By Mike Willis
There have been a number of false doctrines taught with reference to marriage, divorce, and remarriage. As the incidences of marriage, divorce and remarriage for unscriptural reasons has increased in America, the number of those sympathetic and propagating these beliefs continues to increase. Churches are being disturbed in some sections of the country rather widely over some of these false doctrines. Consequently, we need to examine these ideas.
Adultery Does Not Constitute Divorce
In the Frost-Moyer Exchange on Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, Brother Lloyd Moyer took the position that the act of committing adultery caused a divorce to occur. He wrote as follows:
Since the first marriage has ceased to exist, how is it possible to adulterate that which does not exist? Though adultery was committed when they first joined themselves together in intercourse because they were still the husband or wife of someone else, subsequent sexual intercourse between them is not adultery. They are no longer the husband or wife of someone else. They are sinners because they have committed adultery. And by this sin of adultery they caused their previous marriage to be dissolved.
The results of this belief of Brother Moyer seem to be rather obvious. If the act of adultery severs the marriage relationship then both the innocent and the guilty party are freed from that marriage bond and have the right to remarry.
There are several things that are wrong with this doctrine as propagated by Brother Moyer and some who have followed in his steps. I would like to suggest them as follows:
1. .There is no scripture citation given which proves that adultery causes a divorce. The scriptures say that the committing of the act of fornication gives one the right to put away his mate (Matt. 19:9; 5:32). They do not say, however, that the act of fornication necessitates the putting away of one’s mate or that it automatically causes the divorce to occur. Rather it teaches that the one who is innocent has the right to put away the guilty party.
2. If the act of fornication causes one to be divorced from his wife, we have got some rather interesting problems developed between a husband and his wife. For example, take the situation in which a man goes out and commits fornication against his wife, comes home, tells his wife about it, and she forgives him; they are reconciled to one another and live together thereafter. If I understand any thing at all about what Brother Moyer has said, the act of fornication which this man committed broke his marriage relationship to his wife. Hence, they were divorced in the sight of God. Consequently, when this man went back and cohabited with his wife, he would not be cohabiting with one to whom he was married (according to this ‘doctrine) but would simply be guilty of fornication. And I suppose that the first act of fornication which he committed would bind them in marriage again and thereafter they would be approved in God’s sight. This is the most ridiculous and absurd position that I have ever heard.
3. Any time one commits fornication or adultery, he either becomes married or divorced. Another result of this false doctrine is that any time a person goes out and commits fornication or adultery, he becomes either divorced from the one to whom he is married or married to the one with whom he has just committed fornication. Hence, a man that has a succession of adulterous or fornication relationships goes through a list of women to whom he has been married, though he might never have intended to be married in the first place. If not, why not?
I think we can safely set aside this position as a false position that is not found in the scriptures. One can be married without cohabitation; you will remember that the angel of the Lord, when speaking to Joseph referred to Mary as his wife although they had not cohabited (Matt. 1:20, 25). Hence, a person can be married to another individual whether cohabitation ever occurs or not. The mere act of cohabiting does not thereby cause a divorce to occur; rather, it only permits the innocent party the right to obtain a divorce.
Adultery Cannot Be Committed With One’s Wife
Another false doctrine that has been perpetuated in recent years on the marriage, divorce and remarriage issue is the idea that one cannot commit adultery with his wife. This doctrine in essence says that if a person is married to an individual, he cannot commit adultery with her. That is all well and good if the marriage is approved of in the sight of God. But, in an unscriptural relationship, it is indeed altogether possible for a person to commit adultery with his wife. Romans 7:1-3 states as much.
Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath a husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
This passage refers to a woman that is married to another man while her husband is living. Despite the fact that they are married, she is still called an adulteress. Hence, one can commit adultery in a relationship of marriage. The only way that I can see that this can make sense is for a situation to be such that men approve of a relationship calling it marriage and where God does not approve of that relationship. Hence, it is one that is proof positive that adultery can be committed with one who is a legal mate.
The Lord Does Not Forgive Adultery
Some take the position that, inasmuch as one says that the person in an unscriptural marriage relationship must separate, God does not forgive adultery. Let it be stated point blank that God does forgive adultery. Actually involved in this objection is a re-definition of adultery. To demonstrate that this word is being redefined by those who are making such a charge, notice the quotation from the Smith-Lovelady debate, from the pen of Glen W. Lovelady.
Matthew 19:9 does NOT deal with marriage separation. It tells you what you did if you messed up your marriage. YOU COMMITTED ADULTERY, and that is where Matthew 19:9 stops, dear friends. It does not tell you what to do after you have done it, and the same thing is true in Matthew 5:32 . . . The passage tells you what you do when you mess up your marriage. YOU COMMIT ADULTERY and you cause the other one to commit adultery, THAT MARRIED YOU (Smith-Lovelady Debate on Marriage Divorce & Remarriage, page 84).
Notice that this quotation demonstrates this special definition of adultery as being the act of putting away one’s mate and this is not of course the meaning assigned to it by any lexicographer. Hence, this third objection comes out of a re-definition of the word adultery. You will recall, in going over the text in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, that we defined moicheub to mean “unlawful sexual intercourse with one other than his mate.” In the objection raised before us, the word “adultery” has been subtly changed in meaning. It is made to mean the “act of divorcing.” Hence, what they mean is that the act of divorcing cannot be forgiven. When one remembers that the act of adultery is not the act of divorcing a mate but the act of sexual intercourse with someone else other than his wife, this whole objection is removed. It becomes exactly the same as any other sin that is committed by a person.
For example, a man who is guilty of lying must quit lying in order to obtain forgiveness of his sins. If a man who is guilty of lying habitually is baptized into Christ, every time that he has committed lying prior to baptism is washed away at baptism. However, if he commits the same sin, lying, after his baptism, he is separated from God thereby. In a similar fashion, one who is guilty of committing the act of adultery (sexual intercourse with one other than his own mate) prior to baptism is forgiven of all the occasions when he committed sexual intercourse with someone other than his own mate when he is baptized. However, committed that sin again after baptism is still sinful and must be forgiven by the blood of Christ in order for that person to go to heaven. The habitual commission of a sin with no intention of repenting of it certainly cannot be acceptable in the sight of God.
Both Parties Are Allowed To Marry Again When A Divorce Has Occurred For The Sin of Fornication
On March 25, 1976, Glen W. Lovelady affirmed the following proposition: “The scriptures teach that the put away adulterer can remarry without committing sin.” This issue is discussed in the Smith-Lovelady Debate. However, this citation of the proposition shows that some are convinced that the put away adulterer has the right to remarry. The argumentation is based on human reasoning alone. There is absolutely no scripture that can be cited that gives the put away adulterer the right to remarry. If so, please let somebody bring it forward and give the evidence of it.
The human reasoning that is cited pertains to this kind of argumentation. They say whenever the innocent party divorces the guilty party, that their relationship is broken. If it is broken for one, it is broken for both parties in the marriage and, consequently, neither one of them can commit adultery against the other in subsequent relationships because that marriage no longer exists. Hence, on this kind of argumentation, this conclusion is justified without the citation of a single scripture. However, I want us to notice. what the scriptures teach.
Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 both state that a person commits adultery if he puts away his wife and marries another, except when that person who is put away is guilty of fornication. Now I would like for somebody who takes this position, to tell me how a, put away adulterer can cite Matthew 5:32 as proof of his right to remarry. The put away adulterer cannot say, “I put away my wife because of adultery,” for that has not been the case. He is the guilty party, not her. Consequently, he has to fall under the general handing of the law without the exception. He is one who has put away his wife and married another without putting her away for the sin of fornication on her part. The scripture clearly states that those who put away their wives and marry another, for whatever reason it might be other than fornication, is guilty of adultery in any sexual relationship that might follow. Hence, my conclusion is that, not having a scriptural reason for putting away his mate, this man is guilty of adultery when he remarries.
1 Corinthians 7
There are several arguments which have been made on 1 Corinthians 7 that need our attention. One of the arguments that has been made on the passage is to say that 1 Corinthians 7:14-15, grants the right of remarriage to one whose mate has deserted him. 1 Corinthians 7:14-15 reads as follow:
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.
You will notice that this context is not dealing with normal desertion. Many times what is the occasion of dessertion is that the husband got tired of putting up with the griping of the wife and decided to leave. Skipping town, he neglects his responsibility to her of whatever sort they might be. Then he does not show up again for some time; when he does come back he expects all the normal conjugal rights.
This is not what 1 Corinthians 7:14-15 pictures. On this occasion, Paul was writing about the situation of a Christian being marrfed to a non-Christian. If the non-Christian mate is willing to live with the Christian, the Christian has an obligation to try to live with that person. On the other hand, if the non-Christian mate decides to leave the Christian mate, Paul said, she is “not under bondage in such cases.” Notice, however, what “such cases” are. They are cases in which an unbelieving husband or wife is unwilling to live with that Christian, not because of the manner in which she conducts herself with reference to cleaning house, general personality traits, or appearances, but because she is a Christian. In a day whenever Christians were being persecuted, there would, no doubt, be some unwilling to live with a mate who was subject to being persecuted and who endangered all those near her. Hence, if this passage allows desertion as a right for remarriage, it only allows it for those who are unwilling to stay because his mate is a Christian.
However, the phrase, “is not under bondage” does not necessarily mean that they have the right to remarry. The phrase can just as easily be understood to mean one is not under bondage to fulfill the normal responsibilities of a married person. Hence, she would not be responsible for washing his clothes, cooking his meals, fulfilling his sexual desires, and other marital responsibilities, in the occasion that a man deserted her. Regardless of what we understand this passage to teach, we can see that it does not offer any consolation for those who have divorced their mate for an unscriptural reason and remarried. As a matter of fact, the subject of remarriage is not even mentioned in I Corinthians 7:14-16.
1 Corinthians 7:10-11 must also be considered in any study of marriage. There the alternatives for the married with reference to separation are mentioned. We cite the passage as follows:
And unto the married I command, yet not I, 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.
Whenever a separation or divorce occurs for an unscriptural reason, the alternatives of the Christian are laid down in this passage. Any person who wants to be acceptable to God in such a relationship must (1) be reconciled to her mate, or (2) remain unmarried. Those are the only alternatives that are available. Of course the exception of fornication must be kept in mind in any study of all that God has said on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 15, pp. 243-246
April 10, 1980