By Jeff Belknap 

If you call a dog’s tail a “leg,” how many legs does it have? The truth is, it only has four—regardless of what you call the tail.  Giving the tail a new name does not change what it really is.  

Throughout history, when people have desired to get around a truth so clear that it cannot be misunderstood, they have resorted to redefining simple words within their context (II Pet. 3:16). By redefining key words (which men never had cause to question in times past), the doctrine of Christ becomes corrupted (II Cor. 11:3). 

In recent years, President Clinton lied in denying his adulterous affair, and when exposed, stated that it was not a lie because it all depends on what your definition of “is” is. Such a ridiculous statement astounded and incensed the world. The point is, nobody ever had cause to question the meaning of “is” before President Clinton did – nor did they question it afterward!! 

This tactic (employed to circumvent the truth) is nothing new (Tit. 1:10a; II Jn. 7a).  Even in Old Testament times, we are told that there were those who called “…evil good and good evil…” (Isa. 5:20; cf. II Pet. 2:1). 

In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus spoke of people at the judgment who professed to Him that they accomplished “many wonderful works” in “thy name.” However, actions taken in Jesus’ “name” refer to activities authorized in His word (Col. 3:17; cf. Prov. 14:12). The works that these individuals performed were acts of lawlessness (v. 23). In addition, “wonderful works,” was redefined from the “good works” that are revealed in the gospel (Eph. 2:10; Heb. 13:20-21), to unauthorized works that looked good in their “own eyes” (Deut. 12:8; cf. II Cor. 5:7).

In the early days of the church, an apostasy which later became known as Catholicism began and “baptism” was redefined.  Up until that point, the meaning of “baptism” was clearly understood and no legitimate cause was ever given to question it. However, that did not keep some from redefining the word which means immersion, into something totally different (sprinkling).

Years later, we find perversion of the word “pastor,” by various religious persuasions. When the word was revealed in scripture, it was known to refer to an elder (shepherd) in the local church. However, many religious groups now use the word to denote their preacher, giving one (unqualified) man the oversight which God designated for a plurality of specifically qualified men (Tit. 1:5; I Pet. 5:1-2).

In more recent history, the word “fellowship” was modified from its spiritual context, to include social and recreational functions, hence “fellowship halls” were built and justified.

Most recently, there has been an attempt by some brethren to change the meaning of something we all have understood the meaning of – the term “put away” (Eph. 5:17). In an attempt to defend brother Ron Halbrook, brothers Harry Osborne and Tim Haile have publicly proclaimed (orally and / or in writing) that we cannot determine what procedure God meant when He spoke of “put away.” To question the meaning of such a simple inference that we have clearly recognized for many years, renders God’s will regarding the fate of the “put away” person (Mt. 5:32; 19:9) “of none effect” (Mk. 7:9, 13). 

But in regards to this issue, the redefining does not stop there. Recently, brother Harry Osborne has used the term, “biblical putting away” in his writings (and Lakeland sermon) on this MDR issue.  [If by use of the term “biblical putting away,” brother Osborne means a scripturally approved divorce, then I think we would all agree that the legal action taken in a modern divorce proceeding (or the recognized procedure in another society) is not always done in accordance with scriptural mandates. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that an unapproved divorce is Biblical in the sense that the Bible, in fact, acknowledges man’s capability to enact a divorce for a cause other than fornication (Mt. 5:32, 19:9 and Lk. 16:18).]  While “biblical putting away” is not an unscriptural term, when referred to in this way, it leaves an impression that (at least some) unlawful divorces are not divorces which God would recognize. Thus, it is concluded that such a divorce (which they claim is unrecognized) would not result in the innocent party being put away. 

Brother Ron Halbrook uses the terms “marriage” and “bond” interchangeably, as if they were synonymous.  However, such is a redefinition of the term marriage. To him, “the bond” that God enjoins upon a couple when they scripturally marry becomes the “marriage bond.” Once these terms, “marriage” and “bond,” are linked by redefinition, his next contention is that since unscriptural divorces do not break “the bond,” then some unscriptural divorces do not sunder the marriage. Therefore, unless both parties agree to the unscriptural divorce (other arbitrary rules may be included), the innocent put away person is not really put away. Do you recognize a pattern here?

In I Corinthians 7:11 & 15, an unscripturally divorced couple is commanded to remain “unmarried” or to be reconciled.  Brother Halbrook says that an innocent woman who is unjustly put away is still married,” because the bond remains [see excerpt from his MDR sermon given in Wilkesville, OH (June 14, 1990)]. However, scripture calls such a woman unmarried.”  Matthew 5:32b, 19:9b, and Lk. 16:18b reveal to us that she “is put away after her husband put her away unscripturally.  (It seems that the definition of “is” is being called into question, once again.)   

Recently, because I have contended that the Lord meant what he said and said what He meant when He taught that “…whosoever shall marry her that is divorced (with no differentiation, jhb) committeth adultery,” brother Haile has accused me of “forbidding marriage,” and teaching the “doctrine of devils.” Brother Osborne also wrote, “If brother Belknap seeks to be the apologist urging submission to the devil's doctrine, he treads a path which we dare not follow!” (both quotes on Gospel Anchor, posted 7-11-01). In addition, both Tim and Harry accuse me in their rejoinders of “binding where God has not bound,” when in reality, they are “loosing where God has not loosed.”

Finally, the term “application,” as it is being used in the current mental divorce controversy, is also being grossly misapplied. We are told that “we can differ in application, as long as we agree on the principle —‘Marriage is for one woman and one man for life, the only exception being that an innocent mate may put away a spouse guilty of fornication and have a right to marry another.’” This assertion is being used to justify fellowship with what I (and many others) clearly recognize as adultery. While their statement is true in and of itself, it does not pertain to this issue. Brothers Halbrook, Osborne and Haile affirm that some people who have already been civilly put away (Rom. 13:2; I Pet. 2:13; Tit. 3:1) may take additional steps that would eventually allow them to remarry another. The plain and simple words of Jesus (Mt. 5:32, 19:9), teach that what brothers Halbrook, Osborne and Haile advocate, ends in adultery!  Obviously, in the case of adultery, the “application” argument does NOT apply (II Tim. 2:15; Heb. 5:14), since we are commanded not to fellowship those involved in such a sin (Eph. 5:11; Rev. 2:14, 20-23).

In review, the Bible says that she is put away, but some say that she is not put away (cf. Gen. 3:4). The Bible says an unscriptural divorce results in one being unmarried, but some say she is still married (in some circumstances). The Bible calls scriptural and unscriptural divorces alike, “putting away,” but some say that certain divorces are not “biblical putting away.” Jesus taught (doctrine) that whosoever marries her that is put away commits adultery, but some say that this issue is not doctrinal (but belongs in the realm of Romans 14). Jesus says that “…whosoever shall marry her that is divorced (no exceptions based upon actions of the one putting away, jhb) committeth adultery,” but some say that this is the “doctrine of devils.

Dearly beloved brethren, BEWARE of this deceitful and digressive doctrine which makes God’s word of “none effect.”

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