Is There Any Cause for Divorce?
Mike T. Rogacs
Fort Smith, Arkansas
Any man who endeavors to preach the gospel of Christ must defend the truth contained therein. Often this requires standing against false teaching put forth by one's own brethren. I feel that I must do just that in the following article concerning the erroneous belief by some in the Lord's church that no person can divorce his mate for any cause, not even for fornication.
To be sure, I believe that no one, Christian or not, can divorce his mate for any cause that he may dream up. This practice is a sign of moral corruption of any people, and it is shocking to see that such is listed among the iniquities of this land. But I also believe that
God has ordained one cause whereby a Christian can divorce his mate. In fact I hope to prove to you later in this work that it is a necessary doctrine that divorce may occur when fornication has been committed.
I believe, as has generally been believed in the Lord's church until relatively recent times, that the Lord stated the one cause for divorce while He was condemning the belief of divorce "for any cause" in two New Testament passages:
"It hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a. writing of divorcement: 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." (Mt. 5:31-32)
"And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." (Mt. 19:9)
We shall be referring to these verses in this article.
Those who argue against divorce for the cause of fornication (and let us for now consider only this part of the divorce question) have several points in their position. Let us examine each of these points in light of the scriptures.
1. It is held that one cannot divorce for the cause of fornication because it was not mentioned by God when He instituted the marriage relationship with Adam and Eve. It is further reasoned that "this being true," God would be changing a basic moral law that is, a law true for all times in every law and this God would not do. (Gen. 2:24)
The fact that God did not mention divorce for fornication at that time is true, very true. But several things are overlooked.
First, this is poor reasoning. At the time God instituted the church (Pentecost, 33 A.D.), He did not mention that it would have elders and deacons, but this does not mean that He did not intend to include such in the plan.
Second, those who disbelieve in divorce turn right around to say that it is scriptural to remarry after their first mate has died. Well, dear reader, this "acceptable" position cannot be found at the time God instituted the marriage relationship or in the entire book of Genesis. Where then is it recorded that a widow or widower can remarry? In the New Testament in Romans 7:2-3. The point is, it has always been a moral truth in every dispensation and to every race that one could remarry for the cause of death. It was so at the beginning although it was not written until New Testament times. For this reason we must realize that just because divorce for fornication was not mentioned in Genesis does not indicate that it was not a basic moral law!
Third, notice that when Jesus in Matthew 19:8 spoke the words, "but from the beginning it was not so," He was clearly and unmistakably referring to the Jewish practice of "divorce for any cause" and then in verse nine when He condemned divorce Jesus said, "except it be for fornication." Was Jesus confused in His wording or are some today confused in their understanding!
II. The next point in the error filled argument refers to Deuteronomy 24:1-4;
"When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; Her former husband which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife" (Emphasis mine, mtr)
The argument is that the word "uncleanness" in the Hebrew (ervah) does not mean as it is usually thought and translated any unclean act or situation, but that it only means fornication, especially in Deut. 24: 1. "This being so," (they say) it means that Jesus was telling the Jews (in Mt. 5 and 9; that their law said only fornication. (I guess this would also mean that these brethren think that the Hebrew word ervah was misunderstood by Hebrew people!)
To substantiate this claim, one brother in Christ wrote to a Baptist professor in a seminary and asked for his view on the meaning of ervah as rendered in the passage in question. This brother quotes from the professor's answer in his tract against divorce for fornication:
"This word is used as a cause of divorce and it can mean evidence of adultery or fornication (emphasis by the author of tract), a disgraceful immoral conduct or exposure or something which is indecent. . ."
Sounds good does it not? Only, it is not true!
First, every translation I am familiar with translates the word as "uncleanness." They are just as scholarly as the professor. So, there must be a good reason for the translation.
Second, I personally asked to see the letter from the professor which at this writing was still in the possession of the author of the tract. Please note that the "quote" from the professor was incomplete in the tract. Why? Please note that the professor said (in the tract) that ervah "can mean evidence of adultery or fornication" but that it can mean uncleanness other than fornication. Then in the rest of the letter which I read, the professor added that although it can mean fornication, it does not have that meaning in Deuteronomy 24:1. The professor made direct reference to the passage in question!
Third, if a man knows more about the Law of Moses he would also know that Dent. 24:1 and ervah could not possibly mean fornication. Note that in Deut. 24:1-3 that the Jews were told that a man could divorce for uncleanness and that the wife could remarry and could oven he put away by the second husband for uncleanness again. But also notice Deut. 22:22:
"If a man be found lying with a woman married to a husband, then they s hall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel."
You see, ervah could not mean "fornication" in Dent. 24:1 because both people guilty of the act had to die. It could not be possible for them to remarry, let alone have the second husband put the wife away for the same cause! Either such a view is ridiculous and erroneous, or God contradicted Himself two chapters later!
III. The next and most popular argument is that one cannot divorce for any cause because Jesus said the following referring to marriage:
"What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." (Mt. 19:6)
The point of the passage is grossly misunderstood! Take the example of the appointing of elders. If any man qualifies to be an elder, it is because he has met the requirements which God hath set forth in the Scriptures. He then is appointed by a preacher. Dear reader, is the preacher making the men elders, or is God making the man an elder by using His law and by using the preacher who carries out the law? The answer is obvious.
But if a church decides to appoint a man as an elder, a man that has not met all of the divine requirements but is only the popular man of the congregation, who then appoints the elder? Not God through His law, but man through his desires!
This is also true of divorce. If a man puts his wife away for a cause other than the only one God ordained in His word, the man is then putting asunder the marriage himself! But when a man follows the law of God and not his desires; and puts his wife away for fornication, it is God putting asunder the marriage through His law and through the man who obeys that law, and not the man himself! In fact, a man might think he has "put asunder" his marriage for "any cause", but he has not, in fact, done so! A man cannot cut apart the flesh of the two unless God permits it to be done! So, "what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
IV. The next point is one which I believe is the weakest of them all! To prove that one can never divorce, these brethren refer to I Cor. 7: 10, 11;
"And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she departs, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife."
This verse cannot be used because there is no indication that fornication was involved in the situation the Apostle Paul was referring to! Yet it would be true in every other situation that they could not divorce and remarry.
V. Finally, in a tract which was meant to refute divorce for fornication, the title reads, "If I Have A Living Mate May I Remarry?" This is the subject the brother tries to deal with. At face value, I would agree completely with the statement that one cannot marry a second time if there is a living mate. But dear reader, there are other facts that must be considered.
First, we have used the word "divorce" throughout this work. What is the meaning of the word as used in the Bible? Henry Thayer defines it as "To dismiss from the house, to' repudiate." With this in mind, let us notice God's use of divorce:
"The Lord said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? She is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also." (Jer. 3:6-8)
Here you see that God, after longsuffering with Israel (the ten northern tribes), He divorced her because she played the harlot. How? The Bible says she committed spiritual fornication by worshipping idols in the high places. God had a right by the same moral law He gave from the beginning to divorce Israel for the cause of fornication. Notice next Revelation 2:14-16:
"But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balsam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingb1ock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. "
Also, Revelation 2:20-22:
"Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds" (emphasis mine - mtr).
Here again God has demonstrated His right lo rid Himself of spiritual fornicators: either individuals or churches. When these were put away from God, they were no longer of His flesh--no longer of His family-no longer a part of the body of Christ-no longer part of the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-32; 2:19; 5:30; Rev. 18:23). Dear reader, the child of God who commits spiritual fornication and is divorced by God is no longer His mate: the child of God has died in his sins-he is a dead mate! (Eph. 2:1; Rev. 2:23; Rom. 7:2-3)
The reason for God making this important distinction is put forth in I Cor. 6:16-18;
"What? Know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? For two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that commiteth fornication sinneth against his own body." (Emphasis mine mtr)
In fornication, one sins against the body. Perhaps Lenski when he commented on this verse explained it very well:
"Fornication, as does no other sin, violates the body... We err also when we question or challenge Paul's statement regarding the exceptional character of fornication by referring to a sin like suicide or others that damage the body like drunkenness, gluttony, addiction to drugs, etc. Paul is far more profound: no sinful act DESECRATED the body like fornication and sexual abuse."
In conclusion, there is no cause whereby a man can divorce his mate "except it be for fornication." This has always been a moral law for all ages and shall continue to be. When two unite in marriage their two bodies are made one flesh (Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:30, 3 1). But when fornication is committed, three bodies are joined in one flesh (I Cor. 6:16-18). The innocent party has the right to sever this relationship, not because society has approved of such, but because God has ordained that desecrated bodies must be cut off from those who are clean (Rev. 2:23-24).
So you see it is not for convenience sake that God permits - yea demands in absence of repentance - one to divorce the fornicator, but it is for a moral purpose whose importance extends into the spiritual realm. Let us forsake the limiting of God's law and His purposes. They who do so by arguing against fornication cry, "It is a sign of moral decadence in society and in the church." Instead, they are expounding the retainment of that which is both physically and spiritual desecrated and unclean with God's children! Indeed! They are the ones who are decadent!
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 46, pp. 8-12