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WHOEVER REMARRIES FIRST
James C. Mattenbrink
During the days of Jeremiah, Judah was on the threshold of Babylonian captivity for continually ignoring the will of God and for adapting the ways of the idolatrous nations around them. In his prayer concerning the coming onslaught of Jerusalem, Jeremiah acknowledged that it is not within man to direct his own steps (Jeremiah 10:23). Indeed, this has always been the plight of mankind and is the very reason God gave him His word. For nearly 2000 years we have had the completed revelation of God’s will showing man the way of salvation. Yet man persists in following his own wisdom. This might be expected of those who are unbelievers, but why is it that Christians twist (and ignore) the divine guidance to suit themselves? This attitude is readily evident with the many prevailing doctrines concerning divorce and remarriage. Many Christians are bent on getting every divorcee comfortably remarried regardless of the plain teaching of the New Testament.
Some of the world’s best bridge builders are in the church and are fervently attempting to get over and around God’s law of divorce and remarriage. The various bridges include (1) that an adulterous remarriage is not a continuous state but a one time act from which one may repent and which is somehow changed into lawful marriage; (2) that since non-Christians are not amenable to God’s law of marriage, whatever occurs before baptism is of no biblical consequence; (3) that an adulterous remarriage between non-Christians (sic) is somehow changed into a lawful marriage in their baptism. Another bridge that is frequently crossed is the “after the divorce” justification that allows remarriage. We are being told that when a couple divorces for a cause other than fornication, one of the parties may lawfully remarry. But which party may do so? Advocates respond that the person “who remarries first” commits adultery, thereby freeing the other person to lawfully remarry.
In discussing this view, proponents assert “It just isn’t fair for God to require the innocent mate to live a celibate life.” They argue, “How could God be so severe in his Laws?” They remind us that “God never intended that man should live alone.” Emotions and misplaced sympathy are the unstable foundation of this bridge. Indeed, God said it is not good for man to live alone (Genesis 2:18) – that is why he created woman and instituted marriage. God’s plan for an orderly family and society is one man and one woman for life (Genesis 2:24). However, it was not God who did the divorcing, it was man who did so and then against the wishes of God. The cry of unfairness regarding the mate who is divorced unwillingly discounts that God never intended for the pair to be divorced but rather for them to be reconciled (I Corinthians 7:10-11). This supposed unfairness and resultant celibacy and loneliness highlights God’s seriousness about the sanctity of a lifetime marriage between one man and one woman.
In meeting the testy Pharisees, Jesus stated the most complete account of God’s universal law of divorce and remarriage. “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9 NKJV, cf. Matthew 5:32). When Jesus said let not man put marriage asunder (Matthew 19:6), was he not saying that it was within the power of man to divorce? The only cause for a divorce which allows remarriage is when fornication is committed by a spouse. Then only the mate who did not commit fornication is free to remarry without committing adultery. Is it not clear from the scripture that if the cause for the divorce is not fornication that neither spouse can lawfully remarry? If both parties remarry they both commit adultery. Yet, there are those who say that after a divorce where fornication was not the cause, one of the spouses can lawfully remarry. Effectively, the proponents say that the first party to remarry commits adultery. This adulterous remarriage then frees the second party to lawfully remarry. Essentially, this denies that the divorce ever occurred in the first place. It implies that the one who remarries first effects an ex post facto divorce (regardless of which party initiated the original divorce) by the agency of his own adulterous remarriage. If the case is a denial that the first divorce actually took place (yet they were in fact divorced by decree), then how can a person divorce and not divorce simultaneously? Or is it the case that those advocates are implying that two divorces are necessary; The first at the time of original divorce and another by the person who remarries first. Where is the biblical authority for either of these views?
The word for adultery rather than fornication was divinely chosen to show that the remarried party in fact belongs to the mate of the first marriage (Matthew 5:32; 19:9). They are to be reconciled to each other (I Corinthians 7:10-11). Jesus said he who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery and he that marries her that is divorced commits adultery (Matthew 19:9). If either or both of them remarry, adultery is committed. Adultery damns one to hell (Galatians 5:19, 21). Surely God is not complicated or vague in matters eternal. What constitutes adultery is simple. Again, Jesus stated simply that whosoever puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery and he who marries her who is divorced commits adultery. If either of them remarry adultery is committed. The only exception to this law is if one of the mates commits fornication. God grants the privilege of remarriage to the innocent mate.
Where is it written that whoever remarries first frees the other to lawfully remarry? Emphatically, it is “nowhere!” Let us stop bridge building! Let us stop sending people to their eternal destruction and let us stop going beyond what is written by the inspiration of God.
In a panel discussion (Nov. 8, 2003) at the Bethlehem Church of Christ, 2644 Lascassas Pike, Murfreesboro, TN 37130, Gary Grizzell, gave an excellent presentation on this subject. You may order a copy of the tape from the local preacher, Steve Yeatts, $2 for postage and cover.
For the cost of postage
Articles on “Mental Divorce”: This is a packet of materials which deals with another innovation on the question of marriage and divorce. Years ago brother H. Leo Boles observed that Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce (Mt. 5:32 and 19:6-9) is so simple that it takes a lot of help to misunderstand it. The doctrine of mental divorce seeks to do just that.
Order From: Waldron Mission Fund c/o Randall Standefer; P.O. Box 123, Dunlap, TN 37327