Marriage and Bond
By Gene Frost
WE have the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:9: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (NKJ)
Jesus refers to a man who divorces his wife, which may be in one of two different situations: (1) when the cause of the divorce is sexual infidelity committed by his wife, and (2) when there is no cause of infidelity. In both cases, the divorce is the same, means the same thing. The one use of the word serves in both situations. In both cases, if the man is law-abiding, the action takes place in civil action. Both divorces are “legal divorces,” and the husband and wife are “really divorced.” Saying that only when the divorce is because of fornication is it a real divorce is special pleading. Logically it is a fallacious argument. That is, it is poor reasoning and it is not so.
To make a distinction between divorces – a real divorce and a civil or legal divorce (denying that it is real) – charges Jesus with equivocation, another fallacy of reasoning. And what is unconscionable is that it has Jesus guilty of using divorce two ways in the same sentence and, even worse, in the same word! He uses the word divorce the one time and means by it both (1) a real divorce and (2) just a legal divorce. We have two different divorces expressed in one and the same word! Jesus does not use the plural “divorces.” He says “divorce” (singular). This complicates the problem: it has Jesus using poor grammar, by using a singular verb when He means plural. To demonstrate the confusion which results from assigning two different meanings to the word “divorce,” let the theorists tell us: the one time when Jesus used “divorce” in Matthew 19:9, which did He mean: (1) a real divorce, or (2) a legal divorce? The word in the text:
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
Obviously, the problem is not in what Jesus said, but in the spin some put upon what He said. Before there can be any profitable dialogue on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, we all must speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11), and drop the use of additional words that some supply to the text. The text nowhere speaks of a “real divorce” in contrast to a “civil divorce.” The very fact that some have to supply words – uninspired and hence alien to God’s thoughts and will – in order to establish their position ought to cause everyone else to take notice. To express God’s will, God’s word is sufficient. Let us understand that when God uses the word “divorce,” He means divorce, and when uses it again it still means divorce ... that is, until someone can find in His revelation where He speaks of “real divorce” and of “legal divorce,” or even “unreal divorce.” Of course, the language cannot be found, and the terminology needs to be dropped and the concept it expresses needs to be abandoned.
Where there is a divorce, we do not have to determine whether it is a real divorce or an unreal (whether called civil, legal, or whatever) divorce. It is a divorce. That is what God calls it, whether it was with or without His sanction. The only question that remains is, did God approve of the divorce? When one obtains a divorce without the cause being a violation of the marital commitment, his action is without God’s approval. Neither he nor the one put away have a right to remarry. In doing so he “commits adultery” AND “whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” It is not a question of whether the divorce was real or unreal – it is a divorce, and the marriage (the physical relationship) is no more. The covenant is broken; the marriage no longer exists.
Now factor in the result of divorce. Some are saying that when divorce is without Scriptural cause, it is only spatial separation, and the marriage is intact. Only when the divorce is because of marital infidelity is the relationship severed so that the marriage is no more. It is boldly proclaimed that an unscriptural divorce releases neither party from marriage! Consider the implications. When a man divorces his wife, not for the cause of fornication, and marries again, the Lord says that he is married, yet according to the theorists his previous marriage is still intact, he is still married to the first wife – married to two women at the same time! We wonder, does he still have marriage responsibilities to his first? May she engage in sexual activity with him since they are still married? O what confusion when we tamper with the words of inspiration!
Now apply “spatial separation” where the text has “divorce.” Of course, the theorists will have to tell us when a “divorce” is real and the marriage is severed and when a “divorce” is mere spatial separation and the marriage unscathed. To demonstrate the foolishness of this equivocation, again we ask the theorists to tell us which “divorce” the word intended when He said, “whoever divorces his wife…” (Matthew 19:9) Only one definition makes sense in both situations to which the Lord referred. Marriage refers to the physical relationship, and divorce to the putting asunder of a man from his wife in their physical relationship. To render it a separation only in space, with the physical relationship still intact, creates confusion. Truth demands clarity of thought; error thrives in confusion.
Just here we need to make note of the lack of clarity when the theorists describe the action of putting away. That is, what does one do to divorce a mate? Without involvement of the civil law system, we are told that the word that best describes the action of putting away is repudiation. Yet when one realizes that “repudiation” is the same thing as “divorcement” – the action of one is the action of the other – he understands that this is speaking tautologically. It is equivalent to saying that the action of divorcement is … well, to divorce. Thayer, in his Greek-English Lexicon, in defining apoluo, says it means, “when used of divorce … to dismiss from the house, to repudiate” (page 66). He does not list means by which to accomplish a divorce, but synonyms which are descriptive: to divorce is to repudiate. He does not say that one way to divorce is to repudiate. The word “repudiate” is derived from the Latin repudiatus, past perfect of repudiare, which means “to put away, divorce.” Repudium is “separation, a divorce.”1 From the Latin we get our English repudiate and repudiation. The repudia- derivatives were introduced into the English language in 1545.2 One form is found in the Latin Vulgate in Deuteronomy 24:1, 24:3, Isaiah 50:1, Jeremiah 3:8, Matthew 5:31, Matthew 19:7, and Mark 10:4. In Matthew 5:31 and Mark 10:4 the Greek text is apoluo. Thus the word we render “divorce” in English, in the Greek is apoluo, and in Latin is repudii. So in its historical Scriptural meaning, repudiate is equivalent to divorce.
In more recent years, the word has come to mean one’s refusal: “to refuse to have anything to do with” or “to refuse to accept or support,” etc.3 From its present use in the controversy of MDR, I fear that some conceive of repudiation as the decision one makes when a former mate finally remarries into an adulterous relationship. The “innocent” partner then decides, “Now I repudiate him/her.” This is in the mind, which may then be expressed as one’s decision to disown the former mate. As one writer has put it, one “would have to do this before God in purpose of heart since the divorce has already taken place, legally speaking.” This is divorcement as a mental process, and does not require civil or legal sanction. Without civil recognition of the action, we are told that “God would know.” Of course, He would, but this alone does not justify mental divorces. God would know when a couple started living together as husband and wife, upon exchanging vows, but would this be marriage as God ordained? Does not God provide for society’s approval, that marriages are to be ratified? And the same with divorcement? (See my article, “Marriage and Divorce in Various Cultures,” Gospel Truths, October 2003.)
On the other hand, if the theorists argue that by repudiation they mean a public action accepted and approved by society, we respond by asking: since repudiation cannot reduplicate the action taken when the marriage covenant was annulled, then specifically what does one do to repudiate? How does repudiation, when one repudiates without the cause of fornication, differ from the repudiation when the innocent repudiates the ex-mate who is in an adulterous marriage? If repudiation means the same as divorce, the severing of the marriage relationship, then how can one later, after a former spouse remarries, sever a physical relationship that does not exist (that was severed at the first repudiation)? And what is the public action acceptable to and approved by society? The introduction and predominant use of an old Latin term has not served to clarify the issue. It has given opportunity for a spin that does not work well with the word “divorce.”
Marriage refers to the physical relationship, wherein both the man and woman (who are free to marry) vow before God to honor the relationship, to fulfill the responsibilities and respect the restraints of marriage, so that when confirmed and consummated they are joined by God who binds each to his/her commitment. Man is responsible for the marriage; he is in control of the physical relationship, to create it, maintain it, or violate it. When he creates and maintains it according to God's revealed will, he is approved of God. To violate God’s prescribed order, for no other than selfish reasons, and dismisses (divorces) a mate, one comes under God’s judgment. Still it is within his power to do as he wills, to create and maintain the physical relationship of husband and wife or to sever it. He may thus act with or without God's approval. Even so, whether a marriage meets with God’s approval or condemnation, when God refers to it as a “marriage,” so it is. It is foolish to declare that a marriage severed by divorce is still a marriage intact. The physical relationship is no more.
In discussing the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, we need to speak with clarity. The terms, marriage/divorce and bound/loose, are not to be confused. We must take care to observe that the marriage is distinct from the bond. Confusion results when the two, the bond and the marriage, are joined together. When brethren speak of a “marriage bond” or of “bound marriages,” they assume that the bond binds the marriage, which means that the marriage exists until the bond is broken. This, they say, constitutes the “real marriage.” To illustrate: if a woman is divorced, and, while her husband is still alive, she marries another man, she assumes the role of an adulteress. (Romans 7:2-3) Question: Is she really married to the second man? The inspired writer says that she is “married”! So, yes, she is truly, in fact, married. While still bound by the law of the first man, she is married to another man – yes, bound by vow to one and married to another. Bond and married are not synonyms. Although she is in fact married, in a physical relationship of husband and wife, it is a marriage which God does not approve. However, a marriage is a marriage, good or bad, lawful or unlawful–the physical relationship exists. To declare that a marriage, which God refers to as a marriage, though unapproved, is not a real marriage but only a “spatial separation”—a definition not found in Scripture—is foolishness. To say that a divorced woman who has remarried, is still really married to the first man, though she is in a real physical relationship with the second is foolishness. Words mean something, and not whatever someone may want them to mean according to his own whim.
Bound / Loosed
The Scriptures refer to marriage which results in each being bound, and from which one may be loosed by death or a spouse's sexual infidelity.
“Bound” (deo), in Romans 7:2, is used metaphorically; It is not a binding together, as some have suggested in earlier controversies and alluded to presently, as bound together by a rope or by handcuffs. If so, it would follow that when one is loosed, unbound, both would be set free, and would be free to marry again. This cannot be in that when one is loosed, the one put away commits adultery in a second marriage. (Matthew 5:32, 19:9)
To be “loosed” (katargeomai) is to be “discharged,” “released,” “clear from (apo),” or “free from (apo),” as it is variously translated in Romans 7:2. What one (in this case, the woman) is freed from is “the law of the husband,” meaning the law concerning the husband. “For the woman that hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband ... she is free from that law” (Romans 7:2, 3). “Bound” (deo) is defined as: “to bind, i.e. put under obligation, sc. of law, duty, etc.”4 The binding is not physical, between persons, but spiritual in the mind of God, as He binds each to the obligation he vowed; it is His law of marriage. It is God who binds and looses. Death discharges (katargeo) one from the law so as to set him “free, at liberty, not under restraint or bondage,” “exempt, from an obligation” (eleutheros).5 The release is from both “restraint and obligation.”6 It should be obvious that no human can put away the bond.
It is God who releases, just as it is He who binds. Someone has asked, Can a woman “‘loose herself’ from her bond to her husband, because of his fornication,” even after he has divorced her? The answer theorists give is, “Yes, she can.” Not so. At no time can one “loose” himself/herself from the bond. That’s the prerogative of God. This question and answer, however, demonstrates that marriage and bond are being confused, blended together. To make marriage and bond indistinct creates confusion. I have often said that unless people understand the clear distinction between bond and marriage, there will be confusion in their thinking on this subject. I am persuaded that this is now the case in the present controversy.
Another source of confusion comes when terms are redefined to include some ingredient necessary to validate a conclusion. For example, some theorists are now saying that apoluo inherently includes the right of remarriage. Inherent means what exists with and is inseparable. No lexicographer so defines the word. If it were so, then wherever there is a putting away, the meaning would be unaffected, whether it is used in the active or passive voice. This would mean that the one who puts away (apolusee, subjunctive, aorist, active, third person singular, of apoluo) would have the right to remarry, and the one put away (apolelumeneen, present perfect participle, active, feminine single – the masculine would be apolelumenov – of apoluo) would have the right to remarry: But, again, Jesus states that one who marries one put away (apoluo) commits adultery, and Jesus does not contradict Himself. But He does contradict the theorist. All of this changing of definitions simply demonstrates a frenzied effort to sustain a conclusion. It does not clarify; it only confuses the issue.
“Husband” and “Wife”
In an effort to validate the assumption that marriages are still intact following “divorce,” where there is no cause of fornication, it is argued that the words “husband” and “wife” affirm it. Not only is the marriage intact, but also the bond. Thus when the Bible speaks of one, who has been put away, as a husband or wife, this indicates that a real marriage still exists and they are still bound.
Certainly, when one is first called a husband or wife, it is following a lawful marriage in which they are bound. When a man and woman, who are free to marry, are joined in marriage, the physical relationship is established, and each is bound by God to his/her vows and commitment. They become husband and wife. The marriage may be severed by divorce. However, only death or a mate’s infidelity is cause for the dissolution of the bond. When a couple is divorced, with no marital infidelity as the cause, they are indeed divorced and the physical relationship (the marriage) is terminated, and they are unmarried though still bound. (Romans 7:2) The only recourse he/she has is to remain unmarried or be reconciled to the divorced mate, the husband or wife to whom he/she is bound. Though referred to as “husband” or “wife,” the terms do not mean that the marriage is intact. Proof:
“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.” (I Corinthians 7: 10-11)
Note that the marriage is terminated, and the wife is unmarried. Her only recourse is to remain “unmarried” or be reconciled to her “husband.” It is a concept in the mind of the theorist—not revealed from the mind of God—that “husband”/“wife” means one currently married and bound. “Husband” (wife) does not mean that one is married and/or bound.
In order to avoid confusion, let us define the terms, careful to be precise and not vague. First, to define “husband” and “wife.” Husband is the translation of the Greek word aner, which means “a man, i.e. an adult male person.”7 There is no distinct word for “husband.” Aner may be translated “husband” as the context indicates. Aner appears, as I hurriedly counted the listing, 223 times (so more or less), of which only 49 times is it translated “husband.” As with “husband,” there is no distinct word for “wife.” The word for wife is gune, which is so translated 92 times, and as “woman” 129 times. How aner and gune are translated is determined by the context, not by an inherent meaning within the terms. Nevertheless, strangely modern theorists tell us that where we find aner translated “husband,” it means more than a “man,” and more than just a “married man”; it refers to a man “bound in marriage.” Also “wife” (gune) means more than just “woman,” and more than just a “manied woman.” “Husband” and “wife” refer to the bond, so that “wife” by definition is the “bound mate” of the man, and “husband” becomes “bound mate” of the woman. This definition and distinction cannot be found in any accepted Greek lexicon. It is manufactured.
The truth is, when a man marries a woman (gune), she literally becomes his woman, hence a woman belonging to the man, a “married woman.” In English we call her “wife,” which means “a married woman; specif. a woman in her relationship to her husband.”8 Instead of translating the text literally “his woman” (Matthew 5:32), the translators render the words “his wife.” The plural, “your women,” is rendered “your wives.” “Wife,” instead of “woman,” does not take on some added significance to mean something more than one’s “woman.” The same is true of “husband,” which literally is “man” (aner). “Her man” is rendered “her husband.”
“Wife” may refer to one in a marriage, or by identification to a previous marriage, or even to a promised marriage. Joseph was told, “fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife” (Matthew 1:20), when at the time they were only betrothed (Luke 2:5), and not yet living as husband and wife. To note that gune is sometimes translated “wife” does not clarify anything in the present controversy. When it is assigned a definition that is not inherent in the word, it only adds confusion.
The word “wife” in the Old Testament is the translation of the Hebrew word ishshah, which means a “woman, female, of any age or condition, married or unmarried, e.g. Genesis 2:24.”9 When used of a married woman, as denoted by the context, the translators use the word “wife.” God was a witness between the man and his “wife.” (Malachi 2:14)
If “wife” meant a “bound mate,” then the marriage would be one approved of God and the parties bound to their vows, promises and commitments. Yet we find that some men in Israel were ordered to “put away their wives” (Ezra 10:9), which they did. Are we to believe that God wanted “bound mates” put away? Or, is it an assumption that “wives” mean “bound mates”? The latter is true. It is a fanciful argument, born of desire to legitimize a second divorcement after the fact of a previous divorcement, and is based on incorrect definitions.
In John 4:16-18, Jesus encountered a woman and told her to call her husband and to come back. She replied, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus acknowledges that she had before had five husbands, and the man with whom she was then living was not her husband. Are we to suppose that she had outlived five men to whom she had been bound in marriage, and now as a widow was living with a paramour? The translators use the word “husbands,” which would be the case if husband means a bound-mate, and not just married. Literally, Jesus refers to her having had five men; “having” refers to possession or special relation or connection, as in marriage. (It is of no great import, only that it seems more reasonable to suppose that she had been married five times, rather than married and widowed five times.) The point is, that “husband” (one’s man) does not convey the idea of one bound, but simply of one married, with or without God’s approval.
The advocates of the new concept add more confusion by asserting that “husband” and “wife” are “possessive of ‘man’ and ‘woman’.” Surely they are not saying that grammatically husband (which is in the nominative case) is possessive, i.e. in the possessive case, which obviously it is not. Perhaps it meant that husband and wife are “possessives,” i.e. they show ownership? Are we saying that the word “wife” indicates that this is a woman belonging to a man, that she is possessive (a possession) of man? If so, then what’s the point? The word “wife” means a married woman. It does not mean a “bound married woman.” And, as shown, it may be used of one presently married, or betrothed to be married (considered as though already married), or having been married to one identified. Yet the argument being made is that “wife” is used to mean more than just one who is married, rather it refers to a “bound relationship,” the “marriage bond.” See why words are modified, refined, or claimed to have inherent meanings they do not have, etc.? It is to reach a conclusion that Biblical language alone would never convey. This is begging the question. To prove that “wife” means a “bound married woman,” appeal is made to a definition that assumes the very thing it is quoted to prove. Grant one the right to define terms as he pleases, and he can prove anything! The argument is fallacious.
I fear that there has been such a desire to rush into print any and every thing that seems to support a position that clarity of thought and properly reasoned arguments have suffered. I therefore appeal to all who are involved in this controversy to slow down, to calmly and fully study the points to be made. A lot of time can be wasted in correcting foolish arguments, which should not have been made in the first place. Study the Bible to learn the truth, what God would have us to believe, rather than to support a preconceived idea.
Now is the time for cool heads and reasoned studies to prevail.
1 Webster’s New World Dictionary, page 207.
2 Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historic Principle, C.T. Onions, ed., page 1710.
4 Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, page 131.
5 A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the N.T.; Edward Robinson, Greek English Lexicon, page 239.
6 W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of N.T. Words, vol. II, page 130.
7 Spiros Zodhiates, Word Study Dictionary of N.T.
8 Webster’s New World Dictionary.
9 William Wilson, Wilson’s Old Testament Word’s Studies.