(The arguments presented in this article are not new to the discussion. This article was originally sent to Stan Cox, editor of the Watchman magazine website, Nov 3rd, in hopes that another avenue for presenting the truth could be found. About the same time an exchange on that site between brothers Terrence Sheridan and Harry Osborne was agreed upon. The arguments presented in this article differ greatly from those presented by brother Osborne. But concluding that the issue had been sufficiently addressed in the exchange, brother Cox determined that the article I had sent to him was “completely unnecessary.” I am thankful that brother Belknap does not believe the article to be "completely unnecessary" and is willing to post it.)
What Is Biblical "Putting Away"?
By David McKee
The question that is asked in the title is not a new one, but it is one that remains unanswered in the minds of many. It is important, however, that we are able to correctly define the action involved in putting away, as it is both justified and condemned by our Lord, depending on the circumstances. We do not want to be guilty of condemning what is justified or justifying what is condemned.
Over the last year or so, different brethren attempting to answer the question under consideration have written a number of articles. The discussion may be a reemergence of one had years ago, but the vigor of the arguments presently being offered, as well as the influence of those offering them raises the stakes considerably. What may have been a sorting out of possibilities as brethren reasoned among themselves as to the right and wrong circumstances when divorcing and remarrying, has now turned into the active practice of adulterous marriages. Our Lord makes clear that one who has been put away cannot remarry yet some of the arguments brethren are offering permit this very thing.
And when such arguments are condemned, the latest defensive strategy to surface is to ask, "What is Biblical putting away?" Those asking would hope to imply that we are unable to determine what the action might be, therefore, nothing is to be bound and all are left to their own discretion in determining the action involved. But when what has been determined is in clear violation of our Lord's teaching, and is pointed out as such, these reply, "Where does the Bible specify the procedure for putting away?" I imagine we will soon be hearing, "Where does it say we can't do it that way?"
Brethren, our Lord made clear that the gospel was to go into all the world. How does one take Matthew 19:9 into all the world and make application of it in Africa, Asia, and South America? Does one not apply it to the understood procedure in that land for those who go about marrying and divorcing? Those who argued against brother Hailey's teaching correctly stated that Matthew 19:9 applies to all, not just those already in the kingdom.
And as one goes into all the world, one will find that all cultures have some understood procedure for recognizing the coming together of man and woman in a unique relationship, and for ending that relationship. It is to that that one applies our Lord's teaching. If it is not applied to what is understood, then one must come up with his own procedure in describing the action the innocent party may take in putting away a guilty spouse. However, I'm not sure what is to be done when the one who is coming up with the new procedure is asked, "Where does the Bible specify that as the procedure for putting away?" And who in that culture would understand what has taken place? One could not go to God's word in defending their newly defined procedure for it could not be found there.
Brethren, we will find established in every culture, the action one takes to end a marriage, regardless of what it may be called. It is the cause, the reason, for why the action was taken that would have our Lord either justifying or condemning it. The action can be taken and be either justified or condemned, but if one is the recipient of the action taken that ends a marriage, our Lord makes clear such a one cannot remarry without engaging in adultery.
As clear and as simple as this is set before us in the various passages (Matt 5:32; 19:9; Mk 10:11-12, and Lk 16:18, and I Cor 7:11), dear brethren are attempting to portray the teaching as hard to understand. And in that it is hard to understand, we should not condemn others for their misunderstanding nor bind on them our own understanding. As a result, adultery is becoming a sin that cannot be clearly identified. The salvation of souls and the purity of churches are what are at stake in this discussion.
In areas where our Lord is silent, brethren are interjecting their own reasoning. The conduct of the one doing the putting away is held up as an acceptable reason for rejecting the action he took in putting away his spouse. This would then grant the one against whom the action was taken the right to put him away as she could view herself as never having been put away. Yet our Lord says nothing concerning the conduct of that one who is wrongfully putting away his mate. She will be a put away person, regardless of what his conduct leading up to that point may have been. We will either respect the silence of Scripture or introduce "a way that seems right to a man" (Proverbs 14:12).
Some will argue that conduct following the putting away can retroactively render that putting away null and void. This would again afford one against whom the action of being put away has already taken place the right to put away her mate. But apart from his death, no subsequent conduct affects the bond that remains between the two that forbids remarriage on the part of either. Where does one find in Scripture that conduct following a putting away dismisses that action as never having occurred? It is not to be found in Scripture, only in the mind of man who thinks it is now within himself to direct his own steps (Jeremiah 10:23).
Some would argue that she must have protested being put away or she forfeits any later right to put him away. To fail to protest would be seen as consenting to being put away, and one who consents is then ruled ineligible to later put one away. The first question all of this begs is, where does our Lord mention a single word about the actions of the one being put away? The second question is, who will know such conditions except those few being instructed by our brethren. Those in the world will be ineligible to put away after having been put away because they did not know they were to go before others and declare, "I protest this divorce." But Christians, being advised by some well-respected preacher, will be walked through the steps so that after the understood procedure is complete, they will retain the right to later put away their mate.
Are we to be so simple-minded or gullible? Paul would exhort the Corinthians, "Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature" (I Cor 14:20). Are we to think our Lord could have enumerated every procedure for putting away that was present in His own day while walking this earth, or all that would come to be established in various cultures? Are we to think that in the absence of a detailed procedure being given by our Lord, we can establish conditions that allow us to disregard the action he plainly addressed; action that, understood by all, ended the marriage relationship?
What is amazing to see among some of those who would dismiss the understood procedure as the action involved in putting away, is how they themselves are unable to state just what the action is. Some would say that it involves (1) mental decision, (2) private commitment, (3) public statement, and (4) conform to civil laws if possible. But if asked why following the understood procedure does not meet this criterion, one is not likely to get a consistent answer. When asking one of these what it is they would tell someone to do who is wishing to put away a guilty mate, the vagueness of answers ranges from "Obey the Lord" to "Follow Matthew 19:9." This does little to inform one about the action involved, but it does much to avoid revealing one's true beliefs.
When asking, "What is Biblical putting away?" two answers could rightfully be given. The Bible speaks of the action being taken when there is just cause. Such action ends the marriage relationship and severs the bond, allowing the one taking the action to marry again. The Bible also speaks of that which is without just cause. Such action ends the marriage relationship but does nothing to sever the bond. As a result of the bond remaining intact, any remarriage on the part of the one doing the putting away or the one who is put away, is adulterous.