Some Errors Espoused On Divorce And Remarriage

Jerry C. Brewer

There are many voices—in and out of the church—which have been raised against God’s pattern for marriage, divorce and remarriage in order to justify adulterous marriages between men and women. This is an examination of three of those errors.

That Jesus’ Teaching On Marriage Is “Not Part Of The New Testament”

This error claims that the four gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are not part of the New Testament, but actually belong to the Mosaic covenant. The conclusion from that false premise is that what Jesus said during His earthly ministry—including His statement in Matthew 19 concerning marriage—is not part of the new covenant. That is a blatantly false teaching derived from a false premise. Mark wrote, “The beginning (emph. JCB) of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mark 1:1-3). The gospel of Christ began with John’s work and every word which Jesus spoke, and which the four gospel writers penned, constitute a part of the New Testament of Jesus Christ.

It would be strange, indeed, if Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 constitutes a part of the law of Moses, for God said in Exodus 34:27, “for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.” The statement here is in the past tense—“…I have made.” If Matthew 19 belongs to the law of Moses, then God delayed the completion of His covenant with Israel for about 1,500 years and lied when He said, “I have made…” This position is not only false, it is blasphemous.

Moreover, Jesus explained that God’s law of marriage was established “at the beginning” and has never been repealed. God’s law of marriage antedated the Law of Moses and continues in force today as surely as His law of capital punishment for murderers (Gen. 2:23-24; Mat. 19:8-9; Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:3-4).

God’s Marriage Law Does Not Apply To Non-Members Of The Church”

This was the position of E. C. Fuqua in his debate with Thomas Warren in 1955. Fuqua said that those outside of the church are amenable to civil law, but not to Christ’s law on marriage, divorce and remarriage. (Jim Waldron, Tract, Marriage and Divorce, p. 6.) His proposition, stated in the negative, was the same as that of James Bales (Not Under Bondage, Searcy, AR, James D. Bales, 1979). Fuqua said non-Christians are not amenable to the law of Christ, and Bales said that Jesus’ teaching on marriage, divorce and remarriage applies only to members of the church. If those outside of Christ are not amenable to God’s law of marriage, then who is to say they are amenable to any of God’s laws? What of polygamists who obey the gospel? Will they be allowed to keep all of their wives? If they are not amenable to Christ’s law, then even sodomites may continue in their sinful state after obeying the gospel! That ridiculous doctrine is similar to the one which holds that those who have never heard the gospel will be saved. That doctrine says that because they have never known the gospel, they are not required to believe it and obey it—that God will save them in their ignorance. But it is not ignorance or a failure to hear the gospel that makes men lost. It is sin (Rom. 3:23; 6:23) and one in sin is lost despite his failure to hear the gospel. The same is true with those in unlawful marriages who are outside of Christ, as John clearly pointed out to Herod. It was not lawful for him to have his brother Philip’s wife (Mat. 14:3-4), even though neither he nor Herodias were children of God. Again, God’s marriage law is universal and has been in force “from the beginning.”

A Redefinition Of The Word “Adultery”

Others, like Rubel Shelly, have redefined the word “adultery” to mean something other than illicit sexual relations. They say the word simply means “covenant breaking” (“The Sermon on The Mount,” Tape, April 3, 1988, cited by Jim Waldron in his tract, Marriage and Divorce, p. 7). According to this definition, adultery is simply the act of divorcing, thus one may divorce for any cause and remarry without being in a continuing state of adultery. That this is not the Biblical definition of adultery is clearly seen in the case of the woman who was taken in the act of adultery and brought to Jesus.

And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? (John 8:4-5).

According to Shelly’s definition, this woman was taken in the “very act” of filing for a divorce! Who can believe it? She was taken in the act of unlawful sexual intercourse and Jesus’ enemies wanted Him to condemn her to death, based upon the law’s injunction in Leviticus 20:10.

In John 8:3-4, the word “adultery” occurs twice. The first occurrence is in noun form and the second is in verb form. Moicheia is the Greek noun translated “adultery” in verse 3, and the charge against the woman is stated in verb form—“taken in adultery”—in verse 4. Thayer says this word means, “adultery…to commit adultery…to commit adultery with, have unlawful sexual intercourse with another’s wife.” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of The New Testament, p. 417).

The Pharisees knew what the word “adultery” meant in their law and they knew the penalty for it. Had they thought it meant “the act of divorce,” they certainly would not have insisted that the woman be put to death, for they were also guilty of divorce “for every cause” (Mat. 19:3, 7-8). Like the Pharisees, men in our day pervert and redefine the Scriptures to suit their peculiar desires and doctrines. Adultery is an illicit sexual act and man’s redefinition of it does not change God’s Word.

How To Prepare For A Long And Happy Marriage

Marriage is the solemn union of a man and woman for life—a life that will always be filled with highest joys, deepest sorrow, and toilsome burdens. Job said, “Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1) but if a man and woman love each other as Christ loved us (Eph. 5:22-25) and if they love God above all (Deut. 6:4-5) the trials of life can be endured together. True marital happiness can be achieved only by following in the selfless footsteps of Jesus who gave Himself for us (Rom. 5:6-8). Husbands must love their wives more than self and above all others, except God, and wives must love their husbands in like manner.

Like the Christian life, marriage is a lifelong journey which wives and husbands must travel together. It is not a “happily-ever-after”affair in the fashion of fairy tales, but an arduous trek in which a husband and wife must ever guard against sins that not only separate them from God, but from each other. The way will sometimes be dark and treacherous, but the light of God’s word will never fail those who trust it (Psa. 119:105). Though their path may descend into darkest canyons or climb the sun-washed peaks of life’s highest hills, the journey of those who love God and each other will lead at last to the land that is fairer than day, across which no shadows shall ever fall and where God is the Light Eternal.

When brother Foy E. Wallace, Jr., whom I knew and loved, performed his grand daughter’s wedding ceremony in 1975, he described true marriage. His words ought to resonate through the minds of all who contemplate this sacred state and ever be remembered on their journey.

And now that you have both chosen to fly from the shelter of your paternal roof, to embark on your own, let me impress upon you something you must always remember—that true marriage is not a mere outward physical attraction, it is a union of minds, and affinity of hearts. In the toils of time, beauty will one day fade from the cheek, and the gleam of luster from the eye, but if your hearts have been wedded, and your minds are united, every wrinkle will become a beauty spot and every furrow an ornament. And you will travel the path of life together into the glow of its golden day. (Foy E. Wallace, Jr., Soldier of The Cross, eds. Noble Patterson and Terry J. Garner, Ft. Worth, Wallace Memorial Fund, 1999, p. 243).

The only persons God’s law permits to divorce and remarry are those who divorce their spouses who commit fornication. That is the only exception to God’s law that permits a divorced person to remarry with His approval. To divorce and remarry for a reason other than that puts one into a state of adultery, for which there is no forgiveness without repentance, which includes dissolution of the adulterous marriage.

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