By Larry Ray Hafley
From Alabama: `Does Matthew 18:22 apply in a case where d person is about to divorce his mate for the cause of fornication?”
“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but until seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21, 22). “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. 19:9).
Now read the question again. The “except it be for fornication” clause is not in Matthew 18:22. The Lord did not say, “Forgive your brother unless the sin he commits is fornication.” He said forgive all who truly and sincerely repent. “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3).
It would be easy to cease here and repose and reflect on the above answer, but there is more to our querist’s inquiry than is immediately apparent. The only reason one may scripturally put away a companion and marry another is fornication. May one put away his or her mate and marry another if the guilty party is penitent? I respond in the affirmative. The issue in this case is not forgiveness. One must forgive the penitent party (Matt. 18:21, 22). However, repentance and forgiveness do not do away with the “except it be for fornication” clause. One who commits fornication may be “put away.” The innocent party may “marry another” without committing adultery. The Lord did not say, “Put away for fornication unless it be forgiven.” He did not say, “Except it be for fornication that is unrepented of.” He said, “Except it be for fornication:”
True, the fornicator can receive forgiveness. Consider this–one who puts away his spouse for just any reason may later obtain forgiveness of the Lord, but his forgiveness does not permit him to marry another. God’s forgiveness is available, but it does not allow the individual to retain all his former rights. So, in this case.
One may put his marriage mate away “for fornication.” That is what the Lord said. When one commits the sin, he may be put away for it. If the offended partner chooses to continue the marriage, that is his prerogative. This is the course that ideally should be followed in such difficult times, but there is no obligation for the innocent party to do so. Required to forgive? Yes. Free to put away the other because of fornication and marry another? Yes. In a case where one puts away his companion for burning the toast, the Lord is (I hesitate to say “required”) willing to forgive, but He is not willing to allow that person to marry another.
Caution and Conclusion
Matthew 19:9 does not demand that one put away his mate. Hopefully, the relationship can be restored. What I have said is controversial, and I am painfully conscious of that fact, but it is what I believe to be the truth. However, let me say that the case is theoretical and hypothetical. It seems unlikely that sincere penitence and genuine forgiveness would allow . the putting away process to occur. After one is over the hurt and shame and the disgust and depression and humiliation that has been done to them by the sin of fornication, would they then proceed with the putting away after granting forgiveness?
Oh, the grief and agony caused by sin in the marriage relationship! But what is worse than ruined homes and wrecked lives is lost souls. Mom and dad, what are you teaching your children with respect to the sacredness and sanctity of the home? Do not wait until they are engaged to begin telling them of the seriousness of marriage. Start now while there is hope.
Truth Magazine XIX: 15, p. 226
February 20, 1975