By Hayse Reneau
The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And He answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your heart suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery (Matt. 19:3-9).
The Pharisees ask Jesus two (2) questions. Jesus answers them in turn. To the first question, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” Jesus says “No.” “What God has joined together let not man put asunder.” Note: When the Lord says don’t do something, the transgressing of His law constitutes sin (1 Jn. 3:4). Isn’t this true? If we say “Yes; but, not in all cases.” This puts one in the position of those who say sin separates one from God, but not necessarily all sin separates one from God. Such puts one in the foolish position of speaking for God. Unless God has made an exception, mere man has not been given the prerogative of doing so! It necessarily appears obvious that a mutually agreed upon separation does not come into this category; for it does not constitute one “putting asunder” the other one as the term denotes. Christians, in a godly attempt to maintain their vows, have discovered how much they need and love their mates by this practice.
Also, in Acts 5:29, we read, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” No situation is exempted from this truism. In my opinion, if marital circumstances produce a condition forbidding obedience to God and if it cannot be changed, one has no choice but to extricate himself from these circumstances. Likewise, a life-threatening situation would seem to be a justifiable reason for departure. Of course, there are thousands of “exceptions” which men have added to Christ’s one exception, as people seek to get out of marital arrangements they have gotten themselves into. Rather than suffer a little “hell” here on earth to avoid eternal torment, people have become a law unto themselves, marrying and divorcing indiscriminate of what God says. With such God is not well pleased.
Jesus then answers the second question, and warns that one who has put away his wife except for fornication enters a second sin should he remarry: Adultery. If he has put away his wife for fornication, his remarriage is not adultery.
Mark omits the second question asked by the Pharisees, and says Jesus and His disciples went into a house where the disciples “asked him again of the same matter” (i.e. the same question the Pharisees asked the second time). He answers them in essentially the same manner as Matthew records His answer to the Pharisees, adding that His saying applied also to a woman who might put away her husband for any reason other than fornication.”
I may be wrong but I fear some suppose that the terms in the heading are insignificant; that a state “divorce” issued by a heathen court is the important thing. With this erroneous conclusion it is presumed that a marriage partner who has “put away” the mate for some (any) cause except fornication has committed no trespass unless and until a state “divorce” is sued for according to state laws (this was not even a practice in the time of Christ!). Of course one must comply with the law of his country (Rom. 13). However, this has no bearing on the subject the Lord addresses. As we look at the meaning of these terms (“put away,” “put asunder”) we see that Christ’s command, “What God hath joined together let not man put asunder, ” is broken when a mate is put away for some other reason than the one Jesus states.
1. Apoluo. Put away: To let go; to let loose; to send away (Bagster’s Analytical Lexicon) This word in the perfect tense and passive voice is translated “divorce” in Matthew 5:32, meaning the “dismissed woman.”
2. Choridzo. Put asunder: To sever; to disunite; to disassociate one’s self; to withdraw; to depart (op. cit.).
The term: “bill of divorcement”‘ (Matt. 19:7; Deut. 24:1-4) is from apostasion, and refers to the Jews’ practice of placing a document in the hand of the woman which would show for her benefit that she was not a deserter.
Do people really appreciate what the Lord signified when He said, “Wherefore they are no longer two but one flesh”? I’m afraid not. From R.C.H. Lenski’s Interpretation of Matthew 193-9 (pp. 729, 730), I quote:
“(Vs 6) In order still more to impress the point regarding what God made of marriage at the time of creation Jesus adds: ‘Wherefore they are no longer two (like father and son, mother and son) but one flesh.’ The physical sexual union consummated in marriage actually makes ‘one flesh’ of the two. And it ought to be self-evident that, therefore, this union is to be permanent. But since this is vital for the question brought up by the Pharisees, Jesus states this deduction (oun) in so many words: ‘What therefore, God yoked together, let man not divide apart.’ When persons are involved, a neuter such as (6) makes the reference abstract and general and thus stronger: ‘anything’ joined together by God. The aorist is generally considered timeless, yet here it marks time antecedent to the main verb and is thus in place for this reason. In connections such as this the English prefers the perfect, ‘has yoked together.’ The implication is that any man who divides what God has thus by his own creation united into one, flies into the face of God and his will a serious opposition, indeed. How indissoluble marriage is according to God’s own creation is thus made clear. Did these Pharisees never read these words of Scripture and think on what they obviously declare?”
Every Christian who is concerned for souls and alarmed over the moral decay in America continues to be shocked by the climbing divorce rate as reported in newspapers (the local newspaper recently reported 4 divorces granted; 2 pending, 2 marriage licenses applied for on that day). While it is needful (for the sake of our soul) to sympathize with those who jeopardize their eternal welfare in not fulfilling their marriage vows to God and their mate, we can in no wise excuse it.
The Jews “tempted” Jesus with their question. There is implication that they knew what God had said originally, and what Moses had written and why. They ask, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” The answer he gave is “no!” In verse 9 Matthew tells us He gave one (1) cause: “Fornication. ” God has “a few things against” those who would cast a “stumblingblock” (skandalon, “a cause or occasion of sinning) before others. The church at Pergamos was charged with “holding the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel to . . . . commit fornication” (Rev. 2:14). In Matthew 5:32, the one who puts asunder the mate for anything other than fornication puts a stumblingblock before the mate and “causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced comitteth adultery.” The world doesn’t believe this, and some brethren have too much of the world in them, for some seem to think Jesus answered, “Yes, it’s lawful to put away your mate for any cause.” That is what worldly people are doing!
In His answer Jesus used the broader term when He warned, “What God has joined together let not man put asunder.” Don’t walk away from; don’t send away; don’t sever what God has joined together. When one ignores God’s warning in this, sin results, before a suit is filed before a heathen court. Sorrow alone over what is done will not fix it.
Much complaining is often done about consequences, whenever God’s condemnation of our belief and practice is unacceptable to us. Nevertheless, God’s truth must be accepted; and whatever necessarily results from that truth must likewise be received, whether we like it or not, or whether it seems reasonable to us or not. Observe: baptism for a believer in order to have forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38) presents consequences which are unacceptable to many people: “If that is correct,” I have been told, “it means my momma and daddy are going to hell, because they were not baptized.” Also, people who have “put asunder” their mate for “every cause” other than that allowed and have remarried, often having children born into that union, have argued about the consequences of how they can now please God. Repentance of sin demands ceasing that unlawful relationship: “But what about the innocent children?” “But we love each other!” Nevertheless, if the thief would serve God acceptably he must cease stealing, and those living in adultery (Col. 3:5-7) must cease. (Read Ezra 10:1-5.) People, who accept the truth are willing to accept whatever consequence goes with this truth. We can feel sorrow for the position truth puts the impenitent in; but we cannot change it. Solomon wrote: “Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard” (Prov. 13:15).
All written comments I have seen from brethren on this have dealt with the right of remarriage granted unto one who had put away his/her mate because of fornication, or denial of the right to remarriage, without sin, unto the guilty party or one who has dismissed the mate for reasons other than adultery. However, knowing how Jesus answered the Pharisees’ first question, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” with, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”: It seems to me that this has to be dealt with before we get to the sin of adultery encountered by remarriage of those who believe that indeed it is lawful to put away the mate for “every cause.” Am I correct? Beloved, these things are set forth in an unbiased manner, for the sole purpose of Bible study. I have no one in mind to condemn or justify. Can it be studied without bias, traditionalism, or what the world may think about it or practice? I hope so.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 6, pp. 178-179
March 20, 1986