From The Editor’s Notebook: Divorce and Remarriage, part 2

From The Editor’s Note Book

W. Ross Rainey

Divorce And Remarriage

It goes without saying that divorce is one of the major problems in Western nations today. The latest verified statistic for the United States is that forty percent of all marriages now end in divorce. Not only is society deeply affected by this escalating scourge but the church as well. Compounding the problem of divorce is the question of remarriage.

Today we might think that back in the 1930’s the subject of divorce and remarriage was only of passing interest. Not so. In a 1935 issue of Light & Liberty magazine there appeared some interesting and helpful material on this subject which was reprinted from the March, 1930 issue of The Witness magazine. Believing that this material would be profitable to our readers, I have edited it for my column. The material will appear in two instalments, this being the first.

Even as far back as far as 1929 and 1930 questions had been sent to the editor of The Witness from America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other parts of the globe on the issue of divorce and remarriage — a pressing problem even then. As we would expect, there were divergent opinions on this sticky subject as there are today.

Some back then, although not a majority, forbade remarriage to either the so-called innocent or guilty party in a divorce, regardless of the circumstances.

Summing up the many inquiries, the question was worded as follows:

What should be the attitude of an assembly toward one of its members who has divorced his or her life partner and remarried? Both divorce and remarriage are allowed by the law of the land, but are they allowed by scripture to Christians? (Matt. 5:32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; 1 Cor. 7).

Mr. George Goodman answered as follows:

The Scriptures quoted make allowance for a divorced person to remarry, but only in the case of the guiltless person. To marry the one who has sinned and has been divorced on that ground is expressly forbidden in the words, “Whosoever marrieth her that is put away (not has put away her husband) doth commit adultery.”

But as to the guiltless party, the opposite appears from the words, “Except for fornication and shall marry” (Matt. 19:9). For here remarriage is contemplated, and it is not condemned in the excepted case, that is, where the marriage has been dissolved on the ground of the adultery of the other.

The Scriptures referred to do not rebut this. Mark 10:2-12 says nothing as to adultery, and therefore must be taken to refer to putting away for some other cause.

1 Corinthians 7 has no reference to divorce, but to the case of a believer not being able or willing to continue living with an unbeliever. In that case the marriage is not dissolved, and no other can be contracted.

Matthew 5:32. Here the words, “Saving for the cause of fornication” (which there means adultery since the relationship of husband and wife exists — “his wife”), makes it clear, that the woman, “her that is divorced,” has been guilty, and is the adultress. The passage can hardly be twisted to “she that has divorced,” for as shown above Matthew 19:3-9 does not contemplate the exception (one who has put away the partner for adultery), marrying again, and expressly clears that one of guilt.

The suggestion that “fornication” in Matthew 5:32 means before marriage is too uncertain to act upon. In such solemn matters the “thus saith Lord” must be clear and certain

That the innocent party may remarry was the view held by Mr. George Goodman and the following Bible teachers:

L. W. G. Alexander, W. J. Grant, J. R. Caldwell, A. J. Holiday, F. C. Bland, George Adam, W. E. Vine, W. R. Lewis, C. F. Hogg, J. B. Watson, J. N. Darby, F. W. Grant, and William Kelly.

A Test case (a note from the editor of The Witness). A sort of test case occurred in England some years ago, when most accredited brethren then living considered the matter.

The woman left her husband, who was an elder and teacher, and went to live with another man. For some years the husband kept the house open for her to return, then obtained a divorce, and after a period of time married again. Our esteemed brethren, J. R. Caldwell, A. J. Holiday, F. C. Bland, and George Adam, as well a number of other well-known brethren, went carefully into the matter and gave their judgment that, as the brother was in no sense a transgressor, there was no warrant for his refraining from ministering the Word, and that Matthew 19:9 warranted the divorce, leaving him free to remarry.

Throughout all his trying circumstances, and for more than twenty years after, he was known and esteemed as an elder and a minister of the Word.

Their considered and definite judgment was that the Saviour’s one exception of Matthew 19:9 allowed the guiltless party to “put away” the guilty party by divorce, and to remarry. In this we feel sure most accredited Bible students concur.

Confirmation by L. W. G. Alexander and W. J. Grant. I am in perfect agreement with everything Mr. Goodman has written regarding the point in question. It is not new to me, for a good number of years ago an assembly in New Zealand wrote me about a couple they had put out of fellowship because the man had divorced his previous wife for adultery. The man’s innocence was fully admitted.

Looking into the matter, then, I had no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that they had acted wrongly. However, I wrote Mr. W. J. Grant, putting the case before him, and telling him my mind. He admitted that at first he thought I was wrong but after further consideration he was in perfect agreement with my view. The assembly in question admitted their error and reinstated the innocent one.

L. W. G. Alexander’s answer to the original twofold summary question. The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that, normally, the marriage bond can only be broken by death. When death takes place the widowed party is free to marry again. It is equally clear that there is one exception to this rule. In the event of either party committing adultery, the innocent party is permitted by God to put away the aforetime partner and, if desired, to marry again. The words “except for fornication” (Matt. 19:9), and marrying again being distinctly mentioned without condemnation prove this.

The context shows that the word “fornication” is employed in a comprehensive way including adultery. In the sight of God adultery dissolves the marriage bond and the adulterer or adulteress may be regarded as dead to the other party. It is surely unreasonable to suppose that God, while decreeing and declaring the disannulment of the marriage bond, would hold the innocent party bound in any way by a bond that He Himself has dissolved.

(To be continued)