Who May “Put Away”?
By Jeff Belknap
The entire controversy over the second (mental divorce) “putting away” doctrine all boils down to WHO is authorized in scripture to put away. Did Jesus authorize put away people to “put away” their bound partner after the fact of divorcement or not?
First, let’s consider the entire definition of the word translated “put away” in the gospels:
Gk. # 630 (apoluo), ap-ol-oo’-o; “from 575 and 3089; to free fully, i.e. (literally) relieve, release, dismiss (reflexively, depart), or (figuratively) let die, pardon or (specially) divorce:--(let) depart, dismiss, divorce, forgive, let go, loose, put (send) away, release, set at liberty.” Strong’s (Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible) Greek Dictionary of the New Testament (p. 14)
Other Greek authorities use the words: “set free,” “be freed” (Arndt & Gingrich), “to set free” (Thayer) and “let go free” (Vine’s). Note closely, that when one “shall put away” (Matthew 19:9a) and the other “is put away” (Matthew 19:9b) they are both “free” in the full sense of the word (“free fully”)!
Obviously, the “free fully” definition of apoluo does not encompass God’s binding law (obligation) that He initiates at the time a couple is lawfully united in marriage (Matthew 19:5-6). (All involved in this present controversy agree that after an unscriptural divorce, a couple’s obligation to one another is not dissolved.) Yet, scripture refers to both the one put away for fornication and the one put away for a cause other than fornication as “apoluo” – “free fully.”
So, what exactly does “free fully” mean, considering that its reference does not include the spiritual obligation? The only possible explanation of how one can be freed “fully” after a divorce that is not for fornication, is in the sense that it is possible for man to free (i.e. the physical relationship). The act of “apoluo” does not free a couple from their spiritual obligation to one another (Romans 7:2-3, 14). [It is only God who frees a mate from their obligation (or bond) when they put away in accordance with His law.]
Nonetheless, after an unscriptural divorce is ratified, both parties are free from the marriage relationship and therefore fully “divorced” (Matthew 5:32b) in the Biblical sense of the word (Matthew 5:32b; 19:9b; cf. I Corinthians 7:10-11, which calls the divorced, “unmarried”). Moreover, once the marriage relationship is dead (i.e. “let die,” Strong’s Greek Dictionary), it cannot be put to death any more! See: Life & Death; Marriage & Divorce
Advocates of post-divorce “putting-away” emphasize apoluo’s definitions of “depart, dismiss, let go, put (send) away, and release,” to the absolute exclusion of the other, equally valid words which also define apoluo, namely “free fully” and “let die.” These last two terms reinforce the idea that a divorce completes and finalizes the end of a marriage, and accomplishes everything possible for man to do in putting away (sundering the marriage, cf. Matthew 19:6). See: Apoluo Charts
In the context of Luke 16:18, where a divorce for unscriptural cause is exclusively addressed (without the exception clause), let us substitute the first definition of apoluo for the words “putteth/put away”:
“Whosoever free(s) fully his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is free(d) fully from her husband committeth adultery.”
The “free fully” substitutions demonstrate that the unscriptural apoluo/freeing was “fully” done, thus leaving no room for one to free more fully, regardless of subsequent circumstances. In this scenario, the man fully freed his wife, and according to the second half of the verse, she was fully freed from her husband (physically).
Some suppose that the mate who fully free(d) them does not necessarily have to depart this life (Romans 7:2-3) in order for the freed one to become eligible to remarry another. They surmise that since God’s obligation is still in force, their estranged partner’s act of subsequent fornication gives the fully freed “innocent” partner the ability to more fully free themselves from their dead marriage.
These brethren assume that those who are already fully free (thus, those who commit adultery upon remarriage to another, Matthew 5:32b, 19:9b; Luke 16:18b) can loose themselves from the only thing which remains: God’s bond/obligation. Who says?! The continued existence of the God-imposed obligation to one’s mate after his marriage has died does not imply one’s ability to loose himself from it. This obligatory bond is the very element that restricts one’s ability to remarry another after an unscriptural divorce! Yet ironically, its remaining presence is what some are claiming makes it possible for a put away person (whom Jesus said commits adultery upon remarriage to another) to employ an unrevealed post-divorce procedure, which is said to free them to remarry another.
In the varied Biblical usage of the Greek word, “apoluo” – whether in the context of divorce, sending the multitude away, forgiving a debt, releasing of a prisoner, loosing of infirmities, etc. – never do we find the ability for the one who was the subject of that “apoluo” action to turn around and do the same to the one who had already done it to them. See: Apoluo Charts
If one has been sent away (apoluo), can they send away (apoluo) the person who had sent them away without first coming together again? If one has already been released (apoluo) from prison and is thus no longer a prisoner, can he release (apoluo) the prison from his presence without having been imprisoned again? If one is loosed from an infirmity, can they loose themselves from the same infirmity without having contracted the illness a second time?
Where do brethren get the notion that those who are sent away and fully freed (physically) from their mates have the ability to send away the person they are separated from, and “free fully” (spiritually) themselves from the obligation that God imposed upon them? The word apoluo only has one definition in this context, not two! However, in order to advocate post-divorce “putting away,” one must switch the actual definition of apoluo from (physical) freeing fully to the fabricated definition of loosing oneself from God’s (spiritual) bond. Is such an inconsistent doctrine “from heaven, or of men?” If from heaven, where is the book, chapter and verse?
The idea that man can “put away” the bond (God’s spiritual law that binds, Romans 7:2-3, 14) is no less absurd than the purgatorial claim that one can affect the status of another’s soul after death. The “whosoever” of John 3:16 does not include those “souls” (Acts 2:41) whose spirits have departed from their flesh and bones (James 2:26).
Likewise, God granted the permission to put away for fornication to “whosoever” is involved in a living, “one flesh” relationship. He did not grant that right to those whose relationships are dead (i.e. “let die”). See: Apples and Oranges
Does scripture teach that the exception clause is given to all innocent people who are bound, regardless of the state of their marriage? Does the “whosoever” of Matthew 19:9 extend to those who are physically “fully free” from their bound partners and whose marriage has died? Nay, the context of Matthew 19:3-9 clearly indicates that Jesus’ teaching was addressing the scenario of sundering an intact, (“one flesh”) lawful marriage (Matthew 19:5-6, 8-9).
Some brethren argue that God did not address the circumstance of fornication which is committed after the innocent party is unscripturally put away. Precisely! At the time when the “one flesh” relationship has been “free fully” and “let die,” another human sundering is not possible, therefore, it is not addressed. Hence, the rule regarding the silence of scripture must be applied (I Peter 4:11; Colossians 3:17).
Scripture speaks of only one divorce which sunders a couple’s marriage relationship. Once this freeing is “fully” accomplished (in the context of apoluo for both scriptural and unscriptural cause), it marks the end of the “one flesh” relationship and results in two divorced, fully free(d) people.
For both those who put away and those who are put away, the only revealed possibilities after an unscriptural divorce are: 1) adultery (Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18), 2) reconciliation (I Corinthians 7:11), 3) remaining unmarried (I Corinthians 7:11; cf. Matthew 19:12), and 4) authorized remarriage to another after one’s bound partner dies (Romans 7:2-3; I Corinthians 7:39).
Those who advocate post-fully freed “putting away” are speaking fully free of scriptural authority. Scripture describes (both unscriptural and scriptural) putting away as a process which makes one’s bound partner “fully free” of the physical relationship, and precluded from lawful remarriage to another. Nothing more, nothing less!
Certainly, Matthew 19:9a speaks of one’s God-given authority to put away when their mate has committed fornication, but it is said only in the context of the intact, one-flesh marriage relationship (Matthew 19:5-6, 8-9). There is no Biblical indication that man is capable of more sundering once the (scriptural or unscriptural) “apoluo” is accomplished, and has made a couple “free fully.”