What Saith The Scripture?

(Rom. 4:3) 

Weldon E. Warnock

 Nov. 1985 STS 


QUESTION: My friend holds the view that “except for fornication” in Matt. 19:9 is the reason given for breaking the marriage bond and allows both parties to remarry and be approved of God. H e reasons that since the marriage is broken, there can be no adultery. What do you think? 

ANSWER: The verse states in full: “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.”  The phrase, “except for fornication,” modifies the one who puts away and not the “put away” party. Those who interpret Matt. 19:9 to allow the guilty to remarry would have to make it read, “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, except it be for fornication, doth commit adultery.” They have “except for fornication” modifying the person put away as well as modifying the “putting away” on the part of the innocent person. 

Statements of Language Professors

Leonard Latkonski, professor Classic Language, Bellarmine College, Louisville, Ky., said: “In Matt. 19:9 the original Greek text translated ‘except for fornication’ modifies the ‘putting away’ on the part of the man and does not modify the person who is put away.” 

Dr. J. Cobert, English Dept. Head University of Georgia, stated: “I and a graduate student in Linguistics agree that the phrase ‘except for fornication’ should not be read into the second clause.” 

Donald A. Drury, English Dept., Long Beach City College, said: “The modifying clause (except it be for fornication) applies only to the first person mentioned, in the first half of the sentence. It does not apply, grammatically or syntactically, to the person (‘whoso marrieth her who is put away’) in the second half of the sentence.” (Quotes from Melear-Williams Debate.) 

Hence, in Matt. 19:9 Jesus is saying that ALL put away persons who remarry are committing adultery. If a person is put away for incompatibility and he/she remarries, that person is committing adultery. If a person is put away for fornication and he/she remarries, that person is committing adultery. Furthermore, ALL those who do the putting away and remarry are committing adultery, unless the putting away is for fornication. Though the innocent party is no longer bound to the marriage partner who has been put away because of fornication, the guilty partner remains bound by the law of God, and God says that the one put away commits adultery if he/she marries another. 

But someone asks: “What about a woman who is put away (divorced) by a man simply because the man no longer wanted to be married?  Fornication is not involved and the woman repeatedly tried to prevent the divorce, but to no avail. After a couple of years the man marries another woman. Is the ‘put away’ woman then free to marry?”  She certainly is, if she puts away her husband for fornication. She would have to do this before God in purpose of heart since the divorce has already taken place, legally speaking. She could not go through the process of having a legal document charging her husband with “adultery,” but God would know. And after all, the contract is with God and courts of men cannot bind together a man and woman in marriage, neither can they loose them. 

Certainly, we should comply with the civil law as long as it is in harmony with the Word of God, but we should always keep in mind that marriages, and divorces, are made in heaven and not at the county courthouse.  Right and wrong are regulated by the Lord and not by the county clerk or probate judge. Jesus never predicated divorce and remarriage on who beats the other to the courthouse and files for divorce. In some cultures the “putting away” may not even involve legal procedures. But whatever the procedure, only the party who has put his/her mate away for fornication may scripturally remarry. 

It seems to me if the guilty party has the right to remarry as well as the innocent party, there would have been no need for Jesus to have discussed the matter at all. The “except” would, therefore, become completely insignificant. 


Connie W. Adams 

Mar. 1986 STS 


In this issue you will find an article by Jim Deason of Columbia, Tennessee in which he takes exception to the position taken by Weldon E. Warnock in his question column of November, 1985.  We ask the readers to weigh carefully what each had to say on the always explosive issue of divorce and remarriage.  The spirit in which each wrote is commendable and illustrative of the attitude which should be maintained when differences must be expressed. 

A number have asked me if I agree with the position taken by brother Warnock in his November column.  With his answer on the question of whether or not the guilty party in a divorce (guilty by reason of fornication) can scripturally remarry, I am in complete agreement. He said “no” and I would have to say the same thing. However, with the latter part of his response I do have some difference.  He brought up a case in which divorce occurred which was not for fornication, then stated that should the one putting the other away remarry, the other party could then put the husband away “in purpose of heart” and be free to remarry.  This involves the notion of mental putting away after the fact of actual divorce and termination of anything that might even resemble a marriage. 

It is my conviction that there are only three classes of people who have a right to marry: (1) those who have never been married: (2) those whose companions are dead; and (3) those who have put away a companion for the cause of fornication.  It appears to me that any attempt to find authority for anyone else to marry, must trade on the silence of the scriptures. I realize that brother Warnock’s illustration involves fornication but it is after the fact of divorce and not before. It is very difficult for me to see how this is not in reality the "waiting game" for one waits until the other sins and then claims scriptural cause. I am also made to wonder if we may have the "mental divorce" then why not at the other end of the marriage have a "mental marriage" before the fact of social and legal requirements being met. Indeed, is this not the very thing claimed by those who insist that two people may cohabit as long as they have a "meaningful relationship" and plan to get married anyhow? 

Marriage is so lightly treated in our society.  We must make room for all that God allows on the subject and then stop right there.  We must recognize the one exception the Lord made and we must not leave the door open for any more.  With this sentiment, I am sure Brother Warnock, agrees. I am fully aware that many good and able brethren do not share the view I have expressed here. That is between them and the Lord. I certainly do not feel obligated to count heads on any issue before having my say. I have no better friend on earth than Weldon Warnock. We are as close as brothers could be, not to be family related. We have played together, laughed together, wept together, traveled together and anticipate many more such experiences in life. But I feel strongly on this subject and don’t want one single reader to have the impression that the editor of this paper accepts the position mentioned above. 

Brother Warnock is at perfect liberty to write his column as he sees fit. He has done an outstanding work with it, in my judgment. It is not an easy assignment, requires much time and careful work. For all of that I am most grateful and am sure that every thoughtful reader shares that sentiment. None of those who write for this paper have to agree with this editor on every point to have his material published. But I have always reserved the right to express my own convictions whenever I thought the question of sufficient importance to do so, and I believe this is one of those times. We ask readers to consider carefully what is said by both brethren Warnock and Deason.  Meanwhile, we absolutely MUST teach our children that marriage is for life and that it is imperative that they make prudent choices of companions who will help them to go to heaven.  This is far better than trying to unravel all the tangles into which people get their lives and over which brethren are apt to differ in trying to resolve them.  

Mental Divorce?  A Reply 

Jim Deason 

Mar. 1986 STS

In the November issue of STS brother Weldon Warnock wrote an article entitled, “MAY THE GUILTY PARTY REMARRY?”  In most of the article brother Warnock did his usual excellent job.  However, with part of what he said I want to take exception. Let it be said that I have no personal vendetta nor ax to grind with brother Warnock.  He has been a friend of my family for many years and I count him as such.  He can fiddle at my fireside anytime he chooses. I do not consider him a false teacher, but I do believe he is wrong on this point. 

That with which I take exception is found in the fourth paragraph of his article (I encourage the reader to go back and read his entire article), a part of which I quote here: “But someone asks: ‘What about a woman who is PUT AWAY (DIVORCED) by a man simply because the man no longer wanted to be married?  Fornication is not involved and the woman repeatedly tried to prevent the divorce to no avail.  After a couple years the man marries another woman. Is the ‘put away’ woman then free to marry?’ SHE CERTAINLY IS, if she PUTS AWAY her husband for fornication.  She would have to do this before God IN PURPOSE OF HEART since the divorce has already taken place, legally speaking” (emphasis mine—jhd). 

I realize that brother Warnock is dealing with a hard question, emotionally speaking. But you will notice that he has given no scriptural reasoning for saying that the woman in his example could remarry?  As a matter of fact, while dealing with scripture, brother Warnock had already answered the question in his example in the previous paragraph.  He said, “Hence, in Matt. 19:9 Jesus is saying that ALL (emphasis his—jhd) put away persons who remarry are committing adultery.  If a person IS PUT AWAY (this emphasis mine—jhd).  Notice the similarity between this and brother Warnock’s example.) for incompatibility and he/she remarries, that person is committing adultery.”  It seems to me that brother Warnock has really answered his own question in two different ways and I like his answer from scripture better. 

I think the real nuts-and-bolts issue of this disagreement is the definition of “divorce.”  Brother Warnock uses the term with two different meanings in his illustration: 1) The first time, when the man is divorcing the woman, he is talking of a legal (civil) divorce; 2) The second time, when the woman is divorcing the man, he uses the term in the sense of a mental act. The scriptures do not so equivocate, wherever the terms “divorce” or “put away” are used in reference to a marriage they have a singular meaning.  A divorce is a divorce in whatever society one may be. When one has been divorced they can’t turn around and divorce the person that has already divorced them as brother Warnock indicates.  A person is either the one being divorced or the one doing the divorcing, he/she can’t be both at the same time.  I would like brother Warnock to give a single definition of the word “divorce” and apply it to both persons in his example.  It would be interesting. 

Brother Warnock’s position with regard to his example implies at least two things: 1) There can be no real divorce unless scriptural grounds are present; 2) One cannot be divorced (put away) unless they mentally agree to it. 

First of all, if there can be no real divorce unless scriptural grounds are present, why did Jesus say, “Whoever divorces his wife, EXCEPT for immorality…” (Matt. 19:9)?  The very fact that the exceptive clause is found in Matt. 19:9 is proof that two people can actually be divorced for unscriptural reasons but, nevertheless, they are divorced. 

In the second place, what passage teaches that in order for one to actually be divorced they must agree to it? What passage allows them to reserve themselves mentally from a divorce, claim to still be married, and not be “really” divorced?  One may indeed sin against his wife by divorcing her with unscriptural cause against her will but, nevertheless, is it not still a divorce?  I know this has hard and unpleasant consequences.  It is similar to being shoved off a cliff, there may be no justifiable reason and you may not have agreed to it but the consequences are still the same.  Such are merely the facts.  Perhaps most of our troubles in the divorce realm are but penalties for failing to recognize the seriousness of the marriage institution and making the proper preparation for it. 

In closing let me say that, although brother Warnock surely doesn’t uphold what has come to be called the “waiting game,” that is exactly what his position allows. It is exactly what the woman in his example did, motive notwithstanding.  I agree with brother Warnock’s own words found elsewhere in his article, I believe they are in harmony with what the scripture teaches and I am content to leave the matter with that. He said, “Hence, in Matt. 19:9 Jesus is saying that ALL put away persons who remarry are committing adultery,” and again, “But whatever procedure, only the party who has put his/her mate away for fornication may scripturally remarry.” 

What Saith The Scripture?

(Rom. 4:3)

 Weldon E. Warnock 

Mar. 1986 STS 


Before I get into my answer to brother Jim Deason’s article, I want to say that his kind remarks about me are, indeed, mutual. I appreciate his work of faith and labor of love through the years. 

Brother Deason said I had given no scriptural reasoning for saying that the woman who had been divorced, although she did not want a divorce, had a right to remarry when her husband remarried. Well, read the article again and decide for yourself. Jesus said that a person may remarry if his/her mate is guilty of fornication (Mt. 19:9). That sounds like Scripture to me. 

We are too restrictive on this issue when we do not allow what Jesus made so definite, viz., that fornication (sexual immorality) gives the innocent party the right to remarry. Notice Mt. 10:11 in this connection. “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.” Let us observe: First, the man puts away his wife. Second, he marries another. Third, he commits adultery AGAINST HER. There may be days, weeks, months or years between the putting away and the marrying another, but when the marriage takes place, the man commits adultery against his put away companion. Jesus says she may remarry because of this sin. I believe that settles the matter! 

There was nothing stated, nor implied, in my November article about a “waiting game.” Certainly, if both parties wanted the divorce, and later one of them commits adultery, the other person could not use fornication as a reason for remarriage. But the woman in my illustration is not playing the “waiting game.” She is pleading, hoping, praying and patiently trying to win her husband back. They are still bound in God’s sight, although divorced. But her wishes are not realized as her husband marries another woman. She is then free from the bond to marry again. 

Brother Deason says she may not, scripturally, remarry because her husband put her away. But in my article I specifically stated that the innocent woman puts her husband away, before God, for adultery.  She cannot do it, legally, in the civil court, because her husband had already exhausted that route by a loose divorce law.  She has no legal adjudication, but she does have a moral, scriptural choice. 

I cannot accept the position that the law of God in this matter is regulated by and contingent upon the civil laws of fallible man. The woman I used for illustration (typical of many situations today) is trapped, according to brother Deason’s position, by human precepts and judgments.  What if the husband simply abandoned his wife, no divorce, and two years later he committed adultery? Could she divorce him for fornication and remarry? I do not see a dime’s worth of difference in this and what I wrote in the November issue of STS. 

Some societies through the years have had no legal ratification of marriage and no recognition of divorce. McClintock and Strong state: “In Congo and Angola….’ they use no peculiar ceremonies in marriage, nor scarce trouble themselves for consent of friends’” (Vol. 5, p. 805).  Many other examples are given of various peoples. Also, compare pp. 799-800 in regard to marriage and divorce among the Romans.  Marriage was made wholly by consent and commitment among many of the ancient peoples and divorce occurred by cancelling the agreement and commitment. Reckon if an innocent mate was told by his/her marriage partner, “I disown you, I divorce you,” that the innocent person would have had no recourse, ever, because he/she was beaten to the phrase?  Brother Deason said, “I think the real nuts-and-bolts issue of this disagreement is the definition of ‘divorce.’”  Let us notice in the Bible that under the term “divorce” there are included separations of married persons which are unlike one another. First, there are separations of persons (divorces) who remain bound together in the sight of God, although not bound in the sight of men. Secondly, there are separations of persons (divorces) who become loosed before God as well as before men. Both of these are plainly taught in Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10:10-12; Lk. 16:18; Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:10-17, 39). Obviously, the Bible teaches that God recognizes all divorces, but He does not sanction all divorces, just like He recognizes all marriages, but He does not sanction all marriages. 

The Scriptures teach a husband and wife are bound to each other until death do they part (Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:39). The word “bound” (deo) means “put under obligation, sc. of law, duty, etc.” (Thayer, p. 131). However, to this law is an exception that Jesus made in Mt. 5:32, 19:9. The exception is “fornication.”  Hence, if a marriage partner is guilty of sexual immorality, the innocent party may put away the guilty one and remarry.  Fornication does not automatically dissolve the marriage bond, but it is a lawful reason for divorce and remarriage when reconciliation is impossible or unfeasible. 

If the position that no put away person can remarry, regardless of the circumstances, then it follows: (1) If John divorces Jane and John dies one day later, Jane can never marry again. (2) If Bill secretly flies to Las Vegas with his secretary, gets a “quickie” divorce and marriage, his wife, Sue, has to remain single because she has been put away. The consequences of such a position show its fallacy and untenableness. 

In conclusion, let me reiterate that the innocent party in a divorce is not determined by who gets it, or when it is gotten, but rather on WHAT GROUNDS–whether sexual immorality has been committed by one or the other.  Only fornication frees the innocent party to marry again.

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