Drawing Near to the Lord

"No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught of God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me" (John 6:44-45)

Location: Charlotttesville, Virginia, United States

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Is Pornography Grounds for Divorce?

By Mark Larson

Pornography can cause major destruction to a marriage. The temptation to cheat on one’s spouse becomes ever stronger for those who partake of it (The use of online porn is involved in two-thirds of all divorces!). Yet, even when pornography does not lead to extra-martial affairs, the effects of porn can be quite devastating emotionally, financially, and spiritually to the marriage and family.

Understandably, when a man or woman (usually the woman) to her horror, discovers that her spouse has been partaking of pornography, she experiences a tremendous amount of emotional distress. She feels shocked, hurt, rejected, angry, and betrayed. Feelings of inadequacy arise and the confidence and security in the marriage is replaced with fears and doubts. Pornography use not only takes a major toll in a marriage, it can also bring much harm and anguish to the children, influencing them toward moral corruption.

It is for these reasons why more and more brethren are viewing pornography as scriptural grounds for a divorce, otherwise referred to as “Mental Adultery.” This doctrine asserts that when one’s spouse lusts after another, has thoughts of adultery, he or she may then put away his mate for “unfaithfulness” or “fornication” (Mat. 19:9). The proof that is offered for this position is Matthew 5:28. While we can all concede to the fact that “adultery in the heart” (i.e., thoughts of adultery) is no “small” sin to make light of, is it in truth a lawful cause for divorce?

The Context of Matthew 5:28

“You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt 5:27-28, NASB).

A major theme in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 5-7), evident throughout His preaching, is the importance of paying attention to the heart. At the time of Christ, religious leaders were notorious for giving too much emphasis to the externals or outward appearances to the neglect of the inward thoughts of the mind or heart. Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for such hypocrisy (Mat. 23:25-28). Concerning the sin of adultery, many were convinced that as long as a person did not commit the actual, physical act, that he or she remained right before God (Mat. 5:27). Jesus shattered such an erroneous misconception through His teaching (See Mat. 5:28 above). Clearly, adultery (or fornication) starts in the heart where sin is first committed: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23). Those who think such evil thoughts are already unclean or offensive to God and must seek His forgiveness (e.g., Acts 8:22).

Is Mental Adultery Equal to Physical Adultery in Every Way?

By Jesus’ own words, “mental adultery” is equally sinful before God as actual, physical adultery: “... everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Mat. 5:28). Jesus goes on to warn us of the Eternal consequences of lusting (Mat. 5:29-30). Thus, either mental or physical adultery can condemn our souls to Hell if not repented of (Heb. 10:26-27). We are no better off in the sight of God when we commit sin in the heart than when we physically commit the sin.

Unmistakably, there is a sense of “equality” between the two. Does it, therefore, follow that if a person catches his or her spouse lusting after another person (e.g., flirting) or viewing pornography that he or she has grounds for divorce? After all, adultery is a form of fornication and fornication is the cause that Jesus allows for a person to put his or her spouse away (divorce) (Mat. 5:32; 19:9).

“Adultery in the Heart” Is Figurative, not Literal Adultery.

Immediately following Jesus’ warning against adultery in the heart (Mat. 5:28), Jesus explains just how seriously we should fight against it: "And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. "And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Mat. 5:29-30). In both passages, Jesus uses figurative language to get His point across more vividly. In verses 29-30, hyperboles are used. A hyperbole is an “obvious and intentional exaggeration; an extravagant statement or figure of speech, not intended to be taken literally, as in “to wait an eternity” (From dictionary.com). Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation. If we pluck out the right eye, we still have the left one that remains and even a blinded man may exercise his imagination and lust in his heart. Instead, what Jesus is teaching us, through figurative language, is that we must make whatever sacrifices which are necessary in order to resist sin, no matter what the price (e.g., TV, Internet, certain friends, career, etc.).

The “adultery in the heart” of Matthew 5:28 is no more literal than Jesus’ discourse of plucking out the eye or cutting off the hand that causes a person to stumble! Adultery (moicheuo), by definition, is unlawful sexual intercourse, specifically with another person’s spouse (See Thayer & Vine definitions). “Adultery in the heart” does not involve the physical act of adultery, for it takes place in the heart, not the body. The adultery committed in Matthew 5:28 is figurative, not real or physical, yet nevertheless a sin, an offense to God.

Both Are Sins, Yet Have Different Consequences.

Whether adultery is committed in the heart only (Mat. 5:28) or with the body also (Rom. 13:9), sin has been committed. However, each type of sin does not result in the same exact consequences. While both kinds of sin can condemn a person eternally, there are significant differences in the consequences or results that each one brings.

Mental adultery makes one morally unclean before God (Mark 7:21), yet it is not a sin against the body like physical adultery is: “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18). Moreover, adultery in the heart is a private or individual act that does not require the joint participation of another person and his or her body like actual adultery does: “Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her? For He says, "The two will become one flesh” (1 Cor 6:16). Adultery in the heart simply does not result in the same kind of consequences (e.g., unholy sexual relations, pregnancy, disease, etc.). Of course, adultery in the heart can eventually lead to acting on those thoughts (James 1:14-15), but this is not always the case.

One of the possible consequences for committing adultery (not mental adultery) is to be put away (divorced) by your spouse for fornication and thereafter have no right to remarry another (Mat. 5:32; 19:9). When Jesus taught that fornication is the only just cause for divorce, He used the word literally, not figuratively. A person cannot lawfully (scripturally) put away his mate for viewing pornography any more than an angry person can rightfully be put to death for his temper by the state! (Mat. 5:21-22; cf. Rom. 13:1-5). Pornography and wrath, for example, are both wrong (Gal. 5:19-21), yet they do not lead to the same exact consequences as actual adultery or murder does. Both can condemn our souls to Hell (if we fail to repent), yet each has different consequences for us while on earth.

“Unfaithfulness” Does not Always Mean Actual Adultery.

Commonly, we try to be discreet when speaking of the problem of adultery by saying: “He was unfaithful to his wife.” Yet, when we do so, we are not being specific as to the nature of the unfaithfulness. This leads to generalizations and misunderstandings. Furthermore, this gives the impression that any type of “unfaithfulness” (as defined by us, not God) is grounds for divorce, when in fact Jesus specifically taught that there is only one kind of unfaithfulness which is just cause for divorce – the cause of fornication (Mat. 5:32; 19).

In the Old Testament (in the NASB), to commit physical adultery is to be “unfaithful” to one’s spouse (Num. 5:12, 27). However, unfaithfulness is not restricted to such a narrow definition in the Scriptures. A case and point is the idolatrous behavior of the Israelites. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God declared to them: “... they have committed adultery with their idols...” (Ezek 23:37). Their idolatry was unfaithfulness to God (Ezek. 20:27-28). By failing to put God first and obey Him (e.g., put away idols), they were unfaithful.

Similarly, whenever a husband or wife displaces his or her loyalty and is no longer committed to the marriage, then it can rightly be said that he or she is being “unfaithful.” Failure to love (Eph. 5:25; Titus 2:4) and the shunning of martial responsibilities (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:3-5; Eph. 5:22-31; 1 Tim. 5:8, 14) is a demonstration of unfaithfulness. Certainly, “adultery of the heart” such as flirting with others or the partaking of pornography would be acts of unfaithfulness (Mat. 5:28). However, such does not constitute grounds for divorce. Only the cause of fornication does (Mat. 5:32; 19:9).

Physical Adultery Is Definitive, Mental Adultery is not.

If mental adultery is allowed to stand as a “just and lawful” cause for divorce, by what standard will it be decided that “mental adultery” has been committed? How will a person know, for certain, that he or she has a right to put away his or her spouse?

“Mental Adultery” as a Cause for Divorce Is Too Subjective: Suppose you catch your spouse looking at a pornographic web site or magazine just one time, would you then feel justified to put him away? No? How about twice, maybe three times, or four? Suppose you catch him or her flirting with another, will you then file for divorce? Maybe him watching a sensual TV show or browsing a women’s lingerie catalog will be enough to provide just cause. Such examples demonstrate that mental adultery as a cause for divorce is left up to the whim and opinion of the individual, rather than the authority of Scripture. Such a standard will be based not on the Word of God, but on the degree of emotional hurt of an offended spouse. Furthermore, this puts the husband or wife in the inappropriate and impossible position of “searching the heart” of his or her spouse. To the church at Thyatira, the Lord Jesus declared: “I am He who searches the minds and hearts” (Rev. 2:23). Indeed, only God has the power, the special ability to search a person’s heart and know exactly what it contains (1 Kings 8:39; 1 Chron. 28:9; Jer. 17:10; 20:12).

Physical Adultery Provides Actual, Scriptural Proof: In contrast, physical adultery is not determined by the subjective estimation of a spouse whose feelings have been hurt. With physical adultery, there is much more certainty. Either he (or she) committed adultery (a form of fornication) or he did not. There is no in between or middle ground about it (Unlike trying to determine if your spouse has committed mental adultery - Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t!).

Jesus tells us plainly what the only lawful cause for divorce is: “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” (Mat. 19:9, KJV). Jesus also said: “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48, NASB). Jesus specified what the acceptable cause for divorce is, thereby excluding all other causes a person can name (e.g., pornography, “mental divorce,” emotional abuse, etc.). Only by standing upon the word of Christ will we have full assurance before the Lord on that last day.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your article, "Is Pornography Grounds For Divorce?" is a pretty good discussion. I don't know that I've seen anything else written on this subject in the brotherhood. I believe it needs to be given some open attention, and I appreciate your article doing so. Your term "Mental Adultery" is one I have not before come across. Yet, by your use of it, I assume you have seen it used, perhaps on a somewhat wide scale basis. I have suggested for many years that we need to give more attention to this general subject.
I think you probably did a pretty good job in analyzing the original meaning of the Greek term translated "adultery." I suspect your conclusion, based on the intended meaning of the original word there, is a pretty good one. However, adultery is a specific act within the realm of sexual sins described by the broader term "fornication." While "adultery" is definitely "fornication," I believe we have to conclude that there are a number of sexual sins that fall under the term "fornication" that do not necessarily fall under the stricter term "adultery," unless Christ concludes that all sins of fornication equate adultery. Those are two different terms. I think we have to be careful to not make a careless, across the board application, but I think we need to devote some careful, thoughtful discussion to the relationship between the two terms.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a subject that will only grow in discussion and attention as more and more people are having their families destroyed by another idiot box, the computer screen. Some consideration needs to be given to the fact that some have substituted sex with the screen for authorized relations with their spouse. Sad indeed are these situations.
concerned in TN

4:05 PM  

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