Divorce and Remarriage

By By J.W. McGarvey  (Submitted by Ron Halbrook)

In answer to a query, I recently stated my opinion that the innocent party to a divorce is not prohibited by our Lord from marrying again. The following thoughtful article takes issue with me:

Marriage is a divine institution ordained of God; from the days of creation to the time of Moses there was one law, and this law made husband and wife one flesh until death severed the relation (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:3-8).

Moses permitted a man to put away his wife, and from Christ’s answer to the Pharisees it is evident that the divorce law in question never applied only to the one cause (Deut. 24:1; Matt. 19:3,8,9).

This divorce law did not belong to the patriarchal dispensation; it was a Mosaic law given because of the hard-heartedness of that people. Now, the question arises, Has it a place in Christianity? The very fact that Moses granted this law because the people were hard-hearted, should brand it with grave suspicion, for Christianity is longsuffering and forgiving.

Here I quote the Scripture to which our brother referred. “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 marrieth her that is divorced, committeth adultery” (Matt. 5:32). This Scripture certainly does not imply the conclusion drawn by our brother; quite the reverse. It plainly declares that the innocent wife and the one she marries become fornicators. Her former husband hath caused it, she being innocent when he put her away. This is as plain as any declaration on any subject can be.

When the Pharisees were through questioning Christ regarding the Mosaic divorce law, his disciples asked him of the same matter, and this was the impression they received; “If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to many” (Matt. 19:10; Mark 10:2-12).

Paul says, “And unto the married I command, yet not I but the Lord, let not the wife depart from her husband: but if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife” (I Cor. 7:10,11). Again Paul declares a woman to be bound by the law to her husband, and that she has liberty to many another only if her husband is dead (Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:39). “The law” referred to by Paul here is not the Mosaic law; it is that rule, ordained of God, which Christ declared existed from the beginning. If there is an exception to this rule or law, I have never found where Christ taught it to his disciples, or where the apostles taught it to the churches, but all to the contrary. “Scriptural grounds for divorce” ended with the beginning of Christianity. A man may leave his wife or the wife may depart from her husband, yet are they husband and wife, companions by covenant. Christ said God bath made them one. “What God hath joined together, let not man put as under.”

The church of God is polluted; the time has come that an Ezra appear and demand that they put away their strange wives or be separated from the congregation themselves. How would he be received?

Hialdsburg, Cal., C. E. Sandborn


When I said that the innocent party to a divorce is not prohibited by our Lord from marrying again, I meant the innocent party to a Scriptural divorce; that is, a divorce because of fornication. In his well-known words (Matt. 5:32) he condemns two things: (1) Putting away a wife saving for the cause of fornication, and (2) marrying a woman who is thus divorced. By the first it is necessarily implied that if the wife is put away for the cause of fornication, the husband is not censured, and the absence of any word to the contrary leaves him free to marry again. If Jesus had said, “Whosoever shall smite his neighbor, except in self-defense, is guilty of sin, “it would follow by necessary implication that a blow given in self-defense is not prohibited. So in all expressions of this kind.

In Matthew 19:9, the case stated is slightly different: “Whosoever putteth away his wife except for fornication and shall marry another, committeth adultery.” This is the case of a husband putting away his wife not for fornication. If he marries another, his is guilty; but, as in the other case, if he puts away his wife for the cause of fornication, it follows that he is not guilty in marrying another.

In I Corinthians 7:0, 11 and Romans 7:1-3, no fornication is supposed to have been committed. The womans duty is considered entirely apart from this, and Pauls teaching agrees perfectly with that of Jesus.

Brother Sandborns concluding statement, that “Scripture grounds of divorce ended with the beginning of Christianity,” should read, Divorce for any cause which satisfied the husband ended with the beginning of Christianity; for it is the latter which was temporarily permited by the law, and which Jesus no longer permits.

I fully agree with Brother Sandborn that the church of God is polluted by adulterous marriages of divorced persons, and that an Ezra is needed to purify it. We need an Ezra to weep over it, and a Nehemiah to pluck out the hair of the refractory; but the efforts at reform must always prove a failure if in condemning the guilty they also condemn the innocent. The General Council of the Episcopal Church broke down in its recent effort to suppress this sin in its own body, because so many of its members took the very position advocated by Brother Sandborn (Reprinted from Christian Standard, 6 Jan. 106, p.9)

Guardian of Truth XXXVII, No. 23, p. 15
December 2, 1993