Are You An In-Law, Or An Outlaw? 

By Jeff Belknap

 It is amazing how far some men will go to “justify” an erroneous doctrine which so visibly defies the will of God! Today, we actually have brethren who are teaching that we have no need to comply with civil law when it comes to marriage and divorce.

Nevertheless, within His word, God acknowledges that there will be unapproved marriages and divorces which result in undesirable consequences for the involved parties (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 6:17-18; 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:2-3; I Corinthians 7:10-15). The world was not perfect in the days of the apostles, nor is it now (I John 5:19). Men and women have always made ungodly choices and there’s no new sin under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)!

Moreover, today’s civil marriage and divorce laws are no more loose or liberal than they were in the initial years of the church.1 In spite of the Jews’ common practice of putting away “for every cause,” Jesus revealed that such an action resulted in the inability of either party to lawfully remarry “another,” regardless of abuses, as long as they both shall live (Matthew 5:32; Romans 7:2-3)! If Jesus recognized that the ungodly civil authorities were capable of ratifying an unauthorized divorce in the first century, then it is not logical to argue that they are incapable of doing the same today. Therefore, denial of the government’s ability to confirm and finalize man’s ungodly actions is not the answer! God’s Word was written with the acknowledgment that men could and would violate it. See Recognizing The Reality of Man’s Sin Via Human Agency

Obviously, the procedure which man employs to accomplish marriage and divorce is an entirely different subject matter and has nothing to do with post-divorce “putting away” for post-divorce fornication. Paul stated that we are “married” to Christ (Romans 7:4). Moreover, he told the Corinthians that he “espoused” them “to one husband” which was “Christ” (II Corinthians 11:2). However, the procedure of how that was accomplished (via baptism) is a different issue altogether!

As we acknowledge what Jesus taught regarding family (marriage) relationships, we learn that He spoke of relatives as being “in law”(s). Among these adjoining relationships, families would be “at variance against” one another (Matthew 10:24-36), includingin law”(s):

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law (# 3565, numphe) against her mother in law  (# 3994, penthera). 36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” Cf. Mt. 8:14; 10:35; Mk. 1:30;  Lk. 4:38; 12:53; Jn. 3:29; 18:13; Rev. 18:23; 21:2, 9; 22:17

In law” definitions by Strong:

# 3565.  “numphe,  noom-fay’: “from a prim. but obsol. verb nupto (to veil as a bride; compare Lat. ‘nupto,’ to marry); a young married woman (as veiled), including a betrothed girl; by implication, a son’s wife:-bride, daughter in law.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Greek Dictionary of the New Testament (p. 50)

# 3994.  “penthera,  pen-ther-ah’: “fem. of 3995; a wife’s mother:-mother in law, wife’s mother.” See Greek 3995 (pentheros)” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Greek Dictionary of the New Testament (p. 56) Root word: # 3995

God called those who were married according to law, “in law(s).” Therefore, those who are denying the will of God regarding civil compliance, are advocating disobedience not only to man’s laws, but more especially to God’s Law! In other words, they are teaching us to become “outlaws:”

An “in law is also defined as:

In-law: “To clear of outlawry or attainder; restore to the protection of the law.”

In-law: “A person connected with one by marriage and designated by a name ending in -in-law, as a father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, etc.” The New Century Dictionary, Vol. 1, p. 831

On the other hand, an “Out law” is defined as:

Out-law: “One excluded from the benefits and protection of the law; one under sentence of outlawry; hence, a disorderly person living in defiant violation of the law; a habitual criminal; also, an untamed or untamable horse or other animal.—”

Out law: “To deprive of the benefits and protection of the law, as a person; proscribe; also, to remove from legal jurisdiction, or deprive of legal force. – out’law-ry, The act or process of outlawing, or the state of being outlawed; also, disregard or defiance of the law.” The New Century Dictionary, Vol. 1, p. 1209

Our Father in heaven established the powers that be to benefit those who “do that which is good.” In fact, Paul also stated “For he is the minister of God to thee for good” (Romans 13:3-4). Nevertheless, there are brethren today who are actually advocating the very opposite. Hence, they are promoting disobedience to both civil and divine law. God ordained the powers that be – not members of the church – to make civil laws for mankind (Cp. w. Romans 13:1-5; Titus 3:1; I Peter 2:13-14)!

Unfortunately, this leavening influence of non-civil compliance will only compound the problems associated with divorce and remarriage. Without ratification, nobody can have complete assurance (confirmation) that they are entering the “undefiled” bed of marital commitment as opposed to the temporary bed of deceit (Hebrews 13:4). Without societal verification, no church could be assured that they are not accepting fornicators and adulterers into their midst. Moreover, in the case of a “mental” dismissal, the put away would be denied the physical protections that are afforded by the civil government, which God ordained for that purpose. See: God’s Provisional Care via Civil Government

The fact is, rejecting the role of government does not help the cause of those who advocate a second “putting away.” This is true because Jesus acknowledged that wrongful divorces sunder marriages, irrespective of the procedure that man uses to obtain them. Societal regulations are merely the tools by which men, in every country, accomplish their sins of wrongful marriage and divorce. It is just as foolish to argue that “civil procedure” is what puts away or marries as it is to maintain that it is guns that are responsible for killing (instead of those who misuse them).

Advocacy of civil disobedience does nothing to negate the fact that the Lord acknowledged the reality of unauthorized divorces and imposed prohibitive consequences on both partners involved in it. Paul wrote in Romans 13:2, “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (Romans 13:2; cf. II Peter 2:1, 10). Therefore, Paul ordered the evangelist to, “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers,” and “to obey magistrates” (Titus 3:1).

Let us ever be mindful that “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; cf. Romans 3:4). Are you an “in-law” or an “outlaw”?

1 “Divorce was an unheard-of-thing in the early days of Rome, “for we are positively assured that no example of a divorce occurred for more than 5 centuries after the foundation of the city…” Toward the end of the republic: “Divorce took place upon the most frivolous pretexts, and frequently without any pretext at all and such was the laxity of public morals, that little or no disgrace was attached to the most flagrant abuse of this license.” (William Ramsey, Manual of Roman Antiquities, pages 252-253.)

Quotations of Roman historians bear this out:

Seneca: “Does any woman now blush on account of a divorce, since the time when certain women of noble family reckon their years not by the number of the consuls, but by that of their husbands and go forth for the sake of being married, and married for the sake of being divorced?” (De Benef., 11:16)

Juvenal:  “So the number (of husbands) increases; so 8 husbands have become hers in 5 autumns, a worthy fact for the inscription of her tomb.” (Satires VI:227)

Martial: tells of one Thelesina who married her 10th husband within one month. (Epigrams VI:7)

(Reference: Maurice Meredith, The Divorce Question, page 24.)

 Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon of Classical Greek

II. send away,

1.  of persons, kakôs aphiei Hom. Il. 1.25; auton de klaionta . . aphêsô au=Hom. Il. 2.263.

b. let go, loose, set free, zôon tina a. au=Hom. Il. 20.464; let loose, bous Hdt. 4.69; peristeras Alex.62.3; a. Aiginan autonomon Thuc. 1.139; a. eleutheron, azêmion, Plat. Rep. 591a, ti=Plat. Laws 765c; tinas aphorologêtous Plb.18.46.5; aphent' ean tina Soph. Aj. 754, cf. E.Fr.463; es oikous, ek gês, Soph. OT 320, Eur. IT 739: c. acc. pers. et gen. rei, release from a thing, apoikiês Hdt. 4.157: in legal sense, acquit of a charge or engagement, phonou tina Dem. 37.59 (abs., ean aidesêtai kai aphêi Ibid=Dem. 37.59); sunallagmatôn IDEM=Dem. 33.12: c. acc. only, acquit, Antiph. 2.1.2, etc. (v. infr. 2 c):--  (emp. jhb).


c. in legal sense (v. supr. Ib), c. dat. pers. et acc. rei, a. tini aitiên remit him a charge, IDEM=Hdt. 6.30; tas hamartadas IDEM=Hdt. 8.140.b', cf.Ev.Matt.6.12, al.; tas dikas . . aphiesan tois epitropois Dem. 21.79; a. tini eis eleutherian chilias drachmas IDEM=Dem. 59.30, cf.IG22.43A27; a. plêgas tini excuse him a flogging, Aristoph. Cl. 1426; a. horkon Jusj. in Lexap.Andoc. 1.98; phoron Plb.21.24.8 (Pass.); daneion tini Ev.Matt.18.27.

Smith’s Bible Dictionary

Divorce, [N] [T] [B] [E]

“‘a legal dissolution of the marriage relation.’ The law regulating this subject is found (24:1-4) and the cases in which the right of a husband to divorce his wife was lost are stated ibid ., (22:19,29) The ground of divorce is appoint on which the Jewish doctors of the period of the New Testament differed widely; the school of Shammai seeming to limit it to a moral delinquency in the woman, whilst that the Hillel extended it to trifling causes, e.g., if the wife burnt the food she was cooking for her husband. The Pharisees wished perhaps to embroil our Saviour with these rival schools by their question, (Matthew 19:3) by his answer to which, as well as by his previous maxim, (Matthew 5:31) he declares that he regarded all the lesser causes than "fornication" as standing on too weak ground, and declined the question of how to interpret the words of Moses” (emp. jhb).

Arndt & Gingrich

On Page 125 of the 1979 edition of Arndt and Gingrich, under the word Aphiemi, it states concerning I Corinthians 7:11—in a legal sense divorce.”

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 1, pgs. 509-512)

On pg. 509 under the Greek usage:

“To be emphasized is the legal use much attested in the pap.1to release someone from a legal relation,” whether office, marriage, obligation, or debt, though never in a religious sense.”

“Corresponding is the use of the rarer subst., which often has the legal sense of ‘release’ from office, marriage, obligation etc., as also from debt or punishment, though never religiously…”

The legal sense of ‘to remit’ is not so prominent, but it does occur.”

On pg. 511 under the NT usage:

“This word, which is not found in the LXX, has the same legal meaning as the verb [Gk. Word, jhb] ( – 509) and is attested in this sense…”

 On pg. 512 under the NT usage:

“There is thus avoided the legal understanding of the thought of forgiveness as a remission of punishment related only to past events…”.

Testimony exists which indicates the Greek works translated divorce were classified as “technical” and real, not “non-technical” and unreal. Herodotus, a Greek writer, was one of many who used “aphiemi” in referring to divorce “in a legal sense.”

Moreover, the Greek word “chorizo” is found in numerous divorce decrees and had “almost become a technical term in connection with divorce,” (James Hope Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, p. 696).

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