Is the use of pornography a legitimate ground for divorce?

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Jesus taught that the only legal ground for divorce is adultery. “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 5:32). The Greek word porneia means sexual immorality. It is a general term applying to illicit sexual relationship.

Pornography reason for divorce argument

Some attempt to broaden the meaning of the word porneia by turning to Matthew 5:27-28. This passage says: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27, 28).

These individuals present the logic that if a man lusts for a woman other than his wife, he has committed adultery with her “in his heart.” And since he committed mental/heart adultery, his wife could divorce him for “adultery” based on his lustful thoughts.

Same weight but different penalties

But this logic is faulty. For we must distinguish that while certain sins may carry the same spiritual weight, they do not have the same physical penalties. The words of Jesus came from the sermon on the Mount. There, the Lord was trying to teach the legalists of His time that a literal keeping of the law doesn’t necessarily justify them. For the character is determined, not so much by the outward act, as by the inward attitude in the heart which motivates the act. Sin first starts in the heart.

Jesus explained that the sin of murder, for example, begins in the heart with the sin of hate. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:21,22).

But does this mean that people should be sentenced to death and killed for hating or calling each other, “You fool” or “Raca”? Of course not. From these passages it is clear that the sins of hatred and murder carry the same spiritual weight, but do not carry the same physical penalties. And the same logic applies to the subject of pornography. It should not be considered a legitimate grounds for divorce.

Old Testament law

In the Old Testament, murder was a capital offense punishable by death (Numbers 35:33), but hatred was not. Physical adultery was a crime punishable by death (Leviticus 20:10), but lust was not. In Matthew 19:9, the sin of porneia may carry the same spiritual weight as lust “in the heart,” but the verses don’t suggest that the words bear the same physical penalties.

The physical penalties of a spouse committing physical adultery are that the guiltless spouse can divorce his spouse and remarry, while the guilty one must remain unmarried. But the same physical penalties are not counted for “adultery in the heart” (Matthew 5:28).

God is able to restore

For couples that are suffering from pornography. A temporary separation (not divorce) may be helpful to help motivate the guilty one to deal with his problem. This period of time will hopefully allow the that person to renew his relationship with God and obtain permanent victory. For nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

This page is also available in: العربية (Arabic)

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