By Bill Hall
A. Divorce is increasing in our society at an alarming rate. This is true, not just in society generally, but also among Christians.
B. What God has said on the subject seems hard in our day, but however hard it may seem to be, it is for our good (Deut. 10: 12,13).
C . It is the purpose of this series of lectures to examine God’s teaching, along with some of the theories of men, in relation to these matters.
1. Definition of marriage: A God-approved marriage takes place when two eligible people, having met legal requirements for marriage, are joined together by the Lord as husband and wife.
A. “Two eligible people.” Three types of people are eligible for marriage:
1. Those never married.
2. Those whose companions are dead (Rom. 7:2,3).
3. Those who have put away companions for the cause of fornication (Matt. 19:9).
B . “Having met legal requirements.” Christians are subject to the laws of the country and state in which they live (Tit. 3:1).
C. “Joined together by the Lord” (Matt. 19:3-6). (Observe terms used suggesting the permanence of marriage: “cleave, ” “one flesh, ” “God hath joined, ” “let not man put asunder;” also “bound” in Rom. 7:2,3.)
II. The term “eligible” implies that there are those who are ineligible for marriage.
A. Two types of people are ineligible for marriage:
1. Those who have put away their companions for some cause other than fornication (Matt. 19:9).
2. Those who have been put away by their companions for any cause (unqualified by the Lord) (Matt. 19:9; 5:32).
B. If such people do marry, whenever they engage in sexual relations they commit adultery. Theirs is an immoral relationship. Their relationship can be described in the same words used by John to describe Herod in Matt. 14:4.
C. The apostles recognized the strictness of this teaching, and responded accordingly (Matt. 19:10).
D. We doubt that there would have ever been any problems relative to the meaning of these passages were it not for society’s total disregard for Christ’s teaching and the problems growing out of this disregard. The temptation to “water down” Jesus’ teaching, thus making the gospel more “palatable” for the immoral, has been great.
III. How forgiveness for adultery is obtained.
A. One obtains forgiveness for adultery in the same way as he obtains forgiveness for any other sin.
1. Through faith, repentance, confession, and baptism if he is an alien.
2. Through repentance, confession, and prayer if he is an erring Christian.
B. In either case, one must repent, and repentance involves:
1. Godly sorrow – this produces repentance (2 Cor. 7:10).
2. Change of heart – this is the action itself.
3. Reformation – this is the fruits of repentance (Matt. 3:8). Reformation would include both a ceasing of the practice and restitution whenever possible.
C. Illustration: A person repents of stealing. Reformation demands that he return the stolen property and quit stealing. If he cannot return the stolen property, he can quit stealing (Eph. 4:28).
D. When one repents of adultery, he may not be able to make full restitution (in most cases such is impossible), but he can quit the adulterous relationship, and repentance requires his doing so.
E. Someone may be thinking, “I just couldn’t do that; that’s asking too much.”
1. If you want to go to heaven badly enough, you can do anything. You could offer up your son or daugther if God so required; you could go to prison, never again to see the light of day; you could live separate from your family the rest of your days.
2. Every sin has its consequences and is hard to give up. The alcoholic has difficulty giving up alcohol; the gambler his gambling; the person caught up in an adulterous affair that does not have legal sanction has difficulty breaking that relationship.
3. Two passages to consider: Matt. 13:44-46; Luke 14:26,27.
4. You can do it! Other have done it!
IV. Theories which we reject in relation to divorce and remarriage, along with our observations.
A. There is no acceptable causefor divorce and remarriage. This theory holds that Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 19:9 was in reality an explanation of the law of Moses regarding divorce and remariage, and consequently was not applicable after his death on the cross; that Rom. 7:14 is the teaching of the gospel on the subject, and that there is no exception to be found in this passage.
1. We reject this teaching, for Jesus’ teaching is given in contrast to Moses’ teaching (Matt. 19:9).
2. Efforts to reconcile Jesus’ teaching with that of Moses in Deut. 24:1-4 prove futile:
a. According to Moses, a man could put away his wife for “some uncleanness” (not adultery, for an adultress was to be put to death – Deut. 22:22); while Jesus said he could do so only for the cause of fornication.
b. According to Moses, when the wife was put away, she could become another man’s wife; while Jesus taught that “whoso marrieth her that isput away doth commit adultery” (Matt. 19:9, consider also Matt. 5:32).
3. Jesus frequently taught during his lifetime that which would be applicable during the gospel age (Jn. 14:26; Matt. 28:20).
4. The teaching of Rom. 7:14 is not primarily teaching concerning marriage, but is teaching concerning our death to the law as illustrated by marriage. An illustration requires only those details that are related to the point of truth being illustrated. In this case, the exception of Matt. 19:9 would have been irrelevant.
5. Our conclusion is that Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 19:9 is applicable to the gospel age; that in it he does give one exception in relation to divorce and remarriage; and that this teaching should be accepted along with all other teaching in the New Testament on the subject.
B. Alien sinners are not subject to God’s law concerning marriage. This theory holds that since alien sinners are not subject to God’s law on this matter, they can remarry again and again without sin; and that when they are baptized, they can continue to live with whatever partner they have at the time they are baptized. E.C. Fuqua wrote: “While in the world, people cannot be with or without ‘a scriptural cause’ for anything, seeing they are not under Christian law” (The Warren-Fuqua Debate, p. 24). Brother Fuqua goes on to say that people in the world are only under civil law.
1. We reject this theory, for the Scriptures clearly teach that alien sinners are held accountable for disobedience to God’s moral laws, including those which pertain to sexual immorality (Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-11).
2. The teaching of Matt. 19:9, therefore, does apply to alien sinners. Those who have disregarded God’s marriage laws are adulterers, and they must cease their adulterous practices just as the thief must cease his stealing or the drunkard his drinking if they are to be saved.
C. The guilty party who has been put awayfor the cause of fornication is free to marry again. According to this position, when the innocent party marries again, the marriage bond is broken; the guilty party, therefore, being no more bound to the former companion is free to marry again.
1. We reject this position for lack of proof. We ask those who do hold to this position, “Are you sure that the inference you have drawn is a necessary inference?” “Can you really encourage the guilty party to marry again with absolute assurance that his marriage will be approved of God?”
2. We would teach the innocent that they can marry again, not because a bond is broken, but because Jesus specifically said that they could.
3. Jesus said, “Whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matt. 19:9; see also Matt. 5:32). He made no exception concerning the one put away.
4. Jesus made one exception, that exception applying to the person putting away his companion for the cause of fornication. We dare not make another exception.
5. We express our conclusion in the words of Harold Comer: “The real argument to me says that the general rule of marriage is that no one may divorce and remarry. The only exceptions to that are those who specifically are granted the right of divorce and remarriage. In Matthew 19:9, it is the ‘putting away’ party, i.e. the innocent party, who is given authority to divorce and remarry. The innocent may divorce and remarry not because the marriage is broken by the fornication but because their divorce and remarriage is specifically allowed or authorized by God. That says that the limitations of marriage still bind the ‘guilty party’ as they still bind everyone else, since all the rest of us remain under the general rule prohibiting divorce and remarriage. The guilty party is given no exception and therefore there is no authority for divorce and remarriage on the part of anyone except the innocent, ‘putting away’ party” (The Godly Family in a Sick Society, Florida College Annual Lectures, 1979, p. 58).
D. Adultery on the part of the one person in a marriage severs the marriage bond, freeing both parties to remarry. According to this position, (1) the guilty party can remarry, and (2) adultery automatically severs the marriage bond. The reasoning then goes like this: a man puts away his wife for some cause other than fornication, and marries another; the first time they engage in sexual relations, they commit adultery; but since that one act of adultery severs the original bond, so that he is no more more bound to this first companion, any subsequent sexual relations are not adulterous. He can continue living with the second companion without sin until one of them “commits adultery,” at which time that mariage will be severed.
Lloyd Moyer states it this way: “Any time one puts away his marriage companion without fornication (illicit or unlawful intercourse) and marries another, that person commits adultery when he has sexual intercourse (Matt. 19:9), and if the one who has been put away marries he is caused to commit adultery also (Matt. 5:32). This is true because the first marriage has not been dissolved by illicit or unlawful intercourse. That is why adultery is committed the first time one cohabits with any other than the person to whom he has first married. It is a case of a married person having unlawful sexual intercourse with someone other than husband or wife. We have already shown that by the very act (unlawful sexual intercourse) the first marriage is defiled, made unclean, or ‘adulterated.’ By this act the first marriage ceases to be that which God ordained. It is no longer the two people being ‘one flesh’; it has become three people being one flesh and God did not ordain this nor will he tolerate it. That first marriage has been destroyed by the sin of fornication (illicit or unlawful sexual intercourse). 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 and 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” (Frost-Moyer Exchange on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage, p. 9).
1. The potential consequences of this position are frightening. According to such reasoning, if one’s wife on any occasion were to become unfaithful, his bond with her would be broken. She would no longer be his legitimate wife. As long as she continues this secret affair, he has no right to her. All relations with her are adulterous. He could, according to the theory, in total ignorance of her sin and the “broken bond,” continue committing “adultery” with her over a period of years, believing her to be his legitimate wife, and die with that stain of adultery on his soul. He dies, never having had sexual relations with anyone other than his wife, and yet dies an adulterer. He not only would have committed the sin in ignorance, he could not have possibly known that he was committing sin without her confession. In fact, according to the logical consequences of the theory, no man or woman could on any given occasion know with absolute certainty that he has a right to his own companion in marriage.
2. Fornication does not constitute an automatic severance of the marriage bond; it only constitutes a legitimate cause for putting away one’s companion and marrying another.
3. The wording of Matt. 19:9 renders this position impossible. Observe: The person “putting away” and marrying another commits adultery; also the one “put away,” if she marries again, commits adultery – adultery results in both actions. The word joining the two clauses is not “or,” but “and.” The theory under consideration would say, however, that if either had married again, the other could not be committing adultery, for the bond with the first companion would have been severed by that person’s marriage and subsequent fornication.
4. We raise some questions for which we have seen no clear-cut answers: Do those who accept this theory believe that a man by one act, and that the sinful act of adultery, both severs a former marriage and consummates a new one? When does God join the two in the new marriage – at the time of the ceremony? At the time when they commit adultery? Or at the time when they next have sexual relations?
5. We conclude that the premises on which this teaching is based cannot be sustained. It is our view that this theory is not an explanation of Jesus’ teaching, but a perversion and circumventing of his teaching.
E. A Christian whose unbelieving companion has departed is at liberty to marry again. This view is based on the expression “not under bondage” in 1 Cor. 7:15.
1. We reject this view, for the word “bondage” in this verse does not refer to the marriage bond. In fact, this word is not used anywhere in the Scriptures in reference to marriage. The Greek word for “bondage” in 1 Cor. 7:15 is douloo while the word for “bound,” used in reference to marriage in Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:27,39, is deo.
2. To what does the “bondage” of 1 Cor. 7:15 refer? We commend the following from the pen of Roy H. Lanier for your consideration: “Paul says the believer is not in such bondage as to obligate him to give up Christ and finally be lost . . . not in bondage to the unbeliever in order to make peace in the home. If the unbeliever makes such unreasonable demands, let him depart rather than be in such bondage to him. Such bondage we owe only to our Lord” (Gospel Advocate, August 18, 1949; quoted in “Divorce and Remarriage,” a tract by Alvin Jennings).
F. Each person is to abide in the same relationship wherein he was called. This position is based on the teaching of 1 Cor. 7:20. It is to be understood, however, that the relationship in which one is to abide is a legitimate relationship. As one would not continue to abide in a homosexual relationship or a polygamous relationship, neither would he continue to abide in an adulterous relationship.
V. Steps to be taken in the prevention of divorce and remarriage.
A. Sound teaching must be given regularly, not only on the evil of adultery, but also on the evil of divorce. Positive teaching must be given on the proper roles and attitudes of husbands and wives.
B. Those eligible for marriage must avoid dating and forming close relationships with those who are ineligible for marriage.
C. Those contemplating marriage must choose their companions carefully.
D. All must recognize the permanency of marriage and do all they can to make their home a success.
E. If one’s partner leaves him (or her), and he cannot put that partner away for fornication, let him resign himself to a life of celibacy, and live accordingly.
F. Where husbands and wives have separated, let them work toward a reconciliation, keeping in view the eternal happiness of one another.
A. When one is joined by the Lord to a companion in marriage, only two possibilities exist for his ever marrying again with God’s approval: (1) death on the part of his companion, or (2) unfaithfulness on her (or his) part, in which case he may put her away for that cause, and marry another.
B. Let each respect God’s teaching in this matter and faithfully abide in it.
C. “Let marriage be had in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled.- for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4).
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 19, pp. 595-597, 599
October 5, 1989