The Matthew 19:9 Sequence 

By Greg Gwin 

Most will agree that Matthew 19:9 is a pivotal verse in any marriage-divorce-remarriage discussion.  It has been analyzed, scrutinized, disputed and debated countless times.  It is not surprising, therefore, to find that this verse and its related context are once again playing a central role in the current controversy concerning “mental divorce” or “biblical putting away.” 

As this important verse unfolds, it reveals a clear sequence of events.  Look carefully, and you will see the order of the proceedings as they develop: 

1)     The first action is that of a man who puts away his wife. 

“Whosoever shall put away his wife . . .” 

2)     The second action, in sequence, is that he marries another woman.  Clearly, this follows the putting away, for the man - short of committing polygamy - could not marry another until he had first put away the original wife.  Since the “mental divorce” controversy involves the situation with an innocent put away wife, we will omit the exception clause and pursue that scenario. 

“. . . and shall marry another, committeth adultery . . .” 

Observe that he has now committed adultery, a form of fornication.  His wife was NOT guilty of fornication when he put her away, but now HE has committed fornication. 

3)     A third action described in this verse involves another man marrying the woman who has been put away.   

“. . . and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” 

This action obviously must follow in sequence from the first action, for this man could not marry that woman if she had not already been put away by her original husband.  The critical issue, however, is whether or not her original husband has remarried at the point in time when she remarries.  Our brethren who are teaching the “mental divorce” doctrine say that this would only be adultery if the woman married before her original husband did.  Where and how does the text stipulate that condition?  How can they speak with certainty about this?  Since Jesus did not specify the order of the third action relative to the second, how can these brethren teach it as a fact?  

It is interesting to hear these brethren complain that a sequence has been imposed on Matthew 19:9, yet they have their own sequence in mind.  According to them the innocent put away woman is only forbidden to remarry UNTIL (denoting sequence) her original husband remarries (thus committing fornication). 

Again, carefully follow the true sequence of the three actions described in Matthew 19:9 relative to an innocent woman

1)      A man puts away his wife even though she is innocent of fornication.

2)     Subsequently, he marries another woman, thus committing adultery (fornication).

3)     The third, and only additional action described, is that of another man marrying the put away woman.  Consider what Jesus did NOT say about this third step:

  • That this remarriage of the put away woman (step 3) is only adultery if step 2 has not been completed.

  • That the status of the put away woman (at step 3) is dependent upon whether or not step 2 has happened.

  • That the last phrase of the verse, condemning step 3, could be ignored if step 2 has already taken place.

  • That if step 2 happens before step 3, then another, different step 3 may be inserted in the sequence.  That step (step 3b?) would be the step of the original wife now putting away her original husband.  This would then be followed by (step 4?) the now lawful remarriage of the original wife.

  • That if step 2 precedes step 3, then the process actually stops, and the sequence starts over with the innocent wife now the active “putting away” person in a new sequence starting at step 1. The previous step 1 is inconsequential and matters may proceed as if the original step 1 had never occurred.

  • Etc., etc., etc.

Do you see the messy, mixed-up sequence that our “mental divorce” brethren are forced to defend?   

The simple fact of the matter is that Jesus did not stipulate that this third action was in any way dependent upon the second action.  Once the original action of “putting away” has happened (in regards to the case of an innocent wife), the subsequent remarriage of the “putting away man” and the subsequent remarriage of the “put away woman” both result in adultery.

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