“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
-Matthew 5:27-28, NIV
“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
-Matthew 19:9, NIV
***Disclaimer: This is NOT legal counsel but pastoral thoughts!***
A sticking point for many Christians over divorce following infidelity discovery is over whether or not it was a “physical” affair. A cheating partner might even admit to kissing or doing other such things just short–according to them–of having “sex.”
The distinction between an “emotional” versus a physical affair matters as many might strictly interpret Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:9 as giving permission to divorce only if a sexually immoral act had been committed.
The effect of this confusion puts the faithful spouse in limbo over whether or not they can obtain a biblically justified divorce based on the circumstances of the infidelity. “He claims that he didn’t have sex with her. So, does that make me an adulteress for divorcing him over his cheating?”
Setting aside the dubious assumption of adult romantic relationships stopping at dirty talking, I want to provide a simple test from a pastoral perspective to help those Christian faithful spouses stuck in this place of quandary.
Could what the cheating spouse did with the other person be considered a sexual assault if the other person had been an unwilling partner to it? (Click “sexual assault” for definition)
If the answer to this question is “Yes,” then one does not have “just” an emotional affair. It is a physical affair as far as its biblical immorality is concerned (i.e. this is not legal advice).
Physical sexualized actions–e.g. kissing, fondling, etc–have taken place with someone who is not one’s spouse. That is sexual immorality; ergo, it is biblically permissible grounds for divorce according to Jesus in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9.