It’s Not About Apoluo and Procedure
By Jeff Belknap
Recently, brethren have made a big to-do about how the Greek word “apoluo” (which is translated “put away”) does not necessarily involve civil procedure. I’m not saying that it is unimportant to study the biblical meaning of such words, for it is important. However, when the meaning of a word (that was clearly understood in the past and which was consistent with its usage in other biblical texts) is later questioned in order to justify a teaching that renders Jesus’ words of none effect, I take exception.
In the context of an unscriptural putting away against an innocent mate (one whom no fault is recorded against in Mt. 5:32; 19:9 and Lk. 16:18), Jesus said “and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” Obviously, from these texts, we can clearly see that there is some point at which an innocent person in such a case becomes what Jesus called “put away” unscripturally. There is some point at which an innocent victim’s potential for lawful marriage is prohibited by the law of the Lord (Mt. 5:32; 19:9 and Lk. 16:18).
Since different divorce procedures are in question at this time, how can we know which is the one that actually accomplishes the task of making the innocent one a “put away” person - and therefore ineligible to remarry without fornication? (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18; cf. II Cor. 11:3)
Well, we could use some brethren’s definition of “apoluo” which may not (or may) include a civil procedure. (They contend that when “apoluo” is translated as “divorce” or “put away,” it does not necessarily involve a civil procedure.) If this definition is used consistently, then the innocent wife was (what Jesus described as) “put away” at the point when her mate informed her of his intentions and left the house. Notice how brother Tim Haile says we can “divorce:”
“Having defined my terms, if I decide today to break my marriage with my wife, I have the power to do so, and so does she. I could accomplish such by simply leaving her and never coming back, or I could divorce her through legal channels…” (emp. jhb) Tim Haile, [“Putting Away The Myths About “Putting Away’” (Posted on Bible Banner 3-15-‘02)]
Or, we could stick with the more generous definition that brethren have understood for years, as being the point at which finalization of a divorce makes an innocent one “put away” (as Jesus described them). At least, this previously well-understood definition of civil divorce allows more time for an innocent person to take the necessary action to put away a fornicating spouse, if such a condition exists prior to the divorce. The finalization of a civil divorce is simply the last act in the process of repudiation (“putting out of the house,” etc.), which confirms that a divorce has taken place. At this point, there is nothing more that one can do to “put away,” for the act has been ratified.
Brethren contending for the definition of “apoluo” that does not involve civil authorities accuse brethren who understand it as involving civil law of binding a procedure where none is specified. They do so in defense of their teaching which allows some people who are civilly put away to employ another procedure which is said to later “put away” their spouse for the cause of fornication.
However, if their disagreement is really only over procedure (as they imply), then they would agree that the innocent spouse was put away – not at the time of civil divorce, but before it - since all those who have been civilly put away were first repudiated.
Think about that, brethren. If they are right (about civil law not being the determinant in divorce against an innocent party, but that a repudiation is the act which ratifies a divorce), it wouldn’t even matter if a mate had not “filed” for divorce before they left their spouse. Consistent application of their reasoning about procedure would dictate that if a man simply told his wife “I divorce you” and walked out the door, his wife would be put away and thus devoid of any hope to scripturally put him away - even if he had told her that he was having an affair on his way out.
These brethren’s own argument (that simple repudiation can really achieve a “putting away”) becomes a two-edged sword which would (at the very moment of the ungodly spouse’s departure) actually preclude the innocent from putting away – even in a case where scriptural cause was present!
However, since it is obvious that the aim of their contention is to promote greater, not lesser rights for the innocent put away party, we can safely conclude that the procedure is not their real issue of contention.
The genuine issue of controversy stems from the unwillingness of some brethren to accept the fact that an innocent person can be what Jesus called “put away” (and thus, necessarily subject to His pronouncement that any remarriage to another after becoming such, would result in adultery). This is where the teaching of some brothers (such as Harry Osborne and Tim Haile) intersects with the teaching of those revealing more extreme positions (such as brother Ron Halbrook).
The underlying basis for their doctrine results from their belief that in some cases, a person cannot be what Jesus called “apoluo” (put away) and is therefore not amenable to Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 5:32b; 19:9b and Luke 16:18b. (This fact is also confirmed by these brothers’ objection to labeling their doctrine as advocating a “second putting away,” even when it clearly advocates a post-civil-divorce-putting-away.)
These brethren contend that the burden of proof is upon those of us who say that in this country, civil law is what finalizes a divorce. No brethren, they are the ones who have the burden of proof! First they must establish their presupposition that - in some circumstances - when a mate perpetrates the act that Jesus called “put away,” (“apoluo,” Mt. 5:32a; 19:9a; Lk. 16:18a), the one they perpetrated it against is not what Jesus then called “put away” (“apoluo,” Mt. 5:32b; 19:9b; Lk. 16:18b).
Only when they have first borne that burden of proof does a discussion about what that procedure is, become relevant.
note: Please consider the following additional study materials:
Divorce & Remarriage; What Does The Text Say?,
by Donnie Rader,
Is It Lawful?
A Comprehensive Study of Divorce
By Dennis G. Allan and Gary Fisher,
Mental Marriages and Mental Divorces (by Gene Frost).