Reviewing Lewis G. Hale: Except For Fornication(1)

By Ronald D. Howes

Circulating among some of my brethren is a booklet entitled Except For Fornication.(1) Having run into it three times in the last year, I feel compelled to respond. To his credit, Brother Hale has produced a well written, readable and believable document defending the thesis that the guilty party of Matthew 19 has a scriptural right to remarry. However, his book has one serious flaw, his thesis is wrong. This alone would be enough cause of a review that his book is enjoying some circulation among conservative brethren (Brother Hale is of the liberal camp) makes its review in this journal all the more desirable.

We will not take Brother Hale to task for every argument he makes. We shall attempt, however, to handle his material consecutively for ease of comparison and review by the reader. We will use endnotes.


In setting up the proposition for his book, Brother Hale indulges in some literary shotgunning while setting the tone of his approach and revealing his motives for authoring the book.

We have a great number of devout people who are divorced and remarried, but who at best enjoy a second rate citizenship in the kingdom . . . . some would not be received at all but for fear of causing trouble in the church . . . . the men may be called upon to serve at the Lord’s table . . . but may not be allowed to teach a class, or preach, or serve in any official capacity . . . . We will not take strong enough action . . . they never feel secure . . . ours is mostly an irritation attack . . . . Is it just wrong? Or is it going to Hell wrong?(2)

Yes brother, it is “going to Hell wrong.” The fact that some brethren equivocate on it, or extend half-fellowship to adulterers is not justification for a loosening up of our attitude toward sin; it is rather a commentary on what your doctrine has done to our concept of sin. The argument that “some brethren do it,” or “some brethren don’t do it,” is not a sound basis for determining right and wrong. As you well know, “some brethren” do and believe just about anything they want to.

On page 7, our author makes a classical argument on this problem. There is according to him . . .

No Clear Answer

Let us be honest. Can you go to the Bible and put your finger on an exact verse of scripture that offers such a clear answer as `remain unmarried’ or ‘be reconciled’? . . . You say repentance involves . . . We are talking about clear and direct statements, not what you may reason and conclude.(3)

A favorite tactic of many trying to avoid a clear implication of scripture is just to say: “Well, because God didn’t come out and say ‘thou shalt not’ we can’t demand it of brethren. I am surprised at my conservative brethren passing this tract – even though they may agree with the thesis. Let me jog your conscience – What about a necessary inference? Brother Hale and his tribe have largely discarded this form of establishing Bible authority, but we have not. When you endorse and hand out a tract like we are reviewing, you are in danger of telling other people that you do not believe what we know you do.

Being in receipt of a legitimate passage of scripture which says “Whosoever marries her who is put away committeth adultery” (Matt. 19:9), we are prepared to defend the premise that .we do have a clear answer. We do know what the sin is. We do know how to handle the sinner. 1 Cor. 5 commands us to “deliver such a one to Satan.”

Posing A Question

From page 12 through 19 of his tract, Lewis Hale engages in a meandering commentary of Matthew 19 in defense of the proposition, “The guilty party may remarry.”

Specific arguments will be dealt with under subsequent headings. We do wish to pose a dilemma to those of Brother Hale’s tribe in this question. Did Jesus seek to relax or restrict the divorce law under the new covenant? Brother Hale says,

Moses suffered a man to put away his wife upon finding any uncleanness.(4)

The intent of Jesus teaching here seems quite clear. Moses law was too lax; Jesus’ new law would be much stricter, and be in conformity with the original design of a one man one woman for life relationship. “But from the beginning it was not so!”

Brother Hale’s entire line of argumentation is contrary to the basic direction of Jesus’ express commands. Lewis Hale would have us believe that both the innocent and guilty party to the divorce of Matthew 19 can remarry without sin. This he teaches in spite of the teaching of Christ that marriage is a life-time contract. Hale “out-laxes” even Moses.

Everyone who has occupied the marriage counselor’s chair while trying to convert the alien knows that this is where nip come to tuck. A couple divorces for “irreconcilable differences.”- Then both go out and remarry. Brother Hale’s theological sun-glasses see two guilty parties ala Matthew 5:32. Since the act of adultery has been committed, the first marriage is now dissolved and the guilty parties are free to remarry. In practical terms Brother Hales position can deny remarriage to no one, no matter what the reason for the divorce.

Jesus said, “From the beginning it has not been so.” Brother Hale’s argumentation circumvents the entire purpose and thrust of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus says no, Hale says yes. Who are you going to believe?

I sympathize with the frustration of those who preach the gospel to an adulterous generation and watch couple after couple “go away sorrowful.” So many say, “I’ve finally found the right woman, and you’re asking me to leave her.” Another almost 2000 years ago “went away sorrowful” over something he could not give up for Christ. We do not seek to make the gospel acceptable to men; we seek to make men acceptable to God! Let the chips fall where they may! In getting down to brass tacks, Brother Hale uses them to nail his theological thumbs to the wall as we see in . . .

A Difficult Scripture(5)

Between pages 19 and 26 of Except For Fornication, Brother Hale takes us on a shopping spree in the theological bargain basement, and assembles no less than 9 scholars to bolster his position. We hear from the likes of Henry Alford, A. Lukyn Williams, A.T. Robertson, J.W. McGarvey, H. Leo Boles, W.M. Foley, R.C.H. Lenski, B.W. Johnson, and last but not least John Murray.

Reading this chapter, I was immediately struck with the similarity of this chapter to Documents On Instrumental Music(6) by Tom Burgess of the conservative Christian Church. Burgess quotes a ton of scholars, almost all of whom flatly disagree with his position that psallo necessitates the use of instrumental accompaniment. The careful reader is left shaking his head. Why quote them if they disagree with you?

In our list Foley, Boles, McGarvey, Johnson, Robertson, Alford, and Williams all disagree with Hale and say the guilty party cannot remarry. If we are to believe that the weight of scholarship proves or disproves a position, then Brother Hale lost by his own count of 8 to 1 in this test vote.

The title of this section of the book is

A Difficult Scripture(7)

To his best efforts we must say that apparently it is a difficult scripture only to Brother Lewis Hale and any he may have confused. Eight of his authorities disagree with him, which evidently struck him after quoting them and too late to revise that part of the book for the printer (pure speculation on my part – rdh) for he spends the next 9 pages of this document explaining away their statements. This should be obvious to anyone who reads the book. The odds are 8 to 1 that Brother Hale is wrong.

John Murray is raised as a scholar in defense of Brother Hale’s position. I invite the reader to purchase Divorce(8) by John Murray, a singular tone of 121 pages put out by the Presbyterians. Mr. Murray is professor of Systematic Theology at Westminister in Philadelphia. His book is all the more remarkable for its lack of similarity to Brother Hale’s attempt.

Those accustomed to reading some of the excellent Presbyterian or Reformed commentaries such as those by Hendriksen will be surprised at Murray. Murry’s entire effort is devoid of any recognized scholarly support (other than his own) for the conclusion that he draws (i.e., the guilty party may remarry when approved by the church). May we surmise that Murray declines to call upon scholarly support for his conclusion because it is non-existent? We may.

Perhaps Brother Hale should have read Murray’s book, and not just his article in Baker’s Theological Dictionary.(9) Murray is in the unenviable position of calling upon himself for scholarly support for his conclusions. Hale calls upon Murray and both fall into the ditch. selah

Recommended Reading

  1. Except For Fornication, Roy Deaver, a review in Spiritual Sword, Vol. 6, number 2, pp. 14-26, Jan. 1975.
  2. Divorce and Remarriage, J.D. Thomas, B.R. Press (Abilene, 1977).
  3. Divorce and Remarriage, Gene Frost, series in Gospel Anchor (Louisville, Jan.-Feb. 1979).


1. Except For Fornication, Lewis G. Hale (Oklahoma City, 1974), Hale Publications.

2. Ibid, p. 4.

3. Ibid, p. 8.

4. Ibid, p. 17.

5. Ibid, p. 19.

6. Documents on Instrumental Music, Tom Burgess (Portland, 1967).

7. Op. Cit., Lewis G. Hale, p. 19.

8. Divorce, John Murray (Philadelphia, 1972), Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing.

9. Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, Everett F. Harrison editor (Grand Rapids, 1972), pp. 169, 170.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 48, pp. 778-779
December 6, 1979