Is Adultery Always Either the Cause or the Effect of Divorce?

Luke 16:18 says, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  After careful study, I wonder if we can restate this truth as follows:  Adultery is always either the cause or the effect of divorce.  If this sounds too simplistic, let’s take a closer look at these two possibilities. 

The first case is easier for us to understand, where adultery is the cause of divorce.  We usually think of a situation where a married man has sexual relations with someone other than his wife.  This act of adultery results in divorce, and the unfaithful spouse then often marries his new lover. 

However, can adultery really be the effect of a divorce?  Christ said that a man is committing adultery after he divorces his wife, when he marries the other woman.  In this case, the man may have remained faithful to his wife before the divorce; i.e., infidelity may not have had anything to do with the divorce.  However, if this is the case, then why was the man guilty of adultery when he remarried? 

This requires a solid understanding of the institution of marriage.  Marriage isn’t just an agreement between a man and a woman to live together.  Marriage is a contract before God, where a man and a woman commit their lives to each other for life–spiritually, physically, and mentally.  A man commits adultery when he violates the physical part of this relationship by having sexual relations with someone other than his wife.  Furthermore, Matthew 5:28 even says that any man who merely looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

Christ said that any man who divorces his wife and then marries another woman commits adultery.  This man’s divorce was a divorce only in the eyes of man, not the eyes of God.  The divorce in a court of law has nothing to do with God’s contract for a life of commitment to each other.  Even after this worldly “divorce,” God still sees these two people as a married couple.  Now, at the time of the legal divorce, no adultery has yet been committed.  It is only after the man marries another woman, and consummates that marriage, that adultery has occurred.  This concept is further supported by Matthew 5:32, “Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” 

So, it seems that we can conclude that adultery is always either the cause or the effect of divorce.  Note that it often appears to us that God condoned the practice of polygamy in the Old Testament, and even in this situation, this statement still stands true.  Merely marrying another wife didn’t necessarily constitute adultery.  The adultery occurred only if the man had first divorced his wife, or if the woman that he married had previously been divorced.

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