A New Kind of Adultery

Yeshua's ruling on divorce and remarriage contains a twist that would have been quite unexpected to His listeners.

Artwork from the Torah Club Jesus, My Rabbi study, lesson "One Flesh". (Image and art © First Fruits of Zion)

Yeshua taught that a man who divorces his wife (without a legitimate reason) and marries another woman commits adultery against his first wife: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.” (Mark 10:11).

In what sense can a man be said to have committed adultery against his wife? The Torah allows for a man to have more than one wife. Men in the Bible who took concubines or multiple wives were not guilty of “committing adultery.” The Torah narrowly defines adultery as sexual relations with another man’s wife.

Men who strayed outside of wedlock were considered guilty of sexual immorality, but not adultery. A man who had relations with a married woman incurred the death penalty, but no death penalty was associated with a married man who broke faith with his wife to engage in a relationship with a single woman. The husband was free to marry his paramour as well, if he pleased, so long as he could provide for both wives.

Yeshua’s teaching on divorce and remarriage in Matthew 5:32 preserves this stricter Torah definition of adultery. The man who gives his wife an illegitimate divorce “makes her commit adultery” because her divorce is not legal, and if he marries an illegitimately divorced woman, he “commits adultery” with her. In that passage, the man is not said to commit adultery if he remarries a single woman.

In Mark 10:11 and Matthew 19:9, however, the man who gives his wife an illegitimate divorce and then “marries another woman commits adultery”; he “commits adultery against” his first wife. This implies that Rabbi Yeshua broadened the definition of adultery, making it equally applicable to men and women! In this radical and unparalleled innovation, Yeshua holds husbands up to the same standard of marital fidelity to which the Torah holds women. His ruling does not contradict the Torah’s definition of adultery; instead, it augments it based upon the monogamy/fidelity ruling He derived from Genesis:

“God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, 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. (Mark 10:6-9)

Based upon the Master’s redefinition of adultery, people today naturally consider a husband who commits an infidelity as an adulterer. In our Master’s day, however, this broader definition of adultery—a stunning legal twist—required a paradigm shift. In essence, Rabbi Yeshua redefined the rules of marriage. The same interpretation precludes bigamy. This ruling may be Yeshua’s most radical innovation in Jewish law. He leveled the marital playing field, placing husbands and wives on equal footing with mutual responsibility to one another.

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This year Torah Clubs are studying the Gospels from a Messianic Jewish perspective. Every week Club members encounter Yeshua of Nazareth in his Jewish context. Discover the historical and cultural backdrops of the gospels and be amazed as the teachings of Yeshua snap into focus and clarity. Unravel his difficult words and parables; study Jewish parallels to his teachings; and ultimately know Jesus better.

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