Response To Ron Chaffin
By David Watts, Jr.
The following article is written in response to some writings from brother Ron Chaffin. Brother Chaffin has defended in writing the mental divorce viewpoint and asked that his writings be made available to other brethren. I believe brother Chaffin’s writing does not adhere to the Scriptures.
To the best of my knowledge, brother Chaffin and I have never met. I wrote to him privately to insure that the writing that claims to be from him, is indeed from him. Obviously, if there were some misunderstanding on my part about his position, I would want to resolve that in a private manner. Brother Chaffin kindly wrote me back and I understand that he still believes and teaches as he has written.
I encourage the reader of my article to first read brother Chaffin’s writings. They are not long. I encourage you to read and consider them in light of the Scriptures. Search the Scriptures; see if these things are true.
After doing that, please return to this article and likewise, search the Scriptures. Determine if these things are accurate.
I also wish to make abundantly clear that I have no personal ill will toward brother Chaffin. I would imagine that he has taught many people the way of salvation. Nevertheless, his teaching on marriage, divorce and remarriage is not accurate. It encourages adulterous marriages for which condemnation will surely come unless there is repentance. I pray that he will reconsider his view, cease teaching this error, and teach only the truth.
David Watts Jr.
Early on in brother Chaffin’s writing, he asks the question, “What is the ‘waiting game’?” While I concur that brother Chaffin’s example is an example of the waiting game, it is not the only example of the waiting game in marriage, divorce and remarriage situations. Unfortunately, brother Chaffin’s teaching really does constitute another example of the waiting game.
Brother Chaffin teaches that if a man puts away his wife without lawful cause (i.e. not for fornication), that she can “wait” until such time that her ex-husband commits adultery. “Waiting” is a key component of this teaching of brother Chaffin’s. It is most certainly a “game” because it is not of God. Thus, many brethren rightly conclude that the kind of thing that brother Chaffin advocates is yet another example of the “waiting game.”
But ultimately, what we call a thing is not the key issue before us. Rather, let us deal with the specifics of the teaching, and contrast them to what God has said about this matter.
The Emotional Test Case
Let us first observe that brother Chaffin sets before us the hypothetical test case. As many others do, brother Chaffin loads the test case with emotional baggage. The man is described as “a rascal of a husband.” The wife is “shocked,” “loves him dearly; asks him to reconsider, asks him to allow the elders to talk to them both; or to go to marriage counseling, because she wants to work it out and stay together.” The “rascal of a husband” “will have none of it…”
Notice in brother Chaffin’s writing, as in the writings of some others that hold a similar view, that it is apparently not sufficient to state the case objectively and unemotionally. It is apparently not satisfactory to them to simply identify the parties as a “husband” who puts away his “wife.” Rather, a long list of adjectives will be employed to make sure we know that this husband is basically Ahab, Nabal, Cain, and Diotrephes all rolled into one. And of course, a correspondingly long list of adjectives will be pressed into service so that we understand that the wife is basically the Proverbs 31 woman, Esther, Ruth, and Mary all rolled into one.
What is the purpose of this? We should be wary when an argument leans heavily upon emotional baggage. It should be a clue for us that perhaps insufficient Biblical authority is being compensated for with excessive emotional appeal.
When stripped of the emotional overtones, the situation brother Chaffin lays before us is as follows. A man divorces his wife. It was not for fornication. Can she marry another man lawfully?
Brother Chaffin rightly discerns that the man is still bound by God to his ex-wife. Romans 7:2-3 shows this to be true. But then brother Chaffin runs aground. He says:
“So that if six months later or two years later he commits adultery against her by marrying again, then she (1st wife) can then repudiate him and her vows to him (before the congregation even) and be free to marry another if she wishes.”
But brother Chaffin has overlooked some key Bible truths.
The Context of the Fornication
The kind of sexual immorality that permits an innocent party to put away a guilty party is the kind of sexual immorality that occurs within a marriage, not the kind that occurs after a marriage is ended by divorce. When Jesus says, “except for fornication” – what kind of fornication is he talking about?
Is Jesus saying that if a man learns that his wife was sexually immoral prior to marriage that he may now divorce her and lawfully remarry? Jesus teaches no such thing. The context of “except for fornication” is marital infidelity. While Moses permitted divorce if a man found evidence of pre-marital infidelity, Jesus does not. Nor was Jesus arguing that sexual immorality that occurs after the marriage is ended allows for one to lawfully divorce the guilty and remarry. The context is marital infidelity.
Brother Chaffin has taken the one just cause for divorce and remarriage, marital infidelity, and moved it into a new context – adultery that occurs after the marriage is ended by divorce.
The Context of the Divorce Action
Furthermore, in what context is the lawful divorce action contemplated? Is it after the marriage has already been ended by a divorce, or is it the kind of divorce action that takes place during an intact marriage? Let the text answer.
Matthew 19:9 shows us two possibilities. The first possibility is that a man will put away his wife for an unlawful reason. The second possibility is that a man will put away his wife for a lawful reason (the exception clause). But both scenarios are in the context of both an intact marriage and an intact bond.
Brother Chaffin theorizes that the presence of adultery with a bond alone is sufficient to allow the innocent to put the guilty fornicator away. But that’s not the context of Jesus’ “privilege.” The ability to lawfully put away one’s spouse and remarry is the context of an intact marriage and an intact bond. In that circumstance of divorce, the innocent can marry another.
The Context of “Divorce”
Brother Chaffin also overlooks Jesus’ divine commentary on what a divorce is. When we consider what a divorce is, we understand that the woman in brother Chaffin’s scenario cannot possibly divorce her husband months or years after she herself was divorced by her husband. Deuteronomy 24:1 shows that divorce in the Old Covenant had two components. The first was the writing of divorcement (a documentation process) and the second was the sending of her out of his house (the sending-out process). This shows that there was in Moses’ time a process of documenting the divorce and executing the divorce.
The Pharisees captured this dual process in Matthew 19:7 when they asked, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” It is easy to see that the “certificate of divorce” in Matthew 19:7 matches up with the “writing of divorcement” of Deuteronomy 24:1. It is just as easy to see that the “put her away (apoluo)” of Matthew 19:7 matches up with the “sending out of the house” of Deuteronomy 24:1.
Of course, the Pharisees were not inspired. Let’s consider what Christ said in response to this in verse 8 of Matthew 19:
“Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce (apoluo) your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”
The process that was referred to by Moses as “send her out of the house” in Deuteronomy 24:1, and referred to by the Pharisees as “put her away (apoluo)”in Matthew 19:7 is also referred to by Jesus as “divorce (apoluo)” in Matthew 19:8.
Then, Jesus in Matthew 19:9 uses the same Greek word again (apoluo) in His divine command about divorce and remarriage. Jesus uses apoluo as the Greek equivalent of Moses’ “send her out of his house.” Therefore, the inspired commentary on what “divorce” means is to send one’s mate out of the house. It is a termination of all of the normal relationships of marriage. It terminates the sexual relationship and the entire cohabitation relationship.
A reasonable person sees that whether it is six months later or two years later, it is too late for the innocent to divorce the guilty. The marriage has already ended. There is no more “sending out of the house” – the “sending out” has already occurred.
What we have then in brother Chaffin’s teaching is a mistake concerning the kind of fornication that permits lawful divorce and remarriage. It is not adultery that occurs after the marriage is ended, but rather marital infidelity. We have in brother Chaffin’s writing a mistake about lawful divorce being authorized in the presence of a bond alone. It is not. Jesus described it as something that took place in the presence of a marriage and a bond. Finally, we see that it is not possible for the wife in brother Chaffin’s illustration to lawfully divorce as Jesus authorized it.
Authorized by Mark 10:11?
Brother Chaffin goes on to argue that this post-divorce divorcing, whether it be six months, six years or 40 years after the divorce is also authorized by Mark 10:11. Brother Chaffin argues that when Jesus describes the adulterer husband as committing adultery “against her” that the “her” is the original wife. Therefore, he argues, we have adultery – and adultery permits the innocent to put away.
But we’ve already demonstrated that adultery in the presence of a bond alone is not what Jesus was describing as the cause for a lawful divorce. It was sexual immorality in the presence of both an intact marriage and a bond. And, we’ve demonstrated that the “sending out” is simply not possible for the wife, as a “sending out” has already occurred. What imagination of man has concocted the idea that the “sent out” can “send out of the house” months, years or decades later the one that sent her out of the house?
Who is the “her”?
Nevertheless, the identity of the “her” is important in Mark 10:11. A lengthy evaluation of the Greek structures and tenses might be pertinent in this place. Such an examination readily shows that the “commits adultery” phrase has a tense that denotes ongoing, continuing action. It is the kind of ongoing, continuing adultery that takes place between a man and his new wife as they have the ongoing, continuing sexual relationship. For an excellent in-depth consideration of such, read Maurice Barnett’s responses to Jeff Smelser in the Barnett-Smelser exchange on this subject.
But I am convinced our English translations provide us with an accurate picture of what Jesus is teaching. Simply stated, the meaning of the “her” can be discerned by following normal rules of English grammar. Unless there is strong contextual evidence to the contrary, we usually understand pronouns to point back to their nearest antecedent in which the gender and plurality agrees.
In this case, the gender of the “marries another” is consistent with the gender of the “against her.” Additionally, both the “marries another” and the “against her” agree in terms of singularity. Therefore, absent strong contextual evidence to the contrary, we should understand the “against her” to refer to the “marries another” (i.e. the new wife).
There is absolutely no contextual evidence that would demand or even suggest that the “her” goes all the way back to the original wife. Additionally, we know factually that the marriage with the new wife is adultery. Jesus says so in Matthew 19:9 and Luke 16:18. Furthermore, Paul teaches the same principle in Romans 7:2-3.
The burden of proof that “against her” jumps over the new wife and new adulterous relationship and goes all the way back to the first wife, rests firmly upon those who make such claims. Simply stating the claim is not sufficient. Prove the claim. In the absence of strong contextual evidence, the normal understanding of the passage, which is consistent with all other Scripture on this subject, should stand.
Brother Chaffin turns his attention to the term “mental divorce.” He feels it is a “prejudicial term.” He indicates that those who teach what I teach, and those that teach what he teaches all believe in “mental divorce.” But such is not accurate. I believe that divorce as Jesus authorized it involves at least a mental determination and a sending-out process. If a man does this to his wife, I am convinced that Jesus prohibits her from marrying another man (Matthew 19:9, Luke 16:18, Matthew 5:32) save upon the death of her first husband.
Brother Chaffin believes that the wife, waiting until the man commits adultery, can then execute a divorce upon him in a way that is virtually entirely “mental” in nature. There is no corresponding “sending out” of the house as she was already sent out. There is no separation as they are already separated. There is no division of finances as they were already divided. There is no family to break up as the family is already broken up. And there is no marriage to break, as the marriage is already broken.
Such a fanciful notion of divorce does not match up with Jesus’ clear assessment of divorce as a “sending out of the house” process.
Go Before The Elders?
Perhaps, brother Chaffin suggests, the innocent wife can go before the elders. But the pattern that is being appealed to in 1 Corinthians 6 simply does not support this. The purpose of going before those who are wise in the congregation (e.g. Elders) is according to verse 5 to “judge between his brethren.”
First of all, what is there for the elders to judge in brother Chaffin’s example? Christ has already given the law. If a person is divorced by their spouse, they may not marry another. If the wife should acknowledge before the elders that she was put away, the only thing the elders can lawfully do is acknowledge Jesus’ prohibition of remarriage.
Furthermore, the pattern given in 1 Corinthians 6 applies to brethren in the same congregation. Presumably the “rascal” and the pure wife are not worshipping in the same congregation. If he were, then the elders’ job would be to teach him so that he might repent. But otherwise if he is not a member of the congregation any more, and especially if he is not a Christian, then how does this passage that speaks of elders “judging between brethren” possibly apply?
It is abundantly obvious that the elders of the congregation have no authority for issuing “paper” related to divorce matters. Again, the only real activity the woman in brother Chaffin’s example can take is “mental” in nature.
Remember Paul’s Instructions
Remember also Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 7:11. Paul indicates that if divorce does occur, the wife must “remain unmarried.” We ought to teach that the woman of brother Chaffin’s illustration can do what Paul told her she can do. She can remain unmarried or be reconciled. Why does brother Chaffin offer a third course of action? If Paul gave only two, shouldn’t brother Chaffin give only two?
Whether apoluo in other passages has action involved or not is not the real issue. The issue is that Jesus endorses the sending away process as being the element that composes a divorce. Such a divine definition simply cannot be met by the woman of brother Chaffin’s illustration.
The Bond is The Issue
Brother Chaffin asks, “What determines the right of one to remarry? Is it not fornication on the part of one’s mate?”
Unfortunately, that’s not quite the right answer. The ability of a put away wife to marry another person is based upon whether or not the wife is presently bound by law to another. Romans 7:2-3 makes it clear that if a person is bound by law to another, they cannot marry another. If they are released from this binding, they can marry another.
How is one released from this binding? Romans 7:2-3 shows that death releases one. It is also clear that in the context of an intact marriage and bond, when marital infidelity occurs, the innocent may divorce the guilty, and the innocent is released from the bond.
A New Gospel is Being Taught
Consider the following comparison of Jesus’ teaching and brother Chaffin’s teaching:
It should be clear that brother Chaffin’s teaching is significantly different from the teachings of Christ.
Keep Things in Context!
Finally, brother Chaffin writes a few more words in a second message. In this message he counsels his recipient(s) to keep the Bible in context. He quotes the old saying, “a text taken out of context becomes a pretext.” Amen brother Chaffin.
Let us keep Jesus’ teaching in its proper context.
I close with two final thoughts.
First of all, nobody got this idea of mental divorce by just simply reading the Scriptures. A person reading the plain, simple Scriptures would conclude that Jesus forbids remarriage to a person that is put away.
This mental divorce doctrine is simply the work of outside humanistic desires. It is the injection into the Holy Scriptures of human thinking and human reasoning. It exalts itself against the faith that has been “once for all delivered.” It meets the criteria of “another gospel” as Paul referenced in Galatians 1:6-9. Let us also reject those who bring “another gospel.”
Second, if Christ wanted to communicate to us that a put away person cannot remarry, how do you suppose He would have said it? Wouldn’t He have said something very plain and simple? Might He have said, “whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery” as He did in Matthew 19:9?
We call upon our Baptist friends to put away their outside thinking. We plead with them, “Just read and understand the plain simple statements of Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, and 1 Peter 3:21.” Nevertheless, many will not. Yet it is simple.
And thus we plead with our brethren to put away their outside thinking. We plead with them, “Just read and understand the plain simple statement so Matthew 5:32, 19:9, Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18, 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, Romans 7:1-3.” Time will indicate whether they will do so.
I pray that brother Chaffin might cease teaching error on this subject and giving false hope to people that have already been greatly victimized.
And I pray for God’s mercy and grace for all of us, that we all might grow and mature in our knowledge of the Scriptures.
David Watts Jr.
The Following is brother Chaffin’s Public Teaching:
Allan, this is something I wrote several months ago, with some minor changes that would help clarify what I was trying to say, which would help you understand what I believe the Bible teaches. I wish that every person at Beckley could read this. If you agree (or even if you disagree) with what I here wrote, then give copies to any or all there. If you disagree, then feel free to get in touch to discuss it. Thanks for your consideration of these matters and for the church there toward my upcoming preaching trip to Ecuador.
____________ forwarded your email to me several days ago in which you say you were told about a statement I allegedly made in regard to the “waiting game” on __________ evening at __________ church in ___________. Since I do not know you and you do not know me (as far as I know) I am happy you asked because it shows an attitude of fairness on your part, and because it gives me a chance to set the record straight. Sorry to be this long in replying.
I will state unequivocally that I did not say that that ______________ nor have I ever anywhere said such. It is amazing how people hear what they want to hear. The lady you referred to either misunderstood what I said, or is deliberately telling a lie about it, or does not know enough about the issue to understand. I surely hope that it is either the first or third of these. I hope you can give her a copy of this email and to any other members from ____________ also, or give me her name and address so I can send her a copy of this. And give a copy even to people where you worship, because if she is saying that about what I said, then in all probably there are others that are saying it too, and still others believing it just because they were told it. So if you can give copies of this to everybody that would be great and I will be glad to reimburse you for your expense. Or if you prefer I can send you several copies to give to others if that would work better. Just let me know. If you do, your name will probably be “mud” like mine and ________’s now are. But we need to stand like Paul tells us (Eph. 6:11-14).
What is the “waiting game”? It is when a husband and wife agree to split up (put each other away) because of inability to get along, and then each waits for the other to remarry or to commit fornication, thinking that will free him/her then to remarry because of their former mate’s action. NO! I have never taught this anywhere anytime.
But this is a far cry from when a rascal of a husband decides he wants to be free of the marital constraints and so he wants a divorce. She is shocked because she loves him dearly; asks him to reconsider, asks him to allow the elders to talk to them both; or to go to marriage counseling, because she wants to work it out and stay together. But he will have none of it, so he goes and gets a no fault divorce. Remember that TWO agreed to get married, TWO made vows to each other, and TWO are bound together by God. So in the above situation, he has repudiated (put away) her and his vows to her, but is still bound to her by God (Mt. 19:6). So that if six months later or two years later he commits adultery against her by marrying again, then she ( 1st wife) can then repudiate him and her vows to him (before the congregation even) and be free to marry another if she wishes.
That is exactly what Jesus teaches in Mk. 10:11: “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.” Note the order in what Jesus says: (1) He puts her away for some unscriptural reason, (2) then married another, (3) so Jesus says he commits adultery against her. THE ADULTERY WAS AFTER HE DIVORCED WIFE NO. 1 AND REMARRIED! Those who are so quick to charge us with “waiting game,” “mental divorce,” etc., are very big on the order in Mt. 19:9b, with which order I agree. I wonder why they pay no attention to the order in v. 19a, where (1) the man is married, (2) he puts her away for unscriptural reason (we agree if it is for fornication that she has no right to marry again), (3) marries another, THEN (4) he commits adultery. That’s the very thing in the very verse that we agree on which gives the innocent one the right to remarry. It is adultery against her because he is still bound to her in God’s sight. Note these questions about Mk. 10:11-12:
• How long after he put her away did he remarry and therefore commit adultery? Jesus didn’t say, did He? It may have been six months or two years for all we know. Yet this and the situation in paragraph 3 above are radically different in that in our present verse he commits adultery against her, and there is no such in that above.
• Shall we accuse Jesus of teaching the “waiting game”? I think not, because that is not what it is even if it is two years later. But some brethren and sisters want to create prejudice in the minds of others.
• Is it not fornication (adultery) that Jesus says frees the innocent mate to remarry (Mt. 5:32; 19:9)? Of course.
• Is not his adultery with wife No. 2 because he is still bound to wife No. 1 and is therefore committing adultery against her? Certainly.
• Does that not “fill the bill” in what Jesus says about the innocent party being free to remarry? Absolutely!
I believe any honest soul can see the truthfulness of these things.
Another prejudicial term thrown at brethren like myself is what is called “mental divorce.” In the above illustration I used, some brethren would say that at the point when she puts him away, that that is “mental divorce,” because he has already divorced her (by law) and you can not have two divorces (by law) – their line of thinking. If I believe in “mental divorce” I suppose that would make opposing brethren believers, in “non-mental divorce” – that you do not have to even think about it. Just go to the courthouse and get your divorce paper, and that is that. I know they do not believe that and do not so accuse them. But if I was mean spirited and wanted to create prejudice against them I could so accuse them. So, what it boils down to is this – that they believe in “mental divorce” just as much as I do. That is, each uses their mental faculties just as much as the other in putting away. He (in my illustration) got his paper from the divorce court (approved in man’s court) and she gets her paper from the elders of the church (approved in God’s court, because she is putting him away for a scriptural reason). Both of those papers are found in the very same verse of scripture. I say that, because there is no inherent legal paper from a divorce court in the words “put away” (apoluo) in any of the “divorce” passages no more than there is a paper from the elders or church – Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk.10:11-12; Lk.16:18. No, you cannot have two legal divorces. But you can have two puttings away. Remember that TWO agreed to get married and TWO made vows to each other. He and her – each has his or her own putting away to do (Mk. 10:11-12). No, I do not believe in “mental divorce” any more than they do, because there is action involved in her putting away just as much as in his. (See these other passages where “apoluo” is used and see if there is not action: Mt. 14:15; Lk. 6:37; Heb. 13:23, etc. Is it all mental or can we see some action here also?
What determines the right of one to remarry? Is it not fornication on the part of one’s mate? Sure it is (Mt. 5:32; 19:9). And it matters not if it is committed, before divorce or after divorce (Mt. 19:9a; Mk. 10:11). His running to the courthouse first does not seal her fate for the rest of her life (meaning she cannot remarry without being guilty of adultery). The courthouse does not determine whether she can remarry or not, but God’s word determines that. And when he commits adultery even after divorcing her, HE HAS COMMITTED ADULTERY AGAINST HER, and thus she is free to put him away and remarry. Do not let anyone tell you that the Greek word translated “against” should be translated as “With,” as if to say he is committing adultery “with” wife No. 2. The context from Mk. 10:2 on down to v. 11 is talking about the interaction between a husband and his wife. There is no standard English translation that translates it as “with.” Even if one is put away scripturally there could easily be a period of “waiting,” whether it is two weeks or two months, or more, as the process and working out of details takes time.
All of these things written here I did not have opportunity to say _________, because several wanted _____________, and I was not the one ____________ the ____________ But if you have opportunity to spread this around it will explain more fully some things I would like to have said. I hope it helps enlighten many. Thanks again.
Thanks for giving a copy of what I wrote to the lady.
I tried to take a common sense approach in light of what the scriptures say. Neither in Mt. 19 or anywhere else in the scriptures was Jesus asked about what some brethren term “the waiting game” nor “mental divorce.” Therefore we have to take all God has said on the subject (Psa. 119:160) to have all the truth on the subject. Some brethren speak and act as if that was the question that Jesus was answering. But we have preached to denominational folk for years that we need to keep things in context. As the old saying goes, a text taken out of context becomes a pretext. Well, the question Jesus was asked and which He is answering is, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause” (Mt. 19:3)? He answers, NO, unless he puts her away for fornication (v. 9a). And if he puts her away for some other cause and remarries he will be committing adultery (and that is what frees the 1st wife to remarry). But without that adultery she is not free to remarry and therefore commits adultery herself if she remarries (19:9b).
Well, I didn’t intend on preaching again, but I guess I am. It seems to me that the above is such simple, common sense understanding that it is frustrating when some brethren twist the scriptures and make it so much harder for people to sort out what the scriptures do teach. I would be happy to have yours and your husband’s comments about what I wrote here or previously.
God’s blessings be with you in every effort for truth and right.