Loose Doctrine on the Marriage Law
Thomas C. Hickey, Jr.
The church today is plagued with a number of erroneous, even modernistic, attitudes toward the marriage law and toward those who have violated it. To begin our study, we will simply summarize the teaching of the word of God on the subject of marriage.
In the Garden of Eden, God made a man and a woman and joined them together as husband and wife that the two should become one flesh. At the time God gave them to understand that they were to leave their parents and cleave to one another. Their charge was to be fruitful and to multiply, replenishing the earth. Be; cause of the hardness of the hearts of the Jews, Moses began to permit writings of divorcement to be issued that apparently led to multiple marriages. When Christ was tempted by some of the Jews of his day with a query on the marriage law, he approved neither of two general schools of thought that were prevalent in his day. One idea was that divorce was permissible for any cause. The other position held that divorce was not obtainable under any circumstances. This, for a fact, was a case of the truth being between extremes because Jesus taught that divorce was obtainable scripturally, but only for one cause. In a case where one partner should engage in illicit sexual relationships, Jesus granted that the innocent partner might obtain a divorce and that he might remarry without himself committing adultery. He made it clear, however, that one who should divorce and remarry without this ground would be guilty both of committing adultery and of causing his partner to commit adultery.
Having summarized what the Bible teaches on the marriage law and without using the detail necessary to prove it, we pass to the purpose of this article that is to expose three false doctrines held by some members the church.
Both May Remarry
There are a small number of brethren who hold fornication or adultery to be the only scriptural ground for divorce, but who take the singularly ridiculous position that both partners are freed by the sin of either and that both the guilty and the innocent may "remarry without the second marriage being adulterous!
We shall first deal with this argument by showing its logical end, by reducing it to an absurdity, or by following it through to its own consequences. We shall then destroy it exegetically.
If we were to assume that both partners might be completely freed from the marriage relationship by the promiscuity of either, we should immediately find ourselves with an inducement to commit frivolity or adultery. Indeed, as often as one found himself discontent with his marriage partner, he would need only to commit adultery, in which case his partner could divorce him and he could marry again without sin. If the doctrine were true, man might finally appear before Christ in judgment having had fifty or a hundred wives, yet be totally free from sin. Too, such a doctrine would soon deprive the church of any elders whatsoever. Paul taught that an elder should be "the husband of one wife." In view of such possibilities how many young men would attain old age having had one wife?
Of course, the clincher is Matthew 5:32 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." Jesus has here introduced a hypothetical case in which a man puts away his wife. The word is POLUO (Gr.), which means to "dismiss, to repudiate" (Thayer p. 66). In this case the husband is pictured as the innocent party and anyone who should marry the repudiated wife is guilty of adultery. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus stated that anyone putting away his wife, except for fornication, and who remarried would be guilty of adultery!
Marriage Not Binding Before Baptism
There are some who take the position that marriage is not binding until a person becomes a child of God. In practice, this position is that one may be married any number of times but none of them really count except the one relationship in which one is living at the time of one's baptism. It is argued that the baptism validates the marriage in the mind of God. This bears similarity to the Roman Catholic position, which leads them to recognize only those marriages that have been solemnized by the priests.
This argument is primarily based upon a misapplication of Romans 3:19 and is diametrically opposed to what the word of God teaches. It is worthy of note that nearly every fellow who embraces this position either has been married more than once or else has a close friend or relative who has. It appears not to be an attempt at Biblical exposition but rather self-justification.
It is argued that Romans 3:19 applies to the law of Christ and that the law only speaks to those under the law. Therefore, it is argued, the marriage law only applies to Christians. Well, happy day! This makes fools of all who have obeyed the gospel! Why? Because the wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23) and sin is transgression of the law (I John 3:4); aliens are not under the law (Romans 3: 19 perverted) so they can't transgress it! They can't transgress it, so they can't sin! They can't sin, so they won't die spiritually! The logical consequence of this doctrine is that only unfaithful Christians can be lost.
This doctrine is false! Those who propagate it are anti-Christ. Anti means against. Jesus taught if you are not with him you are against him, therefore, anti-Christ.
In the first place, the doctrine falls if we can show that people who are not Christians can commit adultery. We can do this. Paul said that the Corinthians (some of them) had been adulterers, but such was no longer true for "ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:9-11). To "wash" is to baptize for the remission of sins; to "sanctify" is to set apart from the world and cannot be accomplished without repentance; to "justify" is to make pure by the efficacy of the blood of the lamb (Ephesians 1:7).
In the second place, the fellow who applies Romans 3:19 to the law of Christ is ignorant of the entire purpose of the early part of the Roman letter. Paul used chapter one to point out the degraded and sinful condition of the Gentile peoples. He used chapter two to show that the Jews were critical of the Gentiles unjustly for they were equally guilty of the same sins. Furthermore, the Jews were applying the Law of Moses to the Gentiles and not to themselves. Paul even quoted the Psalmist who said, "There is none righteous (Jews, TH), no, not one" (Romans 3: 11). In verse 19, Paul says, "Now we know that what things so ever the law (of Moses, TH) saith, it saith to them who are under the law: (Jews, TH) that every mouth (both Jew and Gentile, TH) may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God."
Finally on this point, if the "law" of Romans 3:19 is the law of Christ, there is a contradiction between Romans 3:19-20 and Romans 1:16. The word "law" in Romans 3:20 teaches that no flesh shall be justified by the "law" while Romans 1:16 teaches that the law of Christ or the gospel is God's power unto salvation!
Don't Discipline Adulterers
Another evidence of corruption in the church today is laxity with reference to the subject of discipline. In I Corinthians 5, Paul severely rebuked the Corinthians because a man was committing fornication with his father's wife and they were tolerating it. Paul accused the Corinthians of being puffed up. It appears they were even defending the man in his sin. Paul commanded them to deliver the man to Satan.
A number of preachers today advocate that you need not be concerned with marking and withdrawing from adulterers. They regard it as foolishness or a waste of time. "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I John 4:1).
Our Lord died to build a church without spot or blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27)! It does not behoove us to let the church become cluttered up with adulterers or with any other kind of sinners. The Bible provides a plan for keeping the church pure. I challenge all faithful brethren to make use of it when necessary!
Truth Magazine VIII: 1, pp. 10-12 October 1963