By C.G. “Colly” Caldwell
Proposition: The Scriptures teach that the put-away fornicator can marry another without committing sin.
Probably no subject matter is currently being discussed more among brethren than “Marriage/ Divorce/Remarriage.” Probably no topic has more current potential for stimulating division among brethren who differ over how we derive Bible authority and over what moral values and standards of conduct God will allow. Probably also no specific current issue in the debate over marriage-divorce-remarriage illustrates those differences more fully than the question, “Can a guilty putaway fornicator marry another without committing sin?” Brother Lovelady has argued this proposition for years and eminently represents the way the position is argued. These considerations led me to join in this discussion praying that all would be helped away from worldliness and division and toward heaven. I thank brother Willis and brother Lovelady for their respective roles in making this possible.
In his last article, our brother tells us fourteen times that he does not understand why we do not accept his affirmations. That is understandable. We apply totally different concepts of biblical authority (see my second response). Let us see, nonetheless, if we can help by considering four major points in this last response.
First, we must understand why anyone has a right to remarry. The position forthrightly declares, “The only reason why she can remarry is because she is no longer a spouse.” Such statements are simplistic and fail to take into account the larger issue, the full extent of God’s supervision of the marriage relationship. Marriage is more than a contract between two persons. It is a divine obligation placed upon two persons not simply by reason of their bond to one another but by reason of God’s expressed will. Marriage vows are nor simply made to one another but before God Almighty. If that were not true there would be no restriction on remarriage at all. Persons divorcing for any cause could remarry with impunity.
God’s law states that persons who divorce and remarry commit adultery (Lk. 16:18; etc.). One exception is granted by the Lawmaker . . . to the one who puts away a mate for the cause of fornication! The right to remarriage is a contingent right based upon direct authorization. Even infidelity does not in and by itself give anyone the right to marry another. God gives a right in this matter by declaring it. He does not declare it for the put-away fornicator. If we grant that neither person is the mate of the other (even in God’s sight) after a divorce for fornication, that does not grant that they have an automatic and unrestricted right of remarriage. For example, the person whose mate has died does not have the right to marry again simply because he/she no longer has a companion. That person has the right of remarriage because such is declared by God (Rom. 7:2), but even then only within certain limitations (1 Cor. 7:39). Herein lies a major difference between the position I hold and the opposing view.
Second, we must rely upon God’s expressed will rather than relying upon our own human reasoning. We have not, as charged, “established two methods of being joined” (read our statement carefully in Article 2). What we have done is to recognize two great scriptural affirmations: (a) that when two are married, God has “joined” them together (“bound with a yoke,” Matt. 19:6); and, (b) God has obligated them to his marriage laws (“bound by the law to her husband,” Rom. 7:2).
We cannot assume that both are freed from the restraints of law simply because of a divorce, even a “scriptural” divorce (Matt. 19:9). Such an assumption operates from human reasoning rather than from Scripture. Remember, under Israelite law God prohibited the remarriage of a woman to her former husband even though she was no longer married to anyone (Deut. 24:4). I know that illustration does not set forth Christ’s law but it does show conclusively that one’s reasoning is faulty if he argues that because a person is no longer a mate, he/she is automatically loosed from his/her obligation to God’s law regarding marriage.
Third, we must have an adequate view of what it means to be “bound” to a mate. “Bound” is from deo which is defined by Thayer as “put under obligation, sc. of law, duty, etc.” Scripturally, one is “bound” not simply to the mate but to the obligation of law and duty placed upon the person who made vows concerning that mate. In spite of the assertion to the contrary, God is involved (cf. Mal. 2:11-16; Prov. 2:17; Matt. 19:6). We are not married to God, but God regulates persons with regard to marriage by his law. That was our point on Romans 7:2. When death ends a marriage, the living is free not merely from the man but from the obligation of law and, therefore, can marry another because God has specifically authorized it. If those advocating the affirmative position here will see that, they will understand also why it is pure assumption to argue that the one “loosed” in 1 Corinthians 7:27-28 is the put-away fornicator. It will not be beyond them, then, to see that Paul is not adding additional reasons for remarriage in that text.
Fourth, we must properly interpret the texts dealing with our subject. Does Jesus plainly state that the “her which is put away” (Matt. 19:9b) is the “one who was put away not for fornication” (Matt. 19:9a)? No, he does not! Several points of grammar show that the phrase “except for fornication” which applies to the “putting away” in the first part of the verse does not apply to “her who is put away” in the second part. First, the second clause is an independent clause. That means that it does not depend upon the first to complete its meaning. There is no forced ellipsis implying or requiring that the phrase be applied to the second part. Second, the phrase “except for fornication” is an adverbial phrase modifying the verb “put away.” To modify “her who is put away” the construction would have to change and the phrase become adjectival. Third, in the Greek only one word, a participle, is used in the second part of the verse to refer to the person and it has no definite article or pronoun attached to it. Apolelumenen is simply “a woman who is put away.” The word is unrestricted grammatically by any former phrase. In other words, the phrase is not limited to the one put away “except for fornication.”
Beyond the fact that the structure of what is said will not bear out the claim, the consequence of such a position reduces Christ’s moral standard to a devastating absurdity. The person divorced for some cause other than fornication can never marry but the guilty fornicator may. In fact, being guilty of fornication becomes the only grounds on which a person divorced from a moral mate may remarry. According to this position one could marry a dozen different women with God’s approval if put away for fornication each time, but would have to live a celibate life if put away for any other cause. That view of fornication is the very opposite of Jesus’ sentiment toward it as expressed in this verse!
The position also says that “adultery is only committed when one is a mate to someone else” and that I should “accept the definition of adultery established by all scholars.” I believe we should let Jesus define adultery. He says, “whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” Certainly, when a married person commits adultery it is against the mate. More important, however, it is against God’s law regarding marriage. When convicted by Nathan, David said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13); and, “Against thee, thee only have I sinned” (Psa. 51:4). I know that David was allowed to do things Christ does not allow under the gospel, but do not miss the point. David, when convicted, knew that he had sinned against God, not just a mate! The point is simple! If God has not released one from the Divine marriage law, then sexual activity with another is properly identified as “adultery” (Matt. 5:32; 19:9).
Beyond that, and in addition to the real point, I am not certain the definition of “adultery” is as clear to those holding that position as they think. If “adultery” always refers to a situation “when one is a mate to someone else,” are they wrong to apply Matthew 5:28 to both married and unmarried persons? Jesus said, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to looketh on a woman to lust after he hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Can the definition of “adultery” be extended in application to the unmarried in this passage? Peter appears to use the word similarly when he speaks of the “eyes full of adultery” in “those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness” (2 Pet. 2:14,10). If the word is used with an extended application to the unmarried in these verses, can it also be so used in other verses not circumscribed by the context?
As I have already indicated, I am concerned about the moral attitudes and values of members of God’s family. Such a position as that argued affirmatively here opens one more floodgate to the moral decay rushing all around us. But perhaps I am more concerned that basic rules of Bible study are not applied by those advocating this position and I am concerned about their apparent readiness to operate from what seems logical to their reasoning rather than from a solid foundation of Scripture. My prayer is that my part in this discussion has called us back to the certainty that our positions on this and everything else are founded upon the Word of God!
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 2, pp. 54-55
January 17, 1991