By Aude McKee
As we continue our review of Olan Hicks’ tract on divorce and remarriage, we ask you to note some things he said in a paragraph that begins on page 5:
After determining precisely what the text says, the next vital step is to make sure we apply it in harmony with apostolic example, that we give it the meaning they demonstrated. Here again the traditional position errs from the right course. It has long been standard among us to divide the testaments at the cross and to recognize that the new testament gospel began to be preached on Pentecost day in Acts 2. Examples of its terms being executed therefore, are not to be found before the cross. But being unable to find any examples in which the apostles thought of Matthew 19:9 the way the Council of Trent did, advocates of that tradition have turned to incidents before the cross and offer these as “examples” to support their theory. Usually the words of John the Baptist to Herod are cited, or the case of the Jews of Ezra’s time. But John was killed in Matthew the 14th chapter, and the words of our text occur in the 19th chapter, five chapters after John’s death. Thus that incident could not possibly be a case of these words being applied. The Jews of Ezra’s time, of course, are even farther away from being an example than that, since that incident occurred hundreds of years before Jesus spoke the words of Matthew 19:9. Neither incident is a case of a marriage being disallowed because fornication was lacking as the cause for a prior divorce. These are not examples of Matthew 19:9 being applied any more than the thief on the cross is a case of the great commission being executed. In both cases the incident took place before the words being considered were spoken. The simple truth is, there does not exist in scripture a single case, anywhere, of a marriage being “nullified” because fornication was not the cause of a preceding divorce. When we come over this side of the cross where the apostolic example is found, we see evidence that is altogether to the contrary. We find the gospel first being preached to the Jews, a nation which had been living under the law of Moses. This law, ironically, permitted divorce and remarriage for many causes (Matt. 19:3-8). But when these people asked the apostles, “What shall we do?” not a word was said concerning destroying any present marriages nor living celibately thereafter, as far as the divine record states. Peter simply replied, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins . . .” (Acts 2:38). It is clear that repentance of former sins and a spiritual washing in baptism was sufficient. This is as far as our pattern goes. Neither the Council of Trent nor current enforcers have the right to give further elaboration as to what is “in the eyes of God,” and add into this pattern what is not supplied by the Holy Ghost. As J.D. Bales observed, “The Law of Christ is not Retroactive” (Firm Foundation, 6-13-78).
Olan wants an example of the teaching of Matthew 19:9 being carried out. Will he reject the clear meaning of Matthew 18:15-17, and the application of the passage to present-day circumstances, because he can find no example of its application after the cross? Olan is trying to make a new law!
He says that when Jews asked, “What shall we do?” in Acts 2:37, Peter didn’t say a word about destroying present marriages. “Peter simply replied, `Repent and be baptized . . . .”‘ We wonder, what does our brother think “repent” means? Those who followed the command to “repent” changed their minds about every action, thought and word that was contrary to the law of Christ! To those who might have been engaging in unlawful intercourse, the word “repent” covered that just like it covered lying, stealing and all other sins. According to Olan, these people could repent of adultery and keep on committing it – well, not exactly, because he wants to define adultery as divorce and remarriage: So the repentance would involve simply deciding not to divorce and remarry any more. Then the couple unscripturally divorced and remarried could go on sleeping together with God’s approval.
The very reason that there is adultery (Matt 19:9) in some marriages is simply because there is no marriage in God’s sight. God does not join two people who have no scriptural right to marry, any more than He “adds to the church” someone who has no scriptural right to be so considered (Acts 2:47). A person could come before an assembly, confess his faith in the risen Lord, and be immersed in water with the preacher saying, “for the remission of sins,” but the Lord knows whether or not he has met the terms of pardon, and it is only the Lord who applies the blood. If a man affirmed that the Lord would add a person’s name to the Lamb’s book of life simply because a local church added the name to their roll book, he would be totally in error. Just so, for a man to affirm that God recognizes a piece of paper issued by a civil court, dissolving a marriage because the couple disagreed over what breed of dog to buy, is just as ridiculous. In order for a person to be “added to the church,” God’s terms of pardon must be met. Just so, in order for what “God hath joined together” to be “unjoined,” God’s terms must be met! His terms are stated in these words: “Except it be for fornication” (Matt. 19:9). The clear import is simply this. If a marriage is dissolved and the reason for the putting away was not fornication, then any subsequent sexual activity, on the part of either one is labeled adultery by the Lord. It matters not whether the sexual activity is “one night stands” or activity made socially acceptable by another marriage, the result is the same before God.
Another very clear example among the apostles is that of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In chapter 5 he cites a case of incest among them, involving the defilement of a marriage. In chapter 6 he mentions that others of the Corinthians had been “adulterers” (6:9-11): There is no question that people guilty of adultery, or marriage violation, were among those to whom Paul wrote this letter. But the procedure by which they were rehabilitated was exactly the same as that which Peter gave at Pentecost. “And such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” The teaching of tradition insists that, following repentance and washing, former adulterers are required by the demands of repentance, to “become a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” and finish their lives without a mate. But Paul takes the opposite position. As we read on here, we find him in chapter 7 taking up matters they had written him about, particularly marriage. His first statement on the matter is, “to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife and let every woman have her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2). Remembering that this was written to people among whom Paul had just cited the existence of former adultery, it is clear that this command cannot be harmonized with the tradition established at Trent, namely that former adulterers are not capable of entering a valid marriage but are consigned to permanent celibacy. Here is a clear indication that Paul did not view the matter that way. And again, one must choose between inspired scripture and human opinion.
Let us impress on the minds of our readers that Olan’s position from beginning to end depends on his definition of “adultery.” His definition is, the act of divorcing and the act of getting married. And so, when he comes to a case of conversion, the repentance involved simply means that the person, regardless of how many marriages and divorces he may have had, just agrees mentally that he will not do that anymore. If a person is allowed to define Bible words to suit his purpose, then I suppose there is nothing in this world that could not be “proven” right! The closest that Olan has come to finding his definition of the word “adultery” is Thayer’s statement that the Greek word is used figuratively in Greek writing “to usurp unlawful authority over the sea” and then the examples he gives are all outside the Bible! Mr. Vine agrees with Thayer when it comes to the literal meaning of “adultery”: “Denotes one who has unlawful intercourse with the spouse of another” (Vol. 1, pp. 32-33).
How could the Corinthians have been “washed, sanctified and justified”? Why, by obedience to the gospel (Acts 18:8). This obedience included repentance (Acts 17:30), which meant they had to have a change of mind about committing the sin of adultery. When did Jesus say the adultery occurred? Read Matthew 19:9: “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” (Emphasis mine, a.m.). We have heard it said, “You have to have help to misunderstand,” and it seems that is what Olan is determined to give. But it is going to take more than a far-out definition of “adultery” to accomplish the task! The “fornication” in Matthew 19:9 must be understood literally, and so the “adultery” in the passage must be understood literally, also.
Every position Olan takes is colored by his definition of “adultery,” in verse 2 of 1 Corinthians 7, Paul said, “. . . to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. ” This verse must be understood in the light of everything the New Testament teaches regarding marriage, divorce, remarriage, adultery and fornication. With his definition of “adultery,” Olan can say to all the divorced people in the world, “Go out and get you another husband or wife in order to avoid fornication.” But Jesus said that if the former marriage was not broken for the cause of fornication, then any subsequent sexual relationship was adultery. That has to be understood and taken into consideration when reading 1 Corinthians 7, or any other New Testament passage dealing with this subject.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 3, pp. 71-72
February 3, 1983