What God Hath Joined Together…
Phillip E. Keen
Perhaps no other single subject has so occupied the time and attention of Church members recently as has the ongoing controversies surrounding the topics of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. There are numerous ramifications of any doctrinal position concerning this subject. Fundamental to any doctrinal position is an effort to “rightly divide the word.” The disciples in ancient Berea were commended not for knowing all the answers, but for searching the scriptures daily to determine for themselves the truth of the things taught them. We as Christians are further commanded to PROVE ALL THINGS, so it is with these principles in mind and in response to numerous requests for a written discussion of these subjects that this article is written.
It is our desire that no one will either agree or even disagree with the things presented in this article merely because of the author’s beliefs, nor yet merely because the material presented bears some similarity to some traditional teaching one may have heard in the past. It is further recommended that one reading this article should do so with his Bible at hand, and that he not merely read the material presented but honestly study the subjects with an open Bible and a receptive mind. It is our earnest desire that we may all come to an accurate knowledge of God’s word, and be found approved of Him as “workmen who need not to be ashamed.”
May God bless us with a clear and proper understanding of His will. In Jesus’ name we request it.
The Master himself began his discussion of this topic on one occasion with a return to the beginning. In the first book of Moses the beginning arrangement was, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.” (Mk. 10 and Matt. 19) It is to this simple arrangement that the Apostle Paul appeals as he quotes the original provision for the institution of marriage in Eph. 5:31.
Lamech, a descendent of Cain, is the first recorded example of a man abandoning this original arrangement as recorded in Gen. 4:19; “And Lamech took unto him two wives the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.” Such a practice was in violation of the God-ordained plan, and as such was sinful (I Jno. 3:4). Even though sin was present in the world, full responsibility of man for that sin awaited the giving of the law, however (Rom. 5:14; Gal. 3:19). Accordingly, specific laws regulating marital practices were enunciated. These ranged from the simple THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY of Ex. 20:14 to the many guidelines governing commencement of marriage and even its termination (Deut. 22,23,24, et al). These laws were written because of the transgressions of the Godly design of one man and one woman united in one flesh for life.
We read specifically that God is displeased with the termination of marriage in divorce (Mal. 2:14-16). There are numerous scriptures which indicate that God does not alter fundamental attitudes or positions (d.h. there are some eternal principles of God’s plan for man, Mal. 3:6 and Jas. 1:17 for example), and one must necessarily consider the possibility that even today God may hate the practice of divorce.
Deut. 24:1-4 provided for premature termination of a marriage in divorce not, as some contend, for “any reason” but exclusively for the reason of “some uncleanness.”
The option of divorce was not even then a mandatory act because of some uncleanness, but it was permitted only because of HARDNESS OF HEART (Matt. 19:8, Mk. 10: 4-5). Since this is the only precedent for divorce in the scriptures, one may correctly assert that divorce in the absence of some “hardness of heart” is inconceivable.
It is evident from inspection of passages such as Matt. 5:27-32; Matt. 19:3-9, Mk. 10:2-12; Lk. 16:18; Jno. 8:1-11; Matt. 22:23-29, that there was no small degree of controversy surrounding marriage in Jesus’ lifetime. It is evident that marriage occupies a major fraction of life’s endeavors. It is even on the occasion of a marriage that John chronicles the first of Jesus’ miracles (Jno. 2).
Even though they did not themselves desire to hear an answer perhaps, the Pharisees once asked Jesus a rudimentary question concerning marriage, which we would do well to ask ourselves, “IS IT LAWFUL for a man to put away his wife for EVERY CAUSE?” Even if the Pharisees did not, as we have suggested, desire an answer, Jesus did make reply to them. In Matt. 19:3-9 Jesus answers first this question and then a second as they do not readily accept his answer. His first answer is in an appeal to return to the God-given plan of one man and one woman united in one flesh for life. Then he explains the basis for the Jewish practice of divorce as outlined by Moses and acknowledges ONE reason, the sin of FORNICATION. Since he was specifically asked if it were lawful for divorce to be exercised for a plurality of reasons and answered with only ONE, we may not safely construe Jesus’ reply to include more than ONE category of offense. Jesus denied that divorce was permissible or lawful for EVERY reason !
Did Jesus acknowledge divorce for grounds other than fornication? If the spouse is an alcoholic; if they spend more money than the family income can cover; if there is a problem of infertility; if career ambitions conflict; if
the spouse does not provide proper necessities for the children; does Jesus authorize divorce in these situations? The answer is an obvious NO. There is no reasonable method of augmenting fornication to include such diverse reasons.
What activities are included in the term fornication? Is bestiality or Sodomy within its scope? Is homosexuality? Lev. 18:22-23 and Rom. 1:24-27 are two passages which deal with these exact problems, but significantly the terms used do not include fornication. Gal. 5:19 ff. includes fornication as a “work of the flesh.” I Cor. 6:18 states that it is a sin “against the body.” Does this mean that it is unique in this regard? Is fornication the ONLY sin against the body?
To properly understand this passage, let us consider a seemingly unrelated topic, blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Mk. 3:29, “But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.” Traditionally such blasphemy has been equated with the “sin unto death” of I Jno. 5:16. Heb. 6:4-6 tells of some who had tasted the heavenly gift, of whom it was said it was IMPOSSIBLE to renew them. Do we then construe these passages to modify Gal. 6:1-2, so that an erring brother ‘ may commit certain acts of transgression which exempt us from any obligations to restore him? Do these passages in some way imply some insufficiency of God or of the gospel to save? No, not at all. A person who blasphemes against the Holy Ghost may not be saved, not because of some basic inadequacy of God, but because of the continuing election of error by the blasphemer. Jesus did not say such a person could not be saved, what he said was that such a person was IN DANGER of eternal damnation. When a person blasphemes against the Holy Ghost he rejects the Holy Ghost and rejects God, and he rejects the saving power of the gospel to so much greater a degree than in any other sins which he might choose to commit, that he erects an insurmountable barrier between himself and God. If he is lost it is not because of God but is exclusively because of his own choice not to be saved. In a similar manner, one who is drunken, sins against his own body. One who is an adulterer, sins against his own body. In fact, if one indulges in any of the works of the flesh, he sins against his own body. Fornication is, however, so much more a sin against the body, that the Apostle Paul singles it out in I Cor. 6:18.
Therefore, it is safe to conclude that fornication is not unique in being a sin against the body. Are fornication and adultery identical sins in the scriptures? Are they mutually inclusive, or do they have overlapping meanings? Inspection of such passages as Gal. 5:19 ff. or I Cor. 6:9 suggest that they are not the identical sin, for if they were one must surely accuse the Apostle Paul of redundancy. He does not say, for example, ,”The works of the flesh are manifest which are these: fornication, fornication, uncleanness, uncleanness, lasciviousness;, lasciviousness, idolatry, idolatry, etc., etc.” The Bible makes distinction between adultery and fornication. It even uses different words whether in the Hebrew of the Old Testament or in the Greek of the New Testament:
Zanah vs. Naaph in the Hebrew for example.
Porneia, Porneuo, or Pornos vs. Moicheia, Moichao, Moicheuo, or Moichos in the Greek for example.
One could quote passages at great lengths to attempt to define the meanings of these terms. Ezek. 16 speaks of “women ‘who break wedlock” for example. Jno. 8 speaks of a woman taken “in the very act of adultery”. Such quotations do very little to clearly define the sin (s) indicated by the terms fornication and adultery. How does one determine what sin the Bible is specifying when the King James Version reads “LASCIVIOUSNESS”? You turn to a dictionary or an equivalent lexicographic work and find “lewd, lustful, that which produces lewd emotions”. We similarly discover that it is dissension” which is signified by the term VARIANCE. It is also reasonable to consult such a work for meanings of the words adultery and fornication. These are, after all English words. Immediately some will no doubt protest that to do so would be to place a 20th Century definition on a 1st Century word. Let us hasten to point out that this is just not so at all.
Popular opinion to the contrary, the Bible was not written in King James English, Neither was the original written in any other English. If one consults a dictionary to define Biblical words, he in effect uses 20th Century definitions for 17th Century English words which in turn were accurately translated 1st Century Greek words. For such meanings to be valid one must carefully sort out altered meanings which have changed since the 17th Century.
Adultery is defined as “violation of the marriage bed; the voluntary sexual intercourse of a married person with one of the opposite sex, whether married or unmarried to another (the former case being designated single, the latter double adultery)” Fornication is then, “voluntary sexual intercourse between a man (in restricted use, an unmarried man) and an unmarried woman.” (Oxford English Dictionary, 1933). Time altered the usage somewhat so that fornication has come to include adultery, and adultery in turn has been extended to be unchastity in general and has been used by some theologians to describe any marriages of which they disapproved, as of a widower, of a nun, of a Christian and a Jewess, etc.
Samuel Johnson was one of the first men to compile an English language dictionary. Boswell’s Life of Johnson quotes his definition of fornication stating: “fornication is a crime in a SINGLE man.” (10 Oct. 1779). This usage more closely reflects that contemporary with the translation of the King James version. An example illustrates the changing definitions. The Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (2nd Ed. 1960) defines fornication as “illicit sexual intercourse on the part of an unmarried person.” Five editions later the same work includes adultery in the definition. Obviously, one must be careful to consult the proper dictionary to accurately define Biblical words. The original usage of fornication, although more restrictive, is more accurate. It approximates the usage intended in the Bible as translated in 1611. (King James Version). Fornication is then, “illicit coition on the part of an unmarried person.” It is a sinful act of the flesh performed by unmarried persons. If instead of being unmarried the persons are married persons the sin necessarily becomes adultery.
The choice of the precise Greek word in the original writings of the New Testament demands certain conclusions concerning the scriptural accounts of these sins. Since Jesus uses the word ADULTERY in Matt. 5:27-28, he is referring to one who is married. This is not to suggest that a single man is incapable of lusting after a woman, nor that to do so would not be sin. It would be sinful, but for him the sin would NOT be adultery, but fornication. The fornicator of I Cor. 5 is of necessity an unmarried person and is not married even to his father’s wife, or else the sin would have been adultery. The words chosen by both the Apostle Paul and Jesus were precise words which conveyed precisely what they personally intended. They knew the difference between adultery and its counterpart fornication. It behooves us to also understand the difference between these two and not to confuse them or casually interchange them as if they meant the same.
It is neither necessary nor warranted to abridge these restrictive definitions of fornication and adultery to discuss either the physical fleshly sins or even the spiritual equivalents. For example, Rev. 2:20-22 mentions spiritual fornication committed by one called Jezebel, but significantly the Christians who were espoused to Christ in participating in the sin committed adultery, not fornication. With some idea concerning the activities designated when the scriptures use adultery or fornication, let us return and reconsider the reason (s) for divorce.
Can there possibly be an appropriate valid decree of a divorce in the absence of any reason? The Pharisees didn’t even dare to suggest this, yet that is exactly the case with many persons who terminate their marriages prematurely in divorce. One assumes an untenable position if he claims Jesus authorized divorce either for NO reason at all or even for a multiplicity of reasons. Yet today many brethren go beyond the teachings of Jesus and attempt to justify divorce and remarriage for MANY reasons. Some do so in such a way that they introduce in effect a new exception of their own BAPTISM.
These persons maintain that one may put away his mate for any (that’s right, ANY) reason so long as it occurs prior to baptism. This doctrine is based upon two or three principle scriptures. II Cor. 5:17, “if any man be in Christ he is a new creature... all things are become new.” Rom. 8:7, “it (the carnal mind) is not subject to the law of God.” I Cor. 7:17, 20, 24 ABIDE IN THE CALLING IN WHICH YOU ARE CALLED. The result of this doctrine is to reserve fornication as a reason for a Christian to divorce his mate, and to permit any possible reason for him prior to baptism, even NO REASON AT ALL !
The real issue here is one of applicability of the laws of God to unbaptized persons. Is the world amenable to the laws of God? Do the laws of God in any way apply to persons prior to their baptism? Or is the world guilty of only ONE sin: disobedience to the gospel (II Thes. 1:7-9) ? Why is there any law of God? Paul states that it serves to specify sin (Rom. 3:20); to make sin unattractive (Rom. 7:13); and to provide for the imputing (charging) of sin (Rom. 5:13). If no law exists, there can be no transgression of that law (Rom. 4:15) and man may not be charged with violations of it. To whom is the jaw addressed? Certainly it is to Christians, but not exclusively as Paul writes to Timothy in I Tim. 1:6-11 (...the law is not made for a righteous man. .)
Many scriptures teach unequivocally that everyone, the child of God and the alien sinner alike, are convicted as sinners when they disobey God’s laws. Rom. 3:19 (ALL the world may become guilty); Rom. 3:9 (ALL are under sin); Rom. 5:12 (ALL have sinned); Rom. 11:32 (ALL in unbelief to have mercy on all); Lk. 24:47 (repentance to be preached among ALL nations). Not only sins, but specific sins occur prior to baptism. If they did not, one could not be guilty of those specific sins and also one would not require baptism to remove those sins. It is evident that specific sins do occur prior to baptism from reading of many passages...Rom. 5:8 (WERE yet sinners); Horn. 6:20 (WERE servants of sin); Born. 6:6 (NO LONGER serve sin); Horn. 6:1-2 (dead to sin not to CONTINUE ANY LONGER there-in);
And you being dead in your sins and the un-circumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.
I Cor. 6:9-11, in which are listed specific sins which some had committed prior to their baptism for which sins they were now being washed. Rom. 9:11 clearly illustrates that these were not inherited at birth, therefore these sins occurred within the time frame of after birth and before baptism. In pre-Christian times some Gentiles were accepted of God, not because they just were not subject to God’s laws nor yet because they were ignorant of God’s laws, but because they kept the things contained in those laws (Rom. 2:13-14).
Is it necessary that one keep anything more than the laws of the land prior to his baptism to be an acceptable baptismal candidate with God? If such be the case how can one safely argue that he even keep the laws of the land. With even a modicum of deception and intelligence he could probably successfully circumvent the laws of the land. If nothing done prior to one’s baptism has any relevance, why keep any laws until after one is baptized? Col. 3:1-7 discusses persons who had been guilty of specific sins, who were now commanded to cease these sins.
II Tim. 2:19 says the child of God must depart from iniquity. Children of God just may NOT continue sinning (Born. 6:15). They must mortify the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13).
There are further considerations relating to what we may refer to as “marriage sins.” in light of the foregoing. Marriage is not an exclusive right of Church members. Marriage is per Heb. 13:4 “honourable in ALL.” If marriage could not be recognized in the absence of baptism the union of a believer and an unbeliever of I Cor. 7 would be a nonsense term.
Furthermore, it would be utterly impossible for anyone to commit adultery until after he was a Christian! Regardless of how one reasonably defines ADULTERY it is a sin of violation of the marriage tie. Even if we use a rather nondescript definition such as some “breaking of wedlock” or a more rigid and restrictive definition as we have proposed, adultery is a violation of some marriage.
Therefore, it follows that if marriages are not recognized in any non-Christian setting, non-Christians can not possibly violate any marriages, since they can not be party to any. The only possible sin they could commit would be fornication. If they may not be married, it will be difficult for them not to commit fornication. They will even encounter considerable difficulty trying to accept the advice of Paul’s opening remark in I Cor. 7. How could they have their own spouse? I Cor. 6:9-11 reassures us that we need not be concerned about this problem, however, for adultery is a sin which may potentially be committed prior to baptism.
If one applies the concept of abiding in the calling in which you are called to excuse or condone or justify an otherwise unacceptable marriage, Jesus’ one reason of fornication becomes unavoidably a multiplicity of reasons as we have already suggested. The apostle did not leave the meaning of abiding in the calling open to lengthy query or speculation. Instead, he very carefully illustrated its use with examples in the same context in which he uses the terms. He chooses the distinction between circumcision and uncircumcision or slavery and freedom as his examples. Of the alternatives which he proposes neither choice contains some intrinsic error; neither choice is in and of itself either right or wrong. He does not excuse the sin of being circumcised by this principle, for example.
One may not safely construe the meaning of these verses ( I Cor. 7:17, 20, 24) to excuse what would otherwise be an error. The meaning is all too clear. He does not say, “If your lifestyle includes specific sins, don’t worry about that. Stay as you are, but be baptized and you may continue them. “He does imply, however, that if one’s lifestyle is NOT one of intrinsic errors, revolutionary changes need not be made to be baptized. Paul also says if we have the opportunity to be free, we should choose this. If these verses apply to marriage to continue whatever marriage state is current at the moment of baptism, why may one not then utilize these same verses and excuse himself from that state and seek to become free from his marriage?
Let us consider a couple examples of deductive reasoning to prove whether or not these verses apply to the current marriage at the time of baptism. I Thes. 5:21 does command us to “prove all things.” Is it permissible for a person to be a valid candidate for baptism, who is living with a second or third living companion? What if he is a polygamist with three wives? May he become a member of the Church and retain all three of his wives? (Rom. 7:1-3 proves that one may (illegally) marry more than one person at a time). If the polygamist may not retain all three wives, why not? Isn’t he to abide in the calling in which he is called. Conceptually there is very little difference between the polygamist with his three wives and the American who practices sequential polygamy and is now living with his third wife. Or consider this case which is representative in fact of many such cases and is not a mere argumentative “straw case” as some have claimed. A single woman is a member of the Church. She has never married, but now elects to marry a man who is divorced from a living wife. This man is not a member of the Church, and he has not been divorced from his first wife for any reasons of infidelity, instead simply for let us say incompatibility which covers a host of nonspecifics. Is such a marriage (between the single Church member woman and the divorced man) acceptable? There are at least two problems with it. Specifically it qualifies as adultery per the definition of no less than Jesus himself (Mk. 10:11).
The woman and the man both commit adultery. The marriage is inappropriate and I Cor. 6:9-11 tells us that they may not either one inherit the kingdom of God while they commit this sin. Now let us present the man for baptism and apply the doctrine of abiding in the calling in which one is called to permit him to retain this second wife. If he may be baptized and retain this second wife, baptism must somehow effect a change not only in the man, but also in the marriage so that it will no longer be a sin for him. But if it does, then we have the difficulty of a woman who is now to be justified not for any actions she may do, but merely because her husband is to be baptized! II Cor. 5:10 states plainly that one is justified or condemned solely for his own deeds, not someone else’s. The difficulty lies not in whether or not the man may be baptized, but in whether or not he may continue a sinful relationship.
Two objections will no doubt be voiced to this case, so let us deal with them now. There seems to be some confusion as to what about an unlawful marriage constitutes the adultery. Some contend that adultery may be committed only once with any one person. This is like taking salt and adding it to a sugar bowl one grain at a time. Further grains of salt do not adulterate the sugar, it is adulterated after the first grain. Now if we add the salt to the flour one grain at a time, the same occurs. It is adulterated after the first grain is added. Adultery is said to occur between persons in a similar fashion. When one violates a marriage union, say his own, the first violation will be adultery. No further violations are meaningful, the union is already adulterated. But if this be the case, there is no sin beyond the first unlawful coition. One could then have a sequence of affairs and be guilty of adultery with only the first paramour only on the occasion of their first encounter, since his marriage is adulterated from that point on.
Perhaps the sin occurs in the absence of any coition at all; perhaps his sin was that of lusting after his neighbor and committing adultery in his heart. If he should later divorce his wife and marry the neighbor, that will not constitute adultery under this philosophy, since that sin has already occurred its one allotted time. This would be in opposition to Jesus’ statement that “whosoever shall MARRY her that is divorced committeth adultery.” The error is obvious. Adultery may occur one time or it may occur many times. It must certainly occur every time there is sexual intercourse with one other than one’s lawful marital partner. It does not occur one time only time with any one person and then somehow attain its maximum so that it may not occur again.
Another objection is to the use of terms such as an unlawful marriage, or an “adulterous marriage” or even “living in adultery.” Rom. 6:1-2 speaks of LIVING IN SIN; adultery is such a sin. To use the term “living in adultery” then, is to cite a specific example of living in sin per Born. 6:1-2. Rom. 7:3 states that a woman is an adulteress (one who commits adultery), not by MARRYING another man while her first husband lives, but by BEING MARRIED TO another man while her first husband lives. Adultery in this instance is not a one time only sin, but is a situational sin which is clearly ongoing or repetitive in nature.
Consider the case of Herod in Matt. 14:3-4 and Mk. 6:17-18. It was not lawful for him to HAVE Herodias as wife. It was not a matter of unlawful to HAVE ONCE HAVE MARRIED, or to HAVE HAD, but to HAVE. There is further evidence that the sin of adultery may be more than a one time only act occurring somehow in the marriage ceremony of two improperly paired persons. Jno. 8 speaks of a woman taken IN THE VERY ACT OF ADULTERY. Was this woman brought to Jesus simply because someone caught her exchanging marriage vows with some man when she shouldn’t?
There are multiple ways in which one might commit adultery. A married person might lust after another man’s wife and commit adultery. He might have an affair with another woman and commit adultery in violating his own marriage. He might marry a divorced woman (therefore another man’s wife) and commit adultery. He might divorce his own wife and marry another and commit adultery.
Would one think that God would permit a man to keep a mistress after baptism? Or should this man who had such a mistress be compelled to give her up after his baptism? If he must give up his mistress, he must also give up any illegal spouse, for these are merely two different mechanisms by which the same sin could be committed. The sin is adultery regardless of the specific mechanism by which it is to be accomplished.
Suppose there was a man who just didn’t know that God didn’t want him to put away his wife and marry another woman. Wouldn’t God overlook this situation and permit him to keep this woman so long as he doesn’t do it again per the principle of abiding in the calling in which he is called? By what Biblical mechanism? By what scriptural reason? Is it for ignorance? To be uniformly consistent and without respect of persons, let us assume this man was raised in a Christian family, attended Church regularly, read the Bible, knew what it said, but had never been baptized. Suppose further that he either does as the previous man and divorces his first wife and marries another, or he elects to marry a divorced woman for his first spouse. Will God accept him while he retains his illegal wife? If he is to be accepted, it will not be for reason of ignorance.
He knew of God’s displeasure with divorce. Acts 17:30 teaches that ignorance is insufficient justification for error in the sight of God. This man may not be treated any differently than the man who didn’t know that divorce was unacceptable with God, or there will be a respect of persons. God is no respecter of persons (Rom. 2:11; Acts 10:34-35), and we should not be respecters of persons either. If ignorance is not the reason, what is the reason which permits one to retain an illegal wife after his baptism?
It cannot be that no sin was committed. I Cor. 6:9-11 is a passage which PROVES a sin had been committed. If one is to apply the abiding in the calling doctrine to marriage in this manner, how may a person who is single at the time of baptism ever subsequently marry without disregarding the advice to abide as he was? Is his case an exception to this advice merely because he desires some alternative arrangement?
Some persons attempt to justify marriage for a divorced person by quoting I Cor. 7:27-28 and reasoning that the word “loosed” really means “divorced,” If one desires to consult the original Greek for support of his doctrine, he must do so consistently and not stop half way through the verse. There are two English words “loosed” in this passage and they don’t originate with the same Greek word. The first is from the Greek LUSIS which means “a loosening” or even “divorced.” The second is from the Greek LUO meaning “to loose” but never meaning “divorced.” The word LUSIS is used only one time in this passage. In fact, it is used only once in the New Testament. The specific tense for the second “loosed” is the perfect tense. Other tenses may utilize the same spelling, but any other tense of the verb so as to suggest that the second “loosed” might mean “divorced” will be inconsistent with the teachings of either Paul (I Cor. 7:39) or Jesus (Matt. 5:32).
Literally, the two verses (I Cor. 7:27-28) mean: Are you united to a wife? Seek not to be divorced. Are you unmarried (never having been married)? Seek not to be married. But if you (the latter unmarried person) should marry, you need not sin.
To capriciously translate the words of the apostle in any other manner, is to force him to contradict both himself and the Master. I Cor. 7:39 would not agree in meaning if one were to substitute “divorced” for “loosed” in both instances in this passage.
Some contend that the qualifications set forth for an elder in I Tim. 3:2 ff. is proof that there were some acceptable members of the Church in the first century who had more than one wife, and that the elders were peculiar in that they only had one wife. If this conclusion is warranted, one must also conclude that some “acceptable” Christians were not of good behavior, or who were covetous, or who were given to wine, or who were greedy of filthy lucre (profit), or who were to be blamed, etc.... The advice given as qualifications for an elder as a leader in the local congregation, serve to reinforce the need for respect and sanctity in the marriage union. Of those persons described in the New Testament as having speaking roles in the Church we read of some like the apostles, Peter alone is identified specifically as a married apostle. Of the evangelists, Philip is identified as a married man who had four daughters. Titus, Timothy, Paul, ...these were all single men. Elders and deacons were required to be the husband of one wife. This is a strong suggestion that a divorced and remarried person should NOT be used in the public teaching capacity!
What is the precise advice as relates to the marriage between a “believer” and an “unbeliever”? I Cor. 7:15 states a believer is not under bondage if an unbeliever should leave him. Does this mean the believer is free to marry again? Or what does the apostle mean by his term “not under bondage”? Some have even dared to utilize this passage to authorize a divorce and remarriage in the following situation. Two members of the Church (husband and wife) develop some marital difficulties and one leaves and sues for a divorce or runs off with a new spouse. Since they leave, and since Christians are commanded to stay together, this must mean the one who departed was not a true believer. Now the remaining partner, having been partner to a marriage which was a union between a “believer” and an “unbeliever” may legally seek another wife. He is not under bondage is he? Such reasoning destroys the very clause employed for its existence. No distinction is made between believers and unbelievers by such reasoning!
The true meaning of “not under bondage” relates not to the marriage tie so much as to the advice preceding it in this chapter. He had just told the Corinthians not to depart, but to remain together ( I Cor. 7:10). It is evident from I Cor. 7:39 that the death of a mate is the only true termination for the marriage contract, so Paul is NOT making an alternative out of abandonment to free one from his marriage. He did not mention one word about infidelity on the part of either the departing or the remaining spouse. Neither has necessarily been guilty of “fornication.” Are we to construe the distinction between “believer” and an “unbeliever” to imply yet another exception? Literally, what the apostle is teaching is: “If the unbeliever leaves, it is impossible that the believer remain living with them.” In such a case the believer can’t NOT DEPART.
The only options available to the abandoned mate are the same as those, available to his brother in the preceding verses: he may be reconciled to his mate or he may remain as he is. He may NOT be legally married to another person while the departed spouse still lives. These are his only alternatives, any other arrangements will constitute sin. The believer is bound by the law of marriage as long as his companion, though now departed, lives (I Cor. 7:39).
Some will no doubt hasten to challenge, “What kind of marriage is that?” This objection is not worthy of more than a passing comment. At issue here is not so much a matter of quality of marriage exclusively, but a matter of legality of marriage. The first marriage is legally still binding. If the two parties to the marriage were married, and if they are yet alive, they are still married regardless of the geographical distance separating them or of the man-made decrees stating otherwise, or the provisions of the laws of the land.
There is something distasteful about requiring one who is divorced and remarried to give up his adulterous spouse at the time of baptism. Or, for that matter, at any other time. The objection to this course of action assumes forms ranging from the “one time only sin” concept which we have previously mentioned to the argument that the real sin lies either just in the putting away of the first wife or in the actual marriage with the second.
Can a child of God say, “It is wrong for me to have divorced my first wife and to have married a second. I won’t ever do that again, however neither will I put away this second wife for that would be a sin too. “? And now having said this, can he acceptably retain an otherwise illegal spouse? Merely saying, “I won’t sin again,” does nothing to make sinning again an impossibility. Suppose this man decides to divorce wife number two and to marry wife number three. Will he now also be justified for this action by saying, “I should not have done that. I will not repeat that sin again. I certainly will not put away my third wife and marry another.” ? Is that repentance? If this is all that he was required to do to manifest his initial repentance, it must necessarily be all that he must do now! By such reasoning one could conceivably have a succession of 490 wives (70 times 7), each time “repenting” by saying he will not do it again. But if the Christian is to be required to do anything other than say, “I am sorry, and I won’t do it again.” the one desiring to repent to be baptized MUST be required to do more too. To require less of one than of the other is to show respect of persons. God is no respecter of persons. Are we? If we are respecters of persons we may be lost regardless of the consequences for the marriage offender.
One more word concerning baptism and its relationship to sin. Baptism does not remove anything other than a sin. It does not, for example, remove righteous acts. It does have a function in cleansing from repented sins. When a man marries a woman, each marrying for the first time, there is no necessity of any sin in that relationship. If this same man decides to put away his wife and marry another, he does sin. He sins according to the words of Jesus Mk. 10:11. He sins according to the words of the Apostle Paul in effect in Rom. 7:3. The specific sin is adultery. It is a sin, a work of the flesh, a transgression of God’s law. It arises because of a violation of the first marital agreement. No sin existed in the first marriage. When this man subsequently decides to be a baptized believer, how does baptism relate to his sins? As regards his “marital” sin, it can in no way relate to the first marriage, for it was without sin. It can only relate to the second marriage, it is the sinful one. Baptism cannot have any expunging effect on the first marriage. If baptism is to relate to any marriage and any sin of this man, it must do so in relation to the sinful one, the second. In the sight of God the man is still married to the first wife, and no amount of immersion in water with perpetuation of the second marriage will remove either the sin or the first marriage.
Any doctrine which teaches that a man may retain his second wife after baptism and not be guilty of any sin in so doing, teaches in effect that persons are married until death or baptism, whichever event occurs first! If it does not teach this then it must teach that marriages do not occur outside the Church, and we have already dealt with this misconception.
But we do have those passages of Jesus saying “except for fornication”, don’t these constitute an exception to the general rule and don’t these designate one lawful alternative to a life long marriage relationship? Is this a portion of the NEW LAW? If it is it should serve as a valid mechanism of terminating an unsuccessful marriage prior to death.
There are some people who actually believe that every word spoken by Jesus is a part of the new law. It is assumed that the words “The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” written on the face sheet before Matthew’s gospel make everything that follows a portion of the new law. Is this necessarily so? If one suggests that not every word spoken by Jesus is automatically a portion of the new law, he is immediately accused of “placing the gospels in the old testament” or of some equally distrustful activity. He may even be told that if he believes that, then the only rite of baptism which he may administer is in “the name of Jesus only.”
When Jesus taught the gospel of the kingdom of God in Mk. 1:14, was it the identical message taught by the Apostle Paul when he taught the “kingdom of God” in Acts 28:31?
What do the scriptures signify when they speak of the “doctrine of Jesus?” Jesus’ doctrine must surely be his revelation of God’s will for us today. In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) there are phrases concerning either the “doctrine of Jesus” or “His doctrine, “ and they ALWAYS mean the act of teaching and not the substance taught. In fact, in these gospels “doctrine” only means the substance taught in conjunction with “teaching for doctrine the commandments of man.”
All other passages (Matt. 7:28, Matt. 23:33, Mk. 1:22, Mk. 4:2, Mk. 11:18, Mk. 1:27, Mk. 12:38, and Lk. 4:32) are without exception concerned with Jesus doctrine as his manner of teaching. The Greek words prove this, but so does the English in its own context. In. Mk. 4:2 ff. Jesus speaks to the people “in his doctrine” and he tells the people the parable of the sower and the seed. When he ends this parable he tells his disciples that they will understand the meaning, but to others the mysteries of the kingdom of God must be spoken in parables (Mk. 4:11-12). Mk. 4:33-34 states that without exception this is the way Jesus did his teaching of the multitudes of the people concerning the mysteries of the kingdom, but privately he chose not to speak in parables but to expound all things to the disciples. It is then evident that when Jesus taught these people “in his doctrine” he did so utilizing the parable format for his teaching. This was his manner of teaching, or his “doctrine.”
Did Jesus always teach in parables then? This is not what the scripture said. Things pertaining to the “mysteries of the kingdom” were spoken in parables. When the subject was the things contained in the law and the prophets, Jesus spoke very plainly according to the custom then employed in the synagogue. Lk. 4:16 says it was Jesus’ customary practice to go into the synagogue, read the scriptures, and then expound on the scriptures, much as is done in a scriptural Church service today. Mk. 1:22-2 3 describes this synagogue teaching practice as “his doctrine” and the subject matter was exclusively old testament in origin.
How does one determine what is a portion of the New law. Truly Jesus must have taught it sometime. Acts 1:3 says he taught the disciples for forty days the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. Did he tell them things pertaining to the kingdom earlier? He must have, for Luke says that he in effect rehearsed the things he had told them during this period Lk. 24:44. One could make some observations on the settings of Jesus’ teachings and arrive at some conclusions regarding the utterances of the new law by making distinctions between public settings (therefore parable teachings of the new law) and private settings (therefore fully expounded teachings of the new law). This method, however, would be difficult and would also lack precision because of scriptural silence as to audience identity in some passages. Combining both Matthew’s and Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount or studying them individually one can find, for example a group of disciples gathered close at hand, but a larger audience of people who probably were, not disciples within ear shot as it were, for it is these who marveled at “his doctrine” for he taught them as one having authority.
Mk. 7:14-2 3 is an example of public versus private discrimination. In the first portion of the passage Jesus addresses a public gathering, and then he subsequently expounds the implications of his teaching privately as he discusses how men are defiled by their deeds which are conceived within their own minds such as adultery, fornication, murder, even selfishness.
Mk. 10:2-12 is an example of public versus private distinction on Jesus’ teaching on the subject of marriage. In a public capacity he teaches plainly the then existing law. In Matt. 19 he answers the question of what IS (that is, is then) lawful. Privately he speaks to the disciples and what he tells them is an unequivocal return to the original plan of God with no exceptions. This is suggestive evidence that the clauses “except for fornication” may not be a portion of the new law. It does not prove this however.
John writes in his gospel that there were even more words which Jesus spoke and more things which Jesus did which are not even recorded (Jno. 20:30-31). Was Jesus expounding NEW LAW on some or all of those occasions? II Pet. 1:3-4 states that we need not be concerned that we do not have a record of every event or every word, for we do have all that is necessary for our salvation. For the scriptural proof and reassurance some more reliable method than just asking “Did Jesus say it?” or “To Whom did He say it?” is required. The Bible itself provides the principle upon which all proper discerning of the word is based. Heb. 2:3-4 states:
How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?
This may be a good principle, but how does it relate to anything? If a passage occurs in the New Testament it is confirmed isn’t it? Not, necessarily. There are instances in which exact teachings of Jesus are NOT confirmed. Jno. 13:14 is one such instance in which Jesus COMMANDS the disciples to practice foot washing, but nowhere is this confirmed as a commanded practice for us today, because none of those who heard him confirmed it to us. Jesus taught that the law of Moses was to be strictly observed (Matt. 23:1-3), yet there are several items of that law which have not been confirmed to us including: tithing, keeping the Sabbath, circumcision (which of course antedated the law), and even Kosher eating laws.
It is the absence of specific confirmation of every command of Jesus and even confirmation of subsequent different commands of Jesus which permits us to understand which of his utterances are applicable to us as a portion of the New Covenant. If such were not the case, how could we justify the preaching of the gospel to other than Jewish persons (Matt. 10:5-15) ? Or how could we justify any brother traveling around the country in his automobile, carrying at least a portion of his wardrobe, and carrying more than a day’s supply of cash on hand to preach when Jesus sent the Apostles and later the seventy under severe restrictions as to what they could provides for themselves as they went to preach?
What about passages in which Jesus says, “Ye have heard, but I say unto you... “? Surely these are examples of the New law aren’t they? Is this new law or is it only a fulfilling of the old (Matt. 5:17-18) ? Even in these cited examples the message is not NEW as a few examples of style, content, and even exact phrases will show: “light of the world” (Prov. 4:18); “agree with adversary quickly” (Prov. 25:8); “look upon a woman to lust” (Job 31:1; Prov. 6:24-2 6) “resist not evil” (Prov. 20:22); “turn other cheek” (Lam. 3:30); “love enemies” (Prov. 25:21-22); “use not vain repetitions” (Eccl. 5:2); “take no thought of your life” (Ps. 55:22); “seek and ye shall find” (Prov. 8:17); “beware false prophets” (Jer. 23:16); “by fruits ye shall know” (Jer. 11:18); “not everyone that saith Lord” (Hos. 8:2). These were not new teachings. They were old testament teachings. It was not the content but the emphasis on the moral principles behind these utterances that was new.
Jesus was wrestling with two disadvantages of his day, the general illiteracy of the people (Cf. Acts 4:13, I Cor. 14:16, 23, 24) and the body of oral law and tradition which was then being taught to the people by the scribes (Cf. Mk. 7 verses 3-13). Jesus did not contrast what had been written with what he was saying. He did not say, “Ye have read, but I say unto you...” He lived under the old covenant law as stated in Gal. 4:4-5. That old covenant law did serve a few preliminary functions as stated in Gal. 3:23-25. It was fulfilled as promised by Jesus (Matt. 5:17-18) and it ended in Christ (Horn. 10:4) being nailed to his cross and taken away (Col. 2:14; Eph. 2:15).
Jesus promised the disciples that they would be guided into ALL truth after his departure, thus insuring that the disciples would properly confirm his words (Jno. 16:13). As relates specifically to the subject of marriage, did any of these directed disciples confirm “except for fornication” to us? Does Peter with the keys of the kingdom confirm this clause? Does Luke confirm it in Lk. 16:18? Does Mark confirm it in his tenth chapter when he apparently is discussing the same occasion as Matthew did in his 19th chapter? Does Matthew’s record of the phrase constitute confirmation of it? Not even Matthew’s record qualifies as confirmation and it is the only place in which it is to be found (Matt. 5:32 and 19:9). The internal evidence from Matt. 19 is against an interpretation of confirmation to us. The first question that was put to Jesus specifically asked what the law THEN WAS. When he answered those tempting Pharisees in Matthew 19 he told them what was THEN lawful, but is it still lawful?
The Apostle Paul was an appropriately inspired man as he declares in Gal. 1:11-12. He told the elders at Ephesus that he declared ALL that God had revealed about a subject, Acts 20:27. He did not keep back or fail to teach anything that was profitable (Acts 20:20). He further taught the same things in EVERY Church (I Cor. 4:17).
If one searches through every written record of Paul’s teachings he finds no “except for fornication” statements. Failure to find such a clause can mean only one of two things, either there is a permissible exception to the one man and one woman united in one flesh for life and Paul did not teach it and therefore did not really teach ALL of God’s will on this particular subject, or else there are NO exceptions to God’s original plan as uttered in the First Book of Moses as also quoted by the Apostle Paul in Eph. 5.
Matt. 5:32 and Matt. 19:9 do not supplement the teaching of the Apostle Paul by citing exceptions to an otherwise idealistic arrangement, for they specifically contradict his teaching in I Cor. 7:39.. THE WIFE IS BOUND BY THE LAW AS LONG AS HER HUSBAND LIVETH; BUT IF HER HUSBAND BE DEAD, SHE IS AT LIBERTY TO BE MARRIED TO WHOM SHE WILL; ONLY IN THE LORD. Death is the only event which terminates marriage in all of the teachings of the Apostle Paul. Never does he teach otherwise.
Let us suppose for a moment that one really should be able to use the exception provisions of Matthew and legally obtain a divorce. Exactly how could this be accomplished? I Cor. 6:6-7 forbids a Christian to go to the courts of the land, before the unbeliever, with his disputes.. How can he then scripturally exercise the exception even if it were an acceptable course of action? The Church is not a divorce granting institution, so he may not obtain one there either.
If one goes before the courts of the land to obtain his decree, he violates express commands and no longer abides within the fellowship of faithful saints. The only persons who might avail themselves of the ‘exception would be unbelievers who being under no such courtroom restrictions might go before themselves with their dispute. If the “except for fornication” is then a portion of God’s Law of Marriage, this leaves one portion of God’s Law exclusively to the world and excluded from Christians who can not utilize it! One then could argue that ‘rather than the world not being subject to the Laws’ of God, just the opposite, ONLY the world would be subject to one portion of the Law of God regarding marriage.
Let us carefully note one important item attending the possibility of divorce even in Moses’ era. Divorce has never been mandatory, but was even then only an option. The child of God is commanded to forgive the trespasses of another.
Matt. 6:14-15 teaches that it may be impossible to receive God’s forgiveness if we ourselves do not forgive others. How can one be forgiven his own specific sin of refusing to forgive a mate’s errors? But surely one is not required to be greater than God, and God does not promise to forgive men’s sins if they do not repent, does he? Where is there any obligation to forgive if the offender doesn’t seek that forgiveness? Matt. 18: 21-22 commands us to forgive up to 490 times with not even ONE mention of the offender seeking forgiveness. It goes without saying that one is obligated to forgive one who seeks forgiveness for his offenses, or else they themselves become guilty of sin in refusing to forgive. The central theme of the entire New Testament is LOVE. One cannot perfect his exercising of that love without forgiving others. How could one love his enemies (who do not seek his love), bless those who curse him, do good to those who hate him, pray for those who despitefully persecute him, or even do good to ALL men (including those actively trespassing against him) while he harbors resentment toward those persons? One is absolutely commanded to forgive even those who do not desire to be forgiven!
One is not excused from the command to forgive merely because his mate decides to forsake him for another and does not seek to either repent or return. To do otherwise is to try to coerce a mandatory divorce, and any who would seek such have lost sight of much of the aims and probably all of the benefits of Christian living.
There is also a problem of attitude when a man desires to retain an unlawful spouse in the face of baptism. He is guilty of placing a “family” member above God in his priorities. Matt. 10:37 warns that to do this is to make us unacceptable to God. We may not love a family member more than God and have any hope of salvation. A penitent believer desires most of all to be a child of God. He desires to do whatever God requires of him in order that he might be saved. He does not dictate to God the terms of his own obedience. If he is going to go to the effort of obeying in the act of baptism, why should he stop short of complete obedience and attempt to preserve as much of his former sinful unchanged self as he might dare?
The Apostle Paul draws the parallel comparison of the fleshly institution of marriage and the spiritual one of the Church and Christ (Rom. 7:1-4; Eph. 5:20-33). These are complete parallels and there implications which when observed in one hold for the other. How does one become united to Christ? He does so by obedience to the gospel and by submission to baptism. It is this baptism which accomplishes the spiritual marriage with Christ (Rom. 6:1-4; Rom. 7:4). How may this relationship ever be terminated? Sin may alter the relationship with Christ and make the sinning child of God unacceptable, but he remains a child of God. Sinning children are still children. When does one cease to be a child of God whether faithful or unfaithful, whether obedient or prodigal? Only the second spiritual death terminates the bride-bridegroom relationship of the Christian and Christ. If we teach otherwise we must also teach rebaptism for the sinning child of God for remarriage to Christ, but there is no scriptural basis for such a doctrine as this.
Baptism is necessary for the marriage between the believer and the Lord. If one may become somehow unmarried to the Lord prior to the second spiritual death, there must be some mechanism such as rebaptism for a spiritual remarriage. The only Biblical precedent for a rebaptism teaches that the first baptism did not qualify as the legal baptism which would result in marriage to the Lord (Acts 19:1-5). Since these things are so it necessarily follows...
Only the second spiritual death terminates the spiritual marriage between the Christian and the Lord, and ONLY physical death terminates the physical marriage between a man and a woman!
Marriage was instituted by God as a solution for the loneliness of man (Gen. 2:8) . It originated as a union of one man and one woman, united in one flesh for life. In time the hardness of man’s heart resulted in alterations of this plan with premature termination of marriage in divorce. With this alteration, it was not surprising that divorce should frequently be followed by remarriage.
The first Biblical precedent for divorce was on the exclusive basis of the discovery of “some uncleanness.” Literally this translated “a matter of shame or nakedness.” Eventually this “uncleanness” was broadened in practice to include virtually any reason. When asked concerning this practice, Jesus informed the Pharisees that their law made provision for divorce for only ONE reason, fornication. During his lifetime Jesus advised the Jews to observe the laws enunciated by their leaders who in effect were to them as Moses had been to the liberated nation of Israel. This one reason was the sole reason valid during the lifetime of Jesus.
Subsequent writings by divinely inspired apostles directed by the Holy Ghost failed to confirm ANY exceptions to the lifetime duration of the marriage contract. Persons who obtain a divorce and select another mate commit the sin of adultery just as surely as the man who keeps a mistress. The sin of adultery is an unusual, albeit common, sin in that it may be an active episodic sin or it may also be a situational sin which is ongoing and/or repetitive so long as the second (or third etc.) marriage continues. There is only one mechanism of repentance from this sin, cessation of the relationship and termination of the illegal marriage.
Death is the only recognized termination of a legal marriage acceptable to God. He hates divorce.