Simple Questions and Inescapable Answers
From Matthew 5:32; 19:9 and Luke 16:18

By Jeff Belknap

Matthew 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.” 

Matthew 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.” 

Luke 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.” 

Q)   Is the man spoken of in the first half of these verses doing what Jesus called “divorce”(ing) his wife for a) just cause or b) a reason other than fornication?

A)    Obviously, while Jesus does state the exception to the rule, His focus is on the divorce obtained for unjust cause, for he states that a) the one obtaining the divorce “causes” his wife “to commit adultery,” and b) he becomes guilty of adultery when he remarries.  Luke 16:18 does not even address a scripturally approved divorce at all, for it contains no exception clause but only concerns divorces that are obtained contrary to God’s will. 

Q)    Is the spiritual bond broken in such a divorce?

A)    It is self-evident that God does not break the spiritual bond when man has “put  asunder what God hath joined together” (Mt. 19:6). That is why they both become guilty of adultery upon remarriage to another. 

Q)     Nevertheless, even though Jesus knew the spiritual bond was not broken, what does He himself call the sinful action that man takes against his wife?

A)    “Divorce” or “put away.”  Obviously, Jesus was only instructing man about the consequences for those involved in a “put(ting) away” based on man’s action and not based upon the status of the spiritual bond.    

Q)   When man takes that unlawful action of (what Jesus himself called) “divorce” and “put away” against his wife, can we deny that the one he divorced is then (what Jesus himself was speaking of as) “divorced” or “put away”?

A)    No.  This is simple logic: when he divorces her; she is divorced.  To deny that the recipients of what Jesus himself called “divorce” are not “divorced” is clearly a denial of Jesus’ teaching.  Yes, we all recognize that God still considers them bound.  But because they are bound does not make them any less “divorced,” for Jesus called the action “put away” and the result “divorced” and “put away” in spite of the remaining bond.  Their bond does not make them any less capable of “putting asunder” what God joined together (Mt. 19:6).  Neither does the remaining bond negate the fact that one has been “put away.”  Cf. I Corinthians 7:11 – “unmarried.”

Q)     Do any of these verses infer that the innocence or guilt of the “put away” (in the latter halves of these verses) has a bearing on whether or not Jesus       considered her to actually be “divorced” or “put away”?

A)    No circumstantial distinction whatsoever is made regarding the status and fate of the “put away.”  While Jesus makes it clear that the one “put(ting) away” can be free to marry another if he divorces in compliance with the conditions of the exception clause, no such exception is ever extended to the one who is “put away” or “divorced.”  The latter halves of these verses all contain the same pronouncement, with no exceptions: whoever marries a divorced or put away person commits adultery.  To deny this simple truth, one must already have accepted an emotionally-based presupposition that God would not impose such a harsh sentence on one who is innocent and did all they could to remain true to their vows.  

Q)    What do the last halves of these verses say about the fate of the one who is (what Jesus called) “divorced” or “put away” under such circumstances as are outlined in the first halves of the verses?

A)     They clearly teach that whoever the “divorced” or “put away” person marries becomes guilty of adultery.    

Q)    Who do these verses offer an exception clause to: a) the one who puts away or b) the one who is put away?

A)     The only exception clause found in any of these verses is offered solely to the one who puts away, not the one who is put away.  To show that an innocent one whose spouse has “put (them) away” can be eligible to become the one who may subsequently “put away” in accordance with the exception clause, one would have to first prove by scripture that they are not included in what Jesus called “put away” and thus not subject to the fate of the “put away.”  No such proof has been given, nor can it be found

These verses teach that man has the capability to enact an unlawful divorce (the means by which such a divorce is obtained is inconsequential to this discussion.  For the sake of argument alone, I will grant that the divorce could be a mere repudiation, as contended by some).  Jesus called such sinful action a “divorce” and “put away” and enjoined consequences to both those who unlawfully enact divorces, as well as those who are recipients of an unlawful “put(ting) away.”  Who will argue with God (Rom. 3:4)?   

Q)     For those who do not believe that Jesus really meant man’s action alone (whether scriptural or not) could effect what He called, “put away,” here is a challenge:  

For the sake of this argument alone, concede that Jesus meant only man’s action (whether scriptural or not, irrespective of the bond) by His use of the term, “put away” and wanted His word to reflect that meaning.  How could these verses be changed or rewritten to clearly reflect that His teaching and pronouncements were not based upon the bond or scriptural approval of the divorce, but that He was only speaking of the action that a man takes against his spouse, and the action that a woman receives from her spouse? 

The point is, the verses cannot be made any clearer to prove that point, for they already prove such beyond the shadow of a doubt (Eph. 5:17)! 

      Q)  Are mutual divorces in which both parties put each other away (not for fornication) scripturally lawful?

A)  Of course, such divorces are not lawful.  Moreover, most (maybe all) of the brethren who advocate the current form of mental divorce contend that this scenario represents a divorce which God recognizes, even while disapproving of it. 

      Q)  Are mutual divorces in which both parties put each other away (not for fornication) “Biblical divorces”?

A)  I am interested in the answer that some brethren (who have advanced the term “Biblical divorce”) will answer this question.  They imply that when a divorce is not “Biblical,” God does not recognize it (as in the case of an innocent person who is unlawfully put away against their will). However, their acknowledgment that the mutual unscriptural divorce is recognized by God seems to be self-contradictory.

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