by Bill Reeves

October 08, 2003

   A brother has written (in the Encouraging Reader Responses section of brother Jeff Belknap's website): "I have always believed and taught that fornication must be a prior act to putting away, not something that occurs after a sundering of a marriage has already taken place."

   There are two parts to this statement:

    (1) "I have always believed and taught that fornication must be a prior act to putting away."

    (2) "not something that occurs after a sundering of a marriage has already taken place."

   After reading the first part, I immediately asked myself: Whose putting-away? Yes, Jesus gives to the innocent spouse the cause of fornication as the basis for the right to put away (and to remarry), Mt. 19:9a. Fornication must be "a prior act to" the innocent's act of putting-away. No spouse may scripturally put away who has not had adultery committed against him (Mk. 10:11). But, once that heinous act has been committed, the innocent spouse is given the divine right to repudiate the fornicator-mate and to remarry. This is precisely what I believe, along with a host of brethren, for this is what Jesus teaches.

Is that what the brother, who authored the statement above, has in mind? No, he has in mind that a spouse has already put away an innocent mate, thus sundering the marriage relationship, and that he then goes and commits fornication. Therefore the fornication was not committed before the ungodly spouse's putting-away! Note that he contrasts "prior" and "after," and equates "putting away" with "sundering of a marriage." If language means anything at all, he is saying that fornication must occur before the putting-away of the ungodly spouse, before his sundering of the marriage relationship! Now, where in the Scriptures does one go to read that? Jesus gives, on the grounds of fornication, the right to put away to the innocent spouse. The ungodly spouse's putting-away, or sundering of the marriage relationship, is no part of what Jesus authorizes!

   The second part of the author's statement addresses a specific scenario (that of an innocent spouse who has been unjustly put away by his ungodly mate) that was not put to Jesus by the Pharisees (Mt. 19:3) and therefore one that Jesus did not specifically treat. So, what about a case of fornication committed by a spouse after he has unjustly put away his mate? Did Jesus put a time-limit on when the fornication had to be committed in order for it to be a factor in his divine right to repudiate and to remarry? Did he specify that the fornication must be prior to something and not after it? No, he did not. Well, then, where did all of this come from? Solely and simply from the scruples of men!

   The author is committing the common fallacy of many brethren today; namely, the confusing of two scenarios. The first part of the quoted statement above addresses the scenario put to Jesus. By implication Jesus says (Mt. 19:9a) that if a husband puts away his wife for fornication, he does not commit adultery upon remarriage. So, fornication must occur prior to the putting away on the part of the innocent spouse. That is all that Jesus teaches. He puts no provisos to it! He does not say that "if a husband puts away his wife for fornication, he does not commit adultery upon remarriage, unless he has previously been put away by his wife." Such is adding to God's word!

   The second part of the quoted statement introduces an entirely different scenario; namely, one not put to Jesus. In this second scenario an ungodly spouse has unlawfully put away his mate, and then later goes and commits adultery or fornication. It is then affirmed that the fornication committed after the ungodly spouse put away does not count at all as the cause for the innocent mate to take any action. Now the fornication is totally irrelevant and inconsequential! It was a terrible sin before the ungodly did an ungodly deed in putting away for just any cause, but now it is nothing! Forget about it; don't even mention it. Too late! Too bad! The innocent, put-away mate can't do a thing about it because God's divine permission has been annulled by the ungodly act of an ungodly spouse! What a doctrine!

   The first part of the author's statement is true if the putting-away is done for fornication by the innocent spouse. This is what Jesus teaches; this is what he authorizes. But the author of the statement believes it only conditionally; that is, provided that the innocent spouse has not previously been put away for an unlawful reason. The author of the statement does NOT have in mind the putting-away by the innocent spouse, but that done by the ungodly spouse who puts away unlawfully! This fact is covered up by the wording of the ambiguous statement because whose putting away is not clearly set forth. The author says, "putting away," but what he means is that of the ungodly spouse who puts away unlawfully! Jesus meant the putting-away of the innocent spouse! Discerning people can see the difference. Just ask the question: whose putting away is being considered in the wording? the innocent's one, or that of the spouse who unlawfully puts away?

Bill Reeves

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