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Monday, May 20, 2013

What is Marriage? - Myths of Divorce, Adultery, and Infidelity

Having examined the biological, Biblical, and cultural basis for marriage, we've applied that understanding to various alternate forms of "marriage." Read those articles first if you haven't, or this one may not make as much sense. Now, we want to turn our attention to how it applies to the breakdown of a marriage.

What I've often encountered in reading various articles on marriage, divorce, adultery, and infidelity are a lot of misconceptions, especially among Christians, about what Jesus said about it. What are the common myths about Jesus' words, and infidelity in general? The following is my list.

Divorce is a Sin

This is one of the most common ones. In actuality, most of the time, it is true, but most people don't know what divorce means. No, I'm not merely referring to the "adultery clause" divorce. I mean getting a legal divorce, in and of itself, is not sinful. Before you start throwing things at your computer, hear me out.

First, keep in mind what we've established as the basis for marriage in the first three articles. The defining basis is the biological sexual act of procreation (no matter whether the act ever does procreate). Without that union, there is no marriage, per biology, history, and Biblically.

That as a given, what act can rend that union asunder? A legal piece of paper saying you are no longer married, even though we've shown that the government cannot establish a marriage? See if you can pick up Jesus' answer to that question:
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh: so that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house the disciples asked him again of this matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her: and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery. (Mar 10:7-12 ASV)

The disciples asked Jesus to clarify what He was talking about concerning divorce and the conditions when a marriage is "put asunder". Note Jesus list two conditions: putting away and marrying another. By so doing, a person commits the sin of adultery save when adultery has already been committed, that is, the marriage has already been torn apart.

More to the point, the matter of divorcing legally does not tear a marriage apart by itself anymore than a legal marriage certificate marries a person. Rather, the real destruction of the marital bonds occurs when a new marital relationship is established with someone else. That is, when a person has sex with someone other than their spouse, they are marrying that person and divorcing their spouse.

Merely getting a legal divorce does not commit sin. If a person never marries another through sex, they never in reality divorce their spouse. Rather, it is a mere separation and not sinful unless you have sex with another before your spouse does.

One Commits Adultery Only When They are Legally Married

Not true. The first person you have sex with in your life becomes your spouse. The next person you have sex with, you divorce your first spouse and marry your second, and so on down the list, however long it may be. As we've seen, it is having sex that is the basis for marriage, even if not the fullness.

"Premarital" sex is an oxymoron since it is sex that marries two people together. It is impossible to "sow your wild oats" before marriage, for planting them is the same as marrying someone. There are only two situations when having sex is not adultery, according to Jesus. The first time you have sex and having sex with a new person after your spouse has committed adultery on you. Other than that, if you are not having sex with your spouse, you are committing adultery. Premarital sex is nothing more than getting married, divorced, and committing adultery over and over again for most people.

When Your Spouse Commits Adultery, You're Biblically Required to Divorce Him

Jesus never said that. What He said is the only time divorcing and remarrying is not committing the sin of adultery is when your spouse has already committed adultery. In truth, Jesus' ideal is that a couple doesn't get torn asunder in the first place. When it does happen, a lot of circumstances go into a decision to rebuild or divorce. However, there is no Biblical requirement to do so upon discovering your spouse has committed adultery.

Jesus Said You Can't Divorce Except for Adultery

This is another very common one. Strictly speaking, divorce alone isn't the issue, but divorce in order to marry another. But what did Jesus really say?
And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. But Jesus said unto them, For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. (Mar 10:4-5 ASV)

Note: Though due to our "hardness of heart" it was permitted, but that is not the design specifications as God created marriage. Rather, "and the two shall become one flesh: so that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." (Mar 10:8-9 ASV)

The design specs is that a man and a woman will join together and that union will never be nullified for a lifetime. Strictly speaking, one would never remarry, even if divorced, even if doing so would not commit adultery. Because God's design specs is one spouse, period. But due to the fall, He allows us to divorce and remarry.

Jesus never said you can't get a divorce. Only that getting a divorce and remarrying is a result of the fall, not how God designed it to work. What He did say is that you cannot divorce and remarry without committing the sin of adultery unless your spouse beats you to the sin first. Whether or not you are committing the sin of adultery by divorcing and remarrying is the point Jesus was making. Unfortunately, there is still plenty of hardness of heart to go around. Jesus stops short of taking the option off the table.

Cheating and Adultery Are the Same Thing

Though they frequently go together, they are not the same thing. Cheating, infidelity, or having an affair involve two main components: emotional and/or physical sharing of martial intimacy outside the marriage, and deception with one's spouse. Adultery is when a person commits or strongly wants to commit the act of sexual intercourse with a person other than one's spouse.

A person who divorces and remarries may commit adultery as Jesus explained, but he is not deceptively cheating on his spouse. No affair is involved. Likewise, a person may be involved in an emotional affair without their spouse's knowledge, but successfully avoid sexual intercourse or the desire to do so and therefore not commit adultery.

Therefore, discovering your spouse is cheating on you, if he's not had sexual intercourse with her or desired to do so, he's not committed adultery and hasn't torn asunder the marital bond. There's some other heavy sins and breaches of trust involved, but there would be no "get out of marriage free" card to avoid committing adultery yourself if you were to divorce and remarry him.


Adultery is the act of rending asunder your marriage to your spouse by uniting sexually with another, in effect marrying them instead. This is also the definition of divorce in order to marry another. Only when your marriage has already been rent asunder by your spouse do you avoid the sin of adultery to do the same thing—before you reunite to them, in effect remarrying them.

This process happens no matter the legal marital status, presence of a ceremony, or promises made or not made, since sexual union is the foundation of what it means to be married. Not recognizing this and failing to treat it as a real marriage is the basis upon which what we've erroneously termed "premarital sex" or "sowing one's wild oats" is sinful. There is no such thing as sex before marriage, because sex establishes the marital bond. It is the lack of commitments of a marriage with it that make it sinful. Ironically, many people in our society when they first "officially get married" commit adultery in doing so.

It is this reality which leads to so much infidelity and divorce. What can we expect when our society conveys to teens, "have sex as much as you want now, because eventually you'll be 'tied down' to one woman when you get married." Teens ask why premarital sex is wrong when it seems like a purely recreational activity you do with someone you love, not much different than going to a movie together, or sharing ice cream?

Then, suddenly when they get a marriage certificate and say, "I do," sex now means something more? That all those years of playing the field will come to a screeching halt and they'll be faithful to one person? That what before was a recreational activity will no longer be seen as such or treated that way? How dumb are we to expect anything different than the high rates of divorce and infidelity in our society when we've failed to learn ourselves and teach to our children the biological and Biblical basis for marriage: sex consummates and seals that union. It is not merely a recreational activity that two people who might love one another do. Especially in God's eyes.

The reality is that a huge majority who read this blog fall into this category. I recall a woman's surprise when she learned, while I was at college, that I'd never had sex with anyone. For her, at least, I was the first male virgin she'd ever met. Sure made me feel like I was in a small minority.

Often, due to the hardness of a spouse's heart either in sin, abuse, or a combination thereof, divorce is either unavoidable or the least of all sins. While not God's ideal, remarriage avoids some worse sins. We live in a fallen world, and sometimes we're left with fallen solutions.

So what if you're in one of these groups? The good news is that while there is sin, while you've harmed yourself and perhaps others, while you've not lived up to God's ideal, there is healing for both yourself and your relationships. My final article will take a look at healing a marital relationship broken by these disruptive activities to what God has joined together.

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