We begin with the one verse many point to as giving permission to divorce and remarry (even many times over). The words are the Savior’s in Matthew 5:32, “But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”
This passage is commonly used to justify divorce in the case of adultery in a marriage. However, with a concise and clear understanding of the Bible and what it says concerning this subject, we will find a different understanding.
The word fornication found in Matthew 5:32 is the Greek word porneia. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines porneia as follows: “No. 4202, porneia – from 4203; harlotry (incl. Adultery and incest); fig. idolatry: – fornication.” No. 1403 has the following definition in Strong’s: “porneuo from #4202; to act the harlot, i.e. (lit.) indulge unlawful lust (of either sex), or (fig.) practice idolatry:–commit (fornication).”
Strong’s does not offer an exact definition for the Greek word porneia; instead it gives only a broad definition. This is why we must consider all the evidence as a collective whole. For example, the Greek word pleroo, which is translated “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17, also has a broad definition. Strong’s shows: “Number 4137, pleroo from 4134…accomplish, *after, (be) completed, end, expire, fill (up), fulfill, (be, make) full (come), fully preach, perfect, supply.”
Notice that pleroo can also mean “end” or “expire.” This is valid evidence that the Concordance only offers a broad definition. To find the understanding of what the Messiah meant by the wordporneia, we must examine the entire Bible and evaluate what is found in Yahweh’s Word concerning divorce and remarriage.
Also worthy to be noted is that two Greek words are used to translate fornication and adultery in Matthew 5:32. We looked at the word porneia, which is translated fornication in Matthew 5:32 in our King James Bible. The other Greek word for our English word “adultery,” found in Matthew 5:32, is from the Greek word moichao. Strong’s Concordance defines moichao as: “Number 3429,moichao from 3432; (mid. voice) to commit adultery: –adultery.”
If Yahshua intended to use the word adultery instead of fornication, why would He have used two different Greek words? Why did He not just use the word from which we get adultery, moichao? The Greek word moichao is much more precise than the Greek wordporneia when speaking of adultery. Why the use of two different and distinct words by our Savior Yahshua the Messiah? The answer obviously is that He was making an important distinction in meaning.
Within the eastern countries of the world a vow and a promise are taken quite seriously, unlike in the Western world today. The Jewish people still hold marriage between two people quite sacred. When a couple becomes engaged, the Jewish people see them as if already married, with the exception of the consummation of the marriage. It was the same in the New Testament. Note these revealing references:
“Betrothed to Joseph: Betrothal was the first part of marriage, constituting a man and woman as husband and wife. Subsequently infidelity was considered adultery. The betrothal was followed some months later by the husband’s taking his wife into his home, at which time normal married life began” (The New American Bible, Study Note on Matthew 1:18).
“Mary had been promised in marriage to Joseph, but the wedding had not yet taken place. In NT times, betrothal was a form of engagement (but more binding than engagement today) and it could be broken only by divorce. Although a couple did not live together until the marriage ceremony, unfaithfulness on the part of the betrothed was treated as adultery and punishable by death” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, Note on Matthew 1:18).
“Espoused: Not completely married, but contracted (engaged, betrothed, pledged, to be married: nevertheless, sexual relations were strictly forbidden until marriage. Ed. Note: Jewish betrothal was a much more binding relationship than modern engagement; it could be broken only by a formal divorce” (Matthew Henry Study Bible, Note on Matthew 1:18).
There are numerous accounts within the Old and New Covenants showing this great respect toward marriage, and the seriousness of that commitment. Genesis 19: 8, 12 graphically shows that Lot had two daughters who were virgins; however, it says that as Lot was warned to flee from the land of Sodom that he also warned his two sons-in-law (notice the word “sons-in-law” even though his daughters were not yet married). The two daughters were still virgins, unmarried, yet they were engaged. This shows by example that when a couple becomes engaged it is considered a type of marriage vow. When two people make that vow of engagement, it is much more then a simple promise, but also a very sacred and solemn vow in the eyes of Yahweh (see Numbers chapter 30).
Matthew 1 is the account of the birth of Yahshua. Notice that Joseph and Mary were not yet married, but only engaged to each other. It is essential that one understands this verse, because this is the ONLY account found in the New Testament showing a man contemplating divorcing his wife. Note the following versions:
“Now the birth of [Yahshua Messiah] was on this wise: when his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put here away privily” (Matthew 1:18-19, King James Version).
“This is how the birth of [Yahshua Messiah] came about. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph: before their marriage she found she was going to have a child through the Holy Spirit. Being a man of principle, and at the same time wanting to save her from humiliation, Joseph made up his mind to have the marriage contract quietly set aside” (Matthew 1:18-19, Revised English Bible).
“Now this is how the birth of [Yahshua Messiah] came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet not unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:18-19, New American Bible).
“This is how [Yahshua Messiah] came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being an upright man and wanting to spare her disgrace, decided to divorce her informally” (Matthew 1:18-19, New Jerusalem Bible).
Through these accounts we can understand the following key facts:
1. Joseph and Mary were engaged, betrothed, but not married.
2. Even though the two were not married, the Bible referred to Joseph as Mary’s husband, as if already together.
3. Joseph sought to divorce her, even though they were not officially married.
Again, this account is the only account of an actual or attempted divorce in the entire New Testament.
If we consider the key facts and apply these facts to Matthew 5:32, we can say that Yahshua is speaking of an engaged couple, and not a married couple! Therefore, Yahshua said that the only cause for divorce is fornication, not adultery. Fornication is pre-marital sex. In Matthew 1 it is quite clear that Yahshua was speaking of engagement. This is clearly brought out through Joseph’s and Mary’s example, the ONLY example Yahweh presented in the New Testament concerning a divorce.
Yahshua says that when a couple becomes engaged they are bound together; however, He says only for the cause of fornication can the engagement be terminated. He goes on and says that if the one that is divorced marries another, he or she will be causing the person they marry also to commit adultery.
This raises an important question: Why after the divorce does one who remarries still commit adultery against the one they have divorced (see Romans 7:1-3). The answer is that the marital VOW they previously made still stands. And in Yahweh’s eyes they are still married (if they had consummated that marriage, of course).
Yahshua’s Death Necessary Before Remarriage Possible
Jeremiah 3 shows Israel’s rebellion and unwillingness to follow Yahweh’s commands. In return for their disobedience, Yahweh says that he had given Israel a bill of divorcement.
“And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorcement; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, and went and played the harlot also…Turn, O backsliding children, saith Yahweh; for I am married [Heb. Baal, Husban] unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will you to Zion” (Jer. 3:8 KJV).
Israel was married to Yahweh, but due to their backsliding Yahweh said that He was going to divorce Israel. Yahweh could not tolerate their sin any longer. We know that old Israel was not able to stand in Yahweh’s commandments, and for that very reason we as Gentiles are given an opportunity to partake in that same promise. No longer is the promise only offered to Israel, but also to all those that fear Yahweh and work righteousness. But what had to be done to establish this New Covenant, and to allow all to partake of Israel’s promise?
“For where a testament (covenant) is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator [appointed victim]. For a Testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator lives” (Hebrews 9:16-17).
The writer of Hebrews explains that to establish a second covenant there must be a death, and the death of the one that ordained the first covenant. We know that this passage is speaking of the sacrificial system, and the role Yahshua had in establishing the New Covenant. Yahshua had to die to establish the New Covenant, and by so doing He also became the mediator for all people that would work righteousness.
“Messiah had redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written ‘cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree:’ that the blessings of Abraham might also come on the gentiles through Yahshua Messiah; that we might receive the promise through faith…For you are all the children of Elohim by faith in Yahshua Messiah. For as many of you as have put on Messiah. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male or female: for you are all one in Messiah Yahshua. And if you be Messiah’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:13-14).
We find an interesting analogy here. We know that Yahshua was the pre-existent Savior of the world, and was the one that Yahweh used to speak for Him regarding those of the Old Testament. He was also the one married or in the process of marrying Old Israel, but due to their unwillingness to follow Yahweh’s covenant and their idolatrous acts, Yahshua separated from Israel and established a New Covenant through His blood and sacrifice on the stake. Through His death sacrifice came the ability to bring the gentiles into the covenant promise of Israel, to marry the obedient gentiles. To establish the covenant that allowed the gentiles to share the covenant promise of Israel, Yahshua had to die a physical death. For us as physical human beings there isn’t any difference. We can remarry after the death of a spouse, which terminates the vow or covenant set at marriage.
Romans 7: “Till Death Do We Part”
In Romans 7 : 2 Paul says that marriage is for life. “For the women which hath an husband is bound by law to her husband so long as she liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of the her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man” (Romans 7:2-3).
Paul says that law, Yahweh’s law, binds us till death, and if we remarry while our mate still lives we commit adultery. Divorce is not an option when two people become married and are one. They have not only made that commitment, but have also become one flesh. How can “one” flesh be separated? This passage is very clear: a married couple is bound until death. “Till death do we part.” Is this not indeed a vow? Do we not say this in our marriage ceremonies today? Is this not a vow for believers and nonbelievers alike? Does not Yahweh expect us to fulfill our vows?
Yahshua said, “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh. Wherefore that are no more twain, but one flesh. WHAT THEREFORE ELOHIM HAS JOINED TOGETHER, LET NO MAN PUT ASUNDER,” Matthew 19:5-6. But what does man do? He allows divorce. And sanctions remarriage, causing spouses to commit adultery. “If a man vow a vow unto Yahweh, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bound; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (Num. 30:2 KJV). “When thou vowest a vow unto Elohim, defer not to pay it; for he has no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed” (Ecc. 5:4 KJV).
The word “dead” in Romans 7:2 is from #599, apothnesko in Strong’s Greek Dictionary, and has the following definition: “apothnesko– from 575 and 2348; to die off (lit. or fig.): – to dead, death, die, lie a dying, be slain.” In Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament we find a deeper meaning for the Greek word apothnesko. “1. Of natural death of man: Mt. 9:24; 22:24; Lk. 16:22,Jn. 4:47; Ro. 7:2, and very often; subject to death, mortal.”
A common interpretation of this word “dead” in Romans 7:2 is dead at baptism, or a type of spiritual death. However, the Greek gives a different interpretation. The Greek word implies a physical or mortal death, not a death at baptism. Romans 7:2 shows exclusively that a married couple is bound to each other till death. “The law of marriage is binding till death of one of the parties, no matter which and no longer. The death of either discharges both. I speak to them that know the law. The law has power over a man as long as he lives…The women is bound to her husband during life; so bound to him that she cannot marry another; if she does, she shall be reckoned an adulteress” (Study Note for Matthew Henry’s Study Bible on Romans 7 : 1 – 2).
In the Book of Malachi, Yahweh gives warning to those that would heed the call. “I hate divorce, says Yahweh Elohim of Israel, and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment, says Yahweh Almighty” (Malachi 2:16 NIV). Yahweh says that he hates divorce of any type. Yahweh abhors the putting away of any type of vow or covenant. A marriage and even an engagement is a vow, and Yahweh takes vows very seriously.
In Matthew 19, starting with verse 3, Yahshua speaks again of divorce and remarriage when the Pharisees question him. The Pharisees ask Yahshua whether it is lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause. The first thing Yahshua says is that at the very beginning Yahweh made male and female, and for that reason shall a man leave his parents, and shall adhere to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.
Yahshua shows that the practice of polygamy was not intended at the very beginning, but Yahweh intended one man and one wife for life, and for them to become one flesh. Yahshua says, “What therefore Yahweh has joined together, let not man put asunder.” Yahweh does not teach divorce, but only tolerated the practice in the Old Testament because of the hardness of Israel’s hearts.
We have now received the Holy Spirit as Yahweh’s called-out ones, and in so doing Yahweh has given us a mind to follow Him with a pure heart, unlike old Israel. Yahshua came to this earth to fulfill or complete the law. Yahshua enhanced many of the laws, and one of which is the law of marriage as seen in Matthew 5:32 and Romans 7:2-3.
Yahshua shows in the seventh and eighth verses that Yahweh suffered old Israel to divorce their wives because of the hardness of their heart. This was not Yahweh’s wish or will, but He only allowed it because of their rebellion.
“Messiah rectifies their mistake concerning the Law of Moses; they called it a command, Messiah calls it but permission, a toleration. Messiah tells them there was a reason for this toleration, not at all to their credit. If they had not been allowed to put away their wives, when they had conceived a dislike of them, they would have used them cruelly, would have beaten and abused them, and perhaps have murdered them. There is not a greater piece of hard-heartedness in the world, than for a man to be harsh and severe with his own wife. Without virtually owning the hardness of their hearts. The Law of Moses considered the hardness of men’s heart, but the good news curses it…” (Matthew Henry’s Study Bible, study note on Matthew 19:8).
Matthew Henry explains that because of their hearts it was more profitable for Yahweh to allow divorce then to allow cruel behavior by the men of old Israel. We as Yahweh’s people today must portray Yahweh’s and Yahshua’s own ethics and morality. It is essential to understand the vow and seriousness of marriage, and what Yahshua truly taught. Yahshua never gave one reason or excuse for divorce after marriage proper. In the ninth verse Yahshua again re-states his statement in Matthew 5:32. Again, the word used is fornication, not adultery. Refer back to Matthew 5:32.
1 Corinthians 7
In 1Corinthians 7, starting with verse 10, Paul gives a commandment from Yahweh. He states, “But to the married I give charge, not I, but Yahweh, that the wife depart not from her husband (but should she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled with her husband); and that the husband leave not the wife” (1Cor. 7:10-11).
Notice that Yahweh’s commandment is that the husband and wife stay together, and if one should leave, let them be reconciled to each other. Never do we see divorce as an option in this passage. We know by the Torah that once a husband gave a bill of divorcement, that man and wife could not be rejoined (Deut. 24:4). Yahweh would not go against His own law. Thus, we can conclude that when Paul said, “but should she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled with her husband,” he was not speaking of divorce.
Starting with the 12th verse Paul gives his opinion (not Yahweh’s command) to unbelievers: “But to the rest I say, not Yahweh: if any brother has an unbelieving wife, and he is content to live with her, let her not leave her husband. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother: else were your children unclean; but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving departs, let him depart: the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases: but Yahweh has called us in peace. For how do you know, o wife, whether you shall save your husband? Or how do you know, o husband, whether you shall save your wife?” (1Cor. 12:12-16).
We must consider that Paul said that this was not Yahweh’s command, but his own opinion, his suggestion. In the 15th verse, where the word bondage is mentioned, most interpret that as bondage out of marriage. However, the Greek says otherwise. The Greek word is No. 1402, douloo and means: “to enslave, bring into bondage, servant.” The beginning of 1 Cor. 7 speaks of the duties of married couples. It says that neither have control over their own bodies, and in essence both are in bondage to each other. The husband and wife have a duty to each other. Paul says that if an unbelieving wife or husband leaves (separates) that mate is no longer under bondage. That person is no longer responsible for marriage duties for that unconverted mate, but according to Romans 7 they are still husband and wife. Only death ends the marriage covenant.
“But as Elohim hath distributed to every man, as the master hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all the assemblies. Is any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcised is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of Elohim. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Master, being a servant, is Yahweh’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Messiah’s servant. Ye are bought with a price, be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he was called, therein abide with Elohim” (1 Cor. 7:17-24).
What is this passage saying? Does Yahweh say here that if a man comes to the knowledge of the truth and then is baptized, but has been divorced and remarried, that he is completely free from his first marriage and all obligations to it? Let’s consider this logic. Why would Paul say that a man and wife are bound till mortal death, and then later say that the marriage vow can be given up at baptism? Let’s take a closer look at the passage.
What does this passage mention? What are the situations Paul is addressing? If you examine verses 17-24, you will never see divorce and remarriage brought up. Paul never addresses this issue. Paul never says if you have been divorced and remarried and then baptized, that the first marriage is washed away and the vow no longer exists. To say that Paul taught that baptism annuls a marriage vow is contradicting his own statement in Romans 7. It is like saying a murderer repented and was baptized, and then could go murder again. If so, what is the difference between murder and adultery? Both are sins that Yahweh hates. The only issues Paul contends with here are circumcision, uncircumcision, slavery, and the freeman. Once again, nowhere within this passage do we find Paul addressing men or women who have been divorced and remarried!
“Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of Yahweh: yet I give my judgement, as one that hath obtained mercy of Yahweh to be faithful. I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife. But and if you marry [not “remarry”], thou has not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you” (1 Cor. 7:25-28 KJV).
Paul starts at the beginning of verse 25, and says that this is not Yahweh’s command, but his own, and notice that Paul addresses this specifically to virgins. Paul says that if one is married, seek not to be loosed, but at the start of this passage Paul says that this command was for virgins. Virgins are those that have not had sexual relations, so how then could these be virgins Paul was speaking too? If we once again consider the account of Matthew 1:18-19 and apply it here to Paul’s comments, we can understand that this is engagement Paul is speaking of. If you are bound to a wife (engaged to a wife) seek not to be loosed, but if you are loosed from a wife, seek not a wife. The second statement here refers to Yahshua’s comments in Matthew 5:32. Yahshua says that those that put away their wife (engaged wife), saving for the cause of fornication, cause her to commit adultery. Those mentioned by Paul in his second statement are those that are loosed by divorcement (divorcement while engaged, refer to Matthew 1:18-19). Paul says that they are to stay single.
Why would Paul make this statement? Why would Paul command that these virgins stay single? There are several reasons we can consider. One is that Paul said in verses 32-33 that when one becomes married, one is less careful to please Yahweh. Another possible reason is the persecution that was upon the early assembly.
We should consider the following. 1) Paul says that this was his command, not Yahweh’s, 2) Paul was speaking to virgins (V. 25), and furthermore, this is additional evidence that those that are engaged are looked upon as husband and wife. The key to understanding this passage is remembering and considering that Paul’s command was exclusively to virgins. He was not speaking to the married that had already consummated the marriage. At the point of consummation the two have become one, and in the words of Yahshua, “What therefore Yahweh has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
Conclusion on Divorce and Remarriage
We must follow every word that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh, and Yahweh makes it clear that He hates divorce. Yahshua never taught divorce. Yahshua said, “What Yahweh has joined together, let no man put asunder.” How then can man promote and practice such a doctrine? How can man dare separate what Yahweh has joined?
When we consider Matthew 5:32, addressing those that are engaged rather than married, the pieces of the puzzle fit perfectly. This understanding ties together all the loose ends that other arguments leave hanging. The only example in the New Testament of a man considering divorce was Joseph, who was not married, but engaged. Romans 7 says that a marriage covenant can only be terminated upon death. Man cannot terminate a marriage covenant by allowing divorce. There is no such word when a couple becomes one flesh. Again, how can one flesh be separated?
What does this mean, then, for those who are divorced and remarried before baptism? Does this place them in a constant state of adultery or sin? I cannot find in the Bible where Yahweh says specifically that divorce and remarriage before baptism is forgiven and washed away. But what the Bible does say is that Yahweh is a loving Heavenly Father who will look past our ignorance. I do feel that Yahweh will acknowledge repentance that took place at baptism, and consider the present situation. Once again, this report is not to condemn, but to simply establish Yahweh standards of marriage as contained in His Word.
We at Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry do not advocate that a person separate or file for divorce in this situation, but should acknowledge Yahweh’s standards for what they are, and then strive to live a life that is well pleasing to Yahweh. Marriage is a sacred covenant and one that should not be ignored. The entire purpose for Yahweh’s marriage laws is to form a stable family environment. Yahweh’s Laws are for our benefit. If we obey Him we will find that our family will prosper in His truth and in this fleshly life.