Grounds for Scriptural Remarriage:
Right Motive or Right Method?
By Tim Haile
A Look at the Context of Matthew 19:3-9:
When questioned about the subject of divorce, Jesus was not questioned about divorce procedure; He was questioned about cause (Matt. 19:3-9). The Pharisees had asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” Today we hear a lot of discussion about divorce procedure, but was procedure the subject and basis of the Lord’s answer to the Pharisees’ question. A simple reading of the passage will demonstrate that Jesus answered the Pharisees’ question about divorce cause. Though men apparently consider it important to discuss and debate proper divorce procedure, Jesus did not.
Other Uses of the Word “Reason”
When attempting to determine the meaning and emphasis of a particular Bible word, it is always helpful to see how that word is used in other Bible passages. This word, reason or cause (Gr., aition), is translated in the following ways by New King James translators:
“So Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no fault in this Man’" (Lk. 23:4, NKJV). (“I find no basis for a charge against this man.” - NIV)
“…You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him” (Lk. 23:14).
“Then he said to them the third time, ‘Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason (“no grounds” – NIV) for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go’" (Lk. 23:22).
“For we are in danger of being called in question for today's uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering" (Acts 19:40).
When Jesus answered the Pharisees He offered only one reason or fault as providing sufficient grounds for divorce and remarriage: This was fornication (Matthew 5:32; 19:9). Fornication is a broad term representing all forms of illicit sexual conduct. It includes adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism, and bestiality. The commission of one of these crimes by a married person provides their mate with sufficient grounds for a scriptural putting away and approved remarriage. Jesus’ law did not permit one to put away his mate for just any reason, per the Pharisees’ request, but He did allow putting away for one reason – “fornication.” Jesus plainly described the condition of any man or woman who remarries, in the absence of this cause, as adulterous. Thus, in divorce cases not involving fornication, adultery is committed when either person remarries.
A Modern Addendum
Not content with what Jesus required as sufficient grounds for divorce and remarriage, some brethren are requiring more. I have no disagreement with many of these brethren with regard to what the Bible teaches. We are not divided over what the Lord said about proper cause for divorce and remarriage; we are divided over what He did not say about divorce procedure! This fact should raise the eyebrows of honest brethren who are searching for the truth on the divorce question. As usual, the division is not over what the Bible says – it is over what the Bible does not say. Let us remember that all legislative binding and loosing has already been done in Heaven (Matt. 16:19; 18:18). This eliminates the right of any man or council of men, to make arbitrary requirements of others in things pertaining to God. Even so, certain brethren are doing this on the subject of divorce and remarriage. May we require that fornication be the only acceptable grounds for divorce and remarriage by the innocent party? Yes, for the Bible teaches this. May we require any particular procedure establishing how and when the innocent party must act against an unfaithful mate? No, we may not. The servant is not above the Master. How can faithful Christians require more than Jesus?
Jesus did not legislate any putting away procedure. He legislated the cause for approved divorce and remarriage. In first century Jewish societies it was generally understood that a man could divorce his wife by giving her a biblion apostasion (a “writing of divorce”). This was the accepted procedure. However, by invoking Genesis 2:24, Jesus invoked a law that was higher than any civil or cultural law. This allowed Him to ignore cultural restrictions and civil, legal requirements, and grant divorce rights to women, as well as men. By adding Matthew’s exception clause to Mark 10:12, one concludes that Jesus allowed a first century woman to put away her sexually immoral husband and remarry. Jesus loosed what men had bound on the subject of divorce rights.
In our society it is generally understood that a divorce occurs when at least one of the parties insists upon the sundering of that marriage, petitions the court, completes the necessary paperwork, and is awarded the divorce. Unlike God, the court judge is unconcerned about the guilt or innocence of the petitioner. In fact, no fault divorce laws prohibit judges from even considering the possible immoral behavior of a petitioner. Divorces are granted to fornicators as easily as they are granted to innocents. There is a big problem with this discrepancy. There are times when civil courts grant divorces to fornicators, regardless of the innocent person’s actions, even though God has granted putting away rights to the innocent! In such cases, civil court action cannot be harmonized with God-given rights. Just as Jesus loosed first century women from civil law restrictions barring them from taking divorce action against an unfaithful husband, He looses innocent people from the decisions of the court.
The law of Christ overrules the anxious fornicator, the ambitious lawyer, and the unjust judge! Human courts and impenitent fornicators do not have the power to eradicate divine liberties or nullify divine exceptions. Those who grant human authorities this privilege have greater faith in men than they do in God.
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