May the Guilty Party Remarry?

By Donnie V. Rader

When a couple gets a divorce for the cause of fornication, can the guilty party scripturally remarry? While a number of brethren have answered that question in the affirmative, our Lord answers in the negative (Matt. 19:9). The idea that some have is this: if the guilty is no longer married to the innocent, then the guilty party is free to remarry. The advocates of this position think that if one of the parties is loosed, both are loosed, thus allowing a scriptural remarriage.

In this article we want to consider the basic problem that the advocates of this position have, reasons why the guilty party cannot remarry and a few of the efforts made to justify this position.

Confusion On The Marriage And The Bond

The basic problem with the position that says that the guilty party can remarry is that it confuses the marriage and the bond. I have not seen anything from any of the advocates of this position that indicates they think the marriage and the bond are distinct. They believe that the marriage and the bond are the same. Thus, if a couple is no longer married, they are no longer bound to each other. To apply it to the case of the guilty party, since the put away fornicator is no longer married, it is thought that he is no longer bound and is free to remarry.

Romans 7:2-3 shows that there is a difference in the marriage and the bond. The woman in this text is bound to her first husband even though she is married to another. This bond is the reason that the second marriage is adulterous. Marriage is a relationship entered into by agreement and ratified by compliance with civil law. The bond is a covenant with God that joins one to his mate.

It is possible to be bound to one and married to another. Such is the case in Romans 7:2-3. The woman is “bound by the law to her husband” even though she is “married to another man.” It is also possible for one to be released from the yoke and the other party not. Matthew 19:9 says that the man who puts away his wife for fornication may script rally marry another. Thus, he is loosed. However, the one who marries the woman who is put away commits adultery. Thus, she is still bound. God has loosed the innocent who has put away his mate for fornication. God has not loosed the guilty (Matt. 19:9).

When Jack married Jill, God yoked (joined) them together (Matt. 19:6). However, when Jack put Jill away for fornication, God released him from the yoke, while Jill is still yoked (bound, Matt. 19:9).

When the confusion concerning the marriage and the bond is cleared up, the fact that the guilty party cannot scripturally marry can be easily seen.

The Guilty Party Is Not Authorized To Remarry

If we have any respect for the Lord and his authority, we understand that to act without authority is a sin (2 Jn. 9). We cannot afford to be presumptuous, thinking that God’s silence is permission to act. Hebrews 7:14 illustrates the principle that God’s silence is prohibitive (there is no authority), not permissive. Jesus could not be a priest on earth for he was of the tribe of Judah “of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.”

God has authorized the innocent party to put away his/her mate for fornication and remarry (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). There is no passage that authorizes the put away fornicator to remarry! Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10: 11-12 and Luke 16:18 do not grant such a right. Nor does any other passage provide the needed authority. To use human reasoning won’t do. To say that no passage forbids it won’t work. We must respect the authority of God in this area as well as in the work, organization and worship of the church. I oppose the guilty party remarrying on the same basis as I oppose instrumental music in worship – no authority!

The Guilty Party Is Forbidden To Remarry

Not only does the Bible not authorize remarriage for the guilty party, but it emphatically forbids it.

Jesus stated that when a put away one remarries he commits adultery. “. . . and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matt. 5:32b). “. . . and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matt. 19:9b). “. . . and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery” (Luke 16:18).

Carefully note that there is no exception phrase in this clause just quoted. The exception is the first clause applies to the one who puts his mate away. Obviously, when the put away one remarries, he commits adultery.

Efforts Made To Justify The Guilty Party Remarrying

It is argued that fornication severs the marriage at the point it is committed. Thus, we are told that when the marriage is dissolved, the innocent is no longer married to the guilty and the guilty is no longer married to the innocent. Thus, both are free to remarry. Lloyd Moyer, among others, argued this point. “The marriage ceases to be that which God ordained when one of the two parties of the marriage joins his body to that of someone other than the person to whom he is married” (Frost-Moyer Exchange, p. 8). Moyer developed his argument further by saying, “When a marriage is thus dissolved, the innocent is no longer married to the guilty, nor is the guilty any longer married to the innocent. No marriage exists. Where no marriage exists, the parties may marry someone else” (Ibid., p. 10).

Again, Moyer and all those that advocate that the guilty party can remarry confuse the marriage and the bond. He assumes that if they are no longer married, they are no longer bound. We have already demonstrated otherwise.

Fornication is the cause and not the divorce itself. Jesus said that a man could put his wife away “for fornication.” The fornication is committed before the divorce takes place. Otherwise, a man could commit fornication and his wife would be unmarried and not even know it. Thus, she unknowingly would be living with a man to whom she is not even married. How absurd!

Glen W. Lovelady argued that the put away fornicator could not commit adultery if he is no longer married to his first mate. “Preachers today are feeling the force of the question, how could the put away fornicator commit adultery, if he remarried, not having a spouse? . . . If he is not bound and he marries one who is free to marry, how could he commit adultery? ” (Bible Forum, November 1977, Vol. 1, no. 3, p. 11) Lovelady makes the same mistake that Moyer made which is a failure to distinguish the marriage and the bond. He assumes that if the guilty party is no longer married (because he has been put away) that he is no longer bound. Such is an assumption without proof. Since there is no authority for the guilty party to remarry and he is forbidden by Matthew 19:9 to do so, we must conclude that God has bound him and not loosed him to remarry. Yes, it is true that he is not married. However, that doesn’t mean that he is not bound. Don’t forget that Romans 7:2-3 demonstrates that there is a distinction in the marriage and the bond. Using the same logic I could argue that the one who puts his wife away for a cause other than fornication can remarry. I could reason that he is no longer married since he put his spouse away. Thus, he is free to remarry. To the contrary, Jesus said that, when he remarries, he commits adultery (Matt. 19:9).

It has been argued that if the innocent is loosed, the guilty is automatically loosed as well. Such illustrations as the following have been given. “Tie your two hands together and let each hand represent one of the two parties to a marriage. Cut the string. Which hand is freed? Both!” (Roland H. Worth, Jr., Divorce And Remarriage, p. 11) The man and his wife are not the only elements in the bond. Romans 7:2-3 tells us that God’s law (one mate for life) binds the two together. The two are bound by God’s law to each other. One mate could be free while the other is still bound by the law. So, if we want to use the illustration of a rope, we would have the man and his wife tied together, but also to the law of God. Thus, if a man is untied (due to his wife’s fornication) she is still tied by the law of God.

There has been an effort to re-define adultery to prove that those entering any second marriage can continue in that marriage and not separate. Olan Hicks argues that the word translated adultery “refers to the act of remarrying itself” (What The Bible Says About Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, Nashville: 1978, p. 28). Hicks further argued, “This establishes, if we take precisely what the scriptures say, omitting human opinion entirely, that the ‘adultery’ which is to be repented of in this case, consists of two actions, ‘putting away’ and ‘marrying another'” (Ibid., p. 29). Again Hicks wrote, “Does the adultery Jesus spoke of occur when one puts away his wife and marries another or does it occur later when he cohabits with the second wife? How can we insist that it is the later when Jesus specifically said it was the former?” (Ibid., p. 28) Hicks says the same thing in his new and expanded book by the same title (What The Bible Says About Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, Joplin, 1987, pp. 149-161). Truman Scott argued the same basic position in his debate with Wayne Jackson in 1982 (Divorce & Remarriage – A Study Discussion, Stockton: 1983).

This redefining of adultery lends comfort to the advocates that say that the guilty party can remarry. When he does remarry he does not commit adultery by continuing to live with that mate.

The term adultery is not used that way in the Bible. Jesus said that a man who looks upon a woman and lusts after her has committed adultery in his heart (Matt. 5:28). Was he fantasizing about breaking the covenant (divorcing and remarrying) or sexual relations? In John 8 the Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus whom they said was caught in the “very act” of adultery (v. 4). Was she caught in the act of divorcing and remarrying (breaking wedlock) or in the sexual act? Ezekial 16 tells the parable of the unfaithful wife. What verse 32 calls “adultery” the context calls “fornication” (v. 15), harlotry (vv. 15-16), “whoredom” (w. 25-26), and taking “strangers instead of her husband” (v. 32). Furthermore, there is no lexicon or passage that would justify this arbitrary definition of adultery.

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 1, pp. 17-18
January 4, 1990