A presentation on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage by Leslie G. Thomas

30 Oct

I was blessed a few years back to be on a church staff in Tennessee with Leslie G. Thomas, a wonderful Christian man with a brilliant mind. The following material was shared with me during that time, and I am pleased to present it now. Brother Thomas did not pretend to have all the answers, but he wanted to contribute to the discussion.

A study of Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage

by Leslie G. Thomas

(Matthew 19:3-9 NIV)  Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” {4} “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ {5} and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? {6} So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” {7} “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” {8} Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. {9} I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

 (1 Corinthians 7:1-5 NIV)  Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. {2} But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. {3} The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. {4} The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. {5} Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.


The institution of marriage is as old as the family of man. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, even in Paradise; and he formed and gave woman to man, that she might be a help meet for him. Or, as the marginal note has it, a help answering to his needs.

And inasmuch as the marriage relationship was ordained by God, we may expect to find his law regarding the institution in his book, the Bible. The only way any person can know what that will is, is for him to search the scriptures and seek to understand all that the Lord has said about this relationship.

Jehovah’s will regarding the duration of the marriage relationship may be learned from Genesis 2:18-24, and especially from verses 18 and 22-24.

As long as a man “cleaves to his wife,” the bond which binds them together will never be broken, as long as they both shall live.

It should be noted, however, that the statement of God’s will for the marriage relationship, just referred to, was made before sin became a reality in the lives of his people. If mankind had remained faithful to Jehovah, his will thus expressed, would have sufficed. But sin, in human experience, created a problem, which had to be dealt with as time moved forward.

The fact that it became essential for God to say more regarding the marriage relationship, because of the presence of sin in the lives of his people, means that the divine will involves more than Jehovah’s original statement included, and that the over-all subject has necessarily become more inclusive. Or, to say the same thing in another way, God’s law regarding marriage, like many other laws in the Bible, is both basic and supplementary, (See Genesis 2:18, 24; Matthew 5:21-31,19:3-12; Rom.7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7:10-17, 39; and other related passages).

It is impossible therefore, for one to know God’s will regarding the marriage relationship, without considering all the information which has been revealed regarding it.

The passages of scripture cited in the preceding paragraphs plainly teach that it was God’s will from the beginning, that a man and a woman, as husband and wife, be joined together for life, that is, that nothing be allowed to put them asunder except death. Jesus himself, however, mentions one cause in Matt.5:32 and Matt.19:9, for ending the relationship, other than death, if we understand the implication of his language. And while the reason to which Jesus refers appears to be a valid one in the sight of God, for severing the marriage bond, it remains true that Jehovah never intended that such a reason should exist.

But, and let this always be kept in mind; when sin entered into the picture, the Lord gave further instruction, to be followed in dealing with this new development. This is what is meant by the cumulative character of God’s law regarding the marriage relationship. This is also the significance of the basic and supplementary nature of God’s law regarding the marriage institution. Basic, when God first revealed his law regarding the marriage relationship; and supplementary, when additional regulations were added, as circumstances required their inclusion in the over-all inspired teaching on the subjects in question.

The marriage relationship, at its deepest and most fundamental level, has been described as a personal-sexual-spiritual relationship, which was ordained and instituted by Almighty God himself.

The divine purpose of the marriage relationship includes

(1) The welfare and the fulfillment of the social and physical needs of the two people involved (Gen.2:18,24; 1 Cor.7:1-5),

(2) Procreation, that is, the generation and production of the human race. (Gen. l:27, 28a).

The three prime points of emphasis in the marriage relationship are

(1) The unitive character of the relationship (Gen. 2:24; Mark 10:4-9)

(2) the procreative phase (Gen. 1: 27f)

(3) the analogical aspect of the union (Eph.5:22-23) apparently in the order just given.

That which has just been said indicates that God’s design in the sexual intercourse on the part of the couple involved, has two specific purposes, namely, (l) to make the two “one flesh,” and (2) to reproduce human beings. Or, to say the same thing in another way, the sexual relationship makes “one flesh” a reality, while it only makes reproduction a possibility,

Jesus, who has the final authority in the divine arrangement, goes back to the statement of God’s original will regarding the marriage relationship, and reaffirms that basic concept. And in doing so, our Lord makes it plain that the institution of marriage is designed to meet the physical and social needs of the human race, insofar as the matrimonial union is concerned; and that its obligations are supreme.

Marriage, in its Biblical concept, is an honorab1e estate (Heb. 13:4) and inasmuch as God has always had a uniform law regarding marriage for his people, it is certain that his will is for Christians to marry those who are in covenant relationship with him. (Cf. 1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14-18).

It is true that the last passage, just cited, does not apply exclusively to the marriage relationship; but it certainly does include it, C. R. Nichol and R. L. Whiteside, in commenting on 2 Cor. 6:14 say: “In 2 Cor. 6:14 we read, ‘be not unequally yoked with unbelievers.’ This does not refer directly to the marriage relation; but it does prohibit our joining with unbelievers in such a way as to make common cause with them. Marriage is a joining together in the closest possible way, and there is no other relationship where the contracting parties have so much in common. How then, can a believer make common cause with an unbeliever, in a relationship where the two become one, without violating the spirit, if not the letter, of Paul’s solemn injunction? [1]


The question of the ideal marriage relationship, or, which is the same thing, the matrimonial bond which God originally ordained for the human race, is both clear and distinct. Jehovah is the Sovereign Ruler of the universe; and when he states a law without qualifications, that regulation must be adhered to at all times and under all circumstances.

But when a law is divinely given, and subsequent conditions require that further revelation be made regarding the situation in question, then both the original statement of the law and the additional regulation which is set forth in the inspired record, must be taken into consideration when applying the divine will to a given case.

If God’s original law regarding the marriage relationship had never been modified, it is certain that no permission for a divorce would be granted. But, as has already been pointed out in these studies, when sin entered into the picture, further regulations regarding the marriage bond were made known by the Lord.

This additional information was eventually extended all phases of the gradual deterioration of the marriage ship, including the final and complete dissolution by a divorce decree. This leads us to ask: WHEN DOES GOD SANCTION DIVORCE ?

The first thing that should be observed in this connection is that God, at no time and under no circumstance, has ever wanted his people, whom he created both originally and anew, to divorce their married partners. (See Malachi 2:16; Deut. 24:1, 22; 13-21; cf. Romans 7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7:10-17, 39).

Jehovah approves divorce only after one party to the marriage bond has committed fornication, or adultery, thereby giving the innocent party the right to take the necessary steps to terminate the marriage relationship, which had existed between them. (See Matthew 5:31-32; 19:9)

The term “divorce,” as used in these studies, refers to the complete severance of the ties which bind a married couple together. And this, in turn, requires that we understand just what is involved in an acceptable marriage, that is, acceptable to the couple in question, the state, and the Lord.

A scriptural, and therefore an acceptable, marriage, is the blending of the lives of two eligible persons, of the opposite sex, into one through:

(l) mutual agreement on the couple’s part

(2) legal authorization on the part of the state, thereby giving the couple the legal right to live together as husband and wife

(3) sexual cohabitation, by which God makes them one flesh. (See Matthew 19:4-6)

Marriage, in the sense described in the preceding paragraph, is a status or condition which, although originating in a private agreement, is not capable of being terminated by the couple’s repudiation of their original agreement. This is true because of the interest of the state, society, and the children who are born to them, if any, to say nothing of regard for God’s law requires that certain permanent duties and obligations be placed upon the couple involved, and be continuously discharged by them.

Notwithstanding the plainness of that which has just been said, regarding that which constitutes an acceptable marriage, the word “eligible” should be carefully considered and thoroughly understood. This is true because not every person of legal age is eligible, in God’s sight, for the marriage relationship

The list of people who are not eligible for that relationship include:

(1)   those who are not capable of performing the functions peculiar to the marriage relationship – eunuchs, for example (See Matt. 19:10-12; cf, 1 Cor. 7:1-5)

(2)   those who have living companions, that is, those who have not been scripturally divorced. (cf. Mat.5:31-32; 19:9) [2]

It should be noted however, that the Lord’s people, that is, Christians, are under further restrictions with reference to the eligibility for marriage, which are not applicable to the world as such.

For example, a Christian is not free to marry an unbeliever, that is he is not free to do so with the Lord’s favor. (1 Cor. 9:5; 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14). No one who deliberately disobeys the will of the Lord, with reference to any issue, including the one now under consideration, can hope to meet god in peace at the last day (cf. Matt. 7:21-23).

The sin of fornication (or adultery) creates a breach in the marriage relationship so far reaching as to permit the injured party, with God’s approval, to take the necessary steps to terminate the marriage bond.

Reconciliation, of course, is possible, if the guilty party will comply with the terms of forgiveness. But if the wrong doer continues his sinful practice, the innocent party would become one with the sinner in his immorality if the marriage relationship between them is continued. (cf. 1 Cor.6:15-18).

But in view of the sinful conditions which have come into the world, and which have precipitated the divorce problem, there appears to be another side of the issue, which should be considered in this connection. This particular problem involves that which is frequently referred to as the “mixed marriage” situation.

It was pointed out in the previous chapter that God always had a uniform law regarding marriage for his people. It is not certain therefore, that what is referred to in 1 Cor. 7:12-15 is, indeed, a case where a believer actually married an unbeliever.

It is very probable that the situation was something like this: Two unbelievers were married, and later on one of them became a Christian, something which did not at all please the unbelieving companion. (cf. Matt.10:34, 39). After obeying the Gospel, the believer may have reasoned something like this: If it is wrong in God’s sight for believer to marry an unbeliever, would he be pleased if a newly converted chi ld of God continued to 1ive as the wife (or husband) of an unbeliever. [3]

The apostle Paul, however, settles that question insofar as the believer is concerned, in 1 Corinthians 7:12-14. The unbeliever, on the other hand, makes no effort to please God, and already stands condemned in the Lord’s sight. (Cf. John 3:18).

The unbeliever, in the case cited by Paul, apparently did not choose to live as husband and wife with the Christian companion. He, therefore, elects to depart and leaves the deserted believer without marital companionship. What now is the status of the latter?

There have been, through the years, discussions regarding the phrase “not under bondage” in 1 Corinthians 7:15. The controversy usually has centered around the meaning of two Greek words in verses 15 and 39, namely, douloo and deo, respectively.

Neil Lightfoot has made some comments regarding these issues which appear to be most satisfactory and sound. He feels that the view which he has set forth “meets the linguistic and contextual demands of the passage,” which evidently is correct. Dr. Lightfoot’s comments follow:

  • ‘Not bound to the marriage bond’ fits the broad context of chapter 7 on marriage.
  • ‘Not bound to the marriage bond’ fits the immediate context of these verses on marriage ties. In such a case (literally ‘in such cases’) the brother or sister is not bound (vs.15) cannot mean any less than in other cases the believer is bound. In what cases? The context suggests the answer. If the unbeliever agrees to continue the marriage, the believer is bound. If the unbeliever does not agree to continue the marriage, the believer is not bound.
  • ‘Not bound to the marriage bond’ meets the necessary linguistic requirements. It is true that douloo in other places in the New Testament is not used of marriage. But only one thing determines meaning-context. Not lexicons, not other passages, only context! And the context here argues that douloo refers to marriage.

In another context, 1 Corinthians 9:19, edoulosa (from douloo) is the opposite of ‘free’ (eleutheros); and in still another context, 1 Corinthians 7:39, dedetai (from deo) is the opposite of ‘free’ (eleuthera). From this one might conclude that douloo (enslave) and deo (bind) are equivalents in meaning.  I think they are; but in the final analysis douoo means what it means only in the context of 1 Corinthians 7:15.” [4]

Both Christian and matrimonial unity are required by the Lord. If both are Christians, in the case of the latter, then both are responsible for maintaining marital unity, If only one is a believer, as in the case cited by Paul, then it is the obligation of the child of God to make every effort to see that such unity characterizes the couple’s lives. (cf.1 Peter 3:1f).

But when it becomes evident that the unbeliever’s departure from the believing companion is permanent, or, which is the same thing, unalterable, then the two principles, underlying two inspired passages of scripture, appear to make clear the believer’s status, with reference to the right to be married to another person, with the blessings of the Lord.(Cf. 1 Cor.7:39).

A principle is that which inheres in anything and determines its nature. The two passages of scripture referred to are Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Cor.7:1-5.

In the case of the innocent child of God, in Mat.18:15-17, it is clear that he has no further obligation to try to maintain unity with the “brother” who refused all overtures of reconciliation. And, in as much as it is God’s will, as written in the Corinthian letter, that because of fornications, each man is to have his own wife and each woman is to have her own husband, there does not appear to be any escape from the conclusion that the permanently deserted believer is completely free from the matrimonial bond which previously bound the two together in God’s sight.


It has already been pointed out in these studies that the sin of adultery creates a breach in the marriage relationship so grave and far reaching as to allow the innocent party, with God’s approval, the right to take the necessary steps to have the legal aspect of the marriage bond revoked.

It is, of course, the prerogative of the innocent offended one to try to bring the offender to repentance and to extend forgiveness. It is also the right of the condemned offender to repent and seek forgiveness. If two such people really love each other and are willing to try to please God and help each other, the matrimonial relationship can be fully restored, and each treat the other in such a manner as to regard the sin in question an incident of the forgotten past.

The term “adultery”, strictly speaking, may be defined as a voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and one of the opposite sex, who is not his or her lawful spouse.

There are instances in the scriptures where it appears that a distinction is made between adultery and fornication. (For example, 1 Cor. 6:9, where both terms are employed in describing previous sins of the Corinthian brethren). It also appears however, from Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:9, that Jesus uses the two terms interchangeably.

Furthermore, our Lord looks behind the overt act of adultery and makes it abundantly clear that the very thought in the heart, if such a person longs for such a relationship, with a person of the opposite sex, other than his own married partner, is the crime of adultery. (See Matthew 5:27-28; 1 John 3:15).


When a person has been divorced from his or her companion, for any reason which God does not recognize and approve, and is married to another individual, both parties who compose this new union are guilty of adultery in the sight of the Lord.

That which has just been said is true, regardless of whether or not the third person in the triangle has been married before; for the simple reason that no single individual can commit the overt act of adultery alone. The language of Jesus on this subject is as follows: “It was said also, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you that everyone that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adultress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)

“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)

Charles Foster Kent, in commenting on the word of Jesus says, “Again we are impressed by the directness and sanity of Jesus’ teaching. What we have here is not so much a command as an unvarnished statement of fact: to secure divorce in order to remarry is simple adultery. From the earliest days human society has recognized that adultery is the most deadly and the most unsocial of crimes, for it destroys not only the integrity and the happiness of the two immediately involved, but also lays in ruins the home, the foundation of all society.” [5]

Two questions are often raised when the two statements of Jesus, just quoted, are read, which deserve consideration just here, namely, (l) the state or the situation of the offenders with reference to the sin of adultery; and (2) the sense in which a man makes his divorced wife an adulteress.


It should be carefully noted that Jesus does not say that the parties involved in the unacceptable marriage, that is, a marriage which is unacceptable to God, are living in adultery. The Lord simply says that they “commit adultery,” when they enter into an unacceptable marriage relationship. Or, to say the same thing in another way, when a person is divorced contrary to God’s will, and then marries another individual, they both become guilty of the sin of adultery. And they will continue to be guilty of adultery until they secure the Lord’s forgiveness.

The reason for the sin of adultery on the part of the couple, who marries against God’s will is simply this: The divorce which was obtained by one (or both) of the principles involved in the marriage which Jesus condemns, only revoked the license which the state granted the man and his divorced wife, thereby giving them the right to live together as husband and wife.  The state could only undo that which it did in granting this right. It could not revoke that which God did in making the coup1e “One flesh.”

The person who divorced his wife (or husband) on grounds other than fornication or adultery, was still married to the former spouse; and was therefore just as guilty of adultery as would have been the case if either had gone outside the marriage relationship and had sexual intercourse with another person of the opposite sex, with no marital connection.

Whether or not the guilty couple continues to live together as husband and wife, or separates, has nothing to do with the sin of adultery, which they have already committed and for which they are already guilty. Separation will in no way 1essen that sin.

Practically all Bible students readily admit that adultery outside the marriage relationship, on the part of one member of a matrimonial union, gives the innocent party the right to take the necessary steps to break all the marital ties of human responsibility which bound them together. And when that is accomplished, what scripture may be cited, or what logical argument offered, which will lead to the conclusion that the innocent divorced person is still bound to the one who obtained the divorce?

Adultery, in the latter case, is the reason for concluding that the divorced person who was left behind, and the one who obtained the divorce and married another individual of the opposite sex, contrary to the Lord’s will, are no longer “one flesh” in God’s sight. And it must always be kept in mind that only God, who made them one flesh in the first place, can “undo” all that which he did when the acceptable marriage was consummated: (See the discussion in chapter 2 on What constitutes an acceptable marriage).

If anyone wants to ask why a married couple, such as is being considered here, is guilty of adultery when they engage in sexual intercourse, the answer, in addition to that which has already been pointed out, may be clearly seen in the language of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, namely: “And he said unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and shall marry another, committeth adultery against her: and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery.(Mark 10:11-12)

The adultery in question is not a sin which involves only the couple themselves. It is also against the person who was divorced for a reason not acceptable to the Lord. This is true, as already pointed out, because the tie which bound the divorced couple together, had not been severed by God’s revoking that which he had done in making them one flesh.

It should not be difficult therefore, for a thoughtful person to see that the only way that such a couple could continue in sin, that is, continue to commit adultery when they engaged in sexual intercourse, would be for the marriage bond to continue to hold the person who divorced a spouse, and his former mate, together. Or, which is the same thing, that the original marriage remain intact in spite of the adultery, which, the New Testament teaches, destroys such a union.

Thus, when the sin of adultery has been committed against an innocent person who has been divorced, the tie which bound the former partners together is completely severed, and the marriage relationship which existed between them is as if it never had a being. The husband and wife who married against God’s will, have become “one flesh,” for the scriptures plainly teach that God makes two people one who are joined together sexually, even if the woman in question is a harlot (1 Cor. 6:16) or the man’s lawfully wedded, or acceptable, wife. (Matthew 19:4-6)

The same original Greek word, kollao (or kollaomai) is used in both passages just cited. Thus, the two people who are joined together sexually, are “one flesh” in God’s sight, regardless of the union’s moral status. They are literally glued together in the sight of the Lord.

In the expression, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder,” the original word for “joined” is sunezeuxen third person aorist indicative of suzeugnumi. [6]

A.T. Robertson in commenting on the expression, as used in Mat.19:6, says: “Note ‘what’, not ‘whom.’ The marriage relation God has made. ‘The creation of sex, and the high doctrine as to the cohesion it produces between man and woman, laid down in Gen., interdict separation.’ (Bruce). The word for ‘joined together’ means ‘yoked together, a common verb for marriage in ancient Greek. It is the timeless aorist indicative (sunezeuxen), true always.” [7]

If one should wonder as to whether or not the man who is joined to a harlot should remain with her, he would do well to listen to the apostolic admonition, “Flee fornication,” for that is a sin without the marriage relationship, which is always wrong. But, where is the New Testament teaching, either by direct command, approved example, which is applicable to the question now under consideration, or necessary inference, which requires a husband and wife to separate, even though their marriage should never have taken place?


When Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you that everyone that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28), he did not mean that such a man had actually and literally committed adultery with the woman, by lustfully looking upon her; but that the real act in question was potentially present.

Webster notes that “potential is applied to that which does not now exist but which is bound to exist if the present process of com1ng into being is not arrested.” [8]

The lustful look, therefore, is the first step toward the criminal act. But if that first step is never taken, the man in question will never be guilty of committing adultery. (cf. 1 John 3:15 James 1:13-15).

It appears that it is according to the principle just referred to that a man makes his wife, whom he had no right to divorce, an adulteress.

A man, therefore, who divorces an innocent woman, just because he does not want to live with her, or in order to marry another woman, places her in a situation which, if she is not extremely careful, will lead her to look lustfully upon another man, or to try to extricate herself from an embarrassing situation into which divorce has placed her, by marrying another man and thereby actually becoming guilty of adultery “and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery.” (Mat.19:9b).

A man cannot commit the actual sin of adultery alone; and this implies that the woman who joined him in the sexual experience, is equally guilty of the criminal deed.

An innocent victim of a divorce which is contrary to God’s will, can, of course, live the Christian life, without the stigma of adultery, providing she conducts herself according to God’s will. (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13; James 1:5-8). (But if she yields to the temptation mentioned above, she must, of course, bear the responsibility of her own sin, in spite of the fact that her former husband placed her within reach of the tempter, who always tries to destroy the souls of responsible people).

All of that which has just been said presupposes that the man who divorced his wife, for some reason unacceptable to God, has himself remained free from adultery in all his relationships.

However, if the man who put his wife away contrary to God’s will, has become guilty of adultery in any way whatsoever, that changed the situation with reference to his divorced wife. All the matrimonial bonds which formerly bound her and her former husband together have now been totally severed, and she is as free from that marriage re1ationship as she was before any steps were taken to make her and her husband who divorced her “one flesh” in God’s sight.


Before discussing the motive which prompts one to seek a divorce, one should make sure that he understands fully the precise meaning of the term, “divorce.”

If one will carefully study that which the scriptures themselves say about divorce, which was permitted under Moses, it will not be difficult for one to see that the marriage bond which bound the couple together, was completely cancelled or annulled, so that both parties to the divorce were free to marry another person of the opposite sex. (See Deuteronomy 24:1-4)

A divorce which is granted today by the state, does nothing more than revoke the permission which the same power gave the couple, to live together as husband and wife. The state has absolutely no right or power to undo that which God did to make the couple one flesh.

Thus, when a man and a woman mutually agree to become husband and wife, their next step is to apply to an authorized agent of the state for a license which will permit them to live together as husband and wife. When that request is granted and the provisions properly executed, the couple becomes husband and wife, in so far as the state is concerned Such a couple, thus far, has only potentially become one flesh in God’s sight. If the man should die before the couple comes together sexually, the woman would, indeed, be his legal heir, because the license to live together as husband and wife, had been granted and duly executed.

Such a couple, however, does not become “one flesh” until they come together sexually. Karl Ludwig Schmidt, in commenting on proskollao (from pros and kollao) says, “Mt.19:5 text rec. and Eph. 5:31 use it according to sense 2, of kollaomai denote sexual intercourse. In the second passage this shows how close is the relationship between Christ and his –ekklesia.”[9]

All three of the steps just referred to are essential to an acceptable marriage. It should always be kept in mind therefore, that only one or both of the couple can decide that they do not want to live together any longer as husband and wife. If they should seek a divorce, only the state can set aside the permission which it gave them to live together as husband and wife. But the matrimonial bond which bound the couple together, will never be completely severed until God grants his permission, thereby declaring that all marriage ties between them no longer exist.

With the present day meaning of divorce in mind, there does not appear to be any evidence in the New Testament which justifies the conclusion that divorce, in and of itself, is wrong. But we can be reasonably certain that the lord is not pleased when conditions arise which make such a procedure expedient (cf. Mal. 2:16)

The Hebrew word shalach, in the passage just cited, refers to the putting away of a wife, or, which is the same thing, to divorcing her. [10] (Cf.Deut.22:19, 29; 24:1-3; Jer.3:1).

It could be possible that two people, who are married to each other, are so completely “mis-mated” as to make living together in peace virtually impossible. Such a couple should never have been married to each other in the first place. But having become husband and wife, they can either continue their stormy career together, or they can agree to go their individual and separate ways. (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

If such a situation should arise, it might be deemed wise on the part of one or both of them, for legal and business reasons, to obtain a divorce. It is doubtful if any informed and thoughtful person would contend that such people as the couple just described, could not live the Christian life, in their single status, and thereby please the Lord. But if divorce is obtained, by either the husband or the wife, on any-ground other than fornication, a marriage to another person, of the opposite sex, on the part of either the husband or the wife, is strictly forbidden by the Lord, if freedom from adultery is to be continued and enjoyed.

That which has just been said is true because the bond which holds them together, that is, the bond which God himself brought into being and recognizes, was not severed when the legal divorce was granted.(The man and woman in question, notwithstanding the divorce, are still husband and wife in God’s sight. And as long as that relationship continues, that is, so long as the Lord recognizes their union, neither party to the marriage bond is free to marry another person. (Cf. Luke 16:18)


A divorce is obtained on the grounds of fornication when that is the prime reason for seeking it. That, indeed, may not be the reason which is stated in the public petition. But if the sin of fornication does not exist, and if that is not the principal reason for seeking the divorce, then the person requesting the decree will have no right to claim such grounds as the basis for marriage to another person, of the opposite sex, during the lifetime of his or her former mate from which the divorce was obtained.

There may be valid grounds for substituting reasons for divorce, other than fornication, if indeed such reasons, along with fornication, actually exist, and are recognized by the state as being just and adequate reasons for breaking the marriage tie.

For example, one seeking the divorce may hesitate to subject his or her former mate to public exposure as an adulterer or an adulteress, as Joseph had in mind to deal with Mary. (See Matt. 1:18-19) And then there might be innocent children, innocent parents, and other close relatives for whom the petitioner for the divorce seeks to lighten the blow, so far as the public is concerned. But the one seeking the divorce must never leave the impression on the minds of those who know about the fornication that that is not the prime reason for asking for the divorce.


Jehovah himself has made it plain that it is not always necessary for the uninformed public to know all the facts of, and the motives for, that which is being done in accordance with God’s will, under a given set of circumstances. The principle just referred to is set forth in the first part of the 16th chapter of First Samuel, namely: “And Jehovah said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from be i n g king over Israel? Fill thy horn with oil and go: I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehamite; for I have provided me a king among his sons. And Samuel said, How can I go if Saul hear it he will kill me. And Jehovah said, Take a heifer with thee and say, I am come to sacrifice to Jehovah. And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt annoint unto me whom I name unto thee. And Samuel did that which Jehovah spake, and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, comest thou peaceably? And he said, Peaceably; I am come to sacrifice to Jehovah: sanctify yourselves and come to the sacrifice. And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice.” (1 Samuel 16:1-5; Read also verses 6-13).

The prime purpose for Samuel’s going to Bethlehem, as Jehovah instructed him, was to annoint a man to become king over Israel. But when the prophet called God’s attention, humanly speaking, to that which he, Samuel, considered to be a grave danger to the prophet’s life, Jehovah gave him a secondary reason for making the trip to Bethlehem.

And, it is interesting to note, it was the secondary reason which Samuel assigned for his presence in the city. Or, to say the same thing in another way, God gave Samuel more than one reason (the principle reason) for going to the home city of Jesse. The principle purpose of Samuel’s going to Bethlehem was to annoint one of Jesse’s sons to be king over Israel. The secondary reason was to prevent Saul from suspecting that another king was being selected to replace him, and also to allay the fears of the people of Bethlehem.

There was no false deception in that which Jehovah authorized Samuel to say regarding his mission to Bethlehem. And it in no way prevented the prophet from carrying out his original and primary purpose in going to Bethlehem.

And so, in keeping with the same principle, if legitimate circumstances warrant the action, it appears that a person may endeavor to obtain a divorce, on the ground of fornication, while stating in the public petition that he, or she, is seeking the divorce because of desertion, or some other valid reason, which the state recognizes and accepts as grounds for divorce, if such reasons actually exist. It would, of course, be entirely erroneous to allege a reason for the desired divorce which has no foundation in fact.


The idea that fornication is a sin, of sufficient magnitude to bring about a permanent break in the marriage relationship, is based on Matthew’s report of the teaching of Jesus. (Matt. 5:31-32; 19:9).

The exception mentioned by Matthew is not in the recorded accounts of Mark (Mark 10:11-12) and Luke (Luke16:18). If it can be proved, therefore, that Matthew’s version of the Lord’s teaching is not correct, then one must conclude that a divorced person does not have the Lord’s approval to marry another individual, of the opposite sex, during the lifetime of the mate who has been put away.

The question just raised, however, is one which belongs to the realm of textual criticism. But it appears that the weight of Biblical scholarship regards Matthew’s report as being both genuine and authentic.

A.T. Robertson notes that “McNeil denies that Jesus made this exception because Mark and Luke do not give it. He claims that the early Christians made the exception to meet a pressing need, but one fails to see the force of this charge against Matthew’s report of the words of Jesus. It looks like criticism to meet modern needs.”[11]

It appears evident therefore, that when Jesus made the statements recorded by Mark and Luke, now under consideration, he was declaring, or setting forth, a basic concept, namely that as long as both parties to a divorce remain free from fornication, or adultery, neither one has the God-given right to another person. But if and when one of them commits adultery, or fornication, either outside the marriage relationship, or enters into a forbidden union with a third person of the opposite sex, the other party to the divorce has the right to consider the former marriage bond severed; and that he or she is as if the first marriage had never taken place.

Each of the four Gospel writers had a purpose in putting together the information contained in their respective narratives. No one is justified in drawing a final conclusion regarding any scriptural subject which they treat, until all the evidence on the issue, that is, all the evidence contained in the scriptures, has been duly considered. When that is done, one can know that he has the truth on the subject under consideration.


In these days, when the divorce evil appears to be steadily in creasing, the question of the status of those people who have entered into a marriage which is unacceptable to the Lord becomes an issue of major importance.

That which has just been said is especially true of those people who have any desire to do that which the Lord requires, (Cf. Matt.7:21-23), either in becoming children of God, or in living the Christian life. The Lord’s teaching with reference to adultery, incurred by those people who enter into a forbidden marriage relationship, is both plain and decisive, namely: “It is said also, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you that everyone that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-31)

No one therefore, who believes the teaching of the scriptures, need any further proof to convince him that eternal destruction awaits those who are guilty of adultery, because of a marriage relationship which is unacceptable to the Lord, as indicated in the scriptures quoted above, unless they are able to secure his forgiveness. (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

There are many people today who have entered into a forbidden marriage relationship, following a divorce which was unacceptable to the Lord, who were not aware of the fact that they were sinning against God, when they became one with another marriage partner. Such people probably did not know the Lord’s teaching on the subject now under consideration. Or it may be that they were under the impression that when a divorce is granted by the state, they are free to marry another person.

Furthermore, there are apparently some people who do know better than to marry another person, following a divorce which the Lord does not approve, but who yield to the temptation to form another union. Such people find themselves entangled in the meshes of sin, from which they feel there is no escape. And even if escape is possible, life, as they view the situation, would have little further meaning for them. Not everyone who reads the Bible understands the implications of its teaching.

The apostle Peter, for example, says, “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstedfast wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. “(2 Pet.3:15 16)

The problem therefore, with which these studies are concerned, is with reference to that which is required of those people, who have formed a marriage union with another, following divorce unacceptable to the Lord, and who desperately want to gain his favor in this life and to live with him in the world which is to come. Let us begin, then, with a consideration of THE TERMS OF FORGIVENESS FOR ANY SIN.

In the case of an alien sinner, that is, one who has never been redeemed from the power of the evil one:

(l) Such a person must first learn of the Savior, the only one who can redeem him from the bondage of the devil; and he must put implicit faith in him as such. (Mat.28:19a; John 8:24; Acts 4:12).

(2)   With a firm belief in Christ as the Savior from sin, one must repent of his sins, that is, he must change his attitude regarding any sin which is known to him. (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30-31)

(3)   The penitent believer must perform whatever acts of obedience which the Savior requires of him. (Heb.5:8-9; Rom.5:8-9; Acts 6:7). (Read Acts 2:37-39; 22:10,16).

In the case of the erring Christian, that is the child of God who has fallen back into sin after his initial redemption from the kingdom of darkness; (Colossians 1:13):

  • The disobedient child of God must confess, that is acknowledge, or admit, his sin. (1 John 1:8-9)
  • He must repent of, that is, change his attitude toward whatever sin which he, as a Christian, has committed, or of which he is guilty. (Acts 8:22a).
  • It should be obvious to any thoughtful person that no one is going to repent of a sin concerning which he wi11 not admit his gui1t. And it is for this reason that confession of sin must precede repentance.
  • The erring child of God who has confessed his sin, and repented of it, must then ask the Lord for forgiveness. (Acts 8: 22b) .

The sincere and diligent seeker after the Lord’s plan for saving the lost will have 1ittle difficulty in understanding that which is involved in any of the requirements listed above, unless it is with reference to repentance. Therefore, in the light of this possibility, it is in order to ask: WHAT IS REPENTANCE?

The word “repent” is a translation of the Greek word metanoeo, which means “to change one’s mind,”[12] “to have another mind,”[13] “to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider.”[14] Our English word “repentance” is a translation of the Greek noun metanoia, which means “a change of mind.”[15]

Our English “repentance” answers to the Latin resipisco, which means to recover one’s senses, to come to one’s self. This thought is forcefully illustrated in the case of the prodigal son (Luke 15:17a) and indicates the true meaning of sin. Sin is lunacy; and every sinner is, in reality, a moral lunatic. This is to say that the sinner is beside himself, is not behaving like his true self, but is under the influence of the evil one.

Repentance is not forsaking sin; that is the result of repentance. Repentance is to have another mind regarding sin; to think differently concerning it; to reconsider one’s action which resulted in sin. All of this implies a true knowledge of sin, a conviction regarding its true nature, that is, its wickedness. It also implies the feeling of guilt, and an awareness of its condemnation and its terrible consequences.

Repentance means that the sinner changes his thoughts regarding his wrongdoing, and his attitude toward that which he did which displeased the Lord. Genuine repentance is brought about by Godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10; Romans 2:4) and results in a reformation of life. (Matthew 3:8).

A reformation of life implies that the penitent’s manner of living, in so far as it is wrong, will be changed with reference to God, his fellow man, and himself, to the extent of his ability. This course of action naturally leads one to ask, Does repentance, with reference to a marriage to another person, following a divorce which is unacceptable to God, require a separation on the part of the adulterous man and woman, and a subsequent life of celibacy on the part of the couple involved?

It should be kept in mind, of course, that only God can separate a couple after they have become husband and wife. The state may grant a legal dissolution of the marriage relationship, but the couple is still married in God’s sight, as long as neither of the marriage partners has been guilty of fornication. (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:9)

To illustrate the principle now under consideration, a young woman may marry a young man against her parents’ wishes. But when their desire to live together as husband and wife has been legalized by the authority of the state, and they have come together in the sexual relationship, they are as certainly married to each other as they would have been if they had had her parent’s blessings.

In just the same way, when people marry against God’s will, they are just as certainly married in God’s sight as they would have been if all the three, requirements of an acceptable marriage had been met. Or, to say the same thing in another way, such a marriage is as much a valid union in God’s sight as it would have been if the couple had had his approval.

The reason why a divorced couple, whose divorce is unacceptable to the Lord, commits adultery when either is married to another person, is because the original “one flesh” in God’s sight remains unbroken. The same guilt of adultery is incurred just as it would have been, if either of the married partners had gone outside the marriage relationship and committed adultery with another person.

It has already been pointed out that adultery on the part of either member of a marriage union, is sufficient to destroy that marriage relation. And, unless repentance is forthcoming and reconciliation is perfected, the one sinned against has the God given right to take whatever steps are necessary, in order to make certain that the original marriage relationship no longer exists.

It is the sin of adultery which the unacceptably divorced couple commits against a former married partner (Mark 10:11,12) which must be repented of and forgiven, if the two people in question are ever to be restored to the Lord’s favor.

The couple who married against God’s will cannot undo sin; but they can change their attitude toward it, ask Lord to forgive them, and sincerely resolve that they never be guilty of such a transgression again.


When people who are not familiar with the scriptures, profess their inability to understand how it is that a man and woman who have been properly married in the sight of the state, are guilty of adultery when they come together as husband and wife, there are some who quickly say that such a condition is easily understood if one will only read the testimony of Jesus as recorded in Matthew, namely: “It was said also, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you that everyone that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.” (Matt.5:31-34)

“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and he that marrieth her when she is put away, committeth adultery.”

But it is a fact worthy of serious consideration that many of the people who cite the passages just quoted, are not very convincing when they attempt to set forth the teaching of the Lord, with reference to the whys and wherefores of this sinful situation. It is not simply that the couple in question commit adultery when they come together as husband and wife; they also sin against at least one other person, in precisely the same way that a husband sins against his own wife when he goes outside the marriage relationship and commits adu1tery with a woman who is not his wife.

The fact is, the couple in question would not be guilty of committing adultery when they come together as husband and wife, if at least one of them was not still married to the divorced companion.

The truth just stated is made perfectly plain by the Lord himself, as may be seen by reading Mark 10:11-12,  namely, “And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her: and if she herself shall put away her husband and marry another, she committeth adultery.”

The language of the apostle Paul should also be helpful in this connection:

“Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. But, because of fornications, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife her due: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power over her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power over his own body but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer, and come together again, that Satan tempt you not because of your incontinency.”(1 Cor.7: 1-5)

When an acceptable marriage has been consummated (1) by the couple’s desire and agreement to seek marital union, (2) by the state’s license or permission for the couple to live together as husband and wife, and (3) by God’s making them one flesh, when they came together sexually; such a union can be dissolved only by each of the three principles who had a part in perfecting the union reversing the action. No one can act for the others in this respect.

Thus, when a couple, one or both, decides that they will no longer maintain their matrimonial union, the next step will be to petition the state for a legal divorce. Most states have multiple reasons for granting a divorce; but unless the petitioner is seeking the divorce on grounds which are acceptable to God (Matt.5:31-32; 19:9), the couple will remain married in God’s sight, regardless of the divorce which the state grants.

Only God can completely dissolve the “one flesh union,” once it has been formed by him. Therefore, if either member of a divorced couple, the grounds of whose divorce is unacceptable to God, marries another person, they will be guilty of adultery when the latter couple comes together sexually, simply because at least one of them is still married to a divorced companion in God’s sight. Not only does the offender commit adultery against the God-recognized wife, by having sexual relations with a woman whom God does not recognize as his lawful wife, (Mk.10: 11-12), he also deprives his “God-recognized wife” of her God given dues, as clearly set forth in 1 Corinthians 7;1-5. (See verses 10-11).


Some Bible students contend that a couple who marry, following a divorce which is unacceptable to the Lord, not only commit adultery when they come together sexually, they continue to commit adultery as long as they live together. Or to say the same thing in another way, they are living in adultery as long as they live together. But it is a fact, capable of being demonstrated, that no Bible student has ever been able to cite a passage of scripture which says such a thing.

The Lord’s teaching in Matt. 5:31-32 and 19:9 clearly states that such a couple commits adultery when they come together sexually; but the passages just cited do not say that such a couple continues to commit adultery as long as they live together sexually.

If a man goes outside the married relationship and commits adultery with another woman, remains impenitent, and rejects all overtures his wife may offer for a reconciliation, practically any Bible student would readily understand that his innocent wife would have the God-given right to seek a divorce from her sinful husband, and thereby bring to an, end their married relation ship. That, of course, would leave her free to marry another man if she so desired.

And in a similar vein, if a man divorces his wife, for any reason which is not acceptable to the Lord, he remains “one flesh” with his divorced wife, in spite of what the state does. And if he marries another woman, he and his new wife will be guilty of adultery when they come together sexually.

Adultery is adultery, however or whenever it is committed. And if adultery outside the marriage relationship, gives the innocent wife the right to take the necessary steps to terminate the matrimonial union, why doesn’t adultery, following an unacceptable divorce in the Lord’s sight, free the divorced wife from the marriage bond, which bound her and the husband who divorced her together? What reason, scriptural or otherwise, can one offer, which unmistakably shows that a divorced couple are still “one flesh” in God’s sight AFTER the husband who divorced her committed adultery with his newly acquired wife?

The only way that a married couple can commit adultery when they come together sexually, is for at least one of them still to be joined matrimonially with a companion who was put away. But if such a bond has been dissolved by the Lord himself, following the act of adultery, how would one go about proving by the scriptures that the couple in question continues to commit adultery when they engage in sexual intercourse?

It appears quite certain, therefore, that the assertion frequently made by some Bible students, to the effect that a couple who marry contrary to God’s will, following a divorce which he did not approve, continue to live in adultery as long as they stay together as husband and wife, is a false assumption.

And equally erroneous is the claim, widely made, that such a couple as the one now under consideration, must separate and live lives of celibacy, before they can hope to have the Lord’s forgiveness for their adulterous conduct.

No one who reasons from a false premise, will ever to reach a sound conclusion. Neither of the assertions mentioned ed above is true; and it is, therefore, impossible for conclusions drawn from them to be true.

Sin is sin, whatever may have been the specific act involved; and the sin with which the Lord charges any person, must be recognized, repented of, and a request made for the Lord’s forgiveness. In the case now under consideration the sin is that of adultery, brought about by a marriage, which follows a divorce for a reason which God does not approve. (Matt. 5:31-32; 19: 9) .

But someone is ready to ask, If repentance in such an instance does not require a separation of the couple involved, what then does it require? The answer to this question is both clear and simple: The requirement is exactly the same as in the case of any other sin.

Repentance is a change of mind, and when one genuinely repents of his sins he changes his mind, or, which is the thing, he manifests a different attitude regarding that was displeasing to the Lord.

And so, when anyone repents of adultery, as set forth by the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5:31,32 and 19:9, he changes his mind, or attitude, toward his unacceptable marriage, which followed a divorce the Lord did not approve, and comes to realize fully that he sinned grievously against God and has divorced mate (Mark 10:11,12, 1 Cor.7:1-5), and if it were possible, he would undo everything he did which was wrong. Furthermore, he resolves that no such sin will ever occur in his life again. It is this kind of person that God can, and does, extend mercy.(Cf. Isaiah 66:2b).

Things have happened,  in such situations as are now being considered, which can never be undone. It could happen that in some instances a couple could be persuaded that they should separate. And, if they actually went through with it, that by no means would indicate that they genuinely repented of the wrongs they did.

A couple, for example, might feel that they should be a part of a congregation of Christians; and so, being told that they would not be fellowshipped as long as they remained together, they decide to separate in order to be acceptable to the brethren. This could easily be done WITHOUT any repentance whatsoever.

The leaders of a congregation of Christians have both the right and the obligation to refuse Christian fellowship to any person who refuses to submit to baptism, as a condition of salvation; because such submission is clearly taught in the scriptures. But there is not a single passage in the entire New Testament which evenly remotely says that a couple who committed adultery, because of a marriage which followed a divorce that did not have the Lord’s approval, should separate and live lives of celibacy during the remainder of their time here upon the earth.

It appears fair to assume that the Jewish people during the New Testament period frequently abused the law which Moses gave regarding divorce and remarriage.(Deut.24:1-4; Mat.19:3-12). And it is also fair to assume that there were couples, among the many thousands who were baptized during the early days of the church, who had violated the principle set forth by Jesus in the Matthew passage just cited.

But what apostle or New Testament church eldership ever required such a couple to separate, before baptism was administered or Christian fellowship was extended? People today who insist on such separation, should remember that it is just as wrong to make a law where God has not made one, as it is to break a law which he has made.


It is always right, when a person finds himself guilty of a sin in God’s sight, to make every possible effort to learn how he may gain the Lord’s favor in having his sins forgiven.

The Jewish people, during the age of Moses, undertook to solve this problem by a scrupulous observance of the laws under which they lived. But inasmuch as no wholly human being was ever able to keep the law of Moses perfectly, that method of getting oneself into right relationship with God was never successful.

This situation, in fact, is what the apostle Paul discusses in a portion of his letter to the Philippians. After recounting some of his own attainments, which were achieved under the law, and which he had relied on to gain the Lord’s favor (See Phil. 3:1-6), the apostle to the Gentiles had this to say: “Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuge, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of m1ne own, which is of the law, but that which is through faith 1n Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed unto his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

And what was true of the law of Moses is also true of any other legal system. It was never the purpose of any mere law to justify anyone., The apostle Paul says again: “I do not make void the grace of God: for if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nought.” (Ga1.2:21; Cf. Romans 3:19-20).

It is well to note that the article “the” before the term law, is not in the original text in Galatians 2:21. This implies, of course, that the reference is not to the law of Moses exclusively, but to any legal system. The whole context teaches that no one can ever be declared righteous in God’s sight, apart from faith in Christ Jesus. The prime purpose of “law” in the text now under consideration, is to make people realize that they are sinners in God’s sight. (Read again Romans 3:19-20)

That which has been said 1n the preceding paragraphs adds up to this one great truth, namely; Man, at his very best, is helpless in God’s sight. He is a sinner, condemned to die, without mercy. But because of God’s great love for him, a way has been provided whereby the sinner can be forgiven  and can be looked upon, in heaven’s sight, as if he had never sinned. Jesus Christ has become the savior of all who will accept him as such, that is, those who believe 1n him as God has ordained, and then do as the savior commands. Such people will be declared righteous before God, and can enjoy his full and complete fellowship. (Cf.1 John 1:6-7)

Many sincere, but bewildered, people have been brought to the realization that they have entered a marriage relationship which God does not approve. These relationships include a believer yoked with an unbeliever, and a marriage in which one or both of the couple had a divorce which was unacceptable to God.

One hears relatively little about the believer who has disobeyed the Lord in this manner, but a vast number of professing Christians do not hesitate to say that a couple who marry, with a divorce charged against one or both of them, which the Lord does not accept, must separate and live a life of celibacy, before they can be saved.

The evident reason for the viewpoint just referred to, is the fact that those expressing it are under the impression that such a couple commits adultery every time they come together sexually. But what those who demand a separation overlook is the fact that such a couple would not have been charged with adultery in the first place, if at least one of them was not still married, in God’s sight, to a divorced partner at the time the sinful couple were married. Such a couple as is being considered here, will continue to be guilty of adultery only so long as the previous marriage bond remains intact.

It has already been pointed out in these studies that adultery, on the part of either one of a married couple, who remains impenitent and unresponsive to the overtures of reconciliation, is sufficient in God’s sight, to break the marriage bond which bound the couple together. Therefore, if adultery outside the marriage relationship will destroy the matrimonial tie, what reason, scriptural or otherwise, can be cited as proof that a divorced couple is still bound together matrimonially, after one of them commits adultery by marrying again? Adultery is adultery, however or whenever it is committed.

Therefore, if neither party to a marriage contract is married, in God’s sight, Ito another person, by what authority does one conclude that they still commit adultery when they come together sexually? This, in spite of a marriage unacceptable to God, which resulted in adultery when the couple first came together as husband and wife in the new union.

Jesus himself made it perfectly clear that no man has the right to “put asunder” what God has joined together. The term “WHAT”, as previously pointed out in these studies, has reference to “the marriage relation which God has made.” This should be sufficient to convince even superficial readers, that only God has the right to sever the marriage tie, when once the couple has been made “one flesh” by him.

Whether or not, therefore, a couple who are guilty of adultery because of an unacceptable marriage in God’s sight, are forgiven, will depend on that which GOD tells them to do rather than upon what others, including themselves, think’ that they should do. Any human being, therefore, who succeeds in separating a married couple, whom God has made “one flesh” simply arrogates to himself a right which alone ,r esi des in God, and will, of course, be responsible for his ungodly conduct when the Lord comes to judge his people. (2 Cor.5:10)

There are, apparently, some people who deny that such a couple as is being considered here, were ever married in God’s sight. But Jesus says that they were married. (Matthew 19:9). If a man who joins himself to a harlot, is one flesh with her,(l Cor.6:16), by what authority does one say that a man who marries a woman, is not one flesh with her? Furthermore, the terms “cleave” in Matt. 19:5, and “joined” in 1 Cor. 16:6 are from the same Greek root, namely, kollao, or kollaomai.

The situation in 1 Cor.6:16 describes fornication, outside the marriage relationship. The situation in Matt. 19:5 has to do with the marriage relationship. The law of the Lord plainly teaches what to do in the case of fornication (l Cor. 6:18). But where does the Lord command a married couple to separate, and live lives of celibacy?


It should always be kept in mind that no sinner can do anything to merit his salvation, or, which is the same thing, to secure the forgiveness of his sins. Whatever anyone may do in this respect must be classified as acts of obedience, and that must always be done in response to that which the Lord has ordained for the disobedient person. Or, to say the same thing in another way, no one but an inspired messenger can tell the sinner what he must do in order to have his sins forgiven. (John 20:21-23).

Here is the testimony of the scriptures: “For by grace have ye been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works lest any should boast” (Eph.2:8-9)(KJV)

“Not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5)

When a sinner manifests the right attitude toward the Lord, as evidenced by his genuine faith and repentance, and is willing to do that which he, by divine authority, is told to do, he has the right, following his obedience, to expect the forgiveness of his sins and to enjoy fellowship with the Lord and his people. (Luke 15:11-24).

“Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness.

Even as David also pronounceth blessing upon the man unto whom God reckoneth righteousness apart from works, saying, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin.” (Romans 4:4-8)

And so, if people who have acted contrary to God’s will, and have involved themselves in rebellion against him, will manifest the right attitude toward him, as demonstrated by genuine faith and repentance, and by obedience to his divine will, the Lord will ascribe, or impute, righteousness unto them.

That which the Lord does for sinners is NOT because they deserve such treatment, or have earned it; but because God, in his infinite grace and mercy, wills it. Such people are then, in the Lord’s sight, as if they had never sinned, or, which is the same thing, they are declared to be righteous. (Cf. The prodigal son with the elder brother (Luke 15:11-32).

Suppose a man, with no financial resources, should steal a million dollars in currency from another man; and should, that very night, have the entire amount destroyed by fire. Later on the man who stole the money, comes to view his deed in a different light, that is, he comes to realize that he sinned grievously in taking the money as he did. With this change of mind regarding his sin, he resolves to make restitution, to the extent of his ability. He determines to make this restitution his first and only priority, and resolves to turn over every dollar he earns to the man he has wronged.

That determination certainly shows a good spirit on the part of the sinner. But the question is, could he do that which he has resolved to do, that is, could he turn every dollar he earns over to the man from whom he had stolen the money? Would the Internal Revenue Service permit him to carry out his firm resolution, and thereby pay no federal taxes on his income? Would the state, to say nothing of God, allow the penitent man to neglect his family by failing to provide for them, as well as for his own needs, without taking some action?

This is enough to show that the life of the average person is characterized by complicated relationships; and if the man now under consideration does that which is pleasing to the Lord, he must render to all their dues. It is never right to follow the principle of robbing Peter to pay Paul. (Mat.22:21). God nowhere authorizes his people to fail to meet their obligations in one area in order to pay a debt in another. A man therefore, cannot turn over every dollar he earns to one whom he has wronged, however worthy his motive may be, without mistreating others. Other people have rights which must be satisfied, as well as the man against whom the crime was committed. And in a similar way, the marriage relationship does not consist solely in the mutual agreement which the couple in question made. God also, and the state have a part in it.

But suppose the man, from whom the million dollars was stolen, observes the “changed attitude” on the part of the thief, and learns of his determination to give every dollar he earns in payment of the debt. Would it be out of harmony with the principles of justice and mercy for him to assure the man who had wronged him that all is forgiven, and that he does not have to turn over a single dollar of his earnings in payment of the debt? (See Mat. 18:23-35)

If such a thing should be done by the man who was wronged, it would it be proper and right to continue to regard the penitent man as a thief?

If that which has just been said is correct, then it is possible for a man to repent of his sins, and be forgiven, without undoing his wrongs and making restitution, especially in matters beyond his control and in which others are involved.

The sinner is required to do the very best he can do, without violating the rights of others. Furthermore, if the benefactor could, under the conditions named above, justly forgive the offender after the money had been destroyed, he could, under the same conditions, forgive him without the money’s having been destroyed, and permit him to keep it for some useful purpose.

Such a course would not be contrary to the principles of justice and mercy. (See again Matthew 18:23-35). And if such a thing should be done, it would not be proper and right to continue to regard this man, who had done the wrong, as a thief

NO man ever harmed another person by restoring some thing he was able to return to its rightful owner. And no one ever mistreats another person when he quits lying about him. Such things are personal matters which concern only the individuals involved.

But when it comes to the marriage relationship, there are others involved besides the couple in question. And there are circumstances under which God can, and does, show favor to some, which others have seen fit to criticize, because they do not think that these deserve it!

God himself is a sovereign ruler. He can show mercy to people who desperately need it, because of sins which they have committed, which are impossible to undo; and he does not harm anyone else by his benevolent action. And so, in the words of A.M. Toplady: Not the labor of my hands Can fulfil the law’s demands; Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow; All for sin could not atone, Thou must save and thou alone.


When a person lives with an idea for a considerable length of time, and is supported in his viewpoint by a vast majority of people in whom he has confidence, it is very difficult to get him to change his mind. This was the situation with Saul of Tarsus before he met Jesus on the Damascus road. The same thing has been true of others, the number of whom is countless.

The man who later became the apostle Paul, in speaking before king Agrippa, said, “I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” (Acts 26:9).

It should be noted that Paul said, “I verily thought with myself.” The original term from which the word “thought” comes is dokeo. Thayer, commenting on the expression, says, “I seemed to myself, i.e. I thought.”

Paul’ s attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ was based on his opinion regarding him, that is, on what he thought about him, (Cf. Proverbs 23:7) rather than on the truth concerning him.

So, as long as people hold on to their opinions regarding fundamental Bible issues, instead of searching for the whole truth concerning them, erroneous attitudes will continue to be manifested toward them. Only the truth can make men free from error. (John 8:32)

Much of the confusion relative to the questions regarding divorce and remarriage, is due to the failure to distinguish properly between opinion and faith. Each of these words has a peculiar meaning, and should be used to designate a distinctive idea.

The Random House Dictionary defines OPINION as follows: “A belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce certainty.”

A Standard Dictionary of the English Language has this definition: “A conclusion or judgment held with confidence, but falling short of positive knowledge.”

That which has just been said should be enough to show any reasonable person that one can never be positive in his opinions, for there will always be an element of doubt. Opinions, after all, are only what people think; and we should always keep in mind that Jehovah says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, saith Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”(CF Isaiah 55:8-9)

FAITH, on the other hand, has been defined as a disposition of mind by which we hold for certain the matter affirmed. The element of doubt marks the chief difference between faith and opinion. The element of doubt always accompanies opinion, but is never present in the case of genuine faith. (Heb.11:6; Rom. 10:17; Luke 8:12). No one should claim that he has genuine faith, regarding any issue which may be under consideration, until he is sure that the full light of divine revelation is permitted to shine upon that particular subject. Or,to say the same thing in another way, when all that God says regarding any subject is brought into full focus, believed, and accepted as the truth, then there can be no doubt regarding the subject being considered. The fact is, genuine faith is so strong that it is sometimes regarded as knowledge.(Acts 2:36; 2 Corinthians 5:1)

It appears that there are some people who have thought for so long that people who have an unacceptable divorce in God’s sight, charged against them, and who marry another person, and thereby commit adultery, must cease to live together as husband and wife before they can obtain the Lord’s forgiveness of the sin, that it is next to impossible to get them to change their minds regarding the issue.

It is always commendable, of course, for people to want others to do right; but it is never right for such people to endeavor to set the standard, according to that which they think is essential for achieving right relationships with the Lord. God will forgive the sins of any person, including the ones now under consideration, if they will manifest the right attitude toward him and do that which he commands them to do.

But, one may ask, if God allows people who marry against his will, to remain together, would that not encourage people to be careless about committing the sin of adultery, especially with reference to divorce and remarriage? That would not be true if people are correctly informed regarding the nature of sin (Heb. 3:13). Does the promise that people who obey the gospel will have their sins forgiven (Mk.16:16) encourage people to engage in sin until they have satisfied their lustful desires, before availing themselves of the Lord’s offer of mercy?

The man who trifles with sin, and refuses to consider will, cannot be saved, regardless of that which he may concerning the issue now under consideration. (See Romans Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26 31).

Jesus says that it is the truth which makes one free (John 8: 31-32). If people are taught the truth regarding the nature of sin, as set forth in the scriptures just cited, they will come nearer doing that which is right than they would by having impressions made on their minds, with reference to the sin of adultery, which are not in keeping with the Lord’s teaching on the subject.

The story is told of a preacher who, while reading his text, mistook the word “balances” for “bellows,” and, in keeping with the idea suggested by the latter term, he pictured the Holy Spirit as a great bellows, blowing a spark of love in a man’s heart into a great flame, and the mighty results which followed!

After the meeting was over a man approached the preacher and said, “The word in your text is BALANCES, not BELLOWS,” Whereupon the preacher said, “Please do not say anything about it for I did better with BELLOWS than I would have done with BALANCES.”

It appears that some people seem to think that it is sometimes more effective to try to influence people with certain ideas about the sin of adultery, brought on, by a marriage such as Jesus referred to in Mat.5:32 and 19:9, which they have long been taught, and which they accept as being the truth, although they cannot cite any scripture to justify their conclusion, than it is to declare unto such sinful people exactly what the New Testament teaches, and which can be read in the plain and simple language of the inspired text.

If what the Lord himself has said on the subject does not have the proper effect on sinful people, then it be foolish to suppose that what we can say would be any better. Everyone who attempts to deal with the subject of adultery, following a divorce which is not acceptable to God, and a marriage which he does not approve, should make an earnest effort to determine whether or not his views on the subject are the result of that which the scriptures themselves teach, or whether he is being influenced by puritan views, and the accumulation of public opinion, which have been brought about by imperfect knowledge, inadequate thinking, and loose reasoning.


A series of articles on Divorce and Remarriage by J.D. Thomas, (Also published in book form), was published in the Firm Foundation, beginning with the Feb.7, 1978, issue. A rather positive statement was made in the closing sentence of the first full paragraph in column 2, page 7, of the April 11 installment. Attention is hereby directed to it: The paragraph reads as follows: “Repentance is a must before any sin can be forgiven. It is a change of will which is big enough to bring about a change of conduct. The change of conduct involves restitution of the original status insofar as it is possible. In no way can the penitent sinner keep the fruit of his sin.”

It is fairly certain that few, if any, thoughtful Bible students will question that which Dr. Thomas says in the first three sentences of the paragraph just quoted. But many will feel that the professor ran out of bounds, insofar as the area of truth is concerned, when he wrote the fourth sentence.

No thoughtful follower of Christ wants to see sinful people reap the fruit of their sins. But when it is asserted that there is no way in which the sinner can keep the fruit of his sin, and then the assertion is used to convince certain people, particularly divorced people who marry against God’s will, to follow a course of action for which there is neither precept nor example anywhere in the New Testament, it is then time to examine the statement in the light of the facts in the case.

Suppose for example, here is a man who steals several thousand dollars from his employer. He uses the money to start a business of his own, which proves to be very successful. After a number of years of continued prosperity, the man who stole the money comes to himself, and resolves to get himself right with God, He is fully aware of the fact that he cannot get himself right with God until he makes things right with the man from whom he stole the money. With this view of the issue in mind, he goes to his former employer, confesses his sin, and presents him with a check for enough not only to repay the amount he stole, but also sufficient to include compound interest from the time of the theft to the present.

He then humbly and sincerely asks his former employer for his forgiveness, which is gladly and unconditionally granted. The two men became friends again and both expressed the hope, and pledged their whole hearted efforts to the end, that the entire sinful action be completely relegated to the background, and never be brought up or mentioned again.

Would either God or the man who had been wronged, demand or even suggest, that the former thief be denied any further fruit from the business, which was brought into being as a result of his wrongdoing?

Another man, for instance, was born and reared in Nashville, Tennessee. His parents were faithful Christians and he, along with them, habitually met with the saints at their usual place of worship. The son, however, for some reason never became a Christian himself. While yet in his twenties, the company for which he worked transferred him to Atlanta, Georgia, And, true to his practice in his home city of Nashville, he immediately began meeting with the Lord’s people in Atlanta, Not long after he began his association with the Lord’s people in Atlanta he met a young woman whom he greatly admired. He asked for a date with her and it was not very long before their interest in each other became mutual, It soon became obvious that the subject of marriage would certainly have to be discussed,

As time and events moved forward, the young woman told the young man that it was her understanding, based on the teaching she had received, along with her own study of the issue, that the Lord expects, and so teaches, that his people marry those who are in covenant relationship with him. She further told him that it was for that reason that she could not bring herself to agree to marry him, as long as he was not a Christian. Soon after this the young man’s business took him back to Nashville for several weeks. When he returned to Atlanta and saw the young woman, he told her that he had obeyed the Gospel while in his home city, and that now he was a child of God.

That news, of course, made the young woman very happy, and his participation in the worship service increased her joy. It was not long after that before they announced their engagement and set the date for their wedding. Their marriage was solemnized in due time and they were very happy, as they began their life together.

A few months after their marriage the young husband told his beloved wife that he had a confession to make to her. She, of course, wondered what had happened. Here is what he told her: “I lied to you when I told you that I had become a Christian while I was in Nashville.”

The young wife was both shocked and crushed. Her husband however, hastened to tell her that he had sincerely repented of his terrible sin, and that he really wanted to obey the Gospel now, and make a sincere effort to live the Christian life. He also told her that she had demonstrated to him what it means to live the Christian life, and that he desperately wanted to join her in that effort.

When the young husband asked his wife to forgive him for his deception, and fulfilled his pledge to obey the Gospel of Christ, she readily and joyfully granted his request. They were both very happy with the results, and really began doing together that which they believed to be the Lord’s will for them.

The “fruit” of this young man’s sin was the wife whom he obtained by lying. But after doing all that he could to make things right, with both God and his wife, will any thoughtful and honest follower of Christ contend that he can no longer keep his wife? Or, which is the same thing, “keep the fruit of his sin?” Liars and fornicators are listed in the same category of those who will be lost. (Revelation 21:8).

The “fruit” of his sin, mentioned by Dr. Thomas in the sentence now under consideration, has reference to the wife which a man married, following a divorce which God does not approve.

This is to say that the man in question must separate from the wife who became “one flesh” with him, following the divorce which the Lord did not approve, if he is to find peace with God. The reason for this action, according to professor Thomas, is the fact that “in no way can the penitent sinner keep the fruit of his sin.”

It has already been pointed out that there are some instances in which people can, and do, keep the fruits of their sins, following their effort to make things right with others, according to their ability. And if that which has been said is correct, it is doubtful if the most ardent advocate of the separation theory will question its correctness.

It will have to be admitted therefore, that a proposition which is sometimes false, should not be used to motivate people to do something for which there is neither precept nor example in the entire New Testament. The statement, “In no way can the penitent sinner keep the fruit of his sin,” is neither a true premise nor a sound conclusion.

Efforts are often made to convince people that instrumental music should not be used in Christian worship today. An example of our reasoning is thus: We are plainly told by inspired men just what we should do, namely, “singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” (Eph.5:19). And we usually add: singing is divinely authorized by the specific statement of inspired men, but the use of mechanical instrumental music is not mentioned by them as being in the worship of a single congregation.

If this same principle is applied in the case of repentance and the forgiveness of sin, the issue should be made plain. People are plainly told in the scriptures just what they must do in order to obtain the forgiveness of their sins and the Lord’s favor. But there is not a single congregation referred to in the New Testament, which refused fellowship to people who genuinely repented of their sins and did what they could to make things right with God.

There is not a person today who can turn to the New Testament and point to a single congregation, where a couple who had married, following a divorce which the Lord did not approve, were told that they would have to separate and live lives of celibacy, before they could have their sins forgiven and enjoy fellowship with the Lord’s people.

There are some sins which simply cannot be undone, regardless of what people may try to do about the matter.

Stealing was common in New Testament times and, when possible, the object stolen should be returned. But even in such a practice as that, it would be impossible for the sinner to correct his sinful deed. A man, for example, might steal the affections of another man’s wife, with the result that a divorce takes place, and the woman in question later marries another man. The man who caused all the trouble comes to himself, and seeks to make things right with both God and the man he injured. What can such a man do?

Obviously the sinner cannot restore the affections he stole, but he can obey the divine injunction, “Let him that steal no more,” (Eph 4:28). This same inspired teaching also be applied to material things which were stolen and cannot be replaced.

People, therefore, can repent of sins which they cannot undo; and when that is done, requests can be made for forgiveness, which will be granted by the heavenly Father. No one has a right to inject another requirement for forgiveness, which is not clearly stated in the New Testament.


Thomas B. Warren notes that “any doctrine which implies a false doctrine is itself false.” This principle may also be stated in the following way: “Any doctrine which depends upon a false premise, is itself false.”

Dr. Warren’s statement quuted above, is the first sentence in his article on Divorce and Remarriage. Both he and Dr. J. D. Thomas argue that if a couple marries, following a divorce which the Lord does not approve, they will have to separate and live lives of celibacy before they can obtain the Lord’s forgiveness and 1ive in his favor. Dr. Thomas, in writing about the necessity for such a separation, says emphatically, “In no way can the penitent sinner keep the fruit his sin,” that is, continue to live with the woman he married against God’s will. Apparently this is also the view which Dr. Warren has of the issue.

It has already been pointed out in these studies that there are certain circumstances under which people can “keep the fruit of their sin;” and that, of course, clearly implies that the statement regarding the inability of the penitent sinner to keep the fruit of his sin, is not true.

If this is the case, then it also follows that the requirement for absolute separation, in unacceptable marriages, in God’s sight, is not true either. Correct conclusions do not come from false premises.

Apparently some people think that those who contend that repentance of the sin of marrying against God’s will does not necessarily require separation and a life of celibacy following, are, in reality saying that it is perfectly all right for people to seek such a status, and then be allowed to remain therein, following their repentance, with God’s approval. Such a view is certainly contrary to the understanding of the people who teach that which the Bible says regarding sin and repentance, which seeks God’s forgiveness and fellowship with him.

There are at least two things which need to be said in this connection: (1) People who hold to the view just referred to, do not presume to formulate a law where the Lord has not made one. (2) People who deliberately and high handed1y go against the will of God in such matters, are placing themselves in a position of wilfull sin; and it may be impossible for them to be brought to repentance. (Heb.6:4-6; 10:26-31)


Sin is sin, wherever it is found, and it must be repented of before forgiveness can be obtained from the Lord. People who marry against God’s will, can be separated without repentance; and it is altogether possible, indeed very probable, that many such couples have been pressured into doing that very thing.

Such action, of course, would in no way lead them into fellowship with God, but would serve only to expose them to further temptation. (Cf.1 Cor.7:1-5) People who have married against God’s will, should be led to understand what the sin is for which they should repent. At least one of them had a part in breaking up a marriage, which had been sealed by God himself. And at least one of them was still married, in God’s sight, to the person who had been divorced, it was because of the existence of the previous relationship that adultery was committed when the newly married couple came together sexually.

Adultery, especially on the part of impenitent people, has the effect of breaking the marriage bond, in God’s sight. A woman’s lawful husband, for example, might go outside the marriage relationship and commit adultery with another woman. If such a man remains impenitent, and rejects all overtures of reconciliation with his wife, his innocent spouse would have just cause in God’s sight, to seek an end to the ties which bound her and her sinful husband.

Just so, according to the same principle, a man who divorces his wife, for some reason which is unacceptable to the Lord, and then marries another woman, both he and his new wife become guilty of adultery when they come together sexually, with the result that the marriage tie, which bound him and his divorced wife together, is completely severed.

Adultery outside the marriage relationship, on the part of a married partner, who remains impenitent and who refuses all overtures of reconciliation, is no more potent in severing the marriage tie which holds a couple together, than adultery which is committed in an unacceptable marriage, following a divorce which God did not approve. Adultery is adultery in either case, and that is the one sin, according to the teaching of Jesus, that gives the innocent party the right to regard the marriage tie as being completely severed.

But, says one, “committeth adultery” in Mat.19:9 is in the present tense, and that implies continuous action. Which is the same as to say that such a couple would continue to commit adultery every time they came together sexually. But just suppose that the couple never comes together again sexually. The verb Jesus used would still be in the present tense. But it could not, in such a case, refer to continuing sexual activity since none is taking place. Surely this implies that future sexual relations have nothing to do with the significance of the tense of the verb in question.

It is the sin of adultery on the part of the couple who married against God’s will, that will continue to be charged against them, until they seek for and obtain the Lord’s forgiveness.


When people profess to speak for the Lord, with reference to such matters as demanding separations of couples who marry against the Lord’s will, and lives of celibacy, along with refusing fellowship to those who genuinely repent but do not dissolve their marriage, they should be absolutely certain that they have a “thus saith the Lord” for their action.

People who divorce and marry again, against God’s will, must repent (1) of breaking up a marriage contrary to God’s will, and (2) committing adultery in the remarriage. They cannot, themselves, undo their marriage; but they can repent of the sins which they committed, and ask God for his forgiveness.

It is through the knowledge of the divine revelation that we have all things that pertain to life and Godliness.(2 Pet.1:3-4) If all penitent believers who married against the Lord’s will must separate and live lives of celibacy before they can enjoy “life and godliness” and “become partakers of the divine nature’, in what part of the record of that revelation can they find that information, either by means of a direct command, an approved example, or a necessary inference?

The inspired scriptures furnish the man of God “completely unto every good work,”(2 Tim.3:16-17), which is the same as saying that a scripture statement removes any question about a matter where then, is the record, in any form, whatsoever, which makes it unmistakably clear, that God requires all couples who marry against his will, following divorces which he did not approve, to separate and live lives of celibacy before they can be pleasing unto him?

The average person, with an unbiased mind, can read the inspired scriptures for himself and learn how to become a Christian and serve and worship the Lord as a child of God. But d will take more than an average mind, even with expert help, to find the clear and unmistakable teaching of the New Testament for breaking up the marriage of genuinely penitent believers.

God’s people should learn not to go beyond the things that are written, (1 Cor.4:6; 2 John 9). And with this firmly fixed in one’s mind, let him ask, which of the New Testament writers or speakers wrote or said anything about the necessity of couples, who married against God’s will following divorces which he did not approve, to separate and live lives of celibacy before they can be forgiven by the Lord and enter into fellowship with him and his people? Or how would such a couple, who desperately want to please the Lord, go about finding that information?

And so, with the warning of the apostle John in mind, “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son (2 John 9) let the proponents of the “separation theory” point out the chapter and verse in which Jesus, or anyone whom he authorized to speak or write, said anything whatsoever about the necessity of couples, who married against God’s will, following divorces which he did not approve, separating and living lives of celibacy before they can enjoy the Lord’s favor and have the hope of living with him in the glory world? The echo answers, “WHERE?”

The best thing that can be said about the efforts of those who contend for the “separation – celibacy” theory is that they are uniformly characterized by doubt and uncertainty.

If one wishes to convince others that baptism is a condition of salvation from alien sins, he has scriptural basis for his effort. (Mk.16:15-16; Acts 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). But where is the scripture which teaches plainly and unequivocally that God requires penitent couples, who married against his will following a divorce which he did not approve, to separate and live lives of celibacy for the remainder of their time on earth, before they can receive the Lord’s forgiveness and have the hope of eternal life with him in heaven?

It is interesting to note that no one, to date, has ever been able to cite such a passage from the Holy Scriptures.


The nature of the marriage relationship which was ordained by God, and re-affirmed by Jesus, should be fairly clear in the minds of people who read and discuss the New Testament teaching on the subject.

A fairly simple definition of the institution of marriage may be stated in the following words: Marriage, as ordained by God in the beginning (Gen.1:27f; 2:18-24) is the blending of the lives of two eligible persons, of the opposite sex, into the closest of all human relationships, and which, in the will and providence of God, is expected to continue until the bond which binds them together is dissolved by death.

This is the marriage relationship which Jesus discussed with the Pharisees and his disciples in Matthew 19:3-12, and it should always be kept in mind that this is the only kind of “marriage relationship” which is recognized and regulated by divine authority. To speak of homosexual, bisexual, group, and other types of sinful relationships, under the guise of marriage, is only to becloud and confuse the issue. This kind of misinformation tends only to draw the minds of people away from that which the New Testament actually says about the subject.

The marriage relationship which is pleasing to God is begun (1) by the mutual agreement of the couple to 1ive together  as husband and wife; (2) by the state’s permission, or license for such cohabitation; and (3) by God’s sealing and ratifying the marital contract, when the couple come together sexually. It is in this way that the couple becomes “one flesh.”

Not only is that which has just been said true, it is also true that the marriage bond can be broken and totally destroyed only by the same three participants, who brought the union to perfection. No one can undo the part in the marriage relationship which was done by another. Only God can make the final break complete.

Neither God nor the state, in any way whatsoever, encourages the couple to repudiate their mutual agreement to live together as husband and wife. The repudiation of the couple’s mutual agreement is the responsibility of one, or both of them alone. It should also be noted that such a repudiation of the mutual agreement, whether by one or both of them, is the first step in the divorce process, if indeed it comes to that.

Divorce, as that term is generally used today, has reference to the “delegalizing” of the state’s permission for the couple to live together as husband and wife. This is all the state can do in the divorce process; and no one else can do that for the state. It appears that the majority of people are under the impression that when the state grants a divorce, the couple in question are released entirely from the marriage tie which bound them together. And, feeling that way about the matter, they feel that they are free to be married again to other mates.

Such a viewpoint as that just referred to, totally ignores God’s part in the marriage process. No marriage which is acceptable in God’s sight, is fully consummated until God acts to make the couple one flesh. And it should always be keep it in mind that no one but God can completely and finally dissolve the union, which he alone finalized. And it is for this reason that people are guilty of adultery when they marry other mates, following a divorce which God does not approve. Such people are still married to their divorced mates until God makes the final dissolution.

Homosexuality, unnatural sexual relationships, and adulterous practice s, are clear1y and specifically condemned in these inspired words of the New Testament. (Rom.1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). Such people, therefore, stand clearly condemned, until they repent of their sins and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. Furthermore, no child of God is authorized to baptize an impenitent couple who married against the Lord’s will, following a divorce which he did not approve.

At least one member of the couple who married against the will of God, following a divorce which he did not approve, is guilty of breaking up a marriage which he did approve. When such a couple comes together sexually, following their marriage ceremony, they are, according to Jesus, guilty of adultery. (Matthew 19:9).

These are sins they must repent of before they are ready to be baptized for the remission of their sins. People need to be taught the truth, before they are ready to obey the Gospel. (See John 8:31-32).


(Matthew 19:3-12 NIV)  Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” {4} “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ {5} and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? {6} So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” {7} “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” {8} Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. {9} I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” {10} The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” {11} Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. {12} For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Moses, because of sinful conditions which prevailed in his day, and apparently continued unchecked until the time of Christ, suffered, that is, permitted, not commanded, Jewish men to put away their wives, if they found something objectionable in them.(See Deut.24:1-4) There is no indication that women were granted the same privilege, with reference to their husbands.

Jewish teachers were not agreed as to the actual cause, to which the words of Moses referred; and that fact led to widespread differences of opinion and gross abuse of the permission, which the great lawgiver had granted.

  • Rabbi Shamai, for example, interpreted Deut.24:1f to mean that a man had the right to divorce his wife only on the ground of immorality or unchastity.
  • Rabbi Hillel, on the other hand, allowed just about any cause; the wife burning her husband’s bread for example.
  • Rabbi Akiba, to give another viewpoint, held that the expression, “if she find no favor in his eyes,” actually permitted the husband to divorce his wife if he found a better looking woman![16]

With that kind of teaching abroad in the land during the time of Jesus here upon earth, and during the days of the early church, it does not require a great degree of imagination for one to conclude that many divorces were granted among the Jewish people.

This appears to be a reasonable conclusion when one takes into consideration the fact that selfish people like to have their own way, and that it is much easier to accept the popular viewpoint. Even the disciples themselves questioned the wisdom of one’s marrying, if the privilege of divorce was denied him. (See Matthew 19:10).


Moses, in Deut. 24:1-4, did not issue a command for men to divorce their wives, whom they did not want to keep. He merely allowed, or permitted them to do so, under the conditions which the lawgiver named.

The original Greek term from which we have “suffered” in Matthew 19:8, is epitrepo, which, according to Arndt-Gingrich, means to permit or allow. (Cf. Mat.8:21).

But Jesus makes it perfectly plain in Matthew 19:3-12 that the permission granted by Moses is no longer valid. Instead, all people who marry in this present age, are subject to the original law, which was ordained by Jehovah God in the beginning.

It appears from Mark’s account of the Lord’s discussions with the Pharisees regarding the divorce issue (Mark 10:2-12), that when he was alone with his disciples in the house, they asked him a question regarding the issue which he had discussed with the Jewish leaders. The question apparently had to do with the permission of a man to put away his wife. (Cf. Mat.19: 10).

The Lord’s answer to the disciples’ question is twofold in its nature: (1) Not all men have room in their hearts for the teaching of Christ on the subject of marriage and divorce. Only those who are willing to follow the lord, can be certain of having his teaching to guide them in the way they shou1d go. (Cf. Proverbs 3:5-6).

(2) Celibacy is the exception, and not the rule, in normal living in human society, A eunuch is a male who is free from sexual desire, either as a result of birth, having been castrated by human hands, or one who is able, by his own willpower and spiritual motivation, to practice self control.

The apostle Paul apparently had the ability just named, but he clearly recognized that not all men, even among the Lord’s people, have the gift of continency. (See 1 Cor.7:1-9)

While the expression “this saying” in Mat.19:11, evidently refers to the whole of the Lord’s teaching, on that occasion, it is quite possible, and even very probable, that the closing sentence of verse 12,”He that is able to receive it, let him receive it,” is primarily concerned with the Lord’s remark concerning those who “made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.’

There are, doubtless, many people who fit into this category. But it is a noticeable fact that neither Jesus, Paul, nor any other New Testament writer, encouraged any but the most devout to undertake that kind of life. (Cf. 1 Cor.7:25-38).

A. T .Robertson, commenting on the expression, “but they to whom it is given,” (Mat.19:11) says; “It is a voluntary renunciation of marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus recognizes the severity of the demand as going beyond the capacity of all but a select number. It was a direct appeal to the spiritual intelligence of the disciples not to misconceive his meaning, as certainly the monastic orders have done.” [17]

David Brown, in his remarks regarding the teaching of Jesus on marriage and divorce, says, “If the sanctity of the marriage tie, as the fountain of all social wellbeing, is to be upheld among men, it must be by basing it on the original divine institution of it; Nor will those relaxations of it, which corrupt ingenuity introduces and defends, be effectually checked but by reverting, as our Lord here does, to the great primary character and design of it as established at the beginning.”

“Let those who reverence the authority of Christ mark the divine authority which he ascribes to the Old Testament in general, and to the books of Moses in particular, in the settlement of all questions of divine truth and human duty (v.45); nor let us fail to observe the important distinction which he draws between things commanded and things permitted-between things tolerated for a time, and regulated by civil enactment, to keep the barriers of social morality from being quite broken down, and the enduring sanctities of the great moral law. (vv. 8,9).

“When our Lord holds forth the single life as designed for and suited to certain specific classes, let Christians understand that, while their own plan and condition of life should be regulated by higher consideration than mere inclinations or personal advantage, they are not to lay down rules for others, but let each decide for himself, as to his own master he standeth or falleth. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God and approved of men.” [18]

Not on1y is it fair to assume, as pointed out earlier in these studies, that divorce and remarriage were widespread among the Jewish people during the time of Christ and the early church, due to the liberal interpretation of Deut. 24:1-4; we also have the testimony of Josephus: “He that desires to be divorced from his wife for .any cause whatsoever, (and many such causes happen among men), let him in writing give assurance that he will never use her as his wife anymore; for by this means she may be at liberty to marry another husband, although before this bill of divorce be given she is not to be permitted to do so: but if she be misused by him also, or if, when he is dead, her first husband would marry her again, it shall not be lawful for her to return to him.”[19]

All Bible students know, of course, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and that all men stood in need of his salvation. After all preparation for the great work of saving the lost had been completed, and under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, the first invitation for lost men to accept the Lord’s offer to save sinners, was extended on the Pentecost of Acts 2.

A monumental crowd of people heard that first gospel sermon, proclaimed in its fullness, and they, after being taught the truth regarding the risen Christ, were told to save themselves from that crooked generation by accepting the Lord’s terms of salvation, as may be seen by reading Acts 2:37-40.

And so a pertinent question is, did the apostle Peter, or any of the apostles, into whose hands the word of reconciliation had been committed (2 Cor.5:19) or anyone else who was authorized by the Lord to do so, make known the fact that certain types of sinners, such as those who were divorced from their mates for reasons which the Lord did not accept, and were married to others against the Lord’s will, would have to separate and live lives of celibacy for the remainder of their lives here upon earth, before the Lord would accept them as his people, and before they could enjoy Christian fellowship with other obedient believers?

Or does one suppose that there were no such sinners among the three thousand who were baptized on that day of Pentecost or among the multiplied thousands who were added to the church later on? When, indeed, was the first time that divorced and remarried sinners were told that they would have to separate and live in a single state for the rest of their lives, before they could, or would, be fellowshipped by other followers of Christ? If there is no specific and unquestionable evidence on this subject in the New Testament, and among the early churches of the Lord’s people; how is it that twentieth century individuals and congregations of the Lord’s people have seen fit to require such a rule, and cling to such teaching so tenaciously?


A young man and a young woman of marriageable age, for example, go to a place agreed upon and engage in sexual activities, which results in their having committed fornication, or adultery. A week later they are married, and go to the same room, and upon the very same bed, engage in sexual activities with the result that no such sin is charged against them. The difference between the two incidents is clearly seen as being a matter of the circumstances surrounding them.

Suppose this same man goes outside the marriage relationship and commits adultery with another woman. His wife hears about it and endeavors to bring her husband to repentance He remains impenitent and refuses all overtures for reconciliation. His innocent wife, because of his adultery, would clearly have the right, if not, indeed, the obligation, to take the necessary steps to see to it that their marriage tie is completely severed.

Again, suppose this man remains faithful to his wife morally, but decides to divorce her on the basis of a reason, or cause, which is unacceptable to the Lord. He breaks his part of the mutual agreement, which he and his mate made before their marriage, to live together as husband and wife.

He petitions the court and is granted a legal divorce; but what he does not realize, apparently, is that he is still married, in God’s sight, to the wife whom he divorced. This man, thinking himself to be free to marry again, does indeed marry again. He and his new wife come together sexually, with the result, according to Jesus in Mat.19:9, that they commit adultery.

It appears difficult, apparently, for some people to understand how it is that a husband and wife commit adultery when they engage in sexual activity. The answer to this puzzling problem is simply this; the man was still married to his divorced wife, while he was thinking that he was married only to his second, or new wife. But regardless of what he thought (Cf.Isa.55:8-9), he was still married to his divorced wife in God’s sight. And it was because of his relationship with his divorced wife that adultery was committed in the activities with the newly acquired wife.

But adultery is adultery, however it is committed, and it is the only sin which the Lord recognizes as being sufficiently deadly to result in the complete destruction of the marriage tie. The man who divorces his wife, for some reason which is unacceptable to the Lord, has already seen to it that their mutual agreement to 1ive together a s husband and wife has been destroyed, and he has succeeded in getting the court to revoke their marriage status. And so, with his adultery, resulting from his second marriage, he has provided the Lord with sufficient grounds for breaking the original marriage tie completely. He now has absolutely no marital relations with his divorced wife.

If the man is no longer married to his divorced wife, that is, in God’s sight, where is the evidence to be found, scriptural or otherwise, to support the contention that a man who is married to his own wife, and nobody else, commits adultery with his wife each time they come together sexually?

But, says one, Jesus used the present tense “committeth adultery” in Mat.19:9, and that implies a continuation of the act. But suppose, as was pointed out earlier in these studies, that the couple in question never comes together sexually again. The verb would still be in the present tense. This should be enough to show one that the reference is not primarily to a continuance of sexual activity, but rather to the fact that the guilt which the couple incurred when they first came together sexually, will continue until they turn to the Lord in penitence and secure his forgiveness.

The requirements of repentance have not changed since they were announced when the New Testament was in the making. They are exactly the same today as they were then.

If repentance today requires couples who have married against God’s will, following divorces which he did not approve, to separate and live lives of celibacy, the same thing was true of people who lived during the days of the apostles. But it is a fact today that no one can cite the unqualified teaching of the inspired word of God which makes that doctrine unmistakeably clear. It would be much better if the Lord’s people today would humbly allow him to be the sole lawgiver and judge in such matters.

There are many people today who have been denied fellowship among the Lord’s people, following their repentance for h a vi n g broken up marriages, and for having united with others against the Lord’s will, who have either “quit the church” or gone to other religious bodies, which are not mentioned in the New Testament.

Somebody is going to be held responsib1e for these tragic consequences just referred to, And those who have denied fellowship to penitent believers, may well ask, “Lord, is it I?”’ This is true especially, since there is no clear cut teaching in the New Testament regarding such a practice.

The term “clear cut,” is defined, “Having a sharp distinct outline; sharply defined; concise and distinct.” Exa mples of this type of teaching in the New Testament may be illustrated as follows:


“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to tile whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.”(Mk.16: 15-16) .

“And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16).

“Which also doth now save you, even baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (l Peter 3:21).


“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespassesd”(Mat.6:14-15) .

“So shall also my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye forgive not everyone his brother from your hearts.” (Matt.18:35; Read also verses 21-34).

If anyone believes that the New Testament is the inspired word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and is willing to accept each passage for what it actually says, there is no possible way for such a person to misunderstand, or misinterpret, that which is contained in the scriptures cited above.

Now, in what part of the New Testament can one find such CLEARCUT instruction, which unmistakeably teaches that penitent people who cannot undo such sins as divorcing a mate for some reason which God does not accept, and marrying another mate, which the Lord did not approve, should be denied Christian fellowship among the Lord’s people?

When people do what the Lord commands, In order to become his children, and when disobedient children, who sin against his will, meet his conditions for forgiveness, they are accepted of the Lord and should be accepted by those people who claim to be loyal followers of Christ.

May the Lord have mercy on all of us who try to learn what his will is, seek to practice it ourselves, and endeavor to influence others to believe and obey that which is written! 

[1] C. R. Nichol & R. L. Whiteside: Sound Doctrine, vol. l, 6th. Edition. Pg.54-57. Nichol Publ. Co. Clifton, Texas.

[2] G.C.Brewer: Contending for the Faith: Page 69ff Gospel Advocate Company; Nashville, Tennessee

[3] C. R. Nichol, R. L. Whiteside: Sound Doctrine, Vol.1, pg.57. 6th. Edition. Nichol Publ. Co. Clifton Texas.

[4] Neil Lightfoot: Abilene Christian University Lectures 1982. A NEW ERA IN WORLD EVANGELISM; Page.160. ACU Bookstore.

[5] Charles Foster Kent: The Social Teachings of the Prophets and Jesus, pg.243f. Chas. Scribner’s Sons, New York,1928

[6] The Analytical Greek Lexicon, Article – suzeugnumi. S.Baxter and sons Ltd. London. James Pott & Co. New York.

[7] Archibald Thomas Robertson: Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol.l. pg.154. Richard R.Smith Inc. New York. 1930.

[8] Webster’s Dictionary of Synonyms – First Edition. Article Latent. Pg.496. G. & C. MerrIam Co. Springfield, Mass.

[9] Karl Ludwig Schmidt: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol.3. Articles, kollao & proskollao. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Mich.

[10] Francis Brown, S.R.Driver and Charles Briggs. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Article shalach, 3, Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston & New York.

[11] A.T. Robertson: Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume 1, Pg.47, Richard R. Smith Inc. New York-1930

[12] Joseph Henry Thayer: Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Article, metanoeo, Zondervan; Grand Rapids.

13 Robert Young: Analytical Concordance to the Bible. Article, metanoeo, Funk & Wagnalls Co. New York.

[14] James Strong: Greek Dictionary of the New Testament. Article, mefanoeo, The Methodlst Book Concern. N.Y.

[15] William F. Arndt, Wilbur F. Gingrich: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Article, metanoia. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois.

[16] CF, Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews; iv, viii,23.

[17] A.T. Robertson; Word Pictures in the New Testament Vol. l, pg. l56. Richard R. Smith Inc. New York-1930.

[18] A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments; by Jamieson, Robert,  Fausset, A.R. and Brown, David, Vol.5, Page 98, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1945.

[19] Josephus; Antiquities of the Jews: Book 4, chptr.8, Par.23.

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Posted by on October 30, 2017 in Doctrine, Marriage


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