Tough Passages #2: The Adultery of Divorce (Luke 16:18)

Tough Passages #2: The Adultery of Divorce (Luke 16:18)

In “Tough Passages,” we’re looking at the difficult verses in the Bible that are often brought up by secular people as reasons the Bible doesn’t make sense, and discovering how they actually reveal the character, love, and glory of God in a beautiful way.  Last month, we looked at Leviticus 19:17-18 and “Love your neighbor;” for February, we’re taking a hard look at Luke 16:18.

The Verse

Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

Luke 16:18, ESV

The Secular Response

According to this passage, all members of the congregation that have been divorced and/or remarried would be sinners and should be kicked out of the church. With a 50%* divorce rate in America, it’s safe to say that people are selectively ignoring this rule, yet somehow still seeing themselves as “pious.”

Ivana Wynn,

Our Reply

On one level this is a very simple passage.  It’s short, direct, and to the point.  There are no parables or metaphors.  And it’s even spoken by Jesus, so you can’t dismiss it as some rogue interpretation of one of the Apostles.

But its context is kind of confusing.  Jesus has just rebuked the Pharisees about their love of money, and he’s about to tell a parable about the torment of a rich man who ignored a poor man’s need.  Nothing else in the passage seems to suggest the topic of marriage and divorce.  We need more help here, and Luke doesn’t offer it.

Matthew does, however.  In the parallel passage in Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew recounts a longer version of the conversation that Luke truncates.  In it, Jesus is telling a crowd what it means to be a child of God: the Beatitudes begin the chapter (“Blessed are those…”), and He continues by entreating them to be set apart and holy, in some fairly extreme ways: a child of God doesn’t get angry, because anger is the heart equivalent of murder.  A child of God doesn’t lust after someone, because lust is the heart equivalent of cheating on your wife.  A child of God is true to their word.  A child of God loves even their enemies.  And amid these things, he says that a child of God doesn’t get a divorce.

But in verse 48, Jesus sums up his entire sermon when he drops a massive command: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Does Jesus really expect us to be perfect?  Yes (I’ll get to that in a second), but it’s more than that.  Throughout this chapter, Jesus isn’t just telling the people what a child of God looks like, He’s also telling them what God looks like.  He’s telling them that a child of God should act like God; in the same way parents rebuke a child by telling them “we don’t do that sort of thing in this family,” Jesus here is telling His people what God’s family values are.  We don’t fly off the handle in this family.  We don’t lust or hate or lie in this family.  And we don’t get divorced in this family.

Ephesians 5:32 reminds us that human marriages are intended to be a reflection of God’s love for His people, as first described in Ezekiel 16 – a very graphic passage about God seeing a broken, defeated people, loving them deeply and restoring their fortunes, and remaining faithful to them despite their betrayal and unfaithfulness.  God hates human divorce because He wants our marriages be reflections of that perfect love.

But we can’t be perfect.  We’re humans, a word which is practically synonymous with falling short.  The phrase “I’m only human” literally means “I’m imperfect.”  And that’s why, just as quickly as Jesus commanded us to be perfect, He died on the cross to cleanse us of our imperfections and make us perfect in the future.

(Incidentally, that’s why we don’t kick sinners out of the church.  Piety and church attendance is another thing that secular and Christian people alike get wrong a lot, and we’ll deal with that a little bit more in “Appendix A” this Friday.)

So where does this leave the divorcee?

Well, to be sure, God doesn’t want you to get a divorce.  If your marriage is in trouble, please try everything you can before resorting to divorce.

But if you’ve been divorced, please rest assured:  Christ died for all of your sins, even your divorce.  And He welcomes you to the church with open, waiting, hopeful, joyful arms.

• • •

Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture!  Next month in Tough Passages, we’re going to look at lust through Matthew 5:28.  In the meantime, there will be lots of great content coming out every week!

Want to write for Redeeming Culture? We would love to have you!

• • •

*Statistics are difficult.  The 50% stat Ivana quotes in her listicle is misleading; the actual statistic is that approximately twice as many marriages happen every year as divorces.  This number is skewed badly by second and third marriages, doesn’t take remarriage into account, and is an extrapolation based on survey data, not a hard data point.  The idea that 50% of people will go through a divorce in their lives is certainly no longer true, and may never have been in the first place.


You addressed the sin of divorce, but you didn’t address the remarriage adulteries. A single sinful act may be forgiven, but how can one repent if living in a lifestyle of sin? How can one repent and remain married to a second wife if Christ calls it adultury? The blood can only save you if you truly repent. Correct? Is it necessary, as the bible reads, that you remain single or be reconciled to your first wife? I mean it’s reiterated multiple times: Matthew 5:32,Mark 10:12,Luke 16:18,1 Corinthians 7:10.

Charles, when building our teaching (doctrine), we have to look at every scripture that would pertain to the subject at hand. In this case it is divorce and remarriage.

There are some cases when the divorce is justified as in Matt 5:32. This passage says that in the case of fornication the divorce is justified. This scripture along with 1 Cor 7:15, shows that in certain cases divorce and a subsequent remarriage may not always be a continuing sin issue. I would argue that most marriages that wind up in divorce have at least one of these two issues at play. This would definitely allow for remarriage for at least one of the partners if they were a faithful believing spouse.

We must understand that it’s not quite as easy to say that everyone who is divorced and remarried is living in adultery. AND in most cases unless we are the responsible minister of the couple, then we probably don’t know or even need to know the details of most marriage problems. I like to think of it like this; since God has not made me the divorce police and if I am not the minister presiding over a marriage problem then God will not hold me accountable nor responsible as long as it is not MY marriage.

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