An Examination of Mark 10:11-12
By Jeff Belknap
Mark 10:11-12 seems to be a favorite passage for use as a “proof-text” among those who seek to justify “Mental Divorce.” Although its misuse to promote a second (post-civil-divorce) “putting away” has been soundly refuted and disproved in times past, it continues to resurface, as if it is some acceptable “application” that has stood the test of time.
The theory is that Mark 10:11 authorizes an “innocent” mate to “put away” for the cause of adultery “against” him / her for as long as the couple is still bound - regardless of the person’s marital status at the time of fornication. This reasoning translates to approval of post-civil-divorce “putting away” by divorced persons for the cause of post-civil-divorce adultery.
This article is written to redirect our focus to what the Lord has spoken (I Pet. 4:11) and expose the nakedness of the “mental divorce” fabrication. In the gospel of Mark 10:11-12 Jesus said, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.”
First of all, note that absolutely nothing indicates whether the wife in verse 11 (or the husband in verse 12) was opposed to the above divorce or not. This cannot be proven either way, nor does this text (or any other) reveal that opposition to an unscriptural divorce would make any difference in the consequences imposed upon the “put away.” Scripture makes us “complete unto every good work” and provides “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (II Tim. 3:16-17; II Pet. 1:3). Consequently, it is certain that God’s word would have specified such a prerequisite if it determined whether subsequent marriage was lawful (“life and godliness”) or adulterous (death and ungodliness). Such man-originated rules are purely arbitrary and encourage reliance upon human (not divine) wisdom in regards to what is right (cf. Psa. 19:8; 119:128).
Secondly, observe closely that the “adultery” referred to in verse 11 is most likely committed “against” the last antecedent (i.e. “another”) and is, in all probability, NOT referring to the original “wife.” This is true, not only because of the sentence structure but also because of the parallel passages (cp. w. Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10:12; Lk. 16:18; Rom. 7:3)! Additionally, several scholars believe that the word translated “against” actually means “with,” in reference to the second wife, not the first.
Moreover, even if the Lord had specifically stated that the adultery was “against” the original spouse, where does He authorize a second “putting away” and remarriage for the put away victim of unscriptural divorcement (cf. II Tim. 3:16-17; II Pet. 1:3)? After Jesus irrefutably taught that a man has the ability to accomplish an unlawful sundering of marriage (Mt. 19:6; Lk. 16:18), he stated that if such a man “shall marry another” (after perpetrating this unlawful act), he “committeth adultery.” In addition, He revealed the consequence of remarriage by the one who was put away under such conditions: “and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Mt. 19:9; cf. Lk. 16:18). Hence, the only authorized alternatives after an unscriptural divorce are to reconcile (I Cor. 7:11) or become a eunuch “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” (Mt. 19:12a; I Cor. 7:11). “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (Mt. 19:12b; cp. w. I Cor. 4:6; II Jn. 9)!
The Mental Divorce advocates can cry aloud, jump up and down and cut themselves with knives and lancets, until the blood gushes out (cf. I K. 18:28-29), but the text says absolutely nothing regarding a second divorce and authorized remarriage to “another” for either the one who puts away or the one who is put away, when adultery transpires AFTER the fact of divorcement (cf. Acts 15:24; Gal. 1:6-9).
The Bible teaches that when one commits fornication / adultery, they sin “against” various persons and things. David’s adultery constituted sin against God (II Sam. 12:13) as well as against Bathsheba and Uriah, fornication is a sin against one’s own body (I Cor. 6:18), homosexuality is a sin against nature (Rom. 1:26), and there are sins which become sins against the brethren (cf. I Cor. 8:12), especially when they are of a public nature (cf. Eph. 5:3).
As we consider the assorted sins “against” others when one commits fornication / adultery, it is clear that inspiration is revealing the harm that such a sin causes to God, ourselves, and others. I would accept the implication that subsequent adultery after the divorce would also be a sin “against” one’s bound mate, just as the unlawful divorcement was a sin against her (cf. Mt. 5:32a; 19:6). However, this in no way authorizes (specifically or generically) that which is not revealed, regardless of what seems “right” in our own eyes (Cp. Deut. 12:8 w. 13:18; Prov. 14:12).
Once a marriage (the physical relationship) has already been PUT ASUNDER – DISSOLVED (repudiated, as well as ratified in the courts of men), there is nothing left under man’s control to be put away!
Notice what brother Donnie Rader wrote on pp. 84-85 in his book Divorce & Remarriage; What Does The Text Say?, Chapter 8 Mental Divorce (May Some Put Away People Remarry). Under “VII. Arguments,” brother Rader wrote:
“‘In Mark 10:10‑11 when the man who unlawfully put away his wife remarries he commits adultery ‘against her; thus giving her a scriptural cause to put him away.’ This assumes that ‘against her’ refers to the first wife. There is nothing that demands that interpretation. It is very possible that it refers to the second wife. ‘Another’ (which refers to the second wife) is the nearest antecedent. Nigel Turner suggests that the word epi which is translated ‘against’ has the meaning here of ‘with’ (The Bible Translator, Oct. 1956, pp. 151‑152). Thus, when he remarries, he commits adultery with her (the second wife). (cf. Nestle’s Text and The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. one, p. 409.) I wonder if the woman of Mark 10:11 and the woman of Matt. 5:32b and 19:9b are not the same since the men of Mark 10:11 and Matt. 5:32a and 19:9a are. If so, then the woman of Mark 10:11 cannot remarry. There is not a word in Mark 10:11 about remarriage on the part of a put away one. If we grant that ‘against her’ refers to the first wife, so what? Neither this nor any other passage says one thing about her being able to remarry.”
Additionally, in The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Alfred Marshall (p. 182) translates the text under discussion in Mark 10:11, as “commits adultery with her” (emp. jhb).
Alexander Balmain Bruce states, “The ep auten at the end of ver. 11 may mean either against, to the prejudice of, her (the first wife), or with her (the second). The former view is taken by the leading modern exegetes, the latter by Victor Ant., Euthy., Theophy., and, among moderns, Ewald and Bleek.” (Marcus Dods, “The Synoptic Gospels,” The Expositor’s Greek Testament, p. 409)
In a Mental Divorce article, under the heading of Mark 10:11, brother Gene Frost wrote:
“‘Mental divorce’ theorists make a big play on the statement of Mark 10:11, that in a second marriage the resulting adultery is ‘against the first mate.’ Why? ‘Why is it not just against God?’ It is implied that this indicates they are still married. No. Jesus says that the wife is ‘put away’ (divorced), and He does not indulge in the theorist’s game of ‘accommodatively divorced.’ The man marries another, so Jesus says—the theorists says, ‘No, Lord, not actually.’ In this second marriage, the man commits adultery. Why? Because he is still ‘bound’ (though not married). This moichatai ep auten, ‘adultery against her,’ is ‘in reference to her.’ Expositors say the expression may mean either ‘to the prejudice of, her (the first wife), or with her (the second.)’6 Whichever, it is against the rights and interests of the first which are involved in the bond (the obligations and restraints). The expression does not mean he is still married to the first. Jesus plainly says he married another. Whom do we believe: the Lord or the theorist with his hermeneutical gymnastics?” (emp. his).
6Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies, vol. I (Mark), page 198. [The Case For “Mental Divorce,” Gospel Truths, November p. 9 (2001)].
Also notice how brother H. E. Phillips answered brother Marshall E. Patton in their written debate on this very issue:
“Brother Patton makes a point from Mark 10:11 with the statement: ‘Notice especially the expression ‘committeth adultery against her,’ i.e., against her that is put away. Obviously, God’s bond is still intact, otherwise the adultery would not be against ‘her.’ His argument is: Because Mark says that the one who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery AGAINST HER, that this is the put away person of his proposition, who was put away against her will, who may NOW put away her former husband and remarry because she has had adultery committed against her.
Brother Patton assumes that the one who has adultery committed ‘against her’ is the first wife. This is by no means certain. All evidence does not agree that the ‘her’ is the wife. Some commentaries say the ‘her’ is the woman who is number two wife.
According to the rules of English grammar, the antecedent of a pronoun is the closest noun to it which would be ‘woman’ (understood.) You will note that the text says, ‘…and marry another…’ (woman understood). Thus the antecedent of ‘her’ would be ‘woman’ (wife number two).
There is not a single syllable uttered in Mark 10:11 about the put away person remarrying” (emp. his). [Patton – Phillips Debate, First Negative, STS pp. 320-21 February (1987)].
In brother Phillips’ second negative, he wrote under the heading of Mark 10:11:
“I insist that I am correct about the rules of English grammar. The antecedent of a pronoun is the closest noun to it, which, in this passage, is ‘woman’ understood. My case for ‘adultery against’ the second wife is stronger than your argument for the first wife. You have by no means proved this point; you have simply asserted it.
The Greek epi that is translated ‘against’ in the King James Version is translated ‘with’ in Nestle’s Interlinear. Nigel Turner in the Bible Translator of October, 1956, page 152 says of Mark’s use of epi in this context: ‘i.e. unto or with…’ Your point on ‘against’ is not conclusive in establishing your case” (emp. his). [Patton – Phillips Debate, Second Negative, STS pg. 346 March (1987)].
Finally, in his third negative, brother Phillips stated under the heading of Mark 10:11:
“She has been put away, the marriage is dissolved and the relationship terminated. What is SHE going to ‘put away’ even if he committed adultery?” (emp. his). [Patton – Phillips Debate, Third Negative, STS pg. 370 April (1987)].
In Reflections, Robertson L. Whiteside (p. 426) says:
“Yes Matt. 5:32 and 19:9 harmonize, but only on the grounds that the maker of a law has the right to name any exceptions that he chooses to make. Matt. 5:32 gives no hint that a divorced person would have any right under any circumstances to marry some one else; neither does Mark 10:11, 12” (emp. jhb).
One of the many flaws in the Mental Divorce theory is inconsistency. If Mark 10:11 really authorizes an “innocent” mate to “put away” for the cause of adultery “against” him / her for as long as the couple is still bound - regardless of their marital status at the time of fornication—then the same door of potential is also opened for the party who perpetrated the unscriptural divorce. Most recent proponents of Mental Divorce deny this necessary conclusion, and would only authorize a post-civil-divorce “putting away” for the “innocent put away party.” However, as has been clearly shown in times past, consistent application of such reasoning inevitably leads to “the waiting game” for both parties in an unscriptural divorce. If not, why not?
If the intact bond is truly the factor in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 that authorizes one to put away for adultery “against” them, then both partners of that bond would be eligible to exercise this right. It is only an arbitrary, man-made rule that sanctions the post-civil-divorce “putting away” and remarriage by one partner (for adultery), but not the other. There is no scripture that implies different remarriage ramifications for one who perpetrates an unlawful divorce and for one who is the recipient of that action. According to inspiration in Matthew 5:32; 19:9 and Luke16:18, both persons become adulterers upon remarriage to “another” for as long as their bound spouse lives (cf. Rom. 7:2-3).
Although Jesus never used the words “innocent” and “guilty,” the presence of both of these elements in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is undeniable. However, the texts’ insinuation of these terms only implies innocence or guilt of fornication in the context of an existing marriage. Once a divorce is complete (whether scriptural or not), silence of the scriptures confirms that subsequent fornication is inconsequential to either party’s remarriage-ability. The only authority given to remarry another AFTER an unscriptural divorce (for either party) is the DEATH – not fornication – of a bound mate (Rom. 7:3; cf. I Cor. 7:11).
When reviewing the teaching of these men, it becomes apparent that their reference to “innocent party” isn’t what most of us recognize as an “innocent party.” When I hear “innocent party,” I assume that there is a fornicator (“guilty party”) already involved prior to the putting away, as is unmistakably depicted in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. However, according to those who advocate the post-civil-divorce “putting away,” one can still be an “innocent party” AFTER an unscriptural divorce – under certain (uninspired) conditions. These requirements are that she must not have been a willing participant in the (first) divorce, and that she must remain “faithful to the ‘marriage bond’” until her bound partner becomes guilty of adultery “against” her. At such a time, we are told that she may employ a post-civil-divorce “putting away” for that cause, thereby securing her “right” to remarry another. [Notice that the result of this line of human reasoning is diametrically opposed to what Jesus taught regarding the put away (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18; I Cor. 7:10-11).]
Ironically, we are told that only one of the two equally-bound parties (after an unscriptural divorce) is eligible to claim the remaining bond as that which enables (authorizes) them to “put away.” We are told that the act of divorcing one’s mate without scriptural cause forever precludes an individual from becoming an “innocent” party in a post-civil-divorce “putting away” – even when post-civil-divorce fornication is committed “against” them by their still-bound partner.
Come again? What’s good for the bound goose is not good for the bound gander? Oh yes - according to some brethren’s definition - one can only be an “innocent” mate in a post-civil divorce “putting away” for adultery when the first divorce was perpetrated against their will. I suppose this all makes sense in a sort-of convoluted way, when you use the creative definitions provided by proponents of this doctrine.
Brethren, consider all of the complexities, arbitrary rules and stipulations of the mental divorce doctrine. Contrast that with the simplicity and forthright language of the Lord’s teaching regarding divorce and remarriage. Then read II Corinthians 11:3 and make the application. Cp. Jeremiah 23:16; Ezekiel 13:7 with II Peter 2:1-2.