August 20, 2006
God Allow to Marry Another?
C. Kelly Wilson
In the companion article to this article (Part I), we examined the Lord Jesus’ words about who can lawfully marry another before God while their original mate is still alive. Here is the scenario that I presented in the previous writing in which some are arguing that the divorced person can marry another, even though the Lord Jesus plainly taught, “…and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery…” Matt. 19:9
Bob and Jane are married. Bob commits fornication with Sara. Jane is either unaware of Bob’s affair or will not divorce her husband for whatever reason. Bob divorces Jane.
Arguments for the one who is divorced by a fornicator to remarry
In spite of the plain instructions of scripture, several arguments have been put forth to assert that Jane (in the above illustration), who was divorced by her fornicating husband can marry another.
Argument 1: The focus of the passage in Matt. 19:3-9 is on the cause. In a divorce, both members of the marriage are “divorced”. Thus, Jesus teaches that the cause of the divorce has to be fornication. In a divorce in which the cause is fornication, the innocent can remarry.
This position asserts two primary arguments:
The primary consideration in the context of Matt. 19:3-9 is on the cause for which the divorce occurs. In other words, it is irrelevant who actually takes the divorce action (“…whoever divorces his wife…”) or who is the recipient of that action (“…whoever marries her who is divorced…”).
A secondary argument seeks to equalize the one who takes the divorce action and the one who is the recipient of that action. The argument asserts that they are both “divorced”.
Let us see if these arguments stand the test of the examination of scripture.
The argument falsely asserts that cause is the primary consideration in Matt. 19:3-9. As we have already observed, the question asked of the Lord Jesus was: “…Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason…?” The primary consideration of the context is whether it is lawful for one to divorce their mate; the Lord’s one and only exception to this law prohibiting one from divorcing their mate is not mentioned until v.9, which could hardly validate the argument that the entire context of Matt. 19:3-9 concerns the cause of a divorce. Rather, a reading of the Lord’s words when he answered the Pharisees’ question posed in v. 3 shows that God created man and woman from the beginning, they are to cleave to one another, and no one is to separate what God has joined together (v.4-6). The Pharisees understood that Jesus was illustrating God’s marriage arrangement from the beginning and prohibiting anyone from divorcing their mate, which gendered their question about why Moses commanded them to give their wives a writing of divorce and send them away (v.7). The Lord corrected them and said that Moses had permitted (not commanded) them to divorce their wives, but from the beginning, it (divorce) was not so. Up through verse 8, no cause is mentioned whatever. Thus, the context of Matt. 19:3-8 shows that one cannot divorce their mate; the Lord approves of one and only one exception by which one may divorce their mate (v.9). Finally, in consideration of this argument, even if the passage’s main focus and consideration was on the cause of a divorce, that fact would in no way set aside Jesus’ instructions that one can divorce their mate for that cause and that cause alone! Neither would that fact set aside Jesus’ words: “…whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery…” In other words, even if the focus of that passage were on the cause of the divorce, that would in no way enable a person who failed to divorce their fornicating mate and was in fact the one divorced by their fornicating mate to marry another.
The argument falsely equalizes the one who divorces their mate and the one who is divorced by their mate:
The question posed to the Lord was:
“…Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife…”
“…can a divorce occur for any cause…?”
As we have shown from the scriptures, the Lord Jesus clearly identifies two distinct individuals in a divorce: the one who takes the divorce action (“…whoever divorces his wife…” [my emphasis]), and the one who is the recipient of that action (“…whoever marries her who is divorced…” [my emphasis]). This point is further illustrated by the passage of Matt. 5:31-32:
“…Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery…” Matthew 5:31-32 (NKJV) [my emphasis].
The Lord Jesus points out not only that one takes the divorce action and the other is the recipient of that action, but also if the one who takes that action does so for any cause except his mate’s sexual immorality, he is culpable for putting his mate in position to commit sin (“…causes her to commit adultery…”). Thus, the Lord Jesus does not in any way equalize the one who takes the divorce action and the one who is the recipient of that action.
Argument 1 dismisses the Lord’s order for a lawful divorce. As we have already observed, the Lord instructs that if one of the individuals commits fornication in a marriage bound by God’s Law (Matt. 19:4-6), the individual who is innocent of fornication can divorce their mate for the cause of their mate’s (not their own) fornication (Matt. 19:9). As established from the context of Matt. 19:9 and Rom. 7:1-3, when the individual who is innocent of fornication divorces their mate who is guilty of fornication, they have correctly applied the Lord’s exception (“…whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality…”), they do not commit sin when they divorce their mate because the Lord gives the exception, and the bond, or divine obligation, of God’s Law is released, indicated by the fact that the Lord frees only the one who lawfully divorced their fornicating mate to marry another without committing adultery. Argument 1 (in green above) asserts that…
1. Either member can take the divorce action, resulting in a lawful divorce, thus dismissing the Lord’s order that the mate innocent of fornication must take the divorce action against their mate who is guilty of fornication.
2. The innocent mate who was divorced by the fornicating mate is released from the bond of God’s Law and can marry another. Thus they dismiss the Lord’s order that only the mate who is innocent of fornication who divorces their fornicating mate is released from the bond of God’s Law and is free to marry another.
The Lord’s order, not man’s order is:
1. Intact marriage bound by God’s Law (Matt. 19:4-6).
2. Sexual immorality committed by one of the members of the marriage.
3. The member of the marriage who is not guilty of fornication can lawfully divorce the member who is guilty of fornication (Matt. 19:9).
4. The member who lawfully divorced the fornicating mate is released from the bond of God’s Law and can now marry another without committing adultery (Matt. 19:9).
Faithful disciples correctly assert that we must observe the words of the Lord Jesus to be faithful to Him:
“…He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him…” John 14:21
However, many religious people dismiss the Lord’s words. For example, many religious people dismiss the Lord’s order concerning how one’s sins are forgiven:
1. Hear the gospel (Rom. 10:17).
2. Believe the gospel (Mk. 1:15).
3. Confess Jesus as the Christ, the son of God (Matt. 10:32).
4. Repent of past sins (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19).
5. Immersed in water for the remission of sins (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 22:16).
These religious people assert that the Lord’s order of the steps listed above or even whether all or any of these steps are followed is irrelevant, in regard to one’s sins being forgiven. They would assert that one’s sins are forgiven outside of obeying the Lord’s plan of salvation.
Similarly, those who argue that the Lord’s order of who must take the divorce action is irrelevant to determining if someone is lawfully able to marry another use the same logic as those who err concerning the Lord’s teaching on the plan of salvation. If we can dismiss the Lord’s order that only the mate innocent of fornication who divorces their fornicating mate can marry another, then why can we not dismiss the Lord’s order regarding the plan of salvation or any other teaching? Either Jesus teaches that we must abide in His words and doctrine (Jn. 14:21; II Jn 9-11) or He does not teach that.
Thus, argument 1 above is false. Jesus asserts that for a lawful divorce to occur, the mate innocent of fornication must divorce the mate guilty of fornication. When the Lord’s order is followed, only the one who lawfully divorced his mate because of his mate’s fornication can marry another without committing adultery.
Argument 2: The position that teaches that the innocent must divorce the guilty is nothing more than a “race-to-the-courthouse” argument that exalts the procedure over the cause. Jesus never specified the procedure to be used, thus we cannot assert that there is a “set” procedure by which one can be called divorced.
This position takes on various flavors and is the source of much false doctrine. Previously well-reputed gospel preachers are now asserting such positions as the sending-away-only divorce procedure and the mental-divorce or purpose-of-heart divorce procedure. It is not within the scope of this article to investigate these false doctrines, but it is sufficient to note that these various doctrines concerning how a divorce occurs are essentially attempts to accomplish an end-run around the consequences on the divorced or put-away person.
For the purposes of our article, here is the examination of this argument:
The procedure under the Law of Moses was established by God. Individuals, who argue that Jesus did not specify a procedure, overlook several pertinent facts from the Lord’s teaching:
1. When Jesus gave his marriage and divorce teaching, the Lord affirmed the procedure the Pharisees referred to as having come from Moses, which came from God. The Pharisees restated the commandment of the Lord concerning the divorce procedure under Moses Law in Matt. 19:7 and the Lord Himself asks the Pharisees to state the procedure in Mark’s gospel: “…And He answered and said to them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ 4They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.’ 5And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept…” Mark 10:3-5 (NKJV)
2. The Lord asserts, by logical inference, that one divorced his wife only when all of God’s procedure was followed. Both components (certificate and sending out of the house) were necessary to accomplish the divorce under the Mosaic Law.
3. Thus, the divorce procedure under consideration when the Lord gave His teaching was not in dispute. The procedure was acknowledged by not only those who heard the teaching, but by the Lord Jesus.
Thus, the argument, Jesus didn’t specify a procedure, is essentially an argument to assert or imply that Jesus does not acknowledge a procedure, essentially invalidating any procedure which would be put forth. This assertion is false; Jesus the Christ recognized God’s previously established procedure under Moses’ Law.
God has put the authority of divorce and marriage procedures in the hands of societies’ civil governments, which He has ordained. Unlike the Mosaic Law which served as both a civil and spiritual law, the law of Christ has no provisions for governing civil matters directly through His Word, but as the gospel has gone out into the whole world (Rom. 10:18) and God has commanded all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17: 30) who live in different locations with different customs, God has subsequently assigned the responsibility of governing marriages and divorces, as well as other ordinances to the governments which God has ordained (Rom. 13:1-6; I Pet. 2:13-14). Thus, all are to subject themselves to the ordinances of the land, including those governing divorce and marriage procedure. For instance, when Paul gave his instructions concerning divorce and marriage in I Cor. 7, he taught that some could marry and forbad Christians from divorcing their mates, but gave the constraints if one unlawfully divorced their mate (I Cor. 7:10-11). Which procedures would these Christians use to marry or divorce? Obviously, the Law of Moses having been nailed to the cross of Christ (Col. 2:14) would not have been used to perform these acts. All scriptural evidence points to the fact that God desires Christians to submit to the divorce and marriage procedures of the civil laws of the land in which they live.
Thus, argument 2 is false:
God has charged that the civil authorities exist under His authority and we are to submit to those authorities (Rom. 13:1-6; I Pet. 2:13-14).
While the Lord does not assert whether there are any civil documents or what those documents are to contain, He does say that individual who is innocent of fornication must divorce or put-away their mate who is guilty of fornication for the divorce to be lawful and for the innocent to be able to remarry. Since God gives us no other instruction in the New Testament about how to divorce one’s mate, except the procedures put forth by the civil authorities, which God has ordained (Rom. 13:1-6), then we must abide by the procedures put forth by the civil authorities.
Argument 3: I don’t believe that God would not permit a person who was unlawfully divorced by their mate who committed fornication to have to remain unmarried.
This argument is similar to the arguments made by those in religious denominations who assert that God would not send an honest and sincere person to eternal punishment just because they were not baptized for the remission of sins.
This argument’s logic is patently refuted by scripture:
God’s lawful divorce procedure under Mosaic Law was exploited by ungodly men to deal treacherously with their wives. God Himself gave the procedure under the Mosaic Law (Deut. 24:1-4) and yet many were using God’s own divorce procedure in a treacherous manner:
“…For the Lord God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. ‘Therefore take heed to your spirit that you do not deal treacherously…’” Malachi 2:16 (NKJV)
What was God’s response to such treachery? Did He reason that the procedure was unfair and thus needed to be scraped? Did He reason that He would not permit certain divorces because they were ungodly and brought terrible consequences on the woman, against whom sin was committed? No, but rather God confirmed that unlawful divorces were occurring using His procedure and God affirms that the remedy was, and is:
“…Therefore take heed to your spirit that you do not deal treacherously…”
Thus, we see that the problem concerning unlawful divorce and its consequences is due to treacherous spirits that disobey God and misuse His procedures.
The New Testament scripture affirms that unlawful divorces can and will occur. The Holy Spirit affirms that unlawful divorces could and would occur which would bring terrible consequences on those who were sinned against. The woman innocent of fornication who was divorced by an ungodly husband would be sinned against (Matt. 19:6), put into a position of vulnerability to commit adultery (Matt. 5:32), and could not remarry (Matt. 5:32; Matt. 19:9, and Luke 16:18). As well, the woman who unlawfully divorced her husband transgressed God’s Law and had the constraints of remaining unmarried to being reconciled to her husband (I Cor. 7:10-11). These passages affirm that not only would individuals unlawfully divorce their mates but also that real consequences, both for the one who unlawfully divorced their mate and for the one who was unlawfully divorced by their mate, would result.
If God will not permit a person who is the victim of an unlawful divorce to remain unmarried, then that principle would apply in every case. If God’s principle is true in one instance, then it is true in every instance. Otherwise, God would be a liar, a respecter of persons, or the author of confusion. However, it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18), show partiality (Rom. 2:11), or put forth confusion (I Cor. 14:33). Thus, the following people could marry another, using this logic:
Bob and Jane are married. Neither Bob nor Jane committed fornication, but Bob divorces Jane anyway. Bob unlawfully divorced Jane, thus she can marry another because God’s “fairness” would not prohibit an unlawfully divorced person to remain unmarried.
Bob and Jane are married. Bob commits fornication with Sara. Jane is either unaware of Bob’s affair or will not divorce her husband for whatever reason. Bob divorces Jane. Bob unlawfully divorced Jane, thus she can marry another because God’s “fairness” would not prohibit an unlawfully divorced person to remain unmarried.
However, God’s Law concerning the one who was not guilty of fornication and yet was divorced or put-away by their mate says:
“…And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery…” Matthew 19:9 (NKJV).
“… and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery…” Luke 16:18 (NKJV).
Thus, Argument 3 is false. God’s instructions, contrary to the speculations of some, clearly state that whoever marries the one who is divorced by their mate, whether the one who divorced them committed fornication or not, commits adultery.
We are warned that emotional argumentation, adding to God’s Word, is to be rejected (Prov. 3:5, 30: 5-6). Those who love and respect God, obey His Words:
“…By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. 3For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome…” 1 John 5:2-3 (NKJV).