What or Whom?

by Tim Haile

October 09, 2003

   Disputants are often well into a controversy before root differences are exposed. I have observed this in the recent controversy over biblical putting-away. Yes, much has been said on this subject already. However, I make no apology for drawing attention to a fundamental truth that has been long ignored by many brethren.

   One of the many facets of the "putting-away" controversy has to do with what is actually "put-away" when a putting-away (apoluo) occurs. What is the object of the putting-away? Does one put away a physical relationship, or does he put away his mate? Some teach that it is the former. Obviously, the physical marriage relationship is sundered by a putting-away (Matt. 19:6). However, as we shall soon see, this is not the object of putting-away, it is the result of it.

   Some say that once the physical togetherness of the marriage is broken by the godless actions of one of the marriage partners, then no putting-away right or possibility exists for the other mate. This position bases the putting-away rights of the innocent party upon the status of the physical marriage relationship. It is argued that once this relationship is severed then no subsequent putting-away right or possibility remains. In his debate with Bill Reeves, Joel Gwin expressed his position this way:

   "Neither can you put away once you've been put away. The marriage is already dissolved. There's nothing remaining to put asunder (Matthew 19:6)."

   Brother Gwin taught that once the physical union is broken "nothing" remains to be broken! Brother Gwin is wrong. God binds married people to their vows, promises and commitments. These are not "dissolved" just because one whimsically decides to depart from his bound mate! Brother Gwin and others make an unscriptural application of Matthew 19:6 when they attempt to use it this way.

Another brother wrote:

   "When one advocates a procedure for a second putting away, years after the united "one flesh" has become two lives divided, and guarantees a right of remarriage in such a hypothetical case, he is advocating something added to God's law. Jesus taught a right of remarriage only to the innocent party in a case where a marriage is sundered for the CAUSE of fornication (Matt. 19:3-9)."

   I agree that it is sinful to bind a "procedure" not bound in Scripture. And the phrase, "second putting away" is a concocted and prejudicial phrase. However, notice the author's point. He claims that no right exists to put away and remarry if the "united 'one flesh' has become two lives divided." However, Jesus did not condition an innocent person's putting-away rights upon whether or not his mate has already departed! Many people leave their mates before committing fornication. Some leave their mates with no intention of pursuing another sexual relationship, but end up doing so anyway. Jesus did not condition the innocent person's putting-away right upon how much time passes between the godless mate's departure, and his committing fornication. Those who bind some arbitrary time frame for the putting-away are the ones guilty of "adding to God's law."

   The above author then said that Jesus taught the right of remarriage only to the innocent party in a case where the marriage is sundered for the cause of fornication. No. Jesus taught the right of remarriage for the innocent party who puts away his mate (wife or husband) for fornication. Jesus said nothing about the status of the "marriage." The godless party may have already broken the physical "one-flesh" relationship. However, as we shall see later, they are still "husband" and "wife" because they remain bound by God.

   Other writers could be cited who argue that the innocent person's putting-away rights are based upon the condition and status of the physical marriage relationship, but the above are sufficient to make the point. This position is wrong for several reasons:

1. It ignores the status of the bound relationship (Rom. 7:2-3), and emphasizes the status of the physical relationship (more on this later).

2. It ignores the fact that two people remain "husband" and "wife" even after one has departed from the other (Mk. 6:17; 1 Cor. 7:11).

3. It conditions the innocent person's putting-away rights, not on his mate's fornication, as Jesus taught (Matt. 19:9a), but on the condition and status of the physical marriage relationship.

4. It conditions the innocent person's exercise of his God-given putting-away right, upon the godless actions of one who deals treacherously against his mate (Mal. 2:14).

5. It conditions the sexually innocent person's putting-away right upon the physical location of his fornicator-mate. Some hold the view that the only time an innocent person can put-away his fornicator-mate is when that fornication is committed while the couple remains in the same house, and while the marriage relationship remains in good standing. Jesus did not condition an innocent person's repudiation rights upon whether or not his mate still loved him, or was friendly to him, or was still fulfilling his marital obligations to him. He conditioned the innocent's putting-away right upon his mate's fornication!

Bible Terms Applied

   Imprecise language often leads to confusion, disagreement and division. Some people deliberately use vague terminology in order to cloak their actual position and to avoid criticism. Truth teachers use the plain language of the Scriptures (2 Cor. 3:12; 1 Pet. 4:11), not fearing the consequences. Notice what happens when we use Bible terms and definitions in addressing the question of who or what Jesus says is "put-away" in the sundering of a marriage.

1. The Bible uses the terms "husband" and "wife" (possessive of "man" and "woman") to refer to a bound marital relationship:

a. Even though the woman in 1 Corinthians 7:11 had departed (chorizo) from him, and was described as "unmarried," the man from whom the woman departed was still called her "husband." Romans 7:2-3 makes the same point. Paul said a woman became an adulteress by marrying another man while her "husband" still lived. The word husband emphasizes the bound relationship, or marriage bond.

b. Even though Herodias had married Herod, she was still Philip's "wife" (Mark 6:17). The word wife emphasizes the bound relationship, or marriage bond.

2. When the Bible speaks of "putting-away" (apoluo) in the context of marriage, it speaks of what one does to his bound mate, his wife or husband:

a. In Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:11 and Luke 16:18, Jesus spoke of a man putting away his wife.

b. In Mark 10:12, Jesus spoke of a woman putting away her husband.


   Our conclusion is undeniable: When Jesus spoke of putting-away, in the context of marriage, He spoke of an action taken against one's bound mate, not just the breaking of a physical union. Putting-away involves far more than mere spatial separation. It involves the breaking of one's marital vows and commitments. It is the rejection and repudiation of one's bound mate. It is often the case that the godless mate has already departed, putting space between himself and his sexually innocent spouse. In such cases, that spatial separation has no effect upon the innocent person's right to put the fornicator away and marry another (Matt. 19:9a).

   Some brethren have concocted a whole new assortment of terms and phrases to accommodate their unscriptural position and to promote their own scruples. It is the language of Ashdod to those who use their Bibles for terms and definitions. By limiting ourselves to the language of the New Testament we are forced to believe and teach that as long as an innocent mate has a "husband" or a "wife," that innocent mate has the right to put away his husband or wife on the grounds of fornication. This is what Matthew 19:9a teaches. That's all I teach.

Tim Haile
7693 Russellville Rd.
Bowling Green, KY 42101

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