Some More Thoughts on the
Sheridan-Osborne Debate
        (Including  other's thoughts on the same topic) 

 By Fred Seavers

 Procedure vs. Cause  

1.  Two questions not one:

After reading several times the portion of the Osborne / Shreridan debate that dealt with the difference between the procedure for putting away, and the cause, something just didn't seem right.  So I did as brother Osborne encouraged, and examined the text of Matthew 19. Between the text itself, and what we have been told it means, here is what I found.

We are told by brother Osborne that Jesus was answering a "specific" question.  The question was, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?"  We are then told to "Notice, the question related to the cause for lawful putting away, not the procedure for such."  I think this to be incorrect due to the fact that there were TWO questions.  The interesting part about these two questions is that they both included the use of a formal or written acknowledgement of the divorce -- for they both applied to the same law.  The first question dealt with the lawfulness of putting away a man's wife for every cause.  This was from Deuteronomy 24 and included the written portion of the divorce.  The second question asked was--  Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? - Matthew 19:7. Both questions dealt with two inseparable sections of Deuteronomy 24. Yet, the whole of this particular argument hinges on the idea that "the question related to the cause for lawful putting away, not the procedure for such."  This as we have noticed from the whole context of Matthew 19:1-12 is completely inaccurate.  I in no way question our brother's sincerity in presenting only one of the questions asked.  However, it must be noted that he has completely overlooked an entire verse of scripture as it applies to the discussion at hand.  He said Jesus was answering, "A specific QUESTION."  This is just not so.  He answered two questions. It does matter that this is so; for the "procedure" as he calls it was stressed even more firmly in the second than in the first.  We do know that the first question included the "procedure," for according to Matthew 5:31 the putting away mentioned in 19:3 included the presence of the writing found in Deuteronomy 24.

Our brother continues this approach in such a way that it would almost appear that one is not expected nor encouraged through this line of argument, to read verse 7 of this text in respect to there being a second question.  He wrote, "The Pharisees did not ask about the civil procedure associated with those sundering a marriage, nor did the disciples react to such.  Putting emphasis upon the procedure when the text plainly emphasizes the cause is a violation of hermeneutic principles.  Fundamental misinterpretation occurs when one does not leave the emphasis of the text as it is given in Scripture."  To the last sentence I would say AMEN!  Misinterpretation also occurs when one completely overlooks a whole verse of scripture in a text he is trying to exegete.  And again, they did ask about the civil procedure associated with those sundering a marriage, as is found in Matthew 19:7, "Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?"    

In direct opposition to the above quotes in red, our brother claims on page 1, "A civil divorce must be obtained when a marriage is sundered and the two people depart from one another."  It is truly difficult to reconcile the last statement with the former ones, when reading the above quotes which say that Jesus never dealt with the question of "procedure" (referring to the written or civil portion of the divorce) but only dealt with the cause. As can be seen with the above quotes in red, we clearly run into Osborne vs. Osborne.  He states that it was ONLY the cause being considered, yet says that CIVIL proceedings are necessary.  Brethren who hold these contradictory positions  need to choose one or the other (James 1:8).

This sort of back and forth reasoning surely puts a brother in a compromising position.  He cannot stand solely for the cause only divorce.  This will throw him into the "mental divorce" group which basically affirms -- "If he has unlawful sexual relations with another (whether before or after he wrongfully puts away his true mate) his true mate has scriptural grounds to reject or put him away." (Ron Halbrook) "May we require any particular procedure establishing HOW and WHEN [emp.mine, fs] the innocent party must act against an unfaithful mate?  No, we may not." (Grounds for Scriptural Remarriage: Right Motive or Right Method? Tim Haile)  If this is not the "waiting game" I don't know what it is. Object as they may, that is where it stands.

He also cannot demand the necessity of including a written or socially accepted action in a divorce. From the standpoint of those who have a misunderstanding of the civil or social concerns in all of this -- he would seem to be aligning  himself with the race to the courthouse group.  Surely, this is not an easy row for our brethren to hoe.

2. The use of the words "procedure, civil, etc."

A.  Procedure - We are told, "Any procedure included in Deuteronomy 24 was abolished when the law was annulled.  However, if one accepts that the Pharisees' question was based on Deuteronomy 24 and it is admitted that Jesus nullified that law, why would one use the nullified procedure as the basis for requiring  another civil procedure neither specified nor necessarily implied in the text?  The only procedure Terence will find in this text is the procedure of Deuteronomy 24 which Jesus said is no longer binding." 

With the way the word procedure has been used throughout, we have a sort of  HOME, Home, home situation here. Those who are familiar with the institutional argument on orphan's homes will know what I mean.  Notice that the first use of the word procedure has apparently been used to refer to the whole O.T. law.  Next, he appears to say that the procedure (just the written portion) was nullified by Jesus.  He seems to do away with the written portion of Deuteronomy 24 while all the while holding on to the cause of Matthew 19:9 which was not even in force at the time of  our text, nor can it be substituted for the "causes" found in the text. 

He then speaks of the "civil" procedure (the written portion, I guess) as neither specified nor necessarily implied in the text.  Then he says the only procedure (I would like to think this one includes the causes as well - but again, as he never specifies such, your guess is as good as mine) in this text of Deuteronomy 24 is no longer binding.  He wants to save room for the CAUSE (N.T.) which Jesus mentioned.  This cause was never implied to dissolve, replace, nor explain the civil or societal part of the Old Testament Law under consideration! With all due respect, if you can keep track of which Procedure is being used, and what time frame he applies to which law, you will be doing well.

B.  Civil -The word Civil is being used  to imply the written part of the Old (or any) Law, and cause to refer to the cause or catalyst for the divorce.  However, the word civil is being used synonymously with the idea of  a court rendering of our day.  It is basically being used as the equivalent of the written portion of the Old Law.  But under the Old Law the written portion as well as the "causes" for such were both necessary for the divorce to be complete.  It is misleading to apply this word to today and to use the word civil to refer only to the written or court portion of a modern day United States putting away.  The whole procedure found in Deuteronomy 24 was "the only civil law" the Jews (the group to whom He was speaking) recognized at the time it was written, cf. Ezra 10; Deuteronomy 25:5 -10; and Ruth 4:1-10.  Even after Israel put off God as their only king, they as well as the Gentile rulers in the time of Christ still referred to the Old Law as the basis and crux of the Jews "civil" or societal law; at least through the time of Acts 23:29, 24:6, 25:8, 18-19. That is why even in the time of Christ they could legally and lawfully stone the adulterer. They did so based upon their law, not Roman law.  I could be wrong; but as far as I have found in the New Testament, the Romans had no objection to this practice.

I had earlier included in my original draft, an entire section on Mark 10.  However, I figured that there would be little need of going into a long drawn out explanation as to why Jesus was not overstepping the civil authority of His day by giving women the right to divorce their husbands. Then I happened to see a new article put out by a brother in Bowling Green, Kentucky at where he uses this same argument to defend an overstepping of the legal requirements found in our land concerning divorce proceedings.  

It matters little that Jesus' statement was found in Mark's account as well as others.  What matters is that it was said to the Jews, whether Marks account was basically addressed to the Gentiles or not.  However, as I covered above, Jesus was not trying to cram His law into the Old Law.  This idea comes close to Haileyism. He was instructing the people under the same Law He followed, that there would come a day when the law of God would be changed concerning that matter.  He did not override the Law of Moses, but followed it and defended it perfectly.   Even in Mark's text, we find God's recognition of an unlawful putting away, resulting in the sin of the remarrying parties. There was no second divorce ever sanctioned here, or in the other texts.  He told them the cause was wrong, not the avenue of public disclosure of that cause.  On top of this, there has been a plea made to the emotions for this poor first century Jewish woman who was so distraught, and abused.  She was forbidden the right to put away her husband. Read Deuteronomy 24 and see if you can honestly tell me she was in a beaten down state in all of this.  As long as she could make her husband miserable enough to let her out of her marriage contract, she could go out with her little piece of paper and hunt her up another big strong good looking guy and hook up with him for a while.  If that marriage went sour, he could put her away, and she would be free again.  That doesn't sound like a tyrannical overbearing arrangement to me.  It sounds like the same one we have in many marriages today -- "I am sick and tired of your griping.  I am out of here.  You can have the house and kids, I'm gone!"  Their argument on Mark 10 holds no water on more than just one count.    

Even though they had to live within the confines of Roman Law, the recognized Civil law for the Jew was the Law of Moses.  This is why Jesus could say what we have recorded in Mark 10, and not be overstepping the bounds of present civil law for the Jews.  The Law included both the writing and causes for the writing.  Our civil courts do the same today.  It is up to the individual to divorce the mate for the proper cause.  The writing or other socially accepted and required method (according to where one lives), though necessary, changes this cause requirement not one whit. There must be the cause -- then the proper divorce proceedings.  Anything short of this is unacceptable in a society where there are two kingdoms present and trying to interact with one another.  God realized this inevitable interaction when Paul penned the words of Romans 13.  Also in 1 Peter 2:12-17 we find the necessity of submission to government rules so long as abiding by them does not put us in conflict with God - Acts 5:29.  Filing for divorce, filling out the paperwork, and going through court proceedings in no way oversteps the bounds that God established.

May one file for a proper divorce in the courts of our land, based solely upon putting away one's mate for the cause of fornication?  I have heard nobody contest this interaction with our government rules and regulations.  In fact, my guess is that if churches where these brethren preach had a member whose spouse committed fornication and left her, they would suggest that if reconciliation were impossible, she go ahead quickly, and file for divorce.  However, if  it is wrong to recognize the need of interacting with government rules in a scripturally unlawful (though legal) divorce -- then how is it that it is proper in a divorce recognized as scripturally lawful?  You can't have one and not the other.  One must claim the necessity of following civil law on this, or following no civil law. One cannot simply accept the parts he likes, and uphold these as right - then reject the parts (a divorce not for fornication) he doesn't approve.  It is a take all or none situation.  Sadly, the take none is seemingly where some of our brethren now stand, or are headed in trying to defend others who are already there.

3.  Deuteronomy 24

By whose law would the statements of Deuteronomy 24 be nullified?  By Christ' law of course.  In fact, all of the Old Law would be nullified or done away by His law.  One must admit, as sound brethren have stressed in debate for years, Jesus here was comparing what would take place under His law in contrast to what was happening under the Old.  This is acknowledged when one reads, "...but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say unto you..." Matthew 19:8-9.  Jesus planned to institute the marriage principle that was from the beginning, with one exception.

We are told that, "The only procedure this text is the procedure of Deuteronomy 24 which Jesus said is no longer binding."  When I teach teenagers, I always encourage them to use two very powerful words when they question an opponents argument.  Those words are Prove it.  Prove that Jesus - rather than our brother - said in this text that some form of legal  procedure (referring to the putting away of a spouse under any law, anywhere, anytime) is no longer binding.  This is finding what is not there.  In fact, Jesus included the "putting away," as a part of His new law. This putting away was in addition to the cause.

Brethren, if the procedure is not all inclusive of a civil or societal nature as well as a cause for such, then there are no boundaries as to what one in any society may establish as his own form of putting away.   Whatever one comes up with, we will be obligated to accept; even if it is a "mental divorce" after the first divorce not for fornication-- if not why not? 

4. Is a written document to verify the dissolving of a marriage wrong?

Let me ask - Does Jesus anywhere condemn the use of a writing as a part of  the procedure?  Does He anywhere condone or even forbid this particular part of the procedure?  Does He anywhere say thinking it out is right, and writing it out is wrong?  Isn't it true, since hermeneutic principles are mentioned as being involved in the understanding of scriptures -- we can understand the implication that something other than just mental assent is involved in such a procedure -- whether it is this particular one of a writing, or maybe even throwing a brick, giving a shoe, or turning a flip?

Actually, the initial intention concerning divorce, before the time of Moses, was found in Matthew 19:4-6; Romans 7:1-3 and Malachi 2:16.  Jesus' whole point to His questioners was that God never wanted divorces in the first place.  But, in allowing such to be had under the Old Law,  (possibly as a deterrent to rampant adultery - who knows -cf. Acts 17:30), Moses gave them the right to divorce.  Sadly,  it was misused in that basically every cause was a just cause. What we do see is Jesus recognizing some procedure (putting away) with the application and inclusion of the lawful cause.  In Deuteronomy the procedure just happened to include a writing of divorcement given to the wife.  Where do we find that it was ever forbidden for a Christian to work within the realms of the laws of our land to seek that divorce - whether the demands are of a written document, court appearances, etc.?

5.  A second divorce any way you cut it:

When one has the finalized ruling of a court of law after due process has been completed - and the individual took no steps to put away her mate for fornication (whether he committed it or not - and whether he the first to file or not), but yet thinks she can then remarry some years down the line, this is error.  No dipping nor dodging -- no Greek nor Hebrew -- no quibble nor question can find anything in Matthew 19 other than a lawful divorce for fornication, or an unlawful divorce not for fornication. Nothing about "application," "generic principle," nor the misleading thought of, "a law of God overriding civil law in allowing a woman to divorce a man" can get in that second divorce they need for their platform to be correct.  Please read Tim's new article and you will see friends that his line of argumentation is heading him in the direction of what others on the farthest fringe of this discussion have been saying.  My question is, will some continue to stand with him as they have with others?   Notice his wording in the following excerpts (I recommend reading the whole article, it is only two pages long), and then try to justify them with the scriptures which demand our  abiding by the laws of the land: "Let us remember that all legislative binding and loosing has already been done in Heaven (Matt. 16:19; 18:18).  This eliminates the right of any man or council of men, to make arbitrary requirements of others in things pertaining to God....May we require that fornication be the only acceptable grounds for divorce and remarriage by the innocent party? Yes, for the Bible teaches this.  May we require any particular procedure establishing HOW and WHEN [emp.mine,fs] the innocent party must act against an unfaithful mate? No, we may not."

As for the "HOW," one must ask, "What then would become of a "husband and wife" who are members of the church from another area who desired to join themselves to the local church where the above is believed and taught?  Wait!  I forgot to mention that there was never any ceremony, nor legal or socially accepted binding of each to the other.  They just decided one day that they were tired of having folks make fun of their three children for having parents who just shacked up, and so they decided they would consider themselves married.  And by the way, she was put away by her former husband, not for adultery, then started going with this new one after the other one committed adultery three years after the initial divorce not for fornication.  Surely my brethren would accept them -- right?  If not, why not. 

Also that little word "WHEN" in this quote has devastating consequences when used in such a context, and in such a manner.  We now have once again that often denied "waiting game."  It was inevitable that this end result would have to slide into this maze of fluctuating arguments which contradict one another.  It is much like the Calvinist who refuses to openly say that babies are born as black in sin as Satan himself.  They publicly, before there listeners will deny this.  However for them to get to the conclusion of perseverance of the saints, they must accept personally that which they are forced to try to deny publicly.   Friends, we are told now that the HOW cannot be specified, and neither can the WHEN Hurry! Someone shut that barn door before anything else comes through it!

Dear brethren, you must realize that if this attitude is taken toward the necessity of obeying the law of the land in Divorce, then it must also be taken toward the initial marriage itself -- though this will be denied.  Also beware of the fact that basically all of those on either side of this particular issue say that fornication is the only cause we can accept for the divorce of the guilty party and the remarriage of the innocent.  That particular portion of Tim's article sounds so sound.  That's because it is.  However our brother slipped up and included in the same breath the idea that this fornication for which one may divorce his mate may come through any method (cf. the word HOW), and at any time, (cf. the word WHEN).  This would include before or after the initial divorce.  They do not tell you this, so it sounds as if they are saying what Matthew 19 is saying.  But they go beyond the text, and find a right for a second divorce if they think the first was not according to God's plan.  They can deny this all they want, but you read and study their works carefully for yourself.  If you have a chance to speak to one of these preachers, ask them the following question, and demand a specific answer.

If a brother teaches:

1. A couple divorces not for fornication (even if one of them committed fornication some time earlier).

2. When one of the divorced couple begins committing fornication with another two years after the initial divorce not for fornication was finalized -- the innocent party may then put away the fornicator -- this is the only true, or real divorce that God accepts.

3. The innocent party may then remarry lawfully to an eligible partner. 

*"Will this brother be condemned for having taught  false doctrine?" If they won't say yes to this question, you have a real problem on your hands. 

Tim continues "...This allowed Him to ignore cultural restrictions and civil, legal requirements...The law of Christ overrules the anxious fornicator, the ambitious lawyer, and the unjust judge!  Human courts and impenitent fornicators do not have the power to eradicate divine liberties or nullify divine exceptions...."  Our "Liberty" is not eradicated as he says.  It is not marred by a requirement of such actions, and requirements.  We don't throw a fit when we file for a marriage license (which often oversteps the bounds of what God has said because many weddings are unscriptural); or get our drivers license, or building permit, etc.  In fact, I would like to encourage all readers to get down your Strong's and your Lexicon, and look at each time this word "liberty" is used.  I have heard it used in different ways, and most of the time it is not according to the gist of the text in which it can be found. When discussing this word or thought with others who desire to allow things for which the scriptures make no allowance; you are almost always then taken for a short trip to the "liberty" chapter, Romans 14.  It usually just gets worse from there.  Oddly enough, this word is used in 1 Peter 2:16 in a context of respecting government authority.  It is used as freedom to do that which is lawful, but the kindness to restrain yourself from such if needful.  It is used as freedom from the Old Law.  It is used as freedom from sin.  It is used of freedom for an apostle to marry as do others, etc.  Look it up friends, and get a good handle on the word.  I have a feeling that until this error is squelched, we are going to be seeing a good deal of its incorrect usage.

6. What about Bob and Betty:  

Brother Osborne states, "Let us further consider Betty... If Betty counter-filed after Bob, would that constitute action by which she could 'put away' guilty Bob?...If counter filing was not allowed in Betty's state and she protested before the judge that the true cause of the marriage breakup was Bob's fornication, would that constitute action by which she could scripturally 'put away' guilty Bob?  What if she renounced Bob for his fornication before the elders or the church, would that constitute action to 'put away' Bob? [emp.mine] He continues, "In each case, the legal requirements would have been met as demanded by Romans 13:1-7 and the innocent would have acted to put away the guilty spouse."  A better question might be, "What does renouncing Bob before the elders or the church have to do with divorcing (putting away) one's mate?"  Could one simply go before the church for any other civil act such as marriage, adoption, etc.; without including the recognized and enforced civil or social events surrounding any such action?  If one is to accept this last scenario separate and apart from recognized civil proceedings, he now puts the eldership on a par with the laws of the land, and moves them out of the realm of the spiritual into that of the secular. 

Since God recognizes the lawful putting away, as well as the unlawful divorce (though not approving of such), our brother must admit that if the innocent party wanting a divorce can go before the elders to file for divorce, the fornicator can as well -- if not why not? 

What if Betty were an alien sinner, having no affiliation with the church?  Could she go before the church for such, or is this a "closed" putting away session -  "Members only need apply?"  Would she be limited to the option of having to go before a council of the "Church of Satan" or a coven of "Wiccan" priestesses, etc?  Would that "constitute action to 'put away Bob?"  Would our brother now as readily accept her non-civil divorce as he would the one he suggests can be handed down by the elders or the church?  If anything goes, why go to such trouble?  In fact, if nobody else will listen, just ask uncle Jedd and aunt Bessy to come over, and tell them about it across the dinner table.  They can whip you up a divorce right there! 

Friends, the scriptural regulations surrounding a divorce are not "Kingdom Law" (as per Haileyism).  When Jesus stated, "whosoever shall put away..."  He was referring to the alien sinner and the saint -- the fornicator as well as the innocent.  If the innocent and saint can file with the elders, can the guilty and alien do the same? - If not, why not?

Clarity seems to be a recurring problem in these exchanges.  The bottom line is brother Osborne's whole Bob and Betty scenario fails to deal with the topic of  a "post-civil divorce-divorce."  It seems that our brother is (possibly unknowingly) seeking acceptance for both his own doctrine and that of brother Halbrook's, et. al.  He is doing so by building his "case" against the necessary recognition of civil law where "some" divorces are concerned.  It seems odd that our brother and others continue to proclaim what is wrong with one's reasoning when he finds only one (whether lawful or unlawful) civil or socially accepted divorce in Matthew 19:9.  Yet, the pages are as silent as the tomb when it comes to our expecting them to say anything condemnatory about those who teach that one can put away his mate after the initial putting away has already been finalized.  Who are they trying to protect?

If someone believes one who is divorced "not for fornication" can subsequently put away his spouse after she has found a new love two years after the initial civil divorce has been finalized - and then remarry lawfully - just say so.  If you believe this to be error, please say so, and mark those who so teach. 

I am sure many of us remember the story of the elder who had to fill in for the preacher who was not able to be present for his scheduled debate with a Baptist preacher.  When the elder took the podium he read Acts 2:38.  He then said, "That is what it says," and sat down.  Each time following he would read it and say, "Yep, it's still there."  I truly believe that is where we presently sit brethren.  So remember Matthew 19:9 still says, "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 committeth adultery." Matthew 19:9  That's not about it - that's it! 

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Last Updated:  Thursday, January 26, 2006 12:41 PM