THE RIGHT OF REMARRIAGE CONSIDERED
By Charles L. Church
While it is likely not much is discussed whether there exist a right to divorce, yet the right to remarry has been a hotly contested issue for some time, some believing that it can never be lawful while both parties are living, others that it is lawful only under certain conditions; namely, fornication, and or desertion. We hope to consider both of these "exceptions".
The subject of divorce is one which has gendered enormous division in the church, and has brought the most sincere of hearts into disagreement. This author himself has labored long and hard over the scriptures regarding it, and is well acquainted with the perplexity which many feel, for many years receiving altogether insufficient light upon the subject to declare either on one side or the other. But having believed to have received that light, and having felt it quite satisfying to the questions involved, it seemed charitable to briefly discuss the issue simply to present to others an argument which would hope to bring some clarity to a difficult subject, and bring unity to those yet perplexed or mistaken about it, or at least to formally challenge the views of the latter, while professing a desire to hear any correction which these may have in return. And if it is to be refuted, it is only asked that the actual arguments made will be answered directly, and shown to have reached their conclusions without valid warrant. The scope of the tract is limited, the concern being but to demonstrate a scriptural conclusion, and not to answer every syllable of those of opposing opinions, such that I propose to follow the question only so far as it is supposed necessary to make scriptural obligation plain.
If our views are to be honest and influential, they must be thorough and reasonable, that we may be able to render an answer to every man that asks. The issues involved in this subject are necessarily exceedingly weighty in a practical way. If you are wrong you either justify adultery, on the one hand, or break up a legitimate marriage, on the other. We had best have some very informed convictions upon the matter when we are speaking of possibly breaking up a family, or of justifying an adulterous union. It is one thing to give this counsel when we at least feel that we have received biblical light, and can demonstrate it, but quite another when it is done recklessly to the interests of God and men, because great matters are at stake. In my opinion great caution and deliberation are called for. That is especially the case when there is an apparent warrant for either side of the question.
And let men remember that there are two extremes to be reckoned with. If men forbid remarriage in every instance, and the word of God allows for it under certain circumstances, then they are imposing not merely a doctrinal error on their minds, but a social injustice on their personal rights and upon their liberty and peace as followers only of the words of the Lord. That extreme seems little to be feared, in my opinion, and I hope that this tract may cause some to think about that sin also.
The Standard Arguments Considered
In the debate over whether remarriage is lawful there has emerged a standard set of arguments which those who forbid remarriage for any cause but death have come to put forth in defense of their belief. They are as follows:
Let us consider these arguments in this order, and then consider the real harmony that the scriptural witness makes upon the subject.
Before we attempt to give a candid and accurate presentation of those who hold to this view, it should first be noted that the whole theory is but an attempt to neutralize the native sense and interpretation of Matthew 19:9, which reads: "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." The plain and native sense of this text is that a man is free to remarry if he divorced or got divorced for the cause of a maritally unfaithful spouse. To avoid the apparent consequence of this text, a presumptuous, elaborate and convoluted argument is concocted in order to reach the conclusion that remarriage is only allowed when one of the parties dies, the cause of fornication not excepted. Were it not for this passage, there would be no "Betrothal Theory". The theory exists solely to neutralize this otherwise decisive text against their conclusion. The betrothal theory proposes the following teaching:
First, the claim is made that the word "fornication" in the text does not mean adultery, but has specific and exclusive reference to sexual immorality between people with no marital ties to each other, or to any one else. Sexual union between a married person and another to whom he or she is not married is termed adultery, and is emphatically denied to consist in fornication in any sense. All this is in order to reach the conclusion that the text is exclusively making reference to a man who is betrothed to a woman whom he supposes is a virgin, only to discover on the marriage bed, or before, that she is no such thing, but has previously given herself to another, and that this man, and this man alone is authorized by the text to sunder the union, and marry another. The example of Joseph and Mary are referred to as being an example of this very thing. He is betrothed to her, finds her pregnant, and proposes therefore to put her away.... to divorce her. The betrothal theory basically concludes that, with the exception noted, only the dissolution of a marriage can justify remarriage, and that only death constitutes such a dissolution, and that all marriages contracted without this dissolution are adulterous, because the previous marriage bond is still in force without it.
It is evident that the whole teaching hinges upon the accuracy of this distinction between the words "fornication" and "adultery", failing of which the native sense of Matt. 19:9 must remain intact, and assert its sway over men's consciences. Let us then, at this place examine the validity of the betrothal advocates distinction between "fornication" and "adultery".
Is the Word "Fornication" Exclusive of the Sin of Adultery?
What if we had a biblical witness where the word "fornication" (pornia in the Greek), was used in reference to what was plainly an adulterous act? Would it not bring this whole doctrine down in a blow? It most assuredly would, because the whole doctrine stands or falls on this distinction. Here it is: “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles that one should have his father’s wife.” (ICor.5:1) This is an explicit biblical reference to an adulterous relationship. The bible calls this adulterous relationship “fornication”.
In response to this argument it is claimed that only the woman was guilty of adultery, but that the man was only guilty of fornication....... that when an unmarried person lies with one who is married, then the union is only adulterous for the married person, while the other is merely guilty of fornication. While this claim is absurd on the face of it, let us answer it just the same. Firstly, in Mat.5:32 you have the statement, “And whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” Without all contradiction, “whosoever” includes the man who has never been married. But this man is considered an adulterer for his conjugal tie with another man’s wife, though he has no wife himself; for though he has married this woman, yet their union cannot, in fact, constitute both adultery and marriage, though he takes it for marriage. If he were considered married, the act wouldn't have been adulterous. If it is adulterous, then he is not her husband. Thus here you have an instance of a man who is called an adulterer, for the sake of his unlawful union with another man’s wife, but who is not in fact married himself.
Secondly, is the fact that the law required death for one committing adultery, and much lesser punishments for merely “enticing a maid”. “If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they both of them shall die.” (Deut.22:22) The text makes no distinction as to the married status of such a man. He is qualified but by the fact that he is a man, and that he committed a specific act. And yet were the woman not married or betrothed, then the man would not be so punished at all, but would merely be forced to marry her, never being allowed to put her away. (Exodus 22:16-17 see also Deut.22:25-29) The law makes no distinction as to the adulterer’s marital status, which surely would have been the case would that fact have excepted him from death. Thus one must be guilty of adultery for lying with a married woman whether he himself were married or not, for these texts demonstrate that he is given both the name and the punishment of an adulterer, regardless of his marital status, simply for lying with another man’s wife, whereas the punishment for such relations outside of any marriage contract carried no such charge, and no such punishment.
Again: The law required the death penalty for both parties in an adulterous union, regardless of their married status, (Lev.20:1010, Deut.22:22), whereas mere fornication carried a far lesser penalty than death. Is the one claiming this erroneous doctrine prepared to affirm that unless both parties were married then the death sentence was not to be carried out? If not, then he confesses that both were adulterers regardless of their marital status, for only for the one guilty of that sin is the death penalty required. If so, however, then it is contrary to the text which makes no such distinction. Therefore both parties are reckoned adulterers though but one of them were under a marriage vow.
Secondly it is claimed that the woman’s husband, (and the man’s father), may have been deceased, and hence the unlawful relation between them would only be considered to be “fornication” after the betrothal advocate’s interpretation of the word. Firstly, this is more conjecture. Further, it is a conjecture which is demonstrably false. If this were the case Paul should have said, "that one should have his father's widow". Were he dead she could not be his "wife". Let the betrothal advocate remember one of his favorite passages: A woman is bound to a man in marriage only so long as he lives. (Rom.7:1) Think of a widow you know. Let's say her name is Rose and that she was married to Ralph who is now dead. What would you think of me if I referred to her as Ralph's wife? Would I not at once be corrected? "No, Ralph has passed away", I would be told. Neither will Paul refer to this woman as the wife of a dead man. Paul speaks of this woman as being a wife..... not that she was one at some past time. And if she were a widow, then why is her relation to his father even an issue? He could have married her if he was dead, as far as I understand. (It seems evident, and is universally agreed, so far as I know, that this woman was not the man's mother, else that relation would have been emphasized by the apostle) It is evident that Paul means to charge him with an adulterous union that also savored of incest, so that he uses the broader and less specific term of "fornication".
Consider also the following arguments: Israel was said to commit fornication when the Lord was her husband. (Eze.16:26,29) Am.7:17 reads: “Thy wife shall be a harlot in the city”. My Hebrew lexicon gives the definition for this word “harlot” (Strongs #2181) as “To commit adultery”. But in the Septuagint it is translated as the Greek word pornia, or fornication. It will be said that this is but a poor translation. But it is a translation of which Jesus said that not one jot or title should pass away before all was fulfilled, it being evident from the passages which Jesus quoted that He used a Septuagint. This is why people study the Septuagint the way they do, as it affords them an authoritative link between the two languages.
Consider also the extreme unlikelihood of this doctrine. Were this doctrine true, then we must assume many practically impossible things. First, that the twenty-three thousand who “committed fornication” (ICor.10:8), were all unmarried people, committing fornication with other unmarried people....... a not very likely scenario. In fact, while it is statistically possible, it is morally impossible that only unmarried people were depraved enough thus to fall. Secondly, that “Jezebel” in Rev.2:20-22, only seduced God’s servants that were single to commit fornication, but that she was above seducing them to commit adultery. And yet verse 22 makes it perfectly clear that the sin of adultery was included in the term fornication. "And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds". Thirdly, it is said that Jehoram, (IIChron.21:11) compelled the citizens of Judah to commit fornication. Are we to believe that all the citizens of Jerusalem were single, or that Jehoram only compelled the single ones? A little desperate, isn't it? It may be objected that at issue is not the Hebrew words for fornication or adultery, but the Greek, as that is the language used in the verse under scrutiny. But again, the Hebrew word used here is the same as that used in Am.7:17 above, and we see that it was translated into the Greek word “pornea” in the Septuagint., the relevance of which has already been noted.
It is argued that “There are no wasted words in the bible; the sins listed in ICor.6:9-10 list fornication and adultery as two separate sins; therefore, they must be different in meaning”. Let us examine this argument. First let us admit that they are two different things, because they are two different words. But it does not follow because of this that therefore the meaning of one cannot be contained in that of the other. For instance I could as reasonably argue that County and State have two different meanings, and yet to make an utter disassociation of them on this account would be an obvious error when dealing with words whose definitions are better understood. Were this argument valid I might as reasonably argue that states may have no counties, else they wouldn't be different words. In scripture we read of “The kingdom of Christ and of God”. According to this theory, Christ cannot be God, because He is here listed as something separate from Him. But why the word “Fornication”? Because had it said adultery, then many sins which do not formally constitute adultery would have been excluded, but for which a marriage might be dissolved. (Sodomy, bestiality, etc.) Adultery, though comprehended in the term fornication, was merely singled out as a common sin deserving of special notice.
Let the conclusion be noted: If fornication cannot be given the narrow meaning which the betrothal advocate is pleased to assign to it, then his whole theory is compromised at its root., and cannot stand. I believe that it has been fairly demonstrated that, biblically, it is untenable to aver that the word “fornication” is wholly exclusive of the sin of adultery. But if it, indeed, is thus exclusive, it creates even more problems for the betrothal advocate, as we shall shortly consider.
Let us next consider several factors that betrothal advocates never consider, but which wholly undermine the credibility of the position.
1. Lack of Positive Warrant
Next to the error of the betrothal advocate’s false definition of the term fornication, is the lack of positive warrant for their assertion. The advocates of this theory are at no liberty simply to impose wishful thinking upon the bible. The Bible itself must testify to the whole claim they are making in regard to the singular and exclusive application of this text.....why does it only refer to the betrothed couple? Why does it not make equal reference to a man who is married and discovers his wife has been with another man? Upon what ground is this circumstance not equally addressed by the text? There is absolutely nothing in the text itself to impose upon it the theory which these affirm is its sole meaning. It isn't broken.... don't fix it. They will claim that their theory is demanded by the necessity of making a consistent witness of bible evidence on the subject. But unless this is the only or best possible means of rendering bible testimony consistent, then the mere fact that we are obliged to make a consistent witness out of the bible is insufficient ground to assert its positive truthfulness. Besides....... the betrothal theory is hardly consistent with itself or the bible testimony, but rather adds more inconsistencies still, as we have seen, and shall hopefully continue to make evident. The point is that the doctrines they propose in their attempt to come to a consistent testimony in their understanding of the bible have to be true. They have to have the bible teach them, and not just their speculation propose a possible resolution. But the bible nowhere teaches their theory. It is pure speculation on their part. While they can demonstrate that betrothal was practiced by the Jews, and while they can enumerate certain practical aspects of its social operation, they can make no connection beyond their own wishful thinking and conjecture that Matthew 19:9 is an exclusive reference to such a circumstance. This theory will be shown to be positively false upon several accounts, but it is enough that the bible simply doesn't positively teach it. That alone is sufficient cause to reject it.
They will attempt to point out that the bible testimony has to be taken within the social context in which it was given, and that this social context is admittedly that of betrothal as it respects marriage in Jewish culture. So what? "Jewish culture" didn't have wives or husbands that lived past this period and were in a confirmed married state back in those days? And they didn't have husbands and wives that committed adultery/fornication against their spouses in Israel in the Lord's time? No, that was part of their culture too, and there is no warrant whatever upon which one can affirm that such a passage is only made in reference to the one aspect of their culture, and not the other.
2. It Possesses the Exact Same Liability as Those who Argue for Remarriage.
According to the betrothal theory’s treatment of Mat.19:9, the man in their theory may lawfully remarry. But the woman he puts away is an adulteress if she remarries. But how can the woman be guilty of adultery unless her original marriage was in fact, before God, a marriage, and is contemplated as being yet in force? But then how can the man in this original marriage be innocent of adultery when he remarries, if it is? Yet the betrothal theory gives him this right to commit adultery, after their definition of it. The whole arrangement ends up admitting the very thing they are so zealous to deny…… that one may have an actual wife yet living, and yet the man be guiltless who marries another after putting her away. They end up admitting the entire exception clause, only giving it a different boundary and limitation. And yet it is not so much the limitation that they object to, but the idea that a man or woman has a wife or husband yet alive, upon which all subsequent marriages are deemed adulterous prior to the death of the original spouse. But this is precisely what they allow, so long as the divorce was sued out in the betrothal period. Accordingly, their interpretation of Rom.7 is against their own cause, for they claim that while both individuals in a marriage are alive, further unions are adulterous. Yet this is precisely what they must say about their own view of Mat.19:9, because this limited sphere in which they allow divorce, also claims that the man may remarry, while his wife is yet alive, and who yet commits adultery against him if she does likewise as he.
3. Joseph and Mary No Example of it
As we have already pointed out, a grand issue is made of Joseph and Mary being examples of the betrothal theory. But Mary was called Joseph's "wife" by the angel... "Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife". But it was during the betrothal period which Mary conceived by the Holy Ghost, such that had she been guilty of sin, as Joseph had understandably supposed, she would have been guilty of adultery, not fornication, and hence no candidate for the betrothal advocate’s divorce. The whole theory, then, is grossly flawed, as it hence has no valid application to Joseph and Mary at all! Nor, therefore, any application such as they give it. The whole thing is but a blunder of interpretation. If Mary were not Joseph's wife, then how could he put her away? But if she was, then how was her supposed sin “fornication” (after their false definition of it) and not rather adultery? You can’t have it both ways. Either they are married, and Mary is his wife, (and under no other circumstances might he divorce her), in which case her supposed sin would have been adulterous; or they are not married, in which case he would not need to “put her away” at all. Yet betrothal advocates all affirm that during this period sexual unfaithfulness is grounds for divorce and remarriage. And yet this invalidly applied example is the only one that betrothal advocate’s can point to as any confirmation of their beliefs at all.
4. Divorce May Only be for the Cause of Sexual Sin Committed Before Betrothal.
As was hinted at earlier, if a woman commits adultery by lying with a man after her betrothal to another, but before its consummation, then the man cannot put her away. If she was not his wife he cannot possibly put her away! Yet if she is, her sin is that of adultery, not fornication, according to the betrothal advocate. Who ever heard of unmarried people getting divorced? What “wife” was ever unmarried? Part of the betrothal advocate’s whole argument is that the contract of betrothal is the same thing as marriage itself in our culture. Then it follows that any marital unfaithfulness past the betrothal consists in adultery, and not fornication. Hence the whole doctrine is wholly inconsistent, as a man could thus discover his wife's unchastity (committed during the betrothal period), upon the honeymoon bed, as proposed in their doctrine, and yet not be able to put her away, as it was emphatically NOT fornication, but adultery by their definition of terms. And just how is the man to know just when the adultery was committed? Ask? How did they do it in Moses' time? Conduct carbon 14 dating on the "tokens of her virginity"? The Betrothal theory leaves us with the doctrine that only sexual sin committed before betrothal constitutes the just grounds of divorce and remarriage. After betrothal a woman may do what she will without this consequence. Does that not this sound a little backwards to my reader….not to mention up side down, and inside out?
5. Divorce May Only be for the Cause of Sexual Sin Committed Before Betrothal, AND only if committed with a single person!
Suppose a single woman who has never been married has sexual union with a man who is married, and then at a later time gets betrothed to another man. When he discovers her unfaithfulness he cannot put her away, because she is guilty of adultery not fornication, according to the betrothal advocate’s definition of the same. Again: some attempt to claim that only the married party is guilty of adultery in such a circumstance, the single person being merely guilty of fornication, but we have answered that already. So we are left with this conclusion: Not only can divorce only be justly sued out for the cause of sexual sin committed before betrothal, but even then, only if that sin were committed with an unmarried person.
6. Imposes Purely Jewish Customs upon all Posterity.
If the betrothal theory be true, then a man can righteously put away his wife during the betrothal period, if he finds that she has been guilty of fornication. But, then, how can the conclusion be resisted that if she is not guilty of fornication, that he has no such liberty at all? If the same conclusion follows, regardless of the “exception”, then plainly there could not be any rational mention of an exception whatever. The conclusion that this theory, then, compels us to embrace, were it true, is that once a man has become “engaged” to a woman he is just as bound to that woman for life as was a man in Jewish society when he betrothed a wife to himself. If he gets cold feet, and marries another, he is an adulterer, though he never touched the woman in his life. In effect, then, the Betrothal Theory unavoidably imposes upon modern culture the entire Jewish system of betrothal and marriage. It is said in reply to this that this is only the case if your culture happens to practice betrothal, in which case the consequence of the text would follow. If I had made that argument as a reason why I could reject my obligation not to marry someone who caused their divorce, it would have been thought presumptuous and insincere. It is unavoidable that if the betrothal theory be true that either all mankind are obliged to observe all of its terms, or none of them. We have no liberty to pick and choose according to the inadequacies of our doctrine. What would have been adultery to Joseph, would be adultery to any modern man. God does not bow to culture… culture must bow to Him. But if we have the liberty to alter a “biblical” definition of adultery, then what is to stop men employing such an exegetical method to warrant any definition of adultery, according to the tastes of modern culture? Is this bible teaching?
7. There is No Biblical Warrant to Place Any Time Limit Upon such Divorce.
Let us say that the man fails to discover his wife's unchastity upon the honeymoon bed, and they continue in a married state, until 20 years later he discovers the fact by some other means. Is he free to put her away at this time? And if not, why not? Matt. 19:9 offers no time limit at all. Yet I doubt any betrothal advocates would admit of such a consequence, because what they are generally into is a Roman Catholic type prohibition of remarriage altogether. If any time limit is placed upon the prerogative, as it is not in the bible, it has to be of purely human origin, and of no authority whatever.
8. Inconsistency in Defining the Extent of the Right to Divorce.
It is not a little indicative of the mentality of betrothal advocates that a majority of them will attempt to affirm that Mat. 19:9 doesn't authorize remarriage when their antagonists are advocating it, and yet under their theory they are wholly certain that it does, for they claim that the betrothed man who puts away his wife may remarry. So really the point comes down to one thing: Can the word fornication be accurately defined to exclude the sin of adultery? Because if it can't then their own interpretation of the rest of the passage grants the entire claim of those who allow for remarriage to the offended party in a divorce. What the word "fornication" means has no bearing on what the words "marry another" mean. The text cannot legitimately allow for remarriage under the one theory, and not under the other, merely because betrothal advocates are zealous to forbid people to remarry. Betrothal advocates are obliged to inform their doctrinal antagonists why this text really means divorce and remarriage under their theory, but others are said to be in error if they apply this aspect of the same passage in the same way they do. There is certainly disagreement about other things respecting the passage, but they cannot grant to themselves what they forbid to others respecting a single aspect of the same text.
It appears to me highly unlikely that if we were to take such a passage any other way than in its native sense then the other factors, upon which its native sense is changed, would have been conspicuously present. As it is they are conspicuously absent. When such weighty consequences hang in the balance of this question, it seems an impossible interpretation of scripture simply that we were supposed to assume that these passages only mean a certain species of fornication, and only at such and such a time, and with such and such people, when the verse says absolutely nothing of any such matter at all. What if they made a law in the United States that only people who had been divorced by unfaithful mates could be remarried, but then applied the law such that only they were allowed to remarry whose spouses had been unfaithful before their marriage. Would not people justly attempt to hold such an abuse of authority to its grant of power in the law? This is precisely what needs to happen in this instance as well. We should not wish to make such a reflection upon the word of God as the “Betrothal Theory” does, for it assumes a host factors that simply are not there in the text, which factors make the law into something altogether different than what it imports in its native sense, as though the bible were incapable of enunciating its purpose, but needed skilled exegetes to legislate in its name to the undoing of its precepts.
The only reason that many people feel that they have to argue away Mat. 19:9 with such a theory as the betrothal theory is simply because they are honestly trying to make a consistency out of the bible testimony. But there is an easy, biblical, and accurate way to do this, and let us now consider that.
The argument is made by betrothal advocates that they are warranted in their interpretation of Mat. 19:9, in as much as it is said to be singular in allowing for remarriage upon the ground of fornication. Therefore, they feel compelled to find a way to nullify that appearance in hopes of rendering a unified witness upon the subject, thus freeing them to apply it to the needs of the brethren, as they can hardly do nothing with the problems in marriages that face them. They can hardly say to a man struggling in a divorce/remarriage situation that Paul and Matthew allow for it, but that Mark and Luke do not. I understand this motive, but in this case it is entirely based upon an erroneous assumption..... namely, that if all the writers quoting the Lord Jesus' teachings on the subject don't include the exception, that the exception is therefore invalid in some significant degree....... that the exception can't mean what it says in Matthew because Mark and Luke omitted it. But there are a great number of places in scripture where one of the authors of the gospels will include something where the others leave it out, or leave it out where another will include it within the same account. What do we with all of these? Do we feel compelled to nullify the testimony of every witness unless it reads verbatim in each account of the same story? No one ever felt such a motive. Then why do they here? Because the omission is in an area in which they are constantly confronted with real life situations and which are so weighty that they must render a verdict which they are aware is extremely consequential. But on this account they fail to see how inconsistent they are being, for they never follow the same pattern when dealing with other texts of scripture which are characterized by the same dilemma.
For instance, Jesus said in Mark 8:12, "Why doth this generation seek after a sign? Verily I say unto you, there shall no sign be given unto this generation. And he left them..." But when we read of this account in Matthew 12:39-40, it reads thus: "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." While Jesus said these same words on other occasions, these are the only two that related the exact same historical instance. And yet in the first, he has no exception. No sign shall be given unto this generation. But in the second he has an exception: Except the sign of the prophet Jonas. So do we all at once begin to assume the burden of demonstrating how the prophet Jonas was not really a sign unto that generation? Or do we merely assume that the author in one instance gave a fuller description than the other? Obviously every reader always assumed the latter. But why is this assumption not made in the instance of Mat.19 when compared, for instance, with Mark 10 where no exception is made for remarriage in the case of an immoral spouse? Why is the case one whit different? Would it not follow that all the advocates of the betrothal theory have thus a debt to their auditors to demonstrate how Jonah was not a sign to that generation? I might with as much justice to scripture concoct a wearisome, convoluted, and arcane argument by which to prove that Jonah was not really a sign to the Jews as a type of Christ, as argue that Mat.19:9 does not allow for remarriage, on account of the other passages that make no such exception.
The finality is that they need offer no explanation at all for the omission of the exception in other places, as it is an entirely common practice in scripture, and one which is accepted everywhere in other instances. And if there exists the simple and universally practiced method of reconciling the passages, what need of the betrothal theory? The thing was invented for this cause, and for no other, and is not consistent with itself, with the bible, and is wholly unnecessary to suit the purposes for which it is employed.
Secondly, betrothal advocates may attempt to argue that Matt. 19:9 offers but a negative.... a negative that the person who remarries is an adulterer.... that Matt. 19:9 does not say that the person thus remarrying is not committing adultery, but merely excludes this person from the charge; and that as this positive condemnation is not wanting in any of the other passages, the conclusion made by those who hold that this passage allows for remarriage is unwarranted. Problem is… it is wanting elsewhere. None of the other passages upon the subject condemn a man who remarries after having been divorced without just cause, as we shall see. Another problem with this argument is this: How is it an exception if the same result follows whether or not their spouse was guilty of fornication? If your spouse committed fornication and you divorced her and remarried, you are guilty of adultery. If she didn't commit fornication and you divorced and remarried, you are guilty of adultery. What kind of exception is that? Could someone please explain exactly who is excepted, or upon what grounds, and from what? What result follows that is any different for the exception's sake? Taken in any other way the text would be entirely contradictory and unintelligible, and therefore must contain much more than a mere negative, but positively affirms that the man who divorces his wife and marries another is not guilty of adultery. By excluding this person from the charge of adultery it is quite plainly affirming that he is not guilty of it should he or she remarry. Otherwise, for what purpose did the apostle exclude them from condemnation? For what purpose did he mention the exception at all...... unless someone is actually excepted from his conclusion? To be specifically mentioned and then excluded from condemnation is to be positively warranted in a practice. And what person would ever take such words in any other realm of life to mean such a thing? If there was a law that said all people will be fined $100.00 who litter in the park, except those who pick it up afterwards, who would conclude that they would be fined either way, simply on account of the fact that the law did not specifically state that those who picked it up would NOT be fined? Kind of a “no brainer”, don’t you think?
Mark Chapter 10, and Luke Chapter 16
Let us now look at some of these other passages of scripture in more detail, as they are made the grand reason why Matt. 19:9 must be understood as prohibiting remarriage. First lets look at Mark 10:11, "An he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery." While this passage doesn't grant the right to divorce for the cause of fornication, yet neither does it forbid remarriage to the divorced party. It merely says that the divorcing party is the one who can't remarry, but does in no way state or imply that the party divorced is forbidden to do so. (This is essentially what ICor.7:12-15 says about desertion. To desert is to divorce, and leaves the deserted/divorced party free to remarry, and the deserting/divorcing party bound to a single life.) So if you combine Mat.19:9 and Mark 10:11, so far we have the doctrine that a man or woman can only divorce and remarry another for the cause of fornication, or that if they are unjustly divorced by their wife or husband that they can remarry; but if they initiate a divorce without just cause, then they committ adultery if they remarry. Now lets look at Luke 16:18, "Whosoever putteth away his wife and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery." The first clause, like that of Mark merely teaches that the divorcing man can't remarry, and does not in any way indicate that the man divorced by his wife is forbidden to do so. The last clause, however, appears to indicate that the woman is not free to remarry, even though she were the one put away, unless her husband is dead, having a similar appearance as ICor.7:39, and Mat.5:32, and Rom.7:1-4, and even Mat.19:9. This was the case in the Old Testament…. it doesn’t appear to me that women had any right to divorce at all. And there appears to be nowhere in the New Testament where remarriage is prohibited to a man who is the divorced individual….. find it if you can. While I would presently stop short of outright advocating that position, yet it is one possible solution to the problems involved in the question of remarriage. However, it is presently the author’s personal persuasion that there is more to the picture, which we will proceed to consider in its place.
Mat.19:9/5:32, and Hardness of Heart
But let us consider a couple of things about Mat.19:9, 5:32. In both of these cases Jesus does appear to be teaching upon Deut.24:1, though not merely expounding upon it, but giving a new and authoritative directive. Deut. 24:1 reads: “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write here a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.” An interesting case enters here when you consider the Hebrew words which are here translated “some uncleanness”. The word for uncleanness is actually the word for the female’s private parts. Is it saying, as some claim, that Moses was teaching that when a marriage is “consummated” that if the woman were found not a virgin that she could be lawfully divorced and not otherwise? The beginning of the text says also, “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her”, as though it were speaking of the day he takes and marries her. But this exact case is already provided for in Deut.22:15 and following, in which the “tokens of the woman’s virginity were to be brought before the elders of the city, and if they failed to produce these tokens of her virginity, (generally thought to be the cloth upon which she bled at the consummation of her marriage, which occurs the first time, and only the first time), she was to be stoned…. not simply divorced, but put to death. But we cannot have two laws for the same people, for the same time, for the same crime, but with two entirely different sentences, death… and lawful divorce. So whatever Deut.24:1 was speaking of when it spoke of “some uncleanness”, it had to be less than adultery, which meant death, and it had to be less than fornication prior to marriage, which also meant death, in this instance, as witnessed by Deut.22:15. And Jesus said that the law in Deut.24:1 was given to the Jews “for the hardness of their hearts”. Were Deut.24:1 dealing with the same circumstance as that of Deut.22:15, then Deut.22:15 is also an allowance given but for the hardness of heart. But is a law which allows a young man to put away a woman for her want of a professed virginity a law given for hardness of heart? If so, then the betrothal theory is also given for hardness of heart, as it proposes essentially the same thing. This cannot be the right interpretation of Deut.24:1. It is a law which allowed divorce, if not for every cause, at least for causes less than adultery, or prior fornication, though it seems to have some connection of sexual disfavor. That would certainly seem to be for hardness of heart.
And what did Jesus say about the law in Deut.24:1? He was questioned about it by the Pharisees…. what did He say? Mat.19:9, and Mat.5:32 give the distinct impression that Jesus is giving an altogether new commandment upon the subject, and not merely interpreting Deut. 24:1, as some claim. And the distinct impression is that Jesus has given them something more strict … something that would not accommodate hardness of heart, but which would “lay judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet”. But this fact alone cannot by itself imply that there can be no divorce for any cause, but only that it cannot be for trivial causes such as Moses had allowed to their hardness in the passage under question. (Deut.24:1) And whatever that cause may have been, it has been demonstrated that it must have been for something less than adultery or prior fornication. Therefore it is perfectly just to say that the law of Christ could be more strict, could lay judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, and yet make allowance for divorce for those causes … defilement of the marriage bed. And with these obstacles removed, what is there in the text to forbid such an interpretation? Indeed, the native sense of the text is just that. And while it is true that Jesus referred back to the beginning to show that there should be no such thing, yet all that can be determined by this reference is that he meant only to abolish the allowance made for hardness of heart in Deut.24:1.... that it was not thus from the beginning, which could well be done, as has been proved, while allowing for divorce for the cause of adultery, and or fornication.. Again, that is what the text says quite plainly when taken in its native sense. This allowance, in my opinion, seems to be made, not for hardness of heart, but for the fact that all the gentile nations, of which His church would be comprised, were not obliged to keep the civil law of Israel, and hence would not be obliged to put adulterers to death, whence you should have beneath his own system of authority, the guilty man and the innocent woman both living, or visa versa, which would never have been the legal case, while the civil law of Moses were intact. Therefore the adulterer could perhaps be considered as dead, per the standard historical interpretation of Mat.19:9,5:32. And if that is so, then one could reason that it should apply equally to both men and women.
Romans 7:1-4 reads as follows: "1. Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak unto them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? 2. For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth: but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from he law of her husband. 3. So then if, while her husband liveth she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. 4. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God."
Betrothal advocates quote this text in order to prove that while both parties to a marriage are living, any subsequent contract of marriage in either one is invalid. What they conveniently forget is that they explicitly allow for this very thing in their betrothal theory, and yet with great force and authority claim that Rom.7:1-4 forbids that very interpretation! For they teach that the man may remarry while his wife whom he put away, commits the sin of adultery if she does likewise as he. The fact is that betrothal advocates are in a desperate need for an interpretation of Rom.7:1-4 that will justify a man’s remarriage while the woman he divorced is yet living, for they overtly advocate this very practice per their view of Mat.19:9…. and then condemn it with their interpretation of Rom.7:1-4! But if they ever find one, it will condemn their theory all the more, for nothing can bring consistency to the Babel they have created. For if they allow that Rom. 7:1-4 teaches that a man is free to remarry, though he has a wife living, who commits adultery if she does likewise, then they can justify their betrothal theory….. and completely overthrow the whole conclusion it was invented to warrant! Two very unpleasant options to the betrothal advocate! And if they will be careful enough to notice that the text doesn’t even forbid remarriage to the man, as they have wrongly interpreted it, so as to find an escape from this dilemma, then they have lost some royalty on their chess board of proof texts, and find in its place a text that equally exposes the error of their teaching.
What way out of this potent dilemma will the betrothal advocate take? Will he say that what he allows for in his theory, allowing for the defrauded man to put away his wife because of having deceived him is not really a marriage? Perhaps he could explain, then, how you “put away a wife” who you weren’t married to? If it wasn’t a marriage, then there is no need to divorce! And if it wasn’t a marriage, the woman would be free to remarry! Upon what grounds can you forbid marriage to one who has never been married! No, it will be a bloody affair for the betrothal advocate to get himself out of this quandary, and his theory can only make it out mortally wounded, and himself hopefully willing to let it die.
Let us also notice that the text neither states nor implies that the man in its example is an adulterer if he remarries, though this is always assumed. It merely says the woman is. This assumption is made upon the ground that if the woman commits adultery by remarrying, then she must still be married in God’s eyes to her original husband, for only thus could it be considered adultery; and in that case, the husband would still be bound to the wife, if visa versa. But, again, it will be an easy matter for the betrothal advocate to understand that since he grants the exact same matter in the betrothal theory itself… a man lawfully divorced and remarried from a wife….. that he cannot object too loudly when others do likewise as he explicitly allows for. For he does not here object to the terms of such divorce and remarriage, but merely claims that if the woman who remarries is ipso facto an adulteress, then the marriage bond is yet intact, and therefore, so is the man if he remarries. But this is precisely what they allow in their interpretation of Mat. 19:9.
Furthermore, we have just seen that the law did allow a woman to remarry while the husband was alive…. if he put her away. For it appears that there was no lawful provision made in the law for her to do the divorcing. (Other than making herself odious enough to provoke the deed!) If there is such an Old Testament warrant, all one has to do is cite it. She could “treacherously depart from her husband”, (Jer.3:20), and that was in fact divorce, but she had no just grounds to divorce, which left her free to remarry, which was Paul’ point. She could only do this if the man put her away. Thus if the woman did the divorcing/leaving and married another man, she was ipso facto an adulteress, the man being free to remarry. It cannot be understood any other way, for, as we have also just noticed, the law did make provision for the man to put his wife away, and in that event the woman was free to remarry, and was not counted an adulteress on that account, but was bluntly granted the prerogative to “go and be the wife of another man”. That is what the law says. This, therefore, cannot be the case contemplated by Paul in Romans 7, but only that which has been suggested…. that it speaks from the woman’s perspective, and of her prerogatives only, that if she leaves/divorces her husband she is ipso facto an adulteress if she be married to another man while her husband is alive. Indeed, this alone fits with Paul’s subject, as the sinner is likened unto the bride in his similitude, who had no way to remedy her bondage to her husband, the law, who was unwilling to release her. In light of Deut.24, what other interpretation will the advocate of the betrothal theory give Rom 7? Paul speaks to those who “know the law”.
And it often appears that this is precisely the case in the New Testament, for you find in Mat.19:9, for instance, that while the man could put the woman away for the cause of fornication, yet the woman had no such right were the man thus guilty. The New Testament nowhere gives a woman any right to divorce her husband, requiring that if she departs anyway that she must remain single or be reconciled to her husband, which is just what Paul is saying in Romans 7:1-4 and ICor.7:11. What does appear to be changed is that the man may not put away his wife for any cause, as was formerly allowed him in Deut.24, being now wholly abolished, and, secondly, that the woman put away for such trivial causes may remarry, but that she yet has no right to leave herself, and if she does she is to remain single or be reconciled to her husband if he is still single. And in this light, I believe ICor.7:39 must also be taken, appealing equally to the law as its basis of teaching, but we come to that shortly.
Let it be kept in mind that the most that Romans 7 proves is that women cannot remarry if they leave, as we have proved that it only applies to that circumstance, and as it makes no such prohibition upon men.
I Corinthians Chapter 7
I Corinthians 7 deals with the subject of divorce and remarriage directly, and teaches that those who are unjustly abandoned may remarry. Is that to say that the bible teaches a second cause of divorce, contrary to Jesus’ teachings that divorce could only be resorted to for the cause of fornication? No, to be deserted/abandoned is not a second biblical cause of divorce….. to be deserted/abandoned is divorce, and provided it had no biblical cause, leaves the abandoned individual free to remarry. Thus the bible calls what we call “divorce”, not divorce, but “putting away, or “leaving” because that act is divorce, and divorce is that act; and the one unjustly “put away” or “left” is free to remarry. Nowhere is this more clear than in I Corinthians 7. Consider verses 12-15: "12. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him let him not put her away. 13. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace." Notice, first, that it tells the man not to put away his wife, while telling the woman not to leave her husband. Here you have but the masculine and feminine form of the same act.... to divorce. The nature of men and women is such that the man, having superior power and authority will put the woman away, while the woman, being inferior in these ways will leave... but they both constitute the same act..... divorce, and thus this is the language that the inspired authors used to describe the act that we know as divorce in our culture. Either one, “leaving” or “putting away”, constitutes divorce, no matter who does which. If either one, the woman or the man, desert their spouse the deserted spouse is no longer bound to acknowledge the marriage as intact, in as much as this constitutes divorce, and the party unjustly divorced is free to remarry. What Paul is saying here is what is said everywhere else…. let not the believer be the one to divorce/leave, but if the other does so, then they are free to remarry.
This will appear to some to contradict the teaching of ICor.7:39, which reads: “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” This would appear to teach that the woman was bound to a single life regardless of whether she was justly or unjustly put away. But we have before proved that while Romans 7:1-4 contains the same language, yet it cannot have that meaning, and the same thing is true for this passage, as it appeals to the same law. Romans 7:1-4 teaches that the law required that while the husband was alive any woman the remarried was an adulteress. But we proved from the law that Deut.24 taught that if the man put away the woman, then she was free to “go be the wife of another man”. Therefore Paul must have made reference to the fact that under the law the woman had no prerogative to leave of her own accord, and if she did so, and married another, then she was an adulteress if she remarried. ICor.7:39 appeals to the same law. Jesus abolished Deut.24. But the only thing that is changed is that the man is now forbidden to thus put away his wife for the trivial causes allowed for in Deut.24, but the same result still follows if he does… that the woman thus put away for trivial causes, for something less than adultery/fornication, is free to remarry. But now the man thus divorcing unjustly is not free to remarry.
Some will view this as a fancy way to evade the plain teaching of ICor.7:39. But what if ICor7:15 were not ICor.7:15, but ICor.7:38, or ICor.7:40? Would it not rather look like this: “39. The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. 40. But if you have a woman who departs, the husband is not bound to his wife”. Do you get the picture? The point is, Just how far away does the passage have to be before it shows itself as a contextual exception. These two verses are just 24 verses apart in the bible, and that can look very much like a contextual exception to many. And if this just looks like a fancy evasion, then it is incumbent upon such persons to make answer for the fact that the law did make allowance for a woman to be the wife of another man while her husband yet lived. Precisely what aspect of the law is Paul, then, talking about? I say that of the fact that the woman had and has no liberty to leave a marriage and be married to another, and this is a truth I doubt any will attempt to refute if once they attempt it. What aspect of the law does the betrothal advocate suppose it speaks of, and how does he make it consistent with the whole of scripture? For it is certain that Paul is speaking but of some aspect of the law, and not of the law universally contemplated, as the law explicitly did allow for a woman to be remarried when put away of her husband. If this view of the text be in error, then notice at least that ICor.7:39 makes no such prohibition upon men, but only upon women. There is no arguing with that.
Some hold the opinion that the phrase, “not being under bondage in such cases” is in no way made in reference to the marriage contract, but only makes reference to the person’s want of any duty to pursue their spouse if they have been abandoned. So what is the meaning of the phrase "not under bondage". May I say that were it any other subject it would not be a question? If it had said that if you had made a business contract with someone and they reneged on their obligations, and that in this case "a brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases" there would be no question as to its meaning. But because it speaks the exact same thing about a marriage contract, therefore the meaning of not being "under bondage" is at once obscured, and there is a grand questioning about its meaning. And let us suppose that the passage did speak of a business contract. What if I came along and said that you were really obliged to keep your terms of the contract regardless of how egregiously the other party had forsaken or violated them, and that I said that this was consistent with your not being "under bondage" to the contract in such cases? Would you not think me an imbecile? Is it not the grossest partiality which seeks to question such a plain phrase, when they would never give it such a meaning in a thousand years in any other circumstance other than that of marriage?
But to make it more clear...... the subject which is under consideration is that of whether or not you may divorce your spouse under the circumstance of desertion….. whether you may “put away” a spouse… or to be more accurate… whether you are bound to your obligations to the marriage contract even though the other party has divorced you by departing. That much is in black and white. Just read the verses above. And it only needs to be added then that it is in this context that Paul affirms that "a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases". In bondage to what? Obviously in bondage to what he was talking about in his context.... in bondage to the marriage contract, because that, and only that, was his subject. He basically says, "Don't divorce them, but if they depart from you, you are not beholden to the marriage, which is essentially what Mark 10:11 says. He is saying “Don’t divorce them, but if they divorce you, (abandon you) you are free from bondage to your obligations to the marriage contract.” It is a clear biblical teaching which equates the act of desertion with what we know as “divorce”, and all the identical consequences and privileges of remarriage follow.
What sort of sense does it make to say, if she stays you are bound not to divorce her, but if she leaves, well then you are bound not to divorce her. Huh? Does that make sense to my reader? Me neither. And the same thing goes for the woman who is deserted of her husband. The doctrine of this passage is just this: That to desert is to divorce, and hence the deserted party has been divorced already, and is not bound to their marriage any longer, but may seek the courts to acknowledge the moral fact. But let us ask the question..... if this is not what the brother or sister is "not under bondage" to, then just what is it? What does the text affirm that he was in bondage to formerly that he is not in bondage to now? As we noted, the reply is attempted that the deserted party is no longer in bondage to try and hunt the person down and live with them anyway. But where was this duty inculcated in the passage, such that Paul must now nullify the appearance under this new condition? Precisely nowhere. In fact, the text says explicitly..... If he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him... and If he be pleased to dwell with her, let him not put her away. Where would anyone get the impression that Paul thus affirmed that they would be somehow obliged to go chase them all over creation based upon such a precept.... "if he/she be pleased to dwell with you"? No, the thing which he had clearly inculcated formerly was that the person was not to divorce the other party so long as they continued with them, but that they were not in bondage to this duty otherwise… that you were free to consider yourself divorced in that case.
And Paul’s doctrine is, really, self-evident. Let us ask the question: What constitutes divorce? Is it not that the two parties go and lead separate lives, morally, financially, physically, socially, and geographically? There is but one thing remaining… leading a separate life legally. Separated people still have the legal status of married persons, though this fact is the only thing remaining of their marriage, and a thing existing ostensibly but for the sake of all the other things that are now gone! And then comes the summit of all such contradictions, the Separation laws. The separation laws were enacted in modern times but to accommodate this legal contradiction in those of a Roman Catholic persuasion who had in fact divorced, and wanted the complete recognition of the fact by living separately legally as well, but who didn’t want to call their divorce a divorce….. and so they called it by another name. One wonder’s why it never occurred to these that “a rose by any other name smells the same”. For what, then, is the difference, except the word used to describe it?. There is, in this case, no vestige of the marriage left in any capacity, but they have not divorced! What a miracle. I wonder if they could do this in the realm of bankruptcy, and attain all the exact same legal conditions for the financial state of a family, instead of its marital state, and call it by some other word so that I didn’t have to say I went through a bankruptcy! Maybe if the Roman Catholics determined that bankruptcy was likewise unlawful then they could make a way for them to enjoy all the legal privileges of bankruptcy by using another word to describe these exact same privileges. The heart that is satisfied with such ludicrous distinctions is not only utterly deluded, but thus deluded only because they are wholly given over to a gross Pharisaical hypocrisy of heart that will readily employ the most absurd grammatical gymnastics if they can but thus deceive the public so as to conserve their repute for sanctity while they wallow in sin. “It is Corban”, etc. Separation would be divorce whether this verse of scripture said so or not, simply because that’s what divorce is. If it isn’t, then may someone please define the difference.
Perhaps one would claim that a legal separation prevents legal remarriage, and so puts law to their views of divorce. Okay…. it puts law to their contradiction…. because they now have exactly the same thing none the less for getting the law to acknowledge their grammatical fantasy. Two completely separate lives, financially, legally, morally, physically, geographically, etc., and yet still called marriage! Perhaps another would claim that they arrange it thus in acknowledgement of the hope that they might eventually be reconciled. Okay…. then they get divorced, call it by another name in recognition of the fact that they hope not to get divorced! Absurd! The distinction respects their purpose, not the nature of the thing which they do, which is precisely the same, no matter what their purpose. Separation is divorce, because divorce is divorce!
Lastly, it needs to be pointed out that verses 12-15 of ICor.7 are written to enforce the fact that a person’s being an unbeliever does in no way constitute a warrant to divorce them. The marriage covenant is not a church ordinance, but a common one. Thus it is not as though if one professing to be a Christian forsakes their covenant with you that you don’t have the same liberty as if they were unbelievers. What sort of sense would that make? If the person is a heathen, then they are liable to a stricter standard than are believers? And believers have a liberty to thus tyrannize another believer, but unbelievers are forbidden this sin? And one might with as much justice teach that unbelievers have the biblical right to divorce believers for being believers, which would follow upon the same grounds of affirming the reverse inference, and with equal justice. People possess this right, regardless of what the spiritual profession of the person abandoning is, because abandoning is divorce, and that’s why the bible calls it “putting away”, and “leaving”, as we have noticed. Paul’s only point is that you have no grounds to be the divorcing party on account of your spouse’s infidelity to the gospel. If they divorce you outright or by simply leaving, then you are not the divorcing party, but the divorced party, and all the biblical consequence follows here just as elsewhere…. you are free from the covenant on the grounds of being put away without valid warrant.
Besides, it might be added that the assumption of the person being an unbeliever is favored by the fact of their willfully departing without warrant. And certainly in a practical way there are many monstrously wicked men and women who forsake their spouses and who are yet afforded the repute of being believers for no other reason than that it is a dark, perverse, and corrupt day in the church of God. But perverse public opinion need not be the standard, but the word of God.... the unbelieving often have the laurels of Christendom cast at their feet, and the real men and women of God cast out as evil. There is a day coming when all of that shall change forever more, but until then we are called to walk by faith. One altogether certain sign of one departing to forsake the faith is when they cast all their professed standards and beliefs in the trash on their way out the door. That man or woman so forsaken can rely upon the fact that they were forsaken by an unbeliever who was not pleased to dwell with them and the Lord Jesus both.
It remains but to briefly consider the question, “What constitutes abandonment?” In my opinion, the following: A stated or demonstrated purpose to be physically removed from their spouse, so as to live a separate life. Either by repeated leaving, or by refusing to return when demanded to do so by either the husband or the wife, for either one has the total power to command the other, even the wife the husband, in this one respect. If they refuse, you have been abandoned. Or if the person keeps leaving, and being shown mercy so as to return, and then leaving again….. this makes the case doubly clear.
Allow me briefly to include verses 27-28, "Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you." The passage has virtually no pertinent context to recommend a certain interpretation. It is certain that it is not an open ended grant for anyone to marry anyone.... but neither is it consistent with the theories of those who forbid remarriage for any cause but death.... for it says plainly, "Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry thou has not sinned", and contextually, they are not making reference to being “loosed” from a wife by death, but by divorce.
“But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” (Mat.5:32) “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.” (Mat.19:9) “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” (Luke 16:18)
All three of these passages strongly appear to teach that a woman may not remarry, even if she is unjustly divorced. In all three cases the Greek indicates that the case is that of the woman who is divorced, not the one who is doing the divorcing. And none of these verses make any distinction as to whether the woman were put away for the cause of fornication, or for some other cause. But as it does not say one way or the other, then why am I not free to interpret it in a accordance with the remaining bible testimony, favoring the interpretation that these passages are in reference to the woman justly put away? Either it is to be implied that these cases are dealing with women justly put away, though it doesn’t say this explicitly, (or the contrary), and so harmonize it with the rest of the available texts on the subject, or the theory which I have proposed is itself erroneous, and in need of being corrected. It remains, however, that all three only speak of the woman, and none of them of the man.
And again: Is it argued that if the woman is bound to her husband, then
the husband is inextricably bound to her? Then they need to rewrite the
betrothal theory, as it allows for this very thing, teaching that the
man may divorce his wife and may marry another while the first wife is
yet alive, though only under their peculiar application.
It is my decided opinion that one of the factors which has so clouded this subject is the modern tendency to egalitarianism….. it is simply assumed that whatever is said of women, is necessarily true of men as it respects the divorce and remarriage question. But that is all assumption, and “assumption is the mother of error”. The betrothal advocate himself holds that there is a distinction in regard to sex, allowing a man defrauded by his betrothed wife to remarry, while holding that if the woman discovered that he had before been with a woman, there would be no such thing granted. Let them observe the same carefulness everywhere in scripture, and it will be to the undoing of their doctrine.
The advocate of the betrothal theory feels compelled to his creed largely from a sincere persuasion that it is the only way to make a consistent testimony out of scripture. If this is indeed a sincere attachment to scripture, and not just a self-righteous bent to err on the side that looks holiest before men with no regard to doing justice to them, or to be faithful to our maker, then consider, in the first place, that the betrothal theory utterly fails to give a consistent answer to the problem, as has been, I believe, more than adequately demonstrated. If this is the motive, then consider that your expedient failed. Secondly, consider the following ideas as something that may really provide what you are ostensibly searching for:
1. There is only one cause for initiating a divorce and marrying another: Fornication/Adultery
2. The party who is divorced by their mate for some other cause is free to remarry.
3. The adulterous party, whether being divorced, or doing the divorcing, is not free to remarry.
3. To be abandoned is to be divorced, and provided it was done without biblical grounds, leaves you free to remarry, based upon point #2.
4. There exists not one verse in the whole New Testament which prohibits a man from remarrying, provided he is the one unjustly divorced/abandoned, and not the one divorcing/putting away, and two verses that warrant him in it. (Mat.19:9, ICor.7:12-15)
5. Those verses which appeal to the law, (namely Rom.7:1-4, ICor.7:39) must be looking at some one specific principle in the law and not the law as considered as a whole, as the law explicitly allowed for what those verses deny, namely that a woman may be righteously remarried, though her husband was yet alive, (Deut.24), demonstrating thus that she was not “bound to her husband as long as he lives” in every sense of the law of Moses. Deut.24 was abrogated, in one sense only: that the man was no longer free to put away his wife for trivial causes. It remains however, that she is free to remarry if he does so anyway, just like before; only now he is not. The aspect of the law that remains, and which ICor.7:39, and Rom.7:1-4 appear to me to make reference to, is that women were not free to instigate a divorce/separation, and if they did, they were to remain single, or be reconciled to their husbands, and unless done for adultery, the husband was free to remarry. (Point 2)
6. If Mat.5:32, Mat.19:9, and Luke 16:18 do in fact teach that the woman is not free to remarry, whether justly or unjustly put away, then it only proves that the woman cannot remarry, but in no way proves that the man who is unjustly divorced/abandoned cannot, as there is no such verse in the bible.
The question, “Can a divorced woman remarry while her husband is alive?” is not as clear as it might be. In favor of her right to remarry, let us summarize the points previously made on this subject:
1. ICor.7:15 Teaches that “A brother or a sister is not in bondage” to the marriage contract should the unbelieving depart, and contextually it would be hard to think of the “not under bondage” as having any other reference other than to that of the marriage contract itself.
2. That ICor.7:39, and Rom.7:1-4 have been adequately answered as it respects their appearance of prohibiting remarriage for women.
3. That if we wouldn’t read Mark 8:12 so as to nullify Matthew 12:39-40, concerning Jonah being a sign unto the Ninevites, then we shouldn’t feel compelled to say that such passages as these which relate no exceptions necessarily nullify those passages that do, for they can only be properly reconciled in that direction. Thus when we see Mat.5:32, Mat.19:9, and Lu.16:18 teach that women that are put away may not remarry, then we may with equal justice interpret them according to the same pattern, and understand them as being consistent with the rest of bible testimony, affirming that such women may not remarry if they are put away with biblical warrant, as such passages don’t expressly contradict that interpretation. Here are three passages which make no exceptions. We have noticed several that do, some very unequivocally. If we are necessarily obliged to disregard those that do allow for this exception, then no woman who is put away, whether with or without biblical warrant, may remarry….. and Jonah was not a sign unto the Ninevites.
4. That a divorced woman would appear to be warranted in remarriage based upon the principles covered in the section on “hardness of heart”…. that civil governments are not obliged to put adulterers to death according to the law of Moses, leaving her and one who would have been dead under the law, both alive at the same time, contrary to its own precepts, which are what are appealed to to reach the conclusion in Romans 7, and in ICor.7:39.
It is my personal persuasion that this is indeed the case. Some hold the same view as I have represented here, excepting that they hold that women can’t remarry. They would argue that Mat.5:32, Mat.19:9, and Luke 16:18 indicate that even the woman being divorced cannot remarry, making no reference to the justice or injustice of her divorce, and the exception clause of Mat.19:9 and also in Mat.5:32, is stated only in the case of the man. Some people take this position, and I grant them that they their position is not without merit. But again…. there is no verse in the bible that makes any such claim respecting the man’s right to remarry who is not the divorcing/abandoning party, and that ought to speak powerfully to anyone who has a healthy regard for the bible’s authority to determine the case.
I cannot but recognize that the question of the divorced woman’s right to remarry is not as invincible as the other arguments made. And while it satisfies me, it may not satisfy others. I believe, however, that the rest of the arguments made are very strong, and will not be easily refuted, and I don’t really believe they will be at all. While some may thus see problems with the case presented here for this sake, yet these problems are miniscule when compared to those which plague the “Betrothal Theory”, and should make it a very simple matter when it comes to choose between the two.
Some Historical Perspective
Allow me to commence this section with a caveat: That scripture, not history, is the touchstone of truth, and as unlikely as it is, did all history err to the misinterpretation of a biblical truth, righteous appeal to the one touchstone of truth, the word of God, is still appropriate and without presumption. But as a certain historical perspective is invariably woven into the modern prohibitionist’s perceptions of the question, it behooves us to consider the question in that light. For many years now it has been the mindset of modern pseudo-conservatives to view their prohibition of remarriage as a returning to a forsaken standard, which the pressures of modern society had enticed them to abandon. These labor to make it appear that they are advocating some sort of revival and restoration back to the biblical standard that Christians had always professed. But that all depends upon what you call Christians, as we shall shortly see. While it is a well known fact that all the Reformed peoples have consistently from their inception allowed for remarriage upon a biblical cause, and that all the English Baptists, and all the early American churches of nearly any description always held to the same, yet there is this mistaken idea that all the Anabaptists had always opposed this teaching just as strenuously as their modern successors. This is an utter falsehood, as we shall see soon enough.
First, however, let us acknowledge that most of the earliest “church fathers” maintained a prohibition on remarriage. People like David Bercot have made a great issue of this, even going to the extreme of saying that we can’t really understand scripture, being so far removed from the apostles in time, such that we need the early “fathers” to interpret them for us. I always thought that someone should tell Mr. Bercot that the “fathers” were just as removed from us as the apostles nearly! I guess he never thought of this, but since it is true, then how can we understand the “fathers” either? Using his logic we would need the Roman Catholics to understand the fathers, and the Reformers so we could understand the Roman Catholics, and the Baptists to understand the Reformers, and hence the Baptists’ to understand the Apostles, which was the whole thing he was trying to disprove! What is humorous about his inane theory is that he didn’t think that the reformers could understand Christ, being so far removed in time, and yet thought that we could understand the “fathers”, when the same amount of time separated us from them as separated the reformers from Christ. Jesus said this: “He that is of God heareth God’s words: Ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” Or again: “My sheep hear my voice”, or “Ye cannot believe, because ye are not of my sheep”. If Mr. Bercot cannot understand scripture without the “fathers”, then what does that say for Mr. Bercot in light of such scriptures? His books were his brief stop between being a “Jehovah’s Witness”, and an obscure and nearly Roman Catholic Episcopal type of church. His flash of popularity showed just how far Anabaptists had fallen, as they proved themselves perfectly incapable of seeing through the most patent absurdities simply because he flattered them.
The only point I wish to make about this era is that it was the era that produced Roman Catholicism. It was the embryonic stage of auricular confession, sacerdotalism, image worship, monasticism, and superstition, and these things we were warned by the apostles would follow their times, saying indeed that the spirit of antichrist was already in the world while they were yet alive. Should any marvel that such a result followed, if this is what was concomitant with the apostolic age? If these things be done in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry, Jesus said. No one would argue that we should reject everything these men said, only that we are not required to append their writings to the bible, or make them the infallible guides of scripture with Mr. Bercot.
But let us come to the Reformation. The reformation uniformly allowed for divorce and remarriage, and even became a little loose on the subject, which is always the result if your concept of the church is “all in a given community”. What other result would one expect? It was a Roman Catholic concept of “the church”, and had its fruit accordingly…. flagrant sin, duly sanctified by the church. They simply differed on the sanctification method, I reckon. But their doctrine, per se, was that of allowing for divorce and remarriage upon the ground of adultery/fornication, and, for the most part, for desertion also.
And what was the Anabaptist’s policy on divorce and remarriage at this time? To wholly proscribe the whole practice, and put all those out of the church who wouldn’t heed the mandate… right? No such thing. In doctrine they taught basically the same thing as did the reformers! And as this will be wholly disbelieved, let us take a moment in demonstration of the fact. I will simply give quote after quote with no comment between, so notice how the doctrine totally parallels that of the reformers, and how it is wholly contradictory to the modern successors of the anabaptists. Also notice how the terms adultery and fornication are universally used as interchangeable, and relating to sexual sin inside of marriage. All the quotes in reference to the historical Anabaptist position on divorce and remarriage are taken from the book, “The Sacred Covenant”, Subtitled, “Towards a Biblical Theology of Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage”, pages 114-122.
“He who divorces without fornication, the only reason, and remarries, commits adultery; and he who takes a divorced woman causes her to commit adultery; for Christ says, “These two are one flesh”. But he who cleaves to a harlot, as Paul says, ICor.6, sins against his own body and is one flesh with the harlot. Thus he is by this act separated from his own flesh, in that he has attached himself to the alien flesh of the prostitute, and thus the marriage is broken; for they are no longer one flesh, since the fornicator has become one flesh with the harlot. The one who finds herself thereby divorced may now marry whom she will, only let it be in the Lord.” Michael Sattler, the Anabaptists “first apologist” Excerpt from books published by “The Swiss Brethren” in 1533.
“These two, one husband and one wife, are one flesh and can not be separated from each other to marry again otherwise than for adultery as the Lord says.” And again: “We know too that the bond of undefiled, honorable matrimony is so firm and fast in the kingdom and government of Christ, that no man may leave his wife, nor a wife her husband, and marry another (understand rightly what Christ says), except it be for adultery.” And yet again: “We acknowledge, teach, and assent to no other marriage than that which Christa and His apostles publicly and plainly taught in the New Testament, namely, of one man and one woman (Mt.19:4), and that they may not be divorced except in case of adultery (Matt.5:32); for the two are one flesh, but if the unbelieving one depart, a sister or a brother is not under bondage in that case. ICor. 7:15” Menno Simons, the single greatest influence on Anabaptists.
“Article IV. In the fourth place, if a believer and an unbeliever are in the marriage bond together and the unbeliever commits adultery, the marriage tie is broken. And if it be one who complains that he has fallen in sin, and desires to mend his ways, then the brethren permit the believing mate tot go to the unfaithful one and admonish him, if conscience allows it in view of the state of the affair. But if he be a bold and headstrong adulterer, then the innocent party is free _ with the provision, however, that she shall consult with the congregation and remarry according to circumstances and decisions in the matter, be it well understood.
“Article V. In the fifth place, concerning a believer and a nonbeliever _ if the nonbeliever wishes to separate for reasons of the faith, then the believer shall conduct himself honestly without contracting a marriage, for as long a time as the nonbeliever is not remarried. But if the nonbeliever marries or commits adultery, then the believing mate may also marry, subject to the advice of the elders of the congregation.” The Wismar Articles, written in 1554 by Menno Simons, Dirk Phillips, and Leonard Bouwens, among others, and circulated as a standard of Anabaptist belief.
“The Lord desired and commanded that men should do this no more (freely divorce their wives for any cause), except in case of fornication, which is the only and true reason or cause for which a man may leave or put away his wife and take another.” Dirk Phillips, fellow Bishop with Menno Simons.
“…..re-establishing marriage between one man and one woman and inseparably and firmly binding the bond of matrimony, that they might not, on any account, separate and marry another, except in case of adultery or death”. “Confession of Faith, according to the Holy Word of God”., written about 1600, (nearly 100 years after the commencement of the movement), and published in the “Martyrs Mirror”.
Eventually, mainly during the 20th century, various Mennonite groups returned to the Roman Catholic position of no divorce or remarriage for any cause.
There is, however, one church which has maintained the no divorce/remarriage position throughout history without flinching once. They have been stalwart defenders of it throughout the ages and have never once forsaken this confession before all men. From the earliest times they have insisted upon this creed as tenaciously as any modern Mennonite, Amish, or Webbite faction every did. Yes, the Roman Catholic Church, that Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth, described thus in Revelation 17, has never ceased to advocate and promote this doctrine with alacrity and zeal. Who follows in her train?
Rome thrives on sin, because sin brings people into bondage and blindness, and hence secures attachment to all her sacerdotalism and idolatry, and thus keeps all her rites well employed, and spreads thus her dominion. That is why they advocate a “celibate” priesthood…. because it keeps her priests in bondage to sin by denying them lawful and pure matrimony, thus racking them with temptation, and keeping them in a state of blindness and sin. And my Mennonite friends please pardon it, but this same effect is the result of their doctrine also, both because it assays to forbid those in a divorced state from remarrying, and forbids those who might lawfully have been remarried to them from marriage, and hence creates and perpetuates a class among them who are just so many “accidents waiting to happen”. And they do happen. And, like the Romanists _contradiction of all contradictions_ they call this a holy life, and the one that embraces the mercy of God in providing a man with a woman, and a woman with a man as carnal and mundane. Thus their “holiness”. Thus their “sin”.
And this was foretold: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry…..”. (ITim.4:1-3) People often quote this verse against Rome, and rightly so. But why is it any the less indicting for modern Anabaptists? Anabaptists will reply that they are merely forbidding those to marry whom the Lord Himself has thus forbidden. Their sincerity is acknowledged. But what if they are wrong about their doctrine? Who is forbidding to marry then? The Lord, or the Bishop? Though, (like as with Rome), many Anabaptists don’t see the difference between the two, yet at this point, it is man that is forbidding to marry, and these must, then, participate in the description of the above verse to some degree. And that verse says that it is a “doctrine of devils”…. because the devil loves to have people in bondage to sin, and to withhold the blessings of God in creation, in this case providing woman for man, and man for woman, because it perpetuates his kingdom.
Yes, this is an argumentum ad hominem, I admit it, (for the most part at least), and in strict logic proves nothing. The Pope believes the trinity… and always has….. does that make it an error? No, the thing itself has to be proven false, and not just the character of its advocates so. But that has been done, and I appeal to the fact as an ancillary argument to the point. For those who know the nature of this church it cannot go unnoticed that this has always been her doctrine, and has practically never been the doctrine of God’s people, except in the most degenerate of times. And are we to believe that, now in this greatly enlightened age, when all the Christians are returning to the Lord, and throwing off the errors of generations of degeneracy, they have returned to this light from the Lord? Or is it quite the other way around. To any that will hear the message of this tract I need not dwell upon the answer…. they know it. We live in a degenerate age that is pretty well finished casting off the morals of a far more godlier age than our own…. and are about to reap for the same.
Yes, these have returned to a forsaken standard, just as they have claimed…. they have returned to the standard of Rome, which standard they had previously forsaken for the truth. Romanists accuse their “separated brethren” of licentiousness in allowing for remarriage, just like modern Webbites, and others do. And indeed it can have an appearance that way…. it looks more “holy” to take what appears to be a stricter standard, and this is really the problem. But the bottom line is that we can’t be holier than God, nor can God be licentious. Anything less than His standard is sin, no matter how it looks to self-righteous man. And hence the whole question is not what looks more holy, but what did God prescribe to us about divorce and remarriage? If we had but a single eye to that question, I have hope that God’s people could return to some degree of unanimity about the question. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17)
The Case of Those Remarried With Questionable Warrant
While it will appear to be liberal to some, yet I have never been personally able to come to the place of telling people who have questionable marriages to get a divorce, who may have been married for 20 years or more and have a dozen children. Some married thus in unregeneracy. Most or all, likely. And how will they divorce in the name of not divorcing, or destroy a family in the name of not destroying a family? It is beyond my present capacity to speak definitively as to the will of God on the subject, but my personal perspective and desire is that such will overcome any matter of pollution in their conscience, and that the Lord would direct them with an inward witness of His will expressed in His word, for their difficult situation, understanding that it can be just as hard to divorce with conscience in this circumstance, as it can be to remain together with conscience, and that thus caged, the main concern of those in such circumstances is that they are able to live unto Him Who died for the ungodly to make them perfect in His sight, and acceptable to God forever. “Their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.” (Is.54:17)
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