The “Innocent” Party

 By J. T. Smith

For several decades the question of whether “putting away one’s” mate and marrying another” is right in God’s sight has existed. In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the subject. Many articles have been written and debates conducted. In the past I have had a number of discussions of the subject (six to be exact). I am by no means an authority on this or any other subject. Yet, it seems to me that somewhere along the line brethren have gotten off the track.

In many of the debates held the late brother H. E. Phillips and I worked very closely. I had the first debates when I lived in Long Beach, CA in the mid to late 70s. The problem then was brethren teaching that the put away fornicator, (the guilty party of Matthew 5:32; 19:9) could remarry without sin. Later brother Phillips was to meet Jack Gibbert in Virginia. When he became ill I filled in for him. Here are the propositions taken from Searching the Scriptures.

“The Scriptures teach that the guilty party (the one put away for fornication) has the scriptural right to marry another.” Jack Gibbert affirms this while H. E. Phillips (J. T. Smith) denies it.

“The guilty party must be reconciled to his/her former mate or live a celibate life from that point forward.” H. E. Phillips (J. T. Smith) will affirm, Jack Gibbert will deny.

The third proposition is that “The Scriptures teach that when a man puts away his wife for any cause other than fornication and subsequently marries another that his first wife must remain celibate or be reconciled to her husband.” H. E. Phillips (J. T. Smith) will affirm and Jack Gibbert will deny.

The final proposition is that “When a man puts away his wife for any cause other than fornication and subsequently marries another that his first wife then may put him away for fornication and she has the scriptural right to marry another.” Jack Gibbert will affirm this position and H. E. Phillips (J. T. Smith) will deny.

The fact of the matter is J. T. Smith is still willing to affirm and deny the above propositions.

The above final proposition sets forth the position that brother Phillips and Marshall Patton discussed later in Searching the Scriptures. (Brother Patton believed this could take place if the person being put away begged her spouse not to do it). You will also notice that the final proposition sets forth the position that many brethren are subscribing to today.

It is being said by brethren that the “put away” wife in the last proposition is the “innocent” party and can “repudiate” the husband (after he marries) as an adulterer with the scriptural right to marry another. Let’s look at the passages.

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.”

Brethren are redefining the word “innocent.” Jesus expresses the thought in a completely different way. In the above passages, Jesus says the “marriage bond” is broken for the person who “puts away” his/her mate for fornication IN THE ORIGINAL MARRIAGE. One of the spouses was guilty of fornication. This was the reason for the break-up of the marriage. That is why we refer to one as the guilty party and the other as the innocent party. The “guilty party” was a fornicator. That is why he is referred to as the “guilty party.” He was “guilty” of fornication. We refer to the other as the “innocent party” because he/she was innocent of causing his/her spouse to commit fornication or committing fornication himself/herself.

Today, however, brethren are using the words “guilty party” to describe the person who is guilty of divorcing the other. In other words, the one who divorces his wife/husband is the “guilty party.” And as you would expect in this scenario the one who is “divorced” is the “innocent party.” But this was not what Jesus was teaching. Let’s look at the other passages where Jesus mentions the subject.

Mark 10:11-12 “And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth 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.”

In all of the passages the one doing the “putting away” and the one “put away” all commit adultery when they marry another. There is only one exception. If one puts away his/her spouse (the original putting away) “for fornication” that person may remarry. That is the “innocent” person and the ONLY INNOCENT PERSON spoken of by Jesus. Period!

This reminds me of how brethren have often substituted the word “loosed” for the word “divorced.” If one is “divorced,” they think that person is “loosed” from his mate and free to marry another with God’s approval. There is nothing like that in the Scriptures. Notice what Paul said in Romans 7:2-3.

Romans 7:2-3 “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.”

God “bound” these two people together and God is the only one who can “loose” her from her husband or the “law” of her husband. However, if the husband is dead, she is loosed (not only from the husband) from the “law of her husband.”

Then there is I Corinthians 7:10-11. It gives specifics of what is to take place if one departs. “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.” This is almost word for word brother Phillips’ second affirmative proposition. (See above)

It appears that brethren seem to think that if you say a thing long enough and loud enough that that makes it true. Maybe so, if every one is at liberty to redefine words and make statements that have no scriptural foundation in fact. Suppose we leave out the “except for the cause of fornication” as Mark’s and Luke’s account do. When man’s law dissolves the original marriage in a divorce court, (though they are still “bound” by God) then there are no “guilty” nor “innocent” persons according to the Scriptures. And in those passages, neither the person doing the “putting away” nor the person “put away” may remarry without sin. How long do they sin? Paul said, “so long as the husband/wife lives” (Romans 7:2-3).

Next Month, Does the “except for fornication” modify both parts of Matthew 19:9?

Gospel Truths
Volume XIV Number 9
September 2003 

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