Question: Would you please explain Matthew 19:9 which some use to support remarriage in the case of infidelity?
Answer: It would be difficult to write on the subject of divorce and remarriage without addressing the passage in Matthew 19:9 which reads: “And 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.”
The basic law for interpreting scripture is known as “Unanimity of Faith.” This means that there is an agreement and accord between various scriptures and that they do not contradict each other. Scriptures which are difficult to understand will always coincide with more easily understood texts. Hence, doctrine should never be founded on one verse alone but in accord and balance with the rest of the scripture. The Word of God does not conflict with itself.
The scripture is clear that marriage is for life. While there may be separation due to unfaithfulness to the marriage vows, marriage for any reason while a former spouse is still living constitutes adultery before God. The texts in Matthew 5:32, Luke 16:18, Mark 10:11-12, and 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, 39 are all clear on this subject. Hence, Matthew 19:9 must be interpreted in the light of that foundation.
The following passage is from the writings of Bro. Ostis Wilson on the subject:
My understanding of this text is that it contains two parts. The Pharisees had asked Jesus if it were lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause (verse 3). This was the full extent of their question. They never asked anything about marrying another spouse after this one was put away. That was no question with them since that was common practice among them, and divorce and remarriage was allowable under the law. They even had more than one wife and lived with them at the same time (polygamy).
In the first part of this verse, Jesus answered their question after discussing at some length God’s original purpose and arrangement for marriage by saying that the only cause for which a man could put away his wife was for fornication. This relates to Matthew 5:32 where the same thing is stated and confirms the fact that a person has the right to put away a spouse for this cause; because it is backed up by two witnesses and, according to God’s Word, every word is established by two witnesses (Matthew 18:16 and John 8:17). Wife “putting away” is all that is under consideration up to this point. Then after He had answered their question, He went ahead and introduced His own New Testament doctrine—that if one marries another after that one is put away, he commits adultery. This, no doubt, shocked the Pharisees and it is certain it shocked Jesus’ disciples by their response to that statement: “If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry” (Matthew 19:10). It is evident these chosen men understood from what He said that marriage was a binding thing, and if it were that binding and that difficult to get out of, it would just be better to not enter into it.
Therefore, I conclude that according to Matthew 19:9, a man is permitted to put away his wife for the cause of fornication and for no other cause; and that to marry another while that woman is still living is forbidden and to do so is adultery. In Matthew 5:32 Jesus comes out very strongly on this point and says if a man puts away his wife for any cause except fornication, he causes her to commit adultery. In other words, he is a contributor to her delinquency for putting her away from himself when she is a loyal and chaste wife. God would hold him responsible right along with her for having done this thing and exposed her to this condition.
The word “fornication” in the Greek, porneia, means harlotry or whoredom. Its meaning is broader in scope than the general use of the word today which refers to sexual relations between two unmarried people. Porneia means any sexual sin while adultery refers to a married person committing sexual sins with someone other than his or her own spouse.
Matthew 5:32 and also Matthew 19:9 indicate that there could be cause to separate when sexual sin is involved, but there is no permission given to remarry. Jesus said that “whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” He made no distinction between the woman who was put away for adultery and the innocent woman who was put away. If remarriage was permitted, He would have made that distinction. All of the New Testament scriptures support the fact that marriage is for life, regardless of transgressions of either spouse.
The commentator, Matthew Henry, wrote the following concerning this subject:
The binding nature of marriage does not depend on the will or the acts of the persons but on its primal character and institution. By the repeal of the Mosaic relaxation and the restoration of marriage to its original principle, Christ not only enforces the high dignity of this ordinance, but obviates many opportunities of wickedness, such, for instance, as collusion between husband and wife with a view to obtain freedom for marriage with others.
The Emphatic Diaglott translation of the New Testament, which draws from The Vatican Manuscript, reads thus: “But I say to you, Whoever dismisses his wife, except on account of whoredom, causes her to commit adultery; and he who marries the divorced woman, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).
The accounts on this subject in Mark and Luke are very clear without any ambiguity. It is noteworthy that the book of Matthew was written primarily to the Jewish people who understood their own practices of divorce and remarriage. Jesus addressed the Jews in a way they understood. The gospel of Mark, written more for the Romans, and the gospel of Luke, written more for a gentile audience, contain very clear language when relating the teachings of Christ on the subject of divorce and remarriage. Matthew 19:9 harmonizes with the rest of the scripture—putting away one’s wife and marrying another for any cause is contrary to the teaching of Christ.