The "Waiting Game" Misrepresentation
Tim Haile

February 18, 2003

   I had hoped that we might be able to "put away" the controversy over what is involved in biblical "putting away." However, that has proven not to be the case. Some brethren continue to bind current civil law procedure as a necessary element in establishing and breaking the marriage bond. The Bible teaches that any spouse can break or sunder a physical marriage relationship (Matt. 19:6; 1 Cor. 7:11; Mk. 6:17-18; Rom. 7:2-3).

   The "sundering" of Matthew 19:6 has reference to the physical relationship just described in verse 5. Jesus quoted from Genesis 2:24. He said, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." Notice that by meeting divine conditions, an eligible man and an eligible woman are "joined" in the "one flesh" relationship. Yes, God does another "joining" in the establishment of the marriage bond, however, this is not the joint that is sundered in Matthew 19:6. God alone controls the marriage bond. Men may only sunder the physical, one flesh marriage relationship.

   According to 1 Corinthians 7:11, the Holy Spirit recognizes one as "unmarried" as a result of his "departing" from his mate. The marriage bond remains intact, for there is a sense in which the man she left is still her "husband."

   Mark 6:17-18 proves that one can be "married" to one person while remaining "bound" to another. Regardless of who was to blame, whether Philip or Herodias, their physical marriage relationship was broken and she had "joined" herself to another man. John described Herodias' marriage to Herod as unlawful. Herod and Herodias were in an adulterous marriage.

   Romans 7:2-3 clearly states that a woman can be "bound" to one man, while being married to another. By entering a marriage with another man while her first husband lived, Paul said this woman became an adulteress. Though adulterous, the Holy Spirit calls this new relationship a "marriage."

   The above passages speak of broken marital relations, but do not address the breaking of the marriage bond. Jesus did provide for such a possibility. Matthew 19:9 grants permission to an innocent person to repudiate a sexually immoral mate and remarry. When fornication is committed, if the innocent spouse chooses to repudiate his commitment to the marriage covenant or bond, God reacts to that choice, severing the innocent from the bond. Please observe the difference between fornication scenarios and non-fornication scenarios. In non-fornication scenarios the failure or refusal to fulfill marital commitments affects only the physical marriage relationship, not the marriage bond. That bond remains intact. However, in scenarios involving fornication, an innocent person is divinely authorized to take action allowing God to break the marriage bond for him. God controls the marriage bond: not the sexually immoral spouse, not the courts and judges, and not even the innocent spouse. If grounds exist and conditions are met for the dissolution of the covenant, God will dissolve it for the innocent party, thus freeing him to remarry.

   Matthew 5:32 adds other important consideration. Like Matthew 19:9, it mentions the exception clause. However, it applies it differently. Matthew 19:9 applies the exception clause so as to allow the right of remarriage to the innocent party who puts away his fornicating mate. Matthew 5:32 sites the exception clause to teach the right of the innocent spouse to put away a fornicating mate, but it does not specifically address the right of remarriage. Obviously, all of these passages must be considered in our effort to arrive at truthful conclusions.

   Certain things are clear from these verses. If the exception clause means anything at all, God does not grant remarriage permission to the fornicator. Furthermore, Matthew 5:32 prohibits remarriage to a spouse who causes his mate to commit adultery (more on this later). God grants remarriage permission to the one who being innocent of breaking the marriage, and innocent of sexual transgression, repudiates his mate for fornication. This divine law prevails over any human laws, customs, or procedures that may exist where or when one lives.

Concerning False Allegations:

   All controversy has certain things in common. Deceived disputants devise and defend their own position, not the Bible position. Dishonest disputants ignore scriptural answers and arguments, constantly shifting attention to something else. Dishonorable disputants misrepresent and falsely accuse their opponents. It is one thing to examine the premises of an opponent's position and call attention to what one sees as the required consequence. It is quite another thing to charge one with a position that he confidently disavows.

   Throughout the civil divorce procedure controversy, myself and others have been falsely accused of holding a divorce position commonly known as the "waiting game." Some continue to charge me with the position knowing full well that I deny it, and, in fact, have openly taught against it for years. Obviously, it is impossible to change dishonest minds. However, it is my sincere hope to demonstrate to the honest readers of this article that I do not hold the waiting game position. Furthermore, I shall also prove that the waiting game view is entirely unscriptural and wrong.

Defining Terms: What is the Waiting Game?

   People often use terms and expressions differently. Matters are further complicated when the position or practice that one seeks to label is unscriptural. This means biblical terminology will not be found that describes the position. Other terms and phrases must be used. Don't get me wrong. I don't mind labels. I am simply emphasizing the need to be as careful and consistent as possible when producing and applying the label.

   Traditionally, the "waiting game" designation has been applied to two basic divorce positions:

  1. A scenario involving two consenting mates. Some understand it as a consensual divorce scenario not involving fornication; in which potential exists for either of the two to one day remarry. Proponents argue that when one of the two divorcees remarries, or has sexual relations with another person, his fornication provides a scriptural basis for the innocent spouse to remarry.
  2. A scenario in which one waits for his "innocent" mate to commit fornication. Proponents allege that one may leave his mate for any cause, then when and if his spouse remarries, or has sexual relations with another person, his fornication provides a scriptural basis for him to remarry.

   These positions are entirely unscriptural. The Bible speaks of conditions that may allow one person the right of remarriage, but it does not approve a scenario in which either person may remarry. By putting away a sexually immoral mate, the innocent party may remarry with divine approval. All other scenarios allow neither person the right of remarriage. Matthew 5:32 contains the key to exposing the fallacy of the waiting game scenario. Jesus said,

   "But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."

   According to Jesus, by putting away his wife without the scriptural cause, the man is guilty of causing his wife's adultery (when she remarries). He is culpable in his wife's infidelity. Notice, Jesus did not say the man was also guilty of adultery, but he was the cause of something. What, exactly, did this man cause? Matthew 5:32 says that he caused his wife to commit adultery. And of what was this man guilty? He was guilty of "sundering" the physical marriage relationship, because he "put away" his wife for just any cause, saving that of fornication.

The Kinds of Guilt and Innocence Discussed in Matthew 5:32:

   The principles contained in this verse contain the key to understanding the innocent's right of remarriage. From this passage we learn of two kinds of guilt and two kinds of innocence. One may be guilty of sundering a marriage relationship or he may be innocent of sundering that relationship. One may be guilty of fornication or he may be innocent of fornication. For the fornicator's spouse to be free to remarry, that spouse must be innocent of sundering the marriage and he must also be innocent of fornication. By assigning blame to the man in Matthew 5:32a, Jesus eliminated his right of remarriage. Jesus said that by causing the marriage to be sundered, he caused his wife's adultery. This is why the waiting game theory won't work. By refusing to fulfill marital commitments and obligations, one drives his mate to sexual sin (see 1 Cor. 7:5). By consenting together to "put sunder" what God has "joined together," both spouses forfeit their right to remarry. Following is the breakdown of Matthew 5:32 with regard to guilt and innocence.

  1. The first man is guilty of breaking the physical marriage relationship. Jesus addressed a scenario in which a man "put" his wife "away" for a cause other than fornication. By "putting" his wife "away" without a scriptural cause, he is complicit in her guilt. He forfeits his right of remarriage.
  2. The first man is innocent of fornication. Jesus did not charge the first man with fornication, he charged him with an act that led to his wife's fornication.
  3. The woman is guilty of adultery. In the absence any scriptural grounds for putting away her husband, the woman commits adultery by marrying another. She is not approved to remarry another because she is still bound to the first man.
  4. The woman is innocent of breaking her first marriage. Note that Jesus did not charge the woman with wrongly putting away her husband, thus causing him to commit adultery. He charged the man with this crime. He wrongly repudiated her!

   Jesus also mentioned a third party, who is also guilty of adultery. His adultery was caused by his marrying a woman who was still bound to another man.

What Happens When The Exception Clause Is Activated?

   Notice what happens when the exception clause is activated. Had the man remained committed to his marriage vows, and his wife engaged in sexual immorality anyway, he would not now be responsible for her sin. By factoring the exception clause into the equation, Jesus teaches that whoever puts his wife away for sexual immorality does not make her an adulteress. Again, in order to be free to marry another, one must be innocent of sundering the marriage, and he must be innocent of fornication. Those who meet these two conditions are allowed by God to repudiate a fornicating mate and marry another (Matt. 19:9).


   Divorces not involving sexual immorality result in no one having a right to remarry. Passages like Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18 address such scenarios. Where there is no fornication there is no scriptural ground for the right of remarriage for anyone. Of course, these passages do not apply in divorce cases where there is a spouse who is innocent of sundering the marriage and innocent of sexual immorality. In these scenarios, the guilt/innocence principles of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 apply. Jesus granted repudiation rights to that innocent one (Matt. 19:9). These principles are not complicated. They are simple. Men are having trouble understanding these simple principles only because they are trying to blend divine law with human law. We must learn the lesson that God alone controls the binding and loosing of the marriage bond. If there is a marriage bond, God made it. If anyone is loosed from the marriage bond, God loosed it. Fornicators and judges may break marriages every day, but they have no control over the marriage bond. Other than death, fornication is the only act that has the potential to affect the marriage bond. Interestingly, even in cases of fornication God decides whether or not to loose the innocent from the marriage bond. Though it is a reaction to the innocent's decision to repudiate, it is nonetheless, God's action.

Tim Haile
7693 Russellville Rd.
Bowling Green, KY 42101

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