An Open Letter On Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage

By Warren King

To Billie, the mother of the world’s best wife:

In response to the things we discussed recently, I wanted to write this letter to clearly set forth what the Bible teaches about the remarriage of one who has been put away for fornication. You are right to be alarmed at any teaching which would grant the privilege of remarriage to such a one as long as the one they cheated on is still alive.

In Matthew 19:9, Jesus sets forth two scenarios. The outcome of either one is adultery. In the first scenario, the individual who puts away an innocent spouse to marry another, commits adultery. In the second, anyone who marries someone who has been put away, regardless of the cause, commits adultery. This is God’s simple law on divorce and remarriage. Under this law, a guilty party has no right to re-marry. If they put away their innocent spouse to marry another, they commit adultery according to the first scenario. If their innocent spouse puts them away and they (the guilty party) re-marry, they commit adultery according to the second scenario. Either way, the guilty party is prevented from remarrying.

But, as you are aware, some are teaching that this is not the complete picture. They may admit that adultery is the consequence in each of the two scenarios of Matthew 19:9; but, the adultery, they would argue, is only temporary. They teach that when the adultery is forgiven, even the guilty party may remain in a second marriage. This argument usually comes in one of two forms  and, each is flawed.

One form of the argument is based on the definition of a “covenant,” or contract. Marriage, they say, is simply a contract between two parties; and, when it is broken for one, it is automatically broken for the other. This position is usually illustrated with a diagram of handcuffs or ropes. But, such a simplistic picture does not fully illustrate the marriage bond. Here is the flaw. This view implies that any two people who are not bound (hand-cuffed) to someone else, are free to marry one another. Using this illustration, we could justify marriages between a widowed father and his daughter, or a widowed mother and her son, or two unmarried men. Of course, they would argue that God prohibits incestuous marriages and homosexual marriages (and I agree). But, God also prohibits adulterous marriages (Matt. 19:9). God has the right to restrict marriage and remarriage on any grounds he chooses. Handcuffs clearly do not convey the whole picture.

Another form of the argument is based on the definition of the word “commits” in Matthew 19:9. To make a long story short, the Greek word here can be interpreted as continual action (keeps on committing), or point-in-time action (commits). So, some folks jump on this to say that adultery only hap-pens the first time the remarried fornicator has sexual relations with his new spouse. Once that happens, the argument goes, he can obtain forgiveness and continue in his new marriage.

Those who argue this remind us that the Bible never mentions “adulterous marriages,” or “living in adultery.” But, here is the flaw in this position. In Paul’s own words, “the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth . . . So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress” (Rom. 7:2-3). Paul does not mince words. She is an adulterous “so long as (her husband) liveth.”This settles the question as to whether “commits” is an ongoing action, or a one-time action. And, as to whether it is possible for someone to “live in adultery,” we only need look at Colossians 3:5-7, where Paul describes those who “lived in” fornication (which, in the biblical sense, includes adultery).

Of course, these are not the only facets of the discussion on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, but these are two of the most common. If you have any other questions, or want to discuss this further, let me know. I enjoyed our conversation the other day, and pray that the Lord will continue to bless you in your service to him.

Your devoted son-in-law, Warren

P.S.  The way I figure it, this de-serves a batch of chocolate chip cookies, which I shall look forward to on our next visit!

Guardian of Truth XL: No. 13, p. 5
July 4, 1996