Can you divorce on account of fornication?


Why did Jesus say the one exception to His law against divorce was in the case of fornication? I always supposed fornication to be between persons not bound by marriage.


The Bible seems to use the words “adultery” and “fornication” interchangeably. The word translated “fornication” is also translated as “unfaithfulness,” “unchastity,” “loss of virtue” and “adultery” in other versions. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says of the word “fornication:” “Of illicit sexual intercourse in general…. used of adultery in Matt. 5:32.”

Yet the question might be asked as to how a contract decreed by God, and broken only by the death of one of the partners, could be annulled by an unchaste act. Obviously it could not.

Bible scholars point out that the wording of this passage in the gospel of Mark, from which Matthew’s account is believed to have been derived, differs from that in Matthew (Mark 10:11-12; also Luke 16:18). This passage does not list any exception to the rule, but reads: “He answered, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery’” (Mark 10:11-12, NIV). Thus it appears that the words in Matthew, “saving for the cause of fornication,” were not part of Jesus’ original statement.

It could also be pointed out that these exceptions do not even agree with Jesus’ own teaching in Matthew 5 (see verses 17-48). It seems from history that the Christian teaching of the first three centuries recognized no exception to the strictness of the law of Christ. The view that adultery dissolves a marriage degrades the concept by making its physical side dominant. It also involves two absurdities; first, that a man may cease to be married and yet be unaware of the fact; and second, it makes adultery or the pretense of having committed it the a way be rid of a marriage which has become distasteful, so placing a premium on adultery.

In the eyes of God an original marriage must stand until the death of one of the partners. And because of this fact, no other can be lawfully contracted while one’s partner—whatever his or her character—is living.