Comments/Questions from Readers

Question #15: Some people say Jesus changed the law. How are we supposed to know for sure what the adultery is for the man in Matt 19:9? I could argue the husband commits adultery by causing his wife to commit adultery by unlawfully divorcing her.

I believe we have demonstrated from the Old Testament Scriptures that na'aph is very clearly defined as a woman breaking her wedlock vows against her husband. If any man (married or unmarried) lies with a married woman (other than his wife), then he too has committed na'aph because he has participated in her sin. What is important to recognize is that the man who lies with the married woman is not breaking any vow he made. He is simply causing the married woman to break HER vow. Yet he is called an "adulterer" in Scripture because he participated in her act of violating her covenant oath.

Leviticus 20:10: "And a man who commits adultery with the wife of another man, who commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor: the adulterer and the adulteress shall certainly be put to death."

Deuteronomy 22:22-24: "When a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman. Thus you shall purge the evil from Yisra'el. When a girl who is a maiden is engaged to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and shall stone them to death with stones, the girl because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he has humbled his neighbor's wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from your midst."

The man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor. He commits na'aph ("woman who breaks wedlock") because he participated in the very act that caused her to break wedlock. This has always been the understood historical use of the Hebrew term. This is how the term is used throughout the Old Testament Scriptures.

Now, let's look at what is recorded in Matthew:

Matthew 5:31-32: "And it has been said, 'Whoever puts away his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that whoever puts away his wife, except for the matter of whoring, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a woman who has been put away commits adultery."

Matthew 19:9: "And I say to you, whoever puts away his wife, except on the ground of whoring, and marries another, commits adultery. And whoever marries her who has been put away commits adultery."

Notice the two statements. In Matthew 5, Jesus tells them that if a man puts away his wife, he makes HER commit adultery. Does the man, the legal husband in this case, commit adultery here? Jesus does not say anything about the husband committing adultery, even though he unlawfully put her away. Rather, He says explicitly that any man who marries such a woman also commits adultery.

So the husband unlawfully dismisses his wife without cause, somehow causing her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries her becomes an adulterer. Yet this law-breaking husband does NOT become an adulterer himself, at least not based on what is written solely in Matthew 5.

Now let's move on to Matthew 19. Here, Jesus says that if a man puts away his wife AND MARRIES ANOTHER, then he too commits adultery. What has changed?? These are the very words inspired by God to be placed in His Word and there is no error. How is it that the husband NOW becomes an adulterer when he wasn't in the first case? The obvious causality is that he married another. The act of him taking another wife after unlawfully dismissing his previous wife causes him to commit adultery.

It seems clear that the cause of the adultery, for both the man and the woman, is the replacement of the spouse. Physical adultery requires the physical sexual act, so let's look at the evidence. Matthew 5:32 says that the husband who unlawfully puts away his wife makes her commit adultery. Merely putting her away, in and of itself, causes no physical adultery to occur at that moment, but the contextual assumption is that she will remarry and will therefore be forced into committing adultery. This is demonstrated in the context of the very next sentence, which says that the man who marries this woman also commits adultery.

Physical adultery, by any accepted understanding of the word na'aph, cannot apply without the physical act, so the mere putting away of the wife unlawfully does not cause her to commit adultery at that moment. Nobody can force another to sin. Her adultery will occur when she marries another, because it is at that moment that she breaks her wedlock vow. It could be argued that such a woman who never remarries or lies with another man will never commit adultery, but it is highly unlikely that she will remain celibate all her life. For all practical intents, he is forcing her into committing adultery because she will remarry.

When we apply this understanding to Matthew 19:9, we see the exact same situation. The man who unlawfully put away his wife and marries another also ends up committing adultery. The marrying of another is required for him to commit adultery. Merely putting his wife away, by itself, does not cause him to commit adultery. Essentially, when a man puts away his wife without the only lawful condition being satisfied, then if either of them remarry, they commit adultery. We see verification of this in Mark 10.

Mark 10:11-12: "And He said to them, "Whoever puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman puts away her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

Scripture never contradicts itself. If the woman who leaves her husband only commits adultery when she remarries, it stands to reason that the initial act of leaving, in and of itself, was not the cause of her committing adultery. It merely sets her up for committing adultery when she remarries. Mark 12 also confirms this to be true for the husband. If he puts his wife away and marries another, he commits adultery against his "put away" wife. Again, all the Scriptural evidence is that is it the act of spousal replacement, the unjustified separating and subsequent remarriage, that causes adultery to occur.

But that's not all. Notice what is left out of Matthew 19:9. The woman who marries the husband does NOT commit adultery. In fact, the Greek text explicitly states the woman who was put away commits adultery, not the new wife. This is important because it confirms the correct understanding of na'aph. Adultery is not a sexually transmitted disease that spreads from one person to another, simply because one of them has committed adultery. The adulterer or adulteress must have participated in the act of na'aph themselves.

The very reason that the other man who marries the "unlawfully put away" woman commits adultery is precisely because the separation is not permitted by God. She is still married to her first husband in His eyes and taking a second husband is polyandry (adultery). She remains in an unmarryable state until her husband dies, and only then is she free to marry another fellow believer.




"...In essentials we maintain unity, in opinions liberty, and in all things love..."

Your comments are welcome!