While brother Ron has refused discussion of the present issue of controversy for the past several years, he was definitely not silent about it before public examination of the topic began. In his below writing, it is clear that he has advocated and defended post-divorce “putting away.” Nevertheless, when he has been questioned regarding his “application” of the so-called Biblical “principle,” (which he passionately promoted in more private venues), he has refused to answer any specific questions openly. See: Plea For Clarification (Response to Ron’s letter in the April 2000 issue of Gospel Truths)
Since this current controversy began, Ron has repeatedly claimed that he is being misrepresented. Nevertheless, his numerous writings undeniably verify that he has advocated the “application” of post-divorce “putting away” for post-divorce fornication, and subsequent remarriage for some who have been unscripturally “put away.” (All emphases below are his.)
From: Ron Halbrook,
The following e-mails reflect discussions with friends about fine-tuning some points of application, but we agree on the basic principles of MDR. I do not attempt to get into all these points in preaching. If someone asks a question about such a point, I generally explain both views and encourage them to weigh them in their own conscience.
This basic process is necessary on every Bible subject.
Best wishes, Ron
I’m always glad to hear from you. You asked for clarification of a report that I believe that an innocent mate put away for a reason other than fornication, could later come back after the other mate had remarried and be right in a second marriage. That statement is too broad for me because it would allow a wife who is free of sexual immorality to mutually agree or consent to such a divorce, then play “the waiting game,” and claim the right to marry a new mate CONTRARY TO THE EXPLICIT TEACHING OF MATT. 5:32. The following statements will further clarify this matter.
1. In Matt. 5:32 & 19:9 Jesus legislated the one cause for which a marriage can be scripturally dissolved (i.e. on the ground of a mate being sexually immoral) and the innocent mate have the right to marry a new partner.
2. Jesus is not legislating civil actions & legal technicalities, which differ greatly from one society or culture to another. For instance, in Israel, there are no civil courts, papers, or records for divorce.
3. The statements in Matt. 5:32 & 19:9 to the effect that whoever marries a put-away woman commits adultery have a specific context. In 5:32, a man puts away his wife w/o proper grounds, and whoever marries her commits adultery. In the next case in 5:32, a man puts away his wife for fornication, and whoever marries her commits adultery. In 19:9, a man puts away his wife w/o scriptural grounds as in 5:32, and whoever marries her commits adultery. In the next case, a man puts away his wife for fornication as in 5:32, and whoever marries her commits adultery.
As best as I can understand these statements in their contextual limitations, the case of an adulterer who goes through the sham of initiating the civil divorce is not under consideration. As God alone can join or bind them under the marriage obligation, God alone can dissolve that bond or obligation when the terms and conditions are met which he laid down. The adulterer who initiates the civil divorce is still just as obligated to the marriage bond as he was on the day he said, “I do.” It is only when the innocent party puts away and repudiates the adulterer that God does the dissolving. That is to say, divine law predominates over civil law both in the matter of joining two people and in the matter of dissolving that bond. The man’s unscriptural action does not preclude the wife from repudiating the man on the ground of his immorality and appealing to God to dissolve the union.
4. When a man & his wife mutually agree to break up, each is guilty of putting the other in the danger of sinning by taking a new mate, as prohibited in Matt. 5:32. Therefore, if either of them commits this sin of taking a new mate, no release is given to the other party to take a new mate. The only hope this man and his true wife have is to be reconciled, or if that is not possible, to remain unmarried (1 Cor. 7:10-11).
5. What about a case where a man repudiates the marriage bond or obligation while his wife continues to respect, retain, and maintain that same marriage bond or obligation? Whether civil divorce proceedings are involved or not, God's law is such that the marriage bond or obligation is still in full force. They are still obligated to the demands of the marriage bond, even though the man refuses to accept those demands. If he hardens his heart further and takes another step on the road of sin by committing adultery, with or w/o a new marriage license, is his faithful wife the cause of his sin? No. Therefore, I do not see how Matt. 5:32 addresses that case.
So far as I understand it, brethren by and large agree on the basic principles stated above, though we may word or express them differently at times. But, there is some disagreement on how to apply these principles to the case of the faithful women here in point 5. Does her husband’s immorality give her the ground to repudiate him and her marital obligations to him, or do her obligations to him continue in force? Some brethren hold the view that since he repudiated and put away her, she cannot now repudiate and put away him. She is to be regarded as the put-away person who is not to marry a new mate. Thus, her only option is to be reconciled to her adulterous husband, or failing that, to remain unmarried.
Other brethren hold the view that other principles mentioned above come into play, permitting her to put away her adulterous husband on the ground of his immorality. The adulterer who initiates the civil divorce is still just as obligated to the marriage bond as he was on the day he said, “I do.” It is only when the innocent party puts away and repudiates the adulterer that God does the dissolving. That is to say, divine law predominates over civil law both in the matter of joining two people and in the matter of dissolving that bond. The man’s unscriptural action does not preclude the wife from repudiating the man on the ground of his immorality and appealing to God to dissolve the union. For some time, I have been trying to study everything I can find from both viewpoints, and to this point I believe the second of the two views. The reason is that I believe that divine law rather than civil law is the final determinant with reference to marriage (WHERE GOD DOES THE JOINING) and divorce (WHERE GOD DOES THE DISSOLVING), according to Matt. 5:32 & 19:9. Actually, when people ask me about it, I generally offer material from my files on both sides so that they can study it for themselves. Like yourself, I have tried to carefully avoid the maneuver of some who would like to sidetrack the current discussions of flagrant false doctrines so as to focus on some of these sideline or spin-off questions. As to whether we must divide on every point of difference regarding divorce, I have been working on a fairly extensive study of this matter for about 3 years. Many brethren have read it and offered in-put over that period of time. It will be published in the Guardian of Truth within the next couple of months, the Lord willing. Basically, I point out that we must take into account apples & oranges just as we do on every other matter. If some doctrine or practice destroys the basic principle of truth involved, it is inevitable that we will part company and it is commanded that we not continue in fellowship. If we hold the same basic principles and differ on some point of application, we do not necessarily divide. For instance, on the Lord’s Supper, we hold the same basic principles (day, elements, meaning, etc.) but may differ on whether we should eat it at the PM service if unable to attend AM. The same approach is valid on divorce. My article lists about 20 points of application on divorce over which brethren differ at times but which do not generally disrupt fellowship BECAUSE THERE IS NO DENIAL OF THE BASIC PRINCIPLES INVOLVED. The doctrines of Hailey, Bassett, etc. inevitably lead to division because the basic principles of morality are changed.
Perhaps this outline of thoughts will provide some things to think about as these studies continue from time to time. Let all of us be willing to test all things by Scripture, and to forebear with each other in full confidence that such studies can be productive of good. I have every assurance that we all share that common committment.
In Christian love,
P.S. I’m sending “Honorable Marriage” & two articles on “Must We Divide Over Every Difference...?” (all of which will be published within the next couple of months) and “No Waiting Game” (published some time ago in G.O.T.)
From: Ron Halbrook,
Good to hear from you. Even though some abuse the statement, “I’m still studying an issue,” it is a valid statement for all of us at times. We encourage all sincere people to have the attitude that we are willing to study any question or issue with an open mind & an open Bible. I believe both of us share that attitude, in spite of some who may misuse that plea as a cop-out when actually they are not willing to study.
If I follow you correctly, I agree on points 1-2 (i.e., that Jesus gave divine law on MDR rather than addressing legal systems & technicalities, and that fornication is the only ground for divorce & remarriage). Point 3 is too broad as a blanket statement (i.e., that we should tell all innnocent mates put away for causes other than fornication not to remarry under any circumstances). For instance, the person who did the unscriptural putting away may die, and this would release the innocent party from the obligations of the marrige bond. So, the first point to be clarified is that we are discussing people who have living mates.
Furthermore, a person may be in an unscriptural marriage which ends in divorce; in that case, an “innocent” party may be a put-away person who has the right to remarry. So, another point to be clarified is that we are discussing people previously in scriptural marriages.
Next, a man may be committing adultery against his wife, & may file for divorce; she may or may not countersue, but in any case, she may be viewed as the put-away person in the legal system. In fact, she is the only one who has grounds to put away the man, & she may scripturally do so even when she is not able to do so legally because of legal steps taken by the fornicator. The marriage bond remains in place until the innocent party repudiates it under divine law.
Next, a man may have enough regard for social convention that he will not go to bed with the “cute little thing” he wants rather than his wife; therefore, he may divorce his wife, then marry the “cute little thing,” thus going to the bed of adultery. Once again, the original marriage bond stays intact under divine law until he commits adultery against his wife; his legal steps do not dissolve the bond put in place when God joined them together (Matt. 19:9). Since his true wife remains faithful to the marriage bond, she & she alone has the right to repudiate the marriage under divine law. She may scripturally do so even when she is not able to do so legally because of legal steps taken by the treacherous husband.
Some object that this makes her guilty of a “waiting game” in violation of Matt. 5:32. To the contrary, she is not guilty of any such sin but is maintaining fidelity to the marriage bond put in place by God! If she were to divorce her husband w/o cause, & wait for him to find & marry a “cute little thing,” so that she could then claim to be an “innocent” party with grounds for remarriage, THEN she would be guilty of the waiting game. Jesus indeed precludes the waiting game in Matt. 5:32, but it seems to me that some brethren have missed the point of what the waiting game really means.
But, some object that Jesus does not detail a case like the one we are considering, therefore this innocent party has no grounds to remarry. The fact is that Jesus does not attempt to list, catalogue, & analyze all the situations which may occur, along with all the legal complications which may arise in different cultures & legal systems. The Bible would be set of encyclopedias if he had done so! He gave the principles of divine law, which we must then apply to situations & cases as they arise. Sound brethren are agreed on what the principles are, but we at times wrestle with how the principles apply to certain cases. Matt. 19:9(b) does not make a blanket statement covering all people who may have been put away in some sense. It deals directly with two principles which we must apply to various cases. (a) If a man puts away his wife where no fornication has occurred on the part of either mate, and if she then marries another man, whoever marries her goes to the bed of adultery with her. [Note: This does not give her original mate grounds to marry a new mate because he is pronounced guilty of causing her sin in 5:32.] (b) If a man puts away his wife for fornication, and if she then marries another man, whoever marries her goes to the bed of adultery with her.
What, then, about a man who dances a jig in the legal system, or otherwise tells his wife he is getting rid of her so that he can get another mate, and what effect does this have on the woman’s right to marry another mate? Matt. 19:9 does not address all the maneuvers people might use, but here is the PRINCIPLE in the passage which applies to her: Since she is faithful to her marriage bond, she is the only one in a position to assert the scriptural ground to put him away “for fornication” & to marry another. HERE IS A KEY POINT OFTEN OVERLOOKED: The farce acted out by the man with or w/o legal sanction does not impinge upon her fidelity to the marriage bond or her God-given rights under the original terms of that bond. If she is faithful to the terms of the marriage bond & if he violates them, a thousand statements by him repudiating his marriage & a thousand legal documents sanctioning him do not cancel her fidelity or her rights under the true terms of the marriage bond.
If someone says, “But since Jesus did not specify & detail all the steps that occurred in her case, I would have doubt in my conscience,” I would answer that Jesus did not specify & detail all the steps that occur in many other cases &, therefore, we must look for the principles which apply. Meanwhile, it is not necessary for such a person to remarry & I would never encourage them to do something about which he or she is doubtful.
In conclusion, it seems to me your point 3 is too broad. Like yourself, I am open to further study on these matters. May God bless you in all your labors.
In Christian love,
No matter what the law of God is, when man breaks it, it does not change the demands & obligations involved in that law. We are not to steal. If we break that law, does this mean we can keep the booty? No. The law establishes the right of the original owner to his property.
Think of your question in the light of Mk. 6:17-18: Herod & Herodius broke the law but did not dissolve the obligations & demands of the marriage law--notice carefully John’s wording. She left Philip (violating Matt. 19:6 principle), & Herod had her (was “married” to her=accommodative language, because not joined by God in marriage), but it was not lawful to have her. Man can break the human side of the relationship (i.e. walk away from his mate) but cannot dissolve the divine bond or obligation. Also, consider Rom. 7:1-3 on this point. It speaks of being married to another person, but God doesn’t join them, doesn’t set in place the divine bond.
From a human view it is marriage, but from a divine view it is adultery. So, only God can put in place the true bond, & ONLY GOD CAN RELEASE OR DISSOLVE IT. God forgiving the sin of divorce doesn’t mean He releases one from the obligations of his marriage vows; God forgiving adultery doesn’t mean he can return to the bed of adultery. God forgiving sin doesn’t transform an adulterous marriage into an honorable one. Baptism or forgiveness doesn’t change a person’s marital status. He either has a lawful, scriptural marriage OR he does not. Hope this helps. Ron
I leave in a few hours for a 2 week preaching trip out west, come home for 12 days, then leave for 5 weeks in the Philippines. I would appreciate your prayers for these efforts to spread the gospel. Before leaving, I wanted to offer a few comments on your discussion of “mental divorce.”
1. Some teach a man can divorce his wife (as seen in Matt. 5:32), wait for her to remarry, then profess to put her away again for adultery by a mere mental act. A man can no more divorce just by thinking about it than he can marry by such a process. There is no such thing as this imaginary “mental divorce” and God does not recognize it. In fact, Matt. 5:32 forever bars the door against it. Notice in this text, rather than being released or exonerated by his wife’s adultery, the man is HELD ACCOUNTABLE for it by the Lord! For more discussion on this, see my article, “Divorce & Remarriage: No Waiting Game,” which I will forward.
2. Brethren who teach Jesus gave only one ground for scriptural divorce and remarriage, and who repudiate the “mental divorce” concept defined above, differ at times among themselves as to details in applying the one ground. Some other situations are labelled “mental divorce” by some brethren, which I do not believe fit this category at all. In discussions about this with several, I have learned there are differences over which other situations fit the label. For instance, some insist that the innocent party in a divorce for fornication must initiate the civil process of divorce, and the legal ground recorded in the divorce papers must say fornication or adultery. I heard 3 preachers argue that there must be 2 or 3 witnesses to the adultery. Otherwise, there is only a “mental divorce,” and the innocent party should not remarry. Others do not go that far, but say the innocent party must initiate the civil process but is allowed more flexibility in what legal ground is recorded. In this view, if the guilty party initiates the divorce, there is only a “mental divorce” and the innocent party should not remarry. Others do not go that far, but say the innocent party must at least countersue if the guilty party initiates the civil process. Otherwise, there is only a “mental divorce.” There is a wider range of such differences in when to use the label “mental divorce,” including the question of what a truly innocent party may do if a mate sinfully initiates a civil divorce before committing the adultery.
3. I have difficulty at times knowing how to sort out all the details and proper applications in certain cases. That statement applies to any Bible subject, including MDR. Where there is a common and conscientious commitment to God’s fundamental law on MDR, I am willing to allow some room for individuals to make their own judgments without my passing judgment on them. Where there is a clear, flagrant violation of that law, I would not hesitate to speak out.
A brother and friend stated the view that “if a man unscripturally divorces his wife and marries another, the first wife may not remarry (even though her former husband is now committing fornication).” He said I would disagree with that statement. Actually, I believe the statement is generally accurate. So often, both the man and the woman subscribe to their unscriptural divorce, and neither of them has any right to marry again except by being reconciled to teach other. I would make this clarification: Since God does not dissolve the marriage bond in unscriptural divorces, and since one mate may be truly faithful to that bond when the other initiates divorce, if adultery occurs I would leave it to the judgment of the innocent party to decide how God’s law applies. My friend and brother stated the view that “if a man commits adultery and then unscripturally divorces his wife, the wife may not remarry (even though her former husband has committed fornication).” He is right in saying I would disagree with that statement. Again, I note that God does not dissolve the marriage bond just because a fornicator takes some legal action, but does so only when the innocent party repudiates the fornicator. It is not my purpose to elaborate arguments pro and con here, but simply to demonstrate that brethren with a common committment to basic principles of truth continue to struggle with details of application. I do not believe my brother and friend is any less committed to the basic principles of truth on MDR than myself. I believe he will agree that any two brethren sharing basic principles of truth on a subject may find themselves struggling with and differing over details of application at times.
4. I think all of us agree there needs to be patience and forbearance among brethren who are committed to the same principles of truth but who may disagree at times on how that truth applies in a certain situation. Mike Willis and I agree 100 percent on the Bible principle regarding divorce and remarriage. It teaches the rule of one man for one woman for life, with only one exception: when fornication occurs, the innocent party can put away the guilty party and marry a new mate. There is no doctrinal difference here at all. Our only difference is in how we might think that doctrine or principle should be applied to a certain situation. Neither of us charges the other with false doctrine or sin, but, if each of us found ourselves in a certain situation, we might handle it differently, each respecting the conscience of the other.
Mike and I share the understanding that differences should not be allowed which involve the practice of adultery. Also, we share the understanding that judgments must be made in applying the fundamental Bible rule on MDR to given situations, and sometimes our judgments differ. While each such judgment involves some difference of conscience, that does not mean we must be ready to conclude and charge that we are certain someone is practicing adultery. I might say, “I could not have done that in that situation,” but I may be able to recognize that the person who made that decision did so out of a conscientious effort to follow the very same principle of truth on MDR which I embrace. I have never believed that every difference of this kind must be equated with the differences which result from a repudiation of the fundamental Bible principle on MDR (alien sinners are not subject to this truth at all; the put-away fornicator can marry a new mate; adultery is non-sexual covenant breaking; etc.).
Because of the constant need to resist attacks on basic moral and doctrinal truth, we have necessarily concentrated on those areas in our study and teaching. We generally have not done as much study and teaching on how to handle differences of judgment and conscience which do not involve a repudiation of basic moral and doctrinal truth. Consequently, some brethren equate these two vastly different categories of difference.
This mixes apples and oranges. The result is unnecessary friction at times, and this plays into the hands of the advocates of unity-in-doctrinal-diversity who claim we must embrace their ecumenical vision or be doomed to divide, split, and splinter into smithereens over every sort of difference. My efforts to study the point of this paragraph resulted in the articles, “Must We Divide Over Every Difference on Divorce-Remarriage,” which I will forward. Some of you have it because you gave your input at my request before its publication. This topic needs more study, and I am open to all suggestions, criticisms, and comments.
I must stop and grab a few hours sleep--had only 3 1/2 last night. I hope these few thoughts will be helpful in some way, as we all continue to study these matters. I appreciate the input some of you have given me at times on this subject and others. I have plenty to learn and do not pretend my judgments are infallible. Because of our common committment to the absolute authority of God’s Word in all things, I am optimistic that we can all grow and progress in our understanding as we continue to listen to each other and then to search the Scriptures whether these things are so.
I ask your prayers on my behalf toward that end.
In Christian love,