A Review Of The Gwin – Reeves Debate

By Steven Harper

         On July 17 and 18, 2003, brothers Joel Gwin and Bill H. Reeves conducted a debate on the following proposition: 

“The Bible teaches that if a man puts away his scriptural wife for a reason other than fornication and then commits fornication, the original wife may not remarry.”

        Joel Gwin affirmed the above proposition, while Bill H. Reeves denied it. Since the two could not come to an agreement on the wording for a proposition for brother Reeves to affirm, brother Gwin affirmed the above proposition for both nights of the debate, and brother Reeves denied both nights. The moderator for brother Gwin was Greg Gwin, and the moderator for brother Reeves was Tim Haile.

        The conduct in this debate was exceptional, and the lack of personal attacks by the disputants was commendable. On this highly-volatile subject, over which many sincere brethren are divided, it is sometimes possible that one may allow his emotions to control him and lose sight of the issue at hand. That never happened during the course of this debate and both disputants conducted themselves courteously and brotherly, though it was clear they did not agree. The debate was well-attended, with 235 counted on Thursday night and just as many, if not more, on Friday night. It is apparent that many people traveled great distances to attend, since the combined membership of the two nearby congregations is only about 50 members. This says much about this topic and the interest it has stirred among the brethren. Some have tried to quietly dismiss it as unimportant, but it seems many see it is worthy of investigation.

        Before I get to the content of the debate, it should be noted the reasons [as stated within the context of the debate] why brothers Gwin and Reeves could not come to an agreement on a proposition for brother Reeves to affirm. This may sound like a side note, but it is, in fact, an ongoing problem amongst brethren who disagree on this subject and is entirely relevant to the debate itself. It should be noted that brother Reeves spent the first half [literally, 15 minutes] of his first speech [the first negative on Thursday evening] giving the audience an explanation as to the background and differences between them that led to there not being an agreeable proposition for brother Reeves to affirm. As in all disagreements, if the two sides cannot even agree on why, in fact, they disagree, there will likely never be an agreement between the two parties. That may very well be the case here.

        The proposition brother Reeves offered to brother Gwin was this:

“The Scriptures teach that when fornication occurs, the innocent spouse, one bound by the marriage bond, is given the right to repudiate the fornicating mate to whom he has been bound by God, and to remarry.”

        Brother Gwin stated in his personal response to brother Reeves [before the debate] that the proposal was insufficient and inadequate in addressing the issues of their disagreement, and that even he would affirm that statement.1 Brother Gwin offered a counter-proposal:

“The Scriptures teach that when fornication occurs, the innocent spouse (EVEN IF HE HAS BEEN PREVIOUSLY DIVORCED BY HIS UNGODLY MATE), one bound by the marriage bond, is given the right to put away the fornicating mate to whom he has been bound by God, and to remarry.”

        Apparently, this was not satisfactory to brother Reeves, so no proposition was affirmed by him in the debate. I am at a loss to understand why brother Reeves would not affirm this last proposition, for that is what he essentially argued for during the entire course of the debate as an alternative to brother Gwin’s argument, and explicitly on at least two occasions.2 Even some of the charts posted on Tim Haile’s website [ones not used in the debate] plainly state as much.3 I cannot speak for everyone who disagrees with brother Gwin’s proposition, but many of the brethren who have written extensively on this topic, and ones with whom I have personally discussed this topic, argue for that very scenario. None, as yet, will sign their names to affirm it publicly, however. We are left to wonder why.

        As far as the debate itself, an important point should be noted about what, I believe, was the cause for the disagreement and the apparent justification for this debate. One of the main points brother Joel Gwin offered in defense of his position was that Matthew 5:32, 19:9, and Luke 16:18 all showed a sequence of events — that being, a man puts away his wife for a reason other than fornication, he then remarries, thus committing adultery. Brother Gwin went on to show the woman who was put away by this man was prohibited from remarrying, as taught in the latter parts of the same passages. Brother Reeves, however, denied there was a sequence in any of the verses, and clearly stated such several times throughout the course of the debate. However, I was left confused by brother Reeves’ arguments, for on one hand he denied there was any sequence in the verses, but then would vehemently argue that Jesus was answering the Pharisees’ question by speaking of consequences. He even has a chart on Tim Haile’s web site showing a definite order, or sequence, to bolster his argument [chart # 218]. Brother Reeves also talked of the adultery of Matthew 19:9a as a subsequent result of a man having put away his wife without the cause of fornication. Please note the quotes below [all from brother Reeves], and some significant statements I have put in bold letters:

[Friday Night – 4th Negative; 2:28-3:00]

But in the Greek, Jesus is saying, (two subjunctives) “Should a man do this (put away his wife)…should he marry another, this is the consequence. This is the consequence of doing it: he is committing adultery.” There’s no sequence of events in that verse. It’s telling that should this man do this and that (he says that’s sequence) the two things that Jesus says — should he do it — here is the result: he commits adultery.

[Friday Night – 4th Negative; 3:23-4:24]

Jesus says the man — whosoever does this and that — here is the consequence and it’s also the consequence for whosoever marries her, and for the same reason. The reason being that there was no putting away for the cause of fornication. So, whosoever does that, since it was not for the cause of fornication, he commits adultery when he marries again and whosoever — Jesus directs Himself to ‘whosoever’ and to ‘whosoever’ or to he that does this. He commits adultery also.

I’d like to ask you brother Joel: Why does this ‘whosoever’ down below commit adultery when he marries that woman? “Why she’s in a box! She’s…she’s been put away!” — that’s all he sees: she’s been put away. No, she was put away not for fornication. That’s the reason.

[Friday Night – 4th Negative; 4:32-4:51]

Over to the right, he has a man doing two things. Here’s a man who puts away a scriptural wife, and then, in sequence of order — look up ‘then’ in the dictionary, it’s an adverb that introduces a sequence of order — then later, he does this. What’s the consequence? There’s no parallel there.

[Friday Night – 5th Negative; 4:25-4:44]

Jesus didn’t deal with that scenario. Jesus didn’t talk about sequence of events or what might happen later on. His point is, that one cannot put away his wife just for any cause, saving for the cause of fornication. If he does it, there are consequences. That’s what Jesus is talking about.

[Friday Night – 5th negative; 6:27-6:53]

I’m not stressing something down here. (I’m sorry…I caught you off guard there, brother Gwin.) That’s all right. It says in the subsequent, divinely imposed consequences for those who are put away (thank you very much) for those who are put away, not for the cause of fornication. I’m not ignoring some aspect; the subsequent divinely conse- …imposed consequences for those who are put away not for the cause of fornication. Can he stay with the context and state the context? He makes it an absolute! There’s his box! If you get tossed in this box, in the heap here of all the women who have been put away, you’ve had it! And, as one brother said, “Don’t whine.” There’s nothing you can do about it.

[Friday Night – 5th Negative; 11:19-11:37]

Luke 16:18…See, here’s a third time Jesus says it three times and every time He’s talking about the consequence of some man doing something…marrying a put away woman not for the cause of fornication. He is going to commit adultery. That’s what Jesus is saying in all of these passages.

[Friday Night – 5th Negative; 15:54-17:03]

Brother Gwin’s argument is predicated on a sequence of events. A man does something --- puts away his wife, his Scriptural wife --- he says ‘and then’…You don’t find that on the other side, do you? It’s not parallel. He says that in this sequence of events, if he does that up there, then he does this, where’s your consequence if you want a parallel? Over on the other side, Jesus says if a man does something, if he puts away his wife and marries another there are consequences! What…what results from that? He commits adultery. And what about the man who comes along and marries her? He commits adultery. And, by implication, she does, too. But he just sees the woman, he doesn’t see this man that Jesus is talking about and the consequences of doing this. But over there he has sequence of events. But on the other side, Jesus didn’t say ‘then’ because He speaks of consequence and not sequence. And everybody can see that. And I’m trying to get brother Joel to see it, also. This chart of his is…is an example, a classic example of just sophistry, just the way you arrange words on a chart.

        Yes, I believe anybody CAN see that. Anybody CAN see that if there is a consequence, a sequence is necessarily implied! The word consequence, subsequent, and sequence all have the same origin, and they all imply an order of events. I first thought brother Reeves was, possibly, unintentionally using the word ‘consequence’ as he argued against ‘sequence,’ but I believe that was not the case now, since he used it so often throughout the debate. At this moment, I am not sure what brother Reeves believes, based on his own argumentation. Whatever the reason for this confusion, I believe brother Joel Gwin sufficiently showed that there was, indeed, a sequence of events [divorce for unscriptural reason, remarriage, adultery] in Matthew 5:32, 19:9, and Luke 16:18, and that the latter part of the same passages clearly showed that a woman put away for a reason other than fornication cannot remarry.

        I was also left somewhat confused as to what brother Reeves actually believes as far as who is, and who is not, eligible to remarry after a divorce. On one hand, brother Reeves plainly stated that in cases where no fornication was involved in a divorce, neither party had a right to remarry. He, in fact, said that if they did, they would be committing adultery.4 But the whole debate was supposed to be based on the idea that he, in reality, did not hold that belief, since he argued strongly for the case of a woman put away not for fornication being able to put away her husband if he should subsequently commit fornication. He argued for that within the debate, though he would not take the affirmative position for it.5 He actually argued for both in the debate, so I am sure others were left trying to figure out what he actually believed, too. The confusion comes over the fact that brother Reeves adds a ‘change of scenario’ that changes this woman’s eligibility to remarry — a change that is nowhere authorized within Scripture. Brother Reeves argued that when a man commits fornication after a divorce not for fornication, this somehow changes the eligibility of the woman he originally put away. Instead of following the entire sequence of events as found in Matthew 19:9, brother Reeves would stop at the end of 19:9a and then go back to the beginning of the verse to say that is where the put away woman is found [‘whosoever’], not in the latter part of the verse [‘her who is divorced’]. I believe an honest reading of the entire verse will show his position to be false.

        One more point about this debate: There inevitably comes a point in most religious discussions and debate where one side will use emotional arguments to plead their case. To all who are familiar with the rules of argument, you will recognize this as a fallacy of argument. The Latin term is argumentum ad misericordiam. In just about every discussion I have had with those who disagree on God’s teaching on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, I have faced this line of argument. I expected it in this debate because of my past experiences, and it was, indeed, used. I must say that brother Reeves avoided it for the most part, and even stated several times that he would not resort to emotional pleas as a basis for his argument. But, late in the first half hour of Friday’s night’s debate, he presented the case of a woman who was put away against her wishes and who pleaded with her husband not to do it because she cared for his soul, and then questioned brother Gwin [and the audience] if she was left with nothing to do once she was divorced.6 I have heard that scenario many times in discussions and read it many times in articles written by brethren lately, but I have yet to find it in Scripture. Brother Reeves argued that she was in Matthew 19:9a, but I am still looking for her there.

        Brother Reeves also belittled [not in a hateful manner] brother Gwin’s statements about the woman of Matthew 5:32b, 19:9b, and Luke 16:18b as one who had been put in a ‘box.’ This only furthered the emotional argument, using prejudicial images to plead for the unfairness of the position, rather than on its legitimate merits or faults. He used ‘the box’ about 20 times throughout the debate, but brother Gwin pointed out that it was not he who was putting the woman ‘in the box,’ but Jesus. Brother Gwin also pointed out that even brother Reeves would have to agree that a woman put away not for fornication and whose husband never committed fornication afterwards was not eligible to remarry [brother Reeves agreed this was true], so this woman was also ‘in the box.’ The point made was that both situations were unfair, but that fact does not change the law.

        In conclusion, I want to make a few comments about the debate — or should I say, the aftermath of the debate. It was agreed between the disputants that the audio files would be posted on both Jeff Belknap’s7 web site and Tim Haile’s8 web site. It was also agreed that the slides [PowerPoint presentations] would be posted on the web sites — Brother Reeves’ on Tim Haile’s and brother Gwin’s on Jeff Belknap’s. As of the writing of this review, brother Gwin’s 52 slides are posted on Jeff’s web site and brother Reeves has 430 slides posted on Tim’s. I do not want you to be misled by the 430 slides posted on Tim Haile’s web site; less than 40 of those slides were actually used in the debate [slides 1, 195-209, 108-112, and 118-132; if I overlooked any, it was unintentional]. That means that about 90% of the slides you will find on Tim Haile’s web site were not used in this debate. Do not be misled into thinking the remaining slides were used or even that the arguments used on those remaining slides were presented. This debate was on the proposition as stated at the beginning of this review, and that is all. As much as some would like to misdirect your attention onto another issue [yet another fallacy of argument], don’t be fooled.

        My hope is that this debate will cause brethren to sit down with only God’s word — free of preconceived ideas — and study this issue as did the Bereans (Acts 17:11). Please listen to the audio files and look at the slides. I believe the truth is evident for those honest in heart, and such will follow truth with no regard to consequences or earthly relationships. This issue is, indeed, important, for one position will lead to men and women into unscriptural relationships that will condemn them to eternal punishment, and one will lead them to serve the Lord faithfully, though in difficult situations. I plead with you to follow the words of Jesus, as we should do in all matters.


1.      Joel Gwin, Slide #19.

2.      Bill H. Reeves, see audio of Friday Night’s 5th Negative (3:18-3:56 and 15:04-15:34).

3.      Reeves, Slides #89-90, #112-113, #218, #254-255, #299-300, #324-325, #348-349, #422.

4.      Reeves, Audio of Friday Night’s 4th Negative (15:37-15:48 and 18:33-18:59).

5.      Reeves, Audio of Friday Night’s 5th Negative; (3:18-3:56 and 15:04-15:34).

6.      Reeves, Audio of Friday Night’s 4th Negative (26:07-26:36).

7.      www.mentaldivorce.com

8.      www.biblebanner.com 

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Last Updated:  Thursday, January 26, 2006 12:41 PM