The “Escape Clause”

We’ve had people ask us about Matthew 5:32 & 19:9:

Matthew 5:32 (NKJV) “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

Matthew 19:9 (NKJV) “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

First, do these verses allow for divorce in the case of adultery? And can the “innocent spouse” then remarry?

Ok. There’s a lot to discuss here. These two verses, at first, appear to mean that if my spouse commits adultery, I have the freedom to divorce him. I thought this at first too, until the Lord forced me to delve deeper.

First, look at verse 5:28. Jesus literally just got done saying any man that looked at a woman lustfully has committed adultery. Um, if we applied adultery as the exception clause in verse 32, then every woman has the freedom to divorce her husband! So, that’s a no.

Second, look at the Greek word Jesus uses here for sexual immorality. It’s porneia, as in fornication, not the word for adultery. The Jews would understand this because Jesus is referencing the Jewish custom of the bretrothal period. This period recognizes a brethrothed couple as husband and wife prior to consummation and ceremony because a ketubah covenant has been established. It was during this time, if a “spouse” was found unfaithful, you had the right to “divorce” them. This explains why Joseph had the right to “divorce” Mary when he discovered she was pregnant prior to their marriage (Matthew 1:19).

Third, there is no escape clause except death because of what marriage represents: the covenant between God and Israel and Christ and the church. The Jews were highly unfaithful, yet God would not leave her. Look at Hosea. He was used as this very example. His wife prostituted herself, yet was told to go get her back! That’s God’s way…that’s covenant. This is why I also believe Jesus continues on right after in verse 5:33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ It seems as if Jesus is moving on to another topic, but He’s not. He’s confirming that when we marry, it is a covenant, an oath to God for life.

Finally, there’s the issue of forgiveness. You cannot say I forgive your infidelity, but I’m going to divorce you anyway. Divorce is unforgiveness. And how can we expect God to forgive us of our sins when we cannot forgive the one person we are to love most? Matthew 6:15 (NKJV) “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

No one should pull one verse of scripture out of context from what’s being said before and after it. Nor, can anyone interpret scripture without incorporating the totality of scripture and the nature of God. Satan used scripture, but pulled it away from God’s design by twisting it’s truth. Let us not be found guilty of this very same thing. There are many scriptures that make this very clear, and I encourage all to delve deeper into these as well:

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 (NKJV) Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.

Mark 10:9 (NKJV) “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Romans 7:2-3 (NKJV) For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.

Because of all these reasons and passages from God’s Word, we believe divorce is not allowed in any case, and if you find yourself divorced against your will, then you MUST NOT remarry.

I also recommend John Piper’s sermons on divorce and remarriage:


  1. This question comes up so often and your article is so clear and concise, backed by scripture. Thank you for how you have walked us through. I’m sure I will refer others to this. Many marriages have sadly fallen apart because of misguided counsel, and so many stuck in the rut of unforgiveness, holding onto, “I had a right”. This leads us to the verses about remarriage, (as many want to do after divorce). When my own divorce was filed in the courts, I was reading the vs. in 1Corinthians 7:11 ….but even if she does depart let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband., along with the verses you’ve mentioned about the divorced person remarrying and this being adultery. It was hard to read these verses back then, because my options were not what I thought they would be, but above all, I did not want to violate God’s Word and intentionally sin against Him… I began to Stand for my marriage. During the time I prayed for my marriage to be restored and healed, God grew my faith and sustained me by His love. It was not easy, probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever walked through, but it is God’s desire for us to be obedient. There were countless times I received confirmation or a blessing from my Lord that this was what I was to be doing, unlike the constant confusion when I was moving toward divorce. It truly is God’s will for marriages to last a lifetime, His Word is clear. We have been back together seven years at this writing. My children have an intact family, and a legacy of marriage and not divorce. Praise God! The later days have truly been greater than the former days! A verse God gave me long ago.
    Praying for God’s holy institution of marriage.

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