Forgiveness or Divorce? Bible Wisdom About Cheating

by Yvette in — Updated January 9, 2024 — Reading Time: 14 minutes

No partner wants to imagine that their spouse can cheat on them. But the sad truth is that infidelity among religious and unreligious couples is high. 

According to recent research, 20-25% of marriages experience unfaithfulness at some point. Infidelity is the highest form of betrayal, and many marriages don’t recover from it. 

Unfaithfulness creates a difficult and painful situation that involves emotions and can take someone to a breaking point. 

Often, the betrayed partner is overcome with questions that may make them think they aren’t enough. 

And for Christians, it leaves them in a dilemma because while they want to respond in a way that honors God, they are hurt and separately want the pain to end.

But at the same time, the spouse in the wrong is battling guilt, shame, and the sin of adultery. They want to desperately find a way back but feel they have fallen too far. 

The good news is that the marriage can be saved even after infidelity if both partners are willing to work through the pains with an open conversation and hearts.

The process is difficult, but with repentance, good counseling, and commitment, you can restore your marriage after it suffers from unfaithfulness.

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Bible Verses Explicitly Address Adultery and Cheating

“When adultery walks in, everything worth having walks out” – Woodrow M. Kroll.

Unfaithfulness destroys the trust in a sexual relationship, which takes years to build. 

It brings pain, frustration, and a deep wave of emotions in the betrayed spouse and the betraying partner. But, like many other marital challenges, it can be resolved despite being horrible.

When adultery occurs in a Christian relationship, couples often turn to the Bible. Fortunately, the word of God is full of wisdom and guidance to take you through these painful moments. Here are bible verses about adultery.

Old Testament Verses                                              

Exodus 20:14

“You shall not commit adultery.” 

The seventh commandment warns us against being unfaithful. This is a moral compass for Christians and guides them to choose to stay faithful to their partners. 

At the same time, it serves as a warning to the consequences of veering from righteousness.

Leviticus 20:10

The Bible says, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife – with the wife of his neighbor – both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” 

The sin of adultery faced the death penalty. Please note that, per the Jewish tradition, the punishment was equal for both parties. 

There was no double standard that favored men. He was punished along with the woman.

Jeremiah 3:6-10 

“During the reign of King Josiah, the Lord said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this, she would return to me, but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. Despite all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense.” Declares the Lord.

If you continue reading, you will realize that the Bible commends faithless Israel, calling her better than treacherous sister Judah, and calls Israel to return to him as he is their loyal husband. 

In the marriage concept, the verse encourages couples to remain faithful to one other, pointing out the consequences of going outside the marriage bed.

Proverbs 6:27

The book of Proverbs warns a person who commits adultery, saying, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not to be burned?”  

The verse tells us that practicing adultery, although it may seem gratifying at the moment, will soon bring ruin and heartache.

New Testament Verses

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Mark 10:11-12

God, in his word, continues to remind us of the importance of remaining faithful in marriage. The concept is reinforced in the New Testament verses. In Mark 10:9, Jesus explains that marriage should remain sanctified.

“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 

If you read further verses 11 and 12, the Bible says, “He answered, “Anyone who divorces his own wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her own husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

God reminds us that he takes the sin of divorce seriously. The unscriptural divorce and remarriage are considered adultery, as the participants are betraying the original marriage covenant that the husband and wife shall remain one.

According to this verse, God hates divorce and does not want his people to practice it. Not as a form of punishment, but he understands the damage it does to the ex-spouse and the children. 

As members of Christ, we must learn to make relationships and marriages work by enriching them with love, joy, peace, and faithfulness through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 13:4 

“Give honor to marriage and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge immoral people and those who commit adultery.”

In this verse, the scripture talks about fidelity in marriage and sexual intercourse that God ordained from the beginning.

There is no two-way on sexual purity within marriage, and this verse is straightforward in its instructions on Christian marriages, giving a stern warning to those who commit adultery as well as fornication.

1 Corinthians 6:15-20

Apostle Paul reveals the identity of true believers’ bodies and how they are to conduct themselves. 

He refers to their bodies as the temples of the Holy Spirit. This powerful reference is a metaphor to mean God dwells in each believer’s body. Paul reminds the Corinthians that God’s presence within them is a gift that should be guarded.

Also, he reminds them that they do not belong to themselves as they were “bought at a price.” The price here is the salvation that Jesus Christ bought by his death on the cross of Calvary. 

Therefore, they shouldn’t regard their bodies as individual possessions but rather as consecrated vessels bought by the sacrifice Jesus made. That God created

These verses are a call to honor God with our bodies. They call us to reflect on our views of our bodies and actions, challenging us to recognize them as sacred vessels of God’s dwelling. 

As per these verses, believers are to live in alignment with God’s principles and refrain from actions that make us impure, including adultery.

Biblical Principles Related to Marriage and Infidelity

One of the areas where Christian life is in the most danger is the family. The devil knows that he can destroy the purity of life by attacking the home. 

But from the beginning, marriage is considered a divine institution. He made it to unite a man and a woman so that by coming together, they can create more life and satisfy each other’s sexual needs.

However, today, many marriages suffer from infidelity and lack of trust. Many people believe that life is short, and because of this, they’re motivated to pursue what makes them happy, including cheating on their spouses. 

But adultery is a sin which is heavily condemned in the Bible. Let us look at marriage and fidelity from a biblical perspective.

Husband and Wife Become One Flesh     

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Genesis 2:23-24

We see that God’s plan for marriage is for a man and a woman to unite and become one flesh. The woman was made from the man, as we read that Eve came from Adam’s rib. This indicates that they are from a similar essence.

The famous Matthew Henry said that a woman was not made to rule over the man or to be under his feet. But to be by his side, equal with him as he protects her by his arm and she remains close to his heart.    

After God made Eve, he brought her to Adam, who exclaims in Genesis 2:23, “This is now the bones of my bones, the flesh of my flesh; she shall be called a woman as she was taken out of a man.” So even though the woman was made from a man, they’re of the same substance.

Even more importantly, as verse 24 says, they are one flesh: “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” 

The principle doesn’t just apply on the physical level when man and woman are physically intimate, but on a spiritual and emotional level as the two have come together to become one.

One flesh in this context was to serve as companionship, according to Genesis 2:18, 20. John Hartley says that God knew that man could only experience the full dimensions of humanity on his own. So he formed a woman for him, through which they were to live together in families.

The other purpose was for sexual intimacy. After God created male and female in Genesis, he went ahead to bless them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.”

So couples in marriage are to have children, who result from being one flesh. It is commanded by God and part of his plan.

But sex was not designed for procreation only. It was also for the two to find pleasure in each other. 

1 Corinthians 7:3-5

This warns husbands and wives from depriving each other of sexual intercourse, stating that neither of them has authority over their own bodies but is yielded to one another.

It means that married couples are to enjoy sex, provided they both have mutual consent.

Adultery Begins in the Heart and Mind

Matthew 5:27-28

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

We are often told that all sins are the same before God, regardless of what one does. However, some sins have a greater consequence than others. 

It is one thing to covet something from a person and leave it at that and another to covet and go ahead and steal it from them. Stealing has consequences, as you will be doing injustice to another person.

Stealing starts from a person’s heart when desiring what is not theirs. While God hates coveting, he won’t punish someone who steals and someone who only covets similarly. 

But, he offers them both a path of restoration and repentance. From the passage, we’ve read above. Jesus describes the nature of sin, telling them what they have heard and the commandment. Then goes ahead to warn them about adultery that stems from lust.

Most people think that adultery is the action of cheating itself. But, what most don’t know is that it begins in the heart before the body manifests it. Spiritual adultery is a thing too, which is a sin in God’s eyes.

All sin comes from the heart, and the external manifestation has a root sin. It starts with a lustful intent before becoming adultery or fornication.

That is why the Bible repeatedly warns us to guard our hearts and minds. These two organs are prone to evil thoughts, which lead to sin. They must be examined and rebuked. 

Watch over your thoughts and feelings and put sin to death before it materializes into external manifestations.

But at the same time, the lack of manifestation doesn’t mean a person is clean. Your heart and mind could be filled with coveting, lust, and other sinful feelings. 

Such things make us sinners before God as much as external manifestations. Let us learn to repent and seek forgiveness. 

God is faithful and gracious enough to forgive us when we approach him humbly.

Infidelity is a Grievous Sin      

Infidelity is a sin because God says so. It goes against the will of God. The God of Israel has set the parameters of marriage and is right to do so since he created marriage. 

Adultery is a manifestation of several sins, including lust, greed, selfishness, and covetousness. All sexual immorality is equated to idolatry. 

Only God deserved to be worshipped. So when we choose what feels right over what God says is right, we are choosing to worship an idol of it instead of worshipping God.

Additionally, adultery is wrong because of what marriage represents. 

Matthew 19 4-6

“And he answered and said to them, “Have you not read that he who made the beginning “made them male and female” and said, “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?” So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has put together, let no man separate.”

We also read in Malachi 2:10-16 that the Lord of hosts hates adultery and is not pleased with a man who divorces his wife. It warns us against being unfaithful to one another as that violates the marriage covenant.

Unlike what many people think, sex is more than a physical act that brings pleasure and creates the next generation. It was designed to make man and woman one flesh. 

Marriage is a representation of Christ’s love for the church. The husband reflects Christ, who gave up his life for the goodwill of his bride, the church. The bride, the church, is the man’s companion who is supposed to work alongside him and nurture his leadership.

God created sex for procreation, intimacy, pleasure, companionship, and a reflection of the gospel and the Trinity between a married woman and man. Its ultimate goal was to bring us close to God.

The Trinity are different persons but one God. They retain individual personhood but do not use the other for selfish gains. They only seek to see each other glorified and their dignity maintained.

This is the reason why God hates a sexually immoral person. Sexual sins turn people into objects by depersonalizing and dehumanizing them. 

Sexual sins seek to gratify oneself. But God’s design for it was to be a communion between two self-giving people. 

Therefore, marital sex is like the Trinitarian relationship, which should be loving, self-giving, permanent, and exclusive

That is why 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 tells us that we can miss the inheritance of the kingdom of Christ on the grounds of sexual immorality.                   

Bible Guidance: Is Divorce Permitted After Adultery?

The Old Testament Allowed Divorce

The Old Testament has quite a clear law concerning divorce, which is mostly recorded in the book of Deuteronomy 24:1. 

However, there have been difficulties in interpretation up to today. For careful readers, it’s easy to notice that the renderings of different bible versions differ materially, especially between the King James and Revised Versions.

King James Version reads, “Then let him write a bill of divorce,” while the Revised Version says, “that he shall write.” 

So, it brings a contradiction of whether it was a command or a person could do it if they wanted to. 

Living as a divorced woman or man is not part of God’s plan. But, divorce on infidelity was allowed, and after the process, the one divorcing was to issue a certificate of divorce.

Jesus’s Teaching on Divorce

Although the Mosaic Law has sections that regulate divorce, it wasn’t part of God’s plan. Jesus takes back listeners to the beginning, reminding them that God created male and female and stipulated them to be one flesh.

He reminds them that God hates divorce and is not pleased by it. However, there is an exception clause, which many discussions have centered around. 

The exception is mentioned in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9, which state that divorce is only permitted if there has been unfaithfulness in the marriage.

It’s worth noting that Mark 10:11 and Luke 16:18 do not mention the exception, which is why some argue that divorce may not be accepted even with that exception. 

If you are following the verses with an exception clause, then the spouse who has been offended can rightfully seek to divorce their husband or wife.

However, as Christians, it is paramount that we seek guidance from the holy spirit before we take this step. While infidelity hurts, divorce is not an easy choice.

Paul’s Guidance to the Early Church

Paul encourages the notion of permanency in marriage, whether it involves a believer or a non-believer. 

But at the same time, he permits a believing partner to divorce if the non-believing one abandons them. 

Apostle Paul states, “Yet the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.” 1 Corinthians 7:12 onwards.

According to Paul, desertion severs a marital bond. Thus, the believing spouse left behind isn’t commanded to remain in that marriage.

The Bible Urges Forgiveness – But What Are Its Limits?

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Forgiveness Encouraged

Although the Bible vehemently condemns adultery, it also has a message for forgiveness and redemption to those who have sinned. 

In John, Jesus shows compassion and forgiveness to the woman who was caught committing adultery. Instead of condemning her, he says, “Neither do I condemn you; go from now on and sin no more” John 8:11

Furthermore, Luke 17:3-4 encourages us to forgive those who sin against us if they repent and ask for forgiveness.

We also read in 1 Peter 4:8-9 about loving one another deeply. “Above all, have fervent and unfailing love for one another because love covers a multitude of sins. It overlooks unkindness and unselfishly seeks the best for others. Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”

It is hard for Anyone to imagine that their spouse would cheat on them. But as Christians, we are called to forgive, just as Christ forgives us for the sins we commit against him. 

If your partner is repentant and seeking forgiveness, then offer it.

Is Reconciliation Required?

It is one thing to forgive and another to reconcile. While the Bible encourages us to forgive, it does not command us to reconcile. As we have read above, some bible verses allow divorce on the grounds of immorality.

Please note that you are not enslaved to a spouse who cheats on you unrepentantly, abuses or abandons you.

God desires for us to live a peaceful life, and because of this, you don’t have to reconcile if you don’t want to. But if the cheating spouse is willing to reform, God wants us to attempt to heal the marriage.

Considerations for Pursuing Reconciliation

Rebuilding trust after infidelity in a marriage requires careful consideration. If you’re contemplating forgiveness and reconciliation, keep the following points in mind:

  • Rebuilding Trust Takes Time: Infidelity shatters trust, but it can be rebuilt if both partners are committed. Allow yourself the necessary time to heal, as trust restoration is a gradual process.
  • Repentance and Change: The unfaithful spouse must express genuine remorse and actively work towards change. Seeking forgiveness is just the beginning; they must demonstrate a sincere commitment to personal growth and relationship restoration.
  • Protection from Further Harm: Infidelity causes not only emotional pain but also potential long-term harm. Protect yourself from repeated betrayals by considering the possibility of future indiscretions. While forgiveness is important, it’s also crucial to safeguard your emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being from potential harm.

Generally, pursuing reconciliation post-infidelity involves patience, genuine repentance, and a commitment to protecting oneself from further emotional and physical harm.

Questions for Discernment and Pastoral Counsel

It’s hard for people involved in an affair to recover from its effects fully. Because of the strong emotions and different components, it’s best to seek counseling from a pastor or Christian counselor to guide the healing process. 

A counselor can assist the spouses in setting practical guidelines for healthy patterns and ways to protect their marriage going forward. 

But, certain questions need to be raised during this journey:

  • Is the unfaithful spouse genuinely repentant and committed to faithfulness?
  • Has the hurting spouse’s capacity to show forgiveness become depleted?
  • At what point might continued attempts at reconciliation enable an abusive dynamic?
  • When might divorce be the healthiest option for all involved?

These questions are important in deciding which direction the counseling should go. Some relationships can be salvaged if the spouses are willing to work on the same paths. 

But for others, divorce may be the right solution, especially if infidelity is something that has been happening time and again.

Conclusion

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Adultery is a sin that can make us miss eternal life and the Kingdom of God, and as Christians, we ought to do the right thing. 

The Bible says in Matthew 5:28, “If the right eye causes you to see, tear it out and throw it away.” A lack of self-control is dangerous to a Christian. But God is calling us to live a righteous and pure life. 

 However, we live in a world where adultery and cheating have become too common. However, the Bible has a message of hope, forgiveness, and restoration. 

The consequences of adultery are devastating, but the path to healing and redemption is available to those who want it. We must learn to flee from the works of the flesh and choose righteousness.

The Bible has many verses that condemn adultery and those offering forgiveness. But discernment is needed to know the verses to apply in different situations. Since divorce is not an easy decision, it is best to seek pastoral counsel and wisdom to guide you after infidelity. 

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