The Matthew 19:9 Sequence
A Response to Greg Gwin

by Tim Haile

September 06, 2003

   Jeff Belknap's website houses an article by Greg Gwin entitled, "The Matthew 19:9 Sequence." Brother Gwin joins others in sequencing things in this verse that the Lord did not sequence. I have two reasons for responding to this particular article:

   1). Brother Gwin's approach is an oversimplified approach to this passage. All he must do to "sequence" all events in both clauses of Matthew 19:9, is to add the word "follows" to what the text actually says. (Some achieve the same deception by inserting the words "then" and "after" at various points in Matthew 19:9). This gives the appearance that everything in these two clauses chronologically follows the thing that was mentioned before it.

   2). Brother Gwin's "sequence" argument is vital to the support and survival of his position on biblical putting-away. Without his alleged "sequence" of events in Matthew 19:9, his position falls.

Answering Brother Gwin's "Sequence" Argument

   Brother Gwin describes from Matthew 19:9 what he calls "a clear sequence of events." Actually, what is clear is that brother Gwin has not carefully considered either the context or emphasis of Matthew 19:9. Thinking prejudicially, in terms of divorce procedure, rather that cause, he looks in Matthew 19:9 for what cannot be found. Greg Gwin sequences the events of two, separate, independent clauses, using the word "follows" as if it were in the actual Greek text. I found his use of this word interesting in view of what some of his associates have done. We usually see the insertion of words "then" or "after" into Matthew 19:9, in order to construct this contrived "sequence." In fact, Greg's own son, Joel Gwin, in his debate with Bill Reeves, used the word "then" to construct this alleged "sequence." It generally goes something like this:

1. A man unlawfully puts away his wife.

2. "Then, after that," the man marries another woman.

3. "Then, after that," another man marries the put-away woman, thus making him an adulterer, and her an adulteress by implication.

   Although he doesn't use the words "then" and "after," brother Gwin constructs the same sequence by using the words "follow" and "follows." He views all of the statements of action in both clauses of Matthew 19:9 as actual chronological events. I remind the reader that this "sequencing" of all of these statements of action in both clauses of Matthew 19:9 is absolutely vital to the survival of their doctrine. If their sequence argument fails, so does their entire position on the alleged "status" of the put-away woman.

   With the significance of this matter firmly in mind, let us see if brother Gwin's theory is able to withstand the scrutiny of the Scriptures.

The Mark 10:11-12 "Sequence"

   Brother Gwin and others never test their "sequence" argument using Mark's account of the Lord's response to the Pharisees. There is a good reason for this. To do so, is to expose their "sequence theory" as fallacious. Remember, Matthew 19:3-9 parallels Mark 10:2-12. These passages refer to the same teaching occasion in the life of Jesus. He was answering the Pharisees' question about whether or not it is lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause (cp. Matt. 19:3 with Mk. 10:2).

   Mark 10:11,12 reads:

{11} "And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her:
{12} "and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery."

   This teaching parallels the teaching of Matthew 19:9. It would be foolish for anyone to attempt to deny this. Greg's own son recognized this parallel enough to devote valuable debate time to comparing the harmony between Mark 10:11 and the other marriage passages. Let is see what happens when we apply brother Greg Gwin's Matthew 19:9 "sequence" principle to Mark 10:11-12:

1. A man puts away his wife.

2. The man then marries another woman.

3. He is now guilty of adultery.

   (I now draw your attention to the word "and" that stands between verses 11 and 12. According to Greg Gwin and my other opponents, this word represents "sequence" of events.)

"And…: (verse 12)

4. After the husband has married the second woman, the put-away wife now puts away her ex-husband.

5. After the put-away woman puts away her ex-husband who was already married to a second woman, she marries another man.

6. Now she is committing adultery.

   Will brother Gwin and his associates accept this "sequence" or "order" of Mark 10:11-12? If the "and" between Matthew 19:9a and 9b indicates "sequence" of actual events, then it indicates the same thing between verses 11 and 12 of the parallel passage of Mark 10:11-12! This cannot be successfully denied. If brother Gwin wishes to be consistent, and show himself honest, he must do one of two things. He must either give up his "sequence / order" argument, or he must give up his argument that a put-away person cannot put away. He cannot consistently maintain both positions.

   For brother Gwin and others to maintain their "sequence / order" argument on Mt. 19:9, they must maintain it on Mk. 10:11,12, and if they do that, they are forced to give up the following arguments:

1. The argument, demanding a scripture that shows that a put-away person can put away.

2. The argument that there's only one putting-away per marriage or relationship.

3. The argument that once there is a putting-away, there is nothing left to put asunder.

4. The argument, demanding the scripture that talks about a "second putting-away."

5. The argument that all that is left to a put-away person is a "mental divorce."

   By sequencing Mark 10:11-12 the same way Greg Gwin sequences Matthew 19:9, the put-away wife ends up with the ability to also "put away" her husband! Brother Gwin denies that this can be done! In the debate, Greg's son boldly argued that after the unlawful putting away had occurred, there was nothing left to put away! Perhaps brother Greg Gwin will now take his son aside and explain to him from the "sequence" in Mark 10:11-12, that there is indeed "something left" to put-away! Because that is exactly what Jesus said the woman of this passage did!

   Greg Gwin and his associates, in order to be consistent with what they have before taught, have to affirm a "sequence" in Matthew but deny it in Mark, yet the two passages are accounts of the same teaching incident in the personal ministry of Jesus! What will brother Gwin and his companions do? Will they seek consistency with their past teachings to the point that they make Jesus inconsistent?

   It should be obvious to the reader that I flatly reject the chronological "sequencing" of all statements of action in Matthew 19:9 and Mark 10:11-12. By applying brother Gwin's Matthew 19:9 "sequence" argument to the parallel passage in Mark 10:11-12, I have made what is known as an ad hominem argument. This is an argument "to the man." Jesus did this on certain occasions (e.g. "What man is there of you?" - Matt. 7:9). My appeal is for brethren, like brother Gwin, to be consistent. As I have demonstrated from Mark 10:11-12, their "sequence" argument is not consistent with other related New Testament passages. "The Scripture cannot be broken" (Jn. 10:35). Brother Gwin's argument is, therefore, thoroughly broken!

What Matthew 19:9 Really Teaches:

   "And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery" (Matt. 19:9, ASV).

   This verse is clear when it is approached without prejudices and preconceptions. Jesus is not emphasizing sequence: He is emphasizing consequence. The man's unlawful putting-away of his wife resulted in two things:

1. He commits adultery when he marries another.

2. The other man commits adultery when he marries the put-away woman.

   Notice when the second man married the put-away woman: He married her WHEN she was put away. Brother Gwin and others need this to read, "when her husband married another." In order to fabricate their "sequence" of Matthew 19:9, brother Gwin and others must ignore the Pharisees' question, ignore the context, switch the emphasis, and mix divorce scenarios. In spite of the volume of material that has been written about it, Jesus said nothing to the put-away woman. In fact, He didn't explicitly charge her with adultery! This is taught by implication. One would think that, in the absence of the Lord's direct prohibitions against the woman, some brethren want to be able to legislate what she can and cannot do! Some feel good about the Lord's teaching only after they have inserted their own personal scruples about time and procedure. Restricting one's exercise of a God-given liberty based upon some previous ungodly action by a treacherous divorcer or fornicator has the putrid odor of a creed.

The Charge of "Mental Divorce"

   One of the devil's most effective devices is to manufacture prejudice against the truth by false labeling. Brother Gwin made repeated reference to what he called "mental divorce." It is possible that there are some among brethren who believe divorce is nothing more than a mere thought process. As often as one reads and hears charges and whisperings of "mental divorcers," he would think the brotherhood was being overrun by them! However, I do not know who these people are, nor have I read from their pens. It is therefore obvious that brethren, like Greg Gwin, have adopted a different definition for the words of the label, than the meaning that those words logically contain. I would not be concerned about brother Gwin's use of the label if it were not for the fact that he applied it to the divorce position that categorically allows an innocent spouse to put-away his fornicator-mate and marry another, which position I unashamedly hold and boldly teach.

   In controversy, not all of one's writings are read. The demands and restraints of time are too great. I certainly don't fault others for not reading everything I write, for there is a good chance that I haven't read all that others have written. It is possible that brother Greg Gwin has not had the time to read my repudiation of the "mental divorce" doctrine. Perhaps, his name in the title of this article will attract his attention to my comments about "mental divorce." I list the following reasons for rejecting the "mental divorce" doctrine. After reading what I have to say, no honest person can possibly charge me with believing that doctrine:

   1. Malachi said that marriage involves a "covenant" or agreement between a man and his wife (Mal. 2:14). As marriage involves the exchanging of vows, putting-away involves the breaking of those vows. Biblical putting-away is a disavowal of one's mate. It is no more a mere thought process than is the exchanging of vows in a wedding ceremony a mere thought process. The repudiation (see Thayer on apoluo) of one's mate is as overt as was his marriage to that mate. Thayer's word, repudiate, just means to "reject." In marriage, one accepts another person as his mate; in putting-away, one rejects that person as his mate. The Bible teaches two possible ways for one to be released from the obligations of his marriage vows: his spouse's death or his spouse's fornication (Rom. 7:2-3; Matt. 19:9a). God automatically releases the bond upon the death of a spouse's mate. Fornication gives the innocent spouse the cause for repudiating his mate with God's approval. In other words, God allows the innocent party to break the vows and commitments he previously made to that mate when he married, thus freeing the innocent to marry another. Brother Gwin's position binds the innocent party to his fornicating-mate all of the days of his life, if that innocent person was beaten to the act of putting-away by an ungodly mate. He, like some other writers on this subject, does not understand that Matthew 19:9 is not concerned with who did the putting-away firs:, it is concerned with who has the right to put away. The sinful actions of an ungodly divorcer and his unlawful divorce do not nullify the God-given right of the innocent party to reject his fornicator-mate and marry another. God's law does not bind an innocent person to a fornicator-mate.

   2. In restating and reinstating God's original marriage law (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6), Jesus said that the eligible man and woman would "leave" father and mother and would "cleave" to each other and would form a "one-flesh" relationship. Thus, one physically accepts the other as his mate and partner. This involves the sexual relationship (1 Cor. 7:3-5). In putting away a mate, one dismisses from the house (see Thayer on apoluo), or departs from (chorizo, 1 Cor. 7:11 and Matthew 19:6) his mate. Emphasis is upon the physical rejection of the mate. As he "left" father and mother in order to cleave to his mate, he now "leaves" that mate. This is not a mere thought process. "Apoluo" is a verb of action. No, I have not done as others, and introduced a long list of things that I personally believe must be done in order for one to repudiate his mate, but I have demonstrated from the Scriptures that putting-away is more than a mere act of the mind.

   The report that I believe in "mental divorce" is a slanderous report. Furthermore, it is dishonest to charge one with being a "mental divorcer" just because he teaches that two married people both have the ability to reject each other! If two people can vow to each other, two people can disavow each other. The real question that brethren need to concern themselves with is not whether or not two married people can repudiate each other: But, with who has the God-given right to do that repudiating! The first clause in Matthew 19:9 teaches that an innocent person has the God-given right to repudiate his mate for the cause of fornication. Jesus did not add, "if he was not previously beaten to repudiation by his ungodly mate…" He made a direct statement. He added no restrictions, stipulations or provisos.

   The reader should know that the "mental divorce" tag was originally concocted by those who insist that biblical putting-away is synonymous with civil divorce procedure. The label was then picked up by those who take the broader view that biblical putting-away is synonymous with whatever practice or procedure obtains in one's particular time and culture for recognizing a divorce as final. These brethren emphasize two things:

1) That a putting-away can be done by only one person per marriage contract, and

2) That being "put away" is a permanent "status" that one obtains (as the result of being "divorced").

   As for the civil procedure position, if one is a "mental divorcer" merely because he teaches that biblical putting-away means a rejection of one's mate, and denies that civil divorce procedure is inherent in the word apoluo (put away), then we are forced to conclude that Jesus was, Himself, a "mental divorcer!" This consequence is forced from their position, because the word Jesus used for "putting-away" has nothing at all to do with courts and judges. And, if one is a "mental divorcer" merely because he teaches that biblical putting-away can be done by the innocent party, even in cases where he was already unlawfully "divorced" by his godless mate, then again, Jesus must also be a "mental divorcer." Why? Because Matthew 19:9a categorically offers the right of repudiation to the innocent party whose mate is guilty of fornication. Furthermore, Matthew 19:9 answers a question about a practice wherein men divorced their wives for "every cause," and justified themselves by giving a writing of divorcement to their wives. Like Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9 establishes a contrast between Jesus' teaching, and Jewish perceptions of Deuteronomy 24. Jesus said, "But I say unto you…" He went on to explain that His concern was not over who had been given a "writing of divorcement," or over who had been "sent away," but over who had the RIGHT to put away. According to Jesus, the innocent person, whose mate is guilty of sexual immorality, possesses that right.


   Greg Gwin has joined a list of others in twisting and adding to the Scriptures on the subject of putting-away. His "sequence" argument is fabricated only by adding the words "follow," "follows," and "followed by" to the actual text of Matthew 19:9a. No one denies that some things are logically sequenced in Matthew 19:9a. A man must first be married to a woman in order for him to "put" her "away." And a man must first "put away" his wife before he can marry another. However, sequence is not what Jesus emphasized in His suppositional case in Matthew 19:9. Clause B of Matthew 19:9 states, not a sequence, but an additional consequence of the man's unlawful putting-away actions. Obviously, this consequence is connected to the statement in clause A of the verse, but to the man's unlawful putting-away, not to his remarriage! I say obviously, because the man's remarriage was not the act that prohibited remarriage for the wife! "Marrying another" causes one to commit adultery against his mate (Mk. 10:11). It was his unapproved putting-away that prohibited her! Jesus taught that the absence of fornication is what prohibits one from having the right to put away a mate and marry another. Greg Gwin and his companions teach that some previous unlawful action of an ungodly divorcer and/or fornicator is what prohibits one from putting away and marrying another. I stand with Jesus. How about you?

Tim Haile
7693 Russellville Rd.
Bowling Green, KY 42101

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