By Jeff Belknap
Brother Harry Osborne recently wrote another article in which he asserts that the civil divorce procedure and “Biblical” putting away are not synonymous. The contentions he reveals in that article result from his underlying belief that in some cases, a person cannot be what Jesus called “apoluo” (put away). Consequently, he teaches that some persons whose mates put them away are not amenable to Jesus’ statement regarding those who are put away (Mt. 5:32b; 19:9b; Lk. 16:18b). (This fact is also confirmed by Harry’s vehement denial that he advocates a “second putting away,” even when he clearly advocates a post-civil-divorce “apoluo”). For additional evidence, consider: What Are They Really Saying?
In his Lakeland, FL sermon, Harry professed, “I particularly know of a case” of a man who (unbeknownst to his wife) went away to Las Vegas and obtained a divorce within three days, then remarried another woman. In his relaying of the story (that he claimed to have particular knowledge of), Harry said that when the man returned home, he notified his wife that she had been put away:
“…‘by the way hun, I didn’t go to New York, I went to Las Vegas. I’ve divorced you, I’ve married her.’ The first his wife knew about it was at that time. She told him, ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with you if you’re ungodly and going to stay in that relationship. I’m going to put you away. That farce that you had of an action out there in Las Vegas is not what was putting away. If civil procedure is the putting away, that woman was divorced, didn’t know about it, and there is no way she can be protected by the law of God. I suggest to you the principles of God would show the very opposite. The principles would show she does have a right to say ‘here’s why I’m going away from you. I’m expressing that as the reason why. I’m taking action. You get your stuff out of here.’ That’s Biblical putting away - and it’s Biblical putting away for the cause, and it’s Biblical putting away after the very principles that Jesus made clear.” (emp. jhb). Harry Osborne [“What is ‘Biblical Putting Away’?,” Lakeland, FL. (5-29-01)]. LISTEN
This scenario – as Harry cited it – has been proven to be a fabrication according to the laws of Nevada and every other state in the US. However, it is typical of the emotionally-charged tactics employed by those who promote the post-civil-divorce “apoluo” doctrine (AKA “Mental Divorce”). For further information and verification of this charge, see The Nevada Straw Man & Follies, Fallacies, and Fabrications.
Compare Harry’s quote above with those of brother Ron Halbrook:
“The passage (Mt. 19:9, jhb) explains which divorces and remarriages God will accept as valid under the terms of his law and which He will not accept. If a person sinfully and wrongfully rejects or puts away his mate, his action is a farce so far as changing the obligations he has to that mate under God’s law” (emp. jhb). Ron Halbrook [Notes For Further Study]
“In that case, what you have, you have to make a distinction between a scriptural putting away and an unscriptural putting away. Because the man goes through the farce of a civil action in putting her away in a legal sense (he has done that—the civil courts will record it), but in the sight of God he has just acted out a perversion and a lie, and God doesn’t accept what he has done” (emp. jhb). Ron Halbrook [An excerpt of an MDR presentation by Ron Halbrook at Belen, NM]
Because of these brothers’ denial that such a person has really been apoluo (put away in some cases), they can conveniently exempt her from the prohibitions placed upon the put away, and slip her into the first halves of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, where, given the “right” (arbitrary) circumstances, she can do what the Lord specifically said the put away cannot do without committing adultery.
Harry continues to emphasize “Biblical Putting Away” (as if the Bible does not also confirm that Jesus called an unlawful apoluo, “apoluo”). However, the Bible reveals two kinds of divorcement—lawful as well as unlawful.
There is absolutely no such thing in the Bible as a divorce (civil or otherwise) that is in reality, not a divorce! Regardless of whether one is “apoluo” lawfully or unlawfully, Jesus stated, “and whoso marrieth her which is put away (apoluo) doth commit adultery” (Mt. 19:9b). While Harry boasts of his superior knowledge of “Biblical putting away,” he has yet to give a verse that verifies his post-civil-apoluo1 “apoluo2” doctrine (i.e. note the two apoluos). If Jesus didn’t consider an unscriptural divorce to be “apoluo,” then why, pray tell, did He call the woman in Luke 16:18b, “apoluo,” when no scriptural cause for the divorce was present?
Moreover, just as God recognizes the reality of unlawful marriages (cf. Mk. 6:17-18; Rom. 7:3), He also acknowledges unauthorized divorces as actions which effect consequences for both parties (Mt. 19:6, 9; I Cor. 7:10-11).
What does the Bible teach that a put away person can do, following an unlawful divorce? Obviously, all that God has authorized an unlawfully divorced person to do is “remain unmarried or be reconciled” to their bound partner (I Cor. 7:10-11). Moreover, the Lord taught that any remarriage to “another” AFTER an unauthorized “apoluo” while one’s bound partner is alive is ADULTEROUS (Mt. 5:32b; 19:9b; Lk. 16:18b; cf. Rom. 7:3). However, the end effect of Harry’s version of “‘Biblical’ Putting Away” is that a person who is clearly “put away” (as identified in Mt. 5:32b; 19:9b; Lk.16:18b) enters into an ADULTEROUS marriage with the false assurance that he/she is the innocent person who “put away” his mate for scriptural cause (Rom. 16:17-18; Eph. 4:14).
Although brother Osborne denies the charge that he teaches a second putting away, it is only because he denies the reality of the first APOLUO under certain (subjective) conditions (see Harry’s above quote, “…That farce that you had of an action out there in Las Vegas is not what was putting away...”).
The irony is that Homer Hailey also denied belief in adulterous remarriages, but Harry and Ron (rightly) accused him of a doctrine that led to adultery. Harry’s claim that I misrepresent him by charging him with what he denies (teaching what is the second putting away) is reminiscent of some brethren’s contention that one cannot be called a false teacher unless it can be established that he intended to deceive.
Nevertheless, have you ever heard of a false teacher who has acknowledged that his twisting of scripture actually leads to SIN? For me to publicly assert that one civil divorce1 action plus Harry’s post-civil-divorce2 action equals two divorce actions is not a misrepresentation of Harry’s doctrine, as Harry charges. It is reality!
While Harry is quick to quote the definition of “apoluo,” he is “slow” (cf. Lk. 24:25) to accept its comprehensive (lawful and unlawful) Biblical implications of usage (cf. Jn. 12:48):
The term “apoluo” reveals that a real separation has taken place! Note also, that although Barabbas’ release was civilly lawful, it was unjust in the sight of God (cf. Rom.13:1-7). Nevertheless, Biblically speaking, he was released (apoluo) in the place of Jesus (Mt. 27:26). Furthermore, as a result of Barabbas’ unjust release, our supremely innocent Savior suffered a fate that was against his own will, in order to submit to God the Father (Mt. 26:39; I Pet. 2:23).
Biblical use of the term “apoluo” (or putting away) necessarily infers neither the consent of the one being put away, nor divine approval for such an action (Mt. 5:32; cf. Mal. 2:14-16)! There are no Greek authorities who “suggest” that innocence and/or unwillingness negate the effect of apoluo. The only ones I have found to “suggest” such, are the proponents of the post-civil-divorce apoluo (second putting away) doctrine.
Both man and woman give their consent to marry each other (Mt. 19:4-5). However, divorcement is different; only one is necessary to put away the other (Mt. 5:32a; 19:9a; cf. I Cor. 7:10-11, 15). It may take two to tango, but it only takes one for the dance to stop.
Harry claims that the burden of proof is upon us to show that civil law is what finalizes a divorce in this country. However, the issue of controversy really stems from Harry’s unwillingness to accept the fact that an innocent and unwilling person can be what Jesus called “apoluo” (and thus, necessarily subject to the Lord’s pronouncement that any remarriage to another after becoming such, would result in adultery).
In actuality, the burden of proof is upon Harry. First, he must establish his presupposition that - in some circumstances - when a mate perpetrates the act that Jesus called “apoluo” (Mt. 5:32a; 19:9a; Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18a), the one they perpetrated it against is not what Jesus then called “apoluo” (Mt. 5:32b; 19:9b; Lk. 16:18b). Only when he has first borne that burden of proof—would a discussion about what that procedure is, become relevant.
[As I have pointed out before, the same “apoluo” procedure that Harry says accomplishes post-civil-divorce “putting away” is a procedure that was already employed against the innocent, unwilling spouse. Did not the person who unscripturally put his innocent, unwilling spouse away in a court of law first repudiate, release, and “apoluo” her in every sense of the word? Hence, Harry’s disagreement is not over procedure; his disagreement is with the Biblical teaching that after having been unlawfully divorced, one is what the Lord called “apoluo” and thus subject to the restrictions placed upon the “put away” (cf. I Cor. 7:10-11).]
Though difficult to decipher from some of his writing, Harry’s discussion of “‘Biblical’ putting away” does not begin at the point we all understand putting away occurs – within the confines of an intact marriage. Harry begins his “application” of “‘Biblical’ putting away” at a point sometime after one has already been civilly divorced, with the theory that in these cases the person is not truly divorced (cf. his quote above).
Please note the following quote by Maurice W. Lusk, which very succinctly corroborates the position which Harry espouses as nothing more than playing the “game of semantical gymnastics”:
“It is the contention of this writer that it is a flagrant violation of language and reasoning to argue that a person is divorced and yet married to the person from whom he/she is divorced. A person may be divorced unscripturally, but he/she is yet divorced; and a person divorced from another person is not married to that person. This business of insisting that one may be divorced ‘in the eyes of men’ and not divorced ‘in the eyes of God’ is nonsense. God may not approve of a given action (divorce or whatever), but that does not mean that the action does not occur because God does not approve of it. A divorce without scriptural grounds is yet a divorce and renders the person divorced ‘unmarried.’ The argument being advanced here is that: ‘All actions not approved of by God become non-actions or actions which do not occur.’ If this is the case, then is it legitimate in any sense to speak of an action as having occurred when in actuality it did not occur? It is far better to take the language of a given text as meaning what it says (i. e. married means married, divorced means divorced), than to play this game of semantical gymnastics wherein words do not mean what they mean.” [Maurice W. Lusk, III, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Teachings of Jesus and Paul (Atlanta: Guild of Scribes, 1982), pp. 44, 45].
Harry says he agrees that “put away” people cannot remarry. However, in his Lakeland sermon, he made it clear that in some instances, a civil divorce is nothing but a “farce” that does not (cf. Gen. 3:4) put away. By adding “not” to what Jesus called “apoluo,” a put away person is now “lawfully” eligible to engage in “holy matrimony” with another (after employing Harry’s post-civil-divorce “putting away”). I contend that God’s law rules over Harry’s law.
Brother Osborne closes his article with the insinuation that those who openly oppose the post-civil-divorce “putting away” doctrine are guilty of causing division. This however, is the predictable claim of all who desire to introduce error with impunity. Brethren, do not be deceived, just as Homer Hailey had his defenders and justifiers pleading toleration (via placing his doctrinal error into Romans 14), Ron Halbrook has his own as well. [Cp. w. Ed Harrell’s efforts regarding fellowship with brother Hailey (Christianity Magazine, Nov. 1988, pp. 6-9; Apr. 1989, p. 6; May 1989, p. 6; May 1990, p. 6).] Unfortunately, the choice by many to “go along” in order to “get along” did nothing to help turn brother Hailey - or his defenders - from the error of their way (cf. Jer. 23:14).
Nonetheless, note what brother Halbrook, himself, stated regarding the true source of division:
“Now when we preach these things today, we’re accused of causing division. Dear friend, I want you to remember, departure from the authority of God’s word results in division. And the one who introduces error splits the log. Who causes division? The one that promotes a perverted gospel. Those that introduced the missionary society drove the wedge of human law that divided the Lord’s church. Those that drove the wedge of instrumental music divided the church. Not those that opposed it! Those that opposed it were pleading for scriptural authority, scriptural unity. But those that introduce the perverted theories of men divide the church…These theories are not taught in God’s word. And listen friend, when we oppose the theories we’re not causing division. What’s causing division then? The theories of men!” Ron Halbrook (“Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage" at The Carriage Drive church of Christ, Beckley, WV (5-30-91). LISTEN
It is unrealistic for Harry (or anyone else) to expect us to just accept his claim that this issue is no more than a matter “of personal conscience” simply because he says so. Not only does his divorce denial result in adulterous remarriages, it also promotes unlawful fellowship with those who are living in - and advocating what is adultery (cf. I Cor. 5). Both are specifically condemned in scripture (II Jn. 9-11).
Conversely, many brethren who cannot accept Harry’s and Ron’s “application” clearly recognize the fact that a misunderstanding of this issue will affect the eternal destiny of countless precious souls (I Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19-21). The Bible says, “adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4).