A Response: The Rights of a Put Away Person

by Dudley Ross Spears

August 01, 2003

   Brother Kevin Kay has written, "The assumption is that if the marriage or divorce is not RIGHT, it's not REAL; if it's not APPROVED, it's not ACTUAL; if it's not PERMISSIBLE, it's not POSSIBLE. Is this really what the Bible teaches?"

   This is part of what he wrote this in reply to the concept of the rights of one who was divorced for some cause other than fornication. He made this point repeatedly. This is the quotation he cited with which he took exception.

   "When an innocent woman is divorced, this divorce is, in the sight of God 'no divorce.' He does not recognize it! The innocent woman is still married in God's sight and the husband who 'divorced' her is still married to her in God's sight. Their marriage has not been dissolved and as far as God is concerned she is not 'put away' (apoluo). When her husband remarried he committed adultery. I contend that the innocent may then 'put away' her husband. Reason? That is exactly what Christ said she could do!"

   Kevin added the following as his interpretation of the above.

   The argument being made is this. If Jack and Jill 'divorce' unscripturally, they are not actually divorced in the eyes of God (only apparently divorced in the eyes of man). Thus, if Jack 'marries" again unscripturally, he is not actually married in the eyes of God (only apparently married in the eyes of man); therefore, Jill may then scripturally and actually mentally divorce Jack in the eyes of God for fornication (even though they are already apparently divorced in the eyes of man), and may scripturally and actually marry John in the eyes of God."

   The one who wrote what Kevin attempted to refute was pretty clear. The author clarified exactly what he meant by "no divorce." He said it was a divorce God does not recognize, therefore one in which the couple are still joined together as "one flesh" which God forbids man to sunder. Divorce courts may issue a divorce, but the vast majority of them do not meet with God's approval or recognition. Brother Kay doesn't interpret the cited quote that way, however. He arbitrarily adds terms such as actually divorced and actually married. This, the author of the quote he refutes, did not say. The synonym (real) is also used repeatedly and copiously by Kevin to express his interpretation of the quoted material.

Hear him once more:

   "The assumption is that if the marriage or divorce is not RIGHT, it's not REAL; if it's not APPROVED, it's not ACTUAL; if it's not PERMISSIBLE, it's not POSSIBLE."

   He puts a thought into the quotation that the author did not. Nothing was said about the reality or actuality of the divorce. Rather, the quote affirms that a sinful divorce is not recognized or approved by God and has no effect on the marriage bond. Brother Kay cannot deny this successfully. However, Kevin makes the quote say that things "not right are not real." Should he add, "Things not right are not approved in God's sight," he has precious little to say in opposition to the argument he attempts to refute.

   Brother Kay's reply lacks a fair definition of what he means by real and unreal divorces or marriages. Who holds to Kevin's fantasy of real and unreal divorces? Does brother Kay understand when a divorce is real and when it is not? Is the divorce real at the point of the personal and private repudiation of one marriage partner against the other? Is it real when after this repudiation there is a first filing for a divorce by either party in a court of law? Is it real only after it is validated and ratified and then published by the Country Court Clerk's office in local newspapers? Let brother Kay define it for us and tell us when it is real. How does he know what the quote he cited had in mind as a definition of a divorce? Brother Kay, tell us when a divorce (of any kind you choose to define) becomes a real divorce.

   Brotherly kindness and charity would have prevented the misinterpretation of the quotation. Surely we can see he meant by "no divorce" nothing more than God's disapproval of it. The statement deals with an "innocent woman who is divorced." This was defined as "no divorce." What did the author mean by "no divorce?" Let the author tell us: "He (God) does not recognize it." The context of the quote contains the very kind of "no divorce" by showing the marriage was still intact, not sundered, thus neither could remarry without sin (Matt. 5:32; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). Brother Kay surely believes the quote made an accurate assessment of these passages in application to divorce and remarriage. Surely brother Kay can see how he strained the words of the author and ignored precisely what was said just to make a point.

   Brother Kay's real problem with the quote is the conclusion to which the author of the quote came. This is the meat of the issue right here. The author wrote, "When her husband remarried he committed adultery. I contend that the innocent may then 'put away' her husband. Reason? That is exactly what Christ said she could do!" Had Kevin dealt fairly with this point, his document would have been more profitable in the study of this issue. After a sinful divorce ("no divorce" in the sense that God neither approves the divorce nor breaks the marital bond), fornication is committed by the man who put away his innocent wife. This changes the entire situation. The issue currently being debated is whether or not a sinful divorce and subsequent fornication deprives an innocent party of the right to put away a fornicating mate and then marrying another. That is the issue. All the palaver about real, unreal, apparent, accommodative, actual or literal do little to get to the real point of controversy and impede any possible progress toward mutual understanding and fellowship.

   Brother Kay makes a point on the assumed difference in what God said man "may not" and "cannot" do. However, again what does brother Kay mean by "may not put asunder"? To be more accurate, neither the verbs "may not" nor "cannot" are in any of the passages in any of the Bible I consulted (See Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). There is one exception, if the "Living Bible" can rightly be called a Bible. It renders it, "And no man may divorce what God has joined." It is the only one I found. All others have the Lord saying, "Let not man . . ."

   The space required by brother Kay to make this point was wasted. If brother Kay defines a divorce (apoluo) as divorce, in what sense is he using it when he allows that man may do what God says plainly not to do? Does he mean man may sin, even though God said not to sin (1 John 2:1). Who would object to this? No one I know. Does he mean by a divorce that which God actually and really recognizes and which results in his sundering the marital bond, thus freeing the innocent to marry again without sin? Why didn't he come clear on this before assuming the points he wanted to expose as error? Brother Kay's assessment of the quote he cited is by far and away a strained and forced interpretation to say the best one can say about it.

   Who will differ with Kevin when he repeats his assumption that some contend for "unreal" divorces? Whoever is guilty of that is wrong. God's eyes are "in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Prov. 15:3). Among the things that God sees are evil divorces. Kevin tried to leave whatever readers that saw his piece with the impression there are some somewhere who don't believe divorce is real. If he will favor the same people who read his initial article with a clear definition of what he means by divorce, his efforts will be much improved and profitable. Until then, he leaves things so undone that nearly any possible interpretation could be put to Kevin's own words.

   Brother Kay also has a problem with some who use the term "accommodatively" when they discuss a sinful divorce (that which the author of his quote defined as not approved by God.) To accommodate something is to make an adaptation or adjustment for better comprehension. Possibly it is not the best usage of language. That doesn't, however, make it what Kevin attempted to make of it. Kevin made it juxtapose something actual. That is by no means completely accurate. However, the only way I have read that divorce is spoken of accommodatively is in the sense that a sinful divorce is "no divorce" (only in the sense that it doesn't meet God's approval and doesn't affect the original marriage bond.) If Kevin has true evidence to the contrary he should produce it.

   Kevin well said, "words may have only one fixed meaning in the connection in which it is used." He assumes some do not follow this rule because they allegedly think that if a divorce or marriage "is not right, it is not real." Next he says we may as well argue that "fornication" in Matt. 19:9 is not real because it is not approved (right).

   I want to be one of the first to agree with Kevin that the fornication of that passage is real, not apparent, nor said to accommodate anything. It is very real and very wrong. It is real although God certainly disapproves. Being real has nothing to do with Kevin's effort to answer the quote he cited. I did a word search for "real" (both upper and lower case) in Kevin's article and the only use of it was by Kevin Kay. This is a clear case of misinterpretation of another's words and then salting those words with one's own. This is what Kevin did. It is not a legitimate means of controversy.

   There is more to Kevin's article that needs to be studied, but for the moment let this suffice to show that he deals unfairly with the quote he sought vainly to refute by misinterpretation and insertion of his own conclusions, then presenting them as if they were actually (there's that word) what the author said.

   Divorce is real and marriage is real, but not all divorces and/or marriages are the same, nor do they come with the same consequences, nor does God approve all of them. A sinful divorce is one where there is a divorce but not for the one and only cause Jesus gave (Matt. 19:9). A sinful divorce has no effect at all on the "one flesh" relationship created by God and called "joined together." The whole controversy turns on whether the sinful acts of a fornicating mate who was the first to obtain a civil divorce changes the Lord's will in regard to an innocent person. If the issue is in any degree resolved and agreement and fellowship obtains, it will have to be only when this aspect of the difference is intelligently and scripturally dealt with.

by Dudley Ross Spears

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