Volume XV, NUMBER 5 (May, 2004)
What to Do When One Is Mistaken – Mark 10:11
By J. T. Smith
There are numerous occurrences in the Bible where people found that they were mistaken. Some corrected their mistakes, while others did not. It is not often that you hear someone say, “I was wrong, my understanding of this passage was incorrect.” Yet sometimes we are wrong and our understanding of a passage is incorrect. This influences our teaching, our conduct and ultimately our fellowship with God and man. Of course we must stand for what we believe is right. We cannot violate our conscience without sinning. Paul said, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). For that reason we must “Study to show ourselves approved unto God, workmen that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).
Much has been written about Mark 10: 11 and what it teaches. Here is the passage. “And He saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another , committeth adultery against her” (Mark 10:11). Against whom is the adultery committed? Is it the wife that he divorced or is it the woman he married after he divorced the first wife?
In 1976 when I debated Glen Lovelady on whether or not the guilty, put away fornicator could remarry without sin, I made the following statement:
“Do the Scriptures enjoin a penalty on the ‘not guilty?’ They are guilty. Brother Lovelady said, in his proposition, they were ‘put-away’ adulterers. Then he said they are not guilty. What do you mean, ‘not guilty?’ Of course they are guilty. She is put away: Mark 10:11. She is put away, he commits adultery against her when he remarries. What is her penalty? It’s the penalty that God places upon one that is guilty of adultery. And we know what Paul said about adulterers in Ephesians 5. No adulterer can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Brother Lovelady’s proposition itself, says she is a ‘put away’ adulterer.”
As you can see, I took the position in that discussion that the one who put his wife away and married another committed adultery against his first wife. After the discussion was over, someone came to me and asked the question, “What is the antecedent of the pronoun ‘her’ in the latter part of the passage?” After thinking about it, I changed my position.
According to the rules of English grammar, the antecedent of a pronoun is the noun closest to the pronoun. Notice the passage again.” And He saith unto them, ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her’.” Obviously there is something missing (yet understood) with the word “another.” The New American Standard Version (as well as some others) spells it out. Mark 10:11 “And He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her’.” (NASB). Perhaps if this were any other commits adultery against her’.” (NASB). Perhaps if this were any other subject the question would be easier to settle. But it is easy to settle. The pronoun’s (her) closest antecedent is the “woman” in the latter part of the passage.
Why Would Anyone Think Otherwise?
Whether intentionally or unintentionally the reason is obvious as it was in the discussion in 1976. Then brother Lovelady was trying to prove that since the husband was committing adultery against the wife he divorced that they were still married in the sight of God. Then, as now, brethren seemingly are not able to distinguish between “marriage” and “bond.” They are no longer “married” but they are still “bound” in the eyes of God. That’s the reason they commit adultery (sexual immorality) when they marry another man/woman.
Today some brethren are trying to make the same point for a different reason. They think that the person is committing adultery against his first wife when he remarries. The first wife may now put him away (after the fact of his already being divorced) for fornication and she will be free to marry again without sin. If that were true, then the word “adultery” would have to be used in a figurative sense (since he is obviously not having sexual relations with his first wife). (Shades of Olan Hicks).
I still believe now what I believed then. Luke 16:18 clears up any position that one wants to take when the first wife is not put away for fornication as per Matthew 5:32; 19:9. Luke 16:18 “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” What else needs to be said? If a man puts away his wife and he remarries, he commits adultery along with the woman he marries. If a woman who is put away remarries she commits adultery with the man whom she marries. What could be simpler or plainer?
It seems to me that this is like Mark 16:16. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” That is so simple that you have to have “expert help” to misunderstand it. So it is with Luke 16:18.