Sermon: Divorce and Remarriage
Scripture: Matthew 5:31-32
In this week’s lessons, we look at the subjects of divorce and remarriage, and learn what the biblical standards are for those who are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Theme: What Is Fornication?
At this point someone will say, “I agree with you in general terms. Certainly, that is the ideal. But what of adultery? Doesn’t adultery dissolve the marriage contract? And isn’t that what Jesus Christ was talking about when He made the exception ‘except for fornication’ in Matthew?” No, I do not believe that this is what Jesus was talking about either in Matthew 19 or in the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, I believe that Jesus was teaching that the only justifiable grounds for divorce was impurity in the woman discovered on the first night of the marriage (in which case there would be deceit involved in the contract), and that even in this case, although the man had the right to an immediate divorce under the standards of the Mosaic law, God’s perfect will would always be for a continuation of the marriage.
There are several reasons why I believe this must be so. First, it is the natural implication of the words. For fornication is not the same thing as adultery, and fornication (not adultery) is the word that Jesus uses here. What is adultery? Adultery is unfaithfulness after marriage. That is the only possible meaning of the Greek word, and it is suggested most vividly by the Latin phrase from which we have derived our word in English. The phrase is ad alterius torum, which means “to another’s bed,” Thus, it is a violation of the marriage contract.
Fornication is a much broader term. In Greek, it is a variant of the verb pernao (“to sell”), and it refers to prostitution. This would include the prostitution of a harlot, one involved in any of the basic sexual perversions, and by extension, any sex act performed outside of marriage. The Latin term includes this idea also, for it is based on the Greek noun fornix, meaning the arch of a temple where the temple courtesans collected. Thus, it refers in a general way to any sexual impurity.
Unless there are strong reasons for thinking differently, the natural implication of Matthew 5:32 is that although a man may divorce a woman immediately after marriage if he finds her not to be a virgin (in which case he was allowed by the law to remarry and was not to be called an adulterer—Deut. 24:1-4), he may not divorce her for any other cause. If he does, he forces her into a position in which she may be forced to remarry and thereby force her to become an adulteress by doing so.
What is the common view of the meaning of the exception clause of fornication?
What other interpretation is given for understanding the exception clause? What is the first reason Dr. Boice offers for this view?
Reflection: What other cultural practices does the Lord call us to a higher standard than unbelievers around us?