Clarification of My Quote
March 6, 2003
Lengthy controversies generate lengthy dialogue. Studies are conducted, discussions are arranged, sermons are preached, conversations are had, articles are published, letters are exchanged, and in some instances debates are conducted. Those who presume to speak on behalf of God are bound by the strictures of the scriptures to "speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11; Isa. 8:20). Regardless of the format or forum, we are to accurately handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).
Of course, some formats do more to contribute to one's accuracy than do others. For example, before publication, written materials may be examined and reexamined as many times as necessary in order to achieve the highest possible degree of accuracy and clarity. Sermons and other prepared speeches often involve several hours of preparation and premeditation. Conversely, some situations do not allow one the luxury of such preparation. One may be required to speak and answer questions extemporaneously. Though I thoroughly enjoy such formats, I freely admit that my word selection, and sentence and paragraph structure is not always as clear as I would prefer. Forums that produce spontaneous questions usually require spontaneous answers. The more complex, or controversial the subject, the more this spontaneity may hinder our efforts to provide clear and concise answers. Just as there have been times when I was satisfied with my answers, there have been times when I was not.
There is another important factor for the public speaker to consider. Though we often choose to ignore it, some men have no scruples. In controversy, their goal is to make themselves appear smart and good by making their opponents appear dumb and evil. If it serves their purpose to draw one word from a sentence, one sentence from a paragraph, or one paragraph from an entire speech, in order to cast doubts and aspersions upon their enemy, then that is what they will do. This fact again emphasizes the importance of our guarding every word. We must never allow ourselves to be lulled into underestimating the persistence and determination of those who would attempt to win their cause at any cost. For them, no method is too mean and no tactic is too terrible. They will do whatever is necessary to "win" the argument.
Poor expression leads to two terrible things: 1). Lovers of the truth may be misled or confused by our inadequate, unclear expression. This is terrible, for our real purpose was to speak for the purpose of their "edification, exhortation, and comfort" (1 Cor. 14:3). 2). Enemies of the truth are assisted in their effort to misrepresent their opponent, and deceive and mislead their audience. Through careless wording, the truth teacher inadvertently hands his opponent a club to use against him and against the truth!
The Clarksville Study
Some time ago, Dudley Spears invited me to speak on the subject of "Biblical Putting Away" at a monthly Bible study where he preaches in Clarksville, Tennessee. I agreed. Our format was the typical format for that study. One speaks on an assigned topic, and following the speech there is an informal question and answer period. All speakers take their duties seriously. All appreciate their duty to speak as the oracles of God. However, many of the topics are controversial and may involve areas of judgment and principle application. Our differences are openly and honestly discussed in a brotherly, gentlemanly manner. The attendees are friends. They respect each other. No one attends these studies for the purpose of finding fodder for "writing others up." Men of iron are merely looking for other iron whereby they may "sharpen" one another (Prov. 27:17). This is as it should be.
Concerning My Quote
Several comments were made following my speech and several questions were asked of me. History has revealed that one of my answers was not as clear as it should have been. It is especially unclear when it is lifted from the overall context of my speech and other comments. However, I do not blame those who quoted me. I blame only myself for this lack of clarity. I should have taken more time and been more careful. I wish now to set the record straight as to what I intended by my remarks.
The question was asked as to whether or not the "except for fornication" clause of Matthew 19:9 applied to the second clause in that verse. I replied:
"The exception clause has to extend to that. The exception clause has to extend to cover that. You see how, that by, by, uh, inserting the exception clause it changes the course of the passage. Now, an exception clause is just that. You have a rule, you have an overall rule, that is, if you divorce your wife, uh, and marry someone else, you commit adultery, and whoever marries her, when she remarries, they commit adultery. There's the rule. The exception clause, it sort of diverts that, it redirects. What Jesus is saying is, without the exception presence of the, the, basis, presence of the cause, then both parties commit adultery when they remarry. With the cause present, it changes the scenario, it is except in cases of fornication, it changes it so that someone has a right to remarry without committing adultery. If you read the exception clause in, it works one way. We have this result. If you read the exception clause, take the exception clause out, you have an entirely different scenario. By one, the insertion of one simple little exception clause, Jesus created two different scenarios there - two entirely different scenarios."
Until recently, I had assumed that my additional comments, along with the several points I had already made in my lesson, were sufficient to explain what I meant and did not mean about what the exception clause "extended" to. My remarks were not intended as a diagram of Matthew 19:9. In context, I was referring to how the exception clause would apply to any innocent spouse, once the mate has committed fornication, and that would include the "her" of the second clause of Mt. 19:9. There is no fornication committed in the scenario that Jesus treats in Mt. 19:9. But once it is, the exception clause would apply to both him and her. Activation of the exception clause changes the outcome of the Lord's scenario. The presence of fornication actually introduces a whole new outcome not specifically stated by Jesus! By necessary implication, Matthew 19:9 teaches that whoever puts away his wife for fornication does not commit adultery when he remarries. No, Jesus did not specifically say this, but it is safely inferred, and faithful brethren have inferred it for years. At Clarksville, I was making the point that regardless of what the guilty party does, including beating his innocent mate to repudiation or the courthouse (as some insist), Jesus extended the putting away and remarriage liberty to the innocent mate. I did not say the exception clause "applied to" or "modified" the last clause!
Another Misrepresentation By Jeff Belknap
In an article on his website, Jeff Belknap falsely represented me as teaching that the exception clause "applied" to the second clause of Matthew 19:9. He then invoked, as he usually does, the writings of brethren Rader and Frost in opposition to what he tried to get me to say. Had I actually taught what Belknap misrepresented me as teaching, brethren Rader and Frost would have soundly answered me.
Brother Belknap is wrong again. However, I do accept some responsibility for his misconception. In answering the question at the preacher's study I used language similar to that used by others who intended something that I did not intend regarding the grammatical and syntactical positioning of the exception clause. I wish to retract that language and apologize for my lack of clarity. I will make every effort to avoid this lack of clarity in the future.