By Jeff Belknap

The New Illustrated Webster’s Dictionary (pg. 770) defines “principle” as “a general truth or law, basic to other truths.” Unfortunately, as time continues, more new twists are arising on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage. In the devil’s persistent effort to corrupt us from “the simplicity that is in Christ” (II Cor. 11:2), alternate “applications” to God’s marriage laws (principles) are constantly emerging and being disseminated.


God’s first institution (the home) was structured by the Lord in the very beginning (Gen. 2:24). This fundamental right of “leaving” and “cleaving” was also authorized by Christ (Mt. 19:5). In I Corinthians 7:2, Apostle Paul reveals to us God’s plan “to avoid fornication.” He stated, “let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (emp. mine). The principle is simple. Each man is afforded the privilege of having his “own” wife, and every woman, the right to her “own” husband (I Cor. 7:5). There is no permission in scripture for anyone to have one who is not their “own” (Heb. 13:4). Error which violates this principle is simple to expose. Forbidding marriage (cf. I Tim. 4:3) for those who are approved to marry is obviously binding where the Almighty has not bound (Mt. 16:19; 18:18; Gal. 1:8-9). Conversely, to teach that one may be married to someone while either party is bound to another is to loose where the Bible has not loosed (cf. Rom. 7:2-3). For example, Jesus stated in no uncertain terms that marriage to one who “is divorced” (or put away) committeth (or commits) “adultery” (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18). To advocate anything different than this is to speak where God has not spoken (I P. 4:11; II Jn. 9).  


Notwithstanding the exception clause in Matthew 19:9, Jesus stated His divorce principle in verse 6, “what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (emp. mine). The Lord did not pronounce that man CANNOT violate that Divine prohibition, but rather that he MUST NOT. Divorce is the death of a physical marriage, despite the fact that the spiritual bond remains in an unscriptural putting away. Regrettably, there are a few brethren of renown who now deny that some sinful divorces can and do take place (if and when an “innocent” mate is opposed to it). However, Jesus reveals that man has the ability to “put asunder” his or her physical marriage (Mk. 10:9) whether the other party approves or not! In such an unfortunate predicament, one becomes “unmarried” (I Cor. 7:11) and consequently MUST NOT marry “another” as long as their original mate lives (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18; Rom. 7:2-3). If we are to “rightly” divide the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15), it is essential to note how the gospel uses the words “let not.” There is a difference between “let not” and “cannot.” For example, in Matthew 6:3 Jesus said, “…let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” But can one hand know what the other is doing? Again, in John 14:1, 27 He stated, “Let not your heart be troubled.” Yet, can we do what we should not do? Furthermore, in spite of the fact, that in some situations, Paul wrote in I Tim. 5:16, "let not the church be charged,” some are doing the very opposite (cp. w. Lk. 21:21; Rom. 6:12; 14:3, 16; Eph. 4:26; Jas. 1:7 et al.). Because we must not engage in these things, does that mean that it is impossible for us to do them? It is self-evident that the Bible does not forbid us to do what is impossible for us to do. The rule of God maintains that man MUST NOT divorce, except it be for fornication. Any other divorce not only “causeth” the put away person “to commit adultery” when they remarry (Mt. 5:32), but the one who marries her that “is divorced” is guilty of the same (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18). 

The one and only exception to the prohibition of divorce, is when it is done “for the cause of fornication” (Mt. 5:32; 19:9). With Matthew 19:6 in mind, consider also I Corinthians 7:10-11. Apostle Paul is in essence quoting our Lord when he wrote, “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.” The word “depart” in this passage is the same Greek word found in Matthew 19:6 translated “put asunder.” The result of this unscriptural divorce is that the wife is now “unmarried” (and vice versa). In spite of this sinful divorce, these two are still spiritually bound together by the law of God (cf. Rom. 7:2-3). While the wife in I Corinthians 7:11 is prohibited from marrying another, the implication here (as is spelled out clearly in other scriptures) is that the one who was unscripturally put away (whether with or against their will) is forbidden to marry “another” (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18). What CANNOT be scripturally done, is the remarriage of a put away person without adultery (Mt. 5:32; 19:9). Who will disagree with the Master (Amos 3:3; I Jn. 1:7)?

There are some brethren who confuse the marriage (man’s physical part in the union) with the bond (God’s spiritual part in the union). Although any divorce dissolves the physical marriage (man’s part), it does not necessarily loose the spiritual obligation (cf. Rom. 7:2-3; I Cor. 7:27, 39). To infer that the only way to end a marriage is for God to sever the bond contradicts scriptural teaching in Matthew 5:32, 19:9; Luke 16:18; and I Cor. 7:11. God does not marry and man cannot bind what is joined in marriage. Likewise, God does not divorce and man cannot loose that which the Almighty has bound. 

These brethren further contend that God did not “specify a procedure” for the scriptural putting away. However, neither did He “specify a procedure” for the scriptural marriage. Furthermore, it is obvious that the same procedure one must go through in any given society to be scripturally married, is the exact procedure that others go through to be unscripturally married. Likewise, it is clear that the procedure which one goes through in order to get a scriptural divorce is the same procedure that is used to obtain an unscriptural divorce.   

Matthew 5:32, 19:9 (and all other verses that deal with MDR) do not infer more than one procedure for marriages, or more than one procedure for divorces, scriptural or otherwise. The obvious is that while there is one recognized “procedure” which marries, and one that divorces (in any given society), God either binds or does not bind, looses or does not loose upon that act of man.

Some brethren contend that the cause for a divorce is what matters and not the “procedure.” This procedural de-emphasis leads these brethren to their next supposition, that we cannot say our present American civil proceedings are included in the action that Jesus spoke of as putting away. However, there are some things that we can be certain of.

  1.  We can be certain that the “procedure” scripture refers to in Matthew 5:32, 19:9; Luke 16:18 and I Corinthians 7 can be enacted in violation of God’s command not to (Mt. 19:6).

  2.  We can be certain that the “procedure” scripture refers to in Matthew 5:32, 19:9; Luke 16:18 and I Corinthians 7 (when enacted in violation of God’s command in Matthew 19:6-9) resulted in adultery upon remarriage (to “another”) – for both the one who did the putting away and the one who was put away (Mt. 5:32, 19:9; Lk. 16:18).

  3.  We can be certain that the “procedure” scripture refers to in Matthew 5:32, 19:9; Luke 16:18 and I Corinthians 7 resulted in two people being “unmarried” against God’s will, and at times, against the will of one partner (I Cor. 7).

  4.  We can be certain that the “procedure” scripture refers to in Matthew 5:32, 19:9; Luke 16:18 and I Corinthians 7 requires the now “unmarried” to “remain unmarried, or be reconciled” to their mate.

  5.  We can be certain that “put away” was understood to mean the same thing to all those whom Jesus addressed (Jews) in the context of Matthew 5:32, 19:9 and Luke 16:18, for He is not “the author of confusion” (I Cor. 14:33).     

Whatever procedures any given culture recognizes for its divorces and marriages are the procedures that God must be referring to. If the procedure Jesus was referring to is something other than what a person’s culture and laws recognize as “divorce,” then man must prescribe an alternate procedure that men can uniformly recognize. This is necessarily implied, because we are commanded to avoid brethren who are adulterers (Rom. 7:2-3; I Cor. 5:9-13; cf. Mk. 6:17-18). Would this alternate procedure not constitute the “commandments of men” and adding to the scriptures? Claiming special significance in the fact that Christ specified no procedure, these brethren imply that we have general authority to choose another procedure, as Noah had freedom to choose his tools for ark-building. If this is true, then all must be free to divorce or marry by using whatever procedure they conjure up in our own minds, as long as it does not conflict with other scripture. This means that there would be no way for one to determine who is married and who is divorced, who is an adulterous relationship, and who is in a scripturally legitimate relationship. How is that decent and orderly (I Cor. 14:40)? Does this not make the word of God of “none effect” (Mk. 7:13)?

Those who want to get around these Biblical parameters (Mt. 7:13-14), finagle all kinds of reasons for justifying a possible remarriage for those who have been civilly, but unscripturally divorced. In order to do so, they deny the restrictions of the Lord, reasoning by the use of “accommodative language” or they tell us that Jesus did “not” deal with every possible put away scenario in Matthew 5:32; 19:9 and Lk. 16:18.

In Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, the New Testament reveals the rule as well as the one and only exception to it. While Jesus prohibited putting “asunder” what “God hath joined together” (Mt. 19:6), He gave every marriage partner the authority to put away (repudiate) their spouse (partner in marriage) who is guilty of fornication (Mt. 5:32; 19:9). This is the simplicity of the gospel. However, in an effort to validate second marriages after unscriptural divorces, some are finding new ways to defend second divorces (“mental divorces”). Although these brethren deny belief in both a second putting away and “mental divorce,” it is only because they deny that an unscriptural civil putting away of an innocent mate is an actual divorce.  However there are those (myself included) who recognize that such a divorce scenario makes one a “put away” person (and subject to the restrictions spelled out in Matthew 5:32, 19:9 et al). While I mean no disrespect to proponents of this view in using terminology that they find offensive, for us, it is a second putting away and a “mental divorce” (as opposed to what we recognize as the first and actual one). This new concept (application) is being advocated in many private settings, for the advocates, as well known as they are, have not yet been willing to come out into the public light (Jn. 3:19-21) with the fullness of this doctrine.

Let me say with all confidence, that Jesus NEVER authorized a put away (repudiated) man or woman the right to later “put away” (repudiate) their ex-spouse (if they later commit fornication) who had already put them away (Mt. 5:32; 19:9). The underlying principle revealed in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is the ability of one married partner to put away (repudiate) their mate who is guilty of fornication. This principle does NOT include authorization for a put away / unmarried, (I Cor. 7:11) companion (regardless of innocence) to “divorce” later under any circumstance. The Biblical order (principle) necessarily inferred for employment of the exception clause is after a scriptural marriage, and before a divorce is completed! You need a lot of “help” (outside of the scriptures) to find authority for an unscripturally put away person to later have the “right” to “put away” their ex-spouse, if and when they some day commit fornication. To lead brethren in this direction, is to direct without spiritual vision (Mt. 15:14). Please acknowledge these clear statements of the Lord:

 “…and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Mt. 5:32).

 “…and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Mt. 19:9).

 “…and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery (Lk. 16:18).

Dear reader, Jesus affirmed, “…the scripture cannot be broken” (Jn. 10:35). Therefore do not allow yourself to be tossed to and fro from the simplicity of the truth (II Cor. 11:3; Eph. 4:14). Neither permit men to tell you that Matthew 5:32; 19:9 and Luke 16:18 do not apply when discussing American civil law (or any other nation’s civil law).

To teach that there is absolutely no authority to ever put away, is to bind where God has not bound (Mt. 16:19; 18:18; Gal. 1:8-9). On the other hand, to contend that a put away person may “scripturally” exercise the exception clause (upon their ex-spouses’ fornication, subsequent to the unscriptural divorce) and remarry, is to loose where God has not loosed (cf. Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18). Whosoever marries one who is put away commits adultery – there is no exception clause given to those who are already put away!

The restrictions enjoined upon the put away person in Matthew 5:32, 19:9 and Luke 16:18 apply to the one whose partner has (for whatever reason, scriptural or not) put them away. The very term “unscriptural divorce” denotes what it is: man’s sinful act of putting “asunder what God has joined together.” In the case of an unscriptural divorce, the court simply enables one to fulfill their sinful desire. To illustrate this point, the willing woman makes it possible for man to fornicate (sin) and the abortion clinic makes it possible for a woman to kill her baby (sin). Likewise, the civil courts make it possible for man to unscripturally divorce his spouse (sin). Are we honoring man’s law (which condones fornication and abortion) above God’s law (which condemns fornication and abortion) if we acknowledge that these two sins have transpired? Thus, we are not guilty of honoring man’s law (which permits the divorce) above divine law (which disapproves of it) when we acknowledge that an unscriptural divorce has taken place.


When considering the Bible principle decreed for remarriage, it is evident that, as in any scriptural marriage relationship, both parties entering that marriage only have a right to their own spouse, NOT someone else’s (I Cor. 7:2). For example, in Mark 6:17-18, we learn that Herod “married Herodias who was still bound to his brother Philip. Therefore an unscriptural remarriage is physically possible (v. 17), although spiritually unlawful (v. 18). This exact state of affairs is alluded to in numerous places within the gospel–i.e. bound to one, while married to another (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18; Rom. 7:2-3; et, al).

The scriptures reveal authority for only three different individuals to remarry (after having been bound by the law of God): 1) The one whose mate has died is loosed by God to remarry (Rom. 7:2-3; I Cor. 7:39). 2.) The one who has dissolved his physical marriage for “fornication” has also been Divinely set free (loosed) to remarry (Mt. 5:32; 19:9). 3.) The one who has never been loosed by God and seeks reconciliation after an unlawful divorce is authorized to remarry his original mate (I Cor. 7:11). Any other unrevealed “applications” are contrary to the truth (heresy), for they invade the silence of God (I Cor. 4:6; II Cor. 10:5; Col. 3:17; I P. 4:11).

Dearly beloved brethren, do not be deceived – whosoever marries a put away man or woman commits ADULTERY. It is only man’s wisdom that seeks to exclude some put away persons from the rule that Jesus gave to all put away persons. Men can assume, presume and speculate all they want (II P. 2:10), but the Lord still says, “…and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Mt. 19:9). Apostle Paul wrote, “let God be true, but every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4; emp. mine).

Special note: Please consider the following additional study materials:

Divorce & Remarriage; What Does The Text Say?, by Donnie Rader,

  • Chapter 8 Mental Divorce (May Some Put Away People Remarry);

  • Also consider pages 145-149 in the APPENDIX

Is It Lawful? A Comprehensive Study of Divorce By Dennis G. Allan and Gary Fisher,

  • Chapter 13 What Constitutes Divorce? (by Bob Waldron);

  • Chapter 38 Can You Put Away the Put-Away? (by Gary Fisher);

  • Chapter 39 The rights of an Innocent Put-Away Person (by Kevin S. Kay).

Mental Marriages and Mental Divorces (by Gene Frost). 

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Last Updated:  Thursday, January 26, 2006 12:41 PM