The Race for the Right to Remarry

by Tim Haile

January 26, 2004

   There are different reasons for people not wanting their positions to be labeled. Those who hold the truth would prefer that their position be recognized as nothing more or less than simply the truth. It is the Bible position. As such, it needs no human name to distinguish it from other positions, nor does it need any particular label to identify and describe it.

   In some cases, labeling a position is sinful. Labeling is sinful when the label misrepresents the opponentís actual teaching and views. The false label describes a position not held by the opponent. The labeler links his opponent to the misrepresentation by applying the label to him. All that is left is for the labeler to repeat the label long enough and loud enough and people begin to be misled. False labels are designed to prejudice minds against the opponentís real position, and discourage people from taking the time to actually consider the foundation principles of the position.

   There are times, however, when biblical terminology cannot be found to describe a position. After all, biblical language will not be found in support of unbiblical concepts. At such times a particular label may be necessary. In these cases, the label can be an effective method of accurately identifying, and to some extent, explaining that position. In such cases I have no reluctance to use the label. Paul referred to the Judaizers as "the circumcision" (Tit. 1:10). This designation was named after the major tenet of their position: the binding of circumcision. Obviously, labels are not wrong provided that they do not misrepresent the position that they are intended to identify.

Race Positions on Divorce & Remarriage

   For many years, brethren have used the expression, "race-to-the-courthouse," as a label to describe a particular view on divorce and remarriage. This view makes the action of the verb "apoluo" (put away, divorce) synonymous with civil divorce procedure. Those who take this view argue that an innocent party may put away his fornicator-mate only by taking legal action against that mate. Some have admitted to me that this label accurately represents their view and that they have no problem with the label being applied to them. Others reject the label, but make repeated arguments that lead one to the conclusion that is suggested by the "courthouse" label.

   Another "race" position has developed among brethren. I have labeled this new race position the "race-to-repudiation." Those who hold this view accept Thayerís definition of apoluo ("to dismiss, to repudiate"), but they base the right of repudiation upon whether or not the innocent party repudiated (rejected) the fornicator before the fornicator repudiated him. They emphasize timing, rather than cause. Unlike those who argue that biblical putting-away is synonymous with civil divorce procedure, these brethren say that they donít care how the putting away is done, so long as the innocent spouse does it first. They are unconcerned with the kind of procedure that is used to execute the action of apoluo, but they are very concerned with the timing of the innocent personís repudiation of his fornicator-mate.

   This position raises an obvious question: Since the New Testament specifies no exact procedure for putting away a mate, how can the innocent spouse really know when he is the one to first accomplish the putting away? How does he know if he has beaten the fornicator to that act? Those who require that the innocent spouse be the first to repudiate need to tell us the exact process involved in putting away. Of course, their task is not without sinful consequences. By specifying and binding a particular divorce procedure, these brethren will be guilty of adding to Godís word, and binding where God has not bound.

   So, one group has a race-to-the-courthouse, and the other group has a race-to-repudiation. Though discord does exist between some in these two camps, their positions are very similar. The two positions share two fundamental tenets:

  1. Both positions allow only one putting-away per marriage bond. According to the position, once a putting-away has occurred, even one that is unlawful and unapproved by God, the other spouse, even the innocent spouse of a fornicating mate, has no right to repudiate.
  2. Both positions base the innocent personís right to repudiate his fornicator-mate and remarry upon whether or not he had already been repudiated by that fornicator.

   A race is a competition of speed. Whether they admit it or not, the positions that are held by some brethren require the innocent spouse to be the first one to take the divorce action if he ever wishes to marry another. These views amount to a race, because they emphasize the timing of the putting-away action over the cause of that action. With the race concept, the innocent party loses the right of remarriage by failing to act quickly enough in putting away his fornicator-mate. Jesus said, "except it be for fornication," but these brethren would have Jesus saying, "except it be for fornication" and except he be the first to put away. This position puts the emphasis, not on the cause of fornication, but on the speed with which the innocent spouse acts against the fornicator. It is argued that if the fornicator beats the innocent party to the action of putting-away, then that innocent party loses his right to do anything. The civil procedure position demands that the innocent party must either initiate the civil divorce case, win the case, or both initiate and win the case against the fornicator in order for that innocent party to have the right to remarry. The first-to-repudiate position demands that the innocent party beat the godless mate to the act of repudiation, whatever that may be. The two positions are equally wrong, and for precisely the same reason: They both ignore the fact that Jesus grants divine permission to repudiate and to remarry based solely upon a certain cause! They accept the cause of fornication, but add their proviso to it!

   I remind the reader that the issue of divorce timing was no part of the question that the Pharisees put to Jesus. Their question pertained to divorce cause. They asked, "Is it lawful for man to put away his wife for every cause?" (Matt. 19:3). Jesus answered that question in verse 9. Those who continue to emphasize divorce timing over divorce cause will continue to move farther away from what the Bible actually teaches. They are forced to add more and more clauses and provisos to the Lordís actual teaching. In the only New Testament passage authorizing remarriage for one whose mate still lives, Jesus taught (by implication) that an innocent spouse has the right to put away his mate for fornication and marry another (Matthew 19:9). This is my position. This is what I teach, and this is what I hope others will teach.

Some Thoughts on the Civil Procedure Position

   Some brethren deny holding a race-to-the-courthouse position. They maintain that the critical time is not the time that one arrives at the courthouse relative to his mateís arrival, but when the divorce is "finalized" or "obtained." This position amounts to a "race-to-finalization" or a "race-to-divorce-obtainment." One brother emphasized the time of the "dropping of the gavel." He has a "race-to-the-dropping-of-the-gavel." These views are only minor variations of the race-to-the-courthouse view, and are no better than that view. These views prevent God from granting the right of remarriage to the innocent spouse until He knows that the civil judge has ruled in the innocent spouseís favor! The civil divorce decree becomes the determinant in establishing the right of remarriage for the innocent party. According to this argument, God must wait to see what decision the civil judge makes before He releases the innocent party from his marriage vows! Friends and brethren, this is not what Matthew 19:9 teaches! Civil courts do not control the marriage bond.

   This countryís rapidly degenerating divorce laws are outrunning the arguments of the civil procedure divorce position. It appears that the position cannot adapt quickly enough to keep pace with the constant deterioration of this nationís marriage laws. This may explain why several brethren have scrapped the civil procedure position in favor of the race-to-repudiation position.

   Hawaii and Vermont have already adopted very liberal laws legalizing same sex, "domestic partner" unions. The high court of New Hampshire recently ruled that homosexual relations do not qualify as "adultery." (Will some of our brethren now change their definition of "adultery" and "fornication?") Most states now have no-cause no-fault divorce laws. This means that the divorce is granted to the mate who is the first one to file for the divorce. In legal action there is a plaintiff and there is a defendant. There is a winner and there is a loser. This legal fact, coupled with 3 common misconceptions, puts some brethren in clear conflict with the Scriptures. Let us briefly consider these basic misconceptions:

  1. Some equate the biblical act of "putting-away" with civil divorce procedure. Like some Corinthians who couldnít say the word "God" without thinking of an idol, these brethren canít seem to say or think the word "divorce" without thinking of judges, lawyers, and courthouses. Culture, not Scripture, is responsible for this connection.
  2. It is insisted that there is only one putting-away per marriage contract. According to this view, an unlawful and unapproved putting-away by a godless mate eliminates a subsequent putting-away by the innocent party. This rules out the counter-suit that some brethren claim to be authorized, for if the first legal action was a putting-away, then the second legal action would be a counter-putting-away. (I wonder if it would be right to charge these brethren with believing in "a second putting-away?") It is rank assumption for one to argue that there is only one act of putting-away allowed per marriage contract. Each person vows in marriage and each can disavow! Each spouse can put away, or repudiate, and if both do it, each one has done but one putting-away. Will anyone deny it?
  3. Finally, being "put away" (Matthew 19:9) is not seen as the consequence of someone elseís rejection, it is represented as being a status, classification, or category. As brother Reeves explained in his debate with Joel Gwin, some brethren have constructed a box, to which they consign all put-away people, including innocent spouses whose mates have committed fornication against them!

   From these points it is concluded that one who is "divorced" in a court of law is forever forbidden the right of remarriage on the mere basis of his being "divorced." Some care not that the "divorced" person is the innocent spouse of a fornicator-mate! They are concerned about divorce timing, procedure and classification, not about divorce cause.

   For a couple of years now, I have been watching a particular web site called "CompleteCase.Com." It is an online divorce agency that allows one to divorce his mate online! When I first stumbled onto this site it was approved in only 7 states. It is now approved for all 50 states, and even several other countries! As I observed before, radically and increasingly changing divorce laws, like this one, are outrunning the arguments of my opponents in this present controversy. Ironically, judges and legislators are helping me to win my arguments! This country is moving down the path towards what I call common-law-divorce. Once the civil laws get this loose, the race-to-the-courthouse position will be rendered obsolete.

Some Thoughts About The First-To-Repudiate Position

   Some may not be entirely familiar with this particular position. The position alleges that no "put away" (rejected, repudiated) person can remarry, including the innocent "put-away" spouse of a fornicating-mate. To support their position proponents site Matthew 5:32b; 19:9b and Luke 16:18b out of context and argue from these passages that NO "put-away" woman can remarry. They arrive at this conclusion by ignoring the context of each of these passages. They ignore the fact that the put-away women of these passages had no fornication committed against them! They fail to see that these put-away women were not forbidden remarriage on the basis that they were beaten to the putting-away action: They were forbidden remarriage on the basis that the cause of fornication was not in evidence!

   One preacher explained his position this way: He cited an example of a man committing fornication, then coming home and announcing to his wife that he was through with her and that he was leaving (rejecting) her for another woman. This preacher concluded that since this fornicatorís wife is now a "put-away" woman, that she has no putting-away rights, and that she now has no alternative but to remain unmarried. I asked this preacher what he would say about this womanís marital rights if, during her fornicator-husbandís prepared speech, this woman figured out where her husband was going with his comments, and she interrupted him at the opportune time with the words, "I DIVORCE YOU!" That is, what if she beat him in stating her rejection? The preacherís response: "Iíve never thought about that before." To this day, he has never answered my question. This preacherís position is false because it bases putting away rights upon the timing of the putting-away. His position makes the manís godless act of fornication irrelevant on the grounds that he beat his innocent wife to stating his rejection of her. Jesus taught that fornication provides the innocent spouse with the cause allowing him to disavow the fornicator and marry another (Matthew 19:9a). The race-to-repudiation position is just as unscriptural as the race-to-the-courthouse position. Jilted innocent mates may choose to remain unmarried, but other people have no right to bind their own personal scruples upon them, commanding them not to marry (1 Tim. 4:3).

Who Holds The "Race" Position?

   As I said before, some people have told me that they willingly accept this race label as a fair representation of their position. Others, however, are not pleased with the label as applied to them, and they have objected to its use. Some of these brethren have written pages and pages of material, desperately trying to explain why their position on divorce and remarriage does not constitute a race position. In view of these objections, I felt it was time to define the terms and draw attention to the necessary consequences of some of the arguments that are currently being made by some brethren. I will confine myself to only those arguments and positions that necessarily lead to one of the race positions.

1. If one argues that biblical putting-away is synonymous with civil divorce procedure, and that the innocent party must initiate the civil court action against the fornicator, then he does take the race-to-the-courthouse position.

   This conclusion is absolutely necessary. This position requires the innocent party to be the first one to the courthouse to file the papers, and he cannot be the second one. For the innocent party who thinks he may some day wish to remarry, this view requires that he ignore his grief, dismiss any thoughts of reconciliation, drop any immediate intentions of leading his mate to repentance, call an ambitious lawyer, jump into the most dependable car, and drive immediately to the county court house! This position constitutes a race-to-the-courthouse!

2. If one argues that biblical putting-away is synonymous with civil divorce procedure, and that the innocent party must win the civil court action against the fornicator, then he does take the race-to-the-courthouse position.

   This conclusion is based upon the fact of our current no-cause, no-fault divorce laws. These laws connect the initiating of a divorce with the winning of that divorce, for to initiate it is to win it. The divorce will be "finalized" in favor of the person who initiated the divorce.

3. If one argues that biblical putting-away is synonymous with civil divorce procedure, and he argues that absolutely no put-away person may ever marry another, then he takes the race-to-the-courthouse position.

   This conclusion is true because the only way an innocent party can avoid being "the put-away party" is for him to be the first one to do the putting-away! According to the argument, by failing to act quickly enough, the innocent person becomes the put-away party, thus losing the right of remarriage.

4. If one argues that biblical putting-away is the repudiation (rejection) of oneís bound mate, but that the innocent party must be the first one to do the rejecting, then he takes the race-to-repudiation position.

   This position differs from 1 and 2 above only in the nature of the repudiation action. These brethren see the fallacy of the civil law position, yet they emphasize the timing of putting away over the cause of putting away. Jesus said, "except it be for fornication," He did not say, "except you are the first to put away."

5. If one argues that biblical putting-away is the repudiation (rejection) of oneís bound mate, and he argues that absolutely no put-away person may ever marry another, then he takes the race-to-repudiation position.

   This position is similar to # 3 above, but it substitutes any putting away action for the action of civil divorce.


   The Pharisees asked Jesus, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause" (Matt, 19:3). Their question pertained to divorce cause, not timing. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus answered their question, stating the two consequences of putting away not for fornication. He said that the man who does the putting away commits adultery when he marries another (Matt. 10:9a), and he said that the man who marries the put-away woman also commits adultery. Jesus stated one exception to this rule. The innocent spouse is permitted to put away his mate for fornication and marry another (Matt. 19:9a). Jesus did not base the innocent personís right of remarriage upon how quickly he acts against the fornicator Ė he based the innocent personís right of remarriage upon his putting away his mate for fornication. There is no race-to-the-courthouse, race-to-finalization, race-to-the-gavel, race-to-repudiation, or race to anything else! There is simply the God-given right for an innocent spouse to put away his sexually immoral mate and marry another. Donít be fooled by certain brethren who are adding their own conditions and stipulations to what Jesus taught. Jesus does not allow fornicators, civil judges or opinionated gospel preachers to nullify His permission for the innocent spouse to put away his fornicator-mate and marry another. Let us not stand idly by while brotherhood legislators fabricate and enforce their own set of divorce laws (Gal. 1:8-9; 2 Jn. 9-11).

Tim Haile
7693 Russellville Rd.
Bowling Green, KY 42101

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