To make sense of Jesus’s warning about divorce/remarriage in an abridged text like Mt. 5:32 or the fuller text in Mt. 19 some critical background information is necessary for proper understanding.
One crucial piece of background information is the Rabbinical view of adultery that was common knowledge among Jews going into the 1st century of our Lord’s day.
It is the woman’s marital status that defined the sex act so adultery strictly speaking, biblically, is having sexual intercourse with a married woman (i.e. another man’s wife). The marital status of the person with whom she has sexual intercourse (apart from her husband) does not matter one bit. It is still adultery because she is another man’s wife.
Now, though I expect criticism and even condemnation I don’t relish either of these for being misquoted or misread so let me add that sexual intercourse by a married or single man with a single woman is sexual immorality but would not qualify as adultery, biblically. Why not? Because the woman in question is no one’s wife since she is not married.
This means that when Jesus says in Mt. 5:32 “whoever divorces his wife…causes her to commit adultery…” a remarriage is presumed. How could divorce by itself = adultery unless there is remarriage and sex? All the texts assume the tradition of remarriage after divorce!
Divorce minus the option of remarriage was unknown in Judaism, (see Gittin 9:3 “…you are free to marry any man”).
The exception phrase seems to cause problems for some so let’s use a non-biblical example or 2 to help.
We all learned the adage in Primary school no doubt, “30 days hath September, April, June and November, all the rest have 31 days excepting February alone which has but 28 days clear and 29 in a leap year.” The exception for February means February does not have 30 or 31 days).
Bank Notice (in Jamaica)
“Coins will be accepted only on Wednesdays except the last Wednesday of each month.
Could you deposit coins on the last Wednesday of January in this Bank? No though you can on any other Wednesday!
• The exceptive phrase in Matthew was a genuine statement from Jesus despite its absence in Mark and Luke. There is no manuscript evidence to suggest otherwise. Mark and Luke then, are shorter versions of a longer teaching. A 1st century Jew reading or hearing these shorter versions would mentally insert the well known exceptions.
• Without the exceptive phrase, Jesus would be flatly contradicting Deut. 24.1-4, a shocker/puzzle to any Jew listening because both Rabbinic schools of Hillel and Shammai had grounds for divorce based on a breach of Ex. 21.10-11 plus ‘any matter’ (Hillel) and ‘sexual immorality’ (Shammai).
Limiting the scope of the exceptive phrase to divorce but not to remarriage as some scholars do fails on language and logical grounds but more on that anon.