Man pushing Matthew 19:9 upside down

Some Brethren Are Turning Matthew 19:9 On Its Head!
Tim Haile

July 9, 2002

   People have a tendency to overstate their case in times of controversy. In their zeal to prove their point and answer their opponents, they often end up taking untenable positions. They start out with the "desire to be teachers of the law," but end up "swerving" from that law, "teaching other doctrines," and "giving heed to fables" (1 Tim. 1:3-7). This has certainly been done on the subject of what constitutes biblical putting away. Uncomfortable with our Lord's silence regarding any putting away procedure, some brethren feel quite comfortable fabricating one. Not content to just apply their rules to themselves, these brethren freely bind their procedure upon others, even though God bound none. The result has been, and will continue to be, division.

   But what drives these brethren to make these additional, extra biblical demands? For those who are sincere, it is a simple desire to codify a uniform procedure for all people living in a given society at a given time. Others may be guided by an inordinate desire to achieve recognition by either authoring, or promoting something new. I say "something new," for no human can read the Bible and honestly conclude that the only way an innocent person can put away their unfaithful spouse is by using lawyers, judges, trials and courthouses. None of these things are mentioned in any of the "putting away" passages. God has never required their use in executing a scriptural repudiation of the marriage bond. Other brethren are obviously driven by their envy and jealousy of the work and influence of other brethren. Finding no biblical basis upon which they may indict their brethren, they are forced to fabricate their own rules, and then condemn those brethren for rejecting their conclusions.

   Regardless of the reason, whether one is unstudied, proud, jealous, or downright factious, his ill-conceived notions give rise to unguarded statements and contradictions.

The Consequence of Overemphasizing Divorce Procedure

   For several months I have challenged my detractors to produce a single passage of scripture that allows fornicators the right to put away their faithful mates and eliminate the innocent's right of remarriage. Most of my opponents have been silent. However, the very few who have taken the bait have cited Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 as supporting their view. They argue that the word "whoever" necessarily includes the divinely recognized ability of a fornicator to put away his innocent spouse, and by that action, nullify that innocent mate's right of remarriage. The argument is ill conceived and potentially disastrous. It literally turns the Lord's words upside down. Here is what Jesus said:

"And I say unto you, whoever puts away his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery..."

   If my detractors are correct in alleging that Jesus included fornicators as those possessing putting away powers against their innocent mates, thus eliminating the innocent's right of remarriage, then Matthew 19:9 would have to read as follows:

"And I say unto you, {any fornicator} who puts away his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery..."

   Notice carefully that all I did to the verse was what some brethren affirm is right to do. I simply substituted the word "fornicator" for the word "whoever." This substitution of terms quickly reveals the folly and fallacy of my opponents' position. A quick glance at the verse containing the substitution of words makes it very obvious that Jesus never intended for us to read "fornicators" into the verse at that place. Man's substitution has Jesus allowing the very thing that He was condemning! This new position on divorce allows a fornicator to remarry as long as his spouse is also sexually immoral! In other words, some are taking a position on Matthew 19:9, that in cases of double infidelity; the fornicator who wins the civil divorce actually has the God-given right to remarry! Whether brethren understand the consequences of their argument or not, the fact remains: it is still the consequence of their position! They have turned Matthew 19:9 on its head! They have Jesus granting remarriage rights to fornicators, while denying those same rights to the innocent! It is unbelievable that any among God's people would, for one minute, entertain such a notion. However, it is being done, and some of these brethren are touting themselves as the champions of truth against an overwhelming number of what they consider "digressive" opponents.

   In their zeal to defend their new divorce position that emphasizes procedure over purpose; method over motive, brethren like Jeff Belknap, Fred Seavers, David McKee, Terence Sheridan, and Pat Donahue have formulated a doctrine that allows fornicators to remarry, while denying that right to the innocent! Their doctrine directly contradicts our Lord's teaching. It is my hope and prayer that truth-loving brethren will seriously consider the consequences of this new heresy and rise up as one man against it. The substitution of human opinion always "lays aside the commandments of God" (Mk. 7:8). Attention is diverted away from the real issues. While certain misguided brethren are zealously promoting their newest pet theory, and working to label their detractors as digressive, the real digressives are escaping the scrutiny of truth. The devil must be quite happy with the entire situation. He is happy that those who loose where God has not loosed have been given a pass, and he is happy that a new group of brethren are binding where God has not bound! The binder's approach to the scriptures starts out differently than the looser's, but the results are just as sinful. The binders assume the role of spiritual arbiters, filling in the gaps that God left empty. They attempt to reveal what God left secret (Deut. 29:29). The actions of the binder are just as lawless as the actions of the looser. Both must be opposed.

Tim Haile

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