First Affirmative

By Glen W. Lovelady

Proposition: The Scriptures teach that the put-away fornicator can marry another without committing sin.

I have been invited by the editor of this paper to write three articles on this very controversial subject. I want to thank him for this opportunity. I understand that brother Colly Caldwell of Tampa, Florida, the Dean and Vice-President of Florida College will be my respondent. I am both honored and impressed by this invitation. I handed in two propositions, but they have decided only to deal with the put-away fornicator.

I am excited about reading and hearing that many preachers today are now coming forth about the person who was put-away unjustly having a recourse, because Civil Law cannot take away his/her God-given right according to Matthew 19:9, which allows this person to put his spouse away for fornication when adultery is committed. Brother Marshall Patton debated her rights in the Searching the Scriptures back in 1987. So don’t tell me debates don’t do any good, for we are making a lot of head-way. You can read what I had to say about this in the Smith-Lovelady Debate held in 1976 (pp. 32-35, 119-123). Many preachers say that they agree on this point but will not come out of the closet because of peer pressure. God help us! Preachers need to speak out and encourage men like brother Patton and maybe we can turn this thinking around. Maybe there is hope for us yet!

Now to our subject, does the put-away fornicator have any rights? I am not writing this article or debating this issue because he is some kind of a hero or even a person worthy of my effort. Every put-away fornicator will spend eternity in Hell, except he repents and is baptized in the case of the alien sinner (Acts 2:38) or prays after he repents as a member of the church (Acts 8:22). 1 am only dealing with this issue because I believe that many are guilty of making a law in this matter.

Foy E. Wallace said it this way [Sermon on the Mount, p. 411: “The preacher has no course of action revealed, and to establish one would result in human legislation, more far reaching evil consequences than the moral effects of divorcement limited to the person involved.”

Now to the proposition for discussion. I affirm that the Scripture (the Bible) teaches (imparts information by implication) that the put-away fornicator (the one who was divorced because of unfaithfulness) can marry another without committing sin (since he is no longer bound in a marriage and since he is no longer a spouse, then he would not commit adultery if he chose to remarry). I believe that he is guilty of adultery from his past action, but since his former spouse has put him away for fornication, they are no longer married. The marriage-bond has been destroyed or dissolved and based upon that fact he is free to marry another without committing adultery.

You ask, “Where is the authority for the put-away fornicator to marry?” Jesus, in Matthew 21:23-24, answered by saying, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell me, I in likewise will tell you.” “Where is the authority for him to do anything?” Brother Ron Halbrook said in his debate with brother Jack Freeman that this person “doesn’t have the right to do anything.” If he/she doesn’t have the right/authority to do anything, then he has no rights at all. He cannot plant corn, eat pie, go to church services, or have a marriage according to this line of reasoning. If we are not going to take him behind the church building and hang him high, then this person has the same human rights that we have, and that is why he can plant corn, eat pie, go to church services, and have a marriage. Show me a passage that authorizes the put-away fornicator to plant corn and then I will give you a passage that authorizes him to have a marriage.

I am not the only one who understands that the New Testament does not deal with the put-away fornicator. I call to witness:

J.W. McGarvey: “Whether it would be adultery to marry a woman who had been put away on account of fornication, is neither affirmed nor denied. No doubt such a woman is at liberty to marry again if she can, seeing that the bond which bound her to her husband is broken ” (Commenting on Matthew and Mark [1875], p. 165).

R.L. Whiteside: “(A) Evidently had a right to marry again. So far as I know, this may have been given (B) [the put-away fornicator] a right to marry also. On that point no one can speak with authority, for nothing is said about it. – If you are in doubt as to the conduct of another, give him the benefit of the doubt” (Reflection, p. 411).

Foy E. Wallace: “With no course of action legislated, revealed or prescribed, we cannot make one without human legislation. It is certain, however, that if the Lord Jesus Christ had intended a course of action in these cases, he would not have left it for preachers to prescribe, but would have Himself legislated it” (Sermon on the Mount, p. 41).

The only restraint of law in the New Testament about who cannot marry are those who are already bound in a marriage. In Matthew 5:32; 19:9 Jesus stated that all who remarry after divorce will commit adultery, except it (the divorce) is for fornication. Since his divorce was for fornication, he would not commit adultery if he remarried. A divorce for fornication does to the marriage bond, what death does to it. Whatever you have against, or can say against the put-away fornicator, you can apply the same reasoning to the man who killed his wife.

Please consider the scenarios below.


Bill got drunk one night and killed his wife. He had to go to jail for manslaughter. After fulfilling his sentence, he came out of prison, after years of agony over the loss of his marriage.

The Put-Away Fornicator

Bob had an affair one night and his wife put him away for fornication, His wife remarried and he cried over the loss of his marriage and his family for about the same time that Bill spent in prison.

1. They both (Bill and Bob) obey the gospel of Christ.

2. They were both guilty of putting asunder what God had joined together.

3. Bill was guilty of killing his wife, while Bob was guilty of fornication.

4. But now they are forgiven (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

5. They were bound in a marriage, but now they are “loose from a wife” (1 Cor. 7:27-28). What sin would they commit if they remarried?

They could not be guilty of committing adultery because all the scholars agree on the definition of adultery “unlawful sexual intercourse with the spouse of another.” Neither of these men has a spouse, and based upon this fact, we have no business charging them with the sin of adultery if and when they do remarry.

God did not leave it up to you and me to decide who should be allowed to marry, or marry another as long as they are “loose from a wife/husband. ” In the special issue of this paper dated January 4, 1990, brother Bill Cavender said, “The innocent party must be sure that he or she is really innocent and did not by temperment, evil words, ugly attitudes, hurtful deeds, and a malignant spirit, drive hislher companion to distraction, distress, unhappiness, and then unfaithfulness.”

So we ask, “Will the real innocent mate please stand up?” I remember brother Luther Blackmon telling me many years ago, that he felt that he could not remarry after his wife ran off with another man. He felt guilty, in some way of contributing to the situation, thereby sharing the guilt; as a result, he was not innocent in his own mind. I told him that I could live with his decision, but that I did not want him forcing his opinion on me, if my wife ran off with another man. In Romans 7:3 Paul stated that if you are still bound in a marriage, then you would commit adultery if you married another. That is the same restraint as found in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. Romans 7:14 does not apply to the putaway fornicator because he is not bound in a marriage.

The next passage is found in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. Paul states that if you are divorced, not for fornication, then you are to remain unmarried (to another), or be reconciled to your spouse. Marrying another, while in this condition, causes one to commit adultery, because you still have a spouse! This does not apply to the put-away fornicator, since he is no longer a spouse, and has no spouse. The next passage is found in 1 Corinthians 7:27-28. Paul states that if you are “loosed from a wife,” then you would not sin if you married. This passage does apply to the put-away fornicator, because he is no longer “bound to a wife.” He is “loosed from a wife.”

We can put ourselves through all kinds of mental gymnastics and generate many different opinions about the put-away fornicator, but when all is said and done, we will still be faced with the principle, that he is loosed from a spouse, and can remarry without committing adultery, whether you like it or not! Of course, we must of necessity recognize his responsibility to “marry in the Lord,” or more specifically, to marry one that is free to marry him. Brother Cecil Douthitt pointed this out many years ago, stating that this adverbial phrase tells one “how” to marry, not to “whom.” The same phrase can be found in Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:18; and this one in 1 Corinthians 7:39. I am aware that brethren make a “law” about the application of this passage just as they have about the put-away fornicator; but I have no certain interest in man-made laws or opinions. I have enough to do trying to keep up with the Laws of God.

According to brother Cavender, not even the innocent one can remarry, unless he/she was really innocent, and I mean flawless. Do you now see why God did not leave this up to you and me? All God said was this: “Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned” (1 Cor. 7:27-28). Who is loosed from a wife is all we need to figure out. If one is loose from a wife, then he can marry without sin.

The one that is “loose from a wife” is no longer “bound to a wife” and if you are not “bound to a wife” then you are free to have one, and this is God’s way for us to avoid fornication (1 Cor. 7:2). 1 affirm that the put-away fornicator is “loosed from a wife.” What do you say? I only know of two answers: Bound or Loose. In Hebrews 13:4, God says, “Marriage is honorable in all, but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” “No need for that Lord, because some brethren have already decided on who can have a marriage.” God forbid! I plead with you brethren, stay out of God’s business. Better yet, let the put-away fornicator read this debate and let him decide for himself, for he alone must give account of himself before God (Rom. 14:12).

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 2, pp. 44-45
January 17, 1991