And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful.
-Matthew 19:9, NLT
It mystified me why good Christian pastors ever needed to hear more to the story of my marriage’s ending than verification that my ex-wife had committed adultery whereas I had remained sexually faithful to her.
The probing felt like a painful fishing expedition where officials in my former denomination asked invasive questions of me and requested affidavits from my therapists and other pastors who knew me in deciding whether or not my divorce was biblical. This all happened despite the fact that they held a letter from my ex-wife where she admitted to lying about her illicit relationship and being sexually unfaithful with this other specific other man while still married to me.
Their approach to divorce was and is–sadly–an all too common reflection of evangelical erroneous belief that something more than adultery causes a divorce, even when adultery was present at the end.
Instead of looking to the Scriptures, they allowed their own assumptions and prejudices informed by some bad psychology take precedence over what is clearly treated as the biblical reason why God sees marriages as ending.
Let me illustrate and draw out that principle regarding what God considers as a cause for divorce:
A) Before the sin of sexual immorality,
the marriage was treated as binding on both parties.
B) After this sin,
the faithful party is released, by Jesus Himself, to divorce (Mt. 19:9).
What makes the difference between the situation in point A and point B?
Answer: Adultery–i.e. sexual immorality–was in the picture for Point B, not Point A.
What unbinds the faithful partner from the marriage in Point B–i.e. causes just divorce, if acted upon?
Answer: The sexual unfaithfulness of a spouse makes the marriage acceptably over in Jesus’ eyes for the faithful partner.
Who bears responsibility for the sin of adultery?
Answer: The sinner alone who committed adultery (e.g. Mark 7:21-23).
Adultery or–more broadly–sexual immorality alone is treated as the sin that causes divorce or the breaking of the marriage covenant. Therefore, the party who commits adultery is thereby fully responsible for the divorce as this party is fully responsible for such sin.