A Review of Error in Jeff Belknap's "Review of Error..."
Tim Haile

January 9, 2002

    Watchman Magazine presently houses a written exchange between Harry Osborne and Terence Sheridan, on the subject of biblical putting away.  If you haven't yet done so, I would advise you to read that debate. I want to thank Stan Cox for his work in making this material available to the public.

   In this debate, brother Sheridan well stated his proposition, and brother Osborne did an excellent job exposing it as unbiblical.  Though that discussion is worthy of our careful consideration, it is not my concern in this article.  Personally, I am more interested in Jeff Belknap's evaluation of that debate. Jeff wrote an article entitled, "Review of Error in the Sheridan-Osborne Debate."  This article is filled with Jeff's misrepresentations of biblical texts and of his opponents' views. On at least one point, Jeff Belknap deliberately misrepresented brother Osborne's views in a critical area of doctrine.  Anyone who knows brother Osborne and is acquainted with his writings knows that he doesn’t need me or anyone else to defend him. He is quite capable of defending himself. However, given my previous involvement in, and my familiarity with, the elements of this discussion, I feel compelled to respond to brother Belknap’s latest contribution.

   Truth loving brethren should be able to reasonably discuss their differences with others without misrepresenting them. Perhaps brother Belknap will repent of his inflammatory and erroneous comments. I hope he does. However, if he doesn’t, then I am hopeful that truth loving brethren will rise up, as did Israel of old, "as one man against him” (Judges 20:11). It is too often the case that when a disputant begins to rely upon unscrupulous tactics in order to get an advantage over his opponent, it is a reflection of his own dishonesty.

   I intend to address Jeff's arguments in the order of their relative significance - not in the order in which he made them. This will present no problem, for I intend to quote heavily from Jeff's article to give the reader a good sense of the arguments, and to avoid misrepresenting him.

Concerning 1 Timothy 4:1-3:

   After citing historical cases of human governments forbidding marriage, brother Osborne rightly appealed to 1 Timothy 4:1-3 to make his argument.  According to Paul, the Spirit expressly stated that the doctrine "forbidding marriage" was a "doctrine of demons.”  This doctrine remains a "doctrine of demons” regardless of what authority promotes it, whether denominational, Catholic or secular.  Notice from 1 Timothy 4:3, that the doctrine forbidding marriage was joined to the doctrine forbidding the eating of meats (foods, NKJV).  It is worth observing that Paul specifically loosed this human legislation by pointing out that regardless of what men say, "every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:3-4).  Paul's use of the conjunctive and, in verse 3, means that people are just as loosed from human marriage restrictions as they are from humanly devised food restrictions!

   Like Sheridan, Belknap had absolutely no answer for brother Osborne. Of course, it is very easy to see why Belknap and Sheridan have dismissed the relevance of this passage in this present controversy. It does more than just destroy their position: it actually exposes their position as being in agreement with the devil's position! 1 Timothy 4:1-3 tells us that the devil works through apostate teachers to forbid marriage among eligible persons. The marriage/divorce position espoused by Belknap and Sheridan supports the devil’s doctrine!  After all, it is their position that human authority has the God-given right to forbid marriage. Thus, in this matter, they are complicit with the devil. Their teaching facilitates in the accomplishment of the devil’s will.

   It should be noted that the devil functions through human agency (2 Cor. 11:13-15). He may work through this instrumentality whether these individuals are acting collectively or individually. The book of Revelation illustrates how the devil may even work through organized human government (see Rev. 13). 1 Timothy 4:1-5 makes it clear that regardless of the type of agency the devil may use, his doctrines never repeal the doctrine of Christ, even in areas of divine permission. Thus, even though human authorities may prohibit the eating of meat, God still says it is right to do so (1 Tim. 4:3-5; see also Rom. 14). Even so, human authorities may prohibit lawful marriage between eligible people, but God said it was still right for such people to marry. Jeff Belknap and those who agree with him, are quite simply wrong in their conclusions.

   As though it weren't bad enough to take a position on divine liberties that puts him in perfect agreement with the devil, brother Belknap adds to his crime by a deliberate misrepresentation of brother Osborne's position on marital rights.  In a feeble attempt to escape the weight of 1 Timothy 4:1-3, Belknap misapplies an excerpt from Donnie Rader's book. Belknap wrote the following:

   "In addition, in brother Donnie Rader’s book, Divorce & Remarriage; What Does The Text Say?, under the heading 'More Arguments On The Mental Divorce Position' (pg. 148) brother Rader has offered an answer to Harry’s objection.  Regarding the dispute that, in this case, 'Forbidding to marry is a doctrine of the devil (1 Tim. 4:1-ff),' he rightly answered, 'That contention could be used to prove that all have a right to remarry. That would allow the guilty party and the one put away where no fornication is involved and the one who puts away for a cause other than fornication to remarry. The fact is that there is not one of the advocates of this argument that doesn’t teach that there is someone who can’t remarry.'

   "Since brother Rader’s words are true of Harry (as regards his opposition to brother Hailey’s error), will he apply his own charges of ’forbidding to marry’ and ’devil’s doctrine’ to himself?"

   It has been some time since I have seen a more blatant attempt at misrepresentation by one professing to be a brother. Perhaps if brother Belknap were a novice in the scriptures, then I might lightly dismiss the above misapplication of Donnie's material. However, knowing that brother Belknap is not a novice, and knowing that he is perfectly aware of brother Osborne's overall position on marriage, divorce and remarriage, I am forced to conclude that he deliberately misrepresented brother Osborne. This is very disheartening.

   It is true that some have misused and misapplied Paul's prohibition against "forbidding marriage."  These scripture twisters ignore everything else the Bible says on the subject of marital rights and they attempt to use this passage to prove that all "unmarried" people have a right to marry and remarry.  These errorists represent Paul as contending for remarriage rights when he actually spoke of "marriage" rights. Brother Rader's comments were not directed against those who side with Paul in contending for the right of eligible people to marry; they were directed against those who argue the right of remarriage for ineligible people!  Brother Belknap couldn't be more wrong in his application of Rader's material. What is worse is that by using Rader's argument against Osborne's position, Belknap leaves the false impression that Osborne accepts all remarriages as scriptural and right, regardless of the conditions and circumstances! Belknap shamelessly attributes a position to Osborne that he knows he doesn't take and has never taught. That is what I call dishonest

   Throughout the race-to-the-courthouse divorce controversy, brother Osborne and I have offered many Bible examples of human authorities attempting to prohibit the exercise of divine liberties.  Brother Belknap has done much in the way of misrepresenting our arguments, but he has done nothing in the way of answering them.  Let the reader be reminded of Belknap's position. He unreservedly bans marital rights to an innocent mate whose spouse committed fornication against him, merely on the basis of the civil court granting the divorce to the guilty party. Here is what Belknap teaches regarding this scenario:

   “Though God may give divine authorization to divorce for the cause of fornication, the ability of civil authorities (as those to whom we are commanded to submit ourselves) to revoke that right must be respected.  How can the God-given right of divorce for the cause of fornication be usurped by civil authorities?  It is done indirectly, by their action of granting an unscriptural divorce, which makes the recipient of such a divorce the “put away” (whom Jesus taught cannot remarry without sin, Mt. 5:32b; 19:9b and Lk. 16:18b).  The granting of an unscriptural divorce also changes one’s “mate” into an ex-mate, thereby eliminating the ability to put away one’s spouse (“husband” or “wife”,as the verses teach).”

   Belknap’s position is only viable if he can find at least one Bible passage that actually teaches that God allows human authorities the power to repeal His holy word, at least in the area of divine privileges and liberties.  Brother Belknap believes that he has found such a passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 7. Let us see if he is correct.

   The passage reads:

   {36} “But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry.

   {37} "Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well.

   {38} "So then he who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better” (1 Corinthians 7:36-38, NKJV).

   Jeff Belknap cited this passage in an attempt to prove the “vital principle” (as he called it) that human authorities have divine permission to dissolve lawful provisions within God’s word. He stated his conclusions this way:

   “Obviously, a virgin in the first century had been given divine liberty to marry (I Cor. 7:2).  However, I Corinthians 7:36-38 clearly teaches that this liberty could be usurped by another to whom God placed her under subjection (Eph. 6:1). In this case, it was her father who had the divine right to revokeher right of lawful marriage.  Why?  Because God gave him, as the divinely authorized head of his household, the right to make such a decision for those subject to him, notwithstanding God’s authorization of marriage (Heb. 13:4).

   “Brethren, was the father of the virgin in I Corinthians 7 “condemned in clear and forceful terms”?  Does scripture teach that he was requiring his daughter to submit “to the devil’s doctrine” by “forbidding” “the exercise of the God-given liberty of marriage?”  Contrariwise, the inspired apostle states in verse 38 that “both he that giveth his own virgin daughter in marriage doeth well; and he that giveth her not in marriage shall do better.”  Though the circumstances behind this situation were unique (“the present distress,” v. 26), it does not alter the fact that an earthly authority had divine approval to deny a God-given right” to one under his authority (I Cor. 7:2).  Who will argue with scripture?”

   Of course, I will not "argue with this scripture," but I do take serious issue with Jeff's miserable interpretation and application of it. I must admit that the first time I read the above explanation of 1 Corinthians 7:37, it was difficult for me to even take it seriously. Brother Belknap is really grabbing for straws with his attempted use of this passage. Perhaps a little review of the context of 1 Corinthians 7 is in order.

Marital Rights
1 Corinthians 7

“to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (vs. 2)

“But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment” (vs. 6)

“I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” (vss. 8-9)

“Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful” (vs. 25)

“But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned” (vs. 28)

“And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction” (vs. 35)

“But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry” (vs. 36)

“So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better” (vs. 38)

   Verse 26 of this chapter establishes a backdrop for the special instructions given by the apostle. Paul’s letter found the Corinthian saints in a state of “distress.” Jesus used this word (anagkee) to describe the treacherous circumstances accompanying the destruction of Jerusalem (Lk. 21:23). In 2 Corinthians 6:4-5, Paul associates the word with conditions like “troubles, hardships, <distresses>, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger.” 1 Thessalonians 3:7 connects it with “persecutions.” Obviously, the word conveys the idea of adversity and hardship. 1 Corinthians 7 contains inspired advice regarding marriage. The Holy Spirit used Paul’s personal preferences as guidelines for saints under persecution. Paul repeatedly affirmed that his instructions relating to marriage versus celibacy were in the realm of advice – not legislation! He spoke “by permission.” He gave his “judgment.” His advice was for their “profit.” He twice stated that he “had no commandment” with regard to these matters.

   Brother Belknap only gave lip service to the extenuating background conditions of the 1 Corinthians 7 instructions. Perhaps he would not have arrived at his false conclusions had he seriously considered this background!

Brother Belknap’s “Leash”

   Brother Belknap’s position ignores both the immediate and remote contexts of 1 Corinthians 7:36-38. Paul plainly said that he did not intend to “put a leash”(see the NKJV) on these brethren. However, Belknap’s explanation does precisely this! He is fully prepared to do the very thing that Paul refused to do - bind where God had not bound!  Brother Belknap contends that the virgin’s father “had the divine right to revoke her right of lawful marriage.”  It appears that brother Belknap is so desperately caught up in trying to find at least some hint of support for his position that he forgot to even read the passage that he invokes to support his very theory! Look again at verse 36:

“But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.”

   Brother Belknap must have just overlooked this verse. It clearly states three conditions instructing the father to allow the daughter to marry.

   1. If his refusal imposes an unnecessary and improper constraint.

   2. If she had passed the marriageable age. Some cultures considered it shameful for a woman to remain unmarried after a certain age.

   3. If there was a “need” for her to marry. Earlier passages had addressed this need. Paul had stated that marriage would quench the passions and prevent fornication (verses 2,9).

   Though brother Belknap's position will not allow it, these verses are in perfect harmony with previous verses of the chapter that addressed the burden of marriage in an atmosphere of “distress.” The only difference is that this scenario factors in the father’s judgment, whereas it was previously limited to that of the prospective couple. Brother Belknap’s binding mentality causes him to make a big mistake with this passage. It causes him to ignore all of the conditions and qualifiers that limit the scope of the father’s authority over his daughter. This binding mentality causes Belknap to elevate the father’s authority to the level of God’s – no, even beyond that of God. For it is brother Belknap's argument that would allow the girl’s father the authority to repeal a God-given liberty! Brother Belknap's binding machine appears to be operating at maximum speed.

   As we have seen, brother Belknap disregards Paul’s reasons for the father to “let them marry.”   He contends that the girl’s father may overrule Paul and the Holy Spirit. He says the father may “revoke her right to marry.” He then parallels this self-willed father’s constraint of his daughter to civil authorities who may equally ban the right of marriage today. Brother Belknap is way out on a limb on this one.  His position is not only unscriptural– it is also unreasonable.

The 1 Corinthians 7:38 Contrast:
“Good” versus “Bad” or “Good” versus “Better”

   Brother Belknap’s position regarding the marital rights of a civilly divorced innocent party rests entirely upon his stated exegesis of this passage, and this passage alone. He has neither found nor offered any other passage that provides any appearance of support for him. This is real bad for him, for Paul concludes his comments about the father’s options regarding his virgin daughter by relegating the whole thing to a matter of judgment. One option would result in his doing what was “good.” The other option would result in him doing what was “better.” Belknap’s position demands a good versus bad option, but that option is nowhere to be found in the father/daughter discussion of this chapter.

   Brother Belknap has missed the whole point of this passage. Paul is not describing a father who arbitrarily rules over and against the needs and wishes of his virgin daughter. He is discussing a conscientious father who is seeking the best for his daughter in a time of hardship and persecution. In order to accomplish this he may decide against making any marriage arrangements for her. He might avoid encouraging her to pursue a relationship. Belknap’s article depicts this father as if he were an army general barking commands to his subordinates. That is not the picture of this passage.

   Furthermore, the Holy Spirit limited these instructions to a climate of persecution. Let us assume for a moment that brother Belknap is right, and that this father had divine authority to set aside divine liberties. If so, wouldn’t this authority then be limited to times of persecution? The logical consequence of Belknap’s argument is that civil courts of law may decide marital rights, but only in times of persecution! Thus, Belknap’s position would be that in times of social and political ease, an innocent party may remarry if her spouse committed adultery against her, but in times of persecution she may not. Wow! What insight! What powerful exegesis!

   Brother Belknap is on shaky ground. His original false position is leading him farther away from solid ground of sound doctrine. His binding machine is running downhill and at full steam. Not content to make the rules himself, he has now gone so far as to fabricate a 1 Corinthians 7-father with God-like legislative powers allowing him to repeal divine laws and revoke divine institutions! Where will Belknap end up next? Perhaps he should consider an alternative course. I advise him to shut down the binding machine and head down the tracks the other way. The “old paths” are in that direction (Jer. 6:16). God does the binding and loosing there. Belknap's legislative ideas are not needed.

Tim Haile

Home Page