Does Reference to “Husband” and “Wife”
Always Indicate Current Marriage Status?

By Jeff Belknap

Some claim that since the Bible describes those who are unlawfully put away, as “husband” and “wife,” they are still “married.”  Hence, they reason that because they are yet “married,” these already put away persons can still employ the divine prerogative that Matthew 19:9a gives, for one to “put away” their “husband” or “wife” for the cause of fornication. (“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery”).

Their final extrapolated theory goes on to presume that if the victim of an unlawful divorcement protests that action, they cannot really be put away.  Thus, to them, the teaching in Matthew 5:32b; 19:9b and Luke 16:18b, doesn’t apply to the unwilling divorce subject, for the Bible still considers them to be a “husband” or “wife” to their bound spouse.  However, as a blanket assumption, this assertion poses a consistency problem, so the theorists must make distinctions and rules which are not found in scripture. 

Like those who oppose their mental (second) divorce doctrine, the errorists also concede that if both partners agree to the unlawful divorce, they have no divine prerogative to later “put away” when the other commits adultery.  However, this admission poses a problem for them, since they acknowledge that both people in this scenario are still bound to one another.

If their argumentation about a person’s divine right to “put away” for scriptural cause while the bond is still intact (while the Bible still calls them “husband” and “wife”) holds consistently true, then it applies to those in the above scenario, as well as to the unwilling put away person.

Thus, the creation of unscriptural distinctions and arbitrary rules becomes necessary, in order to offset the problem of inconsistent application in their reasoning.  

The Unscriptural Distinctions


·        An unscriptural divorce by a couple who mutually agree to the action, is a real divorce, even though the couple is still bound. 


·        An unscriptural putting away against a person who protests the divorce is nothing more than a “farce” because the couple is still bound.


The Arbitrary Rules:


·        The one who may later “put away” after the unlawful (civil) divorce must have protested the civil action if she is permitted to subsequently “put away” her already estranged spouse.


·        This individual must then remain “true” to the “marriage bond” after the unlawful divorce until fornication is committed by the one who perpetrated the unlawful (civil) sundering of the marriage.  Then they may employ a post-civil-divorce “biblical putting away” for scriptural cause and remarry another.

Where were these distinctions and conditions derived from?  The scriptures nowhere even hint at such imperatives nor confuse the marriage (the PHYSICAL relationship) with the bond (the SPIRITUAL obligation).  However, these perversions are necessary to their post-civil-divorce “biblical putting away” doctrine.

Additionally, if the unwilling victim must remain “true to the marriage bond” after an unscriptural divorce in order to later “put away,” does that mean that in the mean time, she must agree to provide conjugal rights to the spouse who divorced her, if/when he so desires (I Cor. 7:2-5)?  If not, pray tell what this arbitrary rule entails? 

If they are really husband and wife in more than an accommodative sense, and if they are really still married, neither is authorized to “defraud” the other!  If they are still married, what about this “husband’s” divine “liberty” in I Corinthians 7:2-3?  

Consequently, this logical end to the theorist’s reasoning would defraud a person of their divine liberty to be excused from servitude to their departed spouse (I Cor. 7:15).  You can’t have it both ways.  After an unlawful divorce, either a person is really still married and subject to all the duties and privileges of marriage (outlined in I Cor. 7:2-5); or they are “unmarried” (as I Cor. 7:10-11 teaches) and thus excused from the servitude of the physical relationship (as per I Cor. 7:15).    

Erroneous Contentions Whereby God’s Word is Misrepresented:


·       The words “married”/“marry”/“marrieth” and “put away”/“put asunder”/“divorced”/ “depart”/“leave” are sometimes used accommodatively (in our context of study).


·        The words “husband” and “wife” are never used accommodatively (in our context of study).

Again, the unfortunate problem with the Mental Divorce (Second Putting Away) theory is that it has to wrest the truth to arrive at its final conclusion (Psa. 56:5; II Pet. 3:16).

All recognize that one of the two groups of words/terms above must be used accommodatively, if we are to harmonize scripture (II Tim. 2:15) and make sense of the texts.  The question is, which group?  Is it “marry” and “divorce,” or “husband” and “wife”?  When we compare how the two groups are used in the Bible, we can easily ascertain which group is used in the accommodative sense. 

The Accommodative Language 

Contrary to the theorist’s assertion, it is obvious that “husband” and “wife” are the terms used accommodatively in our context of study.  Scripture clearly reveals how these words are used (in certain instances, Mt. 22:24-25; Mk. 6:17-18; Jn. 4:15-18; Acts 5:9).  For example, Matthew 22:24-25 refers to the woman whose husband died as his “wife.”  This is also true in the Old Testament (II Sam. 11:26; 12:9-10, 15 et al.).  

Back in Malachi 2:14-16, the LORD was witness to the sin man was perpetrating “against” the “wife” of his youth.  The divine record states that man “dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.”  Were couples really obtaining the “treacherous” divorces that God hated?  The Bible affirms that they were!  This is why God said, “take heed to your spirit, and let none (cp. Mt. 19:6, jhb) deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously” (emp. jhb).

In addition, Acts 5:9 says that Ananias was dead when Peter stated, “the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door” (emp. jhb).  Matthew 22:24-30; Romans 7:3 and I Corinthians 7:39 clearly teach that, upon the death of one spouse, the marriage is dissolved.  Yet, in such cases, the Bible uses the terms, “husband” and “wife” in reference to both the partner who died and the remaining spouse.  Hence, it is undeniable that the terms “wife” and “husband” in such passages are used accommodatively (Jn. 8:31-32; Eph. 5:17).

Another circumstance in which “husband” and “wife” are used in an accommodative sense is where a spouse is bound to one, while being married to “another” (Rom. 7:3).  Mark 6:17-18 teaches that even after Herod had married Herodias, she was Philip’s wife.  [Paul stated that to avoid fornication, “every” man and woman are to “have” their “own” mate, not somebody else’s (cp. I Cor. 7:2 w. Mk. 6:18; I Cor. 5:1).] 

Similarly, in John 4:15-18, although the Lord asked the woman to summon her “husband,” Jesus and the woman later agreed that the man she was with was not really her husband.  Moreover, in John 4:18 the Lord said to this woman, “For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband.”   

Terms Used Accommodatively: “Husband” and “Wife”

II Sam. 12:15, “And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.”  Cp. w. II Sam. 11:26; 12:9-10

Mt. 22:24+25, “Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.”

Cp. w. Mk. 6:17+18, “For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her. 18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife.”

Jn. 4:15-18, “The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. 16 Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. 17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: 18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.”

Acts 5:9, “Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.”

Rom. 7:3, “So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.”

I Cor. 7:39, “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”

A “Husband” / ”Wife” Is NOT Always A Current Husband / Wife

In all such verses, it is clear that these terms are used accommodatively.  Conversely, in the absence of a scriptural contradiction (immediate or elsewhere), scripture must always be taken literally. 

Strangely enough, some of the above-mentioned verses which use “husband” and “wife” in an accommodative sense are the very scriptures which some appeal to, as “proof” that the bound couple is still married.  However, in scripture, the expressions “marriage” and “divorce” are NEVER used accommodatively (II Tim. 2:15; I Thess. 5:21).  Man marries (a physical/civil procedure) whether divinely authorized or not (carefully consider Mt. 19:9; Mk. 6:17 and Lk. 16:18).  There is no scripture anywhere that necessarily infers the parties involved have not really married or divorced. 

Terms Never Used Accommodatively:
“Marry” and “Put Away”

Mt. 5:32, “But I say unto you, That 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. 19:9, “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” Cp. w. v. 6; I Cor. 7:11

Mk. 6:17, “For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her.”

Mk. 10:11-12, “And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.” Cp. w. v. 9

Lk. 16:18, “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”

Rom. 7:2+3, “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.”

A Marriage / Divorce Is Always A Marriage / Divorce

 There are five possible combinations of marital status and the bond: 

1)  Unmarried and unbound  [The single (I Cor. 7:8-9), the widowed (Rom. 7:2-3; I Cor. 7:8-9, 39; I Tim. 5:14), and the “innocent party” who has put away the “guilty party” for the cause of fornication (Mt. 19:9).]


2)  Married and bound  [Those who are scripturally married (Mt. 19:5-6; Rom. 7:2; I Cor. 7:39).]


3)     Unmarried and bound  [Those who are unlawfully divorced (I Cor. 7:10-11; Rom. 7:3), and the “guilty party” who has been put away for fornication (Mt. 5:32; 19:9).]


4)     Married to one and bound to another  [Those who are unlawfully divorced and remarried to another (Rom. 7:2-3; Lk. 16:18b).


5)  Married and unbound  [The “third party” that has married someone who is bound to another (Mt. 5:32b; 19:9b; Lk. 16:18b; Rom. 7:3).

In every case, when Holy Writ says that a couple is “married” and/or “divorced” (lawfully or otherwise), there is nothing to contradict a literal understanding.  In fact, the expressed words of Christ are: “SHALL” put away and “IS” divorced, as well as “SHALL” marry another and “BE” married, etc., to emphasize the reality of these activities, even when they are unauthorized!  As in point #4 above, though Herod’s marriage with his brother’s “wife” was indisputably unlawful, the Holy Spirit says, “he had married her” (Mk. 6:17).  

In truth, every time the word “divorce” and/or “marriage” (and their synonyms) is found in our context of study, the actual deed has transpired (cf. Mt. 19:6; Rom. 7:2-3 with I Cor. 7:11, 15).  One may be “bound by the law” while lawfully married (Rom. 7:2), or “bound by the law” while unlawfully divorced / “unmarried” (I Cor. 7:11; Mt. 5:32, 19:9; Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18; Rom. 7:3).

God’s part of binding and loosing is not automatically intertwined with what man does, just as man’s physical part of marriage and divorce is not necessarily in agreement with God’s law, which one is bound by.  From the teaching in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, it is clear that God does His part in loosing a person from the bond of His law only when man has fully complied with His law (which includes compliance with the civil laws to which one is subject—Rom. 13:1-2; Tit. 3:1; I Pet. 2:13-17).

Once an unauthorized divorce is finalized, there are NO REVEALED MEANS that allow the put away person (divorced, but still bound) to marry another while their (already) estranged spouse is alive (Mt. 5:32, 19:9; Lk. 16:18; Rom. 7:2-3; I Cor. 7:39).  In fact, every passage in the New Testament that addresses the remarriage of a put away person to someone else (while the first mate is still living) characterizes that relationship as ADULTEROUS (Mt. 5:32b; 19:9b; Lk. 16:18b; Rom. 7:3a).  Who will argue with the Lord (Rom. 11:34)?

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