Man, One Woman, For a Lifetime,
With One Exception”
By David McKee
I invite the reader’s careful attention to the following statement: “One man, one woman, for a lifetime, with one exception.” On the surface, one might think the statement deserves a hearty, “amen” as it accords with the will of God. But upon examining the writings and teachings of some who are making this statement, it becomes clear that while the statement may be in accord with the will of God, their teaching is not.
Stan Cox has recently submitted a series of articles on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage, on his website, watchmanmag.com. In the series of articles, one frequently encounters the statements, “one man, one woman, for a lifetime,” and, “one man, one woman, for a lifetime, with one exception.” This is declared to be God’s established rule for marriage. But one also encounters the following statements:
“In reality, at times civil government goes beyond its legitimate authority. God's law is not to be subjugated to civil law. Though a civil judge may refuse to recognize an innocent's repudiation of his or her mate for the cause of fornication, and may even grant a judgment of divorce to the guilty party, this does not abrogate the innocent party's divine right to put away his or her spouse for the cause of fornication.”
“In Matthew 19:9, Jesus specified the cause for the putting away, not the procedure. Note that the question in verse 3, asked by the Pharisees, was, ‘Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?’ (KJV). Jesus’ answer was that the only cause sufficient for justly putting away a spouse was ‘fornication’ Regardless of the civil procedure, the individual who puts away his or her spouse for the cause of fornication is free to remarry.”
“While Matthew 19 indeed indicates that a civil divorce must be obtained, no scripture ever specifies a procedure.”
“One may find it necessary to file first, or to have adultery stated on the papers as the cause of the dissolution of the marriage. Another, though ‘putting away’ his spouse for adultery, may not be conscience bound to follow that exact same civil process.”
While on the surface, the stated rule sounds good, looking at the arguments beneath reveals the same old man-made rules that would allow for one who has been put away (divorced, repudiated) to set aside that action, take some other action (though never described) herself, and remarry. Such a teaching, which would result in an adulterous marriage, is far from being in accord with the will of God.
Ron Halbrook makes the statement in the following manner: “One man, one woman, for a lifetime, except when the innocent puts the guilty party away for fornication.” Again, on the surface, one might think that anyone making such a statement is completely sound in his teaching on the subject. What one discovers later is that some, like brother Halbrook, are referring to a woman who has already been put away (divorced, repudiated), but because she did not consent to the action, the action that her mate took against her never took place in the eyes of God. That is why these will argue that they do not believe in a second putting away (they simply ignore the first one that has already taken place).
What brother Cox would have us accept is the belief that since the actions of sinful men and women cannot alter “God's established rule for marriage” – “one man, one woman, for a lifetime, with one exception,” then their actions can be ignored. What he would have us end up believing is that the innocent wife who is put away against her wishes, who maintains her marriage obligations, may put away her ex-mate upon his subsequent fornication and remarry. Brother Cox would argue that she followed the rule and the man did not, so his actions do not count and are not to be recognized. Unfortunately for the woman, and contrary to what brother Cox argues, our Lord recognizes the husband’s action as sinful and identifies her re-marriage as adulterous.
It is true that man cannot alter the will of God. Sin is the violation of the will of God, and that men can do. When the husband wrongfully divorces his wife, he sins. When he follows that by committing fornication, he adds to his sin. The wife who remains bound to this sinner cannot marry again as long as he lives, no matter what men may argue. When she follows some man-made formula for taking action that has already been taken against her, and then remarries, she becomes guilty of the sin of adultery. Whatever she may be coached into doing and saying will not change the clear teaching of our Lord (Matthew 19:9).
One will find that much of what brother Cox wrote is in accord with the word of God and should receive a hearty, “amen.” I do not charge brother Cox with any efforts to deceive. But what men may not intend to do, Satan will use their faulty reasoning to do. If Satan can get it to look like a sheep, he will gladly walk that wolf right in among us. “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).