By Mike Willis
Living in a society which marries in order to divorce and divorces in order to marry, we should expect that this low view of marriage would spill over into the church. What Jesus taught about marriage is disregarded in this society to the extent that half of all marriages end in divorce. Without regard to the legislation of God, men enter marriage. We should expect that some would want to accommodate the Scriptures to those who have shown no regard for what God legislated concerning marriage.
Jesus revealed God’s law regarding marriage in Matthew 19:9. He 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 doth commit adultery.
The clear teaching of this passage seems obvious: (a) The one who divorces his mate for some reason other than fornication and marries another commits adultery; (b) The one who marries a person who has been divorced commits adultery; (c) The one who divorces his mate for fornication and remarries does not commit adultery. Adultery must be stopped in order for one to go to heaven (Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). Consequently, those who are committing adultery (as is the case in a marriage following the divorce for some reason other than fornication) must break the sinful relationship in order to go to heaven.
Some have not been content with this teaching. Consequently, they have undermined the teaching of Matthew 19:9 in these ways: (a) redefining adultery to mean “divorcing and remarrying”; (b) limiting the application of Matthew 19:9 to Christians; (c) combining (a) and (b). When adultery is redefined to mean “divorcing and remarrying,” those guilty of divorcing their mate for some reason other than fornication and remarrying are told to repent of “divorcing and remarrying, ” resolve never to “divorce and remarry” again, and stay married to the present mate. This position was reviewed in the last issue of this paper. Those who limit the application of Matthew 19:9 to Christians tell those unbelievers who remarried following a divorce for some reason other than fornication and who desire to become Christians to stay married to the mate they are living with at the time they become Christians. Those who combine (a) and (b) say that those Christians who divorce for some reason other than fornication and remarry should repent of “divorcing and remarrying,” resolve never to “divorce and remarry again,” and stay with their present mate. In this article, I want to examine the position that limits the application of Matthew 19:9 to Christians.
James D. Bales: Not Under Bondage
In 1979, James D. Bales issued his book Not Under Bondage which affirms that Matthew 19:9 does not apply to nonChristians. Already the influence of this book is being felt among brethren who oppose church support of human institutions, the sponsoring church, and church supported recreation. Bales wrote,
Christ’s legislation had reference to two people in the covenant who are married, but not with mixed marriages. Paul legislated on a different category of marriages, i.e., the mixed marriages. Neither legislated on marriages in the world (Not Under Bondage, pp. 40-41).
Hence, the alien sinner is not bound by Matthew 19:9. Christians should not be concerned about the marital status of any non-Christian they try to convert because he is not obligated to obey Matthew 19:9.
If Bales Is Correct, Then . . .
If brother Bales is correct in his understanding that Matthew 19:9 does not apply to non-Christians, there are several conclusions which follow:
1. There is no marriage law which applies to non-Christians. He stated that non-Christians live under “the law written on the heart (Rom. 2:14-15). ” However, brother Bales did not define what the law written on the heart was. He did not give us the details of that law, neither can he. Rather, the vague and ambiguous law “written on the heart” reduces God’s law governing non-Christians to every man’s conscience. A man is married or not married based on whether or not he thinks that he is.
2. What should be done with aliens who refuse to live according to the law written on the heart? If the non-Christian who chooses to ignore the law written on his heart and to enter a polygamous relationship later decides to become a Christian, can he continue his polygamous marriage? If the non-Christian who chooses to ignore the law written on his heart and to enter a homosexual “marriage” later decides to become a Christian, can he continue his homosexuality “marriage”? If the non-Christian who chooses to ignore the law written on his heart and to enter an incestuous marriage(1) later decides to become a Christian, can he continue his incestuous marriage? If the non-Christian who chooses to ignore the law written on his heart and to enter a communal marriage later decides to become a Christian, can he continue his communal marriage? If the non-Christian who chooses to ignore the law written on his heart and to enter an adulterous marriage(2) later decides to become a Christian, can he continue his adulterous marriage?
If brother Bales states that the non-Christian does not have to cease his polygamous, homosexual, incestuous, communal, and/or adulterous marriage in order to be saved because the law of Christ does not apply to non-Christians, let him go on record in this regard. The law of Christ is no more or less retroactive to the one sinner than the other. However, one should clearly recognize that whatever rule applies to one of these sins applies to the others as well.
If brother Bales states that the Bible specifically condemns polygamy, homosexuality, incest, etc., he will also take note that it condemns adultery (1 Cor. 6:9). If he states that adultery is not a part of the law “written on the heart,” let him produce the “law written on the heart” in order that we can see whether or not it is part of that law. His arbitrary, subjective assertions are insufficient.
3. Matthew 19:9 cannot be used to authorize a divorce for fornication for non-Christian marriages or mixed marriages. Brother Bales’ doctrine that Matthew 19:9 does not apply to unbelievers and Christians in a mixed marriage is a two-edged sword. If that is the case, then a Christian cannot divorce his unbelieving mate for fornication and marry again, as Matthew 19:9 authorizes. In the case of a Christian who is married to a non-Christian who commits fornication against him but is content to dwell with him (the non-Christian does not want a divorce, he just wants to play around every once in a while), the Christian cannot put away his unbelieving mate for fornication and remarry. Rather, he must be content to dwell with her. Furthermore, in a marriage of two unbelievers, the innocent unbeliever could not put away the unbeliever guilty of fornication and remarry because Matthew 19:9 does not apply to them. If brother Bales states that two unbelievers can divorce for fornication and remarry, he needs to produce the passage from the law “written on the heart” to prove that they can; otherwise, we are left with his arbitrary assertion to that effect.
4. Non-Christians could not be guilty of adultery. If non-Christians are not governed by God’s marriage law, how could they commit adultery? Adultery refers to a sexual relationship with someone other than one’s wife. If God’s marriage law does not apply to non-Christians, how could it be violated? Nevertheless, 1 Corinthians 6:9 indicates that adultery was committed by non-Christians. Hence, the marriage law must have been applicable to them.
5. The doctrine leads to nonsense. Suppose a Christian divorced his mate for some reason other than fornication and married an unbeliever. The unbeliever is not bound by God’s marriage law but the Christian is. Hence, if the Christian divorces his mate for some reason other than fornication and marries again, he commits adultery when he enters the sexual relationship of the marriage. However, the unbeliever is not bound by Matthew 19:9. When he enters the sexual relationship of the marriage, adultery is not committed. Hence, two people engage in the one sexual relationship; for one the relationship is adultery and for the other it is not. This is nonsense.(3)
Examining The Evidence
Let us see whether or not brother Bales can prove that Matthew 19:9 does not apply to the non-Christian. Brother Bales states that in 1 Corinthians 7:10-15 Paul interpreted Matthew 19:9 to limit “whosoever” of Matthew 19:9 to two Christians in a marriage (p. 27).
I accept the Spirit’s harmony of Matthew 19:9 with 1 Corinthians 7:12-15. Christ’s legislation had reference to two people in the covenant who are married, but not with mixed marriages. Paul legislated on a different category of marriages, i.e., the mixed marriages. Neither legislated on marriages in the world (p. 41).
Let us examine this thesis.
1. Matthew 19.9. The teaching of Matthew 19:9 was spoken by Jesus to “great multitudes” from the coasts of Judea and beyond Jordan (19:2-3). The ones who asked the question were Pharisees whose motive was to tempt Jesus (19:3). Surely these are the men of whom Paul said, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). Hence, these Israelites were neither Christians nor saved. If the teachings of Matthew 19:9 applied to these unsaved non-Christians, they should also apply to unsaved non-Christians today.
The word “whosoever” also universalizes the passage. Jesus 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 doth commit adultery.” Compare these other passages which use “whosoever”:
Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin (Jn. 8:32). Does this apply only to Christians?
Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17). Does this invitation only extend to Christians?
The word “whosoever” points to the universal application of the law of Christ.
Furthermore the law of Christ is addressed to every creature of every nation (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-15). Paul applied the same gospel to all men everywhere (Acts 17:30). This stands in contrast with the law of Moses which was given to the house of Israel (Deut. 5:1-5). The law of Christ cannot be broken into separate parts to be applied as one judges best to different groups of people. The gospel is one gospel – a unit to be applied to all men everywhere. If one is going to divide the gospel into parts to apply to different people in different situations, he should give us the criteria he uses to make these divisions in the gospel. How does he determine which verse applies to Christians and which applies to non-Christians? Does “thou shalt not kill” only apply to Christians? Does “honor thy father and thy mother” apply to both? By what criteria do we determine which parts of the gospel apply to non-Christians? The truth is that the gospel – all of the gospel – applies with equal force to all men!
2. 1 Corinthians 7:10-15. This discussion revolves around one’s understanding of this critical passage. Here is what the passage says:
And unto the married I command, yet not 1, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak 1, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
From the text, brother Bales draws the inference that Paul limits the application of Matthew 19:9 to two married Christians when he writes “unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord.” By the statement “but to the rest speak I, not the Lord” Paul refers to Christians married to non-Christians to which Matthew 19:9 does not apply. Then he adds that neither speaks anything regarding two unbelievers in a marriage.
The text is divided into these categories:
a. The unmarried (vv. 8-9). Paul advises the unmarried and widows not to marry in view of the present distress. Nevertheless, he does not forbid marriage. In the event that these people should decide to get married, Matthew 19:9 would apply to them.
b. The married (vv. 10-11). Brother Bales is correct in referring the teachings of Matthew 19:9 to the personal instruction of the Lord which Paul here applies. The law of the Lord was: (a) Let not the wife depart from the husband; (b) Let not the husband put away his wife; (c) If she departs (chorizo: to divorce), let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.(4)Like Luke 16:18, Romans 7:3-4, and 1 Corinthians 7:39, this passage does not consider the “except for fornication” clause of Matthew 19:9.
c. The mixed marriages (vv. 12-15). The discussion of these verses is applied to Christians married to non-Christians. The law is the same for mixed marriages as for all other marriages.(5)(a) “If any brother hath a wife that believeth not . . . let not the husband put her away” (7:12; cf. 7:11) and (b) “the woman which hath a husband . . . let her not leave him” (7:13; cf. 7:10). This coincides with the teaching of Matthew 19:9.
However, the question which Paul is addressing is different from the one which the Lord addressed. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus was answering the question, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” (19:4) Paul is answering the question, “Is the Christian obligated to divorce his non-Christian mate?” This question is based on the Old Testament command that the Jew not marry a non-Jew and the obligation to put away the foreign mate in the event that such a marriage had occurred. In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, this commandment was enforced by the people of God (Ezra 9:1-3; 10:3,11,44; Neh. 13:23-31). The Corinthian Christians apparently asked Paul if they were obligated to put away their non-Christian companions. Paul responded saying, (a) “the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband” (7:14) and (b) the children of such a marriage which before had been unclean are now holy (7:14). Hence, the Christian should not put away his unbelieving companion.
The Lord had not directly answered this question while on earth. The Lord could not have answered the question because the Old Law specifically instructed what Jews who were married to non-Jews were to do in such marriages. The New Law changed this ordinance completely. Hence, Paul said, “To the rest speak I, not the Lord” (7:12).
There is nothing inconsistent in these verses with the command of Matthew 19:9. There is nothing in these verses which demands that Matthew be applicable only to the marriage of two Christians. Hence, neither the context of Matthew 19 nor I Corinthians 7:10-15 demands that Matthew 19:9 be applied only to two Christians. The teaching of Matthew 19:9 is not limited to two Christians; it applies to all of mankind.
1. By incestuous marriage, I refer to a marriage such as Herod was in when he married his brother Philip’s wife; John the Baptist said, “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife” (Mk. 6:18).
3. Brother Bales sought to answer this objection on pp. 191-193 of his book by saying, “An unbeliever is not free to marry a believer who is not free to marry. . . . ” This leads to the conclusion that the unbeliever must learn God’s law of marriage to conclude whether or not his prospective mate is free to marry. Suppose he goes ahead and marries anyway. Would he then be obligated to break the relationship should he decide to become a Christian? If so, then God’s law of marriage does apply to him. If not, then the one sexual relationship can be acceptable for one party but not acceptable for the other in the eyes of God.
4. This assumes that the divorce is not for fornication. In a divorce not for fornication, the parties are to remain unmarried or be reconciled. This constitutes inspired commentary on the application of Matthew 19:9 in a divorce not for fornication. The two are to remain unmarried. When this advice is given today, some protest stating that one is teaching celibacy, practicing penance, under the influence of Catholic dogma, etc. Nevertheless, Paul’s inspired commentary was “remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.”
(The next article will discuss “not under bondage.”)
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 13, pp. 386, 405-407
July 7, 1988