In the current controversies engulfing the Lord’s body regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage (heretofore rendered as “MDR”), many teachings have been made regarding the “put away” person in a divorce situation, the person who is the passive recipient of the divorce. There are many differing scenarios regarding this person:
- A person put away for porneia. There are some who teach that a person put away for porneia, deviant sexual behavior, have the right to remarry.
- The “innocent put away party.” There are some who teach that a person put away for the wrong reasons, especially in the case where the active divorcer has committed porneia, can themselves put away their spouse for their deviant sexual behavior and remarry.
- The “waiting game.” There are some who teach that a person put away for the wrong reasons is still married to their spouse “in God’s eyes,” and if and when the active divorcing spouse marries another or knowingly engages in sexual practices, the put away person can themselves put away that adulterous spouse and remarry.
Are any of these teachings the truth of God regarding MDR and the “put away” person? We shall see from the Scriptures that this is not the case.
Matthew 5:32b plainly states that anyone who marries a put away person commits adultery:
“But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery,” (Matthew 5:32, ESV).
I have quoted the ESV because I feel that it conveys the best sense of the literal Greek. It ought to be noted that the term translated “whoever” is the Greek relative pronoun hos, and it is used whenever a statement is broad and expansive and refers to anyone within that situation. The term translated “divorced woman” in the ESV is the Greek apolelumenen, which is a perfect middle/passive feminine accusative
singular participle of apoluo. It literally means “the woman having been put
away,” and since a participle is basically the noun form of a verb, “a divorced
woman” is a completely acceptable translation that is easy to understand in
English. We can see from this verse very clearly, therefore, that Jesus has established that anyone who would marry a woman who was put away commits adultery; this would also condemn the woman (or a man, if the man was the one divorced), and it is especially notable that there are no exception clauses given. The same pronoun is used in Mark 3:35:
“For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
As assuredly as we would never say that only some people in certain situations that do the will of God are Jesus’ brother, sister, and mother, and not others, so too it must not be said that some put away people can remarry without sin!
Before we continue, it must be noted that in this entire discussion the concept of remarriage is discussing marriage to another person; the Scriptures in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 establish that a divorced couple are able to reconcile:
But unto the married I give charge, yea not I, but the Lord, That the wife depart not from her husband (but should she depart, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband); and that the husband leave not his wife.
The couple in question can most certainly reconcile; the question that governs the various situations above, however, regards the put away person marrying another man or woman besides the previous spouse.
What, then, of the arguments and objections to the premises listed above? Let us now analyze them.
- A person put away for porneia. Those who advocate such teachings believe that since the marriage between the man and the woman is universally recognized as dissolved, since the active agent of the divorce is able to marry another without sin. The conclusion is made that there is nothing to stop the passive recipient of the divorce, the one who committed the porneia, the deviant sexual behavior, from also marrying again. This position would also believe that the “exception clause” in the first part of Matthew 5:32 (“Whoever divorces his wife except for porneia makes her to commit adultery…”) is applicable in the second part (“..and whoever marries a put away woman commits adultery.”). Is any of this true?
The exception clause in Matthew 5:32a is grammatically separate from Matthew 5:32b. In Matthew 5:32a, the exception clause governs the action of the subject; if this were the case in part b, the verse is rendered meaningless: “and whoever marries except for porneia a put away woman commits adultery”? There is also no reason to apply the exception clause to the “put away woman,” and no evidence has yet been given to establish the contrary. The grammatical structure of the two portions of Matthew 5:32 separate the two expressions and there is no good reason to assume that the exception clause of part a functions also in part b.
It also must be noted that for any party to have the right to remarry such authorization must be given by God. We can know that the active divorcing party putting away their spouse for porneia can remarry because of the nature of the exception clause: if the cause is negated, the effect is negated. A person who puts away their spouse for a reason other than porneia commits adultery; a person who puts away their spouse for porneia does not commit adultery (Matthew 19:9). No such authorization exists for the passive recipient of a divorce for porneia— the person put away for deviant sexual behavior. Seeing this, and that Matthew 5:32b still maintains that anyone who marries a put away woman commits adultery, this argument is demonstrated as false: a woman put away for deviant sexual behavior cannot remarry and obey God.
- The “innocent put away party” and the “waiting game.” The prime motivator in these arguments is the concept of “adultery.” These positions would argue that the active divorcing party– the one “putting away” his or her spouse– certainly gains a divorce from a civil perspective but is still married “in God’s eyes.” Hence, it is alleged, any remarriage of the active divorcing party is sexual sin against the “marriage” and for this reason the previously “put away” spouse can turn around and “put away” the offending spouse for porneia and since this divorce is made truly “in God’s eyes,” the previously put away and now putting away spouse can marry another. These positions are called by many “mental divorce.” The entire argument hinges on the nature of what Jesus meant by “adultery” and “divorce.”
It must be noted that the “putting away” is spoken of in the same language regardless of whether for proper or improper reasons, as Matthew 19:9 clearly shows:
“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery.”
Many times there are quibbles about “legal procedure” and other legal terminology involving the court system, and while we most certainly should abide by all civil responsibilities in regards to marriage and divorce (Romans 13:1-7), the fact of the matter remains that Jesus is not making distinctions between divorce procedures but in fact the reason for the divorce. What is especially notable for us, however, is that Jesus does not make a distinction in this verse between a “divorce recognized by man” and a “divorce recognized by God.” There are no distinctions being made between “proper” and “improper” divorces here, and in fact what we deem improper divorces are spoken of as the rule by Jesus, and the proper divorces are the exception to the rule! We see, therefore, that no distinctions are being made about the nature of divorce.
Now, as to the meaning of “adultery.” The Bible uses terminology for adultery but never do we find any verse that says, “adultery is defined as….,” with a proper definition. We determine its definition by its usage, both in the Bible and in other texts in the Greek language. It can most certainly be said, however, that this verse establishes one of God’s definitions of adultery: a person who divorces their spouse for an improper reason and marries another.
The lexicons define moichao, the Greek word for adultery, in the following ways:
to have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife, to commit adultery with, (Thayer).
(1) be caused to commit adultery, be an adulterer/adulteress, commit adultery
(2) be guilty of infidelity in a transcendent relationship, be unfaithful, (Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich).
We get the idea, therefore, that “adultery” is “unlawful intercourse with another’s wife.” It may make sense at first, therefore, to assert that the couple must still be married for Jesus to say that they commit adultery. On the other hand, as we have seen in Matthew 5:32, the woman who is put away for having committed porneia “commits adultery” if another marries her. In this latter situation, the marriage bond is obviously dissolved, since the husband in that situation can surely marry another (Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9). Yet Jesus still says that the woman would be “committing adultery”! This is true, of course, because it fits the basic meaning of adultery: having sexual intercourse with someone other than your spouse. By marrying another man, the woman in question would be having sexual intercourse with someone other than her spouse because she was unfaithful to the covenant and is amenable to that covenant even when it is dissolved. It is manifest, therefore, that one can commit adultery even if the spouse is what we would deem an “ex-spouse,” if it so happens that the “ex-spouse” should still be their “spouse”!
It must also be asked why Jesus would define a person who is still married to a woman and yet marries another woman as an “adulterer,” when in truth the person would be a polygamist! Our word polygamy comes from two Greek words, poly, meaning “many,” and gameo, meaning “marriages.” A polygamist, then, is one who has many marriages! If what the “mental divorce” position, establishing a difference between a divorce only in the eyes of man versus a divorce “in God’s eyes,” is true, the man is to be condemned for bigamy or polygamy, not adultery!
Some may ask regarding Mark 10:11:
“And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.”
It will be argued that if adultery is being committed “against her,” the first wife, that the marriage must obviously still be intact.
Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, in their lexicon, note the following about this very verse:
If understood as a Semitism (Rehkopf 233, 2 note 4; s. BSchaller, in Festschr. JJeremias, ’70, 239ff; in Aramaic the corresponding verb with preposition is used in the case of “with,” not “against”), this phrase can be rendered commits adultery with her (the second wife),” (BDAG, p.656).
The citations given advance the argument that if the Greek that Mark translates here follows an Aramaic idiom of Jesus’ original words, the preposition translated generally as “against” should be translated as “with,” and therefore Jesus would be stating that the man is committing adultery with the second wife.
Regardless of this, it is of course recognized that both spouses– the active divorcing spouse and the passive divorced spouse– are legitimately obligated only to one another. It can be said that the divorcing spouse who marries another does “commit adultery” against his passively divorced spouse, not because they are seen as still married, but because they have made a covenant of marriage with one another and it is the only legitimate covenant that either of them made. A comparable situation is actually that of a Christian: when we are immersed in water for the remission of our sins and are joined to the Body of Christ we have entered the covenant with God through Christ as sons (Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-7, Galatians 3:27, 1 John 1:3). If we violate that covenant without repentance, we are no longer considered a part of the Lord’s Body (1 Corinthians 5), although the fact remains that our sins are against the one through whom we have made the covenant, Christ (Hebrews 10:29). If we desire to return and repent, we can be reinstated into that covenant (1 John 1:9). The covenant of marriage works in similar ways: the dissolution of the marriage covenant, even if for improper reasons, is recognized by all and cannot be said that the couple is still married, just as one who was previously counted as a Christian cannot be so considered if he has departed from the faith. Any attempt of remarriage by one who has divorced or was divorced for improper reasons are violations of covenant, not because the individuals involved are still married, but because they should be married and God has not granted them the privilege of marrying any others. Reconciliation of a divorced couple, as with a Christian and his God, are completely acceptable and desirable.
What shall we say to these things? Jesus never speaks of a situation where a spouse could put away their spouse who has already put them away. Such ideas are foreign to the Scriptures, and the attempt to infer from the idea of “putting away” that a divorce can be recognized by man and not God has no foundation in the truth of God. We have also seen that to define “adultery” as only “unlawful sexual intercourse with another’s wife” is more limiting than the ways in which Jesus used the term. It is completely acceptable to define adultery in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 exactly as Jesus did: the remarriage of a person who put away their spouse for reasons other than sexual immorality; the remarriage of anyone who was put away.” The truth remains; if a person has been put away, that person has no right to remarry another.
We have seen, therefore, that the arguments presented that would attempt to deny the truths of Matthew 5:32b have no ground. Jesus called a man who divorced his wife for improper reasons and married another an adulterer, not a bigamist, and we have seen that he is called as much because he is violating a covenant that did exist and ought to still exist, just as if we as Christians turn from the truth and disobey God we violate a covenant that did exist and ought to still exist. Jesus speaks of the person who is divorced for any reason in the same language: they commit adultery if they remarry, for they also in all situations violate a covenant that did exist and ought to still exist. Let us hold firm to the truth of the Gospel in these regards, Matthew 5:32b:
“and whosoever marries a woman having been put away commits adultery.”