Scriptural Divorcement


     I do not have to tell you, dear reader, that divorcement in America continues at a rate no less than epidemic. More historians, sociologists, and psychologists are warning America that divorce is destroying the very fiber of our country - the family. An increasing number of preachers, elders, and churches are finding themselves in situations regarding divorce which either necessitate compromise and changing the truth found in the Bible or taking an unvacillating stand. A number of preachers themselves are personally experiencing divorce.

     The scriptures and divorcement. Of course, divorcement is not a new problem. God, though, has always hated divorcement or putting away (Mal. 2: 14-16). Anytime and every time there is divorcement someone has sinned, as we shall see. God intends for there to be one man and one woman until death (see material titled "The Truth about Marriage" located in archives). Divorce has always been an emotional subject which has been characterized by false doctrine and volatility. In Jesus' day there were primarily two schools of thought regarding divorce, the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel. Their differences apparently constitute the frame of reference for the posed question and Jesus' answer in Matthew 19: 3-9. Shammai ostensibly held that a man could divorce his wife on grounds of her adultery; while Hillel allegedly taught putting away could be done on any grounds (The Life and times of Jesus the Messiah, by Alfred Edershiem, book 4, pgs. 333, 334). Jesus plainly and cogently explained God's original marriage law for all time and all people (Matt. 19: 8, 9, Gen. 1, 2, see addendum).

     Putting away and divorcement. "Put away" is derived from the Greek apoluo. Apoluo is translated "put away" in Matthew 5: 32 (clause A) and "divorced" in clause B (KJV). Apoluo means to let go or let loose and repudiate (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words; Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 66). Based on this definition, some have erroneously concluded that divorce automatically implies freedom from the marriage bond. Not so. "Divorced" in the King James (Matt. 5: 32) is the one who has been put away, either scripturally or unscripturally (more later).

     What constitutes divorcement. Marriage entails intent, making known of such intent, and conformity to all applicable civil laws. Beloved, I submit divorcement, the opposite of marriage, has no different requirements. We do not read of the concept of mental only marriage and we do not read of mental only divorcement!  Put in practical terms, one person does not marry or divorce another privately or simply in ones heart.

     The put away does not put away. An increasing number of brethren are adopting the view of the put away putting away in their heart and being able to remarry. One set of elders advised a member, "let him divorce you (no adultery involved) and when he remarries, as he will, you can put him away based on his adultery (remarriage, dm) and be free to remarry." I personally heard this advice and opposed it. These overseers later accused me of lying, but they would not say the woman could not remarry in the foregoing circumstances.  (I could mention the one who is no longer married, "divorced" inferred, in I Corinthians 7: 10, 11 being "remarried" to her ex husband, but that is really not germane).

     Brethren, there is a tremendous amount of ambiguity among us. Weldon Warnock has helped popularize some of this thinking in his famous or infamous writing in Searching the Scriptures. Warnock wrote, "But someone asks: 'what about a woman who is put away (divorced) by a man simply because the man no longer wanted to be married? Fornication is not involved and the woman repeatedly tried to prevent the divorce, but to no avail. After a couple of years the man marries another woman. Is the put away woman then free to marry?'" Warnock answered" "She certainly is, if she puts away her husband for fornication. She would have to do this before God in purpose of heart since the divorce has already taken place, legally speaking" (Searching the Scriptures, November issue, 1985).

     Let us lay aside human reasoning and emotion and notice the sequence of the action in Matthew 19: 9: (1) A man puts away his wife (not for her fornication), (2) he marries another (he commits adultery), (3) the woman whom he unjustly put away is in sin when she remarries. Beloved, no where is it taught that the put away is ever allowed to remarry - regardless of her marital fidelity or infidelity! (See Matthew 5; 32 and Rom. 7: 3.)

     Divorcement for any cause is not allowed. Many in the world and more brethren believe one may obtain a divorce for any reason - as long as they do not remarry. Beloved, marriage entails certain duties and mutual privileges (I Cor. 7: 1-6). In addition, marriage is for life (Matt. 19: 4-9). How have we come to believe in and, in some cases, advocate the doctrine, "you can divorce your mate in the absence of fornication and when they remarry, you are free to remarry"? Such is a godless doctrine - notwithstanding some elders and preachers who believe such! Jesus said to combat casual divorcement: "But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife…causeth her to commit adultery…" (Matt. 5: 31, 32). Paul's teaching in I Corinthians seven regarding the married does not negate or contradict what Jesus taught. Paul is not granting divorcement but is only addressing the case if such should occur (I Cor. 7: 11, click on, "'But and if' in I Corinthians 7: 11" to read more).  (You might find, "Mike Willis Responds!" of interest.)

     Scriptural divorcement.  Divorcement is not good, as previously acknowledged. Homes are destroyed, influence damaged, doubts arise, and innocent children are affected. However, God does grant the permission or right in certain cases. The divorcement must be pursued and obtained by the innocent mate because of their mate's fornication (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9). Fornication or adultery is the only cause. Notice I said "innocent" mate. Some do not have the right to divorce their unfaithful mates because they have seriously contributed to the situation (See "A Treatment of Apoluo" for a detailed study of "put away.")

     When possible, it is good to even have the cause of fornication stipulated in writing in the civil document. I know people say it is impossible to obtain this written cause in the civil decree. In some States this is probably true. However, all whom I have assisted in different States have been able to obtain the written cause "for adultery" (its equivalent or code) in their document. It took some work and they had to provide proof which the courts would recognize, but they did it!  (See addendum 1 below.)

     When a mate believes their spouse is guilty of adultery, it is usually wise for them to work with the elders or other capable individuals in the local church. Such a joint effort often produces clear proof and precludes subsequent doubts and problems. In the just suggested situation, repentance and the possible restoration of the marriage can also be considered.

     Divorcement always means a failed marriage. The adults and children who experience divorce are often affected for life, souls are lost, and churches are troubled. The ideal thing to do is practice a good marriage by following the truth taught in the Bible. God can create good marriages where divorce will never be experienced - if we will listen to Him!   (If you are interested in a more complete study of the divorce and remarriage issue, click on, "Matthew 5: 32 and Matthew 19: 9, a Study," and "Scriptural Divorcement, a Detailed Study," "Divorce and Remarriage Discussion.")  (Related articles to consider are, "A Study of I Corinthians Chapter Seven" and, "Polygamy and the Bible")

     Addendum 1:  As intimated, there is more to the action of divorcement that a single component.  While civil divorcement may have differed in various cultures down to the present, there has of necessity been some recognized civil action .  Alas, some are teaching that scriptural divorcement can be easily and absolutely established simply by the plaintiff and defendant's signatures on the civil document.  Some are also saying that "for the cause of adultery" must be stated on the document.   It should be understood that the innocent mate has the right to put away the guilty mate.  Jesus provided this right to the innocent mate (Matt. 5: 32; 19: 9).   Such a right surely is not negated by a true "race to the courthouse."   Effort, though,  must also be extended before the final divorcement decree.  The services of a good divorce attorney who is capable of understanding the goal of the Christian in such circumstances is of inestimable value.   In the event of an actual race to the courthouse, the innocent mate must do all within their power to establish the fact that they have been active in the civil divorce protocol.  Such recorded and documented effort can also valuably assist in subsequent efforts to show that there were extended efforts that, when viewed as a whole, constitute biblical putting away.  The clearer and more decisive the record, the better.   Dated and detailed notes with signatures of others at different junctures in the divorce process can also be a matter of great benefit.  Again, this is where the unemotional and objective help of good preachers and elders can be invaluable.  I have worked with too many who do not remember what happened and at what stage it happened.   Emotions tend to confuse, especially when revisited years later. 

     Addendum 2: There is the doctrine that states since Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5: 32 and 19: 9 relative to divorce and remarriage is found before Acts 2 (the inauguration of the dispensation of the last days, Acts 2: 16 ff.), it has no application to people today (applied only to the Jews and only then in a compromise situation, as we shall see later). It seems man is forever either attempting to loose where God has not loosed or bind where God has not bound (cf. Matt. 16: 19, 18: 18, the grammatical information regarding the verb "bound" and "loosed" is participle, perfect in action, and passive in voice, The Analytical Greek Lexicon, pg. 85). The posture of the verbs indicate that even in the case of the apostles, the truth had already been decided in heaven.

     First of all, I have dealt with the foregoing doctrine on many occasions and I have yet to find a proponent of this persuasion who is consistent (for what it is worth). I was in discussion with one preacher who advocated the above view and in the process I asked him, "by the way, what is the taught course of action that must be taken relative to an offended brother?" His immediate response was, "he is to go to the offender, take witnesses, and finally (if the preceding two steps fail) take it to the church. I then asked him was he sure this teaching is binding today and where is it found in the scriptures. He answered, "yes," and "it is found in Mathew 18: 15-17. He was silent for a moment (and so was I) and his next statement was, "oops, I see your point!" Indeed, Matthew 18: 15-17 was issued before Acts 2 (part of the antiquated Law of Moses, Col. 2: 14) and thus it must not be used today, according to the simplistic view being considered.

     The simple truth of the matter is there is much teaching found in the gospels while spoken under the law (Gal. 4: 4), have kingdom application. In fact, Jesus even mentioned "church" in Matthew 18: 17. Did he limit the word "church" to the Jews? (See Acts 7: 38.) Of course not.

     Regarding Matthew 5: 31, 32 and 19: 9 (and a number of other instances), it must be realized that Jesus often seeks to restore the original, ageless moral enunciation. In many instances the restoration travels back to the original moral law (preceding any dispensational law or allowance). In Matthew 5, Jesus goes back beyond Moses and Deuteronomy 24 to Genesis 2. This is made manifest in Matthew 19: 9. Jesus refers to the original law of God (Matt. 19: 4, 5, Gen. 2: 21 ff., not dispensational). It is in reference and regards to the original law relative to marriage that Jesus spoke the words found in verse nine of Matthew nineteen.

     Nevertheless, there remain those who contend that the only acceptable cause for remarriage found in the Covenant of Christ is the death of a spouse. Again, if we say Jesus is only explaining the Law of Moses in Matthew 5: 32 and 19: 9, we must of necessity say that the particular nuance of the law being explained is the concession provision found in Deuteronomy 24 (see Matt. 19: 9, 3-7). Hence, "uncleanness" (ervah, matter of offense, Hebrew) is fornication.

     The position that uncleanness only means fornication is replete with many irreconcilable problems. In the first place, there was not a problem regarding what a mate could do with their adulterous spouse (regarding the divorce and remarriage issue). This is because the adulterer was to be put to death (Lev. 20: 10). It is the height of folly to imagine God allowing a concession (divorce for adultery only) when the law demanded the death of the adulterer! In the second place, God himself practiced divorce on grounds of adultery (the spiritual nature of the marriage matters not, Jere. 3: 8, 14). Would God practice something that was only granted because of the hardness of the practitioner's heart (in this case, God, Matt. 19: 8)?  Hence, the position that Jesus' teaching regarding divorce and remarriage must be limited to the Law of Moses not only creates a situation of contradiction, but even degrades God himself!

     Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5: 32 and 19: 9, then, applies to God's original and changeless law regarding divorce and remarriage and is to be understood as part of the final covenant and testament of Jesus Christ. We do not want to loose where God has not loosed, but we sure do not want to bind where God has not bound. It is a constant effort to avoid doing either one.  In regards to the so called "Pauline Privilege," click here and see addendum.  To study more the view that Jesus was only teaching the Law of Moses in Matthew 5: 32 and 19: 9, click on "The Gospels, Old Law or Jesus' Law?"