By Leon Mauldin
Who Can Marry?
The Bible teaches that there are three classes of people who are eligible for marriage. One class would be those who have never been married. God’s will from the beginning was, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall be- come one flesh” (Matt. 19:4, 5). A second category would be those whose spouses have died. Paul said, “For the woman that hath a husband is bound by law to the husband while he liveth; but if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband. So then if, while the husband liveth, she be joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if the husband die, she is free from the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be joined to another man” (Rom. 7:3, 4). The third category is those who have put away their spouses for fornication. Jesus said, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery” (Matt. 19:9). These, and only these are eligible to marry. No other persons have the scriptural right to marry.
When we see defined from Scripture those who are not eligible to marry, we have also at the same time learned who is not eligible to date. If one is not free to marry, he is not eligible to date!
Is It Lawful To Divorce If One Doesn’t Remarry?
Just here we need to notice the binding nature of marriage. Sometimes people reason that divorce is not wrong, so long as one does not remarry. But consider 1 Corinthians 7:10-11: “Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife” (NKJV). The Lord’s command, the charge (ASV), is, “Don’t divorce.” This is not a passage giving permission to divorce. But the text does address the issue of what to do when divorce has occurred. The text says, “. . . let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband.” The reason these instructions are given can be easily understood in light of our opening paragraph. Reconciliation is desirable, but is not always possible. But remarriage to another is not permitted. If one has put away his spouse for any cause other than fornication, he is not in a position to choose to marry. If one is the “put-away” party in a divorce, he is not scripturally qualified to select another companion. For these persons, another marriage with anyone (with the exception of being reconciled to one’s spouse, 1 Cor. 7:11), is simply not an option that they have!
What About Dating?
There has been good teaching regarding the sinfulness of the un- lawful, adulterous marriage. This is not the thrust of this article. Here is the specific issue we want to deal with: How do divorced persons (those not free to marry) stand in regard to such activities as dating? Actually, an understanding of who is scripturally eligible to marry helps us to see who is eligible to date. Now it is obvious that those whom we saw are scripturally free to marry are also free to date. But what of those who are not eligible to marry? The Bible’s answer is that such are to “remain unmarried.” Of course this means that one cannot contract another marriage. But we are raising a practical question in asking, “Is one who is ineligible to marry in a position to date?” What if one reasons, “I know I can’t remarry, but we’re just friends,” or “I don’t ever plan to marry again, but I need companionship, and I just take her out to have someone to talk to”?
Actually, those who reason in this manner are usually just deceiving themselves. Have you ever noticed that we usually end up marrying someone whom we have dated? The dangers ought to be apparent. One who dates a person who is ineligible for marriage is truly “playing with fire.” The chances are good that he will end up in an unscriptural marriage.
But what if they do not ever marry? Does the dating of divorced persons meet with God’s approval? We again insist that when we see from the Scriptures who is eligible to marry, we have defined for us who is eligible to date. Persons eligible to marry are free to be together, talk, court, and plan (of course with all activities conforming to God’s standard of morals and purity, etc.) because they are in a position to follow through on the fruition of courtship; their relationship may culminate in marriage if they so choose. On the other hand, when we see defined from Scripture those who are not eligible to marry, we have also at the same time learned who is not eligible to date. If one is not free to marry, he is not eligible to date!
Sometimes one who is himself free to marry will be attracted to one who is ineligible. Before long, the two may agree to go on outings of various kinds together. A man needs to recognize that when he is with a woman who has divorced her spouse for any cause other than fornication, or one who has been divorced, he is with another man’s wife. The woman (even if she on her part may be free to marry) who accepts the invitation to go somewhere or do something with a divorced man (i.e., dating), needs to recognize that she is with someone else’s husband.
This truth can be seen clearly enough if we are considering a married couple, two who are living in the marriage relationship and are not divorced. While one may have friends of the opposite gender; married Christians recognize that they are not in a position to date those friends (and of course should not want to). But why would that be wrong? Because they are married, they are not eligible to date. A Christian husband does not, for example, reason, “My wife cannot go with me to the gospel meeting tonight, so I will go by a friend’s (female) house, and take her with me, for companionship, of course.” The very same principle is involved when a divorced person is dating, and going on outings, etc. The one who accompanies him is with someone else’s spouse! Therefore, an unscripturally divorced person may not date for the same reason that a married person may not date. Neither is free to do so; both are ineligible to do so!
While one hopefully has many friends, a spouse who seeks to please God recognizes that there are bounds which he must not cross. For example, a Christian spouse does not take a friend of the opposite sex for an all-day trip to town and arrive back home late in the evening. The issue is not one of whether he may have friends, but rather one of that conduct in which he may properly (before God) en- gage. One who is himself free to marry cannot (with God’s approval) put himself in the above type of situations with divorced persons, because they are not free.
If the idea persists, “I still don’t see anything wrong with divorced persons dating,” we would ask, “Is it possible for it to become wrong at any point short of an adulterous marriage, and if so, at what point?” Is it right if the relationship is “casual,” but wrong if it is “serious”? If so, how serious does it have to become? Would it be steady dating, or engagement, before it became wrong? I believe the relationship becomes wrong when it starts, just as the same relationship would be wrong for married persons.
It would perhaps be appropriate here to also give attention to the “singles” seminars, rallies, classes, etc. While nothing is intrinsically wrong with special studies for singles, we object to the church’s providing opportunities for persons to find companions, with no regard as to whether or not they are eligible for marriage. One brochure I received for a “Single Adult Rally” is typical of advertising of such events. It included the following topics: “Laying Bricks or Throwing Stones,” “Singles, Sex and Sanity,” “Single Parenting: Building a Christian Foundation,” “Single Again,” “ Success or Survival,” “Building Success as a Single Woman,” and “The Body Beautiful.” To be fair, the topics are not necessarily wrong in themselves. But one wonders just what would be taught in that setting on those subjects. But consider also what is not listed. Keep in mind that this “rally” will include those who are “single-again” without distinction as to why one is single again (i.e., regardless of whether or not one has a scriptural divorce). Yet the listing of topics does not include, “A Discussion of Matthew 19:9,” or “What the Bible Teaches Regarding Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage,” or “It Is Not Lawful For Thee To Have Her.” To the extent that such programs for singles involve a compromise of truth regarding God’s marriage law we stand opposed to them. To the extent that they provide opportunities for “companionship” and dating for those who are not scripturally free to marry, they are in violation of the Word of God.
If you are free to marry, you still have to make some choices regarding whom you will date. Restrict your dating to those who are eligible to marry. Don’t date anybody that is not a proper subject for marriage. We would encourage you to be a faithful Christian and marry a faithful Christian. If you are divorced (unscripturally) you need to recognize your standing: If you are not free to marry, you are not free to date!