Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Is Divorce a Bigger Sin Than Adultery?

Statement 1: Adultery is a tragic betrayal of trust and an evil violence done to a marriage covenant. There is never an excuse for it and that sin alone is enough to send a person to hell for all eternity without a Savior to cover for it.

Statement 2: Divorce is a tragic betrayal of trust and an evil violence done to a marriage covenant. There is never an excuse for it and that sin alone is enough to send a person to hell for all eternity without a Savior to cover for it.

I think it's safe to assume most Christians would whole-heartedly agree with Statement 1 as written. Statement 2, on the other hand, would be less supported as written. I think the part that would draw fire is calling divorce a sin and saying there is never an excuse for it. There are Christians who think there are all kinds of excuses for divorce. There are other Christians who think divorce is a sin except for the when a spouse commits adultery. Adultery is the only excuse for divorce. There are also Christians who think divorce is always a sin, and adultery isn't a get out of marriage free card.

While discussing the posts found here, here and here; the question was asked, "Is the one choosing the divorce committing a bigger sin than the one committing the adultery? Shouldn't they receive the same grace?"

I've thought long and hard about that question and hope this response is helpful because I know there are many who wonder the same thing as the person who asked it. So here goes. There is a subtle danger at the bottom of that question. The question assumes divorce is not the best choice, but the necessary choice in order to punish the adulterer and get revenge. "You slept around and hurt me very deeply. So I'm going to divorce you and hurt you back." "You slept around and broke my trust. So I'm going to divorce you and make you lay in the bed you've made." "You slept around and really I'm glad because I've been dying for an excuse to get out of this marriage and still look like the good guy." Of course no one says the last one, but I guarantee you based on things I've personally heard, people think this way. That's the point I took away from the original posts we're discussing.

When one spouse commits adultery, it often ends up showing just how little both spouses care for the covenant they've made for "better or worse till death do us part." Think of it this way. Tom commits adultery. He obviously has little respect for the covenant he made with his wife and little fear of God. When Tom's wife, Jerry, finds out about the affair, she wants a divorce. She also has little respect for the covenant she made with her husband and little fear of God. Otherwise she would do everything she possibly could to keep that covenant intact. Instead, she's just as quick to search for a way out as Tom. Tom grew weary with keeping his covenant and decided to commit adultery. He'll probably give some lame excuse about not getting any or not feeling loved or feeling too much pressure or maybe he'll just fess up to being evil. Jerry has also grown weary of keeping her covenant and has decided to get a divorce. She's giving some lame excuse about not having a faithful husband. When both are so quick to give up the union that GOD joined together, it seems that Tom just beat Jerry to the punch, but neither are all that concerned about God's union. They're both concerned about their own personal glory.

So is the one who gets a divorce committing a bigger sin than the one who commits adultery? Why don't we let God decide on judgment day? Should they receive the same grace? Absolutely. But here's the practical problem this question poses. If Tom or Jerry has an affair, he or she can repent of that and work toward restoration, all the while remaining married. If Tom or Jerry gets a divorce, repentance would mean going back to the marriage covenant they broke. Repentance would not mean, "Oh I guess I shouldn't have gotten divorced, but no use crying over spilled milk. I might as well find a new wife and live happily ever after... or at least until the next affair."

In my experience, spouses who get divorced because of an affair don't think they need to repent of ending the marriage. They think of themselves as victims of their evil adulterous spouse who already ended the marriage with the adultery. But why is adultery the marriage-ending sin? Would someone actually argue that adultery is more damaging to the marriage than perpetual nagging or perpetual harshness or perpetual denial of intimacy? Really? I have a feeling the reason adultery is the one get out of marriage free card is because of a couple of statements that Jesus made. The question is this: If it is determined that Jesus didn't mean for his statements to be a get out of marriage free card when a spouse commits adultery, would the entire face of Christian marriage and divorce drastically change? I fear it would not. I don't think Christians get divorced because they're trying to faithfully live out a text of Scripture (divorce is never commanded). Christians get divorced for the same reason everyone gets divorced. They have hard hearts. Is the same grace necessary? Oh yeah.


Antonio Romano said...

Such are the reasons we agree with Jesus that to follow him is death to self. Excellent response, Darby. Thank you so much for holding to Truth.

Christian living is harder than any other kind. There is no soothing the stain within through moralistic legalism (in true Gospel-centered Christianity)as in every other religion, nor is there any time when we can defer to our desires over Christ's.

We all require more grace than we think we do. We are much worse off than we think we are. Praise God for the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Antonio Romano said...

And, if I pastored a church, I would have you come and do a seminar, by the way.

JanAl said...

Good post......

danny2 said...

well written darby.

thank you for your kind words about my posts.

did you get my email?

Amy said...

Thank you for answering the question.It was a good response.
I think that we need to remind ourselves to show grace even to the one who is choosing the divorce.

Nan said...


Okay...I gotta be the one to throw a monkey wench in the works...

I have an added question, to which I already know the answer...

Darby, you mentioned the perpetual nagger, "perpetual" being the operative word hre. You compared adultery with a "perpetual" other sin. What about the "perpetual" adulterer? One who is doing it nonstop? Girfriends calling all hours of the night? Coming home with STDs...This stuff happens!

I'm thinking of the verse "seventy times seven", and the vows, "for better or worse" & "in sickness and in health"

but I might be inclined to show more understanding toward the wife who has trouble bearing up under that type of treatment.

I expect a backlash from everyone! lol


Anonymous said...

I also thought of that nan. I realize that we have offended a Holy Perfect God more than an adulterer could ever offend us, but do we have freedom to get a divorce in the midst of the adulters who never repent, and do not appear like they ever will.

DL said...

Tough questions Nan and Anon. Without having thought about it sufficiently to answer responsibly, let me answer your question with some questions:

1. Is the Christian free to perpetually forgive - as in free from the selfishness that would hinder it?

2. Was a slave in Ephesus free to not obey his unjust master?

3. Was Matthew free to not give up his tax-collector booth and follow Jesus?

4. Is a man dying of cancer free to grumble against God because of his suffering?

JanAl said...

Some thoughts,
and maybe I shouldn't,
based on the fact that I should research first.
But, I am not sure that we can compare nagging, a wife not giving more sex, or a husband who is harsh, to an adulteress act. If we are looking at all the sins the same, then why are more wives/husbands not brought before the elders for church discipline. Maybe I am not aware of the verses that say nagging or harshness, defiles the marriage, or is considered immorality.
Again, maybe I should be looking this up, but all the verses that come to my mind about immorality, seem to be dealing with sexual sin.

Just so ya know, I totally agree with Darby and Danny, that a spouse should show forgiveness, and that divorce should be avoided, but I can not help but have compassion for a spouse that has to endure the other spouse that wants to continue in adulterous acts. There are many more consequences to physical adultery.

John Piper made a comment about "wimpy Christians", but I can not help but think we have
"wimpy leaders" in our homes.
(I am not wanting to be disrespectful to some really great men that I know),
but men can appear to have each others back, because their own shame and guilt prevents them from keeping each other accountable, and as a woman, it appears that men like their sin, and are not willing to give it up.

(1 Thess.4:3)
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;

Nan said...

Hi again!

I think that women can understand where a woman is coming from, and that men think more alike as well, and that's why it appears that men have each other's back. I don't know if all women agree with her, but I can definitely see JanAl's point! I don't think she's looking at it from a "get even" stand point or that the sin of adultery is far too "severe" to get beyond. I too, see it as one of the more serious affronts. I have been giving very much thouht to this issue since Darby's post, because of all the MANY ways spouses break their marriage covenant, this one seems to be the hardest to get past/forgive. But, I also believe there are varying factors making that so. I don't think there is a cookie cutter answer to it! And though its been a long, long time since I've counseled anyone through anything, this issue could come up, and I've given less thought to correct counsel on this than any other issue! Hence, I'm now studying Scripture more intensely, cross-referencing, and looking at the many scenarios that accompany the topic of divorce.
I am probably going to write my own blog on it, and use it for a future women's retreat conference!

Thanks Danny, for causing so much trouble and opening up this can of worms! Just kidding....in fact, I consider this a very necessary can of worms to be opened!


JanAl said...

In total agreement with your first sentence Nancy. I too, think it is more important to give the truth, if counseling someone. I think it would be GREAT to hear a women address this issue, to other women. I think that women are more receptive to another woman's teaching, I also think that a man is more receptive to another man.

Nan said...

Hi again!



DL said...

"I totally agree with Darby and Danny, that a spouse should show forgiveness, and that divorce should be avoided, but I can not help but have compassion for a spouse that has to endure the other spouse that wants to continue in adulterous acts."

I think all would agree we should have compassion on a spouse that has to endure adulterous acts. I also have compassion for the various men I've known who've endured months without intimacy without a good reason for their wives. I also feel compassion for the various women I've known who've endured years of harshness and belittlement at the hands of their obnoxious husbands.

But feeling compassion for someone and suggesting that divorce is a viable option for them are two entirely different things.

DL said...

"John Piper made a comment about "wimpy Christians", but I can not help but think we have
"wimpy leaders" in our homes."

I agree 100% with your statement. It is a product of forty years of feminism.

JanAl said...

It is "one" of the product(s) of forty years of feminism.
But I would not blame it all on feminism. I would love to see men come out of their "secrets", and not live in shame and guilt, so that they can be the leaders that we need.

And I am not saying that I would recommend a divorce, but I would have understanding of how a spouse would not be able to stay with someone who is continually defiling the marriage bed.

JanAl said...


You weren't suppose to say that!


the voice said...

IN THE BIBLE GOD LEAVES ROOM FOR DIVORCE OR SEPARATION . . .but NEVER remarriage. . .i have experienced both adultery and separation w/ parents and both are painful beyond words. . .but when we stand before God on judgment day its gonna be me...just me...not my spouse or family standing by my side...just me..and God..and GOD..well..hes gonna look at me and what i did..how i acted..how i lived..how i loved..not based on my husband..not based on his side or his actions..just on ME..and im gonna look into GODS face ALONE with a truly PURE heart..not by my parents or churches or friends standards..not by the fluffy cuddly daddy this world has made our GOD OF THE UNIVERSE up to be standards...but by the BINDING PURE LAW OF THE BIBLE...Gods 90% law in Bible and 10% Grace...were dealing with the SAME GOD AS MOSES..Grace is not about habitual or continual sinners..thats not even biblical..Grace is cause were not perfect..but our God is and He demands justice. ....sry got carried away........

JanAl said...

"Gods 90% law in Bible and 10% Grace...were dealing with the SAME GOD AS MOSES..Grace is not about habitual or continual sinners"

I am not sure if I am understanding this?
To me, it is ALL about Grace. God never changes, so I understand that we are dealing with the same God as Moses, but without Christ's sacrifice, I would have No hope, because I can not even keep one law.

Anonymous said...

Being a divorces woman some would think this title would bother me.
It does not.
I spent many (26) years with an abusive and cheating spouse.
I concidered divorce many,many times. Each time MY marage vowes came back to me. I promised
" till death do us part ". As much as it pained me to know my spouses' vows ment very little to him I stood on them. At times I shoved them down him. I made sure he knew just how wrong he was.
It was until I was shown by my true father God how much of a
( put whatever you wish in here)I was and had been for years. I was such a GOOD person because I never, well almost never, you know only sometime, when he did it cheated.
As I stated at the begining I am divorced. When I found out about the latest other woman I prayed for guidence. I went to my spouse and ask how he wanted to resolve this issue. He had decide he wanted to be with her and her kids because they "needed" him and I did not. He decided to divorce me. Not my first choice, but I had very little to say in it. A few years late I" became " a christian. I must admit when I was first divorce I was bitter towards my spouse. Now I have compassion and a desire for him to know christ as I know him.

I know that both adultery and divorce bring on many of the same fealings. I have a right, I am angry, I desire, I have a need. there is a pattern here. Those who have little or no problem with adultery or divorce have an "I" problem.

When I stand before God on my judgment day what my spouse did is not going to be an issue for me. What I did and continue to do will be.

DL said...

Well said, Sharon E.

Nan said...

Hi Sharon E!

Thanks for the comments!


Jess said...

Interesting...I see where you are coming from and if it wasn't for my husband being so loving and forgiving, I might not be married today. I would have to say that if your spouse cheats on you and is truly sorry for his/her actions, you should forgive and move on and try to not bring it up. Of course I have God above all to thank for keeping my marriage together, but I also have other people that were quite helpful. When my husband and I had a really bad rough spot(a long time ago) we got counselling and even though what had went on was something that we could have divorced for easily, we didn't. The blame (which in my mind was all on me) wasn't discussed in that way at all. The counselling we received was very loving and biblical and forgiveness was the biggest thing I believe we talked about. Through counselling, we moved on and forgave each other for ALL of the things we had done to each other, not just the MAJOR sin I had committed against my husband and above all God. Thanks for loving us enough to counsel us Nan, you and Dennis both, THANK YOU.

johnnyk said...

If the only true repentance for divorce is to remarry, what about people who were married and divorced before becoming a Christian?

Jess, forgiveness is nice to receive

Antonio Romano said...

Hey man I keep trying to call you but can't get through on either of your lines. Just FYI.

johnnyk said...

Hey Antonio if you are talking to me call 937-526-5208

JanAl said...

Just wanted to make it to 27 (comments), lol!

I did not know there was more! lol!

Nan said...


Wow, what a popular place to post!

Jess, thanks for the kind words! I was NOT exepecting you were even referring to me!

Isn't it amazing, how much it endears us to the forgiver, when we are the recipients of such forgiveness? That's how I feel when I consider all that Christ has forgiven me for! And believe me, it's a lot!!!


Chris Ryan said...


If Jesus says that a Christian can divorce for the reason of unfaithfulness in marriage, then maybe He means that. You shouldn't argue with what is a perfectly clear and straight-forwards verse because you want it to say something else...

That doesn't sound at all familiar does it?

That said, I respect the spirit of your post and the advocation that a marriage should not be so easily given up on.

DL said...


Thanks for stopping by. It's difficult for me to not do exactly what you suggest, which is why I've not completely sold out to such a reading as no divorce/no remarriage. I'm just exploring the potential of that position based on the text in question in light of other texts. That's why I wrote this: "The question is this: If it is determined that Jesus didn't mean for his statements to be a get out of marriage free card when a spouse commits adultery, would the entire face of Christian marriage and divorce drastically change?" I'm not arguing for a particular reading in this post. I'm pointing out what you agree with - that marriage should not be so easily given up on. Again, thanks for stopping by.

Dr. James Willingham said...

I guess Davd must hav died and gone to hell. After all, he committed adultery and murder. And then there is Rahab the Harlot. Surely we can't count on anyone being in Heaven who lived that lifestyle at all. Also PAUL SEEM TO ALLOW FOR DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE IN I CORS.7 for a believer and an unbeliever. Also he said in I Cors. 6 something about those folks having been such immoral and perverted people and that was what they had been. Could there really be any real hope of any one with a second marriage making it to heaven at all?

DL said...


I'm lost as to the point you're trying to make. Sorry. Perhaps you should interact with something specifically posted or commented.

Anonymous said...

Dr. James Willingham- The last time I checked GOD was in control, not you and your opinion on who goes to heaven and who doesn't. I feel it's very rude and inaccurate for you to say that someone who is in their second marriage will not make it to heaven. I know people who have gotten a divorce and soon after accepted Christ and are new creations now. In all your comment, you failed to bring up how Christ died for our sins. If we were all perfect and never sinned, we wouldn't need a savior. Keep that in mind.

JanAl said...

hmmm....maybe I should click on the email follow ups!

Interesting new comments!!!
I did not even know there was more!

Ditto, the last comment, God is in CONTROL, He alone sits on the throne, and in Christ, there is FORGIVENESS!

Anonymous said...

In the Old Testament there were no grounds for divorce, why? Because as God intended by His laws an adulters punishment was death, why? This punishment was in understanding of man and the significant damage done to a marriage by the act of adultery. The innocent, or surviving spouse was then freed from the unclean sin and the breaking of this covenant. In the New Testament divorce was allowed for the act of sexual immorality, why? This was to allow the unoffending spouse the same freedom if they could not bear the torment of the immorality. Jesus did not say divorce for nagging, or abborant behaviors, but for the unclean act of adultery. Marriage and it's covenant is for life, till death due us part. Obviously God's intent was for this to be forever but in His just judgement, His law would never have needed the act of divorce. As man broke God's law and stopped carrying out his commands of death, through his mercy he allowed divorce to protect the unoffending spouse. It was not meant to be an immediate response but to be an escape if all efforts to save the marriage fail. How long is long enough to save a marriage, to try? This will be different in all cases I am sure, but after sufficient time and efforts are expended and intimacy cannot be restored it IS God's answer for recourse.

I would like to ask all of you providing comments how many of you have suffered on the receiving end of adultery. I have. It is absolutely the most horrific thing that can happen in your life. To have the one you love and trust the most throw you away like garbage for an intimate interlude of animal behavior with another. It is defiling, degrading and humiliating to say the least. It makes you feel worthless. I have been working through lies and broken promises for almost 2 years with my wife and am still trying. I do not take the thoughts of divorce lightly but I assure you it is Biblical and although I hope to not ever be there it is an option for me, given by God.