Reprinted with permission from Don Martin and Danny Brown (editor of The Preceptor). Originally published in The Preceptor, January, 1987 (Volume 36, Number 3) Special Feature Section: Scriptural Divorcement. Ironically, although this was written back in 1987, it answers today’s arguments that seek to justify post-civil-divorce puttings away.
By Don Martin
Beloved, it is time we faced the fact that divorcement is a major problem in America. With one out of every two marriages ending in divorce, divorce has now become a run away epidemic. More and more television documentaries and magazine editors are focusing on this plague. Historians, sociologists, and psychologists are warning America that divorce is destroying the very fiber of our country—the family. Sociologists tell us that even if the devastating high rate of divorcement were immediately arrested, the adverse consequences would continue on for at least several generations (children of divorced parents carrying out in their lives what they observed in their parents’ lives).
A growing number of preachers, elders and churches are finding themselves in situations which require either an unvacillating stand or doctrinal compromise. Some local churches, those that have chosen to compromise or ignore the problem, which is tantamount to compromise, are literally filling up with unscripturally divorced and remarried people.
While we are all very concerned with the present and future condition of our country and in how to have productive families, the burden of this article shall be to examine and explore divorcement and some related matters from a scriptural standpoint.
The Scriptures Recognize The Act of Divorcement
Concerned reader, divorcement is not a new problem. Divorcement was a scourge in the days of the prophets1 and in the life of our Lord.2 In fact, divorcement was one of the heated issues of Jesus’ day. There were two opposing schools: The School of Shammai ostensibly held that a man could only divorce his wife on grounds of her impurity (adultery); while the School of Hillel taught divorcement on any grounds.3 Notwithstanding, Jesus unequivocally and boldly stated God’s moral law relative to divorce and remarriage.4 However , lest we digress too far at this stage of development, allow me to return to our initial point—the scriptures recognize the act of divorcement. Jesus taught:
But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. Also, And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.5
What Is The Act of Divorcement, Scripturally Speaking?
Beloved, you will observe from the foregoing passages that Jesus taught that a put away or divorced person cannot remarry without sin. In fact, on every occasion in which the Lord mentioned a put away person, the divorced6 experience sin if they contract another marriage.7 “Preacher ,” someone objects, “don’t you mean the guilty put away mate cannot remarry without sin?” Unbiased reader, Jesus did not limit or restrict the “put away.” In other words, the put away, according to Jesus, is the one put away because of their adultery (scripturally put away) and/or the innocent put away (unscripturally put away, see more later).
What constitutes the act of divorcement? Is scriptural divorcement only a private, mental act? Is it a mental decision which results in some limited declaration (at least to the one being “put away”); or is scriptural divorcement a mental decision which results in conformity to the scriptures AND to the social and civil laws governing the putting away party?
Before we directly consider what is the act of scriptural divorcement, let us examine the opposite state of divorcement—marriage. Beloved, what is marriage? Surely, divorcement, being the opposite of marriage, basically consists of the same fundamental elements. Would you say scriptural marriage involved a mental decision? Why, sure you would. The two parties have mentally decided they want to be married. Are they married at the point of private, mental decision? Certainly not. You never read of the practice or of the concept of a private, mental decision constituting marriage in the scriptures. There was a covenant made between the two parties involving a commitment one to another. This commitment was with a view to the understood state of marriage.8 There were also ceremonies among the Hebrews which were declarative of their marital intentions.9 Fellow Christian, the scriptures teach that we must comply with civillaw.10 Would two people in this country be married (legally and in God's sight) without declaring their intentions to be married and without conformity to civil law?11
Intelligent reader, what important difference is there between scriptural marriage and scriptural divorcement, as far as these essential elements are concerned? Can you imagine all the confusion which would result if this doctrine of a private, mental divorcement and the converse mental marriage were fully practiced? For sure, marriage and divorcement in society would be a chaotic state. Who would know who is married and who is divorced? If A and B have an argument and in a momentary outburst of anger B says, “I wish I were not married to you,” has B, at that specific point in time, divorced A? Brethren, God is not the author of confusion and certainly he is not the author of mental divorcement.12
In spite of the parallel between the act of marriage and the act of divorcement, one preacher recently wrote relative to the act of divorcement independent of any civil procedure. The illustrated case involved a woman whose husband had unscripturally divorced her. He has now remarried. Hear him: “Is the ‘put away’ woman then free to marry? She certainly is, if she puts away her husband for fornication. She would have to do this before God in purpose of heart since the divorce has already taken place, legally speaking. She could not go through the process of having a legal document charging her husband with ‘adultery,’ but God would know.” (All emphasis throughout mine, dm.)
“Oh, but, preacher,” someone interrupts, “how about righteous Joseph’s intention to privately put away Mary?” Admittedly, the case of Joseph’s decision to privately put away Mary is used as an example of a case of a private, mental divorcement.13 Alfred Edersheim, considered by many as the foremost authority on first century Jewish customs and practices, maintains that the private putting away of Matthew 1:19 was a regular divorce. He wrote: “...Resolve to ‘put her away,’ which could only be done by regular divorce; this one determination only standing out clearly, that, if it must be, her letter of divorce shall be handed to her privately, only in the presence of two witnesses….It was a relief that he could legally divorce her either publicly or privately”14 The difference, then, in the “public” and “private” divorce was Joseph’s decision not to charge Mary, but to put her away without charge.15
Some who advocate that scriptural divorcement or putting away is realized short of civil procedure and who will not contend that the Christian is allowed to disobey civil law, maintain that civil law does not require a civil procedure in order for the marriage relationship to be severed.16 Henry V. Poor, Associate Dean, Yale University Law School, wrote the following in legally differentiating between annulment and divorcement: “A divorce decree, on the other hand, says that your marriage is ended from the time the decree becomes final. It does not look back; it does not say there was no valid marriage. It says there is no marriage from a stated time on.”17 Beloved, according to civil law, two people remain married (I am not discussing the bond) until there is a civil decree of divorcement.
The Use of Put Away In The Scriptures
Some who are presently teaching that an individual can scripturally divorce without the applicable civil procedure, confuse “marriage” and “bond.”18 Their argument is stated as follows: “A puts away B for some unscriptural cause,” they contend. “A subsequently remarries. Since A and B are still bound in God’s sight, B can now put away (scripturally) A on grounds of adultery.”
Concerned one, Jesus used “put away” (apoluo) to describe the unscriptural action which one commits against one’s mate.19 We observe this use of apoluo (put away) when the exception phrase is not activated. Notice the language when the exception phrase is passive: “But I say unto you that whosoever shall put away his wife...Causeth her to commit adultery…” Is she still bound to the husband who put her away? Absolutely! Notwithstanding the fact that she remains bound to her husband, she is a put away person.20 To illustrate the scriptural use of apoluo (put away or divorced), please consider the following breakdown of apoluo:
1. Apoluo (put away) is used to describe the releasement from the marriage relationship indebtedness without any reference to the severance of the marriage bond.21
2. Apoluo (put away) is used to describe the releasement from the marriage relationship indebtedness and from the marriage bond.22
3. Hence, the put away person is one who is either scripturally (for their fornication) or unscripturally (some other cause) put away. Such a one cannot scripturally remarry.
Can the put away mate (unscripturally put away) subsequently put away her mate, providing she does not remarry and her husband does ? This question brings us specifically back to the plight of A and B. Beloved, how can B put away A if B is already put away (remember how the Lord used apoluo, put away)?
Most of the situations and arguments over which brethren are disagreeing are emotional in nature, often involving the fairness argument. One well known preacher recently wrote of a hypothetical case where both parties wanted the divorce. Hear him: “Certainly, if both parties wanted the divorce, and later one of them commits adultery, the other person could not use fornication as a reason for remarriage.” He had scripture for this statement.23 Alas, however, emotionalism and human reason enter in and out goes God’s word. “But the woman in my illustration is not playing the ‘waiting game,’” he continues. “She is pleading, hoping, praying and patiently trying to win her husband back. They are still bound in God’s sight, although divorced. But her wishes are not realized as her husband marries another woman. She is then free from the bond to marry again.”
An Argument Based On The Silence of The Scriptures
Most brethren agree that B, whom A unscripturally put away, cannot remarry if A does not remarry.24 I have been told, however, that Matthew 5:32 is assuming A does not remarry. I have asked for the authority for such an alleged assumption and have been told: “Since the Lord did not describe A as remarrying, A did not remarry. If A remarries,” they conclude, “B may then put A away and remarry.” Beloved, who are we to say that since Jesus did not describe any further activity on the part of A, Jesus is teaching A did not remarry, and that the absence of any additional stated action on the part of A proves that if A remarries, B may remarry? Brethren, such is dangerous reasoning, to say the least. Of course, Jesus’ emphasis in Matthew 5:32 is on the evil consequences of unscriptural divorcement. Allow me now to introduce a verse in which Jesus does directly address the unscripturally put away mate’s eligibility to remarriage after her mate has remarried. Beloved, will you lay aside, assuming you are entertaining such, all prejudice and emotionalism and consider a verse which deals with the plight of unscripturally put away B, after A has remarried? I turn our attention to Matthew 19:9. Notice the sequence of the action of the verse (without activating the exception phrase):
1. A unscripturally puts away his wife.
2. A marries another (living in adultery).
a. C whom A marries is also in adultery.
3. B. “her which is put away,” remarries.
a. B and D, the one B marries, are also in adultery.
You will observe that in Jesus’ sequence B remarries after A remarries. Notwithstanding, Jesus said “and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”25 “Preacher,” someone argues, “Jesus did not mean to sequentially present the action of A and B! B remarries before A and that is why Jesus said ‘whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.’” Is that so? Allow me to use the same human reasoning on Mark 16:16. Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved….” We observe that sequentially Jesus is teaching:
1. One must believe.
2. One must be baptized.
3. Then one is saved.
We talk about Jesus not saying, “he that is baptized and believeth shall be saved.” We also stress that “believeth” and “baptism” precede salvation. Some, who are determined not to believe what Jesus said about the essentiality of water baptism, come along and argue: “Jesus did not mean to teach sequence in Mark 16:16. Actually, salvation comes before baptism! “Brethren, we can see what these people are doing in such a treatment of Mark 16:16—they are allowing human reasoning, prejudice, and emotion to blind them to the truth and cause them to openly reject Jesus’ teaching. We effectively counter with the argument that if Jesus had meant to place salvation before baptism, why did not he word it that way? We warn against assigning a “but he meant” meaning in the presence of a plain statement. Beloved, are not we guilty of the exact same thing when we take Matthew 19:9 and Luke 16:18 and say, “Jesus did not mean to teach sequence. Actually, B remarried (the last clause) before A remarried, that is why she is condemned. However, had B remarried after A remarried, B would have enjoyed an acceptable second marriage.” Friends, Matthew 19:9 and Luke 16:18 are going to judge us in the Last Day.26 Are you going to risk your salvation by believing in divorcement short of civil procedure, the put away putting away, and the view that Jesus did not mean to teach sequence in the sequence of Matthew 19:9 and Luke 16:18? I plead with you to seriously think about these matters.
Scriptural divorcement, when there must be divorcement, is the solution to all the secondary problems plaguing churches today. What happens after the divorce, involving C, D, E, F, G, etc., is of no pertinence. I submit that if the initial divorcement is not scriptural, the remarriage or remarriages cannot be scriptural, regardless of any after-the-fact actions on the part of A and B or how much time passes. Jesus definitely dissuades, to mildly word it, divorcement for any cause other than adultery. Consider the emphasis: “But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery”27 William Hendriksen succinctly observes the severity of the consequences which the man faces when he unscripturally divorces his wife and she remarries: “What Jesus is saying then, is this: Whosoever divorces his wife except on the ground of infidelity must bear the chief responsibility if as a result she, in her deserted state, should immediately yield to the temptation of becoming married to someone else”28 Some have the attitude, “I am going to divorce my mate because we have no common interests. I know I cannot remarry (according to the ‘second putting away’ doctrine he can, if she later remarries), but, after all, the Lord did not say ‘do not unscripturally divorce’ and I doubt if she will ever remarry.” Such an individual needs to urgently consider the augmenting teaching of 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11: “And unto the married I command,” Paul writes, “yet not I, but the Lord, let not the wife depart from her husband….and let not the husband put away his wife.” Herein, as I have suggested, is found the solution to the present disgraceful divorce and remarriage problem. If there must be divorcement, the divorcement must be performed by the innocent mate on the grounds of the guilty mate’s fornication. If there is unscriptural divorcement (some other cause other than adultery), then neither party is allowed remarriage.29 The divorce precludes any later circumstances allowing remarriage. Such circumstances are after-the-fact and are irrelevant.
In spite of the plainness of the scriptures regarding the fact that the innocent mate who puts away his mate because of his mate’s fornication is the only one who can scripturally remarry, we have been inundated with doctrines which seek to wrest the scriptures into justifying every imaginable marital situation. Admittedly, this is not a new problem, but it has become more blatant with the increased number of people and churches with marital problems. Approximately twenty years ago, I had just started full-time preaching, we were engaged in a gospel meeting. Just prior to the service one night, a young man approached me and told me he had some serious questions about divorce and remarriage. I asked him to wait until after the service and talk to the visiting preacher, as the visiting preacher was much more experienced than I was. After the meeting that night the young man explained to the preacher that his wife was in the process of divorcing him. He explained that neither of them had been unfaithful. The visiting preacher hesitated to reply and being “young and rash,” I stated that he should begin civil actions to challenge the divorce and also to try to reason with her, explaining to her that scripturally neither he nor she could ever remarry. Before I could complete my reply, which I then thought and still think was scriptural, the visiting preacher decided to reply. I immediately ceased talking to allow him to better explain the young man’s options. The preacher’s reply was, “do not do anything, allow her to divorce you, when she remarries she will be committing adultery, you can then mentally divorce her and remarry.” I was shocked! However, before I could get over my shock (I have been repeatedly shocked since then), the young man thanked the preacher for his advice and left.
Those who are currently contending for a divorce short of compliance to civil law (usually they employ emotional language such as, “I do not believe divorce is a race to the courthouse!”), but who disallow the “put away” (whether innocent or guilty) to remarry, regardless of future adultery, experience, in many cases, the same “problem” as those who argue the civil decree is part of the divorce (there is a segment who hold this position). Those who believe the putting away mate must tell his mate, “I am putting you away” consistently cannot allow any subsequent actions to change the situation—one has put away another, according to their definition of “put away.”
Not long ago I encountered this situation: A came home one day and told B, “I am putting you away (no fornication involved).” A then obtained a civil degree. After about a year, A remarried. B then decided that since A committed fornication, he would now put her away on grounds of fornication and remarry. He informed her and told some brethren, “I am putting away my wife because of her fornication.” When I was asked by some of these brethren what I thought, my reply was, “ A and B are both in unscriptural relationships.” Even though they believed a statement by the putting away to the one being put away constituted divorce and that an innocent mate so put away was not allowed remarriage, regardless of the subsequent acts of the divorcing mate, they contended that B had the right to his second marriage. “We do not believe her civil decree constitutes divorcement,” they explained. Discerning reader, do you observe the inconsistency? According to their own argument, B was put away by A when A told B “I am putting you away.”
Those who contend for a “private,” “in the heart” putting away have the same “difficulty,” that is, those who will not allow the innocent put away to remarry. Instead of “who beats who to the courthouse,” or “which one beats the other to making a statement,” it would be “which one beats in privately putting away the other.” One elder told me, “Don, we cannot become involved in this divorce and remarriage issue because it is too complex.” Beloved, it is not so much the problem of complexity as it is an all consuming determination to make right that which is wrong!
Some Objections Considered
As is the case with any defined position, there are opposing arguments and views. Let us now consider some of these commonly advanced objections.
“You are misrepresenting brethren. I have kept up with you and you have left a trail of misrepresentation. Brethren do not believe and teach what you are saying they do!”
In some ways, I wish I were guilty of misrepresentation. It saddens me to know what some are believing. However, I do not believe I have misrepresented anyone. While doing local work in Kentucky, I incurred the false doctrine that a sinned against brother had to unconditionally forgive the trespassing brother.30 I begged the ones (including several preachers) to discuss, even debate the matter and some related erroneous doctrines. They refused, claiming they did not want to cause trouble. Of course, some of these same brethren did not mind “causing trouble” by running all over the country spreading lies and claiming I misrepresented them (the offer of a public debate still stands—providing the conditions are met).
Since I came back to Texas I have incurred numerous errors on the divorce / remarriage issue. I have begged these individuals for discussions, but they have refused. If I have so grossly misrepresented these brethren, as they claim, it seems to me they would want the matter clarified. However, they refuse to make public their positions. They simply charge me with misrepresentation. Brethren, I stand ready to discuss these matters and any misrepresentation of which I am guilty, I will gladly correct. Let us be honest in our dealings one with another.
“You do not realize that scriptural divorce is one which is on the grounds of fornication—the bond continues to exist in all other divorces. These other divorces are only civil not spiritual. When A obtains a civil decree against B (not for fornication), it is only civil, they are still bound in God’s sight. Therefore, when A remarries, B can then obtain a spiritual divorcement against A and subsequently remarry.”
Is not it amazing how two people, holding opposite views, often assign to each other the same charge? I do realize that scriptural divorcement is only on the grounds of fornication. The essential difference between the foregoing objection and with what I believe the scriptures teach is that Jesus said the put away is one who is either scripturally put away (for their fornication) or unscripturally put away (not for fornication). I also understand that in an unscriptural divorce the bond remains it matters not what a civil decree may declare.31 However, Jesus taught that the put away cannot remarry, even after her mate remarries.
“I find your position utterly untenable. Advocating that the unscripturally ‘put away’ cannot themselves put away and remarry after their mate remarries, is against every principle of fairness!”
In this objection we encounter the fairness argument. It is believed that while the Lord did say the put away cannot remarry without sin and that he did not restrict the put away to the guilty put away, we must infer that the Lord did mean only the guilty, because surely fairness would allow the innocent put away to remarry. Fellow Christian, human logic and reason, which rejects scripture, especially in the absence of any other scripture which would indicate the obvious meaning is incorrect, is sinful.32 Allow me to raise a question: Is it possible that Jesus did intend to teach that all put away people cannot remarry, notwithstanding future circumstances? All thinking people would be forced to reply in the affirmative. Beloved, if Jesus had wanted to express such a general prohibition, how would he have had to word it? Sixteen years ago, when I began to make a special study of this subject, observing changes in State laws, society, and in the church, I made a list of every imaginable scenario involving the plight of divorced or put away people. Beloved, while Jesus’ teaching relative to the put away not being able to remarry may appear to man as unfair and, admittedly, may create hardships, Jesus’ teaching is really the only way such a law could have been worded (viewed in its totality).
Speaking of fairness, how about the woman who has lost all desire to remain married to her present mate. She is aware, however, that she cannot remarry. So, she puts him away and waits. She knows that her husband is weak and that he will commit adultery. Notwithstanding his pleas to resume their marriage, she cruelly and designedly forces him to commit fornication. When he does give in to the flesh, she claims, “the first divorce was only civil; now I am spiritually putting him away because of his adultery, and I am free to remarry!”33 Beloved, we do not object to this scenario because it is an unfair justification of a wicked, scheming mate, but because Jesus said the unscriptural act of putting away forbids either to remarry, regardless of subsequent acts or occurrences on the part of either.
“Preacher, I am opposed to the waiting game, but you must take the motives of the person into account. The view you are teaching does not allow any flexibility!”
Beloved, I did not know we are allowed the pleasure of “flexibility” in the presence of a stated law. Jesus said, “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Some reason, according to the flexibility argument, “if a man dies before he is baptized, having no intention to be baptized, he is lost; however, if a man has good intentions, but dies before he is baptized, he is saved.” Now, most of us realize that we have no right to pronounce such a man saved, in view of the scriptures. In other words, we do not make the flexibility argument in such cases. We maintain that God has given us a law and all we can do is teach God’s law. See the parallel? Sure you do.
“Don, your basic mistake in not allowing B to remarry after A, who unscripturally ‘divorced’ B remarries, is found in your not being aware of the fact that the act of adultery itself automatically severs the bond for the innocent. Hence, B is free to remarry!”
During the past seven years, as the divorce rate has skyrocketed and as some frantically try to find justification for all the multitudinous cases, we have witnessed a resurgence and, in some cases, a confluence of every conceivable false doctrine of the past. Adultery (married) does not automatically sever the bond any more that fornication (unmarried) automatically creates a bond. A couple of years ago I was speaking with an individual about the marital condition of a couple. He began to speak in general regarding what he believed the scriptures teach. “Adultery severs the bond,” said he, “even though B was put away by A (A committed adultery), B can remarry.” I asked him how B, the put away, could remarry. His reply was, “Even though A put away B, when A committed adultery the bond was severed and B could scripturally say the divorce was based on the adultery of A. Therefore, she is free to remarry.” In the first place, adultery does not automatically sever the bond. It affords the innocent mate the right to sever the bond.34 In the second place, B is the put away party. The innocent mate must be the active one, not the one acted upon.35
“According to your position, the innocent unscripturally divorced mate has no hope. If they cannot spiritually put away their mate after their mate remarries, then they are doomed to a life of celibacy. God, the God of justice and mercy, would not be the author of such a doctrine!”
I remind us that our emotions and sense of justice and fair play do not determine the will of God. Our denominational friends contend: “God does not require baptism in order to be saved, why, such a doctrine would mean that great numbers of religious people will be lost!” In an effort to show our religious friends the fallacy of their human reason and emotion, we counter, “God does not require repentance in order to be saved, why, such a doctrine would mean that those who believe, but die before they can repent will be lost!”36 Absurd? Certainly!
Beloved, how about the cruel wife who suddenly decides she wants to pursue a business career and that she no longer wants to be married. She unscripturally puts away her husband. He pleads with her and explains to her that he cannot live alone, but her reply is “that is your problem.” What is his condition? She does live alone. Can he scripturally remarry or is he “doomed to a life of celibacy?” “God, the God of justice and mercy, would not be the author of such a doctrine!” Brethren, think.
“I am opposed to you preachers who teach on divorce and remarriage. We need positive teaching, teaching on how to have good marriages. People who have unscripturally divorced and remarried will not change!”
I would be the first to say that we need positive teaching on how to have good marriages. We must faithfully point out what true love is and God’s order and arrangement in the family unit. We must accent the husband’s responsibilities to his wife; the wife’s duties to her husband; children’s duties and parent’s duties to their children.37 Intelligent reader, does this emphasis mean that in an immoral society and in view of the enormity of false doctrines now being received by brethren that we must omit teaching about divorce and remarriage? Are we simply to ignore fellowship problems and violations?38
“Preacher, Matthew 5:31 proves putting away and a writing of divorcement are two, separate acts. Therefore, the divorce certificate is relatively insignificant as far as spiritual matters are concerned!”
I am not willing to concede that Deuteronomy 24:1 and Matthew 5:31 are teaching that under Moses’ economy (the concession) the putting away and the certificate of divorce were two separate, disconnected acts or that the certificate followed the putting away. However, even if the act of putting away and the “decree” were considered two separate, isolated acts under the Mosaic concession, we must also remember that Deuteronomy 24:1 was issued in the climate of a theocracy, what does that have to do with people today who are subject to civil law, as long as the civil law does not conflict God’s law?39
“I object to divorce only on grounds of fornication because Paul mentioned the wife putting away her husband. Paul did not say one cannot divorce one’s mate on other grounds, he only stated that such a person cannot remarry. Of course, Paul did not discuss the activities of the put away person. If while he is put away, he is unfaithful; then the wife can scripturally divorce him and remarry.”
As I have indicated, there is great desperation to find some semblance of scriptural authority to whitewash all the cases of adulterous marriages. In 1 Corinthians 7:10 Paul enunciates a command, “...let not the wife depart from her husband.” This is God’s law—one mate must not divorce one’s mate, except on grounds of fornication. To unscripturally divorce is to place that put away mate in a position to sin. Such a mater who “causeth her to commit adultery” shares in that sin and will have to answer to God.40
Beloved, surely Paul is not stating a command in verse ten and then in verse eleven giving permission to do what he has just prohibited! The language “but and if she depart” indicates action contrary to the stipulated action (vs. 10). In other words, the mate who is determined to unscripturally divorce their mate, Paul is teaching, must realize they cannot remarry. The only way they can again enjoy the state of marriage is to return or be reconciled to the mate whom they put away. Hence, Paul is dissuading unscriptural divorce by emphasizing the hopelessness of future marriage to another.
“Preacher, you are causing trouble and disunity among brethren over this ONE POINT. You are limiting your influence and causing doors to be shut. Why don’t you ease up and take a broader look at the situation and desist causing trouble over a mere technicality!”
Brethren, we have been overwhelmed with denominational, political unity. Some brethren feel that the way to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit41 is by never opposing error. The continued existence of some local churches is based on the policy “do not rock the boat.” I would have to agree that I have limited my influence in my efforts to challenge some of these false doctrines relative to divorce and remarriages. (For what it is worth, during the past few years, as this issue has become more common, I have resigned one work and have turned down four others because of intolerable error in these matters and / or because of actual cases of tolerated adultery. I, admittedly, have made numerous life-time enemies among all classes of professing Christians.) Of course, one might enjoy greater influence among the social drinkers if one would never teach against social drinking and especially if one would mix and mingle with the social drinkers!
Where do we draw the line? If we can cease teaching against adultery for the sake of “unity,” why not cease standing against the social gospel? If we can relax our opposition and militancy in these areas, why not in other areas as well? Sadly, this is exactly what is happening to some preachers and to some local churches. However, we cannot be inconsistent. Observe: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.”42
“You are in a small minority. In fact, I doubt if over a small hand full of preachers agree with what you teach on this subject!”
Here we go with the majority / minority argument. If one is of the minority, one cannot be right, according to this objection. Our Lord taught against such reasoning.43 Numbers do not matter—the majority can be wrong; and the minority can be wrong. The criterion to determine right and wrong is the scriptures—not numbers.44
“The trouble with you is that you do not have any love or feeling for the people involved in an unscriptural marriage!”
This objection which I have encountered (I have heard all the foregoing objections in studies with elders, preachers, and members in general) disturbs me the most. Are we becoming so denominational in our thinking and in our beliefs that we have reduced biblical love, which truly seeks that which is best for those whom we love, their spiritual and physical well-being, to a mere subjective emotion which seeks to superficially comfort people in their sins?45 Conversely, true love will cause one to teach the unpopular but needed truth, and urge people to come out of all sinful relationships and make themselves right with God.46
The Magnitude of This Problem
Beloved, I try not to be a pessimist or an alarmist, but I am convinced that the divorce / remarriage issue is going to become one of the most consequential issues God’s people have faced. I am persuaded that it is going to make the institutional issue of the fifties seem minor. The primary reason is the divorce / remarriage issue is going to be more emotional and will more directly involve more people than the “hungry little orphan” issue. When people are told that they are in adultery and cannot continue to live in that relationship, emotional resentment is usually resultant. When faithful preachers preach the truth and parents and grandparents realize their divorced and remarried children and grandchildren are in adulterous unions, uncontrolled reactions shall be observed. Think about it—one out of every two marriages will end in divorce and most of these divorced people will remarry. Think about the future problems which shall be experienced as the children of these troubled families marry.
Admittedly, this issue is not and will not be a problem to some churches, elders, and preachers. The reason? Some will ignore this problem or they will compromise the truth.
The Matter of Fellowship
Brethren, how can we claim to practice New Testament fellowship and not address these matters? The scriptures incontrovertibly teach controlled fellowship.47 Christians are not to fellowship one unless that one is “walking in the light.”
The attitude, “I just mind my own business and let others mind their business” is not compatible with what the scriptures teach concerning fellowship. The church at Corinth was rebuked because they did not discipline the member who was living in fornication.48 The nonparticipants at Pergamos and Thyatira were rebuked because they were not militantly addressing error and immorality within those churches.49 The excuse “the elders are in charge of all such matters” will not suffice.50
Scriptural elders will meet with individuals who desire to become a part of the local fellowship.51 They will talk to these prospective members about the local church. They will explain the work and teaching of the local church. Many times people in unscriptural marriages will decide not to place membership, because they do not want to hear preaching on divorce and remarriage. Elders should inquire about the scripturalness of a couple’s marriage, especially if there is any indication of a possible problem. Thus, controlled fellowship will avert and prevent many problems.
An attitude which I cannot begin to understand is the thinking of some of my preaching brethren who teach the truth on divorce and remarriage. Consider their attitude: “I know brother ____________ believes and teaches error regarding divorce and remarriage, but I still consider him to be a faithful gospel preacher.” I am afraid we are not taking our service to God as seriously as we should. How can I view a man who will not teach the truth, who allows adultery to go unchallenged, and who even sanctions adultery to be a faithful gospel preacher? Most of these older preachers who do not want any marked, would be the initiators of the circumvention of these men—if these men taught a church could send to an orphanage. Brethren, we need to guard against hypocrisy and partiality!52
Conclusion and Summation
Patient reader, my experiences regarding all the lack of understanding and confusion over the divorce and remarriage issue today remind me of a movie which I saw. It was a show which dealt with the customs of a group of isolated mountain people. One of the mountain women decided she wanted to divorce her husband and be married to another. She took a bag consisting of an owl’s beak; hawk’s feathers; a broken comb; and a piece of bacon and buried it near an oak tree. Standing under the oak tree with her husband to be beside her, she then repeated a special incantation. According to the beliefs of these people, the buried bag and the incantation freed her from her first husband and created a new bond with her new husband. Silly? Certainly so! However, are not we coming up with some equally ludicrous views?
Let us always emphasize the permanency of marriage.53 If divorce is ever considered necessary, the innocent mate must put away the guilty mate (including conformity to civil law) because of the guilty mate’s fornication. The put away—whether innocent or guilty—does not have the right to remarry. Time or the future actions of either party do not create the circumstances for a second “mental or expressed putting away.” Adultery is the cause for the divorce, not the effect. Preachers and elders, let us start practicing what the scriptures teach. Thank God for the faithful preachers and elders who are teaching and practicing the truth in this and all other matters! “...the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: Yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant….For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away”54
1. Malachi 2:14-16
2. Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-12.
3. See Herbert Danby, The Mishnah, pg. 321. See fuller discussion on the views of Shammal and Hillel in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, by Alfred Edershiem, book 4, pgs. 333, 334.
4. Matthew 5:31, 32; 19:3-9; Mk. 10.2-12; Lk. 16:18.
5. Matthew 5:32; 19:9.
6. The “divorced” in the King James is the one who has been put away, either scripturally or unscripturally. Also there is no difference in “put away” and “divorced.” Apoluo Is translated “put away” in Matthew 5:32 (clause A) and “divorced” in clause B.
7. Matthew 5:31, 32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18.
8. Compare Malachi 2:14-16. See The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, vol. 3, pgs. 1998, 1999.
10. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13, 14.
11. The common-law marriage in States which recognize such, is not necessarily an exception. How about the couple who has no intention of committing themselves one to another, but are simply “shacking up?” The civil law may declare such a common-law marriage which would Involve the common property of the two.
12. 1 Corinthians 14:33, 40.
13. Matthew 1:19.
14. The Life and times of Jesus the Messiah, book 2, pg. 154.
16. Many who have espoused error concerning the divorce and remarriage issue confuse “bond” and “marriage.” One can be bound to one and married to another (Rom. 7:2, 3). Also, A can be put away by B, married to C, but be bound to B (Matt. 19:9).
17. You and the Law, pg. 402.
18. See footnote number sixteen.
19. Matthew 5:32 cf. Rom. 7:2, 3.
20. The argument that “put away” when used to describe the unscripturally put away (innocent) is “only accommodative language” is without evidence. In the absence of proof for the accommodation argument, we must conclude Jesus meant exactly what he said.
21. This is the case when the exception phrase is inoperative in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9.
22. We see this when the exception phrase is activated.
23. Matthew 19:9; Lk. 16:18.
24. See Matthew 5.32. However, some brethren are contending that if A is not a Christian and A “leaves” (puts away) B and subsequently remarries, B can scripturally remarry. They base this doctrine on a misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 7.12-15.
25. “Committeth adultery” is from moichatal. Moichatai is 3 person, singular, present tense, and indicative mood, The Analytical Greek Lexicon, pg. 272. Hence, moichatal describes continuous action.
26. John 12:48.
27. Matthew 5.32.
28. New Testament Commentary, vol. 1, pg. 306.
29. The remarriage contemplated would be to another. A marries C. Paul ad- dressed the estranged state of A and B as far as any possible future relationship between A and B (1 Cor. 7:10, 11 ).
30. See Luke 17:3, 4 and Eph. 4:32.
31. Some maintain that for a divorce to be scriptural, the civil document must state adultery as the reason. Personally, I am of the persuasion that a document which reads “marriage insupportable” will suffice, providing the one who obtained the divorce did so with fornication as the cause of the insupportability of the marriage.
32. See 1 Corinthians 4:6 and Isa. 55:8, 9.
33. For what it is worth, I have personally witnessed such a case.
34. Matthew 5:32; 19:9.
35. Ibid. Observe that the initiative must be taken by the innocent and that the innocent is the active one in putting away his guilty mate.
36. Many religionists believe and teach that the alien sinner must believe and repent in order to be saved. They seem unable to accept the teaching of the scriptures relative to the essentiality of water baptism, claiming that it is unjust to maintain that the person who believes and repents but dies before baptism is lost. Hence, they reject God’s word (Mk. 16:16, Acts 2:38, etc.).
37. Ephesians 5:22-6:4.
38. Christians are only authorized to fellowship those who walk in the light (1 Jn. 1:3-7). Is adultery walking in the light?
39. 1 Peter 2:13 cf. Acts 5:29.
40. Matthew 5:32.
41. See Ephesians 4:3-6.
42. James 2:10 (observe the context, vss. 1-9, 11-13).
43. Consider Matthew 7:13, 14 and Luke 16:15.
44. Some good material of recent origin in which the truth has been plainly taught regarding what scripturally constitutes divorcement and acceptable remarriage is: The Gospel Anchor, November (-78) through April (-79) issues (articles by Gene Frost); June (-82) Issue “The Case for Mental Divorce” by Frost; Divorce And Remarriage, by Jay Bowman (tract which is available through Mid-South Book and Bibles, Lafayette, La.: “Mental Divorce? A Reply” by Jim Deason, Searching the Scriptures, February issue (I believe) of 1986; “Editorial” by Connie Adams, Ibid. A good general article of recent publication Is “Can a ‘Put Away’ Person Scripturally Remarry?” Torch, vol. 21, no.5, (May issue), by Bill Robinson Jr.
45. We learn from Proverbs 13:24 and Ephesians 4:15 that love, true love, will cause one to do and say things (Gal. 4.16) which are constructively painful to the recipient of such love. Also the word agapao (love) is unselfish and genuinely seeks that which is substantially good for others (see some simple thoughts expressed regarding agapao and agape in Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, vol. 3, Pgs. 20-22, by W.E. Vine.
46. Paul wrote that some of the Corinthians had been fornicators and adulterers (1 Cor. 6:9-11 ). If they had continued to practice these sins after baptism, the Holy Spirit would not have used the imperfect tense (ete, “were,” vs. 11 ). “The imperfect may be regarded as a sort of auxiliary to the present tense, functioning for it in the indicative to refer its significance of continuous action to past time,” Dana and Mantey’s Grammer, pg. 186.
47. 2 Thessalonians 3.6; 1 Cor 5; 1 Jn. 1:3-7.
48. 1 Corinthians 5.
49. Revelation 2:12-29.
50. Hebrews 13:17; Rom. 14:12.
51. Compare Acts 9:26, 27; 1 Jn. 1:3-7; 1 Pet. 5:2,3.
52. It seems that the only ones circumvented are those who stand for the truth. Disgustingly, the circumvention usually is in the form of politics—not a forthright focus on the issue at hand.
53. Matthew 19:4-6, 8.
54. Malachi 2:14, 16.