Harry Osborne’s Dilemma
By David McKee
Harry Osborne has recently posted an article to a web site belonging to Tim Haile entitled, “Civil Divorce Procedure and Biblical Putting Away: Are They Synonymous?” It is sad for me to see that after two years of exposure to the sound writings and arguments of numerous brethren, the views held by brother Osborne on this subject have not changed. Brother Osborne’s article makes clear that little consideration has been given to the efforts of those who have tried to help him turn from the course he is on and turn back to the truth.
In a gathering in Lakeland, FL, almost two years ago, brother Osborne was asked before numerous witnesses to state the procedure that is involved in one mate putting away the other. Brother Osborne would not answer the question. The question was asked repeatedly of him, but each time brother Osborne could not, or would not, answer the question. This was done in a setting where Ron Halbrook was being asked about the possibility of one to put away a mate after they had already been put away. But as the questions were posed to brother Halbrook, brother Osborne would interject, “Where does the Bible say that is the procedure?” “Where does the Bible say that is the Biblical procedure for putting away?”
If brother Osborne did not think what was being discussed was the proper procedure, it seemed like a sensible question to ask him what then was the procedure. As a teacher of God’s word he would need to be able to instruct others in this matter. The innocent spouse would need to know what steps to follow in exercising her right against the guilty spouse. Brother Osborne would need to be able to tell them something concerning the action of dissolving the marriage. But when asked, brother Osborne was not able to state before others what one is to do in order to dissolve a marriage.
When I read the article, it was apparent that nothing had changed. Brother Osborne continues to discount every procedure known to man, but offers nothing himself. He does allude to the innocent party announcing something before the church at the next service, but since he is demanding Scripture for all possible procedures, we’ll not take that as a serious offering.
The dilemma that brother Osborne has is that as soon as he does state what action is to be followed, he must grant that said action can be rightfully and wrongfully taken, just as our Lord does (Matt 5:31-32; 19:9; Mk 10:11-12; Lk 16:18). And when a fornicator, or drunkard, or thief, or any other sinner takes that action against an innocent mate, brother Osborne would have to agree with our Lord, and admit that as a put away person she cannot remarry. And that is the very issue brother Osborne is trying so hard to avoid.
Yet, even in this brother Osborne is not consistent. Under certain conditions, the marriage is sundered when the understood procedure in one’s culture is complied with. But under other self-prescribed conditions, the marriage is not sundered when the understood procedure in one’s culture is complied with. According to brother Osborne’s reasoning, regardless of the conditions or procedure followed, one could always fall back on, “Where does it say that is the Biblical procedure?” and discount whatever action had been taken.
Brother Osborne’s dilemma would also make it difficult for him to take the gospel into all the world and explain the teachings of our Lord concerning marriage, divorce and remarriage. Into every culture that he went, there would be an understood procedure for marrying and divorcing. And, as in every culture, they would be doing this rightfully and wrongfully in God’s eyes. Would brother Osborne go into each culture and dismiss what is understood by all in that culture as non-Biblical? And when asked by those he might be teaching to explain the proper action involved, would brother Osborne be able to answer them? He is not able to do that in this wonderful land that we live, so I’m not sure if he would fare any better in cultures less godly and less civilized.
Those whom brother Osborne might teach would have no difficulty understanding the need for the proper cause if they were to take the action. Accepting that teaching might be another matter for them. But concerning the action itself, brother Osborne would be of no help in telling them what would be involved. Even more confusing to those whom brother Osborne might teach would be his inability to answer a question as simple as, “Why isn’t the action the same one that everyone else in our culture understands it to be?”
Brother Osborne puts great emphasis on the fact that Jesus mandated the cause, not the procedure. He then leaps to the conclusion that because a procedure was not specified, we then can make it up as we go along (even though brother Osborne has not yet come up with one that meets his satisfaction). What brother Osborne seems to miss is that when the Pharisees came asking our Lord about the action of sundering a marriage and He stated the only just cause for such a sundering, both Jesus and the Pharisees understood what they were talking about. And when the act of sundering a marriage is discussed today, sensible people understand what they are talking about.
The fact that no procedure was specified shows the wisdom of God, knowing this teaching was to be taken into a world full of different cultures with each having their own understood procedure for both marrying and sundering the marriage. The teaching would then easily apply itself to that action in every corner of the world without having to wonder if they do it the same way in Africa as they do in Palestine. The fact that no procedure was specified also shows God’s trust in the ability He gave man to reason; to use the sense that He gave man to draw proper and sensible conclusions. The fact that brother Osborne is unable to determine the action that terminates a marriage in one’s society or culture, and so teach that to others, ought not detract from the simple statements of our Lord.
Dismissing the Civil Court Proceedings
Those who have attempted to reason with brother Osborne in this matter have always argued that Biblical putting away is synonymous with whatever the understood procedure is in one’s given culture. In the United States, the understood procedure for sundering a marriage does involve the court system. Yet brother Osborne is going to great lengths to dismiss the understood procedure in our land.
He refers to brethren, “who are making civil courts the final authority in determining whether an innocent party may lawfully remarry.” This is his subtle way of saying the civil courts are not the final authority in sundering a marriage. This allows one who was put away by a legal ruling to dismiss that ruling. Having dismissed the ruling, this one can now view herself as never having been put away, and can pursue that action herself at some later point.
Brother Osborne states, “Couple this passage (Mk 10:2-12) with the exception from Matthew 19:9 and we see Jesus affirming that an innocent party could put away a guilty party even though no civil procedure is available.” This is how brother Osborne and brother Halbrook can say they don’t believe in a second putting away: they simply dismiss the first one as never having taken place. And knowing that no civil procedure is available (that action has already been taken against her), they look for other possibilities that our Lord never granted.
Brother Osborne goes to the account in Mark 10:12 to claim that our Lord was granting the right of sundering a marriage to women who did not legally have that right. He is hoping the reader will conclude that as the woman had no legal options to pursue, then some other option must have been available for her. He then applies this to our day and age when the woman, having been put away in a civil court (now having no legal procedure available), can look to some other option (procedure?) that must be available. Exactly what this other option is, has not yet been fully worked out by brother Halbrook or even mentioned by brother Osborne, though they would have us believe it exists.
When the Law was written in the days of Moses, the woman may not have had the right to sunder the marriage, but by the time our Lord was on the scene, women were divorcing their husbands in Palestine. Brother Osborne has ignored the information posted on this site supporting such, but even one of the sources he quoted in his article makes this point. [“But some time afterward, when Salome happened to quarrel with Costobarus, she sent him a bill of divorce, and dissolved her marriage with him, though this was not according to Jewish laws” (Antiquities, XV.vii.10)]. It was being done in Roman courts and in Jewish courts if the price was right. The Law that forbade it would not last another year from our Lord’s statement, at which point, those holding to our Lord’s teachings (Christians) would no longer look to the Jewish system for relief. Brother Osborne leans upon a broken reed with this argument. Divorces By Jewish Women In The First Century
Going in Circles with Apoluo
Brother Osborne sites various passages where the word apoluo is used when referring to the release of a prisoner, a debt, forgiveness of sin, the release from infirmity, and the sending away of a crowd. Brother Osborne concludes that as the word is used in these instances without any reference to a civil procedure, then no procedure should exist when the word is being used for the sundering of a marriage. However, at the time our Lord made this statement, the Jewish system and the Roman system both involved some form of legal proceeding in order to sunder a marriage. Our Lord knew this and so did those to whom He was speaking.
It is interesting to note that whatever existed before the action was taken does not exist after the action was taken. The one who was a prisoner is no longer; the guilt of sin is no longer; the sickness is no longer; the debt that was owed is no longer; the crowd that was gathered is no longer. And when used of the action involved in sundering a marriage, the marriage that existed before the action was taken no longer exists. Brother Osborne would have us believe that if civil authorities and legal judgments are involved in releasing prisoners and debt today, that we should be able to ignore and circumvent such action.
Our Lord used a word that implies the termination of what was before and applied it to the action of sundering a marriage. When such action is taken, the marriage is over. In one’s given culture that may or may not involve civil authorities and legal judgments. But in the land in which brother Osborne lives, such is part of the action involved in sundering a marriage and cannot be ignored or circumvented without dismissing the plain teaching of our Lord.
I Corinthians 7:10-11 Does Not Help, But Hurts His Argument
Brother Osborne makes an issue over the difference between the active and passive use of the word choridzo as used by our Lord in Matthew 19:6, and by Paul in I Corinthians 7:10-11. Seldom does the difference between the active and passive voice of a word affect anything that might require a Greek scholar to explain, and the same is true with the point brother Osborne attempts to make. Actually, brother Osborne hurts his case by bringing this to our attention.
The difference between the active and passive voice would be like saying, “your mother kissed you,” and, “you were kissed by your mother.” “Kissed” looks the same in both statements, but our English grammar identifies who took the action and who received the action. Greek grammar was complicated enough that the word itself might identify whether the action was given or received. When brother Osborne states that the word choridzo (depart, put asunder) is used in the passive voice in I Corinthians 7:10-11, he is arguing that the action that sundered the marriage was action taken against the woman; she was on the receiving end of the action. She was put away by the husband.
How does this in any way help brother Osborne’s case? Paul would then say of the woman, against whom the action of sundering a marriage was taken, that she is to remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. Is that not exactly what our Lord said? She is the woman of Matthew 19:9, against whom the action has been taken of sundering the marriage. If she marries another man after that action has been taken, she commits adultery. Yet brother Osborne wants to argue elsewhere that she can remarry after that action has been taken against her. Nowhere does Scripture ever allow the one against whom the action has been taken to marry another while the spouse to whom she is bound is still living. I Corinthians 7:10-11 offers no help to brother Osborne.
Where Does Brother Osborne Stand?
Brother Osborne may wish to claim that he does not advocate a position that would allow for one who has been put away to later put away, yet he goes to great lengths to establish the right of one to do so. I could claim that speeding is a violation of the will of God. But what should others think if I turn around and strongly argue for why others ought to be able to speed? Our Lord said, “He who is not with Me is against Me.”
The two things that ended a marriage in New Testament times are the same today: death and divorce. Ask anyone in our great land and they can tell you the meaning of both. We are not dealing in complicated terminology. Yet brother Osborne would attempt to convince us that we can’t really understand what our Lord was saying, therefore, we are in no position to bind His teaching on others.
Brother Osborne’s article is nine pages long, yet he closes it with, “If division comes over this issue, this writer will not initiate it.” Brother Osborne may not have initiated any division that may occur, but he is clearly providing fuel and cover for those who are storming ahead with this teaching that will grant adulterous marriages. He has much to say in those nine pages against those who are holding to the simple teaching of our Lord, yet he wants the reader to accept what he has said as truth, ask no questions, or risk being labeled as divisive. Division does not have to occur when issues are discussed openly with a genuine desire to arrive at the truth. Division occurs when truth and error are clearly identified from God’s word, and brethren then choose to stand on one side or the other.
In the opening of brother Osborne’s article, he asks, “Why has this present controversy arisen?” Though he wishes to lay the blame at the feet of those who would oppose his efforts to defend a second putting away, the reason centers more on those whom brother Osborne would attempt to defend. What used to be a behind-the-scenes issue is now being pushed to the front by influential brethren like Ron Halbrook. Truth Magazine refuses to examine the issue lest it cast brother Halbrook and others on the staff in a bad light. I’m sure brother Halbrook appreciates the efforts of brother Osborne, and others, who have taken up his fight for him. But in doing so, brother Osborne and others have become more vocal and assertive in their efforts to support a doctrine that will allow adulterous marriages. Such cannot go unchallenged.
This is not a matter of setting aside God’s law for man’s law. It is about holding to God’s law as it was so simply stated by our Lord. It has become a matter of those who want to set aside God’s law for man’s wisdom. When men cannot or will not answer simple questions presented to them, you are seeing the shortcomings of human wisdom. When brother Osborne wants to come to the defense of those who would set aside the understood procedure in one’s culture by asking, “Where does the Bible say that is the procedure?” he needs to answer the question that remains for him: What then is the procedure? The innocent party needs to know. Those wanting to do things in a way that will please God want to know. To answer by saying, “Just make sure the cause is right” does not define what is to be done. What is the action involved in sundering a marriage, brother Osborne?