Continuing my re-read through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic The Cost of Discipleship I came across his comment about the prohibition of remarriage. Regarding Matt 5:27-32, he writes

Jesus…does sanctify marriage according to the law by affirming its indissolubility and by prohibiting the innocent party from remarrying when the guilty partner has broken the marriage by adultery.

Yet the text does not say that one who has been wrongly divorced (i.e., the innocent party) cannot remarry. The prohibition to remarry in Mt. 5:31-32 may very well be given to the man who was presumably guilty for illegitimately divorcing his wife. Note it is the man that Jesus is addressing here, not the woman. It is the man who does the divorcing, victimizing, and marrying of a divorced woman.

It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Moreover, Jesus does not explicitly say how the remarriage commits adultery. The ESV translation is unfortunate “causes her to commit adultery” and the NIV rendering is better “makes her the victim of adultery,” since the Greek “μοιχευθῆναι” is aorist passive suggesting the woman is innocent or not morally culpable. It may not mean the woman is literally an adulteress, but that the improper grounds of the divorce has caused the woman to be stigmatized as an adulteress. In essence, the woman has been framed by the husband.

“Anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” may mean any divorced woman who is not legitimately divorced. The definite article is not in the Greek and may indicate “any” illegitimately divorced woman, hence the NIV, ESV, NASB, and NRSV.

Thus the focus on the man in Matt 5:31-32 emphasizes the culpability of a divorcing husband; not the moral failure of a woman.

If remarriage by the faithful, innocent spouse adulterizes the original unfaithful spouse, where is the blame laid? Apparently, according to traditional teaching, upon the one who remarries. Why? The unfaithful spouse is where the offense is, and hence where the guilt belongs. Why must such a burden be put upon the faithful, innocent spouse when he/she desires to remarry?

Although the woman in Mt. 5:32b may be the same person as in Mt. 5:31-32a, is it possible that it is the same man (if not the same male attitude) remarrying in v. 32b as in vv. 31-32a? If so, then the man is the adulterer many times over.

I submit to you, therefore, that Bonhoeffer was wrong….at least about remarriage!

Spread the word (please & thank you) 


  1. “Bonhoeffer was wrong”

    “Water is dry”



    I jest, of course. Thank you for the interesting insight here. I need to get around to re-reading “The Cost of Discipleship” myself. It changed my life when I first read it. Plus, you know, Lutheran theologians and all that.

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