thing to be unlawful implies a law somewhere to which one has not complied. Now, what is the Law that says sexual intercourse with one to whom one is not married is sinful? It is God’s law, for man’s law says such is neither illicit or unlawful.

Fornication is a general term including all unlawful sexual activity. Lesbianism and homosexuality would be included here as well as adultery. Adultery is a more specific term used in reference to unlawful sexual contact with the husband or wife of another.

New Testament Teaching

In view of what men are teaching, we need to look at New Testament teaching and a good way to do this would be to look at some specific passages.

(1) Matt. 5:32. Beginning in verse 31, Jesus said, “It hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” Here Jesus said the man that puts away his wife causes her to commit adultery unless he puts her away for fornication. The one who marries her who is put away commits adultery. That is not “the traditional view” or what some preacher said, that is what Jesus said.

(2) Mk. 10:11-12. In this passage Jesus said, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.”

God’s law given to man “from the beginning of the creation” when “God made them male and female” said, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (vs. 6-9). God’s law, even before the church and before the law of Moses, was for “a man” to “cleave to his wife.” When this was done no longer were they “twain, but one flesh.” “God hath joined them together.” God joins a man that leaves mother and father to his wife. This passage does not teach that God joins a man, who up and leaves his wife, to another woman to be his wife. Jesus said the man who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery. The putting away of a wife is a sinful action and the marrying another is a sinful action, but it is not until he has sexual relations with her that he commits adultery. He has no right to her, it is unlawful for him to have her and every time they cohabit they commit adultery. The first act is adultery and the last one, even if twenty-five or fifty years later, is still adultery. Time does not change the unlawful to the lawful.

If a woman puts away her husband and marries another, she commits adultery. That is not the teaching of Catholicism or the traditional “Church of Christ view”; that is what Jesus said. All of the cases of Mary leaving Ed to marry John, even with the approval of the preacher and the elders will not change what Christ said. God will not change His will just because Hicks, Lovelady and others are teaching error any more than he will because a Baptist preacher is teaching error.

(3) Mt. 14:3-4. Matthew records, “For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. For John said -unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.” Observe Herod “had” a woman by the name of Herodias, but she was not his wife. He “had” his brother’s wife. He “had” Philip’s wife. John said what we had done was not lawful. According to whose law? Here is one who is not subject to the law of Christ, for the gospel of Christ had not yet been preached, yet he- was not acting according to the law. God’s law said Herodias was Philip’s wife but Herod “had” her. Herod “had” her but God still had her joined to Philip. This shows God does not loose a wife just because man does. The court can say Mary is not longer Ed’s wife and can marry John, but God did not say that.

(4) Luke 16:18. Jesus said, “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery” It is plain from this passage Jesus said he who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery. All of the human wisdom of earth will not explain it away. Then Jesus said that the man that marries the woman put away commits adultery. Jesus said the man that puts away his wife commits adultery when he marries another, and the woman commits adultery when she marries again. Thus, four people commit adultery. That is what Jesus said.

(5) Rom. 7.-2-3. By the Holy Spirit Paul wrote, “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is free from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.” Paul said a woman with a husband “is bound . . . to her husband so long as he liveth.” The way “she is loosed from the law of her husband” is “if her husband be dead.” If her husband is not dead, she is not loosed from him; she is still bound to him. If she is married to another while her husband is alive `she shall be called an adulteress.” The expression “shall be called” in this verse is from the Greek “chrematizo” and is also used in Acts 11:26 where the text says “the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” This word means to be divinely called. God called the disciples Christians and God calls a woman an adulteress who is married to another man while her husband liveth. From this passage we learn that a woman can be “married” to another man while having a husband. It should be obvious that the term “married” is not used in the sense of married in the sight of God or that God has joined these two together when at least one of them has a mate.

(6) Matt. 19:9. Jesus said, “I say unto you whosoever shall put away his wife except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”

I have waited until this point in this article to introduce this passage. Previous passages noted in the article state the general law of marriage “from the beginning.” However, this passage states the “exception” given by Jesus. True, it is the only passage that says “except for fornication,” but if Jesus said it once, it is the truth. Are we willing to do away with everything taught just one time in the Bible?

Christ said, “whosoever shall put away his wife . . . and shall marry another, committeth adultery.” The exception Jesus gave was where the putting away was “for fornication.” If one puts away a wife but not “for fornication” or if one puts away a wife “for fornication,” Jesus said, “Whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. “

Brother Hicks says in his book on page 25 that “everything said in the passage is addressed in the first line to this kind of case, the married man who divorces a wife who was faithful to him and marries another. It is not addressed to other situation . . . .” I deny it; that is not so. Brother Hicks needs to read the verse. There is more than one case in the verse.

Jesus said, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery.” The “whosoever” is party number one, and “his wife” is party number two. The number one party, “whosoever,” marries “another” which is party number three in the verse. When party number one marries party number three without putting party number two away for fornication, Jesus said he “committeth adultery.” But even this is not all the verse says. Jesus continued by saying, “And whoso (which is party number four) marrieth her which is put away (which is party number 2 of the verse) doth commit adultery.” If party number one puts away his wife (party number 2) and then the two of them marry, you have four people committing adultery, if party number one did not put away his wife for fornication, despite what Brother Hicks and others say. If party number 2 is put away by her husband for fornication, and all remarry, then only two people are living adultery, the put away fornicator and her “husband.”

In the beginning of this article, I was careful to define “fornication” and “adultery” as being “unlawful or illicit sexual intercourse.” Part of Brother Hick’s problem, in an effort to get around what Jesus said, is that he does not know what adultery or fornication is. He has people guilty of such without having “unlawful sexual intercourse.” Observe what he says about Matt. 19:9 on page 28: “Does the adultery Jesus spoke of occur when one puts away his wife and marries another, or does it occur later when he cohabits with the second wife? How can we insist that it is the latter when Jesus specifically said it is the former.” Notice Brother Hicks has a man (1) putting away a wife and (2) marries mother, which in his second “wife,” and he says Jesus said he commits adultery before he cohabits with her. If a m; n has no right to put away his wife, and does so, his action is sinful but putting away or divorcing a wife is not adultery or “unlawful sexual intercourse.” When he “marries” another, standing before a justice of the peace or a preacher and saying some words will in the eyes of the law of the land make him married, but whatever ceremony is said is a sinful action upon his part for he has no right to her, but this legal ceremony is not the sin of adultery. He commits the sin of adultery with her every time he cohabits with her. On page 29, Brother Hicks says “the two actions,” “putting away” and “marrying another” is what “consists of” adultery.

Twice in verse 9 Jesus used the term “marry” or “marrieth” but he used it in what we would call an accommodative way. Each time he used the term, he said the parties involved “committeth adultery.” These people committing adultery were not married in the sight of God, unless God joins together those committing adultery. One may be “married” in the sight of men or the laws of the land, but when God looks at them, God says they “commit adultery.” Does God sanction by joining together those committing adultery?

Other Errors

In addition to what has already been said in this article, there are a few other errors that need to be noticed.

(1) No reason for any divorce. Reacting to the extreme of divorce for any reason, there are those that have gone to the opposite extreme and have said there is no reason for any divorce. While it may be true that few divorces are “for fornication,” it is true that Jesus did give this as the reason. When there is the reason, one has the right to exercise the right. The fact that many people do not follow what Jesus taught does not give one the right to ignore what Jesus did say.

(2) No alien subject to God’s marriage law. This is commonly been called in recent years the “Fuqua Position” but I doubt he originated it. The position stated says that alien sinners, those outside the spiritual relationship described in the New Testament as being “in Christ” do not live under the law of God as it pertains to marriage, divorce and remarriage. Therefore, before becoming a Christian, one could have married and divorced any number of times, but when they learn the truth and obey the gospel, they are to live with the one to whom they are married at the time of gospel obedience.

However, the Bible does not teach this idea. Writing to Gentiles in Corinth, Paul said “such were some of you” referring to the sins of fornication and adultery, but said ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). How could they have been fornicators and adulterers if they were not living under God’s law pertaining to marriage before “hearing, believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8)? If they were not under the law, they could not have violated the law. Among some sins Paul said the Colossians “walked” and “lived in” was the sin of “fornication” (Col. 3:5-7). If these Gentiles were not under God’s law from the beginning concerning marriage, how did they get to be fornicators?

(3) Not living with husband or wife, free to marry. Another error that is being taught is the idea that when a man puts away his wife, they are no longer married, thus free. Then the theory says that those free are able to enter into marriage. Glen Lovelady affirmed in debate with J.T. Smith that “the Scriptures teach that the put-away adulterer can remarry without committing sin” (Smith-Lovelady Debate, p. vi, and pp. 159-242). This is what the late Brother Lloyd Moyer advocated in his tract entitled “Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage” when he said on page 3, “When a marriage is thus dissolved, the innocent is no longer married to the guilty, nor is the guilty any longer married to the innocent. No marriage exists. Where no marriage exists, the parties may marry someone else . . . . Where is the passage or passages which teach that the guilty person whose marriage has been destroyed cannot be married again. They are not married. What law would prohibit those not married from getting married?” (all emphasis is Moyer’s, T.G.O.).

The Holy Spirit said, “The woman which hath a husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth . . . . so then if while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress . . .” (Rom. 7:2-3). Jesus said, “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery” (Lk. 16:18). The teachings of Lovelady, Moyers, Hicks and others will not set aside what the Holy Spirit said. Preachers would do well to preach the word and quit trying to justify the guilty.


  1. What are two very common sins discussed in this article? (One might gather articles and clippings from papers showing how common these sins are.)
  2. Define “fornication” and “adultery.”
  3. In what way does adultery differ from fornication?
  4. What two people did God say a man should leave in order to be Joined to his wife?
  5. Of those whom God joins together, what is man not to do?
  6. Are people married if God has not Joined them together?
  7. Is it possible for two people to be married legally in the eyes of men but not married in God’s eyes?
  8. What reason did Jesus give for one to put away his mate and marry ‘a second time without committing sin?
  9. What “reasons” does the state in which you live give for divorce? How many more reasons is this than Jesus gave?
  10. Can unrepentant fornicators go to heaven?

Truth Magazine XXIII: 22, pp. 362-365
May 31, 1979