By Jeff Belknap

In Matthew 23, we learn that the Pharisees formulated various unlawful (subjective) oaths.  Although these vows were unauthorized (i.e. not approved by God), they were recognized by the LORD nonetheless!  And we find in both the old law and the New Testament that, no matter how rash our oaths, God expects us to keep them (Num. 30:2; Jud. 11:30-40; Jas. 5:12).  Yet, these “leaders” of the first century were telling God’s people that some oaths were “nothing,” when God said that they were SOMETHING significant – for failing to keep them resulted in sin (Deut. 23:21; Psa. 76:11a)!

Although these self righteous “experts” had the ability to strain out the smallest defilements from God’s word (when they did not have a doctrine to prove), their appetite for maintaining their party status enabled them to go with the flow and “swallow” some huge ruminants (Mt. 23:16-23)!  

Mt. 23:16-24, “Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say…it is nothing…24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”


Today, brethren are creating such beasts and “many” are developing a taste for them (II Pet. 2:1-2; cf. Isa. 10:30).  It is “adultery,” which heads the list of works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19).  In spite of this “great wickedness” (Gen. 39:9), many are willing to close their eyes and “swallow” when it is advocated and practiced.  Remarriage to another after an unlawful divorce results in “adultery” (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18), unless one’s bound mate dies first (Rom. 7:2-3).

This doctrine is built upon the erroneous presupposition that since a divorce is sinful, it is not recognized by God (“is nothing”) and that a couple is thus, still married after such a divorce (cp. Psa. 11:3).  Please compare what brother Ron Halbrook taught in his Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage sermon (Wilkesville, OH), regarding an unscriptural divorce and “marriage:”

“And so, in conclusion from this, we learn that an unscriptural divorce releases neither party from marriage.  When you have an unscriptural divorce, as men count it, it’s not so with God.  That bond is still intact.  And that little piece of paper is nothing in the sight of God.  Just as well use it as Kleenex and blow your nose and drop it in the toilet.  It doesn’t mean a thing to God.  God’s law rules over the laws of men.” (emp. jhb) Ron Halbrook (MDR sermon preached in Wilkesville, OH; 6-14-90)

Contrary to what brother Halbrook contends above, Jesus said such an action is something – something which He called “divorce” / “put away” (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18).  It is something which makes one “unmarried” (I Cor. 7:11).  It is something that “CAUSES” a put away mate to commit “adultery” (Mt. 5:32; cf. Mt. 19:9b; Lk. 16:18b; Rom. 7:2-3).  It is something treacherous, which God says He “hates” (Mal. 2:16).  It is sin (Mt. 19:6). 

Although some beg to differ, who can deny that there is a difference between approval and recognition or acknowledgement?  There are a host of actions that God does not approve of, but which He recognizes.  As a matter of fact, all of men’s actions which God disapproves of (also known as sin) must first be recognized by Him if He is to impose a “just recompense of reward” upon “every transgression and disobedience” (Heb. 2:2-3; Col. 3:25).

None of those who advocate the post-civil-divorce putting away would contend that sins such as fornication, murder, lying, stealing, etc. are not recognized by God because they are not “approved of,” by Him.  Nor would they deny that these sins cause others to suffer physically, as a result.  But when a man sins—and civil law is involved in the process—we are told that if we recognize that law which finalized the man’s sin, we are respecting man’s law over God’s!?  However, man’s law condones and facilitates many sins (i.e. abortion, alcohol, gambling, martyring, etc.). Such transgressions (supported by man’s law) to God’s law not only result in many physical consequences, but eternal ones as well!

If the fundamental principle is true, that some divorces are NOTHING (not recognized by God, since they are not approved of by Him), who will articulate the scripture (by statement of fact; command; example or necessary inference) which so teaches?  The Master taught us that there will always be “blind” leaders and those who willingly “close” their eyes (Mt. 13:14-15; Acts 28:26-27) to truth, even while opening their mouths to swallow gross error.   However, to those who can “see” (Mt. 13:16), Jesus said, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Mt. 15:14).

“The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousand fold.”
Aristotle (384-322 BC), Greek philosopher

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