Divorce and Adultery

By R.J. Stevens

And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” Some are teaching that the “whosoever” and the “whoso” refer only to believers; namely, those in covenant relationship with God. Most of those who espouse this doctrine also teach that a believer who is living in an unlawful marriage (adulterous relationship) would have to dissolve that marriage to save his or her soul. They believe repentance and prayer, which is the law of pardon for the believer, involves turning from the sin of adultery and/or any other sin in order to be forgiven as a child of God (Acts 8:22).

On the other hand, they teach that an unbeliever who is living in an unlawful marriage (adulterous relationship) would not have to dissolve his marriage if he repents and is baptized. If repentance to the believer means dissolving an unlawful marriage, would not repentance to the unbeliever involve dissolving an unlawful marriage? We need to realize that the book of Matthew was written after the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and was primarily for the benefit of Jewish believers and unbelievers.

Let us consider some rhetorical questions. Can an unbeliever and a believer commit and thus be guilty o’f the same immoral sins? Can an unbeliever and a believer both love their neighbor? Can an unbeliever and a believer both be morally pure? an both obey the laws of the land? Can both he lawfully married? Can a believer and/or an unbeliever put away his or her companion for fornication and marry another without committing adultery? There is only one passage that gives both the believer and he unbeliever that right and it is found in Matthew 19:9.

Can a believer become an unbeliever? According to Hebrews 4:1-11, we learn that believers can fall into unbelief. Can a Christian who is living in an unlawful marriage say that he did not have enough faith when he was first baptized and thus be baptized again and continue to live in an adulterous relationship? This is not hypothetical – we heard a man say this very thing. He felt that being baptized again would make his second marriage lawful.

Not very long ago, we heard a terribly strange doctrine on one of the television talk shows. There is an atheistic organization, with headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, advocating people to go through their ceremony of being “de-baptized.” It sounded weird then but it is even stranger today. They were proud of denying their faith and encouraging others to do the same. You don’t have to go through their ceremony to deny your faith. Can anyone who has lost his faith and is living in adultery regain his faith and be re-baptized? Does his second baptism sanctify his adulterous marriage, making it a lawful relationship for him to continue in? The answer is no because his second baptism would not sanctify his adulterous marriage any more than his first baptism. Surely we can see that repentance, as it relates to an adulterous marriage, demands turning from the sin of adultery and not continuing in it.

The fornicator of 1 Corinthians 5 had his father’s wife. Was his father a believer? We don’t know, but it doesn’t make any difference. Was his father’s wife a believer? More than likely she was not, because the instructions Paul gave the church at Corinth concerned the man, who was a believer. Did he have her before he was baptized or after his baptism? It doesn’t say because it doesn’t make any difference. Did this man need to repent and dissolve this adulterous relationship? 1 Corinthians 5:5 says he had to be withdrawn from to save his soul in judgment. Furthermore, 2 Corinthians 2:6-8, implies the punishment had accomplished what Paul desired. Thus, this man truly repented.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 teaches that some of the Corinthians had been homosexuals, idolaters, fornicators and adulterers. If one can see that obeying the gospel involves the homosexual putting away his homosexual partner, the idolater putting away his idol or the polygamist putting away his many wives, he ought to see that the adulterer needs to put away his adulterous partner. God and his people in Corinth could not have fellowship with the fornicator who had his father’s wife. The reason is because the only way any fornicator can have fellowship with God and his people is to quit fornicating – just as the guilty man, in 1 Corinthians 5, did by severing his relationship with his father’s wife. We are not saying this to destroy souls but we are hopeful that it will help souls to be saved in the day of judgment.

Many Have Chosen To Be Unmarried

The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34, made it clear that people do not have to be married to go to heaven. In fact some have married companions that have destroyed their hope of heaven. Choosing a marriage partner is one of the most important decisions in life. There are faithful Christians who have made the choice to remain unmarried because they have not found the marriage partner they believe will help them go to heaven. They have the lawful right to marry (1 Cor. 7:2) but choose to remain unmarried because their first interest is the kingdom of Heaven.

Many widows and widowers have chosen to remain unmarried because they, too, have not found the companions to encourage them in their goal of the heavenly home. They have the right to marry again (1 Cor. 7:39) but they also choose to remain unmarried because the kingdom of Heaven is first in their lives. Some have put away their companions for fornication and choose to remain unmarried because their first interest is the heavenly kingdom. These also have the right to marry again (Matt. 19:9) but choose to remain unmarried. Some have put away their companions for an unscriptural cause and have made the choice not to marry again, They realize they don’t have the right to marry again according to Matthew 19:9; Luke 16:18; Mark 10:11, 12. This decision is made because a home in heaven is more important than an unlawful relationship here on the earth. There are those who have been put away because they were guilty of fornication. Many in this category have chosen to be unmarried because there is no scriptural right for them to marry again (Matt. 19:9). They afso follow the course of being unmarried in order to save their souls and to have the hope of heaven in their hearts.

According to Galatians 5:19-21, Hebrews 13:4 and many other passages which we would cite, adultery will keep a person from going to heaven. There are many men and women today who are committing adultery in their unlawful marriage. Should they continue in their sin of adultery that grace may abound? Paul says, “God forbid” (Rom. 6:1,2). Isn’t it possible that this is what Jesus meant in Matthew 19:12, when he said, “. . . and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it”?

Our Thinking Must Be Governed By Truth Rather Than Emotion

What is a teacher of God’s word supposed to tell people who admit that their marriage is unlawful. “When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul” (Ezek. 33:8,9). We must speak as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11). If a teacher of God’s word warns a person to turn away from adultery, he is speaking as the oracle of God. When a teacher tells a person that he can continue living in an unlawful marriage because his baptism put him into covenant relationship with God, this is not speaking as the oracles of God. It is for just this type of teaching that the prophet declared, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! ” (Isa. 5:20,21) An unpleasant truth is profitable but pleasant error will not profit the teacher or the hearer.” May God help us all to reprove, rebuke and exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Tim. 4:24). We put off having this article published for over two years because I am not a writer and certainly no scholar. However, I don’t want to straddle the fence on this issue. It is my desire to stand on God’s truth. This might sound strange but I welcome opposing views more than agreeable views. We also pray that he will help each of us to have the right attitude toward one another by keeping our hearts open to further study. (Reprinted from Gospel Truths, Dec. 1990.)

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 5, pp. 131-132
March 7, 1991