The Immorality Exception

The Immorality Exception

Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.
–Matthew 19:9

How does a proper understanding of grace relate to divorce and remarriage? Good grace recognizes that divorce and remarriage are permissible in two situations. The first situation is adultery. In Matthew 19, the Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus. So they asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” (v. 3). Why was this a trick question? Well, there was a popular rabbi of the day named Shammai who taught there could be no divorce for any reason whatsoever. However, there was another religious leader, Hillel, who said you could divorce your wife for any reason. Don’t like her hairstyle? Get rid of her. So the Pharisees were asking, “Which camp do You fall into, Jesus–no divorce at all, or divorce for any reason?” Whatever He answered, He was guaranteed to offend half His audience.

But notice how Jesus responded in verse 4: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female?” He did not say, “God made them males and females.” He made one man, one woman. There were no spares in the garden of Eden. If things did not work out with Eve, then Adam was out of luck.

Jesus continued in verses 5-6, “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh[.]’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” That is God’s plan: one man with one woman in a lifetime commitment called marriage.

So the Pharisees asked, in essence, “What about the Old Testament Law? There were some allowances for divorce in that.” Jesus said in verse 9, “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Jesus said there is one exception, and it is immorality.

Some people say “immorality” refers to an immoral marriage, such as an incestuous or homosexual marriage. But those marriages were forbidden in the Old Testament anyway–they would not be legitimate to begin with. No, immorality refers to adultery. If your mate commits adultery, you are not commanded to get divorced, but you are allowed to get divorced and then remarried. Jesus said there is one exception to the no divorce rule, and that is in case of adultery.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Good-Grace Marriages” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2020.

Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.