Acknowledging God’s Law Above Man’s Law
By Jeff Belknap
In the recent discussions surrounding post-divorce “putting away,” there have been numerous diversions. The most common distractions of brethren who openly defend this (second putting away) doctrine have been the “God’s law supersedes man’s law” and “Jesus emphasized cause, not procedure” arguments.
With such assertions, the truth has no disagreement. Throughout the course of this present controversy, I know of no one who has contended that civil law supersedes God’s law, nor do I know of anyone who argues against the cause for which God authorizes divorce. If any do, they are wrong.
What a host of brethren and I categorically deny, is that a put away person, whose bound spouse still lives, may remarry without sin. Nevertheless, some brethren continue to teach that certain put away persons may remarry another (under some circumstances, if they follow particular conditions and arbitrary procedures). These two opposing views represent the crux of our present differences regarding post-divorce “putting away.”
Instead of giving us a book, chapter and verse for their doctrine, the proponents of post-divorce “putting away” have pleaded for unity based on the following principle:
“Marriage is for one woman and one man for life, the only exception being that an innocent mate may put away a spouse guilty of fornication and have a right to marry another.”
While the first part of the above principle is true for all, the second part (outlining the exception clause) lacks the particulars necessary to convey our Lord’s complete teaching, which specifically applies this exception or right (to remarry another) ONLY to a certain class of people: those who put away for the cause of fornication.
The above, human-penned “principle” does not address those who are put away, but our Lord did. Jesus specifically stated, “whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit ADULTERY.” Such a glaring omission renders the above principle of human pen impotent to unite brethren on the subject of MDR.
Hence, we see that there are actually two separate principles under consideration in Matthew 19:9, not varying applications under one principle. Consequently, our conflict does not stem from differences over cause vs. procedure or God’s law vs. man’s law, but in a rejection of Jesus’ principle (rule, law) regarding the put away.
Regardless of circumstances, Jesus undeniably taught that an ungodly mate has the ability to disobey God and “put asunder” (Mt. 19:6; cp. w. I Cor. 7:10). According to this truth, such an action renders one’s spouse, “unmarried” (I Cor. 7:11). Considering that fact, when a person is put away against God’s approval (by means of every conceivable “apoluo” / “chorizo” action, concluding in the civil divorce procedure), which Biblical principle applies to them: the principle for those who put away, or the principle for those who are put away?
Some MDR issues are “hard to be understood,” but this situation is not one of those! There can be no room for compromise when the Bible is so unequivocally clear. How can anyone contradict such an unmistakable statement of fact in Matthew 19:9 (cf. Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18; I Cor. 7:10-11, 15)?
Some brethren have claimed that those who oppose the post-divorce “putting away” doctrine ignore cause and focus on procedure; that they concentrate so much on the last eleven words of Matthew 19:9 that they do not consider the question regarding cause (v. 3), which preceded Jesus’ teaching in this context.
However, according to the law of God, cause is only a relevant factor for putting away and the right to future remarriage, when: 1) Fornication is the cause of the divorcement (necessarily implying that it transpires before the marriage is dissolved), and 2) The innocent party takes their authorized action for that cause prior to becoming a put away person (which status necessarily precludes lawful remarriage to another). In Matthew 19:9 (diagramed above, Principle # 2), cause is irrelevant to those who are put away; it is only given as an exception for the one who does the putting away (the one who actively puts away for just cause).
Nowhere in scripture does “the law of God” authorize the divine liberty to put away (apoluo) and remarry another for the one who has been put away. In such a situation, the sacred text clearly states another guiding principle: “remain unmarried or be reconciled” (I Cor. 7:11; cf. Mt. 19:12). To state this fact is simply the acknowledgment of God’s law. Contrariwise, the post-divorce “putting away” doctrine (aka - “mental divorce” and “second putting away”) is an illustration of that which promotes man’s law over GOD”S LAW! It makes “of none effect” the LORD’S teaching regarding the put away person (cf. Mk. 7:8-9, 13).
Jesus never taught that any particular circumstances exempt any put away people (whose bound mates are still living, Rom. 7:2-3) from His pronouncement that their remarriage to another constitutes adultery. Conversely, the Lord taught that it was possible for a person to be put away against their will (cf. Mt. 5:32; 19:6, 9; Lk. 16:18; I Cor. 7:10-11, 15), and that those in such circumstances commit adultery if they remarry another.
If the completion of a civil divorce is not the final determinant of when some (i.e. innocent and unwilling) are indeed divorced, then what additional procedure would the second putting away proponents suggest could accomplish the unlawful act to “put asunder” what “God hath joined together,” that Jesus taught is possible? Obviously, there is none.
No one has ever argued that it is because of a missing procedure that the unscriptural civil divorce is ineffectual to put away an innocent, unwilling spouse. Their argument is that if one does not have scriptural cause to put away, then their unwilling spouse cannot be put away by such an action. They assert that there is NO procedure that can accomplish a putting away against people who are in certain (scripturally unspecified) circumstances.
There are brethren who are actually denying that the inherent definitions of “apoluo,” “chorizo” and “aphiemi” (repudiation, dismissal, sending away, etc) are – or even can be – completely fulfilled upon the finalization of an unlawful civil divorce.
Nevertheless, no more than one type of divorce procedure is inferred in scripture (whether lawful or otherwise). The Bible never alludes to one procedure to accomplish an unscriptural divorce and another for a scriptural one. Either a divorce is done with divine approval (allowing the one who puts away the right of scriptural remarriage) or without divine approval (in which case, both parties commit adultery upon remarriage).
Whether lawful or unlawful, Matthew 19 teaches that a divorce is a divorce is a divorce! Moreover, in Jesus’ principle for the put away person, the state of being “put away” is the sole basis for His pronouncement that remarriage results in adultery.
There is no scripture which proves some brethren’s contention that, in certain circumstances, civil divorce CANNOT accomplish a putting away. Hence, brethren have contrived side-issues such as “man’s law vs. civil law” and “procedure vs. cause,” to force their opposition into a defensive stance, rather than an offensive one. Were they to actually attempt to defend their necessary foundational presupposition, it would manifest just how devoid of scripture their doctrine really is. When the cornerstone of a doctrine is built upon the sand, whatever is built thereupon, is just as unsound as its foundation.
For several years, the present advocates of the second putting away doctrine have failed to acknowledge the difference between the “marriage” (physical relationship) and the “bond” (spiritual obligation). Such flawed thinking has led them to the idea that 1) Some people who are divorced, are not really divorced, when the bond is intact, and 2) the ability to “put away” remains as long as the bond remains, even if the marriage has already been sundered! They err by not “rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15) nor speaking “as the oracles of God” (I Pet. 4:11).
We are seeing statements like, “God’s law says marriage is for life,” and “God’s law says no divorce unless it is ‘for fornication.’” While these sayings are true and sound good on the surface, they are just vague enough to lend themselves to perversion of the truth. While God’s word undeniably indicates His desire and intent that two people stay married as long as they live, scripture clearly affirms the possibility for man to exercise his own will regarding divorce, contrary to divine mandates (Mt. 19:6, 9; Lk. 16:18; I Cor. 7:10-11, 15). Yet the hidden meaning behind many such quotes is that it is not possible for an innocent person to be truly “put away” against their will. [God’s word also forbids the raping of innocent, unwilling victims. Should we now conclude that because such is prohibited, it cannot happen? Likewise, just as the subsequent remarriage to another following an unscriptural divorce is real though unlawful (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18; cf. Rom. 7:3), the unscriptural divorce is also real, though contrary to God’s will (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18; cf. I Cor. 7:10-11, 15).]
In no uncertain terms, Jesus established that the unlawful actions (sins) of others can cause the innocent to suffer (Mt. 18:7; I Pet. 4:16-18). This is expressly true with unlawful divorcement. Jesus stated, “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” (Mt. 5:32). A consequence of unscriptural divorce is that it causes an innocent person to commit adultery if and when they remarry another (Mt. 5:32b; 19:9b; Lk.16:18; cf. Rom. 7:2-3).
Hence, contrary to the claims of some brethren, it is clear that we are not differing about what procedure an innocent, married mate must use to put away his mate for fornication. Our disagreement is over whether or not an unlawfully divorced (“unmarried,” I Cor. 7:11) mate may subsequently employ a second divorce action (AFTER the civil finalization) which would justify remarriage to another. In effect, such a remarriage justification would nullify Jesus’ teaching that a put away person’s remarriage to another results in adultery.
There is absolutely NO Biblical AUTHORITY for an “innocent” put away person (who may have opposed the civil divorce, prayed, hoped, and tried for reconciliation until adultery was committed by their estranged, bound mate) to perform a second “putting away” and become eligible to lawfully remarry another. All such unrevealed conditions and conclusions to justify a post-divorce “putting away” and remarriage are of human authority and not divine.
Those who contend for such have offered no command, statement of fact, approved example or necessary inference which indicates that after a person’s spouse unscripturally enacts a civil divorce against them (which indisputably involves repudiation / dismissal / sending away), they are still married, as opposed to put away (cf. I Cor. 7:11; Mt. 5:32; 19:9 and Lk. 16:18). Additionally, neither is there any scriptural method which establishes that one who was put away in such an instance, has the authority to later “put away” for fornication and remarry another.
Paradoxically, some brethren contend that an unscriptural civil divorce cannot accomplish a real divorce because it is not authorized (even though Jesus clearly taught that such was possible, Mt. 19:6, 9; I Cor. 7:10-11, 15). Yet, they call a post-divorce “action” (which speaks where scripture is silent), a biblical divorce procedure. All of this convoluted reasoning ends in a so-called “scriptural” remarriage for the put away person who exercises this post-divorce “right.” Nevertheless, it does not matter how you spin the wheel; put away people who remarry while their bound partner is alive commit “adultery” (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18; cf. Rom. 7:2-3).
When every conceivable procedure to put away has been accomplished, regardless of the circumstances, Jesus spoke of those who put away and those who are put away. It was the Lord, Himself, and not man, who applied restrictive consequences to those who are put away – without exception. Finally, it is important to realize that the opposition has not offered any scriptural basis for contentions otherwise.
Until scriptural proof is given [for the assertion that some people who have been “apoluo” are not “apoluo” and are thus, not amenable to Jesus’ teaching regarding the put away (Mt. 5:32b; 19:9b and Lk. 16:18b)], then we must not follow the path of those who speak where God has not spoken (I Pet. 4:11; cf. Acts 15:24; Gal. 1:8-9). We must continue to contend for the faith (Jud. 3-4), which states, “whosoever marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”