Adulterous Marriages

Wedding Rings

One of the consequences of the high divorce rate in our society is the number of adulterous marriages. These are unlawful unions in which at least one person is still bound to their original mate. Of course, when we discuss adulterous marriages, we must have the law of God in mind. To the state, there is no such thing as an adulterous marriage – only marriage. Once a couple is legally divorced, subsequent marriages are unconditionally legitimate in the eyes of the state. In this study, we will not be discussing civil laws about marriage and divorce. Instead, we will be looking at what the Scriptures teach about adulterous marriages.

Is There a Such Thing?

As we begin this study, it is important to ask this question: Is there a such thing as adulterous marriages? Many people do not believe that there is. Yet the Scriptures are clear that a couple may be married, but still be committing adultery with one another.

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).

Jesus was asked about lawful causes for divorce (Matthew 19:3). He answered that there is no lawful cause for one to put away his wife except for fornication. Therefore, if one puts away his spouse for a cause other than fornication, he commits adultery upon remarriage.

For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man” (Romans 7:2-3).

Paul indicated that if a woman is married (joined) to one man while her first husband is still alive, “she shall be called an adulteress.” This is obviously referring to God’s marriage law. The state does not label a married woman as an adulteress because she has been previously married. The law of God labels her as an adulteress even though she is married to the one with whom she is committing adultery. If her husband died and she was, therefore, no longer bound to him, she could marry the second man without committing adultery.

What Is an Adulterous Marriage?

Knowing that there is a such thing as an adulterous marriage, we must determine what qualifies as an adulterous marriage.

First, we must remember the definition of adultery. Adultery refers to sexual relations between two people when at least one of them is married to someone else. An adulterous marriage then refers to sexual relations between a husband and wife when at least one of them is bound in marriage to another.

It is important to understand the fact that someone can be bound in marriage to one person, yet married to another. Again, this is based on God’s law, not man’s. It is possible for one to divorce his spouse, marry another, and still be bound to his original mate. This happens all the time. Notice a few examples:

  • Jesus taught that after a couple is joined together by God in marriage (Matthew 19:6), if one then puts away his spouse for a cause other than fornication, his second marriage is adultery (Matthew 19:9). Why? Without the cause of fornication which would have triggered the divine permission to put away his wife, this man was still bound to his first wife.
  • Paul taught that if a woman was married to a second husband while her first husband was still alive, she was an adulteress (Romans 7:2-3). Why? Since he was still alive, she was still bound to her first husband.
  • Note the example of Herod – “For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’” (Mark 6:17-18). Herod was married to Herodias. Yet John called her his brother Philip’s wife. How? Though Herodias had married Herod, she was still bound to her first husband, Philip.

The Scriptures certainly do teach that there is a such thing as an adulterous marriage. This is a marriage in which at least one person is still bound in marriage – by God’s marriage law – to another.

How to Avoid an Adulterous Marriage

If we consult the Scriptures, there are some simple steps we can take to avoid an adulterous marriage.

  • Marry someone who is not bound to another (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:6) – Of course, we must not be bound to another, either.
  • Remain in that marriage for a lifetime. Once bound, God intended a man a woman to not be separated (Matthew 19:4-6) until death (Romans 7:2-3).
  • If separated, remain unmarried or be reconciled (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). When we sin, we cannot go back and undo our transgressions. We must repent and live with the consequences. If one becomes separated from the one to whom he was lawfully bound, his options are to either remain unmarried (if his wife will not have him back) or be reconciled (if she will take him back). There is no third option to marry another.

What to Do If You Are in an Adulterous Marriage

While it is important to avoid entering into an adulterous marriage, there are many who have not avoided it and are now in such a relationship. What should one do who is in an adulterous marriage?

Repent. One who is in an adulterous marriage is guilty of adultery (Matthew 19:9; Romans 7:3). The word of God is clear in its condemnation of the sin of adultery (1 Corinthians 6:9; Hebrews 13:4). Repentance is a prerequisite for forgiveness (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 8:21-22).

How does one repent of adultery? One repents of adultery by stopping the adultery. Repentance requires an end to the adulterous relationship – even if this relationship is an adulterous marriage. When the people of Ezra’s day were guilty of marrying foreign wives (Ezra 10:10) – a violation of God’s marriage law under the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 7:3) – Ezra gave them this command: “Now therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers and do His will; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives” (Ezra 10:11).

We are not under the same law today that prohibits us from marrying one from another nation. But the lesson about how to repent when in an unlawful marriage applies. A separation must occur if we are to repent. This is surely not an easy thing to do. But the Scriptures are clear that we must put the Lord first before everyone else, even those who are the closest to us in this life (Matthew 10:37).


Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). Marriage is an honorable institution. But we must keep the marriage bed (referring to the sexual union in marriage) undefiled. However, an adulterous marriage is inherently defiled. We must keep away from such a relationship, for “adulterers God will judge.

Let us strive to be pure in all things. When we sin, let us have the courage to repent and turn from that sin, no matter how difficult it may be.

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  1. Andy, this is very needful material, particularly in view of the many heresies that are now taught on the subject of marriage and divorce. Thanks.

  2. Excellent teaching of truth.
    I’m going to share this aggressively.
    The world and the church is perishing because of the hiding of this truth in just recent decades.

    Praise God , and thank you

    Note: your first display of Matthew 19:9 has a typo, actually a translation error as you stated accurately twice more its “except for fornication” which is assigned to jewish betrothment, fornication before ceremony and consumation. and still forbids remarriage. This was the situation when Joseph found his betrothed wife Mary to be with child and assumed she had fornicated before they had completed their marriage and consummation . Of course she was with Gods child, Jesus

    In Mark and Luke’s teaching to Gentiles who have no betrothal custom there is no exception, and no divorce allowed period.

    In mathew the fornication exception is for betrothed divorce
    No exception or possibility of remarriage period.

  3. Scripture clearly slams the door shut on remarriage.

    Jesus calls remarriage after a divorce…ADULTERY.

    America’s divorce rate is the world’s highest because the law permits one partner to unilaterally end a marriage.

    Marriages are terminated by one person against the will of the other spouse in 80% of cases.

    I wonder how many people would divorce if they knew they were forbidden to remarry as long as their spouse is still living.

  4. Paul, you’re right about Jesus calling remarriage after a divorce adultery. However, we cannot ignore the exception — “except for immorality (fornication, KJV)” (Matthew 19:9). Jesus clearly allows the faithful spouse to put away his fornicator mate and remarry, should he choose to do so.

  5. hi Andy, like Paul i see no exception to remarry regardless of innocence. Jesus is only stating who the guilt of remarriage will rest upon until and unless repentance.For Matt 5:32 concludes “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” If it meant a only a woman divorced for committing adultery, it would surely state “a woman so divorced”?
    It also conflicts with Mark 10:11+12 and Luke 16:18 and negates the clear scripture that “any woman remarried while having a living spouse shall be called an adulteress” 1 Cor 7:39
    Besides do we suppose the guilty person is still bound once the “innocent” has remarried? No if the “innocent” remarries
    then the guilty must no longer be guilty and also free of adultery.

  6. Arthur, like I said in response to Paul above, you cannot ignore the exception given by Jesus: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, EXCEPT FOR IMMORALITY, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). It is right and necessary to emphasize the rule of the permanency of marriage (Matthew 19:6). But Jesus established another rule in giving the exception: One may put away his/her mate for fornication and remarry without committing adultery. That rule established by Jesus does not contradict the other passages you cited, only your interpretation of those passages.

    Your assumption that the innocent being free to marry must mean that the guilty spouse is also free to marry is incorrect. The innocent spouse may put away his/her fornicator mate and remarry only because of the permission granted by Jesus in Matthew 19:9. The guilty spouse is given no such permission.

  7. whats interesting is that its usually happily married people interpreting scripture this way and nobody likes to include deuteronomy while discussing this topic

  8. Mike, whether one is happily married or not, the truth doesn’t change. Regarding Deuteronomy, Jesus was asked about the certificate of divorce that was allowed under the Law of Moses and explained that it was not God’s intention from the beginning. We have no such permission for divorce under the law of Christ, except in the case of fornication.

  9. Mike-

    Deuteronomy 24

    “The deliberate contrast in Jeremiah 3:1 between the law that Moses laid down for the Israelites in Deuteronomy 24 and God’s own behavior towards His wife points out that the New Testament Church must not determine her marriage doctrine and practice from Deuteronomy 24.” Professor David J. Engelsma

    The Bond Yet Unbroken:

    The first verse of Jeremiah 3 proves, in a striking, indeed, startling way, that God was still MARRIED to DIVORCED Israel. To Israel who had “played the harlot with many lovers” and whom God had already divorced, according to verse eight, God called, “Yet return again to me.” This was a call to His wife, as verse one makes plain: “They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? Shall not that land be greatly polluted? But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD.”

    Whereas it was not permitted in Israel for a wife divorced from her husband and remarried to another man to return to her first husband, God called His wife back to Himself, even though she had committed adultery with many companions and even though God had divorced her.

    Divorced Israel remained the wife of the LORD.

    What is striking, even startling, about this insistence on the maintenance of the marriage and on Israel’s return to her rightful husband is the contrast between God’s marriage to Israel and a law governing the earthly marriages of the Israelites.

    Verse one refers to the law concerning divorce and remarriage in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 forbade a husband who had divorced his wife, on some other ground than her adultery, to take her back, if a second husband divorced her, or died.

    God, however, will take His wife back, even though she gave herself to many lovers and despite the fact that He had given her a bill of divorce.

    The law of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was merely Moses’ tolerance of deviation from God’s original ordinance of marriage on the part of hard-hearted Israelite men. It was a stop-gap measure, somewhat to protect vulnerable women, who otherwise would have been passed around like property.

    This was Christ’s analysis of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, and indictment of the kind of people for whom the law was necessary, in Matthew 19:8: “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives.”

    Deuteronomy 24 does not reveal the truth about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. It reveals the wickedness in marriage of hard-hearted, that is, unbelieving, men. The truth about marriage, already in the Old Testament, is revealed in Jeremiah 3:1: Even though He must divorce an unfaithful wife, God maintained the marriage and called His wife back to Himself.

    Verse fourteen of Jeremiah 3 is decisive, and explicit, regarding the question, whether God divorced an original wife so as to annul the marriage and open the way for Himself to marry another. Addressing faithless, divorced Israel, Jehovah exclaimed, “Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion.”

    Although His wife was unfaithful, although she committed adultery with numerous lovers, although she was as yet impenitent, and although God had divorced her, God was STILL her husband, and she was STILL His wife. The bill of divorce did not touch, much less dissolve, the marriage bond:

    “I am married unto you.”

    Indeed, the fact of the marriage is the reason why God called Israel back, as it is the reason why she ought to come back, to live with Him: “for I am married unto you.”

    Professor David J. Engelsma

  10. Paul, God had every right to welcome His people back. However, that does not change what Jesus taught in Matthew 19:9. The permission is granted for one to put away their mate and remarry for the cause of fornication. This is not a requirement, and it is commendable when couples work to preserve their marriage when one spouse is unfaithful to the other. But the permission is granted.

  11. The issue of Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage (MDR) has been a difficult one for centuries. Interpretations and application of the Matthew 19:9 “exception clause” by Biblical scholars are many and diverse. I sympathize with anyone wanting to follow God’s Will in a divorce and remarriage situation because depending on who you talk to, within the religious community, you are going to get different answers. I know this from personal experience having researched the matter extensively over the last few years. The most “conservative” will tell you there is no scriptural remarriage allowed after divorce from a God approved marriage for any reason. This was the predominant view of the Early Church Fathers for the first 500 years after Christ and is still the official view of the Roman Catholic Church, that God approved covenant marriages are basically indissoluble until the death of one of the spouses. The Catholic Church does not believe adultery is scriptural grounds for divorce and remarriage, but based on 1 Corinthians 7:15, they believe the so-called “Pauline Privilege” can be used to allow those in special cases who are divorced to remarry.

    I have been made aware that even within the Churches of Christ there are differences in opinion on MDR. It’s very frustrating when you as a Christian are trying to do what is right on any Biblical subject and the proper interpretation of the “right” answer is not apparently evident. One must continue to study and pray with the Lord’s help, trusting He will guide them in the right direction.

  12. There’s so many confusion, people say one thing then another about there opinions, I say I should pray because also the bible say many interpretations. May God bless me with wisdom

  13. Certainly there is much confusion on this subject. But the traditions and opinions of man do not equal truth. Jesus clearly gave the permission for one to put away their mate for fornication and remarry. Of course, one in that situation may choose not to remarry, but to say that fornication is not a Scriptural cause for divorce is binding where God has not bound.

  14. And while prayer is important, it cannot be a substitute for honest Bible study. One will not find the truth through prayer without studying the Scriptures.

  15. Pray God gives me the strength I need to leave my adulterous marriage of 7 years. I’ve been crying since I learned this after reading the Bible through. Churches teach that its okay.

  16. A divorced woman says


    I pray God gives you the strength to be obedience to His Word.

    My spouse left me 10 years ago and in God’s eyes he has no right to be joined together with another and if he does, it will be unlawful in God’s eyes.

    When will the church stop marrying divorced people and giving them the notion that they are in a lawful marriage, when God repeatedly calls remarriage …ADULTERY!

    “I require and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it.

    For be ye well assured, that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s Word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.” –The Book of Common Prayer

    There are some marriages that God does NOT join together. There are some marriages that God deems unlawful.

    Many divorced people are trying to be “joined together OTHER then God allows” which puts them in an unlawful marriage in the eyes of God.

    “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 7:39


    A divorced woman, who is NOT single according to the Word of God.