By C.G. “Colly” Caldwell
Proposition: The Scriptures teach that the put-away fornicator can marry another without committing sin.
I join brother Lovelady in expressing appreciation for the opportunity to openly study his affirmation that “the put-away fornicator can marry another without committing sin.” I pray that all will clearly see God’s will as a result of this exchange and thus that the Lord will be glorified.
We want to get to the heart of the issue immediately. Does God give the “right” of marrying another to one who has been divorced because of fornication? The Pharisees who came to Jesus prefaced their question about divorce with the phrase, “Is it lawful. . . ?” Whether or not they sincerely cared for God’s will, they learned that Jesus would require a “thus-saith-the-Lord.” He appealed to Scripture (Matt. 19:4-6). By so doing, he let them know that God controls the “rights” regarding marriage. While we may sympathize with a man or woman who may not marry another, we must trust God to set forth his will in keeping with his infinite wisdom. No “rights” regarding marriage may be presumed. If persons who have been married have the “right” to marry another, it is because God has set forth the conditions of it. Otherwise, there is no “right”! The issue before us involves a basic question of biblical authority! Your position will reflect your approach to authority, how you deal with the silence of God in Scripture.
In Matthew 19:5-6, Jesus clearly affirms that the One who obligates married persons is God. He first says that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife” (Matt. 19:5). The word “joined” (from kollao) is in the passive voice (kollethesetai), indicating that the subject is acted upon. The next verse (6) tells us that it is God who acts to bind the two parties with regard to marriage. Another word is used to emphasize that it is God who does the binding (a form of sunzeugnumi: sun, with; zeugnomi, to connect or join with a yoke). This yoking takes place in the mind of God and until released by him, none may be yoked to another. The question is not whether we can rationalize that when one is freed from a marriage both are free because there is no longer a marriage. The question is whether God releases the fornicating person from being bound by law not to marry another and whether he is willing to make another bond or yoke in his mind joining that person to someone else. If so, we had best have some direct confirmation from God!
Paul firmly establishes the point in Romans 7. Verse I says that “the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives. ” Verse 2 adds, “For the women which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth. ” The word “bound” is dedetai, a passive voice verb. That which “bound” her is “the law.” The Lawgiver is God. Who decides if she is loosed from being bound by the law? God alone can loose her. His law from the beginning has bound married persons and restricted them from marrying another until the death of their mates. He has made but one exception to that: the one who puts away his wife for fornication may marry another without being guilty of sin (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). God has released no other to marry someone else!
In response to brother Lovelady’s comparison, I would remind my brother that the Bible teaches that God expects certain physical consequences to attend killing one’s wife. We are not debating that, however. Perhaps the question should be asked if brother Lovelady thinks there are no restrictive consequences for the great sin of adultery? Apparently not. Nevertheless, this is not an issue of punishment. It is an issue of God’s authority and whether he has released the put-away fornicator to marry another.
Brother Lovelady assumes that Paul’s statements in Romans 7 do not apply to our discussion. He further assumes that the put-away fornicator is included among those Paul refers to as being “loosed from a wife” (1 Cor. 7:27). Paul could well be referring to those who were loosed by the death of their mates or by their mates having committed fornication (or those who had never been bound). Certainly this verse does not provide another occasion for loosing than Christ allows elsewhere in Scripture.
Brother Lovelady assumes the thing he has to prove; that release from the constraint of law is granted to one because it is granted to the other. Paul said that “if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress” (Rom. 7:3). I can read that the Lord relieves the one who puts away a mate for fornication of the vile and disgraceful identification as an “adulteress.” Now, let us see the passage where the Lord relieves the other, who incidentally has already proven herself to be an adulteress.
The Lord’s role in restraining persons by law is further confirmed by the powerful statement of Malachi when he said, “. . . because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously,- yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (Mal. 2:14). They had profaned “God’s holy institution which he loves” (Mal. 2:11). They had put away their lawful companions, the “wives of their youth,” to marry others and God “hates divorce” (Mal. 2:16). Notice carefully the point in this passage: God was “witness” to a sacred “covenant” to which he bound them (see also Prov. 2:17). When they violated the covenant with their wives, they offended God because God was party to the covenant. The passage ends with a call for justice with regard to the consequences of such evil (Mal. 2:17). Perhaps here were some of those “real innocent mates.” Let’s not confuse this discussion by failing to recognize that some men and women just simply surrender to their lusts and dishonor themselves (cf. Rom. 1:18-32) without their mates being party to it or responsible for it.
The right to marry is not a “human right” in the sense that persons are free to marry whomever they will. Certainly, brother Lovelady will agree that persons divorced for some cause other than fornication do not have the “human right” to marry others. That is because God has not freed them from the force of his law. They are not under civil law and they are not performing the duties of marriage. They are “married” only in the sense that God has them under the constraint of law. In addition, one who has never been married does not have the “human right” to marry one divorced for some cause other than fornication.
Neither is marrying a “human right” in the same sense that it is necessary to eat so that we may live or to work so that we may eat. The reasons are found in God’s original mandates concerning the permanence of marriage vows and his continuing governance of marriage by his laws. The Lord’s pronouncement that “if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess. 2:10) has nothing to do with and is not restricted by the marital status of the individual. On the other hand, the privilege of marriage is very much restricted.
I must say, before concluding, that when one refuses to give authority for his position ii, honorable discussion, he is not acting in the same spirit Christ did in Matthew 21. Jesus knew the hearts of the chief priests and elders. I trust that my brother has not concluded that all of us (including you readers who disagree with him) are to the point where he should say to us: “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things?” If so this debate is over. I trust that it not the case. It is interesting, however, that he “understands that the New Testament does not deal with the put-away fornicator.”
I expect that if brother Lovelady could establish his proposition with Scriptures, all of us would be glad to accept and preach it. None of us enjoys telling a person that he/she is committing sin. Let us remember, however, that brother Lovelady will have to show from the Scriptures that God gives the put-away fornicator the right to marry another without sinning.
(Note: I have no disposition to debate what brethren have said on this subject. In fairness to brother McGarvey, however, I must ask brother Lovelady to read page 242 of Fourfold Gospel where McGarvey, in collaboration with W.K. Pendleton, said,
It is implied that divorce for unchastity breaks the marriage bond, and it is therefore held almost universally, both by commentators and moralists, that the innocent party to such a divorce can marry again. Of course the guilty party could not, for no one is allowed by law to reap the benefits of his own wrong. For further light on the subject see Rom. vii. 1-3; 1 Cor. vii. 10- 16, 39. It is much to be regretted that in many Protestant countries the civil authorities have practically set aside this law of Christ by allowing divorce and remarriage for a variety of causes. No man who respects the authority of Christ can take advantage of such legislation.
This was published in 1905 and obviously reflects McGarvey’s conclusion after much more study. I hope that brother Lovelady will respond likewise.)
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 2, pp. 46-47
January 17, 1991