Divorce And Remarriage

By Aude McKee

For a number of issues to follow, the Lord willing, we plan to review a tract written by Olan Hicks and sent to us by the author. We plan to reproduce that part of the tract each time that will be under consideration so that our readers may see for themselves what the author said.

We know of no subject today that is more “alive” among our brethren than the matter of divorce and remarriage. For the most part, the religious organizations around wrote the subject off a long time ago. Most denominational bodies accept members without concern for the number of marriages and divorces they have had or the reasons for those divorces. In the past gospel preachers have presented a somewhat united front, but of late voices are being heard that certainly present a more liberated viewpoint, to say the least. Brother Hicks is one of those voices.

The Question At Issue

In the year 1545 in a town in Germany named Trent, a Roman Catholic Council convened and, with interruptions, over the next 18 years rendered decisions that were to have far reaching effects on religious concepts around the world. Although it was not at first thought to be a very important council, this one produced rulings of such a nature that in later years many Catholic historians have referred to the Council of Trent as the most significant of all the councils. It was here that “Tradition” was ruled equally inspired with the scriptures and equally authoritative. But the decree most directly relating to problems of marriage and divorce today, is the one in which this council “defined” that marriage is a “sacrament.” This means that it is an institution directly involving an action on heaven’s part, and as such, is not subject to breakage by human hands. The Council decreed, in effect, that each marriage contract is enacted in heaven, is entered into permanent records there, and so the execution of the ceremony must be presided over by a priest and two witnesses. Further, once the marriage contract is solemnized, it continues to be kept intact in heaven regardless of the will or actions of the involved human parties on earth. The church, represented by its officers, is seen as obligated to impose judgments upon the people in harmony with these premises, including the refusal to recognize any marriage contracted in any other way, as a marriage at all.

In this first article of the series we ask our readers to observe that the very first thing the writer did was to introduce us to the Council of Trent, and then in the next paragraph he said, “Within the restoration movement the problems associated with the basic viewpoint have mostly lain dormant for about 175 years, with some believing according to the Roman theory and others rejecting it.”

In the tract, the Council of Trent is mentioned about 15 times and “tradition” is referred to at least that often. We wonder if our brother is, either consciously or unconsciously, trying to prejudice the minds of the readers. The tract has about 26 paragraphs, so this means that the idea of tradition or the Council of Trent is introduced on an average of more than once per paragraph! Brother Hicks seems to be operating on the principle that if you tell a fellow often enough he is following Catholic tradition, he will eventually believe it. We wonder what he would say to a Seventh Day Adventist who insisted he worshiped on Sunday rather than Saturday because of Catholic tradition? We suspect that Olan would say, “What the Catholics teach makes no difference whatever, but what does the Bible teach?” So the purpose of this review will be to examine the teachings of the Bible in contrast with what brother Hicks has to say on this vital subject.

We want our readers to know that there is no ill will between this writer and brother Hicks. This review is undertaken solely for the sake of truth. We will now go to the heart of the doctrine taught by brother Hicks.

A Thus Saith the Lord

Close examination reveals that the traditional viewpoint, far from representing accurately what Jesus said in Matthew 19:9, actually denies every statement made in that verse. The ruling of the council and the view of subsequent tradition is that, even though the partners to a marriage obtain a divorce and cease their relationship, God does not accept that and continues to hold them married to each other. It is this premise that produces the judgments of “invalidity” concerning future marriages, and finally leads to a direct denial of every statement given in Matthew 19:9. In that verse, the Lord actually said four things as follows:

1. If a man puts away his wife, except for the cause of fornication,

2. and marries another,

3. he commits adultery.

4. If a man marries a put away woman, he commits adultery.

In saying that the man in such a case does not actually put away his wife, in the eyes of God, man denies number 1, “shall put away his wife, except for fornication.” In saying that he is not actually married to the second mate, man denies number 2, “and shall marry another.” The Lord’s third statement is that these two acts taken together constitutes the committing of adultery. But tradition holds that adultery cannot be committed apart from the acts of sexual intercourse and thus could not consist in the actions of putting away one and marrying another, as Jesus said. This denies number 3, “commits adultery.” The same reasoning produces a similar denial of number 4, saying that the man who marries a woman put away, does not commit adultery until later when they cohabit. Limiting the meaning of the word “adultery” to sexual cohabitation is a mistake. Thayer gives also this definition of it: “to usurp unlawful control over the sea, to falsify, to corrupt” (Lexicon, pg. 417). The Bible also uses the term variously. James uses it of friendship with the world (Js. 4:4). Jeremiah used it of Idolatry (Jer. 3:9). Jesus used it of lust in the heart (Matt. 5:28). Thus it is a mistake to restrict its meaning to physical sexual intercourse (p. 3).

One of the writer’s mistakes is assuming that God must take an action simply because man takes it. A man “puts away his wife” and our brother wants us to believe that God also takes the same action simply because the man did. According to 3 John 10, Diotrephes was casting some out of the church. Does this mean that God did the same thing? According to Matthew 19:6, the man and woman become “one flesh” when married and are “joined together” by God! Man can no more undo that union without God’s agreeing than a man can be declared an unfaithful Christian without God’s approval. Our whole point is, God is not regulated by man’s mandates but rather man is regulated by God’s. “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” We do not deny that men can withdraw fellowship, but whether God does is another matter. We do not deny that a man can divorce his wife, but whether God unties the knot is the problem.

Now, brother Hicks, no one denies #2. Of course the man in Matthew 19:9 married another woman according to whatever civil laws prevailed at the time. The man took that action just like he took the divorce action. In Mark 6:17, Herod had married Philip’s wife. That’s what the verse says. But the next verse calls her Philip’s wife.

The whole problem in this matter is the result of the action of the man. He “commits adultery” according to Jesus. Our brother does not deny this, but he avoids the consequences by defining “adultery” in the strangest sort of way. In effect, he defines the word to mean, “the act of getting an unscriptural divorce and the act of acquiring another wife.” To support his claim that it does not mean “to have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife” (Thayer’s first definition), he cites Thayers statement that it means “to usurp unlawful control over the sea.” This, Mr. Thayer says, is a figurative use of the word and then shows that that use is never found in the Bible! Brother Hicks then says that the word “adultery” is used of friendship with the world, idolatry, and lust in the heart. The first two are figurative uses of the word, and in the last one the man had intercourse with the woman in his mind. But what leads brother Hicks to suppose that “adultery” in Matthew 19:9 is figurative? Is the word “fornication” in the same verse literal or figurative? In all the false positions we are confronted with, I don’t think I have ever seen one based on a shakier foundation than this.

The truth of the matter is, if a man puts away his wife, and she has not been guilty of immorality, then if and when the man marries another woman the intercourse he has with her is unlawful. That’s not nearly what the verse teaches, that’s exactly it. And, in addition, the man who marries the put-away-woman is committing an unlawful act when he has intercourse with her. This is putting it bluntly, but we believe, in the light of the false doctrine that is being spread, bluntness is called for. Or perhaps we ought to say, this is putting it in the words of the Greek scholar, Mr. Thayer!

Also, in view of statements made in the paragraph reproduced above, we think it would be interesting to have some discussion of when a marriage is a marriage. When the blood test is obtained, the license acquired, the ceremony said by the preacher or justice of the peace, or when the couple have a physical relationship? It is clear that Olan wants “marriage” to mean something that takes place prior to the physical union of the two bodies. And then he wants to define that action as “adultery.” Want to risk your soul on that?

We do not deny that when civil law requires a blood test, a ceremony by an authorized person, etc., these things are necessary to a marriage. A Christian must obey the law of the land in which he lives (Rom. 13:1-7). But we may be too prone to define “marriage” according to the customs and laws of the society in which we happen to live. To see how simple marriage can be, look at the beginning of that relationship between Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24. Abraham did not want Isaac to marry one of the Canaanite women, so he sent his servant back to, the city of Nahor to get Isaac a wife. You will want to read all the story but for our point we will begin with verse 61: “And Rebekah arose, and her damsels, and they rode upon the camels and followed the man: and the servant took Rebekah and went his way. And Isaac came from the way of the well Lahairoi; for he dwelt in the south country. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and behold, the camels were coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off her camel. For she had said unto the servant, What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant had said, It is my master: therefore she took a veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all things that he had done. And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”

What are we saying? Simply that the physical union of the two persons who marry is such a vital part of the relationship, it is easy to see why the Lord said, “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 committeth adultery.”

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 2, pp. 40-42
January 20, 1983