The Word Abused: ‘Living in Adultery’: Second Time Around

By Mike Willis

In the January issue of Restoration Review, editor Leroy Garrett again attempted to prove that a divorce which occurs for an unscriptural reason does not prohibit remarriage in the sight of God. The first part of this January article was filled with testimony from members of the Lord’s church who were divorced for reasons other than fornication and remarried who had been “persecuted” by congregations which believed such relationships were adulterous. Inasmuch as the testimony of humans does not constitute Bible authority, I am not going to respond to this section of Garrett’s article. The fact that some have suffered the consequences of their sins does not alter the fact that what they did was sinful. I experienced the same types of tuggings of my heart when I read these testimonies as when I read Must The Young Die Too? Just as the murder is right, neither does pathetic stories prove that adultery is right. (Must the Young Die Too? does not try to prove that murder is not sinful.) Both are heart rending but neither can alter the Lord’s law.

One thing seems to have been accomplished in my first article: I did prove that the phrase “living in adultery” is scriptural (cf. Truth Magazine, XIX:53, November 20, 1975, pp. 11-14). Regarding the concept of “living in adultery,” Garrett asserted in his June issue,

“Needless to say that we do not read of living in adultery in the Bible, and, if one stops to think about it, it is one of those expressions that is sheer nonsense” (p. 102).

However, in my reply, I cited Col. 3:5-7 as proof that one can “live” in adultery to proof that the concept is a biblical one. As a rejoinder, Garrett wrote,

“One might point to Col. 36-7 where Paul lists several sins, such as immorality and covetousness, and then sayst ‘In these you once walked, when you lived in them,’ and come up with the idea of living in adultery. This would be alright, for this refers to practicing these particular sins. But our people do not use ‘living In adultery’ In this sense, for they apply It to people they believe to he ‘unscripturally married'” (p. 204).

At least we have gotten Garrett to admit that “living in adultery” is scriptural terminology. Now, I need to get him to see that the application of the term can include those who are having sexual relations with someone other than their scriptural mate. Brother Garrett, we are charging that every time a person participates in sexual intercourse with any partner other than his scriptural mate, he is practicing adultery. If the relationship is continuous, he can scripturally be described as “living in adultery.”

In the latter part of his article, the editor of Restoration Review listed four points which he thought proved his contention that a person who has divorced and remarried without the sin of sexual unfaithfulness being the cause of the divorce has the right to live with the second companion. Since these four points are the heart of his article, my reply shall center on them. Here is Garrett’s first point:

“1. All people who are legally married are indeed married and therefore cannot he guilty of adultery in their relation with each other.”

In this argument, Garrett argued that adultery is “sexual intercourse outside marriage” and, since, these people are married to each other they cannot possibly be guilty of “adultery.” The problem with this is in the statement “all people who are legally married are indeed married.” That simply is not true! As proof, consider the following evidences:

1. Rom. 7:2-“So then if, while her husband liveth, she he married to another man, she shall he called an adulteress

2. Mt. 5:32-“But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”

3. Mt. 19:9-“And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her which Is put away doth commit adultery.”

You can read similar statements in Mk. 10:12 and Lk. 16:18. Each of these passages reveal that adultery was committed in the act of sexual intercourse with one to whom the party was married. Garrett’s first point is obviously in conflict with the revealed word of God.

Garrett’s second main point was this:

“2. Adultery is a God-designated sin, but ‘Living in Adultery’ is a man-designated sin, and therefore is no sin.”

Previously, I have proven that “living in adultery” is scriptural terminology to describe persistence in the sin of adultery (cf. Col. 3:5-7). Garrett even admitted this. Jesus Himself is the One who labeled marriages of the nature previously described as “adultery.” I think, therefore, that I am on safe ground in using the terminology which He employed. Lk. 16:18; Mk. 10:12; and Mt. 5:32; 19:9 all reveal that any person who remarries following a divorce which occurred for some reason other than fornication is guilty of adultery. Since God inspired the Bible, I think I am safe in labeling those involved in these marriages as guilty of “adultery.” This is a God-designated sin!

The third point of Garret’s article is as follows:

“3. Sins committed in divorce and remarriage are not as reparable as are many other sins.”

Garrett was trying to offset the arguments used against him regarding the necessity of repentance; he said,

“You bear it said that if a man steals a horse and then repents, he ought to return the horse; if he steals another man’s wife and then repents, he ought to give the wife back. In short, one ought to quit sinning when he repents, whatever it is. But it is not so simple as that. A horse is mere property, a thing, something easily negotiable. When a man ‘steals’ another inan’s wife it is far more than possessing another’s property. He sleeps with her, and Paul says when this happens he becomes one body with her (1 Cor. 6:16). An old relationship has been broken and a new one begun. If the man lives with her without legally marrying her, her husband might take her back and forgive her, like Hosea did. If he marries her, it becomes more complex, certainly after many years when there are children and even grandchildren. To pull that old bromide on such people, ‘If one steals a horse, etc.,’ is to he asinine and ridiculous. Returning property or money is one thing, but to demand measures that wreck still another marriage and still another family is something else” (pp. 204-205).

No one has ever said that one sin is as easy to correct as any other sin. When one commits murder, he can never restore the life which is lost. Although he repents and seeks forgiveness, he might still be put to death for his sin. Similarly, the marriage broken for unscriptural reasons might be unable to be reconciled. To such situations, Paul said, “And unto the married I command, yet Dot I, but the Lord, Let Dot the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10-11). In the event that reconciliation is impossible, Paul commanded the Christian to live a single life. Garrett does not believe the plain statements of scripture when they contradict his own ideas!

In this section, Garrett also said, “The person whose life is strewn with a string of broken marriages can come to Jesus like any other sinner. Jesus will take him as he is, forgive his past, and sanctify his present marriage, teaching him that repentance means that he will quit his sin of divorce and remain married this time” (p. 205). Brother Garrett, where can I read in my Bible where Jesus ever said that He would “sanctify” air adulterous relationship? I think that is a man-designated idea and not God-designated! By the way, would it make any difference on which side of baptism the life was “strewn with a string of broken marriages” for God to accept the sinner? Does God have one marriage code for unbelievers and a different one for believers’! Or, will God accept and “sanctify” the present marriage of the penitent Christian?

In his final point, Garrett wrote,

“4. Divorce is not an unpardonable sin.”

No one has said that it was, Brother Garrett! We have simply said that one must cease committing the act of adultery before God will forgive him. Please do not misrepresent us.


Again, we have noticed how Brother Garrett has distorted the scriptures to teach what God has riot revealed. Let me remind you of what James wrote. He said, “For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (Jas. 2:11). The point being made by James is that the same God gave all of the commandments; if a person rebels against any one commandment, he has rebelled against the very same authority which gave any and all of them. Thus, the man who under one given set of circumstances will rebel against one commandment will, under similar conditions, rebel against any other commandment revealed by God. Leroy Garrett has rebelled against the revelation of God on a number of points such as marriage, divorce, and remarriage, instrumental music, institutionalism, etc. Not only has he personally refused to accept God’s revelation on these subjects, he has also made fun of those of us who do accept God’s revelation. Such a person is a transgressor of God’s law and unworthy of being considered a teacher of the law.

Truth Magazine XX: 27, pp. 426-428
July 8, 1976