Default To Divorce

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”  -John 8:3-5, NIV.

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This famous passage from the Gospel of John illustrates the severe consequences of committing adultery in Biblical times: It was a death sentence to the adulterer and adulteress.

In other words, the default was “divorce” by death.

In today’s “Buddy Jesus” and “Cheap Grace” world, this demand seems barbaric. We have departed so far from grasping the evil of adultery that we even turn on the faithful spouse in these cases. Faithful spouses are too often blamed for the adultery and told not to divorce the unrepentant adulterer/adulteress. This is far from the Biblical default in these cases.

Back to the John 8 story:

Notice that Jesus says absolutely nothing about this adulteress’ husband.


Jesus could have gone pop-psychology and defended her by saying: “Her faithful husband is partially blamed here as he did not love or lead her well enough, and therefore, she shouldn’t be stoned.”

He doesn’t do that.

Furthermore, he does not tell the adulteress to carry a message to her husband that he must not divorce her.

Jesus tells her: “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11b, NIV).

As I stated before, the default in Biblical times was the death penalty for adultery (Deut. 22:22). Jesus abrogates this offering mercy to this woman by granting her life. But be clear: she deserved death. Jesus does not dispute that. And he does not minimize what she did. He still tells her to leave her sinful life.

While I am glad we no longer kill people for adultery, I do think we need to remember God called for the death penalty in these cases (Deut. 22:22). It is a mercy that adulterers and adulteresses are granted their lives. That is actually more than they deserve. Jesus himself did not dispute that.

In addition, a discussion about divorce or reconciliation is moot under the Law dictating an adulterer’s or adulteress’ death. You do not reconcile with a dead man or dead woman. The relationship is over.

If a faithful spouse chooses to attempt reconciliation with a remorseful cheater, we ought to treat it as it is–i.e. an undeserved action of incredible mercy and grace. It is not a moral imperative. To even explore this option is more than the cheater deserves.

The default is divorce.

Anything other than that is grace.

Ought we to aim at grace?


But not cheap grace. Repentance from the adulterous ways is called for.

As Jesus said to the adulteress–and so ought His faithful followers–“Go and leave your life of sin.”