Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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The Exception to the Rule: Fornication

Let None Deal Treacherously
An examination of God’s Law (and the error of men) on the subject of Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage
(Article 2 of Series)

The Bible clearly states that marriage is a lifetime commitment. When a man marries a woman, they “become one flesh”, and Jesus said, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). Further, Paul wrote, “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” (Romans 7:2). Obviously, God considers marriage to be a lifetime commitment, the contract of marriage ending only at the death of a spouse.

Just as clearly as God revealed his law concerning marriage (one man, one woman, for a lifetime), he also revealed an exception to that law. In other words, there is one scriptural reason for an individual to divorce his or her mate. The rule and exception are clearly stated by Jesus in Matthew 19:9, “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (KJV). (exception in bold face). God clearly states that the sole grounds for divorce that will allow for a new marriage is fornication. There are many false doctrines that have been advocated in opposition to this truth. There are some difficult questions that arise due to individual circumstances that arise from time to time in marriages. However, the teaching of Jesus is so clear as to be self-evident. Individuals who divorce for any cause other than fornication have no right to remarry. To so do results in adultery.

It is equally evident that men do not always agree in their laws with God’s law. What is sometimes allowable in the eyes of men is not allowable by God. When this happens, some Christians will be influenced to evil, and refuse to recognize the sovereignty of God in determining acceptable behavior for his children. This is why the issue of Divorce and Remarriage is such a problem among God’s people today.

An example of the difference between God’s law and the laws of men can be seen in the legal grounds for divorce as established by Texas Law. (Though state laws differ, every state in the union allows some type of “no fault” divorce, and 15 states in the union use that exclusively. In effect, the only kind of divorce you can file for in those states is one that does not recognize any fault on the part of either petitioner. This points out the problem with individuals equating biblical “putting away” with the civil procedure. More on this in another article). Notice the following summary of divorce law in Texas, as it concerns lawful “grounds” for divorce:

Grounds for Divorce in Texas

In Texas there are two grounds for a no-fault divorce. (1) the marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities that has destroyed the legitimate ends of the marriage relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation; or (2) living separate and apart without cohabitation for 3 years. [Texas Codes Annotated; Family Code, Chapters 6.001 and 6.006].

The Texas approach to divorce is very liberal. Texas has adopted the concept of “insupportability” of “the legitimate ends of the marriage.” This is normally interpreted to mean one of the spouses can no longer live as man and wife with the other spouse, and, as such, is entitled to obtain a divorce.

Texas also has fault grounds for divorce- but these are rarely used: (1) adultery; (2) abandonment; (3) confinement for incurable insanity for 3 years; (4) conviction of a felony and imprisonment for over 1 year; and (5) cruel and inhuman treatment. [Texas Codes Annotated; Family Code, Chapters 6.001-6.008]. The Court can consider fault in dividing the community estate, and in deciding conservatorship and visitation provisions. (

So, while man says that there are five “grounds for divorce”, and even goes so far as to answer the question of the Pharisees in Matthew 19, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” by saying, “Yes,” God says there is only one just cause for divorce. As we ought to obey God rather than men, we must choose to respect His will in this area.

What is Fornication?

Many ask the question, what is fornication? Some define it too narrowly, some too broadly. Often this is done to justify false positions regarding divorce, and sometimes it is done to minimize the guilt of sin. Regardless, the Bible is clear in its use of the term, both in definition (the term), and context.

The term is the Greek porneia, and is simply defined as “illicit sexual intercourse.” When the word is used in the New Testament, it uniformly refers to such intercourse. (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1; 6:13,18; 7:2; Eph. 53: Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 4:3-4, among others). It is a general term inclusive of deviant behavior such as homosexuality and bestiality.

Some deny that variant sexual activity between partners can be included in the definition of fornication. This is silly, and has its genesis in our culture (cf. President Clinton’s sordid affair). Any physical liaison between two partners for the purpose of sexual gratification is fornication. Who they are, or the deviant means of obtaining that gratification is irrelevant.

Some would include the viewing of pornography and other lascivious acts as fornication. This too is incorrect. While lascivious and unclean behavior is sinful, it is not porneia, and not just cause for divorce. 2 Corinthians 12:21 shows that Paul differentiates between these sins. “…And I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced.” All three of these terms, though they refer to sexual sin and sexual activities, are different. Fornication has reference to physical sexual activity with another. To include other acts of lasciviousness is to go beyond the definition and contextual usage of the term.


God has determined the one exception to the rule of “one man, one woman, for a lifetime.” It is fornication. It is the sole exception, and God’s law must be respected.