Arguing An Impossible Hypothesis

 By Steven Harper


Once, near the end of His time on earth, Jesus was challenged with a hypothetical situation by the Sadducees (Matt. 22:23-33). They, because they did not believe in the resurrection, thought they would give Him a situation He could not answer, so they asked him about a woman who married a man who then died; she marries his brother, who then died, marries the next brother, and so on until she had married seven brothers. Finally, she died, too. Their question was, “Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be?” (v. 27) Jesus was not fooled by their hypothetical question, however. He answered, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” (vv. 29, 30). He then went on to further illustrate their error [denying the resurrection] when He quoted a passage that should have shown them that the resurrection was true (vv. 31, 32). In the end, their hypothetical situation only presented an opportunity for Jesus to expose their false teachings and them as false teachers.

It seems we have some Sadducees among us once again!

These modern-day Sadducees are those who are teaching that a woman who has been put away not for fornication, and whose husband [who has already put her away] commits fornication after the divorce, may now “put away” this man and remarry without being called an adulteress. The argument that is being proffered is that of the “repudiation rights of the innocent” — “rights” that “cannot be taken away by the ungodly actions” of an ungodly mate. Like the Sadducees of Jesus’ time, these men are denying the very words of Jesus: when a woman who has been put away not for the cause of fornication remarries, she commits adultery (Matt. 19:9b; Luke 16:18b). A recent example:

“If the ungodly spouse puts asunder the marriage relationship, is there another physical marriage relationship that the innocent mate can put asunder? No. Is there anything else that can be done by the innocent mate? Yes, the innocent mate, upon the occurrence of fornication by the ungodly spouse, can certainly do something. He can exercise his God-given right to repudiate the fornicator by renouncing his vows made to him. Upon this action, God looses the innocent one from his vows made to the guilty spouse, thus giving the innocent one permission to remarry without committing adultery.”

Another brother writes:

“One should not be charged with a ‘waiting game’ position because he says the innocent may repudiate the guilty even when the fornication is committed after the fornicator leaves the marriage first. In most cases, the fornicator does leave his spouse in order to commit fornication. Jesus did not specify how much time may pass between the fornicator’s ‘departing’ from his innocent mate, and the commission of his sin (fornication).”

No Scripture is offered, however, that would support these hypotheticals and their erroneous conclusions, and we are left to either believe or disbelieve based on…what? One of the men who wrote this — like Homer Hailey when his error was exposed — has been preaching for decades; Is this supposed to be justification? Men who have argued loud and long for decades that we cannot presume to act on the silence of the Scriptures are now doing just that with this subject, and some of these men have even admitted that such a hypothetical scenario cannot be found anywhere within Scripture — but proceed to defend their erroneous arguments nonetheless.

The aim of this article is to show that this “second putting away” that these men are teaching is not only without a Scriptural basis to defend it, but by the very word used to describe “putting away,” such action is impossible! The word we will consider today is the oft-referred-to Greek word for “divorce” or “putting away”: apolu,w [apoluo]. Let me say, first of all, that in no translation I know of is the word apoluo translated “repudiate” [or any form of that word], so we will stick to the words commonly used in most translations. The insertion of the word “repudiation” into this discussion is only a diversion to try to get us to forget that what we are talking about is “divorce.” [Can someone divorce the spouse who has already divorced him or her?]

Someone has already written a lengthy article on the word apoluo in an effort to explain in detail that in no Bible passage does the word apoluo specify or imply a particular procedure, or necessitate civil [governmental] action. It may involve these things [depending on the context, of course], but not necessarily. On this point, I will heartily agree.

But throughout this lengthy article — and every other one that has come across my desk and/or computer screen — the writer fails to define what apoluo is, and what it does necessitate. Let us consider just a few passages where the word is used and let us make some necessary conclusions from the texts.

Matthew 14:22, 23. Here, Jesus sent [apoluo] the multitudes away. We are not told the exact procedure that was followed in doing this, but we may logically conclude that it involved some measure of persuasion on the part of Jesus to get them to leave, and the people then physically departing. [When He went up on the mountain, He was by Himself, v. 23.] When Jesus sent the multitude away [apoluo] and they departed, this precluded [made impossible] the multitude from sending Jesus away. Since they were already away from His physical presence, it was not possible for them to send Him away [apoluo]. [The same applies for Matt. 15:39; also Luke 14:4 when He “let go” the healed man.] Are we to believe this multitude could “send away” Jesus after He had already sent them away and they had departed?

Matthew 18:27. When the master forgave [apoluo] the debtor, the debtor could not forgive [apoluo] the master, for he had nothing to forgive [send away; dismiss]; the master owed him nothing. What was forgiven [sent away; dismissed; apoluo] was the debt of the servant. Once that was completed, the servant had nothing left to do regarding his responsibility to the master on that matter. Are we to believe that after this man had been forgiven [apoluo] the debt, he could go back to the master and forgive [apoluo] him of something? If so, what?

Matthew 27:17, 21, 26. When Pilate asked about releasing [apoluo] one to the Jews, whoever would benefit from that release [apoluo] had no capacity to release [apoluo] Pilate; Pilate alone was the one who held the power to release [apoluo] or leave bound. Are we to believe that, after Barabbas was released [apoluo] by Pilate, he could come back and release [apoluo] Pilate? If so, from what?

Some would now want to go to Matthew 5:32 or 19:9 or Mark 10:11, 12 and say this is somehow different. How so? The Greek word apoluo — [translated as divorce, put away, sent away, dismiss, forgive, release, let go, let depart, loose, set free, but not ever as repudiate] — by its usage in every other passage in the New Testament precludes [makes impossible] any further action regarding the action or relationship under consideration. The one sent away could not then send away the one who had sent them away. The one forgiven had nothing to forgive the other party. The one set free had no authority or ability to then set the other free [nor did they need to do so]. “But what about the ‘God-given’ rights of the innocent?” Jesus further precluded him or her from remarrying when He said, “whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (Matt. 5:32b), and “whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matt. 19:9b)

Let us accept the fact that the word inspired by God to be written describing this act [approved by Him or not] precludes further action.    

From: The Burns Park BEACON, a bulletin of the Burns Park church of Christ, North Little Rock, AR.
Editor: Steven Harper
February 15, 2004

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