This essay was originally at http://truthinheart.com/EarlyOberlinCD/CD/Doctrine/Remarriage.htm prior to being taken offline.
A question of doubtful action rather than absolute certainty.
“He who doubts is damned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith, and anything not from faith is sin.”
Romans 14: 23
By God’s grace, and with love for all families wounded by the effects of remarriage, this tract is written.
By Rick Friedrich
Have you ever wondered how you can know anything for sure? Or have you ever considered at what point there was reasonable cause to withhold belief in something, and the practice of such belief? Further, have you struggled with the continual unrest of not knowing how much evidence you must have before you can believe something? Is there any such rules that can help us? Specifically, how shall we decide or come to a fair conclusion on the controversial subject of divorce and Remarriage?
We realize that much has been written on this subject, and that people have been overwhelmed with excessive dogmatic claims, emotional appeals, and vast amounts of technical information. Faced with such, most people give up hope that any clear conclusion can be gained. As of yet I have not seen any written work that has taken an easier route which would be within the reach of every person with a bible and a reflective mind about the subject.
When we consider any subject reflectively, whether it be every day facts that affect our choices at work, or more important questions like whether we exist at all, we realize that we find ourselves believing or disbelieving these facts based on the kinds and degrees of evidence presented to us. We would all do well to consider just how much evidence we need before we accept or refuse anything. There is obviously no need to make appeals for this, as it affects everything we think about and do in life. Why then do people not consider how to divide evidence? That is perhaps one of the greatest wonders of all. Perhaps most people just do not want to know the real truth.
If we look at the above examples of truth questions we find that the first pertains to limited facts that are to be believed and acted upon. Everyone is expected to conform to evidence at work, and to make fair judgments and corresponding actions of the body. The teacher always grades his students, and even at times knows convincingly that a student is misbehaving. But at what point does anyone at work feel compelled to accept the evidence presented to them and thus make a choice consistent with the new true facts? Even deeper, at what point does everyone instinctively make choices about the same facts? At what point do people make such conclusions, that, if you were to ask them why they made them, they would consider you to have lost your mind or to be joking with you?
If we reflect upon it we see plainly that people make belief-choices when they have evidence that amounts to “beyond reasonable doubt.” When the nature of the choice does not involve the life so as to impose real self-denial, then everyone readily believes it and lives accordingly. Such for example would be that food is to be trusted and eaten, or the world is a globe, or England exists, even though we personally have not been there. But as everyone knows, when selfish ambition, prejudice, strong desire, or love of some pleasure is allowed by any individual, the plainest facts can be denied. Consider those who use harmful products to the destruction of their bodies. Or consider those who deny the very existence of God, morality, immortality; or those who say they believe such things and live directly opposite.
What I would like to bring to your present consideration is the realization that when any facts and arguments are brought to our minds, we ought to make a conclusion, when, and only when they are beyond reasonable doubt. What fair judge sentences a person or argument before its time? It does not matter who does or does not do this because we all know that if someone does not judge fairly then it is not acceptable. On the other hand, if another judge fails to be convinced when acceptable evidence is presented, we all similarly agree that he is unjust and should have accepted the truth and taken the resulting course of action.
The reason people sometimes waiver in failing to believe something is often because they are expecting absolute certainty. The same judges, in every land, are daily faced with such problems with every jury. The judges and lawyers have to spend much time on teaching people the difference between what things need to be believed in or decided upon when things are beyond reasonable doubt, or when they should only be believed in with 100 percent absolute certainty (such as in first truths of reason). Often people suspend judgment upon an issue that is of the first class because they subject it to the second class of evidence for absolute certainty. So they refuse to go with the highest evidence because there still remains some counter evidence yet to be answered. The judges have to thus labor with the jury to show them that almost nothing, even with everyday unimportant facts, have evidence that amounts to absolute certainty; yet we all know that we ought to believe and choose many things. Similarly they are reminded of the fact that no one expects anyone to make a final decision about something when there are serious objections against it, and which demand everyone to refrain from such conclusions.
Some of the necessary conclusions from the above are the following:
- We are not to believe anything unless it is beyond reasonable doubt (anything less is only opinion and unjustified prejudice).
- We are not to do anything consistent with something we have reasonable doubt about (this is hypocrisy and lawlessness).
- We are to believe everything when it is beyond reasonable doubt (anything less is deceit and criminal unbelief).
- We are to do everything consistent with what we know is beyond reasonable doubt (this is “walking in the light as God is in the light.”)
There are many other things that could be added to this but they do not need to be said at this time. We want to examine the subject of divorce and remarriage in light of these undeniable principles. Some questions pertaining to this subject are:
- Should we expect absolute certainty in support of either position?
Is there any reasonable doubt about allowing a divorced person to remarry while their spouse is still alive?Is anyone justified in continuing in a remarried state while such doubt lingers unanswered?
We will not look now at any evidence from actual case studies or the resulting factors in society which have great significance with this subject. Such facts by themselves, I believe, are suitable to bring reasonable doubt upon the practice. Any historical analysis of the facts and decline of society in relation to this subject will make it evident to all who carefully consider it, that there is at least reasonable grounds for doubting its legitimacy. For example, the great English historian Edward Gibbon in his classic work, “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” listed five reasons why Rome fell. The very first reason he gave was “Rapid increase of divorce, with the undermining of the home, which is the basis of society.”
Instead of looking at these considerations to decide on the issue, our investigations will begin and conclude with the most important source of evidence for determining the answer—from the book which clearly reveals “everything needed for life and godliness.” For if there is sufficient evidence here, then there will be no need to go any further. Our investigation will not stop at the bear minimum grounds for reasonable evidence, because most people refuse to settle at that point, and demand overwhelming evidence beyond the point necessary to establish reasonable doubt. I trust that each series of arguments will individually bring all to see plainly that there in fact is reasonable doubt about the remarriage of divorced persons. Let us begin to look at the above principles of what we accept or believe and how we ought to live in relation to the word of God:
“Do you have faith? have it to yourself before God. Blessed is he that condemns not himself in that thing which he allows. And he that doubts is damned if he eats, because he eats not from faith: for whatsoever is not from faith is sin.” Romans 14: 22-23.
The word rendered damned means condemned, or adjudged guilty of breaking the law of God. If a man doubts whether it is lawful to do a thing, and while in that state of doubt he does it, he displeases God, he breaks the law and is condemned whether the thing be in itself right or wrong. The principle laid down is:
That if a man does that of which he doubts the lawfulness,
he sins, and is condemned for it in the sight of God.
Whether it is lawful itself, is not the question. If he doubts its lawfulness, it is wrong in him.
1. One reason why an individual is condemned if he does that of which he doubts the lawfulness, is—That if God so far enlightens his mind as to make him doubt the lawfulness of an act, he is bound to stop there and examine the question and settle it to his satisfaction.
2. For a man to do a thing when he doubts whether it is lawful shows that he is selfish, and has other objects besides doing the will of God.
It shows that he wants to do it to gratify himself. He doubts whether God will approve of it, and yet he does it. Is he not a rebel? If he honestly wished to serve God, when he doubted he would stop and inquire and examine until he was satisfied. But to go forward while he is in doubt, shows that he is selfish and wicked, and is willing to do it whether God is pleased or not, and that he wants to do it, whether it is right or wrong. He does it because he wants to do it, and not because it is right.
3. To act thus is an impeachment of the divine goodness.
He assumes it as uncertain whether God has given a sufficient revelation of His will, so that he might know his duty if he would. He virtually says that the path of duty is left so doubtful that he must decide at a venture.
4. It indicates slothfulness and stupidity of mind.
It shows that he had rather act wrong than use the necessary diligence to learn and know the path of duty. It shows that he is either negligent or dishonest in his inquiries.
5. It manifests a reckless spirit. It shows a want of conscience, an indifference to right, a setting aside of the authority of God, a disposition not to do God’s will, and not to care whether He is pleased or displeased, a desperate recklessness and headlong temper, that is the height of wickedness.
The principle then, which is so clearly laid down in the text and context, is fully sustained by examination—That for a man to do a thing, when he doubts the lawfulness of it, is sin, for which he is condemned before God, and must repent or be damned.
There you can see that here is a principle that will stand by you when you attempt to rebuke sin, and the power of society is employed to face you down and put you on the defensive, to bring absolute proof of the sinfulness of a cherished practice. Remember the burden of PROOF does not lie on you, to show beyond a doubt the absolute unlawfulness of the thing. If you can show sufficient reason to question its lawfulness, and to create a valid doubt whether it is according to the will of God, you shift the burden of proof to the other side. And unless they can remove the doubt, and show that there is no room for doubt, they have no right to continue, and if they do, they sin against God.
Even though many will now want to abandon any notions of remarriage based on their the evidence from memory, we should not attempt to end our discussion with the facts in our memory, which would be sufficient for many to reveal valid doubt about this practice. Let us therefore look at some of the evidence:
I. Matthew 19 reveals the fact that Moses’ legislation permitting the divorce certificate was due to the “hardness of their hearts,” and was neither acceptable from creation to that point, and was set aside by Christ forever. Therefore the Old Testament gives no acknowledged support of remarriage in any of its commands from God. Yet what we do find there is positive testimony against it: “I hate divorce”; and Jesus Himself quotes from it to support His claim: “from the beginning it was not so…the two shall be one flesh…”.
II. We all understand that Paul’s letters were based upon the teachings of the Lord, with Whom we have less detailed teachings. Paul taught what the Lord had directly or indirectly taught him; and he also expanded upon the principles Jesus taught in the Gospels for the church. Few will doubt that Paul’s letters were applicable for the church today. Few will claim that Paul’s writings really support the remarriage of anyone whose legitimate spouse is still alive. In fact the admitted claim of the defenders of remarriage is that Paul’s letters are to be interpreted in light of the one phrase that Jesus uttered that apparently gives grounds for it. In other words there is nothing in Paul’s letters that really supports or demands the position to be believed. But in fact, there are things that would contradict it, if the obvious meaning was to be only considered.
When all this is admitted by the defenders, it stands as at least evidence to support reasonable doubt about the practice. For how could it escape Paul to neglect to justify the practice when he had talked about marriage, separation, adultery and fornication in so many places? Even further, why did he fail to show us that there is an exception to the supposed general rule of till-death-marriage, when leaving his statements as they are gives all appearance of it being always the absolute rule? Or when the omission would change the very meaning of his argument?
III. Let us look at such an example in Romans 7: 1-3.
“Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.”
Here, no one can doubt that there is no exception given. Here, all can see that the plain words show all remarriages to people whose spouses are still alive are adultery. Be sure to pay special attention to the fact that “is joined” means married and not mere sexual relations. This is important in discovering all that the texts says. The proof of this is in the fact that Paul could never say, “so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man,” if “is joined” meant mere sexual relations. Now read the part before this again with assurance: “So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress”. No second marriage therefore can invalidate the first marriage, even though it is adultery or even legal.
But if we consider the matter further, we even see that his whole argument would amount to nothing if there was any possible grounds for remarriage while the spouse is still living. Paul would have been guilty of faulty analogy if there was any grounds for remarriage. If in fact there was such an exception, then all would see that there would be an exception available in coming to Christ. And is it true that we can come to Him at all while we do not die to the law? Can we be joined to Him while the law is still alive? Then neither can someone marry another while their spouse is still alive. Here we have a serious objection against remarriage which needs to be answered before it can be practiced.
IV. The only place where people claim to find any support from Paul is in the most detailed passage on the subject—1 Corinthians 7. And here, those who claim such support usually admit to it being a possible interpretation (which I by no means admit). But the underlying principle of this tract is that what is only a possible interpretation cannot be used to establish a doctrine or belief under God. I spent many years witnessing to the cults and found the very same kind of possible-interpretation-beliefs. They would gather together many weak arguments that always amounted to possible interpretations, but never would offer conclusive irresistible proof. But does 15 or more leaky buckets inside of each other still hold the water? No. No amount of weak evidence or possible interpretations ever amount to proof. The cultists have power with people because they have many such arguments and not because they have clear demonstrations or conclusive proof.
But what does Paul actual command here? Does he make statements that would prevent such an interpretation? And such statements, do they not reveal no grounds for remarriage while the spouse still lives?
“But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife…A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she whishes, only in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 7.
Here we notice not only the lack of grounds for remarriage apart from death (by the command: “must remain unmarried”), but the fact that even if a wife separates she still is related to the same man who is called “her husband” to whom she can only be rejoined to (unless he dies).
It is not desirable to enter into the argument about divorce itself, as we are primarily concerned with whether someone should ever remarry or continue in a second marriage. Only some passing comments will be brought fourth in light of the fact that most people’s idea of divorce or separation gives them self-imposed grounds for remarriage. Such people think divorce is a complete ending of the marriage, as if they are no longer husband and wife in any sense. It would seem almost natural then to assume that one could remarry, especially if the other had left them, committed adultery, or remarried to another. But here, and elsewhere, we see that even when separated, he is still called “her husband.” There is no denying the occasional tragedy of separation when there is abuse, or adultery, but the modern-day idea of utterly ending a marriage entirely, is not found in the New Testament and was not practiced by the early church for the first few hundred years (they in fact denied such was an option even though it was much practiced among non-Christians). If there is a separation, then one must be content with their present calling, unless they can be rejoined. Can these two texts mean anything less then this? If they could, then what was the purpose of saying them? Remember, marriage is a privilege and a gift from God, and not a right that we can claim upon our own understanding.
The two above verses are the beginning and the end of the teaching related to our subject. Within them we find a few verses that some quote thinking that they might possibly support remarriage. First of all let us say that our last paragraph should show conclusively that mere separation is no grounds for remarriage. It remains to be proved that separation means the same thing as modern divorce. Even today there is a big difference between the two ideas. Secondly, those who think there are real grounds for divorce usually only claim adultery in the spouse as the only grounds—at least when they argue from Matthew 19. In other words, when they are arguing for divorce in Matthew 19 they say adultery (or Greek “porneia“) is grounds for divorce. But when they are in 1 Corinthians 7 they claim mere separation is grounds too. The problem with this is that if you claim there is grounds for divorce from Matthew 19 then you would not be able to divorce for mere separation. Because Jesus’ statements allowed no room for divorce but for the difficult term in Greek “porneia”. This word does not have any relation to separation. Thus, if one is going to use Matthew to support divorce, then 1 Corinthians in no way supports divorce or remarriage. The conclusion we come to in this chapter is that the only allowance for the disintegration of the family is separation. Husbands and wives are positively commanded to not “divorce” their spouses in this chapter, while there is no hint about remarriage. The only place where remarriage is considered is if the other partner “dies.”
One more consideration, as we have noticed above, should be looked at before leaving this chapter as a whole. If we consider that Corinth was perhaps one of the most promiscuous cities ever, and that the church itself was faced with members at least severely tempted with adultery, why would Paul fail to mention the “only” grounds for divorce (if there was in fact any) as people believe Matthew’s Gospel allows for? Even further, why did he not mention adultery was grounds for remarriage when these people claim that Jesus did? It becomes obvious that it was for the same reasons that Luke omitted it. His leaving this unmentioned under their circumstances, while he says the only ground for being free to marry was the death of the spouse, leaves any fair mind to see that there was clearly no grounds for remarriage while the other legitimate spouse lived. At the very least it leads every mind to have serious doubts about remarriage to the point of beyond reasonable doubt. Again, can anyone allow for a practice which has so many serious results to society upon such doubtful grounds? Can we be justified when the positive evidence is so strongly against it?
V. In coming to the most controversial chapter we will first get right down to our main point or objective in looking at the issue. Remember my object in this tract was not to present all the evidence for marriage-for-life, nor to present the most compelling case for the same. But it is to reveal the contrary position as one that we have no reasonable biblical grounds for practicing or continuing in. Again, if we have no real faith in any action, then we have no authority to continue it, else we sin against our conscience and the Lord condemns us for living in unbelief (Romans 14: 22, 23).
Verse 9 of Matthew 19 is perhaps the only real reason why many people allow for divorce and remarriage. It is true that people will use Matthew 5: 32 to justify divorce, but not for remarriage. Most people shy away from this verse in defense of divorce as it positively forbids remarriage. We will come back to this verse later to consider its value with this issue. But for now, all we want to do is see if there is any conclusive support for remarriage in this one verse of the bible.
But before we begin to look at it, we should be reminded of the danger of trying to build a doctrine upon only one verse. It is true one verse is all we need for justification of any truth when it is clearly plain and well defined. But when a verse can fairly be interpreted at least two different ways, then no man has the permission to use only one interpretation as proof for his doctrine and practice. Again, remember that the cultists thrive on doing just this thing. Let us look at an innocent example. Suppose you met a man who said to you, “I live by the river, drop in some time.” You could not tell if he was serious or not. But you go away with your first thought of what you think he meant. You thought he meant you should drop in his house some day. And suppose another day you decide to drop in. But upon your way you repeat his invitation to you. Suddenly you realize he could have insultingly meant to drop in the river. Unfortunately, like the man’s words, people often say things that can have two possible meanings. In logic this story is often told to illustrate the ambiguity of circumstance. The words are clear but the meaning is not.
The verse we are looking at is agreed to have just the same kind of problem. There are at least two places within the verse that create such difficulties of interpretation. The first is the definition of the word fornication, or porneia in Greek; and the second is the question whether the middle clause, “except for fornication” relates to the remarriage clause after it, or just to divorce clause before it. Thus we can right away see that unless the context can give us a clue as to which is the correct way to interpret it we are then left with at least four possible meanings for this text. It seems manifest that the context and every other verse in the New Testament about divorce and remarriage demand the interpretation that there is no grounds for remarriage when the spouse is still alive. But I do not think that this would have to be even proved in order to demonstrate the object of this essay. Once again, if the verse is such that no one can say beyond reasonable doubt that it allows for remarriage, then no one is justified in making it prove their doctrine—no matter how deeply they feel it as an opinion.
If this is not acknowledged by all, then people are actually justified in using opinions as proof and there would be no end to what we could be sure about. In essence, it would prove too much. For it would prove all of the other possible interpretations too! And as everyone knows, that which proves too much proves nothing at all. But let us look at the verse itself even apart from the context:
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife,except for fornication (or uncleaness porneia), and marries another womancommits adultery (moikeia).” Now what is the real meaning of this verse?
VI. If we were merely looking at the verse itself as it appears in English, without its context being considered, and as many now believe it, we might arrive at our first (supposed) possible meaning for it. The first interpretation we will consider would be that the term porneia means adultery and that the exception clause applies to both the divorcing clause as well as the “marries another” clause. People who guess that this is the meaning then feel that they have grounds to not only divorce their wives for one act of adultery, but to also remarry someone else after such a divorce. It is against such an interpretation that this essay is being written.
As you can well imagine we would find serious objections to this position. We already know beyond reasonable doubt that it is not so by what we have already seen in Paul’s letters, and by what is written below. But let us look at some immediate objections to it even if we grant the same people certain things which we see below are not true. If we were to grant that porneia means adultery, and that “except for pornea” equally applies to “and marries another,” we still have a question: Does adultery instantly dissolve the marriage completely? And does it grant the adulterer the right to marry another?
If adultery gives the innocent party the right to divorce (and/or remarry) why is this so? Does it not mean that something fatal happened by the adultery that ended the marriage? This seems ridiculous until you look at it from a different angle. If adultery has given the right to actually end the marriage, and separate “what God has joined together,” to the point of being able to remarry another, why would the guilty party not be able to do the same? Suppose the innocent one actually remarried. Could the adulterer still be obliged to be married till death? We will see in a moment that other scriptures clearly say that both the adulterer would be guilty of adultery by any remarriage, and that anyone marrying them would likewise be guilty of adultery. But why would this be the case if the innocent party had already ended the marriage and started another one? These contradictions all sounds so confusing because actually porneia does not mean adultery, and so there would actually be no opportunity for the remarriage of the innocent party while the guilty party was bound for life.
VII. But looking at this verse in light of Matthew 5: 32b we see a fatal objection to those who suppose a divorced person can remarry. Jesus says, “and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” God calls any remarriage adultery. Just as we saw with Paul in that the separated woman still has a “husband”; now we see that no one can marry her without committing adultery. Why is this? other than that she still has a husband that she is bound to till death. But what bond is there between her and her former husband if they have in fact totally ended the marriage? There would be no bond if that was true. Therefore they still must be husband and wife. In fact Jesus says in Luke 16: 18, “and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” It would be one thing for the Lord to curse the adulterer by not allowing them to marry again, but in that case she would no longer have the former man as a “husband”, nor would it be adultery to remarry. It would only be disobedience from the Lord’s command. But adultery means the sin against your spouse. Therefore he would always be her husband against whom she would be committing adultery, and against whom others would be committing adultery if they married her.
After such clear words from Jesus, who can say they are beyond reasonable doubt about the lawfulness of remarriage while the wife is still alive? Can she always be bound to him till death and he free to marry another? Now this would be absurd. Even though we do not have this as our object in this essay, we also ask: In light of these clear verses, can anyone claim beyond reasonable doubt that any divorce of a real marriage really makes the couple no longer husband and wife until death? In fact the verse says nothing about whether anyone was guilty or innocent; it just says in universal language: “and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” So it clearly means that even if the adulterer divorces you, if someone marries you it will still be adultery. A divorced woman, whether guilty or not, still has a husband if he is alive; and she cannot remarry again.
VIII. Even though we are still looking at Matthew 19: 9 as if porneia meant adultery, we can plainly see that the verse itself, along with all the other verses Jesus made about the same precise thing, reveal no grounds for remarriage while the other still lives. Now, before we see that porneia does not actually mean adultery in this verse, we will look at the immediate context of the verse.
Remember that any text
pulled out of its context
usually becomes a pretext.
In other words, you then can make it mean whatever you so desire.
It is very important to read every part of these ten verses (3 to 12) together while not forgetting any details. The first detail we notice is that the “Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him.” Why is this important? It shows they wanted to trap Him into saying something. What is it they wished to do? The next phrase tells us, they “asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?'” Why would this be a trap for Jesus to answer? What would saying yes or no mean for Jesus? It is undisputed by any scholars that there were two major groups of opinions prevailing among the Jews at that time. One camp said yes to the question, and obviously the more conservative camp said no (but limited it). But as Jesus never submitted to the faulty dilemma traps, He always took the advantage to teach on the actual third alternative. So He quoted from Genesis in the beginning and claimed such texts reveal that God joins all marriages to the point that no man can separate them. Though modern men might misunderstand what He meant, Jesus’ opponents recognized Him as saying no grounds for final or absolute divorce, and remarriage. Notice they said, “Why then did Moses command…” They would not have asked another antagonistic question if they felt Jesus was in any way giving grounds for divorce and remarriage. This is too plain to illustrate further.
IX. Jesus’ response further confirms this by His saying, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.” What “has not been this way” “from the beginning”? But “to divorce your wives”. Whatever Moses permitted, was only done so because of the hardness of their hearts. It was not so permitted before that time. And it was not now being allowed by Christ. He was not changing the law but revealing the fact that “hardness of heart” was not acceptable before God. Thus they were not being allowed to divorce their wives.
X. The next part of the context we must consider is that the Gospel of Matthew, as all admit, was written to the Jews or Hebrews. It is very significant that the disputed clause in the next verse is not found in either Luke or Mark’s Gospel (or in Paul’s letters). All of them give their readers the impression (beyond reasonable doubt) that there is no grounds for divorce or remarriage while the spouse is still living. It is equally uncontested that Luke’s Gospel was written to the Greeks, as he prefaces it in 1: 1-3 to “Theophilus.” It is also widely believed that Mark’s Gospel was for the Roman readers. Given these factors, we can admit as strong evidence the high probability that the exception clause—“except for pornea”—was purely a Jewish concern and not applicable to the Gentiles. Many scholars have suggested that it only concerns the betrothal period that did not exist among the Gentiles. Others give evidence that it concerned incestuous relations such as Herod’s. If the exception clause had the broad meaning of adultery, which was applicable to the Gentiles, then why was it omitted? It was so small (12 letters), and yet so important, that its omission reveals serious evidence that it did not concern Gentiles. Mark would not have failed to mention it when he told the same story, if it was actually agreeing with one of the major opinions of the day. Whatever it might exactly mean, Theophilus would never come to hear of it, either in Luke’s Gospel or later in the book of Acts. The question must be asked by every serious lover of truth: What would he have concluded on this issue? I suppose he would have evidence beyond reasonable doubt that it was unlawful to ever marry; and that if a spouse committed adultery then the only option was to pray, wait, and forgive as God did with us (this is seen in the Old Testament many times where He did not divorce Judah when she committed spiritual adultery, but He waited for her to repent and come back from her lovers and false marriages).
XI. Without presently explaining why the exception clause does not apply to the remarriage clause (and so give grounds for remarriage based upon adultery or whatever else), we must pass on from our main verse to the next verse to reveal even more of the context. We notice the disciples react in a certain way. It is not what you would expect at all if Jesus had merely agreed to the second school of thought and said there was only one ground for divorce or remarriage. Notice them saying, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” Why would they say “like this!” if He was merely claiming the conservative view on the subject? It cannot be doubted that the disciples held the conservative position rather than the position granting divorce for “any cause.” The obvious reasons why they made such a shocking response is that Jesus was saying something different than the conservative position—something much more strict—no divorce or remarriage in the modern sense of the terms.
XII. Jesus concludes by agreeing with their understanding Him as taking a narrower position than the conservative party (as usual). But as usual, He also challenges or rebukes them for not practically siding with Him by their boldly verbalizing “it is better not to marry.” It is important to understand just what He refers to when He responds by saying: “Not all men can accept this statement (verses 8, 9 not 10c)…for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.” Upon casual glance one might suppose He is referring to “it is better not to marry.” But a little reflection reveals that Jesus was not encouraging non-marriage but His statements were referring to His own statement in verses 8 and 9. His comments were therefore referring to whether people were going to “accept” his teaching on no-remarriage rather than thinking He was talking about celibacy. He had made a similar comment earlier in Matthew 13: 11 “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” The accepting of the truth belongs to all those whom the Father has drawn to Himself who love the light and hate evil.
After carefully looking at the entire context we see no grounds for a case for divorce and remarriage while the spouse is still living that is to the point of beyond reasonable doubt. In fact we do not even see how it can be considered a possible option. But we do not need to even prove the latter statement in order to compel us to forsake the practice as a doubtful action “not done in faith.”
XIII. But let us consider the second possible construction of the disputed verse 9 of chapter 19. The verse would imply that the Greek term porneia does not mean adultery but means fornication before actual marriage, or during the betrothal period.
The evidence that porneia, as used in this verse, does not mean adultery can be justified by the fact that the word for adultery is moicheia. Just four chapters earlier, not to mention the very chapter under consideration, Jesus recognized the distinction between the two: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries (moicheia), fornications (porneia), thefts, false witness, slanders.” This distinction within the same verse is found all over Paul’s letters also. If Jesus was claiming that adultery was the only grounds for divorce and/or remarriage then He would have used the very word He used at the end of the sentence. The exact meaning is not being insisted upon presently; but we can now see that Jesus was not giving any grounds for thinking it was adultery. If it was not adultery then what was it? Again, the historical and geographical context almost demand that it mean something related to the betrothal period that was universally accepted. And looking at the situation we can see why it would be acceptable—as the engaged couple had not lived together or had sexual relations yet. If, when the couple were betrothed (like being engaged but more strict) one of them committed fornication, then the other could legally get out of the engagement with a written divorce. The same is seen by everyone today. Most people are committed to marriage after they get engaged; and rarely would end it unless there is something as serious as fornication. It is agreed by all historians that when any Jews at that time began a betrothal, they were bound to marry them, and could not end it unless they were legally divorced (as Joseph was planning on doing with Mary). It would make perfect sense that porneia means something related to before the marriage, just as fornication means in English. This is especially so, in light of the fact that the other Gospels, which where for non-Jewish readers, did not have the exception clause. Once again, we have to wonder what His present hearers naturally understood Him to mean. And again, His disciples took Him to mean something so strict that they thought no one should marry.
XIV. It is beyond doubt that Jesus was referring to something much stricter than adultery as the exception. Another possibility could be that He was referring to illegitimate marriages. Suppose for example that a man married a divorced woman as his first marriage. According to Jesus in Matthew 5: 32 the marriage was not real but only adultery. “Whoever marries a divorce woman commits adultery.” Even in His day it was legally allowed. Now since it was legally allowed and entered into, it would have to be legally ended. The man would still have to divorce this adulteress even though the Lord never recognized it. In other words the marriage was unclean and false. Thus we would read it as: “whoever divorces his wife, except for porneia (unclean false marriage), and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Anyone studying divorce and remarriage will see that if this was to happen, that a man married a divorced woman, it would pose a serious question on whether he was allowed to marry someone else after he would leave this false marriage with the adulterer. Among those who advocate no remarriage, the camp is divided as to whether he could marry again. It should seem obvious that if the false marriage was not real and was adultery, then the man is still free to marry. But we should also recognize even if this is the case, that many times this false marriage and adultery has gone on so long that there is actually children, or at least strong emotional attachments, that would make it very imprudent to marry another. Nevertheless all false marriages or adultery should be ended.
XV. It very well could be that Jesus meant both of the last possibilities, and even others such as the following: Suppose a man married someone too close to him and was committing incest. The word porneia is also used to describe this very thing. Such things were happening in that time and the Mosaic law clearly speaks against it. Whatever the case, the word itself has almost exclusive reference to unmarital sexual sins. It must be remembered that Jesus was saying something stricter than what Moses “permitted.” Now Moses did not appear to grant divorce for mere adultery, even as the law clearly commanded the adulterer to be stoned to death. Therefore it seems that even Moses advocated a limited view of divorce. Nevertheless what he did grant was “because of the hardness of their hearts.” And Jesus was saying something so much more stricter that He shocked His own disciples.
XVI. What we have come to see thus far is that the second possible interpretation is much more likely than the first (remembering that we were just going completely by the verse itself; for if the context was considered, the first option, that porneia means adultery, would not really be an option for interpretation). But as we looked at in the beginning, we found that there was one other variable in the verse that created two other options for interpretation relating to our thesis. We found that the exception clause could possibly apply to either the “divorces his wife” clause only, or both this clause and the following clause, “and marries another woman”. Thus our third alternative is that even if porneia was virtually the same as adultery (and this we have shown to be false beyond reasonable doubt) and the man was permitted to divorce, he would not be able to ever remarry because the exception clause does not apply to the last clause about remarriage. In other words, a man can divorce for adultery but cannot remarry even though it was for adultery he divorced her. Even though it seems this position is wrong because it grants permission to divorce upon adultery, we will argue that we agree with it only in the point that the exception clause does not apply to remarriage. Some of the evidence for this to place it beyond reasonable doubt is that when we look at the only other verse in the bible that resembles it, and which in fact is more fuller, we find that the exception clause does not apply to the remarriage clause. “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for fornication, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Here it is clearly only referring to the divorce clause. It is a sound rule of interpretation that the fuller interprets the scantier texts. And we have here virtually the same thing being said. It is very doubtful to suppose Jesus had failed to mention the exception clause in the fuller text when He believed it. Again, the other Gospels fail to mention it as well.
XVII. But from the text itself we learn in Greek that there are three possible places where the exception clause could be placed—at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of the sentence. If it was placed either at the beginning or at the end it would have more strongly indicated that it was referring to grounds for both divorce and remarriage. The fact that Matthew placed it where he did, suggests that he was trying to convey the idea that Jesus was separating the ideas (as Matthew was a translation into Greek). Let us also remember that the initial question was “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” The subject was about divorce. What reason justifies divorce? For any and every reason? Jesus says, no, only for porneia; any other divorce is adultery. It also seems that if Jesus really did not apply the second clause to remarriage then He was in fact answering their second question about what Moses permitted in Deuteronomy 24, which talked about remarriage. Just like in 5: 32, Jesus said that remarriage, whatever Moses had previously allowed, is nevertheless adultery. Thus our third possible construction is compelling except for the supposing porneia to mean adultery.
XVIII. Our last option is most fitting when considering all the factors that lead us to properly interpret a verse of the bible. It would construct the following meaning upon the verse: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for poreia (unlawful sexual relations during the betrothal period)—or if a man marries another woman—commits adultery.” As we have seen, the verse itself suggests it; the grammar and word meaning suggest it; the immediate context demand it; the context of entire Gospel of Matthew demands it; the context of the three Gospels strongly suggest it; the historical controversy and resulting Christian practice (especially Paul and the early Fathers) demand it, and finally, the contexts of the pure morality of the entire bible, the numerous marriage types of Jehovah and adulterous Israel, and the available graces of forgiveness, long-suffering, etc., all lead us to this necessary construction beyond reasonable doubt.
XIX. I trust that the passage was allowed to be a little ambiguous for a stumbling block to those who care little to examine the truth out to find exact details, and who would rather grab hold of doubtful evidence rather than deny themselves their own desires. There are many such ‘evidences’ in the bible that sinners and cultists gladly embrace “to their own destruction.” Indeed Peter says there are “some things (in Paul’s letters) that are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Life is just so much a trial that, as the bible says, unless we love all truth and conform to all the light we have (Romans 1:18), we will be deceived and lost. For then we would be giving into “the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wrong-doing.” 2 Thessalonians. 2
XX. We should look at one more question before ending this essay: Even if the above evidence proves beyond reasonable doubt that there is no option to remarry while our first spouse is living, does this imply that all such remarriages are wrong on a continual basis and must be split up and forsaken? Or does the supposed grace of God grant the right to remain remarried to those who have committed adultery upon the first instance and received forgiveness for such an act, while also having formally and legally become married? The answer is that if the above essay has proven anything, it has proven that no remarried person should remain in that state while their real spouse is still living. What manner of reasoning could be given to justify it? It is supposed by many “grace”-defenders today that Christ forgives sins to such an extent that the forgiveness ends all oaths and obligations to any previous and lawful commitments! If this is not licentiousness, we ask what is? Have any who make such claims ever read, or at least considered, what the beloved Jude earnestly wrote us instead of “the common salvation”? It was because he claimed that the very heart and soul of the Christian faith was being mightily attacked? You must tell us what he really meant by saying: “I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Can you tell us who these people are? And can it really be supposed that the Good Lord would actually forgive us to such an extent that we would not have to pay a debt anymore because He forgave us our intentions for gaining a debt ! ? Let any such scoundrels try to pass this before the courts of our land and we will gladly be rid of such delusions! And is God any less just?
Forgiveness might pardon us from the intention of the crime but it does not make it right or justify it’s continuance. And can we really suppose ourselves to get forgiveness of “what God has joined together”? Even ungodly people who marry are still held responsible for their vows till death. Otherwise they would not be called adulterers, and would only be guilty of not becoming Christians. So if the unsaved will be judged for adultery as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6 then God is actually judging them for breaking their marriage vows: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” It does not matter therefore if the remarriage occurred before conversion or during a backslidden period. If this is not self-evident, and you find yourself committed to this popular opinion, there remains one irresistible proof that settles this beyond reasonable doubt: “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery”; “and he who marries one who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.” She still has the first husband even though she is divorced and thinks she is remarried—it is adultery all the same. Adultery cannot, according to these verses, grant the right to remarry, nor can it remove the fact that the first is still “her husband.” Therefore no amount of adultery can change the fact that it will always be adultery. “So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.” She “shall” continue to “be called and adulteress” while she “is joined to another man,” until “her husband dies.” To suppose differently would be the same as a man owning a great debt of money, who thinks that by contracting another debt he can be freed from any obligations to the first debt (that he repented of) ! Though the adultery can be forsaken and forgiven, it cannot be forgiven until it is forsaken. Otherwise you could be forgiven without repentance and real faith in Jesus Christ! There is no forgiveness where it is not through God. Can a man suppose himself forgiven without using God’s method? Jesus Christ Himself said that many would think that they were forgiven through Him, yet not really be, because they failed to come Him as He insisted upon.
We will conclude this essay with the final conclusion of The Sermon On The Mount in which the above clear quotation against remarriage of divorced persons is found unequivocally. Are you willing to believe Jesus Christ beyond reasonable doubt?
“Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery…Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who commit lawlessness.’…Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall!”
Let me ask you one more time in light of that great day or Judgment and all the evidence for lifetime marriage: Do You Have Any Doubts About Remarriage? Remember the burden of PROOF does not lie on me, to show beyond a doubt the absolute unlawfulness of the thing. If we have shown sufficient reason to question its lawfulness, and to create a valid doubt whether it is according to the will of God, the burden of proof is shifted to the other side. And unless you can remove the doubt, and show that there is no room for doubt, you have no right to continue remarried (or allowing it), and if you do, you sin against God.
“Blessed is he that condemns not himself in that thing which he allows. He who doubts is damned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith, and anything not from faith is sin.”
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First edition: November 2000.
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